Stepping into the dark light of The Solent, each small lantern shaped like an elaborate wrought octopus holding delicate candles, the party are met by the sight of a raucous evening. Natali bought the group drinks (as usual), and they took to a table to watch the show. Unveiling herself, a very beautiful dancer takes to the stage as the centrepiece attraction. Her dancing is both astonishing and creative, a swirling miracle of lights and purple as her dress flows, with her legs and arms framing shapes and gestures that delight the heart. Natali spares a moment to try and talk to her lady in red, only to find her a lot older than anticipated. The elderly woman asks her if she has seen her son Nathaniel, who she claims had gone off to join one of the local gangs but had never returned. Natali promises she will keep an eye out for him, just in case.
The group then splits; half of Aster to the gambling tables in the back room, and half to talk to the dancer as she finishes her set. Approaching the lady at the bar, she seems so much colder than she did onstage – snooty, concerned only with status and not those she deems beneath her. Extracting the bare minimum from her, in that she dances here only for her enjoyment whilst she otherwise prefers avoiding the lower city, she says that MacClaigh employs her merely out of her own choice and her benevolence to him.
In the gambling room, Shilea and Natali take to one of the card tables and scour the room. As well as the heavy Brass Growler presence back in the main hall, they also spy the bald Growler who had assaulted the shop keeper in the morning.
After winning a few games and having Karolina join them on the fun, Natali catches his eye and he immediately throws another player out of the game to seat himself. The antagonising between the two goes on for a while before it’s obvious he does not have the upper hand, despite his confidence and semi-concealed secret knowledge that something is going on. Not able to guess what is going on and not wanting to lose any more money, Natali and Karolina accuse him of cheating, at which he gets affronted. At the peak of his anger, he tells them both that it’s MacClaigh’s fault and not anything to do with the Growlers. Shilea and Natali both stand and join him in confronting the owner of the bar.
Meanwhile, Patience has been patiently listening in on Grannd McClaigh‘s hosting skills; he seems to have found himself in the middle of several people all laughing exaggeratedly at what aren’t exactly good jokes. Seems the man loves talking gossip about everyone and anyone who attends the establishment he runs, and loves attracting exorbitant attention from others. Patience doesn’t really get it.
As the party regroups to confront the manager of mischief, he seems to already know a little of them, though not their reasons for being here – so strange a group of travelling Praetorian Guard would be to come this far. Natali and Karolina enlighten him quickly, to which he really is surprised. So surprised are the gathered crowd, also, that one of the people there breaks away and bolts from The Solent without a second breath. MacClaigh gives them little help, as he only claims to know tidbits; no Dunlorian soldiers in the city of late, and that if one were to look for help on the Dunlorian side they would go to the nearby Kingdom of Ethele. The very same Patience heard whispers of witch-burning and dragons of. MacClaigh also tells them that The Solent’s gambling room isn’t rigged in the slightest – they can even check themselves if they should wish. With little else to go on, they leave The Solent and head to the Seamstress’ guild to collect on their next source of information.
Back at the Broken Drum, young Runesa awakens in her bed. Confused at the lack of her companions, she gets up and heads downstairs. At the bar, Maartje Klein is talking to a tall, muscular troll with a wide-brimmed hat and a cigar held between his lips. Maartje calls her over as ‘the unconscious girl’, and the troll looks her over. Not very dead indeed, despite the reports he had been hearing. He advises her to keep herself out of trouble, or at least if she gets into trouble, not to let herself be carried around like some ritual sacrifice. Ruensa quips at him as he leaves, and asks Maartje where she is and where her friends have gone. She gets pointed towards ‘the marketplace’ with some vague directions from a very drunk Finn Lavlin, and herself rushes off into the night to find them.
The rest of Aster show up to Madame Zessora, seeking payment for their ‘mission’. She is found in her office, one of her girls sat to one side with bruises lining her ribs. None of the party comment on it, except wondering if she should be in the room. Zessora says she will be good, and the woman flinches in her silence. The madame gives the party their due; there are no Dunlorian armies sneaking in and about Marren’s Eve with any captive, but there is a particular diplomat staying at the courtesy of House Eszter. And in a time of abstaining from involvement in the war, that is a very unusual thing.
As the party leave, Shilea and Patience express their distaste at dealing with Zessora given how poorly she treats those that work for her.
Reaching the Broken Drum for the night, they find Runesa missing, lost to the city. Flying into a panic and questioning a still partially drunken Finn about where she has gone. He feels horribly guilty and tells them he thinks she went to the marketplace based on his direction. Nhean Mirza overhears this, and with a keenly worried expression tells them to come with him. He offers to help find Runesa, and the group hurries to the commoner’s market.
Nhean says he is concerned she may have been taken by someone he knows, vaguely – the woman in the red cloak that Natali first approached at the Guise of Nature performance. When pressed for why, he simply says he knows she is a dangerous woman and that she is mildly obsessed with him. Upon reaching the square, he immediately asks the nearest red cloaked person (one of the Widows of Eve) – a young man – a series of questions as the others search. Karolina coaxes a nearby stray dog into sniffing Runesa’s travelling cloak, but it’s only response is looking up to the towering black peak of Sandorne Keep.
With not much luck at the market, Nhean grimly says he will take them to someone who might be able to help, though it may cost him greatly. When asked why he is so eager to help the group, he simply replies that he knows how the people of this city suffer every day and aims to help any whom he can. Sliding through narrow back passage ways, past open street fires and beggars who reach out to Nhean with smiles, he leads you all to a house on the edge of the Noble Quarter. Hopping over a finely built back wall into a pristine and delicate garden, you all step quietly up to the back door. Upon knocking, a maid blearily asks what the hell you want, until she sees Nhean and pauses to go tell the master of the house. When you are let in to a warm household, the maid named Maria hurrying to light a fire and make tea despite obviously just having woken up. They are greeted with the sight of Rashan Asfour. He seems unwilling to help at first despite consistently petitioning Nhean to ‘accept his previous offer’, which your friend seems unable to do. But between Mirza and Shilea, they manage to ask Rashan to mobilize some of the forces of the Brass Growlers working for him, presumably at some price (as if Shilea’s undivided attention is not enough for him, pfff). He orders for some of the men to be sent for at once, Maria rattlng her unfinished tea tray in distress, and says he will send a raven for them during the night if he finds anything.
Heading home, finally, for the night, Fireteam Aster set up watches so that some of them at least may be awake if a raven should come. One does not, and they simply talk their way through the night. In the morning, however, a tap at the window delivers a scroll from N.M., saying Runesa is still missing but something…else came up, instead. Asking Finn for directions to where Nhean is staying, and he is only happy to help after feeling terrible for Runesa leaving unaided.
Hurrying to his boarding rooms, they are greeted with the sound of female shouting – though it is only faintly familiar. Inside, barging into the tiny cluttered space Nhean is renting, they find someone Fireteam Aster recognise…Mireille Delór, a swordsman from Fireteam Daphne. Heavily injured and in a furious outrage, she quickly accuses Aster of abandoning the company to die, recounting how so many of their brethren are now laying dead in the dirt. Asking where Carys is, she is distraught to the point of tears at hearing how she has also fallen, questioning what all this is for now that their Captain is gone…