It is a glorious morning in glorious Oppara. And for once this descriptor, ‘glorious’, feels appropriate rather than just one part of the tired verbiage of politicians and patriots. The perfectly straight streets of the capital are as festive as can be, with the Taldan green-and-blue banners hanging from the second floor of every house in sight. Much of the cheerful crowd below are similarly colour coded, whether in wearing patriotic clothing for the occasion or bearing flags. Some are even painted. And what a crowd! Boulevard and back alley alike, every avenue is near-literally overflowing with people, young and old, and more amazingly still every one of them seems to wear a smile. And with them come the peddlers. Rows upon rows of street vendors selling traditional Taldan foods - anchovy skewers, anglebobs, canal crossings, clamguards, jubilee pie, honeyflake, long wine, yonder tarts, and more – even regional delicacies from separated provinces such as Andoran mince and Chelish raven cake. Merchants hawk wooden swords and handheld Taldan flags to children, while their little more discerning parents inspect replica banners from that pride of the nation, the old Armies of Exploration. All this hubbub should reasonably be expected to come with a certain degree of disorder, but this is not the case – the well cobbled streets are remarkably clean and the city guards, looking very fashionable in their uniforms, are plentiful. More amazingly still is that the constables seem hardly necessary. A pervasive sense of nationalist camaraderie hangs over the city, promoting goodwill among all the loyal subjects of Taldor. Yes, it’s a good day to be Taldan – the greatest kingdom in the world!
It is in the midst of this patriotic fervour that we find a Riveh Germinus. It is day five of Exaltation Week, one of the most important national holidays in Taldor, and the nation’s capital has swollen from its usual size of 100.000 to double that. This makes Oppara larger than any other city in the Inner Sea region, save Absalom. Visitors from every corner of the kingdom and beyond flock to Oppara in this week to enjoy their rare free time and take part in the celebrations, all of which culminate in the Grand Day of Exaltation – where a specially chosen commoner is made part of the nobility by the Grand Prince himself. Small wonder that it is a favourite holiday of the average citizen, who otherwise has few prospects in life. It is on a day like this that the glory days of Taldor don’t appear so distant, and one almost manages to believe the rhetoric of senators and noblemen who insist that the kingdom has never been stronger.
Riveh Germinus, however, has reason to be sceptical. Even putting aside geopolitical reality, the young man is in the capital for business, not pleasure, and quite suspect business at that. In his quest to restore the family’s name and honor, Riveh’s consistent obstacle has been simply getting his foot through the door. Taldor’s upper class might be vast, but it is also heavily restricted; a young man with his reputation (not to mention dusky appearance) finds just reaching the movers and shakers of society an almost impossible challenge, and it is exactly these people he must consort with to take back what is rightfully his.
And yet - Just a few weeks ago some hope arrived in the form of a letter. The anonymous message was an invitation to lunch in Oppara, where the mysterious sender wrote that he or she hoped they could discuss a transaction: in exchange for some undefined services, they promised to grant Riveh access to high society. The date for the meeting was today and the place some tavern called Coren’s Last Meal – the very tavern the ifrit now spies on the other side of the street, through glimpses between the crowds. The dubious letter represents a slim hope, to be sure, but hope nonetheless. Even assuming the offer is legitimate, the sender no doubt seeks to use Riveh for their own purposes; even a disgraced nobleson such as he has uses to the right person. But the opportunity might be too good to ignore.
Somewhere in the city bells ring, barely audible over the din of people. The time is eleven hundred hours. The scheduled meeting is 11:30. What to do?
The Gilded City. The City of Empire.
Riveh looked around at the fine stone buildings, the busy city streets, the crowds of orderly and joyful people. The oracle stared about him, unconsciously gaping like a backcoutnry bumpkin (which in a way he was). His entire life, he had only dared hope Taldor would live up the lofty standards of the songs and stories he knew, either heard from the servants or found in musty old tomes of the manor home. Legends of wise kings ruling over well-cared for subjects, with tidy streets and many festivals.
Could it be true? Riveh scarcely dared believe it, but what more proof did he need then the Grand Day of Exaltation? The very event itself, spoke to the wisdom and generosity of the Crown. Taking a lowly but worthy commoner and raising them to the grand heights of the nobility?
And now his own luck was turning, as if in response to rising atmosphere around him. A mystery letter, promising him access to the corridors of power. His first real lead, a first rung in the ladder that led to renewing his family name. A small start but Riveh recalled a desert saying his mother often repeated.
'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'
Riveh eyed Coren's Last Meal, fixing it in his memory. The first stone in a building, no matter how grand, is the most important.
Perception: 1d20 - 1 ⇒ (9) - 1 = 8
Assuming he sees nothing, he will go inside!
A lion-shaped door chime rang merrily as Riveh entered the tavern. Once inside, Coren's Last Meal showed itself to be quite a bit larger than its front suggested, though not in floor space. No, the back end of the eatery appeared to be all kitchen, a large and (judging by the sound of it) clearly busy affair. The size disparity between kitchen and seating area seemed clear indicator that the place specialized in catering over restauranteering. No doubt they were very busy with the celebrations. Still, small though it was, it was a very handsome tavern. Wood paneling, gleaming with wax and oil, covered every wall, lending the surroundings a fair bit of character in a city predominantly defined by stone and brick. Counters, tables and benches were similarly carved out of hefty slabs of luxurious oak, and really, the humble size of the place just gave it an air of exclusivity and prestige.
The customers Riveh managed to spy from their booths only confirmed this impression. While the rest of Oppara appeared fit to burst, Coren's Last Meal was merely comfortably full. And looking at these guests, it was easy to guess why - most likely the establishment's prices matched its up-scale decor. These people were clearly not among the elite. No, far from it. The true elite of Taldor wouldn't be caught dead in any eatery someone like the ifrit could simply waltz inside. But they were all well-dressed and educated, people with at least some money to spare.
With nowhere else to go, Riveh headed for the counter which was unattended at the moment. The place really was busy. A great big plaque hung a the back of the bar, bearing the tavern's name. It read as follows:
'COREN'S LAST MEAL
We are proud to serve traditional Taldan cuisine with modern sensibilities. Our establishment has grown from a simple tavern to what it is today in step with the nation's progress, and provides everything the wayfarer hungry for a taste of home could want. Enjoy the cozy atmosphere and revel in our history. Guests should know that this is where General Coren, expedition leader of the Third Army of Exploration, had his last meal before departing our great kingdom! Legend goes that he was all set to leave when he passed our humble tavern and couldn't resist the smell of our jubilee pie. We ask that you emulate our heroes and don't deny yourself a taste of Taldor!'
Riveh looked around. There was still some time before his mystery meeting, but it was of course possible that his contact was here early. In the letter, the writer had specified how the ifrit could identify him or her. The benefactor would be wearing a prominent brooch with a design featuring a wyrm fighting a unicorn. It sounded like it should be simple enough to recognize, but... oh.
Well, that was easy.
Out of a nearby booth a smiling woman was waving to Riveh. Apparently she had been expecting him. On closer inspection the woman was dressed in an elegant but reserved gown - at least by noble standards - and at her chest was... a large bronze brooch depicting a wyrm choking a unicorn.
"Hello," she smiled at the ifrit's approach. "I'm so pleased you decided to attend."
The woman seemed perfectly genuine in saying this. White teeth were on display as she directed Riveh to sit with a slender arm, and this invitation would be hard to pass for most young men; the woman was quite attractive, if a bit older than the ifrit. Mid to late twenties? Early thirties perhaps? It was hard to say. Her fine features were interesting for more reason than one, however. The woman's skin tone was not exactly like that of most Taldans. Actually, it appeared startlingly similar to Riveh's own. Coupled with her black tresses, the mysterious woman had the look of an outsider to Taldor, but she spoke like a native. An educated native, at that.
"I apologize. I wasn't expecting you early - have you eaten? Please, order whatever you like. It's the least I can do for having you come all this way. May I recommend the lunch platter? The fig jam is particularly lovely here. Although, before we proceed any further, I should say introductions are in order, no? My name is Lady Martella Coufas. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Sir Germinus."
Know. History: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (6) + 4 = 10
Riveh's eyes went a bit wide as he read the plaque. This was the Taldor he had read about, a land of ancient tradition and glory, where even a seemingly common tavern had links to the Army of Exploration! Astounding! Still, he must not loose his head, inside may lay the first link in a great chain.....
Inside, he quickly finds the dark skinned woman waving to him. His heart nearly skips a beat when she calls him 'Sir Geminus', and he can't help but smile back. Clearly this was someone who understood....
Know. Nobility: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (6) + 4 = 10
He is so swept away he is unable to place her face or name, but surely she is someone of import?
Riveh swallows and says, "The pleasure is all mine, Lady Coufas. Perhaps a small bit of...jubilee pie?" The ifrit says, hoping it sounds normal. Such treats were unknown in his childhood, more steeped in Qadrian baking then anything else. Was such a pie a customary order? The sign out front seemed to indicate so.....
The ifrit goes on, "Is it just the two of us, or do we wait for more?" Even to himself the words sounds grasping, uncouth. He needed to do better! Still, he tried to smile and paper over the rough sounding words. It would not due to mess up this interaction before it began, but still it would be useful to know. A single meeting, one on one, boded better then some group affair.
Lady Coufas's fine eyebrows rise in surprise at the ifrit's hesitant suggestion of jubilee pie for lunch. Her smile, however, grows just a bit wider.
"How very appropriate. Yes, of course - why shouldn't we celebrate along with everyone else? We'll share a jubilee pie."
Together the two of them quickly manage to attract a member of the staff to place their order for food and drink, although Riveh can't help but notice that the polite waiter's practiced demeanor can't disguise a not so polite look in his eyes. And he's not alone in this. From more than a few booths, guests are throwing suspicious glances at the ifrit and noblewoman. Some are outright staring. The reason why is obvious, of course. One dark-hued visitor to Taldor is one thing. But two people, appearing almost like hated Qadirans, hanging about in a tavern during Exaltation Week when national fervor is at its highest? They must seem a dubious pair indeed.
"But no, sir," Martella goes on, ignoring the rude looks entirely, "I'm not expecting anyone else. It's just the two of us. But before we proceed any further..."
Reaching to her side, Lady Coufas's hand disappears into a rather large, utilitarian handbag resting beside her. While definitely of good make, the sensible bag undeniably clashes with the rest of her beautiful clothing. Finding what she's looking for, the woman places it on the table between them. Whatever Riveh expected, it wasn't this. It appears to be a hand-sized cricket made out of brass, wood and glass. It sits motionless on the table until Martella pushes down on its head, whereupon something clicks inside it and it begins chirping softly.
"There. We may now speak candidly. I assure you that this little apparatus ensures our privacy. Now..."
The noblewoman's good-natured manners fade to make way for something a little more measured, a little more intent.
"Tempting as it is to simply enjoy a nice lunch with a charming young man, this wouldn't be entirely fair to yourself. That is not why you're here. You're here because I promised you an opportunity. So let's get to it. I'm in need of an... agent of sorts, Sir Germinus. Actually, I need multiple agents and already employ a fair number of them. I'd like to add you to that number. It's not important that you understand why this is and what I do; just know that I am a middling noble of some means looking to climb the great bureaucratic ladder. In other words, I am just another player in the political game Taldor's elite has been playing amongst themselves for thousands of years now. Wh... Ah, our pie!"
Riveh saw the waiter was indeed returning with a rather large pie. That was quick. The kitchen must be making these in bulk these days. Strangely, the server stopped a few feet from their table, appearing momentarily confused. He craned his head back and forth, as if looking for the source of some sound. Seemingly thinking nothing of it, he proceeded to serve the ifrit and noblewoman their lunch and wished them a pleasant dining before departing. Martella gave Riveh a mischievous look and nodded towards the brass cricket, still softly chirping beside them.
"It emits a very particular pitch. Muffles sound at a distance. Where were we...? Yes, what I'd like you to do is... well, forgive me, but I'm sure you understand that I'd prefer your commitment before going into details. Be assured that nothing I ask of you will be outright illegal or overly dangerous. I've done my research into you - you are capable, sociable and you have a name. These are assets I can put to use. In return I promise you access to the high circles that so far elude you."
Riveh's excited enthusiasm begins to wane as he hears Martella speak. It was becoming apparent to the ifrit that this was not a power player, able to catapult him into the airy heights of nobility and power, someone with the ability to undo decades of disgrace in one swift stroke. No, it was clear by her word themselves that this Lady Coufas is just another bit player, scrambling for her own place.
Worse she is not asking for allies or partners but...agents. Servants. A tool to be used, like a carpenter grabs for a hammer. Still, Riveh says to himself, he must be realistic. He was starting on the bottom, after all.
Over top of all this, is the stares from the other patrons. The racism and xenophobia in Taldor was not unknown to him of course. It was one of the foundational reasons for his family's disgrace and his own miserable station, after all. Still, it was one thing to know it academically and quite another to get flinty stares from across the room merely due to skin color or eye shape. With a prickle Riveh realizes this is the best case, for they don't know his true race. What would the reaction be if he was openly ifrit?
Probably man handled out of the tavern and thrown into the street. Or worse.
"You have quite the task set before you." Riveh says noncommittally, playing for time. He inspects the pie, wondering how badly had he misstep. Was it a sugary treat clearly meant for dessert and small children?
Then the ifrit seized on the strange cricket saying, "What an ingenious device. Something of your own creation? A useful tool in this game of whispers and alliances."
A short pause and then, "What use, exactly, do you imagine my assets being put towards?" Riveh puts a small edge in his voice, just enough to show he is quite aware of the power dynamic but not overly pleased with it. "Venturing in blind into any agreement is rarely wise."
A phantom of a headache prickles across his scalp, recalling the last agreement he had entered into without knowledge. Lady Coufas was probably not as dangerous as the Dark Tapestry, but lesser dangers could still kill the unwary.
The noblewoman merely grinned enigmatically at Riveh's question whether the brass cricket was her own design. Perhaps this was a trade secret of sorts. A rich smell of currants, cherries and fowl, evidently the filling of a jubilee pie, was quickly suffusing their booth as Martella cut into the tart, first carving a slice for the ifrit and then herself. She listened patiently as he asked for some clarity on any potential arrangement between them, but only after a thoughtful pause of chewing did she reply.
"I am not without sympathy for your cause, Sir Geminus. What befell your family was awful. And your caution is of course warranted. Very well. What do you know of this year's Exaltation Gala?"
Anyone in Taldor who wasn't some sort of hermitic druid knew of the gala, and Riveh was no treebeard. The Exaltation Gala took place on the last day of Exaltation Week, the Grand Day of Exaltation itself, and could be seen as the culmination of the celebrations. It was where Grand Prince Stavian III would 'exalt' the chosen commoner into the ranks of nobility.
"Mmh. And are you also aware that this isn't even close to being the most interesting event of this year's gala?"
Once again the ifrit was fairly sure he knew what Lady Coufas was referring to. It didn't take some sort of master rumormonger to know this. It was a major talking point among everyone from street urchin to aristocrat: the potential end to Taldor's thousand-year spanning primogeniture.
"Because so many flock to the capital, the highborn utilize the celebrations to conduct business, issue proclamations, hold private parties, and scheme within their not-so-secret secret societies. It's just practical. The imperial senate also sees the opportunity to vote on matters of nationwide importance in these days, as the majority of the senators are gathered in Oppara during Exaltation Week anyway. This year's gala will take place inside the senate building. And while they're all there, the senators are due to vote on, among other matters, the proposition strong-armed into existence by our goodly princess. Should it go through it will change the nation forever. Women would be able to inherit land and title, and the princess will be set to be Taldor's first queen. It's all highly controversial. And controversy is political gold, as you are so very well aware."
The scheming noblewoman drank deep from her steaming mug before continuing.
"This is where I'd put your assets to work, Sir Geminus. It's already the event of the year and poised to become the event of the century. I'm offering to get you in there as one of my escorts. At the senate you will do some simple tasks I cannot afford to attempt myself which should take you no more than a few hours at most. The rest of the evening is yours. Mingle with the elite. Make contacts. Find potential allies. Practically everyone who is anyone is going to be there, including our royalty, and you won't find a better place to make your entrance into high society."
Martella leaned back in her seat, curious dark eyes awaiting the ifrit's answer. She then added, as if it hardly even mattered, "Oh, and I'll also pay you for your services, of course. Handsomely, at that."
Riveh purses his lips, taking this in. Lady Coufas paints a very clear and stark picture. He had two options. One was to refuse her, spurn yet another Taldane noble and continue to thrash aimlessly in the shallowest of pools waiting for a big break that seemed unlikely to come. The other was work for her and get a chance to circulate int he highest levels of Taldane society during a very important and positive social affair.
There really was no choice. The fact that Martella was willing, at least on the surface, to speak well of his family was just icing on the jubilee cake.
"You paint a very rosy picture, Lady Coufas." Riveh says finally, idly poking at the steaming pie with a fork. "I must say I am very tempted, tempted indeed. As you say, it is an amazing opportunity." The iffrit works very hard not to just say yes and asks one more question.
"Just one more thing. What is your stance on this question of primogeniture? Even if I am simply going as an aide, I will probably be tied to your political faction from the start. I merely wish to know which end of the tug of war I am entering into."
Was he pushing things too far? Would Martella push back? Could he lose this golden chance? Still, was it not prudent to learn as much as possible before a firm commitment? What if this lady was a fiery radical whose association would only brand him as a fringe zealot for some obscure political postilion?
For a moment the noblewoman seems almost to suppress the desire to roll her eyes. She adopts a sly little smirk.
"I have no opinion on the princess's proposition."
"Oh, the amendment would absolutely benefit women like myself, to be sure. It's just that it wouldn't benefit me, you see. Older siblings. Many siblings. Even if I was set to inherit, that particular pie will be sliced far too thinly for my liking." Martella toys with a knife over your own shared jubilee pie as she says this. "As such the vote hold no interest to me. I'm afraid I'm rather mean like that. It's a hard world out there, Sir Geminus; a woman has to look out for herself. Perhaps our good princess would even approve. Perhaps not. That said, information on how each senator intends to vote... Now that would be interesting. Valuable information, that."
Lady Coufas smiles again, but it is clearly feigned, not reaching her dark eyes. Apparently she has no qualms with revealing herself as a vaguely amoral political power player. Perhaps she just doesn't believe Riveh influential enough to harm her with this insight. Or worse, perhaps this is just the norm among the aristocracy.
"To be clear, Sir Geminus, I'm not asking you to ally yourself with me. I'm asking you to work for me. There's a world of difference. I would never impose my own values and ambitions onto you nor anyone else. In fact, I find such behavior by moralists and busybodies the height of vulgarity. No, you are free to do, say whatever you will and pursue your own goals at court. I both fully expect you to do so and encourage you. Should we find that our humors align, then so much the better. But I do not consider political accord a necessity for a working relationship. I find the idea limiting."
The Lady's plate is left clean as Martella finishes her slice with perfect table manners - elbows held to her sides throughout - and wipes her mouth with the provided napkin.
"But tit for tat, Sir Geminus!" she suddenly cries, her earlier chipper demeanor returning. "You cannot ask me my opinion on a major controversy without sharing your own. How rude of you! Go on. What are your thoughts on the primogeniture vote?"
Sense Motive: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (10) + 3 = 13
Riveh suspects this noblewoman is not quite as mercenary as she lets on, but can't penetrate her polite, political mask. This bothers the ifrit,for if he cannot seem through this rather minor member of aristocracy how could he hope to wheel and deal with the true power players of the land? That, as much as anything made up his mind.
He would agree to Lady Coufas's offer.
First however, her question. "I do not think tradition should be lightly set aside. It is what sets us apart from the other myriad nations of the Inner Sea. A long and glorious past, steeped in victory and honor. That is a truly noble thing, and all too easily destroyed by the whims of the moment."
A pause and then, "But not all that is old is good. This law....what purpose does it truly serve? Do we honestly believe, in this day and age, that women are incapable of managing an estate or, even, a realm?" The young man smiles, "Present company alone should banish the very thought."
Letting the gallant gesture linger for a moment he goes on, still idly toying with the pie. "Returning to the main subject...I think your deal is a fair one. Consider me at your service, Lady Coufas, starting immediately. I look forward to working with you."
I assume nobility of this level don't shake hands like common peasants or tradesmen?
Depends on circumstances, I guess. But yeah, probably not in this case.
For his flattery, Riveh was rewarded with a coy little bit of theater as the noblewoman feigned embarrassment.
"And there it is. That Geminus charm I want to employ. Keep it up, Sir - it will serve you well among the aristocracy. They're all surrounded by fawning flatterers looking for some scraps off their table of course, but their pride laps it up regardless."
Beyond this she said nothing at all to the ifrit's profession of egalitarianism, though her smile returned in full force as he accepted her proposal. Riveh couldn't help but be struck by what difference a genuine smile did to a person. In this instance, Lady Coufas transformed from calculated schemer to something excitable and almost girlish.
"Excellent! I'm glad to count you among my own, Sir Geminus. Well then. Let's talk shop."
A sunbeam snaked its way over the polished wood table, travelling across emptied plates and mugs gone cold, as Riveh and Martella spent a good long while discussing the specifics of their arrangement. Even at a distance the discrete tavern staff could tell: here was a conspiracy in the making.
Aide: In addition to spies, Martella legitimately needs an actual aide as both a cover for her other false aides and to run communications between allied politicians. This is by far the easiest job available, but also the most time-consuming, requiring the PC to run messages between various politicians.
Discovery: Martella is fairly confident she knows which way the vote will swing, but she hates loose ends. She tasks this agent with uncovering the true dedication of two senators: Duke Centimus and Countess Abrielle Pace. It is unknown if either supports the princess’s bid to end primogeniture, and while their votes will be apparent after the senate convenes, Martella wants the PC to discover their positions in advance, as well as the reasons each noble holds that position.
Fraud: Martella wants to discredit a few prominent senators. This agent must create a scandal surrounding Baronet Cicato, Duke Talbot, or Earl Vernisant. A daring agent may choose to try to discredit all three.
Theft: To further undermine the influence of the recently disgraced Earl Calhadion Vernisant, Martella would like to see some of the historical artifacts that the earl donated to the senate vanish from the Arcade of Triumphs before it is unveiled prior to the evening’s vote. Martella indicates that her agent is free to keep the item; she wishes only for their disappearance to further embarrass Earl Vernisant and his allies.
Politicking: Lady Coufas requires a vast web of influence to maintain her orchestrations. To that end, she would like this agent to remind Baron Okerra of certain debts he owes her, forcefully if necessary. While the Baron isn’t a senator, his war record and general popularity make him an influential figure.
Sabotage: Some senators are too powerful or stubborn for the PC to influence, but that doesn’t mean they’re beyond some petty revenge. Martella would like to exact some retribution against some members of the Lotheed family, who have contributed a large bottle of rare, 150-year-old red wine from family holdings in the Opparos province, now held in the senate’s kitchens. Martella provides a single syringe filled with a putrefying agent to render the wine embarrassingly undrinkable but warns her agent not to steal the bottle and to conceal any signs of tampering; it must be drunk at dinner and appear to be of terrible quality or - even more scandalously - a forgery.
Spy: Martella needs someone to keep tabs on political rivals and update her if they change their tactics, most notably High Strategos Maxillar Pythareus. This agent must stay close to the military commander, watching for unusual behavior or listening for snippets of conversation, and warn her if he takes any unusual actions, all while remaining unobtrusive.
I struggled a bit with how to present this, but in the end decided to turn all your potential missions into the list above. Playing this out as an actual conversation, Martella detailing every option, you asking for clarifications, would turn into such a massive back & forth it alone would take us a week of posting. So to be clear: you are free to choose any of the missions in the spoiler. Anything you choose to leave be will be passed on to other agents of hers. Her only demand is that you complete at least two of them.
Riveh considers the offered jobs each in turn, dismissing some, considering others.
Being an aide was too medial and might just enforce the image he was merely a servant. Besides, it sounded boring.
Discovering the views of two noblewoman had more promise, but ti sounded more like gossip work then anything else. Besides, Riveh had no objection to these Senators and a job done poorly might personally alienate them.
The same applied to the fraud attempts. It isn't that Riveh morally objected, such things seemed to the bread and butter of the nobility, but why risk it on unknowns?
The theft had possibilities, very good possibilities. Besides, it also opened the door to personal graft. Who knows what an item might be worth?
Ah, but the politicking... Baron Okerra. The man who now claimed to own the lands his family deserved. Popular, powerful....this would be a good chance to get his measure, while wearing the cloak of another.
Then Riveh's blood goes cold. House Lotheed? The usurpers...the enemy. How could he miss a chance to humiliate them? Yes, this was minor and petty but any blow was a blow....and perhaps it would let him feel out the family as well.
"I can speak to Baron Okerra and I can embarrass House Lotheed. Gladly." Riveh says to the noblewoman after some thought. "Do I work alone? What other information can you provide? Any accomplices on the inside of either location?"
"Duly noted," the noblewoman said upon hearing Riveh's decision and very literally noted something or other down in a small leather notebook retrieved during their discussion. Presumably she needed details such as these in writing to better coordinate her operations with other agents. Assuming these operations were half as extensive as the ifrit's brief time with the woman would indicate, that notebook would probably be worth a fair amount of gold to the right person.
But while Riveh was unlikely to ever read the journal swiftly packaged away in her strangely bulky handbag, he had plenty to read in Martella's dark eyes as she looked up again. There was an unmistakably amused light there. If Lady Coufas had done her research into him - and how else would he be sitting here? - then she must also know his family history. The look in her eyes told him that she had fully expected him to jump on those two assignments. And the slight tightness newly arrived to her polite smile told him that the Lady perhaps found his choices disappointingly predictable.
"But yes, let's move on to practicalities. The Exaltation Gala will take place entirely within the senate building. Officially it's set to begin at seven in the evening, but aides, staff and other general attendees can expect a prodigious queue. Unfortunately, that includes you. With the majority of the nation's leadership in attendance, security will be every bit as thorough as you might expect and then some. So do be there early. And on that subject..."
More rustling in the handbag. After which... "Here you are. You will need this."
Held out to the ifrit in a hand notably void of ostentatious jewelry was an emblem, and a familiar one at that. It was a near exact copy of the bronze brooch Martella was wearing. The only differences lay in this one being slightly smaller, and the altered insignia: while the surface of the noblewoman's badge was wholly dedicated to the wyrm and unicorn locked in battle, this was only half of the proffered emblem's imagery. Slashed down the middle, the other half featured a stylized building with columns. Riveh recognized this as the symbol of the Taldan senate.
"It's a so-called senate aide badge. It identifies you as a member of staff to a senator, and will be your means of entry to the gala. So don't lose it. Now don't misunderstand - once inside you won't have to feign being an aide. The guards will just have to see you wearing it to let you through the door, as it were. Although I would advise you to wear it throughout the evening; it has a quite clever feature. Go on. Put it on."
A conspiratorial smile adorned Lady Coufas's lips as she waited for the young man to follow instructions. It was perfectly obvious by now that she rather enjoyed these things - knowing what others didn't; impressing people with her bag of tricks. There was something almost child-like in the pleasure the Lady took in dazzling others with her cleverness. But seeing no way forward here but indulging her, Riveh pinned the badge to his clothing.
'Hello, Riveh Geminus. I'm in your head.'
And got a bit of a shock doing so. Martella's melodic voice had eerily reverberated within his mind, like an audible thought. For her part, the noblewoman was merely grinning in her seat.
"Fun little device, isn't it? Forgive me, Sir Geminus. I admit to a fondness for these devices. The two badges are linked, you see. My own emblem - the master badge..." She indicated the brooch at her chest. "... can contact the wearers of any number of corresponding aide badges through mental missives. Those wearers may then respond. Unfortunately, it doesn't work the other way round, that is to say you may not contact me. Something of a design flaw in my own opinion. Still, very useful, and you can expect me to check in on you every now and then during the gala. And on the topic of gala and accessories... Sir Geminus, what does your wardrobe budget look like?"
It is a credit to Martella's practiced social conduct that she managed to ask this without a hint of either condemnation or condescension.
"I'm sure you realize there will be a dress code at the event. Should you require it I can provide you a line of credit at a reputable tailor and loan you the requisite jewelry. You should also know that the dress code, not to mention security, prohibits any arms or armor beyond the ceremonial. Nothing boorish. Even then, any weapon you bring into the senate must be peace-bound, which is to say secured to its sheath with a length of decorative cord. Potions, scrolls, spell component pouches and whatnot are accepted into the senate, as they should be - several of the senators are magical practitioners themselves - however, the use of magic is prohibited without written approval. Take care not to break any of these rules lest the guards escort you outside. It would be a great shame for you to waste this great opportunity. And worse still, to disappoint me." Martella was still smiling as she said this which made discerning whether her disappointment truly came with retribution a bit difficult to discern. She quickly added, however, with a sly smirk, "All this said, the guards cannot act upon what they cannot see..."
But said smirk faded in the slight pause the noblewoman took before moving on to Riveh's next query.
"As for whether or not you will be working alone - as a rule, yes. Oh, there will be other agents of mine at the gala, carrying out their own assignments as you will yours. However, due to the sensitive nature of our work I guarantee the anonymity of my contractors. That includes you, Sir Geminus. As such, my agents typically do not work together, no. Nevertheless, I could inquire whether any of them are willing to assist you during the event. Be warned though. Should they accept, it will be entirely of their own volition; they may learn your identity as you may learn theirs, and they will no doubt require some favor from yourself in turn. Should I make the request?"
Riveh does his best to hide his disappointment when Lady Coufas finds his choices prosaic and expected. No one likes to think of themselves as predictable and led by easy to guess patterns. The ifirt vows to himself to not be so easily trapped by his past again. If this woman he had never met could read him so well, what of his enemies?
He found the badge off-putting as well. Hearing a voice in his head....it reminded him too much of his strange trip to the Great beyond, when his mind had been a plaything of the forces int hat bizarre box. Still, it might prove useful, assuming Martella was telling him the whole story and the badge did not have other powers.
"I can acquire suitable clothes. Do you have a tailor in the city you can recommend for a quick visit? Perhaps a new mantle or something might be in order? I will leave the armor at home." He ventures a smile, "Hopefully it will not be needed in your service."
When she speaks about other agents, Riveh thinks for a long moment. It was not an easy thing to answer. One on hand, allies were useful and not only for these tasks at hand. A long term alliance built in Lady Coufas's service might yield benefits far more wide-ranging. Riveh was here to gain influence after all. On the other hand, who knows what viper he may be pressing to his breast?
"Let us leave that for the moment, Lady Coufas. I will struggle on, as I have up till now, alone." The man stands up and bows to the noblewoman. "Please, share any final orders and I'll go prepare myself for the work." A short pause and then, "Thank you for this opportunity. I will do my best to take advantage of it."
He lets the double meaning of that last sentence hang in the air for a moment. Not a threat certainly but also an veiled statement that he is in this for his own aggrandizement, not solely for Martella's glory. He doubts a hardened veteran of Oppara's political scene will be very surprised by this, but best to get it out int he open.
"Thank you for the pie."
"See that you do, Sir," Martella replied to the ifrit's assertion of taking full advantage of this 'opportunity'. Her playful smile was back, seemingly in approval.
"Well, I believe that just about covers it then. And don't think I haven't noticed your failure to ask about the promised monetary reward. Good on you, Sir Geminus. Financial indifference is an attractive quality, even among the aristocracy; the truly powerful are above such concerns after all. Although for clarity's sake I should say my compensation is 150 gold pieces, paid upon completion of your assignments. Also, if I’m to be blunt, I would like just once in my adult life to simply enjoy a gala I attend, rather than scamper about with clandestine busywork, so if you complete your work without need of me to clean anything up, I will happily double that fee."
It was a generous offer to be sure, but the noblewoman didn't linger on it.
"As for tailors, I recommend Thread Rare near Liongate. Not among the oldest outfitters in Oppara, but their star is rising. And I do so believe in nurturing new talent," she said with a glint in her eye towards her companion.
"Are we done here, Sir Geminus? Any lingering questions? Should you think of anything, or, Aroden forbid, change your mind, we may still talk." She brought one finger to her bronze badge. "May I contact you tomorrow at an hour of your choosing? Merely to see whether our arrangements are holding?"
Riveh bows at the mention of money, showing he appreciates it but does not dignify it with a word. While the meeting had not gone as well as he had hoped, at least he hadn't made himself too much of a boor.
"Thread Rare." Riveh says, noting it, "Excellent. Nothing like a fresh perspective by up and comers. One never knows what fresh star may discover."
At her question about more questions, the ifrit cocks his head, then shakes it. "That is enough to start with. As for further contact, of course. I am at your disposal, Lady Coufas. Good day, m'lady." Another bow and the young man takes his leave, badge affixed.
Ok, a few things. Is it on purpose I do not know the exact 'certain debts' the Baron owes Martella? I'd ask but maybe it was implied that isn't mine to know? Or is it more vague then that?
Do I have a pretty good description of the wine bottle?
Do I go into the Senate with her or not? Or do I just show up at the right day and time and enter as an aide or whatever, like my badge allows me?
Ok, moving on. Things to do-
Go to this tailor and buy a fancy set of clothes and the jewelry
Find a hair stylist and manicure person...do those exist? Surely. I need 'the works' including a bath and shampoo. I want to knock Martella dead tomorrow.
Need a few potions. Can provide a list if you want.
Also want to do some nosing about, casually of my new patron, the Baron, House Lotheed and people's views about primogeniture.
Ok, a few things. Is it on purpose I do not know the exact 'certain debts' the Baron owes Martella?
Absolutely. Even if you were so grossly uncouth as to ask, Martella would not tell you. This is information above Riveh's pay-grade as it were, and I'd guess he knows it.
Do I have a pretty good description of the wine bottle?
The wine in question is a 4567 Shivroquem Piquant. Taldor is known for its many fine wines, and even then this 150 year old red can be counted among the finest. It will presumably be kept in the senate kitchens before being served. Martella provided you with the putrefying agent when you accepted the mission (I should have included that, really), and yes, it is absolutely part of your job to smuggle that into the senate.
Do I go into the Senate with her or not? Or do I just show up at the right day and time and enter as an aide or whatever, like my badge allows me?
You get in the queue like the hired help you are. The Lady and the rest of your betters arrive through an entirely different entrance, while you will have to finagle security and lines. But yes, your badge should get you in with minimal fuss. Once inside you're not expected to even speak with your employer. Just do your own thing. And your job.
Riveh was standing naked on top of a pedestal with another man between his legs. Well, half-naked. Lady Coufas's comment on Thread Rare not being among the oldest outfitters in Oppara had turned out to be misleading. Nestled away in a quiet corner of the otherwise busy Liongate district, the tailoring shop had in conversation turned out to be over 200 years old. Anywhere else in the world this should be mightily impressive, but in the ancient capital of fashion focused Taldor, it translated to being the new kid on the block. It was an impressive operation, though. Thread Rare was situated in a very charming repurposed library, lending the quarters a severe dignity.
"Would sir relax?" a sing-songy voice emanated somewhere below the ifrit's waistline. "These measurements aren't going to do us any good if sir doesn't adopt his natural posture. Thank you."
The relatively young clothier currently surveying Riveh's legs with measuring band was the same who had greeted him at the door. The ifrit had hardly had to explain a thing to the dapper man; his eyes had lit up at the sight of the senate badge and the emblem had seemingly told him everything he needed to know. It had been a matter of minutes before Riveh was standing here, on top of a platform in his undies before a large three-way mirror with the tailor inspecting every inch of his dimensions.
"If sir will permit, you have a fine figure. Very fine indeed. Sir takes care of himself, you are positively glowing with vigor. It is a pleasure dressing a man such as yourself. Too often clothing our valued customers is a matter of camouflage, you see - disguise and subterfuge. Hiding away a soft nobleman's potbelly, adding curvature to an older lady... It's enough to make a dressmaker despair. The artist should not have to display his painting in a pigsty. But sir... here nothing will have to be hidden away. Oh no, it would be a crime. Sir is the ideal podium for any costume. The clothes shall adorn you as sir shall beautify them, coming together in a greater whole. You'll see."
The tailor was undeniably odd. Leaving Riveh to stand as he was, the man briefly stepped into a backroom to return with an armful of equally undeniably gorgeous clothing.
"Now, the gala is set for the day after tomorrow, so sir will understand that we cannot tailor something bespoke in that time frame. We'll have to work with what's off-the-rack, but I promise you there will be no skimping on quality. I wouldn't have it, sir. Everything will also of course be fitted to your fabulous dimensions. Any thoughts on this one, sir?"
Riveh was shown the first of several costumes, all of which appeared high-end and very attractive.
"Formal, but not too stuffy as I'm sure sir would agree. Quite youthful. Fashion-forward even. Peak lapels for that extra bit of ostentation, and some very slight padding in the shoulders without being crass. Just something to enhance your silhouette without overdoing it, giving you that sculpture. It's very fitted towards a trim waist, showcasing sir's natural athleticism. And this I'm particularly proud of," he said holding out the trousers. "A V-shaped tuck at the hipline, just to give the ladies and sirs something to look at should you decide to. You have the physique to pull it off. Well, try it on, sir. Can't have you standing about naked all day, much as we'd like to."
A courtier's outfit with requisite jewelry is 80 gp. You can try rolling Diplomacy checks on the local populace to gather info in your next post, each attempt taking 1d4 hours. Or you can even hedge your bets with this guy. Describe it however you want.
For awhile, Riveh lets himself get carried away by the tailor's talk. I mean, it wasn't totally out of line. Riveh had a slim, toned body honed by hours of martial practice and a rather more active life then most Taldane nobles probably had. How many of them had helped bring in the year's harvest (sure it had been a lark, but he had done it) or helped the stonemasons on repairs to the manor (he had enjoyed the work songs)? Not many, Riveh waged. Compared to the cossetted and elderly court of Oparra he probably was an outlier.
Also the tailor's pleasant patter was a welcome respite after Martella's knowing glances, snide smirks and ever so polite remarks. At this this man took him seriously. Maybe the tailor laid it on a bit thick but then again....the ifirt gazes at the man speculatively, he was probably good with his hands...
Riveh mentally checked himself. he was falling into the very trap Lady Coufas had mentioned at their meeting. The appeal of the fawning flatterer, looking for scraps off the table. That was all this was, just another attempted manipulation by a dissembling intriguer. He would have to get use to this, and steel his heart and mind to not be distracted by a pretty face or fair words.
Still, he need not be rude. The man was at least, competent at his job.
"Fashion[forward'?" Riveh said, allowing some doubt to creep into his voice. Fashion was something he knew little about and his home estate had been isolated, far removed from the swirling world of court fashion and etiquette. But when you hired a professional, you trusted him.
"Very well. Let us go with this one. As you said, it does seem rather flattering." As Riveh tries it on he asks, casually, "So, I imagine business is good with the Exaltation going on? What other nobles have frequented your shop? Anyone you wish to brag about?" He smiles to show this is a jest and not a barbed attack. Then Riveh baits the hook, "Might be a small tip, for juicy gossip. I need to be prepared for the Gala, of course."
Sense Motive on How Serious is this guy's flirting?: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (17) + 3 = 20
Diplomacy: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (7) + 8 = 15
"Is sir implying that my garmentations won't be enough to impress?" the dapper tailor replied in response to Riveh's prodding for gossip in anticipation of the gala. His pale eyebrows were arched high in wounded shock, but it was plainly obvious that the man was answering the ifrit's banter in kind. While certainly unconventional, his breezy professional tone didn't break for a second.
"I can only assume that sir is testing me. After all, should you find me the type to gossip about our valued customers, then sir would rightfully not feel comfortable airing his own intimates in our establishment. And what a shame that would be. No, charming as you are, I'm afraid sir shan't convince me to break our aristocracy's client confidentiality."
That seemed to be the end of that, as the clothier circled Riveh to help him into an embroidered jacket.
"Of course, there's nothing stopping us chatting about a certain not as of yet nobleman..."
The ifrit had to crane his neck around to catch the tailor cheeky little smirk. Was he implying...?
"Yes, sir. The plebeian at the centre of all this fuss, the soon to be blue-blood graced this very store just a few days ago. I dressed him myself. And what a plebeian. My goodness. To see him come in here... I won't lie, sir, I might have turned him away if it hadn't been for the castle escort nannying him about. Mind you, without that guard I wouldn't have understood a word from the poor dear. I swear I've heard Ulfen with lesser accents. I cannot imagine what backwoods wilderness they found this one in. Well, actually I can. Breezy Creek, wherever that is. That's his name, you see. Kalbio of Breezy Creek."
Riveh considered the man's announcement. Learning who exactly was the subject of the Grand Day of Exaltation was most likely not particularly difficult for those with the right channels. The ceremony was done by the Grand Prince himself with all the arrangements surely being completed months in advance. But it was still a nominal secret, one that the average person had little way to discover. As Martella might say, this information could be worth something.
"He was a sweet enough chap," the clothier went on, fastening the bejeweled cufflinks. "Earnest in that way only the country types are. Seemed a bit... shall we say 'simple'? Supposedly he was chosen for his weaving. Yes, I know. I'll believe it - it was all he could talk about. Very keen on seeing our fabric storage. Quite the character, but sir will see for himself soon enough. That's the ensemble complete. Thoughts?"
The multi-angled and resplendently dressed person in the three-way mirror looked... well, he looked better than the ifrit could ever remember himself looking.
"Sir should find moving about perfectly comfortable - the thread count of 120 is the ideal medium between luxury and sturdiness. The d’orsay shoes also let your feet breathe, and show off those lovely stockings with equally lovely calves. But the slim fitted vest... oh, it really does bring it all together. If I may, the hints of chartreuse suit your coloring. They bring out the fire in sir's eyes. You have the kind of frame that looks marvelous with something clinging to it. Very nice, sir. Very nice indeed."
Riveh had been watching the tailor in trying to determine whether the man's strange blend of professionalism and coquettishness was genuine or an act put on to flatter the customer. Nice as it was to receive compliments, the ifrit was inclined to believe the latter. The dapper clothier's demeanor just too practiced to be entirely candid.
That said, those furtive glances he snuck at Riveh when he thought he wasn't looking - those were most certainly genuine. And there was no masking the enjoyment in those eyes either.
Riveh inwardly sighs when he realizes, at least some of the patter is just the usual flattery of a tradesmen for a fee. Still, some of it is genuine, or at least Riveh is easier to flatter then the usual moth-eaten noble. That is something, anyway. Besides, the man did share some useful gossip. Maybe Martella already knew, but perhaps him sharing it tomorrow might impress his new employer.
Employer. The word sits uneasily on his tongue. Still, it had to be done. No use whining about it.
Riveh pulls out 80 gold coins, and adds three extra for the rumor.
"The suit is excellent, thank you. Lady Coufas was correct in her appraisal of your wares." The ifrit smiles, warmly enough, "Would you happen to know a barber? One who might know the current fashions? I want to look my best for the upcoming Gala."
"I glad to hear you say so, sir. We strive for excellence, and to clothe a debutante is always a pleasure and a privilege. If I may, sir will knock them dead."
The tailor gave Riveh a smile in the mirror and pocketed the payment, courteously making no mention at all of the bonus included by the ifrit beyond a knowing nod.
"And absolutely, sir. Thread Rare has a client referral program, and I can confidently recommend Lion Mane, just a short walk away from here."
Where we go from here and how is entirely up to you. You can go info gathering, prepping or what have you in the roughly 48 hours left before the gala, or we can jump straight to the main event.
Sense Motive: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (17) + 3 = 20
Riveh frowns when the tailor reacts to Martella's name. Was something wrong? Was it a faux pas to mention a fellow noble patron by name? Or was Lady Coufas in slight disrepute? The ifirt simply didn't know enough.
"Thank you for the recommendation. Have a wonderful holiday and my business be good. Abadar smile on your business."
Ok, I am fine to skim most of the rest of this. I want to get washed and clipped. How much is that? However, now that I have this bee in my bonnet, I'd like to Diplomacy name-drop Lady Coufas at the hairdresser. No need to RP, just tell me how it went.
Diplomacy: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (6) + 8 = 14
Can I go magic potion shopping? Now that I sort of have an idea...
Also, is it implied that I'll need to sneak into the Baron's presence or will he receive me openly?"
With a bow and well-wishings from the tailor (and perhaps a sneaky glance at Riveh's rear), the ifrit left Thread Rare with an excellent new ensemble. Having decided to dedicate the day to adding some glamour to himself in anticipation of the gala, he then headed for the very patriotically named Lion Mane. Beauty parlors were practically unheard of elsewhere, of course, even in a nation so obsessed with appearances as Taldor. But in addition to being the country's capital, Oppara was the capital of social politicking. While the aristocracy had their own staff on hand for these things, even civilians had good reason to beautify themselves from time to time. And so establishments like Lion Mane, part barbershop, bathhouse and hairdresser, were thriving businesses, especially during Exaltation Week.
Unfortunately, while the services were good, Riveh found that Lion Mane's staff was not nearly as talkative as the good clothier. Within the shop, resplendently decorated with the golden Taldan lion as appropriate to the holiday, the ifrit had some trouble making conversation with the employees. Although perfectly courteous, they didn't say much. It was only when the ifrit caught a snippet of discussion between two of them about the right use of product for 'the customer's skin tone' that he realized just how open-minded the tailor had been. Well, either that or just very professional. Anti-Qadiran sentiments ran strong in Taldor.
But then, perhaps that was exactly why the dark-hued Martella had recommended Thread Rare. Still, Lion Mane was no bust. The young man emerged looking ready to charm a dragon. And he'd managed to finagle the address of a potion shop from the reticent staff too. It figured that they should know an alchemist or two with how much lotion and perfume the place must go through. They had never heard of Lady Coufas, however.
If you drop another, say, 5 gp on a proper makeover, I'm up for that giving you a +1 to appropriate Cha checks during the gala. As for the baron, he's supposedly going to be as approachable as anyone else at the party. If you make a scene... well, that's probably why Martella hired you instead of doing this herself. Buy whatever potions you want.
Ok, I'll subtract 5 gold for the makeover. I'd also like to buy 2 smoke pellets and a Cure Light Wounds potion
Cure Light Wounds- 50 gold
2 Stink pellets (25 GP each)- 50 GP
Ready to move along!
A sunbeam slowly snaked its way across the table every bit as lazily as the rest of the inn. It was early morning at Riveh's comparatively humble lodgings in Oppara, and he was enjoying what breakfast he had managed to coax from the kitchens. Staff and guests both had had a late night. While many districts in Oppara were cordoned off from revelry in the late hours in the interest of keeping the (very literal) peace, the ifrit's inn was not so fortunate. Starting in the evening laughter, drinking and singing had blended into a ever present background noise as the common citizen took full advantage of the rare holiday.
And yet now the street outside the window was near-perfectly clean and pristine, a few street sweepers still being visible in the distance picking up the last of the night's litter. It seemed Grand Prince Stavian III was determined to have his capital looking its best because of, and indeed despite of, all the visitors. Every city official must be working triple hours.
And on the subject of hours - somewhere a clock tower struck eight and the bronze badge on Riveh's chest grew just a bit warmer. Lady Coufas contacted him precisely as they'd agreed.
'Good morning!' an echo of Martella's voice reverberated in his head. Even with the strange distortion she sounded her chipper self.
'Hopefully our agreement stands? Have you changed your mind on requesting an ally? Please answer concisely. 25 word limit on magic.'
Riveh shifts his attention from his morning eggs and bacon to the overly chipper voice in his head. The ifrit had never liked mornings and mornings after a long and very loud night were even worse. Still, Martella was punctual, whatever other secrets she might have,
Carefully counting words he says, 'Good morning, Lady Coufas. All is well. Clothes and plans in progress. All as discussed, no need for change. All is well with you?'
'Excellent,' the foreign thought bubbled into Riveh's mind after a slight pause. It was unclear whether the noblelady was responding to his inquiry to her well-being or the assurance that he was ready to move ahead, however. Perhaps either option was good.
'Then I look forward to seeing you at the gala. Best of luck with my tasks and your own endeavors both.'
There was another pause before a final echo bounced about the ifrit's skull.
Huh. 25. Mayhap the Lady had been counting her own words. Well, regardless, that was the stage set, as the playwrights might say. He had his mission, he had the means, he had the time and place; the only thing missing now was... actually doing it. This was it. Riveh was about to become a player in Taldor's oldest game. He would have to start humbly, but this was unquestionably the beginning of the glorious return of the Geminus family. As the good tailor had said, knock 'em dead.
Riveh wished he was dead. Here he was in the nation's capital on the Grand Day of Exaltation itself, a festivity considered by many the merriest of all. Everywhere around the city, people were celebrating their country and themselves in surroundings that left no doubt Taldor was the envy of the world. And what was the ifrit doing? Queuing. By the merciful host of Heaven.
Still, he had been warned. And if nothing else the view was nice. Riveh was on Senate Hill in the district named after its foremost landmark, Senate Hill. The knoll itself was a beautiful affair, lush green well-maintained plains dotted with small, but luxurious, administrative buildings with their centerpiece resting at the top of the hill - the Taldan senate. The senate building was old, very old indeed, and yet it looked as if its last stone had been laid just minutes ago. Either the place was somehow warded against the cruel passage of time by magic, or some cleaning crew in Oppara deserved every penny paid to them and then some - the building was built entirely out of white marble and practically gleaming. Its columned design was the prime example of classic Taldan architecture, borrowing from their Azlanti progenitors, and it was glorious. The famous senate stairs leading up to it, cutting through the field of green, was of similar marble and sported exactly 100 steps. Calling them 'steps' might be something as a misnomer, however, as every one of them was large enough to host an orchestra.
It was on these stairs that the line for the Exaltation Gala was formed, Riveh included. And unfortunately, he hadn't progressed very far yet. Martella had warned him the queue would be prodigious, but it almost beggared belief. The procession consisted entirely of smartly dressed people, but this was about the only commonality between them: many were wearing bronze badges of differing designs, while others carried scrolls with special permits. Some were even clearly foreign, bearing the insignia of Taldor's wayward colonies of Andoran, Cheliax and more. A few were extraordinarily so non-human, as in the case of the delegation of three dwarves directly in front of Riveh. They seemed less than pleased with the waiting.
"Milord! Refresh yourself with some honey-water! Only 5 coppers!"
If only waiting was the only trial here. Some street vendors had taken the opportunity to occupy the lowest steps to hawk refreshments to the slowly progressing lines. The royal guards milling about seemed content to let them be as long as they confined themselves to the bottom of the stairs. And dammit if their wares weren't actually needed; queuing was unexpectedly taxing work. Even the evenings were warm this time of year and the sun hadn't quite set yet. Coupled with the body heat of a crowd forcibly pressed together and people were getting irritable. What one didn't do for their family.
Going to have to ask for a Bluff roll or Sleight of Hand or whatever means you use to smuggle the syringe by the guard check. Feel free to get creative if you think you can cut through the line or what have you.
There was a time when Riveh had loved the sun, when (with his mother's encouragement) he had spent hours on the roof of the simple manor soaking up the warm rays of the sun. His bronze skin had glowed and he could stare at the blazing orb above for hours.....but that had been before the box...before his journey to power and prestige. For vengeance.
Now his fires were banked dimmed by the bizarre touch of the Dark Tapestry. The sun held no power over him now, and he felt the same chills and cold winds that humans did. Standing in line, ordered like cattle was just as unpleasant for him as anyone else in this row. Worse perhaps, because he had a syringe of liquid that would probably need smuggled past the guards.
Then again, perhaps just a mental enterprise was exactly what he needed.
"Oi, vendor!"[/i] Riveh calls out to a balding man selling hefy water gourds. [b]"I'll take one, that long skinny one with the green stripes!"
Riveh takes the offered gourd and drinks the water gratefully. It had been a long time in line after all. Then, waiting till no one is watching...carefully drops the syringe into the half-filled gourd.
Perception: 1d20 ⇒ 17
Brilliant - The syringe easily fit into the drinking vessel, and with it displacing the water inside, the gourd even looked full after Riveh had taken a sip. This little deception just might work out. But then it had better; the ifrit wasn't entirely sure how he'd smuggle the thing in if it didn't. Or even whether he would be allowed to enter himself. He looked around to see whether anyone had caught wind of his plot.
No, it didn't seem like it. All the other attendees waiting in line were busily occupied with huffing and hawing, and the guards... yes, they were very naturally keeping a closer eye on a point in the queue a fair bit ahead, where the bulk of the inspection took place. Even if someone had noticed something, Riveh couldn't see how they could have spotted him doing anything more than rummage under his cape; they shouldn't have seen him do anything to the gourd. At most someone might suspect him of adjusting his underwear. Uncouth perhaps, but hardly a crime, even in this setting.
This momentary bit of subterfuge completed, however, it was right back to waiting in line. Another half hour passed as Riveh slowly progressed up the stairs, at some points almost wishing that he'd been caught - anything to break up this boredom. At least he was nearing the guards' checkpoint, and, lest he forget, the view really was stunning now that he was midway up Senate Hill. Senate Hill was among those districts home to Oppara's high society and old money, all visible from the knoll. And in light of the festivities, these districts had been rather ostentatiously decorated to say the least: the roof of every house in sight was made of gold.
Well, some of it had to be gold leaf, surely, but still. World Breaker Hill, Aroden's View, Imperial Square, all the houses in these districts the ifrit could spy from here were capped with gold. It was a breathtaking sight, especially with the sun now just passing the horizon, the last rays setting the roofs aflame with gilded fire. Grand Prince Stavian III had ordered the initiative as a reminder of a time when this had been the norm in Oppara, when every house in the city had featured shingles of solid gold. Indeed, it was the origin behind the capital's moniker: the gilded city. The people were clearly impressed - Riveh could see patriots and tourists both milling about in the streets below, gawking.
"Sir? May I see your badge please?"
But perhaps the ifrit should focus on what was right in front of him. In front of him was a very serious-faced royal guard dressed in the unfortunately ridiculous royal guard uniform. The royal guards' attire was an ancient design that time had not been kind to, with puffed sleeves, bright greens and blues, and feathered helmets. If the stories were true, these uniforms were routinely mocked abroad, and Riveh too had to concede that they were almost jester-like. But Taldor was a land of traditions. It was the greatest nation on earth - why should they abandon their traditions?
With all this said it was a testament to these mens' training that they still managed to ooze professionalism and competence. It helped that jesters were rarely so well armed. Gleaming breastplates rested beneath sharp eyes and sharper halberds, the guards moving with the precise power only military service could provide. The guard before Riveh had somewhat surprised him, as he had completely ignored the dwarves in front of him. They were visible annoyed. He now held out a stubby bronze wand and lightly pressed it to the badge provided by Martella. At the moment of contact a translucent sigil briefly flared into existence on the brooch before fizzling out. This seemed to satisfy the guard.
"Thank you, sir. I'm going to perform a body search now."
And so he did, patting down the ifrit's fine new clothing without waiting for permission.
Perception: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (15) + 3 = 18
Welp. This'd be where I want to see either a Sleight of Hand or a Bluff check to explain away those stink bombs for one. Whether he finds them or not...
"Sir, where have you procured this beverage?"
Riveh approves of the uniform actually, despite the fact is quite ugly. Surely a formal event like this, it is good to pull out of the old traditions and shows the gathered populace what Taldor was about? Being part of a great chain of glory and prestige that ran back untold centuries? Just standing here, looking out over such a storied city...gave Riveh shivers.
Then he came back to earth as the guard began asking him questions.
Riveh pointed down at the now quite distant vendors circulating at the base of the massive terraced stairway.
"One of those fellows down there. Going to be a long Gala, I think. Best have something to cool myself off with." The ifrit glances around, quite honestly and says, "I hope they give you folks some water too. Good work, keeping the Senate safe."
Bluff, Pellets: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (12) + 8 = 20
Riveh shrugs when they find the stink pellets and says, "Medicinal, my friend. Have to take two every evening, for my digestion. Another reason for the water. Can you imagine taking this dry? They taste awful. Ugh. Here, sniff it!" He offers the pellets up to the guard's nose, the order quite unpleasant.
Sense Motive: 1d20 + 2 ⇒ (1) + 2 = 3
The guard recoiled just a bit at having the pellets shoved up to his nose before his military discipline kicked in. He proved entirely immune to small talk, however, merely nodding at Riveh to pack away his 'medicine'. Apparently the ifrit's innocent demeanor was convincing.
"Could you take a drink from that, sir?" he then asked after glancing at the street vendor far below.
Seeing that the well dressed young man had no trouble drinking from the obviously non-poisonous liquid, the guard seemed satisfied. Or at least as satisfied as was possible - the man's expression at no point veered from scrutinizing scowl. And yet. The royal guard had by all appearances completed his inspection, but he was still standing there staring at Riveh. Was that... hesitation the ifrit saw in the otherwise so steely gaze?
"Could you step out of the line, sir?"
The guard had apparently reached a decision, though gods only knew what.
"Please follow me," he said, putting one heavy hand onto Riveh's shoulder. And then much more softly, almost so imperceptible that the ifrit missed it, "We have a mutual friend."
Sense Motive (Riveh): 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (7) + 3 = 10
What the heck was this? Riveh had some trouble reading this man through his stoic demeanor, but this didn't seem entirely above-board. Mutual friend? ... Lady Coufas? He knew practically no-one else in the city. But did this even make sense? If Martella had a royal guard in her pocket, why had she even asked him to smuggle items through the checkpoint? This was all very strange.
Riveh was quite pleased with his clever lie that seemed to convince the guard, and he pocketed the stink pellets with a smile. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.
Then the man grabbed his shoulder and the entire situation changed. What was this? A physical touch, a whispered comment? It didn't make any sense. For one thing, he doubted Lady Coufas had agents in the royal guard and besides, she would have warned him of such. Infact she had even mentioned security would be tight. Even more so, if this man really was an ally, why approach him here, in broad daylight? Surely that went against his oaths as a guard?
Riveh shook off the hand and says, voice at a normal level, "I have no idea what you mean, sir. I am an aide to an esteemed member of the nobility, as this badge indicates. You vouched for it yourself. What is this talk of mutual friends? What is your name? Mine is Riveh Geminus and why are you delaying me?" he adds, doubting a lowly royal guard would recognize his family name (that fact made his stomach churn).
Intimidate to seem aggrieved and annoyed by this delay: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (18) + 4 = 22
The guard stared at Riveh, teeth obviously clenched behind the tight mouth. The ifrit was making a bit of a stir with those nearest in the queue as he proclaimed his innocence of any wrong-doing, a claim that was winning him some murmurs of support from the three dwarves. No doubt they were still annoyed that the royal guard had ignored them despite being earlier in the line, and saw another racial injustice in action. The man didn't seem to take any notice of them, instead raising an open palm to Riveh as if asking him to quiet down. He was about to speak when another guard approached, and this was where the situation went from odd to bizarre as the ifrit saw his eyes shift from merely being tense to anxious.
Grapple: 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (16) + 7 = 23
It happened quicker than Riveh was prepared for. He took his eyes from the odd guard one second to watch the newcomer, and the next his arm was wrenched into a painful armlock behind him.
"Russa? Status." commanded the newly arrived guard.
"Under control," replied the steely-eyed man now holding the ifrit from behind. "False senate badge. I've got this one. Can you manage here?"
The other man merely nodded as he went to calm the now loudly protesting dwarves, while Riveh was hauled off by his own guard. Was this it? Was he about to lose his chance because of some petty racist royal guard?
"Stop squirming," came the whisper again, this time tinged with heavy frustration. "Have to make this look convincing."
What in the nine hells was going on? The guard forced the ifrit over to a small white-painted guard house that seemed so new as to probably having been erected for the evening. Once inside the tiny structure, away from prying eyes, he immediately released Riveh.
"Damn it all, why did you have to go and do that?" The man paced back and forth, clearly very agitated. "Never doing this again... You tell her I'm never doing this again. Now we'll have to wait a few minutes to make this look convincing. Damn it. Take your things. Your damn things are in that satchel."
There was indeed a small satchel in the corner. But whatever was in there, it wasn't what Riveh wanted right now.
Riveh did not like this at all. Everything had gone wrong from the moment the guard had grabbed his shoulder. First singled out and offered some mysterious favor and then manhandled like some peasant? announced he had a fake badge and hustled into a shed? For a few moments Riveh honestly thought Lady Coufas had set him up. Had it all been a ruse, her offer and plans? Was this a game to her, hoodwink some gullible yokel into making a fool (and criminal) of hismelf at the Senate? or worse, was she some minor catspaw of the Lotheed family snubbing out a rival before he could prove an annoyance? Was Riveh so minor that he could be extinguished this way?
But then the guard changed again, speaking of favors and his things. What was going on?
"What is going on?" Riveh says, not taking his things, staring at the guard. "Who is she that you are talking about? What do we need to make look convincing? I need some answers."
As the ifrit very reasonably demanded some answers, the guard looked away from the door to stare at him through squinting eyes. Surprise was obvious on his face.
"You mean she didn't...? Ah, dammit, you ragheads deserve each other..."
Riveh of course recognized the derogatory term (one of many) for the turbaned Keleshites to the south, Qadira only being Taldor's closest neighbor there. Was it possible? Was the guard referring to Lady Coufas's dusky skin?
"Listen, I'm sure you know more than I do. Frankly, I don't want to know. I just follow orders. And I'm done doing even that. I'm not doing this again. No matter who asks."
This hardly answered any of the ifrit's questions.
"I was asked to look for you in the line, alright?" the guard continued, going back to watching the door, "If your badge was legitimate and I couldn't find any reason to turn you away, I was supposed to help you jump the line. Take you here to get your things and then escort you straight to the senate. And that's what I was going to do if you'd just behaved."
A moment passed. "That's what we're still doing. Go on. Take whatever you need from there." He indicated the satchel with a nod. "I'm taking you to the gala. We shouldn't encounter any trouble, but if anyone asks what happened earlier was a misunderstanding, and I'm escorting you to the senate. C'mon. Let's go."
A quick look into the bag revealed two strangely solid vials, roughly shaped and fitting into the palm almost like the hilt of a sword. A small flask contained a sparkling liquid whose invigorating scent hit Riveh's nostrils like a charging rhinoceros, while three small packets contained powder of shifting color. A crabbed little note at the bottom of the satchel briefly and clinically explained the usage of each item.
Riveh bridles at the casual racist remark from the guard. While it was a small slight compared to what was going on, it still wounded the ifrit. He was here, an aide to a Senator (or someone of power), to be part of the great Taldane experiment and he still was treated like forgien trash.
Sense Motive: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (8) + 3 = 11
The guard's stumbled, rather jumbled account rings true but doesn't make any sense. Why did he need hurried through the line? Was it that hard to get inside? Lady Coufas had acted as if the badge alone should suffice for entry. Taldor was famous for the bribes needed to access the powerful but this seemed a little extreme. Did every Senator have a royal guardsman on staff?
Riveh takes his bag and his gear, still wary. He eyes the items at the bottom and says, plainly to the guard. "Surely this is illegal to take into the Senate?"
I assume the guard either says I am being very naive or that he is being paid very well. either way Riveh goes with the guardsman to the Senate, loot in tow
Riveh's question elicits an unexpected response from the guard. Instead of a cynical scoff at what could be seen as a debutante's naivete, the royal guard's eyes narrow and his entire body language shifts - tense anxiety was replaced with quiet determination, as if he was slipping away from reticent operative back to professional guardsman and happy for it. The ifrit could hear his gruff hand tightening on his halberd.
"Is it your intent to harm anyone tonight?"
Had the guard house shrunk or the man grown? Riveh got the clear impression that answering in anything other than the negative would see the guard forget everything about his mysterious agreement, and gladly at that.
"Good. I was promised you'd do no such thing. Let's go."
Whatever this man Russa's motivations, he did as he said he would. As the two left the guard station, they began their ascent up the senate stairs side by side in silence and totally unopposed. They passed several more checkpoints and royal guards, but these proved no obstacle a single nod from the man couldn't solve. Riveh was the subject of enviable stares and venomous murmur as he strolled past the many still queuing, perhaps especially with the ifrit being what he was. In a matter of minutes they had covered what he now realized would have probably taken him another half hour alone, and soon enough Riveh had arrieved - this was the Taldan senate - this was his destiny.
Gods, it was magnificent! The marble that had seemed so smooth at a distance revealed itself as being intricately carved, every 50 foot outer column depicting a different scene from the nation's glorious history. The massive oak doors with their angular Azlanti writing chiseled out above them were thrown open, emanating warm light and the chatter of myriad conversation mixed as one. Riveh's pulse quickened as he realized he was hearing the murmur of practically every senator, politician and aristocrat in Taldor. No dragon maw could emit more power than the one before him now.
"... Enjoy your evening, sir."
The measured foot falls of the royal guard echoed along the marble as Russa departed, evidently happy to be free off this little side trek to his regular duties. As for Riveh, now finally with a real shot at his life's ambition, he entered the lions' den.
Alright, so! We're now going to have to go over the 'social combat' rules in place to make a massive social event such as this playable. As presented they are already somewhat simplified and we're going to simplify them further as they were not designed with one PC in mind. So here's what you need to know.
Social rounds: Just like combat, the gala will take place in rounds. Every round lasts 20 minutes. What you do with your rounds is largely up to you, but you essentially have three options.
Influence an NPC: Walk up to an NPC and engage. You generally want to charm people this evening and can try to do so with plain old Diplomacy checks, but don't expect things to be so easy. The vast majority of these highborn are hardened social movers and they've heard it all before. Diplomacy will always be a valid choice, but it won't always be the best choice to influence them. Consider that a horse breeding aristocrat really just wants to indulge in nerding out about his hobby, and so a Ride check of all things will be effective against him. Even when you do find something that works, don't expect to become best friends after just one round, that is to say 20 minutes. Get ready to spend several rounds getting close to a single NPC. At this point you should be wondering, 'hold on, how am I supposed to know about their interests?' Well, that's what your second option is for...
Discovery checks: It's just a dumb term for trying to find info on an NPC. Do a Perception, Stealth, Know (nobility) or Diplomacy check to... I dunno, spy on your chosen NPC, work the crowd for rumors on them, or just think real hard if you've heard something about them before. This will net you two rewards if successful: for one you learn at least one skill that applies to that NPC, and secondly you gain a +2 to checks to influence them.
Influence an area: This is your third option. And yeah, instead of influencing a specific NPC, you can choose to hobnob with the faceless masses in a certain section of the senate. This can get you different benefits, unique to each area. I get that this is nebulous, but trust me - it can be worth it. The areas of the senate available are:
The Arcade of Triumphs (the entrance where Riveh is right now) - this is a gallery dedicated to showcasing historical artifacts, especially those related to military victories. The applicable skills are Appraise, Knowledge (history or nobility), Perception, Spellcraft, or Use Magic Device.
The Courtyard (the green area) - a beautiful open air garden with a small makeshift zoo for the occasion. The applicable skills are Handle Animal, Knowledge (engineering, local, or nature), or Perform (keyboard, percussion, sing, string, or wind).
The Imperial Archives (the northern wing) - a very old, very large archive of anything relating to law. The applicable skills are Knowledge (arcana, geography, or history), Linguistics, or Profession (librarian or scribe).
The Senate Floor (the big ol' circle in the middle) - normally closed to the public, this is where the senate gathers for voting on legislature. The applicable skills are Bluff, Knowledge (local, nobility, or religion), Perform (oratory), Profession (clerk or barrister), or Sense Motive.
The Servant Area (the southern wing) - this area houses storerooms, workshops and kitchens. The applicable skills are Craft (alchemy, carpentry, jewelry, sculpture, or stonemasonry), Heal, Intimidate, Profession (baker, butcher, cook, innkeeper, or porter), or Sense Motive.
Phew. That's a lot and I'm sure I've missed something. All this aside though, don't feel constrained by them. For example, you've probably already noticed that at least one of your missions don't really relate to these rules. Regardless, the first thing you should do now is just figure out what to do first and pick an area.
Riveh marvels at the Senate building. Huge sweeping columns, polished marble, massive flagstone floored and all of it so bright it almost hurt the eyes. The intricate design constantly led the viewers gaze upward and outward, constantly dizzying them with the sheer immense size of the place. It made one feel like an street child, sneaking into a ornate temple or rich manor home. Just walking in here is a humbling experience.
And that is before one sees all the people. Barons, counts, earls, noblemen and women of every stripe and level. This glittering mass of fine fabrics, sparkling jewelry and flesh faces was the greatest gathering of political power in Taldor, and perhaps the Inner Sea. There were names here that went back thousands of years, with glory and prestige to bring a tear to Riveh's eyes. Once his family could stand here, equal to any or all. Again the ifirt vowed to himself, he would regain that glory.
Ok, I want to head to the kitchens. Do I need to do anything special for that?
If the senate building was beautiful in its pale starkness at a distance, and dizzyingly intricate up close with its designs so laden with symbolic and historical meaning, then the senate's interior was no less overwhelming. 'Opulent' seemed a poor word. There was nowhere for the eye to go without landing on something priceless, whether it be in the artwork adorning the walls or something as plain as a candle-holder - made out of solid gold. High above, massive ornately designed windows were set into heavy gold frames and flanked by lions carved right out of the marble. Enormous Taldan flags hung from the vaulted ceilings, as decorative as they were practical; one imagined they did much to absorb the din of hundreds of people gathered inside a marble building. And these were, of course, no less extravagant.
Dukes, Lords, Marquesses, Baronesses, Earls, Countesses, Landgraves, Knights, Ladies, Viscounts and more were gathered here in the hundreds, and every one of them seemed determined to outshine the others. They commingled into a sea of silk, embroidery and polite laughter. Happily, Riveh found that despite the sometimes unbelievable displays of wealth in people's appearance (Was that woman's hair set up into a diamond studded tower?) he was not at all under-dressed. He appeared perhaps comparatively humble to those men bearing enough gold around their necks to buy a townhouse, but then it would have been something of a faux pas to flaunt something above his station anyway. Doubly happily, there was a not inconsequential number of foreign dignitaries and diplomats among the crowd, ensuring that he didn't even look particularly out of place.
But the ifrit was too goal-oriented to gawk at people or trimmings. With his missions in mind, he set out to find the senate kitchens, deciding to put the smuggled syringe to use. Not being familiar with the layout of the senate, he wasn't entirely sure where to find said kitchens, but there were plenty of waiters milling about serving food and drink. The kitchens shouldn't be hard to find if he just observed these.
Or so one would think. Either the serving staff took particular pride in their discretion, or they were utilizing hidden corridors to come and go. Riveh was leaning on the latter explanation. The rules of polite society dictated that the service go unseen, after all, and secret servant passages were fairly common features in noble manors. Why shouldn't they be here? Nevertheless, given the sheer amount of staff on hand for an event such as this, the ifrit was eventually able to suss out their port. Navigating his way through the party, Riveh reached the south wing and from there found the servant quarters. From there reaching the kitchen was a simple matter of following behind a half-trotting waitress with an empty tray. The scullery was both enormous and very modern, though perhaps not as busy as might be expected. On top of counters were trays upon trays upon trays of overly fancy hors d'oeuvres, already prepared and clearly not made here; mayhaps most of the food had been brought in from eateries such as Coren's Last Meal. Despite the sheer amount of drink and food, the staff seemed to have the situation seemed well in hand here.
A waiter gave a little bow of respect as he hurried out the door Riveh occupied, but he asked no questions. They apparently knew better than to question their betters. Now, the ifrit had found his metaphorical haystack - how was he to find the needle?
Riveh tugged at his new clothes trying to hide his anxiety. Yes, he was of the nobility and had every right to be here and indeed had longed and planned for this for many years. And yet...being here...surrounded by the glittering elite of Taldor, the finest flowers that grand old country could produce....It was more then a little intimidating.
The ifrit gazed on the bustling kitchens and frowned slightly. He had been hoping for a bit more chaos, a bit more of an overloaded scene. Still, it would do. He hoped. He finds a isolated corner and does his best toc ast [i]Enhanced Diplomacy
Straightening his new mantle on last time he found a man who looked somewhat more in charge and marched right up to him.
"You, waiter!" Riveh barked, doing his best to impersonate how he imagined an entitled noble would sound. "Are you in charge here? My mistresses wanted me to inspect the kitchens to make sure they were up to snuff." The ifrit gazed around the space with a slightly concealed sneer. "I have to admit, I am equally loath to trust her to your colleagues untrained clutches. I will require a tour of the facilities, to ensure they are up to contemporary professional standards." A short pause and then he shouts, tones clipped, "Now!
Intimidate: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (1) + 4 = 5
Bluff, with perfume: 1d20 + 8 + 1 ⇒ (6) + 8 + 1 = 15
Lol, not very scary!
"Make sure to bring out the stuffed olives now. They'll finish up the grilled garlic oysters within the hour if we let them... Ah, how may I help you, sir?"
Riveh quickly came upon a pair of waiters, an older man and young woman, the elder of which had an air of command about him. The poor girl's eyes turned bigger than the plates she was carrying as the unknown nobleman began barking orders at them. The waiter, however, merely listened, his mustachioed face displaying nothing but the infinite patience of an Iroran grandmaster.
"Why, of course, sir. These are nothing but the kitchens of the Taldan senate, regular host to some of the greatest culinary names in the world. This simple scullery is only accustomed to serving the nation's finest, requires a minimum of five years apprenticeship of its waiting staff before they are allowed to set foot here, and this evening's occasion has us catering merely our gracious emperor and princess. Yes, of course you should ensure that we are up to the 'contemporary professional standards' your goodly mistress requires. Please, follow me, sir."
The condescension in the waiter tone was thicker than the maple glaze on the figs the serving girl now busied herself ladling her tray with. Apparently the ifrit hadn't cut quite the intimidating figure he had hoped for. Still, it wasn't all bad. The waiter seemed at least genuine in his intent to show him around the kitchens, if only to get this snot-nosed rich man's son out of his demesne as soon as possible. Results were results.
"May I find you a drink, sir? No? Well, let's start here..."
The place really was impressive. It was far and away the most advanced kitchen Riveh had ever seen, with firebrick cooking surfaces composed out of slabs of some heat conducting mineral he'd never even heard of replacing open fires, running water on demand from taps, and a well stocked food storage kept curiously cool by, if the waiter was to be believed, a bound elemental spirit. However, these were not what the ifrit was here for.
"And this, sir, is our humble wine closet," the head waiter said, stopping in front of a heavy wooden door. "It is situated below ground, obviously, to protect the precious nectar from temperature swings and to provide constant darkness. Wines can be so very sensitive, can't they, sir?"
This was in all likelihood where the Lotheed wine bottle was kept, then. But unfortunately, it seemed as if the man's little tour ended here; though willing to humor a temperamental nobleman, the waiter was apparently not about to unduly expose the bottles without good reason.
"Well sir, as you can see your mistress has nothing to fear from us. Should you have any other concerns, please don't hesitate to call upon me again - your opinion is so valuable to us. But I really must attend to my duties now..."
Riveh does his best to hide his astonishment at the various labor saving wonders of the kitchen. Running water was rare enough, but a cooling store room? Stoves that cooked without dangerous or smoky fires? Amazing. They had nothing like this in the sadly depleted Geminus household....did other nobles? Did those close to the center of power have kitchens like this in manor homes? How far had his family fallen?
No matter. This day was about setting that right, and starting down the path to glory.
Riveh nods at the man, "Of course. Everything seems...suitable." but this bravado rings empty in his own ears. Clearly this kitchen was a wonder of the culinary world. The ifrit does note the wine cellar well though, eyeing the heavy handle. It would not open in a hurry but it had to be done.
Riveh allows himself to be guided away back toward the kitchen doors. As they walk he eyes the work stations, more assembly then actually cooking. Various servants are preparing any number of foods, most of them exotic or expensive. Dormice are being stuffed, lark's tongue is being roasted, olives stuffed with caviar...no none of that would do.
Then he found it. The ever present cauldron of garum that potent fish sauce that made the backbone of some many Taldane dishes. Even here among the avante garde, some old standards were never absent. Indeed, the mere fermented scent was, in many ways, the smell of the taldane culinary scene.
It would also do nicely. As Riveh passed the bubbling pot he ever so carefully dropped two smoke pellets and then crushed them with his foot. Instantly the reagents reacted a plume of yellow smoke rose into the air, along with a harsh rotten egg flavor. As the kitchen became veiled around them, Riveh cursed loudly and then used the cover to sprint to the wine cellar door!
Not sure how far you want me to push things? The obvious plan here is to get inside the wine cellar under the cover of smoke and confusion, do my deed in secrecy and then emerge with a cover story
Stealth!: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (15) + 4 = 19
Perception: 1d20 + 1 ⇒ (2) + 1 = 3
"Stavian's fire, what have you done, boy?!"
The young man standing over the sauce gave a wounded look of incomprehension that disappeared, along with the rest of him, inside the cloud of smoke. As totally unaware of a certain up-and-comer's plot as the rest of the kitchen, the bellowing and now very animated head waiter rushed in after him. With all eyes turned towards the confusion (and all noses turned up), Riveh declared his little scheme a success. Rushing for the wine storage door, he found it heavy but willing, and within the minute he was down the stairs.
The wine closet was everything advertised: cool and dark, this was no full-blown cellar hosting a collection of vintages as might be found in noble estates, but rather a small utilitarian storage space. Few aristocrats would find it worth bragging about. Wall mounted wine racks held a great many flasks, with single clean dust-free bottles with easily legible labels displayed in front of these. Riveh guessed that these were vintages bought in bulk with the display bottle acting as marker for every rack. The room shouldn't be difficult to search, especially with the keen night-eyes the ifrit's otherwise so unfortunate ancestry had gifted him with.
And surely enough, there is was. A red 4567 Shivroquem Piquant. It stood in a little section of its own, as if the presence of lesser wines would be an offence to it, and was clearly the oldest wine here. Riveh's pulse quickened at the thought of humiliating the Lotheeds.
I deem that an appropriate amount of push.
Perception: 1d20 - 1 ⇒ (9) - 1 = 8
Why on Earth am I playing a solo game with a perception of -1? Am I crazy?
For a moment Riveh smiles to himself in the quiet, musty gloom of the small wine storage room. His plan had gone off swimmingly, almost better then he could have hoped. A good omen, the young ifirit thought to himself as he shifted his gaze to the stacked wine bottles. When his eyes fell on the dusty glass of the red 4567 Shivroquem Piquant though, the smile fades away.
In its place rises a flower bitter rage. This wine, this great testament to skill and prestige belongs to him, a heirloom of his house and title and now it was here, stolen by the....usurpers. How dare they? This wine was nothing but bloody plunder! For a moment Riveh loses his composure and steps forward, intending to simply smash the bottle and dash the ill-gotten contents to the dusty floor.
At the last moment his vision clears and he checks himself.
No. That was the way of hot tempered fools. Riveh would get his vengeance, oh yes, but at the right time and place. Lady Coufas had given him a task, and he would do it. Besides, what better irony then a scion of House Geminus unraveling this stolen booty?
Carefully, Riveh sidles up to the old bottle and inserts the syringe into the cork. Ina single fluid motion he squeezes the contents into the wine and withdraws the narrow needle. Stowing the device back into the sloshing gourd, the ifrit inspects the small but clearly visible hole in the wine cork.
With a slight grin the ifrit waves a hand and casts Mending. In a moment the cork is resealed, as pristine as the day it was made. No one would guess it had been violated so. With the deed done, Riveh made to leave.
Any rolls? It seemed straight forward to me
Originally this would have required a roll for a little something something to cover the sabotage, yes, but your clever use of Mending does the job. Hurray magic!
Carefully closing the door behind him, Riveh looked across the kitchen to see whether he had somehow been discovered. This did not appear to be the case. Most of the staff was busily at work, more busily now actually what with the ifrit's little scheme denting their schedule, and the head waiter and his apprentice were still standing over the sauce, the latter trying to espouse his innocence of any wrong-doing and the former having none of it. Both appeared mystified at the origin of the smoke and stink, however. Riveh escaped the senate kitchens with no further drama.
Oh, and if you were wondering, this all roughly consumed one social round, that is to say 20 minutes.
Riveh fairly skipped out of the kitchen and back into the swirling crowds of the Senate. That could not have gone smoother! Not only would Lady Coufas be pleased but it also gave the young man a much needed jolt of confidence after the over-awing moment of facing the glittering assembled might of Taldor nobility. That was enough to shake anyone.
One job done, smooth as silk. Time for another? To find this Baron Okerra? Was the name familiar?
Know. Nobility: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (11) + 4 = 15
But first, perhaps there was time to mingle? He was here for his own goals as well, after all, not merely to serve his patron. This was a once in a lifetime chance to meet and greet with the powers of Taldor. A single conversation here could undo decades of trouble. There were people here whose whim could make or break a kingdom. Perhaps Riveh should explore a bit?
Sense Motive to find a place/conversation where I can slide in without social faux pas?: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (14) + 3 = 17
Flush with recent success, the Geminus heir rejoined the gala proper albeit with the wind taken just a bit out of his proverbial sails at the thought of completing his next mission. Simply locating the baron Okerra would be tricky. Perhaps he needed to gather his thoughts. What did he know about the man?
Well, while Riveh wasn't the best purveyor of juicy aristocrat gossip, he tried to keep his ear to the ground on these matters. It was an essential part of noble politicking, after all. And he especially appreciated any information on those lords tied to Meratt, the land that should rightfully belong to him. And it just so happened Okerra was one of these. Meratt being a fairly large county, it had one chief administrator, currently the dastardly Lotheeds, and a few minor lords ruling over their own villages who answered to the Lotheeds. Okerra was one of these minor lords. A distinguished officer of the Taldan Horse, the military's mounted division, the ifrit thought he'd heard that he had gone into early retirement fairly recently. Riveh unfortunately didn't know the reasoning for this, but he knew that the man was well liked and highly respected, albeit more so for his accomplishments defending the nation over his personality; supposedly the baron was the rather stiff military type. Gods only knew how Lady Coufas tied to him. What Riveh did know, however, was that despite not being one of older families of Taldor, many of which had lineages going back thousands of years, the Okerras had been part of Meratt longer than the Lotheeds they now served. There had been a time they answered to the Geminus family.
The ifrit stopped in front of an onyx bust of some long dead senator he'd never heard of. Perhaps Okerra could be recognized by his military insignia. It was common practice for service men, current and retired, to sport some badges or decorations at events such as these. The night was still young. Surely he'd find the man if he just kept his eyes open. For now, perhaps simply mingling was the best option.
"Wine, sir? Red, white, rosé, sparkling?"
Seeing that most everyone else was carrying a drink, Riveh grabbed his beverage of choice from the offering waiter, if nothing else than to better fit in. He wanted to fit in. For the first time in... well, ever, he was exactly where he wanted to be, hobnobbing with the elite. All he had to do was ensure that this evening wouldn't be a one-off. He took a deep breath. Somewhere outside he could hear fireworks exploding. Let's rub some shoulders.
Of your three options (influence NPC, discovery check, influence area), I'm going to interpret this as influencing an area, especially as Sense Motive is one of the skills listed above as being appropriate for the Servant Area where you're currently at. If what follows doesn't make it obvious, your check was a success.
The Servant Area was the notably least populated part of the senate right now, but this frankly didn't mean much. Whereas everywhere else had seemed chock-full of gorgeous people laughing, talking and scheming, this area was merely comfortably full of the same. Despite being ordinarily relegated to the serving staff, the halls here were still beautiful. Tables, chairs and sofas, all clearly meticulously maintained antiques of polished darkwood with inlaid gold designs, were spread around the wide corridors of the space and played host to multiple minor parties among select nobles. Some seemed to be friends who hadn't seen each for however long, while others were more suspect, sitting hunched together and speaking in hurried whispers. There were few, however, who hadn't taken the opportunity to share a platter of assorted gourmet appetizers.
And happily, the ifrit found that his attempts at socializing met some success. A polite greeting here, a good-humored joke there... It was a great relief to find that the nobility were not immune to his charms! So much so that with people speaking well of the young debutante he gained a +2 bonus to his next influence check on an NPC. But then, that was partly what Martella had hired him for. Unfortunately though perhaps predictably, conversation revealed that few major players in Taldan politics were hanging about here. Really, the only truly interesting figures Riveh identified were...
Deep in a very fast-paced conversation was Countess Abrielle Pace. Dressed in frankly ridiculously gauche clothing which the ifrit was sure his tailor would relish torching, she didn't cut the most attractive figure, and the wig adding several feet to her height didn't help matters. But the ifrit recognized her as one of the noblewomen at the centre of one of Lady Coufas's tasks. What's more was that this woman was apparently a senator, and at a relatively young age at that. Given how harsh the political environment could be to the fairer sex, this seemed a baffling achievement for what otherwise appeared to be just another noblewoman with no restraint in fashion.
Down one corridor was a strange figure Riveh hesitated to call important, though she was certainly interesting. What happened if some guests hadn't managed to find nannies for their children in time for the gala? Apparently they were entrusted to this halfling jester for the evening. The senate staff really had thought of everything. 'Wyssilka the Fantabulous', for this was her name as evidenced by her exclusively speaking in third person, was by all accounts a big hit with the young ones. She had claimed a corridor for herself where she told jokes, did little acrobatic stunts and sleight of hand before a sizable audience of little lords and ladies. Every now and then a parent came by to check up on their progeny and even these seemed quite taken by the tiny jester.
And finally... Lady Coufas? Could it be? Yes, sitting completely by herself was Riveh's employer! The dusky skinned noble-lady sat at a table with her back to a wall completely hidden behind a decoration of hundreds upon hundreds of roses dipped in gold. Despite the more ostentatious, though comparatively modest, dress and hair set up for the occasion, she was easily recognizable as herself. She appeared to be simply watching the crowd. Far from looking dejected at being alone, she wore a strangely serene little smile in doing so. Was this what she had meant when she had told Riveh that she would appreciate attending a social function without getting involved in any skulduggery herself?
Riveh already glowing self-pride is increased a few more candles as he succeeds in charming his way through the thronging crowds. A simple smile, a charming joke, even a 'rustic' anecdote or two about the countryside, he can't seem to miss tonight. The young ifrit leaves a trail of impressed courtiers in his wake, wandering the elegant and well-appointed Servant Area. Yes, maybe he isn't winning over the various Barons and Counts, let alone the Dukes, but this is his first real night among Taldor's rich and powerful. Even the scion of one of the great families had to build up to it.
In every smile, every flutter of a noble's fan, every pleased nod Riveh saw one thing. The downfall of the Lotheed family. Today, he was planting the seeds of a harvest that would bring down the usurpers. Indeed, depending on how things went this evening, with this Baron Okerra to heel.
Then the young man is distracted when he spots Countess Abrielle Pace in front of him! His heart quickens when he recognizes her, not only because she is easily the most influential person Riveh has seen yet in this wing but because she was mentioned by Lady Coufas. What had his patron wanted? Ah yes, to discover the Countess's view on primogeniture. Still riding high, Riveh decided on impulse to try his hand. Yes, he had declined the mission but surely Lady Coufas would approve.
When he actually spotted his patron, sitting alone nearby, his choice was made even clearer. What better chance to prove that not only was he a valuable asset but a bold one, capable of changing plans to suit circumstances?
With this in mind Riveh Geminus strode over to the small knot of people around the somewhat eccentrically dressed Countess and says, "Excuse me, but I simply could not pass without paying my respects to Countess Abrielle Pace, whose political acuity is only perhaps matched by her beauty. Sir Riveh Geminus, at your service Countess."
He bows low, in best court fashion, doing his best to show off the well-cut suit.
Diplomacy, let her ride! Perfume, and +2 for Last Check: 1d20 + 8 + 1 + 2 ⇒ (19) + 8 + 1 + 2 = 30
Even casual observation revealed that the Countess's current conversation revolved around nothing but inane gossip and inaner flattery, the latter directed towards herself. The woman had by all appearances surrounded herself with nothing but those 'fawning flatterers' Martella had mentioned earlier. Riding high on recent success, Riveh decided that he could easily butt in here if his own compliments just matched or outdid current company. And following an impulse to impress his employer, that's exactly what he did.
The Countess's little retinue of sycophants had nothing but sour sneers for the young interloper swaggering into their midst. How dare he steal away the favor they were working so hard for! The noblewoman, however, was clearly of a different mind: an actual high-pitched giggle escaped her brightly painted lips at the ifrit's adulation before she gained hold of herself. She offered her hand for Riveh to kiss.
"Charmed, Sir Geminus."
For a second Riveh wasn't sure where to plant his mouth on the proffered hand. Every finger was practically hidden beneath heavy jewelry with the wrist being no better. He'd seen gauntlets that offered less protection. This impression of excess held true for the noblewoman's entire appearance. She was a thin and really rather plain little thing - but as if to compensate for this, she had taken the unfortunate decision to overindulge in all ostentation. She was arguably more painted than the halfling jester Riveh had passed earlier. Her gown was so puffy and enormous the ifrit was convinced it could fit three of her. And how her spindly neck managed to support the ludicrous wig that accounted for a solid fourth of her height was a mystery for the sages.
"Always a pleasure to see a Geminus, especially one so well spoken. We were just discussing the exaltation..."
What? Was this senator familiar with what used to be House Geminus? Had Riveh's reputation preceded him? If so this was a somewhat strange greeting considering their less than stellar renown. Or... Was it possible? Was she merely pretending to know the ifrit's last name to save face?
"Ah, the Countess knows who the chosen one is!" a courtier jumped in like an overexcited dog, eager to move the focus away from the newcomer and suck up to the noblewoman both.
"Yes, few are as well-informed as Senator Pace!" said another.
"Ah ha ha, come now. Flattery will get you nowhere. Try as you might, I shan't divulge it. A lady has her ways, doesn't she, Sir Geminus? You'll all have to wait for the Grand Prince's announcement like everyone else."
Loud pouting ensued.
"Well..." Pace continued in a conspiratorial tone, "I can divulge that this year's pick is a shocker! You'll be amazed!"
This sent her little flock into convulsions of speculation, and further pleading and praise to convince the senator to share her wisdom. Milani's mercy, she really was enjoying this.
Feel free to go into narration instead of typing out the conversation at your leisure. Or just be prepared for me doing so. It's assumed that you speak with your chosen NPCs at length.
Riveh eyes the Countess Pace, weighing his chances. The young ifrit judged she did not actually know who the likely exalted would be, her face (however covered in make-up and jewelry) gave her away. How could he turns this to his advantage? More importantly, how do so by not making Lady Pace feel threatened or foolish? He must flatter her, that much was clear. He just needed a better class of flattery then these hanger-ons clustered around like toadstools over a decaying corpse.
Riveh had an idea.
He flashes a condescending sneer to the courtier who tries to steer the conversation away from Riveh's well-played introduction. Fool, he had merely handed Riveh a gift. Pitching his tone to show he was a noble and no mere courtier the ifrit says, slightly scathingly, "Of course she knows. A woman like Countess Pace.....and of course she isn't going to tell you. At least not for free." Riveh glances at Countess and gives her a warm smile, "That isn't the way the game is played."
"How about this, Countess, to pass the time. I will share who I think the Exalted will be, as a test of myself, you as the judge. See if my ways match your own. In exchange you reveal something of your own....." Riveh pauses and then shrugs, "How you intend to vote on the matter of inheritance perhaps?"
Riveh hopes the trap is baited well. In her mind, Lady Pace can't lose. She did not need to commit to Riveh's answer either way but if she liked it (and sensed the truth) she would gain a valuable bit of gossip. Would she really turn down that chance? And what would it cost her? A minor admission of her sympathies in a vote about to happen? Might she just see the trade as beneficial?