After another crushing defeat at the hands of the Band of Four, the party returns dejectedly to Victor’s manner. They are surprised to learn the Archibald and his commander, Vilara, are waiting to meet with them in the parlor. Vilara stands in stark contrast to the two noblemen, her hair kept short and utilitarian and her face marred with scars. She sizes up Nazarek, and the two exchange biting words. Despite both being military experts, the two have very different ideas of how an army should be run.
Archibald and Vilara express concern about a few issues plaguing the community. Although most forms of slavery are legal in Algassi, sex-slavery is not. Vilara wants the group to infiltrate the largest sex trafficking ring in the city, one frequented by nobles with more money than morals. The man accused of running the ring is Byron Vascale, a nobody nobleman known for his politics concerning slavery. Vilara advises the group that gaining access to the tradeshow is dangerous and difficult. You need either an outrageous sum of gold or good product. Vascale, it seems, has a thing for black-furred miqote. All eyes turn to Flint.
Flint and Lorian dig up some dirt on Vascale, and discover that he frequently visits a tavern to visit with one of the servers there. They aren’t sure what their relationship might be, but it’s obvious that she means something to him.
The gang—and their twin miqote “friends”—get fitted for some proper clothing, thanks to Senator von Mohrentz and his treasury. Olivia stays behind to kiss babies and shake hands. Epsil makes a sudden reappearance, confused as he has only been gone for a few minutes, yet it seems several weeks has passed. He is irritated and on-edge, and his problems with Andromalech seem to have only just started. He blinks in and out of the material plane at random, exacerbating his bad mood.
When the night comes for the auction, Flint plays the part of the seller. Broadside, Illivan, and Epsil pose as bodyguards while Albion poses as an accountant and bookkeeper.
A few awkward and unsuccessful conversations lead nowhere. The party meet the man in the wolf mask and take note of his large signet ring. When it’s Flint’s turn to auction off his “goods”, the girls put on a show, enjoying every second of the spotlight. It takes Epsil making a bold and risky move to progress the plot forward. He goes to the bathroom and then walks out. And he walks out. And he walks out. And he walks out.
Epsil causes a scene, using a combination of Mirror Image and Spiderclimb to wreak havoc. Meanwhile Albion and Illivan Dimension Door backstage and begin digging through paperwork. They find a few ledger books and secure the information needed to implicate Vascale. They also find a letter connecting Vascale and Hastick, raising questions about the candidates’ connection to the sex-trafficking ring.
On their way out, the party is surrounded by security. It takes Flint threatening the girl that Vascale visits for the party to even begin negotiations. Thanks to his smooth-talking, the party is able to leave the auction unharmed and with their information intact.
A few days later, the party returns to Victor’s manor where all their allies are waiting with grim faces. Vilara tears the party apart while Nazarek defends them, arguing that the group had done everything they were asked to. Vilara rips a sheet off the table and reveals a dead red-haired miqote—one of the girls the man in the wolf mask had purchased. She continues, saying that she was dropped off on Victor’s doorstep. “Where is her justice?” Vilara asks.
Victor and Olivia argue about his involvement. He reprimands her, blaming her for getting him involved in whatever mess the party is causing. He laments that his reputation in on the line and that he had no intent or interest in getting dragged into a rebellion. The two part on unfriendly terms.
Later, Vilara tasks the group with another mission, which Nazarek snidely comments that if she doesn’t approve of the party’s methods, she should stop asking them to do her work for her. The tension between the two continues to escalate, but the party agrees to look into things.
Members of the Adventuring Guild are getting sick. They are wreaked with convulsions, hallucinations, intense mood swings, and in some cases, death. Everyone suffering from this has one distinguishing symptom in common: blue-tinged lips, as though suffering from extreme hypothermia.
Vilara explains that this is an indicator of the dangerous and highly addictive substance known as Maiden’s Kiss, or Aether. Many years ago, it had been widespread throughout the slums. The city guard had hunted down and arrested (and hanged) most of the prolific peddlers. Without dealers, the drug faded out of circulation and life returned to normal.
Now it looks as though the drug is making a reappearance.
The party begins their search at the epicenter of the blossoming epidemic: the Adventuring Guild. They seek out Thea, the guildmaster, and start their investigation.
Thea tells the party where they get most of their supplies and the party focuses in on an alchemist named Sprigg.
Sprigg runs Sprigg’s Country Store, a small general goods store in the slums. When the party arrives, they discover an adorable, middle-aged halfling woman. She likes to talk, and the party learn quite a bit of (useless) information about her family, careers, and life. She gladly answers their questions, and Olivia and Illivan easily keep her preoccupied while Flint investigates the supply room.
After returning to the main room, Flint buys a few health potions and drags Illivan outside to test the purity of the poultice. Sure enough, it is contaminated with Aether.
Olivia believes Sprigg is innocent and advocates digging deeper into things.
The party reenters the store and finds out where Sprigg gets the ingredients for her potions. She tells them that she picks the herbs and flowers herself, but the solution comes from Warehouse 5, on the docks. The group decides to investigate the warehouse by getting jobs there.
Olivia and Flint take the nightshift, while Illivan takes the dayshift. Illivan works his shift with no issues and returns to the Smashing Pumpkin to relax and have a few beers. That night, whilst Flint checks boxes and cargo, Olivia organizes and alphabetizes their records. Olivia discovers that a ship belonging to Haloman Theros transports large amounts of potion solvent from Crassmere, several hundred miles away. Yet, as though by magic, the ship left every night and returned each morning.
Olivia and Flint sneak aboard the ship and find themselves in a secret compartment under the main cargo hold. Around them are several hundred crates of pure, concentrated Aether. Flint contacts Victor to let him know what they found.
They hear footsteps and realize they are being spied on by an invisible crewmember. They use their wit and cunning (and ball-bearings) to track him down and subdue him. Once the invisibility potion wears off, they come face to face with a tiefling who calls himself Void.
Olivia attempts to interrogate him with little success. He responds to each threat with a laugh. He does give up some useful information though. He tells the two that the ship docks at a nearby island every night, to make it appear as though they returned to Crassmere. He also names his boss, a mysterious figure known as the Moccasin. He implies someone important wants the people of Algassi drugged up, but he doesn’t know why.
Their interrogation is cut short when sounds of movement and activity can be heard overhead. Void seems certain that the two will be caught trying to escape, and laughs.
When he refuses to give up any more information, Olivia threatens him with a vile of the concentrated Aether. He doesn’t take her seriously at all, but doesn’t put up much of a fight as Olivia pours a vial down his throat. They watch as he dies, convulsing and laughing.
Olivia and Flint stay quiet and hidden in the secret compartment as crewmembers get to work. Once the ship comes to a stop in Algassi, the two find themselves burdened with a new issue: how to get off the ship. With all the movement upstairs, it would be impossible to sneak out. Flint once again contacts Victor, telling him about their dilemma. He is very unhappy to hear that. Before he can get too angry, Flint asks him to get in touch with Illivan and ask him to come to the shipyard. Victor replies, saying he will do his best.
Thankfully, Illivan makes it to the shipyard in time. He tries to talk his way onto the ship, but when that proves unsuccessful, he uses his Ring of Dimension Door to transport himself into the ship’s cargo hold. There, he meets up with Flint and Olivia, who quickly fill him in on everything they know.
The three agree to collect some vials of the Aether, for posterity. Through the clever use of the Bag of Holding, Illivan is able to transport the three out of the ship.
As if on cue, Victor arrives alongside the Algassi City Guard. While the guards round up all the smugglers and confiscate the illicit goods, Victor meets with the party. He informs them that he heard the entire conversation between the group and Void. He confiscated the groups’ Aether; some gave it up more willingly than others. Olivia handed over the paperwork connecting Theros to the ship. Victor looked over the files and informed them that, although extremely concerning, there wasn’t enough information to implicate Theros.
Olivia says the must do damage control for Sprigg, knowing that if word got out her store was involved in the scandal, she would be ruined. Victor argues that the party doesn’t have the time or resources to shelter some random little store from bad press. Olivia ends the conversation by subtly pulling rank, her words dripping with condescension, “I guess it’s a good thing we have you, then.”
Victor bitterly relents.
With the Ball quickly approaching, the heroes are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of preparation left to do. The next two weeks are filled with lessons and instructions, on everything from dancing, to table manners, to proper forms of address. In two weeks, Victor teaches the group everything they need to know to fit in among the elite.
Little do the heroes know, a storm is brewing on the horizon…