17 Elient, The Manor House of the Stanipavel Family
The party, having been escorted to the house by Vittori, with the family Security Officer, Brutus Mangle in close accompaniment, enter the grand entrance hall and are met and greeted by Dragar Stanipavel, Vittori's grandfather and the head of the family.
Dragar is friendly, if not overly warm, and he welcomes the friends into his home informing them that there are rooms readied for them and that once they are refreshed and settled, a late dinner will be served. He suggests that during this dinner they might all further discuss the potential for the 'Stoners to assist the Stanipavel's rid themselves of the Ankheg menace.
Using her experience of formal occasions Maena exercises correct etiquette, graciously thanking Dragar for his hospitality.
Dragar makes a gesture with one hand and an exquisitely elegant Firbolg gentleman, who introduces himself as Alfredo Manners, the butler and head of the household staff, steps forward (exactly where from, no-one actually notices). Alfredo escorts the PCs to the first floor where he shows each one to a small, but beautifully appointed, guest room. Each room contains a comfortable bed with clean linens, a small dressing-table, complete with all the grooming tools necessary for the average humanoid to achieve a presentable appearance, a wardrobe and a window looking out of the back of the house. Alfredo informs his charges that hot water will be brought shortly by some of the house-maids and that the PCs should was and prepare for diner, to be served downstairs in the dining room in an hours time. Before he leaves them, he tells Remy that a special room is being prepared for him and that one of "the staff" will arrive shortly to "take him down".
Remy, recalling what happened last time he was sleeping alone in a "special room" (see The Circlestone Injustice, Episode 1) is understandably unsettled by this, but he is determined to make his fellow adventurers proud of him by behaving with maturity and grace; he says nothing, but him mind strays to Tortle soup ...
The friends all settle in in their own way, Connor, a little uncomfortable in this alien environment, being more used to hard pallets, cold winds and the starry sky above him, drops his gear just inside the room he has been assigned and seems to be filled with a nervous energy. Jonathan, as is his way, feels it imperative that he gets a sense of location, a "lay-of-the-land" so to speak and announces that he is going to take a look around the house before dinner. Maena, sensitive to the fact that her Mr Walker is not used to this level of opulence, nor overly aware of the complexities of elevated, societal niceties, declares that she can go one better, she will escort Jonathan on a tour of the house's public spaces, using her familiarity with the landed gentry to illuminate that which might other appear unclear to him. Connor decides that that sounds like a good learning experience and declares that he will join them.
Anahita and J'Wi decide that they have had quite enough exploring for one day and that they will take the opportunity to relax and refresh. Anahita finds herself drawn to the delicately crafted hairbrush, comb and mirror that sit prettily on her dresser. The mirror, in particular, catches her eye, embellished as it is with a raised relief in the style of a badger rampant. She wonders if pocketing this would be wrong, after all the Stanipavels are clearly wealthy beyond her comprehension, a missing mirror couldn't really hurt them, could it? However, when she suggests to J'Wi that she might take it as a "souvenir" the Yuan-ti makes it abundantly clear, all-be-it with nothing more than a stern stare from those ophidian eyes, that that would not be acceptable.
The hot water arrives, carried by the house maids, three of whom are human, one a Halfling and one a striking and diminutive Gnome with cheekbones like razors, a shock of barely-contained purple hair and an attitude to match. Indeed,when Anahita mentions to the girls that the weather is most pleasant for the season the Gnome makes defiantly direct eye contact with her and replies, "Weather? Is that all you have to talk about?" before one of the other maids pulls her away, admonishing her with a curt, "Sunrise, you mustn't speak to the Master's guests like that!"
Walking through the house, the inquisitive trio of Maena, Connor and Jonathan make their way downstairs and take some time to study the collection of family portraits that they find. They are all taken with a painting showing a younger Dragar and a very handsome woman.
Meanwhile, Katy Tooker, the Halfling housemaid, arrives with instructions to deliver Remy to his room. She is clearly terrified of the giant Tortle, finding it almost impossible to look directly at him or concentrate on anything he says. For his part, Rembrandt is also afraid, afraid that she is in fact leading him to some watery fate in which he ends up as the main ingredient of a not-so-mock-Tortle soup. Even so, he follows her down to the ground floor and then down again into the cellar of the house. There, at the very end of a dark corridor Remy is sure that his worst fears are about to come true. In a large open-plan room sits a wooden bath large enough to accommodate even his hyperbolic bulk, and it is full of water. There follows a baffling exchange in which Remy expresses his hopes that he not have his essential essences extracted in the pursuit of some Cheloniac consommé. Tooker misinterprets this rambling as a request for soup, and she hurries away to put in a special order with the cook, Deelya Smythe.
Eventually the intrepid house guests reconvene at the dining room where they are treated to some rather fine hors d'oeuvres. They are joined by Dragar, his wife, Clara (who is the woman from the portrait), a man introduced as Doctor Andi M'Deeks who is both family physician and Dragar's most trusted adviser and Vittori.
The dinner turns out to be something of an interview, with Dragar and Clara working skillfully together to take control of the situation while at the same time making their guests feel welcome and valued. Jonathan makes a good account of himself by impressing Dragar with not only his knowledge of the Ankheg, but also with his tactical nous. Doctor M'Deeks is fascinated with Rembrandt's unique physical condition and implores him to spend some time tomorrow allowing the doctor to examine him. Remy is definitely less than comfortable at this request, but does not definitively turn the doctor down.
Clara, who seems to be able to read people quickly and accurately, is fascinated when Anahita explains that she, "... has turned into a badger before, and can turn in to a badger again ..." and presses the Genasi to elaborate on this, which Anahita does. This leads on to Anahita explaining about her affinity for the beasts of field, vale and glen and even to her revealing the fact that her parents have passed away. The more Anahita talks, the more it seem that Vittori becomes interested in her. Eventually he manages,while blushing profusely and stumbling over his words, to ask her if she would consider a post-dinner perambulation around the property, with a particular diversion to the stable to see the horses. She is delighted to accept. Suddenly Vittori is overcome by the thought that Anahita might have misconstrued his offer of companionship as something more, he is mortified and explains that he is happily married to his wife, Carissa, and was simply hoping to spend some time with her because of their shared interest in the well-being of animals.
It is at this point that J'Wi is able t o slip quietly from the dining hall, using Vittori's embarrassment as a diversion, and walk to the lounge, where she hopes to find some maps. She is still trying to get some hint or where Sifanti might be - the mysterious location, possibly destination, that she dreamed about back in Neverwinter. In the room she meets Vittori Senior, the oldest of Dragar's three children, and uncle to the younger Vittori. He welcomes her into the lounge and directs her to the cartography cabinet, a specially designed chest-of-drawers which houses a fine collections of maps and allows for those to be spread out and studied on its smooth, walnut desktop. J'Wi finds on e map that draws her attention. It is a map purporting to show the entirety of Toril, stretching from Maztica all the way across the exotic Kara-Tur and even to the unnamed lands further East again. However, before she has the opportunity to examine it in any real detail something quite shocking occurs. Vittori Senior calls J'Wi by her birth name, Ju'Kumagho,the name her parents gave her, but that they rarely ever use, preferring the potentially derogatory nickname, J'Wi. J'Wi is shaken, although she shows no external sign of such. Vittori explains that he knows her parents and recognised her as their daughter. He goes on to tell her that his association with her parents is directly due to the fact that he is, in secret, an agent for a powerful faction, the same faction that J'Wi's parents covertly operate to support. As further evidence of the veracity of his tale, he describes an "operation" which he and J'Wi's parents undertook together, to "remove" a troublesome rival merchant. J'Wi remembers the assignment well, her father had even used it as an opportunity to try and get his daughter interested in following in her parents footsteps, teaching her how to concoct the very specialised salves, potions, unguents and applications which they concocted. Once he had J'Wi convinced that he was on the up-and-up, that he did know her parents and that he was an agent of the Dark Brothers, he asked her if she would be interested in fulfilling a small, but important task for the faction. J'Wi was fascinated, realising that here was the chance for her to regain some of the family honour that her parents felt had been lost when J'Wi had originally chosen not to enter into the family business. She agreed that she was open to such an arrangement and a clearly delighted Vittori Senior suggested that they get together tomorrow, after the meeting with Dragar, so as to discuss the details of the mission.
The older Vittori then made his excuses and, bidding a "bon nuit, my dear Death Blossom", retired to his bed before the whole group congregated in the lounge. J'Wi, with thoughts swirling in her head, chose to focus intently on the map she had been looking at, Jonathan joined her, always interested in any sort of geographical data, Connor and Anahita started to browse the small library of books in the room while Remy headed straight for a small table in the far corner of the room upon which sat several wooden boxes; he was clearly excite to see what those boxes might hold. Maena, immune to the glamour of the house's material offerings, cast a careful eye over the various knick-knacks, novelties, trinkets, curios and objets d'art until her gaze settled on one particularly exquisite, and frustratingly familiar piece. It was a rose crafted from metal with such delicacy and attention to detail that for a moment she wondered if someone had actually gilded a real flower with silver. She knew she had seen something like this before, but she couldn't quite place it ...
And it is here, in this oasis of comfort, relative safety and possible learning that we leave our heroes at the end of a long and intense day.