With three days left before the assassination of Alethea Albright, we arrived at the gates of Westvale, the heart of the Golden Valley. As per expected, the gates were sealed tight with several guards manning the ramparts, crossbows aimed squarely at us. Peregrine attempted to reason with the guards, bluffing that we were a group of merchants coming to Westvale to sell our wares from Ashen proper. Our lack of wares was more than enough to indicate he was lying to the guards. He may as well have said we were a group of travelling thespians, which in retrospect may have been more believable. After a few strained moments, Moira let it slip that we were adventurers, and we were promptly given access to the city.
Once accommodations for our stay in the city were obtained, I did some research on this ball that we were to be attending. I admit, it was not difficult to figure out that the ball was in celebration of the uniting of the houses Albright and Oliander through the bonding of Penelope Oliander with the heir of the Albright family in holy matrimony. Our mission, then, was to intrude on a wedding celebration meant to join two very hostile and powerful families, find a way to locate Machine, and apprehend him before he kills Alethea. Compared to our other schemes, this was rather simple in comparison.
A few of the other names attending this event included Williver Stoneheart, a wealthy and well-known business owner, Daes Vagner, a merchant and investor who made his name in Westvale, and Arya Green Sleeves, head of the only elven house in the Golden Valley. Our first task, now that we knew this, was to find a way to get into the ball itself. It goes without saying that such an event would be invite only. While Peregrine and Albion sought to have some serving clothes tailored, Moira, Mersh, and I went to pay Arya Green Sleeves a visit. Perhaps she would be willing to help us in our efforts.
Only later did I learn that, while the rest of us busied ourselves above, Mersh had slipped away and found himself in a circle of thieves and assassins. This group, the “Black Hand,” were fooled by Mersh’s guise as the “legendary assassin” Jean Felipe. Striking an accord with the Black Hand, Mersh was assigned to kill Arya Green Sleeves at the ball, and in return would be paid a hefty sum. I trust that Mersh only agreed to save his own neck, but knowing him… ah, it matters not. What’s done is done.
Regardless, Mersh joined back up with Moira and myself just as we were allowed into the Green Sleeves estate to visit with Ms. Arya. It was good to see that the Blue Leaf Clan still held some prominence amongst my kind, even this far away from the Fey. It was strange though, meeting with Arya. I had spent so long away from home and my elven kin that I had forgotten how unattached they were to the rest of the world. By not growing attached, it is easier to watch the world around you age and die while you live for hundreds of years. Heh, my time amongst other races, other cultures, and my friends in the Tiki Company has taught me much. Who would have thought that a group so different, made of elves and dwarves, halflings and humans, oriads and dragonborn, could grow to be so close?
I digress, forgive an old elf’s ramblings, whoever may be reading this. While Arya could not grant us access to the ball itself, she did inform us that any who holds an invitation may bring a guest. Long story short, we had to find dates.
Arya was kind enough to let it slip that she knew of three others that would be attending the ball who did not yet have a plus one. Margo Walputh, Laura Flatfoot, and an old friend of Moira’s, Davon Homeforger, were scheduled to attend the ball. With this knowledge in tow, we bid Arya farewell and went to find our respective dates. First, however, we needed more presentable attire for the situation. Mersh and I went to get fitting for dress clothes, while Moira went about a little shopping spree.
Mersh was the first to obtain a date, wooing Margo Walputh at her small abode in the slums of Westvale. Once Moira had finished her shopping (and after I was forcefully dragged to a small boutique to buy Mersh a fancy hat), we visited a small inn where Moira was acquainted with her old friend Davon and where Laura agreed to be my date to the ball. I admit I was a tad worried. This was far outside of my comfort zone, but then again, most things that The Tiki Company does falls into that category, so I suppose I should have been used to it. Though, Laura’s inebriation at the time also helped.
The next day, we found ourselves sitting in an escort en route to the Albright estate for the ball. Albion and Peregrine had managed to “convince” one of the guards to let them in under the guise of helpers and servers. At the ball itself, Moira was largely occupied performing with Davon, who was invited to perform. Mersh, or Jean Felipe I should say, and I were occupied ourselves with our dates. Nonetheless, we all kept an eye out for Alexis Machine.
As the evening wore on, we began to worry that perhaps Machine had caught wind of our plan to ambush him and had left. Or worse perhaps. Albion had a rather nasty run-in with a slave owner and trader by the name of Tobias Kant, a large, beefy man who Albion suspected of having knowledge of where his family may have been sold.
The night continued, and soon we found ourselves at the grand dinner. The head of the Albright family, Electo Albright, a jowly man with a temper far too short for his size, sat at the head of the table. Even from my place towards the far end of the table, I could see the glares he was giving Vincent Oliander, head of the Oliander family. Moira seemed to have obtained a seat closer to the Albrights, sitting with Jeras Albright, who I later learned was Alethea’s uncle. Alethea, however, was missing from dinner. There had been no sightings of Machine, and I feared the worst.
Moira convinced Jeras to accompany her to find Alethea in the conservatory. She warned him about the plot against her life, and to our gratitude, believed her. Luckily, Alethea was found and brought to dinner unharmed.
It was then that Mersh and I spotted him. Alexis Machine. He was disguised as a server, but I would recognize him anywhere. We excused ourselves and followed. After alerting Peregrine, we kept a sharp eye out. I knew I had seen him leaving the dining room, but he had not yet returned. The most likely place to search would have been the kitchens.
Peeking into the kitchens, I remembering seeing who I thought was Machine. In my defense, I had never met Machine in person, but this man looked exactly like him from behind.
I told Peregrine of my suspicions, and without warning he burst into the kitchens and assaulted an innocent man by mistake. Luckily, the sounds of the man screaming, Peregrine’s battle cries, and my head bashing against the wall could not be heard from the dining room.
It was going to be a long night.