Galapas, Tibidi, Vasily, and Vitaly have lined up a source for information on the palace, they've stolen invitations, and they're waiting on their party clothes to be fitted by the tailor. All in all, it's shaping up to be an eventful shindig.
They split up to grab lodgings for the night, agreeing to meet at a barber on Cooper's Square the next morning. Vasily and Vitaly camp together near the fairgrounds, while Tibidi and Galapas pick different but similar flophouses near Kajus Court.
The next morning, they all gather to get baths, shaves, and haircuts. However swanky their clothes, nobody will be fooled if they have shaggy hair crawling with lice.
It's a little early, but they decide to head back to the Weeping Hound to await the intel from Inga. The local thugs seem to be on break, and they break their fasts on the house stew while they wait for the crime boss.
She arrives not long before noon, sullen and sleepless. Without preamble, she spreads out several maps and sheaves of notes.
The upshot is this: many Boyars are staying in the main palace, for lack of manors of their own in the capital. Boyar Petra has a manor, but he's elected to stay in the palace, probably to try and mend the growing rift between himself and the Tsar. On the one hand, this means a lot of guards. On the other hand, it means that most of the guards report to different captains and nobles, being part of different noble courts. Especially during the ball, with so many guests, this should make it possible to bluff their way inside without arousing suspicion, but breaking away from the party and into the apartments on the third floor will be a good deal trickier. Inga walks them through the layout, as well as some speculation about guard positions, but there's not a lot specific she can tell them about what guards will be where during the party, since it's a highly atypical situation, and they demanded this on short notice.
All told, the party, and especially Tibidi, feel a little cheated, to which Inga can only say Caveat Emptor. They leave to go pick up their outfits for the party, since they spent several hours going over the plans with Inga.
It doesn't take long. They've all got party suits of varying qualities, depending on how much they were willing to spend. Tibidi's outfit is the cheapest, since he refused to spend the coin on tailoring and settled for clothing of more or less the right size. Galapas, using the money from the Wyvern hunt last month, bought the best outfit. Thus dressed, armed with knowledge and a handful of knives between them, they set off to join the procession of hoity-toity guests at the gates of Ausro Palace.
They hand off their invitations to the steward at the door, and fan out into the great hall to rub elbows with the movers and shakers and get acclimated to the atmosphere. They talk to several folk of different standings in the kingdom, and they gather the reason for the Lordsmeet; apparently some troubling reports have come in about the Iron Principalities. There is words of troop movements on the border, and most of the Boyars they speak with have a different reason that they're certain the army scouts are merely being alarmist. They cite favorable trade relationships, compatible philosophies, and almost a century of peace and neutrality that have unfailingly seen them through periods of ironback strife. Mostly they seem focused on how they can turn the Lordsmeet away from discussion of counter-mobilization and towards policy that could benefit themselves or their respective domains. Vasily gets dragged into a long discussion about shipping costs to Ruchanal, the nearest coastal city. He's never been to Ruchanal, but the merchant had enough opinions on the subject to hold up both sides of the conversation.
In the meantime, Galapas asks where he could find the privy, and a fat merchant gestures with a smirk towards an archway on the far wall. He fights his way through the crowd and heads up the hall, finding a passage to the right, and a passage to the left blocked by a guard. He glances down the available hall, and the guard helpfully informs him that he might unburden himself throught the door at the end of the hall.
Galapas feigns drunkenness, staggering against the wall and drawing the guard out of sight of the great hall. He stoops, as if to fix the lacing on his boots, and jerks upward with a savage strike of his concealed knife. He delivers a savage slash to the guard's face, and he staggers back with a strangled cry, but before the hapless soldier can make another move, Galapas strikes him a series of savage punches to the side of the neck. With a clatter of chainmail, the guard slides to the floor. Galapas moves quickly to tie him up in a tapestry and stow him in a nearby room, by which time the other three have joined him.
This is where I lost them. It became abundantly clear at this point that the players didn't have any kind of plan for how to get up to the Lord's apartment. They argued back and forth for a few minutes, but they were either bored, or tired, or confused. Long story short, they just weren't really in the mood to come up with a plan and play through it, partially because Tibidi was the only character optimized for this kind of crime. This is kind of my fault, since I'd suggested they might use the same characters as they planned to use in the main campaign, and I guess hadn't sufficiently emphasized that this was a heist adventure.
Whatever the reasons, they just weren't engaged, and we broke off the session there with a couple of half-plans for how to get the sword, and a vague suggestion that we'd finish the adventure sometime soon. As luck would have it, we never did, and the main campaign started up shortly thereafter. However, we agreed that this adventure was still "canonical," so what follows is a presumed sum-up of how the job finished up. Players, if you have any objections here, drop them in the comments and I'll take a look and make revisions as seems appropriate.
They resolve to go into hiding within the palace, wait until the small hours of the morning, then set off to try and reach the apartments. In the room they stowed the unconscious guard in, there are several barrels that they can use, and they hope that even if the hapless soldier is discovered or escapes, they won't think to search the same room that he was hidden in. Galapas checks to make sure that he's still unconscious, and they seal themselves inside the casks.
Hours pass. Noise from the great hall dies down as their buddy wakes up and starts making muffled noises to try and attract his fellows, but it's not until much later that they finally find him. The group listens as the guard passes on a breathless description of his attacker, and alarms sound throughout the palace.
Nonetheless, the guards do not extensively search the room they're in, and in about half an hour, the sound of tramping boots and horn calls dies off, and so far as they can tell, the palace finally drifts off to sleep.
Tibidi exits his barrel first, scouting into the surrounding corridors. The party seemed to have gotten a little out of hand, as several courtiers are sprawled snoring on benches at the banquet tables, and only one guard with a black eye and a surly expression seems to be watching the hall. He returns, and suggests they try and pass themselves off as drunken guests looking for a the way out if they're stopped. This done, they set off up the hall in search of a back stair that Inga pointed out on the floor plans. They're about to rush headlong onto the steps when Vitaly calls for a halt with a sudden hiss. Sure enough, about a floor up, they can hear the tromping of metal boots. They slip into alcoves shared with suits of armor on display, and wait long enough for the noise to pass before moving on. Galapas decides to grab a royal tabard and a halberd from one of the suits of armor as they go as a disguise.
He takes the lead, using his military training for a convincing "late watch" walk. At every clear intersection, he strikes the ground with the butt of the halberd to signal that it's okay for them to follow. He catches sight of a couple of guards at a distance, and one of them calls out to him in Gowan, the local language. Galapas has a moment of panic, since he doesn't speak Gowan, but hedges with an indeterminate grunt.
It's not long before dawn by the time they finally find Boyar Petra's apartment, with two guards from his house in the front. They ponder the predicament for a moment. Causing a distraction is risky, since it would likely draw guards from elsewhere. Instead, Tibidi decides to try bluffing them. He takes the tabard and halberd from Galapas, and strides up to the guards, insisting that they're needed downstairs. The guards look at each other, then look Tibidi up and down, and demand to know who he thinks can order them around.
Tibidi offers up a name at random, but he can tell that they aren't buying it. They're mostly eyeing each other, as if to confirm that they both plan to jump him. He elects to move first, clocking one of them across the face with the halberd. At the same time, Vasily lets loose with a spell that causes vines to errupt from between the stonework and entangle them, though it catches Tibidi as well. Vitaly and Galapas race up, and together they manage to pound the guards into submission in short order. They weren't exactly silent as a shadow, however, and they don't know how long they have before other guards come running.
They send Galapas and Vasily to search for a window they might use to escape, while Vitaly and Tibidi seize up keys from the fallen guards and unlock the door.
The apartments within have the pretension of opulence, but the crumbling plaster and mouldering drapes betray this as a second-rate apartment. Fortunately, it seems they haven't woken anyone within. There's a corner dedicated to seating for some of the men-at-arms, and both Tibidi and Vitaly seize up crossbows from a pile there before setting about searching the area. They follow their recollections of the plans to the master bedroom, only to find the door locked. Tibidi starts to pick it, but Vitaly stops him. He can hear more alarms sounding. They don't have time. Instead, Vitaly points them toward the hearth, which offers a snug, but open path into the master bedroom. Vitaly keeps watch while Tibidi worms through, wincing and the couple of coals left burning on the grate.
Beyond, he sees a four poster bed, on which sleeps the Boyar of Salk. Past him, he can see various noble accouterments arrayed in preparation for his day tomorrow... among them, a sword in an ornate scabbard.
Tibidi skulks forward, intent on the prize. Vitaly whispers for him to hurry... and Tibidi takes a bad step onto a creaking board. Tibidi is only two arms lengths from the sword, and as the Boyar stirs in his bed, his eyelids flickering, he decides "Screw it."
Tibidi throws caution to the wind, dashing to seize up the blade before vaulting across the bed, startling the nobleman awake. Tibidi crosses to the hearth in three steps, and tosses the sword through to Vitaly. By the time he's scrambling back through, the chambers are already ringing with cries of guards! Guards!
A man in his sleeping clothes appears in a doorway, bleary eyed and brandishing a sword, and Vitaly looses a bolt at him without hesitation. He's trying to load in another when two more guards appear, and a clatter comes from the door to the master bedroom as the Boyar fumbles with the lock. Tibidi manages to peg one of the guards with his crossbow, and the two of them dash for the exit.
In the meantime, Vasily and Galapas have been tearing down tapestries to tie together into a rope. They have about twenty five feet of this remarkably expensive climbing equipment, and a window they might exit from, when they hear the cries of the Boyar echoing down the hall. Galapas lets out a mighty whistle, and in a couple of seconds, Vitaly and Tibidi appear, with the clatter of armored guards not far behind.
Galapas ties off the rope and slings it out into the pre-dawn air as Vasily hurls another spell down the corridor to slow down pursuit. Vitaly practically dives nose-first out the window, catching the rope with practiced acrobatics. The sword is safely tucked in his sash. Vasily starts to follow as Galapas seizes up Vitaly's dropped crossbow, and he and Tibidi start firing back at the guards fighting their way toward their position. A bolt whizzes down the corridor and takes Galapas in the arm. Vitaly makes it to the ground with a drop of a dozen feet or so, and calls up for them to follow. Galapas fires a final shot, and swings onto the rope.
Before Tibidi can follow, though, the knotwork gives way. Galapas was about halfway through fireman-sliding his way down, so he's injured in the fall, but not badly. Vasily casts a spell to tend to Galapas' injury, and Vitaly calls up and urges Tibidi to try jumping anyway. Tibidi wordlessly gazes down at the forty foot fall onto flagstones. He glances back at the oncoming guards. He sighs.
Tibidi throws down his crossbow and puts up his hands, surrenduring himself. He gets a few savage punches to the stomach, but he's taken in alive, and the rest of the group is obliged to make a frenzied dash for the walls without him.
The party hides out for the next couple of days, dodging from derelict basement to derelict basement to stay ahead of people looking to cash in the reward Boyar Petra has offered. At last, the day comes for the hand-off.
They follow the directions back through the hedge maze, but this time when they come to the meeting place, they find only a single bored knight examining his fingernails and lounging on one of the benches. Vasily approaches. He recognizes him from the first meeting here, so he's definitely working for their contact.
The knight spits. "Well. You boys fucked up."
"What? We brought the sword."
"I'm sure you did, and that's... something at least," the knight nods. "You may recall, though, that one of the conditions was that you take the damn thing during one of the public events."
"How much difference does it make?" insists Vasily. "The point was to humiliate Petra, correct? Well, we took the sword literally from under his nose, to a great deal of hubbub. I should think the purpose was served."
"Yeah. Well," says the knight, still not looking up. "That hubbub happens to include one of you getting pinched, and your dear employer having nothing much in the way of a reliable alibi for his household."
The group is starting to seethe. Vasily says "So. You don't plan to pay us?"
The knight finally looks up. "Do you have the sword with you?"
Vasily pauses, then gestures to his brother, who produces the blade from under his heavy cloak. He steps forward, and deposits it on the bench next to the knight. The knight gives a nasty grin, then wordlessly tosses a bag of coins to Vasily. They count up the payout as he carefully stows the sword.
"There seems to be something missing here," growls Galapas.
"This is barely a tenth of what we were promised!" cries Vasily.
The knight chuckles and gets to his feet. "You brought back the bare minimum of what my master hired you for. Count yourself lucky you're getting two thin stags."
"It's barely more than our expenses," says Galapas.
"My, my!" the knight says in mock surprise. "You're saying you made a profit? My master is more generous than I'd ever dreamed!" He smirks. "I'd advise you take that little windfall and find your way out of town. Far out of town. If Petra doesn't get you, then my Master might decide that the bounty on your heads is worth more than the damage to his foe's reputation."
With that, he stalks out of the courtyard, leaving them to discuss their next move. Galapas has nowhere in particular to be, and Vitaly, at least, is displeased at the thought of leaving the area so soon. Vasily has a suggestion, though.
While asking around Harjevo, he's heard tell of an expedition about to get underway. They consider this for a few minutes, before agreeing. They will gather such supplies as they need, and then meet again at a small town on the northernmost border of Harmark...