Fjord is certain that they are walking into disaster, but if he has learned anything while traveling with his friends, it is that disaster follows them anyways. So why not walk into the lion's den for once?
"Okay, lets go over the plan one more time." Beau says, ever the strategist.
"I still don't know why we have to infiltrate a party of all things. Wouldn't it be easier to sneak around?" Veth is not pouting, thank you very much, as she gingerly polishes her crossbow. Beau groans, having gone over that particular argument at least three times before.
"Very good defenses. Legendary guard. Party means opportunity to get in without getting arrested or killed" Caleb quotes from her last explanation and Veth sighs.
Jester is already happily handing out the bags of fabric that she and Caduceus, in tradition, have procured.
"Step one. Getting past the entrance. Fjord, you're up." This is not Beau, standing in front of them. This is Expositor Beauregard, always prepared and always informed. Fjord misses Beau for a moment but obediently stands up, clearing his throat.
"We know that infiltrating Whitestone has been attempted many times, not only by burglars and spies, but also by political enemies of the de Rolos. Their security is top notch, so climbing over roofs or sneaking in through the back door won't work. That's why we're going in through the front door."
He leaves a pause, for dramatic effect.
"We know, Fjord. We know the plan. Just go on with it!" Veth complains, but Jester shushes her.
"Jester and I did some digging around and we found out, that the de Rolos invite a lot of people every year for their Wintercrest's Ball. Luckily, we are on the guest list. Or at least some of us are."
"Invited is, for example, Archivist Uulag from the Cobalt Soul. Apparently he exchanged some letters with Lord de Rolo but never met in person. Caleb, you know your backstory? And as his plus one, of course, the charming Traci Gentlewood."
Beau gives a fake laughter and pretends to flip her hair over her shoulder. It fails, because her hair is up in a bun, as always.
"Luckily, I managed to snatch Ulaag's last minute cancellation from the postman. So sad that he caught the flu! Ahaha…" Everyone shivers a little at seeing her method acting.
"Then we have Veth and Caduceus through the staff entrance and of course, Mr and Mrs Dubonaire, owners of a shipping company based of Port Dumali who want to start business with the de Rolos and had their friends in high places put them on the guest list. Unfortunately, they have been arrested for tax evasion. Yasha and I will do them the honors to step in, accompanied by Mrs Dubonaire's adorable pet dog."
"Woof." Jester says.
"Yes, we have an invitation under the name 'D-u-b-…" Fjord is interrupted from spelling his fake name as a loud couple cuts the line in front of them.
"I don't know, Margo, maybe if you had listened to me for once and allowed me to take the carriage, this whole mess wouldn't have happened! Excuse me, can I cut in for a moment? We should be on the top of the list. Dubonaire. Mark and Margo? Should be on the top. Yes. Yes, what do you think? I would certainly hope so. Come on, honey."
Fjord tries not to panic. Yasha besides him freezes up.
"Excuse me, what was that name again?" The guard asks politely.
"What, darling? You forgot your coat? Let's get it from the carriage." Fjord smiles at the guard. "Excuse us, we will be back in a moment."
Around the corner, the blue poodle in Yasha's arm transforms and Yasha is now in possession of an armfull of blue tiefling.
"That went swimmingly." She comments dryly while Jester jumps down.
"Oh my gosh you guys, we need to get inside!! Beau is relying on us!"
"I don't know why I expected the justice system to punish tax evaders…" Fjord groans. "I knew we should have prepared a plan B…"
"We could try to sneak in? It's not like we can impersonate someone else, and I doubt they'd let us in just because we ask nicely…"
Yasha sighs and peeks around the corner to survey the entrance. "No chance. It's not like we can make someone up on the spot because they won't be on the guest list…"
Fjord frowns. "Maybe in the entourage of some VIP?"
Jester's eyes widen.
"I have an idea!" A decisive smile appears on her face. "I know how to get us in."
"What do you mean you haven't heard of me?" Jester asks and gives the guard a mean look. "I am the Sapphire of the Sea! You know, from Nicodranas?"
The poor man seems to falter under her glare.
"Be that as it may, you are not noted on the guest list, and therefore I can unfortunately not let you in."
Jester huffs. "Well duh I'm not on the guest list. I am not a guest, I am a performer. Someone paid a lot of money to have me performing as a gift for Lord and Lady de Rolo!"
The young man doesn't seem to quite know what to do and sends a helpless glance over to a small tent. A few moments later, a taller man, dark skinned and with gray streaks in his black hair emerges from the tent, accompanied by some other guards.
"What seems to be the problem?" he asks, putting a hand on the younger guard's shoulder.
"The problem is, that I can apparently not go in!" Jester huffs. "I am the Sapphire of the Sea! My time is money!"
Some of the guards begin to whisper among themselves.
"I did hear something about a crazy good courtesan from Wildemount-" "-Wasn't that a Ruby, though? Or a garnet?" "-she clearly is blue, you idiot-"
The older man sighs. "Can I see your invitation, please?"
"Why, of course!" Jester beams and hands him the recently forged invitation.
"My dear Sapphire, you simply must surprise Lady and Lord de Rolo for me. Please, file the expenses under my tab and perform in Castle Whitestone for the annual Winterball. Oh, my Sapphire, how I look forward to seeing the tender skin of your bos-" The guard coughs and stops reading.
"And you are?" he asks Fjord, who is holding a large suitcase and Yasha with her bone harp. "That is my band, and my staff. I can't carry everything on my own, after all."
Someone in the rather long queue behind Jester coughs loudly in annoyance.
The old guard looks at the blue tiefling, at the invitation and at the ten-or-so people waiting and seems to come to a decision.
"Well, I suppose we should have a word with the guests to announce surprise performers beforehand." he sighs but waves Jester forward.
"I thank you very much." she says gracefully, like her Mama does. "Come on, Fjord, Yasha!"
And they stroll into the ballroom.
"Step two." Beau says and dramatically points at Veth. She sighs but gets up.
"Once we're inside we need to gather information and evidence. First we do it on the dancefloor by talking to people, but then we need to sneak into the offices. They are here." and she points to three rooms on the ground floor.
"Anything that proves that Trent Ikithon uses tax money to pay for his personal residuum projects that he has no approval for. It could be letters, invoices, bills… Take anything with his name on!
While we're doing that, Caleb will prepare the teleportation circle inside the dome, for the case that everything goes to shit and we need to leave right now. In the uttermost emergency, Jester and Cad can bring us back to Nicodranas. That is why it's so important that we check in with each other every hour right here, at the chocolate fountain."
Beau nods. "I mean, we all know that planning more than two steps is going to ruin our plan, so that's it. Remember, we need to keep a low profile and avoid attracting attention."
Jester pumps a fist.
"Don't worry about that, Beau, we are great undercover agents!"
"That guy over there is wearing a glamour to make his clothes look shinier." Kima whispers behind her wine glass and Allura manages not to chuckle too much.
For the past hour or so they have been standing here to judge people, whenever they don't have to interact with someone.
"I 'm not surprised. That's Regae Ander's son, failing to scrape the last of his family's honor from the ground." she whispers back before putting on a polite smile as one of the nobles from the Dwendalian Empire approaches.
She is prepared to grit her teeth through another annoying conversation, when suddenly a curtain rises a few feet next to her to reveal a stage.
"Dear guests, thanks to an anonymous benefactor, the Sapphire of the Sea performs today, live, from Whitestone Castle!"
Appreciative murmurs come from the crowd, mixed with sounds of confusion.
"I thought it was the Ruby of the Sea?" the man in front of her murmurs.
"No, you guys, I think I was meant to perform exactly at midnight- oh- alright, then." an accented voice can be heard over the noise.
Allura raises one eyebrow and takes a sip from her wine. That is at least a distraction from the boring politics of the ballroom. The voice, however, rings a bell in the back of her mind, but sh can't quite remember where she heard it before.
A very familiar blue tiefling steps on the stage.
"Hello, I am J- the Sapphire of the Sea! And today I will sing you a song!"
Allura snorts the wine out of her nose.
"May I ask who our anonymous benefactor is?" the announcer asks politely and Jester is about to deflect when she sees a blond woman lowering a hanker chief from her face.
A familiar blond woman, who is staring at her.
"Allura?!" She squeaks, her eyes very wide. This is so bad! How is everything going so bad so quickly?"
"I think Lady Allura deserves a round of thank you applause, for this most generous gift." She hears the announcer, before everything is drowned out by the lackluster applause of people who have just heard a very interesting performance but need to applaud out of respect for the host that is apparently Allura Vysoren, Archmage and Member of the Tal Dorei Council.
"Well, that was it from the Sapphire of the Sea, have a fun party, byeee!" Jester shouts out, bolting from the stage.
Traveler, this is a mess!
Uulag and Traci have no problem blending into the crowded atmosphere, finding locals and talking to them.
"Yes, I am very interested in the business relations of Whitestone to the Dwendolian Empire, for the Archives." Caleb repeats several times, and Beau is proud that his accent, while terrible, at least doesn't scream Zemnian. It's more like a mixture of mainly Zemnian with a few infernal undertones by now.
"Hahaha, you know, my boyfriend here is always working, so interested! Hahahaha. Men, am I right? We love to love them, ahahaha." Beau's Traci, on the other hand, has seen better days.
"I am straight." she adds, after one woman looks at her with far too much skepticism. "Don't you love it when your boyfriend, who is a man, is so much smarter than you? Hahaha."
Caleb pulls her away before she can do more damage.
" I think your powers only work on insecure boys." he whispers, and Beau agrees.
So far they have found out that sometimes a Dwendolian hat merchant comes into town and Beau tries not to seem too discouraged.
"I could pretend to be drunk and we can search the offices that need to be around somewhere?" Beau asks and Caleb nods. They are on their way to the exit when suddenly a white haired male appears in front of them.
They had tried to subtly stay out of the way of Lord de Rolo, to no avail.
"Archivist Uulog, it is so nice to meet you in person!" He beams, and Caleb manages a terrified smile.
"Lord de Rolo." He bows slightly and mentally reads through all five letters Beau had given him.
"Nonsense, how often do I have to tell you to call me Percy? I must complement you on the latest draft you sent me, the design is truly ingenuis! What made you exchange the 2.3 cm bolts with 3.0 cm bolts?"
Caleb is sure he only sees static.
"Oh, you know, it was a process of elimination." He says, when the Lord continues to look at him expectantly.
"Well, it was truly genius to use the bolts to also stabilize the machine from the inside!"
Caleb shoots a mildly panicked look to Beauregard when their host isn't looking. He may have memorized a few letters, but he doesn't know anything about mechanics.
"You flatter me." he manages to squeeze out through the panic. "Only three weeks ago you proposed a revolutionary new concept for the steam machine. I was truly impressed."
Thank the gods Beau uses that moment to intervene.
"Oh, but you're not going to spend the evening talking work, right sugar?" she pouts and grabs Caleb's arm with much more force than necessary. "Why don't you introduce me to your friend here?"
The Lord de Rolo bows slightly in apology.
"How rude of me, I apologize. Percival Fredrickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo the third, at your service."
Beau shakes his hand.
"So good to meet you! I am Traci Gentlewood! This one's girlfriend." she laughs and grips Caleb's arm harder. He will soon lose it, if she continues like that.
"Very nice to meet you. I must confess that Uulog here rarely tells me about his personal life, so I am rather out of the loop."
"Oh, I am used to that." Beau looks like she wants to make a shitty comment when she is interrupted by someone announcing something.
"I hadn't realized that there would be entertainment! That is so awesome!" she says and giggles.
Lord de Rolo looks confused. "I hadn't either."
"Hello, I am J- the Sapphire of the Sea! And today I will sing you a song!"
Caleb only by sheer willpower manages not to exchange an incredulous look with Beauregard, whose face has gone very, very white.
"Oh, the Sapphire of the Sea, how nice." he comments, staring at Jester who is looking almost as uncomfortable as he feels.
That is before she starts to sing.
Caleb feels a bead of sweat roll down his temple. Beauregard doesn't look better.
"A shanty?" she whispers. "And the most overused one of all shanties?"
"Be glad she didn't sing the ruby of the sea…" he murmurs back.
Surprisingly, Veth thinks, everything is going according to plan. Caduceus and her were the fist ones to arrive, the firbolg having vanished into the kitchen, and she saw all of her friends arrive. Jester was already transformed back when she saw her, which was perfect.
"Can we have some Champagne over here?"
Only playing the waitress is terrible. Discreetly she takes a sip from the large bottle. Hm, fizzy!
"Here!" A gnome shouts and she grimaces, walking over to her.
"Champagne?" she asks and holds the bottle up. "Or snacks?"
The gnome motions to her glass. "If you would be so kind." That was the fourth time this evening she has served this particular guest, and they are only half an hour into the party.
Veth begrudgingly fills her glass, and the glass of the goliath next to her. She does notice that they are both carrying big ale tankards instead of the slim champagne flutes.
"The top of the glass is here." the gnome points out. Veth glares. "How about I leave that whole bottle with you?"
"Oh, we're drinking already! Please top me off!" A cheerful voice comes from behind her and Veth is very close to just storming off. She turns around to fill the next glass.
And drops the bottle.
"VILYA'S KID?" she screeches and points.
Beau sighs and drinks in the sight of Yasha in her beautiful dark dress. Caleb has gone off to hide from Lord de Rolo and Beaus wandering has brought her here, next to the buffet where Yasha is eating pastries, sometimes reaching into her pocket to get out what Beau suspects is a bug-
She looks like an angel, really. A tall, muscular, beautiful angel eating bugs in the ballroom.
"Wow, that is a look I recognize." a voice comes from next to her. "And wow, you do have a good taste. That is a very beautiful woman. If I wasn't married…"
"Yeah…" Beau sighs, before remembering that she is supposed to be straight.
"I mean, I'm so jealous, o-m-g, look at her hair! I hope my boyfriend keeps his eyes off of her! I don't even know her and I already hate her!" she corrects herself.
The gnome next to her raises an eyebrow, having apparently bought none of that..
"The Nile isn't only a river, you know."
Beau has never heard of a river called Nile, but she laughs along.
Fjord is walking around, charming people left and right to no avail. After the disaster with Jester being forced to perform and vanishing afterwards he gathers that it's best that at least one person follows the plan. At least he isn't wearing a ridiculous hat this time.
Caduceus needs to get back to his pastries, but he finds himself quite tied up.
"We caught the intruder!"
Someone steps on his chest and Cad sighs and prays to Melora. He hadn't even begun the spying part of his role yet and only wanted to get some more honey.
He wonders why it was always him who ended up in these kind of situations. Sighing he tugs at the ropes that bind him tightly.
"You've got it wrong, I am the kitchen help!" he tries to explain himself but no one seems to listen.
"What's going on here?" a female voice asks and a young woman appears in his line of sight.
"It's an intruder!" his captor says, tugging at his restraints.
"I'm really just the kitchen help." Caduceus says.
Nothing is going according to plan, but at least Beau managed to slip away from the crowd and into the abandoned offices.
"There needs to be some kind of record here!" she murmurs frustratedly and flips to the thick binders. "Residuum, Residuum, Residuum…"
With one eye she is still looking at the door, even though she is fairly sure that no one will enter the office while there is a party going.
Finally! With a grin she opens the notebook labelled 'Export' and quickly scans the clients names. To her chagrin, the Cerberus Assembly, the Soltyce academy or even Trent Ikithon himself don't show up.
Groaning she makes a note in her notebook. They have evidence that Icky Thong gets his supply directly from Whitestone Castle. Maybe he is using a strawman or a pseudonym? Just ordering the Residuum under his own name would be too easy.
They will have to investigate this further.
She painstakingly copies all the names from the small book down. Thank god those are only about thirty.
She is at the last name when suddenly there is giggling at the door.
"Really, Vex, there can't be one Winter's ball without us sneaking off like school children?"
Beau freezes, then ducks under the table.
"Oh, but you know that I can't resist you, darling. And at this point it's more of a tradition, isn't it?"
Beau curses her life.
The door swings open and she sees two pairs of boots stepping into the room.
Beau is close to tears. There is nothing she wants less than to accidentally spy on a couple having office sex.
The steps stop.
"I could have sworn I left the office tidier than this. Did you go over the expenses again, dear?"
"No, but maybe Cass did?"
Beau wants to hit herself. Great, Expositor Beauregard, leave the evidence open on the desk lime an amateur. Dairon would be ashamed.
She looks to the window. Ground floor. She could make it. Slowly gets up in a crouch, ready to jump up and out of the room, when suddenly the desk is pushed aside and she finds herself at the pointy end of an arrow.
"Manners." Lord de Rolo says calmly and before she has the chance to try anything, thick iron bands wrap around her.
Fjord stands next to the chocolate fountain. No one else is here.
"What did I even expect?" he sighs.
"You have to believe me, Allura, they are bad people! And if they aren't, they are still doing evil stuff!" Jester tries to get through to the wizard.
"We know that Icky thongs supply comes directly from Whitestone, and he is using it to torture people! So we really need to stop them from selling him the stuff and we need to get evidence so he can get kicked out of the Cerberus Assembly and we can kick his ass without consequences! It's really really important!" her voice is more like a begging now but Allura only sighs and rubs her temple, quickening her pace.
"I think I get the gist of what you are telling me, Jester, but that seems to be a problem that is best solved by actually talking to the de Rolos and not by infiltrating the castle as a singer."
Jester pouts. "Okay, the plan went kind of off the rails."
"Anyways, let's look for Vex and Percy and talk to them about it."
Jester has her arms crossed and follows her with a gloomy expression on her face.
Kima looks between her and her wife. "You are right, they are batshit crazy." she whispers. She had heard a lot about Allura's newest acquisitions, but she'd have never thought that they were even more chaotic than Vox Machina.
Allura only sighs, giving the blue tiefling an exasperated but fond look before pausing at a door.
"Come on, let's solve this mess."
"Fjord, thank goodness." Caleb approaches him, Yasha in tow. "Beau vanished, Veth is getting drunk I think and no one here knows anything about residuum."
"And I feel uncomfortable talking to so many strangers so I just ate a lot of biscuits."
"I didn't find anything either. But we could check out the basement? Maybe we find the same boxes that were in Ikithon's secret office? Maybe with some shipping labels?"
"Maybe with a nice bow around them?" Yasha says dryly.
"You want Beau to be wrapped around a box?"
"It seems like our little spy here was mostly interested in our Residuum."
Vex holds up the ledger and Percy sighs.
"It was either that or the gun designs."
He throws a glance to the girl they have put into one of the visitor chairs, still entangled in manners' iron ropes and very pissed off if the scowl is any indication.
"Maybe we should ask her ourselves." Vex pulls up a chair in front of the girl and sits down, after opening the muzzle of the trap.
"Why don't you tell us who you work for and what you are looking for, dear?" her smile is more bloodthirsty than nice. "Let's start with your real name."
Percy can see the conflict in the girl's face as she probably tries to think of a convenient excuse. He is about to make the situation she finds herself in clearer, when there is a commotion in front of the door.
"Do you really think it's safe?" an accented voice asks. Wasn't that the singer?
But more interesting was the spy's reaction, widening her eyes and opening her mouth. As quick as a fox, Vex presses her palm against her mouth so whatever she was attempting to scream comes out muffled.
"Friends of yours?" She gives Percy a nod, who approaches the door and opens it, gun pointed- at Kima, of all people.
"Hello Percy. May we come in?" Allura, who stands next to her, asks. She has her hand raised, and Percy can see the echo of a counterspell that probably nullifies the effect of whatever magic the blue tiefling behind her wanted to cast.
"And Jester, no attacks please."
"Sorry." The woman mumbles, and it is indeed the Sapphire of the Sea.
Allura sighs when they all step into the room and Beauregard is already sitting tied up in a chair.
"Beau! Are you hurt?" Jester rushes to her side, glaring daggers at Vex. Beauregard shakes her head.
"I'm fine, Jes. Uhm. Hi Allura." She manages to soud sheepish.
Kima puts her hands on her hips. "This is the most ridiculous situation I have ever witnessed." she says and means it.
"I would still be terribly interested in hearing your explanation for being here and going through our records." Percy butts in.
Jester and Beauregard share a look.
"It's all about that Bastard Trent Icky- Ikithon. You see-"
The door opens and Vesper, of all people, rushes in, the twins and a lanky firbolg behind her. The twins look suitably sheepish and the enraged expression on Vesper's face tell her that the children of her friends have gone and made a big mess of something
"Mom, the twins tied up one of the kitchen aids, can we get him some hazard pay or something?"
"Oh my gosh, Caduceus, you got tied up by twelve year olds?"
Allura almost gets a whiplash from turning to the firbolg again, who is, after closer examination, really Caduceus Clay in a cook's outfit.
She sighs very heavily. Vex and Percy look similarly exasperated while Kima is holding her belly from silent laughter.
They stare at the portal anchor that was hidden by a couple of boxes and spelled invisible, only discovered through the use of Star Razor.
"If this leads where I think it leads I think we have misjudged the situation a bit." Fjord scratches his chin and investigates the small, blue gem that is bolted into the floor with copper threads.
"Be careful. We don't know how these things work." Yasha grabs at Fjord's bag of holding and pulls Magician's Judge out, just in case.
"It does seem like something that people who repeatedly steal from this place would put there. If it was a legitimate thing, it wouldn't be hidden so well."
Fjord rolls his shoulders. "Well, the only way to find out is to see what's on the other side."
Caleb crouches down, casting detect magic.
"It doesn't seem to be trapped, at least not by magical means, but I'd rather have Veth look at it before trying to activate it." He stands up and pulls out a copper wire, pointing it in the direction they came from.
"Veth, we found something, Can you come down to the basement please? Bring the others, if you're with them. Youcanreplytothismessage"
The reply comes instantly.
"Sure thing, I just have to ditch these weirdos."
"She is coming." Caleb announces. He isn't worried that Veth might not be able to ditch whoever she is with. When Veth doesn't want to be seen not even the Gods can spot her.
"Percy! Vex! You won't believe what just happened!"
The office is getting very crowded. Vex thinks that they should put up a sign. At least she managed to send Vesper and the twins away for the night.
"Can it wait, Keyleth dear? We have a situation."
But not only Keyleth enters, Grog and Pike stumble after her, all smashed.
"Look Vex! She is the one I told you about, who was in the tree behind my mom! She and her friends fought this GOD on rumblefuzz, rumblecluss, and they restored her memory!"
Vex doesn't know who they are talking about. Except for her three friends there is no one there. On the other hand, she has seen Keyleth drunk many times before. This isn't the craziest thing she has heard.
"Huh." The firbolg murmurs. "We did that too!"
"And she has antlers on her snow outfit because she saw mine through the tree, isn't she the coolest?" Are there tears in Keyleth's eyes?
"An' she can drink like the best of'em!" Grog adds rambunctiously.
"Oh, it's Veth. Of course, it was us who did that." The firbolg murmurs, but she pays him no mind.
"Who can?" She asks instead.
Three very confused faces turn around, looking for someone.
Pike frowns. "She was next to me only a minute ago!"
"Maybe she got lost on the way here?"
"How did she get lost, we were next to her the whole time!"
Allura looks like she might have an aneurism as everyone is, once again, talking over each other.
With steady fingers Veth disables the small mechanical trap Caleb and the others had missed. Not that she would have expected them to find the small knob that would probably trigger an alarm upon the activation, that's why they have her.
"Done." She pats the small device, giving it a last once-over.
"So, what's our plan here? Do we check out what's on the other side? Destroy it?" Fjord pokes the Gem with the tip of his boot.
"If we want evidence we shouldn't destroy it just yet." Yasha holds her sword out anyways, ready and visibly disturbed by the gem. The technology looks very similar to the kind of devices Obann used, Veth notices.
Caleb kneels down and turns the knob that they have deduced is most likely to open the portal, or, maybe, trigger a bomb to kill them all. With a sizzling, a sickly green rip appears in the air in front of them.
"Maybe I can just take a peak."
With a snap of his fingers Caleb's beloved cat, now in the form of an owl, appears, and he puts his hand on Veth's head as his eyes turn light blue. Frumpkin disappears into the rift.
"What do you see in th-"
"Just in case you have forgotten again, I can't hear you, so don't try to ask me any questions. It seems like the portal leads to a cave. I will explore further." Fjord is interrupted.
"We definitely need to hurry, though." Nervously Veth looks around, trying to survey the area. "If someone found us like this we'd look extremely guilty."
After some calming down and freeing Beauregard of her restraints they sit down and Allura takes over her role as the Mediator.
"It seems that we have some kind of misunderstanding at our hands. Mighty Nein, would you be so kind as to explain what you are doing here? I can assure you that Lady and Lord de Rolo, as well as the rest of Vox Machina are not 'secretly totally evil'" a pointed look to Jester"-and that we will try to work everything out. "
The four adventurers share some looks.
"What are the details on the trade agreement with Trent Ikithon?" Beauregard is the first to ask a question, considering the De Rolos with her calculating gaze.
"I don't see how that explains what you are doing here." Percy snaps, but Vex shakes her head.
"We don't trade with anyone called Ikithon." She turns to Allura. "That's the mage from the Cerberus Assembly, isn't he?"
"An asshole, that's what he is." Jester grumbles behind her.
"Yes, Pike, I am looking." a voice comes from the entrance of the basement and the members of the Mighty Nein currently trespassing in said basement freeze.
"Are you sure a waitress got lost here? I can't see anyone."
"Don't move!" Veth hisses. "Gnomes only register movement!"
Fjord feels like Veth really needs to know better than to accuse every race she isn't familiar with of only being able to spot movement but he doesn't feel like correcting her. The gnome looks around halfheartedly.
Fjord can hear his own heartbeat and Yasha's breathing. He feels like the gnome must be hearing it too.
An eternity later the gnome turns around.
"So, the cave definitely belongs to smugglers. I see the ledger where they track their goods. They seem to be very well organized for criminals."
The gnome spins around.
"Damnit Caleb!" Veth screeches and shakes their wizard roughly. Yasha is already charging the gnome, blunt side of her sword drawn. She is looking to knock the man out, cleanly and painlessly, to prevent him from calling for help.
The gnome, however, seems to have rolled a better initiative.
With a crunching noise Yasha's broad form is trapped against the wall, a giant, purple hand restricting her movement.
"Let's not escalate!" Fjord tries to mediate, but Veth's crossbow is already loaded and aimed.
"Let her go and hand over your communication device!" she hisses.
Caleb seems disoriented.
"What are we doing?" A flame is flickering at his fingertips, ready to light whoever dares to attack them up.
"Intruders! Basement!" The gnome hisses out, and sweeps the hand through them, about to send them flying if Caleb hadn't answered with his Cat's paw.
"Urhk." Yasha makes, as she is squished between two versions of Bigby's hand.
"So then we naturally had to investigate. We couldn't just ask, because if Trent knew that we're on his trail then he'd get rid of all the paperwork and cover his tracks even better than before! And we have to find physical evidence to show the Assembly, because we're on the one hand war heroes, but on the other hand we kind of let one of them get accidentally murdered, so they are feeling pretty ambiguous about us, y'know? There's only so much slack they can cut us for our ties to the Cobalt Soul and for ensuring peace between two countries…"
If she is being honest, Vex is quite lost. Not that the spy, who is actually a monk, doesn't try to tell them everything, but between the three of them they have jumped from stealing a priceless religious artifact to trying to recover another religious artifact, to a living city, to one of their friends (?) killing an archmage and to fighting a dragon turtle.
Honestly, if Allura hadn't been accepting the whole story with the face of someone who was used to things way worse she wouldn't have believed them.
Suddenly she sees Pike jump up.
"Scanlan's in trouble!" with a flourishing motion she rips the decorative greataxe from the display on the wall and stalks out of the room, Grog stumbling to follow.
"Apparently there are intruders in the basement who ripped a portal in the air!"
The tiefling's eyes go big. "That must be Icky Thong! He is probably stealing the residuum!"
Beau and Caduceus are already standing.
"We should probably take a look at that."
And they take of running.
Caleb is sweating. He is still not sure how they found themselves in the situation they suddenly are. Also he is not sure how that one Gnome who appeared to be quite harmless looking is currently winning against him in an armwrestling match.
"Look, I think we got off on the wrong foot. This really isn't what it looks like!" Fjord tries to mediate.
"Oh, I think so too. We're all friends, aren't we?"
A somber wave of calm washes across him.
Yes, they are friends, aren't they?
Why is he trying to attack his friend?
He blinks slowly, letting the cat's paw disappear.
"Damnit Caleb!" Veth screeches, but her wizard friend only looks at her in confusion. She is about to shoot again when the giant hand grabs her and she come face to face with Yasha.
"Hi Veth. Fancy meeting you here."
"Are there more of you behind that portal?" The gnome asks, when there is a commotion in the hallway. A blue blur skitters around the corner.
"Beau! Thank goodness!"
Eight other people come running.
"This getting complicated with so many people in one room."
Inevitably, it's pure chaos when they come across the band of thieves and it turns out to be the rest of the Mighty Nein.
Kima wishes, she had some kind of salty treat to snack on while she watches her poor wife try to keep the misunderstandings to a minimum.
"So, you found a portal of mysterious origin in a foreign castle you infiltrated and decided to activate it."
The half orc rubs his neck.
"Well, if you put it like that…"
"At least we found out where Ikithon gets the residuum from, because that thing was placed here by smugglers." Caleb points at the rift in clarification, as if everyone couldn't already see that he is talking about the big, glowing portal.
"Good for you, Caleb." Allura says, merely exasperated.
"I don't think I fully understand the situation, but it seems that we are being robbed. Not by you, I understand, but by the Dwendolian Archmage of Education?" Percy crossed his arms.
Fjord and Caleb share a meaningful look.
"Trent Ikithon is a cancer that has been growing in the Cerberus Assembly. We are looking to dethrone him, to tear this evil out at the root." Caleb states, very diplomatically.
"I don't care who he is, I want him to pay. Hard cash." Vex voice could cut glass as she imagines the losses they have made over the years.
"I think introductions are in order before anyone goes through a dangerous portal." Allura decrees and Percy nods, his calculating gaze wandering over the ragtag group in slightly ruined formal clothing.
"You might want to call the remaining two members of your group. We don't want to have to do all of this again, and who knows how much trouble they could be getting into." he advises them.
They look at each other.
"I think everyone-"
"Wait, where's Yasha?"
"She's literally standing next to you, are you blind?"
"No, that's everyone."
Vex frowns. "You are the Mighty Nine- nevermind." she clears her throat.
"I'm Lady Vex'ahlia De Rolo, and that is my husband. Call me Vex and him Percy." she offers.
"It's Lord Percival Fredrickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, actually." Percy can't resist. Then he looks pointedly at the redhead wearing Cobalt Soul robes. "I'd wager you are not, in fact, Archivist Uulog of Zadash, aren't you?"
The man flushes. "My name is Caleb Widogast. I fear Archivist Uulog has caught the flu and was thus unable to attend."
Percy nods. He had wondered about Fake-Uulags horrible accent, a mixture of Zemnian and something more drawling.
"Expositor Beauregard. I'm really from the Cobalt Soul." the spy they caught in their office crosses her arms, scowling specifically at Scanlan.
"Be polite." the half orc hisses and Beauregard manages a smile that only half looks like she is about to murder someone.
"I'm Jester, hi!"
"Caduceus Clay. Nice to meet you."
"I'm Fjord. We're terribly sorry about, well, all of this."
One after one they introduce themselves. Vox Machina answers in like.
"I'm Keyleth of the Air Ashari." Keyleth ends their little round with a small bow, still tipsy
"That's Vilya's kid!" Veth says excitedly and the Mighty Nein gasp excitedly.
"Oh, that's so cool!"
"Wait, but Vilya said that her family didn't drink, and you are smashed!"
Yasha is still bruised.
"Oh, let me heal that." Scanlan scurries up to them. "Your name was Beau, right?" he waits for the monk to nod before turning to Yasha.
"Beau met someone who made her feel sea sick, oh what abs to have, what a bod to possess…"
Both Yasha and Beau blush furiously as the dark spots on Yasha's forearms disappear.
They have decided to enter the portal, the Mighty Nein to continue to look for evidence and Vex and Percy to find out who has been stealing from them. Keyleth decides to come with them, for moral support and to have Treestride ready if something happens to the portal, but the rest of Vox Machina have decided to stay at the party, keeping the guests and the bar occupied.
Stepping through the portal is like stepping into another world. The tones here are colder and the lights far brighter, even though both Caleb and Keyleth are very sure that this still Exandria.
All around the room are different stone pedestals, each with a small portal device on the ground. It seems like Whitestone isn't the only place getting robbed
"There it is." Caleb points to the ledger that conveniently lies open on the desk in the back of the room. Written there, in elaborate calligraphy, is the amount of Residuum that has been stolen in the latest robbery, only a few days ago.
"They only take such a little amount, it's no wonder no one noticed. But the amount of money we lost over the time…" Vex is seething.
"And, of course, the consequences of the residuum being uncontrolled and being used for nefarious projects." her husband coughs.
"And that, of course."
"F.C. Where all your dreams come true. By G., the D.W." Jester reads out loud. "It's all abbreviated! How could anyone know what these letters mean?"
"That's probably just gibberish to confuse anyone who discovers this. A lead in the wrong direction, a red herring." Nott the best detective agency is present again, as Veth and Jester begin to search the cabinets.
"There's no fish in the fridge, only a lot of lasagna." Caduceus pipes up.
"The numbers match." Beau sighs. "But there is no name anywhere, only the date, the price and the amount of Residuum ordered. But no name. With that, the evidence is circumstantial at best."
Caleb nods. "We have to continue looking. There has to be a slip up somewhere."
Vex and Percy are furiously taking note of residuum the thieves have stashed away.
"We really need better controls." Vex states and Percy nods.
Suddenly, a gong sounds. All of them freeze.
"Ugh, I hope those are not the owners of this place looking for a quiet place to fuck…" Beau whispers.
Vex throws her a smoldering glare.
The gong sounds again and they stay quiet, until the door opens.
"Hello? Mr. Warlock? We're here for the shipment to Rexxentrum?" The young man that entered can't say more before a diverse palette of weapons is pointed at him and his companions.
"Wait…" Fjord says, skeptical.
"Ahh!" the man says.
"Wait…" Jester says, delighted.
"I swear to god we've been doing no thieving! This is an' honest job! What more do you people want?" the young man cries.
Vex stares as the Mighty Nein begin to laugh as one.
"Wait, I thought you guys were selling furs now?" Jester asks as they have calmed down a bit.
"We did, but then we found a posting asking for help with good pay promised. Just escorting some crates from here to Rexxentrum, no funny business, I swear!"
"And who will pay you?" Caleb asks.
"Ah, it's a Mrs Beck from Rexxentrum. Scary lady."
"That's it." he murmurs quietly. "Astrid."
"Do you have any written agreement from her?"
But the bandits only hand him a very useless tavern ad, with the usual lack of information on them.
Fjord sighs in frustration. "We can't prove a connection between Ikithon and the stolen crystals without any kind of official receipt…
"Here!" Beau shouts from across the room and waves a little red book. "It's a book where all of the customers of this warlock have signed. It seems like that this guy made them sign the terms and conditions before letting them buy anything!"
Jester claps in delight. "With that, and the amount of tax money gone missing being the same amount being paid to this guy, plus the official statement from Zenny we have a solid case! I should know, I'm an esquire!"
In the end they all go back to Whitestone Castle, because who would the Mighty Nein be if they passed up the chance for free food, booze and the opportunity to cause more chaos?
When they come back to the ballroom, most of the guests have already left, but Pike and Grog have piled up all the food from the buffet and the leftovers on gigantic plates on the ground. Scanlan is singing a very dirty song and Allura is laughing at her wife's side, her hair free of her usual braids.
"The heroes return!" Pike laughs, raising her pastry as if to salute.
And they sit, and they talk, and they drink.
It does them good to see that there are more good-natured assholes than them around, to see that the world doesn't only rest on their shoulders.