Fiumenze Nights Redux - Session One: Death of an Artist

Recently, my book club members expressed an interest in trying D&D! I started writing a new adventure for them set in the marble quarries of Camarma, but the silly season is a busy time! Then I realised that I had an adventure already: Fiumenze Nights, about the death of the artist Michele di Lodovico. I've given up on finishing that game (sadly - it was going in a very interesting direction!), so it seemed the logical choice to play it with a new group and maybe reach the end at last! This first session covers the same basic ground as the first two sessions of the previous play-through, although a few details have changed.

In Fiumenze, it is the dury of the sbirri to maintain public order. They are the city guards who defend the people - since most of the guilds and the wealthy merchants maintain their own personal forces, which are better paid and equipped. They report to the Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, a public official selected by lot who serves for two months at a time. This means that their superior has no idea what is going on, and no interest in rocking the boat before the next official takes over. The sbirri are little more than government thugs, good for cracking skulls to stop a drunken brawl only. They are under-paid, under-resourced and under-appreciated.

Ilaria, the cat-folk commander of the sbirri, and Heidini, the veteran gnome tracker from Zigura, were showing a group of new recruits around the city one hot summer's day: Averroes, Chiara and Donatella, humans who had been guard for various guilds and noble families, and Lia the dog-folk, a mercenary between campaigns. It was morning, and already the sun made the cobblestones hot as dragonfire, while the stench from the river smelt like what came out a dragon's other end. They were currently in the Piazza del Popolo, where all the central institutions of the city could be found. Most impressive of these was the new Basilica di San Zenobio. Scaffolding still surrounded the incredibly huge dome on its roof, the work of the genius artist Michele di Lodovico. Already, the cathedral was being nicknamed the 'Duomo' in honour of this magnificent architectural achievement.

Suddenly, the group heard a yell. Falling from the unfinished top of the cathedral dome was the body of a man. He hit the dome, bounced off, and fell into the street below. The sbirri rushed over to where a shocked crowd was jostling to get a closer look at the dead man. Averroes noticed someone looking up, and saw the flash of a green cloak in the unfinished cupola high above. The killer? He rushed into the basilica, with Heidini close on his heels. However, in the darkness the murderer was able to get the drop on them. Averroes struck him with his club, which only bounced off, and  the cloaked man knocked him aside, before escaping. However, they were able to catch a glimpse of his face: it looked strange, rugged and... unfinished? Meanwhile, the other sbirri brought the body inside, and arranged for it to be laid in the crypt for the time being. The church orderly was shocked when he saw it: it was none other than Michele di Lodovico himself!

At this point, the workers were starting to arrive, and word had gotten around of what had happened. Lia's dog-nose sniffed out the strange scent of the killer: an unusual chalky smell that she could not place. The sbirri went to talk to the foreman, Bartolomeo, who told them how Michele had been distracted over the last month. He let slip that six months ago, the workers had broken through a wall to reveal a hidden chamber in the cathedral. When the priests found out about it, all the workers were sent home for the day and the next day, the room was empty. Heidini the gnome sent her pet rat Oliva to investigate, but that vault was now long-gone. The sbirri speculated that Michele discovered something in the vault, which was related to the murder. However, when they asked the priests for more information, Fra Gottifredo denied everything and then sent them on their way. He clearly was trying to cover something up - very suspicious!

As they were leaving the church, an urchin ran up with a letter sealed with blue wax bearing the symbol of a dragon coiled around a pezzo d'oro coin: the symbol of Zaffiro il Magnifico, the draconic de-facto ruler of Fiumenze. They went to the grand Palazzo di Signoria, where they met a small, nondescript woman called Antonia Ficino. She described herself as having an 'honourary role performing assistant administrative duties for my patron, whose name I surely need not trouble you with.' Antonia asked them about the death of Michele di Lodovico, and explained her concern. Representatives of the Tirenian League, the major city-states in the north, were due to arrive in Fiumenze shortly. Zaffiro il Magnifico wanted the new cathedral to be completed by then as a display of the city's power. Could the artist's death be a political act of sabotage to humiliate the dragon prince? Ilaria brazenly asked for, and received, more money to investigate. Antonia also gave the sbirri two new leads: she knew that Michele was to have hosted a special art exhibition that night, and he had been borrowing money from Jeraboam ben Nabaioth, a dwarven moneylender, to finance it.

That afternoon the six went to the villa where Michele had lived with Tommaso di Cecchino, his immensely handsome noble model and lover. The distraught Tommaso had already heard about his partner's death. He confirmed that Michele had been distracted and working on a project for the last few months that he had kept secret even from Tommaso. The handsome man invited them to see Michele's workshop, but it had already been cleared out already in preparation for the art unveiling that evening. However, Lia the dog-folk's keen nose identified the same scent as she had smelt before at the killing: it was marble dust. Tommaso invited the sbirri to the party that night, so the group disbanded for dinner and to freshen up before the event.

The sun was starting to set, and the oppressive summer heat was starting to cool when the sbirri reconvened that evening for Michele di Lodovico’s posthumous exhibition. They presented their invitations to Emiliano Brasco, a fellow mercenary of Lia's who was also between jobs, at the door. Inside the central courtyard, the guests were mingling. In the middle of the courtyard, a curtained-off area indicated where Michele’s final work of art was hidden. Tommaso thanked them for coming - he seemed distracted, and had a long knife at his hip. Among the other guests, they saw Antonia Ficino and Fra Gottifredo, along with his delicate-looking assistant. A passer-by whispered to them that the assistant was actually Gottifredo’s latest catamite. There was also a dwarf, who looked out-of-place and uncomfortable in the crowd: presumably Jeraboam the moneylender.

Tommaso rang a small bell, calling the guests to attention. Blinking away tears, he spoke. “Thank you everyone for coming here tonight. I’m sure that Michele would have had a few would to say, but I… I will let his art speak for him.” He seized on a rope, and pulled down the curtains, revealing a statue. It was a breathtaking work: almost seven feet tall, it was a nude young man (clearly modeled on Tommaso) in perfect physical health. The work was so lifelike that the attendees gasped in wonder. Veins seemed to ripple under the skin, and the sculpted musculature and the careless contrapposto of the stance were flawless.

And then the statue moved.


Image result for view of florence carus
Image: 'View of Florence.' Carl Gustav Carus, 1841.

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