The sprawling city-state of Vendici has long been the true seat of power in the lowlands: its banking clans sit like spiders at the centre of ocean-spanning trade routes, its noble houses are the richest and most ruthless in the known world, and its powerful guilds rule sections of the city with iron fists, enforcing their monopolies with brutal efficiency. Yet since the death of the last emperor nearly a century ago a careful balance has been maintained, with no single party rising to claim overall rulership of the city. Instead, constant internecine conflict between noble families, guilds, bankers, religious organisations, civil authorities, and other interested parties has resulted in a furious struggle conducted just out of sight of the populace at large, with politics, economic competition, and social feuding only occasionally erupting into overt armed conflict.

Usually these struggles are kept low-key, with acts of theft, sabotage, assassination, espionage, and the like performed in the alleys and on the terracotta rooftops of Vendici, generally under the cover of darkness. Rather than risking their own people – and their own reputations – the parties involved in the danza palazzo employ disposable mercenaries for these deniable skirmishes, recruiting from the constant throng of new arrivals in the city’s burgeoning underworld through mediators known, euphemistically, as ‘bladesmiths’. These ‘stilleti’ have a frighteningly high mortality rate, but those that survive their dangerous work – and their equally dangerous employers – can earn huge sums for just a few nights’ work, so there is never any shortage of new recruits willing to work sub rosa.

This unlikely system of covert conflict has resulted in an uneasy peace – with only the occasional outbreak of open warfare in the streets – reigning in Vendici for nearly thirty years, and the city has swollen, glutted on its own success, becoming both the largest metropolis on the continent and the home to a furious melting pot of races and cultures. Now Vendici’s native humans and elves have been joined by communities of dwarves and even, recently, a steady trickle of savage orcs from the barbarian wilds in the far north… and many of these new arrivals ¬– looking for a quick payday, a chance to rise swiftly in their new home, excitement not to be found serving in a regular mercenary company, or the chance to use skills not appreciated in more law-abiding sections of society ¬– find themselves recruited as a fresh stiletto by an indifferent bladesmith and thrust, head first, into the danza palazzo.

Stiletti of Vendici