July 11, 1492
Pugnis Nucis wakes during the night to a frantic pounding on the door to his flat. His caller turns out to be Varda Hacim, daughter of his friend Ibrahim, a Jewish moneylender who also underwrites much of the black market occult trade going through Venice. Varda reports that a dead man wearing the badge of a Harbor Inspector has been found in her father’s warehouse. She asks for help finding out what has happened before the authorities discover the death.
Pugnis fetches his companions from House D’Este: the sorcerer Giacomo and the Turkish artificier Osman. They accompany him to the warehouse with the madonna. The murder victim appears to have been suffocated, but some distance away, among a stack of crates, they find fresh blood spatter. Along with a purse richly laden with ducats, they find a silver locket on him. The locket contains a tiny painted likeness of a beautiful young woman.
Pugnis examines the crates and finds they contain artifacts from Aegypt, funerary urns and the headless remains of a mummy.
Giacomo summons the ghost of the victim, who appears as a richly dressed young man calling himself Emilio Dandolo, fourth son of Enrico, head of House Dandolo. He does not know he’s dead, and his manner is condescending. However, he explains he was walking through the district with his two guards when he saw an open door at the back of the warehouse. Venturing within, he discovered a robed figure rooting through crates. Upon demanding the man surrender and answer his questions, he suddenly experienced a great loss of breath. He remembered one of his guards flinging a knife before he lost consciousness.
There’s much discussion, but in the end, Giacomo orders the D’Este guards to pack Emilio’s body in the crate and remove it to a D’Este warehouse as discreetly as possible. Pugnis has discovered bloody tracks exiting the warehouse and proposes they lead to the culprit. The group decides to try tracking these, though the night is dark. Taking a torch, they carefully follow the prints until they reach the canal leading to the Grand Canal. Here they flag down a gondola and make their way across to the St. Marco sestiere. Taking up the trail again seems doubtful, but Osman has an experimental device that shines a strange light he has found causes blood to glow brightly. He had thought it a curiosity, but wonders if it would help. It does. They are able to find blood on a water landing on the fondamente and resume their tracking.
The trail leads to a brothel where the lights still shine and drunken laughter echoes. The group enters to ask after a wounded man who might be trying to find someone to stitch a wound. Giacomo goes upstairs after finding out where this man went. Pugnis, after leaning on the bouncer for information, takes up a post on the street outside the window.
Giacomo enters, finds a man sitting at a table, stripped to the waist with a woman sewing up his bloody shoulder. His body is covered with a myriad of complex Qabbalistic tattoos. Instantly, he leaps up and shouts a command, and the room is plunged into pitch darkness. Giacomo grasps his reliquary of St. Isadore and banishes the darkness spirit with such vigor that it shatters the other sorcerer’s binding. Reeling, the man staggers to the open window to escape, but Giacomo orders his Unseen Servant to seize him and hold him against the wall. The terrified whore cowers by the table, mumbling desperate prayers.
Downstairs, Osman climbs the stair to the room, his clockwork leg heavy on the wooden steps. Outside, Pugnis encounters a man approaching the window in jerky fashion, as if intoxicated. The man makes a stupendous leap and grabs the windowsill on the second story. Pugnis leaps and seizes the man’s ankles, then pulls him down hard enough to crack his skull on the paving stones of the calle. The man begins to rise anyway, and Pugnis produces his last bottle of good Dalmatian wine and whirls it overhead to knock the stranger out. He does so with such finesse that the bottle remains undamaged.
Above, in the hotel room, the mysterious tattooed sorcerer faints from blood loss.