“I’m the only person here who’s not possessed! It’s down to me and Carpa!” — Carenza Vega
During the discussion with the Sespechs after the “training exercise,” Opilio seems to be unusually pale and unfocused. The thickness of the Sespech Estate’s Underworld energy drains too much of his primal reserves, and he makes his excuses to go find an overgrown patch of land more in keeping with his strengths. The others are beset with questions, particularly Ettorio — several observers witnessed his peculiar shadow attack and are curious if he’s an adept, or something else. One young lady asks if he has some sort of wizard mark, and Ettorio offers to allow the blushing Sespech to check.
Dellascura joins the conversation, brushing off the protestations of another Sespech (called Decillius) who seemed concerned about the severity of the exercise. Dismissing him, she too asks about Ettorio’s peculiar shadow manifestation. In the course of conversation, it becomes clear that Ettorio doesn’t have a wizard mark or a natural talent for sorcery, but that something may have happened along the way. After hearing the story of Salzar’s death, Dellascura theorizes that the fragments of the revenant’s stolen shadows may have tried to attach to someone. Vesper’s vestiges would have protected her, and Opilio’s natural wellspring of life force may have made him unattractive, but Ettorio apparently possessed the proper quality (or vulnerability?). The Sespech woman advises the group to warn their alchemist associate should they meet with him again, and offers to do more analysis on Ettorio the next day.
The following morning a servant brings them down to one of the Estate’s shadow laboratories. The room is set about with candelabras, mirrors and prisms. Dellascura uses the candles to pin Ettorio’s shadow in place like an insect, only with light instead of pins. The odd bit of parasitic shadow can be seen moving from arm to chest to arm, though harmlessly. Dellascura theorizes that it’s the weakest kind of undead fragment, little more than an impulse. (Vesper tries very hard, and succeeds, in repressing a comment.) She says that the Sespech can attempt to remove it from him, but there might be some minor risks. After hearing the worst-case scenario, Ettorio opts to keep the odd shadow fragment. That evening, he and Carenza get quite drunk on the earthy wines of the Sespech cellars while Vesper attends the funeral of Secordis Osomont.
The next day, the three return to Ladona, trusting Opilio to complete his rituals and return to them safely. Having missed the next arena exhibition, they contemplate entertainment for the evening, and finally decide to go to the Theatre Penumbral to see the black comedy opera “Shada Sardonicus, or The Thirteenth Wish.” Deciding to do things properly, they rent a coach and Carenza purchases a decent dress, though Carpa is told to bring armor and weapons just in case. The group turns many heads as they arrive.
The first act is pleasantly entertaining, but during intermission Vesper slips away and doesn’t return. Ettorio slips after her, and follows her through side corridors down to an all-but-forgotten storeroom in the lower area of the theater. Looking through a half-open secret door, he sees her at the center of an ancient room, holding a blackened, rune-carved sword of great age that pulses with blue-white, ectoplasmic light. Finally she moves from holding it stiffly to holding it as a fencer would, and the light subsides. Ettorio cautiously checks to see if she’s all right. She responds that she’s fine, though it’s not entirely convincing.
“Are you possessed?”
“I don’t know why you would ask that.”
As the conversation concludes, Ettorio sees what seems to be black cloth coiling out of a corridor leading further into the Dysian structure. It retreats as he advances on it, and he all but forgets about it as he and Vesper return to their box, where Carenza has been worrying at her wits by attempting to engage Carpa in meaningful conversation, and all but obliquely encouraging him to stab Ettorio in the eye.
Ettorio informs Carenza of the affairs as the oddly calm Vesper continues to watch the opera. Although the Iluni is convinced she’s been possessed, the two decide there’s not much they can do about it, and decide to return to the show. However, they soon realize they’ve been followed up from the depths — and it was prudent for Carpa to pack armor and weapons. The candles in the corridor outside the boxes extinguish as a shadowy form walks toward them, and it makes a gesture demanding the sword from Vesper. She responds with a fencer’s challenge, and the shadow-entity and its allies leap to attack.
The umbral creatures draw first blood, as a dervish-like warrior with lead-colored claws attacks Carenza and Vesper and a crossbow-wielding shadow sniper joins the fight. When Vesper first strikes at the mesmerist, it draws off its cloak, which proves to be animated and quite capable of doing damage itself. During the melee Vesper displays none of her usual sorcerous talents: instead, she fights like a swordswoman, and ghostly radiance both aids her attacks and interferes with her enemy’s strikes. Carenza and Ettorio are more consistent, and their martial skill quite suffices in the skirmish. Carpa also attempts to get involved, but suffers an immediate crossbow bolt to the chest — that proves to be less of a mortal strike than it seemed at first (though it was mortal to his flask). Many opera-goers stick their heads out of boxes, only to cry out and retreat as the battle washes back and forth.
The creatures from Shadow ultimately lack the ability to cut apart the mortals and reclaim the sword. The sniper and dervish are cut down, and Vesper runs the mesmerist through with a strike that pulses with runic power. The only thing of shadow remaining is the cloak, but as Ettorio moves to carve it apart, it takes on an appeasing configuration, something like a dog pleading for leniency. The bemused Iluni finally offers a hand, and it slithers up his arm, unclasping and casting aside his existing cloak before settling around his shoulders and shifting into a more flattering cut. But it seems the performance has been interrupted, and the Penumbral’s management is understandably curious.