“You know, I’ve started disbelieving everything you say as a precautionary measure.”
“It’s wisest, really.”
“It is!” — Carenza Vega, Vesper Sespech & Vittorio Marvigliozzo
Come the morning, the troupe sets out on the eastward road once more, bidding farewell to Rivo Morposa and his servants. The next major stop is the large town of Plasso, home to Heartswall, a sizable temple to Lierce. Vittorio and Carenza take advantage of the larger markets to replenish the caravan’s stocks of wine. The group also continues the tradition of enjoying the local Forspadan cuisine; Vittorio winds up with quite a few excellent selections of Plasso cheeses and sausage. The disguised infernal also makes some inquiries about town regarding local troubles. He hears a few things about the nearby gambling house, the Four Crowns, but more interestingly finds a story about a man being cheated in a horse trade. The rider stopping in Plasso offered his own exhausted horse and some coin for a fresh mount, but some time after the rider left, the horse trader found that the exchanged animal was rather in worse condition than it had seemed, and the rider’s gold was also short. Vittorio takes note of this evidence of a passing illusionist and informs the others that they must be on Iridios’ trail.
They reach the Four Crowns at roughly lunchtime the next day. During the meal break, Carenza and Vittorio dabble in some gambling. Vittorio’s luck spikes in an interesting fashion when he manages to make one of the rarest throws possible in a dice game, winning a pot of plenty of coin as well as an onyx-set pinky ring put in by a merchant who had clearly overestimated his own throw. Vittorio savors the victory, but later approaches a pit boss and asks her to make certain that the ring makes its way into the loser’s possession once more. She seems confused by the demand of anonymous largesse, but Vittorio persuades her not to keep the ring herself, but to close the deal out, with an extra tip for her trouble.
The following day they reach the town of Yarissa, where a weaver’s daughter takes a fancy to the idea of running off with Vittorio. Carenza and Vesper both become very defensive at the idea. Carenza points out that the girl is far too young. Vesper takes the opportunity to vent some of her stress at the political dangers of traveling with a devil, emphasizing that any misdeeds on Vittorio’s part could well damn the rest of them, figuratively speaking.
“If you do anything that blows back on my House, or my family,” the young necromancer says, “I will send you back to Hell myself. And it won’t tickle.”
“Well,” says Vittorio, “as long as we’re resorting to threats…”
“It wasn’t a threat.”
Vittorio promises that he will do no harm. True to his word, he politely persuades the weaver’s daughter to remain with her family and not to go attempting to run off with handsome strangers. In the process, he finds out from a friend of the girl’s that she’s somewhat prone to this behavior — she nearly ran away with a smooth-talking gentleman that was in town some days ago.
They reach Fuera Hold, and the Maviolo border, toward the end of the next day. The troops overseeing the checkpoint are careful and a little suspicious, but between Vittorio’s charisma, Carenza’s emphasis on her Ladonan origins, and the presence of a Sespech, the caravan makes it through with no complications.
Another day’s travel sees them in the town of Radira. At the Fallen Leaves inn they enjoy a Maviolan dish of wine-cooked rabbit and mushroom ragu over dumplings, and discuss their options. The fork in the road gives them the choice of following the less-traveled northern road up through the towns of Must and Duesti, or the eastern route through the Vaulted Wood where they can take the Tortoise Road up to Ladona. Vesper argues for the Vaulted Wood route, and there’s little resistance. In fact, the Prismatic Players show some enthusiasm.
During their time socializing with the locals, Catafarza’s troupe came across the legend of Drego’s Fall. Vittorio and Carenza immediately recognize the story: the mercenary captain Drego Lionsblood, his vendetta against the lesser House Donante, and the mutual annihilation of both sides. The manor house where Drego and Cispa Donante reputedly fell to their deaths has stood empty in the Vaulted Wood for sixty years. Vesper doesn’t recognize the story; it apparently was not noteworthy to the Sespech records. But the troupe thinks it would make an interesting play, and they discuss the possibility of visiting the location.
So the following day, the troupe enters the Vaulted Wood. They get local directions to Drego’s Fall, and find it handily; it is a mile or so off the main road, and though the road was long disused, it hasn’t become too overgrown thanks to the wood’s high, thick canopy. They set up camp by the derelict manor that afternoon, and begin indulging in sketches for possible set dressing, writing the dialogue, and rehearsing possible scenes, all to the backdrop of somewhat eerie music provided by Vittorio’s violin.
As it turns out, Drego’s Fall did not excite comment in the Sespech libraries not, as was assumed, because there were no lingering ghosts there. It failed to excite comment because the ghosts that lie there were never properly provoked. But when Ruserra, in the role of a Donante servant, begins speaking out against Drego, old wounds reopen. Decrepit skeletal soldiers tear themselves free from the earth surrounding the manor. And at their heart, a grinning corpse dressed in tarnished scale with a leonine motif — Drego Lionsblood himself. He eyes Ruserra, and condemns her Donante blood.
Drego and his skeleton soldiers advance on the players, but the three heroes are swift to intervene. Carenza advances on the deceased Captain Lionsblood, and feels firsthand the terrible wrenching cold that emanates from him. They recognize him as given wholly over to Namaluk — a thing of cold, undeath, and vengeance.
The Ladies-in-Waiting do their part, launching volleys of bolts at the skeletons, but are clearly not as practiced at facing the unliving. The players scatter for cover, with the heroes intervening to give them the opportunity. Their intervention isn’t without cost — Drego is a powerful revenant, matching frightening sword skills with a voice that calls down winter.
It takes every trick in the ledger. Carenza calls out tactic after tactic, directing her friends in one improvised advance after another — and suffers a good portion of Drego’s punishing attentions. Vesper calls on her own ghosts to struggle against the risen captain. Vittorio’s magic twists luck one way, then the other, turning glancing blows into solid hits and vice versa. They are battered, bruised and near-frostbitten by the time they send Drego to rest a second time. “This being heroic shit hurts,” complains Carenza. Vittorio offers, “But you look great doing it!”
Vesper pronounces the campsite likely safe now, with Drego gone, though Ruserra is clearly unsettled by the surprise concerning her heritage. As the Prismatic Players begin to work out just how this event might impact their plans for a play concerning Drego’s Fall, a frustrated Carenza calls her women together and gives them a hard stare.
“Tomorrow morning. Before dawn. Target practice.”