“Were you bad at it?”
“I was very good at it.”
“I did not want to hear that.” — Vittorio Marvigliozzo and Ettorio Iluni
The Prismatic Players wait for Vesper to pronounce that the lingering undead presence has been well and truly vanquished before they can settle back into camp. Even then, the rest of the night is a little restless. The troupe members spend some time debating whether or not performing their new “Drego’s Fall” play would be a good idea or not, until finally they decide that it’s likely to make them more money in Maviolo.
By the end of the following day, the caravan exits the Vaulted Wood, meeting the Tortoise Road and turning northeast through the more open and welcoming farmland of the Mala Vale. Along the way, Vesper is careful to explain to Vittorio just how much damage could be done if the Prince of Ladona becomes suspicious or hostile — this being her home, the seat of her career, and now the home of her newly extended family.
As expected, traveling with a group of players mean few days are uneventful, but the events are almost harmlessly mundane — a jealous boyfriend, a brief stop at a roadside Taltikkan shrine, and a run-in with a rival troupe. This last involves Ilgari’s Peerless Players, a slightly less successful band of performers who are immediately irritated to see the Prismatic Players headed to Ladona for Highsun, when they had heard that the Prismatics would be staying in Cinquedea for the festival. Things are about to get ugly before Vittorio explains the situation, turning Master Ilgari from viperous to obsequious. The two troupes are able to reach Ladona in peace, though the Peerless pull ahead vigorously at the first opportunity.
In the meantime, Ettorio and Carpa are finishing their ride from Cinquedea to Ladona. After a week of honeymoon, talking decorations and arranging financials, Bessari finally releases Ettorio to go on one of his disreputable yet profitable ventures. He collects his manservant, reads Vesper’s letter to him, and sets out. Along the road he finds several instances of the group’s passage: a village all abuzz with talk of harpies, a young girl who tried to run off with a bard (and who tries to run off with Ettorio), and a tale of a prodigiously generous gambler. He begins to feel slightly as though he’s been replaced.
When the main group gets to Ladona, they split up. Carenza asks a few contacts about what’s happening with her family, and the answer makes her storm away with a stern declaration of “Family business. I’ll be back.” Vittorio splits with the Prismatics and makes his way to the Pale Maiden, in the mood for a quieter establishment. Vesper makes for the building formerly known as the Last Ditch Inn. Now the two-headed wolf of House Vargari hangs over the door. An exotic-looking warrior stands outside, arms folded, much like a bouncer. Vesper pays him no attention at all, walks past him and opens the door. He raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t challenge her.
The interior of the Vargari chapterhouse is nearly as rowdy as an actual inn at festival time. A number of soldiers and warriors fill the common room, drinks in their hands and mostly focused on an arm-wrestling contest at a center table. The two competitors — Kosvach and a sturdily built half-orc woman — seem to be evenly matched, and by the tenor of the crowd, have been at it for a time. Iliska is nearby, with some attention being paid to her by a handsome young blade. Vesper quietly greets Iliska, who is happy to see her sister-in-law, and then sees about placing a small bet on Kosvach.
The contest is still going on when Ettorio arrives at the Vargari chapterhouse shortly after. The Iluni also walks right past the warrior at the door, who again considers him and then takes no action. Seeing the contest, he finds the person running the odds, pulls out a handful of gold, slaps it on the bar and announces he wants it put on Kosvach.
After another tense couple of minutes, Kosvach finally gets a surge of strength as the half-orc falters, and he pushes her hand down. He smiles as he works the affected shoulder — until Ettorio arrives and heartily slaps him on the tender spot. The Vargari chokes back a snarl.
“Kosvach! You have won me quite a bit of money!”
“What are you doing here?”
“It is nice to see you too!” But the Vargari is already looking around, and he quickly spots Vesper. He exchanges another bare minimum of pleasantry with the Iluni as he stands up, then walks over to his wife, taking hold of her and kissing her passionately in front of the entire crowd. Ettorio averts his eyes, rather discomfited by the humanizing effect it gives the Sespech necromancer. He calls for Carpa to bring him a drink, and the miserable response comes from outside the door — where the manservant stands, unable to progress past the barbaric-looking guard.
Things are sorted out soon enough. Ettorio joins Kosvach and Vesper, and they catch one another up briefly. Kosvach introduces the two to the three Vargari applicants with the most potential: Kalbak, who chose to play sentinel at the door; Brosetta (or “Rosette”), the cheery, heavy-set half-orc who’d challenged Kosvach; and Erigo, the charming young man attempting to be a very good friend to Iliska. (He later explains that Erigo is at least attempting to leave the opportunity to marry into the Vargari open, and that Rosette had much the same idea until she found that Kosvach was already married.)
Vesper mentions that things have gotten dangerous at the wedding and beyond, but doesn’t go into too much detail. “We can talk about this tomorrow,” she says, fixing Ettorio with a level gaze.
“So you don’t have to repeat yourself?” offers Kosvach.
“Yes. That’s right.”
Ettorio gracefully takes the hint and wanders off to the Pale Maiden. Then Vesper turns to her husband. “I’ll tell you more later. For now, I want you to show me how much you missed your wife.”
He contemplates the look in her eyes, then scoops her up, throws her over her shoulder, and exits the common room. Precious few of the raucous soldiers-of-fortune in attendance even meet Vesper’s eyes as the two leave, and none at all brave a rude comment.
“Tch,” says Rosette. “If I’d gotten here a year earlier, that could have been me.”
“To be fair…” begins Erigo.
“Shut it,” she says, punctuating with a solid punch to his upper arm.
Ettorio decides to visit the Pale Maiden, where he runs into Vittorio downstairs. The two greet one another politely, and decide to go gathering information together. However, only Ettorio is able to keep his wits about him long enough to learn a few things about the opera singer Avistella, who has changed theaters lately and seems to have developed a rivalry with her former opera house. Vittorio finds there are entirely too many drinks he hasn’t tried in Ladona, and attempts to rectify the situation, to the extreme detriment of his sobriety. Ettorio begins to suspect that some of the drinks the bard is enjoying are invented on the spot by cunning bartenders who’ve noted Vittorio’s love of new things.
“I do not think a Flaming Half-orc is a real drink,” he finally points out.
“Yerrr a liarr… an’ you should have one!”
The two have a little more time to recover from their hangovers than expected. Vesper arrives a little later than one would normally expect for the morning breakfast, with her husband in tow. While they wait for Carenza, Vesper and Vittorio tell Ettorio a few things about the pursuit of Iridios. They then convene in Vittorio’s room, where he reveals his true form to Ettorio. The Iluni takes it much better than his manservant does, though Carpa attempts to put on a brave face. Vittorio explains the nature of the artifact that brought him here, his prior role in Hell, and how he has traded his fate-twisting powers of temptation for a wandering life in the material world… though at the expense of his summoner’s life. He is careful to stress he didn’t know his arrival would kill his summoner.
With that confession made, the three begin discussing their plans. Iridios is probably in town, the festival is nearly here, and it’s yet to be seen what sort of family business the Rovinos have been triggering this time.