“You want no measure of me.” — Ludovir Vycalaca
Vesper, Carneza and Vittorio swiftly search the bodies of the dead cutthroats. The would-be murderers have enough coin in their pockets to suggest steady employment, and armor and weapons of unremarkable quality (with the exception of the greatsworder, whose gear is more finely crafted). Interestingly, three of the corpses bear the alchemical convict marks of prisoners from Vennan. The marks are fresh on each one. Also peculiarly, the corpses have dark gums and pink-stained teeth.
They leave the corpses for the guards to discover (though take the coin from the purses), and set out to catch up with Ettorio. Unfortunately, they quickly realize they hadn’t established a rendezvous point in case of trouble. Vesper and Vittorio deduce that the Iluni is likely to be attracted to the Fox’s Grotto nearby, given his predilection for shadow and vulpine personality.
Sure enough, Ettorio and Blaissa are catching their breaths in the Fox’s Grotto. The group asks several questions of the young thief. Vesper in particular is very hard-nosed in her interrogation, but she stops short of actual threats — it becomes clear that she has no grudge against Blaissa, but against her employer. Blaissa surrenders the ring in question to the group. It’s an old piece with a grapevine motif. Vesper recognizes the maker’s mark, though. The craftsman was someone who served the reigning Houses in the principality of Lamosca.
At that point Vesper tells Ettorio what they’d deduced earlier from the corpses. The oddly colored gums and teeth of the prison-marked corpses — including the man with the two-hander that Blaissa describes as her employer’s bodyguard — is recorded in the Sespech libraries as a symptom of drinking vampire blood. It seems increasingly likely that Ludovir not just hired these men to kill Blaissa to cover up the poisoning, but he’s given them vampire blood as a bonus. Where the blood came from is unclear, but it seems also possible that it was the “poison” in the ring, serving as a vector to infect Tarvana with blood fever.
The group parts ways at that point. Ettorio takes Blaissa to an inn and sets Carpa to watch her room’s door, then takes another room himself. Before he actually goes to sleep, though, he puts out the word to the Black Veils, inquiring if any of them know anything about vampires or their blood.
The others return to the Iron Crypt. Despite comments that “justice never sleeps,” they have to send a guard to wake Captain Argonest. When he arrives they show him the ring. The captain takes the news of possible vampiric influence in the city very seriously.
Argonest goes to arrange for the interrogation of the corpses from the Tumbles, and the group catches a minimal amount of sleep. Vesper and Carenza crash on spare cots in the Iron Crypt. Vestiri insists on finding a more proper bed, and Vittorio accompanies him to a nearby inn.
Vestiri and Vittorio arrive back at the Iron Crypt in a few hours with a gift of breakfast pastries, and the poorly rested blades tuck into the impromptu meal. As they wait, they share some extra with a guard, befriending him and gaining a little extra information. Apparently the expected shipment of bodies from the Tumbles arrived not long ago. Captain Argonest had Odrianna interrogate the corpses first thing, and at present is reporting to Prince Lazzaretta.
Argonest returns not long thereafter. He doesn’t share much of the findings, but announces that he will be accompanying them to call on Ludovir Zarocci. He summons two guards as a token escort, and then the group sets out to pay an early morning visit to the apparent conspirator.
A pair of Zarocci’s men stand guard outside the comfortable three-story house. They attempt to have the group disarm before entering, but the Prince’s captain overrules them. Argonest’s men remain outside with the one guard, while the other, a lean man with a shaven head, brings them indoors.
The Zarocci home is decorated with a kind of careful excess: rich and lurid, but at least of a consistent theme. Tapestries depicting hunts and battles share space with the heavy curtains blocking the windows, and bits of statuary approach the erotic a little more than would be considered generally tasteful. Ludovir Zarocci arrives shortly after the group settles in, wrapped in a robe and with his fingers pressed to his head, his demeanor very much that of the gentleman awoken far too early after a carousal.
Argonest tells Ludovir that the group here has charges to bring against him, and they get right to the point: they want to talk to him about the poisoning of Tarvana Vargari. Ludovir admits to remembering her dismissal, but counters that he went and found another, more willing partner for the evening and was otherwise occupied. During the initial rounds of exchange, the young lady with the parasol from the parade comes downstairs, more presentably dressed. She smiles genially at the group, though there’s a certain mockery in her eyes; Ludovir off-handedly introduces her as his sister Lestrata. Vittorio carefully notes that both have rings and lockets bearing some form of enchantment, as well as the sword Ludovir set to one side.
The Zarocci continues to have answers for the “tedious” line of questioning, though it’s evident he resents the intrusion. Carenza in turn becomes increasingly angry as the conversation continues. She points out that there isn’t any doubt in their minds that he’s responsible for the attack, and the subsequent attempt to dispose of the evidence. “We have witnesses. You’re fucked. It’s just how soft you want to land. You’re lucky we told Captain Argonest and not Kosvach Vargari.”
Ludovir laughs in her face. “That mongrel? You expect me to be afraid of a cur like that? You have no idea what you’re up against, do you?”
Vesper moves to the window blocking out the most sunlight, but as she reaches to open it, Lestrata is suddenly by her side. With a cruel smile, the young Zarocci seizes the curtains to hold them shut. “Do you mind? My brother has a terrible hangover.” Her gaze pulses with supernatural power, and Vesper cannot help but take a few steps back.
But at that point Vittorio abandons his passive observation of the conversation. He suddenly steps from one portion of space to another, catching hold of the curtains himself. “In Cinquedea we often find the best thing for a hangover is light!” he shouts, and pulls the curtains off the hanger rod.
The Zarocci’s reactions are dramatic indeed. The floor buckles near Lestrata as she recoils, and then massive dry roots tear up out of it, wrapping around her and pulling her beneath the stones. Ludovir’s face is a portrait of fury before he literally explodes, with nothing left of him but a swirl of blood that seeps into the hole in the floor. As the heroes recoil, Argonest leaps forward, challenging their guard to step aside. The bald man holds his ground even in the face of the angry spartoi. He draws steel, and Argonest engages him. It is swiftly evident that Zarocci’s man is painfully outmatched, but he fights until the end all the same.
The group swiftly searches the house in the meantime. Vestiri drops a cryptic aside to Vesper as they go: “the last legitimate Zarocci died forty years ago.” They find a somewhat confused and disheveled young lady upstairs, and a few house servants, but no more evidence of the Zarocci’s double lives. That is, until they descend into the hole left by Lestrata’s roots. Below is a secret basement of the sort popular in Ladona. A plot of raw earth, acrid and metallic-smelling, has been laid in the center of the room. They also find a message hastily painted on the wall:
“You will never reclaim Lucovol Villa. What we destroy will never be rebuilt.”
“They’re not Zarocci,” says Vesper in a grim tone. “They’re Vycalaca.”
Captain Argonest does not take the news very well. He makes preparations to inform the Prince at once, though he also makes sure that the group is prepared to clamp down on any mention of vampires in Ladona. They readily agree. The next question is how to continue.
“First we’re going to make them eat their fucking words,” says Vesper. “They say we can’t rebuild Lucovol Villa. We’ll show them otherwise.”
Two hours later, Ettorio wakes up. The Iluni is somewhat perturbed that his manservant didn’t wake him for the customary breakfast meeting. “My pardons, sir,” Carpa explains in a doleful tone. “I thought perhaps you were in need of an extended rest.” Ettorio yells at Carpa for a few seconds, then agrees that in fact he did need the rest and feels quite refreshed.