Tilea IC2401 (Campaign#8)


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Post Sat May 02, 2020 4:56 pm

Re: Tilea IC2401 (Campaign#8)

Absolutely fantabulous continuations Padre.

I've been off forum for a while and what a delight to come back and have all this lovely stuff to catch up on.

Love your Doomwheel/Artillery piece in the link too, looking forward to seeing how that fares!
Better to keep your mouth shut and appear an idiot than to open it and remove all doubt.
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Post Mon May 18, 2020 3:33 pm

Re: Tilea IC2401 (Campaign#8)

Thanks Lands Annex. You can learn a little bit more about it now if you like!
...

Keep Going!
Somewhere in the mountains of north Tilea, Winter 2403-4

Fricknar had never in all his cruelty-filled life undertaken a journey as difficult as this. They were in such a hurry that they were not allowed to stop for more than a few moments at a time. So far, six nights and five days of almost perpetual motion, a relentless succession of step, step, step; eating, even excreting, on the move. Every now and again he would have to run ahead to shovel something quickly - filling a hole or flattening a lump. Invariably, just as he completed the labour, the trundling engine caught up he was required to move on again.

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In his bones he knew that should he continue at this pace another day then it would also become the most painful time of his life, not just the hardest journey. He had been badly beaten three times as a pup, and on the last occasion, as he lay battered and dazed, another pup from his own litter had eaten one of his fingers! He had been wracked with a burning pain in his lungs for countless days when he took a mouthful of warpstone vapour after an manufactory accident. He had been imprisoned in a near airless cage for more than a week as punishment for an infraction he never understood, starved of food and nauseously dizzied by the swinging motion of the cage every time someone pushed it (which many did and often). Right now, his pain and anguish were building up to rival all those past experiences, and by tomorrow, would surely overtake them.

His last task had been to assess the quality of a warpstone batch being offered by a small clan who had acquired it by (the usual) nefarious means. It had been flawed, but still useful, and a price was offered. Before he learned whether the purchase was successful, however, he been ordered to return with all haste to the workshops. Immediately upon doing so, he was assigned this new task - no time for explanations, no rest nor repast, but straight to work.

By the end of the first day he realised he knew none of the engine’s other attendants. Since then there had been little chance to get to know them, what with the incessant motion. Escorting the engine was an all-encompassing task, leaving little time anything else. The tunnels they had travelled through, despite being large, had been irregularly proportioned, in both width and height, and the ground uneven, scattered with tumbled rocks from crumbling walls. Here and there, roots had penetrated the ceiling, and stalagmites and stalactites had been allowed to form along the dampest stretches. Sometimes there was a way around such obstacles, but often they had to be cleared – lifted, hacked or chipped away – and his shovel was a necessary part of nearly all these tasks.

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Their orders were clear, and in no uncertain terms: the engine must not collide or scrape against anything, nor should it jolt more than a little, and it should certainly never be allowed to list or careen. Most importantly, it must never stop.

It was possibly the most demanding assignment ever given to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

For a little while he had occupied his mind with attempting to work out whether the attendant who invariably walked in front of the engine, clutching a staff tipped with what appeared to be a fine shard of warpstone …

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… or the engine’s driver were responsible for setting the pace, whilst also taking on board the possibility the engine itself might be most to blame. Before he had come to a decision, however, distraction and exhaustion had shattered such trivial considerations.

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Now, here in a mountain valley between two tunnel-stretches, on the widest path yet traversed, with no walls or ceiling to concern him, only the ground itself, Fricknar was able to loosen and lift his mask just a little to allow in a breath or two of fresh air, and at long last, he had the chance to talk.

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He had questions to ask.

Turning to the attendant closest to him, a red-hooded fellow carrying a tubular locking tool which could loosen any of several bolts on the engine and in the other hand what appeared to be a small gear wheel (presumably ready to replace some potentially defective part) he said,

“I heard we have gift-given much and more to the lord of Foul Peak. Why give this also? Why more and more?”

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“Not gifts, no,” said his companion in a whining voice muffled by his mask. “All and everything will be paid for.”

“That matters not,” said Fricknar.

“It matters a lot,” countered the other.

“Yes, yes, to our masters, to the clan. I know-understand,” said Fricknar. “I mean it matters not to what I ask-enquire. Why give him more? Why this most novel, expensive engine? I heard his army has yet to fight one-single battle. His warriors have neither proved themselves capable nor wanting. Yet we fetch-bring such a reinforcement. Why?”

“You do not know-understand what this can do. You did not slave-work on its construction.”

“No, not I,” Fricknar admitted. “I know the quality-worth of warpstone, and I can keep an engine on the move.” He waved his shovel as if to prove the point.

“You have never moved such a one as this.”

Despite having studied the engine on several occasions over the last days, for want of much else to look at during the few moments he had not needed to watch the road, Fricknar looked again.

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“I see only a doomwheel, like many others, with a murdering piece fix-attached,” he said.

“Yes, yes, you see that,” scoffed the other. “But what murder this can do. This kills many and much more than anything we have yet made. This might perhaps kill more than any single weapon has ever-ever killed!”

Fricknar looked at the engine again.

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“It throws a bomb, yes?” he asked.

“Oh yes,” said the other. “A bomb. One bomb.”

“A poisoned-wind grenado?”

“It throws poison-death, yes, but not wind-vapours. The bomb inside is a thick shell of perfect-pure warpstone, two half-pieces fastened tight-together, and inside that inside is the finest ground-powdered warpstone, the making of which killed many hundred slaves, admixed with black powder in exact and most potent proportion-measure; precise and finely fused to explode the merest moment before touching the ground, which it must-must do, to release flesh-burning death to wash for a hundred and more chebels in each and every direction.”

“Warp-fire?”

“Yes, at first, but then much farther, a pure and poisonous etheric heat, burn-scalding all and only living flesh to a blistered crisp.”

Fricknar fell silent for a while. He had to think this through, for what he had heard did not sit well with his past experiences. Not well at all.

“Precise and finely fused, you spoke-said?” he asked.

“Yes, yes,” said the other. “Most and definitely very necessary.”

“And if, despite your careful care, it explodes too too soon?”

“Think, fool!” said the other, with a snarling hiss Fricknar could sense despite the mask and hood hiding his companion’s face.

He did not need to think. “Too too soon,” said Fricknar, “and we die too.”

“Yes!” said the other, loudly. “If even only a little too soon, then it will not be where we need-want it to be. It must be at the heart of the city. A moment too late and too much heat will pierce the ground - wasteful, for you cannot kill what is already dead.”

“This kills a city?”

“A city. An army,” said the other, a note of arrogant, easy pride in his voice. “Perhaps more?”

Fricknar’s fearful apprehension was now transforming into admiration. Then something occurred to him.

“Where are the bombs?” he asked.

“Are you deaf? Do you not listen-hear?” mocked the other. “You mean where is the bomb?”

Fricknar did not understand. Was that not what he had asked? There was just the engine, no carriage, wagon or slaves to bear a limber of any kind. He had absently assumed that the ammunition must already be at their destination, but hearing his companion’s description suggested such a cargo would be too rare and precious to be merely stockpiled elsewhere.

The bomb,” said the other, emphasising the singularity, “is inside. It broil-brews, always and now, growing more and more potent by the hour. To haul-carry it separately would mean by the time we tried to load it into the engine all who came near-close would die immediate-quickly.”

This made no sense to Fricknar. “But we are nearby, and for days?”

“Yes, yes. The iron barrel enclosing it is thick-strong and inscribed inside with most potent-effectual sigillic wards, perfectly carved.”

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Fricknar could imagine the carver squirming inside the barrel to carve such sigils - a suffocating, claustrophobic trial undoubtably far worse than his time in the cage.

“Could not a container-chest be made with such thickness or more?” he asked. “Such sigils? And better sealed tight-secure?”

“Yes, yes it could. No doubt. More easily made. More safely carried. But think, to load the murdering piece we would have to remove the bomb from the chest after it had broil-brewed for the whole journey. Impossibly intolerable.”

“Could slaves not be ordered to do so? Or some monstrous creation of Clan Moulder?”

“No, no, never. They would die the very instant the chest was breached.”

Fricknar glanced back at the engine.

“And dead slaves and ogres cannot load anything,” he said almost to himself. Then, louder, he asked, “So the sigil-wards prevent all harm leak-spilling out?”

“Not all, no,” said the other, as if it were obvious.

Of course, Fricknar should have known this. He pulled his loosened mask tight again, immediately regretting every breath of ‘fresh’ air he had taken. No skaven workshop ever made anything completely safe. The ever-present fear of punishment meant there was always haste as corners were cut, mistakes were inevitably concealed, and tests were deemed a pointless exercise when something was already completed. If it is built, use it! Worse still, most engines were made before the principles were even fully understood, so that the very design had flaws before even the first component part was assembled. None of those who invented or fashioned such engines cared a jot for the fate of those who would be ordered to use them; besides, once one engine was taken, they were immediately busy with the next, then the next.

“It is impossible to prevent it all, for it is far too potent, and grows ever more so,” the other continued. “Why do you think the engine never stops? It cannot be allowed to. If it did then too, too much of its etheric heat would concentrate-congeal in one single place. Then there would be none left to move it.”

Fricknar was confused again. “We have our masks, our waxed robes, our cylinder-filters, yes. But look here, these clanrats, they have guard-escorted us so, so far, even through the long tunnels. Why are they not dead or dying?”

There were two bands of guards, one marching before the engine, which included a weapons team armed with a rattling gun …

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… and another lot behind.

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“You did not witness-see the changing?” asked the other.

“What changing?”

“Yes, the changing. You must have been labour-working, up ahead clearing away the tangle-mass or the shattered shards of dripping rocks. These are not the guards we began the journey with.”

Fricknar knew he was exhausted and distracted, but he had not realised just how much he had failed to notice. Yet, he thought, his point still stood.

“Then I ask, these-here new guards, why are they not dead?”

“Hush! They will be soon enough. If there are no more changings, some perhaps will die before we arrive at Foul Peak. They have only lasted this long because we have not stopped.”

“No, wait,” demanded Fricknar, having spotted a flaw in the other’s arguments. “I know there is little truth-sense in your words. Those two, there, with the rattler, they have been here with us from the start. They have no robes or masks.”

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“But they always scuttle-run ahead, as ordered, never behind, never in the engine’s wake-trail. This buys them time. Remember how they were on the first day? Yes? Look close now and you will see how they flag, how they stumble-stall. Look closer and you will see how their skin peels and their fur falls in lumps. Look into their eyes and you will see that death already tugs at their tails.”

Fricknar was getting frustrated by the frantic insanity of his companion’s words. Whatever answers they contained, there were always more questions. Even now, something bugged him.

“You say before we arrive at Foul Peak?” he asked. “How can we arrive if we cannot stop? How can our journey end? Are we to use this weapon against Foul Peak?”

“No, not there. Against the lord of Foul Peak’s enemies. Do you never listen-hear?”

“I will hear your answer,” said Fricknar, his anger momentarily mastering his fear. “How can we arrive at Foul Peak?”

“We shall arrive soon enough, but this does not mean we shall stop-stay, only pass through, there to be joined by more and others, to learn where we must go next, and so continue, on and on.”

This was impossible, thought Fricknar. He had a day left in him, perhaps another if his fear could dominate his pain to keep him on his feet.

“How can we continue?” he complained. “It is impossible! Our legs will be worn to nothing-nubs if we try.”

“All is prepared and arranged by our masters and the lord of Foul Peak,” said the other. “New attendants await the engine at the mountain. We will be allowed to rest-lie upon litters, to be carried on at some remove.”

“And then?”

“Then we will be command-ordered back to the engine. If we are fortunate-lucky we will be attending when it fires.”

“Lucky?” spat Fricknar. “How is there any good fortune in taking such a risk?”

“To watch it work. To see-witness a whole city killed or an entire army obliterated!”

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Post Tue May 19, 2020 6:56 am

Re: Tilea IC2401 (Campaign#8)

The Manratton project indeed! I am clearly insufficiently familiar with the rat-kin. I had no idea . . .

Well played sir! And very well written!
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Post Fri May 22, 2020 4:46 pm

Re: Tilea IC2401 (Campaign#8)

This campaign is great - a true achievement. I've seen you post in several places around the internet for quite some time now, but only found my way to this thread yesterday, and so I've binge read the whole thing. Im jealous of your players, being able to participate in something like this.
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Post Sat May 23, 2020 4:58 pm

Re: Tilea IC2401 (Campaign#8)

Brilliant!

Cannot wait to see how this thread of the tale goes.
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Post Sat May 23, 2020 10:01 pm

Re: Tilea IC2401 (Campaign#8)

I almost feel sorry for Fricknar, almost.
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Post Sun May 24, 2020 5:09 pm

Re: Tilea IC2401 (Campaign#8)

This installment easily in your top five padre


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Post Sun May 24, 2020 7:07 pm

Re: Tilea IC2401 (Campaign#8)

Thanks Caradepato, Lands Annex, Mikeyboy and Orjetax. You have made a very stressed lock-down sufferer feel less stressed, even happy!

I am working right now on a model for the next story - back to the undead, and in a big way!
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Post Sun May 24, 2020 8:55 pm

Re: Tilea IC2401 (Campaign#8)

Looking forwards to it!
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Post Fri Jun 12, 2020 6:36 pm

Re: Tilea IC2401 (Campaign#8)

A Letter from Antonio Mugello to the most noble Barone Iacopo Brunetti, Regent of Verezzo

As I wrote unto my beloved Lord Lucca (may he sit beside Morr in the garden of eternal summer) to impart what little I had learned of events throughout Tilea, so humbly I send this missive to you. My love for Lord Lucca and my loyalty to Verezzo are now offered to you, noble lord, for you have been a faithful servant of the first and have become the guardian of the latter.

I have been lodged in Remas throughout the winter, a place most conducive to the garnering of knowledge concerning the whole of Tilea. Sometimes I witness the events themselves. A month ago, I myself witnessed the arrival of the army of the VMC, led by General Valckenburgh, who had given up the siege of Pavona. I know not what you have heard concerning the VMC but presume that Duke Guidobaldo’s accusation that they were behind Lord Lucca’s murder and the looting of Spomanti must be painfully well known to you. From what I have learned, my lord, it seems to be generally accepted, at least here in Remas, that Duke Guidobaldo lied, and was himself responsible for the unforgiveable deed. My Lord Lucca warned me on several separate occasions concerning Duke Guidobaldo’s duplicitousness, and it gives me nothing but great sadness to know that his words are - post mortem - further proof of his great wisdom. Furthermore, in the last missive I received from my Lord Lucca he informed me that he had met with General Valckenburgh and found him to be a most honourable officer, who had marched north out of an earnest desire to assist in the defeat of the terrible foe. Lord Lucca was rarely, if ever, mistaken in his judgement of another, and I can see no reason to suppose he was mistaken regarding the general.

This, of course, explains recent events, most obviously General Valckenburgh’s siege of Pavona. He must have been furious to be slandered in such a way – angry enough to lure him from his march north to face the vampires threatening every living soul in Tilea. I have heard some in Remas voice their confusion as to why Valckenburgh did not complete what he had begun at Pavona, for Guidobaldo’s actions and subsequent lies were no less than a declaration of war, but (if you will allow me to offer mine own humble opinion) the answer seems clear to me. While we, who have suffered the loss of our dear lord at the Pavonan duke’s hands can feel only an enduring, righteous anger, General Valckenburgh personally suffered slander alone, and as his fury had time to subside (as ours can never do) he must have decided that the pursuit of satisfaction regarding what in another time would be a serious matter, seemed relatively petty in light of the great threat offered by the vampire duchess.

And so it is that Valckenburgh’s army is now camped here in the realm of Remas, apparently intending to rest a while. Perhaps they are waiting for Spring before recommencing their march? Or their halt might well be part of some grand strategy jointly agreed by the arch-lector of Morr, Lord Alessio Falconi and General Valckenburgh? I cannot know. It does strike me, and others too, as odd that Valckenburgh has now allowed himself to be delayed yet again, having only just overcome the anger that previously delayed him. Some say he is too easily distracted, but I believe, considering that which I am yet to relate to you, that he has more material concerns to factor in to his strategies, such as the reports of ratto-uomo forces and tunnel mouths north of the Trantine Hills, as well as the razing of Luccini and kidnapping of King Ferronso by the pirates of Sartosa.

By your leave, noble Barone, I will attempt to address these concerns, and more, in turn.

It is now commonly known in Remas that the ratto uomo are once again stirring in Tilea, what with Lord Alessio’s army discovering several entrances to huge tunnels north of the Trantine Hills, and even sighting verminous forces marching above ground. I cannot know what was said in the official missives, nor even if much more detail was contained therein, but enough Reman soldiers marching with Lord Alessio have sent word to their families and friends for the news to have spread. Perhaps unsurprisingly, knowing the cowardly nature of the ratto uomo (unless amassed in great strength) those forces fled back into the tunnels to avoid giving battle. Yet, the fact that they are openly active has begun to cause considerable consternation in a city with a somewhat chequered history of dealing with the verminkind. It has long been presumed in Tilea that ratto uomo always lurk in the shadows, whispering manipulative lies, stealing valuables, sewing discord and disease. Some say that all those who dwell within a city’s walls are never more than two dozen yards from a rat-man! But it has been many a decade since verminkind have marched in strength within sight of men rather than concealed underground or in barren places while embroiled in their interminable civil wars.

Continued after the following story

………………………………………………………………

Such a Shame-Waste!
Somewhere in Tilea, End of Winter, IC 2403-4

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In the night’s quietest hour, in the city’s loneliest corner, several assassins, sharp of tooth and claw, were inspecting their work.

“A job very well done, master, yes?” said one, still clutching the heavy blade he had pommelled one of their victims with before strangling the man.

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“They are dead,” said the master. “Which was our aim-desire, so yes, if it pleases you, heap congratulations where and how you like. But this here is nothing but a beginning-start. Here lie the foundations of that which we shall make-forge. No, not that … the first cracks in that which we will destroy. Yes, that’s better.”

The first looked at the sword now prominently lodged in the other corpse, his eyes then flicking to scrutinise the ragged edge of his own blade.

“Master,” he said, “forgive, but that blade is good and sharp - such a shame-waste to leave it here.”

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“The sword stays. We must-need ensure the menthings think-believe their own kind did this.”

“Yes, not us, never us,” hissed the first. He prodded his own victim with his taloned foot. “Yet master, a mere-nothing thought, but this one here has a knife. Would that not suit-satisfy?”

The master seemed to have a mind to be generous.

“It might just do,” he agreed. “But no, I like the sword. It draws the eye. A knife is but a small thing and gives but small ideas - the tool of petty-squabbling thieves, too easily dismissed as bloody vengeance between the basest of men-things. This sword tells another story, for it is the kind the men-thing guards carry. Let their captains think-believe their own guards bear the blame for this naughtiness.”

“So very clever master, yes. Yet could not a soldier dispatch-kill such as these and be proud, boasting of his most satisfactory work?”

“A soldier might boast, had any one of them done this,” said the master.

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“But none of them did, and so none will make such a claim. Then the captains will think-believe their command-control is weak, and that they know not what their own soldiers do.”

“Yes, Master,” said the first, finally giving up on his petty quest to obtain the sword.

“Now,” ordered the master, “look and look again. Make certain-sure there is no sign of our presence here.”

The first looked at the corpses and then around them.

“There was only your throwing star where now instead the sword is stuck-pierced,” he said. “This man-thing I squeeze-strangled, and he but scrape-scratched at me, pathetic-weak.”

“Look again, make certain-sure,” commanded the master. “Nothing dropped. No fur under his nails. No paw print marking the ground.”

The first hunched down and looked closer. He was getting nervous, as could be seen from the raised fur on the back of his neck.

“Master, forgive, but do we not linger-stay here too long?” he asked. “If the men-things come they will see us ourselves, not just that we leave-drop behind, and they will know all.”

“Hush-quiet,” snapped the master. “I am no half-wit fool. I chose this spot. I chose this time. No-one will come. Four nights this place was quiet-empty. Besides, look, look,” he gestured at the guards stationed all around them, “we have eyes to see and ears to hear all around.”

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“If anyone approaches,” the master continued, “we shall know in plenty-enough time to make our escape. Now, make haste, and be sure there no sign-clue of our presence.”

………………………………………………………………

Antonio Mugello’s letter continued

On more than one occasion I have heard it voiced that this resurgence of the ratto uomo could spell the end of all civilisation in Tilea, for if this is a new offensive, then it has begun just as the whole peninsula lies exhausted and weakened by the ongoing war against the vampires, having only recently emerged from several conflicts – the War of the Princes, the scattering of Khurnag’s Waagh and a veritable battering at the hands of Boulderguts’ brutes. There simply might not be sufficient strength remaining in Tilea to resist the ratto uomo hordes. Fearful rumours are rife concerning what diseases they might already be spreading, who they are about to assassinate, and which foolish rulers they have lured into a false alliance? In Remas, the memory of arch-lector Ordini’s ignominious deal remains a scab upon the city’s reputation. Is it any surprise the Remans are openly asking which madman has called upon the verminkind’s aid, perhaps hoping to attain the upper hand in some petty squabble, to gain vengeance or to retrieve some lost power? Since time immemorial there have always been fools who believe they can benefit from such a foul alliance.

I myself have heard a myriad of theories and list the following not merely to repeat malicious gossip nor to revel in rumour, but to give the mind of the people, as it may contain more than one kernel of truth. I will address some of the most likely first, in that they concern wicked powers who would feel no compunction at allying with the likes of the ratto oumo.

Have the Sartosans made an agreement of some sort? Would such sea dogs baulk at the idea of sharing the spoils with sewer rats, if not to do so could mean no spoils at all? The very fact that both appeared at one and the same time seems in itself to link them. Just as the Sartosans ravaged Luccini, the ratto uomo appeared skulking at new tunnel mouths, so that those in between could not know which way to look! If divided, we may well be more easily conquered or robbed.

Has the vampire duchess, now hard-pressed by the gathering armies of Tilea, offered the ratto uomo some portion of the peninsula in return for luring away the armies currently threatening her? I do not pretend to know the mind of a vampire, and despite the noble trappings and haughty demeanour many adopt, I cannot dismiss the possibility that they might stoop so low as to bargain with verminkind. There seems to be no wickedness that vampires are not capable of, and thus only their evil pride might dissuade them. Much is known of Duchess Maria in life, but all we can know now is that in undeath she is surely not at all the same. Anyone who surrounds themselves with a putrid court of rotting corpses cannot be so particular as to refuse to meet with flea-ridden vermin.

Several noblemen (of which there are not that many in Remas since the uprisings) have suggested that the VMC, ruled by greed alone, has signed a secret contract in which they carve up Tilea between themselves and the verminkind - the VMC to rule the south while the ratto-uomo ruin the north. I heard one signore say this would explain why the army of the VMC has marched north so leisurely, allowing itself to be easily distracted. It may well be to their advantage that Lord Alessio’s Portomaggioran and Reman army bears the brunt of the fight against the vampire duchess, for then both Portomaggiore and the Remas can be all the more easily subdued afterwards. Furthermore, claimed the nobleman, the real reason General Valckenburgh lifted the siege or Pavona was because he saw such a ruined realm as a waste of effort, and wanted to keep his army strong to defeat the weakened Portomaggioran and Reman armies, then to seize much richer realms instead. I can say that I saw real fear in the eyes of those who listened to this signore’s words, for all must have suddenly suspected the army of the VMC’s prolonged encampment at Remas was nothing more than an opportunity to rest and reconnoitre before seizing the city for themselves. Those fearful people had not Lord Lucca’s wise counsel to guide them, but of course, had I spoken my mind, then as a Verezzan rebutting a Reman gentleman, they would not have heard me.

I even heard one fellow, Pavonan by his accent, say that the dwarfen king in the mountains has made a pact with the verminkind, to bring about an end to their meddling in the dwarfs’ mines. I voiced my doubt, telling the man that the dwarfs of Karak Borgo have always craved trade, and the sort of destruction the ratto uomo cause would not be at all conducive to such. He just laughed, saying that would be presuming the king of the dwarfs is in command of his wits, whilst his companion spat and declared no dwarf could be trusted.

Mention of these Pavonans brings me to a matter I must address, but I would first have you know that I have attempted to consider this dispassionately, as would an entirely uninterested observer, despite the fact that it concerns the murderer of our beloved master.

I have no doubt that the following intelligence is known to you, what with your closer proximity to Pavona, but it is clear that Duke Guidobaldo’s realm has suffered dreadfully during the winter, both due to its precarious state after being ravaged by the ogres and then as a consequence of the army of the VMC’s siege. Duke Guidobaldo’s own army is said to be fragmenting – indeed only yesterday I saw with mine own eyes some of Reman bravi who marched away with the Pavonans (to become notorious for the raid on Spomanti), back here upon the streets of Remas. Such mercenary bravi could hardly be expected to honour their contract with Pavona when there is nothing but misery and hunger for them there. The Pavonan people are now sadly starving, for the duke took food from them to feed his soldiers. Furthermore, he has defaulted on so many loans over the last years that not one banking family is prepared to do business with him, and traders demand payments of gold in advance. What will come of all of this, I know not. Possibly his own subjects will revolt, turning against him, or perhaps he will resort again to acts of piracy and murder? Maybe his realm will simply diminish and fade into obscurity?

Or, and this is what plagues my nightmares, perhaps he thinks to regain his power and wealth by means of a verminous pact? Could it be that Duke Guidobaldo of Pavona - desperate as he is, humiliated, his pride in shatters, his realm suffering, known to be capable of such lies and treachery as would put the ratto uomo to shame - could it be that it was he who summoned the verminkind?

Of course, as yet it is unknown whether the ratto uomo will indeed amass in any strength; nor whether they intend a minor interference or a major incursion; nor whether they have in mind the destruction of the whole of Tilea of just some part thereof.

What is known for certain, however, is that the Vampire Duchess has yet to be defeated. Twice before she has sent armies south of Ebino, and it has taken battle after battle to prevent her further advance. Her aggressiveness is proven – if she is not destroyed then she will almost certainly send forth her armies again and again until she has the whole peninsula beneath her foul feet.

All the reports coming from the Reman soldiers under Lord Alessio’s command agree that Duchess Maria once again resides in Ebino. The walled and moated city teems with her undead servants. Every tower parapet is guarded by unblinking eyes. Every tomb, grave and burial pit in Ebino and Miragliano lies empty, the occupants now busied in the duchess’s service.

Continued after the following story, which is in the next post!
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