Antonio Mugello’s letter to Lord Lucca Vescussi of Verezzo at the end of Summer 2403
My purpose, my lord, as ever, is to inform you of everything of import I have learned concerning the great affairs of Tilea. Removed as I am from your person I know you will have a much better grasp than I of the events unfolding in your own realm and your own camp, as well as of the forces in your vicinity, whether allied or foe. But it seems to me that even the knowledge I have concerning what is believed here in Remas of these things (howsoever familiar to you), what information has been passed, what rumours circulate and what assumptions are made, could prove to be of great use to you. Once my offerings are combined with what you yourself know and what other trusted agents have reported to you, then you can all the better judge not only the truth concerning the situation across Tilea, but also what various parties believe to be the truth. Thus you might discover where all the pieces lie, what advantages or disadvantages the players in this great and terrible game believe they possess, as well as what they actually possess.
Having returned from Urbimo to Remas, I have been welcomed into the court of the arch-lector Bernado Ugolini, who, having expressed his love and respect for you, has allowed me to attend upon him regularly, and even to join his counsellors, both religious and secular, in their consultations with his holiness. Much in Remas, at least what is left of Remas, has returned to the way it was before the rising of the Disciplinati di Morr. Those amongst the nobility who survived the frenzied mob, whether by hiding or fleeing, have returned to their houses, albeit bereft of many servants and beloved family, and with the departure of the cultist army, the streets are no longer ruled by the clubs and whips of intolerant (if most holy) faith. The Reman overlord, Domenico Matuzzi, has nominated the arch-lector as his deputy, while he lies ill abed after his rough handling as hostage of the Disciplinati. Apparently, the dedicants subjected him to the torture of strappado, and when they discovered his toes could reach the ground, they dug the earth from beneath him that he might suffer all the more.
Yet while there is thankfulness at the Disciplinati’s departure, I perceive little in the way of hatred. It seems to me that most Remans believe Father Carradalio and his flagellating dedicants are still Tilea’s best hope against the armies of the vampire duchess; a necessary, lesser evil through which a far greater evil can be defeated. One cannot beat a foe in battle without drawing blood, they say, although here the blood drawn belonged to the self-scourging dedicants and those Remans they killed in their efforts to cleanse the city in the eyes of holy Morr. Like so many gods, Morr has many faces, many moods. He might visit gentle dreams upon the innocent, and welcome the departed into his blissful garden, yet is also capable of furious anger against those who transgress against him and think to rebel against his authority, and is manifestly able to inflict great suffering and punishments far and wide through his most loyal servants.
Such is the lesson the orthodox Morrite priests preach in their Reman sermons. Once again, the ancient city realm is embraced by gentle Morr, his funerary lullabies gifting peaceful slumber, of both the great and petty kind, to all, as and when is right, even while his righteous anger is vented through his faithful and fanatic servants in the north.
The army of the Disciplinati di Morr marched solemnly from the city and traveled the road to Urbimo. There many more flocked to join its ranks, urged to do so by their newly tyrannical ruler Barone Pietro Cybo. Some say he so encouraged them simply to remove them from his realm and so prevent their further murderous tumults. Yet others report it was he himself who ordered the cruel purging and that he has personally joined the army. Whatever the truth, the Disciplinati wasted no time in marching upon Viadaza, where they threw themselves at the defences until (it is said) their dead piled so high before the vampires’ swirling blades they could climb their comrades’ corpses to the parapets. Whether this claim be true, they nevertheless suffered very great casualties, harming themselves almost as violently as the enemy to maintain the furious pitch of their frenzy in the face of such horrors. They did not falter, as so many have done before, and the enemy was driven back even unto the wharves, thence to decrepit boats and into the sea, and the Disciplinati re-took the city for the living once again.
The arch-lector has received a letter from an agent he has amongst the Disciplinati’s ranks, which has revealed much concerning events after the city’s re-conquest. The army stayed a while, hoping, at the least, to begin the second cleansing of the streets, to make the city fit once again for the living. Viadaza had suffered greatly, yet again, at the hands of the undead, and as ever their curse lingered. Those who attempted to sleep within the walls found their nightmares escaping their slumbers, the sound of screams crossing from the oneiric to the material realm, from man to man, house to house, street to street. There were false alarms almost every hour, until the third night when the nightmare became real. The army awoke to discover half a dozen of their number had been slain. In the light of day, opinions regarding the killings differed widely – some thought it was a ritual self-flagellation gone insanely wrong, with the city’s feral dogs attacking to finish off the pain-sated cultists. Others declared the enemy’s apparent departure had been a trick, and this was the work of no less than a vampire – perhaps Adolfo, who knew the city so well, its every nook and cranny, having ruled it in both life and undeath, or even the duchess herself?
The next night more perished, and all now accepted that their bloody fight for Viadaza was not yet ended. The vampire duchess had assuredly left something behind, skulking in the alleyway shadows and the depths of the sewers. While the arch-lector prayed for holy guidance, and others cried the city had become so stubbornly tainted with repeated possession by the undead that it should be burnt to the very ground, the Disciplinati’s admonitor, Brother Vincenzo, took it upon himself to lead a hunt through the nocturnal streets.
They found and slew a large pack of ghouls, raining crossbow darts upon them, but they could discover no sign of a vampire.
Two days later, having taken what little Viadaza had left to offer for the army’s supply (which was diminishing fast even after Urbimo had given all that it could) the Disciplinati marched out take the road leading north to the famous bridge at Palomtrina. But something left the city in the Morrite warriors’ wake, creeping after them to make the nights upon the road as bloody as those within the walls. One morning, a week or so into the march, a dozen of Captain Vogel’s veteran guards were found in a heap, their throats torn open, their ribs wrenched from their bodies, their chests bereft of sanguine organs.
Thus is the grim nature of a march into the realm of vampires. The last report received mentioned how at night only half the army sleeps, while the rest remain waking and watchful. The Praepositus Generalis’s tent is surrounded by a ring of bodyguards, holding a blessed-flamed torch to light the whole night and ensure Father Carradalio is never, even for a moment, left unguarded.
And yet, for all this suffering and torment, and the victory achieved by it, it seems the Disciplinati di Morr were too late in attacking Viadaza. The duchess had already dispatched an army from there to Trantio, to strike much further south than ever before. There the graveyards were ripe for robbing, as the realm had lay abandoned ever since Boulderguts’ brutes had chased the populace and their new Pavonan masters away. It was Duke Guidobaldo who brought the report of this undead army, returning unexpectedly from a last, desperate attempt to bring Razger Boulderguts to account. Before he could catch the ogres and so recover the vast store of plunder torn from his own realm and others, his found his way blocked by a large force of undead. As he commanded only a remnant of his once mighty Pavonan army, bolstered by only a handful of small companies of Reman soldiers loaned by the arch-lector, the enemy was far too strong to take on. And so he came back to Remas demanding more soldiers from the arch-lector.
I was not invited to attend the councils of war, presumably because Duke Guidobaldo knows me to be a loyal Verezzan, and that I am fully aware of his several many past insults and threats against you, and so I cannot say whether he wanted these in order to attack the undead or merely to obtain sufficient strength to sidestep them and continue his vengeful pursuit of the brutes. Yet while the secret councils were held, the loose-tongued Pavonan soldiery drank hard in the taverns and inns, as is a soldier’s wont, and began telling tales of what their scouts had seen.
Trantio, perhaps the geographical heart of the peninsula, is now in the possession of vampires. They arrived with an army of robe-clad zombies, the same Morrite dedicants who had in life served Calictus II, now reanimated to serve their former enemies, their very existence a mockery to all that the Church of Morr and its cults stand for. Immediately upon arrival its soldiers set about tearing open the necropolises of Trantio, the tombs of Scorccio and the graveyards of the villages of Preto lying between.
Large when it arrived, the vampires’ army can only have grown greater in strength since, garnering a vast harvest of corpses to swell its ranks, so that now the bony remains of long-dead, noble men-at-arms once more gallop through the streets …
… and ancient legions muster beneath the filthy, rotten remnants of banners untouched by sunlight for centuries. The streets swarm with walking corpses, a busy, hellish crowd moving hither and thither at the behest of their vampire masters.
None here, even the divinely inspired arch-lector of Morr, knows exactly what the vampire duchess is attempting to achieve, for she has never seen fit to advertise her intentions, but until now, apart from (and despite) the set-backs she has faced along the way, she has pushed her foul armies ever further into the living realms. If her actions alone are taken into account, then it seems she intends to conquer the entire peninsula until she becomes the dark reflection of an ancient empresses of old, perhaps rivaling in power the mighty Kings of Khemri beyond the deserts of the Southlands?
When I learned that you yourself, my lord, were at Astiano, less than 30 leagues south of Trantio, a great fear assailed me. But I was reassured when it was also reported that you not only had a stout force of Verezzans, but that both Lord Alessio Falconi and the young King Ferronso and their armies were also with you. The arch-lector told me that even if he were to order every soldier in Remas to join with the Pavonan army and march as allies against the foul conquerors of Trantio, they could not hope to prevail, for not only was the Pavonan army a mere shadow of its former self, but the wars against ogres and vampires, and the bloody unrest in the city, had much reduced the Reman army too. Yet he was not downhearted, and indeed smiled when he told me of his joy that you, my noble lord, had marched north with a mighty allied army, far greater in strength than that any he could field, and without a doubt greater than the force possessed by the enemy. Furthermore, if it is true that the army of the VMC is also marching north from Alcente, something you my lord will know with more certainty than I, and is committed to assisting in this great struggle, then the vampire duchess cannot possibly endure the force of the onslaught. The soldiers of the VMC are veterans of the war against Khurnag’s Waagh, and as the trading company is prospering General Valckenburgh’s is likely to command a substantial force.
(A regiment of militia pikemen march before Lord Lucca Vesucci of Verezzo, upon the road before the gates of Astiano.)
His holiness happily confessed that even if you had marched north intending solely to destroy the ogres, Morr’s will was surely behind that intention, drawing you northwards in this hour of need, just as the undead began to strike so far south.
I know that to write of these things might be considered foolish, for should this missive fall into enemy hands they would have intelligence of your whereabouts and the nature of your joint forces, but I write only what I have heard, which is what enemy spies will also have heard. You yourself know your true situation, my lord, here I simply present to you what reports are already commonly circulating, that you might know what is believed or suspected by friend and foe alike.
News has come also of a new war in the north-east. The mountain King Jaldeog has mustered an army of dwarfs (a thing previously believed by many in Tilea, including the well-informed, to be long since impossible), bolstered by a Bretonnian mercenary company known as the Brabanzon and a petty-noble claimant to the realm of Ravola, Baron Garoy. This force he has sent down the Iron Road to Campogrotta, there to besiege the city.
The dwarfen king sent out a declaration that he was not only tired of waiting for the wizard Lord Niccolo and his brute servants to satisfy Karak Borgo concerning its ancient trading rights, but insulted by their disrespect. Nicolo and his cruel lieutenants have shown careless indifference to the dwarfs’ need to pass to and fro through Campogrotta in order to reach every other Tilean state, and so have made all trade impossible. Thus it is that King Jaldeog has seen fit to invest a considerable portion of his treasure hoard in a war to rectify the situation, as well as to punish the slight.
King Jaldeog’s army contains an ancient engine of war of such a massive size that the like has not been seen in Tilea for centuries. If it were not for the dwarf-built road, it is unlikely such an engine could possibly have traversed from the mountain fastness to the great walled city. The iron shots hurled from this behemoth are said to be nigh upon one hundred pounds in weight …
… and capable of punching through a stone wall twenty feet thick. I cannot profess to know the dimensions of Campogrotta’s defences, but whatever they be, considering dwarfs are said to be the very founders of the art of gunnery, masters of brimstone and saltpetre, and able to inscribe potent magical runes to improve their cannons beyond their merely natural potential and so make them better than any forged by man, the walls surely cannot stand for long against such a battering.
Furthermore, the surviving half of the Compagnia del Sole (those previously serving in Estalia, equal at least in strength to the Tilean force destroyed in the War of the Princes) are reportedly marching eastwards to reinforce King Jaldego’s army. This famous mercenary company is an army in itself, and so as it circumnavigates the vampire duchess it has every chance of fending off anything she might dispatch to impede its progress. And if they do rendezvous with the dwarfs and Brettonians at Campogroatta, then the ogre tyrant Razger Boulderguts is sure to receive a very harsh welcome indeed upon returning with his plunder.
This is presuming Razger Boulderguts does return. He has moved northwards once again, that much is certain, but no-one can claim to know his exact whereabouts, and certainly not his next move. It seems to me that there are several possibilities, including rendezvousing with another force from the east, like he did with Mangler’s Band. He surely has sufficient plunder to hire another such force. Or perhaps he himself will return to the Border Princes whence both he and Mangler came, now that he is enriched with a vast train of plunder? That may well have been his intention from the moment he marched into Tilea. Then again, he might turn yet again to strike at another Tilean town not yet razed, perhaps Scozzese or Pavona, or a combination of the two, or even push further southwards. He might join with the vampire duchess, if the rumours of their secret alliance are true, all the better to continue his raids, and so provide more ruinous places for the undead to possess. He has proved to be the sort of commander who can withdraw from the field of battle when it becomes clear that neither he nor the foe can win, only mutually batter each other into oblivion, as happened upon the Via Diocleta, then it seems to me that he is not the sort to take proud umbrage at the dwarfs laying siege to a city he once captured and, for a time, simply used as a base for his raids. I think it entirely possible that he never intended to remain in Campogrotta, but only lingered there to gain sufficient strength for his grand chevauchee.
Sailors have continued to voice their concern about the reported sightings of ratto uomo in the Tilean sea, even upon the western coast, suggesting the vermin could be probing for weaknesses now that Tilea’s armies are distracted by the wars against the duchess and Boulderguts. Such have been their fears for many seasons now, perhaps suggesting there is in truth nothing new occurring, but rather a fear-induced exaggeration of little more than the usual, occasional encounters. More recently, however, and more feasible by far, are the reports of a sudden increase of Sartosan pirate vessels in the Current, bearing towards Sartosa. Both a Portomaggioran captain and a VMC ship’s master whom I questioned were of the opinion that the Pirate Council is gathering a fleet in order to launch a substantial raid upon the Tilean coast now that its defenses were vitally weakened. Such would certainly explain the noticeable reduction of small-scale piracy along the western coast, as any vessels normally engaged in such would be returning to attend the fitting of the fleet.
It cannot be known here in Remas who currently holds sway over the pirate council, for even if a name is reported, the ruling captain can change from day to day, from vote to vote, so that any person mentioned might already have been supplanted. Nevertheless, the name Captain Leopold Volker has been circulating the wharves and warehouses for some time now.
From what I have gleaned, Volker appears to have obtained a firm grip on the council, which in itself could be the very reason that the Sartosans are now apparently cooperating in a much more unified manner, and possibly embarking upon an enterprise which would require a whole fleet and an entire army of bucanieri. Whether or not he still commands, I cannot say.
Admittedly, some others claim that the lack of petty pirateering is due instead to the Sartosans’ fear of the ratto uomo, or perhaps even because they have suffered attacks themselves, but this seems (for the aforementioned reasons) unlikely.
Here, if you will oblige me my lord, I must pass on to you a plea made only yesterday by the arch-lector. He is most concerned that the rumours of a Sartosan raid might cause either King Ferronso or Lord Alessio, or both, to turn away from the vital task in hand and lead their armies home, the better to ensure their cities’ safety. Luccini lies closest to the Isle of Sartosa, and as such is likely either to be the target of the pirates’ raid, or perhaps a stepping stone for them as they make their way along the coast towards a richer prize. Portomaggiore is, if the wind and currents are conducive, only a little further away.
More gravely, his holiness spoke to me regarding his concern about your intentions, for it seems to him that the proximity of the VMC’s army to Verezzo, after their cruel raiding of the Camponeffro region of Raverno two years ago, when that realm was riven with rebellion and already suffering, might mean that you too turn away from the war against the vampires due to concern for Verezzo’s safety. I myself admitted to the arch-lector that as Razger Bouldergut’s whereabouts is currently unknown, it must also occur to both you, Lord Alessio and the young king that the ogre tyrant – known to be a slippery foe full of tricks when it comes to taking places by surprise – might have looped about, circumnavigating your forces in order to strike at any or all of the more southern realms now that their defending armies have been lured away.
He thus asked me to reassure you that General Jan Valckenburgh of the VMC has solemnly promised that he wishes only to assist in the fight to defeat the vampire duchess and her minions, and that he himself witnessed the mauling of Razger Boulderguts’ army at the Via Diocleta, and so cannot believe the ogre currently has sufficient force remaining to pose a threat to the southern realms. And so, his holiness instructed me to pass on his humble plea urging you to remain just long enough to drive away the vampires from Trantio, or at the least that you leave sufficient forces for this task. He suggests that whatever force you allow to remain might rendezvous with the Reman and Pavonan armies in order to form an allied army large enough to ensure success. He is keen to impress upon you that the consequences of turning back now would most likely mean ruin for the whole of Tilea.
Having delivered the plea as I promised, being the arch-lector’s desire and not mine, for I would never presume to suggest to you any particular course of action, I end.
Your loyal and humble servant, Antonio Mugello.