Four years ago the people of the Imperial Nations rejoiced when they learned that the dreaded vampire Barron Lucio Vitale was laid to his final rest. During the centuries he reigned, people avoided the Dell’orest Mountains and surrounding forest for fear of the monster lurking in its heart. Old trade routes traveled before the Great War fell to disuse and became a heaven for bandits and things much more foul.
The Vitale Castle was built along a high mountain pass between the two nations long before the current political maps were drawn. Situated along the border of Xa’car dy Yelpheet and the Italian sector of the Imperial Nations, the area served as both a border and a melting pot before the Great War. The long winding road to Vitale pass was a major thoroughfare for travelers and traders eager to visit the wood elves without having to go all the way around the mountain range, or face the perils of passing through Centaur lands.
Barron Lucio Vitale ruled when Randolph Newman forged his infamous Combine and set out to conquer the world. Though the Barron held authority stemming from the Italian city-states, years in proximity to the mythical creatures of Xa’car dy Yelpheet (along with the matter of his questionable state of un-life) left him predisposed to the Technophobic side of the war. He refused the call to arms and proffered a stout defense when the Italian armies attempted to cross the Dell’orest mountains. At the battle of Alto Ponte the Barron held his ground, thereby cutting off the main route between the Italian armies and the mythical lands beyond for the duration of the war.
What the armies of Medici could not do, however, a group of determined adventurers managed to achieve.
Even at this late date it is hard to know exactly who made the successful foray. Rumors have surfaced and multiplied but little hard evidence has been found. Most likely it was a band of stout adventurers with powerful clerics to back them. That they were successful is undeniable, but how much they managed to pilfer and what happened to the great treasure will never be known. Based on the rumors of what they left behind it must have been a vast sum!
It wasn’t long before news circulated that the Barron was dead. The brave souls who went to the castle to scavenge tell of vast riches in art, weapons, alchemic bric-a-brac, books, and all other sorts of assorted riches. While most of the more portable riches had already been carted off, there was still enough plunder left behind to make many men rich.
Violence between rival groups became more common as other treasure seekers began to flood the area. Sometimes bandits would wait in ambush for those to come down from the mountain before stealing their goods. As the number of bandits grew they turned their attention to common travelers and traders, demanding tribute for safe passage. The roads became more dangerous than they were when the Barron ruled the lands. The bloodshed spilled out beyond the borders and threatened the Strada di Montagna, the main road running the length of the nation. The disruption of the trade routes finally forced the Italian principalities to take action.
Trouble persisted even after Prince Cesare’s forces cleared the roads. Having achieved his primary objective, the brave Prince led his men into the mountains intent on reclaiming the castle and allowing trade to flow once more through the area. By this time, however, some of the more powerful bandits joined together under the banner of a man proclaiming himself to be The Bandit King. Prince Cesare was thwarted by the Bandit King at the same stone bridge where the Technophile army was stopped over two hundred years before.
The Bandit King maintained possession of the castle for nearly a year, drawing huge numbers of cutthroats and misanthropes to his side (including several bands of hobgoblins and ogres). He used the castle as a staging area from which he could launch raids on unsuspecting villages on both sides of the border. Ultimately, he was not able to stop the internal conflicts within the band and soon the bitter in-fighting erupted into a bloody revolt. By the time it was over, the Bandit King lay dead as fire raged through the castle, collapsing walls and gutting the once proud structure.
Since then the castle has remained abandoned and has all but fallen from public concern. This does not mean that the intervening years have not seen activity. What once rested on the borders of the castle and within the dark woods and craggy peaks has crept into the charred ruins and begun to spill down the mountainside. The few that pass through the area tell harrowing tales of ghastly creatures that enjoy cruel torments and crave human flesh. Giants, hobgoblins, trolls, hags and harpies have all been described by trusted sources, while wilder tales speak of a dark woman clothed in shadow who corrupts all she touches.
Prince Cesare, ever hopeful of re-opening this once vital trade route, has posted an offering with the Adventurer’s Guild granting 10,000VB for verifiable intelligence about what is going in and around the castle. After nearly nine months the reward remains unclaimed.
It is doubtful whether the area will ever be truly safe for travel, but those who live closest to the dark mountains wonder if it might have been better if the vampire still ruled. There has been little peace since the monster was slain, and they fear the unknown shadows that are emerging. The mountains loom on the horizon as a source of dread. The common folk fear even talking about them lest they summon the evil down upon themselves.
Though the vampire is dead, the ramifications of the power vacuum created by his demise continue to linger and will likely haunt the land for generations to come.