The Mists of Naples
Manzio wakes into a world of mist. It is an unsettling feeling as though an unseen shift of profound importance has taken place whilst he was sleeping. He can barely see his hand no more than an arm’s length from his face and for a few moments feels a rising sense of panic, as though he has finally lost sense of reality. Controlling his breathing, he tentatively slips out of bed looking for the reassurance of his friend, Heraclief but to his dismay finds that the bed is nowhere to be seen. Instead, where Heraclief was situated is now a stone archway, strange, almost familiar smells emanating from beyond.
The Vesuvian is very disconcerted to find that he is alone. The room behind is silent, tendrils of mist lazily coalescing in thick, oppressive patches.
‘Heraclief, where are you?’ he says, a note of desperation entering his voice.
To his surprise, he senses Heraclief with his probing subconscious, like a tickling sensation on the very periphery of his senses. He feels a very long way away. Remembering the St. Christopher around his neck, he tries to sense if there is any scrying taking place, fearing that Morgause has ensnared him once again. The necklace is indeed slightly warm to the touch but probing further, Manzio does not feel the telltale, awesome power of the great enchantress.
Relieved, he turns his senses back to the stone archway directly above him. Instinctively looking for shadows and attempting to walk silently, Manzio is shocked to find that shadows appear to materialise at his mental bidding. (Rohan actually rolled only 12% failing his role but in the inverted dreamworld, that was 88%!) Stepping forward he feels that he has shadow walked but is swept forward effortlessly as though gliding rather than walking. He is momentarily reminded by the sensation when passing through the mirror of Morgause in Harris and once again clutches his St. Christopher but feels the metal now cool to the touch.
‘Heraclief, was that you?’ he whispers. Silence.
Intuitively, Manzio senses that the shadows have not come from his friend but rather, were summoned by the Vesuvian himself. However, the darkness is so impenetrable that he cannot see beyond. Silently, he decides to exit the shadows.
Blinding light! Daylight accosts Manzio as he emerges into what feels like broad daylight. He is initially disorientated, covering his eyes whilst backing off to his left, bumping into a warm, stone wall. Slowly, the world comes back into focus and the familiarity of smells once again threatens to overcome him. Cinnamon and the smell of freshly baked bread. Looking left and right, memories of his youth return with the force of Tector’s axe.
‘It cannot be.’
Walking as though in a dream, Manzio finds himself in the narrow alleys surrounding his family villa on the dusty outskirts of Naples. It feels like late afternoon, the waning sun warming his back, as of old. Above, he can see the jagged cut of the glass which denotes the boundaries of the Alfredo property, dissuading any would-be thieves from entering the grounds of the family. His left, big toe throbs in memory of a day long ago when he tested the jagged challenge of traversing the wall, very nearly losing his toe in the process. As he approaches the gates to the villa itself he hesitates, seeing the metal hinges blasted away from the wall. Remembering the gate post to be free of glass, he scampers quickly and nimbly onto the stone plinth above. Crouching low to avoid obvious detection, he has a view of the villa below, a silhouette against the blue horizon of the Bay of Naples beyond. He feels a sense of sickening homesickness as though seeing the image through a mirror but quickly has to push away these sentimental thoughts as he spots a figure on the rooftop. Dressed in a crimson robe, despite the heat and thankfully facing away from him, the man appears to have a ponytail, his hair shaved high at the side of his head. Below, a second figure is slumped, wedged between the heavy double doors, his arm stretched forward a knife scattered on the steps below. From his livery, Manzio is certain that the figure is one of the households servants.
Judging the distance between his aerial position and the shadows below, Manzio jumps down but is perplexed to find himself rolling a foot too far and into the exposed sunlight. Looking up, he is unsure if the crimson donned figure has seen him or not. Cursing his own lack of professionalism, he backs carefully and slowly into the shadows and is relieved to find himself once again at least partially concealed by the half light.
‘What do I do?’ he asks of the shadows.
Reaching out mentally and sensing the surreal nature of the environment in which he finds himself, Manzio tries to make a connection. A connection with anyone. Someone who can make sense of this impossible situation! Clutching his St. Christopher, at first he feels only a profound sense of loneliness. Then, slowly he believes a connection has been made. Initially he senses only curiosity from the individual or entity with which he has made the telepathic link. His sense is that the individual is female and there is something in the presence that reminds Manzio of…
‘Manzio? Is that you? Where are you?’ says the softly spoken voice as though a whisper speaking through the cosmos.
‘I’m outside my father ‘s villa,’ replies Manzio, gradually reassured by the company of his friend, although shaking his head, incredulous that this could be so.
He feels a register of surprise and then doubt.
‘But how can that be?’
Manzio shrugs, melting deeper into the shadows. -
‘I know but something brought me here.’
There is a pause and Manzio can sense Sophia exploring the connection, probing and gently reaching out to Manzio and beyond. Manzio is satisfied, despite the intrusion knowing that Lady Sophia’s interests are always to protect and support.
‘Manzio, I think you’re dreaming. I’m in the catacombs, looking for the last key…this is so weird!’
Suddenly Manzio senses Sophia prickle.
‘…you have to be careful Manzio. I can sense real danger for you. There are men inside the villa who seek to do you harm.’
Manzio can feel Sophia continue to extend her senses outward, as though trying to see through his eyes and feel the environment. As her senses extend through the surrounding area, she suddenly felt the presence of three men in the villa. She focused on each in turn, and felt anger, violence, and flame in each of them. She also sensed that they had killed several people and were looking for more victims.
There are three men in the house who mean to do you harm. One of them in particular has great power.’ Manzio’s senses a great sadness from Sophia. ‘But you must move quickly Manzio. Your father is within and is close to the end. I dare not probe ant further or they will sense my presence.’
Sensing a withdrawal of Sophia’s powers, Manzio once again feels a sense of loneliness but is determined to see his father, even if within this pseudo reality, dream or construction of his own grief. Reaching for his ring of invisibility, he sprints clear of the shadows, abandoning stealth and instead opting for sheer speed. Reaching the heavy double doors, he pulls with all of his strength and sees a figure appear above. As his cowl falls back, Manzio can see that his adversary has a distinctive hairstyle, the hair shaved either side. On his left cheek is a circular tattoo, which seems to burn within his face, fire smouldering and bubbling like lava both within his skin and eyes. Discarding his cloak entirely, the figure wears dragon Mail armour with overlay scales superbly crafted for added protection. Manzio is horrified by the apparition and in desperation pulls with all of his strength.
‘Who goes there,’ demands the figure dressed in crimson, his face confused by the door movement. ‘Is that you Ignis?’
Manzio is relieved to see a gap appear in the door and skipping over the prone body of the unfortunate servant below, steps into the villa. He has no time to spare before an armoured figure approaches, just as Manzio becomes visible again. The knight has an unusually designed visor and heavy gauntlets, a metallic baton tucked into a wooden casket on his left side, a vicious looking spiked mace on his right hip. Like the figure on the roof, both wear matching crimson cloaks.
Manzio is fastest to react and is beyond the bulky knight before he can manouevre fast enough to attack but as Manzio sprints past the collection of his father’s prized collection of marble busts, which mark the entrance to the villa, he can see the knight reach for the baton. Manzio is forced to jump over another servant. With a pang of shock, he notes that the woman is Eldara, the head cook. She is laid halfway beneath the doorway leading to one of the cellar pantries containing ice, a stream of blood already congealed on the marble floor. The left hand side of her face is scorched, the skin a hideous open sore, alongside her lifeless, eyes. He reaches the end of the corridor, intending to sprint left avoiding the attack of the knight but is a whisker too slow, feeling a burning arrow of arcane energy burst over his shoulder. Luckily, the Alfredo household has several water fountains and he is able to quickly douse the flames before they threaten to spread.
Penetrating deeper into the living quarters, constantly looking over his shoulder for signs of pursuit, Manzio is forced to face a scene of horror previously relaid to him only second hand. Dead servants and guards lay strewn hither and thither, bodies pinned by crossbow bolts and some scorched by fire. The villa, once such as a bastion of security is transformed into a mausoleum of hideous, twisted death.
Guessing that his father is likely to have been in the garden quad separating the main house from the servant’s quarters, Manzio continues to sprint through the house. He hesitates briefly, seeing two local thugs enjoying a chicken carcass in the dining area, more servants dead, blood smeared on the expensive carpets brought by his father’s merchant friend Hassuman, from far away Egypt.
Aware of the pursuit behind, he once again accelerates simultaneously risking the chance of running into more of his father’s attackers. He is relieved to reach the garden quad, entering deliberately through the side door and slipping into the shadows behind one of the banyan trees beyond. He is immediately aware that there are others in the garden at the far side toward the exit leading into the wicker corridor linking the gardens to the servant’s quarters. It takes Manzio a few seconds to place the accent of at least one of the overheard voices but he is reminded of his travels north with Uther and remembers the Germanic languages. The second voice responding is local Napoletana. Moving from one tree to the next, he moves closer to the conservation and overhears the end of the discussion.
‘Find the boy. Quickly, before the alarm is sounded.’ says the deep threatening, Germanic voice.
‘The contact was to kill the father. My men have accomplished this feat as requested. There was no mention of his son,’ responds an individual usual using a local accent.
Peering from behind the largest of the banyan trees in the garden and the side of a fountain, Manzio sees a third figure wearing crimson red robes, a sceptre held aloft in his left hand.
Next to him, a giant of a man. Broad chested and bearded, he also wears robes but this time of a distinctive voluminous black. On his back he carries a beautifully crafted lute of polished mahogany. An archaic Arabic blade, possibly a scimitar given the unusual rusted scabbard is carried at his side.
Just then, Manzio’s pursuers enter the garden. The figure from the roof has overtaken the knight and is the first to speak, his fists ablaze with flames like torches.
‘The boy is here. We’ve got him.’
Manzio begins to feel panic, knowing that he is outnumbered 4-1, with at least one major power in the room. Desperately he seeks for his father and finally spots him, prostrate not far from the lute player. As he frantically thinks through a strategy to avoid detection, he senses Sophia once again. She probes tentatively at first and then more vociferously. Manzio grasps hold of the lifeline.
‘Can you do anything to make them leave?’ he implores.
He can feel Sophia extending her senses again. The enchantress brushes against the mind of one man, gently suggesting they have achieved their target.
‘We’re done here. Let’s go.”
His companion, the knighted man grunts his compliance, Sophia subtly guiding his thoughts. Moving on to the last man, she suggests he agree with the others.
‘Alright,” says the man holding the sceptre. ’Let’s get out of here.’
As the three crimson robed men begin to leave, Manzio can share Sophia’s thoughts as she senses a fourth presence. Focusing, both are aware that this is the leader of the group, an intelligent and powerful sorcerer.
Pulling back, unsure how far she should extend her power, Sophia once again whispers within the inner ear of Manzio.
‘Three of them are leaving, but there is one more, a powerful sorcerer. I think you should go.’“I must get to my father Sophia. Please help me one more time. Can you suggest to the leader that he should go as well?’
Manzio can feel Sophia’s reluctance as she nervously touches the mind of the powerful Germanic sorcerer. Immediately both feel a powerful reaction!
‘How dare you enter the mind of Justus!’ comes the furious response. Manzio senses Sophia moving to shield him as she receives the mental equivalent of a punch in the face, and the contact with the mind of Justus is forcefully broken. The contact between Sophia and Manzio is all but severed but despite the mental scarring he can sense in his friend, the Vesuvian hears one more warning before Sophia is gone.
‘Manzio! The last one is too powerful, he sensed my presence and attacked me. Be careful, my friend, and good luck.’
Determined to make full use of the tactical advantage so hard won by his friend, Manzio sprints toward his father, noting that Justus has pursued the three crimson sorcerers. Kneeling down beside his dying father, Manzio cannot help but sob as he sees the blood bubble from what he knows is a punctured lung. Quickly retrieving his druidic daggers he urges his father to grasp hold of the hilt. His father opens his eyes and is visibly shocked to see his son. Coughing blood, he pulls Manzio toward him.
‘Son, you must flee.’
‘Father, take the daggers, they will heal you.’
Manzio’s father is suddenly rigid, as his breathing stops. Gripping Manzio tight, his deathly grip holding him briefly to the living world, his last words are spoken through clenched, bloodied teeth.
‘I…gave…the mask…to your…Mother. She…will be safe. Go to her.’
With that, he breathes his last, Manzio seeing the life fade from his father’s hazel eyes.
‘How terribly moving. The boy returns to die with his father.’
Turning, Manzio sees the Germanic Justus approach, a grin etched on his face, the lute cupped in his hands. Manzio has no sooner turned and begun to flee than the sorcerer strums one of three strings attached to the mahogany instrument. He suddenly feels as though he is running on air, cartwheeling head over heels and defying gravity by floating upward, banging his head hard against the ceiling. His back pinned to the ceiling above and with the ominous footsteps of Justus moving ever closer, Manzio twists his back, jerking his crossbow into position despite the awkwardness of mounting a quarrel whilst suspended. The bolt sped true from his hand but to Manzio’s surprise the big man rolled to one side, moving with grace and dexterity, easily recovering his footing before plucking a second string on his lute. Tensing himself for the inevitable impact, the Vesuvian is relieved to see a Sithe like globe of darkness surround the big German but with a telltale necrotic edge, suggesting death magic.
Exposed and with no way of moving far, Manzio instead tries to calm his beating heart, quickly considering all that has befallen him. Remembering the shadow walk called into being earlier in the dream, he once against concentrates on gathering the shadows. To his surprise and relief, the shadows do indeed begin to coalesce surrounding him much like Justus.
‘How can that be possible?’ questions Manzio’s adversary. ‘You are yet to be initiated.’
Ignoring the incredulous tone of Justus, Manzio tries to begin climbing down the wall in a bid to escape but the crackling vortex of darkness and magenta energy moves to intercede.
‘There is nowhere to run boy,’ as Manzio hears the sound of steel being unsheathed.
Scrambling back toward the ceiling and in desperation Manzio tries to make a mental connection with Heraclief, willing his friend for aid. This time he is successful although unlike Sophia, Heraclief seems entirely distracted and distant.
As Manzio concentrates harder on the connection he hears a shout of rage behind and as he looks down Justus begins to fade from sight. Instead, Manzio has the sense that he is floating through a prism of blinding light at astonishing speed.