Carnevale - Session Eleven: The Silver Road

After the battle with the Red Plumes, the de Benicios returned home and had a much-deserved sleep. When they awoke, it was past noon on the next day already, and Luigi told them that an unknown visitor had come to see them while they slept, and promised to return later. He left only his crest: the sign of Gianetta's secret police. The siblings realised that this must mean that their mission to attack Carnelio's manor and steal the aboleth was about to happen.

Before the stranger returned, the de Benicios decided to recruit new allies. They went to visit Aksil, the cat-man mercenary. Aksil was still recovering from injuries sustained the previous day. He told them about how the attack on the mercenary compound had gone wrong, as the Red Cloaks had rallied and counterattacked much more quickly than had been expected. Once he realised that the mission had failed, Aksil gave the order to retreat, and was wounded during the withdrawal. Now he had been replaced as revolutionary general while he recuperated, and Bellina Fuoca, Fra Lucio and Ornella Donati were leading the revolutionaries to attack the last remaining mercenary strongholds. Only the palace remained fully under the dragon's control. Unable to take part, Aksil was feeling impatient and ready for action. Once they told him about their plans, he was eager to help. Aksil felt uncomfortable about sending a kitten to do a lion's work, and believed that every advantage that they could bring to bear against Morignus was worth taking.

Shortly after they returned home with Aksil, Gianetta's agent visited again. He was a nondescript sort of man, who avoided giving his name. The agent apologised that Gianetta had been called away unexpectedly, but he had arranged everything. A barge waited a few blocks away, with potions that would protect them from the aboleth's mental control. Once they had subdued the aboleth, the barge-hands would remove it from the house via the underwater exit and load it into the barge, to be delivered to a safe location. Most importantly, Carnelio had just left the house as well, so the heroes' path was free. Via felt conflicted about enslaving a living being, even a monster, and made a secret agreement with her friends to kill the aboleth and deliver its corpse instead.

They returned to the house that they had last entered weeks ago, making their way upstairs to the treasure chamber. Fortunately, Carnelio had not had time to re-establish his magical defenders, so their way was unhindered. In the treasure chamber, they found the magical orb that transported them into the basement. From there, they went to the corridor that had haunted their nightmares, green with slimy moss, and water splashing underfoot. The six siblings and the cat-man general drank down their potions, before continuing down into the unknown...

They found themselves in a large, shadowy room, lit dimly by Matilde's magelight. Bronze pipes, the same sort of construction work as Angelo's explosives, ran across the room, and led into a series of tanks against one wall. In the centre of the room sat a horrific glassy-eyed, tentacled, needle-toothed monstrosity, the aboleth, in a pool of slimy water. Its body was impaled by the bronze tubes that drained it of its slime. It was dead.

Out of the shadows stepped dozens of figures - corpses, splashing through the shallow water to surround the de Benicios. Behind them came four figures: an unarmed middle-aged woman, an aristocratic man with a thin sword at his hip, a pale and skeletal man, and a tanned younger man. They were all cloaked and masked, but the family knew that they must be the conspirators. But the conspirators did not present as united a front as expected. They were upset that two of their number were absent. The artisan they expected not to be present, since he was not a fighter, but their leader Carnelio had not even told them that he would be away. And they were all furious with the young man - Angelo - for how he had bungled the affair. Rather than covering up the conspiracy, his repeated ineptitude had instead given the siblings every lead. They forced him to fight the siblings single-handedly. His magic was powerful, and he summoned freezing ice to strike his enemies down, but Via flung fire back at him and burnt him to death.

Angelo's death was a welcome triumph, but not even a setback for the conspirators. Via distracted them by trying to engage them in conversation, while the others surreptitiously recovered and regrouped. When they attacked, the de Benicios were ready - for what it was worth. They were horrifically outnumbered. The older man with the sword was an extremely skilled swordsman; the woman a warlock wielding demonic powers, and the emaciated man a vampire commanding an army of the living dead. Aksil flew up into the air and threw lightning at them. It spread throughout the water, destroying the undead but stunning the de Benicios - but with little apparent effect on the conspirators. The swordsman jumped out of the water as the lightning struck it and impaled Aksil in midair. Only Via was left alive as the others closed on her. She looked around and could see Stefano and Fausta de Benicio faintly behind the others. Remembering her dreams, she took a leap of faith and surrendered to the enemy. The vampire took her head in his bony hands, and then twisted sharply. Everything went white, and Via died.

...and then she woke up.

She was standing on the street of Vanzenia, next to a canal. But it was not the Vanzenia that she had left. The air was pleasant and fragrant, the water unpolluted, the streets clean and free of refuse. Haunting music drifted through the empty street. The buildings above were majestic and magical, and a single large silver full moon hang in the sky instead of the three that were normally there. Via knew where she was: she had grown up in a place like this. She was in the realm of one of the fairy queens, somewhere in Purgatory. She wandered down empty streets, looking for anyone, following the music. Soon she found someone else: it was Greta! Before long they had found all six of the de Benicios - and then Stefano himself was there too, and they were all embracing and crying. Soon they found themselves in the Plaza del Drago, but here it was all whites and silvers. The palace doors were open, and the entrancing music was coming from inside. The siblings climbed the stairs, and headed in to the palace.

Inside the palace, a hundred elegant dancers spun and whirled. They were all dressed for Carnevale, but their costumes were beautiful and elaborate, of silver and white, and they all wore elaborate full-face masks. They danced out of the way, leaving a path for the siblings towards a dais at the head of the room. Upon the dais was a throne, in which an unearthly beautiful woman sat. She wore the biggest and most elaborate dress of all, and wore a mask shaped like the moon. She arose and descended the steps towards the de Benicios. Recognising a fairy queen when she saw one, Via knelt, but the fairy gathered her in her arms. "Do not bow to me, my daughter," she said.

As Via burst into tears of joy, the fairy queen elaborated. She was La Luna, the guardian fairy of Vanzenia. She represented the moon to which lovers, drunks, children and fools would wish. There was a dark dreamer in Vanzenia, the demon queen Lilit, who had managed somehow to live hidden in the city for a hundred years. Because of Lilit's interference, La Luna was able to manifest in Vanzenia briefly, where she took the role of Evalina and bore Gustavo di Benicio's child: Vivianna. Her sister Ilaria, the 'Blood Queen', had a more direct approach to destiny, and abducted the child to train her. La Luna also revealed that Vivianna's nickname, 'Via', was in fact Ilaria referring to her role in events as The Road - for Via's purpose was to create a road between the mortal and fairy realms, to bring the de Benicios here so they could learn of their true foe.

To give more information, La Luna summoned her handmaiden to explain: the ghost of Fausta de Benicio, their mother. After a tearful reunion, Fausta explained what she knew. Gustavo had become involved in the conspiracy, and his mercantile enterprises had been extremely profitable suddenly. But in exchange, he had offered a soul - and it was not his own. Their first child, Delilah, was stillborn, and it was not until years later that Fausta had discovered that while Gustavo had thought he was offering his own soul, he had instead given up their child's. The revelation drove an irrevocable rift between them. Fausta moved out and dedicated her life to good deeds, where she met Paolo. They fell in love and started an affair, and it was only when she had his baby, Adrianna, that she discovered that he was actually a brass dragon in disguise. He then killed her to protect his secret, and raised their child, lying to her about her origin. After her death, Gustavo dedicated all of his money to his remaining children, allowing them to have the best education and make them who they are today, but ruining the House's fortunes in the process.

But the biggest revelation that Fausta had was the nature of the conspiracy. They had never been discovered because they never met - instead working through a go-between, a courtesan called Silvia Franco. Silvia was the demon queen Lilit! She had come to Vanzenia because it was so sinful. While she let the conspirators think she was a simple courtesan and merely the least member of the conspiracy, she was the mastermind and manipulating them all, just as she was now manipulating Santa Maria. Once upon a time, the Divine One had sunk the First City beneath the ocean to punish it for its sinfulness, before declaring that he would not interfere again. Silvia intended to turn Vanzenia into a Second City. If the Holy One struck it down, he was a liar; if he did not interfere, he was a powerless hypocrite. At worst, a city's worth of souls would be consigned to the Inferno. The de Benicios had to return to Vanzenia and rescue Saint Maria from her clutches, foil her plans, and destroy her once and for all.

Before returning the siblings home, however, La Luna directed them to wander the dream city. They were drawn to different doors, which they stepped through into a dreamscape that showed them their dreams or their nightmares. Once these dreams were done, they returned to the city, with more self-knowledge, and new power bestowed on them for their experiences. Adrianna confronted an abusive Paolo and a derisive Chiara; she chose to protect Chiara from her father despite her scorn. Chiara saw a possible future where Saint Maria won, only to become a theocratic tyrant as terrible as Morignus or Silvia; she realised how authority is inherently flawed and questioned her own role in the family. Greta embraced her animalistic nature, while Stefano came to terms with the fact that he would always be a follower. Via had a vision of herself as a fairy, but rejected it to be with her family. Deltorro saw Maria become possessed by the Black Death, and, faced by the anti-rational, incomprehensible nature of the universe, decided to keep fighting anyway. And Matilde accepted her role as the oldest of the family.

Reunited, they stood at the edge of the harbour and watched the moon shining down upon the water. La Luna explained that if she could use the magic of the lunar convergence to send them back, albeit on the day when Silvia's plans would come to fruition. The light of the moon was the Silver Road that Angela had foreseen, that would take them back to Vanzenia. They stepped out on to the path and did not sink. As they continued, the city faded out of view; they were left in absolute blackness, with only the light from the Silver Road beneath them, and the gentle splashing of the water, until even that faded. They had been walking for who knows how long when they became aware of several shapes flying towards them. They were now in between worlds, and the forces of the Inferno did not want them to proceed. A host of small screeching flying demons, and two larger bat-winged monstrosities covered in spines, was flying to intercept them. The siblings used their magic and their weapons to hold them off, slaying them. But then a hulking monster jumped up from the void onto the bridge, and began to shatter it with its fists. They slew it, but too late: the Silver Bridge disintegrated, leaving them stranded in the void between worlds.

Suddenly, they could see a silver light coming closer. It was a glowing shape running towards them - Naso! The dog bounced around them like he was a puppy again. He then ran off, leaving a silver trail behind them, before pausing to see if they were following. They remembered the words of Angela - Follow your nose! -  and followed Naso, stepping on the new Silver Road left in his wake. As they followed him, the light of the road became brighter and brighter, and Via saw that it came from a keyhole in a great Door. She had a key that fit no lock, which she had been carrying. She took it out and opened the Door.

The group found themselves back in their home in Vanzenia, in a room dimly lit by the first light of dawn. On a couch in front of them, old Naso slept, and as he slept he twitched as if dreaming of running along a Silver Road. And then he woke up, yawned, and stretched his old body. The siblings were back.

Image result for moon painting renaissance
Art: 'La Luna.' Antonio Cicognara, c. 1490.

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