18th of Quartus, 1668 – Estate of Marquis Jacques duMonde (Charouse, Montaigne)
Having left Aur behind, the heroes traveled swiftly to Charouse, the capital of Montaigne, in an effort to track down Madame Louisa DuBois and the missing children. The group feared the worst: that the children were to be the main course in one of Madame DuBois’s dinner parties. Upon arriving at the city in the early afternoon, the group was greeted by throngs of people entering and exiting the city through l’Arc Marchand (“Merchant Gates”). The splendor of the architecture contrasted with the hustle and bustle of peasants, workers, and merchants all hawking wares along the central street. Hoping to make the most of their time, the heroes split up to investigate what they could about Madame DuBois.
Bonny set off to discover what was going on within her society, and found herself talking to Gina, a Vodacce courtesan within the Maison des Délices (“House of Evening Delights”). While Gina knew nothing about Madame DuBois, she did know that several young street urchins have gone missing. Rosette, a friend of hers, as well as a courier for the Jenny’s guild, had gone missing about a week ago. Gina remembered seeing a dark clothed man with stark white hair loitering around the outside of the building on the last night she had seen Rosetta. Bonny verified that none of the letters Rosette carried were likely to have been a motive.
Dr. Blackwell set out to discover if there were any small groups of Vaticine worshippers in the city, since the Vaticine Faith had been outlawed by L’Emperor. After talking with several of the peasants and offering some healing, he was directed to La Croix Cachée (“Hidden Cross”) and directed to speak with Father Jean-Paul. While the outside of the building was nondescript and run-down, the small etching of a cross near the door told Dr. Blackwell he was at the right place. Standing in stark contrast, the inside was warm and inviting, with a fire burning in the hearth. The good father knew some rumors about Madame DuBois and shared these with the doctor. It turns out that Madame DuBois’s husband, Henri, was the noble, and when he died, there was a legal dispute and Louisa DuBois lost her title of Countess. Word is that Madame DuBois has been trying to get her favor in court and her title reinstated to no avail for several years. Father Jean-Paul also shared that several of the neighborhood children have seen a man in dark clothes with white hair lingering around the area, and the children have come to call him La Sombre (“The Darkness”). After leaving the makeshift church, Dr. Blackwell discovered a group following him. When he confronted them, it turned out to be Rene Bonnaire from Buche. The young girl had brought a dozen of her friends with her to the city in search of Madame DuBois and their missing friends. Intent on getting to the bottom of their disappearance, Rene agreed to meet with Dr. Blackwell and the rest of the heroes at the La Poêle Rouillée (“The Rusted Pan”), a food kitchen in the poorer part of the city. They hoped they could work together to find the children.
Together, Zhennya and Silvia decide to throw some coin and food around the lower class sections of the city in hopes of finding leads the old fashioned way. After much searching, they come across Gentleman Peter, a young adolescent wearing second hand clothes in the form of a slightly tattered suit, crushed top hat and wearing beat up men’s dress shoes. He is clearly Avalonian and speaks in a thick accent, perhaps for effect more than need. He was able to tell the women about Madame DuBois’s arrival by carriage, which was in turn followed by a covered wagon from which pitiful moans and pleadings could be heard. Peter also was able to relay the fact that Madame DuBois’s majordomo, Gerald, had been seen in the market buying a lot of groceries, enough for a rather large feast it would seem. While no meat was purchased, he did pay several of the young urchins to help him deliver the goods to Madame DuBois’s house. However, the groceries were put into a carriage there, so the kids had no way to knowing where they were taken. Peter did give the two the name of one of the grocery couriers, Ralf, and said to ask him what he knew. As they made their way to the market area, Silvia noticed a group following them. The two decided to remain out of sight, and watches as the half dozen men passed by, obviously looking for easy pickings in the poor part of town. Finding Ralf, Zhennya and Silvia confirmed Peter’s story and also found out that the children who delivered the groceries had all been seen again after that.
Fabien visited Le Répit du Bonhomme (“The Respite of the Good Man”), a gentleman’s club in the nicer part of Charouse. While not frequented by nobility, many landed gentry, merchants, and scholars frequented the establishment. Purely coincidentally, Fabien ran into an old colleague from the University, Gabriel Durand, whose father was in textiles and who had been an avid history and archaeology student. The two reminisced for a while before Fabien started inquiries around Madame DuBois, claiming he thought to visit her upon her request. Gabriel warned Fabien that to be seen associating with such a woman, many years his senior and in such low favor at court, could not help his reputation in Montaigne. The Lady Jamais Sices du Sices had delivered such a decisive insult to the Madame regarding her choice in fashion that the Madame was shunned from future court functions. Gabriel did provide the madame’s address, however, and warned Fabien to be careful.
After gathering to compare notes, the group of heroes decided they had some additional investigation to do. While it was nearing late afternoon into early evening, they felt visiting Madame DuBois’s house would be useful. Rene Bonnaire was able to confirm the location, as her group of street children had scouted it out when they arrived 3 days ago. They also said there had been no activity for several days.
Not to be deterred, Silvia and Zhennya snuck into the house, finding it mostly in good order with no signs of secret rooms or other nefarious evidence. A stack of letters were discovered on a writing desk, representing a series of communications that became more and more love letters between Madame DuBois and Marquis Jacque DuMonde, a prominent socialite in Charouse and friend of L'Emperor. It turns out that Jacque had been a rival of Madame DuBois’s husband when he was alive. There was also mention of their joint dinner party being hosted that very night! Zhennya knew someone who could get them directions to Jacque’s estate and after speaking with Gentleman Peter, the heroes set off for the dinner party, knowing they were likely going to arrive after it had started. As a precaution, Rene sent a small group of the street children off ahead to sabotage the hosts’ carriage.
Upon arriving at the Marquis’s estate, Zhennya asked several of the children to watch her while she took a nap. Zhennya coaxed the aid of a small mouse to scout the house proper. Zhennya learned that the dinner party was progressing to the main course as the group arrived. She also took note of the young children in tuxedos who appeared to be serving the guests. The guests were arranged at two tables, one large one with Madame DuBois sat with the Marquis, obvious by the smooth black mask she wore on her face. The other table sat men and women who appeared to be guards or musketeers, though no one could be identified as everyone wore masks of various styles.
Zhennya’s mouse also scouted the kitchen, discovering a short, rotund man wearing a chef’s outfit directing the cooking, while more of the small children brought raw food from the basement and helped prepare the side items. Scurring into the basement, Zhennya discovered the true horror as three large cages of children were down here, guarded by La Sombre and a half dozen of the children. The worst part was the butchery being done by the tuxedo wearing children, as they prepared the prisoners to become the main courses!
Upon seeing this, the heroes split up to disrupt this horrible event! Silvia, Zhennya, and Rene stuck over the low wall towards the basement, while Fabien, Dr. Blackwell, and Bonny tried to make their way into the main house. Picking the door on the basement was easy for Silvia and the three slipped inside unseen, only to be discovered by the assassin, La Sombre. Zhennya moved up towards the white-haired man with hawkish features, who had just cut the throat of a small boy using a garrote. Turning to face Zhennya, he drew forth twin stilettos and began to twirl them in his fingers with practiced ease. Armed with only her strength and hatred at the scene, Zhennya began a dance of death with the man. Silvia took to attacking the small tuxedo wearing children, only to discover they were in reality small creature that only appeared as children. However, their mouths were full of sharp teeth and the fingers ended in claws when they set upon her with pack-like mentality. Meanwhile, Rene took to unlocking the children still alive in the cages. The fight continued for several minutes, until Rene had unlocked the second cage. At this point, Zhennya was bleeding from multiple knife wounds from La Sombre, and he wore the bruises of heavy fists that Zhennya delivered to his face and chest. Silvia, having taken down the children creatures several times, for they began to rise after their first wounds, saw one of the children escape upstairs into the kitchen.
Moments later, while Zhennya helped Silvia deal with the child-like creatures who kept standing back up, the sounds of heavy footfalls could be heard coming down the steps. Appearing in the basement was the chef, who revealed himself to be a creature from nightmares. Silvia took aim with her flintlock and shot the man, hoping to end him quickly. Though the shot echoed through the house, the chef merely opened his mouth wider than any human should be able to. His sharp teeth were glistening as he caught the bullet and swallowed it easily. A surprised Silvia and Zhennya both realized they would need help in this fight soon, as both were heavily bleeding from multiple wounds and still faced La Sombre and this new threat. Silva desperately reloaded her gun as quickly as possible and fired again, this time finding her mark in the chef’s stomach. Much to her horror though, the creature grabbed the nearest piece of raw meat, swallowed it by opening its mouth impossibly wide. Immediately, the wounds Silvia had just dealt disappeared and the chef moved towards her with death in its eyes, waving his twin cleavers menacingly.
Back upstairs, Fabien used his connections at court to gain entry to the dinner party. It turns out that Colette de Lioncourt, the influential Duchesse d' Arcy was in attendance and knew Fabien from his days in Montaigne. The two had shared some times away from the University together and she remembered him fondly. She even allowed Bonny to attend, as visiting nobility from the Highlands, as well as her interpreted Dr. Blackwell. While most of the masked faces turned towards the trio upon entry, the most disapproving looks were given to the Avalonians. Initially, both were relegated to the common table with the musketeers, Fabien ensured the Montaignes that Bonny’s station warranted a place at the main table. Begrudgingly, a man at the very end of the table made some room and Bonny was seated. Fabien took his place beside Colette, located just four seats away from Madame DuBois.
Though Dr. Blackwell tried to make his way to the kitchen to prepare for the special needs of Bonny, he was quickly rebuffed and told to take his seat at the table with the musketeers. When the Heroes took their seats, the main course was brought to them. Fabien pretended to eat, moving food around on his plate while Dr. Blackwell also pretended to eat but used some conspiratorial conversation to mask the fact he wan’t. Bonny on the other hand decided to insult the food and host using Cymru; must to her surprise and to the consternation of Fabien, several nobles at the table understood her and were offended. To prevent a fight, or worse, Fabien successfully translated Bonny’s words into something more palatable for the others and explained in her nation, the insult was actually a compliment to the host. What else could one expect from a nation where haggis was considered a delicacy.
Whilst eating, Dr. Blackwell began to sow seeds of doubt in the ears of the Musketeers that something was amiss with Madame DuBois. Meanwhile, Fabien discovered through his conversation with Colette that the presence of the musketeers was mainly to protect Anne Du Montaigne, one of the daughters of L’Emperor, as well as her husband and Captain of the Musketeers, Jean-Marie Rois et Reines. Conversation continued as the dessert course was provided to all attending. The dinner was going well, with the only oddity being the large form of the chef entering the room to whisper to Madame DuBois. Though the question wasn’t loud enough to hear, her irritated response of “Deal with it Gourmandise!” left the chef to return to the kitchen with what could be described as a gleeful smile upon his face. Several of the young serving children also left for the kitchen at the same time.
Before the chef had been gone more than a few moments, several gunshots rang out from what could only be the basement. Madame DuBois stood and pointed at the Heroes, “These intruders have come to disrupt our gathering! Seize them!” Though her words were harsh and somewhat unfounded based upon the events upstairs, her voice seemed to carry with it an extra weight of purpose. The musketeers seated with Dr. Blackwell immediately rose and drew their fencing swords, while the nobles seated at the main table looked somewhat confused before reaching out to grab at Bonny and Fabien.
Bonny immediately rose, grabbed several knives from the table and moved towards Madame DuBois. She was quick to shake off the nobles who grabbed for her and as she approached Louisa DuBois, Bonny locked her makeshift weapons with the knife that Madame DuBois pulled from her bodice. They struggled as chaos erupted around them. Dr. Blackwell tried to reason with the musketeers as they moved in around him. He powered his words with his inner resolve and resistance to magical effects, helping the musketeers to break free from what must be mind control powers in Madame DuBois’s words. It took several minutes and in the meantime, the doctor took several wounds from the small children servers, who when they opened their razor sharp teeth filled mouths revealed themselves to be monsters and not children. At the other table, Fabien took a similar approach, trying to calm the Captain of the Musketeers with Colette’s help. His words came easy and soon Colette was escorting Anne du Montaigne to safety outside the main part of the house. Jean-Marie was slowly shaking off Madame DuBois’s influence and began to help get the others out of the room while shooting several of the voracious creatures attacking them with bites and claws. Also at the head of the table the Marquis did what he could to protect Madame DuBois from the attacks from Bonny but was unsuccessful.
When Bonny and Madame DuBois released each other, the hostess caused a bleeding tear in the fabric of space, reached through and pulled forth a loaded flintlock. She leveled it at Bonny and fired, causing a horrible wound in the highland woman and giving Dr. Blackwell the last bit of help he needed in breaking the hold on the musketeers. Bonny attacked the Montaigne noblewoman savagely with the kitchenware, but without her claymore, he attacks were parried with the help of her co-host. Dr. Blackwell waded through the throng of small biting creatures to aid Bonny, while musketeers fought off the creatures as well. Seeing things in hand, Fabien took to the kitchen and downstairs to aid his friends, who he feared may have been overwhelmed.
After the chef had appeared, Zhennya had called upon her inner strength. She grabbed La Sombre and bodily threw him into the approach rotund creature. La Sombre tumbled to the ground, but the mass of the chef remained steadfast as it approached Silvia. Zhennya then called upon the blessings of Matushka and changed into a large bear as the desperate fight continued in the basement. She swung a meaty paw at the last of the cages where Rene struggled with the lock. Her strength was easily able to break the metal and Rene took the children to safety. She returned a few minutes later with daggers in hand to help Zhennya deal with the monstrous child-like creatures.
Across the room, Gourmandise the chef was exuding a powerful aura, one which seemed to cause hunger pangs in everyone around him. Silvia quickly grabbed a small biscuit from her pouch, but Zhennya resisted the urge to eat as she fought her attackers. As the fight drew on, Zhennya found herself growing weaker from lack of food, but pressed on. Gourmandise reached out a hand and touched Silvia, and though she felt all the food she’d eaten that day begin to spoil and turn acidic, her iron stomach protected her from the worst of the pains and damage, though she wasn’t sure how many times she could withstand such an attack. At that moment, Fabien entered the fray from the stairs, immediately moving to engage the chef with a series of thrusts and parries. Arriving just in time, Fabien gave Silvia time to dispatch the final ravenous hunters.
Gourmandise moved through the fighting to confront the large bear, reaching out to touch it as he had Silvia. Once again, Zhennya felt her recently eaten food turn to bile in her stomach but her fortitude prevented any longer term damage as well. Gourmandise raged in frustration, took his cleavers to the bear instead, dealing several grievous wounds. Silvia and Rene fought back to back, waiting for the inevitable rise of the downed hunters and keeping an eye on La Sombre as the assassin took several swings at Fabien. Seeing one target he did not yet affect with his Dispepsic Touch, the chef Gourmandise touched Fabien. Fabien, while not having the personal fortitude of Silvia or Zhennya, did still have protection from his recent adventure and managed to push aside the pain of his food rotting in his belly. He stabbed several more times at the creature and discovered with horror the last of the thing’s abilities, a Devouring Riposte. As Fabien riposted a cleaver, Gourmandise opened his impossibly wide mouth and clamped down on the sword, swallowing it with a gulp as he might a piece of cake. The weapon disappeared into the thing’s gullet, leaving Fabien one weapon down. Luckily, he was able to release the weapon without suffering a loss of his hand. However, the battle had taken a turn towards the heroes as La Sombre continued to stab at Zhennya in her bear form.
Zhennya could give as well as she could take and large paws swiped at La Sombre. He took stock of the situation, seeing most of the ravenous hungers lying broken and unmoving on the floor and the chef being harried by the Vodacce duelist. Not in this to die, La Sombre took forth a small vial smashed it on the floor. A quick flash of light was created and when everyone’s eyes refocused, the dark clothed figure was gone. The chef, having eaten another shank of meat, had quickly healed most of the wounds done by Fabien and the three heroes looked at each other desperately for answers on how to hurt him. It was then that an ear piercing scream emanated from upstairs.
Bonny’s hands still held the black mask from where she physically ripped it from Madame DuBois’s face. With Dr. Blackwell still pinning her arms, Louisa DuBois finished her scream, a line of ripped flesh and blood forming a frame around her countenance. At that moment, the air seemed to get sucked from the house, as any of the ravenous hungers who were still able to stand rushed towards the basement. Together, they and chef Gourmandise withdrew from the fight, fleeing into the night with a few musketeers on their trail. The Captain of the Musketeers looked to Fabien as he, Zhenny and Silvia returned to the main floor. They questioned Madame DuBois and Marquis Jacques DuMonde about the carnage in the basement and the plots they had arranged. It was clear that the Marquis was a duped pawn in the schemes of Lady DuBois, using his desire for power and her desire to rise in the ranks of the nobility again to formulate her plan. She would not speak, having passed out from the blood loss, but she was taken into custody quietly by the Musketeers. Captain Jean-Marie entreated the heroes to keep what had happened here quiet, fearing that news of nobles eating the children would be the match to the power keg that Charouse had recently become with the peasants beginning to express their frustration. In the end, Colette conveyed Anne Du Montaigne’s thanks to the Heroes, letting them know they had the favor of the L’Emperor for their actions, though how long this favor would last was anyone’s guess. With as many children as possible saved, Rene thanked the heroes as well. She assured them that their groups would cross paths again and bid them adieu. All that was left was to figure out what the creatures were they fought, how Madame DuBois had come into these events, and what to do with the smooth black mask they now held…
Rewards: 2 XP (Bankable), 1 Wealth (from Anne du Montaigne)
Fabien: Connection (Colette de Lioncourt, Duchesse d' Arcy)
Silvia/Zhennya: Connection (Gentleman Peter, Information Broker of Charouse)
Bonny: Connection (Gina, Vodacce Courtesan at Madison des Delices)
Dr. Blackwell: Connection (Father Jean-Paul, Pastor of Croix Cachee)
Favor (L'Emperor): One time, while in Montaigne or Montaigne controlled areas, a PC may evoke the "Favor of L'Emperor" to their advantage, assuming that an agent of the Sun King could reasonably intervene.
Connection (Courtiers de Nuit): By helping Rene Bonnaire rescue her friends, the Heroes are now treated favorably by the Courtiers de Nuit, the organization of information brokers in Buche.
Black Mask of Hunger: This smooth black mask has eye holes and a rather large hole where a person's mouth would go. There is an orange-gold symbol upon the forehead of the mask and it feels cool to the touch.