9th of Quartus, 1668 – Chateau of Simon LaBeau (Outskirts of Aur, Montaigne)
After saving Burke University and countless innocents, the group helped with the cleanup. Luckily, most of the priceless relics and historical artifacts had been kept safe from the storms of the dark sidhe. No one was mortally wounded, and only a few were seriously hurt. Within days, the place was back to normal and the band of disparate heroes made a decision to travel back to mainland Montaigne, both to meet up with their companion Kasimir and to follow the trail of Madame Dubois. Though they knew she was headed for Charouse, it had been over a month so there was no telling where she might be or what trouble she was causing.
The group booked passage on a merchant vessel named “The Whispering Tide”, a sleek Avalonian caravel captained by a dark-haired woman named Sienna. The travel was quick as the ship cut through the waters easily, docking in Muguet on the morning of the third day. As the group disembarked and began removing their belongings, a loud bestial sound was heard, followed by a loud crash of timber against the docks. Turning, the group saw sailors and dockworkers running away as an immense creature rolled to its feet on the docks and looked around. The creature was unlike anything the group – or most of the sailors – had ever seen. It stood on four powerful but stubby legs. Its body was padded but covered in a thick, pale white hide. Its head was elongated with large eyes. The most frightful feature was a huge horn that rose from its nose and swept back gently towards its head. As one sailor tried to grab at the remnants of a rope tied to its front leg, the creature turned and stepped on him, crushing his leg with an audible series of bone snapping crunches. Though it looked like it had just woken up, it quickly assessed its situation and began moving quickly down the pier towards the streets of the city, weaving slightly back and forth.
Declaring almost immediately, “I’ve read a book on this!” Fabien quickly named the beast a rhinoceros, this one being a rare breed of white rhinoceros. He also called out that while the creature was known to be an herbivore, it could be quite dangerous with its horn and great speed. As chaos erupted around the pier, bright colors filled the sky as a cage containing a dozen exotic birds opened on the pier, sending the avians into the sky, pecking at passersby and stealing small items from nearby merchant stalls, much to the anger of the proprietors. Quick to see almost any opportunity as a combat challenge, Bonny drew her large sword and began to make her way towards the beast, moving to help protect several dockworkers fleeing before it. Zhennya, torn between allowing the creature to gain its freedom and not wanting to allow it to bring harm to the people on the docks, raced towards it hoping to ride the beast to the ground…certainly a harrowing prospect given that the creature weighed easily over 5,000 pounds. Dr. Blackwell, having noticed the cries of pain from the dockworker with the crushed leg, rushed to his aid and quickly staunched the bleeding with a makeshift tourniquet. Once he had the man’s bleeding stopped, he spent time creating a splint and attaching it to the man’s leg so that he could be pulled to safety without causing further harm. Silvia distracted the rhinoceros just as it was headed for an area of merchant stalls. Getting its attention, she got it to turn towards her, distracting it for a moment as it shook its great head.
Fabien’s keen eyes noted a weak spot in the elevated pier and called out to Silva, who lured the charging beast in that direction. Just as it would have gored the Eisen, the creature’s front leg found the weak spot and with a splinter of wood sank into the pier, halting its progress and causing it to bellow in surprise and pain. Quick to capitalize on the moment of respite, Bonny raced forward and slammed her sword not into the creature, but into the planks of the pier near the rhino’s back leg, causing another crack to appear and for the beast’s back leg to get stuck. Silvia grabbed one of the long lengths of rope still tied to the rhino’s back leg and secured it to a nearby merchant stall, hoping to slow the beast further. Seizing on the opportunity, Zhennya vaulted easily onto the great beast’s back, but as her adrenaline-fueled exclamation of victory echoed, it was joined by the loud splintering of wood, creaking planks, and then the whoosh of air as the entire pier beneath the creature gave way, dropping it and Zhennya ten feet to the rough dirt-clad underpier below. The area where smaller fishing vessels would dock was less populated and both Zhennya and the rhino were knocked to the ground by the unexpected fall.The poor merchant’s stall was also dragged across the pier to fall through the hole and crash to the ground, leaving a dusky skinned merchant shouting obscenities in an unknown language.
An almost audible sigh of relief came from many of the dockworkers, but was cut short by the loud bellow of another creature that had gotten loose from the ship. Pounding down the gangplank was another mysterious beast, looking like a deer, but more solidly built and having a huge pair of antlers upon its head. These were used with great effect to knock shocked animal handlers from the gangplank and edge of the pier as it raced past for freedom. Luckily, Fabien’s agile reflexes allowed him to get out of the way of the creature. His keen mind always thinking, Fabien realized something must be amiss to cause this level of havoc and chaos, so he planned to board the ship to investigate.
Below the pier, Zhennya created a makeshift lasso and roped the neck of the great rhino while Silvia through down large items to distract the beast. After getting the rope around the rhino, Zhennya was almost pulled off her feet as the great beast began charging towards the busy city streets ahead. Using all of her inner reserves of strength, Zhennya spun around, looped the rope around one of the strong support posts of the pier and held fast. Not expecting resistance, the rhino was brought off its feet to land on its side as a cadre of armed city guards came down, tranquilizing the creature and ending its rampage.
Meanwhile, upon the top pier, the new beast, called a moose and native to Vesten Dr. Blackwell called out to those within earshot, rushed towards the other crowds. Bonny quickly took to shouting and threatening the dockworkers, moving a dozen of them from the path of the rampaging animal and keeping them from harm. Quickly thinking Dr. Blackwell sought to divert the animal’s attention to himself as a small patrol of armed city guards emerged onto the pier weapons out and aimed towards this new threat. He held the creature’s rapt attention for a short moment, using calming words in Vesten. However, then the doctor decided to imitate the look and sounds of the creature, raising his arms above his head to emulate the antlers of the beast. This seemed to have an immediate effect as the beast lowered his antlers, bellowed, and charged at Dr. Blackwell, knocking him aside and down the pier as it slammed into him. As it appeared the creature would cause harm to others nearby, Silvia quickly reloaded her firearm and shot at a create suspended by another crane. Timing it perfectly, Silvia shot the rope, causing the crate to come crashing down on the antlered beast, bringing it immediately to the ground amidst the shattering of dozens of clay pots and tablets. The guard quickly tranquilized the animal, much to the relief of the nearby sailors and dockworkers.
Across the pier, Fabien worked his way on board the vessel, called “Le Ondata Scura” (The Black Wave in Vodacce). He saw a few pockets of fighting between sailors and what appeared to be hastily (and poorly) disguised peasants. There were signs of sabotage to the large crate that once housed the moose and Fabien heard other animals below decks. Hoping to prevent further escapes and damage, he quickly headed below decks to the hold, where he encountered two of these peasants working to open another crate. Surprising them, he began a conversation, uncovering what was going on. The men were part of a resistance movement aimed at showing the growing displeasure with l’Emperor’s wanton spending on things like his Menagerie in Charouse while the peasants went hungry. They hoped that the damage caused would open the eyes of others to the waste and dangers presented by the import of these creatures. Fabien understood, but warned that their actions were causing more harm than good. His calm demeanor and persuasive words convinced the two to stop their work and leave the ship. Fabien looked around at a half dozen other caged and crated animals before making his way above decks, where the fighting had all but stopped. Though dozens of bodies lay dead or dying on the decks, the crew of the ship had turned the tide of battle and the captain, Enrico Vestaccio was surveying the unexpected costs of his most recent endeavor in both damages and lives.
Several hours later, the group had purchased a new, and rather handsome, carriage for their journey to Charouse. Deciding to take the path through Aur, they headed out immediately upon one of the trade routes. The travel was quick and easy for the few few days but after turning south towards Aur, they began to notice things were not as right as they should be. First, a group of hungry peasants accosted the hero’s carriage, begging for food. They claimed that the marquis of these lands, Simon LaBeau, had been taking all of their crops, recently planted, and livestock as payment. They were left with nothing and so were headed north in hopes of finding aid. The heroes gave over all of their spare food to the group, eager to help how they could considering the young and elderly in the group. While Fabien was practical in his assessment that the land’s ruler could levee whatever taxes he wanted on the people, Zhennya was incensed at the treatment of the common folk. Further on, after making camp, Zhennya and Bonny both noticed that the presence of wild animal sounds was minimal if non-existent in the area. Scouting at night, Zhennya found many animal dens abandoned or empty, and in the morning confirmed her suspicions by discovering the recent tracks of booted men in the area. It seems the marquis’s troops were hunting the area of all available creatures.
Further down the road, the group encountered a roadside farm, where a dozen armed men were harvesting crops that were only recently planted. A farmhouse stood in the distance and when Fabien approached the men, several came over to warn them away. “Be about your business and continue down the road,” the leader warned. Fabien, not intimidated so easily, pressed the men for their business here. Zhennya road up on her horse while Bonny emerged from the carriage to join the conversation, though neither could easily understand the man who spoke only Montaigne. As the conversation continued, the group learned that the men were sent here on orders from the marquis and that the family who lived here were fine and likely in the house in the distance. The mercenaries would not allow the group to approach while they were there, even moving to show a strength of force as Bonny brought out her weapon. Fabien was able to reach an accord, that when the soldiers were done in about an hour, the group could speak to the family. In the meantime, Zhennya, unable to sense the presence of any small rodents, decided to drink a vile unguent Silvia had created. The taste of human heart was strong in her throat as she felt a strange sense of ‘wrongness’ to the act. However, it worked and her spirit left her body and she was able to invisibly enter the farmhouse. She confirmed that the family was unharmed, though they looked malnourished and poor. The four children and parents seemed to be going about their business, though there were constant glances out the windows to the strange group on the road.
She returned to her body and thirty minutes later, the mercenaries had loaded up their cart, mounted their horses and took off down the road. Immediately, the group, lead by Fabien, approached the house. They were greeted cooly and the man, Marcel, informed them that about a month ago the marquis had started demanding more taxes in the form of food and livestock, leaving them unable to maintain their farm. They had hoped it would return to normal, but it has not. They had managed to hide some extra food but it was running out quickly. The group was upset at the news, and Dr. Blackwell even suspected that perhaps another mask or entity was responsible for this gluttony the marquis appeared to be showing. Bonny gave the family the remaining food from the group, leaving them without any way to fill their bellies until they reached Aur.
After leaving the farmhouse, the group debated on what to do. They quickly overtook the mercenaries and their half-filled cart, fearing that the armed men would do the same to another farm. By harvesting this early, it was impossible for the crops to grow for the season and too late to plant more. Ideas ranged from killing the mercenaries to rushing forward to the marquis and demanding answers. In between, the group debated on a way to slow the mercenaries enough for Silvia to sabotage their cart, making it impossible for them to continue their work but not implicating the group. In the end, Zhennya called upon Matushka as she had in Avalon and the overcast skies began to downpour, causing the road to become muddy and visibility to be reduced. She also used her gifts to transform into a bear, drawing the attention of the mercenaries, who immediately gave chase to this potential feast for the marquis. Zhennya took several gunshots as the group pursued her through the trees, but she eventually lost them. This gave Silvia enough time to sabotage the cart’s axel at Dr. Blackwell’s instructions. Their hope was that the cart would break down soon and the mercenaries would have no recourse but to walk back to the estate of the marquis. Zhennya returned to the group in her human form, bleeding profusely. Dr. Blackwell patched up what he could and as the group continued on towards the estate of the marquis, they discussed how they would approach the man and discover what was behind this behavior…