An Inconvenient Adventure

Mysterious Strangers
Warnings in the Dark...

Dr. Charles Longovetti and Viktor Patrovich clamber up the rope ladder that was offered to them, and they are shocked by the sudden brightness pouring between the boards on  the dusty room's shuttered windows. In the darkness, a man speaks to them sharply, telling them quite simply that whatever their business with Lord Baddick Crowe might be, they must give up, that they do not know what sort of business they're dealing with. Before the two can peer through the shadows, the man flees swiftly through the door, leaving them alone. A few moments later, the rest of the heroes clamber through the trap door, and reunited, they discuss the events of the past night.

 

It is agreed  that their course of action is clear. From the research of Charles and Godfrey Donnelly, it would seem the blade is somewhere in Numa. Lacking anyplace else to be, Viktor joins the rest in their journey back to the Montaigne coast, where the The Sea Sprite waits, with its crew. Or rather, without its crew. The heroes return to their craft to find nary a man on board. Dockworkers nearby explain with dread on their faces that the ship is cursed, haunted, and that there's no man that they know of who'd willingly set foot on her decks. After a few moment's thought, the heroes set about collecting new hires, through pay, passionate speeches, or flat-out threatening. By nightfall, a new crew of a more motley sort has been assembled, and the Sea Sprite sets sail once more.

 

The voyage is not without event, either. Within the first few days, it becomes clear that not all is wholly canny aboard the ship. Crew report sightings of a figure below-decks, one that appears for but an instant, out of the corner of the eye, and a horrible smell of rot and ruin permeates from the lowest deck. One stormy evening, Matthias becomes aware of a strange sensation; the normal sounds of the ship had vanished. Not only that, all sound had vanished, voices, wind, waves, all gone. Cautiously, he leaves his cabin, to find the ship deserted. Shadows clung heavily to every corner, and even his voice sounds muffled to his ears. He goes up-deck, and as he turns about to head back to his room, the comes face-to-face with the horrifying visage of a specter, skeletal and shrieking loud enough to raise the dead. With a start, he awakens, in his bunk, the waves pounding rhythmically against the hull, the storm's wrath echoing in the clouds above.

 

As Matthias comes to, a shout goes up from the lookout. A ship, flying the flags of the dread Inquisition! Only the quick eyes of Sabrin Black made them out amongst the torrential wind and rain. Quickly, the crew comes to arms, and when the Inquisition ship comes to board, the Sprite opens fire! The battle is hard fought, the white-clad lackeys of the Church cut down by the fierce assault of the Sprite and her men. Leading the charge, Bertrand Larouche, the butcher of Sabrin's family and village, bellows out a challenge to her, and she meets him head on. The two battle back and forth, her fury only barely managed to be held back by Larouche's skill. Another round of canon fire pitches the deck back, and Sabrin loses her balance, Betrand pouncing on the opportunity!

But as quick as Larouche is, he is not alone in the fight. The smell of rot and decay so strong below deck fills the air, and with a roar The Ragged King leaps down upon him, his strong club knocking Larouche to the deck. Sabrin is on her feet in an instant and seizes him about the neck, and focuses her will and hatred upon him, the man responsible for all her pain, all her woes. Betrand gives out a shriek of pain, a scream so horrid that for but a brief moment, all fighting stops, and in terror all eyes watch as the man held so tightly in her armored fist writhes in unspeakable pain. With a force of will, Sabrin throws him to the deck, alive.

Their leader defeated, the Inquisition's mob surrenders quickly, and Sabrin stalks off, to think below deck…

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A Dark Awakening
Not the best morning...

Charles awakens with a groan, feeling hard, damp stones beneath him, the fetid smell of old sewage hanging in the air. His eyes begin to adjust to the light, and he sees that he is held captive within an old iron cage. The room contains several other cages, two of which seem to be occupied. One of the cages contains a much larger form, that of Viktor Patrovich, a strangely optimistic Ussuran, considering the circumstances. Viktor tells that the strange Montaigne was taken away, unconscious, a few hours before, along with Lawrence Marksson.

Overhearing the guards outside, the two ascertain that they are to be sold to a Dr. Henri Lambert, for whatever heinous reason. The two conspire to escape, and with their combined efforts, they manage to obtain the keys, overpower the guards, and escape into the sewers beneath Charouse.

On the surface, the rest of our heroes awaken and regroup, finding two of their number missing, and Vlad gravely wounded. Thinking quickly, Godfrey takes his young pupil to the race course, to where the Invisible College is headquartered. Camilia is awakened again, and Vlad is treated promptly. The heroes soon after receive poor news; while he will survive, Vlad has sunken into a deep coma, and his waking, while likely, is very uncertain. Reluctantly, they leave him in the care of the College, and begin the hunt for their missing companions.

Back beneath the sewers, Charles and Viktor creep forward, following the wall and evading the small roving bands of guards that would occasionally happen upon them. Charles detects the faintest whiff of fresh air, and the two find their way to the mouth of the sewer. Blinking in the relatively bright light of the moon, they fail to see the armed men and their leader, standing beside. They scramble as the mercenaries open fire, running down the tunnels at breakneck speed.

At the same moment, this was seen from the side by the rest of the party, who had used Sabrin and Matthias' not inconsiderable skills at tracking to find their way to Marksson's lair. There, they got full view of Lambert himself. When confronted, Lambert flees, and the heroes make short work of the guards who stayed behind. They set off, trying to recover their fleeing friends.

Charles and Viktor fled at high speed, Charles being carried by the larger and faster Viktor. The two skid around bends, musket-shot sending splinters off rock flying about them. Viktor slides low under a low arch, as it collapses behind them… and in the ceiling above, a hatch opens, and a ladder drops down… 

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No Good Deed Unpunished...

Artemis bends down and retrieves the small vial, and passes it to his companions. Puzzled, the heroes return to the inn, to discover a haggard Matthias with an annoyed Remy, the two having apparently worn each others' nerves to a frayed end. The party heads to bed, awaiting the following morning when they could retrieve their long-awaited purchases. The next morning, the party awakens to the sound of Matthias' hurried exit towards the common room and breakfast, where he finds a fairly sullen Sabrin eating there. Once the party is roused, they head out and to their business, Sabrin, Matthias, Artemis and Remy heading off to retrieve the bow and panserhand, Godfrey and Charles heading off to do "research", in actuality visiting with the Invisible College safehouse near the racetrack outside of Charouse.

At the race course, the two meet up with Camilia Pascaut, the head of the safehouse. She takes them aside and they give her a rundown of the events so far, to which she responds with a grave silence. She warns them both about Lord Crowe, and how his interest in this artifact despite it being non-Syrnth, is new and unusual. She also warns Charles particularly about his family history; she informs him of his mother's work in the Fifth Mystery, and that he needs to be aware that her work may have some impact on him… 

 Meanwhile, Matthias and Sabrin head out to recover their new weapons. Each is more than satisfied with their commissions. Matthias goes to test out his new bow, Tempest, to find its strength greatly improved, the test arrow fired from it vanishing through the straw bale target, boring a hole through the fence behind, and vanishing off into the night. 

Godfrey and Charles return with some insight as to the location of The Chamber of Spheres. During their meeting with the flirtatious Dutchess de Bourjonais, the duo are led to the basement to investigate possible disturbances with the Dutchess' home foundations. They discover that the estate's root cellar's floor has partially caved in, and notice the remains of very familiar stonework poking up through the pit in front of them. The Dutchess's manservant, Vincent, claims that a few nights ago he felt the whole house shake, the same night of the heroes' rescue of Madeline. Godfrey and Charles inform the Dutchess that they have some close acquaintances within town who would be more than happy to aid her in the "reinforcement" of her estate, and would send them by quickly. 

Upon their return to the inn, the heroes find a young woman waiting there for them. She introduces herself as ValĂ©rie Girard, and hurriedly explains her trouble. Her brother, Jean-Claude, has been kidnapped by the infamous Fabien Moreau, and is demanding a ransom she can't meet. He is demanding a meeting at a warehouse in the slaughterhouse district, alone, this evening, or the boy's life was forfeit. 

The heroes become gravely concerned, and begin to ask the girl what she knows. Remy confirms that Fabien is definitely the sort that would kidnap and ransom, for no reason beyond the scent of profit. Valerie seems very hesitant, and seems to be avoiding questions, but reveals that she and her brother own a cheese shop off in the western part of Charouse, and that she woke the day before to find him missing, and her shop trashed. The men decide to go and investigate, despite the hesitance of Valerie, who is tended to and quizzed by Sabrin in their absence.

Upon arrival at the shop, keen-eyed Matthias immediately spots things awry. The broken glass of the shop's windows lies on the outside, meaning that it was broken from within. They proceed inside. Artemis, having seen more than his share of brawls, notes that the shop only was made to look like there was a struggle; there was no true fight there. Charles, who had been investigating upstairs, discovers that Valerie's brother, Jean-Claude, was not as missing as she claimed. He was in bed, obviously ill, and in and out of consciousness. Charles calls the others up.

Jean-Claude comes around briefly, and Charles quizzes him on his condition. The young man claimed to have been getting weaker and weaker over the last weeks, and had been bedridden for days for his weakness and ill-tempered head. Charles, recognizing an anemia, finds him some foods rich in irons, and the heroes head back, to find the rest of the story.

Madeline, confronted with her lie, breaks down. She insists that Fabien did indeed threaten the life of her brother, but the ransom was her aid in creating a trap for Artemis. The party, suspicious of Artemis' involvement with such a criminal, look at him curiously, but say no more. They proceed to formulate a counter-ambush, with Remy scouting ahead. Then, an hour before the meeting, they strike. 

The battle is hard and brutal, with each taking their share of blows. Vlad himself is felled by a claymore-wielding ruffian, and Artemis, closing with the villainous Moreau as he reveals himself, falls to the ground, outmatched and bloodied by the fiend's brutal fighting techniques. Fabien, seeing his crew taken to pieces by the surviving members of the team, knocks those standing out with a few sharp blows, and absconds into the night, with Artemis and Charles his prisoners. 

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No Rest for the Weary...
Or, the Perils of Being Popular...

Chereuse, After Breakfast

After leaving their fantastic breakfast with the Emperor, the heroes decide to make good use of their time in the city. Sabrin heads off to the shopping district to find a new panzerhand, the incident with the dissolving beast in the tunnels unnerving her enough to not want her bare hands contacting things until she figured out what was going on. She finds her way into a small blacksmith's shop run by a barrel-chested, mustachio'd Ussuran man, who is delighted to find someone to practice his Eisen on. She arranges for the sharpening of her halberd, the removal of the dents from her panzerhand, and the purchase of a second. The Ussurran is delighted even more, and gets to work.

Meanwhile, Charles and Godfrey head off to the library in order to research some of the things they'd seen the night before. Godfrey reveals to Charles a collar that he'd removed from the beast's neck before the chamber had collapsed; apparently the music box that Madelene had on her acted as a key to the thing. During a heated discussion in the library, Godfrey jokingly goes to put the collar around Charles' neck, and Charles jerks away suddenly, causing Godfey to slip. The collar snaps shut around his neck. Nothing proceeds to happen, and it isn't until Charles attempts to speak that they realize the true purpose of the collar; it prevents the wearer from speaking or making any vocalizations at all!

Doing further research, the two uncover more information about curses and the unnatural. Godfrey discovers rumors of a cursed opera, one that seems to claim the life of the main female lead at the end of the final performance. Charles finds something closer to home; he stumbles across mention of his mother's work with the college. Apparently she had been something of an expert in alchemy, and had done work with trying to relate the bodily humors such as blood and bile to creating the Philosopher's Stone…

Artemis, meanwhile, wanders off on his own. Failing to attract the attention of the fashionable ladies at court, he finds his way to the boutique district, getting distracted by some fire-breathers at a small street carnival along the way. Ever-enthusiastic, Artemis attempts the feat himself, only to manage to set himself on fire and draw the ire of the performers there. Seeing his beloved hat in embers, he rushes back to the shop of Alec Follet, the tailor who had loaned them clothing in return for being mentioned to the Emperor.

Artemis had lived up to his word, and then some. Mr. Follet's shop is swarming with customers, all dying to get in on the latest fashion trend that they believe the Emperor may be adopting. Fighting his way through the mob, Artemis's burnt-red face is a shock to Mr. Follet, who thanks him tremendously, gives him a nice new hat, and sends him on his way to the nearest apothecary's to find some salve for his singed face.

The heroes wind their way back to the The Victory Inn where they first stayed, and settled down to a late dinner. As they talked over their food, a loud voice proclaimed "Is the Donnelly party present?". Turning about in their seats, the heroes see two Royal guards, their tabards bearing the standard of the Sun King, with a man in shackles between them, a bag over his head. When Godfrey suggests that they may well be the Donnelly party, the guards tell him that they were releasing this prisoner, one Remy Etalon du Toille, and that they will be held personally responsible for any trouble he gets in. With that, they shove the prisoner forward, who is apparently the help the Emperor had promised.

After a moment, Godfrey removes the bag from Remy's head, who shuffles forward, and after dropping his apparently unlocked shackles to the ground, pulls up a chair and takes a seat. He requests an explanation as to why his appointment with the gallows was cancelled, and expresses hesitant gratitude to the heroes… until the full nature of the job is revealed. He resigns himself to the task, realizing that the heroes are in the same situation as he, and they all head for bed.

The next morning, Sabrin wakes up in a pile of dust, her bedclothes, bedsheets, and a decent portion of the bed itself having crumbled away. The wood of the bed appears dry and cracked, like it was far older than it was. Shaken, she heads down to breakfast, where the rest are already eating. As they talk, pages begin to arrive with small letters, requesting the presence of the "Donnelly Party" at numerous noblepersons' parties and events. Remy, overhearing this, insists that they should stop by as many as they could, even if just for appearances.

As the heroes go their separate ways until nightfall, Sabrin pulls Charles and Godfrey aside, shows them her ruined bed,  and asks them to look into if there had ever been an Eisen sorcery. They return with the news that there had been, once, centuries ago, the sorcery of Zerstörung…

As the heroes head from party to party, they socialize. Godfrey attracts the attention of an older woman, the Dutchess de Bourjonais, who asks for his attentions in building a greenhouse, although her mannerisms suggest something a bit more intimate than architecture. Charles finds himself talking with a lovely young woman, the ravishing Mary Howsham. She convinces him to let her accompany him to their next party, and as she does so, he realizes that he has met her before; she is none other than the red-garbed woman who had knocked him out and stolen his blood weeks before!

The heroes surround her as he proclaims this discovery, but she lands a sound kick between his legs and attempts to flee. As Sabrin wrests her arms behind her back, Mary puts something to her lips, and in a flash of golden light disappears and reappears, running several feet away. The heroes pursue, Artemis tackling her, but as he connects, once again she vanishes in a flash, and reappears, far and away. Then, she is gone. As he turns about, Artemis' foot connects with something made of glass; a vial, with a small remnant of a blood-red chemical inside it…

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The Portal Yawns...
...and from it, an ancient horror steps...

Petite Chereuse – The Chamber of Spheres 

As the door grinds open, the remaining rag men pause in their battle, elatedly. One sprints towards the door, shouting excitedly, as a massive clawed hand reaches around from the door, grasps him, and crushes him bodily against the slab-like door. His dying scream wakes Madelene from her hypnotic state, and she screams, dropping her violin and running back from the door. From it steps a humongous monstrosity, half again as tall as a man, withered, with dark grey skin and eyes that burn like embers, the The Caged Beast tilts its misshapen head back as if to roar, emitting only a strangled hiss.

The Ragged King, aghast at this monstrosity, rushes forward screaming for his men to attack. The beast begins to kill the remaining rag-men, crushing them against the flagstones or slicing them to pieces with its horrid claws. Sabrin shouts for Madeline to get away, and the heroes charge in. Godfrey, thinking fast, runs behind the beast and tosses a length of rope around its neck. Then, using the rope, he pulls himself up onto the creature's back and ties himself to its shoulders. Matthias, thinking the same thing, tosses a second line around its head, and with the help of Vlad, attempts to hold the creature still.

The fight with the creature is intense and fast, each of the heroes dodging arms and feet, striking wherever and however they could. The thing's hideous strength made each blow a danger, flinging Charles about like a ragdoll and carving deep furrows into Matthias' chest with a single swipe. Artemis causes the first deep wound as he leaps onto the thing's back, plants a dagger into it, and then plunges his foil deep into the beast's side. Again, he strikes hard and deep, and the thing, recoils in pain. Godfrey, finally managing to get a tool to hand, slams a hammer into the creature's eye, which cracks and goes dark.

Sabrin, having lept onto the thing's back, manages to hold on with both hands, when something strange happens. A sensation of something unspeakably cold rushes from down her arm to her unarmored hand, and the flesh of the thing's back withers and turns to dust. The beast collapses, its organs crumbling away. No one notices, however, as the ceiling of the room begins to give way. The heroes scoop of Madelene's violin and Madeline herself and make haste to get out of the chamber. Sabrin, seeing the Ragged King pinned under the Caged Beast's dead remains, pauses and heads back, lifting the creature's bulk up enough for the wretch to escape with them. 

As the chamber collapses, the light from it dies, and the heroes are cast into utter darkness. When Vlad finally lights a torch, the Ragged King is gone. The heroes give chase, but it's obvious his experience in the tunnels is far beyond theirs. At that moment, they light growing down at the tunnel's far end. A squad of musketeers rounds the corner, and escorts the heroes and Madelene back to the surface, where they are greeted with jubilation and excitement.

They are taken back to the Chateau du Solais, and rushed past the throngs of whispering nobles to the throne of the Sun King himself. The Emperor asks them for an explanation of what had happened. Once the full story had been told, he thanked them each and promised them a favor in return for the deed they had done him. He then invited them to break fast with him in the morning, where they could present their request. That night, the heroes convened and decided what they would request; provisions for their trip, safe passage to Voddacce, and an expert to aid them in their adventure.

The Emperor is greatly amused by their request for an espionage expert, and positively delighted when he learns that he'll be needed to steal from the Heirophant himself. He grants their requests with his blessing, and requests them to return once their adventures are done, to tell the tale.

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Catching a Star
And it all goes wrong...

Le Chateau Solais - Charouse  

 

The day of the ball, the heroes get dressed and ready themselves for the occasion. Since the ball is a costume party, each has found themselves something appropriate, and before too long are mingling amongst the elite of Montaigne. The ball room is massive, now festooned with bolts of silk hanging from the ceilings, and false pillars spanning from floor to ceiling in the style of the old Republic. Naturally, Godfrey latches on to these pillars and, noticing that they are most certainly not architecturally sound, goes off to find a way to reinforce them. The best he can do is find a group of nobles who will listen, but fortunately, these men take heed of his words, and rush off to petition the Emperor to do something. Matthias can be seen through the press of bodies, regaling a group of Avalonian emissaries with stories of his exploits.

 

Charles finds his way towards one of many tables covered in a staggering array of dishes, and helps himself, striking up a conversation with a friendly nouveau-riche nobleman, which quickly dissolves into a brief battle to see who could get the last of the canapes. Charles emerges the victor and wishes the gentleman a good evening, around a mouthful of pastry.

 

Sabrin, having no real desire to flit about the dance floor or deal with nobles, finds herself a spot near a wall, and resigns herself to simply observe. Unfortunately, she is noticed by a somewhat thick Usurran man, who introduces himself as Dmitry Bardzecki, ardently ignores any subtle or not-so-subtle hints that Sabrin would prefer to be left alone. The man is startled briefly by her last name of Black, confusing her with the von Black family, who he claims was "wiped out nearly 30 years ago!" Realizing that nothing less than violence was going to dislodge the leech, Sabrin asks him to escort her to the gardens, where she nearly breaks his arm and tells him to leave her be, which he hurriedly does.

 

Artemis, finding himself in a slightly more comfortable environment, decides the most entertainment could be had in dancing. However, he realizes he has no dance partner, and quickly steals one from a nearby noble. This, of course, does not go over well, having unwittingly stolen the wife of Donadieu du Surlign, a local marquis and a renouned hothead. Donadieu demands satisfaction, and when his worried spouse tries to calm him, he strikes her. Artemis, seeing a woman treated this way, accepts Donadieu's challenge, and proves once and for all who is the better fighter, dancing circles around his furious enemy and laying him out with a fast left hook. Donadieu, lying on the floor with a split lip and wounded pride, picks himself up and suddenly lunges for Artemis, a hidden dagger gleaming in his hand. Artemis spins aside as the guards surge in, but feels the bite of the dagger across his chest all the same. He grabs the hand holding the knife and with a smooth side-step, forces Donadieu's arm up behind his back, hard. Artemis demands that he apologize to his wife for hitting her, and when the first apology seems sullen, he forces the point with the captive arm, extracting a much more humble apology from the man. Given back over to the guards, Donadieu is drug away, promises of revenge on his lips. Artemis looks at his torn shirt with a bemused grin, and laughingly shrugs. The dance resumes.

 

The hour of Madeline's performance approaches, and the nobles begin to drift over to the curtained stage at one end of the ballroom. The curtain doesn't rise when it should, however. Instead, the heroes pick up on frantic whispering from behind the curtain, and shortly after someone ducks out and, bowing, approaches the Emperor to whisper something in his ear. The Emperor appears displeased, but does not comment.


The heroes, sensing something was afoot, quickly get together and agree to leave the ballroom to investigate. Outside, they find Alphonse, wringing his hands and apparently on the verge of tears. He explains to the heroes that Madeline has disappeared, and he has no idea where to. The heroes spring to action, and rush to Madeline's room, where they discover a few hints of activity. The feathers from her dress are here and there, and her violin is missing. The music on her desk is scattered about, and an inkwell is on the ground, ink pooled and drying on the marble floor. The heroes decide to split up, in order to cover more ground in their search.

 

Upon consulting with a footman at the entrance to the Chateau, they discover that Madeline had taken one of the carriages waiting out front to somewhere out in the city. The footman claims that he saw the coach heading off in the direction of the Theatre district. Thinking fast, Godfrey and Vlad commandeer another waiting carriage, and take off, Charles grabbing on to the outside of the carriage as the go past. The careen down the empty streets at full-tilt, skidding to a stop at another similar carriage a few minutes' ride down the way. Getting out, they find a very worried coachman sitting at the driver's seat. He tells them in hesitant tones that Madeline had instructed him to wait here for her. He exclaims that she'd walked over to the sewer grating on the other side of the street and squeezed down between the bars!

 

At that moment, Matthias, Sabrin and Artemis arrive on a second carriage, bearing the party's weapons and gear. After a brief explanation of the situation, the heroes realize their only option is to drop into the stinking blackness below the city. They work the bars a bit, and eventually create enough of a gap for them do drop in, one at a time. The smell is overpowering, and as they gag they realize there is no light whatsoever in the tunnels ahead. They light the candles they had swiped from the Chateau, and follow the trail of fallen feathers through the muck and grime.

 

 After what seems like hours, the party senses movement, and in a heartbeat are under attack! The piles of trash and filth around them spring up, revealed to be persons in disguise, the subterranean denizens of Petite Chereuse! The attackers aren't organized, however, and the heroes make short work of them. Ducking traps and pitfalls along the way, the heroes finally find the end of the trail, down a long channel ending in an open doorway, beyond which a pale, unearthly light glows. As their eyes adjust to the new light, they begin to pick out shapes between them and the door.

 

Dozens of men and women, armed with clubs and rusty implements, and a huge man with an equally huge club, obviously their leader, the The Ragged King. Sabrin, deciding not to waste time, charges through the mob of dirty bodies, closing on the king with a thunderous blow. At the sound of the first attack, the mob attacks, and the heroes wade in. As the battle rages on, Matthias notices through the open door that Madeline is within the chamber beyond, playing something. Fighting their way through the press of bodies, the heroes force their way into the chamber. 

 

The chamber itself is a huge dome, four times the height of a man and spreading out broadly in all directions. In the middle a pedestal rises up from the smooth white flagstones, an sphere of translucent red material pulsing like a heart. In one side of the sphere, a huge slab door sits, and next to it plays Madeline, the gems inlaid in its surface flashing in time with her eerie music. She seems at complete peace, almost in a trance, as none of the noise or screams of the pitched battle seem to disturb her.

 

As the final notes of her song fade away, the sphere in the center of the room flashes red, then to a deep purple, and with a rumble that shakes the entire room, the door begins to open… 

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Mightier than the Sword

The Sleeping Pigeon Inn, Charouse – 09:00 –

 

Matthias wakes with a start, curses, and begins digging through everything in the room, searching frantically for his bow. His searching wakes Vlad and Godfrey, who decide to help. Vlad, by looking for the bow, Godfrey, by telling Vlad to look for the bow. After searching the room, Mathias wanders into the common area and the normal din of conversation and eating falls abruptly silent.  The innkeep, noting the noise erupting from the party's rooms, tells Matthias warily that he has a note for them – it is gilded and has the royal seal.  Matthias slowly walks back to the room – turns and asks what time the note arrived – to which the barkeep replies about an hour ago.

 

The rest of the heroes are roused, and gather in one of the two rooms, where the letter is handed to Charles to translate. 

 

“Dear Sirs and Madame,

 

My thanks and everlasting gratitude for your assistance in the previous night’s un-pleasantries – I’d like to thank you in person. You can find myself and my daughter at the Chateaux du Soleil. Present this letter to any of the guards, and someone should take you to us.

 

Yours sincerely, 

– Alfonse Prevoye”

 

 The heroes regard the letter with surprise. Although they're certain that it's not from the Emperor, anyone staying in the Chateau obviously has no small amount of influence. The gilt on the letter alone, Matthias observes, would be worth enough to pay for their room and board for the rest of the week. The heroes swiftly tidy themselves up, eat a simple breakfast in the commons, and head out into the city. After a small trek through the boulevards and alleyways of Charouse, the heroes arrive at le Chateau du Solais, the residence of le Empereur and his court. They present their letter to one of the gate guards, who summons a servant to lead them inside the sprawling estate. They are taken past extravagance the likes of which none, save perhaps Artemis, in a life long-since gone. Gardens, mazes, fountains of gold and alabaster, it seems a striking contrast to the poverty that lies just outside the walls of the city. The heroes are taken through the Chateaux to one of any number of similar suites, wherein they are introduced  to Alphonse and his daughter, Madelene Prevoye.

 

Alphonse thanks the heroes for saving him and his daughter. He reveals that the caravan the party defended on their way into the city carried he and his daughter with it, hidden for safety's sake. The heroes remember that the thug they interrogated shortly after the attack had mentioned that a man in a wildly garish coat had told them to attack that specific caravan. Madelene invites the heroes to attend a gala that's being thrown in her honor, by Emperor Leon himself, and hopes that they'll attend. During the discussion, Godfrey notices in her bag a curious box, inlaid with gems. Alphonse tells the heroes that they've been invited to stay in Le Chateau until the night of the party, if they would choose, and they do. He also strongly hints that the emperor would be calling them for a private audience.


The heroes head out into the city, seeking out clothing appropriate for a royal ball, walking through the perfumed air of the boutique district. At each shop, they find that the prices of the costumes and outfits there are astronomical, but Artemis, finding inspiration, drops a strong hint with a tailor that his wares might be paraded in front of the emperor himself, and the idea of the most influential mover in fashion was enough to secure them all outfits (on loan) for the party. Heading back outside, Sabrin spies a familiar face. Falkland is standing outside a shop, making a large show of perusing over the wares inside, and greets the company with bemused surprise. He treats them to a meal, and they discuss the happenings of the past day.

 

Getting back to Le Chateau, Godfrey takes a closer look at their surroundings, and finds to his surprise a secret door in their room. Naturally, Sabrin, Matthias and Charles go to investigate, while Godfrey, wanting little to do with it, heads outside for a walk. As they creep down the narrow corridor, Matthias spies a candle walking towards them, and the three scatter, Matthias and Sabrin making it back to the room unnoticed (managing to steal some of the nice candles lighting their way), and Charles, having run in any random direction, being lost inside the walls. Godfrey, finding a hedge-maze to entertain him, turns a blind corner and nearly runs into a beautiful young woman, who greets him politely, and asks if he would welcome company as he wandered. The two exchange small-talk, and upon exiting the maze, the young woman introduces herself as Nicollete du Montaigne, one of the Emperor's daughters.

 

The day of the ball, the heroes get dressed and ready themselves for the occasion. Since the ball is a costume party, each has found themselves something appropriate, and before too long are mingling amongst the elite of Montaigne. The ball room is massive, now festooned with bolts of silk hanging from the ceilings, and false pillars spanning from floor to ceiling in the style of the old Republic. Naturally, Godfrey latches on to these pillars and, noticing that they are most certainly not architecturally sound, goes off to find a way to reinforce them. The best he can do is find a group of nobles who will listen, but fortunately, these men take heed of his words, and rush off to petition the Emperor to do something. Matthias can be seen through the press of bodies, regaling a group of Avalonian emissaries with stories of his exploits.

 

Charles finds his way towards one of many tables covered in a staggering array of dishes, and helps himself, striking up a conversation with a friendly nouveau-riche nobleman, which quickly dissolves into a brief battle to see who could get the last of the canapes. Charles emerges the victor and wishes the gentleman a good evening, around a mouthful of pastry.

 

Sabrin, having no real desire to flit about the dance floor or deal with nobles, finds herself a spot near a wall, and resigns herself to simply observe. Unfortunately, she is noticed by a somewhat thick Usurran man, who introduces himself as [[:Dmitry Bardzecki]], ardently ignores any subtle or not-so-subtle hints that Sabrin would prefer to be left alone. The man is startled briefly by her last name of Black, confusing her with the von Black family, who he claims was "wiped out nearly 30 years ago!" Realizing that nothing less than violence was going to dislodge the leech, Sabrin asks him to escort her to the gardens, where she nearly breaks his arm and tells him to leave her be, which he hurriedly does.

 

Artemis, finding himself in a slightly more comfortable environment, decides the most entertainment could be had in dancing. However, he realizes he has no dance partner, and quickly steals one from a nearby noble. This, of course, does not go over well, having unwittingly stolen the wife of Donadieu du Surlign, a local marquis and a renouned hothead. Donadieu demands satisfaction, and when his worried spouse tries to calm him, he strikes her. Artemis, seeing a woman treated this way, accepts Donadieu's challenge, and proves once and for all who is the better fighter, dancing circles around his furious enemy and laying him out with a fast left hook. Donadieu, lying on the floor with a split lip and wounded pride, picks himself up and suddenly lunges for Artemis, a hidden dagger gleaming in his hand. Artemis spins aside as the guards surge in, but feels the bite of the dagger across his chest all the same. He grabs the hand holding the knife and with a smooth side-step, forces Donadieu's arm up behind his back, hard. Artemis demands that he apologize to his wife for hitting her, and when the first apology seems sullen, he forces the point with the captive arm, extracting a much more humble apology from the man. Given back over to the guards, Donadieu is drug away, promises of revenge on his lips. Artemis looks at his torn shirt with a bemused grin, and laughingly shrugs. The dance resumes.

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A Stranger In Need is a Friend Indeed
Trouble Comes When You Least Expect It...

The story starts following the wandering Montaigne ex-noble, Artemis du Lac, as he enters a small nameless hamlet in Avalon. He finds himself a seat at the bar of a local tavern, and immediately falls into trouble, for he is a hunted man, hunted by an unknown noble from his past. Mercenaries hired to find him had done just that, and he was set upon fiercely. However, he was not alone. Matthias Dryden, a local hunter and handy-man, had observed the thugs and decided to come to the aid of the young swordsman. For their efforts, they felled the ruffians, but their leader, the fiendish Lawrence Marksson, proved to be too much a match for the two heroes, and they fell, defeated.

 At the same time, the story traced along another thread. In the Montaigne town of Paix, Sabrin Black rode down the street, ignoring the stares of the nobles passing on either side. She stood out quite a bit in the city of ambassadors, tall, proud and outstandingly Eisen, her weapons gleaming in the light of the fading sun. She rode in front of a royal garrison and dismounted. From a window of the library across the street, Dr. Charles Longovetti's eye was caught by the gleam of his armor, and he set down the book he was reading to study the strange woman, only to see her leap through a window of the barracks, shouting loudly. Swearing to himself, Charles ran down and outside to see what was going on, to see Sabrin taking on the garrison by herself as it started to burn down around her. Stepping in to aid the "lady in need", Charles saw her facing down a sinister looking sergeant, Bertrand Larouche, the butcher of the Black family. A burning support falls between them, and Bertrand escapes, leaving Sabrin to carry the now-unconscious Charles out, where they both collapse in front of the remainder of the garrison…

The heroes awake to the sound of waves on the shore, and the smell of damp stone. Sabrin and Matthias are able to wake themselves as the boat that's ferrying them comes to rest upon the shore of an unknown island. Thinking swiftly, the two overpower their guards and flee along the coast, seeking shelter in a tidal cave a ways along the coast. Artemis and Charles are carried by their jailers into the fortress that rests upon the center of the small isle. When the two prisoners awoke, they awoke to a shadowy figure leaning down on them from the windows above their cells. The figure laughed to himself, dropped a bag into Artemis' cell, and told him to seek out his employer. In the bag, Artemis finds tools to escape, and releases himself and Charles from their respective cells. At the same time, Sabrin and Matthias approach the outside of the fortress cautiously, only to spy the other two heroes creeping along the ramparts, dispatching the guards. After a furiously whispered discussion, the party manages to open the fortress doors and release the other prisoners, political dissidents. In the ensuing panic, between the guards attempting to contain the prisoners and the prisoners attacking the guards, the fortress' supply of black powder is somehow ignited… leaving the heroes to face down the Warden, alone.

They are hard pressed, and just when the Warden seems beaten, his head flies from his shoulders, and a man straightens up behind him, from an apparent slash that removed the very same head. The man introduces himself as Aaron Falkland, a servant in the employ of Lord Baddick Crowe. Aaron says that he was sent to fetch the players specifically, and that the ordeal in the prison was only a "test" to see if they had the right stuff for the job… a job that would be detailed later. He points to the horizon, which is just growing bright with the oncoming dawn, and points out a ship silhouetted against it. There, he says, the fifth and final member will be, Godfrey Donnelly. The heroes were to inform Donnelly that Falkland told them to find him, a confusing sentence indeed.

Onboard the ship, the players seek out and find the man Godfrey, and fill him in on the story. He agrees that's quite odd, and agreed to travel with them to find Crowe, along with his pupil, Vlad. The ship continues on to Luthon, where the heroes disembark. Godfrey and Charles, having discovered their dual memberships in the Invisible College. They met up with the local head of the College, Professor James Xavier, who revealed their concerns about Baddick's habits, specifically his extensive collection of Syrnth artifacts. The two are tasked with monitoring Baddick's business, and reporting back to the College with their findings.

Having spent the night in a local inn, the heroes travel to Crowe's estate. The estate is a dark, musty place, filled with everything old, and the party is escorted down into a sub-basement, down several long corridors, and finally into a small den where Baddick sits behind a desk. He eventually looks up, and details unto the heroes his proposal; the players are to retrieve for Baddick an ancient artifact, and in return the heroes would be rewarded with a tremendous sum of 10,000 guilder. If the heroes fail, the same sum will be put towards a bounty on each of their heads. The heroes recoil, and Baddick informs them calmly that they can always walk away… and when this is attempted, the party discovers that the hallway leading to Baddick's room has been replaced by a deep, deep pit… reluctantly, the players sign the contract, and Falkland escorts them back to the surface, apologizing sheepishly. It would seem that the players had no choice in their task, and they set out to Charouse, in the hopes of finding some information on the artifact…

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