Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tripped Over an Angry Donkey

To my surprise and relief, the agents of the SOE did not blow anything up. Nor did they kidnap anyone, there were no Mexican stand-offs, and there were no embarrassing blunders.

Well, there was one, but we'll get to that.

While the partisan Jacques Martin was a charming host, his wife Helena was somewhat less welcoming, perhaps as a result of the disagreement between the agents and the partisans in the previous session. Over breakfast she ordered them to (a) find jobs, (b) find somewhere to live, and (c) get all the incriminating secret agent gear out of her pig shed.

As a result, this session consisted of lots of running about town, meeting non-player-characters, and arranging boring things like buying vegetables and furniture.

Tidelina was just about well enough to join the rest of the team on their travels but her mangled arm and pallid complexion generated a lot of attention and more than a few questions; put on the spot the Australian solicitor spun an elaborate tale about a country walk and the unexpected appearance of an angry Spanish donkey. You could argue that this was an unconvincing story but as a solicitor, Tidelina's Fast Talk skill is at 99% and you can't argue with statistics.

O'Brien and Bertrand met Raimond, the head of the Decharette family and owner of the local copper mine. An amiable sort of fellow, he offered them jobs as general workers around the mansion, as most of his staff had fled the conflict. While gardening the two agents took the opportunity to search the nearby monastery ruins, convinced that there was a secret tunnel somewhere leading to a blasphemous cult temple. No temple was discovered but they did find a strange and unnatural cold spot in one part of the old building that was more or less intact and being used as a garden shed; while inside Fergus was sure that he could hear a howling in the stone walls but McVeigh could hear no such thing.

The team later visited the town's church and discovered some odd iconography inside, including an ostentatious painting depicted the temptation of Christ relocated to one of the hills overlooking Saint-Cerneuf, and with the town's previous priest as Jesus. Some wonky editing in the book made it unclear who was playing Satan in the painting, or who was immortalised as a statue just above the church door. Oh dear.

The friendly but nervous priest Beaumarais told them some of the history behind the painting -- including the financial irregularities and mysterious disappearance of his predecessor -- and they assumed that his agitation was a sign of him concealing his cult affiliation, leading to a bizarre scene in which McVeigh attempted to convince the poor old man to tell the "truth" by revealing that prancing about in hooded robes and chanting were common springtime activities in Belgium -- from where the group claimed to originate -- so he had nothing to hide from them.

Earlier, the team had discovered that one of the houses in town was available to rent as the owner had
vanished some years before; by this point the players were certain that all the town's inhabitants were either members of the still-unconfirmed cult or had disappeared, probably at the hands of said cult, an impression not countered by the discovery of the ransacked remains of an occult library in the loft. Aside from the worm-ridden books, a wonky kitchen table, and a musty armchair, the house was a bit bare so -- fearing Helena's wrath if they returned to the farm -- the agents stayed in the town's dilapidated hotel.

It was there that they made a breakthrough in their secret secret mission to find the missing German occultist Lionel Malo. Sneaking about after hours McVeigh discovered that Malo had stayed at the hotel and as luck -- or rather a Luck roll -- would have it, O'Brien and Tinkerton were staying in the same room as he had years before. The group's first search turned up nothing more than a few rat traps under the beds but by the morning light and with a bit more focus to their searching they found an envelope taped to the back of the room's greasy mirror. Inside was a note written by Malo and going into some detail on an apparent cult ritual and his last hours in the town.

They had more fortune later that day while shopping for supplies. Suspicious scientist Tinkerton was browsing the second-hand section of the town's general shop, and stumbled upon an old suitcase and a camera, the latter of which Tidelina identified as being about ten years old and of German manufacture. Neither item was conclusive evidence of Malo's presence but they were unusual enough for the group to buy them and later -- back at what the players were already calling "the Shunned House" -- they examined them in more detail; in the suitcase McVeigh discovered a hidden compartment -- his spy training helped him recognise it as a professional job -- in which was a map of some sort of tunnel network, with notes in German, including a reference to a "secret entrance".

The agents were convinced that they had found a map of the local copper mine and that the answers to the entire mystery would be found there. The only potential problem was that the mine had been commandeered by the German army and earlier in the day some of the group's identification papers had been confiscated by some suspicious soldiers.


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