Horror on the Orient Express: Paris Episode 2
Edelmiro Cervantes – Spanish-born Occultist touring Britain.
Dr. Klaus Fischer – German-born Psychiatrist, disciple of Jung.
Flora Bianchin – Italian Nurse and Midwife, saw the Great War up close. (absent)
Mikhail Sokolov – Exiled Russian Aristo-turned-Criminal.
Viktor Gruzinsky – Bolshevik Spy posing as Exiled Russian Aristo. (absent)
Lavinia Wray – English Archaeologist working for the British Museum.
*Sophie Chapallier – French Librarian working for the Bibliothéque de l’Arsenal.
*Keeper’s Note: With Flora and Viktor’s players once again absent due to medical issues, it was decided to briefly add a new investigator in the person of Sophie Chapallier. We had written Sophie as an NPC who became smitten with Mikhail when he visited the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal during the last session. However, my partner, who had been quietly observing my games with fascination, decided they wanted to take a turn as a player just to see what it’s like. So we stated Sophie based on the librarian in the Curious Characters Deck (handy little tool in a pinch), shuffled around the language skills, did away with the Dreaming in favor of some more concrete investigative skills, and changed the name of “Mr. Paws” to “Monsieur Pattes” and we were off and running.
A Rosicrucian Connection?
Edelmiro, hoping the local community of occult scholars might know something about Fenalik, the Sedefkar Simulacrum, and/or the Skinless One, endeavored to meet with members of the Rosecrucian order in Paris. As with many such groups, the Rosecrucians are more a service organization in these days than an occult society, but the stories and literature are available through such organizations to hobbyists, provided they don’t prove themselves to be too obsessive or deviant in their practices. Edelmiro managed to arrange lunch at a café with a one such man, a banker by trade, who did not have much to add, but did indicate there are many stories of sacrilege and debauchery associated with the French nobility in the days leading up the revolution. He was also familiar with Poissy, and suggested visiting the archives at the town hall, saying they were very thorough.
Klaus Fischer and Lavinia Wray, both established academics, led investigation of the Charenton Asylum by getting contact with the acting director. It takes a day to get access to Dr. Leroux, and when they do they’re glowered at for brining their fellows along with them to his office, which is currently in shambles from changing hands owing to the accidental death of former director Dr. Delplace. Lavinia and Klaus are permitted the meet with Leroux, while the rest are forced to wait in the secretary. Quickly taking stock of the room they’re in, Mikhail, Edelmiro, and Sophie note boxes marked with the name of Dr. Delplace, including a particular box containing private research journals.
Having no qualms about theft of private property, Mikhail pockets Dr. Delplace’s most recent research journal while his replacement was distracted by questions from Lavinia and Klaus. He then calmly exited the room after asking after the washroom, a signal to his fellows that he was going to go snoop about. Edelmiro and Sophie followed Mikhail out of curiosity, and also to escape the uncomfortable gaze of the acting director’s secretary. Sophie’s nose for directions* led the group right to the medieval cellars beneath the hospital, where their research reported Fenalik had been entombed.
The sneaky investigators were rewarded with confirmation that someone was imprisoned down here: a room has been bricked off (sometime during the 18th century according to Sophie’s archaeological knowledge) and someone had been chained up inside it. The clothing within had all but disintegrated, but there was dried blood on the wall that appeared to be only a few weeks old by comparison. It was then, from the gloom of the far hallway a voice spoke. It tried several languages before settling on archaic, courtly French. “Poor little mice, you must be lost. Don’t worry. I’ll help you.” With that, there was clacking, ticking and cracking coming towards them. Almost as though something was crawling across the ceiling in their direction. As the investigators turned their torches toward the noise a mangy, emaciated creature leapt into their midst! Those who caught a glimpse of the snarling beast swore it was a tiger. Amidst the torch beams they saw yellowed teeth and claws. They ran for the stairs, the creature hot on their heels. As they made their way upward, the pursuit ended, and the snarling was replaced by tittering laughter. “Oh, what fun! What fun we shall have! See you next time, little mice!”
Upon reaching the safety of the hotel and reading the stolen notebook, detailing the discovery of a “lost” catatonic patient, and the mayhem this patient caused, the three investigators who found their way to the basement immediately jump to the conclusion that the creature they encountered was Fenalik himself. This chilling revelation sparks a debate between returning to the Asylum to confront the creature and visiting Poissy, the last known location of the Simulacrum. In the end, the investigators belief it is wiser to seek out the artifact, both because it is the purpose of their visit to Paris and the creature seemed very, very dangerous, even moreso than old Corbitt.
*Keeper’s note: I decided to have a more aggressive contact with Fenalik here in the cellars of the Asylum for a few reasons:
--Sophie made a Navigation roll to get herself, Edelmiro, and Mikhail through the building. It turned up a “000.” I would argue that there is a difference between getting where you want to go and getting where you “think” you want to go. A successful role would have led the subdivided group to Fenalik’s broken cellar room. Instead, it led them to an encounter with Fenalik.
--My players were already suspecting a “vampire” in that they’ve encountered the long-lived Mister Corbitt. So the fact that Fenalik is long-lived wasn’t so much a surprise to them.
--After reading through the campaign and listening to the YSDC pod-cast I’ve elected to make Fenalik and Mehmet Makryat more “public” characters. This is an experiment on my part and we’ll see how it goes. I feel though that, as written, the involvement of Fenalik and Mehmet Makryat in the campaign have more of a “who are these people?” impact once they were revealed than the subtle puppet-master approach the authors were going for.
--Finally, given this was going to be a one time appearance of Sophie and, for now, my partner’s first and only foray into Cthulhu gaming as a player, I wanted to give them the full experience: sanity loss, mythos monsters, etc. So having Fenalik make a brief appearance was meaningful in that regard.
After travelling to Poissy and taking in some time to enjoy the quaint amenities of the Hotel Rose Blanche and a Sunday afternoon and evening exploring the town, the investigators make their way to the town hall. After a day of exploring the archives* they learn that the Lorien family occupy a home on Comte Fenalik’s old estate. They make their way to the Lorien home, posing as surveyors for an archaeological dig.
The Loriens are all to happy to welcome a team of academics, as they can now boast to their neighbors about the historical significance of their home. The investigators spend two days and nights with the Loriens while working at their impromptu excavation. During that time Mikhail and Sophie experience hideous dreams of an emactiated tiger emerging from a cloud of mist that floats across the floor of the Lorien’s home. They awaken just as it pounces on them.
*The encounter with the tiger in the basement of the asylum had seriously rattled the players. As a result, the puns were flowing freely as a means of dealing with the emotion surrounding the threat. I made the mistake of having a desk clerk remark that Poissy had thoroughly “fleshed out” archives compared to many towns in the area. Things went downhill from there and the town hall of Poissy will forever be known for it’s “fleshy archives” which would brave investigators “deeply penetrated.” But it isn’t a Call of Cthulhu game until we reach the plumb the gutters of gallows sex humor, now is it?
Over two nights, the group digs down beneath the cold ground of the back yard and discovers an 18th century cellar door. Forcing it open, they discover a long-forgotten chamber of horrors: skeletons bound in numerous torcher devices tell a sadistic story of the comte’s last days before his incarceration.
The sight of the tortured remains of so many victims in the cellar had a particularly cruel impact on Mikhail. Upon seeing what he perceived to be a bride and groom, locked in torture devices and forced to observe each other’s suffering, it was too much for him. He could only rationalized that this must be some sort of nightmare and he had to wake up to save himself. To this end, he began to buffet himself about the head, at first with hard slaps, but eventually with the closed fists. It took Dr. Fischer’s stern, psychiatric intervention to stop Mikhail from breaking his own jaw.
With Mikhail settled and under control, Lavinia presses forward and recovers the left arm of the Sedefkar Simulacrum from the wall at the far end of the cellar. The group then quickly emerges and fills in the hole they’ve dug, advising the Lorien’s that, while historically, significant, it is much too dangerous to be left open. They promise a more complete archaeological team will return in the Summer months to unearth the entirety to the cellar and remove all dangerous and historically noteworthy materials. While the Loriens seem more at peace with the removal of the artifact, the investigators have some reservations. A strange, cold mist seemed to follow them into the cellar, only to recede suddenly when they recovered the statue’s arm, and, perhaps more ominously, some of the investigators thought they heard an odd, giggling laughter similar to that heard in the basement of the Charenton Asylum.
The Orient Express
The group boards the Orient Express just after midnight, with a band playing and well-wishers coming to send off performers from a traveling opera company who just finished a series of performances at the L’Opera. On board the train they meet Ms. Caterina Cavallaro, along with a handful of hangers on: a member of the chorus, a woman of Rhodesian extraction named Blessing, a Russian Jewish clarinet player from the orchestra named Ari, and quiet, unassuming Japanese man named Kashiro, educated in the Netherlands and now following the opera company as a set design consultant.
Ms. Cavallaro is enchanting, and gets on well with the traveling investigators. Amidst the free-flowing wine and song of the evening, she offers them passes to her upcoming performance in Milan…