14 Prairial, Year 2
- Serjant Thierry Renault
- Soldat Jean Dupois
- Soldat Michel Beaumains
- Soldat Christophe Pressi
- Soldat Etienne Babin
Five eventful years had passed.
Dupois had spent years being alternately expelled and redrafted into the army and now spent nights at the bottom of a bottle. Renault had a long talk with his wife about their future, and had reluctantly thrown in his lot with the Revolution after initial thoughts of fleeing with that émigrés. Beaumains, who had stormed out to take the tennis court oath, was once again a proud member of the army now that it served the people. Babin had left the army to spend time with his son, returned to his home in Occitan, and lived there for a while, but eventually rejoined the army. Pressi also remained in the army, but after Comte Benoit had been guillotined, he spent much of his time with Melodie.
Once again the group was at the catacombs, helping guard the entrance as carts bring in bodies of those killed in La Terreur
, with orders to let no one in. It was the first time they had seen each other in years, and they made awkward conversation in the hot summer night until six carts arrived. There were no priests this time, but the lead cart has several passengers wearing sacks on their heads with eyeholes cut in them. With them was Citizen Rigeau, chalk-white, in a high-collared jacket, and Beaumains noticed a mottled patch of skin at his neck as his head shifted. He ordered the passengers to unload, and they picked up skulls and began work. The party dispersed the crowd at Rigeau's order, and then began to guard the entrance. Rigeau pointed at Renault and asked where he knew him from, and after being reminded of the affair with Pfennelik, he smiled wolfishly and entered the catacombs.
Unnerved by the parade of workers and more than half drunk, Dupois reached out to try to grab the sack off a worker's head. They did not expect what they saw--the head of Comte Benoit, carelessly stitched to the head of a thin woman's body and lolling bonelessly over its shoulder. As the party cried out, the cart drivers ran screaming into the night and the monster attacked. It smashed a fist into Dupois and Renault stabbed it right through the heart, which didn't slow it at all. Babin took a mighty swing and sliced off an arm with his axe, but again the monster wasn't slowed. Beaumains bowled it over and stabbed it in the head, which stopped its movements. They all stared at it, took a swig of Dupois's bathtub liquor, and plotted. The "workers" returned, ignoring the party and doing their work, and the group grabbed lanterns from the carts and entered the catacombs behind them.
The catacombs were pitch black, but the workers didn't acknowledge the party in any way. At the third side tunnel, the workers turned, and the party followed down to a corridor lined with skulls, each skull with an odd mandala carved into the forehead. The more recent ones were not yet skulls--they were the severed heads of the guillotined dead, with the mandala carved through the skin down to the bone. In the distance was a distant phosphorescent light, illuminating bone dust swirling in the air. The swirls grew stronger and stronger, lifting teeth and bone bits into spirals in the air. Beaumains and Babin cried out, and ahead of them a dry chuckle echoed.
They advanced further and saw Rigeau, sitting and carving something into a heads but as he saw the light he stood and walked toward them with his eyes black pools of stars. He taunted them, saying he was amused that the overthrowers of Pfennelik had discovered him. He told them he was "ensuring his power" when asked what his business was, and then asked if they were cowards, and Renault drew his pistol. Rigeau took a swing and missed, and when Renault shot him there was no effect. They struggled, and as they did Rigeau's shirt ripped open, revealing a jigsaw pattern of flesh across his torso. Babin noticed that they were skull tattoos, and that when Dupois hit him, one mandala on a skull in the walls vanished. Renault took hold of Rigeau and attempted to strangle him, but it brought forth nothing but a smile. Dupois smashed his lantern on Rigeau, showering him--and Renault--in glass and flaming oil. Renault stepped back as Rigeau lackadaisically put himself out.
They attempted to flee, but as they did Rigeau made a gesture and the skulls in the passage collapsed, so they fled down the side passages into the dark. Rigeau's laughter followed them until they heard a voice telling them to follow if they want to live. They caught a brief glimpse of a nightmarish wolf-like face and then fled into tunnels filled with corpse-dirt, down a sudden fall that seriously injured Renault, and into the dark. Through the sealed depths of Paris, medieval to post-classical to Roman, to the dining room of a Roman villa filled with ghoulish monsters dining on headless corpses. They rose up, snarling, but the ghoul leading the party meeped at them and they went back to their repast.
Through an opening in the far wall, past more tunnels and shafts, they eventually emerged in the Luxembourg Garden. The ghoul mounted a dirt mound and grinned at them, and then pulled out a limb, began eating, and explained. He said that Rigeau meant to deliver the world to "those who dwelt Outside," that he had added symbols to the guillotines that delivered those who died to the "Throne of Azathoth," and when it reached ten thousand dead, the Eye of Azathoth would open and Paris would be engulfed. Dupois asked how to kill Rigeau, and the ghoul said that normal means would be impossible--even crushing the bones, the dust would remember. He did say that he had seen Rigeau consult a black book with brass bindings, and that it may have the means of his destruction. It wasn't in the catacombs, but it may be in his house. With no further questions, the ghoul jumped into a hidden hole and was gone.
Finding his house was not difficult, but it was surrounded by buildings on all sides and there was no oblivious entrances but the front. No lights burned within, so Dupois picked the lock and the party entered. They explored the house cautiously, finding nothing on the first floor, but in a room upstairs they found a room containing the Skinless Pope from Pfennelik's estate, a desk with a ledger on it, library shelves, a locked cabinet, medical texts, and other esoteries. Inside the cabinet were books from Pfennelik's cellar, which Beaumains took. Babin examined the ledger, finding a bunch of three-letter codes with totals, that Renault recognized as the totals of the sacrifices that Rigeau was making. The count stood at 9946. They had only a few days. The party searched the room, but it was Renault who found and took the book with brass bindings.
The book was in Latin, titled De Summum Vacuum
, but Babin spoke Latin and began to read. He soon found he was unconsciously rotating the book, though he put it down at the urging of the others. He said it would take about twelve hours to study. They made an effort to cover their traces and fled, reconvening and resting in Babin's apartment. Babin read the book, discovering notes on Aztec rituals to "Azottotal," and a note by priests that such rituals were evil and would deny heaven to those who dwelt on earth. Only the willing sacrifice of one who has heard the "Music from Beyond" could stop it. The group thought, and then remembered Dietrich Zann and his music.
They briefly considered consulting the secret police but decided against it due to the danger. They eventually decided to look for his companion Celine, the woman who had been dressed as King Louis, in the red light districts of Paris. After Beaumains attempts at questioning went nowhere, they simply bribed some prostitutes to tell the party where the woman is. By the time they learned, it was nearly midnight, so they went to the attic tenement in the morning. After some brief panic from others in the tenement as soldiers march through their building, they find the attic and knock. When Celine recognized them, she grabbed a cudgel and began screaming, and only Babin's quick words kept things from coming to blows. She invited them in, into a barren tenement room with a single bed, a shattered violin in the corner. She revealed that Zann had a job with the orchestra, but lost it. He was obsessed with the violin, dangerously so, and eventually she smashed it. Since then, he only stared into space, not speaking, playing music that only he could hear on an invisible violin.
Babin spoke to Zann, who repeatedly said that he must "get it out." That the music was done, and he must play it. Celine was strongly against it, but Beaumains convinced her that playing the music might cure his obsession. The party needed a violin, and decided to break into the old orchestra and steal one. Using their authority as soldiers, they found a dusty violin, then debated what to do. They eventually decided to bring Zann to the orchestra again. Celine demanded that she be allowed to come, and they eventually agreed, though they kept their son away. Renault watched over him, while the other three entered with Zann and Celine. As soon as Zann had his hands on the violin, he immediately began playing. The sound grew, filling their ears and minds, as though the instrument had a hundred strings. The theatre's walls crumbled, revealing a starry night sky, and Beaumains and Dupois's ears began bleeding. One by one, the stars went out and they were surrounded by the unreverberate blackness of the abyss. They heard screams as from far away and the sound of unseen wings, until they mercifully passed out.
When they awoke, Beaumains and Dupois realized they could still hear the music, and would, locked into their minds, forever. Babin's fingers were numb, and when Reanaut entered, Zann's son clapped his hands and said, "Again, papa! Again!"
Babin pointed out that he was only one surviving who had heard the music and so the sacrifice would have to be him, and with some reluctance Renault agreed. In the middle of a letter to his son, as Dupois began ranting about the king, they realized that they could sacrifice Dupois instead. Renault brought him to the police and denounced him, and Dupois was swiftly found guilty. His execution was scheduled for within twenty-four hours, and they went to talk to the ghoul and report what had happened. It said that they should lure Rigeau to a deserted place, and the party decided to lure him to the catacombs. Renault put out the call for Pressi and others for the help that he men's they would need.
The next morning, Dupois was led from the prison to the guillotine, through the streets of Paris. Dupois's dog followed him, barking futilely, until the blade descended with a final thunk.
Streets away, the party followed Rigeau through the streets at a distance. Hugel moved past him, revealing the book with brass bindings, and Rigeau took the bait and they led him to the catacombs. Hugel ran into a room with the rest of the party and eleven ghouls, and as the blade descended elsewhere--as Dupois stood in the Court of Azathoth and released the Music from Beyond--Rigeau entered and shrieked, the skulls on his body shrieking in unison, and blood burst forth and showered the party. Pressi leveled his musket and fired, followed by the rest of the party, and then ghouls fell on him, and Citizen Rigeau was torn to shreds.
The Festival of the Supreme Being took place as scheduled on 20 Prairial. In addition, the guillotine was moved to the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. On 22 Prairial, it was moved to the barrière du Trône. And on 10 Thermidor, Robespierre was led up the steps of the guillotine, and with his death ended La Terreur
This section reminded me of a bit of Ken Hite's gaming advice, which is that games should be set in the real world because it has a richer, more detailed history than any fantasy world ever could. A game set during pre-revolutionary France always carries the knowledge that the Revolution, and with it La Terreur
, is coming. Call of Cthulhu has the same aspect that makes the World of Darkness so fun. It's set in our world, but with a secret layer that the game space occurs in.
This was originally a game run at Gen Con for backers of the Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter, and when it was done, the players voted to make it available to other kickstarter backers. I'm glad we got to it before the end. I knew Rigeau was evil from his first appearance, though I admit I thought he'd be a member of the Brotherhood of the Skin trying to get Pfennelik out of the way.
This scenario does indicate a problem with the CoC world, though. If it's possible for single individuals to conduct rituals that destroy the world, why is the world still here? Surely someone somewhere would have succeeded by now. The investigators can't win every time, after all, and if the bad guys only have to win once...well. Still, we did win, and that counts for something.