The Heroes and Heroines, each in Charouse for their own reasons, were provided a mysterious invitation to a masquerade ball. The invitation was perfumed and flawlessly written.
Oh, could you view the melody
Of every grace
And music of her face,
You ’d drop a tear;
Seeing more harmony
In her bright eye
Than now you hear.
You are most cordially invited this 15th of Quintus to a masquerade ball in celebration of Summer’s coming and the birth of our eternal hero, Bastion.
To be held at the humble estate of Lady Georgette Deneuve, 6 Rue de la Soie Rouge.
The estate was on prime ground, overlooking the Fantome Tapestry Factory and Chateau du Soleil, the Palace of the Sun and home to L’Empereur. It had a fountain in the front, with a paved way for carriages to take guests to the entrance. A small host of liveried servants manned the door, along with some well-dressed strong arms. They checked the invitations carefully and also checked a roster. Despite some of the Heroes not being on the list, one attendant seemed to pretend they were and passed them in anyway.
Inside was all the grandeur that could be mustered in the home of a greater noble. The ballroom was decorated in summer colors and decorations with fresh flowers favoring yellow, gold, and red hues hanging on walls and in doorways. A stringed quartet played a solemn but lively baroque sonata by Alois Phillip Malines.
Servants weaved in and out of gathered gentry with champagne and hors d’ oeuvres. They were dressed in uniform livery consisting of dark brown trousers or skirts, pale yellow blouses, and golden orange vests.
The gentry were in fine form, with exquisite costumes observing either a summer or cavalier/knight theme.
- Georgette Deneuve de Surlign – She is the cousin of matriarch Lillian Denueve. She is in a beautiful golden gown, with gold earrings and necklace set in sparkling topaz. Her mask is a gold yellow half sun, leaving her lower face and smile. She is in her 30s, attractive, with honey-blonde hair with long curls in front of her ears, hazel eyes, and beaming smile. Kind of a busybody type but extremely charming.
- Cedric Deneuve de Surlign – Lillian’s nephew and scholar of genealogy and history. He is a little shy, but a fine looking young man with slightly tousled hair, freckles, and bright eyes. He wears white and yellow breeches and doublet studded with silver and a mask resembling a faux silver knight’s helm.
- Diane Sice de Sice – Diane is the daughter of Lady Jamais, an atheist and philosopher who writes to Eisenfurst Niklaus Trague in Freiburg. She is young, with blonde hair, green eyes, and the trademark Sice dimples. Her eyes shine with intelligence and her smile can be taken as patronizing by some. She has the overconfidence typical of youth. She is dressed in the raiment of a forest elf, with a somewhat risqué light green gown with yellow lace, set with emerald jewels. Her hair is raised in the manner of two tousled horns, with a deep green mask.
- Admiral Alazais Varoix Praisse de Rachetisse III – As usual, the Admiral of Montaigne is present. He wears a costume portraying a Crescent sun god, with ancient style gold and white robes, sash, and a mask seemingly made of plated gold. The Admiral is older but still strikes a strong and handsome figure, with a powdered wig, mature visage, and tanned skin.
- Jean-Marie Rois et Reines de Rogné (Brief Appearance) – Captain of the Musketeers, strikingly handsome man in his early 30s with dark curls, van dyke goatee, and playful brown eyes. He wears his uniform with a simple mask and does not stay long, only to greet Georgette. Many people mention his mother, the “Great Dame,” Therese.
- Evangeline Allais de Crieux – Niece of the Duc de Crieux. Young, plays demure and innocent but very calculating. Naive to the hardships of the poor. She is the trophy no one can have. She is resplendent in a forest queen costume with silver leaves, an emerald green gown, and silver crown with twisted bands in the style of the ancient Cymric. Her porcelain white mask is shaped with a unicorn horn and tilted, elongated eyes. Her costume is filled with emerald jewelry including a large brooch pinning a green cloak hanging in strips resembling grass, with more silver leaves hanging from it.
- Daniela Flaubert de Laverne – Maid of Honor to Evangeline and a minor noble. She is in a forest maiden’s costume that accessorizes Evengeline’s but is not as stunning. She also wears a green gown, with the same style half cape, but her mask is green and her jewelry seems to comprise of fire opals.
- Frantz Desaux de Montaigne – Swordsman’s Guild Master. He primarily sticks to the company of the greater nobles, as everyone else is far below his station, though he will take an interest in Aristide, a potential rival grand master. He wears a platinum swordsman guild pin. Frantz is wearing a ceremonial silvered breastplate and costume that suggests Bastion, the ancient hero of Montaigne. His mask is a lightweight, silvered helm with a visor.
- Aristide Baveux – Grand Master of the Knights of the Rose and Cross. Aristide’s costume is that of a fox, with deep red fur boots and half cape, along with red breeches set off by a white doublet and red vest. His mask adds the final touches of a sly fox. Aristide is a favorite of the court and woman will sigh as he passes them.
- Sylvia Flaubert du Doré – The daughter of matriarch Pierre, her family is out of favor because Pierre converted farmland to cattle pastures and contributed to a famine starting to take shape. Sylvia is one of the great beauties of Theah, with every eligible bachelor at her beck and call. She has a classic Numan beauty to her, with high cheekbones, dark hair with large curls, and slightly olive skin. In an overture perhaps to tease that she is eligible, she wears all white, with silvered slippers, a jeweled faerie mask, diamond necklace, rings, and earrings, and a silver crown. She will drive Evangeline mad with envy as a rival.
- Jardin Riché de Paroisse – The uncle of matriarch Mariana, the Riche’s are known for being poor and short in stature, but fiercely loyal to L’Empereur. The family taxes river traffic for its wealth and has a large province. Jardin is a retired Admiral and will be dressed as a huntmaster. He is in his 50s, with a powdered wig, weathered skin, rheumy gray eyes, and a mustache.
- Albion Riché de Paroisse – Albion is the son of Mariana, and has a rolly-polly figure, premature balding, a spade cut beard, and gaping smile. He is one of the finest duelists in all of Montaigne, a master of Valroux and student of Tout Pres, Gaulle, and Durcheseitzunburg. He has a degree in history and recites love poetry, but is shy amongst women. He offers his dueling services free of charge to a woman in need. He wears a gold Swordsman’s Guild pin, and is dressed as a huntsman, complete with horn, boots, and cloak.
- Anne Duboise du Arrent – A social maven and aunt of patriarch Samuel. She doesn’t stand out in terms of beauty, but has a bubbly, fun loving personality. She has auburn hair, freckles, green eyes, and full cheeks like a chipmunk. She is dressed as a sea elf in blue gown, with silver jewelry set in sapphires. Her family has the largest province, which is known as the breadbasket of the realm. The family is generous and well-liked.
- Paulette Bisset du Verre – Young Sister of young matriarch Claude, she is a skilled writer and satirist, who nobles avoid angering for fear her quill will be turned against them. She makes gossip on the excess of the nobility and wears a a “humble” yellow gown, and plain silver jewelry. She has dark straight hair, and smoky, intense gray eyes.
- Marie Étalon du Toille – Great granddaughter of the patriarch, Mahree is a master of the occult and Porte despite her very young age. She has straight black hair, large intelligent eyes, bangs, and a button nose. She is dressed as a fae queen in purple gown with silver and amethyst. Her family is known for its martial prowess and powerful stallions.
- Olivia Villeneuve – She is dressed in a gold gown with white lace and petticoats, with summer flower adornments, fire opals, and a gold colored mask. Her auburn hair also is adorned with flowers. Olivia is in her late 20s, with large brown eyes and a slight smile that makes her look as though she is in on a secret.
A Mysterious Aside
During the festivities, Olivia Villeneuve visited each Hero and Heroine in turn and made small talk, before suggesting they enjoy the west garden after the 9 bells. She brought them together and said a friend of hers was in dire need of their help, and that their reputation or that of their patrons preceded them. She believed they were men and women of conscience and duty, and this undertaking could save the lives of many.
If they wished to learn more, they could come to an apartment, #8 on the Rue de la Beaucoup de Chevaux (also known as Rue de Chevaux) near the marketplace for afternoon tea at 1 bell.
Near the manor, the Heroes—minus Stepan—gathered and could hear some scuffling in an alley. They spotted a man in soiled commoners attire standing at the alley entrance with his arms folded, as if casually watching out.
They then heard a muffled feminine call for help. A young woman and her servant were being cornered by several thugs who were shaking them down. One ripped an ornate Prophet’s Cross from the women’s neck.
The Heroes sprang into action. Mireille easily dispatched several thugs, while Annalies, who was perched on a roof for a better vantage, tacked the thug nearest the victim. Baltasar and Natalia helped defeat the rest of the thugs. Stepan arrived after the dirty work was finished.
Afterwards, several men, hooded in black and armed with sheathed rapiers, stepped into the alley but made no moves of aggression. When the Heroes abstained from mindlessly attacking, one of the figures said the Heroes had passed their “test.”
The Heroes and Heroines again were greeted by Olivia, who apologized for the scuffle outside but claimed her patron has selective tastes. She introduced her patron, none other than Cardinal Erika Durkheim, Vatacine Cardinal of Eisen who is also responsible for Montaigne since the disappearance of Montaigne Cardinal Maurice d’Argeneau.
Cardinal Durkheim warmly welcomed the Heroes and apologized for the test, but assured them it was necessary not only to determine their skill in arms, but also their restraint.
Durkheim tells them of a very important member of her flock that desperately needs their help. She hints at the person in need of aid being a member of the royal family, and said that person cannot easily avoid the scrutiny of the court. Durkheim said the Heroes would have a chance to change the lives of many, maybe an entire nation if they meet Durkheim’s charge underneath the Chapel of Saint Pierre.
The Heroes and Heroines agreed to aid Durkheim.