A crucial incident in the ANTIQUARIAN investigation took place on the Monday that Emile moved into the house with Patricia and Douglas. Whilst talking with Douglas in his first aid room down the mine, the room appeared to be the epicentre of some sort of unusual phenomenon – both men felt a pain in their ears and a vibrating sensation, as objects vibrated on the shelves. Some sort of sonic attack, perhaps?
Either way, the epicentre appeared to be the medical bay, but men in the surrounding areas of the mine felt some of the peripheral effects and assumed it was an earth tremor. The mine was evacuated as a precaution (incidentally stalling production on grounds the Germans couldn’t reasonably fault) and Douglas and Emile took the opportunity to sweep the mine for anything that seemed unusual. They found it in the form of a trail of goat-like footprints – prints suggesting a bipedal gait – that led down a disused side passage in the old Roman-era portion of the mines. Finding nothing else of interest, they returned to the surface.
With production shut down for the day in case the tremor proved to be the harbinger of more powerful seismic activity, the party found themselves at a loose end, but were invited by Claude Decharette to join the family for dinner that evening. Popping into the village’s restaurant to buy some wine for the dinner, the party encountered Oberstleutnant Rupert Klier, the commander of the German forces stationed north of the demarcation line, who was having himself an expansive lunch following one of his regular meetings with the mayor (ostensibly held to check in on how Klier’s men were behaving when they came down to visit the village on leave). Klier grilled the party on why the mine was closed, but accepted the explanation offered on safety grounds. (After the war, Klier’s personal journal was seized and revealed that he figured that the local anger if he forced the miners to work to the point where accidents started happening would be too steep a price to pay for the paltry ore the mine produced.) The party couldn’t help noticing that Klier had been reading an English-language copy of The Devil Rides Out.
Arriving at the dinner engagement, the party enjoyed the company of Louis Valoir, Claude Decharette, family patriarch Raimond Decharette and Reni Decharette, Claude’s beautiful younger sister. Maria Decharette, Claude and Reni’s mother, had apparently disappeared some years ago, and the party had also inferred that Malo – the object of the party’s investigations for N – had had some interesting discussions with Raimond before his own disappearance, and the party wanted to see what they could get out of Raimond. He was evidently not at ease discussing the matter of Maria in front of his children, and for their part they didn’t want him dwelling on it, but evidently the party were able to gain his trust, for after dinner he took Douglas and Emile aside (as Patricia distracted Reni and Claude departed to give Louis a lift home – apparently not concerned about the possibility of having to spend the night at Louis’ place due to the curfew) and told them an extraordinary story.
Taking the pair out onto the veranda of his mansion, which afforded a picturesque view of the monastery ruins and the forest, Raimond told the duo to watch a certain gap in the trees at the periphery of the woods. Sure enough, a shape that may have been a human figure appeared there momentarily before withdrawing into the forest. Incredibly, Raimond asserted that the figure was none other than the long-lost Maria, who he alleged had been hiding in the forest since her disappearance over a decade before!
Raimond explained that Maria had been a member of a pagan cult – a cult with ancient roots in the local area. She had made it very clear to him that he could not join her in this secret worship – it was strictly for locals only, and whilst the Decharette family had saved the town’s economic prospects when Raimond’s father moved into the area and reopened the copper mine, Raimond was still too much of an outsider to be considered for membership. A practical man, he had thought nothing of it, since aside from calling Maria away every New Moon her activities with the cult didn’t really seem to spill over into their married life. But then she disappeared to live in the forest, and Raimond was warned off in no uncertain terms from trying to follow her. Raimond had never met any of the other cultists – at least, not knowingly – but thye had demonstrated that they could get access to Raimond’s home trivially by leaving notes in places where only someone with access to the interior of the mansion would be able to get them.
Terrified of the cult coming after his children – even with Claude all grown up and Reni just hit 18 – Raimond didn’t make any investigations himself, but he did prompt Malo to look into these matters once he realised that Malo’s own investigations might cause him to cross paths with the cult. However, Malo’s disappearance only doubly convinced Raimond of the cult’s power, and since then he has publicly maintained the stance that Marie is almost certainly dead, and any belief he had expressed to the contrary previously was simple grief.
Meanwhile, Patricia was having trouble getting the measure of Reni, who seemed to brush off any efforts to get to know her. On a hunch, Patricia stuck her head in Reni’s bedroom en route to visiting the bathroom, and noted that Reni had laid out warm clothes and hiking boots – an eccentric choice to change into after dinner. Comparing notes as they departed the Decharette mansion, the investigators realised that the New Moon was that evening – and decided to watch the mansion to see if Reni were planning on heading to the cult meeting.
Sure enough, Reni emerged from the house a short while after the lights went out, and strode off towards the forest, passing by a small cairn on the way in. Progress into the forest proved difficult, however; an intense fear gripped Emile as the party was just about to pass beyond the outer periphery of the woods into a denser region and caused him to flee, and almost did the same for Douglas except for Patricia’s intervention. As Douglas and Patricia attempted to follow Reni into still deeper regions of the forest, the premonitions of doom became overwhelming for them, and some cruel trick of the forest caused them to be separated.
Each party member, after being separated from the others, discovered something interesting on their way out of the forest. Douglas encountered a camp of German soldiers who had been killed through some unknown agency which has crushed them, contorted them, or turned them inside-out unpredictably, and appeared to have detonated their ammunition in its cases. Searching the area he was able to find a logbook, which Patricia was later able to translate – as well as obtaining some significant war-related intelligence, it told of how the soldiers had gone into the woods for a “training exercise” that was more of an excuse for some relaxation, entering the woods from the occupied zone, only to find that at the end of their weekend break they couldn’t leave the forest, and as the days wore on they became convinced that some malevolent force was watching them. Douglas fled the area when the camp came under the influence of a more intense version of the phenomenon which had occurred down the mine – this time intense enough that it caused bleeding from Douglas’ ears and made the remnants of the German soldiers wheel around like debris caught in a cyclone.
Patricia, for her part, found herself on a forest trail when she heard the clattering of many hooves coming in her direction. Hiding by the side of the road, she was astonished to witness a party of fauns dragging a sled. Tied to the sled was a German soldier in a ragged uniform; Patricia attempted but failed to block the passage of the sled or jump onto it, but failed, and was left powerless to help the soldier as he screamed for aid, the fauns dragging him deeper into the woods.
Emile found on the edge of the forest a tree with a curious carving, depicting a youth’s head surrounded by a curious spiral pattern. Studying the pattern, Emile thought he saw potential parallels with certain fringe interpretations of Einstein’s work on gravity, and made a copy.
By dawn the party had reconvened at the house. Emile had emerged from the forest almost immediately after the party entered, but Douglas and Patricia both ended up staying until almost dawn. This was surprising to both of them, since they had estimated they had only spent an hour or two in the woods, and Douglas’ watch showed only the passage of a couple of hours. As the party pondered the mystery, a note popped through the front door – a quick look outside revealed Reni Decharette, innocently strolling away and bidding good morning to the town’s residents. The note graciously thanked the party for attending dinner, but included a curious postscript about how nice and sensible it is to avoid Attention. Realising that they were being warned off, the party decided to work on maintaining their covers until the time came for the next SOE parachute drop.