A number of incidents from prior to Emile moving into the spare room are worth noting.
On Friday 23rd May, as the electrician was finishing wiring up the house, he discovered in the loft a set of books which he brought to Patricia’s attention. These were occult books – nothing expensive or obscure enough to get very excited about, but evidently the collection of someone who knew the subject. The initials “NV” were inscribed inside the front covers.
Meanwhile, at the mine Douglas encountered Dr Saul Malik, the local general practitioner, who stopped by to introduce himself and discuss how Saul and Douglas should contact each other in the event that a mining accident or medical emergency in the local area demanded the attention of both doctors. In the course of the conversation, Douglas began to get the impression that Dr Malik was not a native French speaker – although his accent was near-perfect, there were a few slips here and there, and his pronunciation of technical medical terms were, if anything, extremely polished – as though he’d specifically practiced them. Malik also displayed a certain distaste for the fascists.
Later, as Patricia and Douglas popped into the town hall to see about registering Douglas’ details, Lilane Castile – the head clerk – recalled that “NV” might refer to Nicolas Variel, a mysterious figure in town who had disappeared about 15-16 years ago. Reni Decharette, the mine owner, happened to stop by the town hall at that point on his way to an appointment with the mayor (one of his many doomed attempts to persuade the mayor to help him negotiate less ruinous prices for the mine’s ores from the Germans). Patricia introduced herself and, on realising that Douglas was the mine’s new doctor, Rene invited the couple to have dinner with him some time.
On Sunday 25th May, Patricia and Douglas attended church. The local church was an old medieval structure, with a statue of an abbot over the entrance – presumably one of the former abbots of the ruined monastery that neighboured the Decharette estate. They were surprised to note that the interior had apparently been extensively remodelled some years ago at what must have been great expense. Behind the altar was a large painting depicting Satan tempting Christ with the kingdoms of the Earth – but rather than being depicted by cities in a desert landscape as is more typical for such studies, the kingdoms in question were depicted by a view of the wood to the north of the town, as depicted from a high vantage point. “Satan” in the painting seemed to be modelled on the same abbot who stood above the entrance.
After the sermon, Patricia and Douglas made small talk with the priest, Father Beaumarais. a nervous and stuttering man who talked all the right talk about faith but didn’t quite seem to believe it himself. According to him, the church’s refurbishments – including the painting behind the altar – were the responsibility of his predecessor, Father Milo, who had vanished a couple of decades ago. Beaumarais vaguely recalled hearing that Milo was acquainted with Nicolas Variel, and mentioned that he had to field a lot of questions about Milo due to “treasure hunters”; apparently, Father Milo’s extravagant spending hadn’t gone unnoticed and its exact source wasn’t known, and widespread theories existed that he had discovered some old treasure from the monastery that was stashed in the area.
Douglas noted that a number of locals didn’t appear to attend church: Saul Malik, according to Father Beaumarais, liked to visit housebound patients on Sunday so that they wouldn’t feel so alone whilst most of the community was at worship, whilst Louis Ferrand also seemed to be absent.
Patricia attempted to reach out psychically before the painting behind the altar. Although she did not sense the presence of any spirits, she did feel some oppressive force from the direction of the woods.