The night began by playing through a series of Interludes that took the heroes from Portugal to Hindoostan.
- Chiara (Trial): the wanderers and crew of the Maiden’s Breath contract mild cases of dysentery from tainted water along their journey. All recovered, but Wilhelm’s case was particularly bad.
- Joe H (Boon): during a stop at a Portuguese port, Father Diego liberated a small group of African pygmies from mistreatment at the hands of local church authorities. Grateful for his aid and citing tribal honor, the pygmies insisted on accompanying Father Diego on his journey to Hindoostan.
- Heather (Obstacle): Pirates overtook the Maiden’s Breath along the Horn of Africa. In the battle, Isabella was confronted by a Spanish pirate whose poisoned blade struck home. Weakened by her bought with dysentery, Isabella lay in a perilous state for several days, wracked by feverish visions. (Unfortunately for Father Diego, all but one of the pygmy tribesmen were killed in the battle with the pirates. The sole remaining tribesman, a witch doctor, continues to accompany him.)
- Chris (Treasure): The defeat of the pirate vessel revealed a cache of items bound for western shores. Indeed, it appears that the fiendish crew had been preying on ships of the Dutch East India Company, sailing from Siam. In its hold were examples of exotic wares, including opulent clothing and a few weapons.
The wanderers arrived at the Portuguese colony of Hooghly to find a man awaiting them on the docks. This stranger sought an immediate audience with Captain Otto. Father Diego took him to be a man of Portuguese heritage, but oddly of protestant faith, and quickly set about to discover any secret Inquisition involvement (there did not appear to be). After a short meeting, Captain Otto emerged from his cabin to tell the rest of the wanderers that the Maiden’s visit would be cut short. He provided them with a letter of introduction to Baron Eurico da Silva, the governor of Hooghly, who was a friend and contact and should provide every hospitality to his companions in the captain’s absence.
While Fr Diego stabled his horse at the Bandel Church, Wilhelm and Isabella passed the time at a nearby teahouse. After Wilhelm argued with the proprietor over the lack of good Bavarian stout, the couple were approached by a Hindu woman dressed in simple armor. She stood out from the rest of the Bengali patrons, who seemed to give her only passing notice despite the amazed stares of the Portuguese. She introduced herself as Idrissa Navalé, and inquired as to the Bavarian’s availability for hire.
Her cousin, she told them, had only recently returned from fighting rebels in Ahmadnagar in the service of the Emperor. There, he had contracted a strange malady that left him feverish and raving. The local doctors had so far been unable to diagnose or cure him, and his father, Khalid ibn Najam, had sent for aid from General Islam Khan in Dhaka. The local Bengalis believed her cousin had been cursed by the Black Heart of the Deccan, a foul witch who dwelt under the protection of the Sultans there. “The believe a demon now rides his soul,” she said, “and that he is behind the murder of several farmers who live on the outskirts of Hooghly.”
Indeed, after a few inquiries, Isabella had confirmed the truth of these tales. The Bengali were hesitant to speak of them, perhaps because of the presence of Idrissa. Those who did laid the blame on the tiger cult of the Sunderbans. The Portuguese, not prone to such superstitions, believed the murders were simply the act of a mad dog or perhaps a rogue tiger. Those who had been killed had either been women, children, or the infirm, after all. But while the bodies had all been found close to the homes they’d been taken from, no cries of panic or alarm had aroused any nearby guards at the time of the attack. The murders had all taken place at night, the bodies mutilated as though by some ferocious beast.
Only days before the wanderers had arrived in Hooghly, many of the nearby villages who had suffered losses had pooled their resources and hired the esteemed Portuguese hunter Christovao da Franc. He had set off into the wilds of the jungle to find and kill the beast. The mood at the teahouse was confident that he would succeed.
Coincidentally, while at the Bandel Church, Fr Diego was reviewing journals of some of the Jesuit priests available in the church’s library. In the more recent entries, he found plenty of mention of the tiger cult, with some alarm that fear of the cult was undermining the church’s mission in Hindoostan. While these reports did not lay blame for the recent murders on the cult, they did not excuse the possibility. And besides, that the local Bengalis believed them responsible was enough. Concerned, Fr Diego set off to reunite with Isabella and Wilhelm at the teahouse.
He arrived just ahead of an alarmed messenger. “All is lost!” he cried. “da Franc has been killed! His remains discovered at dawn! The demon still stalks us!” The upcry from the teahouse was alarming. The wanderers immediately set off after the messenger to learn more details of the hunter’s demise. da Franc’s body had been found, yes, but not those of his porters (who were presumed dead as well). His camp had been nearly a day north of Hooghly, deep in the jungle. With this information, Wilhelm and Isabella agreed to help Idrissa restore her family’s honor and clear her cousin’s name. Fr Diego, spoiling for a good hunt, also agreed to join the chase! It was agreed; they would leave at first light.
…to be continued.