Araby Dunsany was 19 years old when she was married against her will to a man she did not know. His name was Paracount Renault Tuvache and because Araby’s father owed him money, Renault took the youngest Dunsany daughter as payment. Araby was a talented dancer and the most beautiful and intelligent of the Dunsany daughters. She had graduated from Lady Docur’s School for Ladies and was enrolled in the Alabaster Academy where she was learning standard academia with additional classes in engineering. She also returned to the finishing school as a dance instructor between her studies. Upon being married to the Paracount, he withdrew her enrollment from the Alabaster Academy and forbade her from continuing her dancing lessons. Before she knew what was happening, Araby found herself trapped in a strange house with a strange man, her family abandoning her as they fled the city to escape other creditors.
Renault was a darkly handsome man, rugged, with mesmerizing eyes. His charms, when he wanted to be charming, were without measure, and soon Araby found herself strangely attracted to him. But although the two were married, Araby rarely encountered her husband. His mysterious comings and goings fired her curiosity and often she plotted to follow him, but his cruel servants always stopped her. They took great pleasure in locking her away in her room, so she would sit at her window and watch for her husband to return. After a few months, she began to fall in love with him, for he was mysterious, he was powerful and he was the only thing she had.
But in the meantime, she longed for something to entertain her mind. Araby was an extremely intelligent girl and every hour she spent in the old drafty Tuvache home, wandering from room to room, staring out the windows or spying on the servants was a drudgery and toil. Her only refuge was the library, where she spent many a pleasurable hour lost in fanciful romances or learning new sciences. One book in particular fascinated her starved mind. In was a book about clockmaking.
One day, the clock upon the mantle in the library stopped running. Araby used what she had learned from the book to repair it. The intricacies of the clockwork mechanism, the interlinking gears, wheels and springs were to her, a soul of beauty only rivalled by that of a well-performed ballet. In the rhythm and balance of the clock, she saw something that resembled a waltz.
One night, Renault held a grand ball, but once again, he locked Araby away in her room. She longed for the pleasure of company and to dance again but Renault refused her pleas. He wanted her only as a beautiful doll, her beauty for him only for he felt her lineage was poor and an affront to his peers. She reached out to the one friend she had in the house, the valet Graves, a manservant who had been with the family before even Renault was born. He had always been kind to her though he rarely spoke and he slipped her a key to her door. Readying herself in a beautiful dress she had brought with her when she first arrived, Araby went to leave, only to discover that the key was old and chipped and would not turn the lock. With tears in her eyes, Araby went to her window and watched. Alone, Araby listened to the music and laughter from down below and watched as carriage after carriage stop at the gates, beautifully dressed men and women stepping out and joining the festivities and dancing on the front grass in the summer moonlight. She could also see her husband dancing with other women, young and beautiful who fawned over the handsome older man. At this point, she was determined to escape, to force her husband to acknowledge her to his friends and peers and enjoy the pleasure of music and dance once again. Unfortunately, it took her most of the night to pick the lock on her door. By then, the party was almost over.
Quietly, Araby slipped into the hallway. Her ball gown whispered over the polished wooden floors. The music had stopped but she heard the murmur of conversation from the direction of the ballroom. She glided through the shadows down the hall until she reached the balcony. From its height, she saw her husband and a small group of other revellers suddenly transform into horrid wererats and devour and unwitting party-goer who had stayed too late. The poor woman’s dying screams reverberated through the halls as Araby fled back to her room.
The following day under the excuse of going to the market, Araby visited an alchemist she new from her studies before her marriage and with her wedding ring, she purchased a vial of silver-mercurium, an insidious poison so powerful it could slay were-beasts as well as any other living creature. She introduced the poison into the evening meal for her husband had several of his previous night’s guests still in attendance. By morning, she was a widow in control of the Tuvache Estate.
To her dismay, she discovered that she as nearly broke and that the estate was in shambles. In desperation, she opened a dance academy in the grand ballroom. Her students were few and her desperate venture failed. Most of the servants vanished when Renault died, many stealing from the house as they left, and she was unable to pay those who remained. Soon all had left her except Graves for he knew no other life. He was a strange, silent man, tall and thin as an undertaker. His frightening face was long and pale with dark deep-set eyes and a long, narrow nose. He was loyal to her and even drove the carriage she took to gain the poison on that fateful day.
One evening, Araby heard a commotion in the basement. She called to Graves and together they warily descended down the dark stairs and crossed the cold basement floor. The found a secret door. Behind it lay a passage that led deeper into the earth. The tunnel eventually brought them to an underground canal that passed beneath the estate. Here they found the cause of the commotion. A group of adventurers had met their fate here, killed by the giant rats thrived in the sewers and canals of Kintargo. Araby was amazed at the wealth the adventurers had upon their body and with Graves help, stripped them bare and pushed the bodies into the dark waters.
As the years passed, Araby, now Madame Tuvache, began to lure people to her basement where she would lock them in and let the rats have them, only to loot the remains once dead. She used a vial alchemical mixture to keep the rats at bay as she and Graves did their deeds. Eventually, the promise of fresh meat drew more and more rats until an abomination grew from diseased beasts, the various alchemical concoctions mixed with the taint of pure evil in the basement created a nightmarish beast called a Rat King. From this point on, Madame Tuvache could lure more powerful victims to her trap.
After a few years, Madame Tuvache had all the wealth she needed but found that she still was empty and lonely. She wished to hear the music of a waltz once again and dance across the polished floors of her ballroom. It was at this point, her already fracturing mind settled on a macabre scheme. To recreate the grand ball she had once missed on.
Many years passed, her research into clockmaking and engineering taking huge chunks of gold but now she had a use for the bodies of those she lured to their deaths. She built a clock tower onto the estate to run the inner workings of her grand scheme while Graves learnt embalming to turn the victims into dancers, guests and guards. Now into her 60s and her youthful beauty long lost, Araby spends each night dancing with her “man of her dreams” in the ballroom and enjoying dinner at table filled with guests. But she is always tinkering, improving her clockwork house, for it had become an obsession, a place she never wanted to leave. But the new Mayor had made the city dangerous, Adventurers now avoiding the place and her treasury started to dwindle.
If only there were others within the city that could be lured with a story of danger, where their greed could be played upon and their disappearance ignored by the guards and crown……