A Cult of One
(A sort-of modified adaption of the Brian M. Sammons scenario published in Secrets)
Joe … James Walker
Shannon … Sister Sarah Anne Flemming
William … Shane Proctor
Believe it or not, before proper play even began there were sanity checks to be made. James and Sarah Anne had been having bad dreams over the months since their encounter with the avatar of Y’golonac. These dreams were quite disturbing to say the least. Recently, they had taken on a more sinister and perverted tone, with James and Sarah Anne both dreaming that they were the ones participating in acts of debauchery. The alarming thing was… they seemed to be enjoying it. In the dreams at least.
Sarah Anne was also getting better at embroidery, her sole artistic skill. It seemed to coincide with her reading of a translation of The King in Yellow. One of the characters in the play also happened to be quite good with the knitting needle, and this appeared to be feeding Sarah Anne’s creativity.
The session proper began when James Walker had an unexpected guest drop by his apartment one afternoon: Mary, his ex-girlfriend. James was not exactly thrilled to see her, but poor Mary looked rather distraught and upset, so he reluctantly invited her in. She apologized for dropping in on James without warning, but she didn’t know who else to turn to. It would seem Mary’s father, Ralph Morgan, has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Ralph had just undergone a heart transplant operation the week prior, and was still recovering in hospital. Through a fit of sobbing, Mary told James that her father had been acting quite peculiar in the days prior to his sudden disappearance. The doctors had assumed his strange behavior was a side effect of the medication he was given, but Mary seemed to think otherwise. Ralph had forgotten his daughter’s name on a number of occasions, calling her ‘Lisa’ instead of Mary. He would sometimes speak in a strange voice and mutter things in different languages. And then there was the note he had left behind when he vanished from his hospital room…
Well, if I had any artistic bones in my body and knew how to use Photoshop, I might produce more authentic looking handouts, but this worked well enough…
Mary felt that James could help because he knows a few doctors and hospital staff members through his job at the crime lab, and the police, as always, were doing diddly squat about this particular missing persons case (I bet good ol’ Detective McIntyre was on the case… for a guy they’ve never met, he sure has caused a lot of grief for the PC’s…). Figuring the note was weird enough to warrant looking into further, James agreed to help his ex, and gave his pals Shane Proctor and Sister Sarah Anne a call.
Upon arrival at Sunrise, the investigators saw half a dozen news vans and another half dozen police cars parked outside the building. As they entered the hospital foyer, the trio saw a swarm of reporters and police officers surrounding a middle-aged man who, judging by a black eye and taped-up ribs, had clearly been the victim of a rather nasty assault. Shane asked one of the rubbernecking reporters what was going on. The reporter informed Shane that the assault victim was Donald Anderson, and his daughter had apparently been kidnapped earlier in the day after a strange man burst into her room and attacked Donald. Shane also passed a Spot Hidden check and saw a couple of police officers studying an artist’s sketch of the man who was presumably the suspect, but Shane did not recognize who the man was.
The investigators learned more about this situation as one of the television journalists began a live interview with Mr. Anderson. Anderson said that his daughter Lisa was recovering from a pancreatic transplant operation, that she was doing fine until just a couple days ago, when she started acting strange. Anderson was hesitant to elucidate here, reluctantly revealing that Lisa had started referring to herself as ‘we’, and was speaking in a ‘made-up language’. This morning, Lisa had sat up in bed and announced “We’re here!” before a strange man burst in and attacked Donald. Mr. Anderson managed to fight him off briefly, but Lisa pointed a finger at him and muttered something in her bizarre play-language which caused Anderson’s muscles to seize up momentarily. He immediately fell to the floor and started to black out. The last thing Mr. Anderson remembered was seeing his daughter get out of bed, with the strange man claiming they should pay a visit to “Dr. Apples… or something like that name,” Anderson said.
There were now two confirmed cases of a patient acting very odd after a transplant, so the investigators decided to pursue that particular lead first. They attempted to gain access to the hospital’s computer records, but a staff member coldly began reciting doctor/patient confidentiallity doggerel at them. Shane tried to show his FBI badge, but no warrant and a failed Credit Rating check meant no dice. The investigators instead decided to look up ‘Dr. Apples’ in the hospital directory. There they found a listing for a ‘Dr. Appleton’, who James knew of (by name at least) as the deputy coroner for the county. The party headed downstairs to the morgue to see if Dr. Appleton was available. They instead found a rather attractive redhead by the name of Dr. Alicia Bennet, which made gynephobia suffering Shane ever-so-slightly nervous. Dr. Bennet informed all that Appleton was out at the moment, and she didn’t know where he was (successful Psychology checks revealed Dr. Bennet might have been holding something back here). Sarah Anne convinced Dr. Bennet to allow the party to look at the hospital’s recent death records, which revealed at least four recently deceased organ donors, but none of them had donated a heart or pancreas as yet.
Taking a business card for Dr. Appleton, the investigators first tried to call him, but only managed to catch a voice mail message, so they instead looked him up in the White Pages and found that he lived in a nice residential area in Henderson, just outside the big city. The trio drove over to Appleton’s house, noting that there was a car in the driveway and mail in his mailbox (“You Might Have Won $1,000,000 From Publisher’s Clearing House!”). Spot Hidden rolls revealed some small crimson stains at the foot of the front door, which had been left just barely ajar. All was quiet on the street as Shane stealthily drew his gun and entered the house.
Inside the living room, the investigators saw the remnants of a fire recently extinguished in the fireplace – something very odd considering the blazing hot temperatures as of late. Sifting through the ashes, the party saw a corner of a piece of stationary from Sunrise Hospital, which confirmed suspicions that the fire was used to destroy something potentially incriminating.
The investigators moved further into the house. Upon opening the bathroom door, the party was greeted with an unholy stench. James immediately recognized the odor as sulfuric acid, and opened the bathroom window to help vent the room. The investigators saw that the bathtub was filled with a sickly yellow acid with a white, slimy, greasy sludge floating on top. The party wisely left the acid alone and checked out the den across the hall.
On Appleton’s desk they found a post-it note written in a similar style of handwriting to Ralph Morgan’s strange note left for Mary. The post-it simply said: “When you’re done here, come to 14319 Widow’s Run Rd.:” Nothing else of interest was discovered in the den, so the investigators moved on to the kitchen.
There they found a mess of bloodstains, scattered ice cube trays, silverware spilled all over the floor, and a bowling ball sitting on the kitchen table. There was also a side door leading down… to the basement.
Typically, the basement was dark, with a set of rickety wooden stairs leading downwards. A solitary 60-watt bulb from the Dark Ages provided the only light source, so Shane also whipped out his flashlight. The first thing the investigators came across in the dim basement was a massive chest freezer. Tendrils of cold air escaped from under the lid, which hadn’t been closed properly. As James inspected it closer, he could see congealed blood had spilled out from the chest.
The investigators steeled themselves and swung the freezer door open, revealing a gestalt of icy gore and bones, as if a human being had been turned inside out and unceremoniously dumped in there. The sight of all this caused more than one investigator to feel ill, but things would get even more hairy mere moments later, as James nearly had his head taken off by a swinging cleaver. Luckily, the forensic scientist unconsciously moved out of the way at just the right time…
The party turned around to see a man… or what was once a man – now a pale, blue-skinned monstrocity with loose flesh hanging from gaunt cheeks and a bloated belly full of gas. The ghastly man had silently crept up on the investigators and had attempted to slash James with a gore-encrusted meat cleaver, but (fortunately for James) missed. The cleaver clanged violently against the metal lid of the freezer and went careening through the air. I called for Luck and Dodge rolls, and it was Sarah Anne who came up short, getting nicked in the shoulder for a couple of points of damage.
Shane and James immediately trained their guns on their assailant and started to open fire. A couple of point-blank shots connected, but only seemed to stagger the man, who made no sounds of pain or discomfort as the bullets shredded his decayed flesh. The man reached into the freezer with surprising speed and pulled out a frozen leg and began brandishing it as a club, attempting to bash Shane over the head with it. Sarah Anne tried to place her cross upon the unholy being and mutter a prayer, but this only seemed to irritate the creature (there’s no Turn Undead in this game, I’m afraid!).
Joe rolled an impale (at point blank range, no less), which, in game terms, meant that James had effectively blown the man’s head clean off. Shane, who was on the other side of this, was covered in brains and blood, which meant anotherSAN check for him. The ex-FBI man was rapidly losing his cool…
Sarah Anne searched the now headless corpse’s pockets and discovered that it was Dr. Appleton that had just attacked them. The party attempted to examine the ‘Thing’ that was Appleton, to determine the original cause of death (before being re-animated), but failed Medicine rolls led James Walker to conclude that he may have just blown away the evidence he needed.
Having learned something from previous experiences, James decided it would be a wise idea to pick up any shell casings left behind and to wipe down the house as best they could before leaving. It was about an hour from dusk when the party finished at the Appleton house. The address from the post-it note seemed to be their best lead now, so the investigators decided to follow up on it. The place turned out to be in the middle of nowhere, north of Boulder City and southwest of the Las Vegas Bay area. By the time Shane’s car pulled up to the house in the woods, it was already dark.
‘House’ may be too kind a word, actually. It was more a derelict shack with sun-blasted wooden siding and a sagging roof. The windows had been boarded up, and a notice from the Department of Health and Human Services deeming the place unfit for living had been posted on the door (though by the looks of things someone had recently ripped it off). Next to the hut was a tool shed with a sturdy padlock attached, and behind that was a well and a battered, stinking old outhouse. Shane (or should I say William?) was rather concerned about this outhouse containing clues, and thus asked if the group should poke around inside it on more than one occasion, which caused some amusing howls of vexation from the other players.
At any rate, the party went for the tool shed first, with now-expert locksmith James Walker easily dispatching the padlock (makes you think he should have gone into safecracking instead of forensic science). Inside, the investigators found a jumble of old rafters and shingles and a rusty axe that had been used for chopping wood. In the center of the shed was a large round tree stump that had been turned into a makeshift altar. Resting on the altar was… a hand. But not just any hand…
The sight of this caused some SAN loss for certain investigators, and James could feel the wounds that wouldn’t quite heal right on both his shoulder and scalp start to throb painfully. The Hand was actually carved from a strange green-grey stone, and the base, made from clay, had something in Latin engraved in it. Sarah Anne was the Latin expert of the group, but failed to discipher what exactly the writing was. No matter, the nun had already decided she wanted to burn the shed down. The others convinced her this was a bad idea because of the potential for a forest fire, so Sarah Anne instead decided to grab the wood axe and made a move to destroy the artefact of Y’golonac. However, something in her mind… something unexplainable, prevented her from bringing the axe down upon the Hand. Her willpower drained, she handed the axe over to Shane, who seemed to have no such problems bringing the axe down upon the Hand and crushing the stone into a million pieces. Satisfied, the investigators moved on to check out the shack.
The front door had no lock, and was actually hanging half off its hinges. Inside, the party found a dirty, muddy floor with few furnishings, only a makeshift wooden table and some wobbly chairs surrounding it. On the table were some more scribblings from the apparently tortured mind of Ralph Morgan…
The kitchen was a disaster area, and the only other room of note was a bedroom area. The investigators searched the room and found a loose floorboard which was covering up a trove of interesting clues. There was a tattered scroll with Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs which, although Sarah Anne couldn’t read it, her Archeology skill told her it was at least a few thousand years old, and was thus in remarkable condition for its age. Also of interest was a photo album, containing pictures of a portly bearded gentleman from the United Kingdom in the late 1800’s. The pictures continued through the decades, yet the man never seemed to age a day. Shane passed an Occult roll and managed to recognize the bearded man standing next to Aleister Crowley in one of the pictures from the mid-1920’s. Whomever this man was, he was clearly heavily involved in the dark arts.
Also uncovered was a thick journal, which revealed the identity of the stranger in the photographs as Jebediah Gammell, an Englishman born in the 17th Century. Although not explicitly stated, it was implied that Gammell had extended his lifespan through the practice of sorcery. The journal talked about Gammell’s flock, which he often referred to as “the Sons”, being driven out of the Severn Valley area in rural England and fleeing to America. Once here, they decided to set up shop outside of Las Vegas, since it seemed to be the most appropriate den of sin and debauchery they could find in this country.
Gammell also talked at length about his apprentice – Colin Hammond. Indeed, one of the final photographs in the album showed Gammell standing amid a group of people, presumably the others in his cult. Two of the people in the group photo were Colin and Edith Hammond, the creepy porn merchants the investigators had dealt with a few months prior. As the journal entries progressed, Gammell was growing more and more suspicious of Colin, and feared that the Hammonds were trying to turn the ‘Sons’ against him. Around mid-May, the entries abruptly stopped (the events of ‘Love’s Lonely Children’ took place in June).
Heads spinning with these revelations, the investigators returned to Shane’s car and debated what their next move was. It was decided they should check up on the name from the madman’s rant, Peter Kersey. Mr. Kersey’s address was found through James’ laptop, a small house back towards Vegas. Although it was now getting close to midnight, the party decided to swing by the house anyway. They discovered a light on in the living room and a car in the driveway. Shane passed a Sneak roll and crept up to the front window, spotting what looked like an art studio. However, while Shane went unnoticed, Kersey did apparently spot Sarah Anne and James loitering around at the end of his driveway, because he soon burst through the front door waving a .357 Magnum around like a lunatic, demanding to know what the hell they wanted.
Sarah Anne somehow managed to placate the derranged Kersey, even going so far as to get him to invite her and James into the house. Kersey, with beads of sweat forming on his forehead, explained that he wasn’t feeling very well. He had recently come home from the hospital after a kidney transplant, and he was suffering from terrible nightmares every night. As an artist, he couldn’t resist attempting to recreate what he saw in those nightmares, no matter how terrible he thought they were. Sarah Anne asked to see Kersey’s paintings, so the artist showed her and James into his living room studio. The two investigators saw some horrible, horrible things in the paintings (depictions of various Great Old Ones doing nasty things), so bad that they instantly gained a point of Cthulhu Mythos and had to make SANchecks.
Other paintings in the room included a number of portraits, including one of Kersey himself, Lisa Anderson, and Ralph Morgan. A fourth canvas remained blank, and the fifth and final canvas in the room had a depiction of… Colin Hammond. Sarah Anne asked about the blank canvas, but Peter didn’t know how to respond. He simply stated that he didn’t yet feel compelled to paint that picture yet, because he hadn’t yet seen what ‘Michael’ looked like in his nightmares.
While this was going on, Shane heard something creeping up behind him. He turned to see an unimaginable horror – a viperine creature close to 40 feet in length with gruesome black, rubbery skin, razor sharp fangs, and a single flapping wing protruding from its back. Shane lost his cool upon seeing this hideous beast, and, being a generous (or vindictive, depending on how you look at this) Keeper of Arcane Lore, I let William roll his own temporary insanity on the table. He rolled…. HOMICIDAL MANIA! Quite possibly the worst result someone packing heat could get. Shane pulled his 9mm out and started firing wildly at the creature. One of his shots hit, but seemed to do very little, if any, damage. The creature’s skin was quite thick and resistant to bullets…
However, the beast completely ignored Shane, instead making a beeline for the front window of Peter Kersey’s house. It shattered its way in and made for the artist, who sunk to the floor drooling having failed a sanity check himself. Sarah Anne and James kept their cool for the time being – James pulled out his gun and opened fire. Sarah Anne, having actually passed a Cthulhu Mythos check, recalled something about a summoned creature known as a ‘Hunting Horror’, and that it was always known as a creature of the night. She tried to shine her flashlight into the monster’s eyes, but this only seemed to irritate the thing.
The Horror whirled its long tail around and grabbed Peter Kersey with it, pinning his arms down with a powerful grasp, rendering the artist helpless. James hit the creature with a couple of shots for minimal damage, when Shane burst in through the shattered window, still derranged and wildly firing his gun at every target in sight. His first shot caught James in the side of the head, killing him instantly. The sight of this caused Sarah Anne to fail a sanity check of her own, and she instantly fainted. Shane kept firing irratically, with some of his shots connecting with the Horror and at least one hitting Peter Kersey in the shoulder, which caused the terrified artist to scream and wail even louder.
The creature clamped down on Shane with its razor teeth a few times, dishing out a considerable amount of punishment. Shane was on the verge of death, but he didn’t give a damn. He was going to kill every last stinking thing in this room or he was going to die trying. He continued firing, a couple more shots connecting with the creature, and a final shot plugging Peter Kersey in the chest, killing him. The Hunting Horror let loose a ghastly rage-filled roar and clamped down on Shane with its teeth one more time, sending the crazed man into a state of unconsciousness.
By the time Sarah Anne awoke, the creature was gone, and Shane was bleeding out. The nun administered enough first aid to bring Shane back around. Shane didn’t remember a damn thing from the last ten minutes or so, but suggested they act quickly to find whoever killed James and Peter… and then he looked down and saw the gun in his hand (even more SAN loss!). Sarah Anne quickly decided on the best course of action: burn the place to the ground. She fiddled with the gas stove and set the curtains alight, and soon enough the entire Kersey house was ablaze. As Sarah Anne and a dazed and sickly Shane passed the body of James Walker, they noted that the wounds on his scalp and shoulder were bleeding freely, but they had little time to investigate. The two standing investigators fled from the scene of the crime and started to drive away. Fast.
In the aftermath, it occured to Sarah Anne that there could be a way to cheat their way around the terrible events that had just transpired. Perhaps the arcane incantation she had picked up in one of the Yellow Codices would help. The spell, if successfully cast, would allow the sorcerer to travel backwards or forwards in time. Sarah Anne hypothesized that if she went back in time just a few hours she could somehow stop the three investigators from ever going to Peter Kersey’s house (ignoring the friendly warnings about breaking the first law of time in the process ;P).
Sarah Anne and a battered and mentally drained Shane found a clearing so Sarah Anne could attempt the incantation. Unfortunately, Sarah Anne botched her INT checks whilst trying to learn the spell, so she didn’t fully understand how it worked. I ruled that unless Sarah passed a Luck roll, she would have little control over not only how far she travelled in time, but how far she would travel in space as well. Typically, Sarah Anne failed her Luck roll, and her travels back in time took her quite a bit farther back into the past than she anticipated.
January 1923 to be exact.
After losing more SAN because of this, she managed to flag down a passerby and asked for the nearest Western Union office, hoping to pull a Back to the Future trick and send herself a message in the future. However, Sarah Anne soon discovered that Western Union didn’t exist in Southampton, England. Feeling even more sick from this revelation, Sarah Anne found her way to the telegraph office at the train station, and attempted to have a message delivered to Sarah Anne the day before any of the chaos occured. This quite possibly created a divergant timeline that goes beyond the scope of this humble campaign, assuming the Sarah Anne in the future adheres to the message instead of dismissing it as more surreal weirdness from reading The King in Yellow.
The Sarah Anne in 1923 then attempted to get herself back to her normal time, and went off to cast the time warping spell once again. This time she spent even more magic points, but… this was an even more disastrous sojourn through the vortex. Sarah Anne would end up 1,000,000,000,000 years in the future, which is well beyond the end of the universe as we know it. It may be beyond the death of the next universe. Regardless, her fate is, at this point, also beyond the scope of our campaign (it may well be that, since Sarah Anne was unknowingly a victim prone to possession by Y’golonac that she has unleashed a Great Old One on a new, innocent, unsuspecting universe… but again, we’ll leave that as idle speculation for the moment).
Shane meanwhile, had waited around until the following morning, but Sarah Anne never returned. He was growing more and more… angry… at having to loiter around for so long. Bleary-eyed and still wounded, Shane staggered off towards the hospital by himself…