Sunday, March 19, 2023

Ties That Bind

I ran another session of Call of Cthulhu, starring the same characters who survived "Genius Loci." They have returned to Arkham after panicking and fleeing the horrible scene that unfolded in the Danvers State Lunatic Asylum. What follows is a write up of "Ties That Bind," one of the adventures included in the book Doors to Darkness. If you want plan on playing through the adventure, skip this recap! Spoilers ahead.

The Characters

Sirus Mean, former boxer and hobo

Leslie Cowell, antiques dealer

Hazel Murphy, flapper

Tony Tunacelli, wiseguy


Enid Carrington, the wife of a prominent and wealthy local banker, invited the members of the Arkham Historical Society to the construction site where her new mansion was being built. As a frequent customer at his antiques shop, she was on friendly terms with Leslie; she figured that the historical society might be able to identify some "strange rocks" that had been left behind at a scene of vandalism on her property.

As soon as the characters arrived, Enid pulled them over to a broken white marble fountain to show them the damage. The fountain's statue had been toppled and lay semi-submerged in water. Tony realized that something must have hit the statue very hard from the side to knock it down like that--almost as if it had been hit from the air. The group also noticed that the rim of the fountain had been gouged in several places; Enid told them that the "strange rocks" had been found near the the scrapes in the fountain's base.

Enid then took them to examine the stones, which she had had moved to the basement of the in-process mansion. The cellar door was solid steel and Enid had set three workers to guard it. Inside, the investigators examined the "stones," which appeared to be bulbous, banana-like structures. They were largely iridescent, reminiscent of mother of pearl, though their "tops" were akin to blue granite. Sirus realized that they were semi-transparent when held up to the light, which revealed that each piece of the "bunch" was filled with liquid and had a small solid mass floating within.

Enid mentioned that professors from Miskatonic University's College of Natural Sciences had been unable to identify them, and it was clear to the investigators that they had been barking up the wrong tree: these objects were not stone at all, they were most likely eggs of unnatural origin.

Some of the eggs had been broken, and their shards lay next to the intact eggs. The group noticed that the bits and pieces didn't add up to the number of eggs that were missing from the bunch. When they inquired into who had moved the eggs for Enid, they found that one of the workers on the site, Alfred Hackett, was absent from work today without explanation. Figuring that Alfred had absconded with one of the eggs, the group obtained his address at the Borden Arms from the worksite foreman.

The Borden Arms proved to be a run-down flophouse. Miss Osbourne, the owner of the Borden Arms, asked the investigators to remind Alfred that he was not allowed to have pets or women in his room--both of which she was sure was up there, given the ruckus she had heard earlier. After the group knocked on his door, Alfred opened it a crack and explained that he had stayed home from work due to illness. The investigators were blunt with him: they accused him of taking one of the alien eggs and hatching it. Alfred tried to close the door in their faces, but a woman's voice from within told him to admit them since the group clearly already knew something of what was going on.

Inside, the investigators found that Alfred was not alone. With him was Mary Carrington, Enid's daughter, and Dr. Leman, a professor from Miskatonic University. The creature had hatched from the stolen egg; they had placed it in a large terrarium in Alfred's kitchen and were studying it. The creature was about the size of a kitten, but its body was insectoid in shape--although it had reptilian skin. It's back legs were bird-like and taloned; its front legs were like those of a praying mantis, except they ended in square, blunt nails. Its head was horned and appeared somewhat like a horse's skull. It also sported batlike wings. 

As they were discussing the matter, a shadow fell over the kitchen window. A pony-sized version of the creature burst through the window, send shards of glass everywhere. Mommy was home! The creature swiped at Dr. Leman, decapitating him easily. Alfred rushed forward to protect Mary; the creature thrust its claw through his abdomen and ripped out his guts. Sirus and Tony unloaded their shotguns at the creature, causing it grab its baby and fly off through the window. As it ascended into the sky, it suddenly disappeared as if it had simply winked out of existence.

Mary Carrington was left in a catatonic state. They rushed her to their car and immediately drove to the construction site. At the site, they observed that the steel door to the cellar was battered and dented, but the creature had been unable to gain entry and retrieve its eggs. Although they were conflicted about what to do next, it was decided that they would destroy the remaining eggs so that no further creatures of this sort would be loose upon the Earth. Hazel decided to wait in the car with the still catatonic Mary.

Down in the cellar, Tony and Sirus took a sledgehammer and a crowbar to the eggs. When shattered, the liquid inside spilled out and immediately became gaseous. The smell was acrid and inhaling it caused Leslie, Sirus, and Tony to perceive the world differently. The walls of the cellar seemed to be breathing.

Back at the car, Hazel was trying to comfort Mary when the creature that attacked the Borden Arms materialized in the air and landed on the hood. It ignored Mary and Hazel, instead turning its gaze toward the mansion under construction. Realizing that its eggs had been destroyed, the creature howled in misery and took flight, again vanishing suddenly from sight.

When Sirus, Leslie, and Tony stumbled out of the cellar, to their eyes the sky was a lurid pink and the burning sun was waving fiery tentacles in the sky. Since Hazel was the only one in any shape to drive, she brought them all back to Leslie's antique shop to recover. As Hazel drove, the trio watched the sun split in two in mimicry of cellular division. A strange song came unbidden into their minds:

Along the shore the cloud waves break,

The twin suns sink behind the lake,

The shadows lengthen

In Carcosa.

Back at the antique shop, all of the statues turned their heads to gaze at the group as they entered--or at least that was how it seemed to Tony, Leslie, and Sirus. Each statue was wearing a mask, which it removed--the faces of the statues curled into ghoulish smiles.

The trio eventually regained their mental fortitude and the strange "hallucinations" stopped. However, Mary continued to be in an unresponsive state. Hazel remembered that Mary's older brother William was a graduate student at Miskatonic, so they drove her to campus and found him--they explained that there had been an accident (but not the nature of said accident) and pawned the girl off on him. 

Later that night, as they hunkered down in the basement of Leslie's antique shop, William Carrington paid them a visit to say that he had Mary committed to the Arkham Sanitarium. He was visibly nervous; he explained that Mary's raving description of the monster that had killed Dr. Leman and Alfred Hackett reminded him of the "dragon-like steed" said to be ridden by the legendary local figure of the Marsh Wizard. 

The next morning, the group did a little research into the Marsh Wizard. Generally thought of as a boogieman, the Marsh Wizard was used to threaten children into good behavior. A number of disappearances, stretching back at least two-hundred years, were also attributed to the Marsh Wizard's villainy. According to the folklore, the Marsh Wizard was supposed to reside on an island in a salt swamp in nearby Ipswitch. However, many attempts had been made to locate the island over the years, all of which had failed.

The group located and interviewed Ron Bryden, a man who claimed to have encountered the Marsh Wizard's flying steed back in 1906. He gave drew them a map of the area where the encounter occurred and which direction the steed seemed to be headed. Following this lead, the group waded into the swamp. Contrary to the experience of previous searchers, they easily located the island and spotted a number of huts in a clearing at its center.

The huts disclosed a grim tale: they found a hut full of human and animal skeletons, the corpse of a recently slain man of impossible age whose fatal wounds looked to have been caused by the monster they had already encountered, a whistle made of bone, and a dangerous spell for summoning the "steed" from a place beyond the stars. A number of their suspicions were confirmed: this was the Marsh Wizard of legend, they had been able to find his island because his death ended the ward hiding it from view, and his demise had also set loose the "steed" he had summoned over the last few hundred years.

However, the death of the Marsh Wizard had not ended a protective spell on the island that summoned six creatures made of moss and stone. When these unnatural wardens suddenly lurched into view, they panicked. Tossing down some dynamite, the group fled back to the island's edge, ready to depart. They noticed that six trees were now ablaze with blue light shining from uncanny sigils carved into their trunks. Surmising that the trees were connected to the creatures, they blew those up with explosive too.

After hiding in Leslie's basement, when nothing horrid materialized to murder them they became convinced that the monster had gathered its single remaining young and departed back to the unthinkable place it called home. Willing to let matters rest where they now stood, they decided that no good could come of delving deeper into this particular mystery.