For character backgrounds, check out The Pennywell Hangman, Part One
December 20th, 1923
The cars gassed up and everyone armed as a precaution, the investigators made their way across the GWB and towards Frank Hedges cabin near the Pennywell Arsenal. By the time they got there, it was dark. They parked out in the open and approached the lit cabin. The door was unlocked but shut.
It was a small but comfy cabin. A man was slumped face down on a kitchen table, surrounded by a pile of books, papers, and a bottle of bourbon with only a swig of backwash left. No one could find a pulse Everyone checked out the kitchen, the bedroom, and ultimately reached the back of the cabin, with a large stone fireplace and a large sitting chair. Dr Wintermute turned to see the other side of the chair and saw a body, most of its head blown off from the sizable handgun.
While he had probably seen some graphic things during his stint in the navy, many years prior, the sight of the apparent suicide sent him over the edge. He had had enough of these people, and needed to be somewhere safe. He stumbled out of the sitting room, pushing the other investigators out of the way, and out into the dark woods.
After watching the professor scramble off into the darkness, they rummaged through the papers. On top was a suicide note from Frank, the decapitated gentleman in the chair. He knew something was coming to get him, like the others, and he "didn't want to go the way of those gypsies." Gypsies? Some in the group did remember a a small group of gypsy wagons in the fields in the village outside of the base.
The rest of the papers were the amateur occult research of Frank Hedges, on a creature that gave a resemblance to the sketch Siobhan had drawn. Historical, occult, and astrological sources were were listed as well as libraries. Two things of note stood out in this semi-organized hodgepodge of notes. One was an astrological chart plotting the constellation Aldebarren, which was scheduled to be at its zenith tomorrow night. Second was some writing in Latin. The experienced investigators hoped it was a chant or dispel.
While perusing the materials, they could hear a noise outside. Peaking through the windows, they could see an even more visibly shaken Dr. Wintermute emerging from the woods at a brisk pace. He was followed by five individuals who were more stumbling or shambling than actively chasing them. The investigators armed themselves and began to open fire on the deranged individuals. It might have been the low caliber of the bullets, the poor firearms skills of academics, or the fact that theses creatures were resistant to such attacks, but they only fell a single one.
Just then an sedan with US Army markings pulled up to the cabin. Major Sarek emerged from the driver's side and screamed, "We already killed you bastards once," and began firing at the creatures. The extra manpower, plus the exchanging of pistols for rifles for a few individuals, managed to take out the remaining ones.
Sarek popped out his clip and was in the process of replacing it with another as a huge mass came crashing down on top of his car. For a moment the investigators on the porch could see a giant body with massive talons on its feet peel back steel on the car as if it were a reflex, within seconds it shot back into the nighttime sky with Sarek in his claws.
To say the investigators freaked out, regardless of SAN check results, was an understatement. Everyone dashed into the cabin, locked all the doors and windows, and threw what little furniture up against them. A few who barricaded themselves in the kitchen, peeked through the slats in the blinds, only to see Sarek's crushed body plummet onto the wreckage of his car. Everyone could them hear the roof creak and groan as something huge was apparently sitting on it. The investigators remained completely still and after a few tense minutes, the creature flew off the roof and into the night sky.
Soon the man at the table groggily woke up. He was the Sgt Falcone who had called. He had come to the cabin to talk to Frank, but he had already killed himself. The bottle had looked like a good alternative to waking soberly for his impending doom.
Falcone explained that back in 1915, Pennywell was used for testing new types of artillery shells, including top secret models smuggled in from Britain and Germany. While his unit, the Alpha Squad, was conducting trials for some kind of poison gas, torrential rains wiped out their normal testing range. Then Lt. Sarek decided to turn the guns around and fire into the surrounding swamp. They normally put animals out on the range to test the effectiveness of the gas, and this was no exception. When the Alpha Squad went back to retrieve them, they encounter a number of the local gypsies performing some dark sacrifice. A quick fight ensued, and in the end four gypsies and one soldier lay dead. Under Lt Sarek's orders, they heavily interrogated the remaining gypsies, and one of them, spit back a curse. Enraged, Sarek ordered all the gypsies strung up in the trees and killed. As the last gypsy died, the actual stars in the sky opened up and a deranged beast of hell swooped down. They fought if off, but not before losing two more soldiers.
This week, when they had discovered one of the Alpha Squad savagely murdered on base, the knew the creature was coming back. According to Frank's research, the creature is weakest at dark, but holds immense power once that constellation reaches its peak. The smart thing to do would be to come back tomorrow and try to kill it with better weapons. "It could feel pain all those years ago, it would be nice to remind it again."
The investigators slipped out into their cars and drove off, but first Dr Wintermute wanted to talk to the Gypsies. The matriarch of the gypsies was not too keen on the this strange group of people barging into the camp in the late evening, but humored them. She and Dr. Wintermute played a shrewd game of obtuseness, neither willing to give up enough information without the latter providing some first. Once the old woman knew it was about the Pennywell hangings back in '15, she relaxed and assured them that although the soldier's actions were heinous, her group had forgiven them, and that gypsy curse were painful, but bearable spells. Anything worse was not from the gypsy tradition.
As the investigators walked back to their cars, they could see military and civilian police vehicles heading from Pennywell down to the direction of the cabin.
December 21st, 1923
The following morning, the investigators acquired a few more shotguns and went the O'Haras to acquire a few more from Angela's collection. Angela was very supportive of their plan, and was quite adamant that they had to "finish the job." The group looked towards Steve for a reason why the normally grumpy ice queen was so animated, yet all he could do was throw his hands up in the air and go, "You don't want to know, guys, you don't want to know."
Through the afternoon they prepped their equipment, including some insulated high water pants. Falcone recommended they go through the swamp to try to encounter this creature. All access to the base and cabin would be heavily guarded. They also continued to work on the strange Latin chant, if it was so.
Late afternoon they drove into New Jersey again, parked at a secluded road south of the base and ventured into the freezing swamp.
They encountered a moss covered berm, which ended up being one of the gypsies' wagons from '15. Three more of this walking dead emerged from the water, but the shotguns were much better against them (as well as the investigators skill rolls). As they ventured further, a thick fog enveloped the swamp. While visibility was nigh in front of them, above they could see the fog/cloud swirling in a vortex, but was it swirling up or down. It was hard to tell.
They emerged from the fog into a crystal clear sky, a full moon, and a strange constellation very bright in the sky. They then heard a godless cry coming from the base observation tower on the other end of the clearing. The base fence had been forcibly knocked over in a hundred foot section, so they gingerly walked across. Nearing the tower, something flew out of it and forced the group to scatter, landing right where they had been standing. It was the barely recognizable body of the Army doctor, Cooper.
The group threw caution at the wind as they could hear the beast on the upper floor and charged into the tower.
The resulting melee COULD have been much worse. Academics and one police officer armed with shotguns was only slightly better than pistols when the creature acted like a wild stallion with talons. Despite several well placed blasts into the creature it somehow had the ability to rejuvenate itself, sometimes by gashing at an investigators, sometimes with mystical wave of it's claw.
When the carnage ended. Barely anyone was on two feet.
Dr Wintermute save the day for the group. The beast, "Bee-hwyaw-kay", was in Hedge's notes was susceptible to the Latin chant. Others tried to help with the chant when they could, but most of the time they were running/firing for their lives. The beast even tried to 'suck the life' out of him to make him stop, but he still held on. Some portal appeared far away from Aldebarren's position and sucked the unwilling monster inside. Despite some blows to his psyche, Bob Wintermute was unscathed. His library associate, Kalimah was not as lucky, but nothing catastrophic.
Detective Frank Dresden could barely hit the side of a magically summoned barn, but he was deft on his feet, knowing when to leap away, and when to hit the dirt when he earned the monster's attention.
Steve O'Hara survived with more scratches from the swamp and minor case of frostbite than creature damage.
Sgt Falcone was tossed about by the creature, but survived, the only member of Alpha Squad to do so.
Jessica Carson, caught the full ire of the creature. Perhaps it was her attempts at chanting. The creature turned her shoulder into bloody Swiss cheese. She required numerous blood transfusions, but she did survive.
If Jessica took the physical brunt, Dr. Nathaniel Millheim took the mental. One of the creatures mystical ability forced his skin to blister from the inside! Lucky for him, the effect ended quickly, and it was the one time the creature didn't appear healed after it's action. Between the horrifying change in his appearance and the flurry of failed SAN rolls, Dr Millheim was thinking a looooong vacation before they even got back to New York.
Despite all the carnage around, Falcone told the group to take his lead, and proceeded explain away almost everything to the authorities, military and civilian. The murders had been orchestrated by Dr Cooper, as certain documents "conveniently" surfaced in his office, along with some unauthorized grenades (something had to justify the top of the observation tower collapsing). The investigators were simply an ill-prepared and incompetent hunting party that got lost in the swamp and by sheer bad luck, got caught in the crossfire between him and Cooper. Most of their damage was friendly fire. Dr. Millheim's wounds were probably the result of some old mustard gas canisters that were buried in the swamp.
Siobhan thanked the group for all their help and decided to leave New York for San Francisco. Bob would have liked that.
Finally, Steven admitted to the group that Angela was pregnant with their first child. What effects the decontamination may have done to his unborn child weighed more on his mind that any inter-dimensional summoned beast. The true horrors that make man suffers are from his fellow man.
Next: I may do a #16.5 to catch the group's activities through the Winter, or I may just add that to the next episode #17 The Dreamer.