This session is a conclusion of our take on Doors to Darkness's investigation, "Servants of the Lake." Interested in your own tales of horror with Call of Cthulhu? Let me know!
Cast of Characters
Cindy as Babs Cook the Photographer
Caitie as Joe Johnson the Drifter
Kelly as Sophia Nye, Retired Star of the Pictures
Jacob as Jack Keel, Veteran and College Drop Out
Tyler as Derek Munds the Tough Street Greaser
Ted as Karl, Nuclear Engineer and Field Researcher (absent)
Charlie as Special Agent Travis Taggart (absent)
There were insects. Or something like insects. A cloud of them. A swarm rising from the water. Or what was then growing in the water. And a man at their center.
But we are not yet to that part.
Don Howards Sr. spoke like a committed zealot to his cause. This man of industry, a worshipper of coin and ingot, of brick and mortar had found a new calling. The book in the safe and the gradual healing of his mortal wound suggested he had found his new patron months, maybe years ago. And today had marked the culmination of his catechism.
Don Howards Sr. stood before the investigators in his office, the yellow late afternoon light filtered through the large window that looked out on Clarkdale's main street. In Howards chest was a wound, knitted together by red threads of flesh and in the middle was a needle, like a porcupine's, but that the investigators had seen shoot from that creature across the lake and into Karl Wirtz. But Howards wound would have killed him, but here he was, speaking of a sunken city, an infinite nation, a metropolis in water-logged moonlight.
He offered water, to Dietrich, a yellow fluid whirling at the base of the pitcher with flecks of... detritus. Howards promised to show them the kingdom, but Sofia Nye was not interested. Summoning the gusto and confidence of the silver screen she froze him where he stood, reaching into his desk drawer were six more needles sat in a saturated desk drawer. And across the street, a few doors down, was Howards grown son, his protege and heir, dead with yellowed eyes.
Special Agent Travis Taggart and his confidants bound Howards, Taggart taking the lead as he walked him down to the street, eventually to the station. The others scanned the room, found a bottle of whiskey and glasses, but more importantly moved open a family photo of the Howards, three generations of proud American stock, on a fishing lake and smiling some spring afternoon. Babs and Dietrich opened the safe, using the date memorialized across the office: The ribbon cutting of the Clarkdale Building & Loan. Within: Cash, a .357 Magnum, and The Revelations of Gla'aki Volume 5.
Tracing the source of the contamination, Babs and Dietrich went to the roof. The wooden water tower stood atop, feeding by inexorable gravity into the building. Dietrich climbed the rickety ladder to the service door and opened it. A cloud of bugs flew out at him, forcing him to swing out on one hand to avoid them colliding with his face! Thinking quickly, he grabbed one in his handkerchief. It stung him, and it was larger than he expected, so he cut into it, killing it with a chirp.
Inside the tank, the smell of oil and... something organic remained. A mound of needle-laden flesh sat. Rotting? Growing? Sprouting? It was doing all of them from the smell. The water that remained was yellow and putrescent. The thought of people drinking this... contamination nearly turned his stomach. Babs took a photo, documenting this grotesquery. Together they drained the tank and lit fire to it, hoping that it wouldn't take the building down thanks to the sickly saturation.
And with that, they agreed to a drink.
The Dry Albatross was a fine dive for a town like that. Their martinis were dirty, a little watered down for everyone besides Sofia Nye, her Luger's handle jutting just so out of her handbag. Their minds whirred with the revelations of the day, the death handed out with axe and bullet and blade. A man, a pillar of the community, had poisoned his staff, turning them into flesh-eating nightmares. And he, something not quite alive and not at all himself.
At the hotel in town, one of those chains that charges double or more what the Squatter's Lake Motel did, Jack Keel settled into a room with his new find. Knowledge, and a touch of madness, would find him alone. The others, eager to blow off steam and steady their hands, grabbed bottles and pop-tab cans from the Albatross and went out with a few spare rounds.
The desert night was clear. Stars flickered into the sky one-by-one, then two-by-two. At an abandoned ranch beneath this clear sky there was the thunder of gunfire, the explosion of glass, the bursting of tin cans full of cheap beer. And, surprisingly themselves most of all, there was laughter. Sofia, Babs, Joe, and Dietrich were having a laugh. A bit buzzed, too, but laughing.
They returned late, checking in on Keel. The room had become a spider's web of pages connected by threads, an ancient cave of esoteric runes and sketches, and two books were opened with markings on them. The jar of yellow fluid was open, rubbed on the pages, like a boy trying to decipher a code from a cereal box written in invisible ink. And that was Babs's book, the first she found of six (More?), worn and marked. And she moved to it. Keel, though, Keel was close. He could taste the mystery, hear it whistling in his ear from so close. Dietrich stepped in to aid Babs, but between the liquor and the nerves, they fought impotently over the book, threatening its binding.
Frustrated and still angry, Babs was able to recover Volume Six, but not the addition. Dietrich refused to return the borrowed gun to the shell-shocked vet. And they grumbled. Angry, rattled, worried; the investigators set in for the night.
Drunk and riled, Keel passed out in his room.
And after a vast, endless darkness of sleep, came the City.
Its streets stretched out before him. Impossible stone structures rose around him with angles that, in passing moments of dream-logic, made sense to Keel. The streets were ancient, cratered, and fissured below him. While he floated, the water around him moved, ushered him forward. He was not in a sea, still and calm, but in a flowing stream.
And he was speaking in his sleep. Something he had read. The incantation, the sorcery to reach out to Gla'aki was his. To speak to this alien muse, this dark intelligence, this monstrous sentience... what would he learn?
Not much, as it was. Babs and Dietrich were wrestling with him in the lobby of the motel as he shook the latched lobby door. He started awake, groggy and hungover. But the call to the north remained. With Joe and Sofia, they hopped into their rides in the pre-dawn light and drove.
The road north came to a T, to the right the Nature Research Station they had intended to when they encountered William Brophy in his wheelchair. To the left the Clarkdale Pumping Station along a tributary of the Colorado River. The went west, toward the pumping station.
As they approached, an insect as large as a book landed on the windshield. In the pre-dawn dark, it lashed with its whip-like stingers against the glass, sparking off it. They rolled up the windows and drove toward the pumping station and...
The remaining Brophy brother stood some five feet from the shore in the stream. facing into it. He was speaking... no, singing something. Praying in the night. On the other side of him, laying in the water and pulsing with some portion of the creature from the like, spread out in a mound of thorned alien meat.
And all around them were the insects. They were as a funnel pointed on Brophy; not a funnel, but a speaker. Their buzzing somehow resonating with his indiscernible words. And the insects fluttered everywhere.
Jack in his truck with Babs, Joe, and Dietrich, drive hesitantly towards the maddened man. Dietrich, remembering his find from the rooftop, attempts to dissect the creature and make sense of it. However, its insides are all white filament and hollow, before disintegrating in his hand. At the last moment, he yanked the wheel to avoid plunging into the stream, but in his caution he missed Brophy, oblivious in his sermonizing. Sofia ordered Alfred her driver to fell into the crazed man, but the rock and gravel of the stream's edge did not suit the classic vehicle, and they slipped into the stream.
Dietrich climbed out of the truck and took aim at Brophy, but a wave of insects assaulted him, lashing at him, draining his mental reserve with each strike. Jack grabbed his sturdy army surplus blanket from the bed and ran at Brophy. He knocked the man down, needles piercing through the old man, though his mouth continued to move in his dark worship. Babs, swatted away the insects around the truck while Joe leapt into the back of the truck and grabbed a few tanks of gas tied to place there.
Attempting to get the truck out of then stream, Dietrich dropped it back in further, meeting Sofia's vehicle, too. Jack, pulling himself from the pierced form, hops into his vehicle, the insects whipping at him with sparks of electricity. Babs and Joe drench the writhing forms of flesh and needles and profane words with the gasoline. In a daze, Jack, wrenched his truck around, gaining leverage off of Sofia's, and forced it out onto the shore. Sofia's driver Alfred manages to do the same as Babs lights up a match and drops it on the writhing figure below.
Moving away, an inhuman scream like paper tearing rises into the night, interspersed with the pupping and buzzing of the alien insects as they climb impossibly high into the night.
As the dawn sun peeks between the desert hills, Babs and Joe watch the burning mound that at some time had been a man and that which never was. As it cools, they move to haul it ashore to burn it further. Dietrich, having closed the intake pipes from the lake, walks along the tributary inspecting it for organic debris. Sofia, cooling smoking from her car, wonders how she has come to this. Jack, having failed to make any sense of the strange tissues and needles, reads the discovered books, more cool-headed than the night before.
Jack sees now, through his study, through this nightmarish search, that this thing, whatever it was, was not the creature called Gla'aki. It was merely... part. A polyp, a growth, a piece.
And Dietrich, walking down the stream, hand to his forehead, tries to see into the glimmering stream for any sign of this adversary. The water flickers and shimmers, like silver and cotton, gentle waves fed by mountain snows far from here. A frog creeps along the stones, eyeing for a meal. A fish dives after a clump of muck. And the stream flows. Onward. Away.
Image Credit: Insects from Shaggai, by Loic Muzy by way of Brawl of Cthulhu.