Mansions of Madness: Blood Ties (Part 3)
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
and with strange aeons even death may die.
— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
When last we saw our investigators, things weren’t going well. You should read all about that before continuing on (Part 1, Part 2) . “Ashcan” Pete’s uncle Artimus has made some sort of black bargain, and now that he’s died it’s blowing back Ashcan’s way (“Just my luck,” he mutters repeatedly), who is now trapped between a mi-go and a zombie. Professor Harvey Walters has contracted an otherworldly case of kleptomania. Kate Winthrop and Sister Mary were ambushed by a very suspiciously quiet zombie, and now they’re hiding out in the house at the north of Artimus’ estate.
Is this the end for our ragged band?
Not quite yet.
As Ashcan and his dog Duke are backing away from the cautiously advancing mi-go, Professor Walters tries to defend himself against the advancing zombie by bashing its skull in. Upon doing so, he discovers that the crowbar he was wielding has become irretrievably lodged in the gash he just opened. The zombie’s eyes stare wildly, then contorts its face into a raw smile and sighs a crooked laugh. Professor Walters is temporarily relieved of his kleptomaniacal urges (and is otherwise relieved as well), and he abandons the tool as he madly dashes through a set of loose wooden doors into the root cellar of the south house.
Had he retained his composure, Professor Walters would have observed that the zombie’s face was such a mess of blood, as well as one of its eyes now caved in, that it was now quite harmless, and was wandering aimlessly about the front yard.
Ashcan is beginning to go a bit insane as well. Without any weapon, he realizes that the mi-go will make short work of him if he doesn’t catch it off guard. So he yells and charges the creature. His first catches the mi-go in what he would loosely describe as its face, but the momentum of his charge soon catches up to the rest of him, and he sprawls headfirst across the beast.
Ashcan continues groping the fungal creature’s various appendages, making enough of a ruckus that second zombie, which had trapped Kate and Sister Mary in the north house, shambles over to investigate. For the last few minutes, Kate has been preparing her new Colt ’38 while Mary searches the house. Kate sees through the window that the zombie is no longer at the door, and calls to Mary that they can leave. Mary appears carrying a large syringe, which she asks Kate to inspect. Kate, using her powers of science, deducts from a quick whiff of the chemical that it is a common but powerful sedative. “Where did you find it?” asks Kate. Sister Mary blushes. “In the bedroom.”
For a brief moment, the patio is the scene of violence. Kate bursts through the door, pistol cracking in the dark. The zombie that had just abandoned the house collapses in a heap, and Sister Mary immediately begins dragging the corpse back to the fire. Professor Walters emerges from the house holding a golden crucifix. He runs to the second undead monster, holds the cross defiantly in its face, then laughs with wild abandon when it collapses. Then he runs off along the front path. Ashcan is still struggling with the mi-go. He twists a mandible from its face and bites deeply into its central stalk. Thick black liquid sloshes out, covering his face and shirt. The mi-go collapses in a vile heap, and Ashcan runs screaming into the night, eventually finding himself once again behind the shed.
While Ashcan is gone, Sister Mary finds Professor Walters seated in the wet grass, stroking his crucifix and speaking softly in an alien language. When she approaches he turns and hisses at her. Mary has a brilliant idea, and leaps forward with the syringe of sedative she found earlier, stabbing him squarely in the chest. Professor Walters is soon snoring on the ground. Kate approaches and is horrified. “You gave him all of it? You didn’t dose it at all?” After Kate takes a few minutes to berate Mary and declare Professor Walters’ inevitable brain damage to be Mary’s sole responsibility, they help the extremely groggy professor stumble back to the manhole by the patio. They wait there until the professor comes to. This does not take very long, a testament to the professor’s legendary appetite for drink. Ashcan reappears a few minutes later, and the four regard each other with bewilderment. Working together, they pry the manhole open with the crowbar (the professor insists he is no longer compelled to possess it, but they all notice his lingering touch). Once it is removed, they can see a black hole leading straight into the ground, with only the top rungs of a ladder visible.
After Kate has volunteered Sister Mary to go down the ladder first, Sister Mary volunteers Kate right back. Kate insists she has nyctophobia. “Doesn’t that mean you like dead people?” Ashcan inquires. Professor Walters, still groggy, nods enthusiastic agreement at this definition. Kate, still playing the nyctophobia card despite the clear apathy of her exhausted comrades, now insists that she must examine the manhole cover for evidence of a hypothetical otherworldly presence, and sets about preparing her microscope to investigate.
Sister Mary finally summons the faith to go down into the darkness. She is so overcome with self-assurance that the possessed dead at the bottom fails to perturb her in the least, and she coordinates Professor Walters’ and Ashcan’s descent into the darkness as well, where they gang up on the zombie until it is motionless at their feet. Once the area is secure, Kate announces that she was right to have stayed up top, as she has successfully isolated strands of ectoplasm on the manhole cover. She now climbs down the ladder, saying that her nyctophobia is not so bad as her monophobia (which Ashcan calls the “kissing disease.” Professor Walters roars agreement).
Unfortunately for Kate, she soon finds her fear of being left alone realized. The zombie that the investigators had thought beaten for good reanimates, scaring the bejeezus out of everyone. Especially Kate, who runs to the west, where she finds herself in a much better-lit crypt. She is initially relieved, as her nyctophobia is alleviated, only to wish that it were dark again so that the cultist in flowing purple robes couldn’t see her anymore. She runs around the room, evading his grasp, while growing ever-more rattled at his unusual chanting. Ashcan eventually catches up to her and batters the cultist to the ground. He smiles at her as he helps her to her feet, then frowns when he notices that she is giggling uncontrollably. He instructs her to wait in the crypt (“Seems safe enough.”) and has Sister Mary run back and give her the bottle of whiskey she found in the graveyard. Kate drinks it all while the other investigators continue their search. She is so skunk drunk that her monophobia seems cured.
Ashcan returns to the other investigators, who have finished beating down the zombie for a second time. They have discovered a locked cabinet in the dark hall. After Professor Walters demonstrates his behemoth strength by breaking the cabinet clean open, the investigators discover a set of files. Illuminating them by the light of Ashcan’s cigarette lighter, they see the word “CONFIDENTIAL” labeling one of the folders. The document inside details the estate’s security systems, including a system of electronic locks to be controlled from a small guard station on the northeastern corner of the lawn.
At that moment, Ashcan feels something terrible thread its way through his body, gripping his heart and rattling his bones. His lungs seize and his mind goes blank for just a few seconds. When he comes to, he knows that time is running out, both for the investigators to figure out what his uncle Artimus was up to and for whatever dark force Artimus bargained with. He sees clearly now that this dark force will inhabit him if it can break him mentally or physically. The other option is laid out before them: if they can reach the guard house swiftly enough, they might be able to unlock Artimus’ inner sanctum and undo the bloody deal. Dawn is coming, and the window of opportunity will close when the sun rises. Ashcan climbs to his feet and finds Professor Walters and Sister Mary staring at the bone that is protruding from his freshly-broken arm.
The investigators go to work quickly, bandaging Ashcan’s arm and helping him up the ladder. They then stare in horror as they see newly-raised zombies blocking the path from the patio to the guard house.
Sister Mary leaps into action, charging the dread creatures. Professor Walters (quite recovered from the sedative by now, though still not sure how he came to be in a cave) follows her. Soon, all three are rushing for the small hut, dodging the club-like appendages of the undead while striking out with anything they can get their hands on.
Ashcan reaches the guard house faster than he thought possible. Inside sits an ornate headstone, its granite carved with snakes and skulls. One of the skulls’ eyes twinkles, and Ashcan briefly feels he is going insane, until on further inspection he notices that there is a switch nestled there. He flips it. Deep in the crypt, from where they just came, a sarcophagus flips open. Ashcan can see in his mind’s eye inherited memories from his uncle. That sarcophagus is where Artimus made his pact with the unknown force, and there now sits a rune in memorial of that deal. If it is shattered before daybreak, the curse may be undone. Ashcan is filled with hope, right until he exits the guard house and glances to the east.
There isn’t enough time to run back to the patio, climb down the ladder, fumble through the dark caves to the crypt, and destroy the rune, let alone deal with any zombies in the way. Ashcan decides on a radical course of action. He draws a scrap of paper and a pencil from his sack (drifters know well to be prepared), scrawls a note, and attaches it to Duke’s collar, then sends him off.
Duke flies like the wind, dashing between zombies and leaping down into the caves. Kate — who has been cowering in a corner ever since the sarcophagus clicked open — receives Ashcan’s note and heroically flings open the sarcophagus and shatters the rune, ending the curse once and for all!
Right. Think about this. Artimus was messing with dead gods. Really dark stuff. Do you think that Duke the hound was going to be the deus ex machina to fix a blunder that included vengeful sleeping starspawn? Here’s the skinny: Duke made it to Kate and found her totally insane, scrawling nonsense with her fingernails into the clay. The sun came up and the zombies disintegrated and the four investigators carried each other back to the car and got out of there.
Don’t be put out. It’s not a total bust. The investigators had enough spunk to keep Ashcan Pete from falling prey to the unseen force’s machinations, so he didn’t end up becoming the avatar of a reborn god. Which is a pretty good night’s work, all things considered. Professor Walters and Sister Mary considered the expedition to the Artimus estate to be a complete success (Kate felt the same way too, but she’s nuts and now residing in Arkham’s finest asylum). Those two went back to Miskatonic University and would have other adventures at later dates, though after his overdose of horse tranquilizers Professor Walters found himself unable to solve any more esoteric ancient puzzles, and Sister Mary had a hard time explaining why he couldn’t remember even simple details, which made her feel simply awful.
So an alien god’s resurrection was averted, and at such a small price. “Ashcan” Pete was still cursed, and had bad luck for the rest of his life, which wasn’t too much longer. But really, it was worth it, if only for darkness to be averted for a few years more.