Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Legend of Sleepy Hellhole

Dr. Macalahan called with a new "quest" for the group: finding the long-lost "Lantern of the Deep."

"I've been doing some research into local history, and I found something odd. Not long ago, there was a talisman brought from Ireland, called the 'Lantern of the Deep.' It was brought to Texas by an immigrant family, and kept in one of the businesses in the city of Harmony Hill - now non-existent. The city started failing in the 1870s, but was well and truly destroyed when a tornado flattened most of it in 1906. After which, by the way, news of the lantern simply stopped. However, recently unearthed information suggests to me that the Lantern of the Deep has returned to its watery home - or at least a watery home. I suspect it was at first merely lost - or hidden - but when Martin Lake was flooded in 1976, it was covered as well. The lantern has a - sadly unspecified - curse, but from what I can tell, great tragedy follows it. Which is why I'd like for you to see if you can find it, before some poor fisherman snags it, and ends up calling another tornado or something."

However, the work likely would require a good amount of underwater work; he offered to help them get into a SCUBA class. Still needing a phys-ed class, the group decided to go ahead and get trained, first.

About a week later, early Friday morning, while walking to class, Priya heard someone talking about how they had missed Chemistry, because the professor hadn't shown up. Will and Alistair also overheard the news; by lunch time, the professor had missed several classes, and a sub was called in for his last afternoon class. No one seemed to know where he was, so the students decided to go investigate. After dropping in at the library and finding the professor's home address, they paid a visit.

Unfortunately, no one was home - and the front door was unlocked. Inside, the house was trashed; they found blood in the hall. Outside, they found footprints leading away from the house to an alley, and under a bush, a scrap of paper - a map! It lead them about 20 minutes south of town, off the main road and onto a dirt track, mostly used by oil company vehicles.

On the way, Alistair got a phone call from his overprotective parents - they were in town! He managed to convince them he wouldn't be back for 40 minutes or so... though didn't stop to consider that they would spend those 40 minutes talking with his annoying roommate and Michele, his girlfriend...

There, Priya, Will, and Alistair found a large number of people dressed in dark red robes, chanting, dancing around a bonfire... and the missing professor dead, tied to a table. As they watched, one of the cultists lifted a staff over his head; another cultist stepped forward, removing the robe she was wearing - and leaving her entirely nude. The first cultist touched the staff to the bloody corpse of the professor, then touched the bloody end of staff to the naked cultist. Almost immediately, she fell to the ground, her mouth hanging open, drooling onto the ground; she shuddered, writhing inhumanly, as her body sprouted hair, and her arms and legs thinned and shortened, while her torso elongated. She turned her head upwards, her eyes blank and staring, and with a final shudder, completed her transformation into a huge jaguar!

The cultists went wild, cheering and chanting. Alistair, hoping to bring down the leader, crept to the edge of the firelight and took a shot at the leader with the staff, hitting him in the head, and dropping him almost instantly! The cultists, hearing the gunshot and seeing the muzzle flash, turned and started running towards Alistair, who charged back up the hill to flee the crowd. The jaguar bolted forward, catching up with him just as he reached the hill, though only scratching his body armor. Priya swung her new spear at the jaguar, and Will stepped forward, undecided at the moment what to do.

Just behind the jaguar were a horde of cultists; almost immediately, half a dozen cultists surrounded the college students... but between Priya's slicing spear and Will's new katana, they mowed through the cultists like a weed whacker through dry grass. A few well-placed cuts dropped the jaguar... but not before the person with the staff, below, managed to heal it once or twice.

As the cultists on top of the hill fought, the cultists at the bottom of the hill continued their ritual. A cultist was killed, and his blood used to touch another recently-disrobed cultist. The man staggered backward, pulling his arms in towards his chest; he shook and twitched, moaning, then with a horrible, wet, tearing sound, ripped the flesh from his body, revealing a man-sized bat, its wings ending in wicked claws!

Next, another man was transformed into a raging were-ape; then a woman was turned into a were-owl. One after the other, however, the creatures were cut down or shot; the staff-wielder, now a tall blonde woman, was unable to heal them quickly enough. A well-placed shot from Alistair killed her, too.

Will and Priya charged down the hill, cutting down the next staff-bearer, then focusing on the were-ape. At this point, only 6 cultists remained; one slipped off to help the man with the head wound escape, leaving 5. Those five slipped and fell in the blood and mud, unable to grab the staff. The instant one of them did, he got a spear tip in the back of his head for his troubles. The next managed to whack a fellow cultist, transforming him into a werewolf, just as the were-ape fell dead. And with a swing of his blade, Will split the staff in two, and killed the cultist as well.

The staff sparked with red electricity as the decorative head exploded into fragments; almost immediately, the werewolf returned to human form.

Alistair, meanwhile, chased after the two escaping cultists; he reached them as they dove into the nearest car, and managed to shoot out a wheel before they escaped. He returned to the bonfire, where Will and Priya were interrogating the three surviving cultists... and when he realized they had no information to give, gunned them down in cold blood!

Realizing they were standing in a field of corpses, dripping in blood and filth, the three students quickly found some non-blood-soaked robes (those discarded by the first three were-creatures), and tossed their own clothing into the fire. Alistair drove them to the Sabine, where they washed off... or rather, traded the blood and mud for plain ol' mud. He called James, who brought them all a change of clothes (if a little ill-fitting), and they quickly made their way back to campus.

While Priya and Will were each able to get a showed and fresh clothes, and fall immediately into bed... Alistair arrived home to find his parents waiting for him.

Lucky for Alistair, his girlfriend didn't exactly get along with them. She played nice, but as soon as he was home (somewhat bedraggled, but at least not dripping in blood), she immediately jumped to his defense: "Oh, sweetheart, you look so tired out! Why don't you go get a shower? We can wait!"
She immediately turned to his parents and explained, "Like I told you earlier, Alistair is so helpful, always helping people out with things. He's been helping a friend clear out his, uh, backyard. I'm sure he's absolutely bushed."

After what may well have been the most comfortable shower of his entire life, Alistair had only to spend a few minutes with his parents before Michele shooed them away, and told him to go to bed.

All three were asleep before their heads hit the pillow... but what of their dreams?

As a note, here... there is definitely an ongoing investigation into the deaths of 21 cultists. Detective Morris of the Longview PD was called in by the Gregg County Sheriff's department, as well as the FBI and the ATF... Here's hoping you don't all go to jail. Fingers crossed!

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