Friday, December 25, 2015

The Strange Metal Edifices of Daryl Horn

Merry XMAS!!!!! Fnord.

The Strange Metal Edifices of Daryl Horn
A Call of Cthulhu Now Tale

Daryl Horn is a noted entrepreneur and artist who works in metal. Inspired by many sources, his welded constructs have impressed for decades, and his multi-acre proper in the Tri-Cities area of Kennewick, Washington has stood out for those who take the time to find it. Covered in enormous and multifaceted cubical and disk-like structures, his ranch is noted for being the epicenter of eccentricity. Daryl himself dislikes visitors, however, and has put much effort into keeping people at bay; his sculptures are for the viewing eyes of guests and prospective clients only.

Recently Daryl Horn has become something of a sensation as his sculptures became the unwanted center of attention when a murder was committed on his property, a local high school student Amanda Hayes. Amanda was missing for three days before her body was identified and called in by Horn, who admitted to the police that he had not discovered here until some time had passed; the body had been on his property for all three days. While being held as a suspect the police grudgingly admitted that they could find no evidence of wrongdoing on Hayes’ part, and the angle of the odd disk-like sculpture of metal was at such an angle that it was impossible to see the body without a step-ladder, or approaching from a distance. It was while navigating his property line that Horn spotted Amanda’s body at a distance, or so he claims.

The police have investigated Amanda’s murder so far with few results. A coroner’s autopsy performed by Dr. Jeremy Allston reveals that she experienced some form of severe electrical shock which damaged her nervous system and likely rendered her unconscious, but the cause of death is elusive. Precisely what transpired remains a mystery; no evidence of physical assault can be found, nor can evidence be found of how she was placed on the sculpture. No DNA evidence is evident, either, although the coroner concedes that she had two unusual elements which he could not explain: severely elevated serotonin levels in the blood suggesting carcinoid syndrome (he notes evidence of several minor tumors to support the elevated levels). The other oddity was even harder to explain: trace amounts of several unusual gasses in the lungs and tissue, including a disproportionate amount of methane, ethane, acetylene and diacetylene, with evidence of lung damage from exposure to the gasses, though not enough to suggest cause of death.  Dr. Allston is leaning to a “little bit of everything” theory of her death: that she may have been electrocuted, and then suffocated while unconscious and exposed to a mix of chemicals.

Two days after his autopsy release, a leak to the press leads to the “New Mad Gasser” nickname for the murderer. Meanwhile, Horn remains a prime suspect even if they can’t pin it to him, and Horn’s good friend and attorney Anton Wells decides to intervene. He contacts some known associates (the PCs) to look into the case and try to find evidence to help exonerate his friend Daryl Horn.

Anton Wells has used the PCs for other investigative work with different clients in the past….nothing “weird” though. When he brings them in, he explains his theory about the incident: it’s either a cult thing, or a local hazing gone wrong. He suggests that they start by trying to dig up info on Amanda Hayes and “discredit her” in the eyes of the public and law enforcement.

The Daryl Horn Story
Daryl Horn, aside from having become independently wealthy in the 90’s due to a large inheritance is an artist by trade who specializes in large metal sculptures, and he favors working with a wide variety of metals. He is locally famous for his private works, which he tries to keep private, but he also made a fantastic unique cubic array in front of the Hanford Research Center where physics research is still ongoing and the administrative side of maintenance at the Hanford site continues.

Daryl’s quiet and not prone to talking, a man of middle years and a haunted aspect to him. He’ll let the investigators look around as long as Anton Wells is supervising their investigation. They can find out the following info on the ranch and talking to Horn:

Horn contends he never even knew the girl, and really doesn’t know many people in town at all. He orders his scrap metal from out of state and has it shipped in. He usually flies out to events at the private air strip. He even has arrangements with the local grocer for home delivery of food. He is a true recluse.

His sculptures, including the large quasi-pyramid and the eight “disks” on top of which Amanda was found on one are part of a sculpture he claims is a symbol of the unifying nuclear force, a larger work inspired by the design he did for the Hanford Research Center. He explains it’s a work in progress, and not yet done, though what’s missing he won’t elaborate on.

Anyone snooping around will notice that many of Horn’s older works are more elaborate and involved; his latest work is the simplest, although the etching on the disks is phenomenal and apparently done by laser. He has older works such as the Mona Lisa, Venus on the half-Shell, and “Aphrodite,”--all  very different from his later stuff. His style changed about two years ago, from the looks of it. His first “new” sculpture was of a strange cubical cluster resting on three leg-like appendages.

His ranch is solar-powered. His vehicle is electric, and Horn seems to be off the grid, as his ranch appears to be in a strange blind spot. He has no television access, and all of his orders are done by land line.

Amanda Hayes and Her Story
Amanda is a 17 year old high school student at Kennewick High, and rather popular. On the surface she’s regarded as a team player, a popular and attractive blonde girl with everything going for her, a position on both the women’s softball team and (surprisingly) a prestigious award for the Science of Youth Program sponsored by wealthy businessmen in the Puget Sound. Her acumen is in physics, something atypical for a girl her age and appearance….

Digging a bit deeper reveals a woman who has changed, but only recently. Her studies clearly kept her occupied, but her community work and dedication to local civic duty was outstanding until about six weeks ago, when she stopped most external activities and developed an unhealthy fascination for promiscuous sex. Her trail of change leads to the Red Baron, a local biker bar which is frequented by tourists and out-of-town bikers who make this a frequent pit stop. The bartender knows her, and admits he figured she’d just gotten tired of being the local town goodie-two-shoes. He says she was most well known for her frequent almost daily affair with a man named Thomas Hodge, a researcher working for for a cleanup and maintenance contactor on the Hanford Nuclear Facility.

Aside from Hodge, it looks like Amanda had a regular relationship with a local boy named Steven James, a football player (of course) and up-and-coming future sports star according to those who know him. James, it turns out, has been sliding in his classes and generally going downhill. When the investigators look into him they discover he’s been missing for two days, and friends say he was hit hard by Amanda’s death. One of his friends will joke that they should go look for him under the bridge west of Snoqualmie Pass “where he might have jumped.”

Looking into Amanda’s story, someone investigating her at school with regards to her “science angle” will discover that she was working on a new project for the Fair this year, and investigating the bits and pieces in the garage of the Hayes’ household will reveal that she’s using working parts for a functional nuclear reactor….parts that could only have come from a place like Hanford. The device is a bit unusual, though, containing what appears to be a strange, cylindrical object with eight disks inside. An astute investigator will notice that the curious shapes and swirls of the disks look exactly like stacked miniature versions of the massive sculptures on Horn’s property… fact the similarities are too much to ignore; an aerial view of Horn’s ranch will look alarmingly like a close up of the device Amanda is working on, except this one also includes active fuel rods and hazardous radioactive waste materials percolating around a strange metal cube, presumably the source of the radioactivity itself.

(If investigators ignore the family for long enough then they should hear of the Hayes’ residence coming down sick and subsequent reports that stolen radioactive materials were found on site, with Hanford clean-up crews arriving to remove the materials, followed by a government investigation).

The Thomas Hodge Story
Thomas Hodge is a physicist and researcher working for the Hanford Reserve as a cleanup and monitoring specialist. He’s largely incidental to the story except for two issues: he was enamored with Amanda Hayes and stole radioactive materials for her, though he has a hard time explaining why he did it, and although he has no memory of it, he’s been meeting with Daryl Horn late at night for two years now, assisting him in the dead of night on unusual projects on the ranch. This info is not something he knows….he doesn’t even think he knows Daryl, in fact….but surveillance of the ranch at night will reveal the meet-ups.

Thomas under pressure or otherwise will break and admit that he doesn’t know what he’s doing anymore, that he’s always tired and worn out, and that he thought Amanda was his one ray of hope in the world. She approached him, and he just caved, an emotional wreck of a man ready to be manipulated. When he heard of her death he grew terrified it was his fault somehow, though he couldn’t tell anyone why. He continued his routine, but suspicious his fatigue was caused by night-time blackouts he decided to install a security cam in his residence. To his surprise, he has recorded days of his nighttime somnambulistic wanderings, and he’s grown insanely paranoid as a result, unsure of what it all means.

Investigators who approach him with aggression will provoke him into flight, fearing he will be accused of Amanda’s murder. He has little else to offer other than the fact that on the night she was killed he has no memory of what happened that evening, but knows he was at the Red Baron bar meeting her…after which he blacked out.

As an aside, investigators at the Red Baron will find out it has security cams in the parking lot. One cam does capture him arriving (and her as well). It also shows her leaving with Hodge, as well as an unnamed mystery man, and Horn!

Steven James’ Story
Steven is a victim in much of this, but not entirely so. Investigators who look to track him down will need to head to Snoqualmie Pass at the famous Suicide Bridge a few miles to the west, where they will find his abandoned car, with an impound notice, to be fulfilled any time now. In the snow (it’s almost always snowing up there) they will find evidence of tracks, apparently his, as well as what appear to be a multitude of strange circular imprints in the snow with a weird swirling pattern that appears to be very precise, almost machine-tooled.

Tracking James in the snow will eventually lead to a grizzly sight: James, frozen to death, his body covered in eviscerating burn lines. Anyone who’s gotten a chance to investigate Amanda’s corpse will recognize the same burn lines from her autopsy. In addition, there’s a faint yellowish residue on the snow, a weird and unpleasant stain that smells vaguely of mustard oil.

Clutched in James’ hand is a cell phone, battery drained. Charging the cell phone reveals a severe amount of distortion on the digital video, but the sounds of James’ fearful voice is unmistakable:

James’ Face is distorted, fearful: “I don’t know who they are, or why they’re chasing me. The thing…I don’t know what it is….it killed Amanda and now it wants me, and I don’t know why! I don’t know how… how it can move so fast…how it found me. I was going to end it all, kill myself, but I couldn’t do it. Then it showed up. I…I think I’m going to die. Out here. Or if it finds me. I don’t know where to go now. No one will believe me.”

The video cuts to a snow bank as he jolts in shock. A hideous noise like grinding metal that almost sounds like words reverberates. “I god….!” James begin coughing and seconds later there’s a shocking sound of a crack like lightning. He falls back, camera held up very still, and for a moment it seems to catch something, strangely like a cluster of stacked cubes moving on three long cylindrical legs, a cluster of elongated cilia stretching up from a central point on the cube cluster waving about with a charge of blue lighting flickering about. It is surrounded by a dull yellowish haze, seemingly emitting from holes in the cubes.

The camera remains on for a long time even as this “thing” bounds into the darkness of the woods with shocking speed, another hideous metallic grinding noise echoing at its retreat. If the investigators leave the video running for a few more minutes a strange “rustling” noise followed by the beating of insectoid wings reverberates, and the camera image sputters. The investigators will hear three voices speaking furiously in quiet whispers, but the words are incomprehensible….then a strange, delicate claw-like tube becomes visible for just a moment before they see it slide down to turn the camera off.

(Viewing the body requires a SAN check and a loss of 0/1D2 SAN on a failure; viewing the camera leads to another check and a SAN loss of 0/1D8 for seeing the L’gh’yx assassin on the recording and the partial evidence of a shan nearby; 2/1D8 if the investigator in question realizes it’s a fully animated version of the same statue from Horn’s ranch!)

Whether the investigators take this tale to the cops or leave the body there is a matter for conjecture….but the police will want to know a few questions if they come into play. Such as: why were they looking for James? Who are they, and how are they connected to the Hayes murder? The murder here crossed county lines, and a Special Investigator Richard Morton will be called in from Seattle to head up the investigation. If the “Hayes house radiation incident” has happened yet the FBI investigators will already be involved as well.

Ultimately if Steve James’ body is autopsied it will reveal the same electrical damage to the nerves and evidence of the same gas damage to the lungs as as found in Amanda. Like before, the cause of death at first seems uncertain…..but this time there’s one other bit of evidence different from Amanda: Steve’s cranium shows evidence of severe hemmoraghing and electrical damage. An autopsy reveals his brain has been turned into a muchy soup, but there appears to be some sort of web of a sticky, semi-solid substance running throughout his skull, something investigators have never seen before which looks like some sort of silicate material. The doctor performing the autopsy will conclude it is an unusual side effect of the electrocution, but a close examination reveals what appears to be an exosekeletal mass in the shape of some sort of ten-legged chitinous “thing” lodged in the brain, effectively fused with it. Exposure to the air causes the exoskeletal mass to decompose and evaporate.

Enter the Shan
Horn, Hayes, James and Hodge each have one thing in common: they are enslaved hosts being puppeteered by the insectoid shan.  The shan are an ancient race trapped on earth, devout worshippers of the blind idiot nuclear god Azathoth, dancing his mad dance beyond the edge of the universe. The shan, trapped on earth, have become wallowing deviant hedonists who exploit their puppet bodies by night and let their slaves wander about by day. In the Tri-Cities area however there is a bit of a conflict going on….a religious disagreement, if you will.

There’s a bit of a rebellion going on in the shan community. Horn is possessed by an elder shan that is determined to leave this world, to restore the greatness of its trapped species. It has dissolved all connections with the greater hive of its people, and migrated to this region, to be near the Hanford facility while it begins constructing a monument to Azathoth that just possibly might be the foundation of a new temple-ship to the chaos god. He is accompanied by two followers: one shan who is in possession of Thomas Hodge and another in possession of the shadoy Mr. Winters, who has remained in the shadows so far, an unknown variable.

Accompanying Horn’s shan is its own special bodyguard: a Neptunian L’gh’yx assassin which actually spends most of its time disguising itself as a statue on horn’s ranch. By night the statue moves to the semi-pyramid and enters, to resume oversight on the construction going on beneath the surface….

The “pyramid” is actually the tip of a much vaster construct. The shan’s plan is well underway, and he is using a nanotech conversion program to harvest local precious metal resources and stolen nuclear materials from Hanford to power his machines of creation. The interior of the pyramid is vast and deep, and contains a massive spherical projector which is currently trying to harvest an aspect or manifestation of Azathoth himself to serve as the ship’s core. Even seeing this vestige will lead to the madness of witnessing Azathoth himself.

Meanwhile, the shan collective is determine to find their rogue and either reel him in or destroy him. His efforts are seen as an abomination, destined for failure. The shan collective sent two of its best agents in to the region once they learned of the possible hiding spot of the rogue shan in Horn….something impossible to disguise once the “Collector” showing the projection of Azathoth’s danzing vestige came online.

The two shan took host forms that they found most interesting on arrival, seemingly innocuous enough to start investigation: Amanda Hayes and Steven James. By night the shan began investigating, doing what they knew best: seeking out the depraved, hedonistic corners of the local community. Amanda was easy to manipulate, but the James shan found its host resistant.

The rogue element was the shan possessing Thomas Hodge, who had been having second thoughts about the process. When he saw what sort of abomination was being pulled in to the new temple-ship, he realized it as somehow impure, a bastard child of Azathoth and not a true reflection of the deity. When the Amanda-shan approached him they reveled in their hedonistic excess and began their plans. Her goal: to get him to give her the secret code to the pyramid, to allow her to gain access to it. To do this she decided to pose as a supplicant, wanting to join the flock.

As it turned out, Hodge was playing both sides, and revealed in a moment of doubt to Horn-shan that he had been approached by her. Horn in his paranoia rightly concluded she was an agent and was furious that the collective had found him, but had Hodge arrange to lure her to the ranch, where he planned to interrogate her and then extract the shan from her mind.

As with all troublesome plans, it went awry. Amanda’s shan escaped, but not before Horn-shan’s pet assassin ravaged her body in an effort at torture. Placed on the center dial of the nuclear panel which he disguised as art, one of the summoning disks to project the image of Azathoth in the pyramid below, the shan fled Amanda’s body, causing an embolism as it did so.

Horn’s shan fled its host for the first time in years, seeking out the enemy shan to avoid being reported, but to no avail….he was certain it hadn’t gone far, though, as it was injured; perhaps it was healing in another local host. After giving up the chase he returned to his host body, although in doing so he found that the body had been reported, the old attorney friend called in, and the investigators sitting on his doorstep….

During the night the L’gh’yx assassin continued to patrol looking for the enemy shan. It investigated Steven James and began hunting him, leading to his death. After Steven died, the shan which fled Amanda arrived, realized what had happened, tried and failed to destroy the L’gh’yx and then moved on….it has now taken host in Detective Richard Morton if he is called in, or another special investigator if not.

If the investigators show the image of Amanda’s nuclear device (or the aerial of Horn’s property) to any shan host during the day when they have cognizant control (even Winters) they will almost immediately recognize it and say, “Shaggai es ‘sin’deg’hrga” before collapsing and blacking out. The devices trigger a primal “implanted” memory of the shan homeworld Shaggai, for the object symbolizes the eight worlds of Shaggai, surrounding the might of Azathoth.

Mr. Winters’ Story
Mr. Winters is an enigma: a willing host, he learned of the shan long ago and gave himself over to the aliens during a visit to Sussex, England. He has been a loyalist, and his waking mind is in tune with the thoughts and wishes of his shan counterpart. This gives him a unique edge over his brethren, who cannot sense or control their hosts during daylight hours.

Mr. Winters, however, is also quite eccentric as a result of this unique union between slave and puppet master. He doesn’t “think right” and is known locally as the town crazy, often found wandering the local streets speaking in tongues until the sheriff takes him in to sleep it off. Usually his shan will just “slip out” and get the deputy on duty to let Mr. Winters loose, then rejoin his beloved slave.

Anyone who meets Mr. Winters by happenstance or intent and who saw the parking lot video of the bar will recognize him as the mysterious third person accompanying Amanda.  Anyone who talks with local bums and homeless will learn that Mr. Winters has a reputation not only for being crazy, but also cruel. No one likes him, it seems.

Other local townsfolk will admit to seeing him visit Mr. Horn on occasion, but only rarely. Some suggest that Mr. Horn takes pity on him. One man says that Horn’s art style went “a bit stranger” after he made Mr. Winters’ acquaintance.

One bum, a man named Horace, remembers vividly one night when Winters was accosted by two local bullies. He remembers something emerging like a “gossamer angel, but with too many legs” from his head, and how it entered one bully’s head as if it were made of smoke. The one man then beat the other to death while Winters laughed hysterically. Horace flees whenever he sees Winters now.

Local police have a file on him. His full name is Richard Winters, a once brilliant inventor and head of the Winters-Alderstein Development Group, a astronautics research firm with big government contracts. He was said to have personally designed a new type of radio telescope with a much greater efficiency than prior models, and considerably smaller. His last great contribution to any research was a paper on the “Great Attractor,” a cosmic phenomenon which held his interest greatly, before he took off for a walkabout in Europe. He disappeared in Sussex and was not seen again until arriving in the Tri-Cities area two years ago.

Some Curious Local News Items
While all the investigation is underway, a few random new items will pop up on occasion:

“Local townsfolk out of Richland complain of sink hole on property; accuse county of not repairing water main leak” (The machines being used to build the temple caused the sinkhole in their subterranean plundering)

“Local man attacked at restaurant by homeless man,” (Mr. Winters up to no good; interviews with people at the restaurant reveal the man tried to grab Winters after he confronted his wife, but on grabbing Winters he says he “blacked out.” Wife says she can’t remember the incident…turns out she can’t, she say the shan emerge and blanked it out in terror.)

“Six dead in Snoqualmie crash, traffic backed up for hours.” (A family sedan was deliberately driven off course by the Amanda-Shan in an attempt to hit the escaping L’gh’yx; an investigation of the scene shows that the van seemed to deliberately careen into a ravine….but a thorough search of the area will reveal the strange cylindrical tracks.)

“Latest blackout in Tri-Cities leaves tens of thousands without power for six hours, authorities still won’t comment on the failure of the electrical plant during this cold winter season.” (As the temple-ship grows the needs of the vessel grow larger, reaching out to the local power sources. Talking to people near the power plant reveals that a nearby couple claimed they saw a giant projection like a swirling star-shaped vortex manifested over the power plant for thirteen seconds before disappearing. The guard on duty has been missing since, his phone found smashed; his body will be dredged up from the Snake River a day later).

First the investigators begin poking around. Then they start drawing the attention of the otherworldly forces at work here. Each of the shan in this operation have an agenda, and their plan of action is as follows:

Horn-Shan Eliminates the Competition
Horn needs more time to manifest the Azathoth image in full. He will use his assassin to eliminate anyone he grows suspicious of, including the investigators. He will get tired of his attorney Anton Wells three days in….the attorney will be found dead of an apparent suicide after a few days have passed. Wells will (unless the investigators find a way to stop him) be killed by either Mr. Winters or the assassin….or Horn if necessary. His death will be gruesome and excessive despite being a suicide, suggesting he was not in his right mind (i.e. breaks into drug store, takes all pills. Or drives into power main….or breaks into pawn shop, then shows up at police station firing pistol….all “suicide by shan” examples; any could happen to any foes of Horn-shan).

The One Week Invasion
Horn knows he needs to find the missing shan that was in Amanda. If he fails to do so, then he knows she will be able to call in reinforcements know that she knows his location. He has one week before this happens (give or take a day for dramatic purposes as needed). Assuming Amanda is able to make her escape (into the detective) the shan will head to a high point in the mountains the following night (anyone looking for or following the detective might see this), where she will construct an elaborate wire-frame device built from parts at the local Radio Shack (another clue the investigators could learn of, a detective buying off electronic parts). This device will broadcast to the shan collective the location of the rogue. During the broadcast the L’gh’yx assassin will appear, and seek to slay the shan for good.  If the investigators are present this is their chance to intervene, assuming they can tolerate the sight and presence of the creature.

When the invasion force arrives, it is in a manner most unsettling: overnight the city of Kennewick will be blanketed with hundreds of shan from the collective, who will take local hosts and begin moving en masse on the ranch. Their intent it so shut the operation down entirely. The event will be spearheaded by a group of shan equipped with potent binding spells; they seek to bind the traitor so that they may execute him, and then they intend to summon a mass of Xictotl which will tear the complex down, and destroy the reactor summoning the image/vestige of Azathoth.

To their surprise, either Horn, Winters or the assassin will insure that Azathoth…..the real Azathoth, bursts forth and destroys the invasion of shan-possessed attackers. It will inevitably destroy the complex and devour the subterranean temple as well. Naturally, any sorry investigators caught in the middle of this risk destruction or severe sanity loss….

Alternative Events
If the shan in the detective (Amanda’s shan) is somehow stopped or destroyed and fails to summon the collective to destroy the heretic, then after a week the Horn-shan will attempt one final heist, using his available allies to break into the Hanford site and collect the last of the nuclear material he needs to empower his projector. He will on the following night, with host bodies now riddled with radiation damage, fire it up and complete the manifestation of Azathoth within the temple. The complex will erupt from the ground and take off, leaving a smoldering crater a quarter-mile deep where it once rested, and the Feds will close in with a total lockdown shortly thereafter.

Default Timeline
It is possible the investigators just do not catch on…wander about cluelessly, don’t investigate the likely leads, and just generally end up flopping on this. The following events will happen in order regardless of what the investigators do:

Day 1:    murder discovered, attorney called in
Day 2:    investigators arrive
                Report of sinkhole
Day 3:    investigators may or may not find nuclear material in Hayes home
                Report of assault by Mr.Winters
Day 3-4: investigators may or may not find James’ body off Snoqualmie. Will be found by a state patrol officer if they do not investigate
                Car crash reported
Day 5:    Contaminated “project” found in Hayes home when parents visit doctor with radiation sickness (unless discovered sooner)
Day 6:    shan in detective will broadcast to collective for backup
Day 7 or 8: shan arrive for big showdown; Azathoth eats it all (or alternate: shan do not show, pyramid takes off)

Side Bits: the Neptunian Assassin
The odd chemical stains and contamination found with corpses killed by the L’gh’yx assassin is a byproduct of its emissions, which curiously reflect the composition of Neptune’s atmosphere precisely.

The burnt nerves of the victims of the assassin are caused by its neural whip.

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