Last time on Call of Cthulhu (almost two years ago in realtime), Detective D.J. Stark played by Irfan (the youngest Call of Cthulhu player ever? I have no idea) killed his partner who turned out to be a ghoul cultist and prevented an entity called Sharakh-Kheth from emerging from its universe into ours. However he was badly injured – lots of broken bones – and was hospitalised.
Three weeks later he was moved from intensive care into a shared hospital ward at Saint Agatha Medical Centre in Brisbane, San Francisco, located all the way in Firth Park Canyon.
Doctor Geisler was his doctor. His wardmates were three other elderly men Beck, Dolce and Nunez. The ward had one window that had an iron grill installed. Stark could see trees outside from the third story of the hospital.
In the morning, Eleanor Stark a professor of linguistics and mother to D.J. came to visit. She mothered him, telling him that Dr. Geisler had told her that he would be released after a week. He would be undergoing physiotherapy every day in the meantime. Before she left, Eleanor gave him a package addressed to him and hastily wrapped in brown paper that she found at his house.
Once left alone, he unwrapped the package. Inside was an old book with yellowing pages. But before he could continue reading Beck called out to him to introduce himself. Dolce joined in. Nunez, the oldest of them, did not. He was awake, sitting up but appeared catatonic. Beck said, “Mister Nunez here was fine when he first got here. A few days ago he woke up and never spoke again. Just looks into space.”
Stark began to study the book from the package. The cover had ornate Chinese characters with “Chao Manuscript” lightly written in English with pencil. He thought, It must have been sent by Mister Chao. Everything had been written in Chinese. Some sections had handwritten translated English notes. He began reading some of the translated passages. “Spells”? “Impose Will For A Short Time” (The Mental Suggestion spell from the rulebook)? He spent all morning and noon trying to understand the passage.
At 3 P.M. the physiotherapist Salazar arrived with a pair of crutches for Stark. Together they left the ward, passing by the nurses’ station, some storage rooms and an empty pediatrics ward. While hobbling past Doctor Hagen’s office – the hospital’s Operations Director – he saw the man at his desk talking animatedly into his phone at his desk. There was a computer on his desk, a closet behind him, an aquarium tank on the wall.
Finally they reached the Physiotherapy ward.
Stark returned to his ward by 5. Soon it was dinner time. Yay, hospital food.
At 8 P.M. while family members were visiting the others Stark tried studying Chao’s book some more. Beck’s granddaughter came over with a plate of pie which Stark graciously accepted. Stark noticed that Nunez’s only visitor, his daughter, was in tears trying to coax her father to respond to her to no avail.
Then, Nurse Cutler entered the room. She was there to take some blood from Stark. Stark (successfully rolling his INTx5 for Perception) noticed that Nunez began trembling, his eye wide with absolute fear. He allowed the head nurse to do her job and leave. Nunez ceased trembling after she left the room.
Lights were turned off after visiting hours.
Stark heard a sound and woke up. According to the wall clock it was 11 P.M. In the shadows, he saw Nurse Cutler standing over the sleeping Beck. She produced a large, unusually archaic-looking needle from her apron pocket and appeared to be taking his blood. Stark thought nothing of it and returned to sleep.
Beck’s bed was empty when Stark awoke. Doctor Geisler informed them that Beck passed away at midnight. But he acted peculiar. He seemed confused, physically tired and muttered unintelligibly before finishing his sentences. In fact, without finishing his last sentence, he wandered out of the ward looking absolutely lost.
After breakfast, the police detective continued to study Chao’s Manuscript. He discovered a passage that taught a person to “Know Where Life Is” (A Sense Life spell from the rulebook) and struggled to learn it. He learned that casting any of the spells might be dangerous.
At 10 A.M. his bedside telephone rang. It was Chao himself. Stark asked, “Did you send me this book?”
“Yes, I did,” Chao said. “I think you have seen things – unexplained things – in the last month. My family has no need for this book. I believe you will need this book more than me soon. We should meet after you leave the hospital. Now I have to get back to the chicken rice.” Then he hung up.
Stark struggled to learn “Know Where Life Is” until it was time for physiotherapy with Salazar. On his way to Physiotherapy, Stark noted that more rooms were empty. Dr. Hagen was not in his office. There was an unusual number of nurses in the hallways who wore archaic nurses’ uniform with an apron. Just like Nurse Cutler the previous night.
As he returned to his room he realised that all the nurses had extremely pale skin and were looking his way in a very sinister way.
At 5 P.M. his superior in the police department Greta Hack called. Before their telephone conversation ended, she expressed her apologies. “I have no idea why you were taken to Saint Agatha. I’ll try to get you transferred to a closer hospital. I’ll call back tomorrow at 5.”
There were no visitors that night at 8 P.M. Nurse Cutler came to take Stark’s blood once again. This time she smiled strangely and said, “It looks like your blood is promising. You must stop your pain. We will help you stop your pain.” When she left a group of pale-looking nurses formed around her at the hallway and followed her toward the nurse’s station. Peculiar indeed. If there’s something strange going on, he needed proof somehow.
At lights out, Stark tried to keep awake. A bloodcurdling scream shook him at 10 P.M. He got out of bed and headed out of the ward on his crutches. There was no one in the hallway. Not one nurse was visible. The lights were old and humming unsteadily. Somehow even with all the lights on long shadows were thrown across the floor and walls. He hobbled toward the nurse’s station which was also empty.
He went to the elevators and met the night guard Mallett, who was never without earphones and music in his ears. Stark asked, “Did you hear that scream?”
“What scream? Everything is fine tonight. You shouldn’t be out here. Let’s get you back to your room.”
Before long, Stark was back in bed. He tried staying awake but failed.
He woke up at 1 A.M according to the wall clock. Turning over, he saw Nurse Cutler drawing blood from Dolce. His blood froze at the sight. What could he do? He looked and he saw that his crutches were gone. He wanted to call out but knew that if Cutler was up to no good then he too would suffer the consequences. And he would not be able to get to the bottom of this.
Exhaustion caught up with him and he fell asleep.
Stark woke up to Nurse Cutler’s announcement of Dolce’s death. He understood only Nunez and he was left, and Nunez would be no help. And although his crutches were back, his mobility was still extremely hindered. After breakfast, he studied more of Chao’s Manuscript and tried to memorise how to cast “Heal Flesh” (Healing spell in the rulebook). It took him all morning and afternoon. There were no visitors and he noticed that apart from the occasional nurse there were less people walking in the hallway that day.
At 3 P.M. Nurse Cutler arrived to inform Stark that Salazar was unable to make it to Physiotherapy that afternoon. She said with unusual humour, “Perhaps tomorrow?”
At 5 P.M. the trees outside began swaying through the grilled window. Winds picked up. Dark clouds began to invade the sky. Everything got darker. Stark noted that Captain Hack had not called and realised that she would not be calling. Hopefully Hack would send some help before anything bad happened.
At 6 P.M. the darkness enveloped Saint Agatha completely. He tried casting Know Where Life Is. The experience drained him, but he was sure somehow that Nunez was the other living being in the room.
At 6.30 Nunez cast aside his blanket and got to his feet, surprising Stark. Nunez said, “Well, I’m not waiting for them to come in here to kill me. Are you with me or not?”
“I am,” Stark said. Nunez walked to the open door and disappeared into the hallway, spry for his age. Stark called, “Wait for me.”
As he hobbled toward the door, he heard another chilling scream. It sounded like Nunez. He kept his pace and stopped at the nurse’s station. He turned and saw a figure in the nurse uniform commonly worn at Saint Agatha. But something looked strange. The nurse’s eyes were in perpetual shadow. Her skin was as pale as a corpse with hints of blue veins. Her mouth was open in a sneer or a grimace. Her teeth were unusually sharp, pointed like needles. And each of her finger displayed deadly blade-like nails.
She came at Stark. Stark hobbled on his crutches back toward his room. He saw an emergency door at the end of the hall but feared the nurse would catch up before he reached it. And she was faster although she was merely walking at a moderate pace with her hands outstretched. Just before she intercepted him, Stark saw a fire hose and an axe above it on the wall. He grabbed the axe and swung. It struck the woman on her chest. She did not scream nor slow down despite the injury and struck at him. The sharp nails missed Stark’s neck. A second axe swing cleaved the nurse’s head from her shoulders. She fell into a unmoving heap in a slowly growing pool of her own blood.
With an axe in hand Stark headed for the elevators. But he heard more nurses approaching and slipped into Dr. Hagen’s office. The nurses were checking all rooms. He hid in Hagen’s restroom as one of the nurse entered. Stark decided to cast Impose Will For A Short Time, but it would take some time to utter the chant.
The nurse looked at the aquarium, then ensured that the window was secured. Then she opened the closet and checked it. Finally she was en route to the bathroom door. As she opened it, Stark’s spell was completed. The power rushed out of him draining him once more. He quickly said, “Don’t move a muscle and forget that you saw me here.” The nurse appeared to be petrified. Stark quickly fled the room on his crutches, with a bloody axe in hand.
He got into the elevator and headed for the first floor. He staggered to the front door, past the empty reception. Rain was lashing against the glass doors. Not only were they locked, but metal grills blocked any hope of escape. He saw a figure seated at the security desk, cloaked in shadow. From the earphones, he knew it was Mallett. “Mallett! Do you have the keys? We have to get out of here.”
He touched Mallett, who fell limply onto the floor. His neck was cut open. Blood flowed out of it freely.
He heard a throaty gurgle behind him and spun. Someone, something was lurching toward him. It was Beck. His eyes were pale and lifeless. He looked at Stark with an inhuman expression.
“Beck, snap out of it,” implored Stark although he knew it was futile. Beck lunged at Stark. Stark swung his axe, but his crutches slipped. He missed. (His axe was only 40%. He rolled a 47.) What had been Beck closed in to him and bit. Stark yelled in pain and fell unconscious. (Hit Points are now at zero.)
The Many-Bodied One
Stark awoke, cursing that he was still alive when pain jolted through his arm.
He was hanging in mid-air, his hands bound to pipes in the ceiling. His shoulder where Beck bit him was wet with blood, but it had been neatly stitched up while he was unconscious. (Bringing his Hit Points back up to 3.) He also suspected he had been injected with a stimulant to wake him up.
There was a large hole many metres across and as many metres deep, gouged in the shape of a bowl. Hundreds of corpses lined the bowl. Each dead body stood upright with both arms outstretched. At the lip of the bowl were twenty of the inhuman nurses. Some had sharp nails and others wielded scalpels. They were led by Nurse Cutler, who gestured to the others. One of the others pushed Beck into the hole, who fell in and joined the cadre of corpses below.
Cutler said, “Thank you, Detective Stark, for thwarting the ghouls from summoning The Many-Bodied One which they called Sharakh-kheth. Now that they failed we, the Pale Nurses, can begin to call him and bind him to us. The ghouls use bodies of a thousand infants. We use the remains of the dead that no one would miss in this hospital. Everything will go as we have planned for years. And you will be our first sacrifice to The Many-Bodied One.”
The Nurses had began chanting. The hole beneath Stark emitted an eldritch humming sound. The corpses began undulating in unholy waves. (To see this, the San Loss was 2/2d10. He succeeded. He lost a ton of Sanity because of the Nurses, Mallett and Beck, but for this he only lost 2 Sanity?)
As Stark was close to the edge of the hole, one of the Nurses came close to cut his cords. Stark kicked out, attempting to grapple with her. But she slipped and fell into the hole. The animated corpses grabbed her and tore her apart. Also, they were moving in unison to form a face in the large bowl. Cutler yelled, “The Many-Bodied One is coming. We don’t have enough of us to chant the spell!”
Everything was shaking. The walls were cracking. The pipes above Stark broke, allowing him to swing and jump to safety. The edge began to crumble. More Nurses fell in screaming to their deaths. The face made of corpses opened its mouth and began to glow. Stark pulled himself up and edged his way into the adjoining hallway that led to the basement elevator.
Before he reached the elevator, everything came apart around him. (I asked him to roll Luck. He got a 04 out of 70%.)
There was a burst of light from the room where The Many-Bodied One was coming through. Screams of dying nurses, debris and dust billowed out, engulfing Stark.
Then there was nothing.
When the light and dust cleared, Stark was hanging on to piping at the edge of a larger hole in the ground. Most of the hospital had fallen into the darkness below. There was no sign of the Pale Nurses, nor of Sharakh-Kheth.
As sounds of sirens wailed in the distance Stark hoped it was the last time he would see the extradimensional entity.
Captain Hack was in the back of the ambulance with Stark. She quipped, “Every building you’ve been in since your partner disappeared crumbled around you, swallowed by the earth. I’m hesitant to ask you back to the precinct.”
Stark smiled in his gurney. He asked, “What the official word on this?”
“Earthquake. Sinkhole. Boom. No more Saint Agatha. Get some rest. I made sure this ambulance will take you to a real hospital this time. I’ll check on you in the morning.”
She exited the ambulance. The doors closed. Stark felt a great pang of relief in knowing he stopped something horrific from occuring. With all the cultists of the Pale Nurses dead, he would have time to learn more about the happenings of the last month, beginning with the abduction of the girl Paige Riordan.
He would have to meet Mister Chao of Chao’s Chicken Rice. (Stark regained 10 Sanity Points for dispelling the entity.)