The Clay Woman
Part of a collection of objects made by non-human hands or forged in the minds of maniacs; items of power for good, bad or disaster. Written to be used within the world of Yellow Dawn (RPG) but could easily be adapted to Call of Cthulhu, D&D and Shadowrun. They span both the Occult (Quantispheric) and Mythos (the Outer Chaos, from Beyond the Void).
Blaine Sheppard is a mediocre painter who has captured the imagination of wealthy art collectors with a taste for the macabre. His paintings depict the high-paying clients in scenes of bloody violence. Although crude and brutally graphic, his work has created a sensation within a privileged niche of people who are hungry to spend money on things that satisfy their narcissism and their own self-importance: what better than to have a larger than life painting of themselves, alive in the grip of a gruesome end – a permanent embodiment of the concept of eternal existence against the darkness of death. The primary reason for this wildfire of spreading reputation is the persuasive words of the enigmatic art-agent Elan Path Troy: somebody who appears who have the ear of many who talk about him, and his suggestive opinions on what makes a good investment, and yet, somebody who nobody seems to have actually ever met.
With every painting is a launch party; no press, just a small circle of invited special guests – bringing further notoriety and a sense of exclusivity to Blaine’s work.
Blaine is a thin, scrawny character who lives on adrenaline and the pleasures of life. Once of a high-society background his family cut him off after his pursuit of an artistic career seemed to be nothing more than an excuse to travel to far-flung corners of the world. Many of the places he visited have unsavoury reputations and his visits seemed to leave ripples, rumours of unpleasant behaviour and bribes paid to corrupt officials to hush certain scandals; drugs and violence were common themes of these mutterings. It cost the Sheppard family to support Blaine during this phase; eventually they cut off his funds and turned their backs on him.
One story that should be picked up by any investigating characters is that Blaine became obsessed with an ugly and repellent object of sexual design and odious purpose.
Blaine then re-appeared amongst a respectable area – purchasing a large suburban house with small grounds, several outbuildings and an old vaulted cellar. The purchase was actually made through his agent, Elan Path Troy. Setting himself up as an artist in-situ it didn’t take long for his work to start getting the notice he craved.
A suitably decadent lifestyle has since followed.
And then Blaine is found murdered. A large metal spike has been slammed through his torso from the back, pinning his front to the wall of his house (external). His head has been twisted around 180 degrees – his neck snapped and rubbery, and in some weird way, it’s almost as if the lolling head – with its open staring eyes – has been able to gaze down at the rear of the large spike.
The murder makes the news.
What doesn’t make the news – at first, is the fact that the murder is a duplicate of the self-portrait Blaine made of himself 13 months earlier. This fact is picked up by the group of people who’ve bought into the “Blaine cult” – now a closed group, and is discussed fervently over cocktails.
The property falls into the hands of the actual owner, Elan Path Troy; some contractors arrive to tidy up the damage to the external wall and fit new locks, but the house is left seemingly deserted. Although neighbours – if asked – will state that somebody must be living there due to fleeting glimpses of a solitary light in various rooms at various times of night.
Three weeks later. Maximo Vinson is found hanging from a reinforced steel i-beam in the roof of his loft apartment; his belly sliced open with loops of entrails callously slung around his neck and shoulders – it appears it took him a long time to die; the facial features are the most shocking aspect because it seems as if there full cognisance and horror of what was happening to the victim. This time the police and media take note because the painting hanging on the opposite wall is by Blaine Sheppard (deceased) and is almost an exact duplicate of the crime scene.
An evening of cocktails is hastily arranged by Markus Renteria – who is keen to discuss this event, and the fact he knows his friend was approached by – somebody – only the day before he died. Renteria knows this because Maximo Vinson rang him later that day to relate the strange incident: “The man approached me in the street, right outside my door – it was as if he’d been waiting there all night. He was wearing a black suit, but it was strange… like the suit was incredibly old, sort of Victorian but without the dust and mold. The guy had a really weird face but the mad thing is I can’t actually recall what he looked like, just that he had these intense staring eyes and long tanned hands that were holding this piece of paper – like parchment. In his other hand had been a long silver pin.
Renteria tells his friends that according to Maximo Vinson the strange man had made an eerie warning; not a threat so-to-speak, but a gently murmured claim that death was waiting to take him down to the deepest and most terrible circles of [GM note: some word that is virtually unpronounceable]. If willing to prick his finger and smear blood on the parchment, the stranger promised he could ensure Maximo would not only avoid this fate – but that his future would be blessed by seven sinful pleasures. The cocktails are consumed with much mirth and concealed apprehension.
Of note, Renteria did not tell the police this story – mainly because he didn’t want any scandal or ill-thoughts of his friend. The story was rather strange.
Two days later, Rhett Montanez rings Markus Renteria in a fit of raving panic. It’s not long past noon and he’s just left his office workplace for an early lunch; and been approached by a man in an old-fashioned black suit – sort of like velvet, or something. And offering the same deal as Maximo Vinson recounted.
Rhett Montanez is confused and terrified. He physically recoiled from the stranger and ran – believing he was in mortal danger of being murdered on the street. Do they call the police? Markus Renteria says categorically no – what if the police learn he withheld information about the man… Markus doesn’t want any whiff of trouble. Markus asks Rhett to describe the murderer… and Rhett realises he’s unable to do so.
Markus Renteria tells Rhett to take a photo of the man if he sees him again.
Rhett babbles about the painting by Blaine Sheppard – “I’m chopped to pieces. Every bit of me in chunks of meat and gristle. And the slabs of my head are arranged, with the eyeballs neatly placed side-by-side as if I’m still conscious and able to observe what’s happened to me.”
Markus Renteria tells Rhett to calm down; take a sedative, wash it down with some 40 year old whiskey. I’ll call the others. Go home and don’t go anywhere.
Markus Renteria rings several of the other people from the cocktail group – fellow owners of artwork by Blaine Sheppard. It’s agreed that nobody should tell the police – and that maybe somebody should go round to keep an eye on Rhett that night; only, everyone who is on the call is too busy that night… tomorrow, Hosea Mulligan, he can make tomorrow.
The next morning Rhett Montanez is found butchered in his home; the pieces of his corpse arranged exactly as the painting that hangs in his private and still locked study. Whoever did this had either seen the painting before (most but not all of the cocktail people have) or… ?
Several days later Markus Renteria is leaving a bar (he’s been drinking heavily on consecutive nights since Rhett’s death) when he is approached by the stranger. Markus takes the man’s phone – who doesn’t seem to mind or resist. Drunkenly, Markus Renteria tells the stranger to fuck off and start looking for somewhere to hide because the police will be on his case now. APB. Facial recognition software. Blah blah blahhhhhh.
The stranger leaves. Markus Renteria rings the police and demands to talk to the investigating officer in charge of the Blaine case; he’s forgotten that he’s so far withheld vital information. Matters are made worse by the fact he is obviously intoxicated and the photograph he tries to reveal and fantastic evidence is curiously blurred and impossible to use.
Markus Renteria sobers up in a holding cell. Coming round he recalls what happened and thinks about his painting: it’s a scene that has him tied to the bars of a prison cell, bloodied, bruised and dying from the violent beating his sustained from other inmates. Freaking out he causes a scene that results in a fight. Ironically, the investigating officer releases him: more out of a sense of irritation than sympathy.
Markus Renteria leaves the police station.
He’s found that evening by a cleaning crew at a power utility building. Inside a cell that should have been locked because it contains dangerous power transformation hardware, is the rag-doll corpse of Markus Renteria – he’s been beaten to death… eyes wide open.
The police find a painting at his house that is an identical match to the scene.
The characters are now brought into the story. Several routes in:
- The investigating officer in charge contacts them, perplexed by certain details of the case. For example, all CCTV in the power utility building failed shortly before the murder took place.
- One of the cocktail people, and an owner of a Blaine painting, Jasper Haight, contacts the characters because he’s terrified about being approached by the stranger and wants protection.
- Or, a different one of the cocktail people and owner of a Blaine painting, Wes Milton, gets in touch because the police have correctly identified him as the only person who attended every launch party and therefore the only person to have seen ALL of the paintings. He is now a suspect in the murders – and the police are going full-guns to nail him to the wall. (GM Note: his innocence will come to light when he’s murdered).
In the 13 months since Blaine made a self-portrait, 10 people have had similar “death-scene” paintings completed by him. These are, in chronological order:
- Maximo Vinson (deceased)
- Rhett Montanez (deceased)
- Markus Renteria (deceased)
- Hosea Mulligan
- Jasper Haight
- Derick Campos
- Isaiah Weatherly
- Modesto Homan
- Wes Milton
- Rolland Bragg
As the scenario begins – Hosea Mulligan will be visited by the stranger. He is killed the following evening.
As the scenario progresses, every 1d3+1 days, the next victim will be approached by the stranger; and 4d6 hours after this approach, that victim is found dead.
If anybody tries to photograph the stranger the image is always blurred or distorted in some way. apprehending the stranger – he can be grabbed and held, but some event or calamity will always occur shortly after this that causes the people holding him to let go – at which point, in the blink of an eye, he is gone.
If anybody tries to watch over a victim – they will either fall asleep, or find surveillance equipment failing – and there will always be some unknown reason why the victim then leaves the safe-location or “allows in a killer”.
What is going on?
This can be either Occult or Cthulhu Mythos in nature. Blaine Sheppard made a pact with “something” through an object he purchased during his nefarious travels. The object is the Clay Woman - a squat, muscular, hairless, and monstrous albino with large eyes and no other facial features to speak of. When purchased the thing is curled up upon itself – a statue that feels like cold wax to touch. However, it is in fact (occult – a demonic form; mythos – a construct made by a worshiper of Nyarlathotep). The thing paints. It is artist behind Blaine Sheppard’s work. And it paints what it sees (in the future lifestream of the victim) as a suitable place to commit acts of brutal murder.
In fact, Blaine bought the thing as it was sold to him as a device of sexual deviation. Animate it would perform all manner of perverse acts for its “master”. However, over time, it displayed its desire and talents for art… and thus led to the eventual first painting: Blaine’s so-called self-portrait, in fact completed by the Clay Woman. The painting was promoted by Elan Path Troy and requests for more paintings transpired; the rest became history.
The night Blaine Sheppard died, was the night The Stranger arrived to take payment. The Stranger is a counterpart of the Thing. If Occult, then it is a similar character to The Devil, seeking souls in return for fame and riches; if Mythos, then the Stranger is an aspect of Nyarlathotep who revels in human misery and mocks the foolish cravings of Mankind [Elan Path Troy].
What happens if a victim agrees to the contract? Seven sinful pleasures. These could be in quick succession or take place over a prolonged lifetime. But needless to the pleasures will cause Anxiety / Sanity checks and lead to the ultimate corruption of the fool who takes this option.
The only way for the murders to be stopped is to get into the secured and locked house once occupied by Blaine Sheppard – owned by Elan Path Troy. And to destroy the Thing the lives within the cellar… and which ventures out, a fleeting, ghostly figure that sticks to shadows, and bushes and the branches of trees as it slithers, leaps and bounds, crawls and scurries through every hiding place a city offers to reach the next victim.
Whether it can be killed by physical weapons or only magickal means is down to the GM; it may even require an exorcism (detailed in the coming release of the primary rulebook for Yellow Dawn – The Age of Hastur – version 2.5).
If all murders take place then the Clay Woman either vanishes or “shuts down” into limbo awaiting the next victim to take ownership of it; perhaps one of the characters, assisted by helpful suggestions from the enigmatic Elay Path Troy?
The visual aspects of the Clay Woman are inspired by the incredible yet grotesque art of Choi Xooang – an artist based in Seol, who sculpts these fantastically disturbing bodies in concrete.