09: Winfield III: Bringing Down the House

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When It Happened (Chronicle Time): August 16, 2002, August 26, 2002

Who Was There: George Phillapoussis (Storn), Jonathan Wertham (Matt), Mark Donovin (Eric), Nemura Kentaro (Chris)

What It Was

Thanks to a brief meeting with a benevolent spirit, the Aces have a plan for a final showdown with Woolworth. But first they have to find Jennie Creighton, even as Winfield Hall itself turns against them. The crisis comes to a final confrontation in the ballroom as Michel Borsavin conducts a perilous seance and Ken accepts an unlikely spirit. Exhausted but victorious, the Aces return to Manhattan, only to discover a new problem. What seemed like only a single night to them has been ten full days in the real world. And those ten days have been traumatic for TNI and the Occult Underground.

The Full Horror

The insistent voice of Sunny Gwynne begins to fade when Monica insists she will go out to the spectral cottage with the Aces. After a few minutes, she's recovered from the episode, but the traumas of this night are clearly taking a toll on her.

It's nearly 8am when they start out, and a faint glow of sunlight shines through the heavy fog surrounding the estate. But the morning brings no change. The ghostly cottage is still visible, and the glow only highlights the bodies still strewn across the grounds. As the Aces and Monica approach, the door of the cottage opens, and a woman's voice invites them inside.

Sunny Gwynne's cottage is packed with bric-a-brac but still comfortable. She is the spirit of a quiet-but-confident African-American woman in her fifties. Her gaze lingers over each of her guests in turn, especially Ken and Jonathan. Then she turns to Monica, and her expression softens. She steps forward to cradle Monica's face, and a soft amber glow flows from Gwynne's hands, which seems to give Monica renewed strength. Gwynne then leads her guests into her sitting room.

Gwynne explains that she was the cook back in the 1960s, and that she had left Winfield behind years before her death. But something drew her spirit back anyway, and she's not sure how or why that happened. Was it Frank? Or someone who wanted him stopped? Either way, she says, "You're safe here, for now. Frank would like to get in here and stop us from talking--and he could if he tried hard enough. But I'd make him fight for it, and he doesn't want to waste his power. Not with you men here."

According to Gwynne, the key to defeating Woolworth is his former wife, Jennie, whose spirit is trapped inside Winfield Hall, just as her body was in life. They need to find Jennie, and release her. That will be dangerous enough, but the true peril will come next. They will have to hold a seance to call Jennie and allow her to possess one of them. Gwynne nods toward Ken. He should be the one, she says. Only he has the focus of will and spirit that can channel her tremendous rage and thirst for vengeance. With Ken as her vessel, Jennie will challenge Woolworth at last.

Gwynne isn't sure exactly where Jennie is trapped, but she knows it must be somewhere on the second floor, and that the keys of her cell are probably kept in the Empress Josephine room. That room once belonged to Woolworth's mistress, Ann Salters. Gwynne remembers her as a cold, wicked woman who manipulated Woolworth and took a cruel joy in isolating Jennie from her children and the rest of the world. Salters stayed with Woolworth for years, but then one day grew bored with him and simply left. She was the woman Woolworth most wanted to dominate, and her casual departure set off his final descent into madness and death.

Monica grows pale when she hears Gwynne talk about holding another seance. She remembers the disastrous one she and her friend Katia held years before. But Gwynne assures her, "That one you did was scary enough. But that was you poor fools stirring up things you didn't understand. These people here now, they're very different." Gwynne turns to the Aces. "But you have to be ready. Once it starts, once you make the circle, Frank's going to know, and he's going to come after you with everything he's got. The Forgotten King. That servant of his, Willard, who does all those things on the third floor. Those poor souls lying dead around the mansion. Even those men you fought. And the old house itself. You three will have to hold them off, so the circle doesn't break until Jennie is ready."

Jonathan hands Gwynne the "S-G" note from Woolworth's study. She looks at it, but she says, "I never wrote this. Those are my initials, but they mean someone else." Suddenly, she stops, and then demands Jonathan take it back right away. "You.....you, men, watch after that. I think you found that before you were supposed to. Before They wanted you to." As she says this, she has to stop to let her head clear, and after that she can't tell them anymore.

Freeing Jennie

Having learned everything they can from Sunny Gwynne, they return to Winfield Hall. But as they come up to the door, they can tell something is wrong. The mansion now seems alive, creaking and groaning. As they cross the threshold, Jonathan, Ken and Monica are nearly doubled over by nausea. The feeling passes, but the sense of danger is very real now.

With no time to waste, the men go to Michel Borsavin, and tell him he'll have to hold a seance. At first Michel protests. "You gotta be crazy if you think I'm going to open myself up in this place. Yeah, I volunteered before, but that was before all this crazy shit started." But the Aces insist they don't have any choice. If Michel doesn't do this, they aren't going to make it. The man is terrified, probably for good reason, but in the end he agrees to do it.

Monica and Lady Margaret assure the men that they know what will be needed for the seance, and they volunteer to prepare the ballroom while the Aces go look for Jennie.

The men go up to the Empress Josephine room and begin ransacking the place. George thinks to look in the bed posts and finds a hidden compartment in one of them that holds three wooden keys covered in Gothic patterns. That seems straightforward enough. They go to the Gothic Room. The elaborate wood bas-reliefs on the walls depict three scenes: Faust matching wits with Mephistopheles; the Green Knight challenging Arthur's court; and the Lady of Shalott watching the mirror break and knowing she is doomed. Pressing the spinning wheel near the Lady reveals three keyholes.

As the keys slip into the lock, however, the four men are overcome by a vignette. This time there is a red-haired, arrogant woman: Ann Salters. At first they overhear her thoughts as she mocks Woolworth for thinking she could be controlled like "his other women." If Frank wants to know what she can teach, she thinks, then he can pay for it. Then, in the middle of the vignette, something unexpected happens. Somehow Salters knows the four men are listening to her thoughts, and she calls them out by name. She knows they are from the year 2002, and then malevolently assures them this will not be their last meeting. With that the vignette abruptly ends.

Snapped back to the present, the Aces open the secret door and pass into Jennie's room. It's a sad, lonely place with bare furniture, brightened only by a colorful yet disturbing glass dome which is filled with stuffed birds. As they stand there, the four men are overcome by a montage of memories from Jennie's imprisonment. At first she was overcome with despair and desperation. Imprisoned, heavily sedated, kept apart from her children, Jennie suffered terribly. But then one day she heard the news of Edna's death, and something snapped within her. All the repressed decorum of her upbringing was swept away, and her soul was filled with tremendous rage. Someday, she vowed she would have her revenge.

Without warning, the men are attacked by Jennie's spirit, a horrific spectre of violence and blind anger. They call out to her that they are only there to help, and just before Jennie can attack, Edna appears in the corner of the room. Mother and daughter gaze at one another, and Jennie slowly releases her monstrous aspect, returning to her true self: a proud, beautiful woman, with flowing brown hair and flashing blue eyes. Suddenly, Edna doubles over in pain, and her spirit winks out. Jennie's rage flares again, but now it's directed at the man who deserves it. Her spirit dissipates into the house and Winfield Hall erupts in sounds of anger and defiance.

Of course, the men realize, this means war.

Take Down

The Aces run down to the ballroom, where Michel, Monica and Lady Margaret are waiting. Mark orders everyone to nail boards and stack furniture against all the entrances, and he moves George and Jonathan into tactical positions. Ken joins Michel, Monica and Lady Margaret around a round table which is set with four white candles and a brazier of strange, amber crystals. They link hands, and the seance begins.

Michel begins with his usual schtick ("I sense a Presence. Greetings, Spirit..."), but then suddenly blurts out, "Oh shi--." His head snaps back, and his body rises from the chair, held down only by the iron grip he has on the women's hands. The room is awash in Essence, and a blue ectoplasm begins seeping through the ceiling. Then a red ectoplasm erupts from the floor, whips into the four people seated around the table, and lashes out to the other three men.

The ectoplasm takes everyone into a vignette that begins with them taking the stairs down to the basement, and going into a series of chambers none of them have seen. Then they have a vision of the distant past, in which a mummy receives the ritual of "The Opening of the Mouth," in which a priest touches the mummy's mouth with a ceremonial chisel.

The vision ends as the red ectoplasm is forced out by the blue, which pours into Michel and makes him convulse. A deep voice bursts from his mouth: "This is my house, goddamn you all!" The blue ectoplasm begins spinning and whirling about the room, until suddenly, a third spirit, this one golden amber, bursts from the wall and thrusts the blue part-way out of Michel. A furious struggle begins as the two spirits battle for possession of Michel's body, with Woolworth roaring, "Jennie, you brazen bitch!", and Jennie shouting, "I'll kill you!" Michel is suffering badly, his body convulsing as it hovers above his chair.

At last, Jennie hurls Woolworth from Michel and commands the seance. The blue ectoplasm whips back up through the ceiling, and moments later, a mighty rumbling shakes the entire mansion.

The ballroom is assailed from all sides. Outside, the corpses of the former guests rise and throw themselves at the mansion door and windows, while the former TNI agents attack from the hallway and break in through the secret passages. Mark, George, and Jonathan manage to hold the line long enough for Ken and Jennie to bond. Ken springs from the table and runs straight across the room, where Woolworth stands, arrogant and triumphant. Now with Jennie inside him, Ken unleashes another spin kick and his foot smacks against Woolworth's head, sending the spirit reeling in shock and outrage.

A brutal fight follows. Fueled by Jennie's rage, Ken batters the Master of Winfield Hall. At last Woolworth falls, and as his spirit unravels, his grip over the Winfield estate comes loose.

The last undead minions collapse, and for the first time, a true peace settles on Winfield Hall. The mists lift from around the estate, and the weary survivors make their way back to George's car. They are leaving many loose ends behind. But no one has any idea how they could explain it all to authorities, and it just seems easier now to leave it all behind.

Trouble in Manhattan

On the way back home, Lady Margaret and the Aces check the laptop and their cellphones. They are shocked to discover that what seemed like only one night to them has been ten whole days in the real world.

All of them have an urgent message from Lesek Czernin that was somehow recorded on all their phones at precisely the same moment. A neat trick. Czernin asks that the four men and Lady Margaret meet with him as soon as they receive the message.

Back in Manhattan, George drives Monica to her friend Katia's apartment. Michel simply gets out of the car and walks off without saying a word. The Aces and Lady Margaret head for the Village.

Czernin greets them and confirms that ten days have passed. He tells them that on August 20, The New Inquisition must have initiated several emergency protocols. The most obvious reason for this would be the loss of their two teams at Winfield Hall. But even given how important some of those agents were, TNI's reaction seems completely out-of-proportion to the threat. There must be more to it, but for now Czernin has no clue what the real cause might be.

TNI has been completely unreachable, but since the lockdown, several members of the Occult Underground have had visitors in the dead of night. Their memories were wiped of specific details, and thanks to the victims' fear and confusion, Czernin can't tell whether these visitors were from TNI, the Sleepers, or some other party. Czernin himself hasn't been visited, and he suspects Lady Margaret and the four men won't be either, but he wanted to alert them just the same.

Czernin asks where the five of them were, and after their quick recap, he insists that if they were to try to "explain" to Alex Abel how they survived the Winfield ordeal when six of his agents did not, the only possible result would be Abel ordering their execution. The Aces aren't entirely convinced about that, but Czernin is insistent, saying fewer than a half-dozen people are left alive who even know the four men were anywhere near Winfield Hall. Better to keep silent about the whole thing. The Aces agree, but worry that Abel might still somehow learn the truth.

But for now, all that matters is their escape from Winfield at last. The Aces and Lady Margaret head for their homes and beds for a badly needed rest.

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