At the Chadworth Asylum, backup swiftly arrived. Tyger ordered a full media blackout while Hemelshot fended off a female reporter from Channel 88. A camera drone attempted to sneak footage of the asylum's parking lot, but Tyger destroyed it with a full-power shot from his C-60. The normal police were deployed in a perimeter around the asylum (along with plenty of grumbling).
The 9th Squad entered the asylum through the garage past the wreckage of Hemelshot's spinner. Inside, the stairway doors had been torn open with great force, and the group ascended to the main lobby. Burton quickly determined that the building's power could be restored at a junction box somewhere on this level. The group began finding bodies of the asylum staff, many of whom had been ripped apart by the Entity, committed suicide, or had succumbed to mysterious physical ailments. Smoke and heat on this level indicated a fire within the building, so Hemelshot and Tyger both grabbed fire extinguishers while Jamadigni Renuka used her magic to light the way.
On the upper level, a group of minor Class 1 Entities ambushed the group as they approached a burning fire. Burton and Renuka were both injured, but the Entities were swiftly dispatched. Burton requested to take one alive for research, but was denied by Carpenter. Once past the Class 1's, the group encountered a lone survivor trapped underneath a burning section of wall—an intern at the Asylum named Jeffrey R. Wilkins. Wilkins was studying under the head physician, Dr. Spencer. Carpenter called upon his faith and shifted the rubble blocking the way with an amazing feat of strength. Wilkins indicated that the Entity had emerged from D block, which was nearby. Burton checked Wilkins over and declared that he was suffering from burns and smoke inhalation, but no broken bones. Oddly, Wilkins was not suffering from any major bizarre medical problems.
As the group entered D block, it became apparent that the inmates of the asylum, one and all, were simply gone—as if vanished into thin air. Ed Bentley's cell in D block appeared to be the source of the massacre of the asylum's staff. Inside the cell, bloody letters apparently painted by Bentley covered the walls and ceiling along with crude pictures of the Animus Mortis. Bentley's writings included vague warnings of impending doom and a list of the Patton family names including their listed dates of death. Soon after the group arrived at the cell, the asylum's power switched back on unexpectedly.
Emerging from the cell, the group made a stop at the lobby to collect Dr. Spencer's notes on Bentley's condition and also the security system records for the day. Spencer's notes were extensive, chronicling the entire length of Bentley's stay at the asylum. The notes had a few important elements:
Bentley initially appeared to be making progress.
Later on, however, he began to grow more nervous and agitated.
His behavior became more and more bizarre until March 16th, 2110. On that day, Bentley cut himself and drew words and pictures on the walls in his own blood, including the names and dates of death for Agatha Patton and Mark Patton. Spencer notes that Bentley had no contact with the outside world that month and is mystified at how Bentley knew the names and dates so precisely.
Marcus Bentley, Ed's brother, visited him on a fairly regular basis twice a year.
On March 16, 2112, Spencer notes that Ed Bentley had become almost frantic and included a sound file of Bentley saying "I can't hold it back anymore."
Burton received a somewhat strange e-mail from Alec Lafitte about the Animus Mortis, explaining that the painting was essentially priceless to the right collector. Burton was also able to analyze the blood in Bentley's cell and determined that it was, in fact, Bentley's own blood. Burton kept a sample of the blood.
After leaving the Asylum, the group decided to go to the Wharf district to track down the last known location for Hansen's Howlers, a local discreet mercenary group. The Howlers had a tracking beacon on board a suit of power armor which was broadcasting from a certain warehouse. The group discovered that the warehouse belonged to Patton Salvage and that the last known person to use the access codes there was Ed Bentley. It was further discovered that this particular warehouse was the same one where Patton Salvage had first unloaded the Animus Mortis after pulling it up from the sea floor.
Inside the warehouse was an abattoir—the Howlers had been torn apart in a particularly gruesome fashion. Of note was that the Howlers were very well-armed, yet by all appearances had not been able to injure their attacker at all. Also present in the warehouse was a large bank of specialized museum equipment used for restoring and repairing works of art.
Renuka's knowledge of the occult and magesight indicated that there had been an interdimensional node of some kind here recently, but was now gone. Carpenter was able to sense that great evil had once been inside the warehouse as well.
The group decided to check out Marcus Bentley next. Hemelshot was shocked to learn that Bentley's address was only a few doors down from his own. A frantic call to Hemelshot's wife revealed that she was not at home, and Hemelshot almost made a new speed record in the police spinner as he floored it towards Bentley's home. Tyger, inside his power armor, was forced to lag behind as it cannot fly in the same manner.
The group arrived to find Hemelshot's wife walking the dog—the animal was clearly terrified of something nearby. Hemelshot quickly intervened to get his wife out of danger while the group contacted HQ for evacuation. The group told their dispatch officer (Hanler) to come up with a sufficient excuse for an evacuation. At that moment, the front door to the building opened and Marcus Bentley, attired for an evening on the town, stepped out.
Initially, Bentley appeared normal if somewhat cocky, refusing repeated orders to put his hands up and get down on the ground. As Carpenter and Hemelshot approached the building, Bentley suddenly ducked inside and slammed the door shut. Hemelshot fired with a C-90, destroying the door, while Renuka's magic blasted open her own hole in the east wall. Carpenter was first into the house—immediately, there was a sense that something was profoundly wrong. On the interior of the house, reality itself seemed somewhat hostile, and all of the XSWAT officers found themselves suffering from sudden, bizarre maladies. On the south wall hung the fully restored Animus Mortis, while Bentley stood in front to defend it. Bentley had been awaiting pursuit and blasted Carpenter with a surprise attack of magic energy, blasting the sword-wielding Officer through a nearby wall (practically at Jama's feet) and knocking him unconscious with a single shot.
Thinking quickly, Burton went to work with his toolkit on his C-90 to boost the power output far above normal operating levels. Successful, Graham grimly moved into the house to support his teammates. Hemelshot was next to face Bentley, using his martial arts skills to toss the possessed man down onto the floor in front of the painting. Hemelshot contacted the rapidly-approaching Tyger and directed him to enter the house by breaching the south wall. Bentley and Hemelshot's impromptu duel lasted only seconds—although Hemelshot's skill kept the possessed creature flopping to the floor, Bentley focused a beam of raw power that thrust a flailing Hemelshot through not just one, but TWO exterior walls and out onto a neighbor's lawn. Burton had wisely chosen to approach the battle carefully and was able to easily get out of harm's way.
Tyger's arrival was rushed and slightly off-target. The prototype power armor smashed through the wall just to the right of the painting and out through another wall to crash into a delivery truck parked out back. Carpenter was just coming around when Bentley's previously human form suddenly expanded, growing so large that the roof of the house shattered. Fully revealed, the Entity (clearly quite powerful) roared in rage—a terrifying roar that shook even Dr. Burton's iron nerves.
Jamadigni bravely stepped forward to challenge the Entity, declaring "I am your opponent now." However, the Entity was quickly distracted by Carpenter's holy sword as it sliced deeply into the creature's body. Tyger, obviously rattled by the creature's size and power, attempted to scan it with his power armor's battle computer—however, the Entity was just too strange for the computer to analyze, and the attempt failed. Meanwhile, Burton's turbo-charged C-90 began to speak, blasting grievous wounds into the Entity's unnatural flesh. The group continued to suffer the effects of the Entity's presence as nosebleeds, headaches, and coughing wracked their only-too-human bodies.
Jama was especially affected by these warps in reality, and her magics were twisted off course or weakened. Inspired, she attempted to destroy the painting—but was shocked to discover that the Animus Mortis seemed nearly invulnerable to harm. Nevertheless, her spirit never faltered and she remained at the side of her team to contribute however she could. Carpenter's sword stroke was answered by a slash of meter-long claws from the Entity—although he attempted to block, the blow injured him deeply, and human blood began to rain down upon the carpet.
Tyger, cursing his battle computer, manually engaged the main weapon of his power armor and fired his laser weapon at full power, inflicting massive damage upon the Entity's physical form. The Entity retaliated by crushing the laser in one massive hand as it grasped the power armor in a prelude to peeling it open. Carpenter, barely able to stand, issued the coup de gras with his blade, the Spatha Sancta, and slashed the Entity in twain, destroying it.
In the aftermath of the battle, it was quickly discovered that the squad's weapons and abilities had no power to damage or destroy the painting. Carpenter quickly called Sister Carmen Rosette of the Order of Enoch—the nun re-confirmed that the painting would be almost impossible to destroy except under certain specific conditions. She indicated that there was a way to safely study the painting in order to discover the "key," as she called it, to destroying the painting. Unfortunately, without that "key," the painting would endure. Carpenter offered to send her a car to pick her up.
The group began to debate how to handle the situation. Hemelshot confirmed with HQ that evacuation teams were on the way—the best excuse Hanler could think of on his own was a meteor impact had been predicted in the area. Wearily, Hemelshot requested that a fuel tank be dropped to simulate the meteor strike. Jamadigni discovered a flyer for an upcoming gala art exhibit to be held the next evening, indicating that Marcus Bentley had been planning to expose millions of people to the Animus Mortis all at once.
A greasy, nauseous sensation began to emanate from the area near the painting, causing all within the house to begin suffering a throbbing headache that seemed to be getting worse with every passing second.