Form and Void
As the group stood around the SUV an unusual car pulled into the lot. The vehicle had clearly been a Herse once but some stylish modifications had given it a second life. Maria recognized it. The car pulled up and out stepped Esther Smith, Mariaâ€™s personal hairstylist. Maria had not turned up for work since filming had halted and was returning to her apartment in the building. Before the group could act she had strode over to see what was going on. After a short and probably very troubling conversation with Esther she agreed to assist.
The Investigators prepared to return to Jarred Woodwardâ€™s apartment.
From a bag in the trunk of his SUV Ramirez pulled a surprising amount of weaponry. Throwing a shotgun to George the party entered the elevator.
Maria suggested that perhaps the impenetrable darkness was somehow created by some sort of electrical field so the group attempted to shut off the lights. By torchlight they headed to the suite door and found the impenetrable darkness still complete. With little else to go on they stepped across the threshold.
The group came to their senses atop a large cliff in the dark of night. A natural auditorium made of smooth glassy rock surrounded them on all other sides. Far below waves smashed against jagged rocks. A short distance ahead two forms were visible. Jarred Woodward knelt, head bowed in front of a woman in a long black sequined dress. He appeared to be sobbing. Drawing his Desert Eagle, Ramirez announced himself. Woodward turned, wild eyed to the group, rose and began running madly at them. Behind him the woman began a slow advance. The group turned to one another, unsure what to do.
â€˜Run!â€™ yelled Woodward as he closed in on them. Ramirez fired on the woman but the bullet went wide. Woodward closed in and grabbed Maria and Esther and began to drag them to the cliff face but a sharp palm to the face soon stopped him. â€˜We have to get away from her!â€™ he yelled and threw himself over the edge. As the woman slowly drew closer the party decided to join himâ€¦.
And came to on the floor of the editing suite.
A large editing desk and screen stood against one wall, a shot of the familiar basalt cliffs where stood The Woman in Black facing Verity frozen on it. An editing table with a canister of film and some clipped frames against another. A small bowl of what was almost definitely blood sat beside it.
Woodward lay in the middle of the floor blubbering. When challenged he scurried over to a corner and began rocking backward and forward.
As Ramirez approached the screen The Woman in Black turned towards him. A loud shot echoed around the room as the screen exploded from a close-range Magnum round.
Heâ€™d clearly got sick of this.
Turning to the table Ramirez scooped the contents into his bag to the protests of Maria who wanted to examine the film further. This caused friction. After a brief argument about the film and whether to turn it over to the authorities Maria withdrew from the confrontation. Ramirez found her a couple of minutes later attempting to call 911. He relieved her of her phone.
Dragging Woodward to his feet, the group left the penthouse.
When the five got back to the car the door was open and Verity Harrow was nowhere to be seen.
Woodward was pushed into the trunk of the SUV and the group began to pile in. Maria, however, refused. She distrusted Ramirez. After a short debate Esther and Maria decided to take the Herse.
The Celebrity Retreat seemed like the next stop and Woodward could get them in. Christopher Ramirez and George Williams pulled the car up in a vacant lot. They dumped the film in a barrel and set the evil thing on fire. They then turned to Woodward and politely explained to him why he was going to help. The trio continued to the retreat and caught up with Maria and Esther.
In the foyer of the retreat the group met Mandy Solek, the bubbly receptionist. Mandy arranged for security to come and get Jared Woodward but refused to let the group into the building. As they were about to leave, however, Mandy received a call. It seemed Craig Steel had heard of their arrival and wanted to see them. A little worriedly the group, accompanied by security, were led to Steelâ€™s office.
Craig Steel sat behind his desk in a very opulent office. He seemed genuinely happy to see the group but concerned about their wellbeing, offering an emptying session. The four, of course, politely declined but Steel became more and more insistent.
Then he told the guards to take them by force.
One attempted to grab Ramirez but he ducked aside. The second went for Williams, striking him in the face. As Ramirez and Williams were engaged in combat Maria and Esther had other plans. They approached Steel, agreeing to go with him. Steel seemed puzzled by this but eventually began to lead them from the room and down a connecting corridor.
Back in Steelâ€™s office one of the guards had tazed Ramirez while Williams beat the other with a chair.
Esther made her move. From her coat, she pulled her favorite scissors and put the point to Steels neck. A fight broke out but Steel was able to push Esther away. Esther fled into the building.
Maria had other plans. She agreed to accompany Steel and together they made their way across the building. Steel opened a door near the emptying suite and led Maria inside.
Esther circled back and made her way back into Steelâ€™s office to find the two men still in combat with the guards. She quickly searched the room for something to assist her. In Steelâ€™s desk Esther found the final reel of film and quickly destroyed it. A large cupboard was next to be searched. Throwing open the door Esther (and the combatants) were shocked to find a man standing there. When the initial shock wore off it could be seen this was not a living person but a mannequin on which hung a humanâ€™s skin. Despite the wear it appeared to be the Churchâ€™s founder, Ralph L Chandler.
Wilson and Ramirez had finished off the guards and set off after Maria while Esther continued her search. A cardboard box marked the Exegesis of Ralph L Chandler and another Tome titled The Sussex Manuscript took her interest and she scooped them up to return them to her car.
The two men continued down the hall to find more security coming for them. One of the guardâ€™s head exploded from Ramirezâ€™s large caliber weapon while Wilson took down the other but beyond them was a high security door.
Beyond the door Maria screamed as she was tied down and skinned aliveâ€¦
Desperately Ramirez turned to search for something that could be used to set the place alight but didnâ€™t get far before Steel emerged from the room. Ramirez blasted Steel in the chest.
Craig Steelâ€™s chest split open. From within, blackness spread into the world. Tentacles of night whipped at the two men. As the void spread the two fled from the retreat.
Epilogue â€“ The hours following
The Survivors were apprehended by the police and taken into custody shortly after their escape from the Celebrity Retreat. During the hours they were held an FBI raid was undertaken on several Church buildings, including the Retreat. Few Church members put up resistance and the raid was completed cleanly.
While exact information on what was recovered remains classified FBI spokesmen have referred to it as â€˜of troubling and occult nature.â€™ In the coming weeks, many high-ranking church members would be arrested and the church would eventually close. Brian Musgrove, the head of the Church, has not been found.
George Williams, Esther Smith and Christopher Ramirez were released without charge after intervention from higher government authorities.
Maria del Ponchard, would be seen a few more times, always wearing dark glasses before disappearing completely.
Esther Smith retains The Exegesis of Ralph L Carter.