Deadlands Reloaded: Sunday Night In The Weird West

Chapter 15
The Rattlesnake Den

See, I will send venomous snakes among you, vipers that cannot be charmed, and they will bite you. —Jeremiah 8:17.

Colonel Angus woke that morning with a sore throat, perhaps the result of battling the hoodoos in the dusty cave the day before. Whatever it was, his smooth southern drawl was not going to have its full charm for a while.

The posse continued on their search for Sees Far Ahead by looking for the Necessity Alliance near Lion’s Roar. Lion’s Roar was, of course, run by none other than the Warlord Kang’s deputy, Red Petals Su, who the posse had shot out of the sky during the battle of Lost Angels. She had it coming anyway since she sent a Chinese ogre and a band of martial artists after them.

They found a boat that could take them the three day trip to Lion’s Den. The captain, a swarthy sea veteran of the female persuasion, was a hard bargainer. Holcolm, employing the few charms a grizzled scientist with a limp had available attempted to bargain her price down. Getting nowhere, he turned the effort over to Angus, who was always happy to oblige. The Colonel leaned in and whispered with his raspy voice something to her and all that anyone heard was, “Oh my, Angus!” And the price was lowered.

Although the journey was only three days, and the posse carried plenty of provisions, hunger loomed over them constantly. One day, unable to feed his appetite, Holcolm collapsed on the deck from hunger. He quickly righted himself, but felt greatly weakened the rest of the day.

Lion’s Roar was a mostly closed-off city surrounded by walls, however, the busy waterfront was open to all comers. Ominously, an overgrown graveyard overlooked the waterfront.

The posse, knowing that information flowed most freely where alcohol flowed most freely, found the nearest saloon and walked right up to the bar. After buying a bottle of the cheap stuff, Holcolm and the Colonel talked up the bartender to get some information on the whereabouts of the Necessity Alliance. Their conversation was overheard by one of Red Petals Su’s men who left to report on strangers asking too many questions.

Ellis and Nashville pursued the man into an alley, where they were quicky surrounded. Nashville played drunk and attempted to talk their way out of the mess, but the martial artists were unimpressed. Nashville then cast a darkness hex over the alley and slipped away. Ellis got away also, but only after taking a couple of chops from their opposition.

That was enough to raise the possibility that Red Petals Su might know her would-be assassins were in town, so it was time to leave. By that time, Holcolm and the Colonel had enough information from the bartender to find the Necessity Alliance, so they left Lion’s Roar to continue on their quest.

The mesa of the Necessity Alliance rose from the watery maze in front of them. Unlike many of the mesas being mined for ghost rock, this one had no steam-powered lift. Instead, there was a single narrow switchback leading up to the top. Along the path were sharpened poles with heads of dead Indian braves impaled on top.

As the posse wound their way up the side of the mesa, they could see a earthen wall formed at the top, with a group of Indians looking down at them from above. One of them shouted down to them. The posse could not understand what was said, but it was plainly hostile. Thurgood commanded back up at them, “English!” One replied back at him in slow but good English, demanding to know why they were approaching. The Colonel explained, and something about invoking the name of Born In A Bowl was enough to allow them up onto the mesa.

The braves brought the posse to the apparent leader of the group, Stalks The Night. By the time they received an audience, there were at least 200 braves assembled. The posse explained their quest, and Stalks The Night spoke in measured tones: “Sees Far Ahead formed the Necessity Alliance. He left us many moons ago. To seek the Great Turtles, if you believe such things. We have not seen him since. But if you want to find him, you will need the help of Born In A
Bowl. He made her chief of the Alliance before he left. But if you want Born In A Bowl, you will have to find the lair of the Rattlesnake Clan.”

Thurgood asked about the Rattlesnake Clan, and Stalks The Night gave a wry smile and continued, “The Rattlesnake Clan is a secret order dedicated to destroying the white man. Not such a bad goal. But they consort with dark spirits—mad beings who kill our people just as quickly as they kill yours. The Rattlesnake Clan infiltrated the Alliance and took Born In A Bowl three nights ago. Such traitors in our midst caused…trouble. There was a fight here, but we have since taken care of those responsible.”

Stalks the Night pointed toward the southern rim of the hill where five bodies could be seen impaled upon sharpened
stakes. He then turned back and cocked his head, thinking for a moment.

“Our scouts think they know where the Rattlesnake Clan has taken Born In A Bowl. We will attack them, but our numbers are few and I have little interest in reducing our numbers further. Help us fight these treacherous snakes and we will see about helping you find Sees Far Ahead.”

Stalks The Night then called foward two of his number. “I give you Eyes Like Fire and Weematai as guides for your journey. Eyes Like Fire is a fierce warrior who will stand before the darkness unbowed. Weematai is a healer, and knows the secrets of tribal medicine. She will bring you protection from harm. Go now, and seek out the Rattlesnake Clan.”

Gerard Timberlake, always looking for an advantage, said, “Well, how about a boat?”

Stalks The Night, taken aback by the impolitic demand, thought for a moment, and said, “You shall have a boat.”

Indians who follow the Old Ways do not have ghost rock power craft. Instead, the posse set out in a large wooden canoe guided by two Indians they had met only moments before. Nevertheless, they successfully came to the place that their guides said they would find the Rattlesnake Clan. They waited until night to approach.

The entrance to the grotto looked like it was flooded by a shattered forest during the quake. When the water washed
back out, the jumbled splinters of the trees were left in the canyon like deadly pick-up sticks. The mass of broken trees opened up to a small passage — something of a tunnel through the wood over the murky water below.

The entrance was difficult to navigate, but the posse made it inside to a narrow tunnel that opened up into a chamber in the deadfall. Like the entrance the floor here was nothing more than fallen timbers, and the dark brackish water lapped through the interstices.

As the posse made their way forward, they started to hear “buzzing” over the lapping of the seawater below. In the
next “chamber” were dozens of tiny little stick dolls hanging from the latticework. Most had a few scraps of burlap
or leather for clothes and withered, rotting fruit as heads. They were really quite disgusting and creepy, and thousands
of small biting flies swarmed about, consuming the heads or laying eggs in them.

The rotting figures hanging from the limbs above suggested voodoo magic and, as it happened, the posse was traveling with one of the few voodoo practitioners this side of the Bayou.

Mbali carefully move to the front of the single file line and looked at the dolls, careful not to disturb them or the clouds of black flies that buzzed around them. “I tink dis be no voodoo magic, but it be bad. Maybe dis is animating magic!”

Nashville, from his perspective as a Hexslinger came to the same conclusion and cast a dispel hex on the dolls just to be safe.

Moving briskly from the fly infested dolls the posse moved into another chamber-like area among the fallen timbers that was even more grotesque. Hanging by their tied-up hands from the branches above were 13 slaughtered Indian braves. They hung like cattle in a Chicago meat larder.

As the group stood gawking at the cannibalistic handiwork, they could hear water splashing from beneath. Looking down revealed the dark form of a shark slipping and sliding in the bloody water below, waiting for scraps. Looking back up from the hungry predators, they saw that the slaughtered Indians’ eyes were open—and the corpses began to emit a deep, raspy groan!

Weematai was sickened by the scene and woozily lost her balance. For Eyes Like Fire, it was an unbearable sequel to the killing on the mesa when the Rattlesnake Clan rose up three days before. Seeing braves he had grown up with hanging dead, but not dead, in the dark of the cave sent him fleeing from the room back to where the dolls were. He stayed there for a few minutes panting and regaining his composure before rejoining the group.

The groan from the hanging corpses—caused by the inrush of air rather than the exhalation of it—began to draw the very life force from posse. They could feel it fatiguing them, and they fought it off as they moved through the fallen trees.

Ellis moved through the room first, escaping the draining effect of the corpses trapped somewhere between life and death. As he entered the next room he briefly caught a glimpse of a burly, ghost-like shaman standing in the distant shadows. His footing slipped for a moment and, when he looked up again, the figure was gone. Clearing his eyes, Ellis looked around again and saw what looked like a figure buried within a bundle of jagged twigs. More accurately, she was impaled by them like a human pincushion, and lay motionless, unconscious, and near death on the “floor.”

While Ellis was coming to grips with what he saw, Holcolm, Abram, and Eyes Like Fire were trying to cut the hanging Indians down from the branches to stop them from draining everyone of their life force. The first one dropped and slipped between the timbers below as was promptly devoured by a shark moving silently beneath them. Others that did not fall through, they simply “killed” again.

Timberlake had joined Ellis in the room with the impaled figure and moved toward it. It was an Indian woman, clearly a shaman. It was a safe bet that this was Born In A Bowl. Timberlake reached down to touch Born In A Bowl and the burly shaman reappeared and conjured three venomous snakes and directed them at Nashville who had also entered the room. He then launched three sprays of poison, one at Nashville, another at Mbali, and the third at Weematai. The burly shaman, who Weematai recognized as the leader of the Rattlesnake Clan, Papa Rattlesnake, was obviously most concerned with the intruders having supernatural powers.

Holcolm had hung back a bit and fearing trouble from behind, returned to the doll room to stand guard. Abram moved with him in that direction.

After his initial attack, Papa Rattlesnake disappeared again, this time reappearing in the room with the hanging corpses. He continued to dash back to the doll room where Holcolm and Abram were guarding the rear. When Papa Rattlesnake got there, he waved his arms and intoned words in a lost Indian language that animated the dolls and brought them on Abram. Immediatly after, he sent sprays of poison at Holcolm who attempted to fire back.

Abram fended off the dolls and, with a mighty swing of his hammer, dispersed the swarm.

While Weematai and the others attempted to heal Born In A Bowl, Nashville looked for a way to get Papa Rattlesnake off of his comrades in the doll room. Nashville shouted back that they had freed Born In A Bowl, falsely, but convincingly, and Papa Rattlesnake turned back to where he had come from.

Papa Rattlesnake was not the only one in the deadfall who wanted to harm Born In A Bowl. Eyes Like Fire sought to kill her as well. He ran ahead of Papa Rattlesnake towards Born In A Bowl and hurled his spear at Weematai who was next to her. Weematai responded with an attack of her own.

The posse quickly assessed the situation and judged Eyes Like Fire to be the enemy. They fell upon him quickly, incapacitating him. Nevertheless, Mbali and Timberlake kept an eye on Weematai, in case they judged the two Indian guides incorrectly.

The healing began to work on Born In A Bowl, and she was able to speak. She confirmed that Weematai, her protege, would do her no harm, and looked at the situation about her. Ellis did as well, and, with Papa Rattlesnake returning to the room, things were looking bleak. They asked what they could do, and believing the posse incapable of the task at hand, Born In A Bowl asked them to leave and send Light The Wind back to the Rattlesnake Den to rescue her.

Nashville, also sensing the desperation, made an existential decision to allow Hunahau to take over his body. He knew it would cost him in future struggles for dominion, but he was willing to do it knowing that Hunahau had a strong sense of self preservation, and a mean streak that he might turn on Papa Rattlesnake. Hunahau began to run for the exit.

Mbali, still with Born In A Bowl, quickly explained why they had come—they were looking for Sees Far Ahead. At that moment, Born In A Bowl acted decisively and selflessly. She looked Mbali directly in the eye and let out an ancient incantation. She then put out her pinky and laid it across one of the timbers and said, “Cut it off.”

Mbali hesitated only a moment, then sliced Born In A Bowl’s little finger cleanly. The finger dropped, spun around and plainly indicated a direction. Mbali picked up the appendage that would serve as their compass and took it with her.

The posse then made their escape. As they rushed to the exit, Papa Rattlesnake was also in desparate straits. He had not anticipated the resiliency of the posse and had spend all of his shaman magic. The relief he felt when the posse appeared to be fleeing, turned to urgent horror when he saw Born In A Bowl’s bleeding finger. He knew the magic that Born In A Bowl had just worked and realized he could not allow the posse to escape.

Up until then, he had existed in both the Hunting Grounds and the deadfall, but having no more power left, he had to leave the Hunting Grounds and bring his body fully onto the Earth. He appeared directly in front of Mbali and wrenched the pinky from her, and turned to flee.

Nashville, who was himself able to exist ethereally, recognized that Papa Rattlesnake must have been at the end of his power because he was now fully corporeal. Hunahau, still controlling Nashville, also feared that if he fled, the posse might turn on him for leaving them behind. So, Hunahau focused himself on destroying Papa Rattlesnake. With a flick of the wrist that did not betray the internal energy channelled in his deck of cards, he flung the entire deck at Papa Rattlesnake and spend Nashville’s last ounce of Huckster magic.

Papa rattlesnake, sliced to bits by cards, fell to his death among the timbers.

View
Chapter 14
Blood on the Hands

“Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.” —Deuteronomy 21:7.

In the dark of night, a small steamer wound is way down the California coast from Shan Fan to Quarrytown. Slumped over the back rail was Abram Thurgood feeding the fish with the half-digested trail rations he fed himself only an hour before.

At about the same time, Nick Nashville’s manitou, Hunahau awoke. Nashville, mentally exhausted from the climb through the ruins the day before, put up little resistance to Hunahau’s assertion of dominion over him. With Hunahau in control, Nashville climbed back up into the ruins, slipping once as he ascended to the upper levels. The manitou intended to bring fear to the miners camped below. The natural way to start a rock slide would be to smear more blood on the glyph in the cave below the ruins, but Nashville’s body had no living blood. So, instead, he put his shoulder behind a crumbling wall overlooking a steep drop, and pushed. The wall started a rock slide that sent a growing field of tumbling rocks and debris hurling toward the mining camp below. The slide leveled a small wooded cabin and crushed everyone inside.

“Wonder what time the saloon opens?” thought Hunahau in Nashville’s brain. “I feel like playing cards.”

The next morining, the posse, loaded up with several day’s rations and joined by Thurgood, continued on to Lost Angels to collect the bounty on Rance Hitchcock and his men. They heard about the rock slide the night before and it didn’t surprise them as remarkable given the delicate state of the ruined mission on the hill. Sad to see innocent people killed in a natural disaster.

A day out from Quarrytown, the posse’s boat was attacked by a giant crocodile. Colonel Angus put the scaled beast on the evening’s menu with some fancy two-handed pistol work, but only after the croc had sunk its chompers through the hull. They spent the rest of the day ashore repairing the boat.

The trip only took a few days more, and with the croc for dinner, they’d expected their rations to hold out longer. Nonetheless, hunger on the Maze never seemed to never go away completely, and notably some of their food spoiled well before its time.

At Lost Angels, it was a simple matter to pick up the bounty on Rabid Rance at the Rockies claim office. The posse had been to Lost Angels before, of course, helping Lacey O’Malley looking for Lacey’s friend, Sam Hellman. The last time, they had seen the viciousness of Reverend Grimme’s Guardian Angels as the hid watching from an alley. Grimme’s men, under the command of a cruel nun, clubbed to death two of their own men who were returning wounded from the Great Rail Wars. The Guardian Angels piled the bludgeoned bodies on the back of a nearly-full cart and took them away.

The tension in Lost Angels was not as high as it had been during the last great battle of the Rail Wars, but the Edict of ’77 was clearly still in effect. When the posse rented a room at a boarding house, the first thing the desk man asked about was their allegiance to Reverend Grimme. The Colonel, with all the Southern charm he could muster under such circumstances, replied in the affirmative.

The next day, the posse was surprised to br approached by a young man asking them to meet Lacy O’Malley at the Fallen Angel Saloon in Perdition, just outside of Lost Angels. O’Malley must have a man working at the Rockies.

They met Lacy at the Fallen Angel in the town of Perdition. After appropriate small talk, the intrepid muckraker jumped right into the reason he contacted our heroes.

Lacy began: "I’m sure you remember our little mission during the Battle of Lost Angels, and our failure to locate a certain friend of mine. Samuel Hellman wrote the book on Reverend Grimme. Literally. He filed a lengthy report to the Agency a few years back that was less than flattering for Grimme and his cult. How’d I see it? Well, I have my ways. Anyway, Hellman suspected Grimme and his minions were sacrificing folks for some nefarious reason, but before he could prove anything he disappeared.

“I have a friend who’s a stonemason. He recently went out to Grimme’s prison in the bay—the Rock—and was unfortunate enough to see where they keep their prisoners. He knew Sam, and swears he saw him being hustled down a hallway just before he got to work. I can’t imagine he and Grimme are having tea. I have no right to ask what I’m about to, so I won’t sugar-coat it. I need you to break into the Rock and get Hellman out of there.”

Just as Lacy was about to say “Before you say no . . .,” the posse agreed to the mission.

Encouraged by the newest members of the Explorer’s Society, Lacy continued, "I have a plan that might help. I’ve persuaded a certain Maze Rat who owes me a favor to make a raid on the Rock. While he’s doing that, you guys slip in through a drain my stonemason friend was hired to seal up. He left it less than sturdy, let’s say, for just such an emergency.

“So, here’s the plan: Captain Hong Fat has a small fleet of ships. He owes me a favor because I rescued someone special to him a while back. We can trust him.

“On my signal, he will attack the Rock by sea. Like I said, he owes me, but even so, he has his limits. He will attack for 30 minutes or until one of his boats sinks. Then, he will call off the attack. While he’s attacking, the Rock’s protectors will be distracted.

“So, you have 30 minutes. While that’s going on, you will row quietly up to the side of the rock and enter through a sewage tunnel. There’s a grate in the tunnel that looks solid as a fortress, but there is a pull cord up in a cavity above it. Pull the cord and the grate will drop like a house of cards.

“You will have a distraction, but move quietly, and for heaven’s sake, try not to shoot any guns or use any explosives. The prison security will be distracted, but that will bring them on you in a hurry.

“When you get inside, you’ll have to find Sam and get him out. I can’t help you too much with how you’re going to do that except that I have this map that my stonemason friend sketched out. It only shows the basement of the prison, but hopefully that will be all you need.

“The Maze Rats will only attack at night when they have cover of darkness. You tell me what time you want them to start, and I’ll make it happen.

“The sewer tunnel is on the Northwest side of the Rock. I’ll have a rowboat ready. If you move, you’ll get there in about 10 minutes. That will leave you 20. The tunnel is easy to find because it smells like Satan’s butt.”

The posse agreed to take on the mission. They were Explorers now, after all, and it was the right thing to do. So they left to prepare. As midnight approached, however, Nashville was fast asleep—the result of having a manitou with firm sleep schedule. He woke in time, however, and the posse headed down to the water to board the row boat that would take them to the Rock.

The posse reached the sewer entrance in about the time Lacy predicted, so they had another 20 minutes to complete their mission. Nashville led the way into the sewer by becoming incorporeal but still stepping gingerly through the noxious smelling seweage. The others followed, except for Holcolm who stayed behind to guard the boat.

Entering the sewer was not easy. There was only a narrow ledge on either side of the channel, and the channel was filled with a disgusting sludge. The posse noticed early the presence of tentacles and other appendages and body parts suggesting the muck might be infested.

The sewer tunnel led to the grate Lacy had described. As predicted, when Nashville pulled the cord left there by the stonemason, the grate fell over allowing them to pass through.

The tunnel led into a large round cistern filled with the same sewage in the tunnel. Like the tunnel, there was a narrow ledge around the edge that the posse used to get across. When Nashville first entered the cistern, he could hear the wail of a ghost-rock powered machine emitting the same unholy sound they had heard from some of Darius Hellstromme’s machines in the rail tunnel that brough them under the Sierra Nevada mountains weeks ago.

The sound came from a hole in the roof of the cistern accessible by a wooden ladder. As the rest of the posse caught up to him, Nashville ascended into a small machine room with a door on the far side.

As indicated on the map that Lacy had obtained from the stonemason, the door led into the hallway connecting a number of jail cells. When they entered the hallway, one of the prisoners called out to them, claiming to be political prisoner of Reverend Grimme. The man, named Eddie Griff, urged the posse to free him and make a quick escape.

It could probably be said that Griff was a political prisoner, if you viewed Grimme’s politics to be the practice of jailing those who he could not control. Griff was dangerous. Before reaching Lost Angels about a year ago, Griff had been attacked by a lycanthrope in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The beast bit into him, passing along the disease that Griff carried with him. Griff was a werewolf.

The shouting attracted the attention of one of Grimme’s guardian angels assigned to guard the prisoners. The hallway leading to the guardroom was narrow, so only Thurgood and Angus could get in close to attack. The others, except Holcolm who was still guarding the boat, proceeded to break the prisoners out. Breaking the cells open would normally be a simple matter for the dynamite-wielding Gerard Timberlake, but he could not risk an explosion that might undermine the distraction created by Captain Hong Fat and attract the attention of the other prison guards.

In addition to Griff, the posse found that Hellstromme’s work crew leader, Charlie Bill Bruckner had also ended up in the basement prison. Charlie Bill was surprised and delighted to see his old blacksmith, Thurgood, show up with the posse to free him.

In another cell, posse found a black woman, whose name they would later learn was Mbali Jones. She was in bad shape, fatigued, and barely able to walk.

Finally, in the far cell, there was a man, barely alive and unable to speak. Nashville, still incorporeal, entered the cell to revive the man and determine whether he was the missing Sam Hellman. Having never seen Hellman, there was no way to tell for sure, but he had to be their man. The posse forced the final cell open, freed the prisoners and headed back the way they came in. By that time, the Colonel had finished off the guard and had also turned to leave.

The exit was as challenging as the entrance given the narrow ledges around the cistern and the sewer channel, but they made it out. Griff, eager to be free of the prison, rushed out first. Mbali slipped into the cistern and, for a short moment, believed she would be lost to whatever horror lurked beneath the surface, but the Colonel lifted her up and carried her the rest of the way to the boat.

The prison break had gone quickly, so there seemed to be plenty of time to return to the shore. The posse had only expected to be rescuing a single prisoner, however, so the boat was filled to capacity.

Before the posse reached the shore the boat was attack by a school of devil rays. The rays would lurk in the darkness and gather speed until they could fly out of the water, above the boat and attack with their stingers. It took a few moments for the posse to work out the timing but they were soon able to fight back.

Nashville took control of the situation, however, by enveloping the boat in darkness through the use of Huckster magic, unaware that the darkness also had the important effect of shielding Griff from the moon above.

The posse killed most of the devil rays, and the rest left when the supernatural darkness made it impossible for them to find their prey. When Nashville lifted the darkness, however, Griff was left exposed out there on the water to the full moon above. His transformation began causing him to hunch over into a canine position as thick hair and claws started to grow.

Being a werewolf tearing apart innocents in a sleepy California town in one thing. Transforming while in a small boat with a crew of hardened gunslingers, hucksters, and mad scientists is another. Griff lasted about twenty seconds and his dog-like corpse was left to float away and the posse continued their rush toward the shore.

After the posse got back to Perdition, Hellman began to revive a bit. Then he began to tell the tale of how he found himself in the basement of Reverend Grimme’s prison: "Bastards got me right after I mailed off the second copy of my report to Allan Pinkerton. They intercepted the first draft. Probably ate the kid I hired to carry it as well. That’s right, I said ‘ate.’ Grimme and his inner circle are cannibals, in case you hadn’t figured it out. The meat they serve at those Sunday feasts is what we like to call “long pork.” I wouldn’t recommend partaking, no matter how hungry you get. It gets to you after a while…

“Anyway. You’ll probably think I’m loco, and I don’t blame you, but you may have heard of this thing called the ‘Reckoning.’ It was one of the pet theories of the Pinkertons a few years back—that something had happened to the world. Magic came back somehow. Black magic. And all the horrible things it gives life to. I think Grimme is in league with it somehow.

“A year ago the cult locked up an Indian shaman in the cell next to mine. Said his name was Sees Far Ahead. We’d talk when we were able and he’d tell me tall tales about this Reckoning and how it all started. I don’t remember most of it, to tell the truth. I’ve been playing a few cards short of a full deck for the better part of two years now, best I can tell. But he said Grimme was a ‘servitor’ of this Reckoning, and that he couldn’t be stopped or killed by ordinary means. I can personally tell you that a sharpened bone fragment drove clean through his heart barely made him wince, so I believe it.

“But he’s got to be stopped. If he ain’t, people are gonna suffer for years. Maybe forever if he’s truly immortal. And it gets worse, too. Sees Far Ahead told me the Reckoning wasn’t the apocalypse—it was the beginning of it. Grimme and others like him are after something big. Something that could create a literal Hell on Earth.

“Sees Far Ahead knew how to kill Grimme, but I’m afraid we didn’t get that far before they took him away. I don’t know what happened to him, but I know another shaman who will. She goes by the name Born in a Bowl. Evidently these two were the founders of the Necessity Alliance, a collection of Indian survivors who have gathered up above Lion’s Roar in the Maze. She’ll know what happened to Sees Far Ahead. Hell, she may even know how to kill Grimme herself. Find that out and we’ll report it to the Agency so they can handle it from there.”

Holcolm knew a bit about what Hellman was talking about from his previous time wandering the Weird West. Servitor. That made Grimme one step short of the Devil himself. Hell on Earth suddenly didn’t seem like much of an exaggeration of what might be happening if, in fact, the cannibal priest was a Servitor.

Timberlake seemed more interested in the mysterious black woman they rescued. It didn’t take long to figure out she was a voodooist, but a voodooist in California? Well, they’re as rare as hens teeth out here.

Then Mbali Jones saw the book Timberlake carried with him and saw something in Timberlake. The book was Cheval’s book. She knew that. Maybe Timberlake had been taken in by the mysteries of the book. A book she knew to be bad mojo. She knew these men were somehow part of the quest that had brought her far from he home in Louisiana.

She asked Timberlake for the book, but he was hesitant to turn it over when she said she must destroy it. So, she told her tale:

“It was a long time ago. More than ten years ago when I went on a vision quest.

“I saw the West, California, break into pieces and fall into the ocean. An then, but three days later, there was an earthquake and the newspapers reported exactly what I had seen. California broken in pieces.

“In my vision there was a man, a bad man. Reverend Grimme had gone was and brough with thim a great famine. A famine that killed many good men and women. And their children too.

“I didn’t know who Grimme was when I saw him in my vision, but his picture was in he papers months later, so now I know.

“And I had also seen another bad man, named Cheval. He was from Louisiana, too. He had that book, the one you have now. He used it to pretend to be a minister. But Cheval was no man of the cloth. He had a manitou telling him what to do.

“I saw that Cheval, like Grimme, had come West. He had that book. But Cheval was also looking for a Chinaman that knew something Grimme needed to know. That something was the shape of a rock.”

Den I see Cheval, in dee vision, come to de West wit de book. He be lookin’ for a Chinaman dat be knowin’ sumtin’ dat Cheval be needin’. Dat sumtin be da shape of a rock."

The posse was taken by Mbali’s description of the Chinese man she had seen in her vision quest. It had to be their late friend Mr. Pau.

Mbali continued talking, "You see, Cheval came looking for a devil that was trapped deep underneath the rock, but Cheval didn’t know which rock to look under. But the Chinaman knows. And then, in my vision, I was the Chinaman telling a manitou how to identify the rock that held the devil.

I don’t know what Cheval wanted with the devil, but it had something to do with the famine and Grimme. So I came West to find Cheval and the China man and, well, I guess I came to kill them both before they could get to the devil.

Timberlake replied, “Cheval’s dead. So, is the Chinaman.”

Mbali was a bit disoriented by the news. She had not expected this, so the book became her focus, “Then I guess there is only the book, and Grimme left. I must burn the book, and get to Grimme too.”

Nashville was pretty sure fire wasn’t going to damage the book, but he said nothing. His experience with the supernatural told him there was more than one kind of fire, and maybe that was what Mbali was referring to.

They resolved nothing about the book that night. Timberlake would not give up the book, but he was intrigued by the voodooist, particularly since he had opened the book and taken an interest in the power behind it. There was also the issue of the manitou in their party, that spurred his interest in learning more about things beyond the world he could see.

So the posse headed off to follow Sam Hellman’s lead and find the Necessity Alliance. They didn’t know for sure where to look, but the starting point would be somewhere in the Maze for sure. So, they headed on foot back to the coast.

On the way there, they heard what was beginning to become a familiar wailing sound—the half-moan, half-cry of wind rushing from caves of ghost rock. They left the trail to see where it was coming from.

Not far off the trail, they came upon a man guarding a hole in the ground. They were able to pursuade the man to let them pass and in the hole, they found a scientist working in a cave not unlike the one they found beneath the ruins of the mission above Quarrytown, and the cave where Pennington-Smythe recovered the Amulet of Rahashimir. In fact, the first thing they noticed was a glyph, more-or-less in the shape of a lightning bolt, scribed on the wall. They also saw that the scientist had set up some equipment with a small ghost rock generator.

The scientist saw the rings on the fingers of he posse, but confirmed that they were members of the Explorer’s Club by asking what hung above the mantle at the club in London. The Colonel recalled Pennington-Smythe relate that the trophy was the head of the elusive jackalope.

After Professor Vandergrift got caught up on the news of his old friend, Roderick, the posse exchanged what they had learned about the glyphs with the Professor.

Vandergrift told them what he had learned: "I’ve discovered several caves just like this all up and down the coast. Each one has the same symbol. My Indian friends tell me the symbol marks the home of an earth spirit. I believe the more-educated among us would call these “faults,” however.

“Still, there’s something to the Indians’ myth, because I have found an application of certain…fluids…on the wall triggers a slight tremor. I can’t really explain the scientific process behind this, but that fluid is blood.”

The posse knew exactly what Professor Vandergrift was referring to. The Colonel had smeared the blood of his own hand on the glyph under the ruined mission near Quarrytown, and that sparked a small tremor.

The professor continued: “Human blood at that. Animal blood does nothing. These poor chickens can attest to that. But there is something in the blood of man that causes the earth here to react. Watch.”

Professor Vandegrift took the bandages off his left hand, drew a knife from his belt, and sliced a cut across his palm. There were half a dozen cuts there already, so it was obviously something he had done many times. He smeared red onto the symbol and, sure enough, just as the posse had seen at Quarrytown, there was a distant rumble in the Earth.

“Hmm. That’s bigger than last time…” observed Vandergrift.

He continued: "My research indicates that a very large amount of blood might trigger an actual quake. It is my hypothesis this wonder caused the Great Quake back in ’68.

“This is the ninth such site I’ve found. There are three right around Lost Angels, and the rest are strung out up and down the coast from Mexico to the Oregon border.”

Before he could say more, the walls of the cave began to open up and stout, sturdy creatures made of earth and rock emerged. These were different than the earthen beast they found in the cave near Shan Fan. These beasts were made mostly of rock and began bashing at the humans with their fists.

The posse fought the hoodoos off at first, but could not overtake them so they quickly began to retreat. Professor Vandergrift fought at the front of the line and when his guard fell, he was alone in the cave with the hoodoos. Before he could retreat with the posse, the hoodoos fell upon him en masse and crushed him with their stony fists. The hoodoos then moved over to where Professor Vandergrift had been performing his experiments and smashed his equipment, causing the ghost rock engine underneath the equipment to burst into flames.

By then, the posse had retreated. They had had their brush with near death, but also a brush with the genius scientist and Explorer Society legend, Professor Vandergrift. Whatever Professor Vandergrift had learned from his experiments about the glyphs and where they could be found, however, was lost forever.

View
Chapter 13
Blood on the Wall

Prologue

The West changes men. Some change in small steps that you only notice over years. Some, however, like Nick Nashville and Gerard Timberlake, take large steps on their way to something different.

For Nashville, the change began when he was gunned down on the steps of the Cheval’s church in Coffin Rock. More recently, however, he found that the power of the manitou that harrowed him also allowed him to become incorporeal at will. How this would ultimately affect him, only time will tell.

For Timberlake, his journey West marked not only his drastic change in station and the growth of a ragged beard, but also the growth of faith. Something about the book he had been carrying peaked a new belief in something greater than himself. What it was, in particular, he could not yet say, but surely if he could gain an understanding of the book, how it came to be his, and why it came to be his, the meaning would become clearer.

Blood on the Wall

The posse was running short on cash. Fortunately, they had a lead on a capturing a bounty in the form of one Rance Hitchcock — a mean sonofabitch who made his reputation on claim jumping. MacDuff’s man in Shan Fan, Bull Scheneley asked for the posse’s help with this little matter after “Rabid” Rance took out one of one of Bull’s men and falsely registered his claim with the Rockies. The R.M.A., known colloquially as the “Rockies” was the only claim validating body in the West, and the only legal way to moving fundaments back East.

Finding Rance would normally be a problem, but since the sonofabitch had registered a claim belonging to one of Bull’s men, the posse was able to backtrack the claim to the person who registered it. Five dollars later, they had the name of one Johnson Larkin Schnitz.

The posse tracked Schnitz down at one of Shan Fan’s nicer saloons and found him playing poker with a rough crowd of sharps. Nashville, the polished gambler in the group, took up a collection from his companions and took a seat at the table. Angus joined him.

Timberlake and Ellis took a seat at the bar and enjoyed themselves a shot of middle-of-the-road Shan Fan rotgut.

Holcolm, having been around too many poker games gone bad, took up a location outside the saloon and struck a casual pose. Exceptin’ for the occasional whore soliciting his business, he was able to maintain his attention on the gambling house unmolested.

After contributing about $50 to the general welfare of the gamblers around the poker table, Angus and Nashville began talking up a claim they said they’d struck. The story was a fabrication of course, but calculated to suss out a connection between Schnitz and Rabid Rance Hitchcock.

It didn’t take long for Schnitz to offer his advice and services in the promotion of the claim. He agreed to meet the posse at the Sunrise House in the morning for a cup of black coffee to discuss business.

Rather than meeting the posse in the morning, Schnitz gathered up his men and, along with the 300-pound sonofabitch Rabid Rance Hitchcock, sneaked into the Sunrise House intending to fit up the posse for pine boxes.

Holcolm knew the game, however. Having hid himself on the street, he was unknown to Schnitz and his men, so he took up a seat at the bar at the front of the Sunrise House, ordered himself a beer and waited. Sure enough, Rance, Schnitz, and their men showed up in the dark of night, walked right passed Holcolm, and went upstairs to where the posse was supposedly asleep.

Schnitz kicked in the door to the posse’s room and the fighting started right away. They were surprised to find armed men wide awake and waiting for them. The posse attacked. While they did, Nashville willed himself to become incorporeal, protecting himself from the enemy shots. He forgot, however, his state as the threw himself at one of the invaders in an attack, but instead found himself tumbling past his target, through the wall, and into the next room.

As the shooting got underway, Holcolm worked his way upstairs as fast as he could on one lame leg, Hellburst gun in tow. From behind, he leveled what was left of the goons after the initial onslaught from the posse in the room. That ended Rance and his men.

As the shooting ended, Roderick Pennington-Smythe came down the hallway, ascertained the nature of the situation, and prepared to head off the authorities as they arrove. By early morning, the posse was asleep in bed with affidavits from the local deputy for the bounty on Rance and his men (collectable at the Rockies office in Lost Angels).

The next morning, over breakfast, the posse got a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph and, just as Lacey O’Malley had advised them, there was a column under the heading “Good Intentions” directed at them.

It read:

GOOD INTENTIONS! Young Palmer
Watson, a boy belonging to a family
of miners at Quarrytown, has gone
missing! Folks are searching high
and low in hopes the lad still
lives.

With a sense of duty and, in the back of Nashville’s mind at least, the hope of some sort of remuneration, the posse chartered a boat to Quarrytown.

During the first full day of the travels, the boat was attacked by a giant octopus who promptly began to try to grapple the posse, and in fact, wrapped one of its tentacles firmly around Ellis Island. Now, under normal circumstances, a group of cowboys raised on terra firma would panic upon the sight of such a beast. This was not the first giant octopus these hombres had dealt with. Nashville kept his cool and unleashed a torrent of cards at the octopus — an attack that worked well against the last octopus. This time the hexed cards almost cut through the tough hide of the beast but could not quite meet the task. Although that was unsuccessful, Timberlake calmly lit three sticks of dynamite and tossed them into the water. The concussive blast stunned the beast and it slithered away into the inky darkness below.

The next day, the posse began to feel the effects of hunger, even though they were stocked with rations. Something about the maze blanketed them with hints of hunger and famine around each turn.

On the third day, they pulled into Quarrytown. The ship’s pilot, with the money he had just earned, set off for a waterfront tavern. The posse went to look for young Palmer Watson.

After a few inquiries in the mining camp, the posse learned that the missing boy had been playing near the ruins of an old Spanish mission on the hillside above. The mission had long since been reduced to rubble by an earthquake—perhaps the same one that created the Maze. On their way up the slope to the ruins on the hill, they heard a wailing sound reminiscent of the wailing from the cave where they and Pennington-Smythe had recovered the amulet of Rahashamir. The sound was coming from a hole in the ground at the base of the ruins. When they approached the hole, they could also hear the cries of a young man.

Nashville lowered himself down into the hole. The hole did not open into a cave like before, but was more like the bottom of a well. At the bottom, was young Palmer Watson. After the rescue, they returned the boy to his family at the mining camp. There, they were treated to a meal with the Watson family.

At dinner, the boy produced from his pocket a gold coin that Nashville recognized as being quite valuable, worth about $25. The boy told the posse that he found the coin in the ruins above the mining camp, and that he believed there might be more there.

Naturally, the posse, hurting for cash, went up the hill toward the ruins. On the climb up, Nashville slipped on the rocks sending a shower of boulders down injuring Holcolm. With his weird science Holcolm was able to quickly recover.

In the ruins, the posse came upon a room with a bed and a table. On the table was an old bible and a letter. Under the collapsed bed, lay the crushed skeleton of a man how appeared to be a brother or a priest of the order once inhabiting the mission. The posse took both the bible and the letter an headed up further into the ruins.

Nashville dug around in the runes and came upon a couple of the coins like the ones young Palmer Watson showed them at dinner.

At the higher level of the ruins, the posse found an opening into a cave in the hillside. They went inside and discovered on the wall of the cave, a sigil similar to the one they found in the hole where they recovered the amulet. Like the other, it was in the shape of a lightning bolt. Across the face of this one, however, was a smear of blood, long ago applied, and long ago desiccated.

Something in Timberlake’s mind told him that something important was going on here. Perhaps it was the product of his developing faith, perhaps it was just simple curiosity. He thought that if they repeated the act of smearing blood upon the sigil, something important would happen. Angus, convinced by Timberlake’s suggestion, drew his sabre and slashed open the palm of his hand. He allowed the blood to bead up for a moment, then he carefully approached the lightning bolt rune and smeared the blood from his hand upon the wall.

As Angus put his blood up on the symbol, it began to glow faintly. Then, they heard a distant rumble which continued for a few moments, then stopped. Whatever insight Timberlake had, it was on the mark.

When the posse returned to the camp, they were able to get the letter they found translated from Spanish into English. It read:

To Cardinal Diaz,
This 8th day of August, the year of Our Lord, 1868.
It is with heavy heart that I must report a foul and
ritualistic murder very near our mission. On July 24th,
one of the flock informed us that a young Indian man
we had taken in was missing. We thought little of it at
first—the youths here often wander about—but after a
few days began to worry.
A search party was formed, and I am sad to say our
young Indian friend was found. He lay at the bottom of
a rounded cave accessible only by a narrow tunnel at the
top. The Devil himself must have lived in that hole, for
it reeked of evil and brimstone.
On the floor of this chamber lay our friend, his heart
cut from his young chest and smashed against the western
wall. On this same wall was painted a symbol, much
like that of a lightning bolt.
The symbol glowed as if the paint were the blood of
Lucifer himself, and was bright enough to illuminate the
entire cave.
We buried our young ward that same day and sealed
off the cave as best we could. Our investigation reveals
another Indian man, from some tribe unfamiliar to our
locals, had been spotted around the cave in the days past.
We are searching for him now, and believe him to be a
heathen shaman of some sort.
A few days later, the earth began to shake. It is so violent
now I fear we must close the mission. While strong,
it seems to rest directly above Hell itself, for the walls are
already starting to

The letter ends there.

View
Chapter 12
Explorer's Society

My heart falters, fear makes me tremble; the twilight I longed for has become a horror to me. — Isaiah 21:4

That night, while the rest of the posse slept, Hunahau, the manitou residing in Nick Nashville’s decomposing body, grew restless. It had been a while since he’d had had any fun. Tonight would be the night.

Hunahau wrestled, only for a moment, to take dominion over Nashville’s own sprit, as Nashville drifted into slumber, then stood their shared body up and crept over to where Timberlake was sleeping. He took Cheval’s book from Timberlake’s pack, and went out looking for someplace to spread fear.

The Sunrise House, where the posse had taken a room, stood next door to one of the many orphanages in Shan Fan. Tonight the kiddies would get a bed time story they wouldn’t forget.

Standing in the orphanage’s small chapel, Hunahau channeled the summoning energy left behind by Ahpuch, the manitou that inhabited the “Reverend” Cheval. Moments later, a demon in the classic barbed-tail, two-horned, biblical style appeared before him. Hunahau bade the fiend farewell knowing precisely what a demon roaming free in an orphanage was likely to do.

Growing sleepy himself, he carefully tied himself to the altar and drifted off, leaving it to the gambler to come up with a convincing alibi.

Ennil Angus, awoke to screaming and gunshots coming from outside. He noticed Nashville was gone, so he woke the rest of the posse and rushed outside. Thurgood was passed out hard, and smelled as strongly of alcohol as Nashville does when he’s sober, so they left him behind.

When the posse got to the orphanage, two men lay dead in the front hall, apparently mauled by a large beast. Further in, they heard what probably did the two in. Gerard Timberlake and Angus charged in first, encountering the demon in a side hallway. Both took shots at it, but with little success. While the fiend was occupied, Holcolm attempted to reach the source of the cries he could hear through one of the walls—the orphans were holed up in a small room in the hallway where the demon was fighting off Timberlake and Angus. Holcolm blasted a hole in the wall with his hell-burst gun, and climbed his way into where the orphan’s and their headmistress were hiding.

Having no success with lead, Timberlake decided to try powder. He lit a couple of sticks of dynamite and dropped them next the demon and backed off. The demon ignored the explosion and moved forward. The Colonel met it with sabre drawn and delivered a haunting version of the Rebel Yell, but you can’t haunt the haunted, and it had no effect.

Meanwhile, Nashville awoke in the chapel, tied to the altar. He quickly untied himself and rushed down the hallway to where Timberlake and the Colonel were fighting off the demon. Nashville pulled out his deck and furiously started flinging hexed cards at the demon. Eventually, the demon succumbed to its ostensible summoner and returned to the underworld.

Although Nashville’s alibi worked on the local authorities on the night shift, it left Ellis Island suspicious. Island, of course, was not at the church in Coffin Rock when the parishioners killed Nashville, and hadn’t experienced the linger effects of Nashville’s first death. All he knew was that the mysterious gambler disappeared in the dark of night, and reappeared with Timberlake’s book in an orphanage with a demon. Island was going to have to keep an eye on this fella.

The posse had a simple plan. They would put on a dragon costume, parade into the fortified compound of Big Ears Tam during the dragon festival the next day, and find out what happened to Captain Pennington-Smythe. The only thing different about this plan from all of the posse’s other plans was that this one would actually work.

The morning of the dragon festival came soon enough. Timberlake met with Rutherford Dillenger the next morning to see if the veteran explorer could tell him anything about Cheval’s book or the demon they had encountered in the night. Although Dillenger knew a good bit about the occult, this bit of voodoo magic was beyond his expertise.

His next stop was a Catholic church for some divine intervention. The Colonel, no devotee of the Pope himself, joined Timberlake. They left their meeting with the priest feeling slightly blessed, with a pint of holy water in hand, but a few dollars lighter for the exchange.

Meanwhile, Island found a used dragon costume suitable for hiding five gunslingers and some fireworks and returned to the Sunrise House to get ready.

Every so often in the Weird West, things go as planned. The posse donned the costume and paraded in front of Tam’s estate. After some banter with the guards out front, and an impressive display of Chinese dragon dancing, they were allowed inside. They danced their way around the side of the compound, and by sheer luck, wandered into the pagoda-roofed house where Tam was.

As always, Angus did the talking. He made a celebratory offering to Tam of $50 gold, and asked where he might find the good Captain Pennington-Smythe. Angus could tell that Big Ears Tam was a man of complex motives, but whatever motivated him that night, caused him to say that Pennington-Smythe was being held by Thin Noodles Ma in the Skids. Without further ceremony, the ten-legged dragon with cowboy boots danced its way out of Tam’s well-guarded estate.

With a little asking around, the posse found the small stone house where Ma was holding Pennington-Smythe. There were four tongs outside, and it was apparent they held some sway in the neighborhood because none of the people on the street would look their way. As soon as the posse approached, the tongs went on the offensive. Three of them flew onto the room, channeling Chi magic in their defensive position, while the fourth threw a punch at Timberlake. Angus, Holcolm, and Timberlake joined the melee, while Island stepped back a few paces to line up a shot with his rifle. Nashville charged into the building, but was met by four more tongs, and the fight was on.

By the end, Holcolm had dropped about half of them himself, but everyone held their own. With the threat neutralized, they entered the building and, sure enough, discovered Captain Roderick Pennington-Smythe tied to a chair in the main room.

Once untied, the former hostage spoke right up: "Hello, friends. Captain Roderick Pennington-Smythe. I assume you know that already, and that my good friend Rutherford sent you to find me. Doubtless he also told you that I am not the target of these ruffian’s efforts. An artifact I recently had in my possession holds that distinction. I say recently because I was able to hide the device before I was captured while out scouting the hills here. It would take a lot more than these bastards can dish out to make me talk, but unfortunately I didn’t have to hold out. They had one of their bloody mystics pry the secret out of my head without so much as a by-your-leave.

“They are likely on their way to our treasure’s respite right now. Of course I’ll be mounting an expedition to stop them without delay. As it is such short notice, and Dillenger being of limited use in these situations, I could quite use your help, chaps.”

The posse agreed to join and without any delay, the posse plus one, headed out to the hills outside of Shan Fan to where Pennington-Smythe had last seen the Amulet of Rahashimir.

The hole to the cave where Pennington-Smythe hid the amulet had been excavated to about four feet in diameter. As they approached, the cave gave off a haunting wailing sound, probably from the air rushing out of the hole. The posse went right in and found the main room of the cave.

The scene in the cave was horrifying. Torn bodies were strewn around the room and the wailing sound seemed to amplify as one looked upon the dead. Holcolm turned about to leave, sickened by the sight. Timberlake was affected more profoundly, to the extent that his skin appeared to age decades as he faced the horror of what he saw.

As they entered the room, part of the earth emerged from one of the walls. It was in the form of a giant man-shaped conglomeration of rock and soil. The beast fought fiercely, at first resisting all attempts to bring it down. After a bit, Pennington-Smythe exclaimed, “by Jove, I think I’ve figured out this beasts weakness. Can you see that red garnet on its forehead? That’s it’s weak spot! All hands fire on the garnet!”

Angus landed the killing shot, causing the garnet in the earthen monster’s head to explode.

As the posse looked about, Nashville noticed a sigil inscribed on the cave wall. It was in the shape of a lightning bolt, and seemed to glow just a bit.

As Pennington-Smythe was looking around, he was surprised by a large man fleeing the cave. As the man, who appeared to be part ogre ran out, he hurled the amulet behind him, to throw off the posse. Island pursued the man for a bit but the man got away.

“That sizeable fellow, with the ogrish features, is Ox. I believe he is one of Ma’s men. Probably feels lucky just to have gotten out of this cave alive. Well, I’m a bit glad we did as well!”

After the posse tended their wounds, they headed back to the Sunrise House.

Pennington-Smythe greeted his old friend Dillenger and related what had happened to him. Then, he polished his monocle a bit, popped it back in, and carefully opened a very nice wooden case containing a dozen or so silver signet rings.

He looked at the posse, then spoke. "The rules for joining our society are a bit rigorous in normal times, but these are, as the Chinese say, interesting times. You have more than proven yourselves, and whether you like it or not, your destiny and that of the Explorer’s Society are intertwined.

“Mr. Island, that ring you hold is your mother’s ring. Emerald Island was a great colleague of mine, and worked with me in Europe and Arabia. It was a tragedy when she died. I’m glad, however, that she sent you to me. Now, that ring is yours.”

Pennington-Smythe handed four rings to Dillenger, who then handed one to Angus, Holcolm, Timberlake, and Nashville.

“This ring is a symbol of your membership in our little club. But there is an inner circle as well, and after our last adventure you deserve to know of it. The creature you saw tonight was most certainly unique, but there are others of its ilk in the world. I’ve seen them. From the blood-soaked trenches of the Crimea to the hills of China, by God, I’ve seen monsters.

“After the first few encounters I began to do research. I learned that horrors rise wherever there is fear and violence. I sought out and tracked down some of these fiends, and slew them. Eventually I attracted the attention of others of like spirit—my fellow members of the Explorer’s Society.

“I also discovered that the society is only the most recent face of our little fellowship. Men—and women, I might add—have been banding together to fight evil since as far back as King Solomon himself. Maybe even further. Our particular branch can trace its roots to ancient Rome and a brotherhood called the Twilight Legion.

“Were I to tell you what our long-dead brethren found in the Teutoberger Wald your hair would turn white.
So now I bestow upon you an honor, a privilege, and most importantly, a responsibility. Right wrongs. Defend the oppressed. Save the innocent. And slay the beasts. Welcome to the Explorer’s Society. Here there be monsters. And those who hunt them!

“One more thing, there is a way to tell a fellow member, even if they don’t have their ring. On the wall of the Explorer’s Society in London hangs a particular head, the head of a beast I personally tracked and shot here in the West with great difficultly—the jackalope. Only members know that the jackalope hangs above our hearth.

One of the posse asked, “You mentioned a conspiracy of evil?”

Pennington-Smythe answered, “Some we have encountered call it the ‘Reckoning,’ and those behind it the ‘Reckoners.’ I have scarce information on that subject, but have noticed something in my years of battling evil. For the last decade or so, the number of creatures discovered—some only by the telltale signs of their handiwork—have increased a thousand-fold. Such things are still rare, mind you, but my experience and the records kept by our order show a dramatic and sustained increase in the number of incidents.”

The posse also wanted to know about the Agents and Texas Rangers, so Pennington-Smythe continued, “They are at once our best allies and our most dire enemies. They are our allies in the sense that they very much believe in the Reckoning and are doing everything in their power to fight it. They are our worst enemies in the sense that they are utterly ruthless. I once believed that the average man should know monsters walk among us, but what happened in a little town in Kansas cured me of that notion. A fellow revealed the presence of a sort of shape-changer and the paranoia tore that little village to pieces. Literally. The Agency and the Texas Rangers are firmly committed to suppressing the truth, and on this we agree these days. But there are limits, and both parties are far too eager to incarcerate, brainwash, slander, and in extreme cases, even murder those who would tell the world the truth.
The efficiency of the Twilight Legion, and I daresay the individual efforts of fellows like myself and Mr. Dillenger, has convinced these authorities to look the other way when we are involved. Do not take this as writ, however, for what happens in a particular situation depends on how far you’ve had to go and the particular Agents or Rangers on the scene.”

Finally, Nashville asked about the symbol on the wall of the cave. “It was obviously a place of power, and that sigil on the wall—the lightning bolt—was a rune of some sort. I suspect that a sacrifice was performed there and somehow released its energy, but what it did I’ve no idea.”

With the sun having set, and their initiation complete, the posse turned in for what they hoped would be a restful night sleep.

View
Chapter 11
Shan Fan

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. —Revelation 20:12

Prologue One

Ellis Island arrived in Shan Fan on an Iron Dragon train he picked up in Minneapolis, through Fargo, and then Billings. On arrival, he responded to a help wanted ad seeking “A good man for a dirty job.” Island felt himself qualified.

During the interview at MacDuff’s Mining Ventures, things got dangerous. About a dozen men, led by a foul-smelling Confederate colonel, stormed the building and caught Island and his interviewer, Bull Scheneley, by surprise. In no time, Island was tied up in a back room. The interview was not going well.

Prologue Two

Abram Thurgood awoke, head throbbing, face down in a pile of empty crates, the stench of war all around him. He looked up and, through the haze, recognized one of the older railroad hands.

“You’re fired, you drunk!”

Thurgood resisted the urge to wretch out the gallon or so of champagne in his gut and replied, “Charlie Bill Buckner is my boss, not you.”

“Well, Grimme’s Angels grabbed Buckner in the fightin’. I run this crew now, and I say yer fired.”

With no prospects in Lost Angels, Thurgood thought to join the posse that had fallen into the Wasatch tunnel back in Nevada, but they were gone. One of them mentioned working for MacDuff Mining Ventures in Shan Fan. Maybe, he thought, he could find them there. So, he bought passage on a small cargo ship and headed north.

The trip cost him real money, and with all the food going rancid on the trip, he nearly starved to death, but he finally made it. Stepping into MacDuff’s Mining Ventures, he immediately realized that he may have been better off starving to death in the Maze.

Chapter 11

After an hour or so of being tied in the back room of his new employer, Island heard another group of men enter. Inaudible words were exchanged, there was an explosion of dynamite, then gunfire. A few minutes later, the shooting stopped, there was a dying cry in Mandarin, and the second group of men entered the back room.

Even in Red Lantern Town, the district where the non-Chinese tended to find themselves, a dynamite blast will get the attention of the authorities. Wong Chau Sang, known to the English-speaking people in Shan Fan as Long-Haired Tony, was 400 pounds of the ugliest sheriff in the Weird West. Hearing the blast, he gathered his men and showed up at MacDuff’s right as the shoot-out was winding down. He walked in on a terrible scene—about a dozen men dead in a heap on the floor and most of the fixtures in the small building destroyed by the dynamite blast.

“Get these bodies out of here,” he said to one of his men. “Wait, one of them is Chinese.” Looking closer, he also noticed, on some of the dead white men, the unmistakable shredding caused by the flying cards of a hexslinger attack. A huckster had been through here.

Long-Haired Tony strolled into the back room, barely fitting through the door, holding his shotgun casually in one hand like he was taking his fishing rod out for a lazy afternoon. “Everyone drop your weapons.” He spotted the deck of cards in Nashville’s hand. “You, huckster, drop the cards.”

Nashville let the cards drop to the floor knowing he kept an extra deck in his pocket. Some things even a gambler doesn’t leave to chance.

“I need an explanation right now!” Tony thundered.

Angus stepped up, “Well sir. We just arrove here to this fine establishment and we were ambushed by that man dressed as a Colonel. It was a horrible thing, Sheriff. They shot first, and we retaliated entirely in self-defense, I assure you.”

The dead men couldn’t contradict that testimony, so Tony took it at face value, but that left the matter of why there was a dead Chinese man. “Who, then, is the Chinese man?”

“The honorable Mr. Pau was our dear colleague. He was gunned down by the ambushers.” Angus said. “Tragic indeed.”

“We intend to bury him properly,” Nashville chimed in. Nashville, who knew a thing or two about the dead not staying dead, wanted to make sure Mr. Pau didn’t suffer any sort of spiritual possession by not being buried in hallowed ground.

Long-Haired Tony confirmed the story with Bull Scheneley, the manager of MacDuff’s, and then warned the posse not to dally too long in Shan Fan. With nothing more to do there, Tony instructed his men to cart away the dead, except for Mr. Pau who he left there to be buried properly.

After Scheneley collected himself, he listened to the posse’s tale of their encounter with the ghost ticks at the old Collegium mine. He then explained the problem he had with his latest claim—the one that prompted him to hire the other feller who’d gotten himself tied up.

Scheneley had send a young prospector out to file a claim with the Rock Miners Association known as the “Rockies.” The prospector had gotten a little too talkative about the claim and that drew the attention of Rance Hitchcock, an outlaw known to be hiding somewhere in the Maze north of Shan Fan. Rance killed the prospector and appropriated the claim.

“Rabid” Rance was a well-known problem around the Maze and there was already a $1000 reward on his head, collectible at the Rockies office in Lost Angels. Scheneley was looking to hire Ellis Island for the task of collecting the bounty, but offered the work to the whole posse, since their shares in the Collegium mine weren’t getting any more valuable given the ghost tick problem.

The Rance “problem” would have to wait, however, while the posse took care of giving the late Mr. Pau a burial in a cemetery near the Heavenly Park district. They negotiated a price for a burial plot—$25 not including a headstone or preacher. As it happened, a preacher happened to be standing nearby.

“Please let me introduce myself. I am Reverend Vernon Heavensgate. I am sorry for your loss. May I inquire as to the cause of death.”

As if it wasn’t obvious from the churned up mess that was once Mr. Pau’s gut, Nashville explained, “he was shot.”

“Well, I’d be honored if you would allow me to deliver the service, my fee is only $45.”

Nashville paid the man and the posse proceeded to a grave that had been dug in the back of the cemetery. The ceremony was short, and at the end, Heavensgate insisted that the posse say their last respects and allow the preacher to fill in the grave later. That didn’t sit too well with Nashville who had come for the specific purpose of seeing Mr. Pau safely covered with hallowed soil.

Nashville said a few words, and Timberlake grabbed for a shovel to finish the burial. Moments later, the dispute turned into a shootin’ match, as Heavensgate called forward his walking dead who had been hiding behind the gravestones. If he couldn’t claim the chinaman, he would claim the whole posse.

Walking dead were nothing new to Nashville, Timberlake, Holcolm, and Angus. They had seen more than a few around Coffin Rock. Island and Thurgood, on the other hand, became disabled with fear. Island bolted from the grave site. Thurgood just stood in place quivering in his boots.

Nashville quickly landed a burst hex on about half of the group of walking dead, felling most of them. Heavensgate was unaffected. When Nashville tried the spell a second time, his manitou, Hunahau surprised him by resisting the effort. The hex failed and Nashville fell into a depression.

Timberlake, however, got a solid shot off with his Peacemaker, although it wasn’t enough to finish Heavensgate off. Heavensgate responded by shooting Holcolm who was standing closest to him. Holcolm unleashed his Hellburst gun back at him, but Heavensgate dodged the burst.

Abram Thurgood, who had since recovered from his fear, rallied to get the killing shot on the Reverend. He took then reached over and took the Reverend’s ornate and cursed-looking dagger. Nashville took back the money he had paid Heavensgate. Angus felled the two remaining walking dead shooting them from the hip with an iron in both hands.

The posse then completed the burial of their fallen comrade, Pau Xing.

Next, they set out to find Captain Roderick Pennington-Smythe and the Explorer Society. Fortunately, Bull Scheneley had been in town long enough to learn that the Explorer Society kept a building in the Red Lantern district. Unfortunately, when the posse went to the place where Scheneley directed them, they found only a pile of ash where the building had once been.

After asking around, the posse learned from a local man, Willie Long Tam, that they would have to go back to Sheriff Long-Haired Tony to find out more. Their first meeting with Long-Haired Tony was a little rough; hopefully the next would go more smoothly.

It was getting late, so the posse found a room at a boarding house in the Red Lantern district. Nashville, Holcolm, and Island went down to the saloon to enjoy the evening.

Gerard Timberlake had been thinking about the book he had been carrying since they killed Reverend Cheval in Coffin Rock. He invited Colonel Angus and Abram Thurgood to join him while he opened it. Thurgood, remembering the last time he had seen the book, when Cheval plucked out his eye in the ceremony during the Feast of Sabtabiel opted to stand in the hallway and watch through the door.

On the front cover, in gold inlay was the title, “Book of the New Covenant.” Underneath that were are symbols of Voodoo origin.

The book was larger than most books, but not extraordinarily so. I was 18 inches tall and three to four inches thick. It was bound in leather and still bore scorch marks from the fire at the church in Coffin rock where the posse destroyed Cheval. Timberlake had noticed as he carried the book is that it seemed a bit heavier than it should.

As he opened the book, the burnt edges of some of the pages flaked away, emitting a smell that was both dusty and burnt. The heavy leather cover resisted opening, but gave way as he pull it back, opening to reveal a title page with symbols not unlike those on the cover.

As Timberlake looked at the open book, he realized what he had done. This book was the tool used by Cheval to imprison the working men at the Crooked Earth mine in Ghost Rock while he reanimated the dead to work the mines in their stead. This was the tool that Cheval used to bind the Indian Earth Spirit, Tacheene and rend the Earth open to reveal the mine. This was the tool that Cheval used to brainwash the citizens of Coffin Rock, and ultimately to summon the demon at the church.

Timberlake and Angus fought against the fear they felt as they looked at the book.

Eventually, Timberlake turned to a chapter describing the Angel Sabtabiel and his good works, mostly in heavenly and biblical terms. What captured their attention, however, was a description of the Angel Sabtabiel and a series of undecipherable runes.

At that moment, two ethereal beings grew out of the pages of the book. The first was an image of a woman Timberlake had known well, when she was alive—his ex-wife who’s attempt at his life began the events that drove Timberlake to abandon his comfortable life back East.

The second was the ghost of a man that Angus had killed years ago. Not intentionally, of course. Angus had always been something of a loose cannon. Impulsive, for certain. On one occasion he was firing his rifle for target practice when one of his slaves—before the South freed them—came up beside him. The next thing Angus knew, John was dead, by Angus’ own hand.

It was immediately apparent that Angus and Timberlake had no means of fighting off two ghosts who lacked a physical presence in this world, so they fled the room, running to the saloon downstairs in hope of getting help. Thurgood backed down a different hallway trying to remain unseen.

Mundane fighting weapons had no effect on the ghosts, but Angus and Timberlake’s intuition was right—the unnatural power of a hexslinger was just what they needed to defeat the raging sprits. Nashville stood up from his card game, and with a flick of his wrist he brought the ghosts down with a series of hexed cards.

Timberlake held the book tightly closed. Then Abram came over and stabbed it with the dagger he had taken from Heavensgate, but it did nothing other than tear the leather cover.

Overnight, at the boarding house, Holcolm had been perfecting a healing potion he had been contemplating for the last week or two. It worked. He was able to restore his comrades to full health, and even more, he thought, he might be able to develop a potion that would heal his lame leg. That day would come, and none too soon.

The next stop was to see Long-Haired Tony one more time to find out what had happened with the Explorer’s Club. Timberlake, always the politician, bought turnovers from a bakery to help lobby the 400-pound law man.

Tony was in his office when the strangers come calling. He sat back in his chair, boots up on his desk, and whittled what looked like a duck from a piece of driftwood. Tony smiled when asked about the Explorer’s Society and answered in near-perfect English “The Explorer’s Society? Their lodge burned down, I hear. I don’t know how. The Auspicious League of Fire Fighting Brethren tried to put it out, but buildings around here burn fast. I don’t think anyone was killed, though. Most left town. I think some moved over to Sunrise House. The Sunrise House is the large hotel overlooking the north side of town.”

Timberlake put the turnovers on a table in Long-Haired Tony’s office, Tony bid them good day, and they left.

The Sunrise House was a four-story hotel overlooking Shan Fan. The posse approached the front desk to see if they could find Smythe. The front desk doubled as the saloon bar, so they spoke to the bartender. Island asked about the Explorer Society and found out that, although Smythe wasn’t there, a man named Rutherford Ellington Dillenger had set up the Explorer’s Society office in a room upstairs.

The posse went up to the room, which was guarded by five hard-edged men. Island flashed the signet ring he had been given by his mother on her deathbed and the posse was immediately allowed in.

Dillenger was happy to see the posse and invited them in for tea as he listened to their story.

Dillenger was a thin, elderly man wearing a black suit with a dark blue ascot. Propped up beside him was a black cane with a silver dragon head.

When the posse asked about Smythe, he explained, “I’m afraid Captain Pennington-Smythe is in some trouble. The triad that runs this city wants something from us. Something we absolutely cannot allow them to have. They tried to terrorize us by burning down our lodge. We moved here to the Sunrise House, but it seems to have more spies than the Agency. This morning the captain went out to hide the object in question but didn’t return. I’ve hired a few guards to protect me, but I honestly have little hope they could resist anyone seriously invested in attacking. And they certainly aren’t of the caliber required to rescue the captain from whatever has befallen him. I’m really quite at a loss at this point. Might you be interested in helping?”

The posse agreed to help him out, so Dillenger continued: "Big Ears Tam is the leader of the Shan Fan Triad. He’s almost certainly the one who took the captain. His home is on the Ever Triumphant Trail, the main road leading north out of Shan Fan. I’m not sure you can just walk up and demand to talk to him, and I wouldn’t try breaking in, either. Tam has more than just thugs guarding his grounds. It might be best to do a little legwork first and see if those in the street have heard of the captain’s abduction.

“The artifact is a vile thing from the deserts of Arabia called the Amulet of Rahashimir. Legends claim it can bring back the dead with incredible power, but only if the deceased had the blackest of hearts. I realize you may not believe in such things, but I assure you its powers are real. The triad must be looking to raise some fiend from the depths of Hell, and I’m afraid that’s something we cannot allow. I don’t know how much you know about the Far East, but they’ve had some terrible wars there. Americans think their ‘Civil War’ is bad, but the recent Taiping Rebellion in China claimed over 20 million lives. These people do not muck about, and I have no intention of aiding them should they be intent on repeating such madness here.”

They talked for a bit, then Timberlake brought out Cheval’s book and showed it to Dillenger. Over the warnings from Angus and Timberlake, Dillenger confidently opened the book.

The seasoned adventurer reviewed the runes on the page and figured out that they described the location where the Angel Sabtabiel was being held captive. There was, however, one piece of information missing. If they could find that bit, he would be able to tell them where the heavenly being was being held.

The posse thanked Dillenger for his time and set out to deal with Big Ears Tam. How they would go about dealing with Tam, well, they would figure that out when the time came.

View
Chapter 10
East Meets West

Things that are done, it is needless to speak about…things that are past, it is needless to blame. —Confucius

Prologue

Mr. Pau dreamed dreams of the past, of terror, of things he saw that led him to numb his senses in an opium den thousands of miles from the cherry tree groves where he grew up. But, the horror he would not even dream, he saw in California. The vision returned to him at the moment of his death. As he lay dying on the floor of MacDuff Mining Ventures in Shan Fan, guts spilling on the floor, he spoke the words that might spare the living, had the living been within earshot. But the living had all gone into the back room looking for cash to steal . . . .

Chapter 10

The posse was in bad shape. The search for Sam Hellman had left them bruised and wounded. Rescuing the victims of Dr. Hellstromme’s bombing of Ghost Town left them fatigued and disheartened. They needed a victory to cheer them up. Maybe getting the old Collegium mine reopened would be the thing to energize them.

They had a mission—two of them really—one commercial and one, well the other one was something else. They had to follow up on what Lacey O’Malley told them and go to Shan Fan to find Pennington-Smythe, and become a part of the Explorers Society. That seemed urgent and important, but not even O’Malley seemed to know exactly what it all meant.

But first, there was the matter of the abandoned Collegium mine, and their shares in the venture. Well, actually first, there was the matter of healing their wounds and recovering for what would surely be a dangerous trek to the mine, and then Shan Fan.

The posse found themselves in a boarding house in Prospect, a town about five miles from the burning remains of Ghost Town up the California coast. Mr. Pau set to work channeling his Chi energy, to bring the ancient restorative practices to bear on his tattered comrades. Over the course of two long days he mediated, channeled, healed, and repeated the cycle. One by one the posse came around, benefitting from the strange magic of the East. He had exhausted himself, but it brought him balance to know he played his part.

Healing was not of much interest to the walking corpse who called himself Nick Nashville, so Nashville spent the time rinsing his stink with cheap whiskey and gambling. Pocketing $100, he strode out of the Rock Hard Saloon in the darkness, ready to head out in the morning.

The posse chartered a small steam launch from Progress to take them to the old mine and beyond. It was expensive, like everything in a famine-ridden war zone. Their pilot didn’t know much about the mine, but he did remember that it once had a reputation of being a strong producer, then it was abruptly abandoned. People probably died, he mused, but in the West, it takes more than that to get people’s attention.

There were three piers serving the mining complex, but only one was suitable for docking. The pilot stayed with his ship, as the posse went off to find out what their investment was worth.

Behind the piers stood a warehouse that probably held supplies coming in and ghost rock going out when the mine had been in use. Adjacent to the warehouse lay the remains of a flying machine that looked like it had been used to fly rock from the site. Its rusted boiler was split open and propellers twisted beyond repair. Holcolm looked at it for a moment trying to think of a way to repair it, but it was too far gone.

The main mine building sat on the shore of the Maze a few feet higher than the piers. Fifty feet above that, at the top of a steep cliff, was the small mining town.

The posse entered the main building. Inside, there was a ghost rock powered elevator that ran up a shaft to the level of the town and also down a deep dark hole which was apparently the mine shaft. Around the elevator was a rusted stair and catwalk system running the same levels as the elevator.

It took Holcolm, an experienced tinkerer, a couple of tries and a couple of hours to get the machine running, but soon enough the sound of steam began chuffing through the main building. The posse then boarded the platform and rose up to the town.

The town was an abandoned mining camp comprised mostly of corroded sheet metal buildings set around a dusty clearing. Up on the ridge, there was the continuous howl of the wind coming off the watery Maze. The buildings creaked as the wind pushed around the loose doors and shutters on the rusty structures.

The posse entered the various buildings looking for clues as to where the former mining company had gone. The furnishings appeared mostly left in place as if nothing had happened except for the accumulation of dust. Nashville did manage to pick the lock on a safe in the management office and pilfered $50 and a pound of ghost rock. It didn’t seem like stealing since they’d be taking over the mine anyway.

The general supply seemed untouched, also. The foodstuffs there were rotted or rancid, but mining equipment still hung on the wall and the shelves were stocked with bottles and cans of things that wouldn’t spoil.

There were odd sounds and smells, but nothing that explained what had happened until, in one of the miner bunkhouses, they found a body mostly decayed and picked apart by vermin. The one thing that they did notice was that the poor sod’s innards seem to have burst from his chest. What caused such a grisly death wasn’t terribly clear however.

Having seen enough of the abandoned town, the posse headed into the mine. The controls on the elevator platform were a bit tough to decipher, but Holcolm managed to get the posse to the bottom safely. As they approached the bottom of the mine shaft, about 150’ below the main building they saw a large vessel full of ghost rock. Maybe a ton or two, but certainly more than enough to make it worth their while coming out here.

The Colonel took the lead approaching the rock. As he neared it, he noticed something moving about in it. Ticks of some sort. As large as a man’s hand, and glowing with the same eerie glow as the ghost rock itself.

Holcolm had a good idea of what he was looking at. These were prairie ticks, at least they looked a lot like them. These buggers glowed, however, and that couldn’t be good. Prairie ticks were a hazard enough the way they could kill a man by ripping his mouth open and burrowing down his throat. Once they got inside, the man was as good as dead unless he got himself a quart of castor oil, and quick. Assuming the victim could stomach the vile fluid long enough, the ticks would squirt harmlessly out. Mostly though, if you swallowed a tick, someone would be tryin’ your boots on for size before morning.

If the Colonel was anything, he was bold, and certainly didn’t fear a few bugs in the rocks. He shot at one of them, as did a few of the others. The ticks, longing for fresh blood, flew at the Colonel, and just as Holcolm had warned, they ripped their way into his mouth. Holcolm had seen a man brought down by one tick, so three ticks inside the Colonel was not likely to end well.

Wasting no time, the posse fled for the elevator before any more ticks could come at them. In his haste, Holcolm moved the wrong control on the elevator platform, accelerating the platform rapidly upward. When it reached the top, 200 feet above the bottom of the mine, it had reached full speed, and then stopped abruptly, flinging the posse into the air nearly killing them.

By that time, the Colonel was hurting pretty bad. He was nauseous and doubled over in pain. But the posse moved quickly to the general supply building and found a bottle of castor oil. The Colonel took it down and collapsed on the ground. Soon after, the ticks crawled out the way they came in and were easily crushed under foot.

Once again, nearly wiped out, the posse had had enough of the Collegium mine. They would report what they found to Bull Scheneley and let the mining company figure a way to rid the mine of the glowing vermin. They proceeded back to the boat and set a course for Shan Fan.

Again, Mr. Pau was called upon to channel his Chi energy to heal the posse. By the time he brought them back to health, fate had set upon them another hazard.

About two days into their journey north through the maze, a large bulbous head appeared from the water. A giant octopus! It attacked, reaching across the boat with its tentacles, wrapping up the posse and trying to pull them into the water. Nashville made a quick play, shuffling his deck and sending cards flying at the tentacles. It was a solid hit and almost killed the sea creature, but it was not enough.

By that time the Colonel was wrapped up in a tentacle and fighting his way out. His sabre was not enough to cut through the tough rubbery skin, so he fired his weapon instead. Timberlake was unloading his shotgun at the beast, but as the boat rocked, he lost control of his aim, first hitting Holcolm and then Nashville. Finally, the posse killed the beast, and headed north again.

As the craft approached Shan Fan, a storm blew in. The small steam-powered boat was tossed about, but the pilot was able to maintain control and bring them into port. The posse settled up with the pilot, paying in both cash and the ghost rock they found, then headed off to look for the mining company.

Finding MacDuff Mining Ventures would not have been possible without Mr. Pau, given that nearly everyone on the docks of Shan Fan spoke only Mandarin. With a little asking around, Mr. Pau was able to get an address.

When the got to the mining office, Bull Scheneley was nowhere to be found. Instead, as the Colonel walked in, he was shocked to see none other than Buckminster Vick, the 1st Va Cavalry soldier whose horse the Colonel stole and rode into battle. That horse, the Queen of Spades, showed up in Purity, and somehow Bucky Vick must have been close behind. In fact, Lillie Finnighin, Adelaide Purkey’s friend, warned the Colonel as much when they passed through Alder Creek on their way back to Denver.

Vick was there with his gang of ten hardened gunfighters.

The Colonel turned on his southern charm and addressed Bucky Vick first.

“Well, Bucky Vick it is a pleasure, of course, to see you here. What brings you to Shan Fan.”

Vick replied, “I’ve been looking for you Angus. Look at you, all dressed up. So, let’s get this out of the way right now. You ain’t no colonel. Yer just a good for nothing horse thief.”

The Colonel tried again to diffuse the tension with a smile and more friendly banter, but Vick wasn’t here to chit chat, so he interrupted the Colonel.

“You know how I found you, Angus. It was that widow Purkey. I caught her leaving Alder Creek.”

The Colonel remembered her well. It was nearly a week of the finest female company he’d enjoyed since leaving the South. The Colonel would always have a soft spot in his heart for his dear Adelaide.

“I hope she was as good for you as she was for me, Angus. When I got done with her, I came to find you.”

Gerard Timberlake was standing right behind his friend, Colonel Angus. Timberlake knew two things well. One was how to spot a goddam son-of-a-bitch. The other was how to light a match one handed behind his back. So, he did both. He flicked the match across the short fuse of a bundle of three sticks of dynamite and lobbed the sticks gently in the air in the direction of Buckminster Vick. Vick couldn’t respond in time and he and another of his men took the blow square in the chest.

Vick was hurt bad. He wasn’t finished yet, but it would only be seconds later that Vick would go down in the hail of gunfire.

Vick’s men lasted longer. They didn’t expect this much of a fight, and the posse had them trapped in the mining company building, so they fought, and fought hard. Most of the posse found cover just outside the front door and fired back into the building. Pau stood firm in place, channeled his Chi energy and brought up a mystical aura of protection, allowing him to dodge the bullets in real time.

Pau danced and dodged, but being the only member of the posse still in the building after his friends took cover out front, he was a choice target. The bullets came too fast, and too many. He was hit in the gut. He willed himself to hold on, but he began bleeding out. It was too much and he collapse dying on the floor.

There are no innocents in the West, but some men are more complete than others. Mr. Pau carried no cash; he healed those in need; and he stood tall through the end. But those are Eastern virtues, and Pau was in the West, where a six-gun won the philosophy debate every time.

The posse, now without Pau, searched the dead for cash or anything else they could use. Horses, too, those men probably had horses. Maybe there was cash in the back. If Vick’s men killed everyone at MacDuff’s then whatever they could find, they could keep. The posse went to the back room looking for cash, but found Bull Schenele hogtied and gagged, instead. They freed him and started telling him what they knew.

While the rest of the posse were in the back room, Mr. Pau remembered what he learned when he passed through California the first time. With his last ounce of energy, he spoke his final words as a last act of aid for his fellow travelers, but they were not there to hear.

View
Chapter 9
Lost Angels

He unleashed against them his hot anger, his wrath, indignation and hostility— a band of destroying angels. —Psalm 78:49.

As the Great Rail War reached its climax about him, Abram Thurgood lay face down between two drained cases of cheap champagne, drunkenly contemplating his destiny. He joined the Wasatch crew to escape home and find his brother out West. Just when tunnelling underneath the Sierra Nevada mountains was about to crush his spirit, he joined up with a wandering posse of gunslingers, risk takers, and one kung-fu fighter. But the same lack of direction that got him where he’d been, brought him to where he was now. Blind in one eye and unable to see out of the other, his destiny was going to have to find him, not the other way around.

Though the hot smoke of the battlefield came a solitary figure making his way frantically toward the posse. It was Lacy O’Malley, emerging from the fog of war. He looked around before addressing the posse:

I need your help, plain and simple. An old friend of mine, Sam Hellman, is in Lost Angels, and I think he might be in trouble. By trouble I mean, of course, mortal danger. With Grimme and most of his flock out there fighting, it might be my only chance to get to him. But I can’t do it alone. Will you help me?

Whether as an excuse to escape the fighting, or to help a man in need, the posse agreed to go.

It was a perilous hike down into Lost Angels — shells flying all around, infernal tools of war burning and exploding around them, tongues of fire licking at them. About an hour later they arrived at the edge of the city and began looking for Hellman dodging the Reverend Grimme’s bands of red-robed Guardian Angels roaming the streets. Eventually, they were spotted by a band of Guardian Angels shouting that the posse was breaking Reverend Grimme’s curfew, but after a brief fight, they were able to get away.

Sneaking through an alley on the way to the hotel where O’Malley believed Hellman was boarding, they stumbled upon a shocking sight. Three badly wounded men were returning from the battle begun by the posse’s former patron, Dr. Darius Hellstromme. Moments later a wagon drawn by two mules emerged from the gloom, and the posse could hear the whining of dogs. Fifteen Guardian Angels escorted a wagon completely full of a heap of something, but under the cover it was impossible to tell what.

“Whoa,” murmured the driver, and the wagon stopped uncomfortably close to where the posse was concealed. Two Angels leapt down, leaving a woman to observe from atop the wagon. She was dressed in white, with her hair pulled back into a severely tight bun, and she said not a word. “Thank the Lord it’s you, Sister Andrea,” exclaimed one of the walking wounded, “We thought we were goners. Can you—?”

Abruptly one of the Angels knocked the man senseless with a blow to the face. All eight of the red-robed enforcers surrounded the wounded like a pack of wolves, beating them with clubs. “Help!” shouted a man in terror, “Please
God no! Don’t take me there! Anywhere but there!!”

His pleas fell silent, and there was only the sound of wood clubbing meat for a few seconds. Then the Guardian Angels dragged the unmoving bodies over to the wagon, shooing away the dogs, and tossed them onto a growing pile of humanity.

The woman looked around once, eyes hard as flint, satisfied the event wasn’t observed. The wagon clattered off into the night, as Lacy O’Malley’s mouth hanged open in stunned disbelief.

After the posse regained their composure, they moved further into the city and eventually came upon the hotel where Sam Hellman was staying. O’Malley was to shaken to speak, so the Colonel took the lead, persuading the man at the desk, one Rooster Petersen, to tell them which room belonged to Hellman. The posse then proceeded past the desk and down the hall to find O’Malley’s lost friend.

Rooster Petersen was as devoted a member of the Church of Lost Angels as you’re likely to find. Once a trapper in the Sierra Nevadas, he joined Reverend Grimme after reading about the events of the Day of Righteousness in the
Epitaph. He rose up in Grimme’s ranks as a Guardian Angel, even earning a blood bone, but after falling asleep on guard duty he was flogged and left to man the desk at the hotel. He truly believes that the Good Reverend wields the power of the Lord and all his angels, and maybe by capturing these curfew-breakers, he might regain his standing in the church.

Hellman’s room was neat and tidy, bed made, without a single one of its former occupant’s possessions in evidence.
“This isn’t right,” O’Malley says, seeming more nervous by the minute. “They must have gotten to him. We need to leave now.”

Nashville was nervous too, being led on this trek into the heart of Grimme’s den of angels without any real explanation. He turned to O’Malley, “So who is this Sam Hellman and why are what was he doing here.”

O’Malley answered, “He was a friend of mine. He was investigating something. Something important. I just can’t tell you about it now.”

By that time, Rooster had rallied a band of Guardian Angels to capture the posse. He rounded the corner, leading them, and all of sudden Nashville snapped his fingers and Rooster’s vision went black. Some infernal darkness had settled over him and three of the angels. He charged forward anyway, while the rest of the angels moved around the circle of darkness.

As Rooster emerged from the darkness, he tossed his blood bone to the ground, summoning a skeleton-like creature soaked in blood, who joined the attack.

The fight ensued with Nashville, Timberlake and O’Malley taking quick advantage of the darkness to get around the side of the hotel. The Colonel, Mr. Pao and Holcolm, who couldn’t move as fast as the others moved forward and fought. Timberlake eventually made it around the side of the hotel, and intercepted half of the angels while they were avoiding the darkness. Shots were fired. Dynamite was thrown. Hexes were cast. Holcolm’s gun exploded on him again.

Rooster and the bloody skeleton dropped quickly, but the angels contined to fight.

All the while, Mr. Pao fought, mindful of his vow not to kill any living creature. He was a bit befuddled about the line between living and dead after all he had seen in the last few weeks: walking dead miners, blood men, automatons, and the half-alive gambler he travelled with. Nevertheless, he gave the benefit of the doubt to the angels and did what he could not to be the singular cause of any of their deaths.

When the first round of fighting stopped the possed donned the red robes of the fallen Guardian Angels, but the robes were so ill-fitting and torn up that they fooled no one. They were going to have to get out using their might, not their wits.

The sound continued to attract more angels, as others fell. Eventually, the oncoming angels nearly split up the posse, leaving Nashville, like Holclom hampered by a bum leg, by himself facing two angels. A well placed shot by the Colonel was enough to give Nashville an out, and the posse got away.

When they returned from Lost Angels back to the Wasatch railhead, the posse learned just how ruthless their generous host for the last few days could be.

They ducked down as a stray round went flying over their heads. Something began buzzing in their ears. Over the groan of ghost-rock powered war wagons and the thunder of artillery, the could hear what sounded like giant insects. They looked up, and in the eastern sky was a fleet of massive black airships. The moonlight revealed no markings, but a quick glance at the grinning Dr. Hellstromme on the roof of the Good Intentions left little doubt who they served.

Something was about to happen. Something momentous that would forever change the world. Maybe even the future itself. The posse hunkered down a little tighter and hung onto their hats as the roaring engines of the flying armada passed overhead—above the swirling melee to the west. Without stopping, the airships dropped three water-barrel sized objects onto the battling rail warriors below. The objects must have been powered by ghost rock, for they smoked and screamed as they streaked toward the stunned combatants below.

A second later, there was a blinding flash of light and a roar like the end of the world. The last thing the posse remembered was a skull-shaped cloud of fire rising up out of the desert . . . .

The posse had just witnessed the explosion of the first “Ghostfire Bombs,” small prototypes of a much larger device Dr. Hellstromme had been working on for some time. Although the prototypes’ blasts covered only a few square acres each, their total incendiary effect covered an area nearly two miles in diameter.

Two of the Ghostfire Bombs landed on the battlefield while a third slammed into a small town outside of Lost Angels called Ghost Town.

In the black stillness existing only in the disciplined mind of Mr. Pao, a memory awoke. A fire. Burning down the small home of a Chinese merchant family. Mr. Pao’s father is inside. Dead. His mother, taken away by armed men. Soldiers in a great rebellion. Young Pao Xing could do nothing—no, he would do nothing. His vow of nonviolence nullifying his will to move. He is overcome with a horrifying helplessness.

The skull shaped cloud that just destroyed the California settlement, in the here and now, reminded Mr. Pao of another skull. Then the memory was gone.

The posse awoke to a great ringing in their ears that obscured all other sound. In the distance, they could see the black airships fading away into the western darkness.

The posse looked around and thank God they still couldn’t hear. Dozens of screaming, burning figures were running and flailing about uselessly in the fields ahead of them. Some of the fiery figures were running toward the distant ocean—but it was too far. The ramshackle collection of buildings on the outskirts of Lost Angels called Ghost Town was fully aflame, with screaming innocents fleeing the blaze . . .

Lacy O’Malley was the first to rush toward Ghost Town—he couldn’t stand to be in Hellstromme’s company after what he just witnessed anyway. He shouted, “There are innocents in that town! We have to help them!” as he runs by into the night.

Timberlake follwed O’Malley onto the flames. Something inside him would not allow him to let his new-found friend down. The Colonel followed, driven by the same sense of Southern honor that caused him to take the reins of the Queen of Spades and gallop into battle so many months ago. Holcolm, moving at the speed he could, helped as well. Others stayed back and healed the wounded as they arrived.

Eventually, the posse had done all they could. All that could be done to save the dying denizens of the destroyed Ghost Town, and all they could muster with the unhealed wounds from the fight with Rooster and the Guardian Angels in lost Angeles.

Ghost Town was no more. The posse would never be the same either.

The posse finally collapsed after al they had been through and watched the remains of Ghost Town burn. Lacy O’Malley plopped down beside them. He was covered in soot and scorched in places, but it was obvious he’d saved quite a few lives.

He caught his breath and spoke: "That was good work out there. Good work in Hellstromme’s tunnel, too, not to mention down there in Lost Angels. You’re heroes. The lot of you. Whether you like it or not. You’ve also seen things that hint at a secret some of us have known for years. There’s evil in the world. True evil. Evil beyond the understanding of most folks. Some of us try to fight it. I take the “pen is mightier than the sword” approach when I can help it, but you folks seem a bit more qualified to handle things directly.

“I have a proposition for you. This is more than just random pockets of bad news. It’s all tied together. I can’t explain how or why just yet—Sam could have helped with that—but I’m working on it. Others are too. And they’ve come up with ways to help keep you alive while you’re doing it.”

The Tombstone Epitaph’s most famous reporter holds up his hand and showed the group a ring with a crossed torch and sword.

He continued: "This is a signet ring for the Explorer’s Society. It’s kind of a . . . Gentleman’s Club . . . who help those in need. The ring gets you in their lodges. It might also help you get out of trouble with certain authorities. I’m not saying you can rob a bank, flash your ring, and saunter off to Mexico with someone else’s cash, but sometimes in helping folks out you wind up taking a little law in your own hands. Or maybe taking down some local citizen who isn’t what he seems to be.

“Most local lawmen have no idea what’s going on and may be as much hindrance as help, but the Agents up North and the Rangers down South are a different story. In fact, it’s their job to track down weirdness and make sure the rest of us never hear about it. Most of the time it ends with something that shouldn’t exist getting a lead shower and a quick burial. Or burning if it’s really nasty.

“Sometimes it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. Sometimes when you’re saving some unfortunate’s soul you might cross paths with the authorities. Show them this ring and they might turn the other way while you scamper off.

“If you want to join the society and get your ring, head up to Shan Fan and talk to a Brit by the name of Captain Roderick Pennington-Smythe. Tell him Lacy sent you and relate everything you’ve seen the last few weeks.

“I know you have other business out here, but trust me when I tell you this is an opportunity you don’t want to pass up. You’re going to see evil out here no matter what you’re up to—it’s better to be prepared and maybe have a little help than face it on your own.

“Like I said, I know you have other business that brings you out here — that Collegium Mine you told me about — anyway that’s just two days ride north of Progress, and you can pick up horses or hire a boat from there. It’s on your way North to Shan Fan. Don’t forget provisions. Hunger out here is not like it was back East. Trust me.

“Finally, check the Sunday edition of the Epitaph. That’s the national edition that goes all around the country. Page 13 is where my editor lets me do what I want. I use it to plant messages to the Explorer’s Society about strange occurrences I’ve stumbled onto. When you have some down time, check the headlines and see if you can do the world a little good. Any ad that starts with the words Good Intentions! will be for you specifically.
Got that?”

View
Chapter 8
Good Intentions

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. —Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Beyond the Automaton, the posse could see the Wasatch train up ahead that had passed them. Men were unloading crates from the train. From beyond the train came loud mechanical sounds of digging.

The ongoing rail wars are serious and violent business, and the posse had stepped right into the middle of them. Having set out on a Smith & Robards Devner-Pacific train, they ended up on foot in a secret tunnel dug by Smith & Robards’ rival, Dr. Darius Hellstromme and his Wasatch Railroad. One wrong move could bring their journey west to a deadly end.

The Colonel took the lead approaching the rail crew. He spoke directly to the man in charge, Charlie Bill Bruckner. “Good sir,” the Colonel began in his drawn out southern accent, “we’ve been hired to work on the crew here, I say, by your management.”

But Charlie Bill, the man who does the hiring for Hellstromme’s crew knew better. He gave a quick whistle and the men unloading the crates fell into cover in orderly fashion. They were not ordinary freight loaders, but trained mercenaries. “Mister, that’s not right, because I do the hiring here, and I’ve never seen you before.”

The rest of the posse slinked into the darkness, but the Colonel spoke up again, this time coming clean. “You’re quite right, sir, we have come here through a hole in the tunnel into which our previous train seems to have fallen. We are on our way to Lost Angels on behalf of a mining company and would appreciate transport the rest of the way on your train.”

Now, it would seem natural that hardened rail warriors would show no hesitation gunning down armed intruders coming out of the darkness, but Charlie Bill didn’t do anything like that. Instead, he took the posse in:

“Welcome strangers, we have transport, but I’m afraid I have to keep you in our protective custody until we get to Lost Angels. It shouldn’t take but another week with any luck. We just can’t let word get out that we’re almost there or we’ll have every rival rail gang in the West descending on us like flies on cow patties. Don’t worry though. You’re safe. We’ve got a couple of celebrities with us so you can bet we’re well-armed. Who? Well, that fella from the Tombstone Epitaph. Lacy O’Malley. Writes all them weird tales? Let me introduce you him.”

Everyone in the Weird West knows Lacy O’Malley, the intrepid reporter who writes for the paper that everyone reads, but no one believes. This could get interesting.

Charlie Bill led the posse past the train being unloaded to another trail stopped ahead. He nodded to two grim guards at the rear of the caboose—both armed with Gatling shotguns—and one of them knocked some sort of code on the caboose door. Someone answered and the guard nodded the posse on in.

They stepped up onto the rear platform and into the most luxurious rail car they’d ever seen. The walls were carpeted with rich red velvet panels inset into cherry wood. Brass fixtures and handrails added contrast, and a short dining table was set with what looked like more silver than came out of Virginia City.

At the end of the car sat two figures. One was no doubt the famous Lacy O’Malley. He wore his trademark straw bowler and sported a bushy blonde moustache. He smiled amiably and tips his hat. The other figure was sitting back in his chair with a clipboard in his hand. He wore a scarlet smoking jacket and puffed on a pipe. His face was hidden in shadows, but as he leaned forward and his piercing gray eyes emerged from the darkness, there could be no doubt this was the famous Dr. Darius Hellstromme.

Dr. Hellstromme was sharing a pipe and a new press release with Lacy O’Malley, reviewing all the details to be included (and not included) in the Epitaph. He addressed the posse: “Welcome travelers, what brings you to our little expedition here?”

Again, the Colonel took the lead, and described to Dr. Hellstromme the manner in which they had come to be in the tunnel, including the unexpected hole in the ground, the attack by Indians, and their following the Wasatch train to the present location.

After Hellstromme confirmed with Charlie Bill Bruckner that the hole above the tunnel was being repaired, he spoke to the posse: "Perhaps you’ve heard Wasatch dropped out of the so called ‘Great Rail Wars?’ I believe Mr. O’Malley here reported as much last year. The truth is we’ve been working on a revolutionary way to avoid these treacherous mountains. After your experience with those buffoons at Smith & Robards, I assume you can see why. Ahead of us, beneath approximately a half-mile of earth and stone, is a new machine of such staggering complexity that I alone can service it. That is why I am here.

“By my estimations, we should be emerging in California in a few days’ time. From there we will link with my existing line and roll into the City of Lost Angels by high noon in two days. There we will confront the Reverend Grimme with the inevitable approach of progress, and end these damnable and expensive Rail Wars forever. You will accompany us on this historic occasion and witness an epic moment in history as our guests. Mr. Buckner, please see that our visitors are fed and shown around the camp—particularly those areas where they could be harmed.”

He turned to Mr. Pao, who was looking at him quizzically, “That is to say, Mr. Bruckner show them the areas where they could be harmed in order that they do not become harmed.” Dr. Hellstromme looked back at Mr. Pao not sure if he addressed Mr. Pao’s concern, or if Mr. Pao even spoke English.

Charlie Bill introduced the posse to Abram Thurgood, a blacksmith who signed onto the railroad in Iowa. Mr. Thurgood would serve as host to the posse while they were in the railroad’s company.

As the posse settled into camp, intrepid reporter, Lacy O’Malley joined them to gather stories of the posse’s exploits in Coffin Rock for an upcoming issue of the Epitaph.

A few hours later sometime in the evening, although it was hard to tell what time it was in the tunnel, Charlie Bill rounded up the posse. He pointed his thumb at one of Hellstromme’s two guards and said, “Dave says trouble’s coming. He has a sense about these things.”

A moment later, the group heard the distant rattle of the guardian automaton’s Gatling about 50 yards back from the camp. Charile Bill instructed his guests to stay put and protect the crew and the caboose if whatever’s attacking should get by them.

A minute after Charile Bill headed to toward the shooting, the heroes heard shouting from the west near the digging maching: “Doc Haggerty’s trapped in the machine! Someone needs to rescue him!”

Lacy O’Malley, armed only with his derringer, ran toward the shouting to see if he could help. The posse split up, half following O’Malley and half keeping an eye on any trouble from the caboose.

At the digging machine, known as the Hellbore, Doc was trapped in the machine by a swarm of tunnel critters—
Subterranean insects, typically the size of dogs, with bodies like centipedes. They were armed with large mandibles and
vestigial eyes in front. Each segment had four claw-tipped appendages, which the creature used for movement, digging, and in this case clawing at the Hellbore to get at Doc Haggerty.

When the posse began to arrive, the tunnel critters swarmed them. Seeing that their trail mates were trouble, the posse members that held back got an approving look from Dave to head over to help. After a tough fight, the posse killed the tunnel critters and rescued Doc Haggerty.

After Lacy sketched the critters for the Eptiaph, the Wasatch crew cleaned up the mess, and the posse returned to where they had set up camp.

There was about a week to wait before the Wasatch crew broke out to the surface. During that time the posse rested up for the adventure to come.

Gerard looked at Cheval’s book. He had carried it with him since Coffin Rock but had not opened it. He handed the closed book over to Nashville who knew a thing or two about the supernatural. Without opening it, Nashville couldn’t tell what it was about, but knew enough to say that it was probably enchanted by a Voodoo priest, not a Blessed or a Huckster.

Thurgood, overhearing the conversation, related his story about how he lost his eye in a summoning ritual back home performed by the same Reverend Cheval during the ceremony for the Archangel Sabtabiel.

During the night, Mr. Pao’s nightmares of the Taiping rebellion returned. But there was something more that he could not remember, something horrible, just beyond his memory.

The posse had been in the dark underworld for nearly a week when they heard the Hellbore shut down and several of the rail crew ran by the train whooping and hollering that they’d hit sunlight! They strapped on their gear and joined the crowd. They came upon a man-sized hole spilling forth blinding, piercing light. It was a beautiful sight.

Dr. Hellstromme smiled and walked toward the light, shaking the hands of his crewmen as he went. “We did it,” he said quietly. “We did it.”

“Break out the champagne, Mr. Buckner.” The crew cheered as bottles are passed around. Foam flew everywhere as men desperate for sunlight pressed forward and emerge into the warm open air. They seemed to have emerged in the arid desert foothills of a mountain range. California, according to the Wasatch crew.

As the posse was getting its bearings, a two-man team pushed a strange, wheeled contraption out into the flat. It was a
steam wagon.

“Find our crew, Mr. Shaw. Bring them to us,” Hellstromme smiled. The steam wagon fired up, supplies were loaded into its bed, and a driver and three guards climbed on board. With a final yell from the crew and a wave of the driver’s hat the horseless carriage rumbled off into the desert.

Dr. Hellstromme walked over to the posse, finished off his champagne, and nodded. “We couldn’t know exactly where we’d come out. Pockets of bedrock and…other diversions… chose our course to some degree. But our western team is only a few miles away. They’ll arrive as soon as Mr. Shaw locates them.

“We should finish our line and fight our way into Lost Angels within days. Yes, I said ‘fight.’ The ersatz ruler of the ‘Free and Holy City of Lost Angels’ has not agreed to our right of way. Yet. If you’ll gather your belongings and climb on board, we’ll steam on ahead together. Don’t worry. This particular train doesn’t need rails.”

Hellstromme’s guards and Charley Buckner loaded up onto the train named “Good Intentions” while the rail workers continued clearing the tunnel behind. The joined Dr. Hellstromme for the approach to Lost Angels.

Hellstromme’s amazing train lifted itself up off the track and rolled off the rails onto the raw earth. The train rumbled along loudly for several miles until a red weather balloon was spotted in the distance, marking the location of the Wasatch railhead. Thirty minutes later, the Good Intentions was greeted by hundreds of cheering rail workers, mid-level executives, and guards. Even the automatons ringing the camp ambled over to see what all the commotion is about. The train rolled into the center of camp amid the cheering throng and Hellstromme rose up out of the caboose on an elevated cupola with a megaphone in hand.

“Hello my loyal friends! We’ve done it! We’re a few miles and a right of way short of completing the first transcontinental railroad! You have been part of this effort; a part of our company. Now you are part of history! There are but a few miles left to travel, but they are perhaps the hardest miles yet. Connect this line to our tunnel to the east and I will continue on to Lost Angels, and our inevitable showdown with the right Reverend Grimme and his fanatics. Mr. Buckner, please extend everyone here an additional month’s pay for their amazing achievement. And open a few cases of champagne while you’re at it!”

The train was only three cars long—the engine, a passenger car (where the posse rode), and Hellstromme’s highly customized caboose.

Without warning, there was a massive explosion off to the left of the train. The Good Intentions rocked over on its side…then settled back down on the rails with a screech. Earth and stone showered down on the roof and the posse heard the unmistakable sounds of Gatling guns.

Flying overhead was Red Petals Su. She obviously dropped the bomb that rocked the train and had another bomb with her ready to go.

Immediately after the bomb hit, Charley shouted to the posse to “defend the train!” then raced back to Hellstromme’s personal caboose with the two gunslingers. The three of them next appeared on the roof of the caboose manning a Gatling guns.

Everyone ran over to the left side of the train where the explosion happened and saw a steam wagon pulling up along side the train loaded with martial artists—Warlord Kang’s imfamous maze rats—and a gunman manning a Gatling gun.

Everyone except Gerard, who took up position on the right side of the train and saw another steam wagon approaching from that side. It was similarly loaded but with the addition of a Chinese Ogre. Gerard tossed a bundle of dynamite at the approaching wagon delaying its arrival and shaking its passengers.

The Colonel and Nashville focused on bringing down Kang’s right-hand woman Red Petals Su with long, but successful shots in the air. Eventually, she spiralled off into the distance leaving behind a trail of smoke. By the end of the fight, Nashville was low on energy and was playing a dangerous game of poker with his Manitou to gain the power to attack the maze rats.

The maze rats jumped from the steam wagons to the rear platform of the rail car, to entered the train. Two of the maze rats missed the jump and tumbled off behind the racing vehicles. Thurgood found himself near the rear of the car where the maze rats were boarding the train, taking the brunt of the attack, particularly when the Chinese Ogre boarded.

Holcolm defended the train with his hell-burst gun, landing some shots, but also burning himself when the gun malfunctioned and exploded.

Mr. Pau was in his element, fighting hand to hand with the attacking maze rats. He alternated using his bare hand, fighting fan, and Chi-powered armor—all the while being sure to deliver only non-leathal blows to his living enemies.

The posse was able to defend the train by disabling the drivers of the steam wagons, sending them careening off into the desert, and killing the invaders that were able to board the train. One of Hellstromme’s guards was shot and incapacitated. Another, the one known as Dave, fell from the train but was picked up by a mechanized arm and returned to the fight. By the end, both Dave and Charlie Bill had jumped off of the roof of the caboose to help the posse in the fight in the rail car.

The next day at dusk, the Good Intentions rolled into the outskirts of Lost Angels and its date with destiny. It was dusk the following night. That hazy time when the darkness overcomes the daylight. The moon overhead was red as roses—a blood moon.

The crew announced that Lost Angels was just a few minutes ahead, so the posse gathered on top of the locomotive to witness the historic moment. The train slowed and they began to see the city in the distance down a series of steep hills. Even from here they could see the spires of Grimme’s cathedral.

Between the Good Intentions and Lost Angels were hundreds of campfires, illuminating dozens of flags. As the posse approached, they could make out the banners of Dixie Rails and Bayou Vermillion to the south and Union Blue and Black River to the north. Kang and his Iron Dragon minions seemed to have had their say already.

Farther beyond, between these gathered throngs and Lost Angels, were hundreds of red-robed figures illuminated by two giant bonfires—the Reverend Grimme’s Guardian Angels. Before them stood a gaunt figure in a black tunic, his long white hair flowing out from beneath a black hat. Reverend Grimme.

The Good Intentions slowed as it approached the Wasatch railhead. The workers had piled up beams and timbers into a makeshift but sturdy fort and were armed to the teeth. The posse could see automatons, men armed with flamethrowers and jet packs, and several men in white lab coats tinkering with a host of dog-sized clockwork spiders.

The Good Intentions finally screeched to a stop at the barricade, surrounded by steam, its ghost rock boiler hissing and groaning. Dr. Hellstromme emerged from his caboose and climbed up onto the roof. “You are witnessing history, my new friends. Bloody, violent history. But even the good Reverend Grimme cannot stop progress, and the so-called ‘Great Rail Wars’ are over. By thunder, they’re over. Now we can all get back to more…important things.

“There is but one last bit of business to finish, and that is our ‘negotiations’ with Reverend Grimme. We are outnumbered and have few friends here, but I am not without resources. I suggest you vacate our camp to the rear and stay away from the coming storm. Our weapons are not particularly discriminate, and I would not repay you for your help thus far with…the violence to come.

“Gentlemen and Ladies. Godspeed on your journeys. Perhaps our paths will cross again another day.”

Epilogue:

It is worth noting that a Dixie Rails sharpshooter fires the first shot of the bloody fight that will afterward be known as “the Battle of Lost Angels.”

When the “shot heard ’round the West” rings out, all Hell breaks loose. Now the phrase “all Hell breaks loose” gets used fairly frequently in Deadlands, but this time we really mean it. The rail barons have brought their biggest and baddest to the climax and no longer care if they’re seen cavorting with demons and monsters.

Wasatch hunkers down behind its barricades and fights a purely defensive battle for the first few minutes. Soon, the Wasatch railhead explodes in fire. Cannons boom and bullets ping off the barricade. The automatons open up with Gatling guns while the rest of Hellstromme’s forces hunker down and wait for the inevitable charge.

To the north the posse can see the soldiers of Union Blue, several companies equipped with jet packs and flamethrowers. They fight alongside women dressed in black leather—the famous Wichita Witches—who call forth hexes with chanting and cracks of their cruel whips.

Across from them are Confederate sharpshooters beneath the flag of Dixie Rails, and a legion of shadowy gunmen wearing the red sashes of Bayou Vermilion. The Bayou Vermilion Band—a brass band made up of three grinning skeletons—blasts out an inspirational dirge.

The fight goes on, but it is not the posse’s fight. Their destiny lies elsewhere…

View
Welcome to your campaign!
A blog for your campaign

Wondering how to get started? Here are a few tips:

1. Invite your players

Invite them with either their email address or their Obsidian Portal username.

2. Edit your home page

Make a few changes to the home page and give people an idea of what your campaign is about. That will let people know you’re serious and not just playing with the system.

3. Choose a theme

If you want to set a specific mood for your campaign, we have several backgrounds to choose from. Accentuate it by creating a top banner image.

4. Create some NPCs

Characters form the core of every campaign, so take a few minutes to list out the major NPCs in your campaign.

A quick tip: The “+” icon in the top right of every section is how to add a new item, whether it’s a new character or adventure log post, or anything else.

5. Write your first Adventure Log post

The adventure log is where you list the sessions and adventures your party has been on, but for now, we suggest doing a very light “story so far” post. Just give a brief overview of what the party has done up to this point. After each future session, create a new post detailing that night’s adventures.

One final tip: Don’t stress about making your Obsidian Portal campaign look perfect. Instead, just make it work for you and your group. If everyone is having fun, then you’re using Obsidian Portal exactly as it was designed, even if your adventure log isn’t always up to date or your characters don’t all have portrait pictures.

That’s it! The rest is up to your and your players.

View
Chapter 7
Into the Earth

And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the river which the dragon spewed out of his mouth. —Revelation 12:16.

There comes a point in a man’s life when enough’s enough. Horace “Handgrenade” Holcolm hit that point when he settled down to retire in Alder Creek. The West has a way of calling you back, though. For Holcolm, it was Gareth Grackle, the self-appointed King of Crows.

Now, Kevin Russell was at that point where enough’s enough. He had eyes for Shelley Pearl, and maybe she did for him, too. That would certainly be enough. Well, Colonel Angus thought Adelaide Purkey would be enough for him. She thought different, and now Adelaide and her daughter are off to Opportunity, California.

Anyway, something had gone horribly wrong with Nick Nashville after Cheval’s followers gunned him down on the steps of the now-burnt church, and Russell’s dog, Lucky could not abide him. Maybe the West would call Russell back some day, but today is not that day.

So, Russell handed the reins of his coach over to Senator Timberlake—really, the guy with the dynamite was a Senator?—told him to leave it at Mario Chiava’s stable in Purity where he would get it later. With the wild beginnings of a trail beard starting on Timberlake’s face, no one was likely to think he was a Senator from back East out here.

The posse left Coffin Rock, Colorado on a cool Fall morning with fresh trail rations and affidavits from Mayor Hambly for the bounties on Bryce’s men, and headed South back toward Alder Creek.

They came down through the tall pines into Alder Creek late in the day ready for a hot meal and, except of course for Mr. Pau, a stiff drink. The Colonel was the first to the bar and had a rye in hand almost immediately.

Sitting at a table alone watching the posse enter was Emery Adams. Adams hadn’t forgotten how Nashville tried to cheat him only a week or so ago, and then made it look like Emery himself was the cheat. If Emery hadn’t been in good with Marshall Roblyer, it might have been him who got run out of town, not that scoundrel and his companions.

Emery noticed Nashville as soon as Nashville swaggered in, and his blood began to boil. He did a quick one-handed cut of his cards, flashed them at Nashville in the threatening unspoken language of Hoyle, and began to taunt his nemesis. The Colonel tried to diffuse the tension by ordering Emery a shot of rye, but Emery was spoiling for a fight. Nashville parried the unspoken challenge with a spoken demand to settle things over a game of poker. Emery couldn’t refuse.

Lady luck wasn’t smiling on Emery that day, so when he drew a disappointing Jack high, he also drew his Derringer. But, Timberlake had been watching the whole thing. By the time Emery got his weapon out, Timberlake had him at the business end of a barrel.

Nashville responded by flipping the table, throwing Emery backward onto the ground. Emery gave up the fight.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pao, who had taken a vow of nonviolence, was enjoying the vegetables that he had ordered from the kitchen.

But watching the violent outburst triggered something in Pau—a dream he had been having—a horrible war. A war that made the recent war between the States look like a minor squabble. The dream was gone, but the feeling of disquiet remained.

The dispute at the saloon attracted the attention of Marshal Roblyer and his deputies. The Senator, who was not accustomed to having his meals interrupted, explained to Roblyer that the posse intended to finish their meal in peace and be on their way. Roblyer remembering how the posse had saved the town from the king of crows left them to their meal.

On the way out of town, an acquaintance of Adelaide Purkey, Lillie Finnighin, recognized the Colonel and ran up to him:

“Colonel, Colonel Angus, I thought I recognized you.

“Just a couple days ago a man came through here looking for you. Someone down in Purity told him you were headed up the mining road.

“He was an ugly man, Colonel, and he stunk of whiskey. He said his name was Buckminster Vick. He said you owed him a horse, and that he was looking to settle the debt.

“He had a gang of men with him. Colonel, I think that man was intendin’ to do you harm. I sent him and his men up the narrow pass to the West, but he’s going to figure out you didn’t go that way, and come back. It’s just not safe for you to stay here.”

The Colonel remembered Bucky Vick well. Vick was an officer in the First Virginia Cavalry, a cowardly, vengeful man, and the man whose horse he stole during the fateful battle that set him on the journey he was on now. No, the Colonel would not wait around for Bucky Vick; he would heed Lillie’s advice and continue on his way.

The next stop, another day down the trail, was Purity, the railroad town where they had faced down the patchwork man and, later, picked up Bucky Vick’s horse, Queen of Spades.

The posse left the coach and Queen of Spades with Mario Chiava, the man who lent the posse his barn to sleep in last time they were in Purity. Now, they were just a train ride away from collecting their reward from Schenley and the bounty for Bryce’s men.

At the train station, however, the ticket clerk for the Denver-Pacific saw Nashville for what he was—possessed by a manitou. He got the attention of the town Marshall who fired his double barrel at Nashville’s back just as the train was about to leave the platform.

The shot left a couple of gaping wounds in the huckster’s shoulder, but he didn’t flinch. He nodded back to the Marshall, and said, “I’ll allow you that one, sir.” Before things got worse, Holcolm pulled Nashville on to the departing train, and Pau took up position to block the entrance to the train. Then the train pulled out and they left Purity behind.

In Denver, under the law set down by Mayor Hornsby, they disarmed, then they picked up the bounty on Bryce’s men and went to look for Bull Schenley. Instead, they found MacDuff’s Mining Ventures abandoned with a note from Schenley that the office had moved to Salt Lake City, the City of Gloom.

After Nashville got stocked up on tobacco and rot gut, the posse boarded another D-P train to Salt Lake.

The City o’ Gloom, was the most technologically advanced city in the world. Thousands of high voltage wires and pipes bearing natural gas sprawled through the urban tangle, bringing light, heat, and electricity to those who could afford it.
Salt Lake City’s mechanization did not come without a cost, however. The once-clean city lay hidden beneath a pall of dirty smog. It also attracted a rogue’s gallery of prospectors, former rail warriors, and settlers down on their luck and hoping for a job in one of Hellstromme’s many factories.

The Denver- Pacific train pulled into the station, belching out steam that barely cut through the blacker smog that sat over the city. Even if the pall of pollution didn’t unsettle the posse, the evil seeping up from the earth itself might.

In the thick of the darkened city, they found MacDuff’s Mining Ventures, and the man they were looking for, Bull Schenley. After settling up for the Broken Earth Mine job, Schenley proposed another job: finding out what happened to the old Collegium Mine, and, if possible, laying claim to it. MacDuff originally offered the posse a one percent share, but they negotiated it upward to a one percent share for each of them, $100, and paid passage as far as Fort 51, Nevada. Schenley also told him that he would be heading west also, but to Shan Fan to open an office there. The posse should find him in Shan Fan after they laid claim to the Collegium Mine.

The posse caught a Denver-Pacific train the next morning out of the City of Gloom. In the southern Nevada desert, but before they got to Fort 51, things went badly wrong.

There was an odd rattling, then the conductor in flipped a hidden switch and lowered armored shutters over the windows of the passenger car. He then flipped over a seat covering a secret compartment and pulled out a Gatling rifle. With a smile and a wink, he took up a position at the front of the car near a gunport the posse hadn’t noticed earlier. Through narrow slits in the armored windows, the posse could see mounted figures standing along a rise to the right of the train. Indians! Then, the deafening screech of the locomotive’s wheels grinding on the tracks. Each of the passengers is thrown so hard they smash into the seat in front of them. There’s pain, a dizzy sensation, and then the whole world tumbles. Everything goes dark for a while. Then, there is screaming, like the howls of the damned, but it was ghost rock burning. As the posse awoke, they found themselves lying in the shattered debris of the rail car sprawled along the track like an infernal snake. It was hot as hell, and the Indians were shooting at them.

As other passengers were being dropped by arrows around them, the posse struggled to get out of the burning debris. Nashville snapped his fingers bringing an unworldly darkness around them obscuring them from the Indians while they struggled to find their weapons. Mr. Pau, invoked “stones fly from hand” to go on the offensive from in front of the rail car. The Colonel and Timberlake looked for cover and began shooting up at the Indians on the ridge. Holcolm moved around the back of the train and took up position in front.

The attack became vicious when the leader of the braves, Black Stick, charged down on the Colonel and unleashed a frenzy of attacks on the Colonel with his war club. The Colonel responded with his saber, delivering Black Stick to the doorstep of the hereafter, until Black Stick turned his horse and fled. The braves followed their leader over the rise and away from the wrecked train and Mr. Pau flung shurikens at them.

It became immediately obvious why the train stopped—it fell into a hole in the Earth. As the posse examined the hole, the found railroad tracks—it was a tunnel. Having nowhere else to go, they followed the tracks to the west. At one point a train passed them on the tracks nearly taking off the Colonel’s leg. As it passed, Timberlake saw that it was a Wasatch train.

Further in the tunnel, the posse came upon what looked like a potbellied stove with a Gatling gun attached. Holcolm recognized the construct as one of Dr. Hellstromme’s famous automatons. After carefully judging its response to their movement, the posse passed by the machine without disturbing it further. By that time the sound of workmen in the tunnel had grown loud. They pressed on further west into the tunnel to see what it was they had come upon.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.