Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Deadlands, Part VIII

When last we left our heroes, they walked away from a smoking crater where the Carstock estate used to lie, had all their gear confiscated by the Pinkertons, and were en route to San Francisco with $200 and the clothes on their backs.  Father Seward was speaking with the Gentleman, and everyone else was enjoying room service.

Jeb excuses himself and heads to the working class car (his player was absent this session).  Father Seward returns and explains his conversation with the Gentleman — the Gentleman is the unborn or potential child of a woman he killed.  Oh, and by the way, Father Seward was a killer for many years while he sought his missing daughter.  This particular woman was the victim of Seward losing his temper when asking her questions, and he killed her.  Strangely, that was also the night he found his faith again.

He indicates that the Gentleman wants him to obtain a moon jar from the poker tournament at the Flesh Menagerie in San Francisco.  This jar holds secrets, among which is the secret to a loophole in God's covenant with man which would allow the Gentleman — and sinners destined for Hell, such as Father Seward, apparently — to finally ascend to Heaven.  Father Seward admittedly does not fully trust the Gentleman, and is disturbed at the implication that the Gentleman might be the source of his miraculous abilities, but he rightly doesn't know what to believe or expect.

Father Seward further asks David Hood why he can see the Gentleman — it implies a connection between the two that he cannot fathom.  Other than the fact that they both hail from Boston, they cannot determine any connection.

Seward also asks Jake why they were nearly arrested.  Jake explains that the charge is for a crime he didn't commit; supposedly he killed a prostitute and a rich man, based on the evidence that he was seen leaving the house as it erupted in flames.

Jake further explains his history — in his youth, he ran with a Mr. Cobb who taught him magic.  Mr. Cobb and his group of bandits would raze towns, leaving no survivors and stealing anything of value.  This catches Father Seward's attention — his town was razed about forty years ago, and the fact that he couldn't find his daughter's remains led him to search for her, leading him away from his faith into his days as a gunfighter before he found his faith again.  Seward can't place the name of Cornelius Cobb, but he knows he's heard it before, and his modus operandi is certainly familiar.

The following weeks are miserable.  With only the clothes on their backs, the group has no changes of clothes for the trip across the open desert.  The cabin becomes stuffy and unbearable.

As they cross the desert, some members of the group note a rustling in the sands as several bandits on horses stand up.  As Father Seward notes, this is not just a tactic to hide, but a way to avoid the desert sun.  Father Seward rings the bell, and when the porter arrives, he informs him that there might be bandits attacking the train.  After some porters with guns come running through, the sounds of gunshots are heard before they stop completely.

There is some debate — largely as the heroes have no equipment with which to handle this situation — but the group goes to investigate.  After jumping between train cars, they enter into the lower class car to find a group of bandits shaking down the passengers.  Strangely, they are stealing nothing, instead asking to see everyone's hands.

Given the lack of left hands in the group, the heroes instantly know that they are being sought.

As the group enters, a jumpy young fellow shoots at David, and a chunk ricochets and hits him in the chest.

The bandits quickly point guns at them and take them hostage.  Jake goes for his playing cards, but the leader tells him to drop them.  The bandits' leader — an imposing man with skin stretched so tight over his bones that they are almost visible through his skin — then demands to see their hands.  Father Seward's atrophied left hand, and Jake and Ruby's missing left hands lead him to agree that these are the people he seeks.  David is marched off to the side as the leader demands to see their cards.  Jake and Ruby explain that they lost their cards, as they were taken back in Denver.  Father Seward says nothing, but the man demands his card.  Father Seward initially refuses, but since his other option involves being shot, he hands over his playing card.

The leader starts to lead Ruby from the car.  He orders his men to search Jake.  This leaves several guarding David, Father Seward, and Jake.  Before the leader is out of sight, Father Seward grabs the pistol of a man pointing a shotgun at him, and points the gun at his head, threatening to shoot him.  The leader responds by grabbing Ruby and holding her over the gap between the cars, explaining that Father Seward likely cares more for her than the leader does for that fellow.  He shoots him in the head for emphasis.

Father Seward spins the gun around to present to the other man with a shotgun trained on him.  He gives him a grizzled stare for emphasis.

The situation calms quickly.  The leader demands that his boys strip Jake and then he takes Ruby into the other room.

In the other room, the leader asks Ruby to strip, though he lets her do it herself.  She notes that his skin is too hot, and he smells atrocious — like whiskey and cheap cigars.  She strips and he goes through her clothes.  Satisfied, he tells her to put them back on.  With the one hand, though, she is having a bit of trouble, and finally he gets impatient, returns to the other car, summons an older woman, and forces her to help.

Ruby notes that the man doesn't look at her with anything resembling a leer.  No matter how nice, even a doctor or a priest might have a slight look of acknowledgement that there's a pretty, young, nude girl in the room.  Not this guy.

Meanwhile, the bandits strip Jake, go through his clothes, and toss them back to him.  Coincidentally, they toss his clothes right on top of his deck of cards.

Everyone returns.  The leader of the bandits asks to address the leader of the group, either Father Seward or Jake.  Jake defers to Father Seward.  The man explains that he doesn't want to see them at the tournament in San Francisco; when Father Seward asks to what purpose, what is this man trying to prevent, the man explains that he's only eliminating the competition.

The bandits then leave.  Father Seward starts to talk to the people in the car, attempting to assure everyone that everything is going to be all right.

The train slows, then stops.  The bandits can be seen walking off into the desert.

The group returns to their room to find Jeb naked and bloodied.  They awaken him to find that he was interrogated, and when he resisted, he was waylayed.

After porters and such come around, the train starts again.  It passes into Salt Lake City for a longer layover than planned so that there is time for the investigation.  The group takes the opportunity to buy some changes of clothes among other things.  Father Seward finds a fence-painting job for a couple of days and earns $4; with some borrowed money, he also buys a revolver and a box of ammunition.  Jake manages to uncover an undercover gambling den and gamble.  He arrives with about $20, leaves with $5 and a mule that he sells for $40.

When it is time to continue, the group continues to San Francisco.  The trip, for once, is uneventful.

Upon arriving in San Francisco, the group disembarks.  David and Father Seward see the Gentleman on a nearby bench, and after informing the group, they go to speak to him.  The Gentleman welcomes them to San Francisco, and explains that they have little time to prepare themselves; they have to retrieve their cards if they wish to enter that tournament.  He recommends that they begin their search at the Federal Building.  He further addresses David, offering a box with a knife inside if David wishes to remove his left hand — for Dead Man's Hand poker, he explains, one must ante up to show one's willingness to play.  He declines, but the Gentleman acknowledges that there is time to decide.

David and Father Seward relate the Gentleman's tale to the rest of the group in preparation for the heroes' next move.

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