Friday, June 15, 2012

Deadlands, Part XVII

When last we left our heroes, the group grappled with paranoia, got a little educated, and found a blasphemous tome within David Hood's mother's house.

The assembled group — David Hood, Father Seward, Jake, Jeb, Ruby O'Flahertie, and Rufina — are currently contemplating the dense, Latin tome as it sits on a table in the mud room.  Jake, having a flash of inspiration, asks to borrow one of Jeb's knives and goes upstairs.  Father Seward and Ruby follow — he begins scraping away at the layer of ink on the black room, and finds that the walls were previously painted purple.  Beneath that, there is nothing spectacular other than plaster.

While part of the group does that, David flips through the book.  He notes some interesting depictions of Satan — a large portrait features Ol' Scratch with several pairs of wings and surrounded by eyes — as well as a series of portraits depicting Da Vinci building a grand machine (at the behest of demons, no less).  When it is finished, it is revealed to be an enormous clock.  After the Pope excommunicates him, the machine is grabbed and buried at a ceremony depicting a huge number of priests, bishops, cardinals, and the like (seriously, the picture features the Pope, the clock, the hole, and a sea of faces that takes up the rest of the image).

When Jake, Ruby, and Seward return from upstairs, David shows them the pictures.  We manage to puzzle together the above story, as well as the fact that the eyes and wings on the picture of Satan marks him as a high-ranking angel, calling to mind the Fall and all that jazz.  Jake manages to puzzle out enough Latin to read references to Da Vinci's Doomsday Clock and to understand that bad things happen if it is activated.

While the group is discussing these revelations, some members faintly hear someone singing "Ave Maria."  The group crowds around the door and peeks out to find a young boy sitting on the front porch.  He's singing.  We take up positions and David Hood decides to go out, as it's technically his house.  The boy asks who he may be, and when he replies that he's David Hood, the boy indicates he has a letter from the bishop, but he can only give it to him if he passes a test.  The boy then holds a set of rosary beads against David, and apparently satisfied, gives him the letter.  Ruby peeks out and attempts to say something, but the boy indicates he isn't talking to her.  He then runs off.

Returning indoors, the letter bears a seal of the bishop of Boston.  David opens and reads it; the letter requests his presence as soon as possible to discuss certain matters of import.

After some discussion, the group decides to return to the hotel with Da Vinci's Fall of Man and the model ship of the Peerless, and set Jeb to guarding them.  The group then goes to meet with His Eminence.

The nuns at the cathedral are originally rather suspicious, but once David Hood shows them the letter, they lead the group right to his office.  After introductions are made, the bishop gets down to cases — despite not being a Catholic, David's mother was a benefactor of the church.  As part of this, they asked her to help them secure an artifact — Da Vinci's Doomsday Clock — for safe-keeping in their vault in Boston.  She managed to do so, but the Clock now sits in legal limbo, trapped in Boston Harbor.  The diocese wishes to enlist the group's aid to recover the artifact and keep it safely tucked away.

The bishop also explains what happens — if the clock is activated, it ticks an hour each day.  Each day, some new horror is unleashed on the area.  When it finally strikes "midnight," it opens a gate to Hell that makes the Earth coterminous with Hell for miles around.  The Clock, incidentally, appears to be indestructible, and once activated, cannot be deactivated.

There are a few questions, primarily from Rufina.  The most notable question is, since it cannot be destroyed, why not just sink it into the Atlantic?  The bishop says that is not as safe as it sounds, and Father Seward interjects that some things that might want the clock don't need to breathe.  The bishop agrees.

Also, when asked about the Angel of Death, the bishop indicates that the Angel appeared before the mess with the Peerless, but it seems too coincidental to be unrelated.

The bishop also gives the group a companion volume to Fall of Man.  He indicates that this came from a young woman in an insane asylum, and although that is not the most reputable source, he has come to trust the counsel of the book.  He also suggests that the book contains information on the forces that might seek the Doomsday Clock.

Before parting, he asks if anyone wishes to take communion — David, Father Seward, and Ruby all deign to do so.  Father Seward also asks if there are Latin lessons, and he says there are lessons on Saturdays.  Both Rufina and Seward express an interest.

The group then departs for the hotel to pour over their new book.  Once they return — finding the objects safe with Jeb in their absence — Father Seward begins reading the journal to everyone.

The journal is by one Janice Meyer, and it appears to have been written using whatever she could get her hands on — the paper differs from entry-to-entry, the writing materials (which are typically her own blood and feces) differ, and the style even differs, sometimes reflecting the use of tools while sometimes suggesting she wrote with her fingers.  It would appear that someone eventually took this sheaf of papers and had them professionally leather-bound.

Overall, the book reads like a novel, although she sometimes breaks up her descriptions to complain about the food at the sanitarium.  Janice indicates that she lived in Georgia — Ruby recognizes that this story takes place on her family's property many years before she was born.  She loved her brother Travis, and Travis beautifully played the fiddle.  One day, the Devil appeared — a creature with red skin, goat hooves, and a purple sash.  The Devil cannot resist a bet, and he and Travis made a bet about who could play the best fiddle.  For two weeks they played, and the people came to watch.  Finally, the Devil conceded, and Travis won the bet.  The bet was for souls, meaning that Travis won the Devil's soul.  Travis began to sprout uncountable wings and stepped into a seam that formed in the air, presumably a portal to Hell.  The Devil became mortal and fled that place.

A week later, there were strange lights.  Janice investigated to find the seam again open.  Horrid, blasphemous shapes pour out, and each cursed her before entering the world.  They are the Unholy Sephiroth, and they are known as Cathariel, Ghogiel, Sheiriel, Azariel, Usiel, Zomiel, Baal Chanan, Theuniel, Ogiel, and Lilith.  They represent rebellion, folly, weakness, ignorance, sadism, weakness, ugliness, failure, dullness, and imprisonment.  These creatures are cortices — a cortex being a mortal form of a demon that can wander the Earth while its soul remains in Hell — and that doorway lies open, but invisible.  One cortex keeps returning.  No spirit has exited the gateway.

The end of the book marks the year as 1798.

As Ruby now has to process that her plantation home sat on a Hellmouth, and Jake has to contemplate that he was likely mentored by the Devil himself, the group takes a little time to discuss these matters.

Finally, it is decided — the group will take the model ship in a carriage and drive past the harbor.  Father Seward will affix the steering wheel to the model ship and see if it does anything, as it is possible that the model is sympathetically bound to the actual ship.  The group decides to do this before dinner.

As Ruby is dressing, however, she notes something etched on the glass of the bedroom.  Father Seward leans out the window and sees that "RUBY" is scratched into the window.  After searching, David finds another instance of the name.  David and Father Seward then break the news to Ruby, who immediately assumes it's the Angel of Death come to kill her.  The group decides to stick together, and further prepares to go on a carriage ride past the harbor to have a look at the Peerless and see if their model ship serves any purpose.

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