Friday, September 7, 2012

Deadlands, Part XXII

When last we left our heroes, hounds murdered all the babies in Boston, David Hood secured a method to raise the Peerless and obtain the Doomsday Clock, Bashiel convinced a crowd to lynch the rabbis, and Father Seward and Jake were going off to face Bashiel.

David and Jake both note a figure atop a nearby building.  He is dressed in formal wear and shuffling a deck of cards.  Jake recognizes a huckster when he sees one, but David recognizes the ghostly Gentleman.

Jake calls the huckster to Father Seward's attention.  Father Seward looks at him and hollers, "Hey!  When'd you get out of Limbo?"  The man responds by leaping off the building and landing behind Father Seward.

Jake and Seward both notice that he makes no sound as he lands.  Seward replies with a mildly disappointed, "Oh."

The Gentleman indicates that Seward's strategy is poor, and he bids him to follow.  The group assembles in a nearby warehouse — during the process, they learn that the riverboat captain cannot see the Gentleman — and the Gentleman proceeds to explain the situation.  Bashiel is just an enforcer, a servitor of the greater demon Goleb.  The Doomsday Clock opens a gate to Hell; the where is unimportant.  Moving the gate won't help; it must be closed.  Bashiel is canny enough to prevent this, but Father Seward is apparently the wildcard he overlooked.  This is to their advantage.  At Father Seward's questioning, the Gentleman further indicates that he is not corporeal, but that his current employer is seeing to it in return for his help (presumably on this errand).  The group asks if he can read Hebrew, and he replies that he can.  Father Seward presents the rabbis' note, and he translates it as, "Words for words."  Before he leaves, he asks David Hood how his family is doing.  He disappears.

The group decides to return to the Hood house to investigate the rabbis' corpses.  They arrive, and Seward looks in the mouth of the impaled rabbi.  It's stuck shut, but Father Seward pries it open.  There is a mound of cheesecloth stuffed in the rabbi's mouth.  Unwrapping it, it contains a paper detailing the ritual.

The ritual apparently requires a holy man to forgive a person who has performed an unforgivable sin (in this case, interpreted as betrayal or suicide).  This person must then be executed (limited the crime to betrayal, then), and their blood transferred to a silver bowl.  The blood must be poured upon the gears of the Doomsday Clock, and the clock will stop.  Some Hebrew chanting is required, but it is written out phonetically for the ease of a non-speaker.  In recounting the ritual to the others, Father Seward omits the fact that the penitent can be executed by anyone; he implies that he has to perform the deed.

With that settled, David wishes to follow the Gentleman's cryptic remark and return to his family's house a short distance away.  The group relocates.

The house is relatively untouched by the violence that has gripped the city.  Once upon the porch, it is obvious that a light burns from deep within the house.  A couple of people hear movement coming from underneath the floor; they decide to examine the narrow basement windows.  Seeing nothing, Rufina breaks the glass with her sword and shines a light inside.

A form moves at the lantern's approach, leaving only the horrific sight remaining.  Various body parts hang from hooked chains — two torsos, two sets of arms, two sets of legs, no head.  It appears to be one Caucasian female and one African-American female, although it is presently not clear if all the parts come from the same two bodies without closer examination.

With everyone back on the porch, David Hood sneaks a peek and vomits at the sight.

After testing the door and trying to break it open, Jeb blasts open the door with a shotgun.  The group filters inside.

Suspecting that they'll find the Angel of Death/John Michael Patrick, Ruby starts calling out to her brother.  Father Seward also shouts that they'd like to talk about the state of his soul.  There's some movement through the house, and as she ascends the stairs with a lantern-bearing Father Seward, the bat-like form of her brother peers around the corner.

Ruby manages to calm him down, and so he comes fully into view — he is carrying something.  Upon quick examination, this is revealed to be the severed head of a Caucasian woman, mounted on a pole (like a mop handle or something similar) that has been wrapped in a woman's dress.  John Michael Patrick also applied make-up and styled the hair on the head — and all-in-all, it is a crude likeness of Ruby O'Flaherty herself.

Father Seward and Ruby maintain their composure, and so Ruby starts talking to him, explaining that they mean him no harm and that she now realizes that he probably was only trying to do his best with things.  Father Seward and Ruby start to launch into a conversation about his soul — the group discussed the possibility of sacrificing him as the unforgivable sinner — but before any headway is made, the John-thing rambles about some sort of need and dashes off.  Father Seward surmises that it's roughly sundown and that the creature has gone off to feed.

The group then searches the house.  They find two such dolls — the Caucasian one John Michael Patrick was carrying, and an African-American one elsewhere in the house.  When David sees the woman, he recognizes his sister Abigail and needs to be excused.  The group also finds that the two dismembered bodies in the basement represent the two girls.  Additionally, they find that someone has roughly searched through women's clothes and jewelery, presumably to dress the two "dolls."

Finally, the group reconvenes in the hall to determine their next move when they hear whistling coming up the sidewalk.  Jake immediately fears it's his mentor Cobb, but people look outside to see Bashiel walking up the street.  Father Seward curses and tells them to hold him off for a minute.  He runs upstairs to pray.

Bashiel starts asking for Seward to come out, beginning with cajoling, then threats.  Then he opens his coat and the ambulatory babies start swarming out.

As they do, Father Seward stops praying.  He smashes the window out and fires at Bashiel's head.  A blaring blast of white light erupts from the demon's head.  He unleashes some horrific, keening wail and then turns into a greasy, black shadow and swiftly flies off in the direction of City Hall and the docks.

Roughly eighteen babies remain.  Rufina wades into the swarm with her sword, cursing and weeping with every demonic baby she slays.  The others take potshots, but soon, Jeb joins her with his knife, and David arrives with only his fists.  Jake causes a tremor before using his black lightning, and Father Seward and Ruby shoot at the baby-things.

It's a hard slog, but at the end of it, a handful of babies have escaped and most lie dead.  Rufina is greviously injured, and David has sustained a serious wound to his torso.  Father Seward manages to lay on hands and heal Rufina, but fatigue must finally overtake him as he fails to heal David, becoming wracked with coughs as he coughs up blood.

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Funny story: while writing this, it occurred to me that the rabbis likely killed their fellow so as to intentionally make a betrayer who could be sacrificed.  It's brutal and self-sacrificing, but efficient and effective.

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