The train ride is uneventful. The group stops in Lynchburg and decides to resupply and rest. Lynchburg is quite impressive with its electric lighting; Rufina even inquires with one of the security guards at the power plant about how it all works (something about turbines and potential energy; it's all quite modern!).
The group also manages to grab a paper; Sweet Water, Arizona is definitely the city of the future. Despite the lack of surrounding features for comparison, it features towering skyscrapers made of steel. (By description, I imagine Lang's Metropolis in terms of architecture.)
After weighing its options, the group decides to hire a carriage for the journey to Buena Vista. The trip takes a couple of days, and as the carriage finds itself in a mountain pass, the group sees trouble ahead — from their vantage points, Father Seward, Jeb, and Rex see a group of men assaulting a woman. They appear to be gathered more or less in a circle, and are jeering at her and shoving her. The woman, for her part, seems to be barely resisting. All signs suggest it will probably escalate quickly and messily.
The carriage stops. Everyone prepares their guns. Jeb and Rex are at the ready. The group of men have now stopped what they were doing to watch the proceedings. They have, however, boxed the woman so that she cannot leave.
Father Seward steps out of the carriage, followed by David Hood. The group's apparent leader rides out of the throng to address them. He sizes David up, and presumably noting the tinhorn's attire, asks what they're doing in this region. Father Seward stares him down and replies, "Lookin' fer creeps like you." The men are admonished to leave the woman behind and go. David, Jeb, Rex, and Ruby all brandish guns to accentuate the statement; Rufina shows her sword. Father Seward starts counting down from five. When he hits zero, he fires in the air.
Despite the protests of the gang, the leader says they're leaving. They do so.
Rufina approaches the woman as she picks herself up; Father Seward also approaches, but stays back as he's aware he's a bandaged man in a priest's collar. The woman just keeps walking down the road; even when Rufina grabs her arm, she just tries to pull away and keep walking.
Rufina doesn't get much out of her, but learning that she is headed to Buena Vista, Rufina convinces the woman to agree to ride with the group. She tries to give her some water, but for the most part, the woman doesn't speak and doesn't really respond. She just sits quietly with a thousand yard stare.
The carriage approaches Buena Vista as night falls. It is just a crossroads in the mountains featuring a row of buildings along one side. The inhabitants wandering the streets appear predominantly Hispanic. A church sits at the far end. Off to the side is a large building. The church and the other building are the only two with lights burning. As the carriage stops, the woman walks out and starts walking to the other building, which is apparently some manner of brothel, barely tolerated by the locals.
After some debate, the group follows the woman. The woman wanders up a hill to the brothel, a place called Catalina's Rose, as proclaimed by the sign without. As the group approaches the building, a bittersweet feeling overwhelms them. The woman opens the door and the sound of a raucous party emanates from within before she closes the door. There are windows, but they are frosted as if cold.
Rufina opens the door. It appears to be some manner of establishment with women dressed as high-class prostitutes. A lone man plays a piano; the tune is somewhat familiar, but cannot be placed. Rufina enters. As Father Seward enters, he starts suffering convulsions, and a sound emanates from his chest like something being shaken in a paper bag. He manages to uncomfortably drag himself inside. David, Jeb, Rex, and Ruby all enter; as each person enters, the sense of sadness that overwhelmed them as they approached leaves.
As everyone enters and the door closes behind them, the piano player runs his fingers down the keys and turns around. He seems to have knowledge of everyone there (he indicates that Rufina is hiding something), and he has some of the ladies fetch a chair for Father Seward as well as food and drink for all.
Introductions are made; the man's name is Silas. Strangely, the seer with the United States government is also named Silas, and this man indicates that he shares some arcane connection with the seer Silas. He also explains that he does not know why the group was brought to Catalina's Rose, but perhaps that will become clear during the course of conversation.
Around this time, Jeb goes off with a woman. It swiftly becomes clear that actual sex is off the table here; she makes Jeb feel welcome and very pleasant, but the line is always drawn at sexual contact.
In fact, even though the women are joyous, many of them have the same thousand yard stare as the woman before. Of her, there is no sign.
Silas explains that he was an angel who fell in love with a woman; this love trapped him in an in-between place. This place is Catalina's Rose. It has not always appeared this way or in this place, but it is usually somewhere, attracting travelers in need. All the women within have been abused, the victims of violence. This is an in-between place for them as well, somewhere where they can rest until they feel themselves worthy of God's grace and can enter into Heaven.
Rufina is initially suspicious, but the group is slowly but surely put at ease by Silas' demeanor and responses. Father Seward asks about the Talmud Company and its operations, which causes the building to shake. Jeb looks distinctly uneasy. Silas explains that Catalina expressed her displeasure at the mention of that agency for reasons that Silas will not yet reveal. Silas further explains that Talmud is not only a book, but also means "knowledge." When the Talmud Company is mentioned again and the building rumbles, Jeb runs out the door and stays out for the rest of the evening.
During the course of the conversation, several things become apparent: primarily, that the group is not well-equipped enough to tackle the Hellgate in Georgia. Going there will summon all the forces of Hell to deal with the problem, and the group probably does not have what it needs to defend against that. Likewise, there is probably little reason to investigate the Talmud Company in New Orleans as of yet, for similar reasons.
Silas also indicates that he stabbed Satan at one point when he was a full angel — he recognizes Seward as being around due to Satan's influence. Silas offers that Seward may be damned, but he is definitely still around for a purpose. When Rufina asks, however, he says that it is highly unlikely that Seward can be exorcised and still live. (If Seward dies, however, the evil spirit within him will die also.)
Silas also notes that Satan (or Cobb, if you prefer) is the sort of fellow to play the long con. "Losing" the gamble that stuck him in mortal form was probably one of his plots, although the ultimate goal of that plot is unknown.
Silas notes Sweet Water, Arizona, and suggests that the architecture there is distinctly demonic. Fell forces are gathered in Sweet Water for an unknown purpose.
Silas further reveals an ability to know the state of a soul. Father Seward asks if his daughter, Antonia, has ever come through. Silas says no; in fact, she still lives, after a fashion. As Seward nods solemnly, Rufina puts a hand on his shoulder. Silas does not know where, however.
Rufina also asks obliquely about people close to her, and Silas says they are safe.
Father Seward also asks about the ghostly Gentleman, deigning to describe his history, the woman he killed, and the pregnancy he didn't know she had at the time. Silas reveals that the Gentleman is not the soul of her child, although he does not clarify the identity of that entity.
Silas cannot answer how Hood and Seward are connected, other than they are from Boston and have both dealt with Cobb in the past. However, most of those present have dealt with Cobb, and are bound through that means.
Finally, Silas admonishes the group to kill Cobb. He sees them off, wishing them well; he gives his regards to Ruby, and indicates that it may be possible to save Jake. Before they leave, Silas indicates that Catalina's Rose is open to them any time, and both Ruby and Rufina may claim a place in it.
The group leaves Catalina's Rose to find Jeb outside, playing the mandolin and weeping. The group returns to Buena Vista to plan their next move, presumably to Sweet Water.
So, a personal anecdote from this session.
I believe it was the first edition Vampire Player's Guide that featured (among other things) an essay by Mark Rein-Hagen. If my congealing memory serves, he talks about roleplaying being procedural (fighting orcs, saving princesses, and so forth), but players keep coming back for those moments that grab you. He didn't say it, but I imagine he was talking about immersion — when you're in the game and it just flows.
It doesn't happen to me terribly often, but it happened this session. Father Seward stepped out of the carriage, and David followed him. When the GM described the look on the bandit leader's face, I immediately thought, Oh shit. Conclusions: He was sizing up David and saw a moneyed individual. Easy prey. We're going to get robbed and murdered, aren't we?
My initial plan was to overawe the bandits and hope to avoid combat (we're good with our guns, but five on fourteen is still pretty abysmal). That plan stayed, but when I realized that we might look the least bit weak, I had a moment of panic. I'm just winging it.
So, the bandit leader asks something to the effect, "What're you folks doin' in a place like this?" I respond without thinking; my voice drops into a Christian Bale Batman growl as I reply, "Lookin' fer creeps like you." The table explodes in laughter because nobody knows where in the Hell that response came from. I roll a 14 on my intimidation roll. Everybody shows their guns. Crisis averted.
It was a totally Meisner moment.
Usually, I'm GMing, but I feel like I still have those moments — when I'm exhausted and sweating after running a session, I know it was a good session. There was a climactic combat, or a tense social scene, or some other memorable event. I don't play as often, so I don't get it from that side nearly as often. It's neat.
Also, an aside for dramatic irony purposes: when Seward was in the afterlife and Cobb put the other guy inside him, the man initially asked for him to say, "Hello," to Rufina. It wasn't until her player and our GM discussed it that they realized the spirit would know her as Henrietta.
So there you go. Rufina's about the only person whose history is a mystery to us, which is probably why Silas kept stressing that maybe she should share some things. 'Cause, y'know. We're bound by fate, and apparently have all dealt with the Devil himself at some point. (For the record, Father Seward knows that she has some familiarity with the spirit inside him, but he doesn't know that she's Henrietta. Only that she probably knows Henrietta. He hasn't mentioned that to anybody else yet.)
And now we're onto modernist Babylon. It's guaranteed to be ridiculous.