Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Deadlands, Part XXXI

When last we left our heroes, they encountered The Well, and David and Ruby met with the Duchess.

Father Seward, Jeb, and Rufina remain at the hotel room, with Jeb using his spyglass to keep a lookout on The Well.  Rex is on his way to The Well.  David, Ruby, and the Duchess are also on their way to The Well.

Father Seward, Jeb, and Rufina are merely hanging about, passing the time.  Father Seward suddenly begins to smell a sweet smell, curses, and runs off in search of it.  Jeb and Rufina follow, and as they ask what is wrong, he says he smells something and suspects some manner of gas.  He comes to Jeb's room to find a bowl containing cactus flowers and other plant materials, almost like some manner of potpourri.  Father Seward quickly surmises this to be some manner of Apache death curse, which causes the victim to waste away.

Even if nobody is quite certain when they ran afoul of the Apache.

The trio spends some time looking for secret passages — without success — before Rufina comes up with the idea of sending the flowers back down the pneumatic tube.  Father Seward is humored by this, so it is quickly done.  They later receive a pneumatic tube from the front desk, informing them that the tubes are not to be used as trash receptacles.  Father Seward sends a reply asking about the significance of the flowers he sent.  He receives a further reply a little bit later; the person at the front desk seems confused, and appears to not know about the flowers.

Jeb continues searching for secret passages.

Meanwhile, David and Ruby accompany the Duchess to The Well.  The crowd is quite large, but David, Ruby, and the Duchess (as befits their status) make their way to the front.  Rex, on the other hand, is closer to the back.  He notices David and Ruby up front, but doesn't know what they're doing there.

Within the Artifice, the green threads spiral out of the crowd in all directions.  The special threads are also evident — Rex's frayed golden thread drifts in the wind, while David and Ruby's ochre threads trail out the window.  Ruby notes that the Duchess has no threads, but that's not right — an anomaly, like an absence of a thread, reveals itself as it passes through the threads of the crowd.  It appears she has some manner of invisible thread.

After a pause, the show begins.  An East Asian woman, wearing a red, silk, Chinese dress emerges upon the balcony.  Her left arm is heavily scarred with burns and appears useless; the burn scars slip out from underneath her collar and disappear behind a featureless white mask.  She has long, black hair falling down to her waist.  When she removes the mask, burns cover half her face, and her left eyelid is partially melted shut, revealing only glimpses of a milky, white eye.

She is accompanied by a Caucasian man in evening wear.  Faint, green lines connect her to most of the room (although not David, Rex, or Ruby, likely because they have never met her before).  A thick line connects to the Doctor's balcony, although it disappears as it hits the balcony (presumably at the outer edge of the effect of the Artifice).

The man and woman approach a piano; he sits to play while she lounges atop it and sings, and they proceed to perform a somewhat mournful tune.  As the music builds, the ambient ghostly images begin to become more permanent, somehow seeming more real.  The ghosts listen to the song, as the concert continues, their voices become vaguely audible, and their "touch" feels like a vague, static electricity.  Between songs, they turn and stare at the audience, apparently looking at friends and loved ones.  David, Rex, and Ruby note that they recognize only minor associates among the spectral horde — friends fallen out of touch, distant uncles, and suchlike — and David and Ruby further note that no ghosts stare at the Duchess.

Finally, David and Ruby see John Michael Patrick and David's mother attempting to push through the crowd of ghosts, but the concert ends before they make it, and they disappear.

Thin strands now connect the woman — the Mandragora — to David, Rex, and Ruby.

The Duchess declares another wonderful concert, with tears welling in her eyes, and bids David and Ruby good evening.

As the crowd disperses, David and Ruby linger.  Rex also lingers, and asks them what they're doing at The Well.  David and Ruby explain the change in plans as they were invited by the Duchess.  As they briefly talk, Ruby looks to see her father's ghost.  Despite the low, vague voice, she clearly recognizes what he mouths to her — "Help me."

Noting that Ruby is shaken, the two gentlemen escort her out of The Well and back to the hotel.

Upon the return to the hotel, the two groups discuss what transpired.  Ruby explains the message from her father, and Father Seward concludes necromancy, as he suspected.

As conversation continues, a couple of people realize they have not seen Jeb in a little while.  Father Seward quickly explains the Apache death curse as he hurries off to Jeb's room — to find no Jeb and a series of chalk drawings on the walls.  A figure, roughly of Jeb's build, is depicted, as are a series of tiny hands.  The art is distinctly American Indian, and Father Seward notes that the hands are somehow reverential.  He begins to doubt his earlier Apache death curse conclusion.

Wiping at one of the hands reveals that the chalk drawings are, in fact, chalk, so the group decides not to touch anything until they can determine how to get Jeb back.  There is some deliberation, but the group decides to stay in the hotel for the night.  One by one, they all retire to bed.

Father Seward has a dream in the night.  Out on the plains of the Midwest — possibly Wyoming or Montana or some such place — dark clouds gather, illuminated by lightning.  Despite the dark, the whole scene is illuminated from a white light coming from behind, almost as if the scene is being depicted on a stage.    The crows that follow Father Seward watch as they fly around, eventually gathering and coalescing into the skull-faced shaman that revived Father Seward and apparently required his daughter.  The shaman points behind the Father, and he turns around to see a twisted, old oak tree.  Father Seward — appearing as he was before death — hangs from the tree, a noose tied around his neck.  The shaman stands under the tree and points — his hand turns into a crow, which settles on the hanging Seward's left shoulder and plucks out his eye.  The crow returns and is reabsorbed as the shaman's hand.  He crushes the eye and approaches the Father Seward observing this scene, wiping the fluid on his forehead.

Father Seward awakens with a start, apparently having only slept an hour.  Still relatively well-rested — he hardly sleeps since dying — he dresses and walks out into the common room to read and wait for the others to awaken.

David awakens first, and Father Seward begins to explain his dream as Rex awakens.  Eventually, everyone is awake.

The plan for the day is to have dinner with The Doctor that evening.  After appropriate deliberations, David, Ruby, and Rufina decide to visit Dr. Morrow.  Father Seward and Rex will remain at the hotel.

On the way to Herr Doktor Morrow's house, the trio spies a mustachioed man, apparently attempting to evade police.  David and Ruby recognize "him" as a woman, and swiftly surmise it to be the lesbian spy from Brent Manning's party.  As they saw her disembarking an airship earlier, this is hardly surprising to them.

Rufina is still unaware when Ruby calls over the "man," and acts as though the group knows "him."  Rufina quickly surmises the fellow's identity, however, when "he" sweeps her into a passionate kiss and leaves half of a mustache on Rufina's face.  The police, seeing the mustachioed man joining the other group, are still suspicious, but appear to break off pursuit.

The disguised lady starts making idle chatter while leading them down a seemingly deliberate series of roads and alleys.  As they approach a closing gate, the spy takes one last opportunity to kiss Rufina — slipping something heavy into her pocket — before dashing through the gate before the police can catch her.

When they have an opportunity to dart into an alley and look, they find the object to be a small, green stone. It is exceedingly hot to the touch, although it does not burn or scald the skin.

After the strange encounter, the group arrives at Dr. Morrow's house.  A butler lets them in and fetches Dr. Morrow.  He seems a little surprised to see them, and is relieved that Jeb is not with them.  He asks them their business, and David Hood improvises the fact that they have forgotten some aspects of arm maintenance.  Dr. Morrow proceeds to explain that the arms require water at least every other day to prevent overheating.  The arms are powered by miniature steam engines that are heated by naturally-occurring, exothermic rocks that have been refined by industrial processes.  Water must be added to power, and more importantly, cool the engine.  Overheating causes the mineral to explode.

As a demonstration, he even removes the pellet from David Hood's arm.  It appears to be some small, shiny black stone, perhaps the size of a marble or a pea.  Without proper cooling, this would produce an explosion notable enough to kill the arm's user, and possibly kill or injure bystanders.

Dr. Morrow continues to speak about the stone, indicating that it is mined from the earth, and in a raw state, appears as a greenish mineral.  He proceeds to describe a stone quite similar to the one Rufina carries — although the group does not reveal that they have a sample on hand — and indicates that a stone roughly palm-sized (like the one Rufina currently carries) could be refined into one of the pea-sized samples that powers the clockwork arm.  This stuff is worth more than gold, and a stone of that size would easily fetch several hundred dollars.

Dr. Morrow also notes that many rumors float around the stone.  Most persistently, some say it is cursed, as those who refine it sometimes die a slow, wasting illness.

Rufina asks what would be necessary for Dr. Morrow to teach her more about the stone and its uses, and he explains he would be willing to take on a student if they can reveal all they know about The Doctor.  Coincidentally, the group notes that they have dinner with him this evening, so they hope to learn more.  Dr. Morrow has so far been unsuccessful in learning his secrets, other than the fact that The Well or The Artifice, however it works, is powered by the refined form of that strange, green mineral, likely in large quantity and probably cooled by the river that once flowed here (it has since been diverted underground).  He notes that he has no idea how it works, or even whether it reveals the dead or simply influences minds.

He then segues to ask the trio how they came to be in Sweet Water, when he heard at least some of them were to be in Texas.  At least, that was the plan when he gave them their arms in Denver.  They nervously explain that the plan changed, and when he obliquely asks if the Devil problem has been handled, they indicate it has not, which seems to make him considerably more nervous.  At his request, they also arrange a cover story (apparently he was not supposed to know them, according to whatever cover story they previously arranged), indicating that they heard he was one of the best to service their arms.

They further ask, and learn that he dislikes Jeb because Jeb broke an ornithopter of Morrow's design.

Satisfied, the group leaves.  Upon returning to the hotel, they find red and white roses — the white roses arranged in a cross — by the front door.  The note indicates that they are for Rufina, and the mustache drawn on the card suggests they are from the lesbian spy.  Upon entering the hotel room, the flowers are examined, and it is revealed that the bouquet contains gun barrels — more components to eventually build a functioning firearm.

David, Ruby, and Rufina explain their encounter with the lesbian spy and Dr. Morrow.  Father Seward and Rex, upon learning that he seemed to know components of the group's plan as well as their fight against Cobb, are flummoxed that they didn't just reveal their amnesia.  The group deliberates about what to do, and considers dinner with The Doctor that evening.

**********************************

As the astute might surmise, it appears that this version of Deadland's mad science is powered by uranium. By description, miners are probably gathering uraninite (or pitchblende, as it would likely be known), tobernite, or autunite, but as there are several varieties of greenish, uranium ores, it's not exactly clear.

We briefly discussed being the sort of group that just dams the river and lets the explosion/meltdown happen, but decided against it.

Although I still maintain that we have no clue just how terrible that would be, given that we don't really understand the whole radiation thing.  "It makes an explosion?  Like, it'd probably destroy The Well, right?"  And irradiate the whole town.  And the water supply.  And everything downwind.

Awkward...

1 comment:

  1. Rex says, "What water supply, we damned/dammed the river, there's no water to irradiate, that's the ENTIRE point!"

    ReplyDelete

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