Deadlands: Anastasis & Wormwood

Smoke and Mirrors
Session 11

From Investigator Felix’s Notebook:

All we’ve found has been smoke and mirrors. A labyrinth of smoke and mirrors. My notes leave us twisting and turning like the streets of Shan Fan. Here’s what I have, for what it’s worth. I am sure we’re on the brink of discovering what happened to Min’s mother and wrapping this up neatly.

On Mr. Wen’s body we discovered:
- a simple badge with a leather back, with the chinese symbol for deliverance
- $20 Shan Fan currency
- a ticket for a bathhouse, punched 4 out of its 5 slots. On the back: "3pm. Mr. T/W.”
- a gun with a pale sheen in its metal. Maker’s mark: Zang Wei. The most common Chinese name.

In Mr. Wen’s room at “Tree Blossom and Bridge Inn”:

Exhibit A. Toshi’s Lucky Warehouse & Storage details. Address. Number of guards. A list of regular delivery times and companies/ ships.

Exhibit B. Notes on a Rat-Skinner Hou. When he attends the “Parts Market.” “Enjoys mah-jong and blood-fights.” “What’s his stakes?” “His agents frequented Parlor House a year ago.” “Something to do with what happened right before mother’s death. Should I talk to Chang-Tse Hung about him?” – all comments in margins, presumed by Mr. Wen.

Exhibit C.c. “Thin Noodles Ma – jealous of Min’s mother’s success? Worried? Part of her success? What did he know? His brothels took a bit of a hit in the nearby area. Some of Big Boss T’Sang Po Tam’s best agents preferred her Parlor. Me included.” “Why does Kang’s name come up so often? Does it have to do with that night the pale woman visited?” – again, all notes scribbled by Mr. Wen in the margin of other comings and goings. He was watching Thin Noodles Ma for a while.

Exhibit D. “Does the feud between Rat-Skinner Hou and Ma have anything to do with this?” – an odd note to scrawl. Mr. Wen should know that Ma and Hou are both enforcers for Big Ears Tam, but then again, I met the British diplomat who seemed to think Thin Noodles Ma was working for Kang of the Iron Dragon Rail Co.

Exhibit E. List of items stolen and the homes. See below.

Exhibit F. Calendar of visits approximating the two weeks before we arrived: Ma’s as guard, Parlor, Ma’s, Parlor, Yan Lo, Ma’s, Chun, Yan Lo, Ma’s, Chun, Toshi’s, Toshi’s, Parts Market, Toshi’s, Parts Market, Parlor, Yan Lo, bathhouse, Zan Wei.

Items of Min’s Mother’s and Where Mr. Wen tracked them to:

Her personal items went missing shortly after her death. Not in her grave. All items she favored (the comb has been seen with an ex-soiled dove serving her, the locket with Min and her portraits went to an antiques dealer named Yan Lo, an ivory hair pick from her mother is now with Chun Le Han, an aristocrat in Taeltown, and her favorite kimono, stolen by a soiled dove now serving Thin Noodles Ma personally). Addresses for all these in Mr. Wen’s notes. He was busy for months before this.

Other information we know:

- Min’s mother’s grave is empty. Simple marker in Shan Fan’s major cemetery.

- Rat-Skinner Hou knows something about Min’s mother’s death, something sensitive enough. Also, he knows Min’s name now, ever since the fight in the Parts Market.

- Toshi’s Warehouse run by Toshi, apparently a “little brother” working for Rat-Skinner Hou.

- Family of Deliverance has been hunting us doggedly on the night we came in, trying to burn Mr. Wen’s body, trying to keep him from investigating, trying to poison Min, trying to do who-knows-what with those saddle burs. We hear from Yamaziko the chinese herbalist that this is what they do with people inconvenient to kill who they think they can convince to give up. Foreigners generally.

- Mr. Wen had a message for Min. “The bullets are for your mother. You must finish the job I can not.” Apparently he had a handful of silver-plated alchemically treated bullets for her.

- Now been invited to Big Ears Tam’s estate on the edge of Taeltown.

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Ghosts of the Family
Session 10

Zhang Min,

I am sure you never expected to hear from me again, nor felt the need. I had thought my debt to your mother had been paid in full when I taught you the secrets of gun powder and pistol. But as fate would have it, I am not done repaying your mother. But I need your help.

I need your help finishing what I feel I can not finish without you, or may not even be given the chance. It may be that I have offended the nature of things, and attempted what, in reality, is your duty to finish. If so, then I will content myself with giving you a good start, as I did several years ago when you pressed the trigger on the Rupertus Pepperbox. Not so different than a toy bullseye. It is not the instrument, but the will that must be strong enough to affect change. Otherwise all men and all women would wield sticks of dynamite. Our people discovered the means to do this almost a thousand years ago. And your will was always so strong. You were always watching and waiting for the moment to change the web of fate.

Well, here is a chance. I need you to come quickly Min. I don’t think I have much time. I will be waiting in Prosperity Landing – a boarding house here. Come straight here. Do not make any stops before this. I will explain everything when we meet. You and I, we have unfinished business in Madame Lian’s Gold Lotus Parlor House. Please come prepared… If not for any gratitude to me, or to your mother, then to discover the secret kept from you. To discover who your mother really is, and why it is that you are who you are.

I need you. Do not delay. My China rose. If I could pick your color for me, it would be white. My only white blossom. The only pure thing I did in my life.

Your Instructor and Benefactor, Always,

Hai Wen, Chief Investigator

Min put the letter down and looked around the table. She wasn’t sure if the others would be interested in coming with her to Shan Fan to investigate this mysterious message from her former mentor, but they all agreed.

On the last day of the train ride to Shan Fan, Min noticed the train stewardess acting strangely, subtly turning away from Min so she could not see her face. Intrigued, Min got up and walked by her, ostensibly to go to the lounge car but really just to get a better look at the woman – a black-haired Asian beauty with cat-like eyes. The stewardess seemed alarmed by Min’s presence, hurried on a little faster toward the next car and slammed the door behind her.

Suddenly Min began to feel sick. She returned to her seat but her nausea did not pass. “I need to go lie down,” she said to the others.

Dr. Jourdain examined Min. At first she thought it might be a simple case of motion sickness but a closer examination revealed that Min has been poisoned. “We need to get the poison out of your system or you might die,” Dr. Jourdain said. She pulled castor oil out of her medicine kit. “The best way is for you to vomit it up.”

Min spent an hour throwing up and rehydrating. “The train stewardess did it, I’m sure of it,” she said. “She was acting very suspiciously around me and I remember her serving the tea.” But when the others attempted to find the stewardess after disembarking the train, she had vanished.

After a wild rickshaw ride to Red Lantern Town, the group began to walk towards the Prosperity Landing building, when Min’s eagle eyes spotted the train stewardess/assassin lurking on the top of a nearby two-story building, multiple shadowy figures hiding around Prosperity Landing and yet another inside, moving what appeared to be a body. All of them wore golden masks. “They got here first,” she said.

The person inside Prosperity Landing dropped something which set Prosperity Landing on fire and disappeared from view. The woman on the nearby roof slid down behind the building. Iiniwa called upon the horse spirits to enhance his speed and charged toward the building. Two golden-masked figures intercepted him. As he swung his axe toward them they dropped a smoke pellet and his axe connected with nothing but air.

Min and Felix moved to intercept the assassin but as Felix rounded the corner her naginata blade struck him square in the chest. He reeled from the blow as she moved in for the kill. Min sent a half-dozen bullets flying toward the woman but the darkness hampered her vision and the assassin moved with incredible speed, evading her attacks. Her naginata scored a deep gash in Min’s side. “Fool,” she hissed. “You should have stayed in Denver.”

Laslow and Dr. Jourdain were left to deal with the huge man who came charging out the front door. Bullets and the electric pulse from Dr. Jourdain’s stun-gun struck the man but he shrugged both off. He charged forward, wounding Laslow badly.

After a very difficult battle the group managed to kill the huge man, the female assassin and capture one of the goons. The fire was engulfing the first floor of the Prosperity Landing. Min climbed up to the second story and entered through an open window. “Mr. Wen!” she called. The flames were too dangerous for her to go down the stairs.

But Dr. Jourdain had bought a substance which provided her some protection from the flames. She covered herself in it and entered though the front door. She could feel the incredible heat even through the coating. Dr. Jourdain spotted the body of a dead Asian man on the floor and dragged him out.

Min confirmed that the body was of her mentor, Hai Wen. They examined him and found a badge with a symbol for the Family of Deliverance, aka the ruling Shan Fan Triad, a key, a ticket to a local public bathhouse and a revolver made with ghost rock which Min kept.

Their prisoner said that while Mr. Wen carried the badge of the Family of Deliverance, he had been asking dangerous questions about Madame Lian’s Gold Lotus Parlor House and run afoul of the Family. If he was going to say any more they would have to set him free. Min agreed, but Laslow did not and quickly killed the man. “We can’t risk him blabbing to his superiors,” he said.

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Burning Down the House
Session 9
  • Xun Ru pulls the group aside into the baker’s store to point out the spirit birds plaguing them
  • the hunt the black birds of nightmares, Min blows most away, Laslow gives one a brutal rifle blast
  • the group follows the Mr. D. to the hotel Eugene and Min discovered he’d be staying out
  • They change to fancy clothes
  • Dr. Jourdain poisons Mr. D’s dogs while Xun Ru and rests from the previous night. Laslow guards.
  • They ambush Mr. D. Min shoots down the dogs like curs. Felix fends off one, sweating a little but doing well for himself with his own iron. Eugune, tagged Min for speed, then dashes up and turns invisible in the stairwell. Laslow takes out a guard and Dr. Jourdain takes out another, while Min takes out Mr. D. Eugene makes sure Mr. D is finished, shoots him several more times.
  • they escape the burning building
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Here Comes the Night
Session 8
  • Xun Ru and Min dispose of the bodies
  • Eugene and Dr. Jourdain sell the flamethrower
  • Laslow, Dr. Jourdain, and Xun Ru investigate more and discover the Bayou agent
  • Xun Ru makes a couple friends on the streets
  • Eugune and Felix return to the railway and discover the foreman is very different, appears not to recognize Eugene and Felix, doesn’t appear to remember their prior conversation details
  • Eugene concludes that there is magic at work, possibly possession
  • The go back over their information and discover the likely whereabouts of the Bayou agent
  • he is an African American pretending to be an authentic voodoo priest, scaring a saloon out of its wits
  • Felix finds his room and Eugene disposes of the voodoo dolls and all the material
  • the agent reveals he’s been simply using tools sent to him, reveals information about the coming package and its bearer
  • the group sneaks into the railway office with the help of a light cantrip from Eugene
  • The go back to their room for rest, except Xun Ru
  • attacked by creatures of the night, nosferatu, and spiders that crawl through the window
  • Dr. Jourdain and Eugene blast the creatures, while Laslow does his best with his rifle to hold the line and Min gives everything she has with her pistols to horrifingly little effect
  • Xun Ru barely escapes the spiders with his life, but quick wits and fleet foot allows him escape
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She'll Put a Spell on You
Session 7
  • group is approached by Tabitha, working for the Black River Railroad Co.
  • offers a job to retrieve a package en route on the Denver Pacific line
  • arrival coinciding with the centennial of the railroad
  • Xun Ru tried to loosen her up, but she remains cool
  • defends her honor against a pack of rowdy drinkers
  • group investigates with the local Denver Pacific foreman, ____
  • Eugene and Felix work her over
  • Xun Ru, Laslow, and Dr. Jourdain look for information on Bayou Vermillion
  • the dreams start
  • visit the fortune teller
  • find an agent who’s been passing information to a local Bayou Vermillion agent
  • follow him, put pressure on him, and he reveals the group he’s hired to kill them
  • they coerce the poor young man into setting up a false meeting, lay ambush to the group
  • the flamethrower wielding weird scientist, Crazy Carl, and his posse go down in slaughter house
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A Barbecue of Burning Flesh
Session 5

No sooner had the group finished burning the felled bodies of the undead when Sheriff Sioux approached the group. “Mayor Alexandra wants to meet you immediately,” he said.

The heroes trudged off to the town hall to explain what they knew. The undead had come from the mines in very large numbers. It was very important to begin planning the city’s defense again because there was likely to be another attack the following night. The plan was to build barricades to funnel the ghouls into narrow entry points into the city where they could be more easily dealt with.

Dr. Jourdain examined the body of one of the ghouls and determined that the creature’s bite was infectious and could potentially transform someone into a ghoul. She began brewing an alchemical remedy as the others helped with the barricades around town. Dawn gave way to morning. The group fell into an exhausted sleep.

They woke up in midafternoon to the sight of dark clouds gathering and the sound of Agnes, the blind town bard, playing an ominous dirge. A rainstorm was coming which meant the fire they used to combat the ghouls the previous night would be much less effective. Min headed off to the edge of town to fetch Iiniwa. A little girl was sitting near his camp watching him sleep. Something about the girl seemed wrong to Min although she couldn’t put her finger on it. The girl followed Min and Iiniwa back to Burnside.

Min’s suspicions were realized when the girl’s tongue, as long as a frog’s, unfurled from her mouth and licked Eugene’s shadow. Eugene recoiled as he felt his soul being drained away. The girl laughed as her hands sharpened into claws. Min shot the girl in the face, killing her instantly.

Night, rain and the ghouls fell across the town like a dark curtain. Around midnight as the battle raged on, Eugene and Min, stationed up in the clock tower saw an ominous sign. There was a flash of lightning and a skeletal rider on an undead horse stood in the distance, his eyes burning with a malevolent and intelligent light. He was surrounded by a horde of ghouls and three large stacks of human bodies.

The group realized they would have to destroy the bodies before they could either be used for food or to create another abomination. In the daytime they set off with a wagon full of coal to destroy the bodies.

After several hours of travel they came across an area pocketed with dozens of small mounds where the ghouls had buried themselves to hide from the light of day. In the middle was a considerably larger mound which the group surmised was the skeletal leader Eugene and Min has seen earlier. And then there were the three large stacks of corpses of slain Burnside townspeople.

They began unloading coal onto the piles of corpses and setting them ablaze. A disgusting, sickeningly sweet smell filled everyone’s nostrils. The horses backed away, disturbed by the barbecue of burning flesh.

Debate began about the large central mound where they suspected the leader was buried. He should be taken out but what if he awakened the dozens of ghouls sleeping around him? They could not handle those numbers. The group got too close to the large central mound and accidentally disturbed the runes sketched into the ground. A large horned demon began to materialize. Eugene did not hesitate. Calling upon his connection with the manitous, he destroyed the demon with bolts of magical energy before the creature could fully form.

The group ultimately decided to play it safe and return to town. There were no more attacks and they were celebrated as heroes of Burnside. The skeletal leader and remaining ghouls had departed for parts unknown. Had they returned to the long sleep? Time would tell whether or not they passed out of this tale forever.

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We Need a Bunch of Livestock and Some Dynamite
Session 4

Eugene Guest, Felix Maloney, and Ivy Bayley rode through the night until their backs ached like splintering wood. At dawn, Ivy pointed to strange mounds in the distance, but Eugene and Felix dismissed them for hills. They fixed themselves on Burnside. Eugene had negotiated a temporary hold on the price hanging on Min’s head, and the group. Burnside looked peaceful enough as they hitched their horses.

Only minutes before Sheriff Sioux visited Magrath’s Bathhouse and Inn, interrupting Margot Jourdain’s well-deserved bath along with Roo’s extra warm bath full of fine smelling suds. Her indignation convinced him to cough up a half-hearted apology, but Min and Xun Roo were wanted, and the law would not be denied – not in his town. Roo handed Laslow the old Ranger’s gun they’d found in the mine and reluctantly went with the sheriff. Margot finished dressing and directed Min to hold up in her room until she came back with a disguise. It seemed there would be no rest for them. Laslow resigned himself to a bit of hair of the dog to take the edge off the brightness of the morning.

Sometimes It Takes a Woman to Do a Man’s Job

So it was that Eugene and Felix came on a very saggy eyed Laslow and slumped wearily into the bar stools beside him. Eugene immediately ordered a steak and eggs. Apparently the group had run into some trouble in the mines with some ghouls, and now Roo had been taken into custody. Felix and Eugene cursed their luck. It seemed that a siesta was not on the agenda quite yet. But they took heart in the fact that it wouldn’t be long before they could all get some sleep and head back to Denver – except their hopes were dashed once again when they heard a man screaming down the street. They scrambled to the window while Laslow sighed and finished his drink before swiveling around in his stool.

They found a man named Philip carrying his daughter, Jesse, who appeared to dead to Eugene at first. They called out to Magrath to get Dr. Jourdain who corrected them of their uneducated assumptions. She was nonreactive, but that was a result of shock. Felix, Eugene, and Margot led the two inside Magrath’s where the doctor could tend to Jesse. Felix and Eugene learned that the farmhouses outside Burnside were under attack at night. Creatures. Philip hadn’t seen, but he’d lost his family. He’d heard their screams. A fire had broken out. And he ran, ran to the only place he could think of for help: Burnside.

Laslow watched patiently. Margot, seeing Eugene and Felix unfortunately distracted by this poor sap’s nightmare told Eugene to stick by the two while she attended to something. She hadn’t even had the chance to get the materials ready to disguise Min. Eugene and Felix looked between Laslow and Margot, confused. They certainly didn’t want to go back out galloping into the hills, but they weren’t dumb either. Just how many ghouls were in the mines, they asked Laslow. And they weren’t able to secure the mine after their escape? Laslow shrugged and did his best to stay vague. He couldn’t see what could be done about it now. Margot thought the same as she raced off to get a disguise. Through the course of her work, matters got even worse. A local whispered to her that she’d heard nefarious sorts were plotting Roo’s death. If she didn’t act fast and get Eugene and Felix focused on the right sort of thing, their group was going to be locked up or dead.

And so it was for our group, that even the simplest of days couldn’t turn out right. Far from it. Now Felix was starting to get a headache from that sun, and Eugene was getting just dying for some steak and eggs.

There is No “I” in Team

When Margot came back Eugene and Felix getting more than a little irritated. They couldn’t stand around all day while ghouls finished their attacks and retreated into sunless holes. Eugene knew a thing or two about ghouls, though his experience was pieced together from second-hand stories of lone ghouls that haunted graveyards or small packs. Nothing like this. Eugene also knew that Pinkerton Agent Harper would be looking for Min and the others. He had to gather the group, get a telegraph off to Sheriff Bainbridge in Denver, visit the Burnside sheriff’s office, and get out to these farms while they still stood a chance of saving someone who might be bleeding out this very moment or being dragged beneath the earth for a ghoul’s feast.

But Margot would have none of that. She shut his gabbing mouth, and commanded the lazy lot (including Bison who now joined them) to get upstairs while she disguised Min. First thing’s first, they couldn’t be taken into custody. That was how Agent Harper had absolutely no trouble finding the group. He could hear their argument upstairs from his seat by the window. It took ten full minutes of debate before Eugene and Margot, two rams that they were, could find it in themselves to hear each other out. Eugene and Felix discovered, that Roo had unleashed an army of the undead on the unsuspecting Burnside. And Eugene and Felix could shove their wild notions up their you know what. Margot, Laslow, and Min discovered that Eugene knew quite a bit more than they expected about the trouble with the law they were experiencing. If they would just cooperate, this could all be settled in a moment, thank you very much.

By the time they got downstairs, feeling like things might just be moving along, Agent Harper politely interrupted, “Mr. Guest, a moment of your time.” It didn’t sound like a request. He glanced without the slightest bit of surprised at Min who looked like a New Orleans street-walker. (Or, as some said after, Takeheshi.) One thing led to another and Eugene convinced Harper to follow along and resolve things on the way. The moment swung on a hairline between big iron and civilized conversation, but in the end Agent Harper agreed, perhaps because the thought of taking them all on, with a surly bounty hunter and a deadly gunslinger in tow, did not look attractive. At the telegraph office Eugene spat into his hand and shook hands with Agent Harper. In a matter of minutes Felix watched with some admiration that Eugene, sweatin’ bullets the whole time, convinced Harper to postpone apprehending the rest of the group, including Min, even allowing them to walk free for a day, on account of the horde of undead that stood at the proverbial gates of Burnside. That, and Roo would remain locked up in the local jail. That would have to do.

On their way, keen-eyed Laslow spotted a man bullying a woman carrying a tray of food. At first the man expressed reluctance to talk to some nosy green horns and flashed them a rotten-toothed grin for their troubles. Laslow, not amused, blew his hat right off his head. Often, a well-exercised show of grit can accomplish much more, much faster, than all the hot air in a big balloon. Through Laslow’s curt investigations and Margot intensity they learned the man worked for El Groupo. What’s more, Margot discovered a vial of arsenic intended for the tray. She put two and two together and knew they’d discovered an assassin, moments before he murdered Roo in his cell!

Eugene went with Felix to argue with a very unimpressed Deputy Barnes at the sheriff’s office. Try as he might, mustering his best case – and with no time for backwater nonsense – Eugene could not get Barnes to recognize the scope of events. Ghouls? Undead attacks? Why it looked like a fine day. Take down wanted posters because of some know-it-all in a Denver office who changed his mind about a Wanted reward for a fugitive. Not a chance. But he knew better than to ruin his day arguing with someone who was probably recovering from a hangover. Barnes politely nodded. But he did agree to take a statement from Philip, and assured Eugene that he’d take care of everything – with Roo’s security, the unnecessary wanted posters, and with the El Groupo would-be assassin. When Margot, Bison, and Laslow escorted their own fugitive into the office, Barnes was quite taken aback.

Eugene left the office, sighing. Felix came out with him. “That was a fine job you managed.” Eugene smiled back, squinting against the sun and his own growing headache. “Let’s go get the horses and see if there’s anyone left alive at the farms.”

No Rest for the Wicked

And they were wicked, let’s be clear about that readers. They’d unleashed hell on earth on Burnside – albeit unwittingly. And it was an easier thing to do, to just walk away. One can’t blame them too much, though. Margot and Laslow tried to talk sense into these fancy pants boys, Eugene and Felix and now, strangely, Bison: it was a shame about those ghouls, but exactly what did they hope to do.

The answer: maybe save one life. Felix suggested, “maybe discover for sure what murdered families in the night.” Bison firmly said, “We can not allow this corruption. I will go too.” Eugene offered desperately, “maybe create some sort of trap before the ghouls reached Burnside.” Laslow, Margot, and Min frowned, and looked at their companions like they were insane. Finally Eugene said, setting his jaw and grabbing his duster, “We can’t just leave the town to this … this… whatever it is. It’s on our heads. I’m going.”

It was midday when they finally rode out of Burnside into the plains west of Burnside. They found Phillip’s farm laid waste. Bison investigated a mound and dug out the corruption like a weed. His people had raised him to honor the land and he would not let a little bit of earth hide the ghoul any more than one lets the weed hide under the earth, only to later choke out the harvest. It proved a tenacious thing, and he beat it back with his war club. But it came at him still with bloodshot eyes. A flash left Eugene’s fingertips and exploded like a small gun powder bomb into the thing’s side.

In other circumstances, the group might have complained or at least inquired about the infernal magicks they just witnessed, but as it was they had bigger matters to deal with. So their friend was an evil sorcerer who practiced dark powers. They had bigger worries. There were dozens and dozens of these mounds in sight. Margot astutely noted what she’d seen and Eugene’s weak excuse of “alchemy” – well, she knew her alchemy better than any of these ignorant men. That was no alchemy. She would talk to him later. Felix just quietly watched and listened. He could take notes later.

Felix had work to do. He suggested further studies on the creatures. And everyone whole-heartedly agreed. It was dirty work, preparing a bonfire amidst the rubble, digging up another unholy creature, trying different weapons, studying its responses. But they’d learned a thing or two about their enemy. Eugene was able to confirm his theories on the creature – that piercing its organs would do little if anything, that guns would be of no help, that light would not kill them but greatly disturb them. They had to make it back to Burnside to warn the town. Laslow still frowned, unsure about what they hoped to do. As far as he could see, they needed to get far away from here, further than Burnside. But Felix, Eugene, Bison, and now even Margot and Min agreed they needed to warn Burnside. A trap, a trap was what they needed, agreed Eugene and Margot.

We Need a Bunch of Livestock and Some Dynamite

That was what Laslow said, stopping them all in stunned silence. Well, if they were going to do this, they’d better do it right. Margot’s idea of a big pit would just not do to protect a whole town. Eugene’s idea of oil and hay set ablaze was a fine one, but it would not be sufficient to save the town. Give the cows a collar of dynamite, set them to pasture in the way of the coming ravenous horde. They would attract the horde, but light the fuse and get far enough away and suddenly you’ve got a fine bit of triggernometry. You see what I did there readers?

Eugene loved it. Loved it. Pure genius. He clapped Laslow on the back. Felix nodded, impressed once again by his choice of companions. Min peered at them, a little disgusted but unable to argue with the logic. Bison and Margot stared in newfound horror at their companions. But it was between Burnside and the livestock. It was enough to get Margot to reluctantly agree. Bison was not so convinced about the trade, but he could only accompany them and hope to stop them later.

In town they discovered Barnes had let the El Groupo fugitive loose and replaced the Wanted poster in the office. When Barnes continued to not be forthcoming with information on the sheriff’s whereabouts Laslow dropped the head of the ghoul he’d prudently brought. Soon after, they left to interrupt the sheriff’s dinner at the Black Goose. Sheriff Sioux was not a man to be trifled with, even by six armed men and women. “Give him the Barnes treatment,” said Eugene. Laslow shrugged and dropped the cadaver’s head on Sheriff Sioux’s plate. Despite his wife’s screaming and everybody’s totally ruined meal, Sheriff Sioux calmly studied the creature’s features. He concluded this group was worth listening to. He agreed to meet them in a couple hours.

The sun was dipped low in the sky when they finally met Sheriff Sioux and a little under a hundred of the town’s leaders. Eugene did his best to outline the plan the group had made. The last time a large number of people depended on him for their lives he’d been so enamored by the thought of freedom and heroism that he’d let them all be discovered. He had to think of the people first. Then the ghouls. He outlined a plan to keep about 75 volunteers who could protect themselves a little better than most. The rest were to secure themselves in storm basements and other places. Margot suggested water to put out fires, and Laslow suggested they arm themselves in case they had to protect themselves. Eugene then outlined his plan to create a half ring of fire, pointing to one prepared wagon of flammable materials. He had Laslow explain the big trap.

Bison murmured, “Let’s call it what it is, we’re dynamiting cows.” Laslow explained the plan in detail, unperturbed. Margot would help the Burnside townspeople get secured. Felix and Bison would set chicken wire and others traps. Min would help Laslow with the dynamite. Bison tried to free the livestock, tried to dissuade the uncaring people, tried to convince people that they could defend themselves without such a sacrifice. But he was only one man, and Burnside was determined to save its loved ones. And in a miraculous fury, they prepared to face hell and all of its wrath.

Ring of Fire

The sun had set, and the people of Burnside received a much-needed extra hour to prepare for the undead waited for night to fall and then crossed the plains. Their screams could be heard for a mile away. Their unified cry was the stuff of nightmares – never to be forgotten. But the people of Burnside had no where to go readers. Their lives were here. They’d given everything to settle this broken, cracked land. They would not be moved, not for all the riders of the apocalypse. As the ghouls attacked, they set their ring of fire ablaze…

…and then tooth and claw met steel and grit. Undead roamed the previously sleepy streets of Burnside, pulling men down. Men who lived were so painted with blood you could not tell the difference between the living and the dead. All through the night. Bands of steely-eyed men broke from the shadows and fell on the undead with torches, as our heroes had instructed. In the town square, Felix was brought down, Mix was surrounded. Laslow pushed a ghoul off while a man beside him screamed then gurgled to the bite of a ghoul. Bison ran as if he rode a steed of spirit and crushed the skull of one ghoul and then another. Margot ran in, throwing alchemy and smoke, with steel in hand, fending off gray claws. Laslow blew the head of a ghoul apart and Felix clenched his teeth through the pain of a bite and pushed off the ground to beat another ghoul back, then down, then to the ground, gasping as he did so.

But Min had three surrounding her and Margot was out of alchemy. Min spun around, unable to fend so many off, and wondered what foolish turn of events led her to even try to stand against such odds – and even run into the massacre head-long. Late to the show, driving a rattling horse-drawn wagon as fast as he could, Eugene came flying down one of Burnside’s alleys. His walk cane’s blade reflected fire and moonlight, he leapt onto a pile of rubble and pulled what looked to be smoking cards from the air beside him. He threw them and all three landed on the ghouls beside Min, erupting in splattered guts and bones. One still stood but Margot and Min smashed his skull.

Our heroes – rather all the heroes of that day, readers – the people of Burnside, all dropped to their knees as the first hint of blue could be seen. They could see victory, of a sort, was theirs. Hard won, with good friends and family lost, but so much saved.

Sometimes Dead is Better

Margot would not rest until her work was done. Their work. She tirelessly tended to the wounded. She knew this part of war and sickness. It was the same in the hospital as it was on the fields of Civil War as it was here. Her work was not done. Then, once people weren’t bleeding out and wounds were treated with High Science that only she knew to keep from spoiling and from leading to unforeseen transformations, she took to organizing people to gather the dead and burn them. They had to be sure.

But the people of Burnside were too slow. Either they were too tired or too ignorant or too arrogant towards a woman’s argument – but they would not listen fast enough.

And then they saw it rise. The dead had come together into, as Bison whispered, “An abomination.” It stood the size of ten men easily. A giant from another world. It stood, a harbringer of death, bearing the faces of loved ones trapped, embedded in its body. Bison roared and rushed toward it, inspiring his group to courage. His warclub hit it with incredible force, but still it would not fall. The sound of gunfire erupted – Laslow’s rifle and Min’s and Felix’s pistols, but it ignored such weapons. Margot pulled out her sword and threw untreated alchemical dust at it, but it only staggered momentarily, then immediately regained its unholy strength of purpose- to finish its job, to bring the world of the living into the dead. It came down on Bison with a sickening crunch, bringing him to his knees. But still he struggled, spirit unbroken. Eugene whispered to the Manitou who cackled back, playing a game of logic with a trio of devils in the blink of an eye – and won. It gained him one last shot, pulled from the other world, two smoking black cards with hints of blue, and flung them at the creature’s back. It turned toward him and he knew his time was done. But Laslow came in close beside Eugene, reckless to the danger to himself, and shot it once more and staggered it for the briefest of moments, buying time for Bison to pull himself off the ashen ground. Men looked at his rage in awe as Bison leapt at the giant abomination and brought his war club crashing down on the skull of the evil thing.

And all that could be heard was the sound of everyone’s breadth. And all that could be seen were men bent from an unspeakable night. The sky graced them with a thin strip of fire and gold on the horizon, and blue like a serene lake. They burned the bodies all morning, until they were black from soot, as if they had clawed their way out of their very own graves.

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Massacre at Burnside Mines: Epilogue
Session 3.5

The sun dips under the Rockies behind you. A great shadow grows over the hills just east of the mountains. Travel is silent except for the scrambling sounds of your companions and the mules, and the sounds of your taxed breadth. You manage to keep the thought of what’s following you somewhat at bay, and focus on making as much distance between you and the Madison Camp mines. You travel on, even after the sun completely disappears and the blue turns to black and the sounds of undead cry distantly in the mountains. At some point, you decide to rest. It would do no good to exhaust yourselves only to battle the countless undead who seek to pull you into the depths of the mountains and feast on your body slowly – or perhaps quickly.

You make camp at Princess Arch. A couple hours later a man comes down from the same trails you originally took when climbing up to the mines. He makes sure he’s known well in advance, whistling and waving a hand. He leads a fine looking horse down the trail behind him and introduces himself as Evan, the Bloody Yarn. He’s an old friend of Alan Bayley’s (Ole’ Grimm). “Seeing as how there’s an army of the living dead over yonder” he’s hoping to spend the night at your camp and talk at dawn, when everyone’s “good and awake.”

In the morning he shares some jerky, biscuits, and gravy. Soon enough you learn that he’s a Ranger, just like Alan was. Alan was shot while digging up some dirt on the Rail Barons, somewhere near Virginia. That dirt is likely to be in those papers. Evan would like to take a look at those papers, and he understands if you feel you need to give the papers to Ivy first. She’ll recognize him, he’s quite sure. He doesn’t much mind the mess you made, but letting loose those ghouls is another matter. He’s none too happy about that, but what’s done is done. No use crying over spilled milk, and it’s clear you didn’t intend that outcome.

Lastly, he’d prefer you give him Alan’s gun, at least until one of you decides you’re ready to join the Rangers and earns his or her way in. He’d be happy to give the gun to that person, and he’s sure Alan would have it that way, but it’s too rare a weapon to just leave in the hands of any old investigators, still green. Of course, in this too, when he heard about the deal you made with Ivy to bring back any interesting finds and to keep any spare valuables, he willingly will wait to have Ivy give it to him. If she decides to keep it, that’s an equally acceptable situation. If you’re “stubborn about your finder’s keepers” he’s “not going to get into a gunfight about it.” But let’s just say, you’ll have turned out to be a disappointment for him, and he’d rather know you as friends. “Each man makes his own choice of course, and he’ll let you make yours.”

Otherwise, he fills in some of the gaps:

• He was in the process of preparing a proper burial for his old friend, Alan. He’s rather annoyed that that is going to be difficult if not impossible now.

• He killed the men in the mine. They were members of El Groupo El Edor who were exploring the mine.

• He left the macabre warning at the entrance to warn off other claim jumpers who might not have known about the ghoul situation or might have heard just enough to be scared

• He heard the screams of the Granger family and that drew him back to the mining camp. Apparently, as the sun was dipping down over the mountains, leaving a shadow over the side of the camp closest to the mountains, something came out of a mine and got them. When he came, he saw El Groupo picking the bloody scene clean.

When he’s done, Min says to the rest of the group, “I am fine with giving the gun to Evan if Ivy doesn’t want it.” Then to Evan, she adds, “Don’t look for me to join the Rangers (or the Agents). Ain’t my style.”

She mentions to Evan that she shot and killed three members of El Groupo El Dor and wounded the Viper during the gunfight in Denver. “I may need to lay low when I return to town if you have any advice on that.”

Meanwhile, Xun is not happy about giving over the gun. He takes the opportunity to point out that their deal with Ivy was that they could keep anything of salvage in the mine excepting the papers. The few dollars in coins they scrounged hardly counts as much but the gun would be valuable and would have been very useful to them a week ago when they helped clear the trade route of ghost warped buffalo men. They intend to keep fighting back the evil in the area and could put the gun to good use. He grudgingly hands it over, spitting on the ground, and mumbles “the Rangers no better than the greedy warlords of Shan Fan, takin’ what others rightfully earned. Don’t reckon I’ll be joinin’.”

Evan looks at Xun thoughtfully with squinted, wrinkled eyes, without taking the gun. After a few seconds he says, “You look to me like you’re of the mind that someone’s stealing some hard earned pay of yours. I reckon you ought to talk to Ivy about this deal of yours. But I guess you have to ask yourself, do you really think she meant her dead father’s personal gun as salvage? If so, then the warlords of Shan Fan taught you much more than you think during whatever time you spent there.”

He shrugs (still not taking the gun) and sighs, looking to Min. “That’s a fine piece of work you did then, Min. But I can see that might cause you some problems. I can probably help get things sorted a little. There’s probably a hearing in development, and not having someone to speak in your favor looks poorly on you. On the other hand, walkin’ into town might land you in a bit of trouble. Since you seem like good sort, and I know El Group El Dor is a bad sort, I could put in a good word. I know a couple Denver judges, so that won’t hurt either. I can meet with Ivy and tell her to meet you in Burnside. Don’t want her mixed up in that mess either. For the future, you’re going to want to keep an eye out for a few things. There are no guns allowed in the Denver city limits. Now I know most people break that law, but that puts you in a sticky situation in times like these. Now normally, you might get off with just a fine, but apparently these people didn’t draw first, nor even shoot you too badly, so you can’t claim self-defense – at least not very easily. Even if they’re chasing a girl as golden as Ivy. And if what you’ve been saying is true, and Bayou Vermillion has some sort of reason to challenge her claim to the ranch and the mine, well that makes your lethal defense of her even more of a prickly thing.” He winces at all of that.

“When men are summarily hanged for stealing horses, something like this could be the death of a person.” He shrugs and nods, as if he’s listening to an unheard voice. “I don’t mean to go on about things you probably know, and couldn’t really be helped. And anyway, I’m mighty grateful you didn’t let Manuel get his hands on Ivy. That’d be a hard thing to live with. I’ll do my best to get Lady Justice to look at all this in the right sort of way. But just to be safe, I’d check the Burnside telegraph station. I’ll send a little word when I can. Ivy should be on her way within a couple days.”

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Massacre at Burnside Mines
Session 3

The names on the list read:

Lazlow Sorenson
Iiniwa
Dr. Margot J. Jourdain
Min Zhang
Xun Ru

The Plain Mountain Journal

Massacre at Burnside Mines

A report from Burnside mines has at least one family dead and several miners missing. There have also been new reports of ghouls in the area. A mysterious group harboring several fugitives is implicated in this attack.

Through interviews and investigation we have been able to put together a rough idea of what happened in the days preceding May 3rd. The group, originally consisting of 5 members, was seen arriving in Burnside late during the night of April 30th. On their way to the Magrath’s Bathhouse and Inn, for lodging and food, they were approached by a large native man whom sources claim was called “the buffalo.” The man went inside with them and offered to take them to the mines. Magrath had this to say regarding the events:

“This tall Indian comes in and just starts talking with this group. He said he was told to lead them to the mines by some other fella named Ghost, I think. I heard bits and pieces about someone being wanted and on the run”

After eating, the group retired to their rooms. Half an hour later the Indian man emerged and went to a small tent outside of town near the Burnside Dry Goods and Travel Emporium. Reports indicate that the group roused late in the day, after noon at the earliest. They gathered supplies, purchased 2 mules, and left for the mine late in the day.

A note to the reader: the following has been pieced together from second hand reports and evidence gathered from the scene. This should not be taken as fact.

We sent a tracker to the trail and his report indicated that the group traveled several miles before making camp on top of hill that overlooks the main trail to the mines. He mentioned this bluff is a known staging area for ambushing caravans going through the pass. What they were doing there we cannot know. After spending the night, apparently without incident, they traveled along a rarely used pathway to lake and mine area.

Here they likely met the Granger’s. Butch, Peggy, Trudy, Daniel, Flower and their two body guards were found dead late May 4th by a prospector. Their remains were desecrated, apparently having been eaten. It is unknown whether or not the group had a hand in the family’s grim demise.

The following is an account taken from someone who claims to have overheard talking about the events that took place in the mine.

“I was eating dinner at when I heard someone start telling a story about this band of mercenaries. They went into the mine and found bodies hanging from the ceiling, strung up and shot. After that I started really listening. There was a note they found that said ‘Monsters live here, the end is near!’ They said some miners rose from the dead to fight them and then huge centipedes burst through the earth. They were outnumbered 10 to 1 and in a desperate attack threw bombs and shot hundreds of bullets. That seems a dangerous thing to do in a mine. “

“Anyway they go into the office area, and find the dead guy they were looking for. I still can’t believe what I’m hearing. But anyways they say that they found some secret passage way and try to open it, but when they do they hear a thousand voices cry out saying ‘You’re all doomed!’ They all run out but the little Asian guy stayed and tried to bring the mine down! The Indian went back and they fought off thousands of creatures before making their escape.”

We also spoke to a both a mining expert regarding what the group might have encountered in the deep. She said that there are numerous potential causes for the carnage that was found. There have been reports of miners finding great worms burrowing through the walls. She also stated that mines are naturally hazardous with gas, explosions, and other mundane events leading to the demise of many. She said:

“Everyone always jumps to monsters or things in the dark when the reality is that dynamite can tear a man limb from limb just as readily as a supernatural creature.”

Reports from the field do lend credence to the theory that ghouls have returned. There have been several attacks on caravans and reported sightings in the area. It seems likely that the group found hidden evil in the mines. No one knows what their goal truly was. Sources say they were sent by Ivy Bayley to find her father, Alan Bayley, but she could not be reached for comment. The only known fact is that a tragedy of this nature has not occurred since the ghoul attacks two years ago.

The lack of personnel and fear of the mines have stalled recovery efforts and further investigation. We will continue to try to find out the truth of what happened and deliver a more complete report.

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Slippery Salamanders & Whiskey Damsels
Session 2

The names on the list read:

  • Lazlow Sorenson
  • Felix Maloney
  • Dr. Margot J. Jourdain
  • Min Zhang
  • Xun Ru

April 29th 1879 – accounts from the desk of Dr. Margot J. Jourdain

After our arousing adventure with the Arapaho Buffalo Men, we ventured back to Denver to share our findings with Mr. Thompson, also known as “Rawhide” (how a man can call himself thus, I will never know). Again, Mr. Thompson is the liaison for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. I gave him a detailed account of the men we had discovered, growing full grown buffalo heads out of their own bodies. Oddly enough, their bodies seemed to be somewhat decayed. I have subtle suspicion that there may be a correlation between utilizing animal body parts to prolong life. I included these findings in my twenty page report, Report on the Men of Buffalo, by Dr. Margot J. Jourdain. Ah yes, I neglect to include a description of the detailed photographs by our very talented, Mr. Felix Maloney. These photographs capture the monstrosities in their gory state.

Mr. Maloney and I convince Mr. Thompson to pay our agreed upon price for our report and evidence that the attacks were provoked by monsters, not by the local indigenous tribes. Sadly, Mr. Guest could not accompany us back to Denver, taking it upon himself to complete the ritual to once and for all banish these demons. I am certain Mr. Maloney or Mr. Ru will keep his funds safe until his return.

Mr. Thompson proceeded to inform us that there was a letter that arrived from Burnside, Co. requesting the assistance of a Denver deputy. Unfortunately, Denver was lacking a deputy due to some nefarious activities. Because of our recent role as mercenaries the job fell upon us, with promise of a well-paying reward. We were told that the meeting was to be expected April 30th at the Slippery Salamander. That night, Mr. Rue spent carousing with Mr. Sorenson and sharp eyed Ms. Zhang, at a local hole, while Mr. Maloney printed his fine pictures and I spent the majority of my night writing my account of the Buffalo Men. In the midst of drunken revelry, Ms. Zhang and Mr. Sorenson overheard some talk to a gang, El Groupo El Dor. They were known as local bounty hunters and much feared. Ms. Zhang’s reputation for pistols proceeded her, with a little help from the fast talking from Mr. Ru. The barkeep of the fine establishment hinted at some good work the lady may do,if she was so inclined, but nothing further came out of the exchange.

The night and morning passed quickly into mid-afternoon on the 30th. We met at the Slippery Salamander, whiskey to ease the tensions in the room. Now I may be a lady, but I do a “man’s job” and I am not one to turn down a drink every once in a while. A rumbling came from outside. Cattle stampeded through the town, chickens scattered in every direction. The town grew quiet, aside from the trampling of hooves. A gang of men pursued one woman on horseback. She dismounted in a flurry, breathless and distraught. The men came up quickly behind her. Mr. Maloney, Mr. Ru and Ms. Zhang were outside. Myself and Mr. Sorenson were still in the bar. I ordered two whiskeys for myself and Mr. Sorenson readied himself behind the bar. El Groupo El Dor. The woman burst through the doors. She had to have been no more than 20. I pulled out my sword, ready for the first unfamiliar face. I waited.

Outside, Ms. Zhang did not hesitate. Perhaps it’s her youthfulness that makes her so quick, but she felled three men in a matter of minutes. Mr. Maloney denied he was a part of this showdown, quietly cowering in the corner of the Slippery Salamander. But the bloodlust got to him as well and he felled a man down in one shot. Mr. Ru, the daredevil, scrambled up the side of the building to the roof. There he held his fire for one good shot on the leader, Manuel.

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