Sunday 8 April 2018

Deadlands - The 37th Chamber

This is a chapter in our Deadlands game, told from the perspective of my character, Solomon Blackbird. For the story so far, check out the index.

Unsure where to go next, we return to Gamorrah - Doomtown - and moor up. Carson gets Tesla's map out from where he'd hidden it after we managed to pass it to him while we were kidnapped and we pore over it, spotting a mark that looks a lot glyph above Shannonsburg and near something called "The 37th Chamber". Chin's eyes widen and he grins, then gabbles that it's a Shaolin temple, that he's always wanted to visit, that it's where Chin Hseuh Yung graduated - the guy who won the Kumite with such disdain - and also someone called Kuau Yau that our Chin is evidently impressed by. Tesla paws through his guidebook and tells us that, despite being in the north, Shannonsberg is a Confederate town. More importantly, it's a large port city, so probably won't have the inflation issues of the rest of California. There's things we need.

It's Tesla who notices me stumble as we walk from the table. I can't seem to find the rhythm of walking with the boat that had come so naturally to me to begin with. I feel stiff and ungainly, frustrated by it, and Tesla's noticed. He catches my arm and offers to help. In a fit of madness, I agree. He grabs a few bits from his room and gets me to follow him to shore - I balk when I spot those pylons of his slung over his shoulder, and memories of seeing him standing on a beach fusing metal plates to his flesh almost have me changing my mind when I trip and fall on my face.

He sticks a row of small metal rods along either side of my spine, then makes me stand between the pylons. He fiddles with them for around an hour until a storm has gathered. Lightning strikes and courses through me. It's exhilerating and terrifying and, after, I feel better. Not entirely back to myself, but a lot better than I have in a while.

In the morning, we head to Shan Fan and I sing of how we defeated the Whateleys. We look out a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph and find an alert from Lacey; rumours of new scientists and martial artists in conflict near Shannonsberg. It's marked 'Good Intentions' so we should investigate while we're there.

Takes about 3 days to reach, blessedly uneventful. There's several floating forts in the harbour - the flagship, CSS Leviathan, makes the Abysmal look tiny and underarmed. The others... I spot Ouroboros, Wyrm, Wontley and Grendel. They're less impressive, but still imposing. They're acting as coastguard for the busy port.

We moor up, and everything's so peaceful here. Calm and easy and so unlike the rest of California. We find a bathhouse and have actual baths and feel clean. People aren't suspicious dealing with us, but cheerful and friendly.  We eat, then go shopping - fresh clothes, and a few bits for the boat. We spend a few days fitting better beds, tidying, repainting, which means we also start to get to know a few people in the boats around us, and hear more about the conflict Lacey highlighted. Various family-run farms in the area have reported kung fu practitioners coming in and trashing their ghost rock implements.

Tesla comes to us one evening, to say a scientist, Dr Merrill Pond, has sought him out for our assistance; his farm hasn't been attacked yet, and he's worried it will be soon. His home's at Elspeth Town, about a day's travel west. Tesla arranges for us all to meet the scientist and... it doesn't go well. Tesla, as usual, tries to push the guy for more payment, while Carson seems reluctant to help at all, and Chin shows a degree of tribalism in his support for the martial artists I hadn't expected from him, given how he seemed to have such a bad reputation with the martial artists of his hometown. I try to get more information so we can help out; Pond doesn't have much more but suggests we could try to find the 37th Chamber and talk to them. He describes it as being in the desert, "there, but not there"; people go looking for the temple but never find it. Other people, the temple finds them. He then loses patience with the bickering and reticence and walks out.

It's frustrating. I'm not used to Carson not wanting to save everyone and I feel like we're letting Lacey down. Chin has no interest in helping the scientists, but does want to see the Chamber. Carson sighs, but accepts we're staying for a bit: he explains he partly wants both sides of this story before carrying on, but (as the one who has bled on the glyphs and must sacrifice himself to defeat Grimme) he's feeling the pressure of time more than the rest of us and wants to make sure we're ready by our August deadline. His attitude towards Dr  Pond makes sense now, but I somehow I still feel frustrated with how the meeting went.

We set out in the morning, walking in our best guess of the right direction. It's hot. We brought plenty of water, but despite the fact food in Shannonsberg is so much cheaper than anywhere else we've seen in California - more like prices back east - we still couldn't buy enough to truly satisfy our hunger as we walk.

There's a small chiming noise, quiet enough I think I've imagined it at first, but it keeps repeating and I notice the others looking round when it does. Around noon, we find the source: a Shaolin-style monk sitting cross-legged and chiming tiny cymbals on her fingers. Deep in meditation, she ignores our questions and presence, so we carry on.

An hour or so deeper into the desert, scuffed footsteps overlay the quieting rhythmic "ching" of the cymbals: we're being followed. Carson fade away to investigate while Chin, Carson and I continue until on until we're attacked by 6 men and 2 ogres in Kang's colours. I beg them to stop, to leave us alone, but they keep fighting us until I draw my bowie knife and slash wildly at one. To my horror, he falls to the floor clutching a gaping wound in his gut. I back off, shaking, and pain explodes in my head and it all fades to black.

When I come round, Tesla explains I was hit by an invisible ogre; Carson questioned the survivors (which, Tesla reassures me, includes the man I slashed) while I was out: they'd realised we were heading for the 37th Chamber, same as them, so they'd figured they'd capture us and find out from us where it is. He'd then sent them back to Shannonsberg, making it clear to them they weren't follow us further. We start walking again.

We find another chiming monk as dusk falls, so make camp nearby. He's gone before we go to sleep, but Carson sees him as he returns in the morning, so we follow that path. There's a trail of monks we can follow: as the chimes of one fade behind us, we can hear the next ahead. It's hot and dry and there's no real landmarks and I think we're all starting to feel a little delirious as evening starts to touch the sky - which is when we spot a lake in the distance, with buildings all around. We hurry to the gate in the surrounding wall, which opens as we arrive to reveal Chin Hseuh Wong and an ugly woman wearing a look of sneering contempt equal to her compatriot's - this is Kuay Yau.

Wong asks why we're there, and Carson and Chin explain between them that we're looking for the glyphs. Seeing an apparent lack of interest, Carson adds about the altercation with Kang's men, but Wong wants to know why we're interested in the glyphs. Carson explains about needing to find them to stop Grimme - which worries me, these aren't Explorers, I don't know if we can trust them. Perhaps sensing my concern, he doesn't give more details, and my silent prayer is answered when Wong doesn't ask further.

"Grimme isn't our concern. We're interested in ghost rock, and those who claim to be able to harness it." Then interrupts Carson as he starts trying to explain the danger Grimme poses. "He's an opportunist. Getting rid of ghost rock will reduce his power." (Is that true, or are they just fanatics? The way it screams, I couldn't say.) They invite us in, then, but state no technology can enter - and that includes the stuff Tesla embedded in me, which hurts. Fortunately, Tesla's not prepared to be parted from his stuff so I have company - albeit distracted company - as we pass the night outside the walls. A monk does bring us some food, at least.

The sunrise wakes us, but the gates remain closed. Tesla repairs Carson's armour while I tune my guitar, then I practice a few songs while he tinkers with whatever gadget's caught his eye next. I'm starting to wonder if we should be getting worried when the gates finally swing open. Carson and Chin are a little way inside with their backs to us, talking to Wong and Yau. I spot a flash of movement and react in time to catch what Wong throws towards us: Carson's cards. I frown slightly and look up to see Carson and Chin walking to us, looking dejected. The gates swing closed behind them. I hand back his cards.

The monks won't help. 


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