Sunday, 11 February 2018

Deadlands - Solomon's Birthday

I wake early on the 26th, and realise I'd slept through most of Christmas Day. A brief tingle runs down my spine as I remember: we defeated the Sin Eater. We'd done it. The fight still echoes through my body. I ache, I'm stiff, and I feel bruised all over, but we survived.

I roll out of bed and spot a camera tucked there. I hadn't told anyone I celebrate my birthday today, but someone's figured it out. It doesn't seem likely Chin would know the significance of the Saint's day, and Tesla is too absorbed in lightning, so I think it must be Carson. I thank him at breakfast, and he seems almost shy about it. I delight in taking photos around Shan Fan while the others try and figure out our next steps.

Tesla suggests he can build a gizmo that would let him see through the eyes of that strange stitched-together, patchwork man if we can get hold of something he's touched - such as the gibbet lock it smashed apart. We head to Long Haired Tony, who fishes it out of his firepit. Tesla thinks it'll still work.

As we head back to the boat, we spot a mugging - two men pulling a third into an alley. Carson approaches ready to argue, and the muggers flee. The guy, Yuan Lee, offers to buy us dinner in thanks - not an offer we can refuse, so we follow him down a winding path of back streets and dirty alleyways to a local pub.

It's dark and smokey inside, lit by candles in paper lanterns that fascinate Tesla. Lee settles us at a table and talks to a barman who seems unhappy at our presence. Lee returns and tells us food will arrive soon. He asks what we're doing in town, and we tell him about the body snatching - he's heard rumours, but has nothing new to tell us. He's an adventurer, he explains, currently between quests. Tesla snaps "he's lying" before turning his attention back to whatever it is he's tinkering with this time. 

It's about then the barman throws our plates to the table; despite the rude service, the food is good. Still, Tesla's comment and the enclosed atmosphere are getting to me, and Lee... he's evasive. It's subtle, but he shifts the conversation back to us every time we ask about him. I look around; it's a lot emptier than when we arrived. Even the barman's gone, just us and four other customers - and as I nudge Carson, even they leave. When Carson asks him, Lee starts out pretending not to notice and says he doesn't know where they've gone. We've finished eating, so he gives us directions back to the main roads as he walks us to the door, and bolts it behind us.

It's dark as a cave, and the street is empty. We light lanterns, and Tesla flourishes the gadget he's been tinkering with. It's a headdress, of sorts, with a cover for his eyes and ears, a handle on the side, and the lock fitted to the top of his head. It looks ridiculous, but he is proud as a schoolkid. He secures it with straps under his chin. As he winds the handle, sparks of electricity flash from the exposed wires, and he falls to the ground in a fit. I wrench it from his head - to my relief, he stops twitching, but then sits up and points along the dark alley. Chin and I shine our lights that way: a group of men are advancing on us, menacing. They're not wearing Tong colours but look like they can fight. I cower against the doorway, but Tesla screams "He's in the middle!" and fires his lightning ray, electrocuting all but one. Lit up like that, the stitching is easy to see. He charges and Chin leaps in to attack - they both seems to connect well, but both shrug it off.

The smell of charred flesh makes me want to run, but I can't leave my friends. Fireballs fly from above me - Carson? - they seem to be helping, weakening the creature. I wrench down a clothesline and throw it to Chin to tie the creature up, then flee the alley.

I reach a wider street and lean against a wall, breathing in deep gulps, tears on my face. I know I have to go back. I slow my breathing, look to the heavens and pray for strength, then creep back to the others, fighting my fears every step. 

I get back to see Carson stepping from a shadowy doorway; Chin's punching the patchwork man while Tesla continues to pour lightning into it as it lies on the floor. They tie it up, and any of the men who'd survived. Carson says not to hurt them; he wants me to question them but I can't think straight in this tiny alley. He sees my distress and hammers on the pub door, yelling for Lee to let us back in. When there's no response, he starts firing those glowing green fireballs until the door explodes; he draws his gun and enters. I follow, and the others drag all the bodies in behind. The stench fills the room.

Carson heads behind the bar to investigate the other exit, while Chin heals up one of the survivors of Tesla's lightning, expecting me to question him. But the smell and the bodies and the small space and the pain I'm in - it's too much and I hide in a corner trying not to vomit, so Chin does his best. Carson reappears and joins Tesla in studying the Patchwork Man. They drag it outside, where I hear yelling and noise soon after; I crawl to the doorway to see Carson fireballing it to ash. 

Chin hasn't managed to get much out of the man, just that they were hired by "the Creator" somewhere in Stinktown to rough us up a bit. Carson storms back in full of fury, and asks his own questions. From that, we learn "the Creator" wore a hood so they never saw his face, but he speaks Chinese "like a native". Tesla brings round the other two survivors, but there's little they can add. The Creator finds them when he wants work done, and the Patchwork Man looks different each time. That makes me shudder. Tesla says the hand, at least, was the same as the one that punched the lock, but that doesn't mean it's the same man overall - "like using parts from one boiler to fix another". It's not a nice thought.

We take the three to the Sheriff's office, where a deputy we don't recognise herds them into a cell.

Then back to the boat. My dreams are worse than normal, but it's a feeling like my chest exploding that wakes me. Tesla stands over me, cackling amidst the crackling lightning. I scream, and he pulls the giant metal stake out of my chest and runs out of the room. I'm too shocked to give chase, but I feel like I could - almost as good as new, in fact.

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