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.
We leave Shan Fan on the morning of 29th December 1879. Tesla tinkers below decks while Chin pilots and Carson and I fish. Time passes pleasantly - the air's cool, given the time of year, but the sun's out and it feels good, despite my misgivings at leaving Shan Fan the way we did.
Tesla's cackle makes me jump. He's joined us above decks and is attempting to reel in a Maze Dragon.
"Solomon! Quickly! Take a photo!" Even by his standards, this is crazy; his grin has an arrogant angle, almost a sneer. I've not seen this side of him before.
I don't know what else to do, so run to my cabin to grab my camera. The thrashing of the great creature shakes the boat and I almost lose my footing, but he's still trying to reel it in when I get back to deck and snap a hasty image. I know it'll be horribly blurry, but before I can steady myself against the rocking of the boat to try again, Carson's blasted the rod from Tesla's hands. The creature sinks beneath the surface.
Despite the danger of the situation, I'm a little disappointed. Getting a photo of the elusive, pseudo-mythical creature - proof that it exists - would be a great feat. I bet Lacey would be impressed.
There's a chunk missing from the boat. Tesla fixes it, scowling at Carson. He really seems to believe he stood a chance against the beast.
With no further excitement, we reach Whateley Isle on New Year's Eve. It's a huge island, with a ruined building on the clifftop and smoke coming from the far side of the island. Tesla takes out his map - the rubbing he took from the rock in the Explorers' Society vault - to confirm this is the place, and we can see the Glyph in the same area as the ruined building.
As we get closer to the island, we realise there's patrol boats circling the island, so decide to hide our boat at a nearby mesa and row over. It's much easier to find somewhere to hide the rowboat. We look up at the ruins, presumably the Whateley Mansion, but head over to investigate the smoke stacks, figuring we should know who - what - else is here before we try to find the Glyph.
Crossing a grassy plain, we spot some people in the distance. I glance around; Chin and Carson have vanished from sight. I carry on with Tesla, figuring they might be locals who can help us out.
They aren't, but rather Tongs wearing Kang's colours. I try to convince them Tesla and I are ordinary folk just passing through; they won't answer any questions, and take us prisoner. Their camp is a ghost rock mining operation on a huge scale - I see hundreds of people. There's an ironclad in the harbour; it looks like it's been there a while. They tie us to a stake and leave us for hours; I manage to loosen my bonds for comfort, but we're watched too closely for me to try any sort of escape. Tesla eventually manages to work his gag free and gasps for food, water. They gag him again, and tie him more securely.
At dusk, an elderly well-dressed gentleman walks over and has us led into another tent where he questions us. When he threatens us with torture, Tesla collapses and admits our story of being passers-by is a lie.
"We're treasure hunters," I interrupt, "we heard there's valuable things in the ruins."
"What rumour? Where did you hear this?" The well-dressed gentleman has a terrifying glint in his eyes.
"I... I..." I don't have to pretend I'm afraid of him.
"That 'ruin' was a mansion a month ago." Interesting. "Who is telling you there is treasure in a ruin here?"
I relax a little, trying not to show it. "There's another mansion. In Doomtown. We found that and ... and ... there was a note. It said to come here. So we've come here. We didn't know what to expect, if we were looking for a ruin or a mansion or anything, but when we saw the ruin we assumed it was the place." I hope he doesn't realise my gabbling is controlled to not give him any information more than I want to.
"Ok. Ok then. So, in the morning, you will lead me to the treasure."
He sends us away to a guarded tent. I drift off, hoping we'll find something...
We're woken early and are marched back to the remains of the Whateley Mansion with the old man, an ogre and several other people. I know how Tesla feels about the blue ogres, but he holds himself together. We spend the day digging, Tesla and I and a few of the others, while the rest stand guard over us. I keep my eyes and ears open for Carson and Chin, but don't see or hear them. There are signs someone else has dug here recently, though, so I hope they're around (and feel a little frustrated they chose to dig here instead of rescuing us, but I suppose they were worried that rescuing us would put the Tongs on high alert, and this way we could keep them distracted... it wasn't a huge consolation).
It's hot, dusty, work. We aim for where we think the basement would be, but don't break through. Before we leave, I scrawl a quick note saying where we're being held and hide it under some rubble, scratching a lightning shape beside it as subtly as possibly.
We're marched back to the base, fed basic rations, and spend another uncomfortable night in the tent.
I'm stiff in the morning, but back we're marched again. Today, the ogre and a few guards come with us, but no one to help us dig. I check the rubble. My note's been taken, but no reply left. I hope it's Chin and Carson who took it, but there's no sign of them. We dig all day again, making good progress in the hole. I start to worry we may break through before we can escape. Tesla and I whisper a plan.
When they wake us in the morning, I ask if we can have Tesla's pack. They agree once I point out we came prepared and can make this quicker, even carry it for us (figure they're worried we'll make a break for it otherwise). We go back into the hole, alone again. I look eagerly for a message from Chin or Carson, but nothing. We hide the map where we hope they'll find it, and Tesla hands me one of his gadgets and shows me how to make it fire sparks everywhere so it looks like we're working while he tinkers with his gadgets to prepare the next stage of our plan. We return to camp.
When the guards come to collect us in the morning, they've already grabbed Tesla's pack. Back at the dig site, the map's been replaced with a note from Chin and Carson. I snatch it up, excited - and drop it again, bitterly disappointed. They just say that they can't get to the Glyph if they're being hunted. Which of course we know - it's what enabled me to hold my tongue when we were threatened with torture*.
Dusk is starting to mark the air when we break through. Tesla immediately zaps us both with one of his devices: adrenalin surges through me and I feel my reflexes sharpen. He then triggers the fear gizmo he'd set up yesterday.
It doesn't work as well as we'd hoped. The well-dressed man has been expecting betrayal and his guards don't believe this is a Whateley trap we've disturbed. It does panic a few of them, but the ogre runs at us. We flail against it in the narrow space. I try to get into the passageway we've broken into, to get some space to breathe, but the well-dressed man muttered something, threw out a hand and a barrier blocked my way.
I'm in a narrow, dark tunnel. I'm surrounded by rubble. I'm surrounded by earth. I'm surrounded by people trying to kill me. I'm... I'm... I'm...
I'm pushing past Tesla. I'm pushing past the blue ogre and there's a terrible screaming noise and it's me, I'm screaming, and there's pain and I'm falling where the ogre's punched me. The ground is cold and rough and it's dark and I'm dizzy and can't find the way up.
By the time I can stand, most of the guards are dead, but the well-dressed man keeps pulling them up to come at us again. Out of ideas, I run at him to grapple him and distract him. It... works? There's a weird tearing, sliding feeling, and I'm hugging a bear. Before I can let go, we're engulfed in lightning.
I come to with Tesla kneeling over me. Carson and Chin have joined us - I assume that's how the guards and ogre died. Carson helps me stand as he explains the well-dressed man had got away, vanished. I ache all over, but there's no obvious wounds. Just, my body doesn't seem to want to move properly.
We head down the revealed corridor as quickly as I can stagger; we probably don't have long before reinforcements arrive. It opens into a large cavern, with ghost rock threading the walls. The simple boy from the Whateley Manor stands in front of a pool of water: on the wall behind it, we spot the Glyph!
We shine torches at the boy and see he's covered in these strange creatures, like large, translucent slugs - and as we get closer, I see they have human-like faces. Faces that remind me of the portraits in the manor. A chill shudders down my spine, and they rear up and spit at us: where it lands on me, it burns. I scream and cower while the others fight the Whateleys; Carson continues to pour green fireballs into them long after they're dust. Tesla comes over and heals my acid burns.
"What's that?" Carson points to where debris falls from near the Glyph.
Chin looks up. "Someone's breaking through. Miners, maybe."
Carson sighs and pulls out a scroll. As he reads in a strange language, the letters burn through. We ask what's happening, what he's doing, but he ignores us and walks into the water. We stare in concern, but he reappears the other side, climbs the rockface, cuts his hand and bleeds on the Glyph, and teleports back to us.
As we turn to run, the glint of a drillbit next to the Glyph catches my eye. We don't wait to see if it's damaged, but run instead.
No one's waiting at the entrance, no one stops us as we race for our rowboat, but it isn't until we're back on our boat and steaming away that I start to feel safe.
*One of those moments of misunderstanding: they saw Tesla's pack and assumed we were going to make a break for it and were warning us not to. They just worded it badly.