02 July, 2010

Dead Men's Hands

From: Mr. Zebulon Pike, Sioux Nation
To: Mrs. Hannelore West, Kingsport, Mass.
August 1877
Beloved Sister,
I know that you are fond of both reading and writing fantastical fiction and the tale I am about to tell seems taken from the pages of Sheridan’s ghost stories, though with a distinctly less gothic bent and certainly nowhere near as literary as your creations.
In celebration of the grand opening of Messrs. Tobin, Pace and Bongiovi’s “establishment”, a gambling tournament was hosted. It would seem that, with my automated pancake machine as a centerpiece, the so-called “House of Pancakes” was not to be merely a brothel but also a saloon and general gathering place. For all their brutality on the trail when under fire, my comrades present themselves as marginally respectable. Even so, my interaction with this event was only to keep the machine running to feed our guests.
Oh, and I am pleased to tell you that I have completed the blueberry formula. While it contains no actual blueberries and tastes almost, but not quite, entirely unlike blueberries, it is exceptionally good and is wildly popular. Huzzah for modern chemistry! I have included the formulae and recipes along with the plans for the machine itself and ask that you convey them to my patent solicitor, Mr. Siegfried Block of Post Office Square, Boston. While I have heard rumors of another pancake machine, I am sure that mine would be an improvement of magnitudes when combined with the custom batters. It is important that such things be documented and registered lest some upstart claim my superior machine as some copy of a lesser device.
Where was I? Oh, yes. The murder.
It occurred in one of the upstairs rooms reserved for “guesting,” to use a polite euphemism. It did not take long to exonerate the girl Sung Lee in the strangulation. In spite of one of their own having been mysteriously murdered, the other gamblers were not deterred from continuing their game the next night as there were large stakes to be won or lost. With Mr. Pace thus engaged in gambling and attempting to determine if one of the other gamblers was the murderer, and Mr. Tobin acting as present security for the House, it left Mr. Bongiovi and I to set out and investigate what we could.
At first, the Sheriff Bullock seemed disinclined to assist us. I suspect that our founding of a new brothel interfered with his long established business dealings with the Bella Union and Gem Saloon. Later, however, his lack of inclination turned into outright inattention. It would seem that he was under some outside influence, perhaps a drug-induced susceptibility to suggestion or mesmerism. In any case, our dealings with the sheriff and his condition caught us unawares when another murder occurred. This time, at the Gem Saloon.
Mr. Bongiovi provided the distraction while I was able to infiltrate the room of the murdered gambler to investigate. There I found papers that lead me to suspect a young card sharp named Spinner was involved, either as an accomplice or even as the murderer. Spinner’s room was just down the hall and entering that room I found a steamer trunk which contained only a fine layer of soil. This immediately suggested to me the Eastern European myths of vampires and I felt sure that I had found the murderer’s lair.
I improvised a fire-trap and fled out the window when Mr. Bongiovi’s antics no longer held the attentions of the saloon’s employees, eventually taking up an observatory position on a nearby rooftop.
It was several hours before Spinner returned and, through the window I was able to observe her arrival. Indeed, I saw that what we had thought to be a young man was, in fact, a disguised woman. This revelation was not of any significance when compared to the moment that she opened the steamer trunk and my incendiary detonated.
Unexpectedly, I began taking gunfire from out the windows of adjoining rooms. It would seem that our murderess had accomplices. We had exchanged a few rounds of ineffectual gunfire when a singed and quite angry Miss Skinner leapt from the room, across the alley to the adjoining rooftop where I was. She no longer appeared as a young woman, or even as a disguised young man but as a demon, with ashen skin, fangs, claws and even wings upon her back. I now had to contend not only with an enraged vampire at close quarters but also with two gunfighters shooting at me from across the way. Several .41 caliber projectiles from my pistol found their mark in the creature’s chest but failed to slow it down. My efforts to deliver a fatal shot to the head missed their mark. Finally, still taking pistol fire from the hotel windows, I activated the conflagrationator concealed in my cane and unleashed it’s chemical inferno.
The flames were spectacular, disgorging with power and range to fill the one room across the alley, setting my one assailant ablaze. The cone of combustion washed across another room and sent the other gunfighter reeling. Though he was only singed, he was no longer firing at me. Lastly, I turned the nozzle upon Miss. Skinner and at point blank range, the last of the discharge seared away flesh.
Badly injured, she fled to the street but did not go far as Mr. Pace came upon the scene and, with a few rounds from his Winchester rifle, brought her down. I put the miserable wretch out of its misery with a a buckshot round to the back of the skull.
Things have calmed down significantly. The surviving accomplice has been taken into custody and is apparently revealing everything in an attempt to avoid the hangman’s noose. Mr. Pace has returned to his gambling tournament and looks to be making a tidy profit. Having had a murder in our establishment seems to have dampened enthusiasm during our opening week but the favorable reputation of “The Infernal Pancake Machine” seems to be offsetting that slow start. I have set up a makeshift laboratory in a laundry next door and have found some interesting things from Miss Skinner’s dissection.
I am developing plans for an arc lamp which, when enhanced with hydrogen gas, should be even more effective against similar solatopic beings than my conflagrationator was. (I am still displeased with that name. Pray, come up with something better.) I will send you plans for that as well once they are complete and successfully tested in addition to some others. I have built a narrow-gauge mine engine that runs on compressed air rather than a tradition external combustion steam engine. This will aid the local miners where highly combustible coal dust and gases is a significant hazard.
Stay well and be sure to write to me. I look forward to hearing how things are transpiring back home.
Your ever loving brother,
Zebulon
This was the seventh session of our Deadlands campaign.  It was the second Deadlands session run by yours truly.  It was based on the Shadow Stalkers adventure “Dead Men’s Hands” from D20 Past.  The adventure was run in Spring, 2008.  This letter was written by Zebulon’s player.

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