Deadlands: Return to Manitou Bluff

WIP Session recap #6 "Beardoctor knows"

Nort-west from town of the damned, Manitou Bluff, lies a whirlpool. Water around these parts looks more like circling shadows than water. If one listens carefully, he can almost hear the cries of dead world that echo from the eye of whirlpool. Maybe it’s just the unexplainable nature of this phenomenon, or maybe it truly is the straight portal to deepest levels of hell.

Juan Vargas wasn’t sure about anything anymore, but he knew that things felt wrong here, even more-so than in other parts of this damned mesa of Manitou Bluff. He turned his gaze to three shapes that belonged to his companions. Reynolds and Gao Lin were making sure that the form they had found here wasn’t a lurker in disguise, but truly the gunslinger that still months ago went by the name of Sinfall. This place had played tricks on their eyes and minds before. Juan was quite sure that the man’s suprised acting was genuine, but Gao was his usual self, pushing aggressivly against all threatening things. That temper of his made the Chinaman easy to manipulate if needed Juan thought to himself. It was the agent, that he was more on guard on. Even after these days Juan hadn’t gotten a read on him. Juan quickly turned his eyes away as Reynolds answered his gaze.

On other side of mesa, Agymah opened his eyes and saw a group of mean smiles belonging to undead group of cowboys. He tried to rise up, but hunger in his stomac was too much and so the hougan collapsed again despite his cursed body. As his eyes closed he saw a shadow, closing quickly the group from behind.

Gao finally seemed satisfied and let the gunslinger to stand.
“About goddamn time. Don’t suppose any of you have a spare shooter, seemes that good old union took mine as they gunned me down” Sinfall snarled. Juan took the revolver Callahan had offered him. It was in quite lousy shape and Juan knew that rumors about Ace’s superior skill with gun weren’t exaggerated and Ace could help them, if critters would attack again. Even if Gao wouldn’t trust Ace, Juan was quite sure that this man wouldn’t shoot his companions just out from spite.. well trusted about as much as he could with his history with betrayal.. or with knowledge that this gunslinger should have been dead for quite some time already.

As four of them left towards Manitou Bluff, Juan couldn’t shake the harrowing feeling he had when close to whirlpool. It seemed like the darkness followed them as they returned to Manitou Bluff with new addittion to their group. His mind was at the edge, if there only would be opium or something.. Juan put some chewing tobacco to his mouth and was thankful that at least he didn’t suffer from hallusinations anymore. All thse colors and shapes had almost made him mad during his lowest moments. Still, this place might be worse than dying in one of those tents, surrounded by others that smoked their lives and souls away through the pipes. His growling stomach drawed him back from his thoughts. Good thing that they could already see the Dead Head Saloon, soon they could get something real to eat.

As they entered, went to eat and talk with the other fellows on the bar as Gao and Reynolds lead Ace to meet Callahan. Juan was quite sure that Callahan would keep the same salespeech to Ace that he had told to others too. Juan wanted to make sure these men would know the value of their group anmd told about Sinfalls history and their run-in with monsters around the mesa. The quicker they would get Callahans trust, the quicker they could try to get more food and better gear, and if Bob Drake got some ears here too, it could make future dealings somewhat easier. As he told about killing the monster made from bones, he could see something on these mens’ eyes he hadn’t seen in quite some time: hope. Still it quickly faded as they returned to recount latest events and remembered all that they had lost. As Juan finished his tale and the plate of soup before him, others came down, Callahan shouting for Rex to pour some whiskey. Ace was now one of Callahan’s gang too. With these servings on this sort of place, Juan couldn’t help thinking about what Drake was offering his men to compete with Callahan’s gang.

Agymah couldn’t open his eyes for the fatigue he was under spiritually and physically, but he heard meat ripping, growls of pain, anger and suprise. He heard a slaughter taking place around him..

On Dead Head Saloon, decisions had been made. Agymah and young agent had disappeared to portal that ripped open at Clover Mesa. That should mean that there would be a portal on Manitou Bluff also. Southern woods behind bridge were only place they hadn’t even visited, but before that they should try to gear up. Juan didn’t like re-visiting the townhall, but it was groups decision. As they entered, it felt as ghostly as the last time, so Juan stayed back, close to exit. As he thought, others didn’t find anything, although he could have sweared that Ace seemed bit shaken up afterwards.

Gunsmith was their next destination. It seemed quite untouched and there was a chance that there still was something useful left. Juan carefully opened the door and entered. As he quietly moved deeper, he noticed that this place was quite intact. It seemed a lot like his fathers gunsmith, before he started adding the tools for new science. Before he shut himself inside that shed to work… Before the Angels took notice.

As Juan was looking through drawers on backroom he heard a chilling voice behind him:
“Leave this place at once.”
Shaking he turned slowly around to face the source of voice. It looked like moonlight had taken form of a man. Juan couldn’t move and only stared the ghostly form that slowly came closer, muttering again:
“Leave this place at once.”
It came closer. three steps away. Two steps. It reached its hand towards Juan’s face and…
“What the hell?” Ace shouted and cocked his weapon, pointing it towards the ghost. This snapped Juan back to reality and he ran outside. If he just had made sure if anything was still inside that gunsmith. If only he had knocked or something. Made sure that there wasn’t anyhthing waiting in the shadows. Juan stumpled out from the gunsmith, heart racing and his breath heavy.

Agymah felt his body moving. Something was dragging him. Something powerful. He again tried to open his eyes. Around him, he saw mutilated bodies, limbs and heads chopped off with powerful strikes. He saw young agent, Jack, under pile of bodies.There was no telling if he was alive or dead. Again Agymah felt his power leaving his body as he tried to catch a glimpse of what was dragging him. It looked like a bear.

It was best to leave these haunted buildings of Manitou Bluff until Agymah would show up the group decided. Also if that portal that had opened was still open they might be able to get out to real world. Group headed for the forest that lay behind old bridge.

As they got closer to bridge, a gruesome sight welcomed them. Rotten corpses, hacked to pieces and piled up. Juan quickly slipped to cover and quietly checked his shotgun as others started to investigate the bodies.
“Battle took place recently. Blood is thick but not dried up” Reynolds said, scraping rotten flesh from one of the decapitated heads. “All of them were undead, propably harrowed” he continued rising his gaze to Ace.

“Not all of them.” Gao said and lifted body like a sack of potatoes. Juan had seen that man running away from the monster that had ripped Juan’s spine back in Clover Mesa. It was the young agent Jack. “There’s something else too, youngster is alive.”

Memo:

-Following trail to Bridge and over. Prints leading to forest.
-Beardoctor attacks, angry at Sinfall, calling him an abomination.
-After short fight Indian is pinned down and settled down. Talk
-Beardoctor leads posse to cave with wards watching over it.
-revelations: Manitous are evil, Ace is evil, Agymah trying to fight the darkness inside him.
-Boss Callahan knowing something about this place between real world and hunting grounds
-When Ace, Juan and Jack jr left, Beardoctor told about spirits and garden that should not be, something that interrupted the balance of worlds.
-At same time at bridge manitou took over Ace and Ace shot Juan. Juan then emtied both barrels to Ace’s torso. Sound of shootout rang through the mesa.

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Session recap #5 Two against Union
Monsters from past

Clover mesa

After his companions were sucked into portal, Ace headed for Unions base with Cole. There they were meeted by four men pointing guns at them accomplished by orders to stand down. Ace spitted to ground and shouted that they were to let him in or they would be disposed. Soldiers opened fire. Cole took a careful shot at gatlinggun soldiers had in their positions, disabling the gun, only to get clean shot through his shoulder putting him down.

Ace pressed his attack. Killing two and shouting threaths and curses at men left. Taking couple hits he charged into elevator shack, were one of the soldiers was holed up.

“That was a mistake cocksucker” Ace said as his revolver roared.

What had escaped Sinfalls eye was the preparation that union had done to prevent others to enter their base. A layer of nitro, ready to stop enemy’s advancment by blowing elevator to kindom come. That one stray bullet hit the nitro. Fireball swallowed Ace and elevator both.

Untold time later Ace woke up infront of Colonel Curtis, who pointed Buntline special at Sinfalls head, looking his unknown adversery in the eyes. Sinfall’s body was ravaged, his gunhand, face and both feet blown apart, but still he answered with hateful stare and harsh language. Even though Curtis didn’t get much off from this husk of a man, Ace got a glimpse of his goal.

He saw a man man with clockworkhand, looking at him from the ranks of rogue Union soldiers. A man he could have sweared to recognise.

A man called Frank Rush.

Then Buntline in hand of Curtis fired, bullet tearing through Sinfall’s head before his whole body was disingrated to ashes.

-

Manitou Bluff

At Manitou Bluff Gao visited Drakes mine only to be disappointed by the mans lack of interest in getting out from there. Gathering Juan and Reynolds, thgey searched the cityhall and mountain east from town. What they found was nightmarish hallusinations and possessed stairwell at cityhall. By the mountain they attracted a Crypt Fiend, creature made from human bones. Good thing that Gao had faced these creatures before and by his orders Juan knew to shoot straight to the chest where the creatures essence lay. The shot shattered the black skull holding this abomination together and it blew to pieces right in front of them.

Mountain showed them nothing but sea, looking like canvas, but no hope at finding a way out from this place. The mystical whirlpool was next in line for investigation.

When nearing the whirlpool a sudden darkness fell over them. They heard a moan and went to investigate. They saw form of a human laying in ground, like sleeping restless sleep.

Form belonging to Ace Sinfall.

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Session recap # 4 Thin veil between worlds
by Agymah Coujoe/Alex Ross

As we were readying ourselves in our camp close to center of mesa, I found myself afraid of what the day was going to bring. It felt like all of us were destined to die on this mesa, one by one. Monsters from the deep taking Juan, cursed rockformation breaking Reynolds mind and body and pride and hotheadness taking over Gao Lin, who in the end was brought down by magic so powerful I couldn’t understand what I was witnessing through Gao’s mind.

And now we were headed to haunted ruins of Grantsville, one of the most infamous places on Clover Mesa that says a lot as the whole mesa seems to be plagued by Reckoners. I feel that only death and misery lies ahead, but I can’t stop or walk away. Not when things are as bad as here.

I have to try. I have to keep going.

Today we decided to go and try to get in touch with outer world. For that we had to pass “the finger”, the same place that lured Reynolds to his death. As we passed it, our companions took notice of it and started wandering. It seems to play with their minds. Good thing that Ace still has a voice that can freeze man where he is standing. Fingers lure was strong but fear of Sinfall was stronger and we continued onwards.

Grantsville is deserted. It actually suprised me as it lacked the monsters and weirdness that I expected from a ghost town in this mesa. Still we didn’t want to lose more time before getting our hands to telegraph. Their telegraph office had a body that didn’t disingrate, that caught my eye. Why mesa hadn’t devoured him, was it because he had died before reality had started to shake, ior was there another reason? Listening telegraph in there gave us repeating message send by unsure hands saying “help us stop so Hungry stop”. Still it might have been shadow messages from hunting grounds, so we tried to send message to mainland. Searching the town we came up with only box of nitro that we buried next to road also setting couple of charges to help us defend the ruins. As said in Tombstone epitaph, elevator to shore was broken. Searching the city still gave us one clue, a writing on a wall saying: “Beardoctor knows”. Where to find this warrior of Pomo tribe, we still had no clue.

Wondering about the text I thought it better to focus getting contact to outside world. I kept listening the telegraph as darkness came… and then hell broke loose. Most of our posse fled in terror as they saw tombstones growing from earth, changing the ruins to graveyard, reserved for us. As I went outside to investigate, I saw the katedral looming in front of me. I didn’t think, I didn’t question, I just opened the door to meet source of evil and then I saw Grimme, with table full of food, smiling at me… and my mind couldn’t take it as hunger consumed me.

As I came to I saw my own hand red with blood and guts, Ace aiming his revolver at my head. Under me was the body of union soldier, belly torn open, his guts dripping from my hands and mouth. The hunger had finally caught me. Momentarly, but still I knew that I couldn’t fight against it forever. Was this all a nightmare I wasn’t ever going to wake up from. Was this world even real or my own personal hell, testing and torturing my miond with glimpses of hope, devoured by my worst fears and failings.

Real or not, I needed to press on and ignore my doubts. Before we gathered the posse together I and Ace got rid of the body. I tried to tell him about my past sins, my revolution that ended with my people becoming the very thing we hated an fought against. Ace didn’t care and told so to my face. He couldn’t have helped me better even if he was really trying. Past needs to be forgotten, so we can move on and make better tomorrow.
As ruins left our minds alone we received a new message.It was Reynolds, a man dead for two days, contacting us by this phantom line. He, Gao and Juan were trapped. This strenghtened my fear for theory that veil between worlds was fading, being almost nonexistent here in clover mesa.

We needed to find the Beardoctor and fast. Forests were my first guess so we headed there.

As we walked I felt something in the air.

I thought I saw a flash coming from scopes lense, but before I could act I heard something crackling..

And a hole in reality ripped open right before me.

It sucked me in.

I feel I’m falling. I feel I’m drowning.. I feel I’m dying.

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The way it all ends.
Manitou Bluff, Population: DEAD!

I’ve been falling, I don’t know how long. This fall feels like it’s not going to end at all. I can’t breath, and pressure against my body is insuperable. Suddenly I hit the ground, more pain, but at least I can breath. Musty air fills my lungs and my maw is crying for food. I get myself on my feet. Gray sky is above me, I see some light on the distance. Go to the light they say, go to the light.

While I walk trough this empty plain, I noticed that my wounds are not there and same time I realize. I’m dead, dead as a rock and now I’m in purgatory, in Hunting grounds like Indians use to say. This is going to be great. When I get closer to the light I can clearly see there is a town, Manitou Bluff, Population: Dead!

Streets are empty, only thing I can hear on the distance is piano playing. When I get closer to it I see Juan Vargas getting closer to me. He is clueless on this situation and I tell him that he is dead too. At the same time I locate the piano, it comes in saloon. I step in and there is more dead fellow like me and Juan. I can smell soup and I run straight to the bar stand. This bartender offers me this slim meat soup, but hunger goes away, I don’t even want to know where they get their meat. While I eat, some guy from upstairs comes down and asks me and Juan to come upstairs to see the Boss.

There we met Boss Callahan, they where trapped in here like us and they have no clue how we get out of here. He told us about this undead army and their leader Bob Trace and they where problem around here. Boss asked us to join his “gang” and we accepted. He gave us a weapons and rooms to get some sleep.

Next day we where just talking about our first “assignment” when Gao Lin entered the Saloon. Quick recap what have happened here and what in the real world. Our “assignment” was to go to telegraph office see if their telegrapher was still alive, they haven’t heard of him for a while. We went there I and was shocked what I saw in there. Two faminate, I though they disappeared during the flood. Juan panicked and started shooting. Gao’s nerves was steel and he killed both of them. We investigate this office and they have tried to reach someone on the other side of the wire. I said I’ll stay here and try to reach someone. Gao and Juan went back to Saloon, I started tapping. "This is Jonah Reynolds stop Anyone there? stop

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Session recap # 2 Menacing mesa
by Agymah Coujoe/Alex Ross

Smythe was definetly right, there is more to Clover Mesa than ghost rock and conflict. There is something wrong in here. Or rather everything seems to be wrong here.

One of my companions, Juan Vargas fell fighting creepers that hunted on shores and Little Gibratars docks. As he fell, he disingrated to ash. At the time I thought it was the critters that made it happen, but as next day came, we left to scout Unions base with agent Reynolds.

As we closed in on the center of Clover Mesa we saw Union’s operation. It was full of mechanic cranes, boats and mining equipment like I had never seen before. I saw the Sea Gate, mountain of metal, guns and soldiers. Then I understood why no-one had succeeded in taking down this rogue settlement… but I forgot it all for a moment when I looked the water for a while. The depth of it, darkness waiting for me, shadows growing from water like tentacles trying to reach soldiers. It took me back to the day I sunk to embrace of death.

I felt distracted as we moved towards the elevator that took us to Union’s base. I left men of Explorer’s society and agents to keep eye on Union’s operation as rest of us left for western island to reach elevator leading to Union’s base. Gao and Ace left to inspect rock formation reminding me of finger rising from earth. I stayed as Reynolds backup as he disguised himself as drifter looking for help and started approaching the soldiers.

As their guard were more aggressive and alert than we thought, his capture was close. I had to act and attack the guards. Reynolds got hit badly, but using everything in my arsenal I could get us both out there. But as I fought and buried my knife to guards neck, he disingrated to ashes in his death. Then I understood that this mesa was doing it somehow.

I didn’t have much time to think about it then as we fled to meet Gao and Ace at the “finger”: rock formation rising from the ground. Area close to it was littered by sceletons of animals and men alike. As I talked to Ace and Gao about my discovery, Reynolds started to climb the rock. There was something stange in his gaze, like glare that was driving his forward, but at the time I didn’t linger too much in the fact… until Reynolds came down headfirst from the rock and as he hit the gorund there was only ashes and bones left.

Two days. Two dead. There’s something wrong in here. I think it is the mesa itself. I think it somehow feeds on people dying on it. Devours their bodies, leaving only ashes… I’ve never encountered anything like this…

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Arrival
Chapter 1

Lin was lying in a tent next to the newly formed River of Tears, when Judith Prosperi came in with a Chinese man. He recognized the man as Ao-Sang Leung, a monk of the 37th Chamber. Judith motioned towards Lin and the monk, carrying a rucksack that looked liked it was full of rocks, came next to his bed.
“How are you feeling, brother Lin?” asked the man in Chinese.
“I’ve been better.” Lin answered. “What brings you here, brother Ao-Sang?”
“Master Wong asked me to check on you” Leung said and lowered his heavy looking backpack to the ground, opened it, and took out a small wooden box full of needles. “Mind if I give you an acupuncture?”
Lin turned on his stomach and the monk started sticking needles to his back. “How’s the temple? Did it survive the flood?”
“Oh yes, the temple and all the other brothers are fine. This isn’t just a courtesy visit, I’m afraid.” Leung said with somewhat more serious tone. “The 37th Chamber has a task for you. Have you heard of Clover Mesa?”
Lin glanced at the Tombstone Epitaph next to his bed. He had just read about it earlier today. “Yes, I have. The mesa that miraculously emerged unscathed from the aftermath of the Great Flood. Or that’s what the papers call it.”
“That’s the one. Did you also know that the Iron Dragon has a base of operations there called Six-Hills Railhead?”
“It was mentioned in the paper. What does the 37th Chamber want from Kang?”
“There’s a man called Du Fu in his service. Master Wong wants you to get rid of him.”
Lin turned his head slightly towards Leung. “Get rid of him? Why is that?”
“Master said that this Du Fu is well versed in the dark arts. We believe that he is dangerous. You don’t necessarily need to kill him if you can persuade him to abandon his dark path which, to be frank, seems highly unlikely.”
The long-haired monk finished the acupuncture and took out another box from his backpack. Inside the box were the robes of the 37th Chamber folded neatly and a sai.
“These are for you” Leung said, smiling slightly. “The sai will protect you from Du Fu’s dark magic and it has some additional benefits as well.”
Lin stared at the robes for a moment. He did owe the 37th Chamber a great deal, but killing people wasn’t their usual way of doing things. Maybe this Du Fu was simply too dangerous to be left alive. “Fine. I’ll do it,” he said after a moment. “I will leave for Clover Mesa as soon as I’m able.”
“That’s the spirit!” Ao-Sang Leung said happily.

That night, Pennington-Smythe’s house in Perdition was a lot more crowded than usual. Aside from the old Captain himself, there were two faces that were at somewhat familiar to Lin. Those faces belonged to Ace Sinfall and Alex Ross or as he now called himself, Agymah Coujoe. There were also five men from the Explorer’s Society who were under Agymah’s command. The three adventurers and one ex-adventurer were sitting at the table, discussing recent events when a nervous looking man came out of the kitchen carrying plates. This man was Juan Vargas, Agymah’s new “sidekick”. Vargas looked like he would be scared witless even if someone said hello to him unexpectedly. The groups chatting was disturbed by a knock on the door. Juan placed the plates on the table and opened it. There were six men, all dressed in black, standing outside. The foremost man was dressed in an armored duster and had a gatling pistol on him. Those were both telltale signs that this man was an Agent. “Good evening,” the man said. “May I come in?”
“You may,” Smythe responded.
The agent turned around and told the others to go to the Fallen Angel saloon and then stepped inside. He was a man in his early forties with shoulder length hair, handlebar mustache and brandished a walking cane.
“My name is Jonathan Reynolds and I work for the Agency.”
Reynolds sat at the dining table and said “So, I have heard that you three are of capable sort”, motioning towards Ace, Agymah and Lin.
“Well at least I am,” Ace responded. “Dunno about the others though.”
“They all were a significant factor in bringing down Grimme” Smythe said.
“Good, because I have a job for them. Do you know about…”
“Wait wait wait. An agent has a job for us, a dirty Reb, ex-Ranger and a Chinaman? North must be knee-deep in shit if they have to ask us for help?” Ace interrupted.
“Well, the circumstances surrounding the mission are somewhat sensitive, so we can’t afford to send in an army or anything. As I was saying, do you know about Colonel Curtis?”
“Tombstone Epitaph mentioned that he was sent by the North to Clover Mesa to lead the mining operation.” Agymah answered.
“Yes, and now it seems he has gone rogue. He has declared that Clover Mesa is an independent nation and all attempts to approach it will be met with violence, so we have no choice but to send in a small team. Most of Curtis’ men probably don’t even know that they have gone rogue, so we need to handle this very carefully.”
“So we have to go in and take this Colonel Curtis out?” Lin asked.
“Yes, but as I said, me and five of my men will be joining you.”
“So, this sounds awful lot like a bounty hunt to me.” Ace said, with a sly smile on his face. “And if it’s a bounty hunt, there’s always a bounty. How much?”
“Upon Colonel Curtis’ capture or death I’m authorized to pay you eight-thousand dollars.” Agent Reynolds declared.
“Count me in then. I have some unfinished business waiting me in Clover Mesa anyway” Ace said almost immediately.
“I’m in too,” Agymah said. “Eight-thousand dollars is a lot of money.”
Lin pondered for a moment. Eight-thousand dollars was indeed a lot of money and the others might potentially help him with his own task. “Alright, I’m in too,” Lin said finally.
“Great. I have a boat waiting in the harbor. We’ll leave tomorrow so you gather whatever supplies you think you might need.”

Early next morning, the posse was on their way to Clover Mesa in a knifeboat armed with a gatling gun. Their destination was Little Gibraltar, a small mining settlement that would function as their base of operations.
“Alright, we’re getting close. There’s a smaller mesa up ahead. We can use it to scout out a little,” Reynolds shouted over the wailing of the ghost rock boiler and the engines. One of Reynolds’ men steered the boat next to a tower-like mesa that was overlooking Clover Mesa. Lin, Ace, Agymah and Reynolds climbed up to get a better view. Clover Mesa really was like a clover, four mesas divided by steep canyons and in the middle of it all, a huge pit full of water. The whole thing looked like it was struck apart by a lightning strike. Heavy fog shrouded parts of the mesa, making this sort of reconnaissance a bit ineffective. But despite the fog, they all saw the warship coming their way.
“I think we should get going,” Reynolds remarked and started climbing back down. The others soon followed.

Back at the boat the Agency hirelings were already setting up a gatling gun. The posse jumped in on the boat and started speeding towards Little Gibraltar. Unfortunately, the ironclad was surprisingly fast for it’s size and was already nearly upon them when they got on the boat. Six men with jetpacks and gatling shotguns took flight from the ship’s deck and backing them up was a sniper perched on the deck.
“I don’t think we have what it takes to fight that,” Agymah yelled. “Get us out of here!”.
Then the men with the gatling shotguns opened fire. A hail of lead tore at the small knifeboat, making holes here and there. Ace was the first to return fire. He drew his revolver and started taking potshots at the closest flying soldier. The hireling manning the gatling gun fired on the ironclad, but without much effect. Agymah saw this and took out his bracelet and started murmuring something in a low voice. The gatling glowed purple for a second and all the bullets that it fired afterwards seemed to leave a purple chink of light behind them. The knifeboat was taking heavy fire and it seemed almost ready to sink. The ironclad was almost beside them. Lin amassed all his available chi and threw a heavy punch at the ironclad. Surprisingly, the punch was powerful enough to leave a dent. The ship’s captain apparently noticed this and the ironclad started pulling back a bit. Ace had apparently decided that the flying soldiers were too elusive and was now focused on taking down the sniper. One well-placed shot later and the sniper’s scope exploded into pieces. The posse’s boat was nearing Little Gibraltar when the ironclad decided to give up the chase. Perhaps they thought that the heavily damaged knifeboat would sink and it’s passengers would become shark food. Which, unfortunately, wasn’t that far from the truth. As they closed in on the docks of Little Gibraltar, the boat started slowly but surely to sink. The raging underwater currents didn’t make steering the hole riddled boat to the harbor any easier. The last nail to the boats coffin was an underwater rock near the docks that nearly severed the boat in half. Luckily, everyone made it to the shore before the boat sank. A rather large crowd had gathered to watch their arrival. “There goes our ride back,” Agymah said while watching the sinking boat next to the pier.
Reynolds sighed. “We’ll take care of the boat, you go up to the town to check things out,” he said to the others while the Agency hirelings started hauling the wreck up from the water.
“Well, you’ll find me from the nearest saloon,” Ace muttered and started walking up the path leading to Little Gibraltar.
Lin and Agymah soon followed Ace up the path. Little Gibraltar was indeed little. It was basically a tent town that was centered around a boulder called “Lil’ Gib”. Aside from the tents, there were few more permanent buildings, including a saloon and a hotel called the “Thirsty Seagull”, a mining office, a general store and a tailor. After a quick tour, the rest of the posse made their way in to the saloon, where Sinfall was already downing whiskey shots. Aside from Ace, there was only one other person in the whole saloon and that was the apathetic looking bartender. Lin walked up on the counter.
“Do you serve food here?”
The bartender lazily shifted his gaze to Lin. “Well, we have beans.”
“Just beans? Nothing else?” Lin asked with some disappointment in his voice.
“Nope, nothing. Just beans,” the bartender confirmed. “Want some?”
“Alright, give me a bowl,” Lin answered with a sigh.
Reynolds and his men had apparently successfully gotten the boat wreck to shore as they had joined the others at the table while Lin was ordering food.
“So, what’s our plan then?” Agymah asked while looking at Reynolds.
“I think the best course of action would be to ask around Little Gibraltar if they know anything about Curtis or his whereabouts. Maybe do some scouting on the side. Then tomorrow, we could scout out the center of the mesa, check out the mining operation,” Reynolds explained.
“Right, I heard some miners talk about some fuckin’ ghosts that come ashore at night and drag people away or some shit. Might be worth checking out the shoreline at night,” Ace grumbled.
“Might be,” Reynolds confirmed. “But for now, let’s just gather what information we can and rest up. We’ll meet at the docks by nightfall.”

The night sky was almost cloudless, and the sickly pale moon shining above made the already menacing looking waters of the Maze somehow look even more threatening. The posse had gathered to the docks of Little Gibraltar in hopes of catching a glimpse of these ghosts that were taking people, but so far they had seen absolutely nothing.
“Maybe whatever is taking the townspeople doesn’t even exist. Maybe the miners simply wander to the beach after a night of drinking, fall to the water and drown,” Lin suggested.
“Or maybe these monsters are too chickenshit to face us,” Ace said while checking that his revolver was loaded.
“Let’s check the other end of the beach. Maybe we can lure the monsters out if we split into smaller groups.” said Agymah.
Lin, Ace, Agymah and Reynolds started walking towards the other end of the shoreline while their hirelings and Juan Vargas stayed at the docks. Soon enough, things went sour. Like ghosts, making no sound, four creatures rose up from the water. They had the head of a fish, a body that was a mix of man and frog and they had hooks, lines and pieces of fishing nets attached to their bodies. And they smelled like waterlogged corpses. One more of the creatures climbed to the docks, and the hirelings reeled from terror and most of them fled up the hill. Gunfire rang out and the creatures staggered from the hits, but seemed mostly unaffected. Juan and one of the Agency soldiers fired upon the lone creature, but all their shots splashed harmlessly into the water. The monsters charged and waved their clawed hands wildly at Agymah and Reynolds, but luckily they were able to dodge the attacks. Lin engaged one of the monsters and threw two punches at it in quick succession. The first hit did practically nothing, but the second one hit the monster on the head and one loud crack later, the creature fell to the ground dead.
“The head! Aim for the head!” Lin yelled.
One of the monsters was closing in on Ace, but fell a with two bullets in it’s skull before it could reach him. Reynolds dispatched one fishman with his gatling pistol. Now, there were only two left. The one attacking Agymah was killed when Lin leaped up in the air and landed a solid punch right on top of it’s head. Juan and the hired soldier were still struggling against the last one. It had taken a few hits, but was still very much alive. Lin started sprinting towards the docks. As he closed in on the creature, it slashed Juan with it’s claws right across the chest. To everyone’s surprise, Juan didn’t just fall to the ground, but disintegrated into a pile of ash. Everyone stared the ash pile and the monster in disbelief. Just then, the Agency hired soldier landed a clean shot at the fishman’s head with his rifle and it fell back in to the water, dead.

Everyone gathered around the pile of ash that used to be Juan.
“What the hell? Why did he turn to ash?” Reynolds asked.
“Maybe the creatures claws are somehow poisonous?” Lin suggested.
Agymah was taking this the hardest. “I’m so sorry I let you down, Juan,” he said silently, almost inaudibly. Then he grabbed a handful of ash and started mumbling something. After few minutes, his shoulders slumped and he let out a loud sigh.
“It’s no use, I can’t contact his spirit. The only thing I feel is…deep darkness,” he said.
“Alright, let’s dump the bodies back to the water, don’t want the miners to seem them. Get to work you cowards!” Reynolds yelled to his somewhat meek looking underlings. After they had disposed of the corpses, the posse walked back to the Thirsty Seagull, with a defeated look on their faces.

Excerpt from the dime novel “Return to Manitou Bluff”
Author unknown

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THE GREAT FLOOD STRIKES

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Dear Reader,

On August 23rd 1880, California got hit by a disaster it had not seen like since the Great Quake of ’68. A tidal wave of biblical proportions swept the land clean and destroyed most of the City of Lost Angels. We have a reason to believe that Reverend Ezekiah Grimme and his inner circle were among those lost. Even though this loss of life is terrible, the aftermath has united the survivors and folks are more willing to share their meal with their neighbor than ever before. The survivors of Lost Angels have banded together under the leadership of one John Prosperi, and they are hopeful that they will be able to open the docks to merchants in the coming months.

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The Great Flood swept everything in its path, including (but not limited to) Big M Ranch, Carver’s Landing, Dragonhold, Felicity Peak, Junction, Quarrytown and Van Horn’s Light. There is one exception to this rule: Clover Mesa. No one knows how it survived, but the situation on the mesa is an interesting one. Our very own Lacy O’Malley visited the mesa just before the deluge, and his accountings of the situation can be purchased from your local Tombstone Epitaph supplier.

It is this editor’s personal opinion that in California times-are-a-changing.

John Clum
Editor
Tombstone Epitaph

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