Blood on the Prairie

Epitaph EXTRA! (1-23-11)

The heroes set off to discover the source of the "Body Snatchers", and makes a new ally with a terrifying "gift"....

After leaving the company of Marshal Earp in search of the nefarious “Body Snatchers”, the Reverend recalled an article in the Tombstone Epitaph that caught his attention: the local undertaker had recently gone missing a few weeks before the body thefts from the cemetery began. Since then, the city had been losing bodies at even faster rate.

Smelling a lead, the Reverend Sebastian Dallas, Leo Nighthawk, his brother Ruckus, and Walks With Moonlight set off to discover what exactly happened to the undertaker.

Upon reaching the undertaker’s storefront, the posse wasted little time in breaking and entering using Ruckus’ considerable strength to splinter the front door asunder. As soon as the door gave way, however, a coffin tipped over in front of the door, jarred by the sudden B&E. It split open, dropping a foul and forgotten corpse at the feet of Ruckus! Startled, the big man jumped back, but quickly recovered himself.

The party entered the storefront and replaced the grisly “door greeter” into his box. However, Walks With Moonlight noticed something amiss: The body was missing a few pieces of flesh, and not just missing; they’d been EATEN off! Now, the posse had a solid lead, and they began to pull apart the undertaker’s office to locate further clues to the ghouls’ activities.

Leo, ever watchful, recovered something interesting: A diary of the undertaker detailing a perverse deal: He was SUPPLYING the ghouls with corpses in exchange for various valuable trinkets that the ghouls had recovered from other hapless souls. But his conscience (or cowardice) had finally caught up to him, and he wanted out of the deal, and refused to supply the ghouls with anymore dead bodies. The diary abruptly ended with a splash of blood…apparently the deal hadn’t been broken in the undertaker’s favor!

Walks With Moonlight continued to search the office, and discovered something more behind a few stacked up coffins. A wooden door was cut into the floor, leading down into the earth. An ungodly stench emanated from the hole, and the posse reached the conclusion that this could only be another entrance into the ghouls’ lair. After a quick trip from the Reverend to inform Marshal Earp of the party’s progress (along with a suggestion that the Marshal clear the town of bystanders), there would be a strange turn of thought from the mercenary, Ruckus Nighthawk.

Ruckus had an idea. He posited to the party that there was a good chance of a fight developing, and Ruckus wanted it be strictly one-sided: HIS side. The burly mercenary headed back to his hotel room and took his brother Leo along for the ride. They returned with an armload of glass bottles filled with a clear liquid. The Reverend and Walks immediately recognized it as nitroglycerin!

Ruckus proceeded to wire up the undertaker’s office to blow if the ghouls got the upper hand. The work was delicate and exacting, but Ruckus proved to me a more than capable demolitions expert, and soon the office was set to explode at the push of a plunger.

The passageway down was narrow, almost too narrow for Ruckus, whose large frame barely squeezed into the small burrow under the earth. With a lot of grumbling and stumbling, the posse managed to get the massive gunslinger into the hole and proceeded forth into the earth. The path was slow going, and tight on the arms, but it did eventually come out into a wider space. There was no telling how far down they had gone into the the earth, it had seemed to go on forever. And there were more of those ghoul tracks…..

…and a strange device?

On the ground in one of the passageways was a curious contraption: a small phonograph bell attached to a metronome, a ghost rock boiler, and a strange box that was all wires and copper…and the metronome increased as the posse got closer to it. Erring on the side of caution, the posse avoided the strange device and it ignored them in turn.

At a fork in the passage, the Reverend called upon the power of God to aid him in the way to go, and reaching an accord with Walks With Moonlight’s powers of observation, the party turned left. There was a smell here in this passage, a curious one. After a few moments, the posse ended up in a strange chamber of the cavern: Beakers and Bunsen burners bubbled and popped on a ghost rock powered hot plate on one side, chaotic schematics and insane babbles scribbled at a desk in the corner, and all manner of metal tools and bits. A scientist’s lab!

But even more interesting was the pile of rubble from an apparent cave-in in the corner, where a human hand was weakly waving for help!

Scrambling to the aid of the fallen person (except for Leo, who was busy ransacking the notes for clues), the posse pulled him loose: Dressed in a dirty, tattered lab coat and tweed suit and covered head to toe in bruises and cave dust, the man before the posse introduced himself as Dr. Francis Hedgewig, and explained his appearance in this hole as a strictly zoological expedition. Dr. Hedgewig had christened the creatures under the earth not as “Body Snatchers” as the press had, or as “ghouls” as the Reverend, the shaman, and Leo Nighthawk had, but as his own “new species”, Nocturnis cannibalis Hedgewidicus! The doctor didn’t see these ghouls as monsters at all, but an interesting new species to be studied and catalogued!

“You see,” he pontificated, “these creatures are a bona fide new discovery that will allow mankind to…..why are you pointing that rifle at me, good Reverend?”

Indeed, the Reverend was now aiming a firearm at the doctor. The Reverend’s eyes focused a holy glow on the doctor as he explained.

“How did you survive that rockslide, doctor? Because I don’t think you did at all. I can see it thru my congress with the Lord above…and He speaks to me about you. I think you died in that collapse, and now I need to know who’s runnin’ the show in that head of yours!” The Reverend waited for a response from Dr. Hedgewig, who only stared aghast as Ruckus also levelled his shotgun at the doctor’s head.

Ruckus asked: “What the hell you gettin’ at, Reverend? He looks plenty alive to me, but I don’t mind pointin’ this here scattergun at him if you say he’s dangerous-like!”

The Reverend replied, “He IS dangerous, Ruckus. He’s a Harrowed.”

Ruckus, puzzled, asked: “A whozawhut now?”

Walks With Moonlight answered, “He is a form of undead. Powerful, but also treacherous. There are two voices in his head, two spirits. One, the doctor’s spirit, the other…a manitou. A demon, you white people would call them. And now, the doctor will live forever as two souls, constantly fighting one another for control.”

The Reverend finished, “And if the demon wins control, then all Hell breaks loose. And right now, we need to know who is in charge here!”

The doctor, finally speaking, contested, “Now, see here! I have no notion of this fanciful story you’ve concocted, but I assure you that I am alive, well, and in complete control of my faculties! I’m no undead monster! Such a fantastical creature is a ludicrous concept! Are you all brain simple or something?”

Finally, Walks With Moonlight punctuated the discussion by pointing down at the doctor’s leg. There, protruded a dagger that Ruckus had thrown during the doctor’s rebuttal. No blood flowed from the wound, only a thick black fluid. And the doctor had not felt the knife go in. The scream was bloodcurdling, if also a little amusing.

Still disbelieving, the doctor suddenly panicked and withdrew the knife from his leg, still feeling no pain. “Uhm…..must be shock! That’s all….yes, shock!”

Finally deciding that Dr. Francis Hedgewig was in control of his own mind, they enlisted the doctor in the task of eradicating the ghouls, a plan to which Ruckus and Leo had an “explosive” idea.

After adding Dr. Francis Hedgewig, undead mad scientist, to the posse, the task now turned to eliminating the ghouls beneath Dodge City. Dr. Hedgewig would be instrumental in this regard, as he knew the ghouls movements, and was astonished to learn that the ghouls avoided him in his now undead state, as if afraid of him! So, the posse concocted a plan.

The Reverend, Leo, Ruckus and Walks With Moonlight would exit the way they came in and detonate the undertaker’s office, blocking the ghouls’ exit, and bottle-necking them into the graveyard. Below, Dr. Francis Hedgewig would make use of his new undead state to wire more of Ruckus’ nitroglycerine to the walls of the ghouls’ lair, and bring the detonator out the graveyard exit and collapse the entire cavern onto the ghouls’ heads!

Before this went into action, Dr. Hedgewig immediately produced something to assist in the dangerous task. He called it the Hedgewig Industries Amazing Earth Evaporator!: A wicked, arm-mounted, ghost rock powered, oversized drill that would move earth out of the way and if there were some stubborn bedrock, a shaped dynamite charge thrower would complete the job in labor-saving time…there was only one problem:

It was so bulky that only Ruckus could pick it up!

So, with the posse having blown the undertaker’s office and Ruckus in possession of a new death-dealing accessory, the doctor went on his macabre task.

Into the earth, the scientist went. Down into the bowels of the earth, he descended with an armload of Ruckus’ explosives. The doctor wondered just how he had gotten into this mess, when the cavern opened up to reveal the lair of the ghouls: a massive chamber strewn with corpses, bones and piles of filth and stink! All about the foul creatures feasted on bones, or slept in piles of grotesque refuse. Quickly, the undead scientist went to work.

The last of the bottles was being wired when suddenly, a single ghoul came up to Dr. Hedgewig! Its foul breath rolled out over the doctor’s face and spittle and blood drooled from the creatures lips onto the doctor’s penny-loafers. The creature studied Dr. Hedgewig, as if deciding if he’d be a good snack or not. Finally, the ghoul snorted derisively and bounded off, much to the doctor’s relief….or had he?

The doctor watched in horror as the ghoul seemed to be alerting MORE of the twisted, vile creatures of the food that had just wandered in!

The doctor wasted no time in fleeing the area towards the graveyard exit, the ghouls in hot pursuit! Scrambling over the walls and floors of the cavern, the ghouls ran in packs after the terrified doctor who could barely keep hold of the detonator as he fled! Finally, there was light from the outside, torchlight!

The posse had gathered outside the gnarled oak tree to await the doctor’s success…or failure. Finally, amidst screams of panic, the doctor leapt thru the brambles of the oak tree’s root system, and landed in a heap at the feet of the party. Quickly, Dr. Hedgewig slammed the plunger!

….And nothing happened!

The bombs failed to go off, and the stunned posse prepared to fight the ghouls one on one!

The tree and the surrounding ground erupted with the serrated claws of the ghoul horde as the came tunneling out of the earth at the motley posse! And at last, Leo Nighthawk revealed his power to the party…

Going between the seconds of time, Leo projected himself into the spirit world and summoned up a manitou to grant him power. Defeating the vile creature in a test of wills, the power was granted and it manifested in this world as a collection of poker cards charged with arcane energy! Leo studied his hand, and projected the arcane power that shook the very ground! Leo was a huckster, that most enigmatic of spellcaster who drew power from contests of will with demons represented as a game of draw poker!

The earth shook at the command of Leo’s power, and crushed several of the ghouls in a meat grinder of stone and rock, but more were coming!

Walks With Moonlight called upon the ancient spirits of the Cheyenne people to aid her in her battle, and her daggers flew into ghoul flesh with unerring accuracy!

The Reverend followed suit, calling upon the wrath of the Lord to smite these creatures and hammered the point home with a few thunderous shots from his Winchester rifle that ripped meat from bone!

Ruckus was next, using the Evaporator to great effect, scattering ghouls with directed blasts from it’s charge launcher, and when that got boring to Ruckus, he followed it up with plain old hurled sticks of TNT!

Suddenly, the doctor had an idea! He quickly raced up to Ruckus and Leo, instructing them to join him in the center of town, and to bring the Evaporator!

The three barreled off, leaving The Reverend and Walks With Moonlight to face a renewed horde….and an even bigger ghoul that seemed to be leading them! It was a corpulent, foul-smelling beast who dwarfed his ghoul soldiers by at least a factor of two! It snarled at the two remaining heroes, and lumbered forth.

In the center of town, there wasn’t a soul to be seen. The Marshal had heeded the Reverend’s words and cleared the town!

Dr. Hedgewig informed the Nighthawk brothers that directly beneath their feet was the center of the ghouls’ lair, as well as the unexploded nitro! Understanding the plan at once, Leo summoned another Earthwrack spell and opened the earth to see down into the pit. The doctor’s calculations were correct, and Ruckus hurled another stick of dynamite into the hole!

Meanwhile, the ghoul king lumbered at the two remaining heroes! Thinking quickly, the Reverend laid a blessing on one of the knives carried by Walks With Moonlight, and the blade glowed with heavenly light. Walks nodded to the Reverend and drew back her arm, and let the blade fly!

The knife twirled in the air…

The stick of dynamite tumbled into the hole….

The knife found its target, right between the ghoul King’s eyes!

The dynamite exploded!

The shockwave was intense, and it shattered every glass window in Dodge City1 In the hills above, the Marshal and the citizenry of Dodge City watched as the center of town threw up a massive explosion! In the graveyard, the slain ghoul king stumbled backward from the force of the divinely inspired dagger and fell backward into a raging inferno beneath the streets of Dodge!

The ghouls below the city burned and screamed in agony, dissolving into piles of sludge and ooze! And they were no more.



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