Jack Reed, Gruden Moore, and Elizabeth Tolwynn spent a week in New Orleans recovering from the train wreck last session. Moore was in the best shape, so he got to spend some time wandering the streets. Using the buddy system, he took Elizabeth along. Meanwhile Jack did his best to drown his liver in the dark corner of the smelly public house.
Jack and Elizabeth heard about Soggy Phelps. During the battle of New Orleans, the fey unleashed a mighty curse that found a corpse under New Orleans and suffused it with eldritch power; the figure rose, put on a harlequin mask and picked up a machete, and started killing. It was impossibly stealthy in or on water, and healed with blinding speed while touching water. If somehow knocked down and dismembered, the curse would go into remission until the wind was right, or the stars aligned, or whatever trigger the fey assigned it. Then Soggy Phelps would rise and kill again.
Gruden and Elizabeth recruited Jack to hunt Soggy Phelps. The bounty was $100 for bringing in the harlequin mask. (Various scoundrels offered a $20 bounty for harlequin masks they might be able to dress up to get the bounty.)
While hunting in an alley behind the Front, a line of brothels and bars, they encountered Sir Steve Nelson. He was looking for them, survivors of the train wreck. His daughter Cassandra was on that train, and he’s been unable to get results from the military in rescuing her. The fey take prisoners all the time, she could be alive yet. He offered them $20 to go, and $60 upon return. They agreed.
After a fitful night’s rest, they headed to the train station. There they met Fergus Trailer, a tough veteran with four others that Nelson hired for security. They had two hand cars to push along the railroad tracks, and that took them to the crash site. There they saw a bivouac where Sgt. Sevkovitch ran a tight operation.
Sgt. Sevkovitch issued them a flare gun and a bleak goodbye. Elizabeth asked after her rifle, hoping she could recover it; she had notched it with her kills during the war. No such luck. Now, at the edge of danger, Nelson donned his glamor mask. Everyone else checked gear and steeled themselves. Then they headed off into the woods.
Elizabeth brushed a tree with her skin and felt the distant echo of a scream through the wood. Seemed sort of ominous.
The Trail Goes Deeper
They dispatched a satyr that was guarding the perimeter as they followed the torn earth of the trail the walking trees blazed. Deeper in, they surprised a drowsing ogre and shot him to death. As the light was fading from the sky, they approached the perimeter of some fey center of activity.
Elizabeth, Gruden, and Jack crept closer to get a look. The clearing’s edges had woven walls from volunteer tree saplings. In the center was a youngish oak, and a terrified young blonde woman half-merged with it and screaming, weeping, and carrying on. Cajoling her with the wonders of tree-ness was a withered and hunched dryad with a gaping wound in half her torso; she was hit by iron fragments that got into her and got infected, in their way, and she was dying by inches. Corrupt with pain and fury, her scream mixed with the scream of the young woman, echoing through all the wood as Elizabeth touched a tree to telepathically hear it.
The scouts had to quickly wipe out a pixie and pull back as the guards took an interest in possible trespassing. After a hurried discussion with Nelson and the others, the scouts took most of the chest of firebombs the expedition brought, and circled around to the big oak tree in an adjacent clearing.
Assaulting the Grove
The soldiers were found, and started firing, bravely rushing the clearing to rescue the young lady from the tree. Meanwhile the scouts fought past a couple satyrs and entered the clearing of the huge rotten oak, and started to firebomb it. An ogre attacked and was gunned down after swatting Jack across the clearing. Then the crippled dryad sprang up out of the roots beneath the ground, furious.
Her arm exploded into tendrils and pinned Elizabeth in place; so much physical contact! Elizabeth was engulfed in the maimed shriek of the dryad, her mind slammed, but she kept her arms free and her mind able to act and fired on her attacker. The dryad flung her into the woods, where she slammed off a tree and landed in the shadows unconscious.
Gruden was next. The dryad shrugged off one exploded arm of vines, and exploded the other arm at him, knocking him cold as he crashed back into the woven wall of the thicket. As she did, Jack was aiming, and as she turned her attention to him he fired a bullet right through her forehead, putting her out of her misery.
Fire rushed up the tree, aggressively destroying it as its dryad lay slowly and inevitably dying. Jack managed to smack Gruden awake, and he found Elizabeth as Gruden found her gun. They headed to the other, smaller grove, where the fight was still ongoing.
Nelson had lost his mind, and was trying to carve his daughter out of the tree with a knife. She was screaming with fear and pain and shame, blood and sap everywhere. The two surviving soldiers fired on shadows that circled, looking for an opening; most of the fey were still reeling from the crippled dryad’s psychic death shriek.
Jack intervened with Nelson. One look told him they weren’t going to be able to cut the girl out. He bodily dragged Nelson back, and Gruden caught the frantic old man’s attention, snapping him out of his hysterical desperation for a moment.
They were going to have to kill Cassandra.
Nelson couldn’t do it, so Gruden lugged the broken man towards the trail back to the edge of the forest, because Jack volunteered. He looked the corrupted woman in the eyes; one was meat, the other living wood. She begged and screamed, get her out of here, she didn’t want to die. He shot her in the face, shrugged to adjust the weight of having to live with that, and followed the others.
They couldn’t go far before their injuries and exhaustion compelled them to stop and rest. No fire, but they bound wounds and camped for the night. Jack carried Elizabeth, and the shrieking that vibrated through her form leaked into him through skin contact, almost unsettling his reason. There were still splinters from the dying dryad’s body stuck in Elizabeth’s flesh, so she was still somehow connected to the slow death of the eldritch tree monster, shaking her sanity loose.
When dawn came, she pried all those splinters out, and managed to find some peace of mind. Everyone got fresh bandages, and after spending most of the day lost in the woods, they finally heard a train whistle and oriented on the tracks. Grateful to find the tracks, they then walked their way back to civilization.
New Orleans, Again
Nelson paid them their $60, and also gave Jack a silver pocket watch without explaining why. He didn’t have much to say, and he left them alone after that.
They took a few days to heal up from the massive physical and psychic beating they received in the woods.
Meanwhile Elizabeth got a telegram from her worthless but wealthy cousin, Severin Sistern. He had a security opportunity for her if she would come to Grenada, on the other end of the New Orleans Special line. The others figured that sounded pretty good, and no one wanted to stay in New Orleans.
They hired on as Roof Riders again, with Sgt. Basker in charge of the security on this run. In the late twilight, the train pulled out. Jack was happy to meet Cpl. Orman again to rekindle the romance.
One of her gunners mucked it up by falling down and convulsing, and having visions of a doom portent where everyone on the train died flaming, a trail of severed hands leading into the woods, black glass fangs… Elizabeth used her touch to witness the last of his visions as they faded. What to do? He panicked that everyone was going to die.
So, they sent Jack to tell the engineer to be careful, and Gruden to talk to Sgt. Basker, who was drinking in the dining car. Basker was not interested, he told them to be more vigilant, but got somewhat surly when pressed.
Meanwhile, they pulled into a rail station, and the gunner with the vision shot himself in the leg so he could get off the train. That incensed Basker, who put Cpl. Orman up for disciplinary action for gross incompetence. That angered the roof riders, so they got off the train and didn’t ride it further north that night. Later, chatting with Orman, they found out the gunner who had the vision had a gypsy mother and imbibed in forbidden fey recreational drugs sometimes. Oh well.
They got aboard another train the next night, this one guarded by Sgt. Sevkovitch (who they last saw at the bivouac.) As the train headed north, pipes called from the wood, mesmerizing Sevkovitch so she jumped off the train and ran into the woods after the call of the pipes. The train stopped, and they searched briefly (the roof riders found a satyr and shot him up when he played his pipes at them, but he got away.) The train had to go on. So, Cpl. Grantham and his squad stayed to look for her and the train went on with fewer guards.
Further down the line, a card game got violent as one gunner accused another of cheating; the fresh-faced Cpl. Cardin was not authoritative enough to deal with the situation, so Elizabeth stepped in and broke it up, then withdrew.
As they closed in on Grenada in the deep of the night, the pipes called from the woods again, this time luring out the conductor! Cpl. Wurler was twisted by the fey to look like a pig man, but he was a solid soldier; he took his squad to hunt for the conductor, and sent the train on with just a third of the guards and the roof riders.
Before they reached their final destination, they went under a mass of pixies that cackled as they sprayed dust all over the roof. Gruden managed okay, but Jack was blinded. He still couldn’t see when the train pulled in, but his friends helped him get settled with a drink in his hand while they waited for his sight to return.
Grenada wasn’t much to look at, in the dark of four a.m. They decided to look up Elizabeth’s cousin the next day.
At least they made it out of New Orleans.