Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of short fiction based on Dark Trails RPG classes by Pete Spahn. As part of separate project Pete and his partner Brandon Goeringer have a separate where they stat out the story.
Bedlamite: Absent-minded inventors constantly constructing inventions that defy all logic, including “wondrous” contraptions that are brought to life by their creator’s sheer force of will. Bedlamites often become addle-brained and introverted, preferring the company of their automatons to that of their allies.1
Whitehall, Colorado Territory, 1870.
His clothes rattled with each step as he walked through the front door of Tillerson’s Bank. Hand tools, clock springs, broken gears, and other spare parts dangled from his coat. Leather satchels overflowing with similar items were slung over his shoulder. His mirrored spectacles and a dozen other highly polished surfaces attached to his clothes caught the light and made twinkling patterns on the walls. All eyes turned to see the source of the dancing reflections, then quickly found something else to look at. The bank teller paled at his approach.
“I’d like to open an account, open an account,” he said, plopping down a wad of cash wrapped in twine. It was a hefty sum for a few days’ work. The owner of the Royalty Hotel in Denver had paid him more money than he had ever seen in one place to build the complex array of tubes and mirrors which would allow the floor boss to keep track of everything going on inside the casino.
The bank teller swallowed hard and opened the ledger. “Of course, sir,” he said. He paused, quill hovering above the page. “And . . . the name you would like on your account?”
It was a fair question. He had long ago forgotten his real name. Folks around here just called him the Mirror Man, which was as good a name as any. He liked mirrors. They reflected images, and in his opinion, anything worth looking at once was worth looking at twice. He supposed the Mirror Man wasn’t a proper enough name for an official document, though.
“Bob,” he said, after some consideration. It was a good name that sounded the same no matter which way you said it. “You can call me Bob, Bob.”
Bob stopped in the General Store to buy Hannah a new shawl before heading into the hills. His horse Otto was draped in shiny objects and spare parts like its rider, saddlebags packed full with what others might call junk. Bob was a handyman by trade, and never knew what might be needed for a particular job, so it was best to always be prepared.
Home was a log cabin on the side of Little Tree Mountain. Its outer walls were lined with mirrors that absorbed sunlight and charged the power-collectors in the cellar. These power-collectors then produced heat and light, which made the house cozy in the winter. They had other uses as well, extreme uses reserved only for unwanted guests, but he seldom had to take such drastic measures. Most folks left him alone up here.
Unfinished machines and rusted machine parts littered the yard—horseless carriages, spider-walkers, a set of mechanical bird’s wings designed to be worn like a backpack. These were just some of the projects he had started and never finished or had abandoned as unwieldy. Maybe one day he would get back to them.
On the surface, all appeared as he had left it, yet today, something was wrong. When Bob noticed the ravens scattered high in the trees instead of perched on his roof, he knew he was not alone. The birds flapped their wings as he dismounted at the hitching post. He winked his right eye, extending an array of tiny mirrors from his goggles to give himself a 360-degree view of his surroundings.
Whoever was here must still be outside. The cabin’s windows were sealed shut. His front door was closed and secured with a complex lock of his own design, and no one could have entered without setting off the sunfire trap. The cabin had no back door; that would be inefficient.
The 360-degree goggles caught movement as a dozen grizzled men rose up from behind machinery in the yard. Their features looked strangely familiar, although he was certain he had never seen them before. The men held war-era Enfield rifles and muskets clenched tightly in their hands.
“Hold it right thar,” the biggest, grizzliest man said, pointing his rifle at Bob’s chest. The younger man to his right scanned the yard nervously, looking for threats hidden among the odd contraptions and debris.
“How can I help you, how can I help you?” Bob asked.
“You can give us back our sister, you crazy polecat,” the man said.
Bob was genuinely surprised. “Hannah never told me she had brothers, told me she had brothers. It’s a pleasure to meet you, meet you.”
“Our sister’s name ain’t Hannah. It’s Delilah. Delilah Jacobs. I’m Paul and this is Will, and these others are our kinfolk, come to git her back.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know a Delilah, Delilah,” Bob said.
“Yer a liar. The folks down in Mason said they saw the Mirror Man take her from the riverbank while she was having a swim. Ain’t no one seen her since.”
Bob shook his head. “That’s not true, not true. I’m afraid I have bad news. Your sister drowned in the river that day. I was merely trying to help her, trying to help her.”
The younger man, Will, looked scared and uncertain. “She always was afraid o’ water, Paul. She never did learn how to swim.”
“It don’t matter none,” Paul said. “We know she’s here. That’s her dress hanging from the line, the one she was wearing when you took her. Now, you open that fancy lock on the door and keep your hands where I can see ‘em or I’ll plug you good.”
Bob saw resolve on the faces of these men. They were fearful and ready to shoot. He had no choice but to show them. With a sigh, he held up his right arm. His hand split down the center and folded back upon itself, revealing the cluster of mechanical pistons, shafts, and gears that had replaced his arm.
“Good Lord,” Will said.
“Quiet!” Paul hissed, but he too was shaken.
Bob plugged his mechanical hand into a small opening in the door and made the connection. Inside the door, a series of rods turned with audible clicks and hisses as he disarmed the trap. Then, with a loud clank, the door opened and swung inward.
Movement from within the cabin made the men recoil as Hannah glided up to greet them. Her skeletal remains hung from a leather harness and metal frame; the frame itself was attached to floor-mounted rails designed to carry her anywhere inside the home. Wisps of blond hair clung to her withered scalp and her bony arms were extended, awaiting Bob’s embrace. He supposed she might appear frightful to some, but to him, she was as beautiful as ever.
“Hello, Hannah, my love, my love,” Bob said. “These men say they are your brothers. Shall we invite them inside for dinner, inside for dinner?”
“You son uv’ a bitch,” Paul said, mouth agape. The other men were just as horrified.
Paul swung his rifle to bear, but Bob had activated his Dual-Imaging Mirror Projector and now there were two Mirror Men standing before him, one a perfect reflection of the other.
“I can explain, can expl—” real-Bob protested.
Paul fired. The bullet passed harmlessly through fake-Bob’s chest. The ravens took to the air, cawing their indignation. Otto snorted and reared, sending Paul and his brothers scrambling back.
“You crazy loon!” Paul shouted.
He bit the cap off another cartridge and fumbled with the reload as his kinsmen shouldered their rifles. Bob realized they were beyond listening to reason. With great regret, he activated the sunfire defense system, hoping Hannah would understand.
The power-collectors in his cellar hummed to life and emitted a pulse of energy. This energy traveled on copper wires back to the mirrors lining his cabin, causing them to blaze with light. Smaller, more powerful mirrors strategically placed throughout the yard caught this light and refracted it a thousand times. The result was a gridded light display made of tightly focused beams that seared cleanly through flesh and bone.
Agonized screams and the smell of burned bodies filled the air. A dozen men fell to the earth, most of them dead or dying. A few had been caught between several sunfire beams and were cut into neatly cauterized pieces. Young Will lay among these, his body divided into six separate parts like a grisly human waffle. His brother Paul had only been burned through the thigh. He had taken a knee, but his rage would not allow him to give in to pain.
“Die you monster!” Paul shouted as he raised his rifle and fired.
Real-Bob tried to take cover behind a rusting tree-cutter-shredder, but the round caught him in the chest and knocked him off his feet. Blood soaked his shirt. The pain from broken ribs was intense. As he lay on his back staring up at the cloudy sky, his vision filled with tiny, sparkling mirrors. He had landed on the wet ground, close to one of several trapdoors hidden by dirt and leaves. He coughed blood and rolled over onto it as Paul limped towards him, reloading.
Paul slammed his ramrod into the barrel as Bob activated the trapdoor. He fell into darkness and landed hard, causing the sparkling mirrors in his head to coalesce into one blinding light. As the trapdoor slammed shut, he heard Paul cursing up above, vowing to kill him. Then the light faded and for a time, Bob knew no more.
In the darkness, there was only silence. Then, the flap of a pouch at his waist lifted and a long insectile creature crawled forth on a thousand tiny legs. Wallowing in blood and bits of bone and torn flesh, it came to rest on top of Bob’s bloody chest. And then, slowly and methodically, it plucked the bullet out and began to stitch his wounds together.
Included for those not familiar with the Class ↩