Vance is searched and secured, hung upside down and readied for interrogration by Tito or whoever else decides to take a turn, but most attention initially is on Stella, who Silverclaws deposits along with Holt Turner in a protected passenger compartment.
The angelic saloon girl appears physically unharmed, but remains unconscious. A dull golden light seems to pulse below her skin in time with the ugly red runes glowing on the iron collar around her neck.
Jack tries everything he can think of to get the collar off her neck but it doesn't budge. At a loss, he rocks back on his heels and pulls out something like looks like a silver railroad spike, almost a foot long, offering it up for examination by Orrin along with the collar.
The metal-skinned mage takes a close look at both. The iron collar is ancient and obviously powerful, if it's capable of containing someone like Stella, whose arcane ability was on display during the Coalition attack on Black Mesa. Orrin can't decipher the runes, though the symbols remind him somewhat of old Slavic alphabets. Before the Battle of Marron, they'd heard rumors that the sorcerer and his cossacks had come to the West from the other side of the world, where warlords battled over the remains of the old Russian empire. And hadn't there been a legend about an old Russian demon-god, Koschei, who'd been bound for a time with an iron collar? In that tale, a tuning fork of black metal had been used to control the collar. But the fork used by Holt Turner, later recovered from Vance, was silver, and seemed to lack the power to release the collar.
The silver spike, meanwhile, seems to be some sort of dimensional anchor, capable of counter-acting any kind of magical movement nearby -- including planar travel -- when planted in the ground. Who knows how it came into Jack's hands ... but it could prove useful if the group wishes to prevent any confrontation from ending prematurely.
Seeing it, Vance pipes up: "I don't think this is the sort of tango you want to prolong. Like I said, you shoulda run when you had the chance. You ain't seen half of what he's capable of. Pure evil. And that sort of awfulness don't get put down by being good and thinking you're heroes."
He refuses to say more, stating matter-of-factly that he's "dead either way."
"Dead man walking, same as you. Least I have the sense to say so."
Seswarick begins organizing some of the techno-wizards and others in the rear cars to help mount some sort of defense. They pull weaponry and defense systems from the walls, retrofitting it on the spot for personal use, and disarm the remaining Combine soldiers. Whenever anyone bristles at taking orders from the birdman, Evelyn James, the trade rep from the Baronies, steps in with a sharp word.
"These legionnaires have saved your bacon once already today, don't put a hitch in your giddyup when they're offering to do it again," she says, promising to get someone on the radio to call in coordinates for Emmett Brown.
As the passengers prepare for war, Rill and the others finally manage to bring Stella out of her stupor. Her eyes open suddenly, blazing with golden light, but calm quickly, settling into the kind, smiling gaze she wore all those days ago in the Sidewinder.
"Oh, you sweet, darling souls," she says, her smile weak but genuine. "You didn't have to come all this way for little old me -- but I am ever so thankful you have."
Her gaze darkens momentarily. "I fear the one who holds the other end of this chain, and what he plans to do when he comes to collect ...
She gestures to the iron collar, grimacing as if it pains her.
"I'm in his power as long as this is on. Can't get it off myself, or oppose him directly," she says. The smile returns, bright as a sunrise, warm as the oven in a kitchen filled with the people who love. "That don't mean I'm a wilting damsel. I'll just have to trust you all to work out this particular puzzle on my behalf."
As she smiles, golden light fills the train car. Your wounds vanish, your despair lifts, and you find your catching a second wind. For a moment, you think you see a different woman's face floating behind and alongside Stella's, an ivory-skinned woman with the horns of a cow extending from her forehead. When you blink, the image vanishes, but the feeling remains.
"I tell you what, if y'all figure a way out of this mess, drinks at the Sidewinder are on me," she says.
[All Wounds and Fatigue are removed, PPE/ISP refills fully and Bennies are restored.] As the golden glow fades, the windows rattle as the storm winds outside reach the train, then recede. As the dust settles, the approaching force emerges.
Numbering close to 30, the majority are soldiers -- a mix of the savage cossacks you battled in Marron alongside hooded mystics armed with dire-looking glaives and other weapons of an arcane nature.
Inevitably, your eyes are drawn to the center of the group, where a small circle surrounds a trio of imposing figures.
One you recognize -- the fallen cyber-knight, Ronin. Clad again in dark armor, Sir Blurre's sister appears to have recovered from their previous confrontation within Marron's walls.
"Those metal walls ain't gonna save you from this reckoning!" he yells, punctuated by the grinding buzz of the whirling sawblades mounted on his new body. "Let's see who gets carved up now!"
Other cloaked forms move around the Shibboleth as he steps forward. His voice, when it comes, scrapes and echoes in your ears like a rockslide.
"I won't waste time on introductions. You have something that belongs to me. You will return it. If you do so promptly, you and those with you will leave here alive. Oppose me, and your deaths will be slow and unpleasant. Many will suffer, and the end will be the same."
He lays his hand on the head of the closest hooded figure, pulling back the cloth to reveal the face of a child, perhaps 10 or 12. As you watch, the four other nearby figures pull back their hoods to reveal similarly young faces. With growing horror, you trace the cabling that emerges from the backs of their necks to the cables that run into the Shibboleth's own armor.
You imagine the cloaked sorcerer smiling like a shark as he meets your gaze with his own baleful gaze.
"Innocence holds such power and potential," he says. "It would be a shame to see it wasted."
You're up! Feel free to parlay or prepare, ask questions or make plans. Include appropriate skill rolls if you're seeking additional information. Social skills may be used to gain advantage here, but you're likely not going to be able to talk yourself our of the confrontation altogether. I'll roll initiative when you're ready for combat, which is likely to involved some combination of regular combat and dramatic task(s).