Roasting in the noonday sun, passengers gather at the train station in the fortified Guild outpost of Breachtown. First, they had to finagle permission to board the Iron Ram, the locomotive that carries people and supplies through the Breach from Earth to Malifaux; now, they shuffle slowly through the security line. When the red-and-grey-clad Guild Guards arrest a guy caught hanging posters (Join the Miners and Steamfitters Union!), they shrink into attitudes of just-minding-my-own-business. Among those shuffling along are four passengers with a destiny they don’t know about yet: Zai, Anna Mae Hawkins, Providence McCoy, and Ole Man Balthazar. Unknown to these four, the fifth of their number, One Glove Bernard, boards the train as cargo.
Zai boards the Iron Ram first, taking one side of a booth-like arrangement near the middle of the third car. Drawn by an unknown force, Anna Mae, Providence, and Bal join her in the booth, Bal having to ask Zai to move her feet, which she does, reluctantly. Providence, ever the chatterbox, immediately regales the others about growing up in Australia, where she once encountered an Aborigine shaman conducting a magic ritual. Providence wanted to learn the ritual, but the shaman told her that the secret magics of his people were not for her; she must forge her own path. To the relief of her seatmates, Providence’s attention is drawn to an old man struggling to load a large case into the luggage rack. Usually the first to offer aid to the needy, Providence leaps to his assistance. Of small stature, but strong, she lifts the case into the rack with ease, noticing its brass nameplate: Sessa the Amazing. Providence switches seats and pesters Sessa the Amazing until he admits he’s a puppeteer hoping to find work in Malifaux City.
The train car is as hot as a sauna, and when the passengers try to open windows, they find them bolted shut. With the passenger cars now full to bursting, the Iron Ram is now boarding the unfortunate souls who have been sentenced to labor in the Soulstone mines. Once the convicts are loaded, the Iron Ram lurches into labored motion, and, having bided his time impatiently in the cargo compartment, Bernard picks the lock on his cage, slips outs, and jogs over the roof of the convict car as the train chugs into the Breach. Sweating, Zai, Bal, Anna Mae, and Providence look out the window at the shimmering blue-white portal of the Breach. Flanking the Breach are smoke-belching steamworks and multidirectional entrenchments; the Guild clearly fears attack as much from Earthside as from the Breachside. As the train proceeds into the transdimensional portal, a curtain of light passes the length of the passenger car. Everyone aboard feels a momentary blinding headache and most close their eyes against the light.
His small green head aching, Bernard stumbles out of the convict car and regards the strange outside space with puzzlement, seeing only weird shapes moving in the distance through the blue-white light. “I could get used to this,” he says. Unimpressed, he climbs back into the train and heads to the passenger car to see if his manager, Walt Mannic, can get him a snack. But all the cars are empty, except one, the car with Zai, Bal, Anna Mae, and Providence. All that’s left of the other passengers is the luggage packed into overhead racks. The blue-white light of the Breach pours in through the train’s locked windows, and the sound of the train wheels clacking, and the engine rumbling, have faded into a muffled silence. The case above Providence’s head starts to rattle and bang as though something inside is clawing to get out.
Frightfully curious, Providence hauls Sessa’s case from the luggage rack and pops it open to see what’s going on. Four sizeable marionettes–Punch, Judy, a Constable, and a Judge–pop out of the case, Punch with a shout, “That’s the way to do it!” As the marionettes spring at them, Zai leaps into the opposing luggage rack, out of reach. The judge swings at Providence, who draws a pistol and blows his head clean off in one shot. The Judy marionette attacks Bal, the old veteran, who asks, “What manner of spectre are you?” Not receiving an answer, Bal swings his trusty rifle and casually clubs Judy to the floor. Anna Mae, confused and reluctant to molest what seems a novel type of creature just following its nature, uses her massive three-barreled shotgun to nudge Punch away from her, saying, “Can’t we just have a conversation?” From her perch in the luggage rack, Zai casts an illusion, creating a ring of fire around Punch, suggesting the party spare at least one marionette for questioning. One Glove Bernard enters from the back of the car and without a single moment of hesitation, charges the Constable, crushing the marionette into splinters with a savage blow from his mighty, rope-wrapped punching hand. “I fought the law and I won,” Bernard crows, spinning to confront Punch.
Meanwhile, Anna Mae asks Punch who he is, trying, as usual, to defuse the situation with a calm and mutually respectful dialogue. The marionette cackles at her, “I am Punchinello, master of riot and ruin!” and attempts (and fails) to leap over the circle of flames. When Anna Mae asks him, her temperate voice raised over the ruckus, what the marionettes want, Punch replies “I want to beat you to death, mwa ha ha ha!” Still on her perch above the battle, Zai draws Punch’s attention and deliberately draws a sip of brandy into her mouth, making a menacing gesture as though to blow the brandy into the (illusory) fire and thus immolate Punch, but Providence walks directly through the phantom flames to inspect Punch. Bernard, who had steeled himself to leap (spectacularly) into the ring of fire, complains to Providence, “Hey, you’re ruining the show for the audience!” but quickly steps up to Punch and wallops him clear out of the ring of fire. Stalwart, Bal undramatically finishes the job with the butt of his trusty rifle.
Distraught at the sight of the dead marionettes, Anna Mae laments the lost opportunity. Gathering her resolve, she introduces herself, and asks everyone else to reciprocate. Zai says, “If you don’t already know who I am, I won’t bother to introduce myself.” Providence, as it happens, has seen both Zai and One Glove Bernard perform, and so she introduces herself, then Bernard, then Zai, in a breathless rush. Providence has also heard rumors of some trains disappearing when crossing the Breach, and without missing a beat, switches to asking Bernard if he’ll tell her everything about Gremlins. Providence also wants to learn magic from Zai, but as with most overtures made to her, Zai greets this one with disdain. Bernard makes it clear that he’ll tell Providence anything she wants to know, in exchange for moonshine and snacks. Many snacks. Meat would be good, any kind, really. Are there snacks here now? Anyone?
A shout from the back of the train interrupts Bernard’s panhandling. With a bored sigh, Bal puts his feet up and pulls his hat over his face, but Providence, Bernard, Anna Mae, and (reluctantly) Zai investigate. In the convict car, they find the smoldering body of a Guild Guard and a single convict, still in shackles, with blue-white energy pouring from his eyes. The convict identifies himself as Cesar and asks for help, suggesting that if freed he can help get the train restarted. Zai finagles a key from the guard and unlocks Cesar’s shackles. Bernard, true to his Gremlin nature, tears off a chunk of BBQ Guild Guard, prompting Anna Mae to say, “Part of me wants to stop him, but another part of me doesn’t want to interfere with his culture.” This earns Anna Mae silent stares from her new colleagues.
As the group passes back through the passenger car, where Balthazar is now snoring, Bernard chomps on his BBQ and Cesar snags a change of clothes from Sessa the Amazing’s leather suitcase. Once in the engine compartment, Bernard starts punching buttons and yanking levers, commanding the others to help stoke the steam furnace with coal. Out the large front windows, the heroes see tentacled shapes approaching from the blue-white light, and they set to shoveling coal with a will. As the engine sputters to life, Bal leans into the engine room to lend his expertise.
“Faster!” yells Bernard, dancing an impatient Gremlin two-step. “Let’s get this thing going faster!”
As the Iron Ram lurches back into motion, continuing on through the curtain of light, Cesar nervously and aggressively asks if any of the others will identify him as a convict. He says, “Somethin’ happened to me in the Breach that activated some kind of magic in me, and, knowing what the Guild does to mages that don’t toe their line, well, if you tell them anything about me, my death will be on your heads.” Anna Mae, Providence, Bal, and Zai agree not to rat Cesar out. One Glove Bernard, his manager Walt Mannic now disappeared with the other passengers, aggressively tries to make Cesar his new manager.
At Breachside Station, catching sight of a Gremlin and a bunch of passengers in the engine room, a Guild engineer hops on board, shoves them aside, and brings the train to a halt. Guild Guards storm on board and everyone’s papers, and when Cesar identifies himself as Vito Sessa, nobody says a word otherwise. The Guards march the six survivors into a holding area for further interrogation.
Our five heroes—with one extra along for the ride (for now)—have successfully crossed into another world: Malifaux. They’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops to get here, but, as they say, our heroes ain’t seen nothing yet.