The Town

Past Glories
Catamounts and The Hero Of The Oregon Trail
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Keeping the Peace
A new face in town

A chance meeting in the Hubbard’s General Store leads four men on peace mission with an unexpected conclusion.

Roy Goodwin, Lorne Caulfield, Steve Washington and LeVeaux (Tom), were enjoying an early evening’s meal, courtesy of Marsha Hubbard, when they overheard her husband Wallace in conversation with Reverend Henry Kelly. Soon enough they had been roped into a scheme to help defuse tensions between the bouncers of the newly opened Hoyle’s Hotel and Casino and the toughs who enforce the will of moneylender Cillian Obannan.

Obannan was their first stop. Paying the man who many credit with building the town the respect of the first call. Cillian seemed uninterested in hastening the rule of law in the town and would only encourage the de-escalation our party sought if they would do something for him. A stagecoach was rolling in tonight, he said, bound for the General Store and Cillian wanted what was in it.

Reticent to go through with this scheme, the group resolved to introduce themselves to Alicia Moreau, who they hoped would be more amenable. She proved a more gracious host, but argued that if her employees were being threatened she wasn’t about to have them give in to Obannan’s aggression. Like Obannan, she hinted an alternative solution, although hers was considerably more gruesome than that proposed by the money lender, it was aimed at creating a lasting peace in the town.

Unsure which road to take, the party gathered on the main street. As they discussed their options a gun shot rang out near Haskin’s. Investigating, the group discovered Cortez, a casino man, who had just had a near miss with one of Obannan’s gang. He said if he saw him again he’d kill him.

Realising that the town rested on an knife edge, the party devised a risky scheme. They invited Cortez and his compatriots to meet with Obannan’s men at the well that evening, to parlay and reach a peaceful settlement. “We’ll be there,” he said, storming off back to the casino.

The party returned to Obannan’s residence, hoping to convince the major-domo to allow his mend to attend the meeting. Although he greeted their proposal with suspicion he acquiesced with surprising swiftness and bid the party adieu – but not before taking Steve Washington aside for a quick private chat.

A bright spark had the idea of providing coffee for the assembled parties, in the hope that this would discourage them from reaching for their guns. The group returned to the General Store to petition Wallace Hubbard for the use of his pots and cups. He agreed, and Caulfield asked a question that was on everyone’s lips. What was in that carriage that was so important?

The answer was shocking to all assembled. On the advice on an unnamed friend, Hubbard had arranged for an out of town ex-sheriff to bring some law and order to the town. That sheriff was being smuggled in under the cover of darkness, disguised as a routine goods delivery.

Concerned that Obannan, who clearly knew of the coach’s true passenger, would strike against it, Lorne Caulfield and Washington rode off to provide escort. Meanwhile Goodwin and LeVeaux deployed themselves at the well and prepared for the arrival of the two gangs.

After a bumpy start, Caulfield and Washington eventually located the coach and convinced its drivers that they would provide them with protection on the final leg into town. Meanwhile, the gangs had arrived at the well, positioning themselves at either side. Roy, LeVeaux and Reverend Kelly – who had been coaxed out of the church by Goodwin – stood in the centre attempting to calm the situation and move on to a discussion of a truce.

Their negotiations were not successful. Obannan’s gang lured the preacher out of the line of fire and drew their pistols, pointing one at Roy while the rest trained their six shooters on the casino bouncers.

As the carriage rumbled towards town, Goodwin did his best to diffuse the situation. LeVeaux, however, decided to take a different tack. “There’s something coming you would both like to get your hands on,” he tells the assembled gangs. “You shut up!” counters Goodwin, accenting his demand with a right hook that misses its target.

From here, everything happens very quickly. More punches are thrown, one so misplaced that it leaves old man Goodwin sprawled across the well, while LeVeaux continues to tease out information about the incoming sheriff. Eventually, the levy breaks and a single shot is fired by the Obannan gang. Miraculously, the bullet does not hit its target, even at such close range. Onlookers barely have time to wonder what that bright flash that came from the casino bouncers huddle could have been before the coach roars into the town square.

A woman kicks open the doors, brandishing a double barrelled shotgun in each hand. “Drop your weapons,” she yells, “I’m the law here.”

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The Heat and the Meat
A late heatwave brings the town close to the edge

Part One: The Heat

Three weeks after the incidents of Keeping the Peace, on an extremely hot and dusty morning, a Southern Gentleman by the name of Atticus Huxtable finds his way to Haskin’s bar. He’s looking for someone: a travelling companion he knows as “Wild” Anne Munny – Legend Of The West, who doesn’t always live up to her self-given epithet but seems to know how to find trouble.

Atticus lost sight of her about three weeks ago – she disappeared from an otherwise unremarkable night of drinkin’ and tall-tale-tellin’. His search was proving futile until he overheard a travelling band of hunters discussing a strange incident involving a female lawman jumping out of a travelling goods cart – of all things – right into the middle of a savage gunfight in some no-name rest stop atween Sacremento and Virgina City. He’s been looking for the place since.

He finds his answer in Haskin’s saloon – the barman Jesse Norton new very well a woman who fit Anne’s description, as he’d been helping his boss Emmett Haskin take care of her since an ‘incident’ a few weeks ago.

Watched from one corner of the bar by Guy Duval, and from another by Red Horse, Atticus made his way upstairs and narrowly avoided barging into Polly’s room.

Emmett Haskin, deeds interrupted by Atticus’ knock, opens the other guest room door from the inside. Initially suspicious and territorial, he reluctantly invites Atticus in when the gentleman’s queries are answered by the room’s occupant: Wild Anne.

Anne isn’t quite as Atticus remembers. Her usually commendable looks have been spoiled by bruising and swelling of the face, and without much of an inspection he determines she’s received a gunshot wound to her right thigh. She’s also suffering internally – some kind of delirium and fever afflicts her. She’s alive and conscious, though, so that’s something.

Haskin explains his version of events, claiming to have rescued Anne from the thick of the fight when things kicked off between the Obannan’s and Moreau’s men. Her sudden arrival out of the supply wagon was immediately followed by an unloading of six-shooters in all directions, leaving two of Obannon’s boys injured but, against the odds, the Casino thugs entirely unharmed. Anne, Haskin explains, was hit in the crossfire, and he and his man Jesse brought her in here.

Their conversation is interrupted when Polly draws the men’s attention to Anne’s apparently deteriorating form. Without a pause, Atticus begins the process of lifting her with the intent of taking her for proper medical assistance, and Haskin’s attitude changes abruptly from trying to keep her in place, and he moves to assist.

On the way down the stairs, Haskin addresses the bar. “This,” he announces, “is the consequence of lawlessness running rife,” gesturing to Anne’s ghoulish form. “This woman arrived in town offering us another way – a structure and a peace we sorely need – and yet within moments was reduced to this thin record of damage you see before you.”

He goes on in this vein for some time, cursing the poor behaviour of Obannan’s men and the Casino employees. Before long, Red Horse stands from where he was drinking, shakes his head and puts out a cigarette. “This ain’t our fault, or our cause,” he said. “You should know better, Haskin.”

Oblivious to interruption, Haskin talks on, focused on the concept of casting this sickly stranger in the light of some kind of “Providential law-bringer” who has been “smothered by the dark elements”. His regulars weren’t unused to these kind of speeches but the godly tone caused more than a few raised eyebrows.

Meanwhile, outside the General Store, a tense scene is unfolding. A number of locals and travellers alike have formed what’s fast becoming an angry mob which Wallace Hubbard is attempting to calm. The people are hungry – Wallace’s prices have skyrocketed due to a scarcity of food, apparently brought on by three weeks of unbroken high temperatures. Local homesteaders haven’t yet the experience or the reserves to weather the weather, and a general increase in population combined with a slowing of deliveries has left the General Store bare.

In the middle of this stands Lewys Euripedes, a travelling salesman, who upon arrival immediately made two great sales of his remaining travel supplies at oddly high prices. Amidst the crowd, he’s becoming aware that parting with his last strips of jerky may not have been his smartest move.

Standing near Wallace is the narrow figure of Mr Foley, a relative newcomer who arrived in the employ of Alicia Moreau, ostensibly to manager the floor of Hoyle’s Hotel and Casino, but who is presently engaged in attempting to smooth-out the reputation of the establishment following the shootout.

Having grown impatient with Haskin’s grandstanding, Atticus has arrived in the street with Anne on his arm, looking through the haze for a Doctor. He moves towards the crowd, who seem far too focused on their empty stomachs to much notice the presence of these strangers. A first attempt to locate the Doctor comes to nothing as he chooses to address Euripedes, who’s barely found his own feet. Before long, Mr Foley notices the situation and escorts Atticus swiftly to the Barber’s.

Inside, the imposing figure of Rufus Mattox performs a swift diagnosis – not before removing an unconscious and emaciated boy from his operating table. Inflicting a razor wound on Anne’s arm, his answer flows as quickly as the blood from the cut: she’s suffering an iron deficiency. As is half the town, it would seem. He provides her with a small pick-me-up which seems to rouse her – her mild delirium seems to be fading, at least – and the men return to the street under his steely gaze. Mr Foley makes a point of dropping a few dollars into his palm as he leaves.

Back in the street, things are getting serious – as the time approaches noon, more gaunt faces can be seen. Children sit all too quietly on nearby porches and the crowds temper seems muted only by their lack of energy. “There is no food,” repeats Wallace, endlessly, to deaf ears.

Part Two: The Meat

To Follow!

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One shot too many
Atticus Huxtable: Barkeep

The sun rises slowly into a cloudless sky above the town, which has lost some of its pallor in the three weeks since the events of The Heat and the Meat. While the drought was undoubtedly hard, causing the deaths of five citizens through nervous exhaustion and malnutrition, the rains eventually returned to California. The water table has recovered, the soil is beginning to recover, and a sense of normality has returned to the streets.

A large man with a prodigious beard by the name of Orius Cain stands by the well, taking in the day. He samples the water and promptly spits it out onto the dirt. Tastes like someone died in it, he mutters.

His attention is soon drawn by a murmur at the other end of the street that quickly grows through hubbub in to full-blown hullabaloo. Townsfolk swarm from the buildings toward a group of dusty, tired looking men on horseback . Their shouts and hollers soon rouse Samuel Petty from his drunken slumber in the flophouse; he pulls on his boots and goes to investigate.

The men who rode into town, it transpires, are the same ones who were given up for dead weeks past after failing to return from their hunting expedition. Atticus Huxtable is at its head, leading a very sickly looking Emmett Haskin. The others, while clearly tired, seem more or less well. Haskin is quickly ushered into the Barber’s for urgent medical attention, after which Huxtable walks to the well to slake his thirst.

While drawing up water, Huxtable introduces himself to Orius Cane and Sam Petty, never having met the men before. His relief at having returned to civilisation – and a water source – quickly evaporates in the morning sun as Roy Goodwin joins the conversation. Goodwin insists the hunting party has been gone for three weeks and were presumed dead, while Huxtable’s recollections tell a very different story.

The party, says Huxtable, has only been gone two days. The buffalo, as they had guessed before setting out, were about a day’s ride from town. Despite a dangerous stampede and a vicious attack by some prairie ticks, they managed to bring down three buffalo in all. The animals were butchered for their meat, which was hastily air dried and salted for transport. The men headed back toward town, spent an uneventful night camping on the trail, then completed their journey the following afternoon. The effects of heat stroke and dehydration undoubtedly took their toll on poor Mr Haskin, but all told the journey took only two days – no more, no less.

Misters Cane and Petty step in at this point; both men have been in town for at least two weeks now, yet they have never seen Atticus Huxtable before in their lives. Huxtable concedes that they have never met before, yet is adamant he was gone only two days.

Unfortunately, Huxtable has no time to investigate further; he has a job to do. On the way back into town, Mr Haskin asked Atticus to take care of the saloon for him until he returned to health, and Atticus Huxtable is not a man to break a promise. The saloon, however, is firmly boarded up. Saloon employee Jesse Norton was left in charge while Haskin went away on the hunting expedition, but a fight broke out two nights in and the pressure turned out to be too much for the young barman. He boarded the place up tight, went home and hasn’t reopened it since.

Orius, Sam and Atticus head out to Jesse’s house and convince him to open up the saloon again. Jesse agrees on the condition he doesn’t have to speak to anyone else from Hoyle’s Hotel and Casino. Alicia Moreau, it seems, has been very keen to determine what happens to a building once its owner and proprietor disappears and is given up for dead. She had just convinced Cillian Obannan to organise and preside over a public auction of the building (thereby rendering him unable to bet on the property or sponsor any other interested builder), and it looked as though the Saloon was practically hers. Now Haskin is back, of course, things are different.

As the men go to open up the saloon again, they quickly notice they are being watched by a number of people doing their best to appear nonchalant. Without breaking his stride Orius seizes one of these toughs, drags him into an alleyway and slams him against the side of a building. A couple of punches to the gut soon put the man in a talking mood – the men are of course employed by Alicia Moreau, who has taken a very keen interest in these unexpected signs of life at Haskin’s saloon. The hunting party was only gone for three weeks, but it seems this was ample time for Moreau to get used to having the monopoly on the entertainment racket in town.

With Orius’ interviewee sent packing, the boards are prised from the saloon door, the tables are righted, and Haskin’s opens for business again. On account of his successful interview of a few minutes previous, Orius is hired to work security for the saloon. People slowly begin to trickle back in, a messenger is sent to offer Polly her old job back, and Orius and Sam help themselves to a bottle of whisky while Huxtable goes to check on Haskin.

For a time, all seems well at Haskin’s saloon, until a group of toughs in the employ of the casino come in and occupy a table not far from the door. Orius, playing the diplomat card, walks over, turns a chair backward, straddles it and plunges his bowie knife into the tabletop. He asks the men why they’re drinking at the saloon and not at the casino. A man by the name of Steven Jenks just about keeps things civil as he tells Cane casino employees are not permitted to drink there, and that they have already paid for their bottle of whisky up front. While the tension doesn’t subside, Orius at least consents to let the men keep drinking.

Unfortunately, the uneasy peace doesn’t last. The more the men drink, the more abrasive they get; fairly soon they start making unkind remarks about the saloon’s patrons and driving them away. Atticus Huxtable heads over and informs the toughs that they are welcome to drink in the saloon, but not to harass the customers. Jenks flat out denies harassing anybody and asks precisely what Huxtable intends to do about it.

Atticus Huxtable draws his gun, and a sudden hush falls on the saloon. The air is suddenly still, silent and so thick with tension you could cut it with a knife. Instead, it is torn violently by a sudden, deafening cacophony of noise. In an eruption of soil, steam and wooden splinters, Orius Cane disappears into the ground. The whole floor of the saloon shakes as the sound reverberates off the walls, ending in an ear-splitting crescendo as Cane bursts up from the floor on the other side of the table. He draws his knife, seizes one of the men and puts the edge of the blade against his throat. “This doesn’t have to be this way”, he growls.

Unfortunately poor, stupid Steven Jenks has a different idea. As the strange mechanical contraption now discarded at Orius’ feet roared into life, Atticus’ attention briefly wavered from the man he held at gunpoint. Seizing the opportunity, Jenks leaps to his feet and smashes a fist into Huxtable’s jaw. Atticus’ head is spun to the right. It snaps straight back, and the saloon’s newest proprietor narrows his eyes. He pulls the trigger and shoots Steven Jenks through the heart.

The light is gone from Jenks’ eyes before he even hits the floor, and the saloon is empty of customers not two moments later. The men from the casino drag the corpse out with them as they flee the scene, leaving a trail of blood that begins to sink into the floorboards. Huxtable’s nostrils flare, pulling in the familiar smell of blood and cordite. He sighs, and the cleanup operation begins. Orius Cane carves the name of Steven Jenks into the table, which he claims for his own purposes as long as he’s working at Haskin’s.

The blood has largely been cleaned up (which is more than can be said for the floorboards) by the time Mr Foley walks in to the saloon. He apologises profusely for the conduct of the casino employees, tells Huxtable he was absolutely right to shoot Steven Jenks dead, and emphasises the men were not acting as representatives of Hoyle’s hotel and casino at the time of the incident. He, on the other hand, is. Inquiring on Ms Moreau’s behalf, he asks if Haskin might be persuaded to sell his saloon and retire, considering his fragile condition. Huxtable refuses to consider it until he has spoken to Haskin himself. Foley says that he will report this information back to Ms Moreau, but warns that disappointing her would be unwise.

After Foley departs, Orius and Huxtable decide to take their new working relationship on a field trip to the casino. Petty, raising his head from the bar, points out that they are both known to be working at the saloon and, as such, might not have the easiest time getting in. Eventually they resolve to all go over together, since the saloon is unlikely to be getting any more business today anyway.

While Orius and Atticus ready themselves to leave, Petty wanders over to Rufus Mattox’s place of business and make sure nobody from the casino is trying to worsen his already serious condition. After being asked to deposit his weapons in a pail at the door (he has none), Samuel is admitted to see Haskin. While the saloon owner can’t be said to be in a good way, he is at least sitting up and drinking water. Having been apprised of the situation, he instructs Samuel to tell Huxtable not to sell up. Samuel returns to the saloon and conveys the message, before all three leave Jesse Norton in charge head up the street to the casino.

Likely under close instruction by Mr Foley or Ms Moreau, the toughs at the door of the casino allow all three men to enter. Huxtable and Petty go to the bar, while Crane finds himself a spot at a card table. From there, he begins to make plans for a bit of snooping around the place. He spots a door, making note of it before returning his attention to the game at hand.

Mr Foley, composed as ever despite his recent ordeal, insinuates his way across the room in order to welcome Atticus to Hoyle’s. Despite some protestations from Mr Foley, Atticus presses successfully for an audience with Ms Moreau in order to discuss her attempts to acquire the saloon. Mr Foley informs Atticus that the croupier staff on the floor are soon to be relieved, at which point there will be an opportunity for them to converse for a few minutes before the next shift begins.

Meanwhile, back at the card table, things aren’t going so well for Orius, whose suspicions (or maybe it’s the whisky) have him on edge. Suddenly convinced the croupier is cheating by way of a false layer of baize, he plunges his knife into a tabletop for the second time that day to begin carving the name Steven Jenks. Luckily, Huxtable rushes over at this point and manages to clam the big man, who sheathes his knife. Mr Foley walks over to inform Atticus that Ms Moreau will see him now. He is followed by two men carrying a fresh roll of baize, who immediately set about repairing the table. Orius decides to take in some fresh air outside and clear his head.

Ms Moreau sits calmly behind an intricately carved wooden desk. She retains her composure throughout her conversation with Mr Huxtable, denying that the men in the saloon were acting under her authority. When quizzed about her interest in the Saloon, she states merely that she offers a service to the town – and a superior one to Mr Haskin’s offering, at that. She wishes to own the saloon, she claims, because the town deserves the best and, of course, because she worries about the health of Mr Haskin. The conversation is civil, if terse, and Atticus leaves having informed her that Mr Haskin has no intention of selling up.

Meanwhile, in the street outside, Orius again fires up the infernal contraption that made such a mess of the floor at Haskin’s. Slipping into an alley and driving himself down into the ground, he re-emerges behind the door he noticed earlier, in a cramped stockroom containing crates of whisky, rails of identical croupier waistcoats and a tray of individual playing cards. Pocketing the cards along with one of the waistcoats, Orius then sets to soaking a waistcoat with a bottle of whisky from one of the crates. He pauses, ready to torch the building, before thinking better of it and returning to the street by way of the newly dug tunnel.

Atticus descends the stairs and rejoins Petty, who has been conversing with the bar staff in search of information and free whisky. Neither seems especially forthcoming, so he takes his leave along with Mr Huxtable. The three men return to the saloon for a nightcap before resolving to reconvene at ten o’clock the following morning. Orius returns to his standard issue railway surveyor’s tent just outside of town, Atticus retires to the spare bedroom upstairs and Sam Petty wrestles a bottle of whisky from Jesse’s hands, drinking until he passes out.

Thanks to Jesse Norton’s custodial neglicence, Orius is able to push open the unlocked saloon door the following morning just as Atticus begins to descend the stairs into the main bar. The men are surprised to see that some jester has filled the bar with tumbleweeds in the night (most likely some clever joke about their lack of customers). Sam Petty wakes up just in time to help out with the cleanup effort, punting one of the tumbleweeds through the open door.

As Orius draws back a leg to do the same, however, the tumbleweed lashes out at him instead, drawing a thin line of blood from an arm lined with jagged thorns. All around the men, the tumbleweeds stir into action and start to coalesce on the surprised bar staff (and resident barfly).

Atticus Huxtable manages to put his gun to use and get rid of one or two tumblebleeds, but they are swift and numerous. Nobody manages to escape unharmed, and fairly soon blood begins to pool on the saloon floor for the second day running. This, in fact, turns out to be their salvation for, while dangerous, tumblebleeds are not smart. Drawn to the blood on the floor, the vampiric creatures begin to lap at the boards, wrestling one another out of the way to get at the fresh blood. Orius Crane seizes a bottle of whisky from behind the bar, inserts the muzzle of a lemar grapeshot pistol into the neck and pulls the trigger. All but one of the tumblebleeds burst into flame; the last is swiftly dispatched by gunfire and now there is only a growing inferno to deal with, as opposed to the tumblebleeds. Atticus begins to seriously question the validity of his staffing choices.

Through quick thinking and quicker emptying of the spitoons lining the bar, the blaze is extinguished with only moderate damage to the already traumatised saloon floor. Through the smoke, the steam and the acrid smell of burnt tobacco juice, a figure appears. Ms Moreau stands in the middle of what was, until yesterday, a somewhat respectable drinking establishment.

Ms Moreau has come, it turns out, to say that she no longer has any interest in acquiring the saloon. Furthermore, she has been doing some soul searching of late and has come to the realisation that Mr Haskin is right. This town does need order; just not in the way Mr Haskin thinks. While he would make “Wild” Anne Munny sheriff, she thinks it takes more than a tin star pinned to a lady with a big mouth to lend order to a lawless town. What this town needs is structure. It needs a government. It needs a mayor.

Ms Moreau has already had private audiences with Misters Goodwin and Obannan, both of whom have backed her proposal for mayoral elections. While she expects Obannan will himself become a candidate, she is officially announcing her candidacy for mayor.

There will be an election.

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The Election Bug
Chops and Change

On a bluff near the town Mr Foley and a large, plain casino employee – “Lazy” Lou Shoul – meet a gaunt one-armed gunslinger. Foley identifies him as one Roderick Hault, who carries an item of great importance to his employer Ms. Moreau.

Back in the Casino’s private rooms, Hault reveals his charge – a mechanical golden scarab beetle, disclosing the faint green emmissions of Ghost Rock. This device, explains Hault, when applied to the base of the target’s skull, places him entirely under it’s owner’s control. That target, supplies Mr. Foley, will be Ms. Moreau’s leading opponent in the upcoming Mayoral Election.

Beside Alicia Moreau, the posters lining the streets declare the cadidates as -
Inge Nielsen – champion of the farmers and homesteaders
Silas Owens – publicly supported by both Haskin and Hubbard, and champion of Wild Anne for Sheriff.
and Richard “Chops” Thistle – a mysterious figure, known to have associations with Obannon.

This last is the destined mark for the arcane device which Lazy Lou thinks is just the sort of lovely brooch he would like to give to his darling wife.

The Casino is disturbed by the fearsome bellowing of a drunken Roy Goodwin. He accuses Moreau and Foley of witchcraft and unspeakable villainy until he is escorted out. Goodwin yells a parting sally from the street, to which Foley responds with a single playing card, which flicks out from beneath his coat, and spins to rest directly between Goodwin’s feet – and roots him to the spot. Foley calmly informs the hissing, spitting, but immobile livery owner that he will, in future, keep these accusations to himself.

The following morning, after Lou and Hault’s abortive attempt to follow Obannon’s henchman Red Horse on a mysterious errand out of town and perhaps locate the elusive “Chops” Thistle, Foley decides the three should attend a rally for Inge Nielson in hopes of catching a glimpse of their mutual opponent. Lou narrowly saves Foley from unneccesarily harming poor innocent Charles Table, before chaos errupts.

Heckles and vegetable produce are hurled at Nielsen as she extorts on the importance of family and vegetable produce. Fights break out. One fight is broken up by Hault, the click of his revolver and a dry word. Another requires the use of Foley’s evil-looking knife, and some acrobatic gunspinning from Lou, before the two are able to march one of Obannon’s thugs back to the casino for a more private discussion.

This man, Cesar, under the persuasion of Foley’s gentle reason and Lou’s less gentle fists, admits that Thistle does not exist. He’s a figurehead, a mask for Obannon.

A new plan emerges – and a new target. Lou will forcefully eject Hault from the Casino. Hault, apparently furious at his treatment by Foley and Moreau, will go straight to their opponent, and ask for employment from Obannon, and when he gets close enough to the man himself, he will use the scarab.

After Hault is thrown yelling into the street, he storms into the salloon and addresses himself to Red Horse – he’s heard that he’s the man to talk to about work for Obannon.

Minutes later he is in Obannon’s house explaining his position, his merits and his grievance with the Casino to Obannon himself. Obannon leads Hault to the back yard of the house. He points out his wife and his young daughter sitting a little way off. They, he says, are what is important to him. He will do anything for them.

Hault, conscious of the weight of the scarab in his pocket, requests only a chance to prove himself. A Casino thug has insulted Obannon’s wife. A man called Cortez. Obannon has no wish to see the man dead, but if he were no longer walking by morning, he might be convinced of Hault’s character. Hault assures Obannon of his service. The small flower that the sickly one-armed man twirls between forefinger and thumb withers and dies. Hault melts into the darkness around the house leaving Obannon alone.

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The Gabriel Hound
Something stalks the town at night

A spritely young woman swings open the door of the flophouse and steps out into the morning sun. At first glance her clothing seems as ratty as any traveler’s might in these parts but, on closer inspection, it’s hard not to notice she’s actually in some fairly fine clothing that’s been dusted up on purpose. If she’s trying to maintain an humble aspect, the $500 pistol on her hip certainly isn’t helping – nor is the fact she rented out the whole bunkhouse last night to sleep in.

Across the street, the porch of Haskin’s Saloon is crowded with men, most of them still sleeping on the boards. Wild Anne Munny, back to full strength after the ordeal of the heat and the meat, is taking her morning coffee. The young woman from the flophouse comes over and introduces herself as Sam Flam, just a normal young lady thank you very much. Flustered at seeing the number of people she turfed out of the Flop House, she begins distributing coins by way of recompense for their discomfort.

While Ms Flam is remunerating the sleepers on Haskin’s porch, something catches Wild Anne’s eye. A huge dog, a mastiff from the looks of things, shambles slowly round the corner. It sways, almost as if drunk, its front legs rigid and faltering. Little by little, it makes its way over to the railing at Haskin’s. It raises its head slowly and stares right into Wild Anne Munny with blood red eyes. Anne falls to the deck, convulsing.

Anne has a violent vision of teeth and claws. She sees blood, flesh, tendon and bone and then, suddenly, ablaze amidst the gore, she sees the town chapel engulfed in flame. The vision lasts only a few seconds; the dog sits by the rail, still watching Wild Anne.

Munny sits bolt upright, slapping leather and letting fly with a shout of ‘mad dog’. She puts two rounds into the dog and it doesn’t even flinch; resuming its shambling gait, it turns and lopes back the way it came. Chasing it with a hail of bullets, one of Anne’s guns malfunctions and explodes into two pieces. Drawn by the noise, Orius Cain boots open the door to Haskin’s with a leg as thick as a redwood, clutching a bread roll in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Anne draws fresh iron and fails to wrest the coffee from Orius’ grasp, even as the scalding liquid starts to spill over his knuckles. Munny lets go of the cup and fires one last time at the dog. The shot goes wide and it disappears. Sam Flam pushes a coin into Orius’ palm, apologetically.

Eager to get the word out about the mad dog, Wild Anne and Sam Flam head over the livery stable, sharing the news of Munny’s vision with Roy Goodwin. Roy insists they go tell Father Henry Kelly up at the chapel, entrusting the business to one of his employees.

Up at the chapel, Father Kelly has spent much of the morning offering coffee to those who stayed in the Chapel last night (given that the bunkhouse was indisposed and all). Among their number was a Sioux woman who had, seemingly, been around since time immemorial. Though reluctant to converse with Father Kelly (who, as it happens, speaks Sioux perfectly), she at least accepted a cup of coffee before repairing to parts unknown. His flock tended to, Kelly is now just about finishing the unpleasant task of shovelling earth into a grave.

Pressed on the matter, Kelly reveals he is not so much conducting a burial as repeating one; the unfortunate in the coffin is none other than Steven Jenks, the man shot dead by Atticus Huxtable some days past. Something dug him up in the night and had itself a fine old banquet which, truth be told, has the holy man a little shaken.

His nerves are not quieted by news of Anne’s vision and the strange dog seen in town – he guesses the breed of the dog before anyone can tell it to him, the colour draining from his face. This dog, he insists, is a portent of much greater evil. The people are in danger, of that he is sure, and it’s his solemn duty to warn them at his afternoon service. Remembering something from her time spent in study, Flam realises she, too, has heard of a beast such as this. It’s a Gabriel Hound.

Whatever it was, Goodwin suggests they stake out the graveyard that night in case it comes back to feed again; that way they can track it and put an end to this business. Father Kelly agrees, asking everyone to spread the word about the service as they make ready for the stakeout.

Tidying up nervously, Kelly finds an empty coffee cup on the porch, washed clean. Inside is a handwritten note in Sioux; ‘Thank you for the coffee. This is a dangerous place’. Sam Flam takes a rubbing from one of the headstones in the graveyard, indulging her strange penchant for history.

Word spreads fast, and Kelly’s service attracts the vast majority of townsfolk; the only people absent, it seems, are those who support Alicia Moreau in the upcoming election. Clearly they have no desire to engage with anything Wild Anne Munny says, prime candidate for town sheriff that she is. Even the Sioux woman, whose name is Ukaleq, is drawn in by the crowd. Sam Flam studies her intently.

The townsfolk go back to their homes, heeding the warnings of Father Kelly closely. One man from their number volunteers to stay up in the rafters of the chapel and ring the bell should anything go wrong. Atticus Huxtable, well used to standing hip to hip with Anne Munny, also offers his services to the town. Roy Goodwin has to get back to the livery stable but leaves Tobias Wade, his best tracker, in his stead. Ukaleq corners Kelly and speaks of a rite she can perform in order to make the church safe. While initially interested, the realisation it would take several days puts the priest off the idea – whatever it is plaguing his churchyard, it’s not going to wait a week. It’s coming tonight.

The sun dips lazily below the horizon and the stakeout begins. The posse takes up different positions around the graveyard and settles in for a long wait. The hours wear on and a couple of the group begin to get bleary eyed, when a low shuffling noise brings them to attention. Shambling its way between the graves, the Gabriel Hound is back. Sam Flam is busy roasting sausages over a fire and doesn’t notice it for some time, but eventually the whole group is brought to bear and begins to stalk the hound.

Ukaleq, an arrow nocked to her bow, begins to close the gap between her and the hound. Suddenly, a great scrabbling starts behind her, followed by a prodigious crack. She changes course and begins to creep toward the new disturbance.

The racket also reaches the ears of Wild Anne Munny and Atticus Huxtable, who are keeping watch near the back door of the chapel. Edging forward carefully they see that another grave has been disturbed, the coffin wrenched forcefully from the earth. A litany of snapping, rending, slurping noises emanate from the shadowy form hunched over the pine box.

Wild Anne creeps ever closer to the grave; the man is too engrossed in his meal to notice. She raises a pistol. Hold it right there, mister.

With a hiss, the man’s head snaps round. Sour, putrid blood coats his chin and drips from the ends of his walrus-like moustache. As he stares with wild, hateful eyes, Anne’s stomach lurches. She knows this man. It’s Lorne Caulfield.

All hell breaks loose. Before she can get a shot off, Anne’s stomach is torn open with a slash from Lorne’s clawed hand. She falls down, clutching her gut. Atticus, ever at her back, draws both guns and lets fly with a pair of magnum rounds. They catch Caulfield in the chest and he spins, falling onto his face.

Wild Anne fights through the pain and manages to find her feet again, while Ukaleq and Huxtable close in on the downed trapper. The three get close enough for a killshot when suddenly the man wheels in the dirt, flipping crab-like onto his hands and feet. In one leap, he bounds onto the roof of the chapel and away.

The Gabriel Hound continues to snuffle around the graves, seemingly unaware of the firefight unfolding around it. WIth a couple of shots from Wild Anne and a well-placed arrow from Ukaleq, the hell-herald is dispatched. Anne quickly moves off to get herself patched up by Mattox, the town barber. Father Kelly drops a tomahawk and stares at his hands, filled with an energy hitherto unfelt by the man of god.

Wild Anne, now sporting a brace of stitches on her stomach, rejoins the group as they set to discussing what should be done next. Ukaleq, speaking in Sioux with Father Kelly, insists that Lorne Caulfield is an unman. He has become a being of pure evil and must be killed. Kelly disagrees, insisting there’s something of Lorne Caulfield that can be saved. He speaks with newfound purpose, insisting that they must find Lorne and attempt an exorcism. Huxtable suggests they set off toward Lorne’s house. He helps Ukaleq onto his horse and they all set out together.

For a man laden with pelts traveling at a pace, it’s a seven hour ride between town and Lorne Caulfield’s house. The posse makes it in three. The sides of the horses foam with sweat and steam rises from their flanks in the early morning chill as they finally arrive at the path to Lorne’s abode. Cautiously approaching the squat building, they find the door locked tight. A note is pinned to the front – ‘Out checking traps’. Wild Anne hammers the door open with a swift kick, but finds nothing out of place inside the house.

Ukaleq takes a quiet moment of contemplation, as though tuning in to something the others are unable to hear. Wordlessly, she leads the group off into the treeline and directly to a nearby trap. Caught in the snare lies a dead rabbit, matted with dried blood. Its bloated carcass and sunken eyes indicate it has been there a long time. Moving on, Ukaleq finds another trap, this time containing a dead deer. Unlike the rabbit, there are no signs of injury. On examining the animal, Ukaleq concludes it died of exhaustion or dehydration. Either way, it’s been here a good while.

The third trap she finds in the brush paints an altogether bleaker picture. The grass has been spattered with a vast quantity of blood, some of which trails off into the bushes. A bloody stump remains in the snare. On closer inspection, it turns out to be a paw of prodigious size, with huge dagger-like claws. Father Kelly presses a finger to the paw, which immediately starts to smoke and bubble at his touch.

There’s nothing for it but to follow the trail of blood deeper into the trees. After a couple of minutes, they come across a large tree, at the base of which sits a corpse – or half of one, anyway. Lorne Caulfield’s legs are entirely missing and the vital organs have been torn from his ribcage. Blood covers the ground in front of the dead trapper in a great cone three feet long. Still flung wide open, his glazed eyes stare emptily – unblinking – into the distance.

There is no time to grieve; whatever did this to Lorne Caulfield is still out there and it’s very clearly dangerous. After debating a return to the graveyard to stake it out, they decide it’s best to tackle the beast here, where it’s made a home for itself. All they need is bait.

Dragging all of the dead animals from the traps (and hunting down a few new ones), a great pile of sour meat is assembled in front of Lorne’s house. Wild Anne finds three bear traps inside the house and arranges them around the bait, before finding cover by one of the front windows. Sam Flam joins her, checking that exquisite pistol of hers over first. For the second time in as many days, the posse prepares to stage an ambush.

They don’t have to wait long. From the trees, there is the loud crack of a snapping twig. Then another. And another. Slowly, Lorne Caulfield – or something very much like him – emerges into the clearing and heads automatically for the pile of meat. Sticking an arm in, he pulls out a slick gobbet of matter and begins to feed, chewing vacantly.

Father Kelly thrusts a wooden cross in front of him and shouts to get Lorne’s attention, pouring his concentration into the holy symbol. The Lornething’s head snaps up from its meal. Spellbound by the cross, it begins to stalk round the pile, stepping expertly over the nearest bear trap. About fifteen feet from Father Kelly, it stops and begins to wiggle its feet as if preparing to pounce; its back arches and it hunkers down as its body begins to twist and deform itself. Its limbs lengthen; its ribcage explodes outward in a series of cracks and its skull warps to take on a grossly different shape. In front of their very eyes, this thing transforms into a mountain lion of prodigious size; easily four or six times that of a normal animal. It snarls and prepares to pounce on the poor priest when, suddenly, it slumps down slightly. Sneaking up on the great beast, Ukaleq has grabbed hold of its tail. She chants softly and the beast’s movements slow. By way of a signal, the Sioux woman suddenly springs back and nocks an arrow.

The shooting starts. Munny, Flam and Ukaleq all score good hits on the beast, but it doesn’t even appear to notice. Snarling at the priest, it lashes out with a huge paw – missing by mere inches. The air in the clearing grows thick with gunsmoke as Munny and Flam continue to rain fire down on the beast, but nothing seems to be working.

Suddenly, Father Kelly’s eyes fly wide. He turns to Atticus Huxtable – give me your weapon! Seizing a pistol, he bows his head low to the firearm and whispers a few words into it. He tosses the gun back to Atticus, who flashes his hand out and puts a round square into the beast’s chest. The trees shake as the thing roars and slumps to the ground – down but not out. A second round of blessed ammunition lodges in the beast’s chest and begins to glow with a searing white intensity. The beast burns from inside out; it shudders one last time and crumples in on itself, expiring.

Eddies of gun smoke drift above the treeline, lazily.

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Underhand Electioneering

A gathering in Haskin’s Saloon, still under the aegis of Atticus Huxtable, was interrupted by the arrival of Bill Scurlock. The eager man proudly announced himself as the proprietor of a new newspaper and telegraph office – the wires direct from Sacramento to Virginia City having made a surprise pitstop in this small town. And one of its first offerings was a message for Orius Cain from the Black River Railroad Company, which he quickly read and squirrelled away without revealing its contents.

Not least, because he was distracted by the arrival of Red Horse and some other associates of Cillian Obannan. The native gunslinger was known to another patron of the bar that day, Singed Coyote, who had recently arrived in town – although the newcomer did not seem too fond of his fellow.

Cain was less than happy with the patronage of the moneylender’s men and after a testy standoff, sent them packing from Haskin’s. But not before he had overheard dire threats to the safety of the bar’s owner and namesake.

It also transpired that Coyote’s arrival in town was no accident. He had a message for the surprised Bill Scurlock, warning of some evil doings in the farmland.

Concerned for the safety of Haskin, Orius stormed from the bar and made for the General Store, where Haskin had been convalescing in a spare room. After pushing past a scandalised Marsha Hubbard, into the room, he convinced the startled Emmet Haskin that he had not come to murder him, but was instead to take him to safety back in the bar.

Meanwhile, Scurlock, accompanied by the dogged Sam Flam, was heading back to Telegraph Office in the hopes of relaying some messages to his mysterious employers. Safe in the knowledge that Flam did not understand morse code he transmitted and received a reply in short order, which he similarly kept to himself.

Upon leaving the newly built Telegraph Office, Scurlock spied a funeral taking place at the chapel down the street. Leaving Flam to return to Haskin’s, the reporter set off to investigate. Talking to the bereaved father revealed that it was a child who had passed away the night previous – mauled by some unknown beast in one of the farms that ring The Town.

With Singed Coyote’s warning fresh in his mind and his investigative instincts kicking in, Scurlock convinced the grieving father to lead him to the scene of the crime. The spot was an area of churned earth at the centre of a corn field – the blood of the deceased boy still drying in the cool morning air.

Looming over the scene was a scarecrow, which, upon interrogation, the father realised that he did not erect himself. As Scurlock set to examining the supposed simulacrum, he noticed a hard object fastened under the scarecrow’s shirt. However, as he drove his knife into its hay chest, the scarecrow shrieked and revealed its true form. After a short and nasty battle, Scurlock cast his lamp at the beast and left it to burn to its death in the centre of the field.

As he turned to return to Town, and his companions holed up in Haskin’s Saloon, the newspaperman inadvertently kicked a clump of soil over a cold black seed that had dropped to the ground, immune to the flames that burnt the scarecrow to ash.

He arrived back at Haskin’s just in time, with upturned tables and a rapidly diminishing clientele clearly signalling that a fight was brewing. Emmet himself was cowering in his former quarters, towards the back of the building.

Sure enough, it was not long before Red Horse returned to the bar. This time with three heavily armed cronies in tow. Only a few sharp words were exchanged before the gunfire began. With their superior tactical position and some sharp shooting, it was the defenders of Haskin who quickly gained the upper hand.

The fight in the bar was effectively ended when the bold Singed Coyote charged at the pack of would-be assassin’s with his war club raised. His fearsome strikes ended the life of a wounded fighter, leaving just Red Horse himself, who was swiftly expelled through the saloon doors by another mighty swing.

As an injured Orius and enraged Coyote left the saloon intent on seeing that Red Horse paid with his life, Sam Flam heard the sound of cracking timbers from the room where Haskin was holed up. Rushing in she discovered a fifth assailant, who had successfully chopped his way through the timber walls. Before he could level his gun on the terrified bar owner, Flam raised her finely decorated sabre and delivered a shockingly precise and powerful swing that cleaved his head completely from his body. Seemingly in shock, as Scurlock arriving to provide now unneeded assistance she wiped her bloody sword clean on the front his shirt.

In the dusty street out front of the saloon, things were going a little less well for the defenders. A heavily wounded Red Horse was hobbling for the cover of buildings across the street, while shots from Orius Cain’s rifle sung out, but missed their target. As Red Horse slipped into an alley, his tribe-mate Coyote sprinted after. Fearing his quarry lost for good, Orius made a last gasp attempt to use his personal burrowing device, but in his haste failed to fully calibrate and ended up among a number of surprised horses at the Livery Stable.

Using his tracking prowess, Coyote traced Red Horse’s bloody footsteps to the back door of Mr. Obannan’s grand house. He was greeted by a brace of rifle muzzles which emerged from upstairs windows, before his cries for Red Horse were answered by the man of the house at the back door. Orius arrived a moment later on horseback and a standoff ensued, with the moneylender denying that Red Horse was anywhere nearby and questioning the narrative of the attack that the Indian and the Railroad man had described. Eventually, thinking better of storming the Obannan stronghold, Cain and Coyote relented and returned to the saloon to lick their wounds.

Meanwhile, Scurlock had stolen from the saloon to visit the casino. There, by use of a specific name, he was able to convince Mr. Foley to grant him an interview with Alicia Moreau. Despite some bold accusations, Ms. Moreau was not particularly forthcoming.

As he stepped out into the upper corridors of Hoyle’s Hotel & Casino, Scurlock was hit with a vision. He found himself in the body of a great four-legged beast, looking down on the town with eyes set beneath two powerful horns…

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