Hollow Threats - part 2

The marshals, having decided they have no choice but to wait until tomorrow for Joker to bring them Hunt’s reply, set up camp just outside town. Once the camp is set and the fire is lit, Nelli begins to patrol the surrounding area. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices a cactus which appears to be sitting at an odd angle, and moves closer to investigate. The soil around the cactus appears recently disturbed, as if the cactus has been planted there deliberately. Nelli begins to dig at the dirt, until she notices some unfamiliar mechanical sounds emanating from below the ground. She runs back to camp to alert the others.

Eliza moves towards the cactus where Nelli was digging, and just as she leans closer to investigate the sounds, she is suddenly flung clear as a large robot bursts from a concealed trap door. The imposing robot – apparently a construction machine which has had one claw-arm replaced with a large flamethrower – emerges completely from its hiding place. It is followed shortly by a very smug-looking Joker, who surveys the surprised marshals. “Ah,” says Joker in his smooth drawl, “I see you have taken my invitation to camp outside town, quite literally. It’s my own fault, I suppose… I fear I have been altogether too subtle. Mr. Hunt has no intention of seeing you, or speaking to you, or delivering any message other than this: You are not wanted in this town. I’m gonna first ask you to leave, and then my metal friend here – who has a considerably less amenable temperament than me – is going to have to make sure that you do.”

The marshals commit to their mutual course of action with a quick exchange of glances. Eliza, off to the side and as-yet unnoticed by Joker and the robot, engages her chameleon defences and proceeds toward Joker as the others open fire on the robot. The robot’s metal plating sizzles and scorches as it is pelted with multiple shots, but apparently shrugs off the damage and lunges toward Nelli. A near-invisible Eliza grapples the struggling Joker and demands that he turn off the robot, but Joker, uncooperative as ever, ignores her demands and tries to struggle free of his assailant. The robot levels its flame thrower toward Nelli and McTeef, letting loose a huge cone of flame. While McTeef manages to dodge out of the way, the much-closer Nelli is not so lucky; the inferno engulfs her lower leg as she attempts her dodge. She manages despite the pain to frantically pat out the flames on her foot, but it is clear the damage is significant.

Eliza redoubles her efforts and begins to choke the struggling Joker, damaging his windpipe. While Joker appeared to have a chance at escape when first accosted, it is clear now that his situation is dire. Just as McTeef grimly levels his gauss rifle at the robot for another barrage, Joker suddenly disappears with a “pop” and Eliza stumbles into the empty space he just occupied. McTeef lets loose with his rifle, and this time the robot is not taking it lightly; large, smoking holes are blown through the robot’s arms, torso, groin, and left leg. It teeters over backwards, sparking and twitching.

In the sudden calm, Nelli faintly hears the retreat of footsteps through the underground passage, and informs her allies. Tightly wrapping the remains of her foot and hauling herself onto her walking stick, she is determined to proceed. They descend into the earth in hot pursuit. The tunnel is nearly pitch-black, and they scramble for their light sources as the retreating footsteps grow more distant. They hear Joker rasp harshly through his half-crushed windpipe to some far-off listeners, “go back that way! Kill them!” Keenly aware of the potential threat ahead, the marshals do their best to employ both haste and caution, proceeding deeper into the tunnels as quickly as Nelli’s injury will allow.

As they round a corner, they are met nearly face-to-case with the batch of hired hooligans that Joker ordered to attack them. Eliza, impossible for the surprised mooks to see in the darkness, charges at the nearest one and slams him with insane force into the wall. McTeef immediately shoots another guard’s arm off, before shrugging off a couple hastily-aimed blasts to his armour. Nelli snipes another, killing him immediately, and Eliza takes out the last one as she did the first. Ensuring the surviving guards are well-secured and are not bleeding out, the marshals press on.

With Eliza still scouting out in front, the marshals proceed up the twisting tunnels. The walls show the marks of picks and other mining equipment, and thus appear to be remnants of a former mine, presumably the original spark behind the town. As the tunnel opens up into a larger room, Eliza briefly surveys the crates and barrels that have been stored there, not noticing the enemies that lay in wait around the next corner. However, Eliza’s camouflage fools them as well, and it is not until one of the creeps sees McTeef that he exclaims “they’re here!” and flattens against the wall around the corner. McTeef, aware that Eliza is near the position of the ambusher, distracts him with boasts of what the marshals did to the last batch of subterranean cannon fodder. As the ambushers plan their attack in harsh whispers, Eliza smashes one of them into the other with mighty force. Each time they attempt to regain their footing, they are once again battered by their invisible assailant. McTeef and Nelli move closer amidst the confusion. Just as McTeef reaches the open room, he notices two more ambushers hiding behind some crates, which had gone unnoticed by Eliza. They fire before McTeef can react, but find his armour is too robust for their weapons.

The two ambushers who had been around the corner from the room take advantage of the sudden din to beat a hasty retreat, splitting up and tearing off down different tunnels. Eliza picks one and begins pursuit. Meanwhile, McTeef notices a ladder leading up through the ceiling from the open room with the crates, and deduces they are under the town businesses, most likely the general store. He bellows to the two hiding in the crates that they are under arrest, and they wisely surrender. As Nelli ties up the crooks by the crates, Eliza continues pursuit of her chosen runner and McTeef warns the other runner that he’d better halt and throw down his arms. Unfortunately for the runners, they choose poorly, resulting in Eliza breaking the nose of one, and McTeef shooting the other in the leg. Relentless, the one with the injured leg hauls himself around a corner into the blackness.

From further down the hallway taken by Eliza, a faint, muffled, panicked voice can faintly be made out. Eliza can tell it’s someone familiar, but Nelli pegs it as the town barber, Lloyd Chapman. They all proceed down this tunnel, past another ladder, and finally to another open room. In the dark, musty room they indeed discover the barber, bound and gagged. Once Eliza has unbound Chapman’s mouth, he pleads frantically for escape, and reveals he used to be the mayor, but now they keep him captive. The marshals untie him, and ask him to describe Jerome hunt, the situation since he took over town, and roughly how many hired guns there are. Unfortunately, Lloyd has not been allowed many details of the town’s current state of affairs; since he was deposed suddenly by Jerome Hunt and Hunt’s hired goons, Chapman has been kept under close watch in the barber shop by day, and tied up in the shop’s basement at night. The marshals tell Chapman to run, but he refuses to leave on his own, insisting he’ll be shot by the guards posted on the hotel balcony. The marshals tell him to hide in the barber shop, in that case, and they ready their weapons for the final assault.

Backtracking to the ladder they saw on the way to the barber shop basement, they conclude it must lead into the hotel. They ascend into the hotel and find themselves in the kitchen. Eliza proceeds first, and carefully enters the empty dining room, followed by the rest of the marshals. They listen cautiously at the lobby door, and hear only some vague voices and noises in the distance. Eliza goes to the lobby, and peers out the hotel’s front windows just in time to see a coach pulled by a team of horses go racing down main street and out of town. She investigates Jerome Hunt’s office and Joker’s bedroom, and finds them hastily cleared out of anything important; it appears the marshals have taken too long, and let their prey escape.

The marshals decide now that they are in the hotel, they had best investigate all of it. They climb the dining room stairs to the second floor, and find themselves in a large room whose walls are lined with bunk beds, with one door leading to another room at the back of the hotel, and another door leading to the balcony at the front. They can see some light and motion through the glass panes in the door at the front, and burst through it. Standing on the balcony, they find Allan and Steve who they spoke to the day before. Allan and Steve look around quickly, obviously hoping for an escape, but it quickly dawns on them that their chance of getting away without severe injury is not great. The marshals interrogate the two thugs, hoping to find out where Hunt and Joker went, but find Allan and Steve oddly uncooperative. The goons are clearly frightened of the marshals (who have now demonstrated their ability to cut through a swath of hirelings practically unscathed), but appear to be much more frightened of someone else. Upon further probing, the two goons imply that someone far more imposing than Joker, Hunt, or even the marshals, is really pulling the strings here. After this, the two terrified henchmen clam up. The marshals suspect that Allan and Steve could only be so cowed by the influence of a Judge, and rattle off the names of a few known possibilities. The goons merely shake their heads and look at their feet, unwilling to damn themselves further than they already have.

One room remains unexplored, and after tying up Steve and Allan, this situation is rectified. The marshals find themselves in a large, lavish bedroom – much larger than any other accommodation offered by the hotel. In addition to the large, elegant bed and wardrobes, as well as the massive shelf filled with top-quality distillates, the marshals find a luxurious wooden desk. The desk is empty aside from inkwells, quills, blank paper and envelopes, sealing wax, and an ornate seal bearing an unknown symbol. The marshals collect the latter before examining the marked maps on the wall above the desk, which they also remove and fold to take along.

It is at this point that the marshals realize they did not completely explore the tunnels below the town, and they should exhaust the remaining passages before concluding their search. They find there is just one remaining occupied room – the basement of the blacksmith shop – where they stumble upon a handful of previously unencountered guards, as well as the one who was shot in the leg by McTeef during his flight. All quickly surrender. Hoping to avoid any further casualties, they are all-too-willing to reveal that Joker had ordered them to hold off the marshals long enough for him to meet up with Hunt and flee the town by coach. No one was left with any further information about where Joker and Hunt intended to go.

Stymied, the marshals bind all the surviving hirelings underneath the barber shop, and consider what must now be done.

Hollow Threats - part 1

The marshals set out on foot from Fair Play on the 24 mile journey to Grunting Hollow. Despite making relatively good time over the poorly-maintained road, the marshals find they need to set up camp for the night, and take shelter from the wind in a canyon pass. Apache Bob Griffin takes watch duty, as sleep is not a requirement for him. The sun drifts down over the horizon and darkness falls.

Before long, Griffin notices the faint glint of a rifle from a bridge that spans the canyon. Despite waking the rest of the marshals as quietly as he can, the rifleman notices their movement and begins to exchange pot shots with the main group of marshals as Eliza sneaks away from camp to the bluff’s ascent. Some of the rifleman’s shots glance off McTeef’s armour, which is thankfully too robust for them to do much harm. Despite the marshals’ best efforts at peacefully apprehending the bandits, the bandits unfortunately underestimate their chosen prey and bring upon themselves a bloody massacre. The lucky ones are merely dismembered or killed with single shots. The less-lucky ones tumble from great height or are burned alive once Nelli’s laser lights the bridge on fire. One bandit upsets a pile of barrels which come tumbling down the bluff, smashing at the bottom and barely missing Eliza. Panicking after having revealed his location via the barrels, the bandit loses his footing on his way down the bluff and face-plants right in front of Nelli. Ultimately, four bandits are apprehended: one with an arm wound, one with a wounded arm and leg, one with wounded arm and chest as well as minor burns, and one final bandit who surrenders before suffering any physical damage.

When the fighting is over and the final interrogation has been completed, the marshals determine that there are no remaining unaccounted-for bandits, and that the bandits have only simple tent camps on top of the bluffs as they are based out of Grunting Hollow. The marshals scrape their memories for any recollection of the banditry laws in Grunting Hollow, but come up blank. McTeef tries his hand at a slick rhetorical question, shouting at the survivors, “do you know what the punishment for banditry is in Grunting Hollow?!” To his surprise, he is informed that there is no consequence for banditry under Grunting Hollow’s laws, as long as you are careful not to cross the owner of the hotel. The marshals confer and, given that this pass is technically not under the jurisdiction of anyone, reach the consensus that banditry should be illegal and these bandits will be brought to Grunting Hollow for incarceration and punishment.

As the sun rises, the marshals continue their journey to Grunting Hollow. What they find is a small, nearly-abandoned settlement which is oddly dominated by a large hotel. The handful of other businesses all face inward toward the town’s centre, as if in supplication to the hotel. Some of the buildings appear to have had their front doors and signage moved fairly recently in aid of this configuration. A curious interview of the local shop owners proceeds.

The blacksmith is an elderly man, clearly in a permanent nervous state, and appears confused as to why the hell anyone would come to Grunting Hollow if they had never heard of Joker. With pressure from the marshals, the blacksmith is reveals that Jerome Hunt is the owner of the hotel, the closest thing Grunting Hollow has to a mayor or a sheriff, and Joker is Hunt’s mouthpiece in nearly all dealings with the outside world.

The proprietor of the General Store, Edward Bowman, is a funny little man in a dusty coat that has seen better days. He seems eager to sell anything to anyone, and succeeds in selling an unidentifiable contraption made of worn wood and cracking leather to Apache Bob. The marshals determine that almost no one frequents Grunting Hollow, and business is far from booming. When asked why he doesn’t just move away, Bowman explains that he can’t move because it wouldn’t be allowed by Mr. Hunt; he implies that such an action would result in him being violently hunted down. McTeef enquires into the purchase of some rations, which Bowman excitedly pulls from a forgotten crate under a dusty piece of hide. The ration packages are sealed, but look old and have the expiry date mysteriously removed from the package. McTeef ultimately declines to purchase the dubious rations, but does leave a couple coins on the counter as he leaves.

Taking a break from their perusal of the shops, the marshals decide to approach the hotel. As they draw close, a thug named Allan speaks to them from the balcony above the front door. Allan says they are not expected. The marshals insist that they must speak to the proprietor. Allan calls Steve, his cohort, and Steve says he has not been instructed to expect the Marshals’ presence either. Steve does, however, notice Sal Early and some of his remaining “business partners,”: the bandits that the Marshals captured on the way to Grunting Hollow. The marshals say these bandits are under arrest for attacking the party on the way here. Furthermore, Marshul McTeef boldly declares that Jerome Hunt is also under arrest for his involvement in the recent crimes committed in Fair Play. Steve laughs off the accusations, replying that

  1. the marshals have no proof that any of the accused committed any crimes
  2. no one here cares what happens in Fair Play or on the road
  3. the only people with jurisdiction to arrest anyone here would be Jerome Hunt or Joker
    Despite Steve’s dismissal of the affair, he is persuaded to ask Joker to speak to the marshals.

After a short time, Joker emerges from the upstairs door and out onto the balcony, wearing an immaculate striped suit and a conceited expression. Joker welcomes the marshals to the town, and invites them to enjoy the hospitality of the local businesses. Joker dances around the idea that Sal Early and his cohorts may have had any involvement in any kind of attack. When pressed by the marshals, Joker asks Sal if his men attacked the party, and Sal responds that to the contrary, the marshals attacked his men without provocation and killed at least two of them. Joker, feigning surprise and astonishment, asks the marshals to address Early’s accusations. The marshals confirm that they did indeed kill two of Early’s men, but not without provocation. Joker exchanges thinly-veiled insults with McTeef, and McTeef barely holds his temper.

As the verbal exchange deteriorates, the marshals demand to see Hunt and have him arrest the bandits. Joker insists that Mr. Hunt is far too important and busy to deal with them, but eventually agrees to bring their message to Mr. Hunt. The marshals will receive Mr. Hunt’s response tomorrow. In the meantime, Joker suggests, the marshals are welcome to set up camp in the fine landscape just outside Grunting Hollow. The marshals mull the likelihood of Hunt actually giving them an audience, and consider returning to Fair Play and forgetting the whole affair. Eventually they decide to stick around for one day and see what happens; they inform Joker that they agree to his terms, for now. Following the departure of Joker and Steve from the balcony, McTeef pointedly glares at Allan and pats his gun. Allan responds by glaring back at McTeef and patting his crotch. Taking this as a clear challenge, McTeef opens his trousers to expose his manhood. Allan, disgusted, retires to the interior of the hotel, leaving McTeef feeling triumphant.

Their conversation with Hunt’s men now concluded until tomorrow, the marshals decide to interview the remaining shopkeepers before setting up camp. They meet with a well-dressed barber who introduces himself as Lloyd Chapman, and talk very little about even less. They also speak to the tailor, who complains of being under pressure from Hunt’s thugs to wash some garments, but unable to do so as his cleaning fluid was never delivered. McTeef confronts Sal Early, who implies that the barrels of cleaning fluid may well be at the bottom of some rocky bluff, smashed. Following the requisite scowls and shaking of fists, the marshals set up camp outside of town.

Foul Play in Fair Play - part 2

James, after a brief discussion with the local pastor about the ethics of setting up a sniper position in the steeple of the church, settled on the roof of the Sheriff’s office. Eliza hid herself behind the Sheriff’s outhouse, and Nelli set up around the corner of the saloon. Caleb, ever his own man, decided once again that the best location to place a secure guard would be inside the saloon, at the poker table. Sadly, there was inevitably a disagreement with some other gamblers. Just as James sighted the Newburg gang walking towards town, aimed his rifle, and signaled to Eliza that the ruffians were on their way, Caleb’s encounter escalated to the flipping of the poker table and some very unkind loud words. This imperfectly-timed ruckus caught the attention of Nelli, as well as a mysterious android named “Apache” Bob (next door in the Barber shop), both of whom decided they should investigate. As Nelli and Apache Bob made their way towards the saloon, there was a roar followed by the hasty exit of one gambler from the saloon. Apache Bob shouted at the gambler to halt, assuming the figure beating a hasty retreat was the perpetrator of the injustice. All this noise caught the attention of the Newburg boys, who decided their approach may require more caution; Landon and Barrett moved purposefully towards the saloon while Leo made his way towards the back door of the Sheriff office, presumably with the intention of meeting the watchman. Nelli, unaware of the ruffians’ approach, headed into the saloon to diffuse the situation. She found a large green “Marshul” shouting at a terrified ganster for insinuating he might be crazy.

Deciding it was time for action, James initiated the confrontation by shooting off Landon’s hat. Nelli manage to get Caleb to calm down. James warned Landon not to move, and threatened him with what a huge rifle might do to him should he not comply. Caleb, now aware of the situation, pitched in his threats to Landon as well. Nelli, taking the more direct approach, shot Landon in the foot. And lasered it right off. At the sound of Landon’s anguished screams, Barret dropped his gun and began to run.

During this shouty ruckus, Eliza deftly knocked Leo unconscious. As she dragged him to the jail, he began to struggle, but was at the mercy of her iron grip. Eliza arrived at the jail, only to find it locked. Letting out a sigh, she proceeded to drag Leo to the Sheriff’s office, find the jail key in the Sherrif’s desk, and drag Leo back to the jail before locking him up.

Meanwhile, Caleb turned his attention to the fleeing Barrett and threatened him to stay put. James, not learning from Nelli’s botched act of pacification, shot his railgun at Barrett’s leg and blew a hole clean through it. Barrett immediately collapsed to the ground, screaming. Just to be sure, Nelli instructed Barrett to stay put.

The thread was dealt with, but the aftermath was bloody. Caleb and Nelli dragged Landon and Barrett to the saloon to tend to their wounds. Caleb, after initially botching his attempt at surgery on Barett’s leg and doing additional harm, tried tried again and managed a successful amputation. Nelli meanwhile exercised adequate first aid upon Landon’s lasered-off foot stump to keep it from getting worse. Once the pain and bleeding and screaming had subsided, Landon suggested that someone very important will be annoyed at the Marshals’ meddling… Regardless of the consequences, the Marshals locked the remaining ne’er-do-wells in the jail and turned in for the night.

In the morning, with no local sheriff or watchman anymore, the Marshals provided the jail keys to the the local priest. They showed the townsfolk the jail and its occupants, and collected the posted bounty. Given his presence at the events of the night before, and his willingness to continue helping, the Marshals deputized Apache Bob into their group.

As the town’s watchman had not participated in the murder of the sheriff and had been pressured into compliance with the Newburg gang’s activities, he had been freed from his bonds. In line with Landon’s threats from the night before, the watchman warns the Marshals and their Deputy (hereafter referred to simply as the Marshals) that it might be wise to skidaddle before the Newburg boys’ employer hears the news of their defeat. Caleb very tactfully loutmouthed about the watcman’s part in the scheme in front of the onlookers from the town, raising their ire and prompting them to push for an impromput lynching of the former lawman. Luckily, James was able to fast-talk the town into understanding the dangerous situation the watchman had been in, and the pressure he was subjected to. Ultimately, the townsfolk decided to merely exile the watchman, who hastily packed the essentials into a newly purchased wagon and headed out of town.

The immediate threat now dealt with, messengers were dispatched to Consequence and River Junction to inform the stage line it can return to its normal route. However, the Marshals talked the situation over and decided it was only a matter of time before the same business interests in Grunting Hollow hatched a new scheme to redirect the stage from its rightful route. The villains in Grunting Hollow would have to be dealt with.

Foul Play in Fair Play - part 1
Wherein the Marshals are unexpectedly waylaid by a local bandit problem

The main street of Fair Play was uncharacteristically deserted for a typical early evening. Fair Play was hardly a bustling metropolis at the best of times (being host to neither much industry nor entertainment to speak of), but even that being the case, the lack of witnesses as the dusty stage coach rolled into town was grounds enough to take note. Or it may have been, had the unlikely combination of passengers, then emerging from the coach, been at all familiar with the town (which, given Fair Play’s distinct lack of much to do or see, would have itself been surprising).

First to disembark from the coach was perhaps the least likely sight of all: A tall, heavily-built, oddly-dressed character carrying a large gun jumped off the roof of the coach. Under the thick layer of road dust, greenish skin may have been just barely discernible. At any rate, the upturned nose, pointed ears, jutting jaw and teeth were unmistakable: this was a “ speed freak”, and the very act of a speed freak leaving a stage coach upright, undamaged, and full of living occupants was nearly out of the realm of conceivable probability. As if to have one last, bitter laugh in probability’s face, leaving probability utterly stunned and adrift, this particular speed freak had, pinned neatly upon his chest and showing no trace of the dust that blanketed the rest of his person, a shiny metal star which had been amateurishly but meticulously inscribed with the letters “MARSHUL McTEEF”. McTeef took one brief look around before sauntering off to the saloon.

The rest of the passengers then emerged from the slightly less-dusty passenger compartment. First Eliza Jenning, a lithe, dark-skinned humanoid who carried two large sabers, followed by Nelli, the other a trail-worn felinoid with a laser rifle. Last, a very handsome man carrying a huge railgun: James McClairen. These three brushed themselves off and meandered towards the hotel.

The marshals did some investigating around town and determined the local sheriff and deputy have been killed, and the town is being terrorized by bandits. After speaking to the proprietors of the newspaper and general store, as well as the watchman in the jail, they learned there is a bounty out for Barret Newburg and his cronies, Landon Wylam and Leo Rukavina. The three ruffians typically show up most nights after dark, and generally bust up the place. They have caused a lot of property damage, but luckily no serious injuries.

Eliza and Nelli were the first to pitch in together, taking out the roof of the saloon. James independently took up a sniper position in this room at the top of the hotel. Caleb thought it best to keep an eye on the inside of the saloon (and its wares). The four Marshals kept a watchful eye on the paths in and out of town all that night, but to their surprise, the ruffians did not show up in the town. The only item of note was that the town watchman mysteriously departed the Sheriff office just after dusk, headed roughly south-west past the graveyard, and returned again just as the sun returned to the sky.

Nelli and Eliza set upon the watchman and easily terrified him into telling them his secret: he, and the Newburg gang, are working for a business man in Grunting Hollow. The aim is to have the River Junction/ Albion Water stage coach line redirected through Grunting Hollow instead of Fair Play. The watchman and the bandits will be paid once the redirection is official and permanent. Caleb, informed of this, went to the stage coach stop and was able to confirm due to the ruffians’ antics, the stage coach has indeed been re-routed to Grunting Hollow until the issue is resolved. Despite using all his charms, Caleb was unable to convince the stage operators that it is safe for the stage to resume its normal route until the bandits are fully dealt with.

It seemed if there was to be much hope of the Marshals ever leaving Fair Play, they were going to have to work together to take care of this bandit problem. With four stubborn and independent law-men/-women, used to working on their own, working together was not going to come easy. Eliza tracked down James and Nelli found Caleb, and after much debate they agreed to cooperate. After locking the watchman up in Eliza’s hotel room, the Marshals gathered at the hotel dining room for breakfast and the formulation of a plan. It seems that the watchman had been instructed to wait until the Marshals had given up and left town, and then he was to set off a flare to notify the Newburg gang it was safe to come back and resume their mayhem. It was agreed that they would wait until near dusk, set off the flare, and then load the jaws of their cunning trap.

Caleb went and purchased himself a crisp new bowler hat, and had his hand-made badge shined up by the blacksmith, before everyone took their positions. As the sun began to fall below the horizon and shadow fell over the town, Nelli set off the flare.


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