A Stranger Tale of Goldrun: Part Two
The Stranger took the old Aisha's advice not long after finishing his drink. The saloon had seemed welcoming enough, but the stare from Holly made it clear that he should either buy another drink or leave. In order to do that, he would need Neopoints, and for that he'd need to speak with the sheriff.
As the Stranger walked to the other end of the town where Holly had said the jail was located, he began to notice something he had missed earlier. Everyone seemed to be carrying cork guns. Most were far grubbier than the Stranger's, but it seemed like this was a particularly dangerous place to be.
The Lutari eventually found the small wooden jail house and went inside. The sight of a Neopet behind a desk greeted him. A brown Gelert with a deputy badge. Behind him was a wall filled with wanted posters, and what seemed like a newly built corridor disappeared off to the cells.
“Howdy, Stranger,” the Gelert greeted him. “How can I help?”
“Holly Makepeace sent me,” the Stranger answered. “She said the sheriff might have work for me.”
The Gelert smiled, “We can always use a new hand around here. Sheriff Ellie's out at the moment, escorting the National Neopian Stage. I'm her deputy, Pettigrew. Victor Pettigrew. You can shoot?”
“Well enough,” the Stranger answered.
“Good, that's always a start,” Victor smiled as he rooted about in his desk. “What brings you to Goldrun?”
“I'm looking for someone,” the Stranger told him.
“I… don't know.”
He had no idea what the name of the Man in Black was, or what he had done that was so awful. All he knew was that he had to find the Man in Black, and stop him.
“Well that's going to make your job mighty difficult,” Victor chuckled. “You got a name?”
“Stranger,” the Lutari replied.
Victor nodded, “That's fair enough - a lot of people don't like giving their real names. We'll start with something easy to test your abilities, shall we?”
Victor handed across a wanted poster for a red Cybunny.
“That there is Mad Warf McCutchen,” Victor explained. “Wanted for five counts of banditry. Him and his gang are holed up just south of town in a small valley. Shouldn't be much of a problem as long as you can shoot straight. That alright for you?”
The Stranger nodded, “I'll be back soon.”***
The afternoon sun beat down on the bandit's camp, south of Goldrun. There were six of them in total, five sat around a campfire cooking their lunches, while the sixth took on lookout, gazing out into the desert haze.
The first shot hit the lookout squarely in the face, flooring him. The shot rang around the camp, alerting the other bandits. But by the time they had got to their guns, the Stranger had already moved.
Another shot from the other side of the valley, and another bandit fell to the ground. They wheeled around, but the Stranger had moved once more. Again and again he targeted them, slowly picking off each bandit until only one, the red Cybunny from the wanted poster, remained.
The Cybunny wheeled around madly, brandishing his cork gun in a futile effort to give some resistance, but it was pointless - it was as if their assailant was the wind itself.
“You Mad Warf McCutchen?” a voice said from behind the Cybunny.
The bandit turned, cork gun ready. The Stranger had appeared out of nowhere, and had his own weapon ready.
“So what if I am?” the Cybunny demanded.
“I'll take that as a yes,” the Stranger smirked. “I'm taking you back to Goldrun. Sherrif's bounty's on your head.”
“I ain't going nowhere!” McCutchen shouted.
He began to press down the trigger on his cork gun, but it was as if the Stranger could see it coming. His shot fired first, and the Cybunny fell to the ground.
“Yes, you are,” the Stranger said, moving forwards to scoop the Cybunny up.***
Victor Pettigrew was busy filing some official paperwork when the door to the sherrif’s office opened. A Kougra and Tonu walked in, their bright facepaints and feathered clothing marking them as members of the native tribe that lived in the mountains.
It wasn't unusual to see them in Goldrun in small numbers, their chief was fairly welcoming of insiders. But these were warriors, and from the colour of their feather headdresses, royal warriors. A moment later, the yellow Moehog followed them in.
“Princess!” Victor started, stood bolt upright and hastily flattening his hair.
“Victor, I've said before that you can call me Desert Flower,” she said with a polite smile.
The Moehog was the chief’s daughter, Princess of the native tribe.
“Desert Flower, sorry, Princess,” Victor corrected himself. “Are you looking for the Sheriff? I’m afraid she’s out, escorting the National Neopian Stage to Sakhmet.”
Desert Flower looked a little put out.
“No, it’s quite alright, you’ll do, Victor,” she said. “I’m here on business for my father. Have any more of my people been through town today?”
Victor scratched his head.
“Let me think...” he said. “Rolling Clouds was here just after dawn, needed supplies from the General Store. I think I saw Stumbles Gently heading towards the Makepeace earlier. That’s about all though.”
“A Halloween Bori?” the Tonu soldier asked.
“No, not that I’ve seen,” Victor said.
“He might have changed,” Desert Flower said to the Tonu. “Have there been any strange characters in town today?”
“No more than usual,” Victor said. “I sent someone out to bring in Mad Warf McCutchen earlier, but I wouldn't say he was any stranger than most of the stagglers that make it to Goldrun. What's all this about, Princess?”
“Nothing you need to worry about, Victor,” she said in a not very convincing voice. “If Ellie gets back, ask her to come by the village and speak to my father - I’ll be back in town tomorrow myself, in case you see anything strange. And if a Halloween Bori does come into town, best give him a wide berth.”
“I’m a pretty mean shot, Princess,” Victor said.
“The Bori won’t be shooting corks, Victor,” she said. “He’ll be using magic - dangerous magic. The sooner we find him, the better.”***
The National Neopian Stage was the most heavily fortified stagecoach that made the trip from Goldrun east to Sakhmet, and from there, up through the Endless Plains to Neopia Central. It contained the Neopoints from the Goldrun branch of the National Neopian Bank, and as such made it a popular target for bandits.
The bank had taken no chances with the coach - it was armour plated, with a solid safe door in place of the normal passenger door. No crew rode on the outside - instead, they were all inside, the reins leading out through a small slit in the armour. Two more slits allowed Neopets stationed inside to aim their cork guns out at would-be attackers Even the Whinnies that pulled the thing were armoured to prevent bandits forcing them into a stumble.
And to top it all off, along every stretch of the journey, the bank had arranged for local law enforcement to accompany the stage. Sheriff Ellie would ride with it as far as Sakhmet, where General Dacon’s men would take over.
The Sheriff rode alongside the stage, with another outrider - one employed by the bank - on the other side. Ellie was a spotted Kau, her gold lawman's badge shining in the sun.
Thankfully, the trip with the stage was normally quiet - bandits had learned long ago that Ellie didn’t tollerate interferance. Now, the Endless Plains stretch of the journey tended to be the most perilous.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a normal day.
Ellie didn't even see the first shot coming. The other outrider took a cork right to the forehead, falling hard off their Whinny. Ellie glanced round - no riders nearby - must have been a long distance shot.
She moved closer to the stage and banged on the side twice - the pre-arranged code. It meant they carried on. Slowing, stopping, and going back for the fallen rider could easily end with them being surrounded. The best course of action was to push on to Sakhmet as quickly as possible.
The stage picked up speed, Ellie with them. In the distance, she could see who had fired emerging from the desert haze. Three riders - a Yurble, a Grarrl, and a Gelert. They were approaching quickly.
Ellie drew her own gun. The Grarrl was the biggest target - at this distance, she would be able to hit him. A single shot and he was on the floor and out of the chase.
But now everyone was in range of everyone else - and as the only unarmoured one on that side, Ellie was the prime target. She dropped back to behind the stage, providing her some cover. Someone inside the stage started firing forwards, but they weren't a good shot - their corks went wide.
Ellie popped back out, aiming a shot at the Gelert, but he managed to pull his Whinny across and Ellie's cork sailed past him.
The riders were with them now, arcing round to come up the rear. As he passed the stage, the Gelert aimed a single shot at one of the armoured Whinnies.
It struck the Petpet’s hoof - the only part of the animal that wasn’t plated. Ellie knew right then and there that they were in trouble - there aren't many who can make that kind of shot, let alone while moving.
The Whinny stumbled, taking the others with it and breaking free of the reins. The stage rolled to a halt, marooned now with only Ellie to protect them. One of the Neopets inside managed a lucky shot and the Yurble fell from his saddle.
The Gelert was aiming at Ellie though, a cork to her hand sending her own gun falling from her hands. She was defenseless, and the next shot sent her falling from her saddle.
The impact knocked the air out of her lungs, and all she could do was watch as the Gelert dismounted, and took a stick of dynamite to the stage's door. Not even the best safe in Goldrun would withstand that.
The explosion was the last thing Ellie saw before she blacked out from the pain.
The National Neopian Stage was taken.
To be continued…