Chet Flash wuz here Circulation: 193,540,341 Issue: 696 | 28th day of Hiding, Y17
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A Stranger Tale of Goldrun: Part Three


by herdygerdy

--------

     The Stranger opened the door to the Sheriff’s office and threw Mad Warf roughly inside. The Cybunny had been bound and gagged.

     “Well, that was quick,” Victor remarked from the desk as he checked his watch. “I only sent you out two hours ago.”

     “A problem?” the Stranger asked.

     “No, certainly not,” Victor replied as he moved to help Mad Warf up. “We’ll take any help we can get if it means bandits like McCutchen here are locked up safely.”

     He took the gag out of the Cybunny’s mouth.

     “I’ll be out again soon enough, deputy,” he spat. “You know what they say, you can't keep a good Warf down.”

     He turned to give his rage to the Stranger.

     “And him!” he shouted. “You need to watch him, deputy! Man can move like the wind, it ain’t right! It ain’t natural!”

     “Well whatever it is, you’re finished now,” Victor said, leading him down the corridor to the cells.

     Victor returned a few minutes later.

     “You have my thanks, stranger,” he said. “And, of course, your payment.”

     He took a bag of Neopoints from the desk and threw it to the Lutari.

     “There's more where that came from, if you’re willing,” Victor said. “McCutchen isn’t the only bandit around these parts.”

     “I'm looking for one in particular,” the Stranger said. “Dresses in black. A Gelert.”

     “If I see one, I’ll keep you in mind,” Victor said. “You might want to start with Brack. He’s a cactus farmer just outside of town. Lately he’s been more of a dynamite collector, if you ask me. Worried about Meepits attacking so he’s rigged his entire farm to blow. Turns out someone’s stolen his dynamite. Didn't see them, but I suppose it could be your man, if you’re lucky.”

     The Stranger nodded.

     “I’ll look into it.”

     The door to the office was thrown open again, and a new figure stumbled in - a spotted Kau.

     “Sheriff!” Victor gasped, rushing to Ellie’s side as she collapsed to the floor.

     “The Stage,” she gasped, “Attacked... They took the Petpets, I had to walk back to town.”

     “I’ll get you some water,” Victor said, quickly realising her dehydration. “How many?”

     “Three,” she said, taking the water and swallowing a large gulp. “They had a lot of dynamite - blew the doors clean off the stage.”

     “Brack,” Victor said with a glance at the Stranger. “It must be where the stolen dynamite went. What about the Stage crew?”

     “Safe,” Ellie replied, starting to regain her senses. “I told them to stay with the wreckage for shelter - we’ll head back out there with a carriage and bring them back.”

     “You’re not going anywhere, Sheriff,” Victor said firmly. “You need to rest.”

     “I think you’ll find I’m the Sheriff and you’re the Deputy, Victor,” Ellie replied with equal force. “Which means I give the orders. I’m coming.”

     “Did you get a good look at them?” Victor asked.

     “Three of them,” Ellie said with a nod. “A Grarrl, a Yurble, and a Gelert.”

     This got the Stranger’s attention.

     “Dressed in black?” he asked.

     Ellie gave him a curious look.

     “Yes, you know him?” she asked. “And who are you?”

     “My name doesn't matter,” the Stranger replied.

     “He’s been helping out,” Victor said. “Just brought in Mad Warf McCutchen.”

     “The stage, where was it attacked?” the Stranger asked.

     “Out by Benson’s Creek,” she said.

     The Stranger nodded.

     “I’ll deal with him,” he said, turning to leave.

     “Now wait just a minute, friend,” Victor said. “Benson’s Creek is miles away, and you’ve seen what’s happened to the Sheriff from walking that far. We’ll be heading that way in a carriage. If you know this man, you’re welcome to come with us.”

***

     The carriage rattled along the desert tracks back to the site of the broken down Stage. It was the Sheriff’s jail carriage, a solid steel thing, meaning that all three of them had to ride up top.

     “I didn’t catch your name, back in Goldrun,” Ellie said.

     “I didn't throw it,” the Stranger replied bluntly. “My name's not important.”

     “And him?” Ellie asked. “The Man in Black? How do you know him?”

     “I can't say that I do,” the Stranger replied. “I woke up in the desert, and he was there. He ran, I followed. I have to find him, I have to stop him.”

     “Why?” Ellie asked.

     “I don’t know,” the Stranger said. “I just have to.”

     “You can’t remember anything before?” Victor asked.

     “No.”

     Something was bothering Victor, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

     “In the desert,” he asked. “Did you come across a Bori?”

     “Not that I can remember,” the Stranger answered.

     “Why do you ask?” Ellie questioned.

     “Desert Flower came by this morning,” he said. “She was asking after a dangerous shaman from their tribe. I said I’d pass it along to you. I just wondered if your friend here had seen him in his travels.”

     “Great, that’s just what we need,” Ellie said. “The Stage robbed, bandits on the loose, and a shaman prowling about now as well.”

     “What are we going to tell the Bank?” Victor asked.

     “If we recover the Neopoints, we won't have to tell them much,” Ellie replied. “They’ll have insurance, but they won't be happy.”

     “There,” the Stranger said suddenly. “Is that them?”

     On the horizon, a blurry image was becoming more solid as they drew closer. It was a burnt out carriage - the Stage. The iron armour had been torn back roughly by the explosion used to get at the Neopoints. The Whinnies had long since disappeared into the wilds, leaving only the metal carcass of the Stage behind. Three Neopets were sheltering from the desert wind inside. They waved as the jailcart came up.

     “That goodness!” one of them, a Quiggle, said. “The sun will be setting soon, and I don’t fancy spending the night out here.”

     Ellie ushered them into the cart as Victor and the Stranger looked around.

     “There are hoofprints here,” the Stranger said, kneeling down. “Heavy, as if the Petpet was weighed down.”

     “Like with a sizable amount of gold?” Victor suggested.

     “They head north,” the Stranger said. “Towards the mountains. He's there.”

     “What makes you think that?” Victor asked. “Any smart bandit would double back on their tracks, hide their true destination.”

     “No,” the Stranger said, gazing into the distance. “He’s there. Waiting. Waiting for me. I have to find him.”

     With that, he set off back into the desert.

     “Wait!” Victor called after him. “What the bank men said is true, you don’t want to be out here after dark. The temperature will plummet!”

     The Stranger didn’t heed his words, continuing on into the sandy haze.

     “Leave him, Victor,” Ellie said as she helped the last of the bank men onto their carriage. “Whatever this Man in Black did to him, it must have been bad to warrent this kind of behaviour. We aren’t going to change his mind. We’ll head back to Goldrun, get these three to safety. At first light, I’ll see about drawing up some kind of posse and we’ll head up to the mountains together to flush them out. Hopefully our friend will be there as well and we can pick him up on the way.”

***

     The Man in Black carefully split the Neopoints three ways. Each of them took a sizable bag for themselves.

     “That brings our business to a conclusion, gentlemen,” the Gelert said with a smile. “I’d suggest you both get as far away from here as quickly as possible. The Sherrif ain’t going to be happy we stole from her.”

     “Why did you leave her alive?” the Yurble asked. “That’s just asking for trouble.”

     “It is, isn’t it?” the Man in Black said with that same smile. “Had to be witnesses, had to be a track.”

     “You're baiting the Sherrif?” the Grarrl said. “You must not have met Sherrif Ellie before, she always gets her man.”

     “It's not the Sherrif I'm waiting for,” the Man in Black said.

     His eyes drifted to the mountain range behind them. The cabin was set in front of a passage that led into the rock.

     “What's in there?” he asked.

     “An old quarry,” the Yurble said. “Miners used to use it, before it dried up.”

     “Excellent,” the Man in Black said. “You boys be on your way. I need to get ready for my guest.”

     The pair of bandits didn't need telling twice. The Yurble and Grarrl exchanged a brief glance and shrug, before climbing onto their Whinnies with their ill gotten gains.

     They gave the Man in Black a brief nod before heading back down the mountain trail that led to the open desert. From there, they’d head to Sakhmet. The port there would give them access to most of Neopia, and the ability to travel far beyond Sheriff Ellie's reach. Privately, they both considered the Gelert a fool for staying.

     The Man in Black, meanwhile, made sure to scuff out the tracks of his retreating allies. He didn’t want people thinking he’d gone with them. No, he needed them to know exactly where he was.

     He made his way to the mine entrance with deliberately hard steps so as to leave a track, once inside, he went down the passage until it opened out in a hollow within the mountain. Here, a circular quarry had been set up, with wooden scaffolds circling down to the quarry floor.

     The perfect place for an ambush.

     To Be Continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» A Stranger Tale of Goldrun: Part One
» A Stranger Tale of Goldrun: Part Two



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