No Place Like Home

Chapter 1: Homecoming

It hasn’t been a good year. Athens’ storms can make life difficult at the best of times, but the magnitude of the destruction laid out on either side of the road means that some families are going to be a mite hungry this winter. Rufus is a couple of miles out from Limestone, but these are still people he knows.

Just up the road, Rufus can make out a figure repairing the fence along the property line. He’s too far away to make out features, but he can make a good guess as to who it is. Karl Long is too cheap to hire hands to do this sort of work for him. Could be he actually can’t afford to what with the tab he runs up at the bar every week. That kind of dedication to drink is usually bad for a man’s health, but it can also make him a font of information. A conversation with Karl has made Rufus’s job quite a bit easier on more than one occasion.

(I’m not entirely happy with the name of your hometown. It sits next to what’s more of a creek than a river in limestone country. It’s not really in a canyon, but the surrounding terrain isn’t exactly flat either. Suggestions are welcome.)

Comments

(I like the name Dry Creek for the town – maybe Limestone. Am I riding a horse or what?)

Rufus comes on at a saunter. Karl looks up, more out of curiosity than recognition, and when Rufus stops in the dust of the road, Long unwinds his spine and stands up straight, hands on his hips stretching an aching back. “Karl Long,” Rufus says.

“Deputy?” the sweat-stained man says after a moment, eyes squinting to sharpen his memory. He doesn’t come closer. “Town all thought you’d moved on.” Long spits in the dust.

“Been gone a long time, Karl,” Rufus says, moving closer, his eyes trying to read the other man’s body for a reason why his guard was suddenly up. There hadn’t been much news from the space dock. (Alabaster Canyon) was the backwater of backwaters, even on Athens, and few could be bothered to remember, let alone pass on word that come from the edge of the world. “Perhaps you could give me the good word on what’s been happening while I was away?”

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

(Limestone it is. And, yes, you’re on your horse.)

Long’s posture relaxes a bit, though he still looks wary (Willpower/Influence result: 9). “Don’t rightly know as I can give you any good word, but I’ll tell ya what I know. Governor Dubois’s security folk started comin’ through here right reg’lar like a few weeks ago, causin’ all sorts of mischief. Said they was lookin’ for Browncoats and ‘sympathizers,’ can you imagine?” Long spits again. “Some people just can’t let go of the past.”

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

“Some people like to make the past into an excuse,” Rufus says. “What would the governor’s men be out here looking for? There been more banditry than Sheriff Hu could handle?”

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Long barks a short, humorless laugh. “There’s been banditry alright, but it weren’t that what brought Dubois’s men. They come on account of the murders.” Long pauses significantly to let the impact of his statement set in. “There’s a new group of rustlers up in the hills somewhere that don’t just steal folks’ cattle; they burn down the barn and maybe the house too. Don’t seem too particular about whether anyone’s inside. Last time I was in town, the count of the dead were up to seven, includin’ little Molly Higgs. You’re like to see her pa if you go into the Waterin’ Hole. He don’t much leave there anymore.

“Just between the two of us, I think the sheriff would’ve already caught them ruffians if he didn’t have to deal with the security patrol. They been causin’ more harm than good. Seems their leader’s convinced that the bandits is bein’ supplied by Independents from Limestone and other towns in these parts. Kicked in quite a few doors to try to prove it, and houses what have been searched don’t always have all their furniture intact nor everythin’ still there afterwards.”

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

“I wasn’t aware that folks in town were still claiming to be Independent. Been damn near a decade – most folks I know just thought of themselves as folks, even when they were at each others’ throats,” Rufus takes his hat off and wipes the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. “Guess I’ll ask Sheriff Hu directly. Thanks for the information, Karl.”

Rufus kicks his horse into a trot and heads into town.

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

To the casual observer, Limestone would look like any other frontier farming community. But Rufus can tell that the recent troubles are taking their toll. The streets are just a little emptier, those who use them moving just a little faster than he remembers from before he left. Some faces light up a little as he approaches, and he is greeted by one or two half-hearted waves. The majority of the citizenry, however, merely give him an unreadable blank stare before continuing about their business.

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Rufus nods at the folks waving at him, or those that make some other sign of recognition, but he heads directly for the Sheriff’s office. Time enough for small talk and catching up once the lay of the land’s been scouted.

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As Rufus approaches, he can see that the sheriff’s office is shuttered tight. It’s getting on toward evening, but this is definitely unusual. Hu Jie is known as a man dedicated to his duty.

Before he can consider things further, Rufus’s thoughts are interrupted by the familiar voice of Christina McCallum, owner and operator of the local dry goods store. “As I live and breathe, I’d not expected to see you again, Rufus Teague. Run out of wild geese to chase?” Looking at the elderly widow standing there with her hands on her hips, Rufus reflects that this woman could likely give him a right thrashing if it pleased her.

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

“Ma’am,” he says, tipping his hat. He spends a few heartbeats looking at the shuttered sheriff’s office before turning to face the old woman. “Have you seen Sheriff Hu about, Mrs. McCallum? I heard there’s been some trouble, and I’m looking to report in.”

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

“Little late, aren’t you?” Mrs. McCallum glowers at Rufus as she continues, “I don’t know what you heard, but the sheriff’s been too busy ridin’ from one end o’ creation to t’other to set foot in that office more than once or twice a week. Last I heard, he’d gone up into the hills to try to find those Browncoat murderers and talk some sense into ‘em. I begged him not to go alone, but he said he couldn’t trust the governor’s men. I think it was lack of sleep talkin’, and the blame rests square on your head, deputy, if it gets him into trouble.”

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

“Mrs. McCallum, I know you believe me to have shirked my duty, but I will tell you right now that there has been no place in the worlds that I would have rather been than right here at home. Now, tell me where exactly in the hills he went, and I’ll be sure to see to the Sheriff’s safety. I’m done doing more than solving local problems, and it seems we’ve got a bushel or two.”

(As soon as she tells me, I’ll gallop out.)

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

“I’m sure I don’t know,” huffs the old woman. “When he left, he headed upriver. Maybe someone who lives out that way knows more.” With that, the widow turns on her heel and stalks back toward her store.

Rufus is barely a mile out of town when the light begins to fade as the sun disappears behind the western ridge. He knows from long experience that the twilight will linger for over an hour this time of year, but it still makes for slow going. Just as he finishes this thought, he notices something caught in the rocks of the riverbank a little ways ahead, something man-sized…

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Rufus thumps the horn of his saddle with the flat of his hand, expecting the worst from that silhouette. He brings his horse up to the bank of the river and climbs down, moving among the rocks until he can get close to what he assumes is a body in the rocks. The light is nearly gone as he tries moving the body (some skill check I’ll assume, and is it a body?).

(If successful:) Rufus drags the body free of where it’s pinned and carries it best he can back to his horse. He makes a fire to better identify who it is (if it is indeed a body).

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Rufus easily liberates the body, for that is indeed what he finds, from the water’s cold embrace (Strength/Strength result: 12). He drags the corpse up the bank, where he is startled to find it let out a weak cough. This man is alive!

Rufus hurriedly digs out his can of fire jelly and sets it alight. In the flickering glow of the fire, he confirms his fears: he’s found the sheriff, and there’s a nasty hole in his gut. The wound is bad, but Rufus is unable to tell whether it is lethal or not (Alertness/Medical Expertise result: 3).

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Rufus tries to make the Sheriff as comfortable as possible, trying to warm his body as best he can with the heat from the fire-jelly can and the saddle blanket from his horse. He carefully massages his limbs and treats for shock, removing his boots and elevating his feet. Finally, Rufus tries to clean and dress the wound.

While he’s working on all of this, Rufus, in a quiet voice asks repeatedly, “Who did this to you?”

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

There is no answer from the unconscious man, not even a stirring of recognition that someone speaks. Otherwise, Rufus’ ministrations appear to be helping. Sheriff Hu’s breathing seems to become more regular, and the icy chill seeps from his extremities (Alertness/Medical Expertise result: 11). It is obvious, however, that the sheriff needs a real doctor, and soon.

(Gain 1 plot point for stabilizing the sheriff.)

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

(Then I will spend that plot point to help make sure he makes it back to town alive.)

Rufus rocks back on his heels and rubs his face. It’s been a long day. He looks from Sheriff Hu to the town he knows is close, but not close enough. He doesn’t believe that he can ride there and back and risk leaving the Sheriff to the elements and luck, but he doesn’t know if the ride to town will kill him. “Hu, you’ve been a friend to me when I had nothing, and when I had more than I could handle. I know our situations were reversed you’d know the right course, and that’d be it. You know I’ve got to roll the dice on this. If you die on the ride, well, you probably wouldn’t have made it just laying out here shivering under that thin blanket with your boots off.” Rufus rises from his crouch and prepares to load the Sheriff onto his horse, collecting all the gear he’s used to care for the wounded man.

(Rufus intends to tie the Sheriff to the horse, either across its back, or into the saddle sitting upright. The plot point is to make sure that one of those positions won’t kill him because of the wound he’s suffered and the jarring ride. It’s not far back to town, so Rufus feels it’s worth the risk, so long as another rider doesn’t come along with a wagon right now or something.)

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

(The sheriff isn’t in any immediate danger of dying. You can keep your plot point. Just a reminder: you now have seven plot points total.)

Between the dark and trying to keep from jostling Sheriff Hu too badly, it takes over an hour’s travel before Rufus sees the lights of town ahead of him. The journey would have been impossible if two moons weren’t up, though neither is full. Limestone’s two saloons, the Waterin’ Hole and the Feed Trough, are bustling with activity, but the streets are empty aside from a few drunks that didn’t make it home before falling asleep.

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

(Would Rufus know if there was a doctor in town?)

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(There is a doctor in town, though he’s largely self-taught and mostly works with animals. Unless he’s working out at one of the ranches, he’s likely at home this time of night.)

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(Rufus will go to the doctor’s home, and if he’s not there, he’ll go to the most reputable tavern and try to locate him that way. Point being that Rufus will go to every door in town looking for help if he has to.)

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When Rufus arrives at Doctor Escobar’s home, he cannot see any lights from inside. That changes very quickly after he begins banging on the door, however. Soon, the doctor himself opens the door and blinks sleepily at Rufus for a moment before his eyes focus on the horse behind him and its grim cargo.

The small swarthy man throws the door wide, exclaiming, “Bring him in at once! I will get my bag.” He is already disappearing into another room as he calls over his shoulder, “Clear the kitchen table and lay him there… and put the kettle on.”

(Patching up the sheriff is going to take a while. Would you like to stick around and try to help, or is there something else you want to do?)

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(If he thinks the Sheriff was there and that those men shot him and dumped him in the river, then Rufus will want to investigate them first. Of course, he might wait until morning, renting a room or sleeping in the Sheriff’s office.)

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(It’s entirely up to you. I’ll remind you, though, that it took Sheriff Hu weeks to find the rustlers, assuming that’s who shot him, and he was going about it in daylight. Also, I’d imagine that Rufus had a house in town. I’ll leave it to you what he did with it when he left, bearing in mind that he initially thought he would be gone for only a couple of weeks, not the majority of a year.)

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(I imagine that Rufus, had h a permanent homstead would have allowed someone to stay in his home while he was away, either as a renter, or simply out of the kindness of his heart.)

Rufus leaves the Sheriff in the capable hands of the doctor, but not before searching through the man’s soggy possessions, looking for the keys to the Sheriff’s office, any note or clue as to the who shot him, or where the rustlers can be found. (If there is a key, Rufus will use that to begin searching the Sheriff’s things in the office, hoping that the man wrote down the particulars of where the rustlers might be found.) Rufus tells the doctor to send someone for him when Hu wakes up.

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Sheriff Hu’s gun is missing, having probably slipped from its holster in the current, but Rufus finds his keys in a pocket of his jacket. Doctor Escobar looks up briefly from his work when Rufus takes his leave, nodding his understanding before turning his full attention back to the sheriff.

The sheriff’s office is much as Rufus remembers it, if a little dirtier. The two cells in the back are empty, so there is no one around to disturb him as he begins his search for clues. A map of the surrounding area hangs on one wall, a number of red and blue pins stuck into it. Sheriff Hu’s desk has a small stack of paperwork on it, apparently a rough draft of his monthly report to the governor. It details recent events, but contains no information that Rufus has not already learned on the street. In a desk drawer, Rufus finds several nearly identical shell casings, some marked with blue tape, others with red. They appear to be from a large caliber rifle.

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

(Is there any indication what the colors mean in the Sheriff’s notes? If there isn’t, Rufus will investigate the closest red and blue locations.)

Rufus unsaddles and grooms his horse as best he can, brings his kit inside the Sheriff’s office and sets himself up for a nap in the empty cell (with the keys on his person). He locks the front door and has his pistol close at hand. He goes over the Sheriff’s notes again before he props his hat over his face and slips into an exhausted sleep.

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Reading the sheriff’s report in detail reveals two items of interest. First, the sheriff investigated both the sites of crimes by the rustlers and sites where the Gallant Security team bullied folks. There is no mention of which sites were assigned which color on the map, unfortunately. Second, Sheriff Hu has included speculation in the conclusion of his report that the security team might be a rogue operation working in concert with the outlaws for reasons unknown.

Rufus awakens before dawn with a pain in his neck and stiffness in his side: these cells were not designed for comfort. As the events of the previous day rush back to him, his stomach growls loudly. In all of the excitement, he had forgotten to eat any dinner.

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Rufus straightens his clothes, sets his hat on his head, buckles on his pistol elt and buts his boots on. When he heads out of the office, it’s for breakfast at any place that has hot black coffee, a few eggs, some bacon and allows for a tab.

(If nothing happens during his breakfast, Rufus will then track down the leader of the security force and question them in as friendly a manner as possible about the Sheriff’s shooting. His aim wont be to ruffle feathers with the SF, but to get a look at their weapons and disposition as regards their equipment and attitude, especially when he tells them the Sheriff is still alive, if gravely wounded. He’s only going to tell that to the head guy though, so if he doesn’t meet him, he won’t spill those particular beans.)

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

After breakfast, Rufus returns to the now-bustling streets. He has only taken a few steps when he notices a commotion to his right. Townsfolk are nearly tripping over themselves to get out of the way of a dozen armed men and women on horseback. As they approach, he can see both the hard set to their faces and the Gallant Security badges on their uniforms. It seems that he has found the security patrol.

A blonde woman who would be quite attractive under different circumstances appears to be the leader. The patrol pulls up outside the sheriff’s office just up the road from where Rufus stands, and she hops down from her mount to bang on the door.

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Rufus moves quickly down the street towards the office. When he mounts the porch of the office, he says, “I don’t think anyone’ in there, but you can talk to me. Rufus Teague, Deputy Sheriff.” He holds his hand out to the mercenary banging on the office door. “We can talk inside if you’d like. I have the keys.”

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

After first looking Rufus up and down, the woman shrugs her shoulders and takes the proffered hand. “Emma Durai. We have much to discuss, deputy.” While Rufus unlocks the door, Emma busies herself giving orders to her posse. Four of them are to stand guard outside the sheriff’s office, while the rest make a full circuit of Limestone’s perimeter.

Once inside, Emma immediately gets down to business. “The governor has noted your sheriff’s inability to maintain order recently with some disappointment. We’ve been sent to help expedite matters. Any assistance you wish to offer will be accepted, of course.” Even though she talks like a lawyer, Emma seems genuinely concerned (Alertness/Perception result: 9; Things Don’t Go Smooth reroll: 8).

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

“Miss Durai, are you and your boys the only folks the governor sent out this way? I feel like we’ve got bigger trouble around here than I’ve been led to believe, and that’s been a fair amount. That’s what folks around town have told me, and I been in town less than a one full day. So maybe, before you try to sideline the clownish deputy, you tell him a little bit of what the fuss is all about. Then maybe we can expedite things a little better together.” Rufus sits at the Sheriff’s desk and looks attentively up at the lady, clasping his hands behind his head, his eyes never leaving hers. (If she tries something funny, I want to be ready – burn plot points if I have to.)

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Patiently, as if to a young child, Emma replies, “I must insist on saving such details for your sheriff. Where is he?” (Intelligence/Influence [Persuasion] result: 6.)

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“I found him up in Limestone Creek, wedged between some rocks with a hole in his gut. May or may not make it. Looks like I’m going to be your huckleberry for the duration.” Rufus’ smile is huge and mostly genuine – he does so love being the cause of busy folks’ consternation. “So it’s just you and this lot outside the governor sent?”

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Sheriff Hu’s condition seems to be news to the security commander. She says, “I am sorry to hear that.” Then, after a few moments pause, “Very well. Governor Dubois sent me, and those with me, to discover the truth of the situation here. We questioned several in and around Redford and Stuart’s Mill before moving on to Limestone. We’ve gotten good descriptions of the bandits behind the recent attacks from the survivors, but I must admit that I am troubled by the news of others with Gallant credentials who have preceded us. They are definitely not on any official mission.”

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

“You got any means of tracking wayward members of your company, or are we going to have to do this the hard way?” Rufus asks with a smile. (If it’s possible for their to be an electronic way of tracking or something, I’d like to spend plot points to make it happen. Honestly, I don’t know where to go from here. Should we just go looking at old crime scenes, running loose in the wilderness?)

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

(You don’t have enough plot points to effect the story that significantly [you’ll understand why later]. You can spend them to increase your odds of success on your Track skill rolls, though. As far as what to do next, there are several ways I’m prepared for you to go. I’m trying very hard not to railroad you.)

Emma shrugs her shoulders. “If they do not want to be found, they will have disabled any equipment that we could use to track them. Besides, our priority must be finding the killers who attacked your sheriff. I think it best if you take me to the place where you found him.”

Before Rufus can respond, there is a commotion from outside. Someone is trying with little success to get past the Gallant guards into the office. Despite the closed door, he can make out the words ”...but I must see him! It’s about Sheriff Hu!” The voice sounds like that of Doctor Escobar (Alertness/Perception [Hearing] result: 12).

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

(To Emma) “Will you please excuse me, I seem to have another appointment.” Rufus ushers the woman from the office and admits the doctor, whom Rufus insists must calm himself and speak quietly before he can deliver his news.

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Emma leaves only grudgingly. As she steps out the door, she says, “We really could use your help, deputy. It would not do for us to work at cross-purposes.” She nods to the guard restraining Doctor Escobar, and he lets the little man go. The doctor takes a moment to straighten his clothing before coming into the office.

“I did my best for him,” the doctor explains, “got him all patched up and made sure there weren’t any internal bleeders. But he won’t wake up, and I think he’s still got water in his lungs. Pneumonia could set in any time now. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that Jeff Hinshaw will be taking him to Redford in his cart later today. They have a city-trained doctor there who might have some better tools to work with. If he don’t, we’ll have to take him all the way to Athens City and the hospital there.”

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

Rufus says, “I know you did the best you could for him, Doc. You’ve got my gratitude for your diligence, and Hu’s too when he wakes up, I’m sure.” he escorts the doctor out, follows him outside, locking the door to the office behind himself. Rufus looks at Emma and says, “Let’s get on with it then, Miss Durai.”

(Rufus will take them to where he found the Sheriff, but he has some of the sites from the Sheriff’s report committed to memory, and he will ride with the merc posse to those locations if they don’t find anything at the creek.)

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

(I’m back.)

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

(I’m not. I’ve run into what might be the worst case of writer’s block I’ve ever had. Please bear with me as I work through it.)

Chapter 1: Homecoming
 

(No sweat, man.)

Chapter 1: Homecoming
Woojitsu

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