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       Gauntlet, p.1

           Matthew C. Gill
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  Matthew C. Gill

  Copyright 2013 Matthew C. Gill

  Thank you for downloading this free eBook. You are welcome to share it with your

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  purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this

  you for your support.

  For my father; the man, who has given me a lifelong love of westerns, taught me the value of a kept word, a good gun, a sharp knife and the courage to always do what is right. You have always been my hero Dad, even when I was too blind to see it. Thank you.

  Table of Contents

  Episode 1 – The Thunder Rail Titan Train

  Episode 2 – Enter the Bull-Boys

  Episode 3 – Late Birds Loot Little

  Episode 4 – This Is Your Stop, Now State Your Business Stranger

  Episode 5 – Redemption, a Fitting Name

  Episode 6 – The Memories Make the Man

  Episode 7 – Greetings from Grandma

  Episode 8 – The Mayor, Demure

  Episode 9 – When Good Men Can Do Nothing

  Episode 10 – A Gauntlet Is Thrown Down

  Episode 11 – First Breaks, Tough Breaks

  Episode 12 – Laughter Is Lethal

  Episode 13 – The Illusion of Law

  Episode 14 – A Tight Leash

  Episode 15 – Boom-Boom, Batter Up

  Episode 16 – An Explosive Emergency

  Episode 17 – She’s going to Blow

  Episode 18 – Freeze You Fire Bombing Freak

  Episode 19 – The Reaction of Redemption

  Episode 20 – Combine and Conquer

  Episode 21 – Word Always Travels Past the Warden

  Episode 22 – The Digger Doll

  Episode 23 – Spurred Bulls and Bullies

  Episode 24 – A Charging Bull is a Blind Bull

  Episode 25 – Beware a Burnt Backside

  Episode 26 – Flee You Fleas

  Episode 27 – A Gun-Bunny Hops Again

  Episode 28 – The Deputy Delivers

  Episode 29 – A Grim Gauntlet

  Episode 30 – Tarnished Badges

  Episode 31 – New Sheriff, New Plan

  Episode 32 – Red Bull Rage

  About the author


  Episode 1 – The Thunder Rail Titan Train

  The World of Newport was about as hard a place as they come. From the very moment the first explorers arrived to investigate the freshly discovered world they found awaiting them an unforgiving landscape. While it was rich with valuable minerals and natural resources it was quickly proven to be just as reluctant to yield them to just anyone. Vast mountain ranges of ageless stone rippled throughout the endless sweeping lands. Only the occasional scattered seas of sweeping dust or cracked and crag-riddled bordering badlands offered any variety of view.

  Travel across Newport was immediately the first major concern among the initial colonists as they found traversing its expansive environment difficult to say the least. The very rocky and mountainous terrain that promised a wealth of riches also came to be synonymous with the cursed claim; “foolish to fly.” Its skies were soon declared to be suicidal to navigate due to unpredictably violent storms and an unreliable impact the dense terrain could have on an aircrafts guidance systems.

  At first early settlers and pioneers alike were forced to be content with a crawling pace as they struggled to carve their way around the treacherous terrain. Small sparsely populated outposts gradually began to form, each one dependant on the delicate chain that tethered it to the next in hopes of ensuring its survival. Over time minerals and other valuables began to flow to make their way back in a tedious trickle that frustrated the appetite of everyone longing for its riches.

  And then there came the Thunder Rail and the salvation of the Titan Train. With funding from the New Republic itself a small local industrial businessman promised to ensure a steady stream of harvested riches. Riding along arcing currents of raw power that roared through the aptly named rails the Titan Trains proved themselves in short order. Little more than enormous engines that acted as potent power plants the Titan Trains carried with them massive loads of people and provisions alike. New faces flocked to Newport in surges to seek their fortune, the chance at a new life or simply the challenge of exploring its environment. All thanks to the single simple solution that the Thunder Rail provided.

  Even now as Marshall Lawson looked out his window to survey the brutally beautiful landscape he felt a sort of awe at the accomplishments made here on Newport. It wasn’t even midday yet and already the bright sun had risen to ride high in the sky to cast the passing peaks in its bright beams. Cascades of color shimmered in sunlight that was at once marvelous as they were menacing. As gorgeous as the growing ground was you couldn’t help but look on at it and be reminded of how defiant it was to those who sought to dominate it.

  And yet, here he was riding along in a mighty machine that cut across the distance to connect what once had been thought impossible. Marshall reflexively reached up to brush aside a few falling strands of amber from his forehead before replacing his hat. It was an old habit he had never been able to shake even as he often recalled when his hair wasn’t even long enough to require it. Everybody has their habits he could easily admit, without such traits people would be rather dull by all accounts.

  Even for such an expeditious mode of transit as the Titan Train was it was still a rear-tiring experience in his opinion. But then as far as backsides go, Marshall had never been blessed with a well-padded one. The notion prompted him to once more reposition himself as it crossed his mind to irritatingly remind him. If he had to remain planted in one of these seats much longer he feared the threatening tingle in his toes would spread to lay siege to his lower limbs. He would much prefer to be up and moving but according to his fellow passengers who were more familiar with the trip he had been advised it more prudent to stay sitting until they stopped.

  Desperate to take his mind off his numbing nether Marshall returned his gaze to the passing scenery. Eyes of warm walnut washed over the swiftly sweeping skyline and scanned about as he tried to lose himself in the landscape again. But a peculiar passing presence was caught in his peripheral vision that teased his eye to turn it towards the train’s rear. Marshall had to shield his eyes from the sun at first before he could make out just what it was that seemed to be approaching the rear of the robust rail rider.

  By his estimation it looked to be some manner of squat and crude roller driven transport since it looked to be leaving a growing cloud of dust in its wake. But for what reason would anyone dare to try to chase a Titan Train in something of that sort? Before he could puzzle over the possible answer a fellow passenger took interest in his examination and promptly provided an explanation.

  “Don’t tell me you bought your ticket without being told what to expect,” a particularly toothless old miner mentioned. “Just prior to reaching town train’s always have to start to slow. And about as regular you get some of the lawless locals who take the opportunity to try and thieve what treasures as they can.” While Marshall watched on he noticed true enough a slowing pace to their speed that was quickly matched by their pursuing pirates.

  “Just keep your nose down lad, and mind what they strutting say,” the elderly excavator advised. “They just pick over what easy coin they can and then soon enough we’ll find ourselves finishing our journey.” A thousand and one questions surged to fill Marshall’s mind about the matter. He couldn’t fathom how anyone could simply accept the fact that as routine as the Titan Train traveled back and forth likewise was it regularly robbed.

  “What about the local law,” Marshall asked dryly,
his eyes still firmly focused on the vehicle that was now pulling alongside them. “Outside the town’s limits,” the old man explained further. “It’d be suicide for him to try and enforce anything out this far. Right here is what you call a claimless country. Only thing considered worth protecting is the mines and the miners working them mostly. Those with interests see to it they stay secure but out here in the empty it’s anything goes. So nobody bothers with the in-between, you just learn to look at the lost coin as something like a traveling tax and go on with your day.”

  “Please, mister,” a young mother pleaded in the hushed whisper of someone used to talking around little ears. “Nobody wants any trouble, just hand them anything of value they ask for and we’ll all be on our way. Questions and the like will only earn their ire.” Despite all the requests to ignore the matter and respond like the rest of the cattle, Marshall couldn’t dismiss the feeling of a repulsive bitter taste rising in the back of his mouth. This was wrong. These people were being preyed upon like sheep and they were just going to allow it.

  Suddenly a sharp sound signaled a message from the crew came from overhead to silence everyone. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the emotionless voice began as it greeted their waiting attention. “We ask for your patience and cooperation as some folks are inspecting the train. Kindly comply with their requests and they assure us that once their business is concluded we will be allowed to be safely on our way. Thank you.”

  “Unbelievable,” Marshall managed to mutter through tightly gritted teeth trying to keep the comment concealed under his breath. As he looked around everyone else seemed to regard the news as commonplace as being told to look for the town drunk at the nearest bar. “Trust me,” his aged advisor added with a wink. “Be over before you know it.”

  Episode 2 – Enter the Bull-Boys

  “Come on, let’s hurry this thing along, I could use a drink,” Wynt declared as he impatiently entered the rail car. His ruffled hair was still speckled with windblown dust that lent him the look of a spooked critter fresh from its hole in the ground. Arriving just behind him was a well muscled man, obviously athletic with refined ripped arms that could easily be classified as cannons. “You always need one, you’re a drunk,” Briscole reminded harshly.

  As the two thugs moved forward to take their positions a third gracefully appeared with practiced ease. He moved with the casual dignity of an experienced performer and bore the smiling mask of a manipulating master. Many a man had cursed that face, and even more women cooed at the promised charm. This could be none other than the bloody bachelor himself; Dyzon Naez.

  With a cold calculating care Dyzon raised a small commlink with his right hand and keyed the transmitter. “We’ve landed Caess; you know the drill, make for the engine and ensure they don’t get any ideas.” Still parked behind the controls of their rolling ride the short slate-skinned Kry-Santhian signaled his understanding with a quick grunt. His sharp ruby eyes keenly kept their focus on maintaining the moving orbit alongside the loud locomotive. Caess had to concentrate on the tedious task not merely because of its potential peril, but for his own personal problems. He often found the distraction demanded by such devices too tempting for his curiosity, like most of his race he suffered from a certain obsessive compulsion with regards to gadgets and things technological. Coupled with the inevitable gawking glares of its passengers peering out to examine his ruby studded stone-like skin was almost more than he could handle. No matter how many times he had managed to meet the challenge it always tested him.

  Dyzon watched on as his cunning cohort pulled ahead as instructed and then once satisfied proceeded with his plan. There was a certain familiar thrill that he always enjoyed that came with the experience. “Greetings boys and girls,” Dyzon began with a warm welcoming smile. “We’re the Bull-Boys; no doubt you’re familiar with our well-known exploits. So I’m not going to waste anyone’s time on the usual warnings, or the nasty business of making my point perfectly perceived. Just provide my associates with any valuables you happen to have and you’ll be around to swap stories at supper.”

  Every eye seemed fixed on the dramatic figure as he spoke in a perfectly measured tone and moved forward like he was commanding a stage. Before him both Wynt and Briscole were already passing about as they picked over each passenger. They moved forward in a crude circuit that made sure not to miss a single seat or the potential pilfering therein. In short order they cleared each car before moving to the next and at each opportunity Dyzon gave the same little speech.

  No one moved to stop the bandits nor did anyone refuse their right to rob the rail riders. In fact several young ladies and a few married ones begged to be taken along with their purses by the notorious bloody bachelor. By the time the bold bandits were about to enter Marshall’s car he found himself almost beyond restraint. Impulsively he reached beneath his jacket only to curse his carefulness. He had safely stored his weapons before boarding to avoid any unwanted attention while he traveled. While he had had no reason to expect any need for them or any reason to fear any official issues with carrying them he preferred to avoid the matter either way. Now he wished he hadn’t been so cautious, not to mention naïve enough to think the ride would be uneventful.

  Without anything to hand Marshall looked around him at all the other passengers. If he attempted any form of action with only his bare hands it was all too likely that any one of them could pay the price. And that was something he refused to risk. He swallowed the unpleasant idea of allowing these predators to prey upon the passive passengers with a slight shiver and lowered his head.

  “Keep your head down,” that is what the old-timer had told him to do. If Marshall couldn’t stand up and stop these thugs, he certainly wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction of another coward added to the crowd. Let them pick over the rest with a grin as they watched them take their treasures from them. He wasn’t about to reward them with another fear filled face.

  “Hey, wake up you, didn’t you hear me,” Wynt probed with the pointed tip of his gun to poke at Marshall’s shoulder. “It looks like it’s your turn friend; cough up your coin empty ears.” Without any hurry Marshall slowly raised his head to look up at the demanding desperado. His brown eyes barely peeked out from beneath the brim of his hat to question the un-intimidating figure before him. “First of all, I am not your friend or the friend of anyone who is obviously as rude as yourself,” Marshall responded rapidly. “Secondly, as I understood your well-spoken superior’s speech you’re only interested in items of worth; which I for one am woefully without. So if you don’t mind I am going to return to my business and leave you to complete yours.”

  While Wynt blinked in response to the brash bluff of bravado Briscole begged from behind for him to hurry himself up. “What is taking you so long booze brain,” the mountain sized man complained as he stuffed a fresh handful of things into a bag. “Oh be quiet you has-been heavyweight,” Wynt answered angrily. Disappointed and somewhat dazed by the unusual reaction Wynt decided to spit at this strangers feet before he leaned in to reply. “No worries mister, I am sure we will catch you around sooner or later and catch up,” he promised. As the looting lot all turned to exit Marshall welcomed the relief from the bandit’s bottle breath with wordless thanks. The strong stench alone was near enough to make him recoil but he had been determined not to be the first one to blink.

  Again as Marshall looked on at the nefarious near-do-wells backs he longed to do something to stop them. But all three of them he easily enough noted were all armed and he sadly was not. Still stewing over the fact Marshall managed to catch Dyzon’s final flourish and the two locked eyes briefly. “Well it has been rewarding for us and hopefully entertaining for you as well,” the theatrical thief mused. “Until we meet once more let me simply say; safe travels to us all.”

  Still smiling Dyzon bid his farewell with a tip of his hat towards Marshall and winked. “Always a pleasure to meet a man with spirit and steel, something tells me we shall see eac
h other again.” Admittedly Marshall relished the idea of getting the opportunity to cross paths with these Bull-Boys under different conditions. “Who knows, it’s a big broad world out there,” he replied resolutely.

  “Shepherds and Stalkers,” Dyzon suddenly stated squarely. “They both stick close to sheep stranger. And while this world may be massive, there are only so many sheep to be found. Yeah, I’d wager that we will meet again.” Before he could complete his exit a second speeding shape came into view in the distance racing towards the Titan Train.

  As Marshall watched on out his window a single thought filled him. “Alright, now what,” he asked himself silently. Obviously routine was anything but what a trip by Titan Train was on Newport.

  Episode 3 – Late Birds Loot Little

  Perched at the promising portal Dyzon stood poised with his commlink firmly in hand, its transmitter keyed active. A deep chuckle was already building from inside him to fill the car’s cabin with its mirth as the Bloody Bachelor began to laugh loudly. “My apologies,” he sarcastically spat with a soft sneer. “But a late bird loots little my losing lady. The pickings albeit slim are presently picked clean. Better luck next time, though!”

  A string of strong speech exploded from the small speaker and managed to be nearly audible enough for everyone onboard to clearly decipher. Anything but cordial the angry answer was dripping with violent venom. “Horns will have you for this,” the vengeful voice vowed. “That was our task for the taking and you know it! Mark my words; nobody continually cheats Eris Clanless without paying a price. There will come a day when your debt will come due and Dizcords Daemons will be the ones collecting!”

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