It’s just after dawn, and all is quiet in the little settlement built up around Josie’s Happy House, a bordello on the trail between Blacktown and Sydney proper.
Warm sunlight wafts through the windows of Josie’s “deluxe” room, but the two figures huddled under the blankets on the big brass bed do not stir. Not even when the bedroom door is kicked in and two bruisers burst in with crossbows.
There is a double twang, and evilly-barbed bolts thud into the lumpen forms beneath the covers.
That’s when Naz kicks out from under the bed and whips his bladestar at the larger of the two intruders. The blade lodges in the man’s shoulder, but his thick leather jacket and natural orneriness allow him to shake off most of the pain. He drops his now-empty crossbow and yanks Naz’s weapon free with a grimace.
The brute’s partner, a skinny dag with a deflated Mohawk, is armed with a pair of crude but serviceable pistol crossbows, one of which is still loaded. He steps forward into the room grinning and levels the weapon straight at Naz’s stoic face.
Balthazar, who had been waiting on the other side of the open door, slams down his butcher’s knife like a guillotine right on the dag’s wrist. Steel cleaves through bone, unleashing a geyser of blood and a torrent of screams. The severed hand hits the floor, the crossbow goes off, and the bolt thuds harmlessly into the ceiling.
The first thug is not distracted by this spectacle. He flings Naz’s bladestar back at its owner. It takes a bit of skill to handle the unique weapon, however, and the bruiser’s clumsy throw misses its mark by a good few inches. Naz responds by quick-drawing his Barracuda and pointing the barrel straight between the eyes of the brutish interloper. Let’s see if he can throw a bullet back.
The mohawked intruder, meanwhile, tries to exit post-haste but finds his retreat blocked by the rest of his gang, two more roughnecks who now fill the doorway in attempt to ascertain what’s going on in there what with the screams and thuds and blood fountains and all. With nowhere else to go, the newly-minted monohand does a panicked turn round the room, limp haircut flouncing, before pitching himself through a window in the hopes of a better life elsewhere.
The newcomers have a hostage in tow, one of Josie’s girls whom they have coerced into leading them to their quarry. They threaten to slit her throat if Naz doesn’t drop his gun, and give her a little prick with a knife to show they ain’t bluffing. They’re so focused on the Regulator that they are taken completely by surprise when Toshido bolts out of the room across the hall and drops one of the attackers with a single karate chop.
Cat and Becca have also entered the hallway from their own room down the corridor, and they are ready for action. Cat aims her crossbow low so as not to hit the hostage and pierces the knife-wielder’s leg with a hunting bolt. As the bully boy drops to his knee, Becca adjusts her aim and puts an arrow right through the man’s hand. His blade thunks harmlessly to the floor and the man starts caterwauling. The newly-liberated chromo puts a stop to that by turning round and laying out her former abductor with a single punch.
Meanwhile, back in the deluxe room, Naz’s playmate remains singularly focused on the chief Regulator. He lets loose a bellow and charges at Naz, quite possibly with the intent to stomp him to death. Such is the force of his rage and momentum that it takes two 9mm slugs at point-blank range to bring him down. Naz has to scootch a little to avoid getting pinned beneath his attacker’s corpse.
The gunshots wake up Lynn, who had been sleeping up on the flat roof of the cathouse. She’s still a bit groggy as she kicks free of her bluey and scans about, so she almost doesn’t spot the five figures on horseback about three hundred yards north of the bordello. They appear to be watching the establishment until one of their number suddenly wheels their horse around and rides east. Another of the horseman stands up tall in his saddle and waves a red cloth around his head a few times.
The sound of breaking glass and crackling flames reach Lynn’s ears. Fully awake now, she gathers up her bedroll and heads to the side of the roof she came up from the night before. She stops in surprise as she reaches the edge, for somehow during the night the back yard had been transformed into a graveyard. Crude wooden crosses fill the space between the house and stables, each one etched with a name Lynn cannot make out from this angle.
Collecting herself, Lynn lowers herself over the edge of the roof and through the open window into Toshido’s room. Jimmy Valentine is right where they left him last night, still shackled to the heavy steel bedframe and still complaining about it. He pleads with Lynn to free him, but she ignores the rogue and runs into the hall to find the other Regulators.
Smoke is starting to billow up from the ground floor of the Happy House and there are other fires throughout the bordello. Someone has gone around pitching firebrands through every open window, and even tossed a Molotov cocktail through the swinging doors of the main entrance. The Regulators scramble to help put out the fires and evacuate the girls and any lingering clients. Cat is one exception, as she chooses to keep close watch on Jimmy Valentine in the belief that all of this is somehow his doing. Zar is another, and he races out the swinging doors to see if he can find any of the arsonists.
It’s not until he is out on the street that Zar realizes that the fires might be a ruse to get the Regulators out to of the building for an ambush. Feeling awful naked out there by his lonesome, the burly woodsman takes a quick stock of his surroundings. By now the other inhabitants of the settlement have roused and, dependent on the Happy House’s customers for their livelihood, are doing what they can to save the establishment. Zar treads cautiously around them at first, but after a few minutes devoid of assassination attempts he starts to breathe easier.
That’s when the four riders Lynn spotted come tear-assing down the road. They nearly run down Zar as they ride hell for leather past Josie’s and into the high brush. The giant Regulator briefly considers giving chase – one of the horses leaves a very distinctive print – before thinking back a few minutes and reconsidering. Maybe the fires were a set-up, and these riders are another part of the same plan. Rather than risk running into a trap, Zar circles round the cathouse to make sure the riders didn’t leave anyone behind to make further trouble.
When the trailsman reaches the back yard, he, like Lynn, is stunned by the presence of the makeshift graveyard. Zar is in a much better position to read the names on the shabby wood crosses, and what he sees causes him to swear softly.
By now the fires are under control. A few curtains, a rug, and some bedclothes are the only casualties. Little permanent damage has been done to the building itself. Josie is plum grateful for the Regulators’ help and offers them all “free rides” the next time they’re in the area. The “heroes” are sheepishly grateful and plan on blowing town before anyone realizes that there wouldn’t have been any fires if the Regulators hadn’t show up in the first place.
Zar turns up a bit breathlessly and hustles the posse round the back. Along the way, he mentions that he checked the horses and gear they had left in the stables but nothing seems to be damaged or stolen. However, the bordello’s stable boy had been stabbed to death in the night.
Once they reach the yard, Zar points out the grave markers that have turned up overnight. Each is etched with the name of a Pingberra resident; Doc, Matty, the Vicar, Toshido’s gal Eddie, Zar’s parents – anyone the Regulators might care for back home. Zar is hopping mad, and Naz’s Changed eyes literally blaze red with fury as he orders Brian and Balthazar to fetch Jimmy Valentine.
Still shackled, Valentine is dumped directly at the feet of the head Regulator (thanks to a skillful kick in the rump provided by Cat). Naz hauls up the traitor by his collar and, shaking him in the direction of the crosses, advises him to spill. Fast.
Properly apprised of the seriousness of the situation, Jimmy is quick to announce this as the work of “Scarface”, aka Mary Ellen Caffey. She had plenty of time during her stay in Pingberra to make note of these names and, unlike McLaren, the lady takes special delight in dealing revenge. ‘Sides, Mary Ellen is still seething over the wicked injury Lynn the Blade dealt her and wants to see the thief suffer greatly. (The fact that most folks in town never bothered to learn her real name and instead stuck her with that horrid nickname is a mound of salt on the – er, wound.) Jimmy concludes by suggesting that the posse return to Pingberra in order to safeguard the village against attack by McLaren’s people.
The Regulators dismiss that notion. Having foiled McLaren’s attempt to heist the guns from the Trade Meet, they are reasonably sure he does not have the firepower needed to take Pingberra. However, Scarface’s knowledge of the town and its defenses remains a major threat. The little diorama in back of the Happy House only underscores the need to track down the murderous moll and her man. And Cat reminds her ex-lover that the only reason he’s still alive is that he supposedly can lead the Regulators straight to the bad guys.
Jimmy balks a little, not flat-out refusing but doing his best to dissuade the others from their plumb foolish course of action. As he said, McLaren doesn’t go in for things like revenge his own self. Odds are good that the man would be happy to leave Pingberra all alone if the town just gave him back his stuff. You know – the weapons, vehicles, equipment and gear stripped from the Auburn Slaver’s compound. And the slaves, of course. McLaren is going to want all of his property back before agreeing to a peace.
Cat cuffs Jimmy alongside the head. The looks on the faces of the posse all tell the same story. No dice on the Regulators handing women and children back into a life of slavery. No need for anyone to waste their breath asking.
At this point, some of Josie’s hands appear toting the bodies of the raiders killed by the Regulators. Before they are stripped of their possessions and tossed onto a bonfire, Jimmy looks them over and announces that he doesn’t recognize any of them. One of the hands chimes in that these are all local toughs, bullies and wannabes that never had the stones to try their luck in one of the bigger settlements. Jimmy nods sagely and admits that he thought the Regulators handled them a mite too easy. McLaren’s real gang is comprised of top-drawer material, not tube-munching losers like these.
Cat cuffs Jimmy again.
The posse rides out from the Happy House after a hearty breakfast. Jimmy, fearful that Cat will slit his throat once his usefulness is at an end, remains a bit vague as to their destination beyond confirming that it is on the north side of the Bay. Toshido and Naz plot a bit of a meandering course, avoiding the main highways in favor of lesser-traveled roads so as to lessen the chances of being spotted by scouts on McLaren’s payroll. The Regulators have to spend long hours in the saddle to make up for the time lost by their circuitous route, but it beats riding into an ambush.
Along the way, Jimmy Valentine is doing his best to make amends with the (one of the many) gal(s) whose heart he broke. He begs Cat’s forgiveness and tries to convince her that everything he did was for both their sake. His real crime was foolish naiveté – he never put much stock in Cat’s tales of life outside Pingberra and never truly realized how good he had there. Then he got to the big city and found out the truth his own self. He should have listened to Cat all along, and is truly sorry for hurting her. Besides, he adds ruefully while holding up the stump of his right hand, hasn’t he been punished enough already?
Cat cuffs Jimmy again.
Towards the end of the second day after leaving the Happy House, Jimmy announces that the party has nearly reached its destination. He finally reveals that McLaren is holed up in Blues Point Tower, a pre-Ruin building on a spit of land directly across the Bay from the Duchy of Sydney. As the group slowly approaches through the remnants of a residential area, the Tower juts up above the landscape and looms over its surroundings like an evil omen. Wild growth flourishes along the base of the tower and weedy vines hang down from the roof. Most of the windows on the lower floors are smashed. Signs of rain damage and long-ago fires scar the exterior. It is 25 stories of hideous concrete and dirty glass that no one in their right mind would call home.
Valentine has never set foot in the place but he learned a lot from jawin’ with McLaren’s other men, so he is able to tell the Regulators that McLaren’s band is settled on the top three floors of the building. The Tower was an apartment complex before the Ruin and is still pretty comfortable by modern standards. The raiders get to their quarter via a lift, which is hand-turned by slaves in the basement. There are also two stairwells, one for the use of “servants” and the other booby-trapped to hell and back. Jimmy has no idea which stairwell is which.
The Regulators decide to approach the Tower as carefully as possible. They establish camp in a former dress shop and hide everything except their weapons amongst the rubble. They hobble and feed their horses, and Zar and Becca set up a couple of booby-traps to discourage would-be thieves. Lynn and Naz leave to scout ahead while the rest of the posse eats a cold meal as they wait for darkness to settle.
Naz returns with more info on the area and the beginning of a plan. He sketches a rough outline of the apartment complex in the dirt and points out a low structure a hundred yards or so from the main building. Most of the area directly surrounding the Tower is covered in wild growth, but Lynn spotted a section near the street that looked a little dry and brown compared to the rest. It was a blind, a stack of cut brush tied together to hide an entrance into the cracked concrete of a car park in front of the Tower. The flat building Naz identified is being used as a stable and garage. A makeshift barricade has been placed in front of this entrance and a couple of guards are inside the garage itself.
Naz’s plan is to split the posse into three groups. Cat and Becca will be placed among ruined buildings to the east of the Tower; their job is to watch for snipers in the apartment windows facing the garage and try to provide cover against them. Naz and Zar will be targeting the car park from the overgrowth to the west. The stealthiest Regulators, Lynn and Toshido, will sneak directly into the stables, take out the two guards posted there, and start a fire. Anyone who comes out of the Tower to deal with the blaze can be caught in crossfire between all three groups. Naz doesn’t expect the entire Tower to empty, but the plan should allow them to winnow down the opposition some. With luck, they may even be able to capture a prisoner to question.
Jimmy points out that this plan sounds eerily similar to the one McLaren’s men failed with at the Happy House. Cat cuffs him again.
Cat and Becca, a still-restrained Jimmy in tow, pick their way silently across the rubble of burnt-out homes. Their footsteps kick up ash and the smell of burning wood, so these building must have been destroyed relatively recently, probably put to the torch by McLaren as a safety precaution. There isn’t much cover to hunker behind but the gals do the best they can. From their vantage point, they can make out light from several windows in the tower, and even the glow of flickering flames from some oil drums set out on a few balconies facing away from the Harbor. Jimmy pleads for a gun to protect himself with, and Cat cuffs him again.
Meanwhile, Zar leaves Naz halfway between the two buildings and continues on through the rough brush to get closer to the Tower. He’s so low to the ground that he’s nearly crawling, and this is what potentially saves his life. The woodsman feels rather than sees a tripline, invisible in the darkness, poised to send a sharpened stake swinging into the leg of whoever sets it off. There’s something nasty spread on the tip, too, and Zar sends a silent prayer of thanks to whatever deities watch over him.
The big man lets out a soft whistle to signal the chief Regulator to delay the fireworks a bit. He wants some time to search the rest of the area as slowly and safely as possible. Sure enough, he picks out and disarms two more traps, and Zar is certain he would have tripped at least one of them if he hadn’t spotted the first. Whoever set these up has skills that rival, if not surpass, the Pingberra trailsman’s own. Satisfied that he has cleared the area he intends to nestle in, he gives the signal for Naz to set Lynn and Toshido loose.
The duo easily scales the old chainlink fence circling the garage and drops silently on the other side. Lynn goes first, belly-crawling along the front of the building and passing through the barricade like a rumor. Toshido gives her a minute or so before setting off in a crouching run. He leaps over the barricade and is on one of the guards before the man can see him coming. Lynn steps out from behind a stack of hay, wiping the blade of her knife on someone else’s handkerchief.
There are a couple of automobiles in the garage. Toshido looks them over and ascertains they are in working order. He has Lynn help him push the vehicles near the front of the entrance where they can be used for cover and a quick getaway if necessary. The mechanic is bent on leaving with these cars no matter what else happens this night.
He is less sanguine about the half-dozen horses stabled in the building. While Lynn gets the fire started, he tries to work out the best way to get the horses free if the blaze gets out of control.
The smoke billowing from the garage is the signal for the Regulators to get ready for action. But they wait, and wait, and wait, and still no one leaves the building. The only visible response to their intended distraction is for all the lights in the Tower to wink out in quick succession. Naz and Becca think they see some movement in a few of the darkened windows, but nothing they can risk taking a shot at.
It gets to the point that Toshido feels compelled to set the horses loose, less they die in the fire. He is almost killed himself by flailing hoofs, but he manages to drive the beasts out of the barn. The horses mill about the car park a bit before settling in a corner as far from the flames as possible, right near the front doors of the Tower. Naz hopes this will encourage some of the raiders to leave their nest using their mounts as cover, but no dice.
Naz reluctantly gives the signal to withdraw. The shrill whistle can barely be heard above the roar of flames and whinnying of frightened horses, but the Regulators have had their ears peeled for it. They vamoose as quickly and silently as they can, Toshido only sparing a brief longing glance at the two motor cars before heading out.
Becca, Cat, and Jimmy pick their way across the rubble. They are so intent on not making any noise that only Jimmy notices the figure that pops up from nowhere to level a rifle crossbow straight at Cat. Jimmy shouts a warning and pushes his ex-girlfriend out of the way just as the bolt is loosed. Jimmy falls, the shaft sticking straight out of his chest, and his assailant turns to flee. Becca lets loose an arrow of her own, which takes the crossbowman low in the calf. The force of the projectile kicks his leg out from under him and he falls hard, his head hitting a chunk of concrete with a sickening crunch.
Cat tends to Jimmy while Becca makes sure their attacker is dead. He’s wearing a sort of poncho daubed with mud and ash and even thin splatters of cement, resulting in a perfect camouflage for this environment. As she strips the corpse of this treasure, Becca notes a square of plywood on the ground decorated in a similar manner to the poncho. She gives it a push with her foot and uncovers a perfectly round hole in the ground. It looks to be part of the pre-Ruin sewer system, with rungs set in its concrete wall leading down to tunnels beneath the streets. Becca thinks back to her recent experiences and shivers.
Cat and Becca manage to drag Jimmy back to the rendezvous point. While Toshido patches him up to the best of his ability, Becca lets the rest of the team in on her discovery. Naz reckons that the crossbowman must have been a scout or sniper who used the sewers to sneak in and out of the Tower. The Regulators decide to use the same route themselves.
The posse move swiftly and silently in the darkness as Becca leads them to the secret tunnel entrance. Jimmy is left back with the horses and gear, sedated with some of Zar’s homebrew. It’s pitch black out, the moon and stars hidden behind a cloudy sky, so the Regulators have to watch their step carefully. For all they know, McLaren sent out more than one scout, and someone might be viewing them through a gunsite at any moment.
Arriving at the entrance, Zar and Naz lift the plywood cover without making a sound. Lynn is always on point thanks to her superior stealth skills, but she hesitates a little; like Becca, Lynn is still nervous after their recent barney below the streets. She hops in anyway and helps guides the rest of the team down. Zar is the last one in and drags the plywood cover behind him.
The sewer is dank, foul, and cramped. Rain run-off must still flow through this system, or maybe water from the Bay backs up. In either case, it’s not a pleasant place to be, especially after Naz and Cat break out lanterns and all manner of vermin can be glimpsed scrambling away from the light.
Using the lantern light, Becca chalks a marker so that the Regulators can find the way out again. Zar moves up the front next to Lynn so he can try picking out a trail. It’s not easy, as the sewer is vastly different from the woods and trails he is used to, but Zar does pick out a couple of signs that indicate a way to travel. Naz confirms the general direction with his compass, so the posse moves on.
It’s not long before their path leads them to another set of rungs leading up. The distance feels about right for this to be the way into the tower. Zar climbs up to the top and finds a trap door. The door looks to be chained down and secured with a combination lock; the scout that shot Jimmy must have locked the door behind him when he left the Tower. Zar nudges open the trap just enough that dim light shines through the crack; Lynn angrily slaps the burly Regulator’s leg until he lowers the door again.
Lynn sidles up the ladder and squeezes past Zar. She examines the edges of the trap door very carefully and then starts to poke around with a slim metal stick she picked up somewhere. After a while of this, she mimes for Zar to push up the trap door very slowly and not more than a couple of inches. The bald Regulator then slips a hand through the crack and begins to fiddle around again. Just when everyone is getting tired of waiting, Lynn turns her attention to the combination lock and manages to get it open with a few deft twists. She gives a nod to Zar and he pushes the trap door up just enough for Lynn to wiggle through the gap and into the Tower.
A few tense moments later, Lynn opens the trap door all the way and motions for her friends to come up quietly. As they enter, she indicates the crude crossbows pointed at the entrance and a makeshift alarm system connected to the door, all of which have been disarmed by the nimble Regulator. Toshido points to a dead man sprawled in a chair near the trap door; Lynn mouths the word, “guard”, and mimes being asleep.
Once the entire posse has clambered up the ladder, they take a fuller stock of their surroundings. They appear to be in an old boiler room, though most of the metal fixtures have long been scavenged. Light is provided by a small lantern lying next to the dead man’s chair. The hole in the floor was a drain of some kind, widened and covered for use as a means of egress. Aside from the security measures and the dead guard, there is little of interest in the room, though the jagged ends of rusted pipes sticking out from the ceiling remind Becca uncomfortably of teeth.
There appears to be only one exit from the boiler room, a sturdy metal door that, when Lynn gives it an exploratory tug, is shown to be locked. Lynn hunkers down to get to picking, but Cat brushes past her with a set of keys she retrieved from the corpse. The third one on the ring turns the tumblers and the door slowly creaks open from its own weight.
Toshido slips through the doorway to take point. He does a quick recco before motioning his teammates forward. The first thing they notice is the smell. It’s the stink of human beings wallowing in their own filth, of wounds festering untreated, of despair and misery. It’s the odor of slavery and, sadly, most of the Regulators have no problem identifying it.
Moving silently towards where the smell is strongest, Toshido and Lynn encounter a series of cages made from chain link and steel slats. Pre-Ruin, this was probably a long-term storage area for residents of the Tower. The ragged wretches cooped inside the cages begin to stir, so Toshido quiets them down while Lynn works her magic on the locks.
Zar fetches the lantern from the boiler room. Its pale glow throws eerie shadows around the voluminous, dank space. It looks to be a maintenance area for the Tower, though once again anything of value seems to have been stripped out by previous explorers.
There’s an elephant in the room, however; a massive turnstile fashioned from an old cable spool. Chains and steel cords flow from the turnstile and up through a hole in the ceiling. Naz has Zar bring over the lantern for a better look. They are able to ascertain that the turnstile is being used as a windlass to move an elevator car up and down. Slave labor must be used to power the device.
Meanwhile, Lynn has freed the prisoners. Toshido, Becca, and Cat share some of their food and water with the captives while (gently) squeezing them for all the info they can.
- McLaren’s gang numbers about 20 all told. They occupy the top three floors of the Tower.
- The 25th floor belongs to McLaren and his chief lieutenants. The armory and treasury are also on the top floor.
- The 24th floor houses the living quarters for the rank and file.
- The 23rd floor is used for storage and food preparation. Cooking is done on makeshift balconies facing away from the bay so that the fires are not easily seen in central Sydney
- The female slave pens are also on the 23rd floor. Only the male slaves are kept here in the basement.
- There are two stairwells in the Tower, but only one goes all the way to the top of the building. Even then, the top three floors are locked and slaves must knock to request passage. Access to all the other floors is blocked off from the inside.
- The second stairwell can be entered from the lobby on the ground floor, but it is blocked off from every other floor. The stairwell is littered with booby traps and exists only to ambush intruders.
- The elevator provides access to every floor, but it kicks up a hell of a racket when in use.
There is no escape route for the captives but through the sewers, which are tricky to navigate and may be crawling with muties. The Regulators get the slaves to agree to stay put until the posse has its shot at taking control of the Tower. In case things go South for the heroes, they part with a few knives and a compass for the captives to use in their escape.
That settled, the Regulators begin the long climb to the top of the Tower.
Along the way, they sketch out a course of action. The archers, Zar and Becca, will hold the top of the stairwell while the more experienced lawdogs storm the 25th floor. The Regulators aim to kill every soul that draws against them. No mercy and no second chances. It’s their only hope of coming out the other end of this alive.
Naz suggests using whatever furniture the archers can find to barricade the top of the stairs; the idea is not to make the stairwell impassable, but simply to slow down the enemy long enough for arrow, knife, and bullet to do their jobs.
After a last breather on the 22nd floor landing, the Regulators go in for the kill. As soon as Lynn has cracked the lock on the top floor, Toshido kicks the door down and goes in shotgun first. Lynn skitters past him, eyes constantly darting for traps, ambushes, and safe places to hide. Naz and Cat back up Toshido, and Becca covers the landing with her bow as Zar starts to manhandle furniture from the nearest apartment into the stairwell.
There’s a lot of hoo-rahing as the slavers realize they’ve been invaded. Most of the commotion comes from the 24th floor as the grunts start to get their act together. Lynn can hear motion from some of the apartments on this floor, but it’s tough to tell which ones; the occupants on this level must be cagier than their followers. Every apartment door seems to be open so that attackers can spring from anywhere. Each member of the posse can feel their nerves jangling as they edge through the corridor.
Suddenly, an odd cranking noise commences, and an odder contraption slides into view at the other end of the hallway. Toshido and Lynn are up front, and they catch a quick glimpse of a gigantic crossbow and a seated gunner set atop a wheeled pallet. The crossbow is loaded with three bolts, two resembling sharpened broomsticks and thicker, steel-tipped missile in between. There is a loud twang, and Toshido screams for his comrades to kiss the carpet. The slender bolts rebound and ricochet unpredictably off the narrow corridor walls. The thicker bolt flies straight and true and slams partially through the metal door leading to the stairwell, which Zar has hastily shut. The weapon rig slides out of sight again, and the Regulators can hear the crossbow mechanism being wound up for another shot.
And then all Hell breaks loose. Slavers start popping up from every doorway. A chain skids off of Toshido’s motorcycle helmet, and the Japanese lawman turns and loosens a load of buckshot at point-blank range. A figure hurtles at Naz, and the chief Regulator pistol-whips the man and finishes the job with his elbow spike. Still on the floor, Cat puts a crossbow bolt through an attacker, then pushes aside the empty weapon and unslings her L1A1.
That heavy cranking noise sounds again, and the Tower’s defenders fade away as quickly as they appeared. Another giant crossbow slides into view, this time from behind the invading lawdogs. But Cat has been waiting for something like this. Before the gunner can pull his trigger, she puts him down with a rifle round through the head.
Meanwhile, a mess of slavers have come boiling up the stairs, only to be halted by the debris strewn in their path. Suddenly, the two raiders in front sprout arrows from throat and eyeball. Their fellow gang members are stunned for a moment, giving Zar and Becca time to crouch back behind their makeshift barricade before a hail of bullets and bolts slam into the walls behind them. Zar strikes flint and tinder to light the fuse on the homemade grenado Becca has pulled from her pack, and the fiery chemist flings the bomb into the middle of the horde below.
The noise from the explosion is deafening in the enclosed space.
Once their ears stop ringing, Becca and Zar peer over the balustrade at the carnage below. The only movement visible is the rising curlicues of smoke and final death twitches of a few lingering unfortunates. The archers push aside the barricade and cautiously descend the stairs.
Back upstairs, the other Regulators have scurried out of the corridor and are attempting to clear the apartments. The rooms are dark and still a bit smoky from quickly-extinguished candles, and there are plenty of open closets and heaps of furniture to provide hiding places for the enemy. It’s a nerve-wracking situation, made worse by the fact that the lawdogs have inadvertently split themselves up.
Still, they cautiously prowl from room to room, and quickly discover that holes have been cut in the floor. Ropes and ladders are placed to allow passage between these two floors without using the stairwells. The interior walls of each apartment have also been breached, so that nearly all of the units on either side of the hallway are connected. Only the last apartment at the end of the corridors appears to be intact; Naz recalls the slaves downstairs mentioning that these contain McLaren’s armory and his personal quarters, and he heads in that direction.
Unfortunately, the remaining crossbow gunner and his crew are occupying the next-to-last apartment on that side. The gunner swings his weapon in the Regulator’s direction and grins. But before he can take his shot, Lynn the Blade pounces on him from behind, throws one arm around his neck and stabs, stabs, stabs with the other into his chest and abdomen. The gunner slumps in his chair like a ruptured balloon. His two assistants stand slack-jawed long enough for Lynn and Naz to dispatch them with knife and bladestar.
As there is no access to McLaren’s rooms in the apartment, Lynn and Naz step out into the hallway. Lynn is instantly gunned down by an Aborigine man wielding two crude pistols. The homemade zipguns are single-shot, but each is loaded with a massive .50 caliber round intended for heavy support weapons. The newcomer’s second shot is aimed right at Naz, but when the slaver pulls the trigger there is no fire. The man throws down both pistols and steps back into the apartment he came from, drawing an Aboriginal wooden sword as he does so.
Naz yanks his Barracuda from his holster and starts after the slaver, but freezes in mid-stride as a familiar green egg shape lands at his feet. The chief Regulator throws himself back into the crossbow gunner’s lair and dives for cover. The grenade rolls in after him and, amazingly, right into one of the access holes in the floor. The explosive goes off in the apartment below without injuring Naz.
Across the hall, the grenade thrower is prepping another bomb when Zar and Becca climb up through the hole from the floor below. Having found the 24th level clear of combatants, the duo decided to come up and lend their friends a hand. The grenadier – whom the archers immediately recognize as the Colonel, leader of the mercs who cut off Pingeberra Stream some months ago – cuts loose with an oath and rushes through the breach into the apartment next door.
He leaves a little present for Becca and Zar, however.
Becca topples a sofa over onto the grenade, and she and Zar hit the deck. The explosion shakes the walls but, thanks to the Bombshell’s quick thinking, fails to hurt anyone.
At roughly the same time, Cat makes a move to see to the wounded Lynn, who is barely hanging on to consciousness. But before the pilot can take a stride, “Scarface” Caffey springs out of nowhere and falls upon the bald girl. McLaren’s woman puts a blade to Lynn’s throat and insists that Cat surrender.
Cat can’t risk a shot at Scarface as long as she’s on top of Lynn, but that doesn’t mean she’s out of options. She makes a big show of putting down her rifle, but at the same time she’s clearing her mind and summoning up her willpower.
While all this is going on, the Aborigine and Toshido are dueling to the death. The pair had come across each other in the maze of apartments Toshido, seeing the slaver was armed only with a wooden sword, set down his shotgun and drew his twin sais. Neither man gains a clear advantage in the pitched battle that follows; Toshido’s sais do little more than bruise and batter his opponent, and the traditional wooden sword can’t cut through the martial artist’s leathers. Then, the Aborigine takes a swing that would break Toshido’s ribs if it connected. The Regulator jumps back out of the way, but doing so causes his leather jacket to ride up and expose the flesh beneath. The leather sword leaves a nasty slash across the lawdog’s stomach. First blood goes to the Aborigine!
Meanwhile, the archers have decided not to give the Colonel another shot at them. Staying on their bellies, Becca frees one of her own homemade grenades from her kit and Zar lights it with one of his precious few matches. As soon as the fuse sparks, the Bombshell hurtles the ball of death over their cover and through the hole the Colonel had evacuated through. There is a brief shout and then two explosions so close together they almost sound as one. The mercenary must have been “cooking” his own grenade when Becca’s bomb went off.
Scarface is distracted by the big boom and lowers her knife from Lynn’s throat. It’s the opportunity Cat has been waiting for, and she sends a blast of psychic energy at the traitorous slaver before she can recover. The force of the mental blow is enough to stun Scarface; Lynn summons up the last of her strength and performs a reversal taught to her by Shinichi Toshido. The thief is still seriously wounded and surely bleeding out, but now it’s her knife at the other woman’s throat.
Across the hall, the smoke has cleared and Zar is cautiously approaching the Colonel’s last known position. He finds that what’s left of the merc, which could comfortably fit into a shoebox. The grenades have also set several fires, so he and Becca work quickly to put them out.
The duel between Toshido and the Aborigine continues. The martial artist has been working his opponent’s leg, and now it can barely support the man’s weight. But Brian isn’t doing all that great himself, as his belly wound is seeping blood and he has no idea how bad the damage is. He decides to go for broke and feints an attack that leaves him wide open for an upward strike. The Aborigine takes the bait and swings his wooden sword in a vicious swipe at right at Toshido’s nethers. Brian blocks the attack with one sai and drives the tip of the other straight into the older man’s eye. He’s dead before he hits the ground.
Scarface has recovered from the mental attack and has easily overpowered Lynn once again. Cat scoops up her rifle and yells for the slaver to give it up. But all the raider does is smile as McLaren himself appears from nowhere. He points his .44 magnum at Cat and cocks back the hammer. Cat has no choice but to let the rifle slip from her fingers. Scarface practically howls with glee as she prepares to take her long-awaited revenge on Lynn the Blade.
But then Naz materializes in the hall, his Barracuda leveled straight at McLaren’s woman. The five survivors stand their grown, eyes locked with their enemies, no one daring to do more than breathe.
McLaren finally breaks the silence. His voice, once level and commanding, is now nothing more than a ruined whisper thanks to the injury he received during the Blue Mountain ambush.
“I guess we got ourselves a Mexican standoff.”
Naz is unfamiliar with the expression but readily grasps its meaning.
“You really think you’ve got a chance, boy?” The slaver continues, “You couldn’t outdraw me last time when it was just the two of us. You haven’t a prayer of taking us both down before I end you.”
Naz gives an almost imperceptible shrug. “If you believed that were true, you would have already pulled the trigger.”
Swiftly as a darting snake, McLaren’s pistol swerves from covering Cat and towards the chief Regulator. But Naz is faster still, firing a round that punches Scarface high in the shoulder, causing her to rear up and drop her knife. He lets the recoil lift his gun up and over to McLaren’s position and fires as soon as the big man is in his sights. The second round creases McLaren’s skull; the slaver collapses into unconsciousness as his own pistol shot goes wild.
Scarface screams and grasps her knife with her good hand, intent on taking Lynn with her to Hell. Cat’s mind and body flow as one; her telekinesis lifts her rifle from the floor and into her hands as she assumes a fighting stance. Her snap shot catches Scarface right between the eyes, and the last of the McLaren’s gang goes to judgment.
Toshido staggers on the scene, having stopped to bandage himself up. At the sight of the wounded Lynn, he rushes to her side and starts first aid treatment. The .50 cal round tore a hunk out of the thief just above the hip, but appears to have passed through her body without hitting anything she’s going to need later. Still, the Regulators realize they need to take her to Doc MacReady as quickly as possible.
Zar and Becca turn up, having ascertained that none of the enemy are left in the building, and the reformed posse swiftly formulates a plan. Toshido will take one of the slaver’s vehicles and drive Lynn back to Pingberra as quickly as possible. Becca will accompany them as bodyguard and nurse, and they’ll stop to pick up Jimmy Valentine along the way. The rest of the Regulators will follow on horseback and in the other car once they finish what they set out to do all those weeks ago.
It’s just after dawn, and all is quiet in the settlement built on the site of Blues Point tower.
McLaren awakes to find himself bound hand and foot, sitting in a wheeled office chair at the edge of a balcony facing towards downtown Sydney. There’s something rough and scratchy around his neck. Still a bit foggy from his wound, the big man cranes his head around to see the grim faces of Naz, Cat, and Zar, plus a few other dirty mugs that look vaguely familiar. His slaves, he realizes, and that’s when his head clears and he begins to grasp the situation. He looks down at the noose around his neck and, below it, a wooden sign labeled “SLAVER”. He glares back at Naz and spits on the floor.
“Well, let’s get on with it,” McLaren croaks.
Naz gives the chair a push.
- The death of McLaren and Scarface, and the final end of the Auburn Slavers.
- Becca is incredibly dangerous. Because bombs.
- She’s still adorable, however. Becca’s player was surprisingly giddy at the thought of the posse spending a night at a cathouse, but we just let it go. Then, during the fire, while everyone is talking about saving the girls and the customers, she leans in all serious and asks, “What about the cats?”
- Speaking of “cats”, Catalin is NOT HAPPY that Jimmy saved her life. I am pretty sure she would have rather been killed by that ambush instead.
- It remains to be seen how Jimmy integrates back into the Pingberra community.
- Lynn took a lot of damage from that .50 cal round, but luckily not enough to kill her. She rolled a critical success on her Shock Factor save and was able to remain conscious, if greatly debilitated.
- She also scored a crit on her Unarmed Combat attack against Scarface, allowing her to reverse the other woman’s hold, albeit temporarily.
- As the posse learned during their last encounter, Scarface is Changed and has telepathic powers. However, the dice just weren’t cooperating with her this time and she had to resort to physical violence.
- It was a marathon session, and the dice were rolling hot for the PC’s. Naz scored a crit on his Pistol attack on McLaren. Zar rolled crits with Stealth and Archery, Toshido on his Rifle skill, and Cat on Rifle – twice!
The posse claimed 5 shotguns and 20 rounds of 00 Buck for expenses, but left the rest of McLaren’s armory to the former slaves.
Lynn needed to get back to Pingberra quickly as possible, so no one had objections to the posse claiming the two working autos. None of the former slaves could drive, anyway, and they were more than happy to “settle” for the slavers’ horses and gear.
Additionally, Toshido took the Aborigine’s wooden sword as a souvenir. He also found nine construction hard hats in the trunk of the car he commandeered.
Cat claimed the flak jackets the crossbow gunners wore. She figures they will come in handy on her helicopter.
Naz has McLaren’s pistol and 30 rounds of .44 Magnum to go with it. He’s not sure if he’ll keep it or donate it to the village defenses.