Friday, June 21, 2024

Play Report - Empire of Texas, Session 5 & 6 - 6/12/24 & 6/19/24

"The Emperor of Texas has heard the plight of his allies across the desert. The Plague wracks them and empties out villages. From his riches he promises to provide medicine. The price is independence."
Players :

Halloween as… the Referee.

Cosmic as… Captain Kelly Branson of his Texan Majesty’s Imperial Army, ousted as leader, the last remnant of the expedition’s soldiery.

Jack as… Leandra, a mean, heavily armed, knife fighting convict.

The morning is overcast. The much diminished party awakens and prepares to set out westward once more. Kelly wakes to find he’s been stripped of all weapons save his revolver, he spends the day riding in the wagon with alongside the children and Steinmetz, wincing at every bump and mulling over the last few days. Leandra has taken charge, more or less, though she behaves with polite derision towards Kelly.

The expedition begins it’s climb out of the desert and into the Sheer Madre mountains, entering a long canyon cut between the peaks. They spend the day climbing and make camp that night, feasting on hardtack and roast lizard. As they sit around the fire a man steps out of the darkness, hails the party, and comes to sit down. He has big muttonchops and wears a wide brimmed hat. He does not give his name. The expedition members warily engage him in conversation, he asks what they’re doing heading west into a plague ridden, warlord ruled wasteland. Kelly, in a fit of rebellion against his degraded position, loftily declares that the expedition are emissaries sent by the Emperor of Texas to deliver certain gifts to his distant allies. The man inquires after the gifts and Kelly, realizing his mistake, detours to ask about the town on the other side of the pass they were told about. It’s been cleared out, the man says.

Leandra drags Kelly aside to talk to him. She wants to kill the man least he reveal their route and precious cargo to others. Kelly objects. An argument breaks out. Kelly yells that he’s no longer in charge so Leandra might as well do whatever she likes. He walks off, fuming, and sits in his tent counting bullets and supplies. In the end, Leandra softens and lets the man go. But paranoia plagues her and so she has the expedition march through the night, leaving everyone exhausted by daybreak.

They are deep in the mountains now, the cloudy sky hemmed in by walls of rock. Ester scouts ahead as the tired party navigates the narrow trail. Around noon she returns to report some interesting man made structures clinging to the mountainside, overlooking the trail, a ways ahead. Kelly takes the opportunity to curtly inform Leandra of their supply situation (eight days left). The party decides to detour off the trail so they can use the structures for a secure campsite.
The structures turn out to be some sort of bunker buried in the mountain slope. It’s built of old world concrete but a few newer wooden towers rise up around it. It seems uninhabited. Navigating the wagons up to it is difficult but they manage. Inside the bunker is all but empty save for empty tins and cans, some bunk beds, and some sort of locked office. After kicking the door in they find a complete set of maps, detailing the local area, as well as a case of functional walkie talkies. Kelly is all but ecstatic. The last time he saw a radio was back in the Imperial Heartland, he quickly distributes them to the party and shows everyone how to work them later that night. Esteban and Steinmetz are posted outside with the wagons and horses as sentry. Everyone else picks out one of the old bunks and settles in.

In the depth of the night the sleeping party is awakened by whinnying horses and the sound of wagons moving. Leandra all but leaps out of bed, grabbing her guns, and rushes for the bunker door. Kelly follows with his revolver. Leandra steps outdoors and can’t see a thing, it’s pitch black, but a bullet smacks into the doorframe and she backpedals into the bunker. Kelly drags Dolores and Ester out of their beds. Leandra, who’d retreated to one of the slit windows, sticks her assault rifle out and sprays automatic fire at the vague outline of the wagons. Kelly and Dolores rush out the door, seeing dark shapes moving as Leandra’s muzzle flash lights up the night. A wagon begins to roll away, racing down the trail, and Kelly drags Dolores after it. They both shoot. Kelly misses but Dolores thinks she hit something. A bullet flies through the slit and ricochets, grazing Leandra’s arm. Kelly, quickly assessing the situation, yells into the walkie talkie, telling Leandra to aim for the third wagon which is still crawling with rustlers. He returns to taking potshots at the fleeing wagon with Dolores. He misses again but Dolores, miraculously, hits the driver square on. The last man fails to keep control of the wagon and it overturns, rolling down the mountainside, dragging screaming horses with it.

What rustlers remain scatter. Ester, firing from the doorway, hits a retreating man. Then she and Leandra run out and convene with Kelly and Dolores. Esteban and Steinmetz are still missing. A bullet digs into the ground and Kelly shouts “Whose there?!” while Dolores dives for cover. A second shot hits Kelly and he topples. Leandra, who’d leapt to the ground by now, reloads her assault rifle. Tense silence. There is an hour to go till dawn. Horses cry out in pain. Ester goes to light a lamp but gets shouted down by Leandra. With the walkie talkie everyone checks in. Dolores drags Kelly behind cover and checks him over, he’s breathing. Leandra sprays some more bullets into the dark and then helps Dolores drag Kelly into the bunker when there is no response.

Time passes. As dawn breaks Dolores goes out to find Esteban, Ester goes with. They return with news. Eight dead rustlers lie scattered about, about the same number lie in varying states of injury. They’ve dragged in one with them and they throw him on the ground. A man with muttonchops. They tell everyone else that Esteban and Steinmetz are dead, throats cut. Leandra shoots the wounded man in the thigh and he dies there and then from shock.

They take the other seven wounded rustlers prisoner and drag them back into the bunker for interrogation. Leandra executes two of them before the rest spill. They’re from a settlement to the northwest they explain, it’d turned to banditry lately and their dead leader, Bill Halley (the muttonchops man), had decided to rob the expedition to alleviate their privations. They had no choice. Leandra tells them we understand and that we're good people too. The girls throw the prisoners, gagged and tied up, in the officers room and barricade it shut. Two of the kid’s who’d been in the bunker are gone, vanished in the night. Leaving a little boy and his sister. Dolores begins acting edgily around Leandra; scared.

The new day is overcast. Kelly regains consciousness, adding another scar to his growing collection. The party spends the morning looting the dead, collecting the horses, and recovering spilled and scattered supplies from the overturned wagon. Nearly half of the vials of amber fluid have shattered. Some food, water, and ammunition are irrecoverable. The chest of gold bars broke open and spilled over the mountainside, but most of it was found. In the end, they set out westward, leaving the prisoners to rot in the bunker.

The day passes uneventfully, save for tensions within the group. Near the day’s end they find a long crevasse and camp upon it’s edge. Dolores is tense, that night she fucks Ester in her tent while Leandra and Kelly sit up at the fire watched by the mute children. The boy staring and the little girl hiding her face in her brother's shoulder. The next day is hot, and the expedition passes out of the mountains and into the desert beyond. It’s true desert, orangish in hue and desolate save for distant peaks. Just dunes and baked earth. They pass the ruins of a burnt out town. Just outside a village’s worth of corpses have been pinned to a swathe of cacti. The carrion birds have not touched them. The expedition gives the ruins wide berth and walks out into the desert. They no longer have enough members for scouting, just plodding along. The desert embraces them like a midwife embracing a stillborn child. It is hot.

The next day is even worse, the sun scorches the earth and travel becomes arduous. The party is forced to alternate rest and riding. Around noon, while resting in the shade of their wagons, they spy a caravan crawling towards them from the west. A few guards ride out towards them and Leandra goes out to meet them while Kelly watches from afar through his field glasses. The caravan is a dozen strong, only five armed and look to be either merchants or migrants. Leandra learns that they are heading eastward in hopes of trade with the Empire of Texas. Leandra vaguely talks about the party having had to flee the region and makes the merchants rather suspicious of her but recovers by offering to trade ammunition or the maps of the Sheer Madre. Unfortunately, the caravan only has alcohol and tonics and the like. The two parts trade information and part ways.

By the day’s end the expedition has made barely any headway, the heat is brutal and their supplies diminishing. With the merchant’s information they know there is nothing near enough for them to reach with only three days of supplies left. The party decides that they can't penetrate the desert and that they’ll need to backtrack to the mountains and forage there

The following day, upon waking, the party discovers sets of footprints pacing out the edge of their camp and trailing off to the east. Ominous. The day is equally hot and going is equally slow as the last. They head eastward.

Day twenty four is a scorcher like the last, but the expedition makes it back to the crevasse and renters the mountains, from the south side of the canyon this time. As they are riding along the edge, watching buzzards soaring on the updrafts, Kelly sees something big, sinuous, and fast bounding across the rocks towards them. Before anyone can react it’s leaping right at Kelly and lands on his horse, clawing and gouging. The horse collapses and Kelly takes a tumble but controls it and pops right back up. The not-a-cougar is still tearing into the horse as everyone pulls their guns and shoots. Dolores hits it and its weird proboscis tail twitches and rears. Another salvo of lead gets pumped into it and Leandra splatters its brains. It writhes and shrivels up like a dead spider. The horse screams as it bleeds out uncontrollably. Kelly walks over and puts it out of its misery. Then he crouches down and examines the not-a-cougars corpse. After examining the proboscis he figures it's probably safe to eat the horse since it was just some sort of anticoagulant. The not cougar is some mutant blend of fish and lizard and cat. It’s got reflective scales.

They set an early camp in order too butcher the two dead animals. Kelly packs away the not-a-cougar’s pelt and Leandra tentatively tries the meat. It tastes like somewhere between fish, chicken, and almonds. Real weird. She doesn’t finish and they toss the remainder into the canyon.
The next day is hot and sunny and they climb back up into the mountains. The bunker seems like the best place to go, a secure spot they can hole up in while foraging. They arrive about midday, noting the crashed wagon still resting on the slope. Leandra dismounts and sneaks up the slope towards the bunker, keeping in touch with a walkie talkie. She creeps past the rotting corpses from the gunfight and hears whispered conversation inside the bunker. She relays this to Kelly and Dolores who dismount and get their revolvers out and creep up after Leandra.
They flank either side of the door, peek in through one of the slits. They hear what sounds like one of their former prisoners pleading with someone else whose voices are muffled. Clinking of gear. One of the muffled voices says they're going to go stand guard. Frantic debate. Kelly jumps the guy as he comes out, elbowing them in the side. Dolores wrestles his assault rifle out of his hands. He's about to pull a Bowie knife out only for Leandra to press her rifle against his neck underneath his weird visored helmet. The man is dressed in biker leathers has a smiley face pin insignia. His helmet looks almost like a modified welding visor decorated with screws. He turns out to be a surprisingly  good sport and does not resist, even shouting the all clear. He says his name's Donovan and tries to negotiate with Kelly and Leandra and Dolores.
Bounce, bounce, bounce. SMOKE GRENADE. From inside the bunker. Donovan tries to judo throw Kelly off him, Leandra shoots at air, Kelly manages to keep ahold off him and keep him pinned just barely. While choking and coughing Kelly tries to grab Donovan's knife but gets thrown onto some rocks and Kelly goes rolling down the hill, injuring his back, and is out of the fight. Dolores is spraying suppressing fire at the bunker entrance with her captured gun. Someone tries to pop out, blurring the fog, and Leandra shoots at them, missing. They miss too and retreat.

Donovan bum rushes Leandra from behind with his knife and gets her but she manages to turn it around and bash his face in and stab him with his own knife. Both go down. Dolores keeps up the covering fire but yells for parley. One of them shouts for Donovan, asking if he’s alright.  The spokesman is weirdly apologetic and doesn’t seem like he is sued to being in charge and thinks his boss will be upset with him, but tells the party to clear off because this is their gang’s territory now.The two sides hash out a deal to collect the wounded and break off. Dolores grabs Leandra by the collar and drags her clear. Ester sees Kelly roll down the slope and fetches him.

Kelly and Leandra are in bad condition but ain't dead. Kelly now has a permanent limp. The expedition flees northward into the mountains, and sets camp later that day, eating the last of their supplies. The next day is very hot, miserably so. The party crawls northward, dehydrated and and hungry. After slowly trekking for most of the day through the dry mountains three horses give out and riders with them. Dolores and Leandra faint, Kelly is lying injured and feverish in the wagon, leaving Ester to make an ad-hoc camp. Nothing to do but wait for night…


Four riders climb the crest of ridge. They are mounted and a string of horses laden with an ungodly amount of ammunition and weaponry trails behind them. They are sunburnt, haggard, and fierce. Below them, in a sheltered vale between the mans, is a verdant paradise. Lush and green. As they pass over the ridge and began their descendant, gunfire rings out. An ambuscade. The riders die one by one, bleeding out in the dust of the trail. After a while, a band of insular villagers emerges from behind the rocks and began picking over the corpses and searching saddlebags. One produces a brick of gold from out of a bag and holds it up to the sun quizzically. High above the vultures circle and bank, gliding along the length of the mountains.

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