With "One Death Away" under my belt, I'm putting more focus on my original writing projects. Yet this story is just itching at me and drawing me back. For new readers, this story began with this one chapter about three years ago and I stopped to pursue other ideas. But a part of me always wanted to come back, so here we are.

Writing Starfox fics has always helped me relax, have fun with writing, and take some pressure away from more serious writing projects. I always wanted to do something Western-ish and I realized that Starfox had many characters, elements, and plot devices that could be brought into a Western setting. So here it is, the story of Starfox told as a Western. I'm gonna have some fun with names or locations and such and try to put it all together as faithfully as possible. Hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think. Crank up the Ennio Morricone music, do your best Clint Eastwood squint, and get ready for the good, bad, and ugly of the Western mythos. Most importantly, enjoy! -Foxmerc

The Gunmen of Venom Hill

Foxmerc

CHAPTER 1
The Pale Horse
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He shimmered into existence on the sand-choked horizon, a mirage that warranted not a second glance from the weary eyes in Corneria City. As the sun rose higher, his outline grew sharper, heat waves forming a gray stallion with a hunched rider atop it. His black wide-brimmed hat hid his downcast eyes and he remained as lifeless as the mirage that bore him, only his long coat fluttering in the calm wind. Nearly an hour passed before the heavy shuffle of the stallion's hooves on the desert sand fell on the dry, dusty road leading into Corneria City. The horse moved lazily, not at all urged by the man on its back, who held the reigns in one hand with a loose grip.

He passed the small cemetery by the road and continued under a cracked, sandblasted wooden archway that read in faded red paint, "Welcome to Corneria City, home of tomorrow's pioneers!" The man looked up long enough to read it, giving a glimpse of his vulpine face to the morning sun. He lowered his gaze, his eyes dark against the red fur, and gave but one sardonic smirk to the few people on the town's main street. To him, they appeared as pioneering as the town appeared a "city." Only dust-scorched wind sounded in his ears; the bustle of a thriving town, if ever it did exist, was gone. The street had barely the business of even a mining town and the disheveled men and cautious women moved quickly, quietly, and discreetly about their way. The buildings had not been repainted in years and cosmetic problems, from tilted planks to fallen chimneys, had gone in disrepair. Had the fox not seen the scurrying people, he would have written Corneria City off as abandoned. The town seemed as if it had prepared for a deathly storm…or, perhaps, was under siege from one already upon them.

People shied away from him, even retreated indoors as his horse shuffled down the main road. A church stood in the distance, not a sign of God or man of the cloth around, but he would have to pass nearly a half mile of inns, tanneries, smiths, taverns, liveries, banks, and a doctor or two before arriving there. But he wasn't interested in the church, nor the "finer" places in town. A drink and a place to sleep would bring him closer to heaven than what a priest had ever offered him. An inn to his right caught his eye; not because it appeared to be anything special, but because a glint of metal in the creaky sign sparkled in the sun. The fox saw that it was a bullet, nestled into the wood by careful hands, part of the décor for The Lylat Tavern. Rooms upstairs, bar downstairs; the fox saw no reason to trot further.

Unlike most towns he'd been to, it was stillness that finally caught his attention. Most people seemed none to eager to remain outside, but a huddle of five men across the road from the Lylat, loitering by the door of an unmarked two-story building, seemed more at home than scorpions in the sand and not much friendlier. A jackal leaning against the building with his arms folded across his chest looked at him through squinted eyes and spat into the road. An ape with his back to the fox turned, looked over the newcomer for a few moments, and let a menacing smile creep onto his face. He gestured to the others, flicked his hat back on his forehead, and led them in a slow mosey toward the Lylat.

The fox hopped off his horse and tied it to the hitching post by the water trough as footsteps crunched the sandy road behind him. He gave it a pat on the neck, and rummaged through the saddlebags. No need to look at the approaching men; he knew all he needed to know about them. They wore gun belts, and they wore them openly with the humorless grins to go with them. Undoubtedly, the men had noticed that he wore none.

"Hey there, stranger."

The fox didn't need to turn to know it was the ape talking.

"You must be new to this part a' the world. Folks 'round here know about the tariffs. You know what a tariff is, boy?"

The fox still busied himself with his saddlebags.

"Tariffs are kinda' like taxes. You pay taxes so nothing bad happens to you. I'm what you call a tax collector for newcomers to this fine city. People give me money and nothing bad happens to 'em. You see how that works? From the looks of you, you can't afford Doc Andross's tax. That means something bad happens to you. Unless you get the money."

The fox spoke, a silent rasp from quiet days alone in the desert. "I ain't staying long."

The ape stepped forward. With a quick flash of steel, he cut the leather straps under the stallion's belly, sending the saddle to the dust with a heavy thump.

"Looks like you'll be staying a li'l longer now, 'less you want to ride this fleabag into the desert bareback. Come to me when you feel inclined to work off the tax. We have labor suitable for wandering trash." He tipped his hat and stepped back. "You have a nice day now."

The fox looked over his shoulder long enough to watch them enter the building they had been loitering around. With a sigh through his nose, he hefted up his ruined saddle and shoved through the swinging doors into the Lylat.

As the doors flapped shut behind him, clouds of scented smoke assailed his nose and obscured his vision. A few disheveled patrons sat at tables, hunched over, staring at nothing but their drinks. The piano sat silent and dusty in one corner, a faded poker table in another. The only sign of activity came from the bar, where a gray canine in an alcohol-stained apron lazily poured whiskey and wiped the wood. Like the poker table and piano, the bartender stood with the same faded dignity from a time when they were useful. The fox sat at a stool and dropped his saddle onto the bar, provoking a scoff from the barkeep.

"I'll let you keep that here for now, but you'll have to move it if a customer needs the space."

A glance around the dead bar proved the comment as sarcasm.

"My pop once told me that if I have a clean bar, I'm a failure," the barkeep continued.
He was right. What else do I have to do back here all day except wipe the bar down? It's the cleanest thing in this damn town. That saddle of yours just made me more successful. Drink?"

"What do you got?" The fox lifted his hat, wiped sweat from his brow, and slid it back on.

"Whiskey or…whatever's in those green bottles from when I took over the place a few years back."

"Whiskey then."

The barkeep flipped a shot glass over his palm to the wood with a practiced motion and poured the drink, which the fox gulped down with only a slight wince.

"Good to see a courageous drinker 'round here again. Name's Bill Grey, owner of the Lylat Tavern. You got a name?"

"Yeah."

Bill waited a moment unanswered before raising his brow. "Well, you gonna tell it or should I call you 'that hard-drinking new fox in town?'"

"That's fine."

The canine chuckled. "Too long. I'll shorten it. 'Till you tell me, I'll just put your tab under the name Fox. Pay me before you leave town, hear? If you survive, that is. Saw your little exchange of greetings with Andy Oikonny."

Fox glanced out the grimy window at the building across the street. "What can you tell me 'bout him?"

"Andy?" Bill shrugged. "If he's a tax collector, I'm the pope. Nothing but a thug, part of a band called Blood Wolf headed up by One-Eye O'Donnell. Demon brought to life, if ever there was one. You see him, you better have the cavalry to back you up." Bill breathed on a glass and rubbed it with his shirt cuff. More cleaning than the fox expected most of the glassware received. "But Andy ain't a man to mess with. He may not look like much, but I've seen him shoot good gunmen down. You'd do better just to pay him and be off. No shame in paying your dues and moving on. You think I'm gonna tend this bar in this ghost town my whole life? No, sir. As pop said, some men just gotta start at the bottom and work their way up."

"What's in that building over there?"

Bill's eyes followed the fox's nod. "Nothing worth involving yourself in. That's where ol' Doc Andross' boys hole up and let their legal types count their blood money. Andy just collects it."

"He connected to Doc Andross?"

Bill scowled at the name. "If you follow the trail of dirty money far enough, I reckon he is. Low man on the totem pole. Some distant nephew, so the little birds 'round here chirp."

Fox glanced again at the building. He pulled his saddle toward himself and unfastened the large bag draped across the right side. Bill's muzzle pursed as the stranger slid a leather gun belt onto the bar and pulled two single action army revolvers from their holsters. With a flick of his wrist, the cylinders leaned out and he laid them on the bar. The nickel-plated barrels shone in the dim light and bore the etching "Ridgefield .44" amongst some intricate scrollwork not customary to stock pistols. Bill could only catch a glimpse of some kind of etching on the polished wooden grips before the fox palmed them and loaded his twelve shots. With a spin of each cylinder, he replaced the pistols in their leather holsters and buckled the belt around his waist with the ease of a cotton cord. His long duster, which he had nudged back to put on his belt, swished about his legs and shrouded the pistols at his hips in darkness.

"What're you doin', stranger?"

"Following your pop's words." Fox stood. "Starting at the bottom."

Fox squinted as he stepped into glaring sunlight once more and took a breath or two, feeling the weight of his guns on either hip. He took his time walking across the road, letting his eyes take in everything around him, his spurs clinking in the silence. He was about to step up onto the porch when a side alley caught his attention. He peered around the faded blue building and saw a stable in the back lot. With a flick of his hat to shield the sun from his eyes, he started down the alley and glanced at the back door of the building when he came to it. The silence did not lower his guard. If the sand crunching beneath his boots echoed this loudly in the silent alley, surely someone would eventually notice.

He stepped into the stable and perused the horses, each lazily munching on feed or brushing away flies with their tails. He took his time, as if browsing a selection of fine ales, and finally hauled up a black leather saddle that had been rubbed and polished to a shine that almost immediately faded when exposed to the sandy winds outside. Fox made it four steps before the back door swung open and Andy stomped put, backed by his four goons. The ape hopped from the porch to the deserted lot and glared at the intruder.

"I reckon I didn't make myself clear, boy," he seethed. "You must have something wrong in your head."

Fox eyed each man in turn, noticing their hands twitching about their pistol butts. "You made yourself clear. My saddle was getting old. Figured you were inviting me to take a new one. A bit more riding on that and the straps might'a snapped and I might'a busted my neck. It made me feel…all warm inside that you were so concerned."

Andy shuddered in anger.

"I do have to ask one thing. Seems you nicked Ravenwing – that's my stallion, y'see – seems you nicked him with your knife. Now ole R-wing ain't too cross. If it were up to him we'd forget all about it; he don't like trouble. But me…well, I'm cross. So I'm gonna have to ask you to go apologize to my horse."

Amidst the outburst of laughter from his men, Andy took one more step toward Fox and touched his gun butt. "You ain't right in the head, you know that?"

Fox squinted and stared right into the ape's eyes, a stare that made the boiling sun seem cold as the moon. He spoke in a slow, demanding tone. "You gonna apologize to my horse or ain't you?"

The laughter stopped. Andy swallowed.

Fox saw the breath, the sudden intake through the nose of a man about to act. He dropped the saddle and felt the contoured grips of his pistols in his palms, the warm wood against his fur where it belonged. He barely had time to appreciate the familiar music of steel sweeping against the leather of his holsters before bursts of powder thunder and flashes of metal lightning ripped apart Corneria City's silence. Four bursts, four flashes, four .44 caliber kicks that reverberated in his arms and chest, letting him know he was still alive to feel them.

Andy was the last to fall. He grabbed his bloody chest, his eyes bulging, and gasped for air before toppling onto his face and lying still. Fox cocked his right pistol's hammer and stared at the only living goon, the jackal, who had flattened himself against the building, his pistol still in its holster, his mouth hanging open.

"Reach for it," Fox demanded through clenched teeth.

The jackal just worked his mouth wordlessly.

"Either throw down or crawl your ass back into that shack."

The jackal shuffled to the side and all but dove back into the building, the door slamming shut behind him. Fox eased the hammer down and holstered his pistols. He nudged Andy with his boot then reached into the ape's pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. With a chuckle to himself, he lifted the saddle and headed back to the Lylat.

Upon entering, he was greeted with wide-eyed stares from the patrons and Bill Grey. The black saddle hit the wood beside his old one and he shoved the latter toward Bill. "Toss the old saddle away, if you don't mind. Or keep it for yourself to get repaired." The coins fell from his palm and clattered onto the bar. "Keep the change and let me know when I owe you more."

Bill blinked. "Uh…okay…yeah, sure thing."

Fox pulled his pistols one at a time and opened the cylinders. "Which way to the sheriff, if there is one?"

"Oh, uh, you want J. J. Pepperidge down by the Phoenix Feather Saloon. Folks 'round here just call him Peppy. Don't be put off by his age, he's alright."

"Yeah," Fox grunted. He let his spent shell casings fall to the ground and replaced them. "He's done a hell of a job with this town. Hold on to this here saddle for me."

Leaving the whiskey-hazed patrons and Bill with surprise they hadn't felt in years, Fox swung the bar doors open and disappeared into the shimmering sunlight, leaving nothing but the smell of inflamed gunpowder in his wake.

'

-Chapter 2 Coming Soon-