Other FULL Powder Keg: Gunpowder Part II

Started by gimmepie December 3rd, 2018 5:36 PM
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gimmepie

Age 26
Male
Australia
Seen 20 Minutes Ago
Posted 8 Hours Ago
23,497 posts
9.5 Years
Powder Keg
Gunpowder Part II

Hell on Earth. That’s how the south of Jeimas has often been described. A poverty stricken desert overrun by crime and dependent on morally questionable bounty hunters because of underqualified and overworked law enforcement. While the north is and always has been a temperate, prosperous land, the south has long been seen as a blight. Now it’s even worse.

Two months have passed and the deaths of Borya Bogden, Sister Tess, Felix Grffin, The Night Wolf and Veralice have left the balance of tower between the most dangerous criminal factions destabilised and have prompted other criminals to rise up in an attempt to seize those positions or spurred others into action.

“Undead” Lachlan Buzzard has all but seized control of Ironhaven, the largest city in the south and now criminals run rampant within its walls. Anima and his holy order have risen to the ranks of the Big Bads and more and more people are flocking to his twisted religion as the situation in the south declines further and further. Aaron Fletcher has greatly increased his activity causing a regression in how goods are transported with many choosing to return to horseback convoys as he is known to only target trains. Unfortunately, this has also lead to the suspending of plans to link the independent rail system within the Grand Chasm to the greater Jeiman system. This is all in addition to the large numbers of smaller gangs who are all fighting to cement their positions or seize greater control in the power vacuum created by the Big Bad deaths. The Dead Priest Gang, Sangre Clan and the Dodgy Gang are but a handful of examples of deadly smaller gangs who have been seen on the move.

What is most disturbing for southern Jeimans however, is the activity of the most notable Big Bads. Self-proclaimed revolutionary, and the most wanted man in Jeiman history, has formed an alliance with Jessica Wilcox and Bonnie Cassidy, two other dangerous Big Bads while the man known only as Demon has been conspicuously absent from recent events with many suspecting this is the calm before the storm before he wipes out another settlement.

With tensions this high, now would be the opportune time for the Jeiman government to increase peacekeeper presence in the south, however in a striking move all peacekeepers have been recalled to key locations such as South Bridge and Earnest, some of the southernmost cities in the north.

The south of Jeimas is in a period of change and tensions are higher than ever. History is being made and only time will tell what will be left when the gears of progress are done turning.
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Oddball_

Magical Senpai and god of the closet.

Age 22
They/Them
Seattle, WA
Seen March 25th, 2021
Posted May 17th, 2019
867 posts
6.9 Years


Rory Ryder West

Level 3: Outlaw | Fire/Electricity | Bounty: 1700$



“Look buddy, we just want to know where Fletcher is hiding.” Levi hissed as he stared down a thug that the duo had ripped from a train from Spiders Hollow and tossed into the back of the wagon they’d stolen. “You can either tell me, or you can tell my friend over there.”

Rory grinned underneath his bandana as he clicked his fingers and flames began to wreath his hand. The eyes of the bandit grew wide and he began to struggle against his restraints even more.

“I ain’t know nothing! I’m just a flunky man, I don’t know where he is!” The bandito screamed, causing Levi to roll his eyes and Rory to just shake his head.

“Man you’re really bad at this. Now if that’s true, what reason do we have not to kill you?” Rory responded, causing the man to gape in confusion and fear. “Do you think he’s telling the truth?” The fiery tempered outlaw asked his young cohort.

“Most likely, this idiot probably got hired through one of his hands anyway. I knew we’d probably have better luck going after them, but that’s going to draw a hell of a lot more attention.” Levi responded as he leaned back against a wooden support and shook his head. “Doesn’t seem like we’ve got much other option though unless we want to waste another month wasting bullets in random hired goons. Not that I think you’d be much opposed to that.” The boy responded.

“Stop acting like you know me.” Rory pointed out.

“Oh quit acting like you’re this big bad that I should be afraid of. We both know different.” Levi snapped, the shout causing the hostage to wince.

“Do we now? Maybe you’d like to test that.” The outlaw growled as he stared daggers at the kid.

A fist from Levi connected with the underside of Rory’s jaw in the blink of an eye. The Outlaw gripped the boys arm and yanked him forward, smashing his skull against the kids face and busting his nose. The boy wheezed and recoiled before lunging forward and smashing into the man’s gut, causing the both of them to tumble out of the back of the wagon and land in the dirt outside. The moon had reached its appex in the sky, staring down at the two from its waxing gibbous as they punched, kicked, and screamed at each other from the ground.

A rustling from inside the wagon caused them both to snap to attention.

“Alright listen I don’t want any trouble.” A quivering voice called from the entrance as the thug they’d kidnapped stood there pointing a shotgun towards them.

Rory and Levi rolled their eyes and let go of each other, blood and dirt splattering both of their faces as they stared at the individual with burning contempt in their eyes.

“I’m just gonna be taking this uh, wagon and you’re both gonna uh… just stand up, turn around and walk away alright?” The bandit mumbled as he stood there quivering.

Rory struggled to his feet, causing the man to quickly shift the gun up towards him. “Slowly! Make any sudden movements and I’ll shoot!”

The outlaw rolled his eyes and attempted to wipe some of the muck from his face, only resulting in smearing it in more.

“You really should just put down the gun and let him shoot you.” Levi muttered from the ground.

“And why would I do that? I’m not one for wantin to get shot.” The thug asked shakily.

“You will be after the cat is done with you.” Rory muttered.

“Wha? Cat?” The bandit asked in confusion before being knocked out of the wagon with a girlish scream as the large orange furred feline pounced forward and began tearing into his back. The shotgun smacked against the ground, surprisingly harmlessly and small chunks of blood and flesh began to fly off of the man’s back as he screamed in agony.

Levi grumbled on the ground and sat up clutching his now very broken nose and busted jaw. “Anybody ever tell you that you’re an asshole?”

“I don’t want to hear it, I think you tore open the stitches from where you stabbed me last time.” Rory grunted as he tried to pull up his shirt to see.

“You deserve it.” Levi spat.

The boys stood in silence for a moment, assessing their wounds.

“Do you want a drink?” Rory asked after awhile, offering the kid his flask prompting the boy to roll his eyes and snatch the flask.







Friends for Infinity
Paired to GreyBidoof| Magical Senpai |

"I've learned to be wary of his suggestions... he's consumed my life."

art by the amazing Infinite

Sonata

Don't let me disappear

Age 25
Male
Indiana
Seen 23 Hours Ago
Posted 1 Week Ago
13,527 posts
8.6 Years
'Prepping for the horizon'

Azael Aeeb, Outlaw, Member of the Rainy Days
Non-Magical
Bounty : $0

Ironhaven, Underground Tunnel System


“Well, this sucks.” Zel raised his leg and swung it back and forth, scuffing against the uneven ground beneath him.

“Well, it’s not as if it’s going to be an easy feat for you to get back out of town. Besides - I can’t exactly up and shirk my duty either.” Reive shook her head as she pushed herself off the wall that she’d been slouched against with her fingertips.

“That’s true… but, we don’t even know when your friend is supposed to arrive. What’s the point in setting all of these up if there’s the possibility of her not even showing up? Hell, Buzzard could pull an assault out of his ass at any point and wipe the floor with us before we even have a chance to do anything. These are his tunnels after all. Half of this muk isn’t even mapped out anywhere except his own psyduckin’ head.”

“That’s true as well, but, it does make it easier since you have that magic map with you. It’s not an exact reference, but it’s better than nothing. We can at the very lease see where Buzzard and his higher ranking men are with it. Worse comes to worse, I can handle a few dozen grunts.”

Zel sighed and then planted his foot in the ground. “Hey, hurry up won’t you, bub?”

Pete turned to look at Zel and then pulled his guns out of the wall. “Me done now.”

“Great. Let’s move on to the next spot then.” Reive walked out a few feet in front, followed closely by Pastel Pete and Azael Aeeb who brought up the rear.

“I still think we should have brought at least one more body. It’s too dangerous down here if we run into any monsters like what’s been running about here lately.” Zel tugged at the strap of his weapon, airing out the bandages behind it.

“There shouldn’t be any more of those things running around anymore. Ever since that night in Wrench, the demon Alice has been declared dead along with the bounty hunter Jebediah who was aiding it, and presumably The Night Wolf who was set to fight against it. We’ve done a thorough search of the barren lands in the time since then and have come up with nothing. Although… I am still wary of that native that y’all are tugging along with you. The natives have powerful healing spells, I can’t imagine any reason why he would choose to stay blind.”

“Could be a sort of punishment. Some cultures have those types of social punishments for various crimes or taboos. Thieves have their thumbs removed, liars their tongues, rapists… well... “

“I get it. But then what do you think the taboo would have had to have been to have his eyes irreparably damaged?”

“Who knows. I’m not a native of this land. Not my place to ask, and I don’t really care to be honest.”

Reive nodded her head and then stayed quiet until they reached their next spot.

“Booms only good for few days. Can’t leave city. Only native can see booms.” Pete swung his guns around and smiled stupidly.

Rieve nodded her head understandingly. “So you carry around the native for the sake of the rest of you. That’s understandable. It’s a shame the natives are nearly extinct. Once all this is over, I’d have loved to have had the chance to study them some more. They don’t require spellbooks so how they acquire spells is an intriguing concept. I’d hate to end up going down the dark path that so many other outlaws have with their obsessions… but…”

“It’s best not to think about it. We’re not at a point where we could make use of the information regardless. It would just be meaningless slaughter at that point.”

“I suppose you’re right… that’s not something that Jedediah would condone, regardless of relationship.”

“I think this is far enough.” Zel stopped walking and then glanced over the surrounding tunnel. “It’s been about a hundred feet.”

“It’s draining to keep up this spell for so long. It’s good that we’ve only got a few traps left to place.”

Zel nodded and then tapped Pete on the shoulder. “Go ahead big guy. Four on the roof, four on each of the walls, four on the floor. Just like last time.”

“Me make booms now.” Pete giggled as he pressed his guns against the wall, diggin them deep into the rock covered walls, crushing the stones as he did so. “Boom! Boom! Boom!”

Zel sat on the ground and stared off down the rest of the tunnel. “Just three more. I wonder why Buzzard hasn’t set any guards through these tunnels yet. They connect to every point of the city, it only makes sense.”

“I’d like to say that he’s stretched so thin up top that he can’t afford to station anyone down here, but I’d have to slap myself for knowing better. They could very well be doing the same as us right now, just working from the other end. These tunnels used to be filled to the brim with his underlings, and now there’s nary a trace of them. Sure, we dug our own hole to connect into his system, but that shouldn’t mean that he’s not going to patrol this area. There are other entrances and exits around here anyways…”

“Whatever the reason, as long as we stay quiet and just take care of our current business, there shouldn’t be any issues, right?”

“Yeah. My spell deafens everything within it. We of course can still hear each other, and we can hear things coming from the outside, but anyone on the outside can’t hear us. My whole spellbook is more or less geared towards these types of tactics unfortunately… but, I’m still not completely useless in a combat scenario. I do have a few tricks up my sleeve which make me just as deadly as any other spellslinger who dedicates their all to combat.”

“Hmph. Must be nice to be able to use magic.”

“That’s right… you don’t have any magic of your own, do you, Zel? By the way, what did happen to your arms and legs that caused you to have to do yourself up like that?”

“I’m not sure. I get searing pains in my head and throughout my metallic limbs any time that I try to recall what happened to me before I joined up with the Rainy Days. All I see when I try to remember is black and grey blobs and a lot - and I mean a lot of fire. I assume it has something to do with the fire, seeing as how I’m completely covered in burns and my skin still peels off in crisp yet gooey flakes of skin and flesh.”

“Yeah, sorry… forget that I asked.”

“It’s no problem. I’m still trying to figure out my history too. If I can figure something out while we’re travelling, you can be sure that I’ll let you guys know.”

“Well that’s certainly reassuring. Unless you end up remembering that you’re some kind of contract killer who was forced into losing his memories so that he could sabotage our plots and schemes.”

“That would be awfully convenient a thing to happen - seeing as how Jacques just picked me up out of the desert by chance.”

“Fate has a funny way of making things happen… especially out here in Jeimas.”

Zel nodded his head and then stared at Pete as he finished planting his traps in the wall.

“Booms done. Me tired.”

“I know big guy. We just got a few more left.” Zel patted Pete on the shoulder and then pulled him along down the tunnel. “We’ve got to do our part too though, just like your big brother.”

gimmepie

Age 26
Male
Australia
Seen 20 Minutes Ago
Posted 8 Hours Ago
23,497 posts
9.5 Years
Alex Rose
Signs of Trouble

The sound of a bullet hitting splintering wood reverberated throughout the area. Then was repeated as the other side returned fire.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Elias snapped at Alex from behind the shanty shack he had taken cover. Alex didn’t respond and merely glared at his companion from behind his own hiding place.

This was meant to have been a quick and easy bounty to grab, but now the desert sun was beating down upon the bounty hunters with biting ferocity and all the combatants were sweating heavily. They had been chasing down a petty thief, a man who had robbed a bank in Gilded Brook. What they hadn’t counted on was that the outlaw had been a part of a gang unbeknownst to them and that he and his cohorts and set up a shanty town to Gilded Brook’s south.

Alex peered around the flimsy structure he was pressed up behind and took another shot at one of the outlaws with his revolver. It had become his prefered firearm over his shotgun recently. He caught his target in the shoulder and they dropped their weapon with a yell.

Without thinking, he blinked to the location of the dropped weapon, appearing before it with a flash of red. He scooped it up, kicked its owner in the face and then blinked back to near his hiding space, diving behind it just in time to avoid being filled with lead.

“What the psyduck?!” Elias yelled, repeating his standard refrain as he returned fire around the corner. “What is wrong with you today? Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

“Didn’t want him to pick it up and start shooting again,” Alex replied over the sound of more bullets flying towards them.

“If he does that, shoot him again! Are you out of your psyducking mind?!”

Alex watched as Elias, a look of terror plastered firmly on his face, took another shot around the corner of his cover. His bullet hit one of the outlaws in the middle of his chest and he dropped. Unconsciously, Alex winced, then mentally berated himself for doing so.

What is wrong with me today? I live for this why am I flaking? That’s the sort of muk Elias would do.

Alex steeled himself, it was time to get his muk together.

“Last chance,” he called out “Unless all of you want to die, stop shooting and give us Cooper.”

“You two aren’t taking any of us!” One of the outlaws yelled.

“You’re outnumbered! You’re gonna die!” Another screamed.

Alex sighed.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he muttered to himself. The next moment, two other Alexes split off from the original and blinked away in opposite directions. The clones taking up flanking positions as Alex readied his final assault on the defending bandits. He changed his gun over to his left hand, a small fireball forming over his right. Then, the small fireball grew considerably larger.

One of the outlaws noticed the ball of flame and shouted.

“Psyduck, he’s got magic!”

“Muk!” Another swore, “Why’s there more o’ ‘im”

It seemed the clones had been spotted, but it was too late. The Fire Bombs flew, ignited the set of shanty huts the bandits were behind with a roaring flame. The cowering outlaws were engulfed by the flames, several of them made a break for it as Alex deftly switched his revolver back to his right hand to get a clearer shot.

He, his clones and Elias rained bullets down on those that tried to escape and they dropped like flies one after the other. Then, there was silent but for the moaning of those who had been shot and the screams of those that were burning to death in pyre.

“Holy muk,” Elias groaned as he and Alex walked out from their hiding places.”Holy muk, not what I had in mind.” Apparently, Elias had forgotten that he was the one that pushed Alex into action.

Alex walked over to where a man was lying on the ground in a pool of blood, his clothes and hair singed and his skin burned. The man whimpered and quivered where he lay at Alex’s feet. It took Alex a moment to realise he was looking at Cooper, the man he’d been after to begin with.

“Please...” Cooper began. Alex didn’t wait for him to finish his sentence, he pointed his gun at Cooper’s head and pulled the trigger, scattering chunks of grey matter and bone across the desert. He ignored the shaking in his hand as he did so.

There was retching noise from behind Alex as Elias proceeded to throw up on the ground. Alex wasn’t sure if it was the overwhelming scent of burning flesh or the fact that Cooper’s brains were now on their boots, but apparently something tipped him over the edge.

“Come on,” Alex said, hefting Cooper’s corpse over his shoulder “Let’s get him into a body bag and then we can do a quick check and see if there’s any more recognisable bounties laying around.”

“Psyducking grand,” muttered Elias.

Alex tried to feel contempt for his companions weakness, but found it hard to do while his hands were still shaking like leaves in the wind.

Did the kid do something to me?

RPWLA&MBattle ServerDaily

JukeboxTheGhoul

Rocking Round the Clock

He/him
England
Seen March 29th, 2021
Posted December 1st, 2020
740 posts
10.6 Years



ANIMA

“Why did you kill that guy? Aren’t you guys like, death is a reward thing?” Elliott casually asked the hunched Grand Master of the Holy Order, who marched with purpose away from the bloody scene.
“She committed no sins, she took a contract, everyone makes mistakes.” Shadow dismissed Elliott.
“I’m happy that you dealt with it, but kill her?”
“Why did you come to the south again?”
“To escape Waltham.”
“You don’t seem very cut out for this kind of place.” Shadow continued marching, ignoring him. “I don’t even know why The Prophet wants to keep you around.” The doors were pushed open, taking their argument to the desert sands.

Martirio leant against the wall, a flag draped down it, that of the cult of the Ascension “Trouble in Paradise?”
“I guess so.” The Necromancer replied. “It’ll blow over, there are always times of tension without the Prophet.”
“So you’re experienced at this? Acting without the Prophet.”
“Well yes... Some people arose to squabble with themselves over who should steer the ship. By time the blood feud was over, we had already left.”
“They challenged your rule?” Matirio eyed the Grandmaster and Elliott returning in to picture white colonial palace.
“Not exactly, they had a little distaste for my talents... but it was the most practical way to protect them.” His gravelled voice permeated the ear, distinguishable, reverberating through the wooden walls of this temporal temple. “So protect them I did.”



Above, creaking heralded a doom approaching. The door was pried from its precious nest and thundered forth an enraged prophet. Descending upon the lobby, Anima landed. Drawing forth from his sheath, he daggered toward the new arrival. The ceremonial dagger drawn and adorned in sanguine red and blackened leather.
“YOU!”
Stampeding toward the Necromancer, he pushed the bust of the previous owner aside, their heads smashing in to a thousands shards littered across the floor. His eyes were on fire with hatred.
“I heard you. You were gone when the Snake ascended. This man cannot be speaking truthfully. Why would anyone listen to a blasphemer?!“ Holding up the knife violently, Anima’s tirade continued its barrage. “You dare to set foot on sacred ground? A placed blessed in the name of Gaudium. A sanctum of the Final Stages!”

There, standing with a loose jacket and sunken eyes, bulging with red halos, burns and scars deep in to his chin.
“Anima?!” Josiah wheezed an exclamation as he grasped at the vice grip that lifted him from the ground and pinned him to the wall.
“What’s going on?” Shadow stormed over.
“You deserted your prophet! You don’t deserve death… I’m going to rip your skin from your bones and feed it to the rattlesnakes!” Anima threatened in a loud whisper.
“I… I…” Josiah face was turning purple.
“Woah, woah, is this really necessary? He seems like a pretty chill guy.” Elliott shouted. He looked about, the cultists were as stunned as anyone else, but what was clear is they were forming a ring around the incident. He was being absorbed in to a mass of people.
“He may have charmed you, but believe none of his silver tongued lies!” Anima returned his only eye to the man he was choking.
“....was... pro..tec…” Josiah reached out his hand to the wooden walls that he felt he would soon be embedded in to. In desperation he scratched into the white paint, purple began to run over his fingers in intertwining lines. The black and purple moved in unison as it rushed about, intertwining with his fingers. Creaking came from the ground. The floorboards began to splinter and rupture. White fingers crawled out of the cracks, pulling the fissures apart.
Josiah managed to eek out as his eyeballs began to loll about.
Suddenly, Anima was pulled from The Necromancer. Josiah fell to his knees, sputtering. There clicking and gnashing, two fully formed skeletons bound by an aura of purple. “I... ‘m… Telling… the truth.” The eyes of the corpses were caves, and small tunnels of purple smoke flowing from the middle of their cavernous sockets.
The entire crowd was stunned by the resurrected dead.
“Do you see him?” A look of incredulity appeared on Anima’s face. “Leave dead spirits to rest! You desecrate our order with your very existence!”
“I promise you…” The Necromancer took a deep breath. “I disturb no spirits.” He staggered as he stood up. In his palms, glowing purple balls of aura. He guarded his chest with his arms.
“Rwaaaaaah!” Anima yelled as he charged forward.
The two moving remains stepped forward, pushing their intricate fingers in to Anima’s shoulders, causing him to lose balance.
“I’m not trying to hurt you. I’m just trying to find where I belong. My people, they all died, massacred by the Waltham Corporation.” His head was tilted downward as his voice cracked “I don’t have anywhere to go, I can’t get employment, I have no settlers to protect anymore. They’re hunting me, Prophet. You should know as much as all the rest of them, your duty is to protect your people and that is exactly what I have done.”
“My duty is to bring The Ascension.” Anima said from the floor. “You are bringing souls back from paradise to this hell hole and that is all that matters.”
“Then you are far more nearsighted than I expected. I did what I could to do my job with the tools bestowed upon me from on high. We were waiting, just like you, for The Ascension, but till then we had to feed them, to clothe them, to teach them the way to the light of Joy. I spent all my energy protecting them.”
A bolt of lightning arced across the room, it came from pure hate. One of the dead soldiers dived into the stream of energy, disintegrating into fractions of the bones it was made of. The purple control was dispelled.
“These aren’t souls, more like puppets, I give them their strength.”
“You summoned a Revenant, I could feel it.”
“I had to, we were out of money and out of time. The hatred inside that soul would not let it rest.”
“You rip souls from their resting place!”
“You misunderstand, the dead come willing. I simply let them deal with their anger.”

Anima was standing, bewildered at the faces of his followers. “Well, are you going to stand there, watching? Are you going to take this, faithful followers?”

A murmur rippled through the crowd, they shuffled nervously from side to side. A rift began to form amongst the cronies. Some began to move more toward Anima, some began to move toward The Necromancer.
“Listen, the last thing I want to do is create a civil war. Don’t judge me because Anaconda was a more peaceful prophet. Don’t judge me for wanting to help. Don’t judge me because of what I’ve had to do to survive - we’ve all done things we regret out here.” The murmur grew louder amongst the crowd. “I’ve told you before I have risen no sleeping souls…” He took a deep breath. “Judge me for what I can do for you.”

“And what of you, Lieutenants? What do you have to say?” He growled at the faceless crowd. In his head, the crowd started spinning, eeking back painful memories of his last major vision. Sharply, hushedly, Shadow’s voice came to his ear. “Think of how useful he could be - raise an army on command.”
The world was still spinning.
“But Theology!” He weakly protested.
“This struggle could bring down all you’ve worked hard for. - He’s said himself, they’re puppets. No more than puppets.”
“Puppets…”

Suddenly, his head was resting gently on the glass window, that brought about his old reflection. His head was thumping so loud that he thought it would smash the glass. Anima shuddered inside his own flesh. “How long…?”
“A while, it doesn’t matter.” Replied Shadow who was mixing a potion.
“What… what happened? Is that man still here?” Anima glanced solemnly toward her, his trench coat banged against his legs as he turned around.
“Don’t exert yourself. You’re weak.”
“I’m not…” Anima protested while putting his foot forward and feeling his legs turn to jelly and his stomach sink. “Weak!” Though he was captured by Shadow, he still yelled as much as his body would let him.
Shadow propped him up on to the chair. “In isolation, you forget to take care of yourself.”
“We must destroy the Soul-Ripper!”
Shadow put the cup to his mouth. “I don’t think that would be wise in your condition.”
“In my condition? You heard him, the whole order would rise up against him in fury at his…” He gulped down some of the juice she prepared.
“A civil war needs co-ordination, at the moment you’re not prepared to lead one.”
“Well, you would still follow me, and there are plenty to fight by my side.”
Shadow sighed. “You forget that you haven’t been ruling long. The underlings are here because they’re gang members, cronies and thugs, not out of devotion for a particular theological viewpoint. Based on your charisma alone, your number could surmount to just 10 troops… Josiah-”
“The Necromancer!”
“...Josiah is far more amiable and adaptable. People will follow that. He wants to protect people, people will follow that.”
“I’ll hang them all, make them suffer! Crucify them, even!”
Shadow continued with her third point while continuing with her preparations, “He won’t murder people he finds intolerable, people will follow that.”
Anima looked at her with helpless fury.
She began to wrap his head in bandages. “You don’t have a way to fight him. And so why fight him?”
“What? Recall Altan, my precious son! He will gut the man alive.”
“We’re all trying to head toward Paradise. You are the key to the Astral Planes in the light of Gaudium. How we get there isn’t a problem…”
“But…”
She clasped his hands over her knee. “We need a leader, our prophet, you’ve been gone far too long, and we need your divine hand to steer us toward destiny.”
“Ahm.” Shadow could tell he was seething internally but he didn’t have a response.
“Our next move. We need to move on to bigger and better things, this congregation requires upkeep and our funds are running low, their crimes…”
“Justified crimes?” Anima asked naively.
“...only bring in so much. We need a base for which to step off from. I say Gilded Brook, Ironhaven, then Spider’s Hollow. But first Fairbell, I’ve already had the carvers work on a monument to Gaudium’s divine power there. We will displace the Church of the Chasm and the followers of Christ will flock to a new prophet that only speaks the truth, the one truth…”
She paused.
“...that all will die.”



Shadow then walked out of the light of the kitchen and in to the draughty stairway in the main hall. “By the Prophet’s holy decree, we will march toward Fairbell and bring her under the light of Gaudium. Let this mark the birth of a Crusade to bring all that is holy under our sign, the sign of the true religion. The sign of the setting sun! To arms, boys!”

Many of the thugs and knights cheered in resounding agreement.

I play Anima in Powder Keg: Gunpowder Part II Roleplay : : : Sign Up Post | Gunpowder

Sonata

Don't let me disappear

Age 25
Male
Indiana
Seen 23 Hours Ago
Posted 1 Week Ago
13,527 posts
8.6 Years
'Obfuscation'

???
???
Bounty: ???

???
Some Time Ago

“It hurts… grrr… it… it hurts… help me, please… arrrrooooooooo.”

The dog whimpered from beneath the wreckage of the train. The copper wire which the bounty hunter Jebediah had threaded through his upper body still remained, wrapped tightly around his bones. The familiar struggled to move, but found that the entirety of his lower body had been torn to shreds, leaving a trail of blood and a magical resin behind him as he crawled along the blackened world which he now resided in.

“Cu, ruf tu oui drehg uin bnudéké femm vyna tufh drana? Dygehk ujan dra vuns uv y lremt... ruf uidmyhtecr. Ed'c netelimuic dryd ra cruimt mad rescamv palusa cu fayg.”

The voice came from a shadowy figure whose outline was the only thing visible within this world. Scrig struggled to grasp the being’s true form… but the closer that he tried to concentrate on the being, the more that it seemed his mind and body seemed to slip away. The being seemed to draw in and consume the light around it, causing even the blackness all around to seem as if it were blindingly bright.

“E rayn oui, Quoldo.” Another figure approached the first, placing what seemed to be its hand onto the shoulder of the first. “Ev ra't yccandat rescamv druca oaync yku frah fa vencd crufat res fryd ra luimt dnimo pa lybypma uv, E's landyeh dryd ra luimt ryja xielgmo aqbyhtat rec naekh vyn paouht dryd csymm myht uv Jeimas frelr ra lymmc rusa. “

“Dra xiacdeuh huf, ec ruf femm ra vyna ykyehcd dra udranc fru yna linnahdmo drana fedr res. Dryd paehk ryc dygah yh ehdanacd eh dra syh ghufh yc Jebediah fru fyc yllusbyhoehk dra lremt. Ev ra'c vunlat du dra tuuncdab uv taydr, ed'c ihlandyeh zicd fryd femm dnyhcbena eh dryd myht padfaah. “

A third figure approached the others and gathered up black rings which seemed to hover around and on their bodies. The figure seemed to be their leader, as when he approached, the other four figures seemed to kneel before him.

“Jebediah ryc paah lrucah, ed caasc. Ra'mm palusa dra haqd niman, nakyntmacc uv fryd ra yllusbmecrac rana eh meva. Dra ehdanjahdeuh uv dryd paehk ec ajetahla ahuikr. Ev drana'c yh ubbundihedo... fa cruimt caa du rec tacdnildeuh pavuna ra kyehc silr suna cdnahkdr. Udranfeca... ra syo bnuja du pa duu silr uv y lrymmahka vun Vereryl.”

Scrigg struggled to pull himself up against one of the train’s cars. The familiar lethargically searched his person for any hidden stashes of his powder, but to no avail. The dog looked up to the sky, noticing several floating orbs hovering far off in the distance. “What… what are those?”

“Yr, ed caasc drana fyc yh ehdanmuban yvdan ymm. E ghaf drana fyc y vunaekh bnacahla eh uin setcd...?” The leader-like figure among the beings walked slowly over to Scrigg. The being raised his hand to the sky, allowing the rings that he’d collected to float freely off towards the the orbs.

The familiar stared at the rings as they rose up into the orbs and enlarged until they fit around them. “I’m… so confused… nothing here makes any sense… what… I…” the familiar’s head lowered until they landed on the being approaching him. “Will you… help… me?”

“Ouin myhkiyka... fryd ec ed? Ryja oui cbahd cu muhk fedr dra risyhc dryd oui'ja vunkuddah dra duhkia uv ouin yhlacdunc, vysemeyn? Oui lyh'd ajah lusbnaraht dra myhkiyka vnus dra myht eh frelr oui fana vunsat, aedran... cilr dnykato... zicd ruf vyn ryja dra risyhc vymmah? Ruf silr vindran vnus ic femm drao tnevd? Ev uhmo Vydran yht Sudran fana cdemm rana…” The being looked up to the sky and streams of red began to flow down his face from tiny slits in his face.

Scrigg started to grow fidgety as the red streams flowed from the being’s face. “Ar… arrrrooooooo….” the familiar moaned out. “Arrrroooooooo!”

“I see… so, you cannot comprehend our languages, yet still… you feel such empathy for us without even knowing why.”

Tears streamed down Scrigg’s face as he choked on his words. “I… I don’t underooooooo! Why are you crying? Why… why does it hurt so badly?”

“You are dying, are you not?” The being looked up at the sky for a moment before fixing his gaze back on the familiar.

The first figure stepped forward, his hand clenching at his chest. “So sycdan! Oui lyhhud pa caneuic? Y vysemeyn... oui fyhd vun uha uv draen geht du ehraned uin bufanc? Pid... fro? E tuh'd ihtancdyht…”

“Do not question me, Quoldo!” The leader figure pivoted around, staring down the one who’d interjected. “Drana ec saned eh rec najejym. Fryd ec drana du muca eh uvvanehk res y csymm bundeuh uv uin bufan? Fa ryja Brixtis du cbyna. Fa'ja haynmo paah vunkuddah po dra risyh nayms. Ev fa lyh syga ica uv pudr Vereryl yht drec vysemeyn, fru puycdc dra ypemedo du mayb padfaah funmtc hydinymmo... fa luimt byja dra fyo vun uin vidina ehdanjahdeuh. Tuac ed hud syga cahca drah, du uvvan ib fryd fa lyh? Ryja fa dnimo yhodrehk paddan du tu yd drec susahd?”

The being known as Quoldo took a step backwards and grunted. “Tch. If that’s really the way that you feel, then why don’t you speak freely in a language that it can understand?”

The leader sighed and then held his hand up to the sky once more. “Familiar. Rise.” The man held his hand out in front of him, facing Scrigg, an action which caused the familiar to rise up into the air. “We will save you now. We will take you in as a disciple of ours, but first, you must partake of the Brixitis.”

“B-Brixtis? What is that?”

“It is all that is left of our creators. Brixtis is… the shadow cast by the first light of the first being. Brixtis is the name of the second absolute being who was brought into this world. Brixtis is our power, our world, and that which sustains us eternally.” As the leader spoke, one of the smaller orbs which hovered up high above broke apart, causing an even smaller orb to descend quickly to the ground. The orb then condensed down small enough to fit into the palm of the being’s hand. “This, is your part of Brixtis. With this, you will no longer need magic to sustain your form. You will be considered as alive as any other being. You will also become instantly far more powerful than nearly any other being in existence because you have become one with the creator. Now. Take it, and Brixtis shall become your shadow too. In time, Brixtis shall become all that you are, just as it has done so to us.”

Scrigg stared at the small orb which hovered slowly into his hands. The second that he touched the object, all of the pain that he’d been feeling only seconds before quickly dispersed. An eye formed on the top of the orb, first, staring up at Scrigg, observing him and taking in all that he was.

“W-what is this?”

“Brixtis is making the final judgement on you. With this judgement, it will deem whether or not you are worthy to inherit what remains of its power.”

The orb sprouted arms and legs, elongating itself until it looked similar to a lizard. Brixtis quickly began to crawl all across Scrigg’s body before finally resting back on the familiar’s hand.

“If you are certain this is how you wish to utilize what remains, then so be it.” The voice came from all around the world. “I’ve never been part of a familiar before. Such an interesting prospect…” The lizard crawled up Scrigg’s arm before squeezing into his mouth and slithering down his throat.

“Well. That decides it then.” The leader figure took a step back. “We’ll return for you in three days time.”

“Th-three days? But why?”

“Hmph. The next three days will be the most painful of your life. Throughout these three days, you’ll be forced to travel across our world, just as all those before you at one time had. The various elements and biomes that you’ll encounter will serve to help develop your own piece of Brixtis into the form best suited for you. Everything that your five senses recognize will become part of your body, fusing together all at once at the end of the three days until your body and powers are as black as the rest of the world around you. With this, you will have become as we are. Then, we shall begin your training.”

JukeboxTheGhoul

Rocking Round the Clock

He/him
England
Seen March 29th, 2021
Posted December 1st, 2020
740 posts
10.6 Years




ANIMA
Characters:
Spoiler:
Minor Cast: Elliot, Shadow, Martirio, Altan, Josiah "The Necromancer", Leroy.
Antagonists: Waltham Corporation, Shayne Jacobs & Compatriots.





“And then it was on the heath that day that the first priest of Gaudium declared in triumphal glory, that there was no shame in his defeat. But his enemies were just fulfilling his grand prophetic journey to the Palace of Joy.” Altan stood in the middle of the camp with a small congregation huddled around a crate like children attending an assembly. Around them, rugged and sandswept figures flickered from wagon to wagon carrying supplies. “And so then Gaudium accepted him with open arms as he pierced his stomach and drew it across, opening his true soul to the warm embrace of God.”

Shadow melded in to the shade cast by Anima’s canopy. The masked man held his hand to his temples. “Is he still giving that sermon?”
“You gave me the order to spread our faith. He was, by far, the best one for the job.”
“Yes... but must be he so incessant.”
“Does not Gaudium require us to convert as many peple and we can before the final Ascension?” She knew that when she purported grandiose and fantastic idealism that made Anima more open to suggestion.
“Gaudium has been acting differently”
“Different? Different how?”
“I’m not sure.”
“There’s no other option than pressing onward. God’s will yesterday, will stay God’s will today. Questioning God’s judgement is the fools’ way. They lead us away from Gaudium, further in to the darkness.” She spoke in his vernacular especially. “Fewer people will question us, if they believe Altan’s sermon... We are God’s Judgement on the middle plane. We must keep our moral authority.”
“Yes... but... but... but... but...” Anima’s head began to spin with pain.
Shadow looked over her master, seeing drops of water form on his head and refract the light in to seven colours. Rushing, she slammed the sponge from her side in the bucket of water and dabbed it carefully on Anima’s head. “You’re sweating, dear.”
“It feels like this canopy... is intensifying the heat.”
“We’ll be back in the chasm soon.” She almost-whispered, “We’ll be back in your motherland soon enough.”
Anima looked at her with intense pause. The light’s rays reflected off of her cheek to such an extent that it made a crown of light, as if she was the sun itself. “I’ve been prayin-” He had an urge to tell her everything his fever dreams brought and about every prayer answered or not.
He narrowed his eyes as he heard the clamour and clatter of steel. Just a ways away, far from the perimeter of shadow that extended Anima’s influence and in to the sunlight, where another perimeter formed, created by the protection of his loyal bodyguards wrapped in white that swayed with their movement.
A spear was angled toward the gullet of the man approaching. The eyes of Anima’s Devoted was threatening behind the light fabric that hung from the bridge of their nose and then wrapped around the forehead.
The approaching man shifted his focus to the bodyguard, “If you think that spear’s going in my gullet. You’re going to be in the medical tent picking lead out of your chest.” He pressed both barrels painfully against the chest of the Devoted.
Anima waved away Shadow. “Who is this?”
“Devoted, stand down.” The whirlwind-wrapped wraith straightened to attention, leaving his spear to the air. “Take his gun.” Shadow announced another command.
“That’s the last thing I’m going to do. You have these long shiny white pricks with weaponry which I could only describe as serious over compensation.” He looked at the two Devoted before point with two fingers at the two enthroned figures. “And you psyduckers have magical lightning bolts and mind-psyduck on your side. I’ll keep my barrels to myself, thanks for the consideration though.”
“Yes, but the Prophet is more important than ten of you.” Shadow crossed her legs, hooking one over another and gripped the edges of the seat.
“Who... is it...?” Anima squinted, adjusting his posture.
“Ah, but were you elected by the people?”
“I was appointed by the prophet and therefore God. Who were these people that elected you?”
“Your armed forces, milady.” The man shunted his gun in to the holster attached to the side of his calves.
“Our soldiers have no representative.”
“They do now. My name’s Leroy – When you took over our whole operation, we were a bunch of unco-ordinated gangs, undergangs, subcontractors.”
“We get your point.” Anima rubbed his head.
“Now, over in the West Point by the perimeter there, two psyduckwits started fighting over who’d get water, since you know, someone was dumb enough to spill their own rations. - I banged their heads together, and we had a quick vote and found I was the best candidate to come to you. Surprising, I know, but you are paying me.” His muscles bulged out of the brown-sleeveless leather jacket, put on full display by his folded arms.
“Oh? And why do you need to see the Prophet, mercenary?”
“I prefer being called the Elect, thanks, love. Sounds...” He took a big breath with an expansive gesture, like a fisher after a large catch. “...better.” His hands returned to his hips. “Sounds better than you anyway. Hahaha!”
Shadow frowned.
“Nah, I’m here because you psyduckers are hoarding the drink. I know you got water because only a nimrod would not bring water in an expedition out in to the desert, let alone the mukhole we’re going to.”
“His majestic holiness requires additional water to deal with extreme strain prophetic visions exert on him.”
“Do we look like a bunch of psyducking cactuses? We need water to survive and these rations aren’t cutting it.”
Shadow looked down at her feet. “We could double your pay.”
“Darling, I can’t drink gold. Where in hell would we use it, a travelling psyducking vending machine?”
“What is this?” Altan pierced the barrier of black as he held the holy book Ieros to his side with one hand. He sat down and draped his large all-encompassing cloak around the vacant seat he decided to posess.
Leroy crossed his arms “The crew are demanding extra water rations, I was elected by ‘em to represent ‘em.”
Altan took down his hood revealing a head of short, growing hair and focussed on Anima only, speaking through the white fabric covering his mouth.“I wasn’t aware our following had a representative, I think Our New Friend, Mr. Josiah was the closest we have to Henchman Liaison.”
“Yes, and that stops now.” Leroy declared, wiping away sweat from the side of his head that prickled with fresh hair before bringing his hand back to his hip.
“Should I retrieve the liaison from his tent?” Altan continued his speech directed at the Prophet even though
“Well, then, I could supplement the current supply to the mouths of the followers by drawing some water through the earth, but it would not be permanent, a well would become required.”
“We cannot afford to build a well in every overnight encampment.” Shadow retorted.
“Give them it.” Anima’s voice came to the forefront.
“My lord!” Shadow widened her eyes, Leroy couldn’t tell that this wasn’t because of antagonism towards him, but out of deep concern for the welfare of The Prophet.
“Give them the stockpile of water. We cannot kill if we are dead.”
“But what about...”
“You claim to be my servant. Serve me!” He sat up from the slumping posture and gripped the arms of his throne. Her eyes darted from edge to edge, as if scanning Anima’s face. She couldn’t read him. “Obey my wishes, donate the water to the Order.” He croaked.
Shadow stood up in protest and but she met the unyielding face of the prophet, she slunk off in to the darkness of the nearby tent.
“Approach me, Leroy.” He looked forward, deep red lines formed from bags under his eyes, these too looked in to Leroy’s face.
“What you gonna make me do? Kiss your feet?”
“I want you...” Anima coughed, as if moving something from the back of his throat. “To tell me of any dissent amongst my soldiers. A shepherd without sheep is a fool with a crook.”
Leroy laughed, “Aint that the truth!” He scratched the back of his head where the blond military-style concrete barricade-shaped island that defined his haircut. “Yeah I could do that... what’s in it for me?”
“Not dying.” Anima sat forward menacingly.

Leroy audibly laughed. “Ha, try again.”
Anima reclined in to his seat again.
“His majestic holiness will provide you with what you need.” Altan remained his focus on the Prophet. “So long as you do your duty.”
“It’s not like you have much of a choice, ignoring your flock means a whole lot more dissent than your special hijinks can deal with.”
Altan conceded to a nod, even though in his heart he didn’t believe that his blessing couldn't murder every single one of them, he could still smell the blood of every follower here. Some were timid, some were devoted, some were boiling with testosterone. Which meant only one thing to Altan, that his priesthood was far from over.

I play Anima in Powder Keg: Gunpowder Part II Roleplay : : : Sign Up Post | Gunpowder

gimmepie

Age 26
Male
Australia
Seen 20 Minutes Ago
Posted 8 Hours Ago
23,497 posts
9.5 Years
Alex Rose
Doubts

The sun had long since faded below the horizon, a full moon now shining brightly in the desert sky. What once had been a typically hot day had become a cold, dead night. Alex couldn’t see that much by the light of the stars, but he suspected his breath would have been visible in front of him. The cold wasn’t all bad though, it aided the body bag in mitigating any smell that might have risen up from Cooper’s corpse.

Alex glanced back at bodybag behind him, quickly averting his gaze and looking onwards again. His hands had stopped shaking hours ago, but he still felt uneasy. The thrill of the hunt had dissipated when Cooper and his compatriots had been killed and the now familiar doubts Alex had been experiencing since the death of Alice Rylian had quickly welled up to replace it.

“Psyducking hell,” Elias groaned from his horse beside Alex. “Why did I ever sign up for this muk? The days are bad enough but hell is literally freezing over right now.”

“Because the money’s good and you have no actual skills,” Alex said, not bothering to look over at Elias. It wasn’t the first time in the past month that they’d had a discussion along these lines and he well knew what the expression on Elias’ face would be. Not that he’d have much ease seeing it in the open night.

“How much skill does it take to be a psyducking shop keeper?!” Elias retorted. If he’d been in a better mood, and a more jovial person in general, Alex might have cracked a smile.

“You see a lot of shops hiring in the Barren Lands?” he questioned, “I suppose you could open your own if you had the money. I wonder what you might do in the meantime to earn it? If only there was some way.”

“You’re an asshole, you know that?” Elias sighed exasperatedly.

“So I’ve heard.”

The pair continued on, riding towards Spider’s Hollow to collect their bounty. For the most part, Alex remained silent, focusing on the questions that spiralled around in his head. However, Elias complained frequently and he strangely began to find himself appreciating his companion’s vocal lamentations as they would sometimes draw him into brief bouts of conversation, distracting him from the internal discussion he was having with himself.

“We should stop for the night,” Alex said, slowing the horse to a halt. “I was hoping to make it back tonight, but it’s getting to be too cold for travel. We can camp out and I’ll make a fire.”

“Finally, you’re starting to speak sense.” Elias chuckled.

The pair of bounty hunters road on a little more, at a more leisurely pace, stopping at a loan deceased tree, one of only a few that dotted the Barren Lands. They made for perfect camping locations.

Alex dismounted, handing the reins of his horse to Elias to tether to the tree. Both his and Elias’ mounts were well-trained and probably wouldn’t wander too far, but when there was the option, it was better to be safe than sorry.

In what was now a fairly well-rehearsed routine, Elias took the reins and began to tie the horses to the tree. As he did so, Alex started to collect branches from the tree, piling them up nearby and igniting them with a small fireball dropped from his open palm.

Immediately, the night was brighter and warmer. The pair settled down by the glow of the campfire, Elias opening a small pouch of jerky. He took some strips for himself, passing the pouch on to Alex.

“Thanks,” Alex said, retrieving some of the salty dried meat for himself. He bit into it, staring into the fire. Normally, he’d have preferred to hunt some fresh meat, but he found he lacked the motivation to brave the cold in search of the desert’s sparse wildlife.

“Are you okay?”

Alex turned, surprised to see a bewildered looking Elias.

“What?”

“You thanked me. You don’t really do that.”

“Count yourself lucky then,” Alex said, rolling his eyes and returning his gaze to the fire.

“Psyduck,” Elias swore not particularly discretely, “No, seriously. What the psyduck is going on with you? You were weird in that firefight before, you’ve been weird ever since you came back with the bodies of those Big Bads. You’re being even more sullen than usual and half as blood thirsty. What the psyduck is going on in your head?”

Alex didn’t respond for a long time. He had never been good at this sort of personal reaction. He sucked at it with his parents, he made every effort to avoid it with his old landlords and he definitely wasn’t equipped to discuss his issues brazenly with Elias. Yet there they were.

He had to admit, Elias was the first person he’d come anywhere near having some sort of personal relationship with. He wanted answers, maybe he’d have to take a leap and seek the answers he wanted with him? At least a little.

“I don’t know.” Alex sighed, “My life has been life and death for a long time. I’ve never felt bad about taking a life before. Psyduck, I suck at talking like this. I mean, hunting is the only time I feel alive and that hasn’t changed. But ever since I killed the kid, I can’t help but question how I live. I killed a kid.”

“The kid was a mass murderer with a huge bounty on her head. If you didn’t kill her someone else would have. At least this way, you got your kicks and a healthy amount of cash out of it. Don’t worry about it.”

“She was… but she wasn’t it. You remember that demon thing we fought. There was something like that in her too. She was a victim too. She wasn’t like me, she didn’t revel in the death she caused. She hated it. She was suffering. I killed an innocent victim and I did it for thrills. Maybe I’ve hit a level of psyducked up even I can’t stomach.”

The words hung in the air for several long, severely uncomfortable moments.

“Psyduck man, I shouldn’t have asked. I am not qualified for this.” Elias laughed nervously and fell silent again. It was a while before he spoke up again. “Look, the kid was suffering and probably couldn’t be cured. Yeah, you’re pretty psyducked up. You have been since we had the misfortune of meeting, but you put that brat out of her misery and saved lives. You did a good thing, who gives a muk if you got off on it and made some cash?”

Alex scrunched up his nose at that.

“Truly you have a way with words.”

“I know.”

“We should sleep so we can head off early before it gets too hot.”

Elias agreed and the two hunters got as comfortable as they could. It was several more hours before Alex could sleep though. He knew what dreams awaited him once he closed his eyes.

RPWLA&MBattle ServerDaily

JukeboxTheGhoul

Rocking Round the Clock

He/him
England
Seen March 29th, 2021
Posted December 1st, 2020
740 posts
10.6 Years



The Anger of Achilles

Elliott

"Ah, argh.” Elliott bleated as a deluge of sweat poured down his face.

“Elliott, I told you complaining would only make this go slower.” Josiah scolded him.

“It’s not you whose lugging, these supplies around.” The large crate weighed heavy in his hands, he was inches away from resting it on his bowing legs

“Yeah, but if you put it over there, we’ll be finally getting somewhere” Under the heat of the sun Josiah travelled between over the mass of crates inside the larger cities of plinths that fit in to a grid like fashion. He bent down to look under the wood that slightly creaked. “Just as I thought, we won’t be able to make it down into the chasm without another pit stop.”

“Oh well, that’s a surprise.” Elliott quipped between scattered pauses as he vacuumed up air into his lungs to compensate for his heavy task.

“Huh?”

“Aren’t you known for your… let’s say, profit deficits.” The crate finally touched down onto the pallet with a huff.

“Yeah, well, at least I acknowledge that a government is not a profit-making enterprise.”

“Yeah, but it’s worth it for the power, ey?”

Josiah tilted his head upwards. “Are you questioning my intent? Government is for the good of the people, not some deluded game for people to play when they’re bored of masturbating. Some of your northerners could do well to remember that.” He checked a box on his list.

“That’s assuming they learned it in the first place… Hey, how’d you know I’m northern.”

“Are you kidding? I haven’t heard that kind of bastardised accent in decades. But I can’t miss it when I hear it.”

“Hey, hey, I thought’d I assimilated pretty well.”

“Yeah, well you sound like a rottweiler had a baby with a gerbil.”

“Really?” He bowed his back in a large stretch. “That don’t sound accurate.”

“Yeah well… it is. Same with all your northerners getting up in our business.”

“Well, that’s about it.” Elliott put down his last box so small it could fit in to the palm of his hand. He just let it drop to the floor.

“Yeah, just what I thought, come on, fella, gotta tell Boss we’re gonna have to make a pitstop.” He flicked his wrist toward himself as he began to walk toward the large central canopy.

“You know I could try to spawn more out of my hat, all cornucopia like.”

“No, I’ve heard of your shenanigans, I’m not letting you do nothing with that magic of yours.”

As they got closer and closer the shouting got louder and louder.

“Well, I aint letting him anywhere near…””It’s all to do with their aggression.””My father fought her bloody brothers!” “It’s our family!” Three bandits stood before The Prophet, luckily with all their weapons collected in a pile a few feet away from them.

“Ladies, ladies, what’s going on here?” Josiah entered the ring denoted by the fluttering scarfs of The Devoted, moving his gaze between the man on the left, and the man standing behind the young woman. “Ma’am.” He nodded his hat to the girl.

They began to squabble when Leroy cut them off. “These two groups are feuding, have been for a long time.”

“Well, how’d you end up working for Felix?”

“Are you so simple as to think we would agree to work with someone who was working with… them!”

She exclaimed in disgust.

Leroy leaned over and whispered in Anima’s ears ‘I think they were played.’

Anima sat forward. “What do you two actually want?”

“Get rid of them!”

“I can’t fathom working with them. Exile them, immediately.”

Josiah stepped forward. “If I may…”

“Silence, you do not address the prophet without being called.” Altan stared threateningly toward Josiah.

“I think I have a solution.”

Altan began to object further, but Anima put his hand up. “What do you have in mind?”

Josiah sighed in relief. “Well I was doing the inventory…”

“I helped!” yelped Elliott from the back.

“And we’ll need to make a pit stop, our resources are not large enough for descent. Not yet anyway.”

“What does that have to do with our here situation?” Leroy asked.

“Glad you asked.” He swivelled on his heels to face the two injured parties. “Give me just a second.” Josiah approached Anima and whispered to him the plan. “Get them on a mutual task, say that the victor will remain and the other will be exiled. When they are done, appraise their efforts as equal… Rinse and repeat.”

“Excellent.” Anima waved Josiah away from his ear and began to task the two rival groups. “You are to ravage the nearby towns and settlements, the one that does the best for the Order will be allowed to stay…” Anima paused to narrow his eyes at a figure gradually increasing in size as they came closer.

“Leroy!” A messenger shouted, panting with exhaustion.

“What now?” Leroy rolled his eyes.

“It’s Tommy.” She scrambled for air.

“What?” Leroy jumped to his feet.

“No one’s seen him since the Priest’s sermon. Some people said they saw a bunch go out into the wilds.”

“Psyducking… Elliott, kid, round up a search party and have them meet me in West Point.”

“When for?”

“Now!”

Leroy staggered around tents, pushing aside things and looking behind curtains of fabric. Angrily, he stormed in to his own tent. His rifle was lying on his bed. He emptied the chamber and loaded more bullets.

When he heard footsteps from behind him, he shot a sharp gaze toward Josiah.

“What makes you think you can just use our Prophets resources frivolously like this? Who are you anyway.” Josiah stood in the pure beating light of the sun, Leroy scowled at him through the arch of the tent.

“You don’t want Tommy? Well, then I guess I better pack up and leave then.” Leroy was grumbling. Before Josiah could reply, Leroy cut him off. “I don’t think your Prophet would like that. Now, listen here, you little muk, this place doesn’t need high minded morals. It needs manpower and resources, a missing person is the same as a missing gun. I’m the best gunsmen you have on your whole psyducking team. And you really don’t want to get on my bad side.”

Josiah crossed his arms. “We’ve handled without you before. Did you see what happened earlier? That’s called some psyducking tact. That’s what happens when you apply some statesmanship. Your diplomacy is piss.”

“Right, right, get your head out of your ass.” Leroy closed up the lungs of the backpack that he slid over his back. “But riddle me this, dipmuk. You might be able to handle without me, But you ain’t lasting with me against you. Face it, Anima needs me. Now get out of my sight.” Leroy barged past. “Done psyducking around, Elliott?”

“Got crews ready, boss.” Elliott peeled his ear away from earshot of the tent.
Josiah dropped his jaw as Leroy shoved him out the way.

“Right, come on, Tommy. Let’s get you back.” Leroy muttered to the sky.

Josiah put his hands in his beige jacket pockets and kicked at the dusty desert ground“If you’re going, keep the kid with you, He’s dangerous left alone.”

Elliott pricked up his ears from the back. “What did you say?”

Josiah kept his gaze on Leroy but addressed the blond man. “Can you, or can you not spontaneously combust?”

“Well yeah, but I got a lot of other tricks-” Elliott tried to defend himself.

“Enough said,” Josiah spoke over him as soon as he said yes.

“Fine, then.” Leroy marched off into the distance, toward the cold, unfeeling blue sky.

That same sky stretched for miles over pithy sands and embittered animals barely scraping by. Packs fanned out from the central encampment, like wolves hunting for their latest meal. The riders wandered, spun out in random directions away from the moving den of thieves, murderers and theologians.

When the terrain became too rocky and unstable for the delicate legs of their horses, they continued to search on foot. Elliott jumped down from the cart he was drawn along in. He drudged along following the pack, boredly kicking rocks over the precipice to their doom. “Have you noticed how little women there are in The Order’s hierarchy? Just Shadow.” The men around him ignored him. The women were too far ahead to be able to hear. “Come to think of it, why are all the magicks in charge? I know they think they’re endowed by God and all that, but-”

“Will you, please, just shut up?” One of the cronies spat.

“I think you’re confusing happenstance with design, boy, They’re stronger than us lot, they have the right to lead. There’s no point in stopping them.” The older, scruffy disciple with a pendant around his fat, bearded neck displaying the Sign of the Ascension spoke up as he looked through the sights of his gun to survey the upcoming area. He noted in his notebook, a small family camp stopping over in the nearby area, but couldn’t see anyone who had run away.

As the landscape diversified in to a spit of red mesa that protruded rudely from the surrounding boulders. As the squad split apart to descend the outcropping, Leroy went down on his own before, yanking Elliott with him, reluctantly adhering to the advice of Josiah. The two carefully descended the ledge down into layer below, as every step pushed more pebbles down, they struggled to keep their footing. As the slope opened up more, Elliott wondered about what an aggravated, seemingly desperate, Leroy would do if they didn’t get a lead soon. And more importantly, whether Leroy would take it out on him.

“So Ler-” He held his hands out for balance, before coming to the wider lip at the mid point, remnants of a small cave entrance.

“Did you find Tommy?” Leroy simmered on the edge of boiling point as he scanned the landscape.

“Well….”

“No? Then keep it to yourself.” Leroy circled around the slope around the mesa, as most of the others continued onward to the red rock plateau.

“So this Tommy-boy, You seem to care about him a whole lot. What is he, your husband or something?” Elliott laughed nervously.

“You psyducking tell anyone about this I’ll blow your brains out.”

Elliott’s found his face in a gun barrel’s length from Leroy’s face. Said gun was pressed up against cheek, creating a crimson halo on his flesh. Elliott scrambled for thoughts in his brain. He urgently tried to figure out what he had said wrong. “Woah woah, what the psyduck man, I thought we’re on the same side?”

“Do you know what could happen if word gets out? If you haven’t noticed but fundamentalists aren’t exactly accepting of wimps and freaks. If you open your psyducking mouth I’ll break every bone in your body and then leave you to crawl back to camp, wait until you’re dry until you’re a shrivelled hag and the flog you within an inch of your life.” Leroy imposed over him, his voice growling with fire.

“Okay, psyduck, man, I’ll say nothing, I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” Elliott held his hands up.
Leroy instantly returned to business, avoiding conversation altogether. Elliott sensed he didn’t know something but couldn’t risk asking any more questions.

“Leroy!” A far off voice yelled, “We found Thomas and the gang but…”

Leroy instantly snapped his focus on to the voice that called him and ran down the path to the foot of the rocks and boulders. Elliott tried to keep up but Leroy was too far ahead and already around the curve of the boulder

When Elliott arrived at the nadir of the rockface, blood was smeared in swathes across the red rock intensifying the beige colour pallette. The six bodies laid in the dust, their stomach spilling forth guts and gore, while their own daggers protruded from the seam. Above them, Gaudium’s Ensignia of the Final Ascension was carved into the rock face. Leroy looked over the slaughter with a steely gaze. Saying nothing, he marched up the slope again and grabbed the reins of his horse.

“Woah, psyduck, what happened here?” Elliott held the back of his hand to face. The bodies had begun to rot and become food for flesh flies.

The old man from before mumbled, solemnly, “And so then Gaudium accepted him with open arms as he pierced his stomach and drew it across, opening his true soul to the warm embrace of God.’’

“You’re saying…” His eyes opened widely, looking away from the collective suicide in disgust.

One of the women groaned, “Are you going to start digging or should we?”

“No, we should sack them up and deliver them to base.” The older devotee replied

Wanting to be as far away from the scene as possible, as well as skipping out on burial duty, he scrambled back up to where the horses were being looked after by one of the henchmen. Looking around, Elliott couldn’t see Leroy’s horse anywhere, and the cart laid on its side a little way away from the herd. “Where he go? He just went this way. ” As he spoke, he righted the cart and put the bags of horse-feed and bottles of drink back in the trailer. “He better not be flaking on me, he’s not gonna make me walk back to camp is he?”

The henchman looked toward him. “Errr… the Lieutenant took his horse and went to check out that trader caravan over in that direction.”

“Oh right?” Elliott turned to face the direction he was pointing, to see that there was not just one smoke stack but three. They billowed up into the sky as dark and angry columns. As his eyes focussed, he saw that the bystander’s camp was on fire. “Oh, muk.” Elliott grabbed on to his hat and began to run toward the inferno.

Upon his breathless arrival, he found thirty dead bodies freshly riddled with bullets. Women, children, and even some lawmen. The camp’s perimeter was now a ring of fire. Elliott stepped over the tent poles and pulled aside some of the burning fabric, the smoke filled his lungs. He coughed as his lungs became obstructed. “Leroy?”

He found Leroy, hunched over, pounding his fists into the dirt and muck on the blood soaked ground. “No, no, no. Psyducking no. I told him. I psyducking told him.” Leroy loudly groaned and sobbed. “Why didn’t you listen Tommy?”

Elliott was nervous to approach, noticing that Leroy’s ammunition pouch was empty and it quickly became apparent this new homicidal scene was Leroy’s doing. With delirious rage, Leroy’s bloodied fists caved in the newly made carcasses. “You took it too far, Tommy! You didn’t have to leave me to worship Gaudium!”

“Come on, we have to leave.” Elliott tried to touch Leroy’s arm to drag him out of the centre of the inferno. Leroy ripped his arm away and yanked Elliott on to the dirt. His hand clenched at Elliott’s throat, throttling him.

“Why. Did. You. Have. To. Die!” Leroy violently bashed Elliott’s head back and forth. He struggled for breath. He tried to push Leroy away but his strength was quickly leaving him. Spontaneously, Leroy let go and let Elliott roll away. “Why?!” Leroy crumbled in to a bundle of tears.

Elliott stood up, gasping for breath, “Psyducking psycho!” Picking up his hat, the blond was about to leave when Leroy cried out.

“I’m sorry!” He sobbed in his dirty hands. “It’s my fault… It’s my fault…It’s my fault... I brought him here. He died because of me.”

“Right, and these folks you killed too?” Elliott couldn’t believe he was asking that question surrounded by burning tents and furniture.

Leroy looked around, “What folk?”

“Muk man, you’re really gone.” Elliott swore to himself before stepping out of the perimeter. He would just go back to the group, and they’d think up what to say to Anima and he’d keep his head down as much as possible. These thoughts were interrupted by the tall brute of a man gripping his shoulder.

Elliott tried to push him away. “Get away or I’ll use my magic, we both know how that ends.”

Leroy’s eyes were bloodshot but the rest of his dirtied face was emotionless. “Come on, let’s tell Anima the bodies were found, Let the other psyduckers collect the spoils of this raid.” Leroy began to walk in front, approaching his horse. Elliott simply stood there, astounded.

“You waiting for something, Dumbpsyduck?” Leroy looked back at the young man.

“Nope, nope, nope, let’s get back to base.” Elliott was lifted up onto the back of Leroy’s horse.

“Don’t let go and you should be fine.” Leroy got on the front of the horse and kicked it into a trot. While clinging on to his back, trying to keep balance, Elliott looked back at the burning trader camp, fearing what Leroy could do with a clear head.


I play Anima in Powder Keg: Gunpowder Part II Roleplay : : : Sign Up Post | Gunpowder

Sonata

Don't let me disappear

Age 25
Male
Indiana
Seen 23 Hours Ago
Posted 1 Week Ago
13,527 posts
8.6 Years
‘Fledgling Flames ft. Jacques, Roe, Zena'

Azael Aeeb and the Rainy Days, Outlaws
Non-Magical
Bounty : $0

Ironhaven, Underground Tunnel System

“Let’s go, let’s go! We can’t take all of them like this!” Jacques called out as he twisted around and fired off six rounds into the dark tunnel behind him.

Two of Lachlan’s henchmen burst from the darkness, covered in cuts and bullet holes. Their arms were pierced with long, steel blades and flailed about behind their body as they sprinted down the narrow tunnel. Their eyes were lifeless, their joints cracking as their limbs forcefully snapped into position with each step. The only thing keeping them moving was the curse-like nature of the Big Bad’s spell.

“It’s pointless to try and take them all on here! We need to wait for reinforcements!” Jacques blinked towards one of the henchmen and fired off a fireball into the corpse’s head, felling the creature instantly. “If we stay here we’re just going to tire ourselves out and escape will be impossible! Get your asses in gear and let’s go!”

Roe floated up, plastering himself against the ceiling as he moved along decapitating the henchman while remaining just out of their reach. Meanwhile, Zena danced around the lifeless lackeys as her ethereal ribbons wrapped themselves around their heads and elegantly slid themselves through their necks. She moved with such speed and grace that it was impossible for their eyes to follow until they were left motionless, only swaying side-to-side in their vain attempt to catch even the smallest glimpse of the seductress.

“That’s all of them for this round. I’ll go scout ahead!”

Zena’s body was engulfed in light as she blitzed past Jacques, causing his coat to fly up with her passing gale. Roe sheathed his blade and lighted himself on the ground. He turned to the henchman and spat at their corpses before returning to Jacques’ side.

“I always underestimate the two of you, don’t I?” Jacques brushed at the dirt that had been kicked up on his coat and reloaded his pistol before holstering it.

Roe shook his head quietly. “No, sir. Without your quick thinking we would have been dead the moment we took our eyes off the bodies in that outpost. I never would have thought the buzzard would create such a disgusting spell.”

Jacques showed off a toothy grin and laughed from between his crooked teeth. “Yeah-heh. Well, it just seemed a little too easy is all. They were all so weak, it didn’t make sense that some powerless goons would be the only ones protecting this part of the tunnel system.”

Roe nodded as he took the lead. The native trailed his fingers across the walls, feeling for the remnants of magic that Pete had left with his traps. “This way. Zena also went down this direction. The girl’s smarter than she looks.”

“Well, I did pay a pretty penny for her. I’d expect her to be able to repay me for her freedom. Who knows what would have become of her had one of those other unsavory types gotten hold of her. She’s smart, and beautiful. Not a combination that comes together often out in these lands.”

Roe said nothing as they continued down the tunnel. From behind them, the blood curdling screams of one of the second unit of undead echoed. Roe quickly snapped his head around, sensing for how far away the creatures were.

“Don’t worry. We’re almost out of here, they won’t catch us before we reach the rest of the group. Look, Zena’s on her way back now.”

As he spoke, the end of the tunnel ahead of them glowed with a brilliant light, followed swiftly by the dark-skinned woman from whom it emanated.

“Jacques, Roe, they’re just up this way. They’ve got one last pair of traps to set, but after that we’ll be good to go.”

Jacques nodded his head. “Good. Head back and let my brother know to go ahead and seal off this part of the system. There’s more of those things behind us and I don’t much care to bloody my coat today any more than it already has been.”

Zena nodded and then sprinted off once more. The two men continued walking for a few seconds and then heard a cracking sound from a short ways behind them which was followed by a large cloud of smoke and dust which pushed the two of them forward slightly.

Jacques coughed and spit, clearing the dust from his mouth as he scraped his tongue against his top teeth. “Got-damn! Good thing they built these tunnels good, otherwise the whole damn thing might’ve collapsed.”

Roe coughed, clearing the dust and dirt from his throat. “At least we know we’re safe now.”

Jacques nodded. “Yeah, s’pose we are. Guess we could take our time getting back now. I don’t much care for working for that lil girlie.”

Just as Jacques finished speaking, Zena bolted back to him. “Jacques. It’s been moved forward.I went to see Marcus while I waited for the traps to go off. She is almost here.”

“Well sumrattata. I guess we ain’t got no time to dawdle. Let’s go meet the ladies and see what we got going on.”

gimmepie

Age 26
Male
Australia
Seen 20 Minutes Ago
Posted 8 Hours Ago
23,497 posts
9.5 Years
Alex Rose
Broken

Alex awoke with a jolt, hearing footsteps behind him.

“Elias!” he hissed, reaching for his revolver. It was pitch black, and despite the open area around them, he couldn’t see who was approaching, but he definitely had heard the sounds of footsteps.

“I’m up, I’m up,” Elias groaned.

“We have company.” Alex didn’t get to say any more. He heard a metallic click and dived to the side, landing on top of Elias. His companion didn’t even get time to finish swearing at him before he blinked away in a flash of light, leaving only empty space in time for a hail of bullets to pepper where they’d been sleeping. The flashes of muzzles indicating that they had been surrounded.

“Did we get them?” One of the men shouted.

“What was that flash?”

“Muk, I think they got away.”

Alex raised his hand in the direction of one of the voices. A moment later, a fireball was hurtling into the night, illuminating the faces of several men along the way until it hit one of them. The bandit screamed in pain for several moments until he fell silent, his corpse becoming a more permanent light source and filling the area with the smell of burning flesh.

“This is what I get for leaving some of those idiots alive.” Alex gritted his teeth. He was paying for his own weakness now.

It was easy enough to work out who these people were. Most of them were sporting blood bandages, several had been disfigured by flames. Naturally, survivors from their earlier raid had come after them again.

“Psyducking hell,” Elias swore, “I don’t have my gun.”

“You won’t need it.” Alex blinked away again, reappearing a short distance away before immediately vanishing again, this time in a flash of flame. The attackers had just enough time to start shouting questions as to his and Elias’ whereabouts before Alex appeared in their midst among a second eruption of crackling fire.

There were more screams of pain as two more men ignited, dropping to the ground in an attempt to roll out the flames. More gunshots broke through the howls of pain, but Alex was already blinking away again. From his new location, he saw one of them had died to friendly fire in the blind panic that had ensued.

“I tried to do the right psyducking thing,” Alex said, drawing their attention. “I tried to let some of you live when you didn’t need to die. But no, you just had to bring it to this didn’t you? Now all of you are going to be dead in a few minutes. You’ve totally wasted your lives.”

Several more shots followed, but Alex was already gone. He fire blinked back into the middle of the men. Just as one of the bandits managed to put out the flames eating at him, he was ablaze again. Alex ignored him, instead shooting two of his unignited companions one after the other.

He blinked again, but the remaining four bandits, including the one slowly burning to death as he struggled to put himself out, had learned not to shoot so readily after killing one of their own. Alex reappeared in a flash of red light, his gun already against one of their heads.

He pulled the trigger and the man dropped instantly, spraying Alex with blood. The bandit directly across from him was quick to follow as another shot rang out.

The last standing attacker dropped his weapon and flopped onto his knees. “Please. I’m sorry. I’ll turn myself in. Just don’t kill me. I have a family.”

“You should have thought about that and turned over a new leaf when I gave you a chance then,” Alex said grimly. Then he shot the pleading man in the head. He turned around and put a bullet in the writhing, burning man on the ground for good measure.


Alex stood there in silence for a moment, surrounded by corpses. He tried to call for Elias but words wouldn’t leave his mouth. He heard his gun hit the dirt before he was even aware he’d dropped it. Violent shaking overtook his body and he found himself unable to stand, he dropped to the ground by his weapon, looking not unlike the pile of bodies he’d made in that moment bar the uncontrollable shaking. To his utter horror, it occurred to him that he felt tears falling from his eyes.

“Alex?!”

Alex heard Elias shouting but couldn’t respond. He didn’t see the other man run up, but he felt his hands checking him for a pulse and feeling him very much alive. Broken, but alive.

“Psyduck me, that was terrifying Alex. First you turn into some vengeance demon and then you collapse. I thought you’d taken a shot without noticing while you were on your rampage but - Alex?”

He still couldn’t move, the shaking was totally beyond his control. He struggled to stop himself throwing up like Elias had before, but lost that fight in moments and filled the night with the horrid sound of retching.

“You’re really not okay, are you?” Elias said.
“No,” Alex managed to choke out, “Nothing about this is okay. Something in the world is psyducked. Nothing should be like this.”

RPWLA&MBattle ServerDaily

JukeboxTheGhoul

Rocking Round the Clock

He/him
England
Seen March 29th, 2021
Posted December 1st, 2020
740 posts
10.6 Years
((Whew, this is a long post. But it was fun to write. Take breaks as you read this if you need.))

The Tragedy of Austen McConnelly
I: Nascence
featuring: Shayne "Hunter" Jacobs




A U S T E N




Shayne was through his third pack of cigarettes. Each successive flimsy paper packaging began to gradually accrue around his boots. Even the trailer’s horse seemed impatient, scraping at the barren ground with its front hoof. The carriage practically beckoned Shayne to come nearer, to see behind the purple curtain.

The gruff-voiced henchmen in velvet suits held up a white-gloved hand. “Don’t even think about it.”

“This gonna happen or what?” Shayne grumbled

“Waltham does not conduct himself on your time, nor anyone else's time. You want a meeting? You will wait your turn.”

“I got deadlines to meet, people to psyduck. You understand right?” Shayne placed his hands on his hips. “Oh, right, you probably don’t.”

Just as the Waltham agent tightened his grip around his golden-globed baton, a smudge of golden light rocketed down from the sky. It came to an abrupt stop after sailing through the open carriage roof window.

Seconds later, Waltham strode out,. “Do make this quick, Hunter, I have business.” In his left hand, his pocket watch

“What, golf?”

Waltham shot a threatening glance from the corner of his eye. “You have ten minutes.”

Exasperated, the bounty hunter put his hand on his hip and scratched under his hat. “Do you know the situation here in the south?”

“I know that you still haven’t completed your contract. Your mark still roams free, and you’re squandering time.” He waved the back of his hand to the wasteland around him, before jerking his open palm forward to point at the hunter.

Jacob pinched his forehead and sighed. “Time’s not exactly the issue, right now.”

Waltham raised an eyebrow. “It might not be yours. But it is mine. The longer you leave him, the easier it will be for him to get away.”

“Getting him isn’t exactly that easy right now. He’s armed and surrounded by guards and lunatics. We’re working overtime rounding up a posse to go after him, but the dough isn’t stretching far enough. People need to be paid, sir..”

“Frankly, I’m fully aware of that, Mr. Hunter. And I’m sure, since you wasted all this time, you want my hard earned cash to finance your extended prodigality.”

“Yeah, hard-earned by your employees.” Shayne crossed his arms.

“What was that?”

“It doesn’t matter. This is not about want, it’s about necessity. Anima was something small to begin with, but since they got him out of prison, since he killed the big bad whoever, he was far too heavily armed to be dealt with quickly.” The bounty hunter chose to widen his silhouette by opening his arms and leaning against the wall with his hand.

“So what, you’re telling me you can’t do it?”

Shayne Jacobs could feel his the chains on his chest pressing on him tighter as he got angrier. “Oh no, Mister, President of the Company, CEO. I can do it. In fact I don’t there’s anyone more motivated on the planet to do it. You need me.”

“Like hell I do.” Waltham’s gentlemanly exterior faltered for the rage underneath. “Are you going to deal with them or not?”

“I know all about your trouble with the splinter cell back in Gilded Brook. There’s no other way to tell if the old guy is going to come back with his zombies. These cults are crazy, for all we know that base became some kind of holy ground for them and they will continue to harass your ‘profit-making enterprises’ until y’all are forced to yield control to them. If you want to continue making money here in the south, you’ll back the right horse.” The bounty hunter’s tone was openly hostile. He could see the attitude changing in his opponent on his face and posture. Jacobs grinned. “There we go, co-operation. My favourite word. Now, if you think I can take him down like this… With a museum, a musket and a fat man? You’re wrong.”

“Are you a quitter?” Waltham had angry froth boiling at the edge of his mouth.

“We might as well, if we attack now.”

The CEO looked to his feet, taking in a deep breath and wiping his mouth. “How much more do you need? I’ve given you my contacts in the south.”

“Few more goons from lesser bounties can be spared. But it’s not going to get done unless we have full Waltham support. That means troops.”

“I hope you understand the fact that war is not a money-making exercise, Hunter.”

“You protect your assets all the time.”

“We protect our profit-making partners. If you haven’t noticed, you use our services at a subsidised rate. How much have you paid back into our system? Zero.”

Shayne clicked his teeth while looking toward the desert. “We’re going to get your money back, the 3 million he stole, is yours.”

“Do you think the board are delusional? Mr. Temere will have already squandered it wholesale. We want his skin as an example of those who besmirch the good name of Waltham. To make him earn back every penny he ever spent. If you can’t handle this task, I’m more than willing to research other alternatives.” He wiped the stray saliva from his angry mouth.

“Listen, listen, man. I am open to further collaboration. you could find some other bounty hunter, but we’re already getting on so well. Give me thirty men, I can make up the rest of the shortfall.”

Waltham grunted in response, turning away, and toward the carriage.

“Well?” Shayne called to him.

Simultaneously, the front soldier hiked up the steps on the side of the carriage and ready the whips to drive the horses. As the wagon began to pull away, the last Waltham security guard grasped on to the curled metal ornamenting the rear.

“Very well.” Mr Waltham flipped a golden disc up in to the air, seconds later it landed at the bounty hunter’s feet. “I’ll send word to my people, show them that. But don’t expect me to foot the entire bill. You need to pull your own weight. Don’t fail me, Hunter.”

“Thank you, sir, wouldn’t dream of it.” Jacobs took off his hat and pressed it to his chest, mockingly bowed toward the northern businessman as he sped away.

“Driver! Golf!” He called out. Angrily.

***


Jasper’s eyes sparkled with the reflection of the moon at the prospective mayhem. He turned to the other boy and grinned. “Look at that. Aust, a field full of cattle!”

Austen was just gaining his footing on the wooden fencing when he looked up to see what Jasper was seeing. The whole field was an inky blackness, littered by the subtle shifting of masses. “Bully! You can hardly even see ‘em.”

“But you can for sure smell ’em. And hear them, listen! Even louder than before.”

Austen gave an affirmative sound in response.

Jasper swung the other of his legs around and hopped down on to the ground. While Austen was straddling the fence, his eyes were drawn up to the large house on top of the small hill. It appeared to him as on fire because of the sheer amount of open curtains that plumed out light, flooding the surroundings that were starved of illumination. Shapes floated from aperture to aperture, giving the impression that the whole farmhouse was flickering on and off.
A deep sense of envious awe settled over him. Austen spoke out into the void. “I wish we could spend candles like old Gretchen.”

“Fat chance, we’re poor” Jasper began to walk further toward the livestock.

“Well. You’re not,” Austen replied immediately, now raising his voice to make sure he’s heard.

“Ah, you’d think that, but we’re just as poor, we have to pay for more stuff than you, so that’s why my parents have to work for every goddamn penny. Even if we git more than you...” Jasper trailed off with his words and glanced back to see why his compatriot was idle.




“Jasp.” Austen breathed deeply as he stared off in the distance, as he balanced precariously on top of the fencing. “You sure about this? Old lady Gretchen already hates Ma’s guts… and plenty o’ money to get us...”

“What are you now, a coward?”

Austen felt blood rush to his face. He retorted on instinct. “Me? I’m no coward.” He paused, remembering his hesitations. “Just saying, boys at the well said she twists ya neck till you dead.”

“Well, well, well, Austen McConnelly believes in fairy stories, never thought I’d see the day.” Jasper joked, putting on an imagined adult voice.

“No I ain’t.” Austen jumped down from the fence and strode forward, quickly out-pacing his friend before turning around, “C’mon, we doing this or what?” He yelled.

“There’s my Aust!” Jasper smirked and followed on after him.


The two boys came alongside the herd and crouched alongside a cow.

“Do ya see it? Do ya see the horse she won?” Jasper asked

“What’s it like again?”

“Black-White Thoroughbred, Austen.” Jasper said his name with bitterness, causing Austen to recoil.

After a few moments of pressured staring, Austen looked forward again, “No eyes. Must be in the stable on the side of the house.”

“Right then.” Jasper scurried ahead, leaving the cover of the cow they were beside.

“Jasper, you’ll be seen!” Austen shout-whispered over to him.

“Shut up, I know what I’m doing.” The boy retorted caustically.

Jasper kept a steady gaze on the house on the hill, whenever there was movement, he ducked and slid over to the nearest animal. The door had been opened but now it was shut.

Jasper was about to look back to call over Austen, but the other boy had already followed in his footsteps and was now a few inches from his face.

“You got here fast, ol’ Aust’s growing some balls, hey!”

“I’m no wimp, man.”

“For sure.”

Jasper was about to move ahead, but Austen tapped his friend’s arm for a thought. “I just thought, what we gonna tell my ma about how we got our dungarees all mucky?”

Jasper searched his mind for just a moment, but then returned, “Got it. We were helping out at Dennis’ farm til the early morning, like that other time we took that cart for racing and got it back by dinner time.” Jasper swore “Psyduck, do you remember racing down the hill at a hundred miles an hour? Now, that was exciting.”

“Oh yeah, psyduck, that was good.” Austen tried to speak like Jasper, but he really meant what he said. Except it came out awkward.

“Can you remember when Chickey had her dress caught in that wagon wheel? Classic stuff.” Jasper laughed at his own callback.

He had stopped moving forward, so it appeared to Austen that they were taking a break there, just the two of them talking side by side, insular, like their chats at sunday school. Like their perfect moments.

“Stellar!”

Jasper seemed eternally happy, he asked and answered questions with a grin which always suggested he possessed a devilish scheme, one way or another.

“How’s it goin’ with Marcy-Girl? Lumber her yet?”

“Not yet, she’s still not talking to me. And you, with Darneel?” Austen felt slightly ashamed of not conquering this feat in becoming a man, but knew Jasper would give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Aye mate, ten times now.”

“Wow.” Austen simply sat there astonished. Ten times! Jasper is so cool.

“Now there, don’t just sit there getting hard. Move on up.”

“Right.”

Their pathway was overall curving gently to the right, where the majority of the herd was, Austen more or less crawled forward, Jasper had charged. He was going too fast to slow down when the terrain began to curve upwards, becoming too steep to continue. As he fell he made a yelp but managed to swallow anything more. When activity increased in the house on the hill, he was forced back into the cover of the nearby animals. The cow noticed him, curving its neck around to see him. He held up a finger to his lips. The cow didn’t seem to care that much. In return, Jasper began to stroke its flank. “There you are, girl.” Smiling in a more modest, sincere way.

He quickly looked down at his scratched shin, and served it an exploratory prod. Sucking in air through his teeth, he rolled down the denim back over it. He rose his head and the true extent of the herd-covered hill, the impressive curve and contour of the cattle impressed him.

“One day I’m going to own a herd like this...” He spoke out into the night, barely loud enough to hear.

But Austen heard. He suppressed a chuckle, settling with audible surprise. “You, a townie boy wants a herd?”

“Yeah mate, when my folks would stop at big towns, I read all these real stories from the paper about being a frontiersman, defending the cattle and taking down crabs like Mrs Gretchen. This horse, man. Just the beginning. I’m gonna be rich and buy my own plot of land and then get people to do whatever I want.”

Austen was unsure how to reply to the naive honesty of Jasper’s dream. As an awkward silence began to crawl in, he took a leaf out of Jasper’s book. “Oooo, look at me, the townie, I can read stories from the paper.”

To finish it off, Austen stuck out his tongue. He expected laughs. Jasper just shook his head and looked ahead at their goal. Silence. Great job, Austen. Now you insulted him. He thought to himself.

The two moved ahead. Austen made it to the edge of the farm, pressing his back against the fence. He squinted. “I think I can see it!”

“Show me.” Jasper craned his neck over the shoulder of the other boy, pulling himself up by Austen’s shoulder, and pressing his foot on the edge of the cow’s water-trough.

Suddenly a bellowing snort rang out behind them from the deep lungs of Gretchen’s stud bull. The sudden gust of air knocked them off their footing. Their footing was lost. Jasper hurtled down toward the water, landing on the front of the trough, forcing it to capsize and spew the water all over them. Austen ran away from the noise. Jasper, now supremely embarrassed and drenched, followed Austen. As the dusty winds ran under their arms and through their hair, stray dust stuck to their soaked clothes, Austen thought they would take flight. With great momentum, they leapt over the fence. Their heartbeat thrumming through their ears, making them effectively deaf until they skidded to a stop.

Breathing hard, Austen held on to Jasper’s shoulder for stability. Their energy drained out of them. They just looked at each other's red faces in the dark and grinned. They walked the rest of the way home. After slipping like thieves into their bed, they quickly fell asleep.


“Austen,” Jasper shook Austen awake, just like the night before. Except it was morning.

“What?” Austen’s soft voice dulled the irritation in his voice.

“Can you help me git my case?” Jasper’s eyes darted back and forth to make sure they were not disturbing Mrs McConnelly.

“Sure.”

When it was down, Jasper curled open the top of his tan suitcase for a new set of clothes. He smiled to Austen. “She don’t even need to see the adventure we made last night.” And laughed lightly

“Good thinking.”


Jasper was still fitting the left hoop of his dungarees when he came to the quaint table in the one room hovel. Nodding to Mrs McConnelly he hopped on to the seat while Austen slipped their yesterday’s clothes in to the water against the rack where his mother had just been scraping off dirt. Austen ran back to the table as soon as he could

When Julianne came around the corner, her heart dropped to see the children sitting so eagerly at the table with their little cherub faces. “Oh… I’m sorry…”

Austen could feel the sadness radiating off from his mother. “What is it?”

Biting back tears, she knelt down at the table and took Austen's hand. “There’s not going to be any food today. You remember when I was sick last week?”

It got almost overwhelming as his mother rubbed Austen’s hands. He nodded meekly.

“Well, work that Mrs Bailey asked me to do, the work that didn’t get done. So I have to pay her instead of food for tonight, and maybe more… I’m not sure. I have a lot of work to catch up on. Hey, but don’t worry, this is just life. Don’t you worry.”

“I wish I could do something.”

“I know…” She looked away and stood up. “I’ve got work to do, and you do too, I hope you can understand.”

“Yes, mother…”



***


As the dark tan trousers were pulled up from his ankles to waist, the man grunted. With his elbow, the Deputy pushed open the door, stepping out into the early morning, he curled the belt around the clip and then made sure his holster was secure. He took a brief survey of the village, seeing a small group of boys walk up the hill past the cattle pens as the church began its bells to signify the start of the day. During his stroll over to the sherival outpost, he saw peasants working on their hands and knees. Some were milking the livestock, others plucking crops with their bare hands. On the left, a smattering of cosy houses snuffed out their early morning candles. Deputy Orrey spat out his chewing tobacco before opening the flimsy door to the police station and entering.

“Sorry, young man, I can’t hear you! Speak up.” An old, shaky voice came from further within.
Orrey instinctively sighed. God damn little old Gretchen Bailey.

"Ma'am, you've already made twenty reports this last week, you can’t expect us to already have a culprit!" Deputy Silverston sighed, leaning his elbow on the counter to prop up his cheek.

"Yes, that's right." She stressed the syllables of her voice.”Just this morning, my cows were spooked, and I found their water spilled all away." She paused. “It’s CORPORATE ESPIONAGE!””

The deputy raised his voice so she could hear him.“I’m sorry, Mrs Bailey, but we just can’t investigate spilled water… how would we interview the animals, or find suspects?” Deputy Silverston made an exasperated huff and shrugged his shoulders.

“Don’t you people have some kind of magic to talk to animals?” She grumbled, finally showing some awareness of the conversation.

Silverston began to clench his fist. “Alright, Ma’am if you’re going to lump every native together…”

The side door was opened abruptly. “Silverton,” Orrey called out to the man on the desk. “It’s your turn to empty the latrine.”

Silverton groaned, “It’s always my turn to throw it out.”

“I’m sorry, which one of us finished the tests first?”

“You.”

“Right, so which of us has seniority?”

“You.”

“Right, the latrine?” Orrey waved his arm toward the door.

While they were speaking, two boys passed the deputy’s station, barely holding back giggles. A cheeky voice, from Jasper, called out. “You alright Ms. Gretchen?”

“Hmmm? Oh, just fine, boys. You look well. Give yours mothers my respect,.” She spoke without even turning to face them. “And remind your mother of her overtime, she still owes me, Austen!”

“Gee thanks, ma’am. Have a Good’un!” Jasper said, before bursting out into laughter and scampering away, pulling Austen with him.

Silverton had closed the ledger and began to head out of the room when Gretchen piped up again. Orrey walked up to the counter. “Right, Ms. Margareta Bailey, what can we do for you?”

“Thank God, a real Deputy! Now, what are you going to do about those natives on my land? They moved in a few days ago, and they didn’t even listen when I fired my warning shots.” She shuffled a little closer to the counter, clutching her handbag.

“Hey, hey, if you want Natives to move you can do a lot better than shooting. People like me can be actually really nice, if you get to know them.” Deputy Silverton pointed at her with an open palm.

“Hang on.” Deputy Orrey re-opened the ledger in the exact same location as earlier. “How d’you know they’re natives?”

“Well, they were in TENTS, and TIPIs.” She yelled, so everyone in Jeimas could hear them.

“Uhuh, uhuh.” Orrey scribbled down incomprehensive notes of what she was saying in the book, ignoring all of the empty formatted lines for expenses and names of inmates. “And where were they?”

Mrs Bailey leaned over to see what he was writing. “My farm field, the one on the slopes down into the Great Chasm… Also, I think I saw some of them Supers among them.”

“Supers? You mean magic users?” Silverston’s mouth dropped open and he returned to the counter. “We can’t deal with it if its magickers.”

“Well, I’ll pay extra.” She opened her clutch bag and rummaged through it.

“No. No, it’s not about that, we just don’t have the fire-pow-” SIlverston was in the middle of speaking when Orrey pushed him out the way.

“We can look into it ma’am.” Orrey nodded, his hat wobbled with the movement of his head, betraying a receding hairline. “How much are you speaking about?”

“Excuse me, Deputy, are you seriously going to take on a magicker? You’ll die!” Silverston grabbed Orrey’s arm and gently pulled him away from the counter. His eyes were full of warning and concern.

“Come on, you could always do with an extra buck or two.” Orrey whispered in response to the other deputy.

Gretchen continued to ruffle through her money while Orrey and Silverston stared each other down. “I can get someone else to drive off the natives if you want to look for my snake-skin hand-bag, the cow that got on the loose a month ago or investigate who's been making my crop return dwindle.”

Silverston turned to Gretchen again. “Ma’am, none of those are things we can help with, that would be a wild goose chase while having no chance of finding your stuff. We don’t deal with insignificant things, this is the police.”

Gretchen took out a stack of bills in her hand. “Hmmph. Can’t do it if it's Supers, not worth anything if it's not Supers. If you’re the law, what CAN you do?” Gretchen grumbled and pursed her lips. “Oh, it’s probably for the best you’re not investigating the espionage, you’ll probably just hogtie a random guy, bring him back and it’ll happen again and again. Better just call a bounty hunter...”

“Hey, I resent the insinuation-” Silverston began, before being cut off.

Orrey slapped his hand on to the counter and leaned forward. “Ma’am, we can absolutely get rid of those Native squatters for you.” He quickly circled around to the front of the desk and took the money from the desk and tucked it into his back pocket.

Silverston widened his eyes, “You want me to come with you?”

“No, no, this is my mission. And mine alone,” Orrey held up his hand. “I, as a Deputy of this town, am an agent of the law. And I will sit around no longer. I will enforce the law.”

“Woah... okay,” A million thoughts raced through Silverston’s head, he had little time to think deeply about what was being said.

“Also…” Orrey shone his pearly whites , in his near-signature grin. “You have plenty of forms to finish, right?”

“Well, yes, but you also can’t just...”

“Right then, catch you later!” Orrey closed the door on him.

“Ugh, he’s just going to go there and be a fool.” He swore. “Psyducking Orrey, he just wants to be a hero, like all the other white guys...”

Gretchen only smiled at Silverston, “Well, he’s my hero. Now, what’s YOUR price?”

“I’m sorry, Miss, I have to empty the latrines…” Silverston removed himself from the situation, sighing as he opened the back door. “That Sonovarattata’s gonna get himself killed.”



***


The sun was no longer yawning by the time he got there, but now it saddled the sky like an overseer. The end of Gretchen’s farm sloped down near the cliffs that broke off the Chasm from the rest of the world. But nothing was clearly signposted, which made Orrey regret not asking for more information before he left. But before long he saw the squatters. A sizable conglomeration of tents in all the dullest colours in the world. It looked like a puritannical circus.

Armed with his gun, he dismounted and tied the horse’s reins to a rock, because there was literally nothing else there. He approached tenuously, with one hand periodically switching to his lengths of rope attached to the belt, hanging down and banging against his rear.

As he got closer, he lowered himself to inhabit the jungle of string that steadied the erect fabric. Clambering through the maze, occasionally tripping or getting tangled, he eventually made it to the interior of camp from a direction that no one would expect him to come from. The first person he saw, he fed the rope into his hand, quickly jumping forward and pulling across their mouth and pulled them into a nearby tent.

Now on the floor, the criminal he had captured was struggling against him, calling out in a muffled way. While they were struggling, their island of long curly blond hair at the pinnacle of their skull swished over into his mouth, making Orrey sputter. Hoping no one heard them, he snatched a glance behind him to see what he had hit against.

It was at that time that the burliest man he had ever seen let off a loud snore that had been building up for what seemed like hours based upon the drool coming out of his mouth.
He stuck his neck forward to make sure his captive heard him. “Oh shush, I just need you for a bit.”

This momentarily made them stop screaming. Pushing them into the dirt floor, he ringed the rope around their wrists and legs. In the process he had dinged their head against the wooden bedpost slightly.

“Psyduck. Oops. Sorry, ma’am” he said quietly. “Or sir.” He looked left and right uncomfortably. “I can’t really tell, what are you?”

In reply, they returned a grunt.

“Oh right, you’re tied up. Sorry.” He replied. He just needed to stash this one somewhere, and then scout out the rest of the camp. It can’t be that hard. He thought...


***


In the burning heat, the stick dug into Austen’s shoulders, small splashes spilled over from the water sloshing in the two buckets hung on each end. When it hit his skin, he felt like it might evaporate that very second.

“You know you didn’t have to stand up for me like that.” Jasper admitted, brushing the dirt off the bum of his clothing.

“Hey, you’d do the same for me.”

“Oh, for sure, anything.” Jasper looked down and to the side. “You sure you know where we're going?” Their feet had to follow the pale groove that etched its path into hardened earth.

“Yeah, I always take this way when the other boys are after me.”

While Jasper was thinking up a response, he noticed the red sand gently sloping toward the cliff when his eyes landed among the field of tents flying black sunrise flag. Almost immediately, he pulled his friend down with him behind a rock. His mother’s water spilling across the sand, making it brown and murky.

“The water!” Austen exclaimed but Jasper ignored him.

“Look at that!”

“What?! The camp?”

“No, stupid.” Shaking his head just slightly, in the way that had become familiar to Austen to mean he had disappointed him. “The horse.” He turned to beam at Austen, “It’s barely hitched, unguarded, no one can see it.” Jasper’s eyes lit up with so much light that not even Austen could contain it.

“Jasper, do you think…” Austen started.

“Imagine what we could do with our own horse! We’d could do so much.”

“But what if they’re bad guys?”

“Well, then, they shouldn’t have it anyway!” Jasper returned a cheeky grin toward Austen before pulling forward.

Jasper skidded to his knees in front of the horse and began to tug at the various tangled threads of rope. Austen stood, scared that they were going to get caught

“C’mon, c’mon.”

“I’m on it!”

Austen could feel the anxiety pumping his blood around his body. Soon, the rope had come loose and snaked around Jasper’s hands. Triumphantly, Jasper hurled it up and over the rump of the horse. In a swift movement he attempted to hoist himself up, but his shoes refused to grip on to the hide. He lacked the height to do this elegantly and it was annoying the animal.
“Hey, Aust.” He said out of the corner of his mouth, while still facing the horse.

Austen instantly turned his head to his friend. “Oh, right.” The slightly taller kid immediately went on to his knee and held his hand together over his knee. When Jasper gripped his curled hair and pressed his foot into Austen’s hand, he rose with all his might. With a grunt from Austen, Jasper scrambled on to the horse from the elevated height.

“Ah!” He yelled triumphantly.

Austen surveyed the horse with some reservations, he could hardly believe they had won. They finally owned a horse! Jasper was too busy shortening the stirrup length to accommodate his own legs that he didn’t even see Austen holding up his hand to be pulled on to the horse. When Jasper was done, he leaned left while holding the saddle with his right hand and pulled Austen on to the open section of the saddle right behind him. He steadied and repositioned himself while using Jasper’s shoulders and jeans as climbing holds.

“Alright! Let’s go!” Jasper howled and pulled the horse’s head away from the post. He dug his small boots into her undercarriage to make her go. Quickly the barren sand was flowing through their hair and the camp was becoming further and further away. In their wake, the two pails laid bare in the sound, kicking along in the rustle of the wind.


***


Soon enough, the lid stuck in place and Orrey could stop pushing down on it. Just to make sure, he untied one of the things around him and wrapped the rope from that item around the barrel length-ways just so the crony couldn’t push it open. When he heard some footsteps behind him, he immediately hid inside the nearest tent, drawing his gun to his lips.

“There we go, all ready to be taken… Hang on, who untied this?” Tutting, she surveyed the area, Orrey could see her from the gap in the tent. When she approached the far corner of the supply plinths, he retracted himself further inwards and held his breath.

“Hey, you, who the hell organised this?”

A passerby voice responded. “She did.”

Orrey could hear her audibly point. “You, who the psyduck are you?”

“I answer only to Leroy.”

“You don’t even answer your name?”

While the argument continued outside, Orrey took a breath of relief. While the large slumbering giant’s icicle of spit had only elongated, he now had a way in. None of them seemed to know each other. So all he needed was to play it cool. Slotting away his revolver, he straightened his posture and hovered his arms by his side, making sure his coat covered his deputy badge.

“Hey, I was told that Leroy asked for me?” Orrey used the only name he knew.

“Big tent.” She didn’t even look at him. Orrey quickly sauntered past, his heart fluttering with his success. He had thought he had a lead, he would take down the big wig, or talk them to move on, and he would be a hero. But what if it went wrong? No, he couldn’t entertain that kind of self-doubt for that was the staple of a weak mind.

He pulled back the curtain with bravado, interrupting the various men and women talking in a circle about tasks being completed or not. A hush fell amongst the elite as they all sized up the deputy. Putting a hand on his holster and standing up straight. Orrey loudly declared. “I need to talk... “ He began to squint at the vaguely forming faces. “To whoever runs this place.” He paused as the faces started to become somewhat familiar.


Shadow. Wanted. Engine behind the criminal enterprise. The Necromancer, Wanted. Mass murder. Anima. Wanted. Torture. As the gawking faces came in to focus, an intense wave of fear made him unsteady on his feet. It was almost everyone on the ‘religious nutjob’ section of the Felony catalogue. Shadow gripped her throne. Josiah adjusted his stetson to assess the newcomer. Anima languished in his chair, boiling in the heat. The various observing representatives of the major gangs shifted in their seats, as if startled. Before anyone else could react. Leroy leapt up and began to draw his gun. Altan looked to Anima’s disciples, the Devoted and directed them with a flick of the wrist.

Not only had the deputy let his golden star show, his own face of shock betrayed the illusion that he could leave unharmed. The deputy knew who they were without question. For the egregious crime of curiosity, the man was caught. Hunted like an animal before being tied down. Soon his feet were raised to the sky, nailed to the top of a wooden column. Blood dripped from his hands and rushed to his head. Screaming as the lashing wounds inflicted by Altan’s nine-tailed whip pressed against the rotten crucifix.




***




Initially, Austen was preoccupied with worrying about potential retribution from whoever owned the horse, but felt safer when he could see the village centre. In all the rush, he had hardly noticed how tightly he was clinging around Jasper’s stomach for stability.

Noticing where they were, the adrenaline of running away now fading, he turned his head and admonished Austen. “Don’t hold on to me so tight.” He brushed his arms away, “You’ll make us look like some kind of inverts.”

Austen immediately pulled away, now balancing precariously on the rump of the horse. He swore under his breath. Putting on an air of playful bravado, he retorted.“Psyduck off, I’m gonna fall off with nowt support.”

“We’ll have it all done soon, just stop rattataing.”

“Fine.” Austen pressed his leg on to the horse as if it would magically hold him to the beast. After going over a ridge, he urgently gripped the edge of the saddle for any kind of stability.

Soon enough, he didn’t need to worry about falling, they had made it to the house that overlooked Gretchen’s Pasture.

“You stay here, I’m gonna get my horse.” Jasper retracted his leg from the left side of the horse and then jumped to the ground, throwing the reins into Austen’s hands. He rushed over to the stable annex like a child. The next few moments would rear disappointment as the lock stayed firmly hooked around the lock. The horse let out what Austen could only interpret as a snort of derision at the boy.

“The key must be inside.” Austen slid down from the side of the saddle horse and came up alongside him.

“Duh.” Jasper replied, taking a step back from the house to survey all the entry points. Being a two story house, there were several upstairs windows and ledges, as well as a simple way to the second story, by scrambling up on to the top of the horse box, but he would need Austen’s help to do so.

While Jasper’s head cogs were turning, Austen rattled the front door. “No luck.”

“‘Course not, come on, help me up here.” Jasper came to the rim of the barrel and gestured his head towards the barrel. “You get on first. I’ll use you like a ladder!”

Austen looked away, fearing the embarrassment coming when he inevitably slips up and they both fall down. “You sure?”

“Yeah, it’ll be fine.”

Though the posture was precarious and the barrel was wobbly when Jasper wasn’t holding it, Austen managed to get on top. Now, all he had to do was to get Jasper up on the barrel with only an inch between them and push him up onto the stable without seeming weak.

For Jasper, climbing up Austen was like climbing a sweaty tree. Aust tried to lend a hand by attempting to lift him and Jasper was slightly shorter than Austen, it didn’t help much. Soon enough, he was on top of the stable. The horses whinnied at the peculiar thudding above them. Nobody was particularly around, the searing heat of midday made anyone but the highly motivated lethargic.

“Jas?”

He looked down over the edge to his friend, he was holding his hand up.

“No, I have t’test it or they’d be no reason for you up.”

To Austen, exploring was something they always did together. In the end, he simply buried it with everything else he never said to Jasper O’Leary.

The imperfect frosted glass made snooping difficult. He applied pressure to the edge of the glass but there was little movement. It only took a second glance to see that the window was nailed shut from the inside. Faced with defeat that he wouldn’t accept. He backtracked, taking in the view of the house from this flank, tip toeing on top of the gable.

“Well?”

“Blocked. But I think there’s a way in. Git up.” Jasper said as he extended his arm down. Austen took it and was yanked up on to the nest formed naturally where the wall meets the stable.

“What now?”

“Get me on t’roof.” Jasper nodded him over, “Gretchen’s got a chimney.” Getting up on the roof was tricky but not impossible. It ended in them delicately shuffling upon the edge of the gable until reaching the smoke stack. Jasper quickly swung his legs in to the large cuboid brick silo and pried the grating off the top.

“I woulda never thought of going this way.”

“Well, I did it before for a few pennies when Ma and Pa were in town, thought if I could make it way up, I could make it down”

Before sinking into the brick silo, Jasper took a survey of Austen’s face, it was creased with concern, far beyond what was justified. Jasper coyly glanced away before returning his gaze. “Relax, Christ’s sake.”

Almost shocked, Austen dropped his expression for just a moment. After shaking his head to rattle his thoughts into place, he nodded. Jasper didn’t hesitate, he dropped down into the chimney, squeezing past the indent. He felt the tube widening and his grip on the edges slipping. Frantically pressing his hands and legs to the wall, resulting in a layer of skin becoming moist with blood. “Psyduck.” Jasper uttered a hushed curse. Trying to breathe made his lungs feel like they were being crushed. From below him, a raspy snore thundered, disturbed by unusual sounds.

“You alright?” Austen whispered down.

“Hush.” Jasper sent up. “Must’ve been Gretchen, nobody can stand this heat much.”

Precariously, lowering himself down, every touch ached, his shoulders had developed a painful groove. As he descended, he tried to focus on the task at hand. In his mind, he could see his plan coming together. He would take a hard right and scurry up the stairs, open every draw and swipe anything he found and run as soon as he got the keys. He just prayed that he would get there any moment as his grip was reaching breaking point. As it widened for the final time, he dangled his legs down and hopped down onto the now cool ashes.

Peeling away his shoes from his feet, he tiptoed out of the hearth and stood up, quickly scanning the area. Table, chairs, countertops, dog, keys. “Dog?!” He mouthed alarmedly. Immediately squatting down behind a nearby chair. He took stock of everything, his clothes were caked in ash and dust. His hands were now the same colour as old blackened bronze statues. Alongside his laboured breaths, he could hear the dog’s heavy panting. It was her Bloodhound. He needed a plan fast. The hound had always been elsewhere, hunting prairie dogs. When Keeyan never turned up again, everyone at school said it was Gretchen’s dogs who ripped him apart for straying on to her land. Irena told him, Gretchen’s hounds have a special taste for children’s blood.

“Jasp, you alright?” He heard his friend’s voice sailing down the chimney again.

“Yeah, I see the keys.” Jasper did his best to shout-whisper trying not to wake old Gretchen. “But Gretchen’s hound is here!”

Above, Austen listened to the chimney like it was telling a prophecy, with a firm grip on its trunk. “Psyduck…” He sat back from the funnel, Austen could only speculate how scary it was down there. “Any ideas, on how to shift it?”

“I think there’s a kitchen area, could lure it away with some of the food in there.”

“Hang on, that’d just bring it to you… I have an idea…” Carefully, Austen disentangled his arms around the bricks and shuffled along the tip of the roof and let himself slide gently to the edge.

Jasper could only hear a faint patter from above. But he had no idea what Austen was going to do. Scurrying around below the eyesight of the windows on the ground floor., the hound began sniffing in its sleep. Jasper could feel his chest tightening, curling his arms around his knees, he just hoped the dog did not come any closer. The last thing he expected to happen was Austen to be banging heavily on the window on the far side of the room. “No, no no no no.” He whispered underneath his breath. The hound swung its head toward Austen and began to growl. Jasper’s heart dropped. Gretchen might send someone down to check on them. He knew he needed to move, so much so for leaving no trace. The more Austen yelled, the more interested the dog became in him. The bark was powerful. It reverberated through his bones and pierced his ear drums.

Despite trembling all over, he peered above his defenses at the exposed set of keys. This was his chance, it was only a matter of time until the hound took notice of his smell. He took in a deep drink of oxygen before rising, leaving an ashy smear across the furniture and he rushed forward. Putting his arms up, he stretched forward, but it was not enough. He pressed his knee on to the redwood drawers just to boost himself higher. The surface was wobbling from the pressure. As he snatched the ring of keys, the latches of the first draw unbuckled, falling open. The drawers tipping forward. Jasper slipped off, grabbing the falling drawers and shoving them with all his might back toward the wall, leaving inky black hand prints. At his feet, a silver barrel, 30 inches long, fused into a glossy wooden stock complete with a loop that was fit seductively alongside the wood. A repeater lever. Beside it, several golden round casings. In his eyes, they glistened. His thoughts flashed back to the innumerable times they banged on Gretchen’s door and she shouted that she’d kill them. All the times her boys would ruffle up Austen at seminary. All the times he stood silent. Amazed, he crouched down and put his hands around the barrel and stock, and arose again.

Jasper mumbled under his breath, “She wasn’t kidding...” He felt the weight of the bullets slotted inside, it was loaded.

Then, the barking shook him out of his head. He had to get out of there. He brought his hands together to rifle through the keys, resting the gun awkwardly between his forearms. Grabbing the lock, he tried every key that looked like it would fit. Finally, the padlock popped open, but he could already hear growling coming from behind him. It was becoming louder and louder. He pulled at the lock but it only rattled against the latch. Using precious seconds, he unhooked the padlock and pulled aside the latch. That was when the dog leapt toward him. Jasper swung to face the hound, his left hand now clutching the rifle.




As far as Austen knew, two things had occurred. A shot rang out. And the door was unlocked. By now, Gretchen must be already stirring, Austen thought. Jasper’s almost vacant face came in to view as Austen pushed the door open. When he noticed Austen looking at him, he strode out with a confident face, holding the gun by its butt.

He had never seen Austen’s mouth open wider, or his face whiter. He could feel his pockets stuffed to the brim with bullets which made his victorious swagger ripple with its heavy baggage. Jasper hoped that would be enough for Austen. He tried to hold the gun with pride, as if he knew what he was doing with it much. But just then his mind scanned Austen’s face, wondering if he was impressed, wondering why he cared what Austen thought. Just like that the feeling soured, why did he work with someone who could look THAT dumbfounded.

Jasper stood tall holding that gun. Austen could barely believe his eyes. How could he take a dog’s life without flinching? A conflicting feeling settled in his gut. He couldn’t decide whether he should be disgusted or impressed, just the thought of what laid behind that door made him feel sick. But the fact Jasper had did all that, the soot from the chimney still caked in to his skin, commanded respect.

“Come on, she’s probably heard that.” Jasper pressed the rifle into Austen’s chest and moved on to the stable. Austen was forced to hook his arms around it. He saw Jasper move off and pick through the various keys. The stable was open quickly and Jasper became soaked in the stark shadows of the stable. Returning astride the prize thoroughbred, it was Black with white speckles and it gleamed in the punishing sunlight.

It was then when he heard the loud kerfuffle from inside the house. Gretchen was coming. As Austen scrambled on to the Deputy’s horse with the aid of the fencing. Jasper came alongside and carried a rope from the stable and hooked it through the door handle and tied it as fast as he could. By the time Gretchen had forced her way through, they were merely silhouettes riding down the hill.

“Girls! Girls!” Gretchen blasted her raspy voice at her domestic servants. “We’ve got rustlers!”

Gretchen turned away from the sun, growling.







Jasper and Austen were euphoric. Their hearts pumped with adrenaline as fast as they could ride. They could not grin wider. The complexities of just moments earlier has vanished for a brief spirit of unabashed glee, knowing they had escaped.

But then Jasper’s grin turned extra mischievous. Tugging on his reins, he stopped. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

After Gretchen withdrew into the house but before her servants could make moves against them, the boys returned and unlatched all the gates of Gretchen Bailey’s cattle. The hooves made the whole ground quake, visibly shaking Gretchen’s plate off their shelves, but she could barely get a footing before the two children were re-enacting all the stories of rustlers they had ever heard.

One of the old decrepit barns around the area were very much known to the boys. As early as seven they had made an adventure out of exploring it and camping out there created some of Austen’s best memories. The fact that most of his best memories were basked in the sunlight of his association with Jasper only bothered him when he hung out with other people. Not that many city kids were around this time of year. But it always gnawed at him when he wondered whether Jasper valued him to the same degree. It was a thought that haunted Austen’s happiest escapades with him. As they were circling around the cattle, Austen tried to talk to Jasper but really the only response he got was the hasty shouting that he was letting the cattle loose. Austen shored up the opening, losing a few but that’s what Jasper had told him to expect. But now they could barely hear each other

Dismounting once they got to the barn they managed to funnel at least some of the cows into the cramped indoor space, but it was still a significant amount of cows they had managed to push in to such a confined space. Inside, Jasper was hitching the thoroughbred as soon as he came to a stop. Using the hitching post as a step ladder down to the ground, he saw Austen quickly approaching.

Austen came up alongside and patted the strong muscles of the horse. “What are you going to name her?”

“It’s a stallion.” Jasper ran the horse hair leash through his hands until it looped around his hands and drooped down like loose skin.

“Really, a boy? What you naming him?” Austen played with the angle of his ankle and pressed his back against the stable post. I was thinking something like Lightning?”

“Dunno, probably not gonna name him,” Jasper seemed vacant, if only temporarily, like he couldn’t stand the mundanity of this moment. Austen could feel the adrenaline that exuded from Jasper dissipating from the air. “I could do so much more with him.”

Austen’s interest was piqued, he knew Jasper was always one step ahead of him, always applying his intelligence to all his avenues. Where Austen took things on face value, he saw Jasper’s purpose serving a mission on a grander scale. This view was constantly reinforced by the dreams that Jasper spoke of interminably. It all seemed so inevitable.

“We’re going to sell him, we’ll git so much dosh.” Jasper’s face seemed to light up at these prospects “Then there’s studdery.”

Seeing Austen’s facial expression, Jasper pre-empted him. “It’s where you let him psyduck all the mares in Jeimas and they give you a tidy profit. You know, for doing them a favour.” Jasper grinned the widest he had ever seen.

“Oh, right.” Austen nodded.

Austen and Jasper began to walk inwards after everything was dealt with. “Do you know where we’re going to pawn them off in?”

“Martin’s shouldn’t be too bad…” Jasper exhaled, audibly pleased with himself. “Man… can you believe we did that. It was crazy.”

“Yeah.”

The boys came to a stop at the loud grunting and mooing. Both of them dropped their mouths open when they eyes witnessed the proud brown bull rose its head high over the crowd by mounting the rear-end of one of the female cattle.

Jasper seized the opportunity to quip. “Atleast there’s no mystery which one’s the bull.” He grinned. “C’mon we should separate them, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anything about babies.”

Austen nodded agreeably, wading through, between the two monolithic walls of cows. To him it felt like the easiest way would be to crawl, but when he saw Jasper just following the wall of the barn, it was all so simple and figured himself stupid.

When Austen got there, Jasper was stroking the side of the bull that was now disengaged from its coupling while looking into the far corner of the barn. One of the nearby stable bays had caught his Jasper’s eye.

“Hey, you think this’d be fun?”

Austen turned to Jasper while trying to find a leash to lead the bull.

His face scrunched up in confusion looking at what Jasper was holding. “What is it?”

“It’s a saddle for cows. Them use it all kinds of rodeo stuff. And I used to love rodeoing all back in city.” Jasper snatched the lead and walked it out to the cool evening air, fastening the saddle to the bulky back muscles of the bull.

Pushing against the wall, he heaved himself up in to the saddle and readjusted himself so he now straddled the animal with a firm grip on the reigns. As he pulled at the reign, the bull’s head shook in dismay.

“That looks dangerous...” Austen dared to state.

“What are you talking about, it’s all fun.”

Jasper, at that moment, kicked his shoes into the underbelly of the bull. He kicked and he kicked, until it was whipped up in to a frenzy. Austen took cover behind the barn door as the bull began to rear up, kicking the air behind him. Jasper howled with laughter as the animal threw him back and forth. The dizziness became spellbinding as he could feel himself become weightless with every jerking movement. He was flying in ecstasy.

Until the ground came up to greet him. He couldn’t really remember what happened next, just pain, darkness and groaning. The dizziness hadn’t left him, but he was no longer moving. He saw with the last few moments of consciousness, the bull bolted, and Austen’s concerned face above him, shaking him.

To Austen, it felt like his heart was sinking to his shoes. His friend’s eyes were half-open, half-shut, like a half-filled pail of water. He could barely believe this was happening. He almost didn’t run over because he couldn't believe this was real. He was on his knees, dirtying his dungarees that were painstakingly cleaned. Austen rolled Jasper on to his back, bending his head down to listen to Jasper’s heartbeat. “Jasper!” He screamed.

Tears were beginning to gush out and pour into his mouth.

“Jasper!”

Finally, Austen could feel the blood seeping in to his jeans. A sharp shard of bone that had tore through Jasper’s flesh was now exposed. Austen checked Jasper’s eyes again, they were pure, milky white.

“Jassspagar.” His exclamation had become garbled with the snot and tears flowing in to his mouth.

Jasper’s irises retreated to look at his interior mind. Austen arose, scanning the surroundings wildly.

“Somebody help!”

Looking from above, Jasper’s body looked like he was resting. Like he was catching some sunlight, while imitating a skeleton hung by its shoulders. His arm was crooked in more places that it should have been, but the image of motionless serenity had begun its burning imprint into his mind.

“I’m not going to give up now.” Austen declared, bolting off around the barn. He slammed the barn door shut and rushed to the horses. Pulling the reins out of their tangle, he tugged it urgently to the side of the barn Jasper was on. With all of his might, he hooked his arms around Jasper’s midsection and lifted him up onto the hind of the horse, using some of the leash rope to fasten the limp body down. Clambering up on to the seat, he pressed the horse forward. Austen rode hard, determined to make it toward town, Jasper’s broken arm dangling freely behind him as the sunlight began to fade under the horizon.

Austen’s mother was still working when she heard the approach of hooves. She grabbed the nearest wall and prayed that it would not be a deputy looking for money before opening it gingerly. Her eyes widened to see her beautiful son with tears streaming down him with stains of blood on his lower half.

She lowered herself to his level and embraced him. “God, what happened? Are you okay? Where did you get that horse?” A million and one questions came to her mind, as she stroked the back of his head, but urgency took over once she saw the contorted boy’s body arched over the rump of the deputy’s horse.

“Jasper…. He’s hurt.” It was all Austen could spit out without breaking up in to a mess.

His mother arose and rapidly took in Jasper, laying him down on the family bed.

Austen could only watch as his mother did everything that was necessary, from lighting incense to drawing water. But he felt incapable, weakness began to sap him and the boy slid down on to the floor. It had shocked him, shocked him to the bone.



***


Seeing the grimey corpse of the other deputy fixed to the crude crucifix made Silverston pale. His insides churned like butter. He couldn’t stop tears falling down his face. Silverston hated that he had been right. He disdained Orrey, but he never thought that he deserved this. “I can't fix this...” Sombrely, made his way back to the station.

Coming against the entryway to the station, he pressed against the door before opening it. “I can't fix this.” He murmured.

A civilian with dark skin was smoking next to the main counter. “Finally.” He seemed to be impatient to leave.

Gretchen hobbled her way up to the station, “Deputy, deputy!”

When Silverston saw her, he let out a long exasperated release of air. “What is it, Ms. Bailey?”

“I was right!” She marched forward. “Industrial Espionage! All my cattle, gone! What are you going to do about it?” She poked her walking stick toward him. The other man in the room simply watched with widened eyes.

Silverston’s mind was absent. All he could hear was the dull roar of complaint. He couldn’t imagine telling Orrey’s parents - if he didn’t, who would? When he had spoke to the Sheriff, the minute he suggested more deputies here in the village, the sheriff had recoiled, citing funding and bureaucracy. It was all garbage. Were they officers of justice? Did they actually care about protecting people? Could he justify saying they protect the people, or had he spent his life on a false sense of security?

“I can't fix it.” Silverston gripped the countertop and pressed the tips of his thumbs into the pliable wood that bent under his frustrations. Those were not Natives, not the ones he knew. He had never seen his people punish someone so severely. It could have been some other clan, but something about the whole camp stank of thugs. But thugs with that much conviction? What brought Orrey down so harshly? He had to know. He had to.

He looked around with blurry vision. One thing was certain, he wasn't going to find any closure sitting around here.

Only then did Gretchen’s voice surface again, but Silverston had enough of her pestering. He could barely restrain himself.
Silverston exploded, “Your report practically killed Deputy Orrey! We’re not going to do your busy work anymore, no one is. You need to learn to deal with some stuff yourself.” He paused, his eyes analysing the increasingly curling lip of Gretchen Bailey. He slipped the files on the desk in to the draws while sighing and announced. “Look, I’m sorry, but it’s true, I can’t help you now..”

Solemnly, Silverston grabbed his badge and tore it off with fabric behind it and all. He took long breaths, contemplating his pulsing heart rate. The star made of tin tumbled down on to the floor and clattered in to the corner. Marching out of the office, his head was filled with so many thoughts. What was the point of being a deputy if there was nothing they couldn’t enforce the law? Had all his effort so far been worthless? Could he be simply cut down and displayed like a flag?

As the light was draining from the world, Silverston drew his jacket tighter, as so to close the gap caused by his apostasy. Looking ahead, a tiny glimmer of rays danced joyfully through the windows of an old saloon, bathing the alleyway between the two buildings awash in an unwanted spotlight. A team of two was working out of this area, the first was putting up posters. The other simply caught the light shining in behind him. Shayne Jacobs turned to the oncomer and grinned. “Lookin’ for work?”



The bystander was laughing at the whole bizarre spectacle, which awoke Gretchen, who had been strangling the horse whip in her hands. “Did I hear that right?”

“What?” The ice cold monopolist shot back, apparently marking him as irrelevant.
“Orrey, the psyducker whose been hassling me all these years? Bastard deserved to die, in my humble opinion.

Mrs Bailey spoke with a side-eye toward “I don’t know about that, but I came here for a tough response. I always expected that from Mister Orrey.”

“Yeah, actually, the people who killed him must have been powerful.

Hey do you know who killed him?”

“Sounds like them squatters at the end of my land, but they’re the least of my problems. Rustler’s and thieves pinched my cattle!”

“If they’re an enemy of people like Orrey, they’re a friend of mine,
“Well, I’ll be seeing you.” With a grin, the bystander began to walk with purpose toward Anima’s camp as the sun began to set

Gretchen huffed and looked at the grim walls of the Deputy’s office. And then an idea struck her as she pressed down the curls in the rotting wallpaper. She didn’t need a Deputy, they would never have the guts to find those damned thieves. She needed something bigger, something better. Someone she could employ herself.


***


Austen opened the door, grimacing as his eyes were drawn to Jasper laying motionless on the bed. He tried to look away but he didn’t have enough willpower. It was like a pit had been carved out of his chest, but it demanded his attention. It demanded his imagination of what it would be like to hit the floor, what it would be like to jump. Whether God would take his soul or he would just be swallowed by the darkness.

Painfully, his mother smiled at him. “Thank you.” She wafted over and silently took the pail of water out of his greasy hands. Austen didn’t even take his eyes off him.

“Will he be alright?” He could help but feel Jasper jabbing at his vulnerability, as if standing by him in ghost form.

“Well, I’ve done everything I know how to do, but the wound don’t seem to be getting better.” She admitted.

“No… no no, no. Is there anything I can do to help?”

Austen came to the edge of the bed, digging in his nails into the hay.

“Awwwh,” She cupped the cheeks of her son. “I’m sorry. We just can’t afford the kind of medicine he needs.”

Austen’s eyes opened wide. He had the power. He could save Jasper! His mind raced through the possibilities, now that he had so much means.

“What if I did?”

“What?”

“I’ve been saving up from my chores and I might have enough.”

His mother almost laughed from surprise. “Is Dennis really paying you that well?”

Austen looked directly in her eyes, trying to almost telepathically convince her it was true. He nodded.

“Well, I guess you can try, I’ll have a look if it’s enough. Go get it.” She almost took a moment to smile, but she raised her eyebrow as her boy scampered out the door instead.

Austen ran, ran deep into the night, the sun had just disappeared under the horizon and the desert chill invaded the whole area, washing it in a stark blue. He could feel the cold making his bones shiver and goosebumps cover his entire body. It was only when he made it inside the old barn did his body start to soften again. Still shivering, He quickly crawled through the many cattle crammed into the small area until he found the bull. He didn’t like the bull anymore, not since it hurt Jasper, but considering what Jasper was saying how that bull alone could made them rich, he felt it was the only choice. Austen tied the bull to a long rope that he hooked on to the horse that was still at the barn and kicked it into a gallop, hoping the bull would follow along

Breathlessly, he pulled up beside the old market man’s house and jumped down. Rapping at his door. There was no answer. He banged on it harder and continuously, until the old man hobbled to the front door and opened it a crack.

“What do you want, do you know what the time is?”

“Please sir, this bull…” Austen looked back at the bull. He was about to explain the situation. But something Jasper said rang in his head. He returned to stare directly into the old man’s stern eyes. “This bull is the best bull you will buy in the whole south. Strong breeding, strong muscles, fast too, I just pulled it all the way here from out of town. But it’s only being sold for a short time. Are you willing to buy it?”

“You’re Julianne’s boy, aren’t you.”

Under his breath, Austen exclaimed ‘Muk!’ before standing up straighter and pushing down a stray strand of his hair. “I mean yessir.”

The old man closed the door. Austen’s gaze dropped to the ground

After a series of clunking, the man reappeared in the open threshold.

“You woke me up at this ungodly hour, to sell a bull?”

“Well, this offer won’t be available tomorrow.”

“Hmm.” The man pulled together his coat halves and brushed past the boy to inspect the bull, poking and prodding it.

“This is a fine beast. Who got it for you?”

Austen squinted one eye due to the light that shone around the man’s head. “An old friend.”

“I’m not sure…” He stroked his gaunt beard.

Maybe Jasper’s tactics weren’t working, perhaps the man wouldn’t buy the bull and Jasper would… would… His face began to scrunch up and redden. “Please, sir, I’m selling it for my mother… so she can....” Tears began to pour down his face.

“Alright, alright, kid. Put it in that stable there and I’ll get your money.”

Austen straightened up immediately wiping his eyes on his arm. “You will?”

The man disappeared for a few moments and came back. “Two thousand dollars do you?”

“What really?” Austen was awed as the money was placed into his hand.

“Yeah, it’s a pretty nice bull, and I won’t lie, I feel a little bad for you bud…”

He could barely hold all the money into his arms, that he had to stuff some into his waistband. Austen was so ecstatic that he instantly ran around in a circle with a big stupid grin on his face. “Thank you, mister!” Austen jumped on to his horse and rode back to his house, with his heart soaring.

Elated from his exploits, Austen got home fast. He was about to burst in to the door when he noticed the gun poking out from the saddle's knapsack along with all it’s ammunition. Quickly, looked inside of the house. His mother laid against the bed with her palm supporting her sleeping head. He stuffed the gun under his clothes and tiptoed inwards. Finally, he slipped it into Jasper’s suitcase. Scrounging around his person, he accumulated the two thousand dollars in to both of his hand and he nudged his mother awake.

“Uh?”

“Ma.”

“Mhmmhumuh?”

“It’s here, it’s the money.” Austen flashed it before her, her eyes opened widely.

“The hell? Where did you get this kind of money. Don’t tell me it was theft. No, tell me!” She got up, her apron now made a off-white road up to her towering stature over the child. “Was it theft? Do I need to go and give this back?”

“It was honest work, swear!” Austen peddled back with his hands across the floor, his forehead poured with sweat.

“What is it, a loan?”

“No, Me and Jasper, we’ve been doing odd jobs, Dennis is generous.” He couldn’t bear the anger in his mother’s eyes. He held up his dirty hand to the sky and planted the other on his chest. “On my life!”

“Right, and if I get talking to Dennis tomorrow mornin’, he’s not going to give a story of you stealing?”

“I tell you, it was legit. Listen, mum, now we’ve got the money, you can buy that medicine he needs. Isn’t it worth saving his life?” Austen’s throat caught as he tried to express himself. His eyes felt dammed up with the pressure of the tears behind them.

She sighed. “Fine, I’ll go out tommorrow, get the medicine, contact Dennis. But if you’re telling fibs, you’re going to be put to work with me here. I let you off with too much already and my hands are down to the bone.”

“Okay…” It worked, but Austen still felt terrible.

Seeing her son on the verge of tears, she came over and crouched down in front of him. “You know, the reason why I am doing this?”

The boy looked away. Julianne swept the boy’s long curly hair away from his face and then brought her hand down to stroke his cheek.. “If we get involved with other people’s money, they’ll want it back." She brought him closer. "I’m working as hard as I can, and if everything goes well, we should be able to eat soon. Hmm? You understand…” He was still abstaining from looking her in the eye, her gaze drifted to the ground. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek and then stood up and began to prepare for bed.



***


The next day was a market day for the old man. He awoke as he did customarily in the early morning to ready the livestock for show. He may of paid a little higher than usual for the bull, but he couldn’t stand it when a kid cried. He hadn’t lied either, the bull looked like prime stock, somewhat resembling another bull he had handled recently, but he couldn’t imagine the bull Gretchen fought tooth and nail for having fell in to the hands of just a kid in rags. She was way too rapacious.

The old man was scratching his head when a fierce bang rattled the door. While approaching, he could hear the bass tones of chitter-chatter happening beyond the door.

“Quick one… we get the info, get it back, the old lady’s happy and Anima will reject the other gang once and for all. Should be simple.”

The old man opened the door. “What’s it?” His eyes fell upon a large bulky silhouette alongside a woman with a gun strapped to her waist.

“Hi there, we’re canvassing the area for the church of…”

The large and imposing figure jabbed his elbow into the side of her.

“Ow. Hey! You never let me make the introduction funny!”

“We’ve got work to do.” He rested his head on the oversized baseball bat that sat on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, who are you?” The old man rubbed his eye.

“I’m Gwendolen and this is The Brute,” She gestured to them both as if they had just trotted out on stage.

“The Brute…?” The old man sounded unamused.

“I know, it sounds dramatic, but he’s really sweet if you get to know him.” Seeing that her platitudes did nothing for the old guy, she got on to the point. “We’re here about a herd that got rustled. Our patron, Mrs Margareta Bailey, is pleading for information. She can’t visit everyone herself, so we’re helping out.”

“Right.”

“So since you’re the marketeer around here. Has anyone… tried to sell you anything?” She edged her left side closer to him, as if in exchange of private information.

“I don’t know what you’re insinuating. I’m just a businessman.”

“Yes, but even businessmen can get misled by crooks.”

“Usually are the crooks.” The Brute huffed.

“Look, I don’t know anything.”

The old man tried to close the door but Gwendolen jammed her foot between the threshold and the door.

Despite his full pressure to close the door, The Brute managed to push the door open, now towering over the old man. “I don’t believe you.” He thundered.

Practically forcing him to fumble on to the floor, the old man yielded. “Listen, hear me out, maybe over a cup of tea? I’ll tell you anything you want.”

Gwendolen smiled and looked up at The Brute. “I didn’t even need to draw my gun.”

“I want the info, now.” The Brute put on an ugly smile. “And it betta be accurate or you’re gonna feel my whole wrath.”

The man’s left side of his face was blue and dented in several places before he yielded. “It was a poor kid selling it for his mother. Julianne McConnelly, from the Gretchen’s Farms. Take it, take the bull I don’t care anymore”





Out of the early morning darkness, many flames converged on the shanty town, highlighted by the absence of light on the west side of sky, while the sun pinkened the opposite. From hut to hut, they harassed each worker untill gaining the information of where Julianne McConnelly slept.

Peering out of the window out in to the grave morning, Austen could only percieve the bouquets of flames they rose as they approached. That night, he had found the attic floor too uncomfortable to get any worthwhile sleep. The corners of Jasper's suitcase dug in to him no matter in what position he laid. Instead, his eyes were caught by the glorious field of stars outside his porthole-window. As the morning came and the stars had drifted along the sky, the new flickering embers closer to the ground caught his eye. He could feel his heart sink, he was trembling. Immediately, he scrambled down the stairs from the attic and began to shake his mother.

“Huh?”

“Ma, they’re coming!”

“What?”

“The fire monsters!”

“There’s no such thing as monsters.”

As she uttered those words, three loud bangs reverberated through the space, Mrs McConnelly scrambled to her feet. Pressing down her apron and pushing a curl behind her ear, she transfixed a passivising smile on to her face and clipped up her hair. While she was taking a deep breath, the three knocks thundered again. Julianne’s hands began to shake. Everything seemed so sharply focused, yet nauseatingly distant. She felt off-balance, but ignoring the banging was just not an option. She stepped forward and grasped the door knob. Sheepishly, she pulled it open.

The Brute appeared, his frame expanding to fill up almost the entire door way, with his club slung over his shoulder, “Now, now, now… Will you do me the favour of telling me what you’re named?”

Mrs McConnelly whitened and gave him a wide berth. She slipped her hands behind her back to pick up the fire poker from beside the bed. “Austen, go upstairs.”

Austen backed up until his back was pressing against the wall. He gripped tightly on to the nearest item, a stack of empty pails on a tall frame of shelves.

“Now, now that isn’t very civil is it?” The giant groaned.

Julianne thrust it forward, putting the iron between the monster and Jasper. “I don’t have any time for civility. What do you want?”

From behind the oaf, a woman slid out of his silhouette and took out her firearm from her holster “Julianne McConnelly?”

“How do you know my name?” Her voice quivered.

“We just want to talk.” Gwendolen’s voice didn’t even sound sincere.

Julianne couldn’t believe her, not even for a minute. “We could talk without guns.”

Gwendolen simply shook her head.

The brute bellowed, “Where’s the cattle, princess?”

“What?”

“The cattle.” Gwendolen repeated.

“What cattle?”

“You know if you play this game, you’re going to get shot.” Gwendolen began to spin around the firearm around her finger placed inside the trigger guard.

“I thinks she thinks this’ll end in violence.” The Brute suggested.

Julianne’s eyes darted between the two of them. “I’ll tell you anything you want, but you better not hurt anyone!”

“The cattle you stole from our patron, Mrs. Bailey.”

“Why would I steal from Mrs. Bailey? She employs me, I’d be out of the job.”

“We don’t care how you did it. Just cough up.” Gwendolen now cupped her gun with both hands, steadying her aim.

“No!” Austen yelled as he stepped forward. He couldn't let them hurt Mum.

“What’s this one?” The Brute shot his glance to the child across the room from him.

“Talk to me, Austen is innocent in this.”

Hearing that from his mother, Austen’s chest tightened up. This was all his fault. If he hadn’t been there, Jasper would’ve never stolen the livestock. If he had stopped Jasper, he wouldn't have been hurt. If this all just didn't happen, Austen wouldn’t have lead these monsters to his door. If he had just been able to guard himself from Jasper’s attractive ideas, he would have never committed the crimes he did.

The boy started to bawl. “I’m sorry, mum.”

“This isn’t your fault.” Julianne couldn’t risk peeling her eyes off from the intruders to comfort him.

Gwendolen barked orders with the barrel of her gun, making Julianne move against the left side wall.

“I told you, whatever cattle you got missing, its nothing to do with us.”

“Liar.” Gwendolen spoke as if the word tasted as sweet as honey.

“I’m sorry, mum.” It was at that moment it realisation clicked in her head at what her son was trying to say. She wished she could say it out loud that she wished he hadn't, but still loved him. Unfortunately, it was far too dangerous right now.

She darted her vision over to Austen, so much so that all Gwendolen could see was the red bloodshot tendrils. “Okay…” She paused. “Don’t worry, you don’t need to talk to these people.”

With his club still heavy in his iron grip, The Brute crossed his arms and then moved his lurid leer toward the boy. “Well, aren’t you the pretty one?”

“No! Don’t you psyducking-”

Austen had never heard his mother swear before. She was already charging, swinging her bar of iron in an attempt to stop the oversized creature, but Gwendolen took that moment to rush forward and lunge her whole body at Julianne. Austen was horrified as his mother and the bandit clattered to the ground. But soon an even bigger threat consumed his entire vision, his wide meaty arms encircling the boy.

Gwendolen was the first to sit up, pressing her whole weight to keep Julianne down.

“No, you don't! You psyducking monster.” Julianne was wriggling underneath Gwendolen’s legs, trying to escape.

In response, Gwendolen forced the nozzle of her gun into the side of Julianne’s head and pinned her face to the dirt floor.

Julianne could feel the hot iron ring make grooves in her skin. But The Brute was still encroaching on her son, she had to do something. Opening her mouth, she made an ear piercing scream.

The Brute held up his left hand to his ear for a moment. “Take her outside and teach her a lesson. She’s ruining my appetite.”

At that moment, Gwendolen spun the gun around and used the butt of the pistol to bash into her temples, leaving a nasty bruise. “There you go.” Gwendolen chirped like a cashier and began to tie the unconscious woman together with rope.

Austen’s heart quivered as he looked up at The Brute. His mother had looked terrified, he'd never seen her that scared or adamant. He glanced over to the boy feverish on the bed. Wasn’t Jasper always saying adults were stupid and pathetic? Why did Jasper always get to be the badass? Why did he get the short end of the stick? He could save Jasper, and Jasper would like him forever and they’d carry on just like the good old days. Shouldn’t he have a moment to shine? WIth all these thoughts racing in his head, Austen gulped down a pocket of fear. “I’m not scared of you!” Austen could hardly believe his own words.

“You will be.” The Brute reached down with his large hands and hooked under Austen’s armpits and began to lift him from the ground. Austen wriggled, making himself as hard to carry as possible. Thanks to these efforts, he slipped down onto the ground, landing on his behind.

Gwendolen grinned and slung the unconscious woman over her shoulder and slowly sauntered out of the front door. “Have fun!”

The Brute made a chortling roar, exclaiming, “Oh, I love it when they fight.” As he leaned forward and became the entire sky, Austen scrambled backwards against the wall. Gripping the wall and corner pole of the shelves for stability, he kicked the brute with all his might.
For the man, it simply tickled. Unable to hold back an ugly grin, The Brute crawled forward, seizing Austen’s legs as they peddled towards him. With meaty fingers, The Brute tore the jeans from Austen’s body. Austen’s heart pumped as fast as a train. Austen’s skin began to crawl with fear. He reached wildly behind himself for any purchase that would promise safety. But the monster’s vice-like grip clamped around his waist did not yield. It was hurting his insides.

“No! No! No!” He screamed in terror.

But as Austen scrambled for some kind of help, he hit upon something that he could feel something that could give. An iron column. Austen glanced upwards towards his mother’s metallic shelving unit. It was a chance at freedom. With all his might, he gripped as hard as he could high up on the pole and pulled. Simultaneously with The Brute dragging Austen under, the shelves tipped forward, gaining the momentum to come crashing down.


THUD.


The Brute crumpled first, releasing the vice like grip and Austen slipped away as fast as he could, his foot barely squishing through. Austen scrambled up the ladder to the attic where he and Jasper used to play. His pulse still pounded through his ears. He could feel his chest rise and fall like a piston. He took a quick glance through the small round window at the people spread out around the desert slums. He had to leave, there would be no choice.

The Brute groaned from all the weight above him. He rolled his eyes around to get his bearings but still couldn’t really make out anything. He tried to push his body in to an upright position, but it simply failed. It was not until he craned his neck upwards did he see the boy. Austen had descended again, but now stood above his attacker. With his bare foot pressing down on to the fallen shelves, Austen had donned a brief triumphant smirk.

“Don’t even psyducking move.” The threat, surprisingly, came from the boy, glaring at The Brute’s movement. It was only at this moment did the Brute figure out what the long silver and bronze barrel was clutched delicately in Austen’s hand.

Austen pushed the rifle tip against the sweaty bald head of The Brute. “My mum! You took her! She was going to make Jasper well again. And you psyducking took her!” The boy screamed at the top of his lungs, he was now on the verge of tears. “I guess you’ve killed him now too.” The thought made him shudder, his eyes drifted toward Jasper. Jasper was dying, and his mother was gone. All because of this Brute. His anger was only amplified with each new imagination of the future. “You’re going to die, like all the other thugs in this world. For the ones who bully Jasper, for the ones who bully me! For everyone whose ever been hurt. Except I’m not going to wait around!” Inside Austen, it was like a dam had broken. All the resentment he’d ever felt came gushing forth, and he wouldn’t bear it any longer.

“Listen, kid, you’re not going to-”

Austen’s finger pressured the curved trigger backwards and a shatteringly loud bang poured out in all directions. It reverberated through the walls and shook the ground. A puff of smoke plumed out of the end, for a brief moment obscuring the bloody mess that was The Brute’s cranium. The recoil made the firearm slip through Austen’s fingers and drop on to the floor. With the sudden sight of the blood and mess, He could barely hold it in, Austen’s stomach heaved out bile into a pool next to the newly made corpse.

The loud noise made the weak Jasper open his eyes and writhe around, left and right, trying to find the cause of the noise. Austen assembled himself and quickly clambered over the fallen shelves. He came up close to Jasper and knelt by the bed.

“What…?” Jasper sounded almost alive again.

“Come on, we have to get going.”

“Hmmmh.” Jasper groaned, his skin was almost too hot to touch. Austen tugged on his arm anyway, seeing Jasper would slip and bash his head, he paused and got closer, clutching his arms around Jasper’s chest and managing to drag him on to the floor. Austen could see this was not going fast, he had to pause to catch his breath. All this exertion made the pit in his stomach feel deeper. Sitting on the floor, he glanced toward the increasingly red and brown window. The fires... Had they began torch the entire village? Austen thoughts and increasing speculation fueled his urgency. Austen rushed to the nearest coil of rope he could find and tied it around Austen’s body, like he was hitching a horse. With several desperate efforts of pulling on the rope, he managed to drag Jasper out the side door and out into the desert, where the encroaching sun was rapidly warming the sands. Austen dared glimpse backwards. It only confirmed his fears. The entire village had been set ablaze, every shanty hut had a thug beside it. He saw a man beating the crap out of someone on the ground, who was sobbing and shouting that they didn’t know anything.

Austen wanted to interrupt, tell them to stop, to tell them that no one knew where it was except him and Jasper.

But that honesty would probably only bring them pain. Austen concluded

He could see no sign of the deputy’s horse anywhere, the hitching post had loosened out of the ground it had been staked in to. But he did find some of the oak boards his mother had been working with, which Austen, with a few tries tied his rope on to and fastened Jasper’s body on to.

What followed was a long slow slog in to the desert toward the barn where Jasper’s prize horse was.

The sun intensified over the course of the day, Austen’s makeshift sled made grooves in the sand as they cut through it.

Looking up at the midday sun, Austen fell to his knees with heavy panting. He was on the verge of gasping for breath. He couldn’t stop the sweat pouring down his forehead and crystallizing his vision into bizarre distorted segments. The only thing that brought him out of his own personal bubble, was Jasper’s weak groan. Austen clambered on all fours toward the sound, the sand shifting underneath him.

“Yes?”

“W…” Jasper seemed to be putting in extra effort. “W..wwater…”

“I don’t have any drink, but we’re going to get to the barn soon, alright?”

“Wa..water…”

Austen shook his head, he couldn’t stop now, not while Jasper was depending on him. Austen stood up again and pulled forward against all the wills of his body to stop.

Shortly, the silhouette of the barn came into view. The place where Jasper had first hurt himself. Austen began to let his self-doubts bubble up again, perhaps had he been firmer, had he stopped him, Jasper wouldn’t be hurt now. With his last mental energy, he pushed the thought out of his mind and came into the shadow of the structure. He ripped open the pack that they had left there in case they wanted to withdraw from the world. Austen violently uncorked the stolen wine bottle and poured it down his own throat. The liquid was like pure honey to his parched palate.

Austen smiled broadly. They had made it.

Austen turned on his knees and shook Jasper’s shoulder and offered the wine bottle to his friend. Jasper didn’t take to it. In fact, even when Austen poured it into Jasper’s mouth. The boy didn’t even cough when it dribbled out of the corners of his mouth. Austen couldn’t hear any sound but the shuffling of hooves inside the large barn behind him. Jasper’s body was now a breathless edifice. Empty of all life.

Austen couldn’t remember crying more in his entire life. He had bayed into the empty sky, as if the massive expulsion of sound and grief would reanimate him through pure willpower. Austen never really cried like that again either. Something left him that day in the flow of tears that he would be surprised if he found again.

He felt more lifeless than the corpse in front of him. Helplessness overwhelmed him, he simply cried out in to the void for his mother. Hearing nothing back, shook him to his core. For the first time in his life, he was completely alone. What would have been happy playing turned in to sombre pacing. Walking the circuit of the barn, kicking bits of stray bricks and charcoal that had fell out of the store. His mind raced with ways to stop the rising suffocating tide inside of him. He had began to reenact the last few days, crawling underneath the cattle, up until the current cattle’s trough, from which he dunked his head in to. Running away around the same four walls of the barn, climbing as high as he could, sliding down would have been scary if he had been thinking about it, but he wasn’t. He kept on checking his gun, cleaning out the barrel every twenty minutes, checking how empty the bullet loader was. Pulling the lever out, pressing it to its greeted extent, pumping it toward the stock in quick succession. He aimed it at bricks he had stood up on end, pretending, with imitation sounds from his mouth that he had blown the brick to smithereens.

He imagined that moment of glee he had, the moment he ended the life of that ugly monster. His last moment of joy, a vindication of all the oppression he had felt his entire memorable life. Those bullies needed to pay, he concluded as he loaded a new bullet in to the rifle from the ammunition Jasper had stolen. First he tried that triumphant pose again, one handed, how he killed The Brute. It still recoiled out of his hand, sending a bullet out in to the sky. One bullet wasted. Then he held it with both hands. This shot hit the nearby vicinity but was nowhere near on target. One thing was clear to Austen, he had to get better at using that rifle.

He pulled aside the door in to the barn and looked over the cattlepen, contemplating how much the herd would go for.

***
“Get it done.”

“Sure thing.” Silverston nodded his head before splitting off.

The Hunter, Jacobs continued his steady march through the corridor followed by two other gunmen. Their posse was slowly growing but Waltham’s men had yet to turn up at their door. Getting a connection with his older contacts was no mean feat when he had pissed off most of them. But considering what was at stake, a religious theocracy and thousands of potential lost bounties. He hoped to appeal to the better nature of the people he once knew, knowing that they’d always fight hard to keep authority low in the area. A few had came on board, but a lot hadn’t, it meant he would have to rely more and more on fresh blood. “How are we doing on posters, Roach?”

“Fine, err.. Yes, no skirimishes out there yet.” Roach spoke in tones of varying tenacity, with a rattish propensity to teeter between incoherent mumbling and lucid outbursts. All while inexplicably fiddling with his fingers.

The Hunter shot him a side eye glance as they continued forward. Roach always seemed odd but he had never let him down yet. Quirks seemed to come second to performance, despite how totalising his quirks seemed to be.

“That sounds like a but.”

“Well… mmnmnm… yes, a but. But I came across this fellow.” Roach always looked up at the Hunter from his permanently hunched posture.

“Dead or friendly?”

“Oh, friendly, yes, yes.”

“So?”

“Well, yes, he offered to help us kill...m.nmm… the demons, and even to offer the service of his guards.”

“His guards? You turned down multiple freshies? Do you know how difficult it is out there?” The hunter, Jacobs held out his hands in front of him to gesture to ‘out there’

“Oh… no.. no.. nothing like that. Graaghggrrr.” Roach got distracted by his own hands, tugging at one finger with his teeth so as too inexplicably untangle his hands.

“Roach!”

“Mmmhmh...rr! They asked for training, they want to fight, themself.”

“So…? If they’re that committed, it should be easy.” Shayne tried to keep down his excitement at the potential of lowering the amount of guns they had to hire. The best soldiers fought for free, he grinned.

“Mymmhm… yes, and flush with cash.”

“What’s the problem then?” The Hunter groaned.

“Well… mmmnmn…. They’re here, then.” The motion of the people in the discussion rolled to a halt as Roach clambered down the step to reach the doorknob.

The wall was unseamed by the opening door revealing the curly-haired child adorned in a velvet coat, split diagonally by a rifle strap. To either side a henchmen. One bald and thuggish, the other thin and nimble with her rifle brandishing toward open desert, seemingly suspicious of any movement on the horizon.

Austen shifted his gaze upwards and locked eyes with Jacobs. “Hello, sir, I’d like to work with you.”

Shayne took an intake of breath and glanced between everyone present before finally settling on the shadow of the three people at the door.


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gimmepie

Age 26
Male
Australia
Seen 20 Minutes Ago
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9.5 Years
Jessica Wilcox
The Siege Begins

As the desert air began to cool with the setting of the sun, the band of riders made haste towards the towering stone walls of Ironhaven ahead. At the forefront of the small army, Jessica Wilcox was steeling herself for what was to come. She may have been labelled a “Big Bad,” but she didn’t enjoy violence.

Still, she would do what needed to be done.

Another woman rode up alongside her, Bonnie Cassidy, her fellow Big Bad and a woman who she did not particularly like. Cassidy enjoyed the hunt, she enjoyed putting a bullet between someone’s eyes. Jessica could tell it wasn’t pure evil, she didn’t crave death, but she didn’t operate within what she would consider normal human morality. She was being promised a lot in exchange for joining their cause.

“Wilcox!” the sniper called over the sounds of galloping horses, “It’s about time for my group to split off.”

“Go,” Jessica gave the order. It might have seemed folly to send the non-magical combatant off all but alone, but she could personally vouch for Cassidy’s skill. She didn’t need magic to be deadly, and she operated best when she could be stealthy.

“I wasn’t asking permission. I was informing you.” Cassidy split off from the main group, taking ten more riders with her. That left Jessica herself with a contingent of forty. It wasn’t much of an army, all things considered, but that didn’t matter with her at the front.

“Get ready, we’ll be in range soon!” She called out to the troops behind her. The plan was simple. She would blow the city’s gate open and they would ride in, attracting Buzzard’s attention and allowing Cassidy’s retinue to slip in through another entrance. What happened next would depend on Buzzard, but she suspected he would remain hidden until he was forced out.

The city wall grew larger and larger in Jessica’s field of vision. She felt her heart hammering. Not from exhilaration, nor from fear for her own safety. There was nobody in the south that could easily defeat her. She felt anxiety for the guards on the wall and the people beyond, innocent or otherwise. She had never taken a life, but with every mission she undertook, it became more likely her hands would be stained by blood.

Jed had always mocked her for her unwillingness to kill. Rieve had taken the road of the assassin, believing her mother’s pacifism to be her weakness. Even her mother had warned her that by walking the path she had chosen, it was inevitable that she would be responsible for someone’s death. She supposed her mother had been right in the end, it seemed unlikely she could take Ironhaven without taking a life. That was why she steeled herself though, because she had committed to doing what was necessary to bring Jeimas under Jedediah’s control and free the south from the oppression of the north.

She felt her magic rising up within her as they closed on Ironhaven, she heard the shouts of alarm from the guards on the wall as they realised who it was approaching them. The air in front of her condensed at then rushed forward as she unleashed her Elemental Surge.

The heavy metal gate exploded inwards, flying out of the wall and taking chunks of stone with it. The revolutionary siege on Ironhaven had begun.

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gimmepie

Age 26
Male
Australia
Seen 20 Minutes Ago
Posted 8 Hours Ago
23,497 posts
9.5 Years
Alex Rose
Homeward Bound

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Elias asked Alex for what felt like the millionth time.

“No,” Alex replied, “But I’m going anyway. You don’t have to come.”

“The hell I don’t!” It’s been barely more than a day since you had a psyducking meltdown.”

The two men were just leaving Spider’s Hollow once more, having cashed in their bounty. Now they were making their way to Fairbell. Back to Alex’s home.

Alex had wrestled with the idea for the majority of the previous day, but had come to the conclusion that this was the only way. The only method he could think of for sorting out the mess in his head was to go back to where it had all started.

His parents had warned him about the bloodsoaked path he had chosen to walk, now he was forced to acknowledge that they may have been right. What he did for a living wasn’t good for the world and it wasn’t good for him.

That Elias had decided on his own that he was coming along… that had not been part of the plan. He hadn’t physically seen his parents in over a year and he wasn’t fond of Elias encroaching on what was already liable to be an uncomfortable reunion.

He had to admit though, a part of him was actually glad for the company. He spent most of his time alone. He hadn’t really had any friends and he typically avoided working with other bounty hunters so he didn’t have to split the profit… or lesson the thrill of the hunt. Having Elias perpetually around was irritating in a lot of ways, but it was refreshing.

“Just stay out of the way when we get there.” Alex sighed, kicking his heels lighty into his horse and nudging it into a brief trot.

“And miss the chance to meet the great Alex’s parents? Not likely,” Elias replied, picking up his pace from behind.

“I’m not above shooting you.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll be on my best behaviour. Psyduck.”

“That would be a first,” a third voice suddenly cut in.

Alex and Elias both whipped around, not having noticed the presence of a third person. At first glance, nobody else was there. Then the air rippled and shifted to reveal a bony old woman atop a black mare. Apparently, she had been invisible.

“Janet?” Alex blinked. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his boss actually leaving Spider’s Hollow. As best he could tell, she’d never had reason to.
Elias’ mouth was immediately shut tight. He had learned early on that Janet was not a woman to be trifled with, even in her old and crippled state. Yet it was plain to see he had questions he was burning to ask.

“Don’t look like you’ve seen a ghost, I’m not psyducking dead yet.” She then turned her stern glare to Elias. “And you, out with it. Your expression is pissing me off more than your questions will.”

“Um…” Elias started, earning him an even sharper glare from the woman, “Where are you going? Are you following us?”

“I don’t have any interest in going with you louts on your field trip. I have… family business to attend to.” Janet scoffed.

“Is it safe for you on your own?” Alex asked, earning a curious look from Janet.

“You hit your head or something? Even with my injuries and age handicapping me, I’m more than the average bandit could even dream of handling.”

“Why’d you stop to talk to us?” Alex asked.

“See, that’s more what I’d expect from you. Things are only getting crazier down here right now. I need every hunter under my employ to be at the top of their game. I stopped to tell you to get your muk sorted quickly and then come back. There’s a storm brewing and you need to be ready for it.

With those words, Janet and her horse faded from visibility again. She left without another word, not even leaving footprints behind.

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