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The Outlands



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Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:21 am
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soundofmind says...



Image


"Not all those who wander are lost." - J.R.R. Tolkien


Here, where the borders of the four kingdoms meet, and at the edges of the dead forests of the calamity, are the Outlands. Here is where the rejects, the outlaws, the outcasts, and the rebels make their home. These lands are overrun by criminals, the law being written by whichever mean face manages to amass enough allies for a time - but it's always short lived, as the climb to the top brings as many allies as enemies in a land full of people who answer to no one.

--<>--

We're here: and the five of us, we're all wanted. Each of us has posters issued of our sullen faces, plastered across the kingdoms with varying prices hanging over our heads. Each of us has a different story of what brought us here, and by the hand of fate, we all find ourselves caught by a group of ambitious bounty hunters who want to claim the price of all of our lives. And somehow, we have to survive.

--<>--

The Cast

The Brains: James @soundofmind

The Stealth: Brett @Wolfical

The Brawn: Ardeshir @Featherstone

The Heart: Adina @editorandperks as of Dec. 4, 2018 (Created by @wakarimasen)

The Informant: Rosaleen @sherlockhson

The Renegade: Kaia @Lael

Spoiler! :

Image
Left to right: Kaia, Brett, Ardeshir, Adina, Rosaleen, James

--<>--

Last edited by soundofmind on Sun Dec 29, 2019 12:45 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Mon Oct 16, 2017 4:42 am
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soundofmind says...



ROUND ONE
James / Tiberius Hemming


Light shone through the half-opened shutters of the musty tavern, revealing the specks of dust floating in the air within every ray of sunshine. The place was bustling with energy, as people from every walk of life entered - situating themselves at the bar, or at one of the many round tables arranged around the long room. At the booth along the back wall, a large, muscular man sat on the worn-out plush seats, sipping a pint and watching the crowds for the ones he'd call to meet him.

Out of the thick of the crowd, a lean, wiry figure appeared in front of the table - her staple plain white mask, with two red stripes stretching out of the corners of the eye slits, stared at Butch. Butch, the hefty man, with his square jaw and an underbite, smiled at the familiar mask.

"Always a pleasure to see you, Pitch," he greeted her, his voice cordial.

"I'm only here because I know you take our line of work seriously," Pitch spoke through her mask, her voice simultaneously threatening and alluring. "I can't say the same for-"

A cheery voice piped up from behind Pitch, as Cowell swung his arm over her shoulders. "Hey, if it isn't the best bowman in town! You're a legend, you know," Cowell crooned, only to have his hand plucked off her shoulder as if it were diseased.

"There's no need for flattery, Cowell," Butch reminded him. "This is a business arrangement, not a family gathering."

Cowell pursed his lips and shrugged, and both him and Pitch slid into the seats at the booth on opposite sides of the experienced bounty hunter. Butch pulled out a map, and unfolded it onto the table, revealing a map of the Outlands. Five areas were marked with red dots, and Butch watched as the other two bounty hunters leaned in and observed the map curiously.

"After much deliberation and careful research I've tracked down five different targets - my sources are keeping tabs and have informed me that they're in the locations marked. It is my intention to hunt them all down, but I have limited time and cannot do it alone. So I've gathered you here to make this proposal: that together, we bring them all in to face justice, and once receiving their collective bounties, we split the profits among us. 30/30/40."

Cowell and Pitch exchanged glances, and looked to Butch together.

"What're they worth altogether?" Cowell asked.

Butch, smart enough not to mutter such large figures in a public venue, scribbled the amount on the back of the map and flipped it around to show them. Cowell's eyes went wide, and a small grin grew on his face. As far as he could tell, Pitch was equally intrigued, though only so much could be inferred by looking at her mask and body language.

Butch unfolded another piece of paper with the names of the targets on them, pointing to the list. "Cowell, you will fetch Adina. I will retrieve Brett and Rosaleen. And Pitch, you will be getting Ardeshir and Tiberius."

Pitch groaned behind the mask. "Tiberius?" Though her eyes were shadowed, Butch could still clearly see her look of displeasure.

"You've gone after him before, I presume?" Butch asked, leaning back into his seat.

"Once. He's stubborn as hell," she muttered.

"Wait - hold on! Why are you sending me after just one little girl? And why the one with magic?!" Cowell asked, clearly offended. "I can handle any of these guys!"

Butch and Pitch both stared at him in disagreement and annoyance. Cowell opened his mouth to object once more, but then shut up under the power of their collective gaze.

"Would you rather take Rosaleen then? She should be relatively easy to subdue," Butch suggested, looking to Pitch.

Pitch was silent for a moment, before she shook her head. "No. I can handle the earworm."

Butch nodded. "Good. I split the targets based on location, not our skill," he adds, looking at Cowell with a slight sneer. "I also have arranged for three of my men to help each of you with delivering your catches to our arranged meeting place. I have my own location where we can store them in cells together before their collectors come."

Cowell raised his brows. "How long have you been doing this stuff, Butch?"

Butch scratched at one of his sideburns. "Longer than you, rookie. Now let's get the logistics out of the way. Any questions?"

--<>--

James leapt over a fallen log and ducked behind it, cursing. Arrows flew over his head, narrowly missing him as he rolled forward and sprung back up into a sprint. The branches of the trees and bushes scratched against his skin as he jumped into a thick patch of plants, in hopes of falling out of Pitch's line of sight.

He huddled in the shrubbery for a short moment, catching his breath, and looking out for the archer to be poised and pointing at him from a distance. But he could see nothing. A small part of him wanted to hope that she had finally grown tired of the several minutes' long sprint through the forest on foot, but he could not afford to assume something so dependant on chance. Staying low to the ground, he leapt out of the cover of the bushes and back into the open. With speed he didn't think he'd still be capable of after so much running, he sped off into the forest, jumping over rocks and tree roots.

Further off, Pitch had stationed herself in a tree, and finally caught sight of James's reddish brown ponytail bouncing on his head as he ran through the forest. With a small chuckle and a smirk, she steadied her bow and followed his zig-zagged path with her arrow. Taking in a deep breath, she focused on predicting his next move. This is just as much chance as it is skill, she hummed to herself. Focus...

James stumbled forward as he felt the arrow lodge in his back, but continued to let his feet and inertia carry him in his run. He winced, ducking behind a tree for a moment, expecting another arrow to come his way, but was surprised when none did. He got up, ready to lunge into another run, but suddenly felt a wave of something strange come over his body. I should've known. They're tipped with poison. Cursing, he tried to reach back around to pull the arrow out of his back, but by then, it was too late. He could feel his limbs falling limp and weak, and he fell to his knees. In fury, he attempted to will himself to get up, but it seemed even his determination could not help him overcome the poison already flowing through his veins.

He collapsed fully onto the ground, face on its side in the dirt, only catching a blurry glimpse of Pitch's shoes approaching him before he blacked out.

--<>--

"Where are we?" James heard a voice ask, as his head began to clear of the sleepy fog. He blinked his eyes open slowly, his vision still somewhat blurry as it adjusted to the new setting. He saw a large man being pushed into a cell, towards him - speaking words that only sounded like white noise. James, grunting, tried to push himself up, his belly on the ground, but he fell back down. He grunted again, looking over at their cell door with mild confusion before the alarming reality of his situation ripped him from his fog into full clarity. His eyes shot open.

The giant of a man was kneeled down next to him, offering a hand up. He couldn't have been much shorter than seven feet tall, and was very stocky and heavily built, a behemoth of a human.

"You alright?" he rumbled.

James's firey stare turned up to the giant of a man. Instead of replying, he fumbled with his arms and pushed himself up so he was sitting on his knees. "Who are you?" He asked, almost as if it were an accusation.

He smiled, the expression surprisingly warm despite his scarred face. "I'm Ardeshir, but ya can call me Ari!" He introduced himself, his voice thickly accented - he must've been from the Western Isles. "What're ya called?"

James's furrowed brows twitched, and he looked Ari up and down. "It doesn't matter what my name is. It seems we're both in the same situation."

He didn't seem to mind James's brusqueness, his smile still plastered on his face. "Well, it's a pleasure t' meet ya, no-name!" he grins.

James's frown seemed only to grow more extreme at the overwhelmingly friendly reply. Who the hell is this guy? What is he even wanted for? Is he even taking this seriously? Does he understand the severity of his situation? "...Yyyeah. Sure. Call me that."

Ardeshir's face fell as his scowl only deepened. "Sorry," he muttered, even though he wasn't even really sure what he did. He was being nice, right? Did he say something wrong? That was sad...he wanted to be friends.

James looked out of the cell, and attempted to push himself to his feet. His ankle gave out for a moment, but he caught himself, and got to his feet. As he stared out of the metal bars, he spoke up again, changing the subject entirely. "Do you know where we are?"

He shook his head. "Nah, sir, they knocked me out a way's back 'n when I woke up we were already almost 'ere."

James sighed, leaning his forehead against one of the metal bars. "...I'm sorry to ask this. But do you know why you're here?" He asked, desperately trying to grasp for some information, or any common denominator that would turn up useful.

"Aye, fer aidin' 'n abettin', I think is what they're sayin', but I can't read the poster, but really t'e ones I 'elped weren't all that bad at all, they'd just broken the law is all, they weren't real criminals 'r nothin'," he explained in one long run-on sentence.

James turned his head around slowly to look at Ari with a blank expression. "So you were brought in by a bounty hunter, then?"

"Yep siree!" he nodded. "Sure was, called 'erself Pitch, like this tall-" he held his hand up. "- w' a white mask 'n a hood 'n dark armour 'n all."

James's face scrunced up in slight repulsion at Ari's cheerful response - which in no way felt fitting for their situation. He looked down to the ground in thought. So she caught both of us. That's very ambitious of-

His stream of thought was interrupted when the creak of rusty door hinges was heard and voices were heard down the hall. The voice of a younger girl could be heard cursing profusedly, along with a voice James recognized - that of Butch - telling her to shut it.

"I swear, I'm gonna beat you senseless! You -" she yelled.

"That's enough!" Butch roared as he threw her into the cell across from the two men. As Rosaleen fell forward onto the dusty floor, Butch stormed off, Pitch meeting him by the door. And with that, the two dissapeared.

James and Ari watched the purple haired girl as she jumped up to her feet and turned around to face them through the barrier of their cell bars. "What are you two pea-brains looking at?"

"Oi, ya alright there, miss?" he asked, the massive man leaning against the bars.

"Oh yeah! I'm wonderful!" Rosaleen replied in a richly sarcastic tone as she walked to the nearest corner to lean on. "Thrown into a cell block with two strangers. Can't get much better can it?"

He ignored the sarcasm that practically dripped from her words. "Well, glad t' see yer alright then, miss."

James looked over at Ari with a raised brow, not sure if he was just dense or was just that determined to be friendly to everyone.

Rose looked over the two strangers before her, trying to size them up. One of them she was literally trying to size up. Just how tall was he? "How did they even manage to capture a giant like you?" She asked the biggest of the duo. "Couldn't you just fling them around like toys?"

He sighed, for once the smile on his face absent. "I woulda, but she was so nice, 'n then when she attacked me she was fast 'n I ain't quite speedy 'nuff, 'n she hit me w' somethin' and it knocked me out, 'n then I woke up here...but if I'd grabbed 'er I woulda won!"

"Hmph, that's why you don't trust the small and kind ones." Rosaleen shook her head and sighed before looking up to the other person in the cell, who'd been suspiciously quiet the whole time. "Plotting your escape are you, cowboy?"

James sneered, narrowing his eyes at her. "This isn't my first rodeo."

Ardeshir looked a bit uncomfortable with the exchange, disliking the tension in the room.

"Clearly." Rose returned his sneer with a smirk. "From the looks of you, you get captured quite often."

James furrowed his brows, deliberately holding himself back from revealing more anger on his face than he already was. He leaned back, and grabbed on to one of the cell bars, refusing to fight fire with fire.

"Oi, ain't no reason t' be nasty," the large man finally piped in. "We're all stuck in this together, if we wanna get out, workin' together's better 'n arguin', ain't it?"

James looks over at Ari, brows raised a bit, with the tension leaving his face by a fraction. Though he was still trying to come up with a plan of his own, he knew that if they combined forces their chances would be greatly increased. "...Yes," he replied in agreement.

Rosaleen let out a sigh. "I guess the giant is right... And I assume the giant has a name? And the cowboy?"

"I'm Ardeshir, but y'all can be callin' me Ari. This 'un ain't likin' t' give his name," he said, gesturing to James.

"Oh my, how cliche! A nameless cowboy! Why work together when he'll just do it all himself like the story book hero he is." Rose rubbed her forehead in frustration. "Just call me Rose. Rosaleen if you want a full name."

James glared at Rose. "I'm not a cowboy," he insisted, not sure why she started calling him that in the first place.

"Ya do kinda look like one," Ari admitted.

James turned to Ari with a look of incredulity and offense. Why this sudden betrayal?

"You should probably shave if you don't want the confusion," Rose remarked, staring directly at his facial hair. "Throw a hat on and you could pass as a sheriff if you wanted to."

James's eye twitched at her comment. He continually changed his hair for necessities's sake so that people would be less likely to recognize him. "Throw a hat on your own hair, maybe it'll be less of a dead giveaway."

"Guys..." the burly man tried again to get them to play nice.

"What?" James asked, looking at Ari, then back to Rosaleen. "I'm not a cowboy."

Rose grit her teeth and stared coldly at James. The bars of the cell made it impossible to throw something at him. After a moment she relaxed and returned to leaning in a corner. "This is going to be a wonderful partnership... You know, merchants from the Moonlight Kingdom are less stuck up about names than you."

Ardeshir sighs, leaning back against the corner, giving up on trying to get them to be civil.

James, about to speak, stopped when he felt something wet on his back. He looked confused for a moment, before he slowly moved his hand to his back.

"'Ey, ya alright there, no-name? Yer bleedin right nasty. 'ere," he takes off his shirt, revealing the massive muscles rippling beneath his rather scarred hide, tearing off the hem in a long strip.

James pulled his hand away from the spot on his back, seeing the red on his hands. "I... it's nothin- oh." He looked over to Ari, who'd already torn his shirt for bandaging.

"Can I be takin' a look at it? I learned me basic first aid, even if it ain't much more 'n that, it's better 'n nothin'."

James looked at Ari with half-lidded eyes. With a sigh, he nodded slightly. "Sure. Fine." He turned around, looking back at Ari through the corner of his eye. He lifted up the back of his shirt.

Ari pressed the fabric to the wound, frowning a bit - it was pretty deep, but it wasn't bleeding too quickly.

Suddenly, they heard the creak of doors opening down the hall once again. This time, Butch and Pitch are absent, and instead, another bounty hunter enters.

"Ok, can you like, maybe stop crying? Or just look less sad?" Cowell asks, as if the girl's crying was an inconvenience. "You're making me feel bad."

James and the others craned their necks to get a look at the new arrival. It was a young girl, her long brown hair all roughed up about her teary eyes.
Last edited by soundofmind on Sat Mar 28, 2020 10:39 am, edited 5 times in total.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.





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Thu Oct 19, 2017 6:57 am
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Wolfi says...



Brett Crawford


“’Scuse me, pardon me,” Brett whispered to the horses as he tiptoed between their quivering bodies, which weren’t much more than bags of bones with sticks for legs. It was a warm night and Brett felt sticky with sweat, but the scraggly beasts shivered and flicked their tails as if their blood was freezing. But it wasn’t the temperature - it was the flies, the skeeters, the gnats. Buzzing and biting. The poor beasts couldn’t sleep.

Brett pitied the horses, and he told them so as he slipped between their sorry ranks, but in the Outlands that was about as far as kindness to your fellow creatures would go - pity. He could give no more to these horses… but at least they could give something to him.

“Aha!” Brett said, a bit too loudly, causing one of the horses to flinch and stagger backwards. Brett calmed the horse, then crouched down and eyed the nearby campfire through the forest of skinny horse legs. He lingered there a while to make sure he hadn’t been noticed. He was so quiet that even through the din of buzzing insects, he could hear the snapping of the Crispi gang’s fire.

Finally, he turned around to face his prize, where a particularly dense cloud of flies and even a few aptly-named dung beetles were feasting. He plucked the beetles out and shooed some of the flies away, then scooped the stuff up and smacked it all over the front of his clothes without a moment’s hesitation.

“All in the name of stickers bars,” Brett said cheerily as he smeared it under his armpits.

With that, he departed from the herd, bringing with him an entourage of flies that he ignored. Once he was safely behind a thick tree, he leaned against it and took out his gun, twirling and clicking the cylinder, counting the six bullets. Once he was done, he patted the pouch at his waist and grinned. “You’re a brilliant man, Brett,” he said. “Funniest guy I’ve ever met.”

Teeth still flashing, he leapt from the cover of the trees and shot up in the air three times, then let out a couple of whoops for good measure. In an instant the horse herd was thundering off to the east, and Brett was sprinting south through the forest, angling toward the camp. Once he was close enough, he scaled a tree and hid in the darkened boughs.

He listened closely and heard the jingle of tack and spurs as the Crispi gang mounted their personal horses, which weren’t a part of the herd and had most likely been hobbled. He also heard the excited growls and yips of their dogs. In a minute, the sounds had faded away and Brett could just barely catch the moon-traced figures of the riders and the dogs as they dashed east.

Brett climbed down and checked which way the wind was blowing; it was almost entirely still. He would have to depend on his camouflage of scent to see this through.

--<>--

The big old Crispi dog was chained to the same tree from which the sticker bars were hanging in a burlap sack, kept away from ants and tantalizing to thieves. The dog was lying with its head on its paws, facing east. Brett approached cautiously, the dagger ready at his hip should he be noticed.

He reached the stickers successfully, and untied the sack ever so quietly. Luck was on his side until hardly a minute had passed, and he heard the crunch of leaves behind him.

“Git your filthy paws off my sticker bars.”

The dog jumped, and Brett jumped too. He gently pulled his hand out of the burlap bag. “Quite the poet, aren’t ya, Miss Crispi?”

The dog got to its feet and growled. Brett backed away, palms open in submission, but he only ended up being closer to another creature that growled: Miss Chloe Crispi.

Brett couldn’t see her all that well in the darkness and that was fine with him. She smelled like honey but looked like and sounded like an old dog herself. He could see that a rifle was leveled at his stomach.

“You stink, thief,” Chloe said. “Is that…”

“Equine fecal matter? Why yes, ma’am, it sure is.”

She didn’t have anything to say to that, so Brett explained, “I thought your ol’ pup here wouldn’t notice me if I put it all over myself.”

“Yer the one who skedaddled the nags?”

“Yes ma’am, I’m the one.”

“And you thought it’d skedaddle the gang as well?”

“I did, and it sure seemed to work. Omitting yourself, ’course.”

“You think I’m stupid or something? Those nags’ll hardly go a mile before they’ll tucker out.”

“You’re right, ma’am, and I’m awful sorry to be dirtying your stickers. I’ll leave you be now.” Brett wasn’t fond of being sandwiched between the two belligerents, one of which was on the end of its chain and the other of which was about ready to shoot him.

“Now hold on a minute,” Chloe growled. “You’d better give me my stickers back, ’else I’ll blow a hole in your stomach. That’ll teach you to mind your manners.”

Brett lifted his palms higher. “Well, I swear, Miss Crispi. I didn’t get around to stealing any of your stickers. You came too darn quickly. You can look for yourself that they’re all in the bag there.”

Chloe stuck out her bottom jaw and narrowed her eyes suspiciously. Then she walked over to the bag and sifted through it, and saw that there were indeed all ten stickers bars still inside. She huffed, and turned to shoot the filthy thief anyway, but no one was there. She heard a crash in the forest and fired a shot into the trees, but it was hopeless.

While waiting for the rest of the gang to return with the nags, Chloe was hungry and decided she deserved a snack. So she fished a bar from the burlap bag and bit into it - or tried to, at least.

She spit out a mouthful of wood, sticky black chaw, pebbles, and her one good tooth, and howled furiously.

Brett heard the howl, and that gave him a good laugh. He patted the pouch of ten stickers bars contentedly, and walked on.

--<>--

Early the next morning, he found a river where he could wash off. Perhaps because of his recent victory, his guard was down, and that’s what made Butch’s job so darn simple.

Thankfully, Butch caught him after he had washed. Brett found consolation in this fact since he wouldn’t have wanted to be locked up in a cramped cell while being smothered in equine fecal matter. No thank you.

Butch had cornered him in the river, and the sight of that murderous glint in the bounty hunter’s eyes and the giant axe was enough to subdue Brett into immediate submission. He hated that Butch took all the stickers bars; Brett had only eaten one.

In fact, Brett was more annoyed about losing his stickers bars than he was about being behind bars. This wasn’t his first time being locked up, and although the threat that the next morning they would all be killed or delivered to someone else for torture was a tad bit alarming, he was convinced that he would find a way out.

When he was first thrown in the cell, he noticed next door a girl named Adina, whose wide eyes bespoke nothing but innocence. When one of the bounty hunters came by to spit the threat about the morning’s upcoming deathfest, the look on that poor girl’s face made Brett’s heart shatter.

“He doesn’t mean that,” the serious guy with the mustache and the scars said to Adina. “He just wants to scare us.”

“He means it with me, alright, ’cause I deserve it,” Brett said. “But not you.”

Adina shook her head as fresh tears sprung to her eyes. For once, Brett didn’t really know what to do.

Butch the bounty hunter came strolling by to check on them. Brett snatched the opportunity.

“Hey, big guy!” he called. “Would you mind giving me back my stickers bars? I have a couple of friends here who think they’re dying in the morning, and who’d really appreciate a snack.”

Butch said nothing, but his eyes lingered on Adina before departing.

Think they’re dying?” the girl with purple hair asked.

“I don’t know about the rest of you,” Brett said, “but Adina here isn’t dying tomorrow, and neither am I.”

“What makes you so sure?”

Brett shrugged. “I don’t want to die yet. So I won’t.”

“Right,” she said. “I’d love to hear your plan.”

“It hasn’t come to me just yet.” Brett leaned back, stretching, and caught the intelligent eye of James, the mustache guy, who cocked an eyebrow. The corner of Brett’s mouth twitched, and he nodded in understanding. This guy was on the same page.

“We’ll find a way,” James said.

Ten minutes later, Butch had returned and was giving Brett back his pouch through the bars. Brett was elated. He gave a bar to Adina first, then passed the pouch around to the other three prisoners.

“There ain’t any medicine better for folks ‘bout to die than a stickers bar,” the giant from the Western Isles said in between bites.
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.




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Sun Oct 22, 2017 7:26 am
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sherlockhson says...



Rosaleen Streinberg


Everyone munched away at their stickers bars. Adina's tears subsided a bit as she enjoyed what she could of the snack. Rosaleen ate hers mostly in silence as she occasionally glanced at Adina. Just what the heck was someone like her doing here? Maybe she was framed too.

They sat in silence as James and Brett were lost in thought, racking their brains for a means to escape. Rosaleen was also thinking of escape plans, trying to anticipate what James and Brett might come up with so she could explain all the flaws with such an idea. Meanwhile, Ardeshir was attempting to converse and cheer up Adina.

"There, there, it's gonna be alrigh' Adi! I'm sure them two'll be commin' up with ah' great ol' escape plan! They're good at tha' sorta stuff!" He said to her with a big toothy smile.

"Y-you all know each other?" She asked, her voice shaking and fresh tears rolling down her face.

"Yeah." Rosaleen chimed in, "And this isn't their first rodeo." She tried to sound more pleasant than all of her previous commentary for Adina's sake.

"Actually, we do not know each other," James corrected her. "But I am considering our options. It would be most beneficial for all of us to work together."

"I agree," Brett added. "Besides, it would be rude not to, really."

Rosaleen face-palmed at James and Brett's reactions. "It was true though that apparently this isn't mustache guy's first rodeo... And I'm going to assume the same for Brett as well."

Ardeshir gave Adina a apologetic smile. "Ah, well yeah that part was true, which is why I think they'll be havin' a great plan!"

"Speaking of plan - we're really not going to be able to do anything if we don't have a way to get out of these cells before they unlock the doors," Brett observed. "Looks like they took the keys with them. We'll have to surprise them when they come back. Catch them off guard."

"In order to achieve that we will have to use what little we have to our advantage," James added, looking across to the other cell with Adina and Rosaleen, trying to evaluate their assets. "What skills do you all have to offer?"

"I already attempted to use my assets to get out of here... I deal in information, which apparently they have no care for. Why do you think I was screaming at the guard when I came in? Not much else for me to do." Rosaleen responded.

"You sell information, ah? Interesting," Brett commented, "You're right though that that won't be of much use to us in terms of escaping. I think mustache man was thinkin' more like, hands-on skills. So things like combat, or stealth - which happens to be my specialty, by the way," he says with a small gesture to himself, then a look to James to indicate he was answering the question. James only nodded back in reply, waiting for the others to answer.

"Well, I got me size 'an strength, which 'as been pointed out already I think?" Ardeshir replied.

James nodded again at the fellow who was still putting pressure on his wound. "Yes. You mentioned before. We can definitely use you as our muscle," James said, before tapping Ari's arm to move his hand away from his bleeding back. Wordlessly, he took the ripped strip of shirt and held it against his own lower back before turning again to look across into the other cell. He looked at Adina expectantly, and when she only looked back with a wide-eyed stare, he asked the question again. "What skills do you have, Miss Adina? Anything could be useful."

"I-Uhm..." Adina stammered, and tried not to make eye contact with anyone. "Well, uhm, just a spot of magic..." She almost whispered, questioning whether she should even tell them in the first place.

Silence seemed to fall over the entirety of the cell block, and all eyes stared at Adina with surprise. Magic users were few - and most of them ended up dead, or in a similar situation such as they all were in right now (so, on their way to being dead). But James grabbed onto one of his cell bars and leaned forward, peering through them - his deep blue eyes locked on Adina with a completely undisturbed composure.

"What kind?" He asked insistently.

"It's uhm..." Adina looked at James, the panic was clear on her face

"It's alright you can tell us, it's jus' to help us get out of this place," Ardeshir assured her.

She looked at him and seemed to calm down just slightly. "I can... control time, slightly." She said almost as quietly as admitting she had magic.

James's normally harsh expression softened just a fraction. "How well can you use it?"

"Not very well..." She said a little sadly, wishing she could do more. "I can freeze a small area in time and move in it but that's all really."

Rosaleen raised an eyebrow at her but said nothing. She could understand why Adina was here now. But with a power like that, why wasn't she in some royal prison or something? She wasn't about to stress her even more by asking for details though.

James nodded slowly, letting out a small sigh in thought. He didn't know how well Adina would perform under pressure and did not want to ask too much of her because of it, but he also did not want to underestimate her. However, with so little to go on, he was unsure.

"We don't know who will be taken first tomorrow, but I highly doubt they'll open up both our cells at the same time. In that case, we'll need to get the keys and toss them to the other cell so they can get out. Would you possibly be able to freeze time around the hand of whomever is holding the keys - once they're within either your or our reach - so that we could reach through the bars and grab them?"

"I think I can...I hope I can" She replied.

"Good," James replied, nodding. "You can. You will. When you get the keys, you'll toss them to Ari," James explained, now voicing his fully formulated plan. "Ari, you and I will be our buffer. As soon as you get the keys, you reach through the bars and you open the cell, and lead out strong. Go after the big guy - Butch, the one with the sideburns - first. I'll be right behind you and I'll take on the on whoever's closest to Rosaleen and Adina's cell so we can get them out of the way. Brett-" he turned to the look at the stealth, who seemed eager to finish off James's thought.

"I'll take the keys out of the lock and I'll sneak over to Rosaleen and Adina's cell while you two distract the others in a fight, and I'll get them out," Brett explained.

James nodded brusquely before picking up the delivery of the plan. "Rosaleen, you get out, and you help us keep them distracted. Use any and all means available to you. Brett, you make sure Adina stays out of the fray, and engage when you must. Together, we should be able to easily take them out. They are skilled fighters but we outnumber them."

Brett nodded with determination. "And once they're subdued, we book it."

James pursed his lips, looking down the hall through the bars at their one exit. "Through those doors, yes."

"There could be more people waiting outside, though," Brett hypothesized.

"A risk we'll have to take. There's little else in the way of options. We do not have the time or resources to dig a tunnel out," James replied. Brett nodded with understanding. There were certain variables that would undoubtedly be out of control. The best they could do would just to be prepared for them.

"If there are others waiting outside-" Brett started.

"We keep a tight formation and fight them off until we win or lose. Ari at the head, Brett and Rosaleen on one side, me on the other. Adina, you can stay behind us if such is the case," he explains.

Ari nodded at James, looking very serious. "I will do my best!"

James gave a small nod in reply.

Rosaleen sighed. "Sounds like a good plan, but Brett is right, Mustache Man. We don't know who could be up ahead of us." She looked over at Brett and raised an eyebrow. "And I take it you're not too bad of a scout, Brett? Think you can look ahead while we fight it out in here?"

Brett nodded confidently. "Definitely can."

"Do that. Take Adina with you," James instructed, quietly and non-visibly disturbed by the now thrice recurring use of the nickname mustache-man.

Brett gave a thumbs up to James and then Adina. "Gotchya. Sounds like a plan."

--<>--

With the whole group finally in agreement on a plan for the morning, Ari suggested they all get some rest - mostly to Adina who really looked like she could use it. A lot of the plan depended on her and her magic. Ari also decided to get some rest himself since he would be on the front line of fighting in the morning if things all went smoothly. This gave Rose time to sit in some awkward silence with Brett and James. James eventually retreated to a corner in his cell and looked to be asleep, and Brett went to sleep as well.

She started to try and study their faces. A lot of her work in life was studying wanted posters, so it gave her a good idea on where to start to find trails of information. Brett's face didn't seem familiar at all. Maybe he wasn't very wanted in these parts? Mr. Mustache though, his face had an odd look to it, and now that she finally got a chance to just stare at him without being called out for it, she could remove that annoying mustache with her mind. She only found his features familiar because she had seen it many many times, but couldn't place the poster since there were several by different artists it seemed.

She closed her eyes and envisioned his face, and tried to take herself back to flipping through stacks of wanted posters. She could see all the different faces and names, and she was getting close to him, she could feel it. Finally her memory landed on a poster, and she opened her eyes and stared at him and whispered.

"Tiberius."




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Featherstone says...



Ardeshir


"Okay but why is it split 40/30/30 again?" Cowell asked, clearly wondering why he was only getting 30%.

Both Buth and Pitch turned to Cowell with annoyed looks on their faces.

"Ask that again and you won't be getting anything, Cowell," Butch replied cooly.

Cowell, finally realizing he'd crossed a line and was close to overdoing it, hushed up at that remark. He stepped back a bit from their group huddle and looked over at the building where their captives were locked up. A cool breeze blew from the east, ruffling the leaves in the trees enough that some began to catch and fly into the wind. From their place under the trees, Butch began briefing the three on the replies he'd gotten from those he'd contacted about picking up their bounties.

"Officers from the Isles will be coming to pick up Brent in a few hours, and my contact from the Moonlight Kingdom says they'll be here for him this afternoon. As for Rosaleen and Ardeshir, we're just gonna take 'em to the nearest sheriff. And for Adina, she'll be hanged in the gallows this morning," Butch explained, looking at the three to make sure they all got that.

Pitch nodded, and so did Cowell.

"Sheriff's gonna give us the bounty, right?" Pitch asked.

Butch nodded. "Yes. Arranged it so the Isles and the Moonlight Kingdom would be sending their pay to him as well, so we get it all at once."

A small distance from the building, two men and one woman approached on horseback. Butch was the first to catch their eye, and waved them over.

"They're here for Adina?" Cowell asked.

Butch nodded. "They take care of all the magic users around here."

Cowell swallowed. "They look it," he remarked, as he looked at their scarred appearances, and the fierce look in their eyes paired with their dark attire and black horses. "A bit dramatic, but, fair."

The woman on the front-most ebon horse marched up to Butch, giving him a nod of recognition.

"Well, bring out the lass," she instructed.

Butch nodded, and waved for Pitch to follow him inside to the cells. He motioned for Cowell to stay there, but mothed to him to stay silent. He didn't want Cowell saying anything to mess things up or provoke the woman on horseback. Cowell nodded a bit nervously, and watched them walk off into the building.

"They'll be out with her in just a minute," he said to the woman, pulling at the collar around his neck.

--<>--

Adina watched as everyone's heads perked up at the sound of voices approaching the double doors. She could feel the sweat forming on her brow as she nervously tried to prepare herself for the important task ahead of her. Just get the keys, she told herself. You can do it.

Ari looked up, watching as Butch came down, walking over to Adina's and Rose's cell. Butch didn't even glance at the cell opposite where the three men were kept, but instead locked his eyes on Adina. Pitch was following close beside him, with the keys in her hands. Adina could feel her heart thumping so loudly, she swore they could hear it too. At first, her eyes locked onto Butch, but then her eyes fell to the keys, and she remembered her part in the plan.

"Say goodbye to your friends," Butch muttered in low tones.

Ari uttered a low growl at that, almost inaudible as he gripped the bars, wishing he could reach Butch - but he couldn't, he was just barely too far away. But when he got his hands on him...

"You have an appointment with the gallows," Butch continued, but his words seemed to hang in the air. As Pitch's hands held the key up to the lock, time seemed to freeze around her fingers. Adina, possesed by a courage she wasn't sure she'd ever had, reached panickedly through the bars, yanking the keys from Pitch's grasp. Only a second later, she locked eyes with Ari, and threw them at him with all hope that her aim was true.

He grabbed them mid-air, sliding them into the lock and kicking open the door before tackling Butch, letting James handle Pitch.

"This is fer scarin' t'e lass," he growled, slamming his fist into Butch's face full-force as they hit the ground.

Butch, hardly having a moment's reaction time to block the punch, felt it with full force. With a fierce growl, he pulled Ari into the fall, and rolled on top of him. He swung a puch at Ari's face.

Butch's fist met his hand and he grabbed him, locking them into a contest of sheer strength as Ari holds his opponent's fist in a vice-like grip. Butch continued to hold Ari to the ground, pushing his hand into Ari's palm.

Meanwhile, James had followed quickly behind Ari and made his way straight to Pitch. He knew he had two advantages against her - he had surprise, and his strength, so he followed directly behind Ari, staying out of her sight until he was right up behind her. It was then that he grabbed her and interlocked his arms around her neck, putting her in a sleeper hold.

Ari grimaced, sweat beginning to drip down his golden skin as he struggled against Butch - he might've been more youthful but the bounty hunter was still on top, and had a distinct advantage. Teeth clenched and muscles bulging, the two vied for victory.

While the Ari and James engaged the two bounty hunters, Brett had swiftly slipped past the four with the keys in hand, and quickly unlocked Rosaleen and Adina's cell. As he threw the cell door open, he huddled Adina close to him and Rosaleen ran over to Ari and Butch.

Rosaleen, seeing the two locked together at a standstill, kicked up sand into Butch's face and jumped atop his back with a loud yell. Butch cursed, and pulled back a little from his grip on Ari. He kneeed him in the stomach as he pulled back a bit, then pushed down on Butch's hand and swung his other fist at the man's face. Butch felt Ari's fist come into direct contact with his jaw, and as he stumbled to his feet, Rosaleen jumped off him, and both her and Ari watched as Butch fell on his back. Ari grabbed the downed man and slammed him into the wall as he's recovering with such force that the wall actually shakes a bit upon impact.

Butch stared at Ari wide-eyed, with a fierce expression as his whole body ached. He grabbed for Ari's throat. Locked in such close-quarters combat, he didn't have time to dodge, but as Butch struck, he retaliated with a similar blow, using his free right hand as he pinned his opponent with his left. Butch grimaced, and squeezed his locked hands around Ari's throat with full force.

Rosaleen, seeing the two locked again in combat, looked around for something she could throw. Her eyes landed on a small bucket (that looked to be used for disposing of waste) and though her nose flinched as she caugh a whiff of the smell, she grabbed it and ran over to the two, and with a mighty thud, slammed the bucket over Butch's head, and grabbed at his arms, which, upon the surprise of having the poop bucket over his head, were no longer locked as they were before.

Ari dropped back, coughing and trying to regain his ability to breathe.

James, letting a limp and passed out Pitch fall to the ground once she was finally subdued, ran over to their one remaining opponent in the hall. With Butch's sight and senses impaired momentarily, James ran up behind him, and with a swift swing of his leg, gave a roundhouse kick to Butch's head. The impact of the kick against the metal bucket against Butch's skull finally knocked him out.

"You're welcome," Rosaleen quipped.

James gave Rosaleen a sharp look.

Adina and Brett ran over, looking at the two fallen foes on the ground.

"There are four people outside. Three on horseback. And the other bounty hunter on the ground," Brett explained quickly. "It looked like they were coming our way."

James furrowed his brows in annoyance, but otherwise, his face said he was calm and collected. "We hold our ground here," he commanded, reaching down to Butch's belt and finding a knife. He tossed it to Brett. "If they're mounted it's too risky to pursue on foot. We hold here, and let them come to us."

--<>--

Cowell waited impatiently with the three horsemen, before finally breaking. "You know what, I'm gonna go get her. I don't know what's taking them so long," he said with a nervous laugh, before running off to the cells, running in the doors to see all five prisoners out. He opened his mouth to yell.

"The prisoners!" Was all he got out before Ardeshir's fist hit him in the side of the head and he hit the ground, out cold. The large man shook his hand and looked towards the doorway as three figures dressed in solid black came in, two armed with swords and one hanging back with a crossbow that they were aiming at Adina.

Brett's knife flew at the crossbowman, aim true as it nailed the soldier in the wrist. With a yelp of pain, they dropped the weapon as Ardeshir and one of the swordsmen locked in combat. The second one turned on Brett. He produced a dagger from a hidden sheath and faced the man - but he was at a distinct disadvantage with only a short blade against a long sword.

The swordsman swung overhand at Ari, who dodged the blow with surprising speed for such a large man and came up with a swift punch to the gut, knocking the wind from his opponent. They doubled over and he grabbed their wrist, twisting and forcing them to release their grip on the sword. He kicked it to James to go give Brett a hand.

In the meantime, the one with the crossbow had drawn a long knife, the blade about as long as their forearm. They rushed Adina - but Rosaleen will have none of it. She met the soldier mid-swing, blocking the blow as Adina flinched back to dodge.

"Nuh-uh," she said, punching the surprised figure in the face.

James grabbed the sword and raced in to Brett's aid, the clanging of steel resounding through the hallway as he blocked the man's attack. Brett took advantage of the moment to disengage from the combat and run over to give Rosaleen and Adina a hand. Sparks flew as they fought, James taking on a more aggressive, offensive style to beat back his adversary, taking advantage of their initial surprise.

Ardeshir and the first swordsman - who, now swordless, was really just a sman - were in anything but equal combat. Ari, with his superior size, strength, and hand-to-hand experience was throwing the weaponless sman around like a ragdoll.

"Don't ya dare be tryin' t' lay a hand on the lass," he growled, throwing the sman into the wall, where they crumpled to the ground, only to be grabbed once more by the bulky former guardsman and repeatedly slammed into the same wall. "Take. That. You. Gods. Forsaken. Barrel. Of. Rotting. Fish!" At this point, he was quite unconscious, and when he fell to the ground, he stayed there.

Meanwhile, Rosaleen and Brett were tag-teaming the former crossbowman - who, without a crossbow, was really just a man. They darted in and out of the melee, working as a team so every time he turned on one the other came up behind him. In this manner, they soon managed to get him unconscious and stripped of weaponry.

The last remaining combatant was sman - no, sorry, he still had his sword - was swordsman number two. James' offensive tactics kept him with the upper hand, leaving his opponent struggling on the defensive. It didn't take long for him to disarm and knock the man out cold.

Without hesitation, they raced out into the fresh air, swinging up onto the backs of the three bounty hunters' horses - Ari on one, James and Brett on the other, and Adina and Rosaleen on the smallest - and into the forest.

Freedom, at last.

After all the tension and probable death of the last hours, it was an almost startling relief. They weren't really out of the woods yet - they did just run in there, after all - but they were out of immediate danger, and that was enough.

"Hey, guys," Ari said, slowing his horse. "So, I was gettin' t'e weapons off the soldier I were fightin', 'n he didn't have no more weapons, but he did have a bunch o' stickers...who's hungry?"
"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost."


he/him/his




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wakarimasen says...



Adina Blackthorn


"Dear Father...."

In her mind's imaginary parchment, Adina crossed out that salutation, dipped her imaginary quill in an imaginary pot of ink, and restarted her imaginary letter imaginarily anew. This moss-covered, somewhat slippery boulder was nowhere near as comfortable as her writing desk at home, not that she missed it ... or Father. But there was maybe one last person she cared about right now, the one she could always confide in.

"Dearest Rowan...

"I'm alive. And well. I hope ... I hope you're starting a happy new life with your new bride, assuming her parents haven't called everything off on my account.

"I wouldn't tell you where I am if I were writing this for real, but then again, I'm not really sure where I am at all, except that it's dark now, your favorite constellation is that-a-way, and there are lots of woods where we've stopped for the night. Oh, and speaking of we, I am pretty confident that I'm with good company. At least I hope so. We escaped early yesterday morning from that awful jail and....

"UGH!"
Adina mentally crumpled the parchment, her anger and resentment destroying her train of thought.

"Stomach cramps?"

"AAAH!" Adina whirled around to see the purple-haired girl, Rosaleen or something like that, standing stock-still, her lips frozen in a half-smiling but sort of fish-faced mid-inquiry. Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, she allowed time to resume with an almost sheepish expression. Perhaps Rosaleen wouldn't even notice.

"Excuse me?"

"You said 'ugh,'" Rosaleen stated matter-of-factly. "I figured, y'know, it was those Stickers bars messing with, y'know."

"No, I'm fine." How long had Rosaleen been watching her?

Adina's mental bootheel was quite thoroughly destroying the small imaginary pile of letters she'd drafted to Father, some sad, some forgiving, and some quite resentful. From the way the bounty hunters had made it sound, he'd gone right along with their demands. Classic Father. She could hear his excuses now.

Rosaleen didn't seem to be buying the "I'm fine" thing, but she said no more on the subject.

Adina decided to change it. "Where is everyone else?"

Rosaleen shrugged. "Around. You must've been pretty spaced out, kid."

Though she kept her face as expressionless as possible, Adina bristled internally at being called a child. Why, Rosaleen, sans the, er, purple hair, looked no more childlike than--

"Alright, what'd I say this time?"

"N-nothing..."

"You probably shouldn't be sitting out here on your own," Rosaleen said a little curtly. She waved a hand in the direction of the lazily flowing stream the small cluster of boulders offered such a nice view of. "You could fall in and no one would know."

Adina shuddered at the thought. "Where is everybody?"

"Down the creek," she said with a nod in the direction.

"Oh."

Further down, Ari could be seen standing in the water, with pants rolled up as he grabbed a fish out of the water with his bare hands. Then, chatter - presumably Brett - in response. Phillip, however, was nowhere in sight.

Adina had a pretty good impression of what Brett and Ari were about. Ari, in particular, seemed like the embodiment of pure-heartedness. But Phillip and Rosaleen both were hard people to read. Rosaleen had a very gruff exterior; even now, as the purple-haired girl had made the first move, Adina hesitated to talk with her, for fear she'd rub that prickly exterior the wrong way. As for Phillip, he was too quiet. The mustachioed man had finally relented to the brawny Ardeshir's pleading for a name to cal him by, but Adina wasn't certain it was his real one. She didn't suspect him of anything bad (she certainly hadn't been sent to jail for a heinous deed, so it seemed appropriate to give everyone else the same benefit of the doubt), but she wasn't sure what his general silence was holding back.

Under Rosaleen's expectant gaze, (surely she wanted a more substantial reply than "Oh,") Adina stammered, "Let's, um, go back." Go back where?

Adina followed Rosaleen to a small clearing where Phillip was assembling what looked like a small campfire.

"Where's the extra wood I asked you to fetch me?" Phillip asked, not looking up from his task of lighting a fire with a piece of flint.

Rosaleen shrugged elaborately. "I forgot. But I found Adina."

"Oh." Phillip looked up and met her eyes, nodding curtly.

"What can I do to help?" Adina asked, wishing for the awkward silence that seemed inherent around Phillip.

Phillip shrugged. "You just sit tight. I'm sure Brett and Ardeshir'll be back soon enough with fish. They'll keep their end of that deal, I'm sure." Rosaleen looked on obliviously.

A little dejectedly, Adina found a fallen log to make herself comfortable on. Gathering the stained and tattered remains of her turquoise party dress around her, she sat down. It was the last remnant of her father's home's finery, not that they'd had much of it to begin with. That was why Rowan was marrying into the Carlisle family, so he'd have a chance at a comfortable life.

Was this dress giving off a "I'm too posh for hard work" vibe? Adina wished she had something a bit more practical, like what Rosaleen was wearing. Trousers would be a start. Trousers would make her seem less childlike, less girly. Trousers had pockets big enough to hold more than the small notebook she'd slipped onto her person before the police came for her ... before she'd run away ... before that awful bounty hunter Cowell grabbed her right off the street.

Her musings were interrupted once more by the noisy arrival of Ari and Brett. Brett was going on about how many fish he'd personally caught, but Ardeshir was carrying them all in a makeshift basket, so it didn't really matter anyway once it all went into their stomachs.

A short while later, everyone had a plate (well, a leaf) piled generously with fresh fish cooked over a crackling fire, seasoned with herbs Rosaleen claimed she'd picked up in the forest. Brett kept a good story going about the first time he'd gone fishing with his brother while

"Some darned good vittles if I do say so myself," Ari declared, being the first to finish his portion. He stretched his brawny frame lazily before adding, "I'm so glad we'll be travelling together."

Silence, uncharacteristic to Brett and unnatural even for Phillip. If there was a pin to be found in this forest, one could've heard it drop.

Rosaleen broke it. "Which 'we' are you referring to?"

"Well, uh, I was a-thinkin' we'd, y'know, stick together after all we been through...." Ari looked hopefully at his dining partners. "Right?"

"Yeah," Brett muttered. "Sure. I mean, I don't see why not. Good food, good company, and all that. How about you, Adina?"

"Me?" Adina squeaked. Please don't leave me alone out here, she wanted to exclaim, but she figured that'd be a bad way to make her case. Still, she knew next to nothing about, well, roughing it. If Rosaleen hadn't found her before, she might've fallen into that creek and....

"Well, of course I'll stay," she said, clearing her throat. "Safety in numbers, after all."

Rosaleen laughed harshly. "Safety, right. I'd stay if only to make sure none of you losers get yourselves killed out here. There's really nowhere else to go, after all, where any of us can show face without getting thrown back into a cell."

Ari kept a tally on his fingers, muttering, "Me, Brett, Miz Adina, Miz Rosaleen.... Yeah! That's all of us ... except you, mustache man. Ah mean, Phillip." His bright-eyed gaze fell upon Phillip. "So, Phillip, You gonna stay with us?"

Phillip (Adina was beginning to doubt that was truly his name, from the way it always took him a split second to register people were talking to him) took a long, uncertain look around their small campsite, sizing up the company. Then, clearing his throat, he said, "Yeah, I'll stay...."

Ari let out a loud whoop, unconcerned with the potential consequences, muffling Phillip's last words: "...for now."




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Lael says...



Kaia Nesbitt


The flutter of wings brought Kaia to the window. She opened the shutters and reached out to take the pigeon on her finger, bringing it inside. After moving to a small table in the dim room, she took a small roll of paper from the cannister on the pigeon's leg.

Unrolling the paper, she read its contents: I have him. Come get him now.

Kaia let out a short breath of annoyance, quickly setting the paper aflame and taking the pigeon back to the window and sent it off without a response. She would leave at once.

She set out on the busy street, a cloth mask pulled up, leaving only her eyes visible as she wove through the crowds of people, undoubtedly almost all criminals who didn't want to be found.

Like Tiberius. Kaia's thoughts brought her to her target. A small seed of doubt or regret manifested within her, but she pushed it away. She had her orders. She had already given him one chance, and he would not receive another. Kaia had told him herself that the next time they met, she would capture him and bring him back to the Moonlight Kingdom.

It was the will of King Blackfield, after all.

People around her parted as she passed. They all knew her now, ever since she arrived in the town a few years ago and taken over the local mercenaries' business. No one would exactly say that they were afraid of her--no one did, in the Outlands--but they definitely were cautious when it came to dealing with her.

She left the town on a horse and rode west, towards the place where she knew another mercenary would be waiting for her. When she came within the vicinity of the prison, she dismounted and tied the horse up securely, though she knew it was highly likely that it would be stolen as soon as she left it alone. It was a typical thing, she had learned, that occurred in the Outlands.

As she headed towards the door, she glanced about, wondering why the normally pristine outer yard seemed in a bit of disarray. Butch and his associates' horses were nowhere to be found, either.

Kaia entered the prison, her eyes taking in the sight of three bounty hunters sitting on the ground, obviously in pain, with no prisoners in sight. Alarm rose in her. Could it be . . .?

"What happened here, Hawthorne?" she demanded, pulling down her mask and stalking up to Butch, about to grab him by the collar but stopping short as the strong smell of feces hit her. She stepped back, her eyes still arresting the older bounty hunter with an intense, accusing glare. "He escaped?"

Butch stood up, his lips and nose scrunched up in disgust at the smell polluting his senses. After having a very heated argument with the three who'd come for an Adina they left without, he was displeased to be accosted by Kaia Nesbitt directly after. He sighed with a low growl.

"Yes. They did."

"They?" Kaia then scoffed. "No wonder. If Tiberius had managed to defeat the three of you singlehandedly, that would have been a wonder to behold. So you lost not only Tiberius, but how many other bounties?"

Butch met her eyes, and his face twisted into a scowl as he felt the sting of his injured pride. "Four," he replied tersely.

"Absolutely brilliant," said Kaia in a dark, low tone. "I never cease to be amazed. The Moonlight Kingdom has awaited the return of the traitor for years. You have caused them to wait even longer. Your other clients must be quite disappointed as well."

"My other clients are not your concern," he said, speaking softly.

"I would be careful if I were you, Hawthorne." Kaia advanced on him, ignoring the repulsive scent. "Your failure has been noted. The Moonlight Kingdom has eyes and arms all across the land. You'd better watch your back."

"I will," he said, holding eye contact. "I meant no disrespect, Nesbitt. Only that my business stays my business." He gave her a blatantly insincere grin, which quickly faded. "I regret that Tiberius has escaped. But if you are still eager to catch him, perhaps your expertise would best be used tracking him down now, before he drifts back into obscurity."

"I intend to do so," replied Kaia, cornering him against the wall. "It is something I should have done long ago, instead of relying on incompetent bounty hunters. It is possible that Tiberius has banded with your other prisoners. If they are together, the other four are of no concern to me, so feel free to pursue them to your heart's desire. But if you interfere in my catching Tiberius--" Before Butch, Pitch, or Cowell could react, Kaia pulled out a blade from seemingly nowhere and stabbed it hard into the wall--mere inches away from Butch's throat. "--you will have to face me. You never know when you will drop dead from a drink, or your family will find a knife in your back."

"Understood," he replied, refusing to flinch at the threatening gesture.

The corner of Kaia's mouth went up slightly, in a mocking expression. "See that you do." She pulled her mask back up, turned, and stalked out, not looking back.

So relying on others had proved to be the wrong decision. As she rode back towards her own base, Kaia's mind started churning out plans to track down Tiberius and how to catch him--even if he was still with the other escaped prisoners.
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:7




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soundofmind says...



ROUND TWO
James / Tiberius Hemming
cowritten with @sherlockhson


Even if James wasn't wanted, and he didn't want to risk getting others involved in his mess of mistakes, he would've adamantly insisted that traveling with others was "not his style." (Though he likely wouldn't use those words, of course). Though he certainly hadn't lived a life that necessitated loneliness for the entirety of his life, he had long since forgotten what it felt like for that emotion to be absent, and therefore being surrounded by a group of people who more or less wanted him there (well, it was probably just Ari, but still) was... vaguely irritating.

On James's insistent urging, the group continued to travel further from the prison they'd escaped from after they finished their meal and their stomachs were full. Though their previous belongings (namely, weapons) had been confiscated by the three bounty hunters who'd caught them, they were fortunate enough to make the exchange equal by stealing their horses and the gear and supplies on them. So though they had little, they at least had a few things - enough to manage, at least.

As night began to fall, the ragtag group settled down and made camp under the shade of two drooping willows, and began to gather between them and make a new fire - one to cook their leftover fish from the morning and to warm them as the coolness of night came. James was blowing on the fire and wafting the flame to bring it to life, while Ari and Brett were sticking the fish on their whittled skewers from earlier. Adina gathered the three blankets that had been packed on the horses, and was holding them in her arms, looking a bit lost. There were five people, and three blankets, and the cool breeze was proving that it wasn't going to be a warm summer night (as would've been convenient).

James looked up, noticing her hesitation.

"I won't be needing one," he said simply, as he poked at the growing flame with a stick. Adina nodded, but still looked torn.

Rosaleen came up from behind James, dumping a pile of firewood directly beside him. James looked up at her, and with a blank expression, expressed gratitude. "...Thanks."

"Yeah, yeah, I held up my end of the deal. I couldn't let you get away with that sassy comment." She replied with a taunting smirk.

From earlier, he recalled. "No, I suppose you couldn't."

"If it was just for you though I would have considered not getting anything." She said with a shrug before looking at Adina and noticing the blankets she was carrying.
"You sure the big guy won't need all three of those?"

Convenient, Ari came over with the fish and overheard Rosaleen's comment. "Oh! Don't worry 'bout me. I ain't needin' one o' those. I'll be alright."

James nodded. "Good," he said, gesturing to Adina and Rose. "They'll go to you two and Brett."

At hearing his name, Brett came over with more fish and set them over the fire. "What about me?"

"Blankets," was James's simple reply. "Take one."

Adina handed one to Brett, and another to Rosaleen.

"Thanks." Rose said with a nod to Adina, then looked over at James. "And you... try not to roll into the fire?" She said, assuming he'd be sleeping close to it for warmth.

James let out a small huff of mild amusement through his nose. "Yeah."

"Hey don't be like that, you wouldn't believe the stories I've heard." She was a bit surprised by his reaction though. She had expected sass, which he seemed to be out of.

James only looked at her, shrugging with his face before he sat back from the fire and watched the fish cooking. Rosaleen, however, had caught Ari's interest.

"Stories? What stories have you heard?" Ari asked.

"Plenty. Hang around a tavern long enough and you'll hear tales of witless adventurers who put very flammable things next to open flames. You'd be surprised how many adventurers hurt themselves accidentally but play it off as a 'monster'." Rose shook her head. It was really crazy the tales she heard sometimes.

Brett and Ari chuckled, and Adina, mostly out of obligation, tried to laugh as well.

"It's hard to tell though," Brett replied. "When they're telling the truth or not. I saw a guy with a missing leg say he lost it to a giant bear, and who's to tell him he's wrong?" He laughed. "People will blame anything, even 'monsters.'"

"I really hope that guy didn't actually get attacked by a bear though," Ari said, his tone very sincere.

Brett looked over at Ari, a little surprised by the genuine innocence of Ari's comment. "I mean, he was still missing a leg either way."

"I believe him. I'm sure he lost that leg to a bear... trap." Rosa resisted the small urge to laugh at her own joke.

Brett snorted, Adina giggled, and Ari sent Rosaleen a good humored smile. The delivery of Rosaleen's punchline was followed by everyone in the group gathering around the fire, and their cooking meal. Brett, Ari, Rosaleen, and Adina enjoyed a bit of back and forth banter that James sat out of. When their food was ready they distributed it in a similar manner as they did that morning, and this time, the fish was joined by some blue berries that Adina and Rosaleen had gathered earlier that day in their travels. There was silence for a few minutes, as the five hungry travelers munched down on their meals, sitting beneath the starlight. James, the first to finish his meal, broke the silence before anyone else could start a conversation that wasn't relevant to what he wished to ask.

After swallowing his last bite, he cleared his throat.

"So if we're going to be travelling together for some time we may as well discuss what we want to do with ourselves. There may be things you've desired to do but haven't been able to acheive on your own. If you're all in agreement, then as a group, we could help each other acheive our own goals. Something more than simply... staying alive," he said, looking around at the group expectantly.

"I dunno really what I'd wanna do," Ari replied. "I'm jus' happy to be with ya'll is all. I like the company!"

Adina grinned at this, and James nodded.

"I don't suppose you'll be sharing a goal then?" Rosaleen asked James with a raised eyebrow.

"I don't have anything to share," he said.

Rosaleen sighed, shaking her head slightly. She should've expected such a reply.

"Nothing? Really?" Brett asked in skeptical disbelief.

"Nothing that any of you can help with. Though I didn't want to assume the same was the case for all of you," James responded more thoroughly.

Brett nodded slightly, looking at James with restrained curiosity. There was a small silence as they sat in thought, thinking upon what their goals might be. Adina was the first to speak up.

"I just want to find stability," she said, her gaze pointed down at the ground. At this, everyone's eyes seemed to collectively rest on Adina with sympathy.

Rosaleen stared at Adina for a moment, and then looked at James. "I guess that's my goal for now. Helping her out," she said simply. Adina looked up at Rosaleen with a bit of surprise, but Rosaleen continued. "And maybe with a side of clearing my name. Maybe." She added with a small shrug.

"Clearing your name?" Brett asked, the words leaving his mouth before he had a chance to take them back. In their short time together, none of them had really learned as to why the others were put in jail. Only Ari had shared, and Adina... with her magic, it was self explanatory. Brett's question, however, was one that James had been mulling over as well, and now that it was out in the air, it begged the question: if she wanted to clear her name, did that mean she was wrongfully convicted of something she didn't do?

Rosaleen frowned and looked away, and her frown quickly grew into a scowl. She took a long pause before answering. "Someone with a lot of power did something awful and blamed me for it. I want to return to my home. With a clear name." She answered, her face returning to a somewhat neutral expression. She still refused to meet anyones gaze.

There was another silence that followed, but this one was awkward, and uncomfortable. James looked down, avoiding eye contact as well. Her brief explanation of her story reminded him of his own, though he knew they wouldn't be the same.

"I'm sorry that happened to ya, Rose," Ari finally said.

"It is what it is." Rosaleen replied with a sigh. She hoped no one wanted anymore details.

Brett, seemingly eager to move the conversation away from Rosaleen's past (not wanting to anger her), nodded in agreement with Rose and decided it was his turn to answer James's question. "For me... all I want is to be able to stop running."

James looked at Brett with his eyebrows drawn together. When he'd asked the question regarding goals, he was hoping for something - anything - more practical. Something they could actually act on. Something straightforward. But instead he was met with goals that they likely all would never acheive... or at the very least, couldn't acheive easily. He sighed. He should've expected just as much. It wasn't like he had anything to offer that was any less far from reach.

"I think we all do," Ari said, uncharacteristically solemn for a moment.

"I'd drink to that." Rosaleen replied, almost in her usual tone.

Brett chuckled lightly. "Too bad we don't have anything to drink with."

Adina lifted up a round canteen. "There's water?"

Ari and Brett laughed.

And then the conversation quickly derailed, and the group got ready to sleep for the night - this time, no longer in cells. James assigned each of them shifts to keep watch while the others slept, taking the third shift for himself (knowing it was the most awkward, to be woken up in the middle of your sleep cycle). Though they'd all agreed to travel as a group and it was implied they would look out for one another to some degree... he didn't know how well he'd be sleeping tonight. Exhaustion would likely be the only thing that would drag his consciousness into rest.

As he laid down a small distance from the fire, he looked over at Rosaleen, who was taking the first watch. Though from what little she'd said about why she was wanted seemed to implicate her innocence, there was a fault in her character he couldn't ignore. She said she sold information, and he would be foolish not to question the loyalty of someone who by nature sold information for the right price.

He closed his eyes, and decided to take a moment to think upon his own question, since he hadn't allowed himself to when he actually asked it.

What are my goals?... What do I want?

Of all of the answers to come to mind immediately, he would've expected something along the lines of justice, or anything related to the Moonlight Kingdom that he'd left behind. He expected of himself what he'd expected from the others - something clear. Something straightforward. Something he could actually do. But when he searched his mind and his heart for an answer, alarmingly the only thought to come to mind was one he desired to push back down and pretend never crossed his thoughts. He frowned.

I want to be happy.
Last edited by soundofmind on Wed Oct 30, 2019 6:15 am, edited 2 times in total.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.





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Lael says...



Kaia Nesbitt


Kaia glanced up at the dark sky and let out a soft sigh. Night had fallen, and she was thankful that the moon and stars were bright, yet not too much so. Enough light to see by, and not enough to be seen . . . by most.

She had long since left the horse behind, preferring to travel by foot. Although she knew that Tiberius was clever and would definitely attempt to hide his tracks or make a confusing trail to follow, Kaia was a seasoned assassin, not an amateur bounty hunter. Her lip curled slightly at the thought of her previous meeting with Hawthorne and his friends.

She had to admit, though, as she continued through the trees and long grasses quietly, that the idea that her target was possibly collaborating with wanted people was strange--and unnerving. Strange, because, for as long as she'd known him, Tiberius was not a person who was quick to trust others. That was the reason why he, as King Blackfield's right hand, had been able to reveal so many political traitors who wanted to kill the ruler--that is, until he became the traitor himself.

And the idea was unnerving, because she had seen the damage done in the prison; it was no laughing matter. As far as she had observed, there was at least one person in the group who was very, very strong--a brute of some sort, undoubtedly. If Tiberius was teaming up with someone like that, the odds of Kaia winning a fight, skilled though she was, was slimmer.

Kaia shook her head and continued to weave through the trees, periodically glancing down at the dim ground for broken twigs or soft imprints of feet in the leaves. She paused as a scent wafted towards her. Smoke. That meant there was a fire nearby, and possibly someone settled down for the night beside it. She slowed her steps and crouched down behind a large shrub, trying to see if she could find the light of the fire.

There. A small, flickering pinpoint of brightness beneath two willows. And low voices came to her from that direction, one of which she recognized.

The downside was that Tiberius was indeed working with others. But this was the Outlands. Perhaps one of his teammates would be willing to sell him out.

Kaia sat down comfortably against a tree and pulled a stickers bar from her pack. She would have to wait until the party fell asleep. At least one person would stay awake on watch, though, she knew. If it wasn't Tiberius, then hopefully it was someone who would be willing to negotiate with her.

After taking a bite of the stickers, she looked up through the trees at the sky again. Everything was so quiet. Peaceful, even. There was just something that she had in the Outlands that it seemed she never would in the Moonlight Kingdom. Freedom.

Her thoughts went to her family. If they had lived, she would probably would have followed in her mother's footsteps to become a healer. Perhaps her father would have even taught her some basic self-defense. She might have found someone to love, possibly even be married now. But she knew she would have never picked up a sword or killed a person for another's gain.

Well, it is what it is. Nothing can change the past.

Nothing can change the fact that someone murdered my parents.


The voices by the campfire had long since ceased. Kaia reasoned that the runaways, who had probably been walking all day, should be sound asleep. She finished off the stickers bar, then stood and walked slowly over, making sure her footsteps were silent.

As she neared, her eyes took in the sight of the group. There was Tiberius, near the fire, without a blanket. Then there was a large, brawny man, as she had suspected. Another man and two girls rounded out the gang. One of the girls was keeping watch.

Kaia studied this girl. Purple hair, and a rather pronounced scowl. One of the regular irregularities that could be found in the Outlands. She recalled seeing the girl's face on a couple of posters. Rosaleen Streinberg. Ruddlan wanted her, for murder, was it?

She decided it was definitely worth risking talking to this one. She stepped closer, into the ring of light cast by the fire. The girl looked up, and Kaia analyzed the other's expression as she whispered, "Why, hello. Could you spare a moment? I believe I have something you may want, if you'd like to talk. Alone."

Rosaleen stared at her for a moment. This wouldn't be the first time a mysterious stranger showed up and offered her some kind of deal. But that didn't always end well for her; what's worse was she couldn't guess the type of person she was talking to by expression alone. She glanced at the group all fast asleep, and then back at the stranger. "Alright," she said in a low voice before standing and approaching the woman.

Kaia stepped back from the fire and waited for the girl to come beside her before she said, "I am a bounty hunter. You may call me Nesbitt. And I am after that man." She gestured at Tiberius. "I am hoping you are willing to help me catch him."

"I figured as much," Rose replied. "The ones who don't like telling you their names are normally the high profile ones." She looked over at the camp again, and back to Nesbitt. "What's in it for me if I help you?"

"I believe you are wanted for murder?" Kaia searched Rosaleen's face for any emotion. "I can help you clear your name. Or, if you would rather, accomodations for a comfortable life in the Moonlight Kingdom can be made." She supposed it would be fine to say as much. King Blackfield would willingly reward someone who helped to catch the traitor.

Rosaleen squinted at Nesbitt. Did she really have the power to do that? Or was this guy just that important to catch? "I think you've got . . ." She gave the not-cowboy sleeping a few yards away from her a long stare. "A deal."

"Good," said Kaia, letting a bit of a smile show on her face as she nodded. "I realize that I cannot capture him here, so I will need you to create that opportunity for me. Do you have a plan?"

Rosaleen rubbed her chin for a moment, thinking of what she could do to get this fellow captured. After a moment she looked at Nesbitt with a slight grin. "I've got an idea."
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:7




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sherlockhson says...



Roslaeen Streinberg


Rosaleen mostly pretended to sleep as her shift ended as her mind was still mulling over the details of her plan with Kaia. She had managed to catch just under an hour of sleep before the morning sun woke her. She hadn't paid attention to who took watch after her but she could already guess the first person she'd see up and about, and of course James was the first person she saw as she got up.

"I'm surprised you didn't disappear in the night," she said to him as she got to her feet, eager to get the day started, or maybe she just wanted it over with? She couldn't tell which at the moment.

James looked over at her with a blank face, unamused. "Likewise."

She grunted and ignored his reply, instead wondering why she would even say that to him. Maybe she was hopeful he would have ran off, would make the rest of her day a little less risky. She also began doubting Kaia's offer, what's to stop her from ending up in a cell right next to James after their deal was finished? She watched as the others began to rise, and she knew she had to start putting her plan into action before something came up.

Ari let out a loud yawn as he sat up. As he was rubbing the back of his neck Rosaleen could feel his discomfort. Their sleeping arrangements weren't the best. Adina was rising as well, also seemingly uncomfortable from the camping. Brett however, seemed to do just fine, as he quickly jumped to his feet, seemingly eager to see what the day brought.

"Oh come on, it wasn't that bad!" He said, looking at Ari and Adina. "Either that, or I'm just used to sleeping in odd places..."

"Most people like beds," Rosaleen replied. Brett shrugged with a smirk.

"So what are we-" Brett began. "I was thinking last night." Rosaleen interrupted. "We're going to need to venture into a town eventually, and I think I know a way."

James, who had previously busied himself with packing their things back on their horses, shot a look over to Rosaleen. "Elaborate," he replied curtly, clearly wary of the idea of traveling through towns.

Rose squinted at James before continuing. "A man lives near here. Diamonds is his name, and he deals in a bunch of illegal trades. He works with the person who... who he worked with isn't important, but he has evidence that could clear my name."

"Could clear it?" Brett asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Will clear it." Rosaleen replied. "He has his own base of operations here, he keeps information in his store house which I know will show I'm innocent."

"How come you never got it before?" Ari asked.

"Because I sort of stick out." Rosaleen pointed to her hair. "And I was never the best at breaking and entering. I needed help, and honest help is hard to come by in the company I'm normally forced to keep. But it seems like that's changed for the moment."

"That's probably the most positive thing you've said so far," Adina commented.

"Don't get used to it." Rosaleen replied with a sigh.

"How much do you know about the base? How heavily is it guarded?" James asked, looking away as he tied the blankets back onto the horses.

"I know the layout, lightly guarded. Diamonds prefers a few good watchmen. He pays them a lot from what I know." She had studied the floor plans of the 'base' very carefully long before she was caught.

"So you need someone to get in and out?" Brett asked, sensing his skills would be needed for the job.

"I need someone to get me in and out. And someone to be a distraction. I know exactly where to go, I just need someone to get his attention, which should draw his guards too."

”And we’ll need someone to stay with the horses and make sure they don’t get stolen,” James added, ever mindful of the hostile territory they were traveling in.

"Exactly." Rosaleen said as she looked towards Adina and Ari. "I think that should be left to you two of course."

"Makes sense," Ari replied. He didn't want Adina going on a dangerous mission, plus, no one would try and steal a horse from him most likely.

"And that leaves the distraction." She turned to James. "Perfect for a cowboy right?"

James gave her a flat look. “That makes... absolutely no sense. And for the third time, I am not a 'cowboy.'” he reiterates, giving her a pointed glare.

"It's really simple not-a-cowboy, You just have to approach him as a buyer of whatever he's selling, he's distracted, me and Brett sneak in, grab what I need then we're all done. You look thuggish enough to pass as one of his normal customers anyways." She returned the glare, it seemed they'd just spent every moment glaring at each other so far

James leaned back on his heels, looking down at Rosaleen. “So we’re betting our chances heavily on my ability to bluff, keep their attention, and buy you time, then?”

"Well I won't bet it all on you. I can give you things to say to make you seem more legit... But you seem good enough at faking that you'll be fine." She gave him a snide grin. "I mean you've had me convinced this whole time you were a cowboy and you're not. You're good!"

James's eyes rolled back into his head for a brief moment before returning to his previous glare. He looked over to Ari, their unspoken designated mediator, wordlessly asking him to break the chain of childish insults. "You'll have to tell me more about Mr. Diamonds and exactly what kind of trade he's running. Don't skimp on details."

"I can fill you in on that later." Rosaleen replied and waved her hand. She'd fill him in once he actually agreed maybe.

"This is starting to sound pretty dangerous," Ari said, looking at James. "You think it's a good idea to take the risk?"

James looked over at Ari with a raised brow, then back at Rosaleen. "This is what you want, right? To clear your name?"

Rosaleen stared at him for a moment. "Yes, I want to clear my name." This time, she was being as close to honest as she could. She really did want her name cleared, but she knew James wasn't gonna like how it was going to happen. Not that he'd ever know though.

"And you're sure that Mr.Diamonds has the evidence to do that?" Brett asked, he was curious as to how she was so sure he had it.

"I'm positive. It's him and some of his thugs that witch hired, he'd have it documented, especially if he was payed as well as I think he was." Rose replied with a grimace, she didn't even want to say the name of the woman responsible for all her trouble and pain.

The four all exchanged glances, but nobody looked like they wanted to ask Rosaleen about who said 'witch' was.

"Well... fill us in on details as we get on our way, then." James replied after a lengthy and uncomfortable silence. "You'll help me navigate, so stay up front."

Rosaleen nodded and headed for the horses.

"Well, this should be interesting," Brett said as he followed, glancing back at Adina and Ari. He was fairly sure they'd be alright. Who would steal a horse from Ari?

As Rosaleen led them along, she began to slightly doubt herself. Did James even deserve this? After all he was willing to put himself in a fair amount of danger for someone he barely knew. She hadn't even said a single kind thing to him yet either. Maybe he just has his own motives? She thought. Or maybe he's just a kind person, like you used to be? The thought echoed in her head for a moment before she grimaced and pressed on. She didn't have time for kindness anymore.




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soundofmind says...



James / Tiberius Hemming
cowritten with @AllisontheWriter and @sherlockhson


Rosaleen drew with a stick in the dirt, slowly creating an image of the layout of Diamonds's base. James looked over her shoulder and crouched beside her, along with the others crowding around the diagram.

"The base is less of a base and more of a mansion, to be honest. When you have the money and connections that he does you like to show off," she said as she finished drawing the basic layout, with a circle on one end and a cross on the other. "The circle is the front, where you'll be entering from, Cowboy. Just thought you might need directions to the front door."

James gave her a mild look of annoyance. "I'm sure I'll see it if I'm coming from the front."

Brett leaned in, getting a closer look at the layout of the building. "So this is the bottom floor, right? Or is it a one-floored building?"

"Second floor isn't important to use, the first floor here and the floor under is what we're after," Rose replied as she began plotting out the lower level of the mansion.

"So there's a basement," Brett confirmed. "Going underground means we'll have to go back up through the first floor, unless there are windows somehow."

"Exactly, why do you think there's two of us?" Rosaleen replied as she finished drawing the map of the basement. "It won't be heavily guarded down below, he likes to keep the guards on the main level."

"You know this for sure?" James asked.

"Positive, I've memorized the layout of what was important." She stood up and looked at her own handy work. It was exactly as she remembered it.

"So where d'ya want miss Adina an' me to stay back with t'e horses?" Ari asked.

James looked up at Ari. "I'd think at least a mile out. We wouldn't want to draw you too close and have any of Mr.Diamonds's scouts find you." He looked over to Rosaleen. "Is there a place they could hide that would be easy to get back to, if we were to need to make a quick getaway?"

"That far out is a pretty dense forest area, they should be fine along the treeline a mile out there." Rosaleen said confidently.

Ari exchanged a confident not with Rosaleen, and looked over at Adina. "Yer good with lookin' after thems horses, ain't ya, miss?"

Adina nodded. "Yeah, that's fine with me," she said quietly. She was fine with being a minor part of this plan. Breaking and entering wasn't her strong suit - or more to say, it was something she'd never done before, and wasn't excited about being involved in.

"So how are we getting in? Through the back?" Brett asked, drawing the attention back to the map with a finger pointed at the cross Rosaleen had yet to address.

"The back through the kitchen. He shouldn't have any guests so the kitchen will be empty." She pointed out the kitched on her crude map. "You're used to getting in through windows I hope?"

"Naturally," Brett replied with a sly grin. He took another look at the layout of the base before looking to James. "So what exactly are you planning to do as a distraction?"

James only looked briefly over at Rosaleen, who'd filled him in on more of the details of what Diamond did, and what relevant things James could do to hold their attention without provoking them to violence.

"I have something figured out. Don't worry about me."

--<>--

It took two, long days for them to get close to the base without drawing attention to themselves as they continued to trudge through the forests. As they began to get close to the base, the time came for James, Rosaleen, and Brett to split off from Adina and Ari.

"Good luck to ya guys," Ari said with a beaming smile that seemed to not quite fit the intensity of the situation.

"Take care," Adina added in a much quieter voice, waving discreetly.

James (still known as Philip to all but Rosaleen) nodded, turning to leave before even Rosaleen said her goodbyes. Rosaleen pursed her lips in dissaproval, but managed not to say anything.

"Thanks. Let's just hope we all come back in one piece, shall we?" Rosaleen asked, though the irony of her statement was beginning to weigh on her, especially as they were about to split up.

"I'm sure ya'll will make et back jus' fine," Ari replied, with an attempt to be encouraging. "'Sides, Brett 'ere is good at this stuff. He'll getchya in-an-out easily."

Brett grinned, if only to conceal his nerves. "What can I say? The man's right."

Rosaleen rolled her eyes, turning to leave. "Okay then, let's get moving, professional sneakster."

Brett rolled his eyes, nodded, and with that, they were off.

Ari and Adina watched as the three dissapeared into the thick of the forest, and before they knew it, it was just them in the quiet of the forest with the horses making occasional noises behind them.

"There, there, Piper," Adina whispered gently over at the one in the middle. "And you too, Prudence." She stroked the neck of the right-most one, making one-sided conversation with the horses.

Ari looked over at Adina curiously, listening in on her mumblings to the animals. "Did j'ya name 'em all, Miss 'Dina?"

"Just those two," Adina admitted. "I'm not that good with naming things, you see."

"What makes ya say that?" Ari asked.

"Well, they're all going to begin with P if I used all the names I came up with today," Adina said, as though it was obvious. "And I just don't think Penelope suits this one."

"Well," Ari replied, "you could just move onto another letter, couldn't you?"

Adina shrugged. "But I don't know any good names beginning with the others. Just ... wait..." As though an invisible light bulb had just lit up over her head, Adina snapped her fingers as an idea entered her mind. "Oh! How about ... Xavier?"

"X-avier?" Ari repeated. "Bit of a mouthful, that one. How 'bout ... just ... Rosey?"

"Then you'd better hope Rosaleen doesn't make it back," Adina quipped. "I think she'll kill us if we picked that!"

Ari chuckled. "You know what, I think yer right ... but let's still do it anyway."

Adina allowed herself a small, but definitely mischievous, smile.

--<>--

As James approached the mansion, he could see the top of the building come into view beyond the treetops. It was downhill. Which meant the escape back would upwards (and if his gut feelings meant anything, that meant he'd be running uphill for a good amount of time, which he didn't look forward to).

On his way to the entrance, he quickly workshopped an old persona he'd used in his years of travel and began to step into its shoes. His usual upright gait became more lax, and he adopted a slur to his speech that would make Ari seem fancy.

Before he could make it to the front doors, he could hear the shufflings around him as scouts and guards detected his presence. Though the mansion was in view up ahead, his sight of it was soon blocked by a man and a woman, wearing similar, seemingly uniform garb. That, and they both mirrored one another's antagonistic expression.

"Who are you?" The woman demanded, her pointed brows angled down at him.

James leaned back on his heels a bit, raising a brow.

"Well? State your business here, or I will--"

"Howdy!" He replied in a casual tone, as if he didn't just cut her off. "I been told yer boss over in that ol' mansion up there's been needin' another source fer his valuable tradin' bidness." His head bobbed a bit from side to side as he drew his arms wide and gestured towards himself. "So I thought I'd stop by. I'm yer golden opportunity, folks."

The uniformed man and woman exchanged irritated glances, unspoken words (evidently "Do we let this weirdo in?") passing between them. Finally, it was, to James' surprise, the woman who broke and waved him past, the man to her side stepping aside with seemingly great reluctance.

James sailed through the gateway, trying his best to maintain that casual gait. He didn't need to hear the bigger, male guard's clumsy footsteps trying and failing to match his own to know what had to come next. As the drew near to the door, James could sense just a second of pause in their movement, and before they could turn on him, he made his move.

With a small jump he grabbed both of their heads and knocked them together with full force. As they fell to the ground, he quickly searched them for keys, finding them in the man's boot. Unfortunately, the thrashing of their heads didn't seem to keep them both out and down. The woman, whom he'd suspected he couldn't underestimate, sprang back up as though totally unfazed, fists bared for a fight.

James sighed. This needed to be quick if he didn't want to draw attention. He let her swing first, though easily dodging it, and waited for the brief opening when her arm was extended. With the next swing, he blocked her fist with one hand and grabbed her wrist with the other, and in a matter of seconds, had twisted her arm and knocked her to the ground. As he pulled away for a brief moment, he swung a kick to her head again - this time, withholding nothing.

She was out.

He dragged their bodies out of the doorway's view, and hurried back to the door, unlocked it, and slipped inside. As he got in, he was met with four looks of confusion, and only seconds following, four gun barrels pointed his way.

"I'm here to see Mr. Diamond," he announced, adding for good measure, "He's expecting me."

--<>--

"What was that?"

Adina went to check on the horses. "That sounded like Rosey ... and maybe Posey too. But they're just, y'know, eating. Nothing special."

Ari's head was drawn in the direction of the noise, and his hand began to reach for his sword. "I dunno if we can be too sure 'bout that..."

All the joking now aside, Adina felt the gravity of the situation take hold. They could be in danger here. "What do we do?" she whispered.

Ari drew his sword, hearing another noise from the same direction. If he was right, it could be footsteps, coming from whomever had scared the horses. "If it's anything dangerous, I think ya oughta stay low, with t'e horses."

"But the Bad Noises were coming from near the horses!" Adina protested. "I love those horses, but.... Oh, never mind. Give me a sword, Ari. I'm coming with you!"

Ari handed her a dagger from his person. "This is what I got. You used one before?"

The noise again. He guessed it wouldn't matter if she'd used it before or not.

She'd be using it now.

"Don't, uh, stab yourself, okay?"

Adina nodded silently. "You've got this," she muttered, more to herself than Ari. "What's this? Just a very sharp butter knife. Nothing you haven't handled before."

Ari looked like he was going to say something to that, but thought better of it. Just beyond the horses, he caught a glimpse of movement in the shadows. Whatever it was, it was coming closer.

--<>--

Brett and Rosaleen hurried on light feet through the forest, going the long way around the house to avoid detection. Rosaleen struggled to keep up at moments where his swiftness and agility exceeded her own. Though she knew Brett's part in the mission was necessary, she wondered if he could tone it down just a bit. The level of focus it took to make sure every step was as quiet as possible was exhausting, so naturally, she was relieved when they could see the back of the building.

"There," Rosaleen whispered, pointing. "That's the window."

"We should wait a minute before climbing up," Brett said. "I don't like that moonlight the way it shines all over that wall."

Rosaleen looked over to Brett, about to scold him about how they didn't have all the time in the world, but she stopped herself when they saw a pair of guards walking along the back wall of the building, as if on patrol. So instead, she just sent him a pointed look.

"Okay, make that two minutes."

"Shh!" Rosaleen shushed.

It took a minute for the guards to pass out of eye- and earshot , but once Rosaleen was sure they were gone, she inched forward. Brett held an arm out in front of her for moment, his eyes still on the moonlight shining on the wall. A cloud passed over the beam of light, and for a moment, it was dark again.

"Now," he hissed, taking Rosaleen's hand and hurrying her along. If not for the immense need for quiet, he had a feeling she'd be having a fit.

"Need a boost?" he asked as Rosaleen struggled to get her feet up to the window sill. Without waiting for an answer, he helped her up and over. From the other side, she flashed him a death glare.

"You were taking a while," Brett said as he climbed in after her. "Didn't want to use up our minute."

Rose glared at him again, but this time only briefly as they stepped into the dark and empty kitchen. It turned out, Rose's bet on it being empty was correct. But light could be seen seeping through the crack beneath the door - which meant possibly having to do more sneaking than she anticipated. She held her breath, looking to Brett to lead the way.

Brett had his gaze set on the door as well. He seemed hesitant - or maybe that was just Rosaleen's interpretation of him, since that's all she was feeling.

"What are you waiting for?" Rosaleen whispered as quietly as she could. "Lead the way, pro-sneakster."
Last edited by soundofmind on Wed Oct 30, 2019 6:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.





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Featherstone says...



Ardeshir
by Feather and soundofmind


He looked at the shape a little tentatively - he wouldn’t say he was afraid, per se, but he was definitely uncomfortable with the whole situation. Not to mention Adina; if something happened to her, he’d never forgive himself! The movement stilled as they approached. Whatever it was, it was trying to hide.

Posey snorted, watching the bushes with a nervous gaze.

“Careful, miss,” he warned, attempting stealth but failing due to his large size while he approached the bushes. Something leapt out, hissing, with a puffed tail and an arched back. Ardeshir leapt back in surprise and Adina let out a surprised yelp as the large, tawny feline hissed and spat. For a moment, it was unclear who was more afraid of who - Ari and Adina of the young cat or the feline of them.

Lowering their weapons, the two approached it slowly. “‘Ey there,” Ari said softly, deep voice a low rumble in the dark. “I ain’t gonna hurt ya, little guy. She ain’t, either, so don’t ya worry.”

The cat, not understanding his tongue, continued to hiss and spit and altogether attempt to be as terrifying as possible. Unfortunately for the small creature, this only served to make it cuter, as upon closer inspection it seems to be a kitten and not simply a petite cat.

After several moments of this, Ari picked it up despite its struggles to get out of his grip and began petting it. It initially resisted by clawing at his arms and chest before recognizing that the petting was actually rather relaxing, and it began to utter a low purr.

He turned to Adina with a goofy grin. “It’s a baby kitty!” he exclaimed. “A big ‘un!”

She came over, petting it behind the ears with a smile. It was nowhere near the massive creature they were expecting from such loud noises. “I wonder where its mother is.” It moved its face so that she was petting its chin, the purr reverberating through the small clearing.

“He ain’t lookin’ like he’s got one, skinny as he is,” he flipped the cat on its back and scratched its tummy. The playful beast batted at his fingers and, upon catching them, chewed gently on his hand. “He sure is cute!”

Adina’s eyes widen with realization; if there was no parent cat, then he was just fending for himself. “Can we keep him, then?” She would've hated to see him die, anyways, and they could all use a bit of cheering up.

“Why couldn’t we? Can’t leave ‘im out here t’ be dyin’, at any rate. But if we’re gonna be keepin’ ‘im, he needs a proper name, don’ he?” He paused, considering. “What ‘bout Ursuku? Little bear. He ain’t no bear, but he acts fierce as one.”

Adina smiled. “I like it! Ursuku!”

As they spoke, the small beast leapt out of Ari’s arms and sniffed its way over to one of the saddlebags with rations and jerky in it, mixed in with some stickers bars. Adina followed him and dug a piece of jerky out, handing it to the kitten to chew. He seemed a little unsure of how to go about eating such a tough meal, but was hungry and sat down, figuring it out and leaving Ari and Adina drowning in cuteness.

--<>--

The two frontmost guards inched closer to James, with their guns pinned on him. James raised his hands up in the typical gesture of surrender, but continued to assert himself.

“I have business with Mr. Diamond that I’d like to discuss, so if you’d please-”

“We’re familiar with all of Mr. Diamond’s clients,” a guard replied. “You are not one of them. So who are you?”

James sent the guard a serious look. He’d planned on using a dealers’ name to claim as his own, but now that idea was thrown out the window. “A new client,” he said dryly. “With knowledge of an abundant flower source-”

“Flower. Specify,” the guard barks.

James half rolled his eyes at this, having been interrupted twice now. “Lumshade.”

At the mention of the popular but rare (and illegal) hallucinogenic drug, James saw the looks in their eyes change. While just a moment ago, they were ready to put a bullet through him at a moment’s notice, now he’d caught their interest (though he wouldn’t bet on them still not wanting to shoot him in a second were he to say something wrong). The guard who’d been addressing him approached, squaring him up, attempting to use his height as an intimidation factor. James wouldn’t admit that it wasn’t working.

“You'd better have proof of that, mate. Else this’ll be the last face you’ll see,” the guard growled.

James fought at the grin tugging at his lips. “Well let’s hope that’s not the case for both our sakes,” he muttered, as he dipped his hand into his boot and pulled out a pressed flower, lifting it up to the guard’s face.

“This is all you get for now until I speak to Diamond,” he said with an even tone. “The map and location will be disclosed with him and him alone, and whether or not you know that information is up to his discretion.”

The guard sneered, but made a gesture with his hands to the other guards. One of them left, presumably to notify Diamond.

“... We’ll see if we can get you an audience with the boss. ‘Til then, you wait here.”

James pursed his lips slightly, looking down at the end of the long hall where Rosaleen had said the kitchen was. He needed to keep these guys busy longer, so Rosaleen and Brett wouldn’t be seen. But he also needed to not get shot.

“Fine.”
"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost."


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Wolfi says...



Brett Crawford
cowritten with @sherlockhson and @soundofmind


"Lead the way, pro-sneakster," Brett mimicked under his breath. The truth was, he was scared - just because he was experienced with stealthing didn't mean he was calm and controlled every time he did it, and anyway, sneaking around indoors was a whole different thing from snatching stickers bars from a campfire. It was so easy to get trapped, cornered, or lost with a roof over your head.

He tiptoed to the door and pressed his ear against the crack, just in time to hear the mustache man, Phillip, utter a single word, his voice echoing down the hallway: "Lumshade."

The rumbling voice of a guard came in reply. "You'd better have proof of that, mate."

Brett turned to Rosaleen. "He's got the guards distracted," he whispered. "You know where to go, so... lead the way?"

"It's in the basement," Rose whispered as she moved in front of Brett. Taking his word that the guards were distracted she cracked open the door as quietly as she could and motioned for him to follow. Across from the kitchen was a set of stairs leading to the basement. "Of course it's unguarded... he wouldn't think anyone would get this far." She whispered to herself as she made her way down the steps, being mindful of any creaking it might do.

Brett closed the kitchen door quickly and quietly behind him, then followed Rosaleen into the dark depths of the basement. At the foot of the stairs, he took a match from his coat pocket and struck it against the wall, then cupped the light with his other hand. "Alright," he said. "What're we looking for? A cabinet or something? Papers?"

"Papers, wherever they might be, try and find something to light down here with that match." She strained her eyes trying to see her surroundings. She could make out a few shelves and a cabinet in a corner, and a lone desk.

Stashed in a spiderwebbed corner Brett found a dusty old oil lamp, the glass shattered. He picked it up gently, but winced when a shard of glass clinked against the floor and echoed against the basement walls. Rosaleen pivoted on her heel to glare at him. Or at least he assumed she was glaring. It was hard to tell.

Gingerly, he lit the lamp, and in another moment the entire room was flooded with a golden, flickering light. In an attempt to shield themselves from the view of any passerbys in the hallway, Brett situated himself between the lamp and the stairs, tenting the light with his coat, while Rosaleen poked around.

Rose headed straight for the desk after a moment of wondering where the most useful things might be. Blank papers sat on top of it, but in the drawer were some freshly written looking documents. She sifted through them: they mentioned trade routes, names of the people involved with transporting goods, even a few bits on how they tricked guards. She stuffed a few of the important looking ones into her pocket before leaving the desk to look at the shelves. "He'll probably have his past stuff sorted on one of these." She whispered mostly to herself as she started reaching for rolled up papers. She opened each one just to view dates on them and quickly tossed them aside when they didn't match up to what she was looking for. She knew she wouldn't find any evidence here, but she had to make it look like she tried, so she began sighing after each paper she unrolled, trying her best to sell the act to Brett.

"Psst!" Brett hissed. "Be a bit quieter with the papers, would you? I can hear footsteps." To narrow the escaping light, he crept closer to Rose and hugged the lamp closer to his body, the flame nearly licking his chin. He caught glimpses of the writing on the scrolls, some of which looked like they were in a different language. "What are these papers, anyway? Can you even read them?"

"They're not what I'm looking for, that's what they are." Rose snapped at him. "And yes I can read them... most of them. The ones in odd languages I know enough to get by but they're even less important." She continued tossing the papers aside. Had she not been playing up the drama she might've been having fun just messing up Diamond's files.

And had Brett not been so worried about the current severity of their situation, he might've been keen to Rose's act. But as it was, he hardly even listened to her reply. He was holding his breath, ready to puff out the light the moment Rosaleen found what she was looking for, or the moment he heard footsteps on the stairs - whichever came first.

Rose was actually starting to get frustrated as she had to keep up the act, but that seemed to play into her ruse as she pulled from a large stack of papers too hard and sent them all crashing to the ground. A thud echoed through the basement, and she froze and listened for any movement. She took one last look around the room and looked at Brett. "We should probably leave..."

Brett blew out the light and grabbed Rose's arm, pulling her with him underneath the staircase. They huddled there for nearly a minute in frozen silence, waiting. Brett wasn't happy. They were all risking their lives in this haphazard plan just for Rosaleen's sake, and then she couldn't even find what she was looking for. Crouched there with spiderwebs in his hair and tiny pieces of glass piercing his palm, Brett was experiencing some serious regret.

"I should've never stuck with you guys," he muttered.

--<>--


"This had better be something important to interrupt what was supposed to be my day off!" A man's voice bellowed from where the guard had gone. Heavy foot steps were headed towards James and the guard left to look over him.

"I swear If this isn't something game changin,' someone is gonna be fired... out of a cannon!" The disgruntled man finally came into view. He was a tall portly man, dressed quite well for someone who was supposedly having a day off. He wore a black suit made of fine looking fabric, and bright gold buttons adorned the front. He was bald, had signs of a recently shaved beard, and looked very disgruntled - that was, until he saw James holding the Lumshade.

His face suddenly burst into a wide toothy smile revealing several gold teeth.

"Well, well, well! If that ain't a sight for sore eyes!" He shouted in a much happier tone, his eyes flicking between James and the flower.

"You like it, huh?" James asked with a smirk. "I thought this would grab your attention."

"And to think my guards were hassling you when you had something like this!" He shot the guards angry glances. "I mean, being the kind-hearted man I am, I'm going to just assume you didn't come to bother me about a single plant right? There's more I assume?" His face grew slightly menacing as he stared at James.

James returned the look with a smile that did not meet his eyes, as he returned the same stare. "I don't have it on me if that's what you're asking. I don't have the resources or the manpower to get it to you securely. But I do know a location unexplored by most that has these everywhere."

His smile returned. "Ah, good man! I wasn't expecting company today but I always enjoy some pleasant surprises!" He took a few steps towards James to inspect the plant more closely. "Would you mind?" He asked as he reached out a hand towards the plant. "I like to personally inspect the purity of such a commodity."

James shrugged, handing the man the plant. "Have at it."

He took the plant, and pulled a monocle out of his jacket pocket. He inspected the plant very closely for a few moments, with his eyebrow raised the whole time. Finally, he returned the monocle to his pocket and let out a sigh. "You know, this plant is in rough shape. No doubt you have no idea how to transport this thing and that's forgivable. But there's something really bothering me about it." He paused and gave James a serious look, and his smile had faded once again.

The moment lingered till he let out a hearty laugh and grinned. "It's bothering me how well this plant looks! It looks like you picked it hours ago! Did ya? If you didn't pick this just recently then you've definitely got my curiosity! This flower must have come from a prime batch of the stuff!" He gestured for James to follow him. "Come on and join me in my livin' room! It'll be a lot more comfy than standing around lookin' like we're plottin' to kill someone!" He laughed and walked towards the next room.

James followed, but his eyes flickered to the end of the hall. While everyone's eyes had been on the flower, he could've sworn he saw movement. He hoped that Rosaleen and Brett had gotten in safely and that his distraction worked.

--<>--


"I don't want to die today," a still-angry Brett informed Rosaleen, picking the spiderwebs out of his hair. "So here's the plan. We go to the kitchen. We hop out the window. We run. Got it?"

"Best plan you've had so far, sneaky." Rose replied.

Brett didn't appreciate that tone of voice. He turned away from her, listened momentarily for any noises, then shot up the stairs, climbing two at a time, relying more on speed than on stealth - if no one had heard Rose practically knock the whole cabinet over, then surely a few squeaky boards would be excused. He was also mad, and a mad Brett was less likely to be a quiet one. He opened the kitchen door, ushered Rosaleen inside, then shut it quickly behind them. "To the window!"

He was helping Rose up when all of a sudden she whacked him on the head. "Down! Put me down!"

"Ow!" he cried. "What was that for?"

"Guards!" she hissed at him as she struggled from his grip.

They dropped down to the floor and pressed their backs against the kitchen counters. Brett listened, and sure enough, he could hear the voices of guards and the crunch of their boots.

"Odd-looking footprints, wouldn't you say?"

"Aye. Somethin' fishy's goin' on here... Looks like they climbed through the window."

"I'm going to die today," whispered Brett. Without another moment's hesitation, he kept low and darted to the door, swinging it open, Rose right behind him.

"Hey! Stop there!" one of the guards yelled from outside the window.

Rosaleen slammed the door behind them, and then in the following seconds many things happened at once.

Phillip entered the hallway, a well-dressed man just behind him, holding a flower.

Brett, propelled forward by Rose, was nearly knocked right back down the basement stairs.

The two guards who had noticed the footprints crashed into the kitchen behind the door.

Rosaleen, startled to see both Diamond and James, quickly regained what little of her composure she could. "Run Ti-." She bit her tongue as she was about to say his name. "Run, stupid!"

As if a switch turned on, Brett watched as the previously-composed mustache man sailed a fist into Diamond's gut.

Brett and Rose got out of the way just as the kitchen door burst open. The door swung in such a way as to hide them from immediate view, directing the guards to James and the bloody-nose Diamond. Brett sought his dagger, wanting to help, but Rosaleen yanked on his sleeve and he had no choice but to run.

Two more guards, drawn by the commotion, met them at the front door. Rose was caught off guard and attempted to stop herself, but momentum caused her to slide forward slightly and fall to the floor; her grip on Brett's sleeve took him off balance as well. The guards loomed over them, brandishing their weapons.

Brett lifted his hands in surrender. One of the guards reached down and lifted him up by his coat collar. "What do you think you're doing, punk?"

"It's her fault," Brett said, pointing at Rose.

"You were the sneaky one! Sneakster." She shot Brett a glare.

"Like your knocking over a hundred papers helped."

"How about almost smashing that lantern?"

"It was already smashed. Thanks to your stupid plan, now I've got shards of glass sticking in my palm." He stuck his hand in her face to prove the point.

Rose recoiled slightly at the blood. "My plan was perfect...That cowboy just didn't cause a big enough distraction."

Just then a shot rang out, and the guard that was lifting Brett fell suddenly and heavily on top of him, wounded.

"You're welcome," the cowboy said at the end of the hallway, his gun smoking. The other guard went for his gun but James shot him just as quickly in the knee. "Let's go!" he cried.

Brett pushed the guard off of him and scrambled to his feet. Delighted by this turn of events, he sprinted to safety, running faster, faster, faster...

--<>--


"What happened?" Adina said as Brett and Rose arrived, breathless.

"An' where's Phillip?" Ari asked.

"Huh?" Brett turned around. "I dunno. He... he was right behind us. Something must've happened."

"Dunno... Ran off... Didn't look." Rose replied between breaths as she slumped on a tree. Who cares is what she actually wanted to say, but she was too spent to be mean at this point.

"Ran off?" Ari said. "Whadya mean he ran off?"

"That's not like him," Adina said.

"I agree," Brett said. "I mean, we... we barely know him, but... He just saved our lives back there. Shouldn't we try to help him?"

"Oh yes! Let's head right back towards the people who want to kill us!" Rose face-palmed. "They have guns you know."

Brett was in the mood to argue with anything and everything that Rose said, but this time, against his will, he relented. "I don't like it, but... Rose is right. We have to get out of here." He turned around. "Is... is that a kitten?"
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.




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soundofmind says...



James / Tiberius Hemming
cowritten with @Lael


"Yeah," Ari replied.

The cat meowed from its place on Ari's shoulder in response, to which Brett only gave the cat a brief look of confusion and shook his head.

"Why is there a cat now!?" Rosaleen practically screeched.

"We found 'im runnin' 'roud -" Ari began.

"You know what, never mind! I don't care," Rosaleen muttered harshly. There was a small pause of awkward silence as everyone was taken aback by Rosaleen's snappiness (not that it was unusual for her to be snappy, but now it was just uncalled for).

"But..." Adina began to speak, though very quietly. "Phil-" Her voice was quickly drowned out by Rosaleen's.

"Let's move it!" Rose barked, already atop Posey. "Come on!" She said with a wave of her hand.

Ari and Brett each clambered atop a horse (the latter rather awkwardly, but resigned to the need of the situation) while Rosaleen extended a hand to Adina and helped her up onto Posey. Once Adina was secure, Rosaleen whipped the reins with no hesitation - leading them out of the forest as fast as Posey would take them. As she glanced back at Adina's worried expression, an annoying emotion was stirred up in her gut that she chose to ignore. There was no going back for James. Not if she - and they - wanted to escape in one piece.

--<>--


Of all of the stupid things he had agreed to in his life, this event had just made it to his top ten.

James did not have an easy escape. After Brett and Rosaleen ran out, the remaining guards had turned on him, along with the two scouts he'd knocked out earlier who seemed to reintroduce themselves by meeting him at the front door just as he tried to run out it behind the other two.

Without thinking, he ducked, sensing and betting on someone's gun being pointed at him. He heard two shots go above him, apparently missing the two in front of him, blocking his way. He barreled forward, attempting to push his way through them or slip out either side. But they gave him no room.

The woman from earlier grabbed him by the shirt and threw him down. He rolled away from her and sprang to his feet, but in the act of doing so felt a bullet lodge in his upper back. A nice addition to his arrow wound just beside it.

He spun around with his gun (that he'd gotten off Diamond when he punched him) and, eager to finish the fight and get away, made a shot at the three remaining men behind him, but while doing so, was met with an arm coming around his neck, and immediately took the opportunity to spin around with them on his back, throw them to the ground - and, finally having an opening, made a break for it, sprinting.

He could hear a few people following directly behind him, while others were still regrouping. But as he persisted, the pairs of footsteps following him decreased to one, and he knew he had to lose them before he reached the horses and the others.

Tiberius was that close. As Kaia followed after him and his final pursuer, she could practically envision herself throwing the man down before King Blackfield's throne.

But first, she'd have to get rid of the last bit of competition. With lightning precision, she whipped out a blade the size of her index finger and flicked it at the man, who shuddered once and fell to the ground.

Kaia allowed herself a brief smile of satisfaction. A rush of adrenaline ran through her as she stopped in front of the dead man and called out, "Tiberius!" She kept her hands ready to pull out more hidden knives. He wouldn't go without a fight.

James's eyes shot wide open. How did she get here? He didn't have to turn his head to know who'd just called out his real name. He recognized her voice, and immediately dodged to the left, briefly ducking behind the cover of plant life, but mostly to course-correct. He couldn't lead Kaia towards the others. She was his problem, and no matter how ill-prepared he was, he'd have to face her.

"Kaia!" He called back, grinning, despite himself, as he looked straight at her for the briefest of moments before continuing in his sprint.

Strange. It was almost as if he looked happy to see her. Kaia pushed those thoughts away and continued to chase him. He was fast, but she was faster. And she would use any means necessary to take him down, as lacking in her usual finesse as they may be.

James knew she would catch up to him quickly, so he pulled out his knife, and found a spot on high ground, and he waited.

She drew a blade and launched herself forward in a leap. She grabbed onto him, letting her momentum knock them both to the ground. James quickly rolled away, though he obviously was in some pain.

When she stood, Kaia went for his gun first. Though she had some doubts as to whether he would actually use it on her, it was best to have a firm upper hand in combat. The weapon was lying on the ground in the tall grass, and she kicked it far away from James's outstretched hand as he too lunged toward it. But at the last moment, he instead grabbed her leg and pulled it out from under her. She landed on her back, the breath knocked out of her.

“Nice to see you,” James quipped between breaths, kicking her.

As Kaia sprang back to her feet and swung her blade around to meet his, still slightly winded, she replied breathily, "Likewise."

A swipe of the blade. He blocked. “I see you’re doing well.”

"If you are trying to distract me," she said, "it won't work." She advanced on him again.

He dodged, and blocked her blade again. “I think the fighting is more distracting than the-“ he dodged again. “-conversing.”

This time she threw a kick in his direction. She frowned at him. "You seem to forget--" another slash of the knife, "--that we are not on friendly terms."

“If I had forgotten,” he replied, jumping back to avoid a slash at his stomach, “I wouldn’t have fled.”

Kaia stepped back and paused to take a breath. "Then you acknowledge you are a traitor. His Majesty has been waiting for your return for all these years."

“Then he’s a very patient man.”

The tiniest bit of her mouth quirked up. "Not so patient, really. But I am."

James forced himself not to grin. “A patient man?”

Kaia attacked him again, even more ferociously than before. She didn't answer him, burying any feelings in her movements.

James fought back. He had to admit that as soon as the words had left his mouth that he probably shouldn’t have said them - not only because antagonizing the enemy, in general, was unwise, but because he didn’t actually hold any ill will towards Kaia. Yes, she actively hunted him down. But she wasn’t just another bounty hunter: they had history.

As they continued to spar, Kaia tried to assess James as well as she could. When he spun away from her, she noticed that there was a dark spot growing on his back. Blood. She could use his wound to her advantage.

"I've spent the last few years tracking you down. This ends now." She managed to slash his arm and as he recoiled from the sudden pain she skirted around him and leaped up to land a swift kick to his back wound. Well, he'll live.

A great sting of pain shot up and down his back - his muscles freezing and tensing up as the feeling spread. He bit back a cry of pain as he stumbled forward, barely catching himself as he fell to the ground. He had to recoup. He tried to push himself back up.

Kaia withdrew a needle tipped in a sedative from her clothes. "The Moonlight Kingdom awaits," she said softly. "For you and me both."

--<>--


"Do you see any of 'em? They ain't followin' us, are they?" Ari called out to the others from the back of the group.

"How the heck am I supposed to know?" Rosaleen yelled, her annoyance likely too forward. "If you don't see them, they aren't there!"

Another awkward pause. Rosaleen could feel Adina's eyes look away as they bobbed up and down together on horseback. Her mouth twitched into a frown.

"It looks like we're clear, I don't see any-" Brett started, but he stopped, as all of their eyes caught sight of two people up ahead. As they were flying through the trees, they saw a scuffle in the distance. It was James and a woman - but not one that they'd seen before at the base.

She advanced on James, who was immobile on the ground, and in a flash there was a needle in his skin. Within a minute he grew limp. With one motion, she lifted him off the ground and as much onto her back as possible, holding onto James's arms to keep him steady.

Kaia looked up, catching a glimpse of the purple-haired girl for just a second. As Rosaleen met Kaia's eyes, she could feel her heart drop into her stomach. She swallowed, and for just a second, wondered if it was all worth it.

Then in an instant, Kaia disappeared into the forest with James.
Last edited by soundofmind on Wed Oct 30, 2019 6:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.





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soundofmind says...



Adina Blackthorne
cowritten with @sherlockhson


She was worried - no, more than worried. She knew she was bordering hysterical after seeing Philip fall limp and get dragged into the forest by some stranger. Would that be her fate? Would that be all of their fates? She knew she'd only narrowly avoided death by her luck to be caught with their group of outlaws who were ambitious and kind enough to help her each other escape. But how much of that was self preservation and how much of that was out of the goodness of their heart? Adina didn't know. She didn't know before, but she was even more unsure of the answers now.

She knew she was way in over her head, and that at this point, she couldn't just back out now. There was safety in numbers, and she didn't want to leave that. But wasn't there supposed to be some sort of loyalty among said numbers? Or was there really no honor among thieves? Or... however the saying went.

It was only as they began to slow their pace that Adina realized she'd been holding her breath for much of the ride. She took in a deep breath to remedy this, but ended up sounding like she was gasping for air. Rosaleen turned her head back slightly, raising a brow at her. Adina's lips quivered into a feeble grin under the scrutiny of Rosaleen's gaze. She couldn't help but wonder. If she had been Philip back there... would Rosaleen have insisted they leave her too? If she proved too much of a burden or wasn't able to keep up, would she get left behind? Did she do the right thing in choosing to stay with them? Would she have been any better off on her own? Would she end up dead either way? Was she only delaying the inevitable?

She hated to think that way, but the questions circled in her head nonetheless.

"I think we've put enough distance between us and them," Brett called over to Rosaleen, a hint of annoyance tainting his voice. "We should stop and give the horses a break."

Rosaleen pursed her lips. "You just want to get off the horse, don't you," she said in the most condescending way possible. "We've all noticed how you don't like riding."

Brett narrowed his eyes at Rosaleen. "I think we could all do well to stretch our legs."

"I fer one, agree," Ari piped up, patting the neck of his horse. "That, 'an Rosey here ain't made of steel or nothin'. Like 'e said. They gotta rest."

Rosaleen pulled the reins of the horse and brought it to a complete stop. She slowly looked around back at Ari. She quickly realized the horse was named Rosey, but that didn't wipe the look of sheer annoyance off her face. "You named the horse..." was all she could say as her eyebrow twitched.

A hand clapped over Ari's mouth, as he realized he shouldn't have said anything. It was supposed to be a secret from Rosaleen, and he was so quick to ruin it. A slightly amused grin played at the corners of his mouth, but Rosaleen's intimidation won over. "Uhh, I mean..."

Adina steeled her nerves. "It was my idea," she said, with more confidence than she'd likely ever spoken with Rose before. "I thought it rhymed nice with Posey. Who's... well, we're on Posey."

Rose scowled at Ari for a moment before looking at Adina, her face softening up about as much as it could. She let out a small sigh. "We'll take a break, come on. We'll make sure Posey and... Rosey, get some rest."

Brett looked down at his own horse, before hopping off of it. "Did you give this one a name?"

"I think we settled on Penelope?" Ari answered with a questioning look towards Adina.

Adina nodded. "Yeah."

"Hm." Brett shrugged, and walked the horse up to Ari as he and the girls hopped off. Ari actively stretched his arms, and Brett stretched his legs, while Rosaleen paced around them. While the silence might've felt normal or fitting with Phillip there as the reason, this silence felt... tense. And awkward. Adina had a feeling that Brett and Ari were thinking the same thing, but none of them were going to say it yet. She made eye contact with Ari, as if to test and confirm her theory silently. Ari looked worried, but she couldn't nail down much else. Her expectant stare though, seemed to finally elicit a response.

Ari cleared his throat. "I don't like how we left Philip back there," he started, causing everyone to look at Rosaleen in anticipation of some visceral reaction.

"I don't care." Rosaleen replied simply. "We're safe and alive, going back means we risk capture again, or worse, death." She glanced at Adina for a split second. "And I'm not letting that happen."

Brett, not looking at Rosaleen, raised his brows and pursed his lips bitterly. "Funny you say that now, but you were totally fine with risking our lives earlier to get that life-altering prison-freeing information in the mansion you wanted so badly - oh wait - what? The information that didn't end up being there?" He looked at Ari and Adina, knowing this was the first they heard of the true failure of their mission. Ari's whole expression sagged into an awestruck frown. Adina bit her lip, trying to hide her shock, dissapointment, frustration. All of it. They did all of that and lost Philip for nothing?

"You know what, you're right!" Rosaleen replied mockingly. "Lets go back for the guy that wouldn't even share his name with us! Totally sounds like the kind of person we should be risking our currently safe necks for!"

"But he did tell us his name-" Ari started.

Rosaleen scoffed. "Don't tell me you thought that was actually his real name, did you?!"

Brett cut in, his voice sharp. "Now wait a minute. Philip stuck his neck out for you and we all knew he didn't trust you from the beginning but he still helped you and he saved our lives back there. And if you don't have the human decency to admit you owe him your life then-" He huffed, taking in a deep breath as he stifled the anger rising in his chest. "You know you're the only reason we were out there anyway. You have to take some ownership of that."

"He really ain't done nothin' but help us," Ari added.

"And put up with us," Adina echoed in agreement. "And... I... I'd like to think that you guys would go back for me, if I was captured like that..." she looked to her feet, brushing messy loose hairs behind her ear, before she looked back up into Rosaleen's eyes. "So I think it's only right that we do it for him."

Rosaleen paused, and looked around at them all, she found a hint of irony in being lectured on doing the right thing by a bunch of fugitives. She could imagine her father laughing madly at the situation if it were in a story book. "Tsk, fine, IF you all are in such a hurry to die then lets get this over with." She looked at Adina. "But you're staying far away from the danger."

Adina raised her brows, looking at Rosaleen with wide eyes. Though she knew it was because they all thought she couldn't handle herself in a fight, she knew they weren't really wrong either. She didn't know what she was doing, so she didn't disagree.

"Sure," she said with a small nod, surprised that Rosaleen finally budged and agreed.

Ari's eyes lit up hopefully. "Then we should get going back the way we came - if we don't want to lose his trail."

Brett nodded, but he was hard to read. Adina couldn't tell if he was happy at the prospect of heading back towards danger to save Philip or if he was just pleased that they finally won Rosaleen over in an argument. Maybe it was a mix of both.

"Then I guess that cuts our break short then," Rosaleen said with a dramaticized sigh.

Brett huffed once more, quietly. "Let's go."
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.








Thou call'dst me a dog before thou hadst cause. But, since I am a dog, beware my fangs.
— Shylock, The Merchant of Venice