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The Mustache and The Beard

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Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:29 am
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soundofmind says...


A story by @FalconerGal9086 and @soundofmind


A year after the events in The Outlands have transpired, and the original group of misfit outlaws have gone their separate ways, two of these estranged friends cross paths again by happenstance. When Ari walks into a tavern and sees his old friend James, he inadvertently blows James's cover by running to his old friend with open arms. Unfortunately, that gets both of them into a bit of trouble, since James hasn't exactly fallen into the nicest crowd. These folks don't really like being lied to...

So here we'll follow the misadventures of Ari and James as they flee from a band of angry thieves! With James's persistent intensity and seriousness, and Ari's carefree, happy nature, it'll be sure to be entertaining!
"It's all a matter of perspective... everyone is the hero of their own story, and the villain of another's." - James

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Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:25 pm
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soundofmind says...

James held the bottle above his head as he poured the vile vodka down his throat. All around him his comrades chanted, urging him to swallow every last drop. With the last and final gulp, the shouts and cheers rang throughout his ears and he laughed, with Bella victoriously holding up his arm in the air.

"My gods, man! You're a beast!" She laughed.

James threw an arm around her shoulders. "I'd like to see you do better!" He challenged with a smile.

Bella shook her head, waving her hands in front of her. "Oh noooo, no, no, no. Not today. I'm the token sober for tonight." She gave James a little noogie, shoving her fist into his head, only drawing more laughter from him.

"Okay, okay! Fine, fine!" James surrendered and pulled away, backing up into the crowd of thieves with the empty bottle still in hand. He ended up bumping into someone in his walk backwards.

"Oh!" Ramona flipped around, receiving James's clumsy stumble by catching him in her arms. "Hahah, hey there, resident attention-seeker." She steadied James.

James smirked. "You're just jealous, aren't you? That Rita likes me more than you."

"HEY." Ramona punched him in his arm playfully, to which James punched back. It was then that the fiddler on the stage began to play a foot-tapping tune, and James got an idea.

"Hey you know what we should do?" James asked, eyeing the stage.

Ramona's eyes followed James's glance, and she began to shake her head. "No, Liam," she began to laugh as James tugged on her arm. "I'm not going to dance with you again!"

"Come on!" James pleaded with a toothy smile.

Ramona paused for a moment, watching James pout his lips and give her a pitiful puppy-eyed look. She rolled her eyes, smiling.

"Okaaaay. Fine!"

And with that, James pulled her through the crowd and leapt up with her onto the stage. As if to encourage their fancy footwork and their spinning around, the fiddler and the band backed up a little and began to play a little faster. Their comrades in the crowd began clapping, and some also joined in the dance.

It was at this moment that Ari entered the bar - with raucous laughter as Ramona and James finished the dance with a final bow. As Ari watched the couple stand up, hand in hand, his eyes lit up. He quickly recognized the man beneath the beard, and the long hair pulled into a ponytail. Memories of their adventures rushed back to him, and he began to push forward, running up to the stage. Just as James hopped off the stage, Ari burst through the crowd and grabbed James is a giant bear hug, lifting James off his feet.

"JAMES!" He exclaimed, with a joy-filled voice. "I'M SO HAPPY TO SEE YOU!"

At that moment, the chatter and laughter in the bar began to fall silent, and James, smushed between Ari's arms, stared out at the room with wide eyes.

To everyone else in the room, his name was Liam.

And he was way too drunk for this right now.
"It's all a matter of perspective... everyone is the hero of their own story, and the villain of another's." - James

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Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:17 pm
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Featherstone says...

Ardeshir, on the other hand, was very oblivious to James' predicament and was completely overtaken by the joyousness of reuniting with his old friend. Not much had changed about him, really: the seven-foot-tall giant was still just as big as he was before, or, at least, no smaller, and as innocently enthusiastic as ever. For once he was wearing semi-acceptable attire (though his shirt had a large, darkish stain on it that was probably from fish guts or something) and had even thought to brush his hair for a full ten seconds that morning. The only noticeable difference about the big man was his facial hair.

Last time they'd met, he'd just barely had the beginnings of fuzz on his chin, but now he had a full-on, bushy brown handlebar mustache, identical to the one James had all those years ago during their adventures in the Outlands.

"AH, I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU'RE HERE I THOUGHT I'D NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN WHO ARE YOUR FRIENDS JAMMESSS!" Ari said excitedly, managing to do it without taking a single breath.

James couldn't really move, nor could he feel the floor beneath him. He gave Ari a few weak pats from his pinned arms. "Oh, uh, hey there Ari," he said quietly. "You can put me down now."

"Oh!" he exclaimed, realizing that he'd been crushing his bestie that whole time. He let James go with a huge grin. "I'm so glad that ya ain't, I mean, you aren't dead or nothin', anything, I thought that maybe someone was going to turn you in for the bounty!" he said, quite loudly, completely oblivious to the fact that maybe that wasn't something James was trying to advertise.

James stared out into the crowd. The traces of a smile left over on his face from the dancing were fading, and he could feel the penetrating gaze of one thief in particular boring through his head. It was as if there were only three people in the room. Ari, who towered over him. Rita, who in an instant, went from looking at him like a friend to a bounty. And himself, who was hopelessly not sober.

He grabbed Ari's wrist tightly, unaware of the intensity of his grip.

"We should... leave," he slurred.

Now, Ardeshir wasn't the sharpest tack in the box, as had already been established in numerous similar instances throughout the years. However, the big man wasn't that dense, and from James' words, the look on Rita's face, and the sudden silence that filled the bar, he was able to put together that just maybe that hadn't been the best thing to say. Of course, he wasn't to know they were in a den of thieves - how could he?

So, instead of preparing himself to fight he scooped up James, threw him over his shoulder, and before he could protest, Ari was running full speed towards the door.

"URSUKU!" he bellowed on the top of his lungs, crashing through the crowd. He was never one for speed but trying to stop a man as large as he is not a simple matter when he's barreling full-tilt across a bar.

James had once again lost his bearings as he relived the last moment Ari picked him up like a sack of potatoes. The blurried picture of Rita and her gang slowly standing up and drawing weapons danced across his vision as Ari made it to the door.

He burst through the door with the entire bar-full of thieves on his tail, bare feet slapping the dirt road as he dragged James along on a rather bumpy ride. A four-legged shadow began to pursue them from the rooftops at the mention of his name, leaping from roof to roof and quickly gaining on Ari and James.

Unfortunately for both of them, Ari was not a particularly speedy fellow, and though he was very strong, the added weight of James didn't help them any. This resulted in the swift overtaking of the old friends by Rita and her band of thieves before they had even managed to get a solid few blocks away.

They might've made it a bit farther had Ari not tripped. Just like he wasn't particularly speedy, he wasn't very agile, either, and ultimately this meant that in the rush and the chaos he ended up tripping over a lump of something in the middle of the road. He dropped James as he faceplanted into the dust and yelped as his toe began to throb with the sudden pain of having it get slammed full-force into a rock or whatever the something was that he'd tripped on in the evening light.

As for James, even after falling into the dirt, everything was still moving. He struggled to push himself up, and once on his knees watched as Rita's gang quickly surrounded him and Ari. As he got unsteadily to his feet, he poked at Ari with his foot.

"I'm... I can only punch... slow," he explained, as his vision zeroed in on the angry Rita.

"You know what happens when you cross me, Liam," Rita yelled - or at least, to James, it sure seemed like she was very loud. "And you know I don't give a f*** about turning you in for the money. So surrender now, you drunk -"

"AIN'T NO SURRENDERIN' 'ERE," Ari bellowed as he stood. "I'M THE SOBER 'UN 'ERE 'N I SAY WE AIN'T - I MEAN, WE AREN'T GOING TO SURRENDER, YOU STINKIN' FISH-FACE!" With this, he tore off his shirt and uttered a battlecry that was loud enough to wake up the whole town, and was absolutely deafening to all the drunk individuals present before he lunged forward and took a swing at Rita herself.
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemmingway

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." - Richard Bach

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Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:56 pm
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soundofmind says...

James barely dodged as a fist flew past his face, and he stumbled backward, falling to the ground. As he threw his arms behind him to spring himself back up, a pointy elbow flew into his stomach with full force. He knew that elbow. It was Ramona.

"AAAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHH!!!!" Ari screamed and missed Rita by twelve inches despite the fact her reflexes were impacted somewhat by the alcohol in her bloodstream. "AAAAAAAA!"

Rita slipped underneath Ari's swinging arm and leapt onto his back, bringing her arms around his neck.

"URI!" the giant of a man exclaimed as he found himself spinning around in circles after Rita. This, however, was not a particularly good tactic for dislodging someone from their back, as anyone would know and any spectator would notice, and so it did very little to dislodge her from her precarious position.

It was what happened next that no one would have expected. A full-grown, 220 lb male cougar came barreling off the nearest roof and landed squarely on Ari's back - and, thus, on Rita, who had already claimed that spot. It knocked both of them to the ground and uttered a raucous, screeching caterwaul at Rita at a volume that made Ari seem like he was using an inside voice. Rita could smell the fish on the massive feline's breath and its ivory teeth were mere inches from her nose.

The sudden appearance of the large, feline caught everyone off guard.

Ramona looked up at the sound long enough for James to sock her in the jaw and push her off. A few of the thieves began to back off, presuming the cougar was wild and untamed. Rita released Ari from her grip and tried to slip out from beneath the large cat's grasp.

"YEAH WHO'S GONNA BE SURRENDERIN' NOW! GOOD BOY URSUKU, THAT'S MY KITTY!" Ari exclaimed from under Rita with a goofy grin like that of a little kid who just got praised in school.

"Get this f***ing overgrown cat off of me!" Rita screeched.

"EEEYYY Uri, you wanna play hide and seek?" he asks the 'kitty.' "I know you do! Go on, boy, go show 'em what you've got!"

The feline caterwauls again in reply before grabbing Rita and dragging her off Ardeshir by the collar of her shirt, dragging her along in the dust behind it with a loud, persistent purr. Rita, however, ripped her shirt free of its grasp after a few persistent tugs, and scrambled away from it, cursing.

"Who the hell has a cougar as a pet?!?" she yelled.

"That'd be me!" Ari answered proudly as he stood up and brushed himself off. "COME 'ERE MY BIG KITTEN!" The beast turned around and abandoned Rita, instead deciding to charge Ardeshir and pounce at him, wrapping his arms over his master's shoulders and gently gnawing on his ear. Ari didn't fall this time, instead grabbing the cougar around the torso and hugging him. "See, look 'ow sweet he is!"

He had appeared to have completely forgotten they were supposed to be fighting for their lives. So meanwhile, as Ari and his feline companion embraced, four of Rita's gang had grabbed James by the arms and legs, and began to quickly haul him off before the boy and his cat realized what was happening. James tried to fight against their grip but to no avail, and finally let out a slurred cry.


He looked up at James' voice, having a sudden realization that they were, in fact, still fighting, and that the appearance of his cat did not change that. "HEY YER STEALIN' - I MEAN, YOU ARE STEALING MY BESTIE, YOU STINKY STOCKINGS!" He bellowed and gave chase. Ursuku leapt off his shoulders and took off after him almost like a dog, right at the big man's heels.
"It's all a matter of perspective... everyone is the hero of their own story, and the villain of another's." - James

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Mon Jul 02, 2018 12:06 am
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Featherstone says...

A dozen gang members swarmed Ari and Ursuku, blocking off his access to the kidnapped James. Bella, the token sober, leapt forward with a sword in hand, as three others came at the cougar with guns.

Ursuku backed up to Ari, who drew his two-handed zweihander from its sheathe on his back and let out another bellow as he began taking swings at the few thieves around him, including Bella. "AAAGH I AIN'T LETTIN' ANY TWISTED PANTALOONS LIKE Y'ALL SHOOT ME KITTY 'N STEAL ME FRIEND!" he roared, any semblance of decent grammar forgotten as he lunged into the melee as his cougar ran up his back and propelled itself in a spectacular leap over Bella's head and onto the ground behind her.

Bella blocked his swing with a clanging of swords, practically growling at him as she pushed back.

"I don't give a damn about you and your cat!" she snarled.

"'ey now, that ain't so nice!" he answered, shoving against her own defending blade with force to force her to disengage or, he hoped, lose her balance. "Did yer momma not be teachin' ya yer manners?! Swearin' ain't befittin' o' a charmin' young lady like yerself!" As he spoke, Ursuku made a dash for the nearest wall with shots following him, and clambered up the nearest crate to get himself up onto the roof and in pursuit of James.

James had quickly found himself bound and tied at the wrists and ankles, and no matter how hard he tried to wriggle his way out of them, he found himself at a loss. He watched at the group of thieves yelled at one another, dragging horses and people around as they hurriedly organized their escape. He noticed several people panicked and pointing at something approaching but from his view, he couldn't see it.

Then he was thrown on the back of a horse.

Then he could see what they were pointing their weapons at.

Ursuku was running towards them.
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemmingway

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." - Richard Bach

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Mon Jul 02, 2018 12:39 am
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soundofmind says...

"Ohohoho!" Bella laughed, clashing against his sword again. "I am charming."

"Aye, but that ain't meanin' y' can go stealin me friend 'n all, didn' ya learn no better than that?" he asked, taking a step back as he hefted his massive weapon for another attack.

"I learned-" she dodged his attack. "Thieving-" she sliced at him. "And that's what I-" he dodged. "Know!"

"Why'd ya momma teach ya stealin?" he asked, a little confused as he swung the very large, if unwieldy, sword at her.

Bella spun around, breathing deep. "Have long have you been in the Outlands, boy?"

"Uuuhhh," he paused recovered from the attack, panting. "One, two,, four! Four years!" he exclaimed before slamming his blade down in an overhead swing.

Bella let out a long sigh as she continually held him off, and pulled back just a tad. There was a brief pause in the fight, and she called out to the others.



In the meantime, the mountain lion crouched atop the roof, melting into the shadows as the men surrounding James struggled to locate it once more. They knew it was there, they'd just noticed it, but as it slowed and was no longer silhouetted against the sunset sky they found themselves eerily unable to find it.

This, of course, was to the cat's advantage, as that was the way that all cougars hunted: by surprise. The men had their guns in their hands and searched desperately, afraid of the attack that they knew was coming.

At the moment, there were two men on either side of Rita, who was tying James to the saddle of the horse. With a loud yell she sent all of the others to go quickly eliminate Ari from the picture, and pulled the knot tight.

She pat James on the head.

"Didn't know you were worth so much, Liam. Or James, that is."

James tried to shake his head out from under her hand but his mobility was sorely limited, especially now with his head hanging off the back of a horse.

The cat's tail flicked back and forth as the muscles of its hind legs bunched and it prepared to pounce. Just as Rita finished her words the feline leaped off the roof and landed on the nearest thief with his claws unsheathed. He threw back his head and uttered another blood-curdling caterwaul before the drunk band of outlaws began to fire.

The horse James was tied to reared, eyes wide in terror. Between the chaos, noise, and large predator it had lost whatever self-control it had and bolted into the woods full-speed, its gait a bit uneven and bouncing for its involuntary rider.

Despite all efforts to steady himself, James's head was thrown around as the horse galloped off, and he watched as the blurry image of people fighting got smaller and smaller, until it was obscured by trees.

All of the movement made him feel like he was going to throw up.
"It's all a matter of perspective... everyone is the hero of their own story, and the villain of another's." - James

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Mon Jul 02, 2018 1:32 am
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Featherstone says...

Back where he'd begun stood the cougar who was now darting around the legs of his adversaries. Drunk though they were, none of them wanted to shoot their comrades, and at such close proximity it was more likely an ally would be felled than the swift, four-legged intruder in their midst. Ardeshir had abandoned his blade and resorted to his fists as he barged through the gang of thieves, punching and grabbing and kicking every which way in an effort to force his way out of the throng.

He did manage this with a relatively small amount of injury due to his sheer bulk and he broke into a sprint towards the horses as the thieves gave chase once more. However, the condition of most of the drunk ones weren't improving. Some were even fighting each other instead of him and those that were still clear-minded enough to keep their eyes on the target tripped over their own feet too often to manage to get very far. Ardeshir grabbed the saddlehorn of a heavy draft-horse-charger-thing and swung up onto its back and galloping into the forest after James. Ursuku darted around his enemies after his master and had soon disappeared into the woodland.

James's horse seemed to only know two speeds: BLINDINGLY FAST or complete stop. When the horse deemed it was far enough away from the scuffle and the cougar, it halted jarringly quickly - and if James hadn't been tied down, he would've flown off into the trees. He grunted as he swung onto the side of the horse, making the saddle slide to the side a little bit. Altogether, the resulting position was uncomfortable for both him and the horse. He let out a sigh, and blew some loose hairs out of his face.

"Are you hhhhappy now?" he asked the horse, with all of his words elongated. "No more scary cats and now look what you've done. You're lost and I am stuck and it is all your fault."

Ari sighed and slowed his horse as the sounds of pursuit faded in the distance. His cougar's ears pricked up at the sound of James' voice and Uri came bounding into view, albeit a bit upside-down from James' perspective. Ari trotted right behind him and beamed as he saw James.


James blinked up at the upside-down Ari, his eyes out of focus. "I think I'm going to throw up."

"Uh-oh," he answered, swinging off his horse and starting to untie James. "Maybe ya shouldn't do that upside-down."

"I'll t-try n-not-" James convulsed, holding it back. "-to."

Ari sped up the process as much as he could. "Sorry I blew it," he said, his usual ecstatic demeanor suddenly very sullen. "I didn't mean t' get ya in trouble or nothin'. I mean, or anything."

James only nodded, looking sickly as Ari undid the last knot and he fell to the ground.

Ari helped prop him up against a tree, then flopped down next to him. As soon as James was able to point his head in the opposite direction of Ari, he began to retch, throwing up into the bushes. The large man patted him on the back sympathetically.

Once it seemed there was nothing else to expel from his system, James leaned on the tree, panting.

"Gods, I hate vodka," he muttered.

Ari produced a waterskin and passed it to James. "'ere, maybe it'll help."

James gratefully took it, taking a big long gulp before turning to Ari, and patting him on the shoulder.

"Don't - don't worry about it, Ari," he said, voice hoarse.

"You don't look so good," he says. "You think you can sleep it off?"

"I-I'm not gonna sleep by my vomit," he says, leaning back on the tree.

"...James, uh...can I ask how much you had to drink?"

"Can you or may you."

"Uh....may I?" he guessed.

James gave Ari another pat. "Yes. Good."

He beamed. "Thanks! Um, but, back to subject, uh...may I ask how much you had to drink...?"

James let out a deep sigh, wiping hair out of his face again. "I... I never used to drink like this Ari. I don't even like to drink," he said regretfully. He leaned forward, but his lean became a fall.

Ari caught him and helped him to lean back against the tree again. "Whoa-oh, careful."

"I had... bottles. Bottles plural."

He frowned, confused again. "Bottles can be singular...?"

James sighed again. "I had a lot."

"You, uh, want to, like, sleep or something?"

"I want... to get far... from Ree... Rita," James said slowly, clearly, getting sleepy despite himself.

"Right," Ari nodded slowly, a little concerned. "What if, maybe, we wait for a few minutes until you can, you know, not fall over when you stand up?"

"...Mm," was James's quiet hum of a reply, before he was fast asleep in Ari's arms.

Ari gazed down at the very asleep, quietly snoring, bearded man that had fallen asleep on him. Before he could figure out what he was going to do about that Ursuku wandered on over and plopped right down on Ari's legs.

Well, it looked like they were sleeping there for the night, he decided, and promptly fell asleep to the rumbling sound of his cougar's purr.
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemmingway

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." - Richard Bach

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Mon Jul 02, 2018 10:00 pm
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soundofmind says...

The first feeling made present to James as he woke up was a blinding headache. Then, his exhaustion, and then - the fact that he could feel the steady breathing of someone beneath him. Someone much bigger than he was.

His eyes shot open. Which, in hindsight, was a bad idea when the morning light seemed to overwhelm his bloodshot eyes, and he was hit with a wave of nausea. As he managed the slowly lift himself up he realized that the person beneath him was Ari, and Ari was asleep.

This realization was only a cause for major confusion, which wasn't helped when he saw the full grown, sleeping cougar cuddled up beside them.

His head began to throb and his heart began to pound as he began to panic, looking around the forest for some means of explanation, only to find none. Rita was nowhere to be seen. Neither were Bella, or Ramona, or any others of the gang of thieves. There were only two horses standing nearby looking at him like he was the cause of confusion. He gave the horses a desperate look as he sat up, but he quickly had to turn away when he felt the nausea hit him again, and this time he knew he was going to throw up.

He clumsily ran to a nearby tree and hurled into the bushes, which he discovered already looked like they had been vomited on.

He couldn't remember anything from last night, but clearly, he'd already thrown up. Then he had the overwhelming need to pee.

After a trip a little further into the forest he returned with his bladder emptied, and his muscles achey, and everything was too bright, and too overstimulating. When he came back, leaning on a tree, he held his head and groaned.

He hadn't been this hungover in a very long time.

James returned to quite the spectacle - Ardeshir was on the ground under the cougar, and they appeared to be...wrestling? Ari was laughing so it was evident he wasn't in any real danger but it was still quite the curious situation to walk into, especially when he was as hungover as he was.

"Good mornin'!" Ari greeted through a faceful of big small cat.

"Good..." James let the word trail off, choosing not to agree that it was a good morning. "Yes. It's morning."

"AND WE'RE TOGETHER AGAIN!" he beamed and wiggled out from under the feline.

Ari's voice echoed through James's head, intensifying his headache. He walked over to one of the horses and grabbed a water skin.

"Yeah. Uh... about that..." James paused for a moment to take a sip. "I really don't remember... anything from last night. So uh, would you mind telling me how that happened exactly?"

Ari gazed up at him from the ground, blinking, then chuckling a little awkwardly. "Oh, uh...that's a funny story and all..."

James raised a brow as he kept drinking water, and when Ari didn't respond immediately, he stopped to speak. "I assume it involved me getting separated from my former... group, so to speak."

"Uh...yeah, it did..."

"So where did you fall into the picture?"

" was a bar..."

"Clearly. And I was beyond drunk-" James cleared his throat, looking down. "I'm sorry you had to see me that way."

He laughed a little awkwardly again. "No, um, I should be the one apologizing, actually...I kind of almost got all of us killed....again...."

James looked down at him, confused. "I'm not sure what you mean."

Ari stood up. "Well, um, Rita wants to kill us now...."

James raised his brows, expecting more. "And that's because... of what?"

"Well, I was really excited to see you," he explained and wrung his hands. "And I don't know, I didn't really realize that they didn't know who you were, I mean, maybe I would've if it occurred to me they might not but it didn't and I saw you and I haven't seen you in like a year and then I blewyourcoverandtheychasedusoutandtriedtokillusbothandUrsukubutyouweredrunk

James blinked. There was a significant pause as he stared at Ari, digesting the information and piecing it together, but then he let out a sigh, and looked at Ari with a smile, shaking his head.

"Thank gods, I was getting so sick of being Liam."

Ari looked down at him in surprise for a moment. "You..aren't mad that I nearly got us all killed again?"

James put a hand on Ari's arm. "Ari, I have been is so many near death situations. This is nothing new. Besides, I'm more concerned about you than myself. If Rita knows I'm wanted, she'll figure out I'm wanted alive, and then to her, you'll just become expendable."

His face burst into a childish grin, which was a bit weird now that he had a mustache on top of everything else. He grabbed James up in another hug with such vigor he lifted his friend off the ground. James blinked a few times, seeing there wasn't any other option than to let himself be hugged.

" do realize that means you're the only person she probably wants to kill, right?"

"But you ain't gonna go dyin' 'r nothin'! I mean, you aren't going to die or anything!" he beamed.

"That... that's not the point. If I get caught and delivered to the Moonlight Kingdom, I may as well be good as dead. But I was talking about you."

"Not as long as I'm there to make you not die!" he answered, the meaning of the sentence a little unclear as he set James down again.

James felt his whole body ache as he was released from the tight hug, and he sighed.

"That's... a very nice sentiment, but I think we should worry about our immediate threats at the moment."
"It's all a matter of perspective... everyone is the hero of their own story, and the villain of another's." - James

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Mon Jul 02, 2018 10:56 pm
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Featherstone says...

Ari shrugged and sat down next to his cat, petting the massive creature. "Sure!" he agreed.

James watched Ari for a moment, before turning to the smaller of the two horses. "Then how about we get some more distance between us and them, alright?" he said as he hopped up on the saddle - albeit with some trouble, since he still felt wholly fatigued.

The massive, cougar-keeping man stood and mounted the heavy horse. The saddle was comically small compared to him and in all honesty he might've been better off without it. "What were ya doin' with the thieves, anyways?" he asked as he urged his horse into a slow trot.

James and his horse followed in step beside Ari, and James shook his head. "I... I got jumped by their gang. They were passing through and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn't want to risk getting beaten to death. So I said screw it, if you can't beat them, join them. Which... well, I have plenty of regrets but that one's up there."

Ardeshir cocked his head, looking a little confused. Unlike James he wasn't really the brightest of individuals, even if he was a very friendly one. "I thought it was if ya can't join 'em, beat 'em..."

James smirked. "Maybe for the strong," he said, nodding to Ari. "But not for me."

"Oh," he said, nodding. "Have you just been with the thieves the whole time, then?" He spoke a little more slowly than usual but his grammar was exemplary, which James hadn't heard before, causing him to grin beneath his beard.

"No, oh gods, no. I've been with them for four months but before that I was travelling by myself. You might be surprised to hear I did a little bardery here and there," he waggled his brows. "Oh, and your grammar has improved immensely by the way."

Ardeshir beamed, his face lighting up. James noticed! "I learned to read 'n all, too! While you were gone I went with Brett but then Brett had a family thingy and then I left before I ran into my family and then I found some books and got some old dude to teach me to read!"

James couldn't help but smile. "That's wonderful, Ari. Do you enjoy reading?"

"I only have one book 'n it has a lot of big words," he answered. "If I understood it maybe I'd like it more but then there're things that are like eight letters long 'n I get lost, I mean how do ya even say that?!"

"Well, if you ever want help learning how to sound them out, or you don't know what a word means, I'd be more than happy to help."

If it was possible, Ari's grin got wider under his elegant handlebar mustache. "Really?"

"Of course."

"Yay!" he cheered and threw his arms in the air. Ursuku glanced up at him oddly, but was used to such things, so didn't think much of it before going back to his own kitty business of walking and sniffing.

James just smiled. "I'm glad to see someone so excited about learning to read."

"Me momma always said that readin' ain't good fer nothin' but then I learned paper was good fer startin' fires 'n then I figured out that the weird ink was words 'n then you talked 'bout readin' 'n then I thought maybe I should try, so I did!"

James had to hold back laughter, but his whole face was stuck in a smile. "And the world is all the better for it."

"'n look then I got a mustache!"

James nodded. "I noticed! It fits you well. And I got a beard," he said with a brush of his chin.

"Ya look like a lionfish," he smiled.

A lionfish. It was that comment that made James completely bust out laughing. "Why thank you - HAHA - Ari!"

"They're really mean fish, they bite 'n they ain't nice t' keep 'cause they'lll kill other fish but they aren't like as mean as reef sharks 'cause those'll take a big chuck outta ya but they taste way better!" he said, again not taking a breath between his words in his typical fashion.

James couldn't stop laughing. "A - wheeze - a LIONFISH."

"I mean, yeah, they've got like huge fins-" here he fanned his arms to the side and made a face in a bad imitation of a fish "- 'n they're big 'n brown 'n fluffy."

James only laughed louder at Ari's imitation, before he was laughing so hard it was silent gasps for air. "YOU'rE sAYING ILoOKLIKEaLIoNFISH -" he wheezed, hardly able to breathe. He even started crying.

Ardeshir was unable to tell what about his comment was so hilarious (to him it seemed fairly accurate) but he liked that he was able to get James to laugh, and so just grinned goofily and laughed with him. "Ya do!"

James wiped his tears, finally getting control of his breathing. "Oh gods." He rubbed his eyes, and poked his cheeks, which felt sore from smiling for so long. "I haven't laughed like that in ages."

"Maybe I should become a comedian!"

"I'm sure you could be anything you put your mind to, Ari."

"I dunno, me - my - momma always said I'd better get a job liftin' things 'r somethin' 'cause I sure ain't gonna be able t' do nothin' w' my head, most of it's too made up of skull 'n nothin' else," he answered with a smile.

"I'm sure you would do great in a job with physical labor but I think you underestimate yourself, Ari."

He shrugged. "Maybe, but I ain't never been good at much but fishin' 'n boats 'n apparently training kitties," he said with a glance down at Ursuku. "AND JOKING! Everyone laughs at me!"

James looked over to Ari, his smile finally fading into a grin. "Well, maybe I can help you get better at reading then. Let's start with that."

"Okay!" he agreed joyously. He couldn't believe James was back. He'd really missed him!!
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemmingway

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." - Richard Bach

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Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:05 am
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soundofmind says...

James and Ari kept traveling through the forest and agreed to stop at the next town. From what James could gather from what Ari told him, Rita would be back for them. And if he knew anything about Rita she would come back with her whole gang, ready to eagerly exchange James for money.

As the tops of buildings came into view, poking out from the trees, James took in a deep breath.

With Ari around, he wasn't going to have to pretend to be Liam anymore, or anyone else. He was just going to be himself. After a year of not being himself, if was both relieving and intimidating, especially if he ran into anyone in the town who knew him as someone else. He looked over to Ari, just before they started riding into the open clearing of dirt roads.

"Ari, I don't know how much you saw last night, but with most everyone else, I pretend I'm a different person. So if we run into someone who knows me as Liam or something or other, don't be surprised if I start acting very differently."

He nodded. "Okay!" he agreed. "I won't! I can be me, though, right, if I don't blow your cover again?"

"Yes, of course. Just be yourself."

This, Ari decided, was a good thing, because though he would certainly try to please James and live up to his expectations he was a terrible liar and an even worse actor. "Yay!"

It was then that the sky opened up; the trees were replaced with buildings, and the grass replaced with dirt. James led them to a tavern, hoping they could find someone who'd heard something from Rita, or knew her whereabouts. Otherwise it'd just be a waiting game with them wondering when she was going to surprise them.

He hopped off his horse and waved for Ari to follow as he entered.

Ari swung off his own mount and trotted in after James. Ursuku leapt up onto his shoulders, which worked far better when he wasn't a 220 lb creature, but Ari just leaned over to accommodate the cougar.

James stopped in the doorway, looking at the cougar on Ari's shoulders.

"You can't bring the cat in," he said.

His face fell. "Aw, he won't do anything, he just wants company," Ari protested. "Please?"

"We're trying not to draw more attention to ourselves," James said with a tilt of his head.

"But then he'll have to be out here all alone and I don't want him to eat someone's horse."

James opened his mouth as if to say something but thought better of it. He sighed. "Okay. Fine. Come on in."
"It's all a matter of perspective... everyone is the hero of their own story, and the villain of another's." - James

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Sat Jul 07, 2018 10:02 pm
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Featherstone says...

Ari grinned as they walked inside, though it took some maneuvering to fit both his own and his pet's bulk through the doorway. Once within they attracted a lot of very curious looks - mostly due to the cougar on his back and shoulders - but he either didn't notice or didn't care, for he trotted right up to the bar and sat down. James plopped down beside him.

Sitting on the other side of him, a young girl about his age almost leapt out of her seat in surprise and yelped as she caught herself and straightened back up.

"O-oH WOw t-that's uh, QUITE the pet you have there," she stuttered.

The moment Ari noticed the girl who'd spoken he found himself tongue-tied. She was, in his mind, absolutely stunning. Freckles spotted her face and her eyes were the color of the summer sky, complemented perfectly by honey-blonde hair. He just opened and closed his mouth a few times as he tried to find the words to answer her for what seemed like an embarrassing eternity before he managed to form a coherent sentence.

"Uh, well, um, I, it, he, er...I mean, yeah, th-thanks, I call 'im Ursuku," he finally got out.

The girl smiled, laughing a little bit. "Haha, that's a pretty cool name. What's yours?"

He smiled as she spoke. He couldn't believe he was talking to such a pretty girl! Or, rather, she was talking to him and she was stuttering back. "Uh, m-my name's Ari, short fer Ardeshir, and this here is James!" he introduced himself and his comrade, twisting his mustache nervously.

James's eye twitched at the mention of his name, but he leaned over a bit to look at the new stranger Ari'd started chatting with. He gave a small wave, to which the girl waved back before looking back up at Ari.

"I'm Amy!" she said. "G-gotta love them three letter names."

He laughed heartily. "And 'em that be startin' w' 'A' am I right?" he smiled, his grammar out the window - he was too flustered now for that.

Amy smiled and pointed at him. "Ayyyy."

The big man chuckled at her joke as his cougar stepped off his shoulders and onto the bar, sniffing the nearest cup like a housecat does before it steals someone's water.

Behind the counter, a disturbed bartender hurried over. "Excuse me, sir, but could you please control your..." they paused, looking at the giant feline, ".... cat. Or otherwise take it outside."

"Aw, he ain't doin' nothin' no harm, is he?" he looked at Uri. "He won' go hurtin' nothin', fer real!"

The bartender looked at the cat again for a moment and sighed. "...Just don't let it drink other people's water," they huffed as they walked away.

"Yes sir!" he answered, patting Ursuku who mostly ignored him as he walked along the bar towards Amy. The feline stopped a short distance from her, ears flicking as he assessed the newcomer with that piercing, blue-green gaze.

Amy nervously tapped the table with her fingers as she tried to avoid eye contact with Ursuku.

"Uh, so uh, Ursuku is... friendly, yeah?"

"Well he ain't killed no 'un yet 'side from that one horse, 'n he don' use his claws much 'less I ask 'im t' so, yeah, he's friendly! Don' worry, he looks dauntin' but he's really just a stickers."

Amy looked visibly relieved and nodded. "Well that's good."

He stood up again and walked over to Amy, taking a seat on the counter in front of her and laying down almost on top of her drink with the usual disregard cats have. Amy cautiously scooped her drink out of the way before giving Ursuku a little pat on the head.

"Nice kitty," she said quietly.

Uri pretty much ignored her and instead became quite engaged in pawing around her drink, hooking it with his toes and sliding it around like a hockey puck. Like most cats, his favorite part of this was watching it fall, and before Ari could stop him he had knocked it off the edge and was watching as it shattered on the ground, liquid splattered over the floorboards and interspersed with glass shards. Amy gave a helpless look to the bartender rushing over to sweep up the mess.

"ACK URI!" Ari jumped to his feet and grabbed his cat, dragging it off the counter. "I, uh, I'm s-s-sorry, let me replace that fer ya," he said anxiously, digging through his pants for his money and soon finding that instead of coins there was a very large hole in his pocket - big enough for almost his hole hand to fit through. "Oh, rusty fish hooks." There was a momentary pause as Ursuku struggled out of his arm and onto the ground. "Um, 'ere," he started, beginning to lean over to grab her a piece of chocolate from his famed boot.

James reached out a hand and stopped him, grabbing Ari's arm. He slid a few coins across the table to Ari.

"These fell out of your pocket earlier. I figured I'd hold on to them for you, since you had a hole."

He shot James a thankful smile and took them. "O-oh, th-thanks," he said, face flushing as he turned to Amy. "S-sorry about that, what is it you had?" he asked, tripping over his words with the typical speed of a very flustered individual.

"Just some beer," Amy said as she scooted away so the bartender could finish mopping up the liquid. "But I don't think I need to have another, really. I've gotta keep my wits about me, sort of thing."

"Oh, yeah, um," he said, pausing awkwardly. "You sure you don't want somethin'?"

Amy shrugged with a grin. "I mean, if you're offering, water's always nice."

"C-could we get a water for the lady?" Ari asked the bartender, smiling slightly towards Amy even though he's still bright red.

"Sure," The bartender nodded as they picked up the mop and walked around the bar. After a moment they returned and set the cup in front of Amy. "Don't let the cat get it this time."

Amy nodded, her face flushing as well. "I won't!"

"I'll, uh, bring 'im outside," Ari said. "I'll just, um, wait out there, James. Good t' meet ya, Amy, sorry 'bout Uri, he's usually very nice 'n all."

Amy stuttered a little before giving Ari a wave. "O-oh! Uh, nice to meet you too, then!"

James, however, gave Ari a look - a mix of concern and confusion.

"W- sorry, Amy. One moment," he said as he excused himself to follow Ari out.

Ari sat down next to the horses with his cat, hitting his head against his palm. Why did he just do that...what an idiot...

James slowly approached and sat down beside Ari, giving him a pat on the back.

"Don't worry about it, Ari," he said softly.

He let out a groan. "Nnnnggggghhhh what did I just do. What did my cat just do?! How am I this much of an idiot."

"You're not an idiot, Ari. Ursuku's just... a cat, albeit a very large one. Besides, I don't think she thought poorly of you. If anything I think she took a liking to you as well."


"Did you not see how her face was as red as yours?"

He blinked. "You really think I've got a chance?"

James nodded. "You're a good looking man, Ari. And it seems like the attraction is mutual, if only in the superficial sense."

He smiled and looked down at himself. "Should I cut the mustache or should I make it a beard you think?"

James smirked. "I think you should do whatever you feel is you. You're an original, Ari. Though - maybe stay away from giving people candy from your shoes."

"Well my pocket's got a hole in it 'n I ain't got nowhere else to put it," he protested.

"... I suppose that's fair. But it might be a better idea to sew up the hole eventually."
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemmingway

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." - Richard Bach

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Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:46 pm
soundofmind says...

He laughed. "Well, um, that's a good point 'n all, but I can' sew. I mean, I tried, me momma always tried t' teach me 'cause she was a seamstress 'n all but I'm too clumsy, I just stab meself."

"Well then it's a good thing you have a friend who can sew. At least, enough to do the job."

"I do?" he asked, the implication flying over his head.

James blinked a few times, and then gestured to himself. "Yes. Me."

"Oh! You'd do that?"

He nodded. "Yeah, it's not a big deal."

Ari grinned. "Thanks!"

James grinned a little and nodded his head, but quickly turned when he heard footsteps coming out from behind them as someone exited the tavern. It was that same girl Ari had been talking to. Amy.

She shuffled up to them, smiling wide and showing off the small gap between her two front teeth.

"Hey uh, I know I'm not too good at first impressions, but I'm sorry if I uh..." her sentence trailed off as she realized she didn't know what she was apologizing for, and she searched for words. Her face flushed and she looked away, clearing her throat. "I MEAN, anyway, uh, what are you two guys up to?"
"It's all a matter of perspective... everyone is the hero of their own story, and the villain of another's." - James

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Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:58 pm
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Featherstone says...

Ari turned bright red under the mud and the mustache, glancing down nervously. "Uh, just, um, w-watching, er, making sure Ursuku doesn't, ummmm, you know eat anyone or, uh, anything," he stammered awkwardly.

Amy kept smiling, clearly just as unsure of herself as Ari. "Oh, that's good."

James - watching as both of the young adults melted into an awkward, blushy mess - decided to steer the conversation towards something productive when he noticed that both of them were busy being embarrassed for varying reasons.

"Uh, while you're here Amy, I actually want to ask you something if you don't mind," James said, gesturing for her to come closer so she wasn't standing so far off from them. She nodded, and inched closer.

"Oh! Sure, what is it?"

"Well, Ari and I were just trying to keep tabs on a friend of ours, since I got separated a few days ago and I'm trying to meet up with them again. You wouldn't have happened to have heard of or seen a Rita around, have you?"

"Rita's our friend?" Ari asked, confused. "I thought she was trying to kill us and give you to - I mean, um, yeah, our friend, Rita, seen her?"
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemmingway

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." - Richard Bach

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Tue Jul 24, 2018 11:09 pm
soundofmind says...

James's eyes widened in annoyance and he looked over to Ari with a strained smile. "Rita and I have a complicated relationship," he said, before looking back at Amy with something of a smile. "You know how it can be out here."

Amy looked a little at a loss for words, before she let out a small sigh and scratched the back of her head. "Uhh, yeah. Uh... like. When you say friend you mean more like... a friend but an enemy, right?"

James opened his mouth to answer, but Ari, eager to be helpful, started talking before he got the chance to. "Well, ya see, she ain't really a nice person 'r nothin' 'n she thought that James here ain't nice neither so then she thought they were friends but then I ruined it that 'e was a cool dude 'n all 'n then she tried to kill us and then Ursuku dragged her down the road 'n we ran away on a horse and got away 'cause everyone was drunk 'n all, so like we could be friends but she don' really like us no more," he explained, barely taking a breath through the entire run-on sentence.

James blinked, letting out a small sigh through his nostrils. So much for trying to be subtle.
"It's all a matter of perspective... everyone is the hero of their own story, and the villain of another's." - James

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Tue Jul 24, 2018 11:14 pm
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Featherstone says...

Amy stared blankly at Ari, nodding ever so slighty as he finished his explanation.

"I actually do know Rita," she finally said after some pause.

"Have you seen her recently?" James asked, not missing a beat.

"I mean, I would hope not. She doesn't like me much either," Amy replied with a small grin. "Though she's never tried to kill me before, I definitely keep her on her toes. Some uh, competition, you could say."

Ari's eyes widen. "Ya a thief t'? I mean, you're a thief too?"

"On my good days, I'm just Amy. But I don't steal like Rita does."

He blinked, confused. "...but yer a thief?"

Amy laughed. "Yeah, but I steal for the people who need it. I like to steal stuff back, not take it for myself. Making money off of other people's things is lame."

"Whoa," he said, eyes wide. "I knew some 'un else like that! That's why I'm here 'n all!"

"Here?" Amy asked with a tilt of her head.

"I mean, I'm from t' isles," he explains. "But I came t' the Outlands 'fter they tried t' 'rrest me 'n everythin'."

"Oooooh," Amy said with a nod of her head, before she plopped down across from Ari, beside James. James shied away just a smidge.
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemmingway

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." - Richard Bach

The first draft is a trip to the amusement park. The next drafts are returning there as a safety inspector.
— SunsetTree