Chapter 11 Part One - Wakey Wakey Big Mistakey
Harsh, cold water hit her face, causing her to jolt up from the ground with a start. She let out a groan as her hand went to the back of her head, but she was easily drowned out by the loud voice of the man above her.
"Go home, ya drunkard! Get outta my alley!"
She winced at the yelling and peered at the aproned man through barely open eyes. She had a blinding headache, and if she had to guess, some kind of concussion, or something. As the angry man shooed her and she scrambled to her feet, the sunlight greeted her with a blinding brilliance. She would've wondered how long she'd been out, but the just-rising sun told her it had to have been all night. That must've been some hell of a hit, and the bump on her head confirmed it. She winced and hissed as she touched it under her hair.
It took her a few moments to collect her thoughts. Everything had happened so quickly.
She didn't get a chance to apologize to the owner of the tavern. At least, that's who she assumed he was, as he disappeared into the building. With another groan she looked out into the street with a frown, beginning to replay the events of the night before in her mind.
Matt was Tiberius. The guy from the tavern was a bounty hunter who'd come to find him and take him back to... to...
She fumbled with her jacket, patting herself until she found the poster of the wanted man still in her pocket. With a relieved sigh she pulled it out and looked it over again, but her heart sank as she did so. Tiberius was wanted in the Moonlight Kingdom. That was southward, and a long ways away. If the bounty hunter guy was trying to get his reward soon, he was probably moving fast, especially if Tiberius was the kind of person to try to escape. Her grip on the paper tightened, causing tight creases to run along Tiberius's face.
"Who the hell are you?" she whispered under her breath, accusing the image in her hands.
She didn't understand. He looked genuinely sorry when he apologized as he put the cuffs around her hands. The cuffs - wait. The cuffs. She looked down at her wrists. The cuffs weren't there anymore. Did that mean that the bounty hunter took them when she was out? Did someone else free her?
She let out a low growl and crumpled the poster back into her pocket. There was too much confusion and not enough answers. She began to stomp out into the street with tight fists in her pockets, trying to fight back the tears of frustration welling up in her eyes.
All she wanted to do was see him again, but not like that. She hadn't meant to lead a bounty hunter right to him, and if she had been left in the alley - then Tiberius had to have gotten captured. She refused to believe he would just leave her there, even if he was some mysterious wanted guy. At least he had enough human decency to apologize to her for her getting dragged into his mess (even though she willingly ran into it, but that was besides the point).
But the fact still remained that she hadn't actually had the chance to talk to him. And now he was on his way to the Moonlight Kingdom where he would probably be imprisoned forever and she would never see him again. She knew the smart thing to do would be to leave it be, and let Tiberius get taken to jail where he belonged. For all she knew, this was fate telling her to give it up and move on, to let bygones be bygones, to forget about the mysterious cowboy she'd befriended under odd circumstances and stay away from the danger surrounding him.
But she'd made a career out of chasing danger. She was a monster hunter, and she was going to do what she did best: hunt another monster. The bounty hunter who deceived her and used her to find Tiberius so he could use her as leverage had another thing coming for him.
Tiberius woke to the sensation of his body being dragged through the dirt, and when he opened his eyes and looked up, he was staring at the rump of a horse. He immediately fought to get back on his feet. With a jolt, he pulled back on his wrists and stuck his feet in the ground, only to feel a sharp pain shoot up his arms.
He still had the cuffs on, and they were tied by a short rope to the saddle of a horse. It took him less than a second to realize he’d likely been dragged behind the bounty hunter by his wrists for far too long. With his wrists and hands aching, he pulled himself to his feet, pulling the rope taut to steady himself. Before he even looked at the man on the saddle he stared at the knots around the metal that bound his wrists and tried to work out a way to un-tie them. He studied the knot closely, but it was a long, thick amalgamation of knots that would be far too obvious to untie while simply following his captor. Especially since said captor was periodically looking back at him from his stop on the saddle.
Tiberius gave the man no formal recognition apart from his pointed glances, and the bounty hunter only responded with a watchful stare.
For several long hours Tiberius followed behind on foot and no words were spoken. With each passing moment, he was awaiting the right moment to flee; to veer to the right or the left, to wrap his rope around a passing tree, or to jump off a ledge, and throw the saddle off balance. But at any time the terrain proved hopeful, the bounty hunter quickened his pace. Under normal circumstances, Tiberius might have been able to keep up with no trouble, but it had been a long time since the bounty hunter had veered off the path and into the wilds of the forest. That, and he’d been without food, water, and sleep for at least a day.
It wasn’t unusual for him to go without, but it wore him down every time. As the sun reached its peak in the sky, and a chilly breeze started blowing from the south, Tiberius’s thoughts drifted from escaping to the man on the horse leading him.
He’d been caught several times. Each bounty hunter had their own way of doing things. This was the first time he’d been given the freedom to walk behind his captor while the former rode their steed. He knew it was a tactic to exhaust him, so he would be too weary to escape, and though he resented it, it was working. Enough time passed that he even ceased dwelling on his annoyance towards his captor and all he could keep his mind on was keeping his steps steady.
Their stops were short and far and in-between. His knees and his lower back ached, and every misstep on a rock or a jutting plant sent pain through his foot and up his leg. Years of running kept him nimble, but his joints were not what they used to be.
It was at that point - with his mind clouded, and his body one wrong step from stumbling - that the bounty hunter finally spoke up.
“So who was that girl back there?” he asked, turning back in his saddle to look at him with a curious glint in his eyes. “Did you make a real friend, or did she not know who you really are?”
Tiberius didn’t look up. He kept his eyes on his feet. From the sounds of it, the man had heard stories, or done enough research to know that he always lived under an alias - which meant he already knew the answer. He wasn’t going to answer for him.
“She was looking for you, you know,” the man went on, despite his silence. “She wanted to apologize, I think. Which doesn’t seem fair, seeing as you’re the one who’s a criminal, and she was the one who was lied to.”
Tiberius kept his eyes down and remained silent.
“Well. However it went down, that was a pretty cold of you to leave her like that. She seemed like a sweet girl. It’s a shame,” he said, shaking his head and then smiling down at him. “Then again, I wouldn’t expect anything less from you. If you were too soft you’d be in jail by now.” He paused, putting a finger on his chin. “Oh… wait. I suppose you will be not too long from now. Spoke too soon.”
Tiberius kept his face straight like stone, but his chest began to burn with annoyance. Whoever this bounty hunter was, he was a prideful, stuck-up pain in the-
“The name’s Alexander Kingsman, by the way,” he said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
Tiberius shot him a glare, but the moment he did so, he tripped over a rock. His legs folded under him and he fell face-down in the dirt, hopelessly failing to catch himself with his bound hands. His hat fell off, and his whole body groaned as another layer of dirt was added to his person. But he had little time to recover. Alexander kept the horse moving forward at a steady pace, and before he knew it, he was being dragged again. Tiberius cursed under his breath and pulled himself back to his feet with a grunt.
“Don’t give up on me just yet, Tiberius. We’ve still got a long way ’til the Moonlight Kingdom.”
Tiberius took hurried steps behind the horse, trying to regain his balance. His legs were starting to quiver under his own weight.
“And what?” he finally spat. “Run your horse into the ground along with me?”
Alexander laughed. His voice echoed through the trees and sent chills down Tiberius’s spine.
“Don’t presume to know my methods, Tiberius,” Alexander cooed. “I’ve been a bounty hunter for many years.”
At that moment, they came to an abrupt stop. Tiberius almost ran into the horse’s rump, stopping himself just a second before he collided with the beast’s tail. He gave a questioning look up ahead, only to have his ears answer the question for him when he heard the slow trickling of water. His gut filled with dread.
The spot at the river was shallow, and the water moved slowly like molasses, but he knew he was undoubtedly going to get utterly, utterly soaked. His shoulders scrunched up at the thought as he felt another cool breeze brush up against him, and he flinched when Alexander led the horse forward. Alexander looked back again with a smug, self-satisfied smirk and Tiberius shot back with daggers in his eyes. He couldn’t keep his upper lip from twitching in contempt.
Tiberius shivered as he stepped into the cold water. What went up to the horse’s haunches went up to his chest, which meant there was no comfortable way to spare his entire body from the chill that overtook him. Moving through water took thrice the amount of effort, which reduced him to swimming weakly behind them. With only his legs free to do so, he fought just to tread water and keep his head afloat as the rope dragged him along. Naturally, once he was thoroughly preoccupied, Alexander launched off into a lecture.
”I heard from many a bounty hunter that you’re a tough catch and a damn persistent escapee,” he began, “But I didn’t expect you to be so… oh, I don’t know. Boring? Maybe it’s the years of being on the run and getting caught and escaping over and over again that have run you down and ruined the thrill of it, but it’s kind of disappointing when your bounties just give in so easily. Part of the thrill is the chase and subduing them by force. Though, I guess that’s partially my fault. I didn’t really give you a lot of options. I would’ve killed Clandestine had you not come willingly. That really would have caused a scene, though. A gunshot? A blown out brain? The killer right there in the street? That would’ve drawn people out of their homes in the early morning, and that really would’ve been the perfect cover for you to slink back into your alley and run away. But I suppose that’s the downside to being an outlaw with morals...”
Alexander kept talking but Tiberius stopped listening. Alexander assumed that he knew him and that he knew his motives. He wasn’t wrong that he had morals, like any self-respecting human being, but he didn’t have the time or the patience for Alexander’s drivel.
The more Alexander droned on, the more Tiberius’s body began to succumb to the binding fate of fatigue. As he was pulled out of the water onto the muddy bank on the other side, his legs refused to keep working for him, and he was dragged again - this time, through the mud. Alexander wouldn’t shut up. He managed to flop onto his back, to keep his face free from being caked in mud, but he knew what was coming next.
He fought to keep his eyes open, but weariness hung on them like a weighty blanket. His stomach reminded him again that he was hungry, but the pain passed away in a moment as darkness overtook him, and he passed out.