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Cold.. bitter cold.. it always reminded him of that night. Space invaded in a heinous portrayal of discrimination against mankind. Gaia’s devotees slaughtered by Unnaturals. It was the definition of ironic. There was naught but bloodshed that night. The winds blew through the Wastelands with a burglary of one’s own heat; the only thing more outright bone-chilling was the sophistication the monstrosities took in eradicating the entire clan’s caravan. There was not much more testing than the destruction of everything one knew in life. It either forged something devastating, or it broke one beyond measure. Who was to say one did not lead to the other — No one could.

 

The cold nights reminded him often of that fate-filled night. Walk like them until they walk like you.. it was something the old wives spoke of when telling stories of heroes and how one might aspire to be more like them in character. That night, Yshmael moved in the way of the Three, as a devout Triaditionalist of the Dead Peaks would hope to. Creation of a world where such tragedies might happen less, The Preservation of his people and their way of life, and the Destruction of those who would do wrong in Gaia’s demesne.

 

 His strength and will to survive deemed him worthy of their eye and forever cast his path into the defense of all Natural kind. The Triad had endowed him with an unwavering will and a knack for sniffing out dangers in the world, especially Unnaturals, and he had done nothing but hone these things into something that men and monsters alike paled in comparison of Will and sheer Might when the warrior-priest applied himself and his Faith. His loss had indeed broken him, and in return for giving himself to the Will of Gaia, so too was he given an Indomitable Will. In that time of mantling the Triad, he became a vessel to them as they served mutual purpose in his actions. 

 

Nothing could have prepared him in even three lifetimes for that night.. And it was that night that propelled his life into the path he now walked. Leaving the sands he and his people had spent generations on was no small task, subjectively or objectively. 

 

The Wasteland was vast and the cold encroached ever so far… so much farther than it had in his time as a child. But that was then, and this was the Now. One must not dwell on things they cannot change; another old wife’s advice for letting go. 

 

By the Will of Gaia, Yshmael survived and effectively destroyed all of the transgressors in the vicinity. He was among less than a handful of survivors; those who were unfortunately tasked with sending their dead on to the next chapter in one’s life. Once done, he made sure to deliver them to safety. Neighboring tribes in the region and those among frequented spaces gathered to give condolences in the form of words and material offerings.  Someone had even spotted his horse in the near on dunes, but ultimately they had been unable to catch it. This left Him with few things left to do but pursue a state of mind and subsequently satisfy the urges set on him by his Faith. 

 

“West..” he said to himself. 

 

Directly West from the subtle temple nestled into the Dead Peaks he had been born in, and where his family had begun many lives. It had been decided by those higher than him that he head west in order to snuff out as much corruption within Gaia’s realm ashe could. The sands harbored no love, no warmth anymore; neither would he. Mercy was a liability in most worldly professions, and he had no intentions of offering such things to those that would cross him. 

 

With purpose and survival driving him, the man had managed to not only head west, but by some divine grace, his trek was made swifter by his horse finding /Him/! It was one of those little things that one ought to appreciate and take to heart. The horse had been scouted for him on his coming of age, which meant to go be among the sands for what felt like a whole year.. maybe it was longer.. shorter? The sands did not keep track of time outside of bottles, sadly. 

 

Nevertheless, his horse was home - with him - and had survived what looked to be a handful of abrasions and run ins with either wire or claw. The wounds were healed and tended to by the good work of the Nomad. His hands had been tasked with much as one of the more mature men within the caravan. 

 

With horse - and what seemed like a hefty load for a single man to have been moving across the desert with - they were off! They kept a good pace all the way through the Wasteland’s grueling biomes and into the mountain ranges south of the sands. Little activity found their way by means of Unnaturals or those who would give ill intent.. maybe they knew to stay away? No matter, he was across the sands anyways. His hand for reading common was strengthened by years of trade in the outskirts regions near the border and within the desert; a gracious moment he reminisced about when coming across signs after breaking through the border and slipping through generally without hindrance. 


 


Blairville

The nearest major settlement. 

 

Yshmael had finally arrived in the skirts, much to his delight. “Food and a bit of a rest, old friend..” he uttered, rubbing the neck and mane of the decorated horse as he stood from a position of a kneeling bow against the earth. The companion whinnied in response and dug a hoof into the dirt before traversing a downward path through the foothills and mountains leading to the town. He had elected to keep to the ranges rather than main roads out of comfort’s sake until the walls of the city were upon them. Time had lapsed perfectly to deliver the man to the Market in the early morning, having set upon a main road around dawn. 

 

Already, the smells of the market hit his nose. Incense and herbs and the burning of wood. The savory foods and beverages hit his nose with mouth-watering flavors and scents. It had been some time since he walked such a large and diverse market. It was here in the market that the man dismounted and walked with a horse that generally did not bother to stretch the reins thin with distance from the Nomad. 

 

Yshmael and the horse seemed bonded.. a touching sentiment and also a helpful one. Where the man did not pay attention, the horse surely would bolster detection and security by means of constant vigilance. On and on, they walked as a pair, hardly a full (Roman) pace apart at any point. They roamed the market to gather what was needed, making small talk and even receiving condolences from merchants hailing from the sands. 

 

With Provisions gathered for the journey, as well as knowledge of which he learned upon deeper questioning of merchants regarding the settlements to the west and the procuring of a map, he began to fixate on the now. Water, a bit of food and grain split between the two, and a gear check were all addressed. 

 

His robes, bound in silks and leather and plate in various areas about his form. Yshmael’s weapon hung from the hip, with a blade tucked into the breast of his robing. Hunter’s Steel, with blessings and family names etched all over. He kept it close at all times. A sentiment and personal defense that brought him security. 

 

A scarf adorned his head to keep the wind off his neck, and it draped from his form a bit and covered a light pelt that wrapped over the back of his form from the shoulder down. Riding boots were knocked against the heel of one another to relieve them of crusted sand and mud. The armaments of his father, passed on through generations, even the very robes he wore, were in his possession. He bound them to the horse and kept a spear with it - also his father’s. The nomad’s fingers were decorated with rings of all the members he could identify and recover, however few. Necklaces and bangles dressed his body, bearing talismans and words of power, or so they had been spoken of. Heirlooms and the surviving pieces of many who fell were all he could hold onto aside from memories. Empowered by his faith and compassion for mankind, the trinkets and accessories he bore served to draw in the energies that Gaia and the earth offered to him. 

 

It was all that seemed to warm his heart outside of his horse. The nomad smiled at the graceful steed to his left, taking in a deep breath as he reminisced and relaxed for a moment within the market. It was brief, though.  He needed to keep moving. Thoughts and images plagued his mind if he was not remaining aware of his surroundings. Dreams had been invaded by ruins and plagued of monsters and sickness alike. Blight on the land struck fear and motivation into his steely resolve. It was his obligation to see it destroyed and prevented from further corruption. 

 
 

Gypsy Market - West End

Two Hours to Mid Day

 

With all he needed wrapped up, Yshmael     made way toward the western end of the city, taking a decent stride as he led the horse on rather than ride him. Unless stopped or confronted, he would be on his way out of the market and city itself. Map in tow, he moved along. 

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"You need to temper your expectations." Juniper told him.

"What expectations?" Jericho's reply.

She stood by the window. Unsatisfied by his response she looked through it to the rest of Chesterfield, pointedly ignoring Jericho and his activity, as if by putting him out of mind he wouldn't finish packing and wouldn't leave.

Their exchange was simple, but complex layers lurked in the undercurrent, and the Rosetta stone to decode their symbols was no less than experience. Juniper was a farmer's daughter when they met. Then he taught her. Now she was a practiced scout with competent archery, and rapidly growing in the field of magic under his tutelage.

Through the lens of their cryptic studies, Juniper was reminding Jericho that the world was one influenced through personal perspective and that he needed to keep a mind like a still mirror, which did not alter what was put before it, but merely reflected; red comes, and it is red. In his turn Jericho confirmed that his stillness of mind was so complete, all it could do was echo Juniper's anxiety back at her.

"Why are you going? Why can't you do it here?"
"Do you want to die?"

This gave Juniper pause, which time Jericho concluded packing and walked to the door of the small estate he claimed and rebuilt to serve the purpose of training the soldiers of Chesterfield. She knew now, as she knew when she started, that there was no stopping Jericho once he's made his mind up, and that his mind was a particularly onerous one to try and unmake

So even as he was saddling his horse Chestnut, her final words were merely a recognition, a continuance of their philosophical catechism.

"Who makes death?"

# # #

East.

He rode like the Norjaw's back home taught him, able to eat and drink and sleep even while astride his majestic friend, and his friend able to run triple the length of the average horse in a given day. His disembarked a short walk from the city proper so that his friend could roam the Wilds at his leisure, aware of the equine's tremendous strength, unconcerned for his safety.

Jericho had an item of interest on his person, and though he had familiarized himself with its various contrivances, theory learned was not the same as mastery, and if he wanted to pose an equal a threat with the weapon as its original owner, he would need to practice. The item was of considerable power, and interest, and acclaim – he knew to do so in Chesterfield would be to invite scrutiny by all manner of opposition. Blairville, which catered to the magician in every respect, would make the perfect cloak.

# # #

That Jericho and Yshmael met on their way out of Blairville's western gate was mostly a matter of happenstance – had she been posed with this scenario, Juniper would have responded: "Who makes chance?"

They were but two people among a small crowd of them, but most of that crowd thing out when they reached the river, bound for various ferries and small passenger boats which would take them downstream to Hell's Gate. Jericho and Yshmael were among a much smaller crowd that continued on foot, whether their own or that of their mounts. That crowd further thinned as the first mountain passes resolved themselves, splitting the strangers into ever more discrete units, so that the path Jericho now walked was one occupied solely by himself and Yshmael.

Jericho stopped a few paces short of Yshmael. Silence for a few moments, and when it remained so, Jericho's face screwed itself up in puzzlement. With exaggerated tone he called out.

"Well, I guess I'll be heading back now!"

Almost as if orchestrated a handful of freebooters peeled themselves out of the shadows provided by the mountain's outcrops.   

"You know what this is." One of the bandits advanced in word and action, weapon drawn. "Empty your pockets. Leave your packs. Turn around and leave with your lives."

Jericho brought his hands up, almost as if in surrender, but then they continued climbing, then arched backwards. It became clear in another moment that he was stretching his arms and shoulders in preparation; his hip-hung sword clearly in view.

"Them's some pretty high stakes fellas. Let me ask you something though. Who makes life?"

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“Huh? The fuck is this carrot headed shit on about?! Mothers and gods make life, y’idiot!!” A man from behind the first speaker who had moved forward shouted, clenching his blade as he glared at the two would-be victims of the situations. Quietly, though, his resolve would begin to deteriorate the more he stared at the orange haired swordsman and the nomad. Something about the bearded fellow caused distress in his very musculature.

 

A sip of water was interrupted.. something so simple and yet immediately infuriating to be stopped from fulfilling a good swig. Hands were held in the air on the way to his saddle pack, seemingly conceding with being relieved of his belongings. Sad to say, he was only placing his water skin back around the horn of the saddle.  His face had not even faltered in the eye of danger. Something about his demeanor had been tempered that night.. and here he was. If the vagrants were wise, they would leave before he had to withdraw his sword. 
 

“I will not. You have this moment here and now to leave with your life.” The chords in his throat projected a deep baritone, rich and boisterous with the dialect and pride of his people, may they rest peacefully. Upon his voice hitting the ears of the men,   His eyes cut to the advancing unit. The scent of them was less than enticing, which was something he took in before being descended upon. 
 

Disgusting

“To any of you hiding in the trees, present yourself and submit with honor.. or you may choose death to you and your companions.”

A pivot and adjustment of his footing delivered him into a stance. Yshmael pushed the horse at the shoulder, to which the steed drifted further back behind the pilgrim. Wrapped and protected hands rest against the pommel of his blade, a foot shifting forward as the breeze drew his scarf down from over his head. The headdress was prominent, yet it refrained from being gaudy in size and décor. His bearded face was in full display now, and his firm gaze was easy to find.  The Nomad stared at them all, looking into each of their eyes out of habit. He wanted them to know just what, or who, they had stumbled upon. 
 

The realization set in for a few of them that these fellows had no intentions of being mugged easily. Two stepped from the foliage That flanked the men and seemed to find it hard to move against them. 
 

“Well, if you won’t hand it over, you leave us no choice!” Stated the first man who had stepped against them. His confidence was still there, and it caused the others to foolishly move in like starved dogs. Most of them were unsure of the plan at this point.. something about that man’s voice rattled them. With poor constitution and desperation setting in, they all closed the distance. 
 

“And so you all have made Your decision.“ Yshmael did not move from his position, with two men rushing the supposed “victims”. Instead, he waited, being at the front of the vicinity between himself and Jericho. Not a one of them seemed to move with confidence aside from the de facto leader coming down upon the Triaditionalist from overhead. 
 

In a moment’s time, the attacker was bisected by a dervish’s twirl executed by The Agent of Gaia. What could be observed was a spray of blood in the air following the sword masterfully ripped from his hip coming two a pristine halt. With a hand pressing to the back of the sword, he had come up and through at a diagonal angle, bursting through meat and bone without so much as blinking. Another attacker closed in on precious turn-around-and-run space rather than utilize it.  Death descended upon his head in the three steps it took Yshmael to adjust his footing and bring his sword down through the young man’s skull.  

The closer the others got to the scene, the more they visibly Faltered. The others were too close to get away outright, which caused one of the men from the tree line to stop in his boots as he observed his mates being cut down upon reaching the range of the Nomad. He shook, nearly pissing himself as he began taking steps back toward the forest.. this was too much, too wrong. 

 

 The demoralized effect of Yshmael’s presence was felt as doubt and distraction now filled them all. A couple lackeys moved with hesitation along the battle space, with one thinking it wise to just stand with sword in hand against Yshmael. The nomad tucked a hand in his layers, which terrified the man trying to find it in himself to attack. 
 

“Screw this..” uttered the fearful lackey, turning to run in the direction of his already terrified companion by the trees. The last thing he would see was his retreating mate collapse, the fires Of life dwindling as he lay bleeding from his severed heel.  A chakram was cast from the layers of the man’s robes with perfect trajectory to keep him from getting away. The crippled fellow crawled in fear of what was to come, left to bleed and suffer as Yshmael moved after the unsuspecting attackers nearing Jericho’s position.

 

The mouthy number two from earlier was set upon Jericho, looking to run him through with his arming sword, unaware aside from perhaps the sound of the act that his friends had died. He too bore a poor constitution, as it showed in his very steps as he aimed for the orange haired one’s sternum with the tip of his sword. The second attacker was not far behind Number Two, hoping to come in and finish Jericho off if he were Indeed to take a sword to the chest. 

Edited by L E V I A T H A N
?

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"He sounds pretty serious." Jericho chimed in as Yshmael countered their proposal with his own. "I think the man may be calling your bluff."

Perfectly content to chip away at their psychological edge with an endless stream of chirping and digs, Jericho quieted and looked sidelong at Yshmael as the other called out those of the crew hidden from sight, waiting to turn a mugging into an ambush.

In the next moment the bandits launched their attack. One of them went airborne – rookie mistake. It impressed, and gave one the aided benefit of one's weight plus gravity's heft when bearing down on the opponent, but unless supplemented by some arcane effort, taking the ground out from under yourself and leaving no leverage for your footing was a poor decision all the way around. And it was unfortunate for this de facto leader that he would never be able to apply this little insight to later battles, lifeless corpse that he had been turned into in a moment's notice, the inevitable end of a poor decision.

In the moment after Jericho's attention snapped away from Yshmael, skipped over the meager bulk of the other bandits, and settled on the lieutenant rapidly closing the distance between them. On top of being desperate, which radically simplified one's mode of thought, these bandits were uneducated and uncoordinated. Literate no doubt, but their tactics could hardly be called that. There was no organization. No strategy. No vision. In the man's reductive frontal charge, with a one-handed arming sword, he presented lines of geometry which were easy to trace. There were only so many stances, so many angles of attack, et al., all the more pared down by the circumstances of their exchange.

Jericho put the matter to rest by taking two calculated steps back at the moment of the man's lunge, a partial shrinking of his surface area accomplished by a pivot on one foot, a counter-lunge by the force of his other foot, and the man barked in bitch-like pain when the sword punctured his shoulder. Jericho stepped back and strafed sideways as the other brought his sword to slap away Jericho's and whistled through air instead; Jericho levelled the weapon as a straight line between them, and the blade ejected itself from the hilt in a burst of sunshine. The man screamed, low and guttural this time, as an array of luminal shards peppered his body, shredded his clothing, disfigured his face, and sent him sprawling backwards.

This man is only partially conscious as he struggles to his feet, retreats. Jericho doesn't give chase, he has no intention of hunting today. That was his sole contribution. The remainder saw more clearly that these men were better prepared for violence than most, and had second, third, and fourth thoughts about the venture.

"Aww, let him be."

Jericho suggested to Yshmael of the man on the ground whose heel tendon had been cleaved.

"Not all mad dogs are actually 'mad dogs'. Some of them just bite cause they're hungry."

The man, fully grown, utterly defeated, simpering in the long shadows that these two cast, had tears in his eyes. Jericho's blade grew again out from the gap in his hilt, incandescent, and he pressed it against the man's ankle. It burned and sizzled and singed, adding another chorus of cries to those still echoing in the mountain pass, but Jericho did no more than this; whether Yshmael saw fit to let this man go or end his life then and there was a choice Jericho left entirely in that man's hands.

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Where in the light of day a man could no longer travel without being accosted at every corner— here for a picture, there for a lost relative— it was as the Daemon grey that he patrolled his Fracture dear. It was by questioning himself and his place in faith, by putting his trust in Gaia, that Matte had not only survived but thrived across endless countries and battlefields. After all of it, he saw that being as tempered and steadfast as diamond was also about being as fluid and changing as water. His footsteps were as heavy as mountains, but he walked as if he weighed nothing. With knowing one’s self, though, did not automatically come endless worldly knowledge. Still, wonder cracked like a whip in his cerulean eyes. Free in his rank to do as he please, Matte Daemon set his sights on wandering Fracture, learning to live off of all its lands. One of the ways he took to this was by searching out river and mountain faeries, trading wares from his endless cloak for secrets and stories.

Sight-seeing as much as he was looking for trouble, as men of faith frequently are when fateful things happen to them, Matte had heard from some oreads in the Badlands about a magical golden carp in Coconino Marsh.

So there sat the stocky brunette skipping rocks across one of the larger pools of the Marsh. He rested his chin on his left hand, his left elbow on his left knee. A brown hooded cloak hung off one shoulder; a cloak that had weathered a stormy sailboat ride across the Sea of Regrets firth, a journey into the Badlands where its snapping in the mountaintop wind had almost drowned out the tale of the golden carp who granted wishes. Gentle pulses of white smoke lapped away from the shore at his feet, probing the Marsh for the carp. It only took a couple hours. When the smoke rolled back inward from the Marsh, resolving in the massive silver ghost of a double-crested cormorant, the Marsh’s message was clear: The carp was gone. Frowning, the daemon slid an oak switch into the confines of his likewise-disguised Flowing Postern, picked up a handful of rocks from the riverbed, and headed north to do some camping.

Gonna get outta here and go find meeeee, the tune paused as he spat what looked like a pebble-sized crystal into the water, a couple more of them nymphs.

A blip of significant energy emanated throughout Blairville. Matte didn't know which gauntlet had made it, but he was certain in this area they thought it would go undetected. Even if just by happenstance, they were wrong. Only by being willingly given the gauntlet's biometrics from one of their owners, working closely with him for weeks to create a tracker for the gauntlets, that Matte and the artifact's owner were painstakingly able to create this device for finding Zengi's Gauntlets. After having integrated the tracker into an artifact called the Stalwart Crystal, Daemon experienced intermittent periods of time where the tracker worked and puzzling, almost maddening lapses of time when it didn't. He had yet to decipher whether or not this was because of tweaks that needed to be made in the tracker or a lack of use of the bracers, but now he'd found a trace of something. He would patrol Blairville's inlets and outlets for the coming weeks.

Black locust trees were some of the best for bows. He found a recently fallen branch and, using a fixed blade taken from the cloak, sheered its belly down to a fine length of wood that favored the tiniest curve. A couple notches and some twine later, Daemon sat against the tree’s trunk flexing the wood against his foot. He had already carved, made nocks, and feathered some arrows that sat beside a smoldering fire nearby. Killing for food wasn’t a regular habit for Daemon, but more of a delicacy he saw granted to him by the Mother. An assortment of nuts, fruits and cheeses remained in his cloak, but there was nothing quite like the taste of a fresh kill to Matte. The smell of his burning fire promised a cooked meal in the near future, as long as he hunted upwind from the smoke. He almost drooled just thinking about something hot to eat, palpably slurping saliva back into his mouth.

It was then that he realized that he had been utterly, completely silent for two days since leaving the Marsh— then, in that way one does when they become hyper aware of a certain sense, that he heard something far off. Nearby, where the forest dropped off into a mountain pass that few travellers threaded, there echoed the sound of shock; the vibration of death. Slinging the bow over his shoulder with its string taut against his chest and gathering up his arrows, the lithe Matte soon found himself sitting upon the middle of three crags tiering down into the mountain pass. 

Seven heads above the ground level he sat, bouncing his boot heel off the rock face and watching the bend ahead framed by some daring trees that poked out from the stones. The sound of a drunken sprint preceded a real vagabond rounding the corner. He looked like he’d been blasted in the face and torso with shrapnel, his clothing and skin tattered; but from the look on his face it was evident that the adrenaline from his fear was staving off the pain until he fancied himself safe from whatever was up there.

"Not all mad dogs are actually 'mad dogs'. Some of them just bite cause they're hungry."

A familiar voice trickled down the pass and tingled Matte’s ears with pauseful recognition followed by some cries from a definite other. The voices were growing nearer. He didn’t unsling his bow, drew no arrows, just sat and watched the jagged outline of the stone crop around which the voice stood. There sat about seven meters between him and the corner, so he judged he would have enough time to make a nonthreatening case when they rounded the corner.

Clutching the cauterized wound become of his achilles, the last remaining bandit would be left or killed as the two pleased and they would be on their way. In no time at all they would round the bend and see Daemon’s figure. He was clean in a forester’s sort of way, any holes in his garb patched handily and a fresh wash in the bay nearby ridding him of any unnatural stench. His eyes lighted upon Jericho, an endeavorer he had shared paths with once before, and he smiled a full smile.

Ever aware of the afterfroth of violence, he made no sudden movements in his sudden appearance before them, simply raising a hand at the wrist resting on his knee to greet them.

“Ho’, yon travellers!” He slipped humbly from the second crag down onto the first, now about four heads above them and twelve paces ahead. His movements were unassuming and easygoing. “How do you suppose two straightened arrows like ourselves cross paths twice?” chuckled Matte sarcastically to Jericho, the humor in them not only unaffected but bolstered by the blood that covered Yshmael and the obvious events they stood in the wake of.

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As the searing of flesh washed through the air, Yshmael pulled a knife from his boot and cast it into the last remaining attacker; the poor witness and conspirator to this nonsensical notion of robbing people on a mountain pass had now become a victim. He slid with his face in the dirt as he sought the tree line he should have never come out of. Had his mind not been full of terror, he might have survived by running away. The knife tore through his thigh from behind, bleeding heavily. Missed the artery, thankfully. 

 

”Hunger drives people and beasts to transgress and trespass as though no consequence exists; we will see to it this is corrected.” Yshmael spoke as he moved to retrieve the fallen lad, jerking the knife upon arriving by his side and dragging him back by his coat. He released him and stood over the two vagrants. 
 

“You two May receive aid if you tell me where the rest of you are.. or you will be dragged behind my horse until the Three would see fit.”

 

The seemingly calm voice had the two beneath him rattled.. or maybe it was the blood-soaked butchering device in his hand he had yet to sheathe. One smelled of piss and the other was in tears, but the opportunity of this all stopping was music of the finest notes to them. 
 

“T-t-they.. “ he stammered, unable to unlock his gaze with his full focus forcibly yielding to Yshmael’s as he leaned in to listen. “ they’re a f-f-few miles tha—“ 

“Ho’, yon travelers!”

Unfortunately, for both pee boy and the Nomad, he had been distracted by the voice of a third. Fearing an ill fate now again, He cried to himself for a moment as his eyes cut back and forth between Jericho, Yshmael, and the source of the third voice. 

 “How do you suppose two straightened arrows likeourselves cross paths twice?

Finish speaking.” snapped the slayer, putting unsavory pressure on his  wounded leg and looking away to observe the male who spoke to the orange haired one more directly. He turned his gaze back on the mess of a man beneath him, Forest Green specked with Hazel eyes fixing themselves on him as he listened to the poisoned wailing. 
 

“Aa-Owwalright!!! Two.. two miles that way..” he pointed with vigor, extending his full form to point north west of their current location. “We been holdin’ up in aahhhh.. in a village. They was eatin’ better than us, so we.. we—“

”So you chose to take what is not your own, and even now you have set upon more people in your time of gluttonous ‘need’.” He spat the words in his face, glaring the whole time. A corrective hand smote the left of his head, shamefully smacking him like a disobedient child.

A sigh left him as he stared. “You have done well, though. You have saved two lives, and a whole village..” he patted the face of the man before standing and whistling. 

 

A familiar sound struck the air as Yshmael’s horse whinnied and trotted back into arm’s reach. Rope was gathered and used to bind the sorry sods to one another. He tied off the soiled man’s bleeding thigh, seeing it fit that he had been terrorized to efficacious levels. 
 

“You will be free once we reach the village. Now be of use and Help your friend get around.On the subject.. what say you, light-bringer? Care to relieve a village of a nest of rats with us? You can bring your friend, too.” He offered the proposition to Jericho and the male assumingly acquainted with him who descended the craggy terrain to meet them closer. To him, Yshmael formally addressed him with a bow of the head, waiting for a response while rounding the wounded men up and Keeping them on a leash now, rope wound around his hand as he let the two support themselves together. The horse stomped into the arid mountain path, digging his hooves as Yshmael took what seemed like a pelt among his saddle bags and cleaned his sword off in the spare times he waited for an answer. 

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"Matte. What a surprise."

Jericho delivered this with flat, bone-dry affect, as if nothing could be less surprising in the wide world of Valucre than coming across Matte Daemon, right here, right now.

He was, of course, utterly upended. The moment of alarm bells ringing in his head was quickly overtaken by consequent, uninterrupted moments of silence; utter stillness of conscious mind, so that the subconscious could rifle through massive stores of information, leap-frogging intuitive connections that the conscious mind could only accomplish at great length, working with the limited resources it had.

He, of course, remembered that he had been personally involved in generating the data for a tracker and in putting Matte on track for getting the tracker made. There was another person out there with a gauntlet like his, and their ends were more nefarious; their agenda needed to be stymied, and Justice could not be responsible for putting out every fire in the world. But the data had been supplied to them military. And the tracker was something Matte wanted on his own, part of his payment for the aid he rendered across the sea in Izral, Alterion, and his part in dealing a massive blow to their human trafficking industry.

So how did the two come together?

He was here alone. The length of time between when he put the gauntlet to use in his various tests in Blairville and when he arrived here, now, with Matte before him, was an incredibly small delta. Matte would have had to have been in the area already. Or have been dropped from the sky in the fashion of a surgical aerial strike.

But he was here alone.

"I mean really, what are the chances? But hey, I bet guards and cops ask themselves the same thing when a thug gets away by the skin of their teeth. I guess . . . Gaia, right? That one's yours? I guess Gaia saves some of her grace for the good guys too. Makes her better than most."

Jericho took this opportunity to bridge the distance between them, offer Matte his hand, scrutinize him from up close. And in the final analysis, Matte continued to be merely a point of interest in the grand design, and not an imminent threat.

Over the course of the next few minutes Yshmael's 'advanced interrogation' yielded the expected fruit. Between the lines of what Yshmael's captive offered there was no doubt invisible subtext. They didn't know how many more bandits there were, what their capabilities are, who the ring leader is and what their agenda might be, if they were walking into any traps. So on down the line. They couldn't trust this man to divulge everything either; it'd take hours, days, of extracting information and poking holes in to check for consistency before they could have true confidence in the information.

It would serve their purposes however. At Yshmael's inquiry Jericho whistled into the air, stuck one hand out: "Jericho. My horse'll be up ahead."

Jericho looked to Matte to see what the other might say to the task, happy not only to get a village back on its feet by eliminating the burden of another groups' avarice, but to take his tracks to somewhere other than Chesterfield.

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Matte hopped down to level ground, smiling a half smile in return to Jericho’s tone. Both of them knew that, if by some freak chance he wasn’t here because of the gauntlet, then he had at least known it was used. Did he wonder why? Who knows. Nonetheless, he took the acquaintance’s hand with a semblance of warmth.

"I mean really, what are the chances? But hey, I bet guards and cops ask themselves the same thing when a thug gets away by the skin of their teeth. I guess . . . Gaia, right? That one's yours? I guess Gaia saves some of her grace for the good guys too. Makes her better than most."

“I really didn’t see it coming.” he said, the smirk evaporating. “But yeah she's mine," he said, the nonchalance grating against his insides with ingratiation and making a short gesture to the arm Jericho wore the gauntlet on with his free hand.  "I'm sure she saves some somewhere, but I still haven’t found the other one so how much is yet to be determined.”

That was the only mention he made of the artifact, cutting through more than one layer of nuance— to the chase per se. Then in no time he had adjusted his whole attention past Jericho upon the merciful executioner and his bounties, putting the thing behind them (or aside at least, for now). 

“I’m an old-ish friend of his,” he said, returning Yshmael’s nod. Then like a breeze he had whistled past the bound men and stood before Yshmael wearing a smile, his hand extended; it was calloused and cold, clean of debris but discolored with dirt. “Matte.”

“Let’s go bring some Justice to those villagers!” at this a manifold wink back at Jericho, then he looked to the bound men. “Which way, boys?”

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Lids did not bother blinking when Matte appeared before him. A firm grip free of any debris or blood met the forearm of Matte. Rather clean for a recent butchering of men.

“I like to think she guides but does not offer clear direction without sacrifice.” He spoke from the heart on the trivial matter, grinning as he looked the man in his eyes. “This will be smooth for us.” 
The horse, bearing the hitched duo strolled up again to his side, stepping forward with a hoof digging in the dirt once within a pace from Yshmael. The invigoration could be felt from Yshmael by the horse, expressing their bond in a warming display.

 

“Which way, boys?”

 

“ ‘Bout two or three miles that’a’way.. y-you said we can go when you find em, right?” He sounded more like he was begging than asking for an answer. Thankfully, The men had reduced from crying to sniffles and poor mugs. When addressed, they lifted their heads and the more capable of the two pointed northwest. 
 

“Free to return to the city and find a way to service your people; but, yes. Remember that if you do evil upon your fellow man, you will bring your end upon you.” He spoke down to them as he turned away from Matte for a moment, releasing his grip once the other mutually chose to. Something about his tone seemed so casual for the way the fellows trembled.
 

Fear still rattled them, and it was something Yshmael would not relent on in the sense that they would have to prove themselves that they were not enemies and full of poor intent. This was his guard And simultaneous disdain toward them that they would feel gnawing at their guts like the Suujali might do to a horse or livestock — unless they were to leave his sphere of influence.. which was rather vast and incomprehensible to them. They were to distressed to put logic behind their feelings. 
 

Yshmael patted his horse and looked to the men. “Lead the way.” Commanded the Nomad. The Wastelander ushered the men on. “This could be refreshing.. a bit of good in one’s life.” With that said, the quiet, reinforced boots carried him at two paces behind the bound men, whose lead rope now rest in the hand of their captor. They moved at a pace just out the comfort zone of the leading lads, much to Yshmael’s pleasure. He pressed on, having them guide the way. 
 


 

If nothing else were  to happen upon their trek, they’d arrive within the outskirts in less than forty minutes. 
 

“Smells like a settlement..” he whispered, a hand simply lifting into the air while the party was called to a halt. The men were pulled in close with a short blade against their arms, just above their bondage. Sad to say, they risked their wrists being slash should they speak up or move against them, and he made sure they’d feel the steel against them. 
 

“T-This is it, mister..” said pee boy.

“Yea; it’s the one.” Chimed the lamer of the two, though both spoke quiet as ever. 

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Jericho followed the line of Matte's pointed finger to his gauntlet. He continued to stare at it, his gaze lingering as thoughts piled in on themselves at the sight of it, multiplying in a direction he wasn't comfortable with. How could a weaker spirit than his cope against the constant mad whisper of power?

He dispelled those thoughts like a hand moving through smoke, or a clear light cutting through shadow, and the gauntlet dispelled in the same fashion, wisps of matter that vanished with the wind; the arm which stayed behind seemed paler than its brethren. He continued to stare at it.

"I'm an old-ish friend of his."

"Is that what we are?"

In timing the response gave the appearance of challenge, but in tone was framed as nothing more than speculation, inquiry without substance, a probe into the collective miasma of intent.

"We share a common goal, and common enemies, and have helped each other with each. It looks like that'll keep happening and that's damn fine with me, could always use another sword in the fight. I don't know that's enough to prop up a friendship though. We've never cooked a meal for each other. Allies, that's a better word."

Following the brief exchanges with the bound bandits, Jericho was pleased to see that Yshmael practiced a hand at mercy. His personal code of ethics did not preclude murder; just ask the human traffickers in Izral. But of all possible solutions for a problem, it was the one which Jericho liked to employ . . . perhaps not as a final resort, but a far cry from the first.

If you asked him, a guy liable to piss himself on meeting resistance in a profession known for its violence is not a guy who opted into that life with all of his marbles in tow. Jericho was curious to seek out and find what lay behind the curtain.

# # #

As Yshmael held the two freebooters captive at the end of his blade, Jericho tied them up, improving on the bindings which tangled their limbs by fastening each man to the other, then dragging them a few feet away to fasten them in turn to a tree.

"You two keep at those ropes and in about, oh, three or four hours maybe, you'll get out. By all accounts me and these fellas here will probably be done with that rat nest of fuckers in that time. But if we're not, and if I see you down there again, warning 'em, getting yourself mixed up in the business, whatever. If I see you again, I'm running you through. I won't dawdle none about it neither so if that's your plan you should just go on and get your prayers out of the way right now."

Jericho walked to Chestnut, then back to the bandits, dropping off two water skins and two days' worth of dehydrated rations at their feet.

"Tell me everything you know about the village and your friends and you can keep this stuff. If not, I'm taking it with me."

# # #

The tactic was, of course, a feint, serving the dual purpose of moving the sun overhead and providing them the cover of a coming dusk, and allowing them to surveil both the bandits and the village from a short distance; this familiarized them with any patrol routes posted guards may take, the locations of any sentries, while also confirming that the two men they let live about-faced and fucked off.

Combining their observation with what they extracted from the two bandits yielded a rough map.

Jericho sketched it . . . and then held it out to Yshmael.

"This is what you wanted right? So what's your plan?"

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