4. Just a Messenger…

Chapter 4

Just a Messenger…

            There were two things that I knew about Tetan- one was that it was one of Satel’s many territories that dotted along the cracked-earth desert of the Wastelands. The other was that it had once suffered Satel’s wrath after a fight we’d had. He’s told me that he didn’t destroy any lives, but he did make several hundred people homeless- which was a potential death sentence if the families had nowhere else to go.

He did make it up to them later by donating building materials to the town, but there was no way for him to make them forget the fear and devastation they had suffered on the day of the attack. With that in mind, I decided that I couldn’t be too careful- I had my gun and holster hidden under my jacket and my sword hanging slightly behind me so that it wouldn’t be readily noticeable.

I also had my knife safely tucked into my boot in case I needed a tool to cut with- or to stab someone in an emergency. I had almost lost the little blade and sheath Satel had given me back when I was swept away by a tidal wave. It had been resting underwater near one of the sandbars along the coast of Port Sibest, and it took my mate three days before he could find it. He had cast a weak protection spell on the sheath, so thankfully he was able to find it by tracing the magicks. I hadn’t even known that he had cast something on my gift until then.

When I was done with my preparations, I was suddenly warped to Cujol’s side, and then teleported to the familiar view of the Wastelands. The rapid changes of scenery was rather dizzying, and the sudden change from cool to hot also didn’t help matters. After I recovered, I realized that this was actually my first visit to Tetan. Looking around, I noticed that the elder chose a location near the town that seemed to have been abandoned. Upon further inspection of the charred wood and dilapidated homes, I realized that this could very well have been the area where Satel had vented his frustrations.

The destruction certainly didn’t seem new, so it was a possibility that he was the culprit. Considering how well he treats his other territories (by that, I mean the city itself, rather than the people therein), I had to wonder why he chose this particular town. Was there something he didn’t like about this area?

I wasn’t sure how many knew his name or face, but I figured that it was a good idea not to mention just what kind of alliance I had with the über hat falucite- or even hint that I knew him. They could take out all their anger on me…

“Here we are,” Cujol announced, after taking a good look at the wreckage around us. He seemed to be thoroughly observing the area to keep in mind for the town’s claim that they were too poor to pay taxes. But surely he knew that Satel had a hand in this? There was a chance that they were thriving just fine and simply decided not to bother cleaning up after the fact. For some people, it was just easier to start over somewhere else.

“I am quite busy, but I will return for you in a half hour- please be done by then,” he announced when he seemed satisfied with whatever he was looking for. “But should Satel return soon, he will come in my place.”

“Yeah, okay,” I replied, successfully suppressing a retort about him being allegedly ‘busy’. For someone with so little time on his hands, he sure did like to wander the halls… Though, I had no proof; he might have just been taking a break. Hell, for all I knew, he could’ve been looking for someone to take on this task- and I was the sucker who came at the wrong time.

But I wasn’t going to hold my breath about an early return trip- if Satel was really going to appear at any moment, then sending me would be pointless. He would just stop me before I could even reach the mayor and conduct his business as he should. No, if Cujol had to ask me to intervene, it’s because he didn’t believe the blond would return before sundown. And with it being early summer, the days were long and he still had three hours before night began- plenty of time for Satel if he was returning ‘soon’.

It made me wonder what exactly he was doing right now- surely the old man must’ve known… otherwise he wouldn’t assume that his grandson wouldn’t make it.

“Wait,” Cujol called out to me as I was about to head into town. I turned back to see what he wanted- I thought he had pressing matters to tend to?

“Uh-hey!” I shouted in indignation as his magicks buttoned my skirt down to the hem.

“You are representing the clan. Please dress appropriately,” he intoned with a flat look before he finally disappeared. I stuck my tongue out at the space where he was previously standing.

There was nothing wrong with the way I dressed- at least my legs and ankles were covered with trousers. That was more than what the saloon wenches in the Wastelands were covering with those flirty skirts that reached mid-calf. It also wasn’t like women couldn’t wear trousers either… though I suppose I was the only one who wore both pants and a skirt at the same time.

I let out a sigh before I pressed on- there was little point in bending over to restore my previous style. If Cujol wanted a proper ‘representative of the clan’, then so be it. I shouldn’t have agreed to go in the first place if I couldn’t follow a harmless dress code. I just wished he wouldn’t act as if I were being scandalous.

I found that it was a rather long walk through the wreckage before I reached the town. It seemed Satel had truly destroyed everything, forcing the town to completely rebuild in its former outskirts. …I reminded myself yet again to never piss him off. While he would never strike me in anyway, the knowledge that he would take it out on others didn’t sit well with me.

And it also placed the burden of guilt and responsibility on me should anything severe happen. I may have not cared too much about my kind, but I’d rather have some justification for it. As of right now, these people were perfectly innocent strangers to me- they have yet had the chance to treat me like some idiot seafarer or give me reason to openly despise them.

Tetan’s buildings and homes looked fairly new, even though they must’ve been almost three years old now. The wood still looked fresh and had its color- most would look worn and grey from the harsh elements of the desert. The main portion of the town was just a single dirt road with buildings lining the sides- each side was connected by a log walkway with an awning to protect pedestrians from the heat. Further out, past the center, were smaller homes for the residents.

It sort of reminded me of Ranosia, the town where I had first met Satel. It was located not too far from here, so it was possible that this layout was most common to this area of the Wastelands. Though I suppose Tetan was different, as it was the only place that I knew of that had an entire destroyed town right next to it…

Unlike with my very first visit to the Wastelands, I now knew the most common words on the signposts they had outside of each building. I could recognize ‘jail’, ‘inn’, and the ‘town hall’ that I was looking for, but if I wanted a bar, I could only find it by the distinct swinging double doors they tended to have. Since they had varying names to distinguish themselves, there was a very little chance in me being able to recognize the monikers they used. Sometimes I just wished they would use ‘tavern’ or ‘bar’ and save me the trouble…

Still, I couldn’t help but pause at the bronze plaque as I passed by the saloon doors. It made Cegil proud to know that I was practicing outside of my studies- and I did feel proud of myself if I was able to read something on my own.

“…The …b-lohn-d …bahs-tahrd…” I paused and tried to think of my phonetics. I had to run the second word though my mind a few times, matching it with different vowel pronunciations until it was something I recognized. “Oh- ‘The Blond Bastard’!”

…Wait…really? I guess I didn’t get it after all- there was no way it could be that. It sounded like something I’d call Satel. But… I believed that the townspeople knew the appearance of the man who annihilated their town before, so it was possible that the bar owner named it as such for my mate, to show that he would never give up. …Or I was simply over-thinking it and misread the sign. It was possible- I’m dyslexic, so I couldn’t completely trust everything I read.

I shook my head before I continued down the wooden walkway and found the town hall, where the mayor should be. The building was a mix of wood with stone surrounding the bottom quarter of it. It seemed to be a two-story structure, towering over the jail (which was humorously next door to the bar) and some kind of general store. I reached out for the plain metal doorknob and pushed the door in so I could enter.

It was notably darker inside so I had to let my eyes adjust to the sudden change. There didn’t seem to be any electricity in this town, so they all had to rely on the sub during the daylight hours, and candles and torches in the darkness. The only source of light in this room came from the windows in the front that flanked the entrance.

For a brief second, I thought I had seen someone sitting behind a wooden desk near the back of the room, but they were gone in a flash, accompanied by a yelp. No sooner than after that noise was emitted, a door in the back flung open as some burly man entered and pointed something at me. By the time my eyes adjusted to make out the scene, I heard a click and realized that it was a gun.

“Um… hello?” I replied flatly to show that I wasn’t a threat. The large man paused, then lowered what appeared to be a one-shot revolver- the kind that any two-bit half-wit could obtain in this rapidly changing era. It was the closest design to my revolver, except it couldn’t hold more than one bullet. It was much faster to reload and fire than the early flintlock models that first appeared when the idea of a handheld cannon became popular.

“Uh, sorry- thought you were someone else…” the man muttered in a deep voice as he put away his weapon and then knelt down behind the desk to help up the person who suddenly ducked down. It wasn’t long before a frightened set of honey brown eyes appeared over the wood.

At first glance, I thought it was a young boy, judging from the soft rounded cheeks and the short and curly copper hair, but I soon discovered the fitted skirt and realized that ‘he’ was actually a ‘she’. I also couldn’t help but notice the massive bust she sported under her tight white blouse. Hmph… why did all women seem to have a bigger rack than mine? …And why did I care? Was this a woman thing? Or maybe this was something I picked up from the pirate crew, who had taught me a thing or two about ‘appreciating’ female beauty? It was hard not to feel a little envious of things I could have, but didn’t- damn them all.

The petite woman quickly sat down and rearranged her hair and dress before facing me with a professional look. “I apologize for that, ma’am. Was there something you needed?”

“Yeah…” I replied slowly as I took a few more steps towards the center of the small room. “I’d like to see your mayor. I have an important message to pass along to him.”

Suddenly, the man stepped forward with narrowed eyes. “What message might that be?”

“Are you the mayor?” I questioned in a similar tone to his. The meaty guy couldn’t possibly be the type to run a town- he seemed more of a bodyguard type.

“No- I’m his brother,” he answered swiftly. I had to admire him for being honest, but if he wasn’t the man I was after, then I couldn’t tell him much. This wasn’t his business.

“I fear this message may be of a personal nature, sir. I don’t know if he would want you to hear it. All I can do is assure you that I mean him no harm,” I answered, utilizing the polite speech Cegil had also coached me on between reading lessons. The people of the Wastelands, at least the sober, civil ones outside of bars, tend to be very polite and respectful towards others by calling each other ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’. Since I’ve always sought out the less desirable crowds in my travels, I’ve never noticed this admirable trait of theirs.

“You say you mean no harm, but you carry a sword behind your back,” he pointed out shrewdly as a thick hand gestured towards me.

I coolly glanced back and shrugged. “It’s a dangerous world- I’m entitled to some protection.”

The man furrowed his thick, copper toned brows while the short, curly hairs of his beard followed the frown on his lips. After a few seconds, he relented and sighed. “Very well- leave the sword by the door and you may see him.”

This was why I made sure that most of my weapons were hidden- while I couldn’t do much about my sword, at least I still had my gun if I absolutely needed it. As I was unhooking my sword from my belt, the man turned to the woman and gave her a softer look.

“We’ll be closing up once this meeting is done. You might as well go home and prepare dinner.”

“Okay Papa,” the woman replied happily before she stood and kissed the man on his cheek.

I suppose that made sense- she did possess some features from the man to bear a resemblance. I also knew of a lot of cases where a huge, grizzly man would produce tiny, adorable daughters. Furthermore, her relation to the man, and by extent, to the mayor, explained how she obtained a rather decent job as a secretary.

It was actually difficult for women to get jobs that didn’t involve demeaning themselves sexually. They needed high connections or a man who would trust them to actually get the job done. It was discriminatory, but there were some women out there that goofed around with their petty interests instead of being serious about their work. There were men like that, too, but they were not as noticeable.

However, it wasn’t until the girl had left when a bad feeling washed over me. There could’ve been another reason the man asked her to leave…

I followed him to the back room he had emerged from, only to discover that it led to a short corridor with two rooms on each side. He led me to the one on the right side near the back and knocked on the door until someone replied. He then opened it and held it for me so that I could pass through before him.

Once in, I could sarcastically say that this wasn’t one bit shady- there was no electricity in the front of the building, but there was something back here lighting up the windowless rooms. The walls were a dark rich brown from the gloss of finished wood and the electric lamps cast an almost warm and inviting glow, but the layout of the room chilled the atmosphere some to the point where I was getting the vibes that I wasn’t in a safe place.

The room wasn’t very large, considering that the building itself didn’t possess a wide area- the four rooms were practically squeezed in, while the front office was the largest by comparison. Though considering that this was a two-story place, I had to wonder where the stairs that led up there were. Perhaps in one of the other rooms?

Behind the desk in here was a man that almost appeared to be an identical twin to the man behind me. He was just as rugged in the features, but his face was clean-shaven and his body mass was much narrower than his brother’s. He definitely seemed more like the leader type, but his expression was far from friendly looking. I shouldn’t make assumptions by appearance alone, but he scowled like any evil man. Though, I should talk- my mate thrived on his villain role to humans, but he smiled pleasantly all the time instead.

Standing just behind him was another man in a leather vest and wide brimmed hat. There was something shiny pinned to his chest and he had a one-shot revolver strapped to his side. If I were to guess, he had to have been some kind of lawman and he was probably here as protection or something.

…Though, if the mayor had protection, then why did the burly man want me to leave my sword behind? A sword wasn’t useful until all bullets were spent and I doubt he saw me as a threat since he didn’t know what else I was carrying.

I carefully approached the desk as the big man planted himself in front of the door, blocking my only escape. Was that really necessary? I decided to dismiss it as an intimidation tactic- sometimes men liked to think they were in control, even when it wasn’t needed. Or perhaps it was out of spite for people like me, who didn’t respond to fear normally.

I instantly noticed several bags of crijok littering the desk and a few chips of cedit out in the open. The mayor glared at me when he realized where my eyes were directed before he opened a drawer and shoved everything inside it.

“Who are you and what do you want?” he inquired of me, his voice was a mix of distrust and fear. Aww- and he was friendly to boot!

I honestly couldn’t tell if this was a greedy man or if this was a case of bitter survival. Satel taught me a little about economics and I could tell that the amount of money he was hiding was barely enough to sustain the entire town. But I also had no proof if that was the town’s funds, or if it was something that he was hoarding. I had to remember that this wasn’t some flourishing city like Osel- they had to do what they could to survive under the conditions they were subjected to.

“She said she had a message for you,” the burly man answered in my place. I raised my head and finally decided to get my business over with. It really wasn’t my place to speculate anything, so I shouldn’t need to poke my nose where it didn’t belong. I was just a delivery girl- anything else was Satel’s problem.

“My…employers simply want me to tell you that they understand your economic situation and that they will grant you one more day to scrounge up anything you can spare to pay your taxes,” I told him, being careful about revealing my origins.

Since I knew next to nothing of the situation, I wasn’t sure if the mayor knew about the relationship between the falucite and the nobles, let alone if the town was on good terms with, or even knew of, the Xanaturi clan. After all, Satel destroyed their town once- even if they couldn’t pin point his origins or relations, I couldn’t imagine them being able to trust just anyone at this point. The term ‘employers’ would have to do- at least then, he would have a good idea of whom I was referring to.

Of course, the following glare on his face soon told me that I wasn’t completely aware of the situation. “Which ‘employers’ might that be? Are you a messenger from the king himself? Or are you part of that bunch who’s been sending me death threats if I don’t pay?”

I tried not to blanch and resisted the urge to sigh- I suspected that I was part of the latter. Sending threats and being a general bully was what Satel was all about… But surely this wasn’t the kind of situation that needed it? Could there have been another organization out there causing problems?

“I don’t know anything about ‘death threats,’ but I am a representative of a third party organization who works with the king. As far as I’m aware, they just want you to send what you can,” I replied calmly. It was strange how relaxed I am now, compared to the mission I had to go on yesterday. Of course, there was a huge difference between a mock invasion and encountering a possible trap. I could escape a trap if need be, but I couldn’t fight an army on my own.

“Brother, I think she’s telling the truth- if we just work with her, we can show goodwill to the king and still keep enough to survive,” the burly man advised behind me, sounding very hopeful. Appearances were definitely deceiving- he seemed more rational than I had given him credit for.

“Don’t misunderstand me- I’m just the messenger, and all I can offer is to carry back any messages you may have for my employers,” I countered, to make my position clear. I was a little hopeful myself that the man’s response was a sign that the town was truly under duress, rather than hiding a shady dealing, but I couldn’t guarantee anything personally. Again- I had no clue what was happening or even what king we were talking about. The Xanaturi clan owned several kingdoms and I wasn’t sure how the Wastelands were divvied up for them.

“Hmph- the same people threatening me could also be the same ‘third-party’ organization. It doesn’t matter- we don’t have the money. You’ve seen the wreckage out there! We’ve had to start over from the ground up with very little help from the king. Why should we show ‘goodwill’ to a man who has obviously forsaken us?” the mayor argued, bringing a good point. I suppose I’d be bitter over something like that as well.

Still, I had to wonder about this entity who was threatening them. Was it Satel? Or someone else? I’d actually feel bad if the Xanaturi clan was sending threats over something so minor and totally justified.

“We can’t afford to go to war with the king,” the big man countered with a point of his own. “Think of the people.”

Think of your niece, I added in my mind. I had a feeling that the large man was solely fighting to protect his daughter. I only needed to witness that loving interaction from earlier to know that he was a good father. Damn it… I didn’t want to get involved, but I couldn’t ignore how those two reminded me of the Wise Man and I. I would… hate to see her end up like me, should something bad happen to her father.

“I am thinking about them! But what would happen if we rolled over and obeyed them like dogs? Do you honestly think the king will be good to us based on loyalty? No- he would just ask for more and punish us if we could not afford it,” the mayor growled in sheer anger. The more they argued, the less sure I was of what side I could take. I agreed with both of them, really. Thank Elit I didn’t have to personally deal with this…

The large man could only groan in response- it seemed that this had been a long going argument between them and he was getting tired of it. The mayor sat back in his seat, looking even less pleased than before. He then seemed to remember my presence and regarded me again.

“I apologize ma’am, but I did not catch your name,” he stated while gesturing towards me with his hand, “…and what is the name of this organization that you represent?”

I hesitated for a moment as I thought about what to tell him. I hadn’t expected that he would actually ask for the name of the clan and I was a little worried of what he would think if I told him. But as for my name, I had no trouble giving it- he needed to know it in order to confirm to Satel or someone else that I did meet with him. “My name’s Tia…”

I quickly picked up the surprised grunt behind me and couldn’t resist stalling on my other answer by asking the burly man. “Problem?”

“N-no. It’s nothing. Your name is similar to my daughter’s- her name is Tiata,” he replied, stunning me for a second. What was a girl with that name doing in these parts? I thought all women bearing a goddess’ name had been captured in order to prevent the prophecy in Port Sibest from happening years ago? …And it had to be Tiata of all names…

“Sheer coincidence,” I mumbled, unsure if I was assuring the man or myself. I still considered my name unique even though it was a derivative of that goddess’ name, but the important thing was that my current moniker wasn’t named after someone, like with all my other names.

“Anyway,” I continued, wanting to get it over with, “I represent the Xanaturi clan.”

I watched as both the lawman and the mayor’s eyes widened before the big man muttered, “…The benefactors.”

Was that how they knew them? Thank Elit! Satel must’ve used the clan name when donating the materials to rebuild their town- or they did something else that was helpful.

“Heh- I can’t say you guys haven’t been good to us, but…” the mayor closed his eyes and leaned his elbows on his desk. “…What good is working out a payment when we’ll just go through with this again next year? We don’t have enough money- and we never will. No one is helping us improve.”

“I can’t help you with that- I’m just the messenger,” I reminded him in a nearly bland tone. What did he want from me anyway? Did I look like I carried crijok on me? “If you have a message, I can pass it along. If you just try to negotiate with others, you could ask for the help you claim to need.”

…Though who’s to say that they didn’t already ask?

But the mayor didn’t seem to have heard me- he was too busy staring at me with a contemplative look. Soon that bad feeling returned when he inquired, “Just how important are you to this Xanaturi clan?”

“I’m the messenger. What do you think?” I almost snapped, quickly seeing where this was going. He wasn’t viewing me as a possible sponsor- he wanted to know if someone would miss me enough to pay for my return. I was hoping that bearing the title of ‘messenger’ would demean my value since no entity in their right mind would send a valuable person to a dangerous place, but the man read between the lines. Perhaps he knew more than he let on about the falucite clan…

“But they send a woman- one who can look a man in the eye and not back down. They must have great trust in you to do your job and return,” he pointed out, leaving me to wonder if that was true. I suppose the elders really did have some faith in me, otherwise, they wouldn’t send me on missions at all. “Surely you understand- in desperate times, we need to do whatever we can to save our own lives.”

“Oh I understand very well… but that doesn’t mean I’ll cooperate,” I replied hollowly as my eyes shifted over to the lawman. He seemed eager to move and I could easily detect his hand drifting over to his gun.

“Sheriff, arrest this woman. Think of a crime severe enough to charge her with that should net us more than five hundred cedit,” the mayor ordered, barely turning his head away from me. Five hundred cedit… was a bit too much to ask for considering that all he wanted was to save a town. He must’ve also wanted some profit for himself. The skinny man in the vest chuckled as he began walking around the desk, towards me.

The burly man behind me was stunned at first before he came to his senses and pulled me behind him- the sweet man was not only trying to protect me, but he placed me next to the exit.

“What are you doing?” he asked incredulously, as if he couldn’t believe that this was happening. “What makes you think they’ll pay to have her back? You might lose your town once again if something should go wrong!”

“I don’t think so- she’s rather pretty. Someone is bound to do whatever it takes to have her safe and sound once again,” the mayor replied, sounding sure of his self.

I wondered if this was a good time to mention that the ‘someone’ who’d want me back was the same man who obliterated his town? Once Satel finds out about this, I doubt he would leave a single man alive- and that wouldn’t be good for Tiata or her father.

Ordinarily, I didn’t run away unless directly ordered to, but I felt that I shouldn’t waste the opportunity that the burly man gave me. I backed away until I was near the door and reached for the handle so I could leave. Thankfully, since I was a modified human, I could run out into the Wastelands and survive until a clan member showed up to rescue me. My blood didn’t circulate in my body as it used to, so my temperature was lower and the heat didn’t bother me as much. Unfortunately, my movements didn’t go unnoticed.

“Not so fast!” the lawman barked before I heard a click. “You’re outnumbered and even if you managed to leave this building without a bullet in ya, there’s nowhere for you to run.”

No, there were plenty of places for me to run, but I wasn’t sure if I could dodge a bullet- I couldn’t leave while the gun was aimed at me. But if they thought I was going jail like a good little girl, then they were going to be sorely mistaken. I had promised Cegil that I would never end up behind bars again- though that was under the assumption that I wouldn’t need to go to while Satel could teleport me out of any mess I might make.

The brothers continued to argue, seemingly unaware of the interaction between the lawman and I. I turned to face him, even though he told me to hold still, and waited for him to put away his gun so he could grab some rope to tie my wrists with. In a flash, I reached into my buttoned jacket and had my gun aimed at his chest before he could get any closer to me.

“Don’t touch me,” I ordered sternly before he dropped the rope and raised his hands in the air.

“You idiot!” the mayor screamed in rage at his brother when he noticed that I had the upper hand. “You were supposed to disarm visitors before they got to my office!”

“I-I thought she just had a sword- I didn’t know about the gun,” the big man replied, visibly shocked. I could also see a shimmer of betrayal in his green eyes because somewhere during that first exchange when requested that I leave behind my sword, he trusted that I wasn’t carrying anything else.

“Sorry- but I did say that this was a dangerous world,” I reminded him with a sliver of actual remorse. I wasn’t completely apologetic since all I had to do was gesture to this room to prove my point. The man couldn’t expect me to walk into a possible hostage situation without some way to protect myself.

I wasn’t that upset because I totally understood what they were going through- I once had to live by the day with nothing to my name and no clear future. I understood what one had to do to survive, and the fact that the mayor had to account for a whole town made his burden ten times worse. However, I had a right to survive, too, and while I could be sympathetic, I wasn’t generous enough to help them with their little scheme. It was cold, but only one of us could win- and it was going to be me.

“Take a good look gentlemen- as you can see, my revolver has a drum that houses six bullets. Even if each of you had a gun, I still have three more ready to fire. Who wants to take that chance?” I questioned calmly to prove that I still had control. Yup. I knew my ‘rithmetics- I took to that like a fish to water… and yet it had taken me more than a month to learn how to spell my own name…

Of course, there could’ve been a chance that they all possessed two revolvers, which would make us even- assuming, of course, that we were all bad shots and couldn’t hit each other with one bullet… But, the sheriff wasn’t acting as if he had a second one hidden on his person, and the burly man didn’t seem as if he wanted to attack me. As for the mayor, I had no proof if he even had a gun at all.

“Now, all of you, drop your guns then stand next to ‘Happy’ back there,” I ordered with a quick head gesture towards the mayor. The lawman and the brother did as I asked, but I noticed that the mayor didn’t bother moving at all.

It might’ve been because he didn’t have guns. Or he thought he was excluded because I didn’t ask him directly like I did to the other two. For all I knew, he could’ve been hiding his just like how I did earlier. Well, it didn’t matter- I was about to leave anyway. I backed towards the door while they slowly backed away towards the desk. I then used one hand to reach the knob behind me as I kept the gun pointed in their general direction.

“I’m leaving now- and as a bonus, I won’t tell anyone what you tried to do. I’d advise negotiating, even if you don’t like it. It can be better to live like a loyal dog than to die as a stray,” I told them with no hard feelings. It was better to not mention anything, lest their situation got worse. It was really the best I could do for them.

“Oh ‘Tia-dear… Is this how you conduct business? By gunpoint?” a jovial voice said near my ear. Satel was the only one who called me by that nickname, so I knew it was him. It sounded like he was behind me, but the knob was still in my hand and I hadn’t opened the door. It was most likely magicks at work- and I noticed that the other men could hear it as well. But even though it was a disembodied voice, I knew he had to be somewhere in the room for him to know what I was doing.

“I’m a messenger,” I growled, quickly getting tired of saying that. “Why would I want to take on your work?”

It wasn’t long before the blond bastard materialized beside me with my sword in his possession. He gently tapped the exposed blade in the palm of his gloved hand and glared condescendingly at the men in the room. I had to guess that he entered the building like a normal person, as opposed to teleporting, and had found my sword where I had left it.

“And why would I need a messenger? I am a little behind in my chores, but it doesn’t mean I can’t take care of this today,” he inquired, proving to me that he wasn’t expecting for me to be here. If I were to guess, he probably grew very concerned upon seeing my sword here and wanted to make sure I wasn’t in trouble. He probably wasn’t really upset with the idea of me taking on his ‘chore’- he was just concerned about me as usual.

“Take it up with Grandfather- he’s the one who sent me,” I muttered as I lowered my gun and shook my head. Now that my mate was here, I didn’t need to protect myself. He could easily stop them if they tried anything funny at this point. …Of course, I shouldn’t rely too much on his skill no matter the situation- even he made mistakes sometimes.

“Ah, of course- he must’ve panicked when Cegil didn’t arrive on time,” Satel muttered to himself before he took a step forward. I almost glared at the falucite’s back- he better not pull Cegil into this …sort-of-argument! But as I thought more on his words, I began to wonder if the fact that Cegil ignored the elders during my lessons resulted in this. Satel could’ve been taking over his brother’s task until he arrived and that was what made the blond behind in work.

“So,” the über hat man continued in a sharp tone, giving the mayor his full attention. “Has my darling sirsa given you her message? If so, then you have one more day to change your ways before I make drastic changes to this town once again.”

The large man and the sheriff had frozen in place since my mate’s entrance and didn’t quite make it to where I had ordered them. The lawman was still too close for comfort, but I didn’t think he had the guts to move anymore. His eyes were wide with fright (as was the mayor’s) and I had a feeling that he knew full well who Satel was. I can’t imagine anyone forgetting the face of a man who could demolish towns in one night.

The only one who didn’t seem all that upset was the burly man- he was cautious of Satel, but he didn’t seem scared. Actually, there still appeared to be a look of hope in his expression, as if he believed that the blond man would be able to fix their problems. Was he an idiot? Or did he know something that the others didn’t?

Satel wasn’t smiling as he always did when faced with potential victims- he was unusually tense and I could pick up a slight hint of displeasure. I wasn’t sure if it had anything to do with the situation though- he might’ve shown up this way because of whatever that had made him late. His eyes didn’t even possess that mischievous glimmer- instead they were hardened into a dangerous expression. I was almost…scared to see him this way.

“So you two know each other?” the mayor confirmed with a glare as he tried to muster some courage. “She said we could negotiate, and yet here you are threatening me once again. Who is lying here? You or her? Just who is this Xanaturi clan anyway?”

I made a face and hoped Satel wouldn’t be disappointed with me later. With the way he said that the ‘clan was good to them’, I had thought he was in the know about the falucite- or at least knew about what the clan did for certain towns. I hope I didn’t reveal more than I should have to him… though if this was going to be a problem, then Cujol should’ve given me more of a briefing.

“You are the one who’s probably lying,” the über hat man retorted coolly, keeping his eyes on him. “Your acting has improved over the years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you had convinced her and any other representatives that your town is poor and barely surviving. If that were actually true, then of course you would be given options.”

“Wh-what are you talking about?” he quickly countered in the telltale sign that he had been caught.

Ugh! Really? All that talk of survival was fake- and I fell for it? I bet those ‘death threats’ he claimed to have were just exaggerations to help him seem innocent and bullied. Of course, he couldn’t have exaggerated too much– Satel was very threatening when he wanted results. By the sound of things, the falucite knew the mayor for quite some time and couldn’t get him to obey through nicer means.

But I wasn’t the only one who seemed stunned with the news- the burly man soon glared at his brother and spoke to him in a condescending tone, “What does he mean, Yuris? Is there more money that we don’t know about?”

“Of course not! This is the same man who put us in this position in the first place! Why believe the words of this monster?” the mayor said with a snarl. And with that admission, I was completely lost- if ‘Yuris’ knew that Satel was the monster that destroyed his town, then why isn’t he wetting himself and shoving over bags of money? And why, for that matter, was he trying to cheat out of his taxes if he knew Satel was going to come for him personally?

Any sane man would be rightfully terrified and willing to do whatever it took to appease the ‘monster’ and save his life. He was trying to act as if he could get away on the technicality that Satel didn’t have clean hands and that he shouldn’t have to pay because of him. Actually, it would’ve been true if Satel hadn’t furnished the town with materials to help them start over. Whatever was wrong with them now was completely the fault of the mayor, it seemed.

“Ah-ah. Careful now- Jeruk is under my employment and he knows full well what I’m about,” Satel said with a small twinge of his cheerfulness returning. “If you recall, he and his daughter came here after my little rampage. I was hoping his presence would make you reconsider your …little hobby.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose as this little drama grew in depth. Jeruk I can understand- he seemed to be a good guy from the very beginning, and I had a feeling that his daughter had something to do with why he was working for Satel. It might explain why she wasn’t taken to the homestead like the rest of the goddess-named women. As for this ‘hobby’ I didn’t want to know or care about it- whatever it was, I’m sure it was just hemorrhaging money and depriving the people.

At first, the big man didn’t appear to be very pleased to be pointed out, but he eventually admitted that the story was true. Then he added, in his defense, “But it’s not as if I was sent to spy on you. I was told you were having problems and needed help running the town. I thought I was truly helping you. I didn’t know you were… hoarding the crijok for yourself.”

He didn’t know what it was being used for either, and some part of me wondered if it was just something that was best left unsaid. Either way, I felt for the brother- he really did want to help and honestly appeared to be completely unaware of the truth. Did Satel do that on purpose? Was there any benefit in sending someone who had no clue on what’s going on and expect results? Hell, was there any point in sending me? I should’ve told Cujol to shove it up his-

Suddenly I tensed when I saw movement in the corner of my eye. During the sob story, I had completely forgotten about the sheriff. It was safe to assume that he was in on whatever the mayor was doing and sought to turn the tables by attacking me behind Satel’s back. Then again- his actions could’ve been as revenge for what the platinum blond did to the town.

I barely had time to think or realize what I was doing as my hand raised the gun and fired once, then twice after I quickly clicked back the hammer for a fresh cartridge- that was as fast as I could accomplish in that split second. I heard a stifled grunt of pain before I was flattened to the ground and the back of my head hit the hardwood floor. For a moment, I saw stars, but that didn’t stop me from maneuvering out from under the weight above me and pushing the body away. By the time I could see clearly, I felt something warm splatter on my face and soon discovered that it was blood.

I did hit him- but in non-lethal areas. I only skimmed his cheek and got his left shoulder. The blood from his shoulder was what got me in the face. He was just as dazed as I was at first, but he soon recovered and tried to subdue me. I immediately reacted by swinging my leg around to knock him away and put myself in a position to where I could get up fast.

I soon noticed that I had dropped my gun and that if I wanted to maintain the upper hand, I had to fight the lawman in hand to hand combat to keep him from drawing his. It wouldn’t have been any problem since I had experience in brawling in bars.

However, in my struggle to protect myself, I had forgotten everyone around me- including my now livid mate. The sheriff barely got on one knee before he was pinned to the door I was previously standing in front of with my sword. Satel had killed in front of me before to protect me, so this was nothing new, but I still found myself frozen in place seeing the blade running through the man’s neck. His blood streamed out from the puncture points where the metal passed through the muscle and tendons and more poured out of his gurgling mouth.

“I’ve had just about enough of this place,” Satel growled venomously as he deftly twisted his wrist and cleanly separated the head from the body. I could only stare wide eyed as more blood gushed out and the body fell forward- the head rolled off to the side, his hat had long since flown off when he had first tackled me. I couldn’t stop my eyes from following it until it stopped with the face looking in my direction.

I lost the feeling in my legs and ended folding my legs under me in a stunned sitting position as the über hat man turned away and stalked over to the mayor again.

“I’ve been generous to you, Yuris- even before my lapse in judgment in venting my rage upon your town. You will cease your illicit activities and pay by first light tomorrow or suffer the consequences- and if you or your minions ever target my mate again, I will kill you in the same manner as I did to your sheriff,” he muttered coldly, like he was on his last nerve.

I could barely register what was happening around me anymore. My eyes were trained on the head- taking in the frozen expression of shock. In a blink, my mind played tricks on me and made me envision someone else in his place. …Then the old memories flashed before me and I felt myself about to hyperventilate.

Soon my subconscious took control and I felt myself shutting down to protect myself of the trauma I faced nearly fifteen years ago. I just couldn’t allow myself to remember- it was just too much. I didn’t even know who that man was, and it didn’t really matter. Someone I loved died in the same way… and I was never able to recover from the loss.

The last thing I remembered seeing before I was completely gone was the dead look in his eyes… The sheriff’s eye color was actually dark green, but all I saw was seafarer grey.

To the Next Chapter

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