Fate - First Reply A Desert Rose

A 1x1 Roleplay where the first writer to respond can join
Crux knew the frustration that came with a long chase. Something as little as dumb luck could leave you tailing your target for months on end, and even when it wasn't your fault, it could sure as hell feel like it was. Still, something about the story smelled, and Crux grumbled as he rolled his neck and dropped to sit on the ground.

"Less than five at a time, mostly elf kids from Falwood..." But not always, apparently... "Have you physically seen any of the nabbers? The specific numbers and the demographic they're after make me smell Faerie bullshit. Those assholes can be heartless, but extremely organized and efficient."

If it was Faeries, Riley may well be out of luck. Some nasty types lived in the northern part of Falwood. Not the kind he would tangle with without a sizable team. Unfortunately, his attempts to dig for information were coming up empty, as Riley herself hadn't seen much of anything, as far as she was telling him.

"So, all you know is that you don't know anything, then." Crux huffs a bit as he raises back up to his feet and gives a stretch. "We'd better get moving then, every minute we waste is more distance and less of a trail. I have a small camp not far outside of this outpost, which should be in the direction we're headed. We'll stop there, gear up, and take my horse."

He had his whip-blade and some water, and that was really all he needed. Still, there were a few things he'd left behind that would help them in a wild goose chase as she had them on. Moving to the mouth of the tent, he looks back toward her. "Hey, we take those smugglers out and we'll score a faster ride to boot. See? It'll all work out."
"Didn't see yah as an optimist," she huffed as she followed him out of the tent, slinging her own pack on her shoulders. Fuk, she was fukin' sore. And here she was following the devil who did it. But. She didn't see any other choice or path.

If his hunch was right, they were in deep shite.

She didn't know much about fae. Growing up in a xenophobic nation did that to a kid. And even though she'd broken away, she'd been so focused on the elves. And all the beasts in the falwood. She wasn't about to admit this to Crux but a part of her never believed in the tales of the fae and that they even existed.

"How long of ride do we have to intercept these smugglers? And," she hesitated, waiting to ask the question as the spaces between tents lengthened considerably. "How much do you know about the fae? You're not gonna back out on me if it's them, are you?"

Riley didn't know who they were. She hadn't seen them. She'd just been following their breadcrumbs.
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An optimist? That almost made him laugh. Crux was a realist, and the fact of the matter is that he was focusing on the good to keep from stating the obvious fact that Riley was in way over her head. Turning to stand in the mouth of the tent, his smirk turns to a frown. "I know they can be real rotten bastards, and if we come up against them we're gonna need a lot more than the two of us to take back your kids. They're tough, but they aren't invincible."

Crux had killed Fae before, though not with any measure of ease. Not all of them were violent or hostile, but cross one from the wrong group and you were in for a nasty fight.

"I'm not a fuckin' liar though. You help me and I'll help you. The smugglers should be crossing through about half an hour from where I have my camp set up. I'd say we have an hour and change to mount up and get out there, else they'll pass us by and we'll have to swing around and catch up."

A flicker of that playful competition crossed his eyes again.

"Unless you have a better idea?"
"Well," she huffed. "Like I said before we have a deal. But if we do find out they're fae, I'm taking them down so you're gonna have to tell me the best way to do it." She'd been tracking them for too long. There was no way in the nine hells she was letting them slip through her fingers one more time. Or not getting those kids back.

Arius was counting on her. And Kaius, well. He'd probably start to worry soon enough. Riley didn't even know if he'd return from his own mission. And she had no doubt he'd be fuking pissed at her if he found out she'd cut out after the kids on her own. Even though she and Arius had agreed it was the best shot to get them back.

"As for your plan. We go now and ride hard. You know the Abtati, right? We hide in the sand and take them by surprise. Just like they would."

Getting a nice wad of juicy spit in her mouth, she released it onto her dirty palm and held it out to him. "We should probably shake on our deal, though." Nothing was set unless there was a good hand-shaking to seal the deal.
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Crux's face wrinkled a bit as his eyes slid down to the spit-covered hand Riley offered him. He might have shaken it if it wasn't soaked in her slobber, but that added spice to the gesture was really something he could have done without. "An ambush certainly sounds like the most practical approach here." He agreed through clenched teeth, reaching out for a discarded rag tossed aside and using it to shake her hand.

"Let's head to my camp then, It shouldn't take us long." Crux abhorred idle chat, and they'd wasted enough valuable time pontificating without truly knowing what they were up against. Exiting the tent greeted them with far more eyes on them than they'd entered with; it seemed every native to the outpost bore holes through their forms with piercing gazes of doubt and dubiousness. Crux wasn't particularly worried, but should they try and stop their leave of town, things could get messy.

"Keep your eyes peeled." He murmured back to her as they neared the edge of the outpost and broke from the condensed cavalcade of tents into the open Savannah. "Short walk to camp, but I can't promise we won't have people following us."

Indeed even now one could see the dot of a camp in the distance, growing larger with every step they took. Trust wasn't something Crux gave easily, but if the outpost decided they needed to be dealt with, he wouldn't be able to escape alone.
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"Well considering you're not as sore as me and no longer bleeding I"d say you'd be able to handle yourself fine," she harumphed. Still amused at how he'd shaken her hand. Didn't take him to be such a germaphobe.

Still, she glanced over her shoulder as they hit the open. She didn't see anyone following them. At least not yet.

"Your horse will be able to carry the both of us?" Riley was a great rider and she was pretty good with horses. So, she wasn't too worried. And even if the horse didn't like strange riders, she'd be sharing the saddle with Crux anyway. She didn't know if she liked the idea of him being that close but beggars couldn't be choosers and all. Or something like that.
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"So you admit I kicked your ass back there?" Crux smirked, the soft crunch of his boots against the sand ticking back and forth in his head like a clock, a sound he'd always found relaxing. "My horse can handle whatever I need it to. Holding the both of us won't be a problem. You ain't exactly heavy, lady." And neither of them was decked out in any significant amount of armor either. The horse would do fine until the 'borrowed' something better.

It didn't take long for them to reach camp, and apparently, those they left behind them didn't want to go through the trouble of pursuing the matter. Crux's tent was a bit less sheltering than Riley's, to say the least. As in, it was less of a tent and more of a large cloth propped up by rods with a mat and some supplies tucked into the shade it created.

Hell, the muscular, impatiently huffing black horse beside the small little shelter was almost twice as big as it. Crux merely passed the mount, raising a hand to stroke its snout with a muttered foreign word, something orcish, sounded like, before dropping to one knee and digging through his belongings.

"Riley, meet Bhala. Bhala, Riley. I would feed her one of those apples over there before you try getting on her with me. She doesn't like strangers who don't feed her. "
So you admit I kicked your ass back there?

Arms crossed and she harumphed as she gave him a long look up and down. "Are you always this much of a numpty cocksplat?" Shaking her head, she walked over and snatched up an apple. She'd never met a horse she didn't get along with, so she wasn't worried. Taking a bite of the apple first and noisily munching on it she walked over to Bhala and offered the apple up.

"Must be a special horse if you put up with this guy," a lopsided smirk offered to the horse as she began munching on the apple Riley offered. There was a shake of her head. Hard to tell if it was the horse agreeing with her or not. With a hand stroking down the side of the neck, she moved to the side and hauled herself up and onto the horse's back.

"Good girl," she patted her side. Maybe the horse sense that Riley wasn't a person that would take any shit. Probably much like her owner.
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Crux didn't fight the smirk that came from Riley's always creative tongue. Thankfully, it looked like Bhala had done her job of watching his things well; everything was just as he'd left it. Namely, the money and the whipblade hidden underneath the rest of his bags, which he quickly retrieved and hilted to his side. "Cocksplat, huh? Lady, you keep flirting and Bhala is going to get jealous." He called behind him as he stood, looking over his shoulder to Riley and his horse. At the very least they seemed to be getting along well.

"Here, make it last." Crux tossed his spare canteen to his new 'partner', filled with fresh water. There was no telling how long they'd be stuck in this fuckin' heat, and he needed her alive. "Only have enough for one canteen each, so we'll have to refill somewhere later." With that, he kicked the support holding his shade up, and it toppled into the sand with a thump. There wasn't anything left he needed to take with him.

With a surprising display of gentleness, Crux deftly pulled himself onto Bahla's back and began to stroke her mane, whispering more Orcish-sounding words as he pulled an apple from her saddlebag and fed her another bite. "Okay girl. We have a little extra this time, but she's going to help us. Easy on the backside this time?"

A short huff from Bahla and she spun in place, pointing her backside at Riley as if inviting her to climb on.
"Thanks," she huffed and attached the canteen to her pack. A raised dark brow on olive skin as he spoke his love language to his horse. Something about a man and his horse. Riley was too busy making sure Bahla wasn't about to kick her. She slid to the side of the horse. Fingers wove around the crook of one of Cruz's elbows as her other hand went to brace herself on the horse's back.

With a small grunt and tug on her partner, she was up. Fingers locking onto Crux's sides as she sat behind him. A glance over his shoulder at the ground they'd have to cover. A shift of her grip on him and legs around Bahla.

"Alright, let's do this thing." Her tongue wound gingerly over her split lip.
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Crux'd be lying if he said he was used to having a passenger grabbing on to him; despite his admission that this was a job for two, he wasn't really what you'd call a team player. In the end, though, he'd choose putting up with the smart-mouthed wildcat of a woman behind him than dying on a suicide mission. "I have a plan, but I don't think you'll like it too much."

There was a reason Riley was perfect to help him catch the smuggling bastards off-guard, and it had nothing to do with her fighting prowess and everything to do with the fact she was easy on the eyes. Bhala's hooves thudded against the sandy earth beneath them, kicking up biting grains that nipped at any inch of uncovered skin. The leather that Crux wore showed just how long he'd been living in this element, stained with age and blasted with the sands.

They were coming to the intersection now, little more than an empty crossroads amongst miles of Savannah in any direction. It was an ordinary place, but a crucial one; to get anywhere, those smugglers would have to cross this path, and soon.

"I thought maybe we'd have you play damsel. A pretty face roughed up and left to die in the sand? They won't pass up an opportunity like that..." What exactly 'opportunity' entailed was a morbid thought, but if anybody thought they were taking advantage of Riley, they were solely mistaken. She'd proven capable of handling herself. "When they stop and let their guard down, I'll ambush from the rear and we'll both paint the sand with them. What do you think?"
"Oh for Kriff's sake," she muttered behind him, relaxing her tenuous hold on his sides as they stopped. Without waiting for permission, she dismounted and landed softly in the sands by the crossroads. Hands fell to her hips as she looked up at Crux and Bhala.

Her attention drifted to the horse.

"You put up with a lot."

Hazels shifted back to Crux. "This is the shittiest idea I've ever heard of. And if these moof-milkers are that stupid, I'm surprised you need my help at all." But the thing was? She was at the point of desperation to get those kids back. And if it meant she had to play a fuking damsel in distress, she fuking would.

"I'm never going to do this again. So you should be lucky I'm feeling generous today but don't you forget it, Crux." Grumbling and glaring at him the entire time, she walked to the crossroad, flipping the rich brown strands of hair over one shoulder and sprawled out, watching the vultures begin to circle her overhead.
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The Horse huffed down at Riley, as though it wished to confirm what she'd just observed. Crux just gave a little smirk. "You underestimate just how desperate some of these lootrunners are for some action, Riley. There isn't any time for brothels when deliveries have to be made with strict time limits." Crux stopped there, though it seemed maybe there was something else he left unsaid before he fetched what looked to be an old spy glass from his saddlebag and peered through it down the road, running his tongue slowly between his lips.

"Yeah, I can see the dust they're kicking up. We have three... maybe four minutes." Plenty of time. He couldn't wait to put his whipblade through Amrac's skull... "Give me another little dose of that magic, would you?" He suddenly asked, reaching his hand down from the horse to her. At her expected hesitation, he would look back towards the road before giving a sigh. "Look, I'm asking this time at least. Not enough for you to feel, just a jolt."

Either way, he slid from Bhala's back and gave her a swift smack on the rump. "Go on, girl. I'll whistle when I'm ready for you." His companion reared back before galloping off in the opposite direction of their impending company. Crux could hide himself, but hiding a horse Bhala's size was a bit much even for him.
You underestimate just how desperate some of these lootrunners are for some action, Riley. There isnt any time for brothels when deliveries have to be made with strict time limits.

"For Kriff's sake, Crux. Speaking from experience yah muppet?" Hazels shifted to his offered hand. Head shook. "No. When they're here I'll give you some."

It was clear she still didn't trust him.

What if he tried to drain her?

She'd boost him in the middle of the fight if need be.

"Go hide before it's too late," she hissed and scooched over to the side of the road herself. Eyes squeezed closed. The sound of thundering hooves was growing louder and louder. A part of her was looking forward to killing these fukers.
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This woman was going to be the death of him, quite possibly literally, if she was going to keep being so damned uncooperative.

"We're on a path down the middle of the fucking desert! Where the hell am I supposed to hide, you-- Oh for fuck's sake..."

There wasn't any time, Crux would have to use what little he had in reserve after their fight and hope it lasted long enough to spring the trap. Gritting his teeth and dropping to one knee in the warm sand, Crux slowly began to fade from view, the sun shining through him as his magic cloaked him with an invisible barrier of some sort.

Not a moment too soon, either. The caravan of smugglers now cleared the horizon line, three black painted wagons with at least four men on each, seemingly led by a stout but muscular dwarf sitting in the front, wearing expensive dress wear with his beard trimmed and permed to look far more dapper than was fitting for a man of his kind.

True to Crux's prediction, they slowed as they approached Riley, the horses crying as the group stopped beside her, the group of humans, elves and the dwarf leading them peering down at the strange woman with... unreadable expressions.

"Ye stranded, lass? Nee' a ride? We migh' jus 'ave room for ye if we squeeze tight."

The dwarf grinned, earning chuckles from his men.

Riley would feel an invisible force squeezing her wrist. Crux, holding her, but not draining her. It was a silent plea for her to keep her composure.

Gods, I hope she knows to wait until they dismount.
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Riley's eyes cracked open. Head lifted as she was addressed. A curl of her fingers into a fist as she felt Crux's grip on her wrist. If that goblin shite tried to drain her right now she'd fukin' kill these bandits first and then kill him.

"Water," was the only thing she said. One elbow propped herself up, then another as she feigned weakness. "I need water. Can you-can you help me?"

Sign her up for the next kriffin acting troupe that traveled to Alliria.

She should get a fukin' award for this performance.

It was two men from the first two wagons who got down. The four stalked toward Riley. "There, there lass. We'll make yee feel real better real soon."
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Crux was an asshole, he'd admit that much freely; but he wasn't the type to turn his back on an ally, uneasy or otherwise. Once Riley laid on her act and started luring the bastards off their literal high-horses, she'd feel him release her wrist. Now these dumbasses thought they were about to get some, and that made them the lamest ducks in the pond.

He kept a close eye on the Dwarf who led them all, Amrac, as he barked in Dwarvish for the one man who hadn't left his wagon to begin making room in the back for their guest to join them whether she wanted to or not. The pasty thin human nodded and began shifting boxes of stolen goods in the back, stacking them on either side.

They were all distracted, and that was the opening Crux needed.

Quickly, the still invisible bounty hunter crouch-walked to the rear wagon, still holding all four of its occupants, and retrieved his whipblade, wrapping the end of it around the spokes of one of its front wheels as quietly as he could manage. Once he was satisfied, he pulled it tight and lead the long segmented blade with him back to Amrac's wagon, climbing carefully onto the side the Dwarf faced away from.

He was far too busy giving his new prey the eyes to notice as Crux took careful aim with the end of the blade.


And drove it through his skull with a sickening crunch and splatter.
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Before any of the slimy bastards could actually touch her, she suddenly sat up. Eyes looking alert and sharp.

"The fu-," he barely got out before she sent her TK power into his chest and that of the other three surrounding her. They flew backwards. Two hit the sides of wagons with a sickening crunch before they fell to the sand dead. The third landed in a mangled and twisted mess beyond the road - flying right through the material from one of the other wagons.

The man on the wagon behind where Crux was panicked and hit the reigns, trying to get away.

"Oh no you don't," Riley growled and pumped her fist forward. The wagon shot partially in the air by that invisible, powerful force and tipped over. Those inside screaming. The rest were rushing toward her and Crux, weapons raised and a mixture of angry and fearful looks on their faces.
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Amrac gagged and sputtered through his mutilated remnant of a face as Crux twisted his blade in the slimy dwarf's brain, his short, stout body falling back against his killer's chest as blood poured from his head. Crux released the blade, letting it hang from that gaping hole as his arms moved to hug Amrac close against his chest as though he was embracing a lover.

"Oh, Ammy... I've been waiting so long to do this to you..." Crux gave a sadistic purr into the hanging ear his cheek nuzzled against. "I really hope you can still feel this." The purr turned to a growl as his fingers gripped into Amrac's chest, digging into his flesh through the dwarf's thin clothes, tiny red patches of his blood spreading and soaking the fingers through the fabric as he began to draw every remaining drop of magic from the smuggler.

"That's right, old friend. Just relax..."

It seemed hours to Crux, but it took only seconds for the smugglers to see the corpse of their leader wither away in the arms of their previous ringmaster, and crumble to a pile of nothing but pale skin and bone as Crux released him.

Rising to his feet, pulling his weapon from the useless remains at his feet and leaping from the wagon to the ground, Crux let out a satisfied sigh. That had been just the jolt he needed, and as he licked the crimson life from his hands like a bored cat, his bronze skin began to darken to an obsidian black, only the orange glow of his veins beneath the skin shining through as he surged with Amrac's magic.


The sound of the second wagon being forced up into the air drew his eyes away from the mess on his flesh, and he turned his head to admire the sight of the heavy reinforced vehicle overturning and dumping all of its contents, both living and otherwise, onto the hot sand with an almost impressed grin. Easy prey, just as easy as the fresh meat running towards him with weapons drawn and intentions dire.

"You lot would really be better off taking your chances on the lady. You'll still die, but she might make it quick."

Despite his warnings, he didn't give them a chance to change their mind, flinging the whipblade forward to soar into one's chest, his other hand sparking violently, forming a searing ball of flame that he quickly threw at the group. Amrac had been quite the pyromancer for such a little dwarf. At least his talents wouldn't go to waste.
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"Holy fuk," she spared a moment to stare at the transformed Crux. Fire beneath his veins. Midnight skin. She knew he was a magic stealer, just from their fight in the ring. And even the moments before this....

Seemed he was doing just fine without needing that extra bit from her.

Damn straight.

She huffed to herself before she had to refocus her attention on one of the poor bandits who screamed and raised his sword to cleave her in two. She ducked and spunt out of the way. He was desperate. And sloppy. Nearly all his friends were dead now. Crushed beneath the wagons, incinerated from Crux, or about to be.

With a snap of her fingers, her invisible force wrapped around his neck and twisted.

He was dead before his body hit the sand.

Blood began to drip down from her nostrils as she swayed on her feet.

"Crux! You gonna wrap this up?" Fists curled at her sides as she bit down, trying not to pass out. She'd used a lot of magic and it was catching up to her.
At the same time as the final victim of Riley's might hit the ground, the mass of flame eradicated the remaining group of smugglers, engulfing them all in a magical flame that burned hotter than any normal blaze. Only a moment of bloodcurdling screams sounded out into the empty desert before silence was left with small piles of dust that mixed with the already ashen sand.

He felt the wave rush over him, that cathartic sensation of watching the people he hated most suffer. His whole body shivered with the tingle that ran up and down his spine like small bolts of pure lighting. "Oh, how long that's been coming..." He murmured, holding back a laugh as he turned his head to look at his surprisingly competent partner.

She was worse for wear, rocking to and fro and bleeding from her nose. He felt himself huff-- She hadn't told him that she was running so dry. Granted, it was partially his fault. He'd taken just a tad earlier in their fight. The smile faded from his lips, and instead of speaking to her, he began walking towards her. Quickly, too quickly for her to get away in her unsteady state.

Drawing the knife from his hip, he growled lowly towards her as he brought it to the ready.

"Hold still, this will only take a second."

With a grunt, he brought the blade down across his own palm, slashing it open and letting his blood free. Before much could spill, he reached out with the wounded hand and pressed it against the side of Riley's face, letting his life leak out and soak into her flesh. The sheer amount of magic saturating his blood would replenish her own, and as it did, the darkness of Crux's skin and the fire-like glow of his veins slowly faded.

After a minute, he pulled his hand away and grimaced as he quickly set abour wrapping his palm with bandages. It wasn't the most direct way to lend his magic to another person, but it was the only one he figured that she wouldn't deem unforgivable.

Not looking at her as he tended to his wound, he spoke in a somewhat exhausted voice himself.

"We're even now."
"Hey, what the fuk are you," she huffed as he drew close. Too close. The glint of a blade and before she could ready her power to blast him, he brought it down.

On himself.

Then he was reaching for her.

Alarm and mild disgust flared in her wild hazels. Brown brows scrunched on olive skin as his bloodied palm pressed against her. Blood matting against her hair and she felt a sudden surge of rejuvination. Her bleeding nose suddenly stopped. The fatigue that had been spreading down her limbs retreated.

She didn't feel like she could do everything they'd just done all over again.

But she also felt better than she should've. And Crux changed before her eyes. That strange glow and darkness fading and gone. Back to his own smug-arsed self.

"Even?!" Nostrils flared as he pulled away.

"EVEN!" She yelled louder and spun him around to face her again. "Like hell we are! You are still helping me to get those kids. A deal is a deal! And what. the. actual. FUK."

Her hand waved in the air between them.

"You can't just go around doing this fuking shite! I thought you were gonna do something a lot stupider and if I had reacted it all would've been on you, pal." One of her fingers jabbed through the air.
Crux's expression didn't change as she spun him around, fuming and shouting. What was she on about now, the blood? Oh for-- Wasn't this woman ever content with anything? Crux tuned out most of what she said, simply raising an eyebrow and watching her with a droll expression.

"I meant even in terms of me stealing your magic back at the fight pit, dumbass. I'm not walking out on our deal, so get your panties untwisted, would you?" Seriously, no wonder he didn't like doing good deeds. He goes and tries to make up for something just once and he gets an earful and a splitting headache for his trouble. "Besides, you wouldn't have let me do it if I asked. You don't trust me, and I get that, but I can't have you slowing me down. So I just did it."

Crux wrapped his hand in bandage as he spoke, turning again to make his way back to the wagons. There would be plenty of loot to unload from them, but Bhala was a strong girl. She could handle it. Hopping up onto what was left of the lead cart, Crux began to fill bags of goods and gold and drop them off the side into the sand. He didn't want all of this junk, just the real good shit.

"If you're done bitching, come up here and see if there's anything you like. You earned this too."
"You're a real jackass, y'know that?" She huffed, her fingers flexing at her sides. Perhaps as close as she'd get to saying 'thank you' or at least they they were even. Taking a moment to stare after his back before she finally stalked toward him. Toward the wreckage they'd made.

She disappeared into the back of the cart, her boot shifting the rubble from sand.

She didn't care about treasure or loot. Especially since she'd won their fight back at camp. But she would take some extra coin. Not to get rich or anything like that. Just enough to keep her going so she didn't have to worry about a place to stay or supplies. And enough that if she -no-WHEN she found those kids, she'd be able to get them back to the Fal Wood.

Gods, she hoped they were still alive.

Gathering up the supplies and coins into her bag, she went toward one of the other carts. With a slow twirl of her finger, her magical energy slowly righted it, to wheels were back on the sandy ground. "This one still looks road-worthy. Can Bhala pull it?"
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Crux had busied himself sorting out the goods, including the stuff that had once been his own before this crew of dead men had turned on him. There was a lot of quality loot, so long as carrying stolen goods didn't weigh on your conscience too much.

Not that Crux had much of one anymore.

Riley piped up, taking a break from her whining to point out the lack of damage on one of the carts and make an excellent suggestion. Crux smirked a bit, slinging one of the sacks over his shoulder as he hopped from the overturned wagon over to the one she gestured towards. "Bhala's a strong girl. Good thinking. Help me hook her up, would you?"

It didn't take long before Bhala was hitched up and ready to go, with a wagon full of treasure in tow. Crux didn't like to admit it, but bringing the girl along to help him with this little problem had been a great decision. She was sharp, as insufferable as she was.

Crux climbed up onto the seat, gesturing for her to join him.

"Come on then, let's go find your lost kids."

They set off, with Riley taking charge of directing them. She had a better idea of where they were headed, and once they got closer Crux could try and sniff them out. Aside from communicating their heading, though, the ride was almost immediately uncomfortable, tenser than it needed to be. The friction between them was still there, and it was obvious to him that no amount of cooperation was going to lessen it.

So, being driven mad by the repetitive sounds of Bhala's hooves on the dirt, Crux spoke gruffly.

"You're pretty handy when you aren't getting on my case for something. Wish I'd found you earlier, been chasing those idiots for months."