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Mieri

One Punch Knockout
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Aberresai Savannah

"Well, ain't this here a one horse town with only half a donkey." Mieri said, using a finger to kip up the edge of the strange hat folk around these parts wore.

"Reckon you gotta be madder than a wet hen..." The Initiate continued, scanning her eyes over the small town that lay before the group of Initiates. "To wanna go on livun in a place like this."

There was a brief pause, a second than passed, then a voice behind her piped up.

"Mieri, why are you talking like that?"

The redhead almost immediately spun around in her saddle, staring at the whomever had spoken. One eyebrow was arched, and the affectation in her voice was almost immediately dropped. Replaced by that same High Anirian accent nearly every Initiate carried in their manner of speech. "What do you mean?!"

She demanded. "This is how they talk around here! Haven't you ever read Ralph Comptons books?"

Another beat of silence.

"Ugh." Mieri said as she spun around in her saddle, shaking her head as she continued to guide her horse down into the town below. Knowing that what lay ahead was another new adventure, another new slice of the world. A place that she had never been to and one that she hardly knew. A place where as far as she was concerned anything could happen; The Savannah.
 
"Ugh is right, Mieri. Get with the times people."

Lumen smiled. She wore a low-brimmed hat over her blonde-haired head. There'd been a souvenir shop a few towns back.

No. Regrets.

She even chewed on a piece of straw but them promptly spit it out. Yeah, that didn't taste that good. Tawny-eyes that matched the large wild cats that lived in these parts swept the town below. Very small. Still, she had to wonder why they'd been sent here in the first place. Was this another test? Did this mean she wasn't doing as well as she thought she was?
 
Nothing against the people he was riding into town with, but there were more fascinating things about this setting than the hats and accents they'd picked up (Which somehow made them stick out even more, honestly). Kor had never been this far out of the Academy before, and some of the wildlife he'd seen on the trip had him rather captivated. Even the birds in the sky were large and unusual, in particular, the Raven on his shoulder looked up at a massive, long-necked vulture, circling the small town they neared ominously.

If he was lucky, maybe he could find one of the wild cats they'd passed by on the way in freshly killed. Kor would love to have its pelt, and a few teeth as well. He would save the meat for the birds, of course. The flock had earned their meal.

"I see benefits to life here." He didn't elaborate but thought it appropriate to offer his own opinion, shifting his shoulders comfortably as they baked in the sun; the outfit he wore was, as usual, one of his own making, a leather with strips of bear fur running down the sides. Warm, certainly, but he enjoyed the heat against his flesh. "I would like to go on a hunt here. The land is an untapped spring."

Of course, he was getting distracted. Kor's raven departed his shoulder, flying over to Mieri and perching on her shoulder now, one of the bird's eyes trained on her face with an eerie glow. "I admit, I'm surprised they sent us out this far. I assume this mission is of some importance, then?"
 
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Eyes rolled as Aelita heard Mieri speak in a draw.

Hard to understand anyone that talks like that,” Aelita commented.

Unlike Lumen, Aelita did not partake in the local customs for attire. She had a cloak and kept the hood up over her head to block out the sun as it approached high noon.

Aelita kept her horse in line with the group and road. She was rowdy in the beginning of the trip but slowly mellowed out as Aelita rode her through the Savannah.

Maybe not too important if they’re sending Initiates,” Aelita said as she looked over to Kor.
 
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This is how they talk around here. Haven't you ever read Ralph Comptons books?

Houri stared at the redhead dumbfounded. What in the Seven Hells was Ralph Compton? With a slight shake of her head she decided it was probably best not to ask any more questions; the world she had returned to after the Asylum was a strange one and the ex-inmate had not fully adjusted to what life was like now. Apparently, being able to read things for pleasure was another of those new freedoms the Revolution had brought with it. From inside her breast pocket she pulled out a little notebook and pencil and scribbled the name down at the bottom of a long list before returning it to the safety of her waistcoat.

"Or, it's a test," Houri replied as the others debated the importance of them coming to a backwater town. In the Before it was always a test of some sort or other, who they killed or what they brought back to Vel Anir was almost secondary in a lot of cases. But now? She rubbed at her temples in an attempt to stop the oncoming headache; she missed the old ways.
 
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"It's just finding a guy." Mieri said, glancing over towards the bird which now sat perched upon her shoulder.

For a brief moment she just stared at it, not quite sure what to do, then shook her head."Need more of a pirate situation for you..."

She mused to herself, and the bird, before she half turned around and began to dig around in her saddlebags. After a few moments she pulled out a small rolled up piece of parchment, nearly dislodging the avian perched on her shoulder in the process.

"Here!" Mieri exclaimed, unfurling the parchment to reveal a small poser.

It was a simple portrait of a man, He had a beard and a mustache, a distinctive scar on his face and a black hat on his head. There were a few lines written beneath the picture, though they were difficult to read as Mieri waved the poster.

"His name is Rafael Montero." The Initiate continued, still fluttering the poster though in Houri’s direction now. "Some kind of runaway Don, which I think is cortosi for Baron...or something."
 
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Lumen urged her horse next to Mieri's and took the poster from her, bringing it closer.

"Why do the wanted ones always have moustaches like this?" Peering closer she frowned. "It says here he's wanted for murder and...tax evasion." No wonder why they'd been called to haul his butt in. One did not get away with not paying taxes to Vel Anir.

She passed the note back to the next person behind her and motioned for them to pass it down the line to whoever else wanted to see it. And it was clear this place didn't get visitors like them often. As they got closer, she could see a lot of the townsfolk pointing and staring in their direction. Several dashing into their shops.

Oh fun, a saloon.
 
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Repent flapped his wings in agitation as Mieri wove the poster about like it was some sort of patriotic banner. Still, the raven was able to catch enough of a glimpse for Kor to know who he was looking for before his companion left the crimson-haired woman's shoulder, circling the group with a loud cry before returning to his master. "Suppose that means I get my hunt, then. Hopefully he's not as easily caught as he looks." Kor did so love a chase before a victory. It made things all the more sweeter when he got his way.

Lumen's question as to their mark's appearance drew a little snort from Kor, and he wondered for a moment if her comment on the moustache was more disappointment than it was mere observation. "Were you hoping he'd be more attractive?" There had been some rumors among younger classes that Lumen was into criminal types. Kor himself didn't go so far as to make inflammatory remarks of the sort, however. Instead, he reached to one of the strangely shaped whistles hanging around his neck, bringing it to his pursed lips and letting out a sharp sound from its tip.

The vultures that soared intermittently overhead seemed to reorganize themselves, turning back towards Kor to begin circling the group riding into town. Silas smiled at the voices of Houri and Aelita, noting that they weren't particularly wrong in their ways of thinking. "We can't expect all missions to be underthrown to us because of our youth. Resting on your laurels is an easy way to return to the earth. Treat every 'test' as though it's your final one, Houri." One of the vultures swooped low, connecting briefly to Kor before raising up again. The blind intiate hummed and nodded his head thoughtfully.

"They'll tell me if anybody is showing an unusual interest in us. For now, let's hitch ourselves and decide on a plan. We couldn't much more obvious right now if we wanted to. Especially with Mieri dressed like ...that."
 
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Not the pirates...Aelita quietly mumbled beneath her breath at Mieri’s mention of them.

Aelita examined Rafael’s portrait after Lumen. She was about to pass it to Kor, but pulled back her hand at the last moment to hand it over to Houri.

Nice mustache. Which crime did he commit first?” Aelita mused.

As Kor spoke, Aelita looked around the town. The buildings and people’s attire definitely different from Vel Anir. Their voices spoke in tongues that would make a well-travelled Anirian merchant confused. Or was that just an accent?

Occassionally, the birds moving to Kor's will caught her attention as they flew around the Initiates.

Eventually, Aelita’s gaze caught the saloon’s sign.

Elk Creek Saloon

Hmmm,” she hummed.

Then, Aelita turned her steed toward the bar.

I’ll check out the saloon. That’s where criminals stick to, right?” she told her comrades with a mischievous grin.
 
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Houri gave Kor a look that could peel flesh from bone. Who was he to lecture her? Out of those gathered she was the one who had seen real war, who had churned up earth and conjured death from the skies above - that had seen bodies ripped apart. These missions were childs play. They would learn. They would all learn. The Revolution may have ushered in some civilities but Aniria was still a warmongering Kingdom. How, Houri wondered, would these children fare with their soft hearts then?

Whilst the others fixated on the saloon, Houri's eyes wandered instead along the street for a sign of the Marshall. Every backwater village had one and they were probably the best source of information as to the last whereabouts of their prey target. She was loathe to split up the group however, how could she save the kids if she wasn't with them when they ran themselves into danger?

"We should find the Marshall,"
she pointed out
 
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"What do you mean?" Mieir said as she rolled up the poster once again, tucking it away carefully. "I'm the only one that's proper blendin' in."

That odd affectation touched her voice at the end, though was noticeably missing from when she first began to speak.

One could only practice so much.

Before they could make it very far into the town at all everyone was already fixing to go their own which way. Her head turned just as Aelita spotted the saloon, and Houri immediately brought up the far more sensible option.

She shook her head and did what no one asked her to do. "Someone go with Aelita, don't be makin no fusses!"

Mieri captained theatrically.

"Rest of us will talk to the Marshall." She shot Houri a look. "He'll have the inside track."
 
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"I'll go with Aelita," Lumen urged her horse forward to peel off with her fellow blonde. She wasn't entirely sure but wouldn't be surprised if Houri ended up killing either Kor or Mieri by the time they met up again. Pulling back on the reigns, she slid off her stopped horse, quickly tying ol' Blackie off at the post with the ones that were already there in front of the saloon.

She didn't wear her usual armor. She had on some lighter leathers. A rustic poncho slung over her form with the dark brown hat still on her head. Her mother's circular shield was strapped to her back along with her sword holstered at her side.

A quick nod to Aelita. "I'll watch our backs."
 
"Why blend in? We're a group of outsiders all traveling together through a town that doesn't know us. If he's around here, he already knows we're coming. Personally, I'd rather him know what's about to happen."

Kor didn't have to see to feel the daggers being stared into him courtesy of Houri. Of course, she would be adverse to his words on the premise of age alone, but Kor merely didn't want her taking this mission as something easy merely because she'd seen worse in the past. With a small sneer, he chose to ignore her. Instead, he tugged his horse to follow Mieri as Lumen and Aelita broke from them to question the locals.

"One would hope, anyways. If the local law enforcement hasn't caught Montero yet, it speaks ill of their competence." Kor spoke through pursed lips as he stared down at the five of them from the eyes of one of the vultures overhead, sticking close Houri and Mieri as they diverted to the Marshall's office. "Fine by me. I want to be the one to track him down, not some halfwit paid the minimum rate."

Rafael Montero... if he had eluded capture by Anirian forces, he must have some level of skill. The thought of a challenge made Kor's tongue flick against his upper lip in anticipation, and the long-necked bird swooped over his head towards his destination ahead of time, driven by its new master's silent excitement.
 
As Aelita was about to depart with Lumen, she turned toward Mieri, Houri, and Kor.

As they say around here,” she began with a normal voice.

Y’all take care, now!” she told them with a draw in her voice.

Then in reply to Lumen, Aelita said, “Good to know~!

Aelita rode over to the Elk Creek Saloon. She hitched her horse next to a watering trough by the saloon.

Just before going in, Aelita would wait for Lumen. The door was not much of a door – just two swinging doors. Aelita swung them open to enter.

Immediately, Aelita and Lumen would have been hit by the thick smell of smoke and beer. A cacophony swarmed Aelita’s ears. It being lunch time, the saloon was fairly full of patrons taking part in a “free” lunch. Some conversed with others as they ate and drank. A few tables featured card games with coin on the table.

The saloon itself was relatively dirty and almost patchworked together. Few tables seemed to match in style. It was as if the establishment was created by the materials at hand for the needs of the time. The bar itself had shelves lined with hard liquor and kegs of beer.

Sitting above the bar was something likely from the namesake of the saloon. A large elk skull with massive antlers overlooking all the customers below.

Some eyes turned to Lumen and Aelita. They would not be recognized as locals. They took note of Lumen’s shield and sword. For Aelita, they saw a glimpse of her usual metal armor beneath a cloak along with a staff strapped on her back.

After a quick scan of the saloon, Aelita marched toward the bar with a smile. No confrontations yet. Once there, she looked to the bartender and told him...

Two glasses of whiskeys, please!
 
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"What does y'all mean?" Houri seemed to ask nobody in particular.

I think it means... a group? Minthre offered and the rest of the voices seemed to murmur their agreements in varying levels of confidence.

"This place is weird," she muttered beneath her breath. Why not just say 'you guys' or 'you all' - why mash it together in a way that sounded like you were trying to speak mid yawn? It boggled the mind.

Hour kicked the horse in the ribs and spurned the flaxen maned mare into an excited trot further on down the long winding street. The Marshall's offices couldn't be that hard to find, she reasoned, not when the whole town seemed to sit on this one main road through the barren wastelands around them. Sure enough the party soon came across a house that looked a little more well kept and a little larger than the others, with the Marshall's emblem emblazoned on a flag that fluttered outside the front door.

Houri dismounted and hitched her horse to the post before trotting up the steps and knocking on the door.
 
"Maybe they just have a lot on their plate." Mieri offered in response to calling the local Marshall incompetent.

In her brief time working with the Anirian Guard, she had met both the good and the bad. Some had shown kindness and utter simplicity while others had been cruel but carefully calculating. She never really liked to judge until she got to know someone.

"It means 'you all'." Mieri chirped cheerfully. "Saves a ton of time!"

The Initiate added, apparently not hearing Houri's muttered criticism of the little village.

Slinging herself from the saddle, Mieri pracitcally threw her reigns at the hitching post. The soft leather wrapping itself expertly around the wood before unceremoniously unwinding itself five seconds later as her horse pulled back it's head. An event that Mieri did not even seem to notice as she stalked up the two steps to the Marshall's office.

Fingers danced around the edge of her hat as she adjusted it on her head. Hand reaching out to throw open the door as she spoke. "Marshall, we need to have a word with ya-"

Mieri stopped in her track as a foul odor suddenly hit her senses.

Her head turned almost immediately and her nose crinkled as she searched for the source. Eventually settling on a body sitting in a chair behind the desk. A knife in his heart, hat pulled over his face as though he had been laid to rest.

"Oh." Mieri said out loud, all pretense of her accent dropping away. "Well shit."
 
The bartender looked them up and down with a shake of his head. He did our, though. Lumen sidled up next to Aelita. But she leaned her back against the bar, keeping her gaze outward.

“Aelita, are you sure this is a good idea?” She’d whisper. Lu could hold her liquor because it didn’t affect her body at all. But Aelita…

Spying a bowl of salted nuts, she drew it over to Ael. ”At least have some of these if you’re actually going to drink.” A portly man sporting a dad-bod peered over at the two blondes. With a scrape of his chair, he stood and began making his way over to them.

"Wellwellwell. What we got here? Two ladies travelin' on their lonesome to this fine town 'o ours?" The way he stared at them gave no leeway to the kind of man he was.
 
Once the whiskeys were poured, the bartender told Aelita the price. She forked over a silver Anirian coin. Seeing the foreign king upon the coin’s head, the bartender sighed as he began to weigh it upon a scale with local currency.

To answer Lumen’s concerns, Aelita told her, “Yes! This town will be ours with you here.

A smug smirk spread across Aelita’s face.

Ooo, what’re these,” Aelita asked as Lumen shoved the bowl of foreign nuts to Aelita. She took one and ate it out of curiosity.

The bartender finished preparing change for the drinks and slid Elbion coins to Aelita along with the whiskey. Aelita was quick to grab one glass and take a sip. She slid the other over toward Lumen.

Then, Aelita turned her head toward the husky man approaching them.

Them as in two obviously armed women.

One of which in battle armor.

Aelita’s grin grew wider.

A fine town?” she asked as her eyes looked toward whatever drink the man might have.

Strong words for a place where the men don’t seem to drink…” she told him in a slightly lower voice.
 
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Eyes weren't needed to sense death the moment Mieri swung open the door to the unusually quiet office of the Marshall. His features did their best to shrink into his face at the wretched smell, hightened by his lack of sight. Either they'd happened upon a random crime of an entirely different nature, or the man they were after was getting rather desperate to cover his tracks.

"Explains what has the vultures all riled up. This building is a packed lunch to them." He'd thought it odd that so many of them were converging on the same path they took but attributed it to his own presence. Frowning at the realization he'd been too confident, Kor clicks his tongue, closing his milk-white eyes and taking another sniff of the rotting corpse, albeit not happily. "Been dead at least two days. Somebody tipped him off to our arrival well ahead of time."

Frustration. Why hadn't he felt the tug of the vulture's hunger? It should have stuck out to him like a sore thumb and yet he'd been so focused on the hunt he hadn't paid it a second thought until it was staring him in the face. It was unacceptable rookie work on his part, and it was one of the rare times he would appear visibly upset. Leaning back on the doorframe, Kor gives a small shake of his head.

"I can't see in here, so I'll go check outside. Long shot, but maybe they left a trail I can still latch on to. I'll meet you outside when you two are done."

He slipped through the door, quickly reaching for his whistles and calling for Repent, wherever he was lounging about under the shade. Now he had even more reason to find this Montero.
 
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"Oooh cookies!" Houri exclaimed as she brushed past Mieri who, for some reason looked put off, and made her way over to the desk. Thankfully the dead body was not slumped over the plate and whoever had killed him hadn't got any blood on them. Despite the cause of death being quite obvious Houri still took a tiny bite of the cookie first to check for poison before taking a proper bite. They were a bit stale but Houri would never pass up the chance for food again.

Taking a seat on the desk, cookie in one hand, she used the butt of the knife to wriggle the weapon back and forth a little.

"Looths likeths it hit histh lungths, not th heart," she sound around a mouthful of dessert then swallowed. "Whoever killed him wanted him to die slowly and painfully."
 
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Mieri let out a long sigh of exasperation. Why did every mission have to stop being fun almost the instant it actually started. "Probably our guy."

It didn't take a genius to figure that one out, although it was still an assumption.

Her tongue clicked against the roof of her mouth, and she crossed the room to join Houri next to the corpse. Kor's assessment was probably right, though with the heat around here it wouldn't surprise her if it had been a day less than he'd said. Not that she was an expert or anything.

"Real question is..." Mieri said as she began to pop open the desk drawers, searching for anything that might offer them another clue. "How the hell did not one person in this town notice their Marshall was dead for more than a day?"

She plucked a few papers free, rifling through them.

It wasn't long before she found another wanted poster, and then another, and then another. Nearly two dozen presented themselves in the little desk, though none matched their query. Who some of them did match, funnily enough, were a few of the men sitting in the very Saloon that Aelita and Lumen now found themselves in. "Ah well."

Mieri said with a shrug. "Guess we'll be russlin' up more than one sidewinder."
 
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Yes! This town will be ours with you here.

"But Proctor Gamble says not to drink on missions," voice trailed off, picking up what Aelita was throwing down. Jaw clenched. This was highly unorthodox.

"Oh I drink plenty more than you two lasses coul'ever t'ink ta'hold," he grinned, his moustache stretching over his face. He only had a moustache though. No beard. Ew, gross.

"Okay, you want to bet?" Lumen offered and grabbed the shot Aelita had just bought, gulping it down in one swallow. It burned and tasted stale but didn't really make her body react. "Aaand this one too," she'd go to snatch Aelita's to also throw that down.

She was not letting her friend get trashed and become a liability.
 
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Proctor Gamble was an old man that looked down on Initiates drinking. And Lumen was a stickler for rules.

So just as Lumen’s hand started to move, Aelita threw back her glass.

GULP

WOO!” Aelita exclaimed.

Tilting her head toward Lumen, Aelita gave her comrade a mischievous smirk.

If it’s a bet, we can’t embarrass him when he loses with a handicap,” Aelita gave as her excuse to deny Lumen a drink.

Then turning to the mustached man, Aelita patronized him, “Unless... you need one?

Shifting to a tall, proud stance, Aelita then declared, “Name your bet. If we win, which...

Patting Lumen on the back once, “Dear Lu’s the best drinker this side of the Spine. But, we win, then everyone will get a free drink on your tab!
 
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The heat bearing down on the Savannah was far less relaxing and far more frustrating when he was angry, Kor found. Repent met him, landing on his wrist with a loud caw as Kor quickly linked with him and regained his sight. Once he'd adjusted to the glare of the sun, Kor raised his arm high, and his oldest friend took flight once more. "I need the lay of the land. Go up higher so I have an idea of the town's layout, then down through the streets one at a time."

Normally, Kor would have walked in conjuction with Repents aerial patrol to speed things along a bit, but he was reluctant to stray far from the Marshall's building should Houri and Mieri exit anytime soon. Instead, he merely watched through Repent's eyes as he soared up high to look down at the dusty little stain of a town, allowing Kor to memorize its layout before he tucked his black wings in and dived back to the ground, swooping through streets and narrowly dodging the odd pedestrian.

It was fast, but it moved slow to Kor's perception. The boy took time to note any signage on buildings, the appearance of people moving in and out of them, and which spots seemed busier, and which looked reserved for more selective types. Montero could run from the hunt, but he could not hide. Kor would turn this place upside down to find his mark, and if that failed, the search would extend outwards.

Kor would have his trophy even if he had to set up shop here for weeks.

"Small enough town, but too many holes for rats to hide in, wouldn't you say friend?" He mumbled lowly, creasing his brow in thought. "Perhaps we ask the ladies about the possibility of smoking the rats out of hiding?"
 
"Not everyone likes their Marshall, he could have just been a dick."

Whilst the guard prided themselves on producing some of the best soldiers in the world, it was hard to avoid the egos that came with those titles, and arrogance bred a certain strain of nastiness that even the mildest maid would find grating. She suspected it happened even more with Marshalls who were basically left as the soul stamp of Anirian authority in a town.

But if he was a dick who had brought him cookies?

She popped another one in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully.

"I wonder if he had a Second in the town, or a beau," she nodded to the cookies. "They might know a little more about what he was looking into," Houri hopped off the desk where she was perched and began to wander the rest of the room.
 
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