To Catch A Creep


Max.jpg Yaron.jpg Phineus.jpg

Date: 2010.08.25
Location: Outside of Eastern Weyr
Synopsis: After saying his farewells to Ahnika, Max and Yaron head out in search of Phineus…and find him! (Phineus NPC'd by Ahnika)
Rating: PG18 - for language, violence and adult conversation.
Logger: Max

Having conducted a few sweeping outrides between the day of the incident and their day of departure, in the direction of Landing and then toward the docks, Max and Yaron took off inland. Initially rain hampered their efforts and made progress slow, riding at night until the first few hours of dawn each day and then resting up until night once again fell, in a bid to avoid Thread and further their chances of catching up with the trader at a time he was likely to be at his most vulnerable. The third day a set of uneven footprints were picked up under a tree line just off to the left of a well used path.

Swinging down from Starflight, the beast manager pulled off a glove and traced the imprints with his fingers, the one deeper than the other and slightly dragged. A dark smirk twisted onto Max’s mouth, one of Zen’s shots to the knees had left the man with a distinct limp, something that was going to make his job all the more easier. He shivered, removed his hat, pulled the hood of his duffle coat up and set his hat back on top of it, as a trickle of water ran down the back of his neck. Easier if this infernal rain would just let up.

Following the tracks a ways by foot and satisfied with the direction in which they were heading, he returned back to where Yaron, was waiting. Not mounting up Max handed the big stallion’s reins to the thug and jerked his head in a westerly direction, “He went that way.”

Yaron, in the mean time still astride Charger with the lead reins of a pack mule firmly in hand, took Starflight’s set and grunted, “How you know to do that?”

Eyes firmly to the uneven footprints and on foot, Max moved off in the direction they led. “Indira’s pa was a hunter for a Hold. Taught her the trade,” which she then in turn, had passed onto her son.

Another grunt from Yaron and then he fell silent, the rest of that night spent following the tracks in painfully slow progress of having to double back several times when they’d emerged from the treeline and been dissolved under a wash of rain.

The anger and indignation at being so brutally beaten up and then thrown out of the sanctuary of Eastern Weyr, so humiliating, was the only thing that enabled the man known as Phineus to eventually stand up and get his bearings. He’d return to Eastern Weyr, of that he was certain. He had to get his goods and supplies and wagon for one thing, and he fully intended on pressing charges on those two bullies who had so unfairly beaten him. He’d learn to expect some of that kind of bullying behavior from some of the riders when they got in their cups or lost a big-stake card game to him, but those two weren’t riders. He’d been able to tell that much.

Phineus tested his weight on his legs by taking a few trial steps and frowned when one of them was a bit weak. That would slow him down. He looked down the main road just outside the entrance of the weyr, and considered his direction and first course of action.

Being on the road as much as Phineus was, as an independent trader, he’d learn some basic first aid out of sheer necessity. But that did not mean that he was able to do as well for himself without supplies and gear, as say someone in one of the cotholds under Eastern’s sweep. He could have followed the main road, but that would have been more time-consuming, and time was something he didn’t have much of, exposed out here as he was. He was reasonably sure he knew which direction to head, cutting across the terrain even if it meant risking crossing over some feline territory, to get to one of the closest of the cotholds for help and healing.

It was that woman’s fault, Ahnika, Phineus thought to himself with a grimace as he limped off past an outcropping of rock and into the treeline. He’d make sure she got her due, too, for what she’s done. One hand gingerly went to the deep scratches carved into his face from her nails, swearing at the sudden searing pain from touching the exposed nerves just under the skin. Maybe he could get her in compensation for this grievous attack on him. The thought cheered him, enabling him to pick up his pace just slightly, as he moved through the trees.

Phineus had kept that pace the entire time, so when he still wasn’t near civilization that third or fourth day (he’d begun to lose track of time), hungry and tired as he was, that he’d realized that he misjudged his direction somewhere along the way and was now good and truly lost. His whole body ached and throbbed and smarted. His open wounds were already infected from not getting treatment, and were red and puffy, making him look and feel even worse. Near tears at the unfairness of it all and his discomfort, he hunkered down with his back to a tree under the night sky and succumbed to those tears, eventually crying himself asleep. Why did life have to be so unfair and hard?

Dawn of the next day broke with both men wet almost through and chilled to the bone, but at least the rain seemed set to hold off for the next little while. With Rukbat’s rays still weak across the horizon and nowhere near warming strength yet, there was at least enough light available to make following the trail on runnerback possible.

Moving back to Yaron an unbidden shiver ran through Max as he took Starflight’s reins from him and swung up onto the runner’s broad back. “We’ll take it up to those rocks,” nodding to an outcropping that broke free of the treeline, “And then call it a day, we need to dry out.” Another shiver ran through the beast manager and he hunched down deeper into his damp coat as the morning breeze threw a cold blast of air at them.

Yaron stretched out of his slump upon Charger’s back and stared off into the distance to the rocky outline shaped against the rising sun. “Maybe the shit’s holed up in there,” sounding miserably hopeful about that possibility as he tried pulling his cloak about him tighter and then letting out a grumbling expletive as a trickle of water slithered out of the collar and down his back.

Eyes reddened from weariness and strain cast back down to the ground and Max spurred Starflight on into a slow walk as he fished in his pocket for his flask. Using his teeth to unscrew the cap, he took a long warming swallow of the burning liquid then closed it up again one-handed and tossed it back Yaron’s way. “Quit your griping,” he growled out, his own mood soured further by being wet, cold and tired, “We’ll have him soon enough.”

Breath from runners and men clouded the frosty morning and they rode on in silence, stopping once or twice when a sound was heard coming from the bushes to their left. A wherry broke cover and startled the runners into snorting, prancing circles, almost unseating Yaron in the process, who had started dozing off.

Max turned a glare over to the big thug, “For fuck’s sake keep it together,” he snapped out, muttering dark obscenities of having had to take the man with him. He was useless at tracking and not much better on a runner, but he could at least hold his seat to some degree of purpose and was downright useful in a fight.

Yaron turned a dark scowl onto the younger man but didn’t bother responding, simply jerking his chin the way of an overhang of rock that they could make camp under and take their rest for the day.

If it weren’t for his current state of being, Phineus wouldn’t have slept as hard as he did in the cool of the night. He was utterly exhausted and emotionally distraught, in complete despair. But once his body managed to get those few hours of hard sleep, rest was fitful at best. In the end, it was the voices that carried on the frosty morning that woke him. Some survivor-part of his brain alerted at the sound and stirred the injured and weakened trader into consciousness.

He couldn’t make out who they were or what they were saying, but they were voices. That meant help. That’s all that mattered right now. Phineus’ first shout was more a hoarse whisper. Frowning, he used the tree to lever himself up into a standing position and cleared his throat, “Help!” he called out, trying to pinpoint the actual direction of the voices through the trees.

Then again, he cried, “Help! Help!” but remained where he was, his eyes, struggling for focus from his slumber, scanned the area. Some movement beyond an overhang of rock caught his eye and he started toward it, crying out again, “Help!!” moving around the trees and rocks until he could get into better view.

And that’s when his bleary-eyes settled on the two riders. Even then, he didn’t immediately recognize the first of the pair. He took a few more staggering steps toward them, and then stopped as his focus found the first one and renewed fear cascaded throughout him.

“N-N-No!” he shouted, shaking his head more in disbelief than in defiance, and turned and ran, stumbling as he went.

The silence punctuated by the clop of hooves and the occasional snort from a runner, the first cry for help sounded in their ears much like a startled avian squawking in the distance behind them. Perhaps if they hadn’t been so tired and cold and miserable themselves, Yaron and Max might have paid more attention.

As it was, Yaron already had boots on the ground and was leading the pack mule in under the overhang by the time the second one sounded out. Max however, remained mounted, eyes to the sky. The let-up in the rain was both good and bad. Good in that they’d get a chance to dry out, bad in so far as Thread falling out of pattern now being a very real threat.

The last cry for help, closer this time and distinguishable for what it was, jerked both men’s heads around right as Phineus recognised the younger of the two and started running. Max’s eyes flared in surprise and then narrowed onto the mess of a man, the exhaustion suddenly draining away as he turned a wide grin of sinister proportions down onto Yaron, “Huntin’ time!” Grim relish painted across his weary features.

With a hard kick of heels to his sides, Starflight leapt forward, spurred on by the wild cry of, “Heeya, Heeya!!” coming from his rider as the man transferred his weight and unhooked the coil of rope at his knee.

Sending the lasso singing overhead, the stallion’s hooves pounding the earth beneath them, Max sent it snaking in Phineus’ direction, aiming to drop it over the man’s shoulders and arms.

Yaron swiftly recovered from his jaw dropped gape when their quarry so graciously presented himself, swung up onto Charger’s back and went thundering after the beast manager.

Phineus doesn’t have a chance against such an experienced rider when he is on foot, and injured as he is. In addition, he’s turned his back to the two as he’s on the run, so he didn’t see the lasso until it was already settled in about his shoulders. With a startled yelp and now gripped with panic, he stumbles forward, one hand trying to grab the lasso to free himself while the other is out trying to break his fall against the loose earth and stone beneath him.

Once the lasso settles into place, Max yanks on it sharply, uncaring of how the trader might fall (hopefully for his sake on his back) boots hitting the ground before Starflight has even come to a complete halt. A cold grin sweeping his face as he strolls on over as if he has narry a care in the world, “Phineus. We meet again!” as if greeting a long lost friend. Yaron for his part remains mounted, hanging back a ways, a bland mask in place.

And Phineus goes down, managing to make impact with the ground with his side first, and then rolling and skidding to a stop. He’s breathing hard, dirty, dusty, sweaty, and now some of his infected wounds have started bleeding anew. So it isn’t until Max’s stroll brings the Beast Manager closer that Phineus has enough control on his breathing to speak. His voice comes out as gravelly and cold as the ground he had been pitched into, “Come to finish the job you started?” Self-righteousness is well-threaded throughout those seven simple words. Then he looks tired and hurt and sore, but the fact that Max knows his name brings pause to Phineus and he looks up at the approaching Beast Manager, “What’s the problem? If it was just about that, that girl, look, I didn’t know she already belonged to someone,” said in a tone like Ahni was little more than a rolled up carpet to be traded for or bought and sold. He tries one of his trader smiles for Max and offers his hand out to him, bruised and scratched and skinned and bleeding a little, “You’ve beat me to her,” literally, “and kicked me out of the weyr. I’m in no position to make any claim for her. And good riddance really,” he adds, trying to make his point that he has no further designs on Ahnika, at least not on that level, and not realizing how much of a bigger grave he’s digging for himself, “Too much work, she’d be. Too hot-headed.” Well, he has a point, and then he adds, “Never liked the ones who teased you hard and then feigned that innocent act, personally, but to each their own.” Meaning Max, if he liked that sort of woman. “She’s all yours, my man. No hard feelings.”

Coiling the slack in the rope over elbow and shoulder as he nears the trader, Max comes to a halt at his side, an indifferent look going over him as he toes the man with a boot. Not a kick, just a prodding sort of action as would befit the inspection of road kill. And then he’s hunkering down and poking a deliberately hard jab of finger into the man’s ribs where he assumes him to be at the very least, bruised, that same cold smile still in place. “You’d be dead already if I wanted you to be,” icy certainty in those words as his face settles into a bland mask. Eyeing the infected, dirt riddled and now bleeding scratches on Phineus’ face, the beast manager reaches into a pocket for his flask, unscrews the cap and holds it out near the parched man’s lips, as if in offer of a drink, “That girl…” the edge of a cruel smile appearing as he echoes the words, his jaw setting slightly. Max doesn’t bother giving a verbal response to that for it comes when he tilts the flask as if to pour the amber liquid into the downed man’s mouth but instead…his hand drifts and sends the burning liquid over those very painful looking scratches. He’s just helping to disinfect them, right? Riiight.

He’s calm. Far too calm in the face of the rest of the words uttered by the trader and even goes so far as to offer the man a hand up and to his feet, with a smile flickering into place. Yaron knows that look and is dismounted and lumbering over toward the pair as fast as his stiff legs will carry him. If the trader is dumb enough to fall for it, he’ll find the hard edge of Max’s fist thumping into his solar plexis, his other hand reaching to grab him by the hair and pull his head upright if he doubles over so that he can snarl into his face, “That –woman-,” not girl, “is worth more than you and your entire sorry line of inbreeding whers, could ever hope to be.”

Phineus grunts at the poke, wincing and pulling away as best he can considering the position. But his eyes remain on Max as the Beast Manager speaks, and his time, the grunt he gives is for the statement made and not the prodding. It is more an attempt at manly acceptance of the truth, begrudgingly … if he could be thought of as a being a man to begin with.

And then Max has that flask out, and Phineus licks his lips in eager anticipation, his eyes straying from Max to the flask, and so the trader misses any smile, cruel or otherwise, on Max’s expression. He makes the additional mistake of closing his eyes in anticipation for the quenching liquid, and so when it is poured over his face, he flinches and curls away, cussing like a seacrafter, before shaking some of the burning liquid from his face and snaps out, “Are you fucking crazy?! What’s wrong with you?!” before he thinks about his situation. He’s tensing and trying to shove Max away, but in an effort to get to his feet on his own, he grips Max’s hand and heaves himself up, just in time to get a fist to the gut and he doubles over, coughing, but only briefly as Max grabs his hair and offers further insult.

But Phineus didn’t get where he is today, as a freelance trader, without having a little bit of smarts to him at least. And so he doesn’t immediately react to Max’s statement. Instead, he carefully tries to wrench himself free of the other man’s grip so as to slowly straighten, if allowed, to his full height. He coughs, but knows better than to start running or fighting. Point of fact, another night out here without supplies might just kill him, and they are obviously better survivalists than he is out here in the natural world. He recognizes his best chance for survival is to return with these two men. So, his eyes are cool, but his tone is schooled calm as he says to Max, “Fine. When we get back to the weyr and my goods stowed there …” he eyes Max consideringly a moment and then says, “Name your price. Whatever you want.” He starts to dust himself off, and with a little flinch from the pain, wipes some of the liquor from his chin. “And then I’ll be on my way, and you and your … woman, won’t ever see me again.” His eyes slide to the right when he says the last, though. It’s a tell. This is a man who knows when to fold, and eventually he fully intends to seek revenge on the woman who caused him so much trouble. He can bide his time, however, and wait until he has that better hand of cards to play and make her pay for it. She most certainly will one day see him again, if he has anything to say about it.

Point made, Max shoves the trader away from himself with a disgusted sound just as Yaron is looking set to step in and pull the beast manager off of him if need be. Brows lift and he fixes Phineus with a long cold look, “I don’t give a fuck about your goods,” he states evenly a sneer falling into place as his eyes roam from boots to head of the other man. A bark of empty laughter cracks out as he takes a threatening step toward the trader, his hand dropping to his knife with Yaron eyeing his employer warily. It is however, Max’s free hand that reaches out and taps a too hard ‘pat’ of condescension to the side of the other man’s jaw, “Oh aye,” dark satisfaction spilling into his tone, “We won’t be seeing you –ever-…again. Not once my Weyrwomen are through with you,” pausing to let that snippet of information sink in before continuing on in a matter of fact tone, “because you see…we’re here under their orders to bring you in.” Bring him in, not escort him to ‘safety’. “Oh,” and here his expression folds curls into a knowing look of foreboding, “and another thing…we know about the other woman.” Well, he doesn’t have hard and fast proof yet, but he has enough to throw that out there and see how far he can rattle Phineus’ cage.

And then just like that the beast manager is turning his back on the man, handing the end of the coiled rope over to Yaron and heading back toward his runner, “Get him fed and cleaned up, I want him alive when he’s staked out naked for Thread after his trial.” Or whatever Alara and Randi might deem a fitting punishment for this sick piece of humanity.

Staggering back from the shove, Phineus looks confusedly from Max to Yaron and then back to Max again as Max explains he’s not looking for a financial transaction to make things ‘right’. Phineus still doesn’t quite see it as he owes Ahnika anything, but another man, the man who has laid claim to her, he can wrap his mind around needing to offer something to atone. Still looking a more or less confused, he takes a wary step back from Max as the Beast Manager steps back in toward him, but not out of reach, and so he feels that rough pat on the cheek where Ahni had scratched her wounds on his face and he cries out again, flinching away and this time comes back around to glare at Max.

“Fine!” He snarls now, goaded briefly, “That’s just fine! I was planning on pressing charges myself anyway. Let’s see what your weyrwomen and that precious backwards little weyr thinks of your woman after they hear the truth of what happened. How do you think I got these claw marks into my face in the first place, you fool! She’s using you! Don’t you see?” Trying to make an appeal for brotherly compassion, “They all do, in the end. Get themselves all wet and worked up for you until you give them a pretty bauble or trinket and then they’re off to the next man who can give them better. Did she tell you how she threw herself at me? I bet she didn’t. She was practically begging me to take her right there in the tunnel, my man. And then, the little tease—“ and he stops short, which is probably for the best considering what he was about to say. The comment about the other woman from Max draws a blank expression, but his eyes slide right again, “What woman?” And then the comment about being staked out for Thread has him going pale. “Staked out? For that little harlot?” Oh boy.

It’s probably just as well that Max had his back turned to the man at the time that he starts speaking about Ahnika the way he does, trying to lay blame at her feet, for that same white hot rage from the tunnel shoots through the beast manager, his face draining of colour and eyes emptying of all expression as that black veil descends behind them, fists clenching and unclenching at his sides.

Playing some of the lasso out so that he can leave the trader behind him a few paces to close the gap to Max, Yaron’s voice pitches low, “Boss?” Trying to get through to the younger man before he flips over the edge. And then uncommonly for the thug he tries appealing to him on a level that might break through, “You ain’t no good to her locked up, eh? Think man!” My how the tables can turn on a knife edge!

Ahnika, with the flame red hair, skin like porcelain and soul grazing eyes, trusting him to do right by her.

Slowly but surely he starts to come back to his senses, the heaving of his chest subsiding into longer slower breaths until finally flicking a glance to Yaron, Max nods and then turns to head back toward Phineus, a grim expression in place. Though not for the reasons the trader might believe it to be, but for the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach for the play he’s about to make.

Hands move quickly to free the trader of the rope about him and then the beast manager is laying a stiff hand to the man’s shoulder meaning to guide him forward in the belief that he has indeed appealed to his captor on a level of brotherly compassion. Yaron is left to lead the runners behind them a dark and sinister grin in place as he watches Max start playing his hand.

“My apologies Phineus, I hadn’t realized she’d led you on like that. Women, eh?” all coming in the semblance of an understanding tone as he leads the man toward the rocky overhang and their campsite for the day, “cock tease the one minute and then when you offer it to them, screaming foul to anyone that’ll listen.” There’s even a show of a grimace supposedly for the injuries he’d inflicted upon the man, “You hungry?” suddenly so solicitous of the trader’s needs.

Phineus has been fooled before by Max, like with the flask, so he looks wary as Max removes the lasso about his shoulders and takes a step back, somewhat skittish (perhaps poetic justice as he’s made Ahni so). “Right,” he says slowly, standing a little straighter and dusting himself off some more. He’s still not exactly accepting of Max’s sudden good nature and brotherly compassion, but slowly he is warming to it. Then he affects an apologetic smile, tilting his head as Max leads him to the overhang and adding, “Sorry to be the one to break it to you about her, my man.” His voice is an effort to be smooth and disarming

With another glance for Yaron as the other man starts working with putting up the runners, Phineus says, “Aye,” and looks back at Max, “Starving. Found some streams and edible berries, but … I didn’t have any of my supplies with me.” But his tone is conciliatory, not willing to risk his only ride back to the weyr and safety by pointing out that it was Max’s fault he didn’t have his supplies. Now that the immediate threat seems to be over with, Phineus starts checking himself out and the status of his various injuries. He winces as he feels out his leg a bit, “I think I got lost,” he admits ruefully.

Arriving at the overhang and stripping his damp duffle coat off and spreading it over a nearby sun-warmed rock to start drying, Max sneezes violently and winces a little for the headache that sets to aching in the back of his head. Still he keeps that seemingly amiable cloak about him, even offering over that flask of whiskey he’d taunted the man with earlier. Rueful the expression he fits into place, though everything at play with double edged sides to it, “Aye well, better I find out now before it’s too late, eh?” Next to come off is his shirt a sigh of apparent bliss for the warming touch of sun over his skin and then he sneezes again.

Yaron sets to tethering the runners alongside the pack mule that had been left there when they’d taken off after the trader and sends a hooded look of dark of humour the young beast manager’s way as he then goes about gathering up kindling. His expression however, remains unreadable.

Turning a glance over to Phineus, “Sounds like you’ve had this kind of trouble before,” Max notes being careful not to make it a question but rather an idle observation as he pulls a small rudimentary first aid pack from Starflight’s saddle and tosses it over to the other man. He says nothing of the man’s commentary on having eaten little or getting lost but instead gets to work on getting a fire going with what Yaron brings back, “Heartless creatures aren’t they?” women. Putting idle conversation between men back to women and their supposedly cruel and teasing ways.

Phineus gives Max another wary look as the other man starts sneezing, but says nothing about it with just two. He takes the flask gingerly, saying, “Thank ye,” before taking a long sip. It’s not water, after all, so he does keep the draught relatively brief for a thirsty man. He nods then to Max finding out now, and looks to Yaron as the man brings in kindling before he clumsily catches the first aid kit from Max. Ah, now that does break his expression into much more relief, once he’s verified the contents. Distractedly, he speaks while he gets to work on cleaning and packing his wounds and soothing his aches and pains, “Not like this from her, mind,” Phineus says, meaning Ahnika, “I’ve never had an entire weyr hunting me on account of one woman’s fickle mind. But aye, I suppose I’ve seen my share of those treacherous kinds of women, women who don’t know their place.” Then he looks up from his patching work, “If you’re ever one to listen to advice, never let a woman believe she’s better than you or even your equal. Make sure she knows her place and you’ll get less lip and trouble from her. In my mind, all the trouble started when we started letting women in as equals in the crafts, and of course, it doesn’t rightly help that the weyrs are run by them neither, but I suppose there ain’t much to be done about that.” He goes back to paying more attention to patching himself up, and comments slowly, “That woman, Ahnika, she reminds me of one woman I had back at Southern. Looked a good bit like her, really, but she learned her place and quick.”

There’s waterskins, of course, but Max rather prefers the trader get his tongue wetted (and loosened) by whiskey first and thus is happy to leave the flask in the man’s care as he sets to tending his injuries. There’s a point or two, when Phineus is looking away that a smug smirk appears for the man’s discomfort but it flees the moment the other looks up.

Comment of the entire Weyr being after his capture draws yet more dark satisfaction from the beast manager and then he’s unclipping and going through the contents of their dried food supplies, laying out a selection for the trader to help himself to. So generous isn’t he?

With hands dangling in relaxed pose over his knees, as Phineus hands out his advice, Max nods as if in total agreement with what he says, rather than what he is doing…filing it all away for later use. He’s been quiet up until this point, just letting the man gab on. At the end however, he utters a comprehending, “Ah,” to Ahnika having looked like someone the man knew, “Wife?” he probes with vague interest forcing a chuckle as the flask is held out to him again. “This woman of yours…what was her name again…” pausing as if pretending the man had given a name but he’d simply forgotten what it was, “you sorted her out, eh? How’d you do that?” because you know, he apparently has this woman in needing of similar lessons himself. Forcibly swallowing down the bile rising in his throat.

Phineus doesn’t seem too inclined to drink himself to a stupor any time soon, but he’s happy to keep the flask tucked beside him while he’s working on his injuries, spreading the numbweed where he can, and redwort as necessary, before completing the task with a sigh of relief as much of the pain and aches are soothed. Now it’s time for eating, and he eyes the dried food like a man before a feast fit for a Lord Holder before selecting something and beginning to chew, leaning back, “Thank you,” and now starting to chase the food down with the flask a little. He chuckles at the notion of the woman in question being a wife, and shakes his head, “There are enough brats, legitimate and not, in this world, my man, I don’t need to add to it by taking a wife.” Which is apparently the only reason anyone of any sound mind would take a wife, to Phineus’ thinking. He chews a bit more and then says, “Nay, this was Sadie. Fetching little laundry wench with hair as red as your Ahnika’s, and eyes as grey as the sky just before a storm.” He chuckles throatily while taking another sip of the whiskey and pointing commiserating toward Max, “She had a bit of a temper, too, at first.” His eyes twinkling with the memory as he begins to lounge against the rock, eating and drinking and relaxing with the soothing of the trappings of that first aid kit. He shrugs, not exactly the sort to brag about the way, “The usual means a man has to him to sort that kind out, you know, good swift smack or two.” He pauses and then looks down at the dried meat, and for a fleeting moment he actually looks a little regretful, “She took a little more than the usual amount to learn her place, but she did learn it … in the end,” he says cryptically, then lapses quiet as he resumes eating more in earnest and drinking a little more too. “How long will it take us to get back?” he asks.

For brief moment Max’s expression tightens over words of children and the man’s obvious disdain for them, but then he coughs a raw hacking sound and it might seem it had simply been a forerunner to that. Listening, as Phineus speaks and apparently intent on the dried meat he’s currently carving up with his knife, the beast manager merely nods here and there, cursing under his breath when the blade slips and nicks his finger at the trader putting his mouth to words of Ahnika again. Sucking on the cut, he puts a hard pressed idea of a smile out to the man in response, answering simply from around his finger, “Your Sadie from Southern Hold then?” Yaron shifts in the slouch taken up behind the trader and leans forward for the stick of dried meat held out to him, signing something unseen to his employer with his free hand. Head barely moving in a nod, Max’s legs stretch out before him and he asks with an understanding bleed to his tone, “She didn’t get it right away, eh?” As to how long it will take them to get back, he makes a show of eyeing the position of Rukbat’s path in the sky and then shrugs but doesn’t make reply.

Eyeing Max as the man nicks himself, Phineus puts the last length of dried rations in his mouth and gathers up the first aid kit, tossing it back to Max. Just doing the considerate thing, though he suspects by Max’s reaction that it’s not a deep enough nick to warrant much attention. Then he goes back to chewing bits of the ration with one hand and sipping from the flask with the other at different intervals. He doesn’t seem to notice any interaction between Yaron and Max, though he does tilt his head back and to the side at once moment, giving Max’s travelling companion a looking over before finally swallowing a section of the dried rations and answering Max. “Well, s’where I met her,” he says musingly, scratching the bit of beard growth he’d made in the last three or four days, “don’t rightly know if that is where she was from originally … considering that red hair.” Then he looks at Max, and since they are being just companionable with small talk here (right?) he asks, “What about your Ahnika? She from Southern?” There’s a bit of a pause and then he says with a tone of wonder, “Y’know, they do look a lot alike, or did, that is.” Did? “Could’ve even been sisters, mayhap.” He laughs then, arching his eyebrows at Max as he takes up that flask, “Wouldn’t that be interesting, eh? Did that woman of yours have a sister?” then he takes a sip from it. Then another nod, and his expression sobers, the grip on the flask tightening a little and a bit of controlled rage slips into his expression before he shakes himself out of it, starting to lose himself to the whiskey already, dehydrated and half-starved as he was. “Aye,” he answers Max’s next question, “She was a lot harder to break than the rest.” Then he lifts the flask as in a toast. “But well worth it once I took her for a tumble, as I’m sure, your Ahnika will be for you, eh? If you can actually manage to break her in good ‘n proper.” His chuckle fades slowly into a rather sick-looking smile with his eyes fixed on a point on the horizon as he imagines Ahnika in bed, though he doesn’t dare speak of it. He does, after a moment, clear his throat and sit up a little, and since he’s surrounded by men and no ladies he makes no qualms about adjusting his, uh, “goods” before going back to eating and drinking some more. After a swallow, he says, “I must’ve gotten turned around good. I’m not even sure if we’re north or south or east or west now. We’re about five or six days from the weyr? That it?” He sorely lost track of time in his state.

The first aid pack is caught with a grimace that could be a smile, and set to one side as Max finally gets round to eating too, the nick on his finger forgotten, though by the lacklustre manner in which he does so, one can assume his appetite is all but gone. When the trader turns all he’ll see is Yaron chewing on the dried meat while idly picking at his nails with a wicked looking hunting knife, the thug’s face expressionless. Another sneeze and then a slight shiver has the beast manager standing and moving toward a saddle pack, his ration abandoned for now as he pulls a set of dry clothing out. “Did?” and then forcing what he hopes to be compassion into his tone as he buttons the shirt back turned to Phineus, “Sorry about your loss, man.” Damp trousers are replaced and boots pulled back on. “Sisters?” a brow lifts up at that and Max does give that genuine consideration until the implications hit home and he looks moderately ill at the thought. Moving round to where Yaron is seated rather than where he had been before, a hand signal is sent the thug and then he’s back in front of the trader, that same cold smile of earlier back in place as he catches that sick one and adjustment of ‘goods’ coming from the scumbag. Gathering the rations together and unceremoniously dumping them into the bag they’d come from, he reaches for his knife as if to re-sheathe it but instead, and with a nod to Yaron, he swiftly steps up to Phineus and lays the flat of his blade at the man’s throat right as the thug reaches to grab his arms from behind. He’s done with this cat and mouse game (regardless of whether the trader had answered the question about Sadie or not) and it shows in the sinister snap of his eyes as the beast manager utters in deadly quiet tones, “My Weyrwomen are just going to –love- you.” Randi in particular no doubt.

“You ain’t catchin’ sick now are you?” Phineus asks Max, more for concern for himself catching whatever Max has than any real concern for Max. But without waiting on Max’s response, the trader frowns a little, shifting uncomfortably as Max prompts with the single-word question, “Aye. She drowned some time ago.” He nods quietly at the offered condolences and then shrugs a bit, frowning thoughtfully. So lost in thought, he is, reliving some memory involving Sadie and what she did to him, as he sees it, his expression continues to darken and he doesn’t catch the ‘Sisters?’ question from Max, nor the moderately ill look that comes after. So, it is no surprise that in his condition, both distracted and slightly tipsy and well exhausted and injured, that he doesn’t even have a chance to put up a fight with Max and Yaron as they grab him. He does start to resist Yaron’s grip briefly, but that is only until the blade at his throat registers with the trader and then he goes stock-still. His eyes shift their focus from the knife to Max, and he stammers suddenly, “Thought we had … an understanding here.”

Drowned…that word drops quite poetically like a stone into a pond and Max stiffens. The query as to whether or not he’s catching a cold earns the trader a rough snort. The man had better hope the beast manager isn’t on his way to doing so, for adding cold induced crankiness isn’t going to be to his advantage at all. As Phineus starts to struggle briefly Yaron’s grip tightens and Max tips the blade over onto its edge and presses lightly, just enough to score a thin mark but not enough to do any real damage. “Oh we have an understanding alright,” a sly grin casts out, “It’s my understanding that you’re one sick bag of shit that’s done this before to another in Southern named Sadie, a laundress, who by my reckoning…didn’t make it through quite as well as my Ahnika did,” stressing the possessive there, “It’s my understanding that you’ve just handed me enough information to mark your place in one of the Weyr’s holding cells until the Weyrleaders have decided what to do with you.” Grim satisfaction there for having gotten the man to blab off at the mouth. With a nod to Yaron to bind the man’s arms behind him, the beast manager steps back, “But don’t worry, I won’t let our ‘acquaintance’ suffer for it,” his smile turning dark, “I’ll be by –every- day to visit with you.” Uh oh.

One can be sure that that was the last, Phineus was to see of any such niceties such as first aid kits, whiskey or having his hands free again. The pack mule will become his ride back to the Weyr with the only reason him not being roped and made to walk –behind- the riders, being that now with his quarry in hand, Max has but one purpose in mind, getting back to Ahnika as soon as possible and holding her tight in his arms once again.

Closing Credit: The Prodigy - Their Law

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