[RO] [M] things change and get strange with this movement of time

WARNING: This thread contains material exceeding the general board rating of PG-13. It may contain very strong language, drug usage, graphic violence, or graphic sexual content. Reader discretion is advised.

Specifically, this thread is marked mature because of: language.

Early September. Southern DCG border. NPC: Rodeo.

Harriet spent most of her days wandering. Sometimes it was within the ganglands and sometimes not, though she never strayed farther than a day’s ride from the Del Cenere border. Though she made herself useful by reinforcing the border with markings and effigies, Harriet spent most of her time thinking and enjoying the solitude.

Del Cenere was different than Palisade. Culturally and geographically, of course, but there was something else about it, too. Being away from Josiah, being out from under Noelle’s shadow, maybe that was it. For the first time in her life, it didn’t feel like she had a dozen people watching her every move. She could, effectively, come and go as she pleased, provided she checked in with Alonso every couple of days, helped out around the Ugly Coyote, and contributed what she could to the gang as a whole (usually prey). The rest of the time, Harriet could just be.

Wiser individuals would call it healing, this time spent alone in the wilderness. Harriet just called it some well-deserved peace and quiet.

Until a day came one late afternoon when the relative quiet was broken by the sounds of a fight along a trail south of the Del Ceneran border. A horse’s shrill whinny and a mixture of raised voices reached her from around a bend in the road. Though it was far enough away from the ganglands not to warrant concern, Harriet was on a road that Ashen often frequented. Curious about what all the fuss was about, she urged Cerberus into a trot and rounded the bend.

It was a confusing scene. Three canines and a horse occupied the middle of the trail, goods strewn everywhere. Two individuals, a jackal and what looked like a black coydog were wrestling on the ground, snapping at each other’s faces. Another jackal had grabbed the horse’s reins and was attempting to calm the horse down–or pull her away.

“LET HER GO!” bellowed the black-furred coydog, foam dotting the corners of his mouth. The whites of his eyes flashed as he attempted to bite the jackal’s face again.

“Hurry up with that horse, goddammit,” yelped the jackal who, it was now apparent to Harriet, was trying to hold the coydog down while his companion stole the kid’s horse.

“I’m tryin’,” whined the other jackal. The pair had picked the wrong mare to try and steal. Her ears were pinned flat as she spun around and around, trying to get in a good position to kick the jackal who barely had control of her reins. “Aw, shit.”

“Stop dancin’ with her and–” the jackal gave a strangled yelp as Harriet’s claws dug into his back. She ripped him off the black coyote and shoved him as hard and far as she could. He tripped over his feet and landed hard on his ass.

“Stay down.” The Courtright woman loomed over him, face twisted in a snarl.

The black-furred coydog leaped up and sprinted straight toward his horse, snarling and barking as he did so. The jackal holding the reins glanced behind his shoulder just as the coydog collided with him–and screamed as a large black maw clamped down on his shoulder. The coydog thrashed and scratched at the jackal’s face with a ferocity Harriet had never seen before. The pair scrambled against each other, though it was clear the coydog had the power.

“JESUS CHRIST, LET ME GO! LET ME GO!” Shrieked the jackal, blood running down his face. “WE’LL LEAVE YOUR FUCKING HORSE ALONE, I PROMISE!”

The black coydog didn’t relent. Harriet realized suddenly that he was going to kill the guy. The jackal must have realized it at the same moment, too, because he began to cry.

In a blink, Harriet grabbed onto the coydog and put him in a chokehold. She wasn’t trying to knock the kid out, just get him to let go of the pathetic bandit. Though he felt like skin and bones in her arms, his body practically vibrated with adrenaline and rage.

“Let him go, kid,” she barked in his ear. “He ain’t worth it. Let him go!”

For a moment, it seemed like the kid couldn’t even hear her. Growls still ripped through his throat, between his teeth that were still sunk deep into the jackal’s shoulder. Up close, the bandit smelled of fear, piss, and booze. Harriet’s nose wrinkled.

Suddenly, it was over. The coydog’s jaw popped open and he and Harriet staggered backward. The jackal scrambled away, sniveling and yelping in pain. His partner followed, screaming a string of curses at Harriet and the coydog as he did so. Harriet didn’t let the kid go until the bandits were out of sight.

“I’m gonna let you go now,” she growled into his ear. “Don’t attack me or I’ll have to kick your ass.” She released him from the chokehold and pushed him away.

Without looking at Harriet, the coydog ran to the agitated mare and began checking her over. The distressed cries of the mare had evidently upset Cerberus, who was now hovering close by. His presence only seemed to agitate the mare more. Harriet grabbed his reins and walked him a more comfortable distance away from the strange pair and secured him to a nearby tree.

“You alright?” Harriet called.

The black coydog shot her a scathing glance over his horse’s back but said nothing.

Harriet snorted. “Damn. You’re welcome, I guess.”

“We didn’t need your help,” snapped the kid, stalking around the horse. His hands were balled into fists at his sides. “And we didn’t ask for it, so don’t expect any sort of payment or anything. You ain’t gettin’ shit.”

Harriet’s hands went up. “Hey, kid, I don’t want anything of yours. I’m just askin’ if yer alright.”

The coydog snorted, turned his back on her, and began collecting his belongings from the trail. Harriet watched him for a minute, curiosity winning out over affront.

“What’s your name, kid?” she asked after a few moments.

“Rodeo,” he said sullenly, not looking up at her. Roh-day-oh. The pronunciation of his name and his light accent told her he was from much further south. He’d have a tough time of it up here on his own once winter came.

Harriet narrowed her eyes at him. “How old’re you?”

“Old enough.” The young coydog retorted, looking up to stare insolently into her eyes. The hallmark of someone who’d had to fight all his life–for his life. Someone who had to grow up real quick in order to survive.

“Y’can’t be older than what, sixteen months? Eighteen months at most?”

Rodeo stared at her a beat more before looking away glumly and wiping his bloody nose on the back of his hand. That’s what she thought.

“Shit.” Such a young kid to be out here by himself. He must’ve had a good reason, though. Harriet wished she had done the same at his age, left Palisade behind years ago. Maybe things would’ve ended differently. Maybe she would be different.

“Yeah, well thanks for the help even though I didn’t need it,” said Rodeo, dusting himself off and continuing to pick up his scattered belongings. “You can fuck off now.”

Harriet raised her eyebrows–and grinned.

Rodeo reached for a pack of dried meat at her feet; deftly, she pinned it with a paw before he got close. Rodeo snapped his head up, teeth bared and fury in his eyes. Undaunted. Ready to go again. Harriet felt a twinge of something then, deep in her gut–a fierce sort of protectiveness that came completely out of nowhere. What if those bandits came back tonight, while the kid was asleep? What would happen to him then?

Was this how Josiah ended up with so many wards?

“You should head into Charmingtown,” she said after a beat, stooping to pick up the package. She held it out to him. “It’s about half a day’s ride thataway. Things are relatively safe there. It’ll give you and your horse a chance to rest for a little bit.”

Rodeo snatched the pack from her hands. “I was going there already. Thanks for the useless tip.”

“Good.” Harriet grinned again. “I’m headed that way myself. Might as well travel together.”

Rodeo grumbled something in Spanish that Harriet assumed was a curse, but didn’t argue.

Thou calledst me a dog before thou hadst a cause,
But since I am a dog, beware my fangs.


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