They arrived into Lone Creek just after dusk in time for Jostice to watch the moon's reflection dance off the resting lake.
There was peace after the storm. Jostice took a breath tasting the air as he overlooked the City; a familiar place that hadn't seemed too familiar in that moment.
The City stood as he remembered; the lake drowned the southern border while peaks protruded like black arrowheads to guard the north. At the base of the mountains, the valley swarmed with cottages that rose up into the hillside, each one glowing with firelight; their chimneys smoke producing the smell of charred pine that hung in the air and freshened their noses.
On approach, Jostice looked upon a great rampart wall that vaulted from the earth; made of wood, and riddled with scars from distant battles. The wall worked around Lone Creek, leading to the peaks where a jagged perch jutted over the city, nesting the great Crokernard Colosseum for all eyes to marvel upon.
After twenty minutes, the wagon halted and Mason whipped the door open, rifle in hand, staring at them with nervous suspicion. "Out! The lot of you!" His tone shook of a reckless youth. Morgan Dale spat at the boys feet. "Don't tempt me!"
"Tempt you? I've been holding that in since we left." He chuckled, climbing lazily down the steps. The boy kept his distance while his father observed, gun ready by the horses.
Jostice came out behind them, hanging in the doorway, looking upon the familiar building. "Nothin's changed…" He shook his head while his boots found dirt.
The jailhouse was a squared structure that stood alone on woodrun street, surrounded by trees and the silence that fell over the city.
Butch and the gunmen stood wide-legged with their rifle butts buried into their shoulders, eyes down the sights. They guarded that path that trailed up to the door, two on each side. Butch and the pocked woman on one side while wild eyes and heckles stood on the other.
Jostice made paces up the path keeping his eyes down until the woman waved her hand, drawing his attention. She winked and blew him a kiss.
He grimaced, "The Gods have been cruel to that woman," he mumbled, examining the skin-craters that looked to have been dug out by termites. He shook his head but her face remained.
At the top of the path, the Jailhouse door swung open while a stir came from inside. Four deputies wearing their tan-green long-tailed coats and brimmed hats stood with their barrels drawn.
"A little much," Morgan Dale chuckled, "we ain't come to rob the place."
"Take them to the back cellars," barked Oliver Woodsby; a stiff man who'd been Sheriff since the star badge was forged and pinned to his chest. He pointed to the back and Mason led the way. "Good to see you, Jostice." He nodded as he passed.
"You too, Sheriff," nodding back. "How's the wife?"
"Always asking 'bout ya ... you were her best customer, ya know."
"Couldn't help it. She made one hell of an apple pie."
He walked towards the back and the deputies whispered, "good to see you," Ace while patting him on his shoulder.
Jostice nodded to each one with a simple smile then moved into a poorly lit room filled with half-empty cells and iron bars.
"In here," Mitch jerked his head. Morgan and Jostice stumbled inside. He uncuffed their irons and shut the door behind them, smirking. "You boys have a nice night with them flees and the lice."
Morgan plunked down on one of the hay-filled beds. "Much finer place to sleep than on the ground or in the carriage." He grinned.
Mitch spat and left the room.
Jostice rubbed the ache from his wrists as he sat on the bed opposite of Morgan.
Morgan shifted, working to get comfortable. "Them Sheriff and Deputies seem to like you."
Jostice laughed looking around the cell. "It wasn't long ago that I was their prisoner — had many run-ins with them — great group of guys."
"They the kind that can spring us free?"
"I might be able to persuade one." Jostice removed his hat and fell back on the hay bed, stiff against his back. He winced. "Don't think it'd do you any good though …"
"And why's that?"
Jostice threw his arms back behind his head, sinking deeper into the mattress. "Because they don't like Dhuragian me"
The man lifted an ear. "Lies!"
"It's true. Y'all talk too much and ask too many questions."
The man's nose wrinkled, allowing the words to soak. Suddenly his mouth twitched and a smile slipped. "I'll shut up then!" He snickered, turning cheek. "Rather read the back of my eyelids, nohow." A moment later the man was snoring loud as a hibernating bear.
Jostice stared at the ceiling long into the night while a candle flickered in the doorway, warding away the shadows that fought to climb inside.
"Red strands...Olive skin." He whispered, holding up his hand. "The smell of the prairie—"
The candlelight faded.
A shrill voice came from the doorway. "Hello, Mr. Beatpost."
Jostice tilted his head locating a stout silhouette blockading the light. "I'm sleeping …"
"You were, and now your not." The man laughed in a high, piercing tone. "How was your trip?"
"Wet," he replied. "Had I known you were coming I would've been properly attired."
"A fancy suit?"
"Nope. Bound in shackles, just how you like it."
The man whined with laughter. "Oh, how I love your perky sense of humor, even when death is imminent."
"Glad I amuse you." A strong, flowery reek crept into Jostice's nose masking the jailhouse rank. He coughed. "Is there a reason you've come, Mayor?"
The Mayor's silhouette grew, shifting in the doorway as light snaked across his beady, black eyes. "I thought you'd be inclined to know who you were dueling against."
"Makes no difference to me ... Just point and I'll shoot."
"Even if I point to the man who shares your cell?"
Jostice face twisted. He sat up in a haste, looking upon the man snoring and wrapped in his pancho. He then turned and leered at the Mayor. "You bastard!"
"You should be appreciative, Ace. I am doing you a favor. Your opponent is subdued; all you have to do is squeeze." He heckled.
Jostice's skin ran hot, head throbbing.
"What's the matter? Don't you want her? To feel her soft scarlet strands, touch her smooth olive skin, and smell the pastures you both called home?" The man's eyes shifted towards the sleeping man. "Like I said, all you have to do is squeeze—"
"Shut up!" Jostice leaped towards the bars. He grabbed them with crushing might. "The only one I want to squeeze is you!"
"A shame," the Mayor said. "You would've got what you wanted and I would've got what I wanted, to see you give in." He chuckled. "Oh, well. We'll both just have to wait." The silhouette waned and the candlelight brightened as the Mayor's voice faded. "Welcome home, Mr. Beatpost ... Welcome home."