One last time...
Jostice heard the words in his head. A faint, raspy whisper that mocked him like a crow cawing in search of departed remains. He shook his head. Is that my fate? To be a feast for crows and a buried memory to those who pray away my existence? His chains hit the ground; the snake-like links entangled while the metal cuffs clattered on top. Jostice rubbed his purplish forearms unable to revive the pale coloring in his limbs. "It is no less than what I deserve..."
"You both deserved better," a young deputy said. He was lean and muscular; a young buck who'd likely die too young and love too little. "You don't remember me, do ya?"
Jostice examined the man. There was something about his brown hair and kind eyes that made Ace curious. "Did I kill your Pap?" The deputy's face wrinkled; fear in his eyes, that or he'd soiled himself.
"I hope, for your sake, not. My pappy was a Preacher man...a good man who died at the hands of a coward." He stroked his hair uneasily. "His butcher, alive or dead, will forever desiccate in the barrens' drought...mark my words, he will."
"Sounds like where I'm headed." Jostice smirked
"Not if you repent. The good book says-"
"I don't give a damn what the good book says." The deputy kept quiet and turned away. Ace tilted forward and examined the man further. His memory wasn't what it used to be, but it jogged, and he saw something in the light. "You're that stable boy from the ranch," he said.
The deputy looked up, "Barrot."
"I recall," He said. "And I also recall you riding on the heels of the farmer's daughter." Even in the faint chamber's glow Jostice saw the man's cheeks bleed pink. "Seems to me I haven't missed much."
Barrot pivoted like a bothered pony. "I do protest. I've made my way from stableboy to deputy."
"At the word of Sheriff Turnbuckle." Jostice looked to a large, thick wooden door that blockaded the arena. "You never found your own way."
"Son of the preacher, who turned tail from his father and faith...What other choice did I have?"
The choice to love another...
Jostice didn't dare tell the man nor suggest it. There was no sense in breaking a broken man; he'd been overlooked by the woman he yearned for and left with guilt from his father's unjust passing. If there's a God he'd pity the fool, Jostice thought. I pity the fool... "We make our own choices."
Barrot nodded. "And look where it's brought us."
The holding chamber was in the deepest, darkest division of the colosseum where no natural light could penetrate; originally built to store prisoners during the War of Nation; it was converted into the holding cell for slingers though the rats used it to nest their young and reap the spoils after each tournament.
Jostice shook a boot free of tangled, red meat. He grimaced. Likely the remains of the duelist who'd been dragged in prior to his engagement. "At least it's warmer than my cell." They laughed.
Around them the chamber shook. A pulsing rumble that grew loud as spike mauls beating against prodded irons. Jostice took a lateral step, avoiding the streams of sand pouring from the roof. "They cheer for you," Barrot said mildly, dodging his own streams. "She cheers for you," He admitted. This caught Jostice in the gut. Barrot turned away if only to hide his shame. "Though she did not wait for you..."
Wait? Jostice again felt his muscles tighten like rolled wanted paper. He closed his fist. The urge to break them over the deputy's face came and passed. "What is this nonsense do you speak of?"
"She's found another..." Barrot's tone had a chill that cut through the muggy air. "I ask that once you defeat your opponent you do to her just...and allow her to choose."
Jostice watched the deputies head drop. He hadn't spoke of himself, but of another man. "Who?" The word came out harsher than intended.
"You may know his name...The Leadgun of the Legionnaires."
Jostice rose an eyebrow. He felt a cold sweat roll down his back, beneath his white button shirt and black-tailed coat, down his trousers and into his boots. He'd heard the name. Who hadn't? He'd also seen the man lumbering over the Mayor. A fearless gunslinger; the best in the southern region, or so they say. Jostice spat. She deserves better... He nodded to Barrot, agreeing. There was no use in forcing the matter...And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"On the other side of the gate is your guns. You may retrieve them soon as the gate is secured behind you." Barrot turned and held out a hand. Jostice stared curiously. The last three years he'd been treated like he had blackstraw; avoided at all cost, including eye contact. Sure, the townsfolk and the deputies cheered, but at a distance. As though worried they catch his blight and be overcome by the darkness that churned in his blood. Jostice grasped the man's hand. It was soft where his was firm and smooth where his was calloused. He gave a good shake and they nodded. "Good luck."
"Lucks for gamblers and whore wranglers...What I need is one clean shot."