Chapter Two: Burning Dame
Setting his pistol, and tanned coat off to the side, Sheriff Morgan Adlem leans back in his chair and looks across his office table towards his son, Marshall. The crime had been picking up a lot lately in their town, and he wouldn't be surprised if the State sent a representative down to ask what he and his men had been up to.
The laboratory getting robbed was just going to make him get stuck with an earful for sure. By the time they'd be able to figure out what happened with that train or where the thief had run off to, he'd probably be long gone. That was always the case with people like him, especially when his face matched one on a number of wanted posters that the Sheriff had seen in neighbouring towns.
"Did you report that Flyer got taken care of to Frederick already? I haven't been able to spare the Deputies to take care of it, so he'll be glad that those farmers are going to be off his back about them."
Marshall grins and jokingly takes off his brown brimmed hat to almost salute his father. He knew that his pops said he didn't have the free manpower to go and take care of it, but the police regularly employed freelancers like himself for those sort of things anyway. Chances were that his dear old dad was just trying to leave some work open for him.
"You kidding, old man? I finished that about an hour ago. Don't tell me you forgot that I was waiting on you when you got here."
"Hey, it's rude to call your father old like that, you know." Morgan smirks in a way that makes his son realize where he got his wits from. "What if my poor heart can't take it?"
The younger Adlem rolls his eyes knowing what he'd just walked into with that sort of statement and proceeds to plop himself down in a chair across from his father's. He didn't normally get the chance to hear much about his dad's work in the police force, and even though Marshall himself didn't really want to follow in his footsteps, it had always interested him whenever the two could talk about something that was going on.
"So, pops...what was all that about earlier? Did you know who that guy was?"
Morgan's face turns more serious and he lets out almost a tired sigh as he leans forward with his arms resting on the wooden table.
"Yeah, I know about him. His name's Barnham. The man's wanted in a number of different counties for a string of thefts, bank robberies and even a couple of murders. He used to run some gang back in the day, but a bunch of his goons were killed in a fight against some feds with the rest going into hiding. I don't know what made him resurface now."
His eyes narrow as he tries to work out a way to put the pieces together and think up some kind of answer to the concerns that were biting away at him. Did Barnham think that law enforcement had just stopped looking for him, and figured he'd been eaten by Flyers, or some other creatures? It was hard to say, but he didn't think enough time had passed yet.
"It looked like he had some kind of bag on him when I saw you chasing him, dad. Do you have any idea what the heck was in there?"
"I've got a pretty good idea, son. What I'm going to tell you is supposed to be confidential though, so you can't go just openly talking about this like you usually do."
Sheepishly smiling to try and stop his father from getting too serious in his tone, Marshall rubs the back of his neck, as the tapping of his foot causes the table to bump slightly. He was more trustworthy than that, and Morgan knew it. After all, if his dad didn't trust him, then he wouldn't have offered to explain everything to him in the first place.
"What? Me? Oh come on now, you know I can keep a secret. You already started explaining anyway, so c'mon."
Morgan looks back across the table at his son and reluctantly nods. As much as he got bothered by how Marshall could still have remnants of the loud mouth that had followed him around when he was a child, it was impossible for him to even be all too angry about it. Morgan's own mother had a soft spot for Marshall. When he went to visit, she'd still ask if his son was going to try and be a doctor yet, and he couldn't help but smile a little.
With that being said, as Morgan leans forward thoughtfully, he might just have to let slip about some of Marshall's so called 'clumsy accidents' if we went and started chatting people up.
"You know the lab, downtown right? The researchers there are kinda odd. I never really did understand them most of the time." He pauses momentarily before clearing his throat and opting to continue. "They've been looking more into these whole injections people like us got to help with using our...skills, should I say. Lately they've been messing around with some compounds for ways to try and combine some together, or make up some artificial mumbo jumbo."
"So what, they're trying to make like wind and earth work together? And artificial? Like do you mean some kind of fake version with other stuff?"
Marshall's curiosity piqued a little bit more. This sort of thing was out of the realm of subjects he knew a lot about. He was never fully sure about the whole science of how their powers worked. After all, it was a process that had been worked on for over a hundred years now, it wasn't like he had to worry himself with it. Thoughts continued to flow into his mind as Morgan spoke.
"I don't know the details, since I'm no scientist. It sounded like they might have been trying to find a way to make it so everybody can use powers now, even those who normally can't. My guess is it's some thing for the government or army."
That sounded like one hell of a mess just waiting to happen to him. On one hand, he could definitely see why the military would want something like that. Creature attacks had been increasingly little by little over the past few years, and the idea that more people could better defend themselves actually sounded pretty good. If criminals got hold of those sort of materials like Barnham had, and it went into the underground system, though? That could lead to a whole new list of troubles and problems for people like Marshall's father. There was also that some people like him who fought off the creatures to make a living would suddenly find themselves competing for work. As for him? He never really cared for his work anyway. All Marshall ever wanted to do was travel around and find lost gold or treasures left behind by those who came before him. What about what he was doing now? That was merely just something to keep him afloat until the right opportunity came his way.
"Let me guess, old man. You've gotta go and work with your guys to get it back and drag Barnham back in before people like the Mayor, or Governor or whatever is going to start giving you crap? That about sum it up?"
Slightly biting down on his lower lip, Morgan shakes his head at his son continuing to be some kind of smart alack, even when the situation was one that he'd been trying to take seriously. Still, he wasn't exactly wrong though, and when it came down to it, that was the meat and potatoes of it. With that in mind, he can't
"Yeah, that pretty much sums it up, you little smartass. Not only will it be my head that the higher ups go after soon for losing sight of him in my town, but there would be a lot more problems than that. Those chemicals and injections making their way into the black market would cause crimes to shoot up, gang wars to get even more dangerous, and my job to be a hell of a lot harder."
"Well, I didn't think it was a good thing, dad. Give me more credit than that."
Morgan just sighs, making sure the weight of the situation isn't lost.
"I'm serious, Marshall. It's great that we have these abilities because they help us fight off any Flyers, or Hunters, or Spitters, or whatever kind of giant lizards come around here. The thing is, there's still rules on those of us that have them because we can't just go shooting them off all over the place no matter how many of us there may be now. There's brawls and damage that gets done as it is, so can you imagine how much more out of control everything will get if those numbers more than double?"
"I know, but what can I do about this, though?"
He looks back towards his father as he offers up his assistance. The older Adlem takes a moment to think and taps his fingers on the table. Before Morgan can speak though, something catches their attention.
The sound of a less than pleased horse whinney-ing outside fills Marshall's ears as he whips his head back over his shoulder and grabs his hat, before taking off out the door.
"Oh crap, Linden! I'll be right, back pops!"
"Hey, come on now, boy. Don't be like that, I promise I'll bring you back home when I'm done, okay?"
Sprinting out the door and towards the post he'd tied Linden up to, Marshall spots his horse finish rearing and drop back down onto all fours. A figure looks to be less than successful in taming him in spite of their frantic attempts at calming him by waving their arms up and down. For a second, the way his horse turned his head away from the figure almost looked as if he was pouting, and the person's shoulders slumped in a show of defeat as Marshall approaches.
"Hey! What are you doing?!"
Shocked at being caught in the act, the figure turns around, to face him as he realizes they're actually a girl instead of a guy that he was prepared to knock out. She's frustrated and surprised at seeing him show up so suddenly, and her large brimmed reddish brown hat partially covered one of her eyes, but Marshall feels more confused on why she was trying to take Linden then concerned for his own safety. Her uncovered eye shows a hint of mischief underneath her shock as she removes her brown gloved hands from around Linden's reins. She pats down her long, tan coat and fixes the strap of a long rifle that hangs over her back. What appears to be a lightly coloured dress underneath blows slightly thanks to a gentle breeze. As her long red hair hangs down behind her, she scrunches her face towards him.
"I'm trying to catch up to a thief. What are you doing running out here yelling at a lady like that?"
Patting down his brimmed hat, he steps over to her and turns towards Linden, who seems to have settled down just a little bit in spite of stamping his back right hoof.
"I came running out because my horse started going all crazy. Then I came out here and saw you trying to take off with my horse, missy. I can't just let you do that."
"Oh come on, I was going to bring him back after I took care of everything! I was even going to leave some money for you too."
She frantically works to calm Marshall down while she waves her hands back and forth to keep him at bay as if the act would somehow get her off free if he decided to drag her into the Sheriff's office behind them for questioning. His father likely wouldn't have given her more than a fine and a stern lecture, but Marshall kind of finds that entire scenario to be pretty funny.
"Look, I want to believe you, but if you're trying to go after the guy who stole from the labs, he jumped on a train earlier today and took off. My old man's the Sheriff, so you probably should've just asked him. Do you have something against the police, miss...?"
"Elmen" The red-haired girl responds, peeking out from under the large brim of her hat. "But that's Vanessa Elmen to you."
He turns towards Linden, puzzled by the sudden agitated tone of voice Vanessa had responded to his question with. The only response Marshall got however, was the sight of his four-legged companion shaking his head in an attempt to deter the flies that were buzzing around his head from trying to land on him. Realizing that somehow Linden had switched over to actually finding Marshall's situation funny, he droops his head and sags his shoulders, as his hat lowers with it.
Why was he getting the cold shoulder like he was suddenly the bad guy here?
"Okay, okay, Vanessa, look. Like I said, there's already Officers looking for him and trying to work out where he might be going off to." He sticks a hand in his pocket and makes eye contact with her as he takes another step in her direction. "I can't just give you all the information, but if whatever it was is actually that important that you need to -!"
"I don't know anything about what, happened with the lab!" Vanessa snaps back in response, before catching herself from having a larger outburst. "Some creep stole some jewels that belonged to my grandmother, so I've gotta get them back before they decide to sell them for a quick buck."
Marshall's head reels back momentarily as she desperately explains her predicament to him. While he'd certainly never experienced the panic of losing anything that could be considered close to some worldly possession or family heirloom, he still can't help but find himself sympathizing with her.
Even so, surely she couldn't have thought that she would've been able to get the jewels back more easily on her own instead of actually getting professional help. Plus, he was just a tiny bit on the tempted side to point out the irony to Vanessa of stealing somebody else's horse to get back stolen goods.
"Easy there. I understand that they're important to you, but you've gotta take it easy there, kiddo. You don't have to try and do this alone.
No sooner than the words had left his mouth did Vanessa tense up and shoot a sharp glare in his direction as she takes another step in his direction, putting him at arm's length from her.
"...What did you say?"
"Uh, I only said you don't have to look by yourself?"
She shakes her head, as she rolls her eyes. A confused Marshall can only try and deduce what she was making a fuss over now, and why her mood had swung like a pendulum from one of desperation to one of short tempered frustration at his apparent obliviousness. This same confusion lingers further as Vanessa raises her palm towards his face and starts mumbling to herself.
"...Flare Maiden...shut this oblivious idiot up..."
"Wait, what are you...?"
The realization hits him hard and fast as he makes out what she's saying. Almost as hard as what follows.
The flame flies towards him, and nearly instantaneously envelopes his hat, setting it ablaze. As the heat covers his head, he flings the still burning hat onto the ground and frantically pats his hair down in a panicked and desperate attempt to avoid getting singed. Taken aback and just a tad on the outraged side, Marshall looks up at her, his eyes wide as Vanessa smirks smugly as her visible eye twitches at him.
"What was that for?! He exclaims, in confusion, as she slowly lowers her hand. "I didn't even do anything and you just torched my best hat!"
Her response is simply to cross her arms and kick one of her leather boots into the dirt as Marshall silently swears he catches her pouting.
"Don't call me 'kiddo'." She finally answers, seemingly set off by the innocent remark. "I'm 18, alright? I'm a grown woman!"
"A grown woman just randomly loses her temper and sets people on fire?"
Marshall quietly keeps those thoughts to himself as he tries to think of what even to say to her after what he considered to be just a little bit of an overreaction. Turning to Linden as if the horse was going to be able to offer up something in the way of suggestions or help, he just stares on in disbelief and runs a hand through his hair, marvelling at the miracle of it not becoming singed from her lashing out at him.
"Okay, okay! I'm sorry! I didn't know it was that big of a deal! Look, my name's Marshall, so can you try to calm down?"
Exhaling, Vanessa rolls her eyes as her auburn hair blows to the side and she bites her lip. A concerned sensation that he might not be done getting roasted crosses over Marshall when she cracks her knuckles and her eyes meet his.
"Fine, I'm calm, see? I've still gotta go chase down the thief though, and we're burning daylight standing out here, so unless you've got another idea on how I can get a ride..."
"Oh for crying out loud..."
As he understands what she's hinting at, Marshall's shoulders drop as his hands sag down to his side. If he'd known that talking with his old man was going to lead to him getting set on fire and guilt tripped by some testy redhead that thought she was clever, he'd have bet his pistol against them. Still, the truth was that he had told her she didn't have to go it alone, so perhaps he brought the whole thing on himself after all. Even so, Marshall can't help but feel like some kind of sap in this entire situation as he concedes to Vanessa's request.
"All right, I'll let you get a ride to the next town with Linden and I. And don't you worry about those lizards out there, m'lady. We can take of ourselves."
Chapter Three: Departing Through the Dust