|Ashur|| Word travels faster than wind 'round these parts. Folks hear tell that those scientists up in Acme had a breakthrough with the FEV brought back from Mexico. An answer to everyone's woes with that mutant Horde.
"They're making bullets that melt the mutants," swears an old man with gnarled hands.
"It's a vaccine, you take it and they can't turn you," insists a local farmgirl.
Her brother, a drunk lingering near by, snorts. "They're mutants, Sally, not werewolves! They don't turn you!"
"Then how do you explain that Legion fella, huh? Is he a werewolf?"
The prior night had cool winds, a bright moon, and a flurry of rain. It's swelled the waters of Bitter Lake, renewed the vigor of the grass and flowers, and dropped the local temperature a few degrees. The sun's barely crested the horizon this early, but plenty of locals work at the crack of dawn-- and some, like the healed Ashur, use this time to exercise. The Legionnaire had worked up a hell of a sweat in a morning run, and now he's cooling off in the waters, treading some ways off the shore by an old road that borders the lake. There's a bundle, wrapped like swaddling clothes, on the shore, with a power fist and some strange, bedsheet-like garment of wool.
|Maria||Setting out as the sun peeked over the horizon, Maria hugged the river to Bitter Lake, eschewing the road in favor of traveling along the grass and flowers. Idly picking the most vibrant ones as she walked, flowers began to form a colorful bundle that poked out of her backpack. One hand rest on her weapon, a pistol tucked in her waistband, with the other tucked deep in her sweater, staving off the heat. Keeping her focus ahead, she almost didn't notice the small bundle ahead of her as she marched on. That is, until the steel toe of her boot knocked itself against the power fist, giving her pause. She snapped out of her tunnel vision for a moment, stopping at the small collection of items. She gave a weary glance around before slowly ducking down, reaching down to take a closer look at the bundle of wool and fist. Apparently she hadn't noticed anybody to be worried about just yet.|
|Ashur|| All of the items are wrapped in an enormous, hooded white cloak. It's far too large for a reasonable person; even a very tall man would find it pooling on the ground and dragging behind him. Indeed, as Maria looks closer at it, she can see the bottom of it, dirtied and grass stained.
As for the power fist? It's of fine make, large in size, fitting the owner of that cloak. The mechanical glove is darkly colored and has light armoring near the knuckles, no doubt to protect from any accidental scraping when the heavy piston-powered ram triggers. The white paint on the machinery could use a new coat.
Other than that, there are a few knick-knacks if she snoops. A wool toga-- though most wouldn't recognize that's what it is-- that lingers inside the cloak, a Santa hat from the Christmas celebrations in town, and.. well, look at that. Three of those precious Quantum Bottlecaps! Each one worth a small fortune in these parts.
Off in the distance, Ashur dives. The braids of his hair spread out around him as he descends, powerful arms thrusting in front of him and then fanning out as he kicks to propel him down. A few fish scatter in the water around him, and when he surfaces, it's beneath a handful of floating birds that caw and flutter their wings and take off noisily back into the air, thick now with the scent of flowers.
The man's staring at this person snooping through his things.
|Maria||Maria doesn't seem to take anything immediately, though she does seem to debate about taking the Quantum Bottlecaps for a time, her hand hovering uncomfortably near it. She peeks up from the bundle after a moment of staring, giving her surroundings a once-over before reaching down to take the bottle caps. She picks up the first one before being given pause to stop- the shrieking of birds, followed by the sound of someone emerging from the river near her. Clearly startled by the birds, she quickly drops the bottle caps back into the bundle, standing and turning away from it. She places one hand on the grip of her pistol, the other snaking back into her sweater, trying to conceal their thieving nature.
Standing there for a moment, Maria wears a dumbfounded expression on her face. This man is the biggest brute she's ever seen! Tracing a step backwards, she quickly backs away from the shore. "I-," she stops, the words caught in her throat for a moment, "I'm sorry. I thought that someone had abandoned their things here." She motions to the bundle, "I didn't know, er..."
|Ashur|| "Put back whatever you took, thief," the behemoth commands, paddling closer to the lake's shore. Once his feet touch silt and weed, he accelerates, bare toes digging into the detritus. A few steps and the fullness of him is seen, the gentle ripples of his passage becoming a great and sudden rush of water when he lifts out of it. His hair is long and dark and slick in the morning light, hanging down to his mid-back in coiled braids, his skin a burnished bronze, eyes livid amber-- and the sheer size of him, as he stomps forward, bullish and arrogant, is undeniable. Droplets of sweat and lakewater pour down him together.
The man's nude, unarmed-- she knows that, his power fist is by her foot. Yet there isn't a trace of fear to be found. Perhaps he's invincible, immortal, given his skin's as smooth as a baby's bottom, without a single sign of injury ever in his life.
"And take your hand off the gun."
|Maria||A free hand snakes out of her sweater, held up in the air and visible. "I didn't take anything," she says meekly, "and I'm not a thief! I only touched your things because I thought they were abandoned." Maria grimaces, her statement only half-true. She might have taken the bottle caps if she hadn't been caught regardless whether or not their owner was coming back for them. Regardless, her grip tightens around her pistol, but she doesn't dare to draw it. Her hands shake slightly, light tremors of fear running through her body. If she shot him, would it even stop him? It certainly didn't look like it.
"No," she starts, uncertainty in her voice, "I'll keep my hand on my pistol as long as I like." As long as she kept hold of her weapon, she remained in control of the situation- at least, that's what she told herself. The truth wasn't so clear. "Check your things," she motions with her free hand, "You'll find that nothing's missing." She backs up further, putting distance between herself and the brute's bundle.
|Ashur|| The tall grass parts around him as fluidly as the water; every thunderous step he takes makes the ground tremble. His feet have a fine layer of sand and muck on them, one he wipes off as he steps, pawing the ground like a wild animal. And like an animal, he gives his head a vigorous shake, his whole body excited with motion, sending ten thousand thousand beads of moisture every which way. When he settles, baking in the sun and the light breeze, he stares down at Maria, examining her revealed hand.
"Nn," he comments, more growl than dialogue. The bull stomp-stomps further and squats down, a shameless Adonis, the bristles of his porcupine beard glimmering wetly and dripping down his chest. He ruffles through his supplies, unfolding the edge of the cloak, tugging it. All seems fine.
"Can't be too careful. The law is lax in these parts; vandals abound." He pulls out the woolen sheet and flicks it, letting it billow out like a flag, and idly begins to wrap it around himself.
"I'm not going to hurt you, girl. Stop looking so afraid."
|Maria||Maria loosens her grip on her pistol slightly, stepping backward to avoid the sudden shower of water drops from Ashur. Like a dog shaking off water. She looks away from his naked form as he dresses himself, avoiding a certain Catholic shame for staring. The tremors cease eventaully, the adrenaline of the situation wearing off as its clear that she won't have to fire her weapon.
"Surely you can forgive me for being intimidated. You know, it's not every day that you meet someone who's eight feel tall!" she comments, trying to lighten up the situation. "I mean, if I had saw someone like you digging around in my things, I probably would have shot first and asked questions later." She eventually looks back, glancing at the power fist. "Though, I guess you weren't in much of a position to do something like that."
"I don't think that we got off on the best foot here. I'm Maria," she says, putting on a friendly look. "What can I call you?"
|Ashur|| Being reared in Legion camps beats the shame and modesty out of you quick; Ashur's been nude around men and women all his life. The giant doesn't bat an eye as he works-- a fold here, a wrap there, fasten the knot near the back of the shoulder, and voila: that sprawling figure is fit for polite society. Much of him is still exposed, of course; the shoulders, most of his right breast, the side of his torso. It's an odd style of dress unknown to most of the wasteland. Yet it's nevertheless regal, in an austere way, how it emphasizes the muscle, draws the eye along the flesh, hangs in such thick and heavy folds.
"You stand before Ashur," he tells her, folding his right arm behind his back. The left, swaddled by the wool, hangs along his midsection. "Champion of Rome." His voice booms, and he stares with unusual intensity-- where others might blink and look away, he rarely breaks eye contact. His eyes are naked challenge.
"You are of El Dorado, aren't you?"
|Maria||While most of the Wastes abandoned a puritanical Catholic morality hundreds of years ago, those values were clearly deeply ingrained in Maria's upbringing. The crucifix on her neck, the way that she deftly avoids lingering too long on exposed body. She, herself, was not familiar with the style of the Legion, or with their terms, but she did recognize one word- Rome. There is something vaguely recalled, and then a troubled look. Could she be dealing with one of the infamous Caesar's Legion?
She had never experienced any brutality first-hand, living comfortably on the frontier of the Republic, but she did know of their troubling legacy- a defeated legacy. Maria's grip tightened slightly on her pistol. "No- well, I'm not of them, you could say. I'm from far south of El Dorado, from the Sonora Wastes. But, I live and work in El Dorado. I've only just arrived." She gives Ashur a sideways glance.
"What does that mean? Champion of Rome?"
|Ashur|| "It means I am the greatest warrior of New Rome," the man responds, right arm lifting and flexing, the hand curling into a tight fist before him. "The white cloak you see there marks me as part of its military-- a military drawn from the fiercest soldiers the world has ever known, Caesar's Legion!" He pronounces it the traditional Legion way, Kai-sahr. "It is a settlement to the west, made by those who rejected the Legion's control when Caesar died."
The bull steps forward and gestures with sweeping flourish. "It means there is none who can challenge me. Tell me, Maria: what is it you do in El Dorado? Militia, judging by those clothes."
|Maria||Maria tightens her grip on her pistol, a troubled expression now apparently obvious on her face. There's clear distaste at the mention of Caesar's Legion. It's an reflexive distaste, one drilled into her from the years of living under the Bear. She had to resist a quip or jab, playing out the scenario in her head. If Caesar was so great, why was he defeated? If she said that, would she get a power fist through her skull? There's a clear debate in her head, but eventually she drops the topic.
"You're correct, I do work with the Militia. They've given me a place to stay and food to eat. I've only just arrived in these parts. I work as a doctor for them, patching up their wounded." She looks over his toga for a moment, "The Legion... you were apart of it? That barbarian band?" Malice drips from her words, unable to contain itself.
|Ashur|| "Another medicus," Ashur says, and now he breaks eye contact to look the girl from head to toe in blunt leer. "Good. Dorado is always in need of more; the locals lack discipline, but have an abundance of spirit. It hurts them." Once more his arm drops and folds behind his back, knuckles aligned with his spine. When his eyes slide back up her, as heavy and invasive as his hands, they lock on to the twist in her expression that makes clear her distaste-- that manifest hate that fills voice and eye.
"I served the Legion," he acknowledges. "I became a man beneath the bull." The golden bull, of course, being the Legion's symbol. "And never were we barbarians. We brought order, and the rule of law; structure to lands misled by degenerates."
|Maria||A distant memory of Brawley floats through her head, the city only three days walk from Nipton, razed to the ground. She hadn't even seen it, but she had heard of it. It was the talk of the town, and when a battalion of Republic soldiers rolled through Brawley on their way from the Mojave to respond in kind, the terror of the Legion only grew in the hearts of the citizens. And when some of her friends left with the battalion, it turned into a kind of hate. "I know what you brought to those lands. I know what happened to those degenerates."
She spit on the ground, "To me, the people of the Legion are nothing like men. They're animals. Less than animals." In her mind, she tried to reel herself back in. Perhaps she let it go a bit far. Maybe berating this brute about it wasn't such a good idea. Perhaps he'd take her for a degenerate and put her up on a cross like the people of Nipton.
|Ashur|| "We brought peace," the man responds. If her provocations arouse, it is not shown; the beastly man's temperament is either patient or subdued in wrath. "A peace that lets merchant travel without guard; a peace that lets farmer walk from town to town with ne'er a bandit to spook him. When the Legion marched, our spears were lightning and our boots the thunder; we were the storm that scattered beast and man!"
He takes another step forward. A long, deliberate step to invade her personal space. He looms, so close, and his size seems all the more impressive for it-- that stout back, the arms that bulge like her torso, laced with vein. This close, even the individual hairs that cover his chest and stomach like a bear's can be distinguished. His head tilts low, eyes lifted beneath his brow, and he glares. His mouth is a sneer full of teeth.
"You spit on the Pax Romana, but the world is not kind. Crime and immorality do not stop in the face of good intentions. Evil only dies on the cross."
|Maria||She's shaking again. The adrenaline of the situation overcomes her. First, her grip tightens on her pistol. Then, whe he steps forward, her pistol comes out of her belt, held firmly in two hands. "A lot of good that did," she said, her angry words diluted with fear. "The greatest army in the world defeated by the Republic."
Tracing out a step backward, she tries to keep her distance away from Ashur, pistol in hand. "Step away from me. I've heard stories about how you Legionaries deal with bullets, and I assure you that I'm not so afraid as to not defend myself."
|Ashur||"One battle lost," Ashur responds, "to an empire far older; merely a setback, had Caesar not died. For all its age and power, the Bear nearly broke." The corner of his mouth twists upward, brow furrowed, nostrils flared. He snorts. "You nearly rob me, you insult me, and now you threaten me? Feisty, little Maria."
He smacks his hand against his chest. "Ever since they healed the Horde's taint, my scars have been gone. Test me, girl, and see if you'll be the first to mark me again. But if you miss the heart, cunt.."
And his hand taps again at his chest, where she needs to aim.
"You will beg for death."
|Maria||Maria shakes her head, drawing backwards again. Her pistol remains steady, though her aim marred by the tremors in her hands. "I'm sure that many have begged you for death before you-," she pauses. It would be unwise to accuse him of murder, but there was no doubt in Maria's mind that he may have been responsible for something as heinous. After all, he was a Legionary.
"I should kill you. Perhaps you deserve it, but I told you, I'm not afraid to defend myself. I am not, however, a murderer. Not like Caesar, or like those vile mutants."
Another step, another bad memory. The Horde. There was a contradiction in her mind: her parents were alive, and the Horde were responsible for their death simultaneously. While she'd never believe that her parents were dead, the Horde bore the responsibility for their blood all the same.
"The Horde's taint...?" she questions quietly, her voice a mutter, "Perhaps your time around those freaks has warped your mind. You seem about as unhinged as one."
|Ashur|| Ashur steps forward again. He smolders when he stares-- golden skin flush, face an animated mask of rage! But then.. it fades, evaporates as surely as the water beneath the sun. There's a puff of air from his nose, a little throw of his head, and the bull turns away.
"Pathetic," he condemns, reaching down for his cloak. He tugs it and the gathered items spill into the tall grasses, hidden amongst the reeds and stalks. He draws the cloak about his shoulders and clasps it. As tall as he is, the cloak was made for a bigger man-- a few feet of fabric hangs on the ground, dragging like some royal, kingly cape of old. It makes for a distinct visual, majestic, in a way, dramatizing his size.. but it can't be very practical.
"If you ever can say you should kill someone, Maria, kill them. Not all are as sweet on a pretty face as I am."
He pays her no attention as he gathers his supplies, including the power fist. He's clearly dismissed her as a threat. The disappointment in his voice is clear-- disappointment tinged with pity and disdain. He's not even looking at her as he talks.
"And the next man you threaten might call your bluff. Steady your wrist with the other hand, and if you can't keep the tremble from your voice, don't speak at all."
|Maria||Maria lowers her pistol slightly, holding it in both hands. The shaking subsides again, the adrenaline running its course through her body. She takes another step back, keeping her distance. Murderous thoughts swirl around her head, thoughts that she would never act on. Perhaps she was too cowardly to kill a man. "I'm not bluffing," she said. "Do you think that I would have hesitated to defend myself if you had attacked me? I wouldn't have. Rest assured of that."
There's a certain subtle rage in her voice. She shouldn't be the one who is being pitied, she should take pity on him! This soldier of a defeated army. "Perhaps where you come from, it would be acceptable to kill someone for merely stepping towards you. It's much different in the civilized world. Much, much different."
She searches his personage, trying to think of something to jab at herself. She settles on the cape- some sizes too large for this brute. "And perhaps you should cut your cape down, 'Champion of Rome,' it would be embarrassing for you if you tripped on it."
|Ashur|| Ashur is silent as he tucks the Quantum Caps away in a pocket sewn inside his cloak. This time, when Maria steps back, he does not close the distance-- no, he dusts off his hands, pivots on a heel, and the suddenness of the motion pulls his cloak up and swirls it about his figure with an audible whip, the tail of it cleaving the air in a crescent pattern before it falls. He slides his hand within the mechanical glove of his power fist, flexing the fingers with the creak of leather.
"Civilized," he muses absently. Another snort. "Such bluster; such womanly weakness. You'd be better off a slave. You'll find a collar lighter burden than a gun."
With all his possessions gathered, Ashur begins to walk away.
|Maria||Maria slowly lowers her weapon completely, flicking its safety back on. In truth, she hadn't even chambered a round to shoot him with. She pressed her pistol back into her belt, the grip of it visible from her waist. She slides her sweater over it, watching as he steps away. Perhaps she would be enraged by his last words if they weren't so alien to him. The notion of slavery was all-together unconscionable to her, but to others, it was an institution. Something she couldn't even comprehend.
It was hard for her to even think of a witty quip as he walked away. Instead, she remained completely silent, eventually resolving to make her own way in the opposite direction.