The Legend of Marshal Benjamin Ryans


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Scene Title The Legend of Marshal Benjamin Ryans
Synopsis The man, the myth, the Marshal.
Date November 30, 2010

The Borderlands - In Dreams

He can remember a time before. Before everything started turning to glass and dust, back when if there wasn't order there was something like justice, however heavy handed in its institution. Men are bound by mortal limits, and they cannot know Good, only try their best to discern its shape. And then do what is necessary. Marshal Benjamin Ryans has served the Borderlands for years upon years, and while he may have made mistakes, they were the mistakes of a man. And of the sin of being a man, he must plead guilty, or be a liar.

The people he is hunting could not plead so. They are less than men, half-made creatures with masks for faces and the hearts of coyotes. Bandits and road agents Ryans has seen, he's dealt with. Brutes, wicked, some of them, to the core, but men - subjects of the Land of All. And while the dusty, shifting grasp of Nothing has always given those who live in the Borders ill feelings, and - with total arbitrariness - reaches out from time to time and swallow whole a woman, a wagon, a caravan, a town, these tragedies were acts of nature, beyond his power to rectify or regulate.

But these jackals pretending at humanity are from elsewhere, the jagged, shattered glass lands of Might Be, realm of the aborted, the half made, the mine forgotten but not yet detonated. But Ryans cannot act surprised. The slow ghosting of his once thriving border has been a expression of this very process, the spread of Might Be, crushing What Really Is between itself and the sandy expanse of Nothing.

But it's not out of love for the land he's now acting. As his dark mare bears him slowly down the dusty road, into the dustier hamlet of Hartsend, he has time to reflect on the truly personal nature of this foray. His revolver loaded, hanging low on his leg in its holster, his blade tucked in his boot, just in case, his hat tipped to keep out the glare of the sun - low in the sky for the betweentimes - Marshal Ryans is ready to do what is necessary, and more still, for the Good that is at stake is the unqualified Good of his youngest daughter. She is gone. And if the makeshift men of Might Be have her… then they had best hope none of their wickedness, however partial, has been visited upon her.

The saloon, weakly beating and shriveled heart in a dying town, lies ahead, hitching posts listing at crazy angles outside, the ground beneath them becoming unfirm. Who knows how long this place will even still be here? In the shade of the porch is a large, broad shouldered figure with a wide brimmed hat. That must be him. The Marshal's contact. Hopefully trustworthy, though nowadays, Nothing was the only thing that could be taken for granted.

The lazy gate of the mare is almost mesmerizing in it's rhythm, the clip and drag loud in the Benjamin's ears, even with the rattling of tack and the grating rumble of a passing wagon. His canvas duster sits heavily over shoulder rounded in a slight slump and is pale with road dirt. Dusty from his travels through dead lands. Even the white cowboy hat — cause the good guys always wear white — is more tan with the fine layer of dust that has been kicked up by his dark mare.

As the slow pace of his trusty stead brings him up to the figure, the old man's eyes narrow under the brim of his hat, at the figure on the porch.

And in this place, he is old. His hair nearly white where is shows under his hat, even the stubble of his unshaven chin casts a white tint to his sun browned skin. His face is lined with the harshness of the years. He is a man who has lived longer then he should, even despite his risks, enduring year after year, even as others fall at his feet.

"You the one I been told about?" The words are rough, growled with a rumble by that old man. He shows no trust for this stranger. The dark mare shies to one side, head tossing in her discomfort at the tension of her rider, but the Marshal pays it no mind nor does he make an attempt to dismount. Not yet.

Let the angels have pure white. Men take what tarnished equivalent they can find. Born pure, maybe, after baptism at least. But then darkened by the world and all its many dusts and pollutions of the soul. If only such grime were visible at a glance. Men's hearts are hidden too deep in their chests to be sure.

And with such a deep chest as this man, a towering, formidable example of a person, the Marshal has no certainty as to loyalty or dependability. Politeness, at least, as the informant tips his hat in respectful greeting. Massive shoulders draped in a poncho of considerable size and motheaten age, he has a rifle slung to his back, a repeater with some rang, and with fists like those, getting up close to him might also be a bad call. Though Ryans does have his knife, and age has slowed him only so much.

"Marshal," the informant says, his accent tinged with foreignness of uncertain quality. No one is born in the Borders. It is a land of emigrates and exiles, men become marginalia. "I am he. You come just in time. The reavers from the unfinished lands have put on pretty faces to drink and play cards, but they will ride out soon, back to wherever they came from."

His head moves a little, turning towards the swinging doors of the saloon and the sound of music and revelry within. As always, the Marshal's face is unreadable, even as the lines trailing from the corns of his eyes deepen as he considers the mans words. Again the mare shies, stepping sideways with head bowed, mouth frothing as she works the bit.

Is she echoing her riders anxiety? It's hard to tell.

"I reckon then there is no time to waste here jawin'." His blue eyes shift to his informant again, that gaze seemingly hollow. Whether if by the lack of emotion or soul, hidden deep within his subconscious.

It's with a creaks of leather that Ryans show that while he looks aged, he is still an agile man. Swinging off the nervous dark mare, booted feet land with a heavy thump and a puff of dust. Tying the mare to one of the cockeyed posts, Benjamin turns his attention to the saloon. "What can you tell me of these false men?"

The gaptoothed yammer of an out-of-tune piano wafts out of the saloon's front doors as the informant draws off his hat and wipes his brow. He's shaved bald - not a bad idea as long as you keep a hat on to protect your scalp from the sun - with a heavy forehead and deep set blue eyes. Craggy and almost as inscrutable as the near-legendary Marshal, at least on first glance, he doesn't seem shady at least.

"I don't call them agents of the unfinished," the informant says, moving very slowly and deliberately towards the saloon's entrance - once through those doors, it will be time for full alert, ready to draw iron in a split second, "because I do not believe the unfinished has an agenda. But they are wide ranging, hungry and brutal, and if they have your daughter, we must find her at once. Do you have a plan, Marshal? We must find some way to get to their hideout, if that's where the girl is being held."

There is a snap of his duster as he settles it in place, not tying it shut, leaving it loose so that he can get to that faithful gun. After a moment thought, a hand reaches back to brush the dense fabric of his jacket behind the six shooter on his hip. Best to be prepared.

Fingers tap under the brim, tipping the hat up just a little. "I figure try a little reason and iff'en that don't work well…" The old cowboy doesn't finish that, there is no real reason too. His heavy handed ways are not unknown. The Marshal isn't one to take no for an answer.

The weight of his step on the stairs leading up to the saloon, makes the old worn wood creak in protest. Benjamin hangs back, motioning to those double swinging doors letting the big man step through ahead of him, not trusting this stranger at his back. The words of a fair lady — while he can't remember them clearly — were a caution about trusting this informant.

There is a moment, perhaps tense, in which the informant stands, awaiting Ryan's forward step. Perhaps he expects the Marshal to take point, due to his reputation. Perhaps he doesn't want to show his back to the man. But Ryans hasn't lived this long by playing the brave fool, reputation or no, and when it becomes clear that Ryans isn't waiting for him to hold the door, the big man in the poncho shifts his weight, turning and pushing through the saloon's entrance.

Inside the music gains a fullness of sound that in no way improves its palatability to the ear. Drunkenness is really a requirement for tolerance of the miserable plinking, tapped out by a man in a lopsided top hat, which may be precise this dusty whiskey hole's angle. Sullen whores watch with dull eyed anticipation as the men at the bar knock back rounds in uneven clusters.

Men, yes, but strange. Blurry at the edges, with faces that never seem quite in focus, and grotesque masks hanging around their necks. Fashioned from bones and leather, the masks resemble leering wolf faces and cruel vulture's beaks. One, belonging to a brute who is a match even for the informant in size, has a helmet shaped out of a scavenged bull's head, complete with curving horns, its meat rotted, its skin dry and drawn, its teeth visible. It rests on the bar next to the bottle he drinks from directly.

The unfinished men, all dressed in ragged hodgepodge, are armed to the man, and each man nearly to the teeth. But while they have blades and clubs aplenty, none of them seem to have real iron. Which puts Ryans and his hired man at the advantage, so long as they retain their distance.

Scavengers the whole ugly lot of them, it has Ryans lip twitching into brief and fleeting look of disgust as he steps in behind the large man. Taking up a spot along side the informant thumbs hooking into his belt line to appear casual, but keeping hands near his weapons should things go down hill. He might have followed the poncho wearing man in, but he isn't going to keep using him as a shield.

Standing there, alert eyes are sharp and searching, drawing over those dangerous men. He doesn't speak at first, focusing on the big man with the bull helmet.

His heavy footsteps are drowned out by the tinny clink of the piano as he approaches the bar. An arm rests on he the bar top, making him lean to one side, but his gun hand continues to rest there at his hip. Close just in case. "Word around these here parts is that y'all might know where I might find a pretty young redhead. A tall lady a drift and lost." He focuses his attention on the bull of a man, "Know anything of the sort?"

Eyes like smeared pencil lead turn towards Ryans, watching him with a blankness that is somehow hungry, the way a pit is hungry in its emptiness. Seconds pass as they just stare at him, utterly wordless and deprived of animation, stalk still, like a clockwork thing that has run down.

And then a lean one with a pinched wolf's mask's head twitches to one side, like a ragdoll being shaken just once, and its no longer lead in his eyes, but gleaming black coal. Sharp, reflective, not mutely receiving. When he speaks, the sound is like wood with dry rot creaking under rats' feet. "Mayhaps we do, fffriend," and though his mask is away from his gash of the mouth, it's the mask that's speaking, sound leaking from it as it shudders, "mayhaps we jussst have plaaans. What do you thinnnk?" this last is said to his fellows, his head turing to face them, "do we have plaaans for that rooosy bit of tumbleweed?

The question draws no answer, but instead a horrible chorus of snickers and chuckles, wheezing like consumption patients. When the wolf's masked man turns back to Ryans, his coal lump eyes burn orange, as if they were just set alight. "Sooounds like we dooo, hmmm?"

Meat of his palm presses against the edge of the bar, pushing himself upright as he listens to the wolf faced puppet, paying attention to what he has to say. "Plans?" A brow twitches upright with a sort of curiosity, feigning interest. Stepping away from the bar, he glances at informant with a look. "They have plans." There is smallest hint of sarcasm there.

With a flare of his duster, he turns back to the group, watching them for a moment. "Don't know what sort of plans a lot like y'all could have to an innocent woman." Blue eyes narrow to slits, crows feet standing in sharp contrast on weather skin. "I'm all ears iff'n y'all be wantin' to say somethin'."

Slowly his steps take him in a slowly lazy circle around the group. "See… that pretty young thin' just happens to be kin." His dusty white hat dips a little at them, a finger coming up to tilt that hat back just a little on his head . "And I'm mighty determined that she get back where she belongs…." He almost says 'gentlemen', but what is in front of him is not gentle or even really men… at least true men. "So… your cooperation in the matter would be helpful."

In return, the informant gives Ryans the smallest hint of a smile. Arid as the land that surrounds them, but still there. A man who keeps his sense of humor keeps his head. One can see how Ryans has made it this far, for all the danger he's been in.

And right now, he's in danger. His movement, the ripple of his duster in his wake, draws dark gazes to the glint of his gun, and all at once their eyes turn to flint, hard and sharp, with the gleam of sparks, as if the gun iron had struck them. The piano stops playing. Every breath is held, by those who draw it. There is the rustle of the working girls on the mezzanine above, soft, like the feathers of doves nesting in a church.

The lean wolf's mask is the first to break the silence. He seems to the talkative one. The leader, even. "Yeees," he says, "we will heeelp. We are just joking before. Would never meddle with the chiiildren of a lawman." The strange timbre of the half-man's voice makes it impossible to tell if he is being sincere or sarcastic. "We know you have seeerved this land and weee respect that. Don't we? Sooo many yeeears of service have eaaarned your family's saaafety, yes?"

Fourty years he's lived such a life, spread over the experiences of his life time, starting when he started to get fuzz on his chin and he took up the iron in defense of the land. It's those years that have him not believing for a second that they will help, his gaze flickering to the big man that was his informant. Judging reaction before he lays the full weight of his gaze on the blurry men.

"Tell me what you know," the Marshal demands with a voice harsh with barely contained emotions, even if he tries to keep a relaxed appearance. Fingers that rest near his gun twitch a bit in anticipation, possibly sensing the danger he is in or just in frustration at his in ability to read these… things.

"Tell? Never tell. Always show!" the chatty one says, prompting another series of foul chuckles from his cohort. The big one even drums his hand against the top of his helmet, he's so amused. Perhaps their sense of humor is as partial and unfinished as the rest of them. All dismembered punch lines and floating set-ups.

The lean wolf's mask windmills an arm towards the door. "We ride!" he declares, and begins to sidle out of the door, a horrible, syphilitic shudder to his motions, "the lawman, he can keep up, can't he?" That was definitely a taunt, a jibe pointed at Ryans. The rest of the gang start drawing on their masks and moving in an unwholesome caravan after their, at this point literal, leader. The bull's head settles over the shoulders of the big man, giving him the appearance of a long dead minotaur, risen.

The informant moves over to Ryan's side, tipping over to murmur. "I do not know that these men can be trusted. Not in this instance, nor ever. It is always a gamble with them, a flip of the coin. But if you go, I will come with you."

Noting the eagerness of which they want to show him, brows furrow slightly. Eyes don't leave the retreating form, but his head turns a little towards the informant to show he's listening.

"Nothin' in life is ever certain, Poncho." Named so for what he wears. Ryans hand slides away from his gun, flicking the coat over the weapon as he moves for the door. Boot clunk loudly on the floor, worn wood creaking and whining under him. His hand catches the swinging door as comes back at him, with a slap of flesh against the painted wood. Holding it for a moment as he glances back at the large man. "You play it safe all the time, you ain't gonna get no where."

Taking a step back, he holds the door open for larger man, brows lifting. "Don't mean I'm goin' in blind either. You stay wary of the trap at all times." He gives a sweeping gesture to the outdoors. "Come on. Don't want to lose them."

Poncho considers the Marshal's advice. Hard to believe from a man who's lived as long as him, in a world like this. Maybe he's just got the luck of the devil. Maybe he's getting reckless and wild in his old age. No second childhood, but a second adolescence.

But who can say no to riding out with Marshal Benjamin Ryans?

The big man tips his hat in thanks as he steps out the saloon's front doors. Outside, the makeshift gang are mounting their horses, strange creatures draped in ragged black, like heraldless barding, clinging to emaciated limbs. They look half dead, these poor creatures, their eyes white, rheumy and blankly terrified. Poncho puts fingers to his lips and gives a sharp whistle, and a steef as big as a workhorse, a palomino, clops ponderously into view. He wastes no time, mounting up, taking a moment to check that his rifle is loaded.

The Marshal's trusty dark mare shies with eyes rolling, not at all happy with these beings. Nostrils flare and she snorts head bobbing, but training keeps her from bolting. Ryans tucks his foot in the stirrup and with an agility of a man much younger, swings up on the back of the horse, giving her soft assurances as he settles.

Pulling the reins to bring the horse around to face Poncho again. "'Sides… What lengths would you go to if your own kin, your flesh and blood." Ryans holds his hands up as if holding a tiny babe there. "Someone you held in your hands, tiny and helplee. Watched them grow." He grabs those long lengths of leather up yanking that mare back around, "What would you do, to get them back and make 'em safe, Poncho?"

Benjamin's brows lift a little with that question, before he turns his attention to shambling group. Not waiting for an answer, the Marshal gives his mare a light kick of heels and clucking his tongue to get her to move, follows the puppet men.

No answer is given. What could Poncho say? That he has known only one kinsman, a father, a drunk? That brotherhood was, for him, something murders share to put them at ease around fellow murderers? However ill his conception of family, though, he rides after Ryans, the hoofs of his horse sounding a building thunder as they peel out along the road, out, towards the shattered mirror lands of the unwhole. Their territory.

There is no road out here, only long lines of glass beaten into dust, which boils up around the legs of their horses, leaving tiny cuts and slashes, a painful glimmer building in their coats. From time to time the creatures whinny in pain, but they keep on ahead, loyal as beasts can be. The makeshift gang's mounts seems unbothered by the swirl of biting motes. That or their pain is so great already, that this addition feels like mere grains added to a silo.

"Not faaar!" the wolf's mask calls back, before making a whoop like a coyote. His fellows take up the sound, the awful cries reverberating off of slopes of glass and jagged ridges that reflect the low red light of the sun. They pound down this path, riding over a swell that, when the Marshal an his companion clear it, reveals a hollow whose ground is covered with razor sharp shards, spreading out in a spiderweb shatter. And in the far wall rests the dark, sharktoothed mouth of a cave.

A boney finger extends as the wolf's mask points to the dark gape. "In there. Resssting."

Finally letting his mare stop, Marshal Ryans leans forward to run a comforting hand over the sweat slicked neck of the poor horse, noting the way she trembles under him with her pain. "Shh… shh. That's a good girl." The mare's response is only to stretch her head down and work a frothy bit. One hoof scuffs at the ground, but she doesn't move. It's clear she's not happy to be there, echoing the riders unease.

"There?" He asks out of curiosity, glancing at the most talkative of the creatures. Of course he knows the answer to that.

Resting a hand against the horn of his saddle he leans on it, as he considers the treacherous terrain before him with squinted eye. A part of him wants to go… see how far he can get before the shards overwhelm his horse and then himself. Despite that desire, he sits tight. "Well ain't this just grand." The sarcasm drips off of his words, resettling his dusty hat in frustration. A glance goes to Poncho, brows lifting. "Whatcha think?"

"I do not like it," Poncho states, not the most breathtaking or nuanced of opinions, but one informed very much by good sense. The situation is all wrong. A cave? Out here? Really? This is as much an insult as it is a trap, and it is looking to be both.

And then a sound comes from inside. A soft whimper, swelling into a cry, into weeping. The helpless sobs of a young woman. Sobs, yes, and many, overlapping, of many qualities, many pitches, many ages… but all in the same voice. Hers. A father is never mistaken.

This appears to be a surprise to Poncho, whose hand goes at once for his rifle, touching it guardedly. The rag and bone reavers hiss their displeasure, their own claws reaching for weaponry. Poncho's hand stops. He's not interested in starting a fight, not at least until the Marshal is ready. Not unless they're forced to it.

"She weeeeeeps," the wolf's mask says. His words are echoed in a weird chorus by his fellows - 'she weeps! she weeps! she weeps!'. The great bullheaded bandit gives a horrible gurgle in the low back of his throat, guttural and broken. It takes a moment to realize, he's mocking the sobbing itself.

"Gooo to her," the wolf's mask urges.

The weeping has the mare shying a little, pivoting on an axis as her hide legs swing her around. When Ryans doesn't give her head to leave, she swings up her head and wickers loudly. "Calm down you flea bitten beast." The the horse doesn't like that weeping wail or the guttural sounds of the bandit.

Even as the mare shifts in unease, the Marshal is weighing the options. It doesn't take long.


The word is spoken flatly in answer to the urging, Ryans steely blue gaze moving to the wolf headed creature. His emotionless words are full as cold and edged as the scenery around them. "Y'all want to be helpin' me?" A finger of his own points toward that unfriendly glass maw. "Y'all go in there and bring her out to me." His gaze shifts to each one of those horrendous creatures.

The mood goes from carnival mirth to standoff tension in a half heartbeat. There is the grinding sound of cruel knives drawn from hidden and not-so-hidden places, notched edges and rusty blades tasting the air. This could get ugly faster. Uglier. Faster.

"Thisss," hisses the wolf's mask, voice suddenly sounding like water boiling in a kettle, a rumble beneath a shrill hiss, "is Might Be. Weee do not go all the way. Weee do not reach our destinations. And weee do not do a father's wooork for him!" A vicious looking stiletto is brandished in one skeletal hand. "Go, or weee will cut out your heart and draaaw you out upon the maccchine. A half willing father, half remade in our shape."

The white haired Marshal faces the spoken threat and the display of knives without a flinch or a cringe of fear, only gives the wolf thing a hard look. A hollow eyed look of a man who has done a lot of killin' in his lifetime, but there is also an anger boiling in his veins and it shows in those blue orbs in brief flickers. "And I am thinkin' that cave is a trap," he snaps back at the thing. "That you plan to try to take my heart anyhow." Try is emphasized, cause Ryans will not go down without a fight.

He may be a Marshal, but Ryans is also wanted by the very men he hunts. His demise would mean the freedom to ravage his lands and destroy everything the old man has tried to preserve.

So even with the siren call of his daughter's sobbing pulling at his heart and begging him to impale himself on jagged glass, Ryans is grabbing for his six shooter. He doesn't give them time to think before he is putting bullets into those leering masks of the wolf's companions. the harsh report of his gun bouncing off the reflective surfaces and echoing through the land of Might Be. Each kill will pain him, if only because they may know where he can find his daughter, but he hopes the death of his comrades will loosen the wolf's tongue to where his lost wee one it.

The moment after the Marshal's weapon starts to sing, it changes from solo to duet as Poncho lifts his rifle to shoulder level and begins to fire. The Marshal's speed and skill are long trained and well honed, and his bullets find their mark in disparate targets. Poncho has no such faith in his own accuracy, and so he shoots for just one target: the largest and easiest. One of the bullheaded bandit's horns explodes in a shower of splinters, while teeth are sent flying, some reduced to powder the instant of impact. He topples from his mangled mount, striking the ground with the sound of crushed glass, oily smoke pouring out of his wounds.

That smoke's smell permeates the hollow, mingling with the too-familiar scent of cordite as one after another of the makeshift band falls, their heads snapping back, and then sliding, limp, out of their saddles or slumping forward, limbs hanging like those of a marionette with cut strings. That foul vapor ebbs from the holes that now blossom from the back of their skulls, spiraling, thick and lazy, into the air. When the echo of gunfire fades, there is only the Marshal, Poncho, and the lone leader of the once-posse.

Looks like the tide has turned.

The eyes of the last survivor have gained that dull, pencil lead aspect of the first encounter. Perhaps these things don't feel fear any more fully than anything else. Surprise, shock, awe, fright - they all amount to the same thing. Slowly, slowly, they gain that dark coal sheen, and a tight whisper snakes, sibilant, from the between the mask's bared teeth.

"A hollow shhhell," it hisses, "that'sss all that will reeemain of her. When the lassst waking comesss. When daaaylight touchesss her. Her light goesss out. Shhhe'll be half-there. And ssso will you. Half mad with sssorrow. Half dead with dessspair."

This grave prophecy is followed by a horrific howl, the remaining half-man reaching up to pry the jaws of his mask open and emitting a awful sound. The smoke that hangs overhead begins to spiral downwards, pouring into the gap, causing the lean creature to swell, ragdoll body starting to bulge at the seams.

"Make sense you damn fool of a puppet," snarls out the Marshal short on patience with these strange creatures. The mare shrieks out her fear, rearing back on hind legs as if she'd either strike at the creature or turn to bolt. There is a curse from Ryans as he works to calm the panic creature. He grips the reins, glaring at the creature. "What do you mean a hollow shell? The girl is already a shell, she's lost in these here lands."

He glances at the gaping maw of the cave, brows furrowing, uncertainty warring within him. The horse seems to almost hop that direction, nearly taking off in that direction, if only to be held back by those long lengths of leather. Not allowed to flee, the dark mare can only paw at the ground and shiver.

Ryans glances at Poncho now, looking slightly confused. Suddenly, though a determined look crosses his face and despite the fact the creature is bloating with smoke, he kicks the horse closer. "Tell me what to do. This can't be the only way," words shouted over the horrible sound, gaze turning to that dangerous hollow.

Poncho's answer comes in the form of a rifle's report, an action that thunders well above the volume of mere words. The wolfmask catches a bullet in the throat, smoke billowing out in a gruesome, somehow arterial plume. The howl becomes a gurgle, then a rattle, then a rush, like sand cascading over a cliff's edge. In a slow, clumsy descent the creature's body lists forward in its saddle, then slowly slides off, landing in a limp, shapeless mass of rags.

"These things know nothing," Poncho says, and his voice is suddenly different, accent from no part of this world Ryans knows. Somehow it's familiar, only… it's like a dream he's forgotten. A tongue from some other world. "They are just fears, and echoes. But we are here for a reason. You brought us here. Looking for her."

The big man slides down from his horse, rifle still in hand, advancing on the cave with a purpose. His affect has changed all of a sudden. He's visible purposeful, not simply following the Marshal's lead. "Come. We see."

The Marshal's head ducks away as the mask is blown apart, arm coming up to protect his head from the flying bit. Then his head snapping up to stare at Poncho, eyes wide at the change of accent. "What…?"

There is a blink and then Ryans looks down at himself, hands moving to pull at the edges of his duster and then the horse, which now sits placidly below him. It's like he's finally really seeing everything for the first time. He watches the Russian move forward and not to be left behind the old man swings off the horse and lands.

When he straightens, he moves to pull the dusty white cowboy hat off his head, when it does, his hair darkens from white to brown and the deeps lines of age fall away. Brows furrow and he tosses aside the hat, before moving to follow Poncho. "I brought us here?"

Gone is the southern twang to his voice, the tone flattening as Ben hurries to follow. "You tellin' me that those… things were of my making?"

Into the cave, under the sharkstooth gape of the entrance. The stench of the smoke is still heavy in the air as it hangs, drifting on the torpid currents of the wind. Poncho reaches under his eponymous garment, drawing out a long wooden match and lifting it in one big hand, striking it against an overhanging slash of blackened, almost volcanic glass. The light reverberates like a visual echo as the flame casts it down the passage. Not far away can be seen an opening up. Some sort of chamber or small cavern.

"Yes. And no," Poncho says, rifle held in just one hand now, muzzle hanging low, "you make them, but you imagine them from the outside. This is… part of what you see. But it is how you see it." Dream logic rarely makes a whole lot of real world sense. "I needed to follow you this way. Only if I gather all the threads can you help me find her."

That's when Ryans stops his progress, from behind the Russian there is the click of a hammer being pulled back on the six shooter. "How do I know I can trust an Institute Agent?" Brows lift upwards as he asks the question. "This all could be your way of getting not just my baby, but me in the process."

He's not stupid.

"I am not going to let the Institute have her." Ryans growls out, each word emphasized coldly, echoing off the shards of mirror around them. "Only thing you got going for you right now, and why I don't put a bullet in your skull right now, is that Lynette seems to think you mean Delia no harm." Boots crunch on glass shard, grinding it to fine dust under his heel as he moves closer.

There is no emotion on Ryans face and his voice edged, "So reassure me, Poncho, and you can start by telling me who you really are."

"This gun would not work," 'Poncho' states, blandly, though he does pause and look back at Ryans, "but I am a guest, so I will show you respect." He tips his head in the direction of the chamber ahead. "But please, we must hurry. You may be close to waking, and I do not like to hold you in a dream. Not good manners."

The big man begins to move down the passage again, assuming Ryans' compliance. He does speak, though, voice bouncing off of the uneven surfaces of the cave wall, clearly audible to the dreamer. "I am not told to use her," Poncho explains, "only find her. Before she is lost forever. But when I find her, I must also know where her body is. And she must agree to go with me. And these things, these things you can help me with as well. And both will help her."

Eyes narrow at the Russian, before Benjamin glances down at the gun in his hand with a furrow of brows. Admittedly, while he's dealt with such before, his knowledge of how dreams work is limited. However, the gun is lowered to his side and he resigns himself to following the man. Tucking the six shooter away, he hurries his step a bit to catchup.

"I don't know where her body is." It is a total lie, but how can anyone tell with the neutrality of the ex-agents features. "I did not even know she was in danger until after she was in a coma and had been moved." He's not happy about that fact, but there is nothing he can do about it.

"That is not good," the Russian states, sounding very dour indeed, "I have seen her. Met her twice before I was told to find her again. She is losing her grip. Fading away. If we do not find her soon, all of her, I do not know how much of her will be left to bring back. You understand?"

The big man must duck to step into the cavern beyond. It is round, with a domed ceiling of shattered glass, patterned like a great net that encloses them. Innumerable tiny reflective surfaces hurl the light of the dreamwalker's match back at him, causing him to tug down his wide hat slightly.

"Okay.. hold o—." Ryans starts to ask a question, but stepping into the chamber he's struck silent at the sight of it. He doesn't have a hat anymore, but he boldly looks about the vast chamber, eyes skimming over the multiple versions of himself that look back with just as bland an expression.

"Where are we?" The question bounces back at him many times over, along with the crunch of their boots. His hand lifts to try and shade his eyes from the reflected light of the match.

He glances at Poncho, brows lifting a little on his head. "What is this place?" He turns in a slow circle, side of his boot pushing aside mirror, sending them cascading with a soft tinkling chime, blue eyes urgently searching for any sign of his baby girl.

Slowly at first, one by one, each of the surfaces begins to flicker a change. Rather than showing reflections of the two men inside, they turn color, each reflecting a color of orangy red until the entire room is painted in minute shards the color of blood. Not blood. Hair. As the 'camera' pulls back from the closeup, a young woman in a white dress appears in each tiny frame.

Memories that aren't the Marshal's or even Ryans' own play all around them. Each of them starring the same tiny figure in two stages of her life, adult and child. The adult in various acts of adventure; some in battle, some running, some simply talking to different people. The child is in a mismatched mansion, ripping apart boxes of papers with a 'omg Christmas' expression on her face, then drinking hot chocolate, raising an army of statues, speaking with a woman in black rags, facing a monster of a man who breathes ice… finally facing a creature that horrifies her to darkness.

When each of the scenes finishes, it goes red again, but not hair. This time it is a single feather twirling through the air, until the scene rewinds itself and begins again.

Delia with a dragon, Delia with a panther, Delia with a sword, Delia laying in the back of a wagon … dying.

Dema, we shall call him by his name as he's stepped out of his role so thoroughly, scans these flickering images, searching with sharp glances for… for what? Something that resonates. Something he can feel is closest to where she is and now, or at least to find where to start so he can trace her path, determine where next he should go. Anything, anything at all. Ryans himself is all but forgotten, or at least his manifestation is. This is all Ryans, all around them, filtering in psychic threads from other dreaming minds, a thread running through a labyrinth of the slumbering, with a red haired Ariadne at the end.

Legs seem heavy and boots drag through the shards of glass, as he slowly moves towards those mirrors, openly awed by what he witnesses. He reaches out to first touch the mirror, one of many, in front of him with a feather light touch of finger tips. Instinct has his hand jerking away just a little, before he is reassured enough to press his hand upon it, fingers splayed against the chilled surface.

"How is this all here?" Ryans asks, turning slightly to look at the Russian.

He looks at mirror and his hand resting there, it wrenches at his heart that his daughter is shut to him behind the cold unyielding surface. "What exactly is all this?" The glass is smeared where his hand slowly slides down the surface, blurring the edges ever so slightly.

"You came looking for her," Dema says, eyes roving over the reflective surfaces, still trying to sift one proper lead from all the images, all the replaying scenes. That feather… what could the significance be? He reaches out as well, touching a hand against the spinning feather. His fingertips find only glass. "You found her, but she is not here. This is… where she has been. All gathered. Windows."

The Russian's match is starting to burn low. Time is running out. "I ask you, please, trust that I will see her safe. I need you to do this. I need you to- let me. I think I can follow her from here, go where you cannot, but I need your permission. As host and as father."

There is a stubborn set to the old man's jaw, scruffy with dark hairs. Ryans is having a hard time with it, with trusting one of them with his little girl. There is, however, a memory that tickles at the back of his mind, whispering at him to take this chance.

Slowly, his hand comes away from the glass leaving the greasy palm print there. When he speaks, his voice growls roughly. "If I let you do this… know this." He turns towards Dema, a purpose in his step as he closes the distance between the two of them. The russian is by far the larger man, even though Ryans is not a small man himself, but it doesn't deter the older man or make him shy away.

"Hurt my girl or take her away from me in any way… and I will find you." There is a clear and dangerous threat to those words, Ryans doesn't hide the look of a determined father from Dema. He truly lets him see the man that will hunt him down, should he betray the fathers trust.

"Even if it takes the rest of my natural life."

"As you say," Dema says, dipping his head, the wide brim of his hat casting a deep shadow over his features, one that flickers and shivers as the match starts to gasp it last few breaths. As the light dims, the darkness that seeps in becomes absolute. Not dark, but nothingness. Not much time left. Dema reaches out with his free hand and, in a delicate gesture, catch the red feather from the image, drawing it out, its barbs ruffles as it passes through the surface of the glass. It shimmers in the dying light, a single lick of silken flame.

"Thank you," Dema's voice comes as the match fizzles and lets out a final curl of smoke, plunging them into the deepest of blacks.

"Now wake."

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