The whole mess began like a domino effect the moment Jolin spat in Gunner Keggin’s face. The Dead Dog Saloon was a bar notorious for outbursts and fights, and Keggin did have a talent for pissing people off, so Jolin’s mistake shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to everyone watching. (And believe me, everyone was watching). Only this wasn’t just any loser’s face. This was Gunner Keggin. You don’t mess with Keggin.
Jolin was new, see, and hadn’t yet grasped the unspoken rules of Blake Dunes. Rule number one, for instance, stated that it just wouldn’t do to enter an outhouse at night without a gun at your hip. Some old crack had died without leaving a will for his kids several years back, but just before he died he told them he buried his entire inheritance in an outhouse. His six children dug the crap out of every outhouse they could find (And you know I mean that in the most literal way). Each one was dead-set on finding that money, and let’s just say this didn’t give them a whole lot of time for polite gestures such as knocking. Not one of them found it by the way, if you’re wondering. You can only dig poop so much before deciding that either you heard your daddy wrong, or he’s laughing up a storm in his grave. But there was still a fear about the town for a few years that compelled people to come prepared when they had to take a dump.
But the second rule was to not pick a fight with Keggin. He was a big, beefy man with deep brown skin that had clearly seen it’s fair share of fights, and black wings, nearly as big and crooked as his nose. He never talked, except to say what kind of beer he wanted, and even then the bartender had learned what each of his noncommittal grunts meant.
And Jolin had spat in his face. Without a Dune Scoot, it took her about a week to reach Blake Dunes, and her patience had taken a few blows. She may not have been as big as Keggin, but her height was impressive for a female, and her muscles could make a grown man flinch. She had wings as well, though hers were a deep crimson. Her eyes were round, but bold, her hair a big coiled puff only restrained by a tight blue bandana. She had skin even darker than Keggin’s, and a few choice words he’d given her that she was more than ready to shove back down his face.
Two winged humanoids, about to duke it out. Everyone in The Dead Dog’s Saloon held their breath, which was almost everyone in Blake Dunes itself. Even the pianist stopped. But then, he had only paused to remember the chords for his favorite brawling tune.
Keggin used a massive, calloused hand to wipe the saliva from his face, and-
And sat back down.
Jolin felt her jaw go loose. “That’s it?” she blurted. She could feel her wings expanding, desperate to assert her dominance. Keggin took another gup from his mug of beer. Jolin felt her fists clench and shake. She’d been waiting all week to punch something, and now her big, meaty chance had just sat down sipped his drink like he hadn’t a care in the world. “C’mon man, a fawn would put up more of a fight!”
An indignant huff came from the fawn behind the bar counter. Still, Keggin said nothing. Arrogant smuck. She couldn’t hold it in anymore. Jolin drew back her fist and swung a left hook straight for his jaw to the tune of her own enraged scream. The bar gasped. Her fist felt flesh, and for a moment, she revelled in the pain it must be feeling. Until she realized it wasn’t his jaw. It was his hand. And she wasn’t moving it anywhere.
Keggin tightened his grip, which easily engulfed the whole of her fist, and slowly rose to his feet, tattered wings unfurling. Jolin froze. At last. The fight she’d been waiting for.
She made a swift, high kick that ran a circular motion and knocked his arm down, which loosened his grip just enough for her to pull her hand back. Keggin smirked, and, in one deft movement, hooked his foot behind her right leg while giving her shoulder a solid shove. Jolin stumbled back, tripped over a fallen mug, and collapsed into a table. A few people sitting at the table (clearly wasted) hooted and cheered, raising their mugs and nearly sloshing the contents on Jolin’s hair. She groaned at the impact on her back, and wings. She might have sprained one just then. This guy was tough. Tougher than she was used to. She forced herself to her feet and readied her stance. The man sighed, and, with a bored kick, pushed his chair back in to make more room. The chair legs squeaked on the floor, joined by several others as people sitting furthest from them stood up to see.
The fawn bartender opened his mouth and raised a harry hand, as though about to stop them, but even he couldn’t resist his own curiosity. Even so, stopping the fight would cause more folk to leave earlier, and purchase less alcohol. So he tossed his hand in a careless manner and busied himself with rubbing mugs behind the counter, pretending not to notice the biggest showdown in Blake Dunes history.
Meanwhile, Jolin weighed her options, blood racing with excitement. She could try for another high kick, but if she wasn’t quick enough, he could easily catch her foot as he did her hand, and her balance would be compromised. No, she had to try something different. In a sudden blaze of energy, Jolin rushed him and, with as much momentum as she could gather, swung her foot into his beefy calf. Keggin stumbled, almost as surprised as the rest of the room, but before he could steady himself, the girl came in for another punch. It was rushed, of course, since she knew she didn’t have much time. But once again, her attempts were thwarted. Keggin grabbed her punching arm and blocked her, so his bicep was just under his chin. He could have knocked her back down just then — or even strangled her if he wanted- but Jolin knew her chance when she saw it, and took it without hesitation. She jammed her chin into the pressure point on his bicep, making the man grunt with pain, and pull back. He moved forward again, this time with a punch aimed at her shoulder. Jolin grabbed his arm and used it’s momentum to spin around to him, landing the heel of her palm into his nose.
In an instant, blood spurted, and Keggin’s grip on her loosened as he stepped back, clutching his nose. Jolin stood tall and proud, panting. She’d done it. Cheap tricks, sure, but effective ones. The shocked drunkards in the room began to clap. The fawn raised a mug.
“A drink to this week’s champion!” He crowed, and the cheering continued. Jolin was about to question weather brawling here was that regular of an occurrence, or if he just made that up on the spot to celebrate Keggin being defeated, when a strong gust of wind swept her entire body off its feet and into the crowd of people, who might have caught her, had any of them been sober, or not fallen backward by the sudden gale.
Jolin jerked her gaze up to the bloody-nosed figure standing barely a few yards from her, wings spread. She’d underestimated him. As she did everyone. She cursed herself for doing so. Sure, his wings were a bit crooked, and missing a few feathers, but they were still functional. And to think the only reason she hadn’t put her own wings to use was because she wanted a fair fight. Come to think of it, this was also the reason she had resisted delivering a well-aimed kick to his manhood.
No time for regrets now. This fight wasn’t over. With difficulty, Jolin struggled to her feet — — and promptly collapsed onto the splintery wood floor. The last thing she remembered was the pianist accompanying the sudden incident with a staccato, minor chord on the far left side of the piano.
The fawn frowned. “Well that was a disappointment.” he grumbled, and shuffled out behind the counter. He hauled the girl over his shoulder and propped her up on a wooden chair beside a table. Keggin folded his wings and resumed his seat, taking another swig from his mug.
“Come to, have ya?” asked the fawn. It had only taken a minute, maybe less, for Jolin to regain consciousness. She grabbed her aching head.
“What — what happened?”
“Stood up to fast, I’m afraid,” said a nearby dwarf, “Happens to meself every time I get up at all, really.”
Jolin felt the heat in her face rise. She’d beaten him, hadn’t she? Done everything she’d ever wanted. Left home, ran off as far west as she could go, and proved herself superior to the strongest man in town. Only, she hadn’t. He was fully capable of beating her, the whole time, wasn’t he? Only tried to keep her off his back. And then he used those tattered black wings to knock her back down. Well she had wings as well, didn’t she? She could take this sack of muscle.
When Jolin spread her wings, she had to clench her teeth to keep from tearing up. They’d been battered up pretty bad. Just bruises, she thought, and flapped them down. This motion smacked the fawn on the head, but got her in the air, at least. Trying to dodge the lights, she flapped her way across the bar and extended her foot, readying for a kick to Keggin’s chest.
Keggin ducked, but just barely. Jolin’s wings buffeted her before her foot could come crashing into the wall behind him, but she had to turn around fast before-
Wham! In Jolin’s haste to turn, her wings smacked Keggin’s fist off its course. Jolin then used his moment of surprise to turn again and do a spinning kick into his chest, flapping her wings inward to add to the force. This actually threw Keggin back into the wall, and for a moment, he grabbed his chest, panting. Jolin settled back on her feet and waited. Her body cried out for reprieve, but she refused to give up the high ground. The man looked up at her with fierce, narrow eyes, and beat his wings. Jolin felt her stomach drop.
She knew it was over seconds before his fist came crashing into her left eye, and sending her flying back to the ground. This was it. Everything ached, and she couldn’t move, even if she tried. Jolin was finished. The bar went silent. She didn’t even bother glancing up when he strode toward her. If he was going to kill her, she would let him. Her ego was damaged enough.
But he crouched beside her, and lifted her chin slightly, so they were at eye level. And then, something incredible happened.
“Good fight, kid.”
Keggin Gunner talked. Jolin stared up at him through the eye that hadn’t been swollen shut. Then he actually chuckled. “Just pick ’em more carefully next time.” It was there- there in that slight grin that Jolin noticed something. Something strangely familiar. The long nose, the bushy eyebrows.
He stood to leave.
“Do you have any connections with the Fern family?” she blurted. He paused, turned around. “I- I just came to collect my grandfather’s inheritance, and I’m guessing you’re related.”
Keggin returned to a crouching position and whispered just low enough that no one else could pick it up -
“Those dopes thought I said outhouse. Clearly, I said boathouse.”
And with that, he stood and left the Dead Dog Saloon.