20th of Ymiden, 718 - On the Road to Lysoria
Jonathan was excited to head to Lysoria. He was powerful enough now to travel on his own without fear of bandits or highwaymen, or even the small amount of soldiers trickling out of Ironridge to rob the innocent. He'd made a hell of an impression with them in the Willow Woods, and it was in the early morning headed toward the home of his colleague Victor that he saw a familiar face that he didn't quite know if he'd ever see again. The day had been calm and sunny thus far, the woods quiet. He'd been plodding along mounted on his mare, who seemed content enough to keep to a slow pace. Jonathan was excited to go and study with his companion but he wasn't worried about time. Victor would remember him, and their research would change the world's perception of Aberrants. He hoped it wouldn't get his friend barred from his Academy, or thrown out entirely. He had mentioned that Aberration was a forbidden subject to learn.
Jon rounded a corner, and gently guided the horse to a stop. An overturned cart was ahead of them, maybe six meters, and four men were rooting through its contents. It looked to be mostly vegetables, good mid-Ymiden crops that had benefitted from the Ashan rains. Lettuce wilting in the heat, and the first harvest of corn. Just peeking into view on the far corner of the cart, he could see a hand laying on the road. Pale. Unmoving. A scowl decorated his features and he dismounted the horse. More bandits, and when a familiar redhead lifted his head and saw Jon, he dropped the sack in his hands and sputtered. He seemed to be utterly incapable of speech, his eyes wide and his hands starting to shake uncontrollably. Last time this particular bandit had seen Jon, he'd seen...horrific things. The Aberrant had torn his friends in half and hunted them down like animals. He had been spared once, but would he be spared again? Jon saw the inner war in the man's eyes. Run, cower, or fight? Those were his only three options and fear seemed to eliminate number one.
"Hey, Cody, get your shit together. What's wrong with you mate?" one of the other bandits addressed the redhead, shouldering him to try and get him to break out of his reverie. As before, a little physical stimulation seemed was all it took to get Jake scrambling over his fellows and headed toward the woods. He looked like he was fleeing a fire, and in every way possible he was.
"Stop." Jon barked.
Cody froze. He was halfway across the road and his eyes had been focused on the shelter of the woods. As Jon approached them, Cody dropped to his knees and covered his head. When option one had been eliminated he elected for option two: cowering. Good. That impression had stuck. Now the other three needed to be addressed. They seemed to be torn between the mystery of their compatriot's strange behavior and addressing the man in front of them. Jonathan didn't draw his whip just yet. He folded his arms across his chest and studied the scene. The poor farmer that had been tugging the handcart was indeed dead; his eyes were wide and staring, and flies were beginning to explore his slack jaw. His throat had been cut, and blackened blood was drawing small floods of blackflies. Jonathan instantly hated the sight. The poor man had worked hard all Ashan to assure this first harvest, and now he had been transporting it to Lysoria to feed others. That was the role of a farmer and they had a hard life...they didn't need to be complicated by rats like this.
"Who the fuck are you?" one of the bandits growled. The other three seemed up and ready to protect their kill. Jon did, however, see their eyes occasionally flick to the sputtering mess that had once been Cody. From what Jon could catch he was muttering something about mercy. He might have been willing to grant it. He was in a good mood after all. He was going to research Aberration with a friend.
Jon nodded to Cody. "Ask him." he said simply. "But I sorely disapprove of what you've done here. Why cut his throat? He probably had a family that needed the nel."
"Why the hell do you care?" A second man piped up while another separated to try and get some coherent response out of the redhead.
Jon shrugged. "These are my people now, just as you are. And from what I've seen this region has some serious problems with both feeding itself and people trying to take advantage of those feeding others. Just like you have." he said, putting a bit of a cold edge in his voice. He reached for the whip at his side and flicked it out along the road. "Your friend there, Cody, was educated last time when he tried to rob me. I don't tolerate this sort of behavior. You're going to bury this man."
There were a lot of questions in their eyes. They seemed unsure whether or not to attack him. Cody's vote was clearly against it. "H-he killed two of my f-f-friends." he whispered. "Tore 'em apart like they was nothin'. He's got a m-monster. Just d-do what he says."
Jon gestured a bit to the whimpering redhead. "Better listen to your friend." he added.
"Fuck that, I don't take orders from him." the man who had first spoken spat on the road, and drew a longsword. From the way it was settled in his palm, and his ease of slipping his weight squarely between his legs he knew how to use it. He might not have had any formal training, and the sword was low quality and battered, but he knew enough to have gained a tiny reputation among highwaymen as a decent blade. The other two men were still deciding, but they eventually settled on numbers being the deciding factor. They drew blades of their own; one a gladius, the other a shortsword.
Jon lifted the whip over his head, twirled it, and snapped down with a loud crack. Cody yelped like he'd been struck, even if the crack had just been a warning on empty air. Clearly the memory had stuck. In Jonathan's other had an orb was beginning to widen. Larger and larger, big enough for the shift in reality to occur. He cast it in front of him, pouring ether into it as the men faltered. They weren't afraid yet, only curious, and the man with the gladius stepped a little too close. Jon expanded it further. The orb enclosed the man's shoulder, and Hob attacked. A little direction forced the orb to consume the man, and within it Hob made quick work of him. The Harvester lifted the swordsman like a rag doll and slammed him down on the ground, his teeth sinking into the man's belly. He was far too close for the gladius to be brought around to bear, especially with the wind knocked out of him. Jonathan let the screaming do the talking for him as the monster tore the man apart. Liver, intestines, a kidney; they all went bouncing out of the orb and along the dusty road.
That was about all it took for the other two to stop completely and stare owlishly at the sight. The orb collapsed, and Hob vanished with it. The body, however, remained. A large bite had been taken out of the man's midsection. He was still alive, but he wouldn't be for long. Jon knelt, touched his head, and pulled with his being. He tore the man's soul out of his body. There was no afterlife for him. His soul was razed as his body had been, and the corpse slowly began curling up. Like the farmer in the sun it was withering. It turned grey, and the other two bandits watched the organs on display shrivel like burning paper.
"What...in the hell...was that?" The longswordsman who had been so confident only trills before was shaken. He was as pale as Cody, though not quite incoherent, and was clearly rethinking his strategy. The shortswordsman already had one. He dropped his blade, and took off down the road with the speed of the devil behind him. He half-tripped over Cody on his way into the trees, sprawling the smaller man across the road.
"That was the reason why you're going to listen to me." Jon growled. "That is something I can summon at a moment's notice. That monster will tear apart everything you hold dear. It doesn't matter what gods or Immortals you pray to...he is the end of all things. Now. You and Cody. Bury that man. With respect...and you will not attack another like him. I want you, and others like you, to protect men along the road to Lysoria. Or I will come back. Cody knows this. I am always present in the Willow Woods."
The longswordsman was weighing his options. He could lunge and attack Jonathan. It was an option, just not a very good one considering how fast that orb had consumed his colleague. He wasn't as foolish as Cody. He wasn't going to press the issue, and Jon was grateful for that. While he enjoyed the ether flooding his veins, he wanted to send a message above all else. He wanted the bandits to stop. "I am more than willing to help you. Your kind only turn to banditry out of desperation, but you consume your own in the process. If you keep killing farmers there will be fewer farmers to grow fewer crops and more men will join banditry. Eventually you will all become desperate with no prey and turn on one another. That is not a good life." Jon reasoned. "Cody has learned not to cross me. You have learned not to cross me. So will others."
"And how..." the longswordsman said slowly. "...am I supposed to feed myself?"
Jon snorted. "Other men seek employment in the Territories and there are more than enough bandit clans for you to protect others from. I am sure the magistrates there would employ you. You aren't as stupid as you look, and I am wagering you know enough about the woods here." he said. "Now, for the moment...bury the farmer, and get out of my way." The Aberrant wasn't stupid enough to turn his back on the other man. Instead he backed toward his horse and mounted. He didn't coil the whip, either. The swordsman hadn't moved. Lost in thought, perplexed at what happened, or staring at the corpse Jonathan didn't know. Clearly, a lesson was in order. He lifted the whip, and moved toward him. This time, when he struck towards the man's face he struck true. The whip kissed the swordsman on the cheek, opening up a large red cut.
The man snarled and stumbled away from the road, long enough for Jonathan to spur the mare into a trot. He coiled up his weapon as he rode, narrowly avoiding trampling the first man he'd taught a lesson to those few trials ago. It took less effort this time to make an impression, and with each bandit he subjugated, he anticipated eventually they would take action. Regardless of rumor or shattered sputtering by his victims, there would always be foolish men who wanted to gain a reputation by killing a horror. Hopefully his actions would be viewed favorably by the territories, and he sent up a small prayer to whatever Immortal was listening for the farmer. With any luck he'd be buried. He'd take the same road back just to be sure of it.
'First a drug addict that killed a man, and now you're bullying bandits. How does it feel to have power? You needn't stop there. Why discriminate?' Hob sounded more than pleased with the new direction Jonathan was taking.
"I want to be better than your other mages." Jon answered with a sigh.