Hongjoong swung his legs over the elegant neck of his horse, jumping down to the ground with an energetic bounce. His boots came to stand securely on the dusty road and he stemmed his hands in his hips, breathing in deeply. He was looking out over the little town in front of him, dusty and squeaky in the faint wind and with it's glorious mountains behind. He breathed in the foreign air of this place deeply, content with having mastered his journey up until here.
Well, maybe he breathed in a bit too much for dust immediately settled in his lungs, making him start coughing in a panic. He fumbled around at the saddle next to him, his eyes teary from the itch and hastily gulped down some of his water, calming his poor throat again. He blinked the tears away then, epicly staring out over the city again with more flat breaths.
This was his now, his little spot of earth to protect and cherish and he already had made so many plans on how to make it bloom, he could barely wait to start with it.
He gently patted the flank of his dear Wave, gently running his fingers through her dirtied mane.
He could actually use some bath right now, he craved it after his long journey under the hot sun in the empty plains.
Hongjoong took the reigns of his horse again, stepping forward and further into the little town. It was relatively overseeable, just about three dozen houses and two main roads that crossed in the middle. Hongjoong saw multiple opened stores on the first glance, an inn, a little marker on how to get to the railroad and also the house he was searching for: the townhall that had exact the same size as anything else.
It was a cute little village, perfectly fine for Hongjoong himself and he fastened Wave's reigns in front of the building, nodding to a passing woman before he stepped in. Inside it was cozy, there was a desk with two chairs in front, a holding cell for criminals and a wall plastered with wanted posters of some rough looking criminals.
There were also two men in the room who were discussing loudly, one with an exasperated and quiet voice, the other one clearly overly excited with his yells.
Hongjoong recognized one of them. He had known Jaebeom from some hunts before and he was the person who had asked him to come here too. His dark hair was overgrown and hung in a messy ponytail, some stubble shadowing his chin.
He looked so very tired and the boy babbling next to him did not seem to help either.
Hongjoong took pity on him.
He gently cleared his throat, grinning brightly when the noise immediately died down as both of them turned towards him. Jaebeom seemed to get younger immediately by 10 years, rising in order to step closer.
He looked rough, the leather of his boots scratched up and his shirt stained with various dark spots. Still the hand he extended to Hongjoong was warm and his smile bright.
"Hongjoong my fellow! It's good to see ya! Wooyoung come over here and greet ya new superior!"
Hongjoong scrutinized Wooyoung as he bounced closer, indeed finding the little silver star fixed on his west. His hair was a shaggy blond, barely to be seen under his brown hat but he still flashed Hongjoong a bright smile when they shook hands.
"When did ya arrive? Seonghwa said the railroad would not operate today!"
"Ah, I came by horse. Wanted to get familiar with the surroundings already.", Hongjoong gently explained, letting himself be coaxed into sitting down at the desk, while Jaebeom ran around to get him something to drink.
"That's the spirit! Ya hear, boy?! There will no lazy sitting around here anymore from now on!" Jaebeom cackled a bit evilly, sitting down opposite of Hongjoong to start searching for some papers in his drawers. Wooyoung leaned against the table, pouring Hongjoong his drink which he took with a polite acknowledgement.
"Now where is it hmm... Ah here! Excuse the mess, ya might sort in stuff however ya want. I'll be out of ya hair soon." Jaebeom pulled out some papers for him to sign and the golden sheriff badge, proudly fastening it on Hongjoong's shirt while he wrote his name down gingerly.
"Wooyoung can basically show ya around anywhere and explain anything to ya. I will be here of course too but for now I'm free of any duties!" Jaebeom strechted with a happy groan, making Hongjoong giggle into his drink.
"Never heard of someone who went into retirement at 27 before. Life here must be harsh, huh?"
"Ya have no idea. I really hope ya can wipe those bastards out from the face of earth. Ever since they changed leaders a year ago everything has gone to hell around here."
That was why Hongjoong was here. To capture a famous group of bandits that were wrecking havoc around here. Only then more settlers would come and build better railroad systems and roads to the city. They had some investors interested for quite some time but whenever they came by and tried to start on something the bandits ruined it again. Jaebeom was fed up with them and Hongjoong was their new ray of hope.
"Why change? I thought relations were going good with Jinyoung?"
Hongjoong was informed.
Jaebeom shrugged, leaning back again.
"Guess that was their problem. That new guy is not nearly as diplomatic though. I've spent eleven years of my life finding out Jinyoung's identity and trying to sign some peace treaty and those sons of cows just ruined it again. Good look waisting ya youth on that, Hongjoong." He gave a disappointed shake of his head and Hongjoong just grinned to himself in secret.
He did absolutely not plan on spending eleven years with this. In one year the city would flourish and roads would be build and the beautiful ladies from the cities would come visit here in perfect security. He knew it.
"Ya can stay in Yeosang's inn for the time being. We are clearing out a hut right now whose owner died in the latest raid, ya can move in as soon as we are finished moving his stuff."
Hongjoong lifted a brow.
"They are killing the townsfolk too? Sounds like some foul fellas indeed."
Jaebeom just nodded sinisterly, Wooyoung making a quiet sound in affirmative.
"I will try to protect every single one of them. I swore on it.", Hongjoong assured them seriously, Jaebeom giving him a tired smile.
"Yea, ya do that, fella. Tell me if ya ever need help. My house is the one next to beautiful Mary's. Ah, and also, ya can bring ya horse to Wooyoung's. His family owns the barn in the north." Jaebeom rose with that, getting his hat and tapping at it in greeting before he left. Hongjoong was alone with Wooyoung in his new office.
When he turned to the man he already had that cheshire grin again, looking way too playful for Hongjoong's liking in an assistant.
"Tell me then, Wooyoung, what do we know about those damned bandits right now?"
Wooyoung jumped up at that, going over to the wall and taking one of the posters down to show to Hongjoong. The picture drawn showed nothing really but an unrecognizable figure wearing a black hat that covered their eyes and a just as black mask over their nose and mouth. It was incredibly disappointing.
"What, this is all we know? Are they male of female?"
"Both. It's a large group. They always come as five people but there have been groups with males only and also with females only. We think they have a system with multiple leaders. They all look like this." Wooyoung pointed at the picture with a shrug, making Hongjoong rub his chin with his fingers.
At least ten people then. That was quite sizable in comparison to their little town.
"Do they have a schedule at which they come by?" Hongjoong was still studying the poster. They were called 'The Bandits of the Sawtooth Mountain' and each member scored for about two thousand dollars. That was quite a sum for whoever wiped out the whole group.
"Depends. Sometimes it's once a month for food. They most likely rob the trains then. Poor Park was hurt last time and has been on a break for two weeks. That's why the trains don't come right now. Sometimes the men come for some women and then leave again. They rarely swing by just to plunder and kill. However they might do that soon as to get to know the new Sheriff."
Well, Hongjoong could work with that.
"We will prepare then. I want you to take me around town and let me meet all of the people here. I need to document every encounter you had with the bandits ever since they changed their leader system and I want a list of our resources and townsfolk." Hongjoong emptied his drink, rising to get to work. Wooyoung just sighed heavily, getting some paper and a pen.
"I will prepare the lists then, let's go meet the people first."
They stepped out into the warm afternoon again then, greeting the people who passed them by in the streets. They had settled on bringing Wave to the barn first, making sure the horse was taken care of before setting out again. Wooyoung explained to Hongjoong that the ragged mountains in the north were called the Sawtooth Mountain and it was where the bandits had their hideout apparently. Hongjoong made himself some notes about checking it out sometime, maybe getting some of the younger men here to ride with him.
They then went to Yeosang's inn 'Hehetmon' next, Hongjoong carrying the bags with his few belongings so he could settle down there soon. The saloon was quite orderly, the tables and chairs about clean and to the left there was a stage where someone in a long red dress was dancing prettily.
Wooyoung ignored the music and people inside in order to stalk up right to the bar, waving at Hongjoong to follow.
The man they found behind the counter was probably around their age and his face was calm and collected. He had pretty features and a put together appearance looking more like some city man than a cowboy in a village.
"This is my best friend and also the innkeeper, Kang Yeosang."
Hongjoong intoduced himself with a big smile, jotting the other's name and occupation down.
"He's the only one who was never attacked by the bandits before! Everybody else had to suffer somewhen!", Wooyoung continued excitedly, jumping over the counter in order to hug Yeosang close. The man had a tired look of resignation on his face.
Hongjoong gave him an sympathetic smile.
"Never attacked before? How might that be?"
Yeosang gestured downwards.
"I have a perfectly well working shotgun right here and I know how to use it. When those bastards try to come in here they get a nice round of lead as a snack."
Hongjoong also noted down that Yeosang was nobody to feel at ease with.
"Normally all the people hide in here when the bandits come through. They have somehow accepted it as a neutral ground. But the people who are not fast enough... They do not care for them."
Hongjoong wrote down a 'plain rude' on the page with notes about the bandits.
"What's your opinion on them? You up to checking out that hideout of theirs with me these days?"
Yeosang just shrugged, as calm as before.
"Sure. Try to find San before we go, he knows his way around in the plains." He nodded at them in greeting, going back to polishing perfectly clean glasses.
Hongjoong left the inn again after bringing his stuff up, reconciling with Wooyoung outside.
"So who is this San person?", he asked curiously, writing his name down under Yeosang's.
He did not see the blush taking over Wooyoung's features, too busy sorting his stuff.
"Uhh, he is our hunter. He and a few others are out a lot and search for food. He's mostly missed out on the bandits as he's never here.", Wooyoung told him oddly stiff and Hongjoong just nodded, writing that down too.
"Let's ask him then to join us as soon as he's back."