Branching Out
for Ronin
Jigano Silversmith
Lorekeeper ☆ Loreseeker's Guild
Age: 28 | Height: 6'2" | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 8 - Strg: 20 - Dext: 30 - Endr: 30 - Luck: 25
ISUMA - Mythical - Gryphon (venomous)
Played by: Cirago Offline
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Posts: 1,568
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#1
The Greatwood may have returned his friends to him, but Jigano had learned a healthy caution and respect for the forest. When he had approached Ronin at the Monster Hunter's Guild and asked for his help in finding a Wicker Woman and harvesting a branch, he had done so with more solemnity than their initial conversation had entailed, and he had been clear on warning of the dangers as far as he knew them.

He wouldn't have blamed the new father for choosing to stay behind with his daughter, having left her parentless once already, but he was grateful for the Guildmaster's company now. Their walk had begun around mid-morning, and now it was mid-afternoon, the heat of the day pleasantly broken by the shade of the great trees and the breeze that whispered and played among the branches as they walked, careful not to think about what they were looking for.

Now, however, Jigano raised an arm into the air, calling a nearby black raven to land on his green-patterned sleeve while he impressed upon it his desire to find a tree that closed around its victims. The bird was scavenger enough to indeed be familiar with the Wicker Women of the woods, and it rose, cawing, to begin leading them towards a patch of woods that seemed darker, gloomier... chillier, somehow. The summer greens and browns became interspersed with specimens of a more unsettling nature, their bark resembling skin and their soaring branches blocking out all but the memory of sunlight as the two men followed their dark-feathered guide deeper into the corpse grove.

"Did you do things like this very often in Northhaven?" he asked, with a quirk of a wry grin as he glanced to Ronin before turning his attention back on their surroundings, alert to the eerie quiet of the woods around them. On his shoulder, Isuma crouched, tail lashing uncertainly as wide golden eyes peered around, keeping watch for her companion in the direction he wasn't looking at any given time.
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Ronin Taliesin
Guildmaster / Monster Hunter ☆ Monster Hunters Guild
Age: 26 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Demi-god | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 3 - Strg: 19 - Dext: 20 - Endr: 20 - Luck: 20
SUGAR - Mythical - Dragon (ice breath)
Played by: Honey Online
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#2
"Oh well isn't this cheerful," Ronin remarked, though his smile was audible in his voice. He had followed dutifully after Jigano thus far, having much less experience of the Greatwood than his companion. This was his first exploration into it, in fact, and it wasn't proving to be a disappointment. The heat of the day had Ronin in a light and loose shirt whose sleeves he had rolled to the elbows, Sugar draped around his neck and snoozing (she was not as alert as Isuma, evidently).

Having been around Attuned enough by now to realise that they could develop an uncanny affinity for animals like their own, it wasn't as surprising as it otherwise may have been to find himself at the mercy of a raven. Even if said raven had led them somewhere remarkably spooky.

Checking that the knife he'd brought was still at his belt - they'd hardly get a branch without it - the guildmaster glanced to Jigano and smiled. "Yes and no? There weren't plants quite so interesting as these in Northaven. But beyond the Wall that enclosed us... well. It got weird. I only went out there once, though. What about you? Is this a common occurrence?"
Jigano Silversmith
Lorekeeper ☆ Loreseeker's Guild
Age: 28 | Height: 6'2" | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 8 - Strg: 20 - Dext: 30 - Endr: 30 - Luck: 25
ISUMA - Mythical - Gryphon (venomous)
Played by: Cirago Offline
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Posts: 1,568
MP:
#3
"I'd like to say 'I've seen worse' but..." Jigano gave a wry shrug, which Isuma rodeo out with a soft peep of protest. He reached up to scritch her ears in apology as he grinned at Ronin. "I found a shrine to Ludo and Mort in this grove a little while back. I suppose it's not supposed to inspire 'cheer' so much as introspection, perhaps?" Or maybe Ludo just liked to give people a fright when it thought they were getting too comfortable, something Jigano decided to keep in mind with his future dealings with the Masked God, no matter how his respect and reverence had taken on a decided tinge of fondness for the mischievous deity.

The raven croaked quietly to itself as it followed Jigano's thread of compulsion to lead them, seemingly happy to comply on the off chance that the Wicker Woman had ensnared another victim that might offer tasty treats to a fast and clever avian. The bard followed, but stayed close to Ronin, having learned his lesson about trailing too far apart in these woods. He looked to the side just as the Monster Hunter glanced at him, his own smile going a bit crooked. "Common where? Apparently we do have some of these within the old barrier grounds - there are records of them, at least. I never ran across one in all my travels through the woods, though. Remi found one out here in the Greatwood, though, that he had to harvest sap from. Nasty stuff, that, by the way. Try not to get it on you. It's a potent hallucinogen that helps the tree subdue its prey, from what I've read. Mostly, we should be careful about not letting Sugar and Isuma try to bite or claw at the tree," he suggested, smile fading to a more sober caution as the trees ahead of them looked to be thinning out into a brighter clearing.

"I've brought gloves we can wear when we start to harvest, just to be on the safe side," he added. Gloves borrowed from Rory, and that he would clean thoroughly before returning, along with the small axe that was so useful for small chores around the farm. "What was the weirdest thing you saw beyond that Wall?"
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Ronin Taliesin
Guildmaster / Monster Hunter ☆ Monster Hunters Guild
Age: 26 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Demi-god | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 3 - Strg: 19 - Dext: 20 - Endr: 20 - Luck: 20
SUGAR - Mythical - Dragon (ice breath)
Played by: Honey Online
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Posts: 555
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#4
Ronin hummed a note of agreement, especially hearing about Ludo and the shrine that lay deep within the woods. As one who walked in Safrin's light, he did his best to stay out of the death god's way. From what he understood, he'd never actually entered the realm of Ludo and Mort anyway, so he doubted either would be happy with his presence too close to their demesne.

Jigano proved knowledgable as ever, and Ronin listened intently to the information offered. "I was wondering whether you had similar flora and fauna where you came from originally," he murmured, correcting his own question, "but I'll try to remember all you've told me about these trees. They're quite something, aren't they?"

His brow furrowed, Ronin's footsteps slowing as the plantlife around them seemed to subtly shift, as though to lean away from something. That something became quite clear soon enough - Remi had spoken of a copse of Wicker Women, but this one proved enormous and solitary. Its knotted branches had wound around itself, given that the rest of the trees had tried not to get too close, and the guildmaster could only gawk for a few seconds.

"Uh... oh. Yeah, the weirdest thing...? It was a stone cat. Huge. Like as big as the Spire."
Jigano Silversmith
Lorekeeper ☆ Loreseeker's Guild
Age: 28 | Height: 6'2" | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 8 - Strg: 20 - Dext: 30 - Endr: 30 - Luck: 25
ISUMA - Mythical - Gryphon (venomous)
Played by: Cirago Offline
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Posts: 1,568
MP:
#5
"Oh! Sorry about that," Jigano grinned ruefully at his misunderstanding, offering a slight shrug. "Carnivorous plants, you mean? Viper vines, xtabays, bramblelashes, assassin vines...though probably tendriculoses are the closest things to Wicker Women, based on the description. I avoided most of them, to be honest," he admitted cheerfully. "There were enough things trying to kill me without adding hungry plants to the list!" Minions of the Technic League and nightmares from the Dark Tapestry, mostly, not to mention Unity's servants. The line had seemed endless for a few years, and he didn't regret leaving that life behind.

The clearing revealed its queen, the solitary Wicker Woman left sole ruler of the sunlit space almost painfully out of place in the otherwise-somber and shadowed woods. Jigano paused at the edge of the reddish trees they had been traveling through, and recalled the compelled raven to his free shoulder while Isuma eyed its tailfeathers with dangerous curiosity. His hand dipped into a pouch at his side and he absently pulled out a limp vole, offering the snack to their guide in payment for services rendered. As the raven gulped down the treat head-first, the bard studied the great tree, a faint frown creasing his brow. "A cat... statue?" he asked, curiosity split between the story and the challenge that lay before them.

"Hmm... I wonder how fast those branches can contract?" he murmured, eyes narrowing as he stared at the tree. "We just need one branch, something about arm's length should be sufficient." Careful of his two passengers, he looked around and then knelt to pick up a stick fallen from another tree and tossed it lightly at the Wicker Woman's branches to see if they would react.
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Ronin Taliesin
Guildmaster / Monster Hunter ☆ Monster Hunters Guild
Age: 26 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Demi-god | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 3 - Strg: 19 - Dext: 20 - Endr: 20 - Luck: 20
SUGAR - Mythical - Dragon (ice breath)
Played by: Honey Online
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Posts: 555
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#6
Ronin arched a slow eyebrow across at his friend, his mind doing a truly fantastic job of conjuring all sorts of nightmarish images to pair with the names of the creatures Jigano had spoken about. ”I regret asking, almost.” He chuckled. ”It sounds like your world was full of this sort of stuff! A creature like this Wicker Woman probably won’t be much to you.”

He was to be quite wrong, however - the great tree before them was something else, something other. Ronin almost felt sorry for it, in fact, standing alone in this clearing, hugging itself for comfort. ”A statue...? Oh! No, no. It was alive, if you can believe it. It looked like whole trees were growing from its haunches, in places. It smashed a hole in the Wall.”

Ronin approached slowly and warily, his knife held loosely in his hand. As Jigano tossed the stick he paused, eyes widening as the whole tree seemed to shift; not predatory, not malicious, merely in reaction to the stimuli. It’s branches visibly wrapped about the stick thrown at it, slow and methodical, but once they had encircled it there didn’t seem any possibility that it would let it go.
Jigano Silversmith
Lorekeeper ☆ Loreseeker's Guild
Age: 28 | Height: 6'2" | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 8 - Strg: 20 - Dext: 30 - Endr: 30 - Luck: 25
ISUMA - Mythical - Gryphon (venomous)
Played by: Cirago Offline
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Posts: 1,568
MP:
#7
"I was much stronger then," Jigano cautioned his companion, though he kept the self-aware grin on his face. He often thought wistfully of what he had once been able to do and accomplish when his powers had been at their peak and he had adorned himself with magical items that had improved his physical and mental abilities even further. Now he was... not a shadow of himself, but distilled down to his core, all extraneous aspects pared away until he was left to begin anew, to make of himself something different... perhaps something better, with the help of the friends and family he had gained on Caido. "And I freely admit, I was never terribly effective against plant creatures in the first place. No minds to influence, or ears to hear my spells," he explained, remembering another place, another time, another companion - half Ronin's size, sharp-toothed and wreathed in fire, chattering in a language he had learned reluctantly and still heard in his dreams. She had no problem dealing with carnivorous plants! They all burned alike to her.

"Ah, that does put rather more urgency on the tale," the bard admitted wryly, though his attention was also taken by the tree as he considered how best to approach it. "Some sort of... stone elemental, or earth elemental, perhaps? How did you deal with it?"

Perhaps Ronin's solution to the cat would spark inspiration for the Wicker Woman. Ever-curious, ever wanting to test and learn and explore, Jigano sent the stick ahead of them to discover what the large tree's reflexes were like.

They were quite good, as it turned out, and both Isuma and the raven on his shoulders shifted uneasily. "Well... seeing it in action is quite different from reading about it," he said softly, stepping up to join Ronin as he unlimbered the small axe. "If we could maybe... hmm... coax one of those branches out to wrap around something stable, like a rock or another tree, we could cut it off without too much danger. But I'm not sure either of us should get too close to that main trunk." Indeed, as he looked up into its boughs he saw smaller branches wrapped around a few unwary birds and squirrels who had made the mistake of landing on it, seeking rest or shelter.

A rest or shelter they would never leave, their small bodies going to enrich the soil beneath the tree and sustain it for another season.
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Ronin Taliesin
Guildmaster / Monster Hunter ☆ Monster Hunters Guild
Age: 26 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Demi-god | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 3 - Strg: 19 - Dext: 20 - Endr: 20 - Luck: 20
SUGAR - Mythical - Dragon (ice breath)
Played by: Honey Online
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Posts: 555
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#8
"Oh?" Ronin arched an eyebrow, clearly quite curious about what Jigano meant by 'stronger', especially given that he spoke about spells, too. "Were you a caster as well as a fox, then?" he asked, reminded of Remi's ability to perform magic alongside his other skills. That had not always been the case, of course, and Ronin remembered when his friend had been but a simple hawk.

His brow furrowed as they appraised the tree and, at the same time, spoke about the stone cat attack on Northaven. Ronin sighed. "I didn't," he confessed. "A group at the Wall defeated it - I couldn't say how. I was locked in the centre - a large building in the middle of the settlement. Someone had locked the citizens in to prevent them from helping, so I was unable to contribute."

Nodding in agreement at Jigano's plan, Ronin turned to seize a fallen branch at the foot of one of the other trees, though he didn't want to think about how it had gotten there. It was too sizeable for something like a bird to have caused it to snap. Perhaps it was just brittle, or the tree was rotten somehow? Either way, it worked for them.

"Okay," he said, nodding to Jigano. "I'll hold this out for the Wicker Woman to grab, and I'll try to draw one of its branches out further so you can get a clean cut with the axe? It'll be like playing tug of war."
Jigano Silversmith
Lorekeeper ☆ Loreseeker's Guild
Age: 28 | Height: 6'2" | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 8 - Strg: 20 - Dext: 30 - Endr: 30 - Luck: 25
ISUMA - Mythical - Gryphon (venomous)
Played by: Cirago Offline
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Posts: 1,568
MP:
#9
"Were you a warrior as well as a human, then?" Jigano grinned back, trying not to react to the prickle of tension that raised invisible hackles across his neck and shoulders at speaking so casually of his no-longer-exactly-a-secret. "I've learned from talking with Remi that my world was quite a bit different from Northhaven. Humans are just one race among many, there. My, ah, 'foxiness' was just an aspect of my heritage, not a choice that was made like it is here, and had nothing to do with my ability to wield magic." He tilted his head to the side as he stole a glance at his companion before looking back to their path. "I was a caster though, yes. An Oracle and a bard, in fact, with magic drawn from both." One a result of his family curse/blessing, the other a chosen vocation when he took a more active stance in his world.

Ronin's tale was decidedly less heroic than Jigano had been imagining, considering his display of leadership leading up to the Spire. "I had assumed you were a captain, not a citizen," he admitted wryly, though most of his attention was now on the Wicker Woman before them.

"Try to coax it around one of the standing trees, just in case," he advised, uncertain of how fast the tree would respond and not wanting Ronin to get pulled off-balance. He pulled on his gloves and unlimbered the axe, looking ruefully at the small blade. "It might take a few cuts from this to go through. I must admit, I'm not particularly strong..." But he took position near to Ronin anyways, ready to dart forward and strike once the demigod had teased a branch out for him to land a blow on.
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Ronin Taliesin
Guildmaster / Monster Hunter ☆ Monster Hunters Guild
Age: 26 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Demi-god | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 3 - Strg: 19 - Dext: 20 - Endr: 20 - Luck: 20
SUGAR - Mythical - Dragon (ice breath)
Played by: Honey Online
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#10
Clearly Ronin had gotten the wrong end of the stick when it came to precisely what Jigano was (or had been, at least, in his old life), and the hunter ducked his head apologetically, a soft smile on his face. "That sounds like quite a life," he murmured. "I wonder why you were not brought here with your magic intact, rather than your heritage. Both seem quite important," he remarked, though it was mostly idle chat by then, Ronin gauging the right place to stand before he decided to prod at the Wicker Woman.

"You'll probably be better off swinging the axe then, than trying to play tug of war with a tree rooted in the earth." Ronin smirked as Jigano confessed about his strength (or lack thereof), at the same time scooting forward to tickle at the bark of the tree before them. It reacted immediately, of course, and Ronin yelped as he was tugged a little toward it. Slowly and painstakingly, he managed to get a foothold behind a root, leaning back into his pull to make the Wicker Woman have to stretch to continue her binding grip.

"Oh," he panted. "I wasn't a captain then. Just a regular guard."
Jigano Silversmith
Lorekeeper ☆ Loreseeker's Guild
Age: 28 | Height: 6'2" | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 8 - Strg: 20 - Dext: 30 - Endr: 30 - Luck: 25
ISUMA - Mythical - Gryphon (venomous)
Played by: Cirago Offline
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Posts: 1,568
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#11
"The same can be said for others," the bard shrugged with a faded grin, the prickle of loss and envy still sinking needle claws into his heart at the question of why not me. "I've a friend who lost as much or more than I when he came through his own portal. At least both were not taken from us!" In truth the loss of his lineage, however much he had hidden it on his world, would have hurt far more. It wasn't just what he did, it was part of who he was. A secretive part, but an integral one. He didn't even want to think about how it would feel to have that stripped from him...

"I'll just apologize in advance," the bard warned with a grin that was perhaps just a bit anxious. "It will probably take more than one strike from me to sever it. The thicker the branch, the longer it will take!" But Ronin was already in motion, fearless and confident as he taunted the Wicker Woman into reaching out for his bait and pulling taut against her strength as she obliged with a decent-sized limb. Steeling himself to make the most of the moment, Jigano swung the small axe, Isuma peeping alarm as she leaped from his shoulders and the raven likewise abandoning its perch as he brought the tool up and then down again. It struck living wood with an echoing Thock!, biting through bark and into the inner grain - and the branch uncoiled from Ronin's cudgel and whipped around to try and wrap around the bard's axe instead.

Jigano danced back with a curse, jerking the axe free. A mental command sent the raven to swoop down, cawing, and tap at the branch with its claws to lure it back to Ronin's stick as the white-haired man scowled at the carnivorous plant. "You must have risen through the ranks quickly?" Part question, part statement, given the captain's natural charisma and easiness with command.
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Ronin Taliesin
Guildmaster / Monster Hunter ☆ Monster Hunters Guild
Age: 26 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Demi-god | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 3 - Strg: 19 - Dext: 20 - Endr: 20 - Luck: 20
SUGAR - Mythical - Dragon (ice breath)
Played by: Honey Online
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Posts: 555
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#12
"I'd better apologise too, then! My strength still isn't up to what it once was, not yet. So this tree may get the better of me once or twice. I'll let you know if I need to let go, though." And hopefully he wouldn't have to, and between them they would be able to achieve what Jigano had come out here to do.

At first it looked like it was going well, but clearly the Wicker Woman did not appreciate being hacked at, and Ronin staggered as the counterweight disappeared from his game of tug-of-war. "Oi!" He called at the tree, swatting at it with the branch just as the raven tapped it too, trying to tempt it back to his bait and away from the bard.

"Yes," he agreed about his moving through the ranks. "I was Lieutenant, for a short while. But the General of the Storm asked if I might be Captain of Training not long after. It took... a lot of getting used to."
Jigano Silversmith
Lorekeeper ☆ Loreseeker's Guild
Age: 28 | Height: 6'2" | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 8 - Strg: 20 - Dext: 30 - Endr: 30 - Luck: 25
ISUMA - Mythical - Gryphon (venomous)
Played by: Cirago Offline
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Posts: 1,568
MP:
#13
"Don't put yourself in danger," Jigano urged, then paused and grinned ruefully, realizing the ridiculousness of that statement. "Well. Don't do anything that will get you grabbed, at least! I suppose it's a bit late for the former." He definitely didn't want Ronin to end up in avoidable trouble. As long as they were both free and rational they could always try again, even if it meant having to give up on the first few attempts and rethink their strategy.

Their initial plan seemed to have promise, however, with the demigod distracting the tree and pulling its branch out while Jigano hacked at it, until the Wicker Woman decided to try and grab whatever was hitting it closer along its branch! Between the three of them the tree was coaxed back towards the stimulus of the raven's claws and Ronin's stick, however. The bard exhaled briefly in relief as it wrapped tightly around the makeshift bait as if to make up for losing it earlier, and he lined up for a second shot at the branch as it straightened and went taut again, exposing its wounded section once more. "Careful of the sap," he warned again, hopefully needlessly, as Ronin explained his promotions.

"Your general must have been impressed with what they saw in you," he suggested as he raised the axe once more. "Courage and charisma not least of it. Were you in charge of training new recruits, then?" The name would seem to indicate that, but with foreign cultures sometimes naming conventions could surprise you. With a muttered prayer to Ludo, he struck down again, directly into the cut he had opened before. The aim was perfect, but he wasn't quite strong enough to finish the job. One more strike would certainly do it, but before he could worry about that he had to yelp and duck away from a second branch that lashed out to try and wrap around him while the first maintained a weakening grip on Ronin's bait.

The bard danced successfully back, though only because the raven he had set to guard against another predatory limb attack cawed loudly and dropped from above to rake slender talons harmlessly over the whipping branch's bark, distracting it for the half-second necessary for Jigano to retreat out of range.

The tree's other limbs began to shift restlessly at all of this activity in one direction, several beginning to unwrap from the trunk and creep out slowly in questing search of the source of pressure and vibrations the men's activities were causing.
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Ronin Taliesin
Guildmaster / Monster Hunter ☆ Monster Hunters Guild
Age: 26 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Demi-god | Nationality: Outlander
Level: 3 - Strg: 19 - Dext: 20 - Endr: 20 - Luck: 20
SUGAR - Mythical - Dragon (ice breath)
Played by: Honey Online
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Posts: 555
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#14
"If I didn't put myself in danger people would think I was unwell, besides," Ronin joked, though his tone was a little strained due to the effort of trying to keep the branch from the Wicker Woman extended enough for Jigano to get a good strike in. He let out a curt sound of acknowledgement at the other man's warning - if either of them were touched by the sap, their mission could end very badly indeed. It was why Sugar remained coiled about his neck - he couldn't risk her.

Ronin nodded at Jigano's presumption, before realising they were both much too busy to be looking at each other. "She did," he agreed with a breathless laugh, "though to this day I couldn't tell you just what it was she saw." Gritting his teeth, he dug his heels into the earth and doubled down.

"Training new recruits mostly, yeah. But I ran training in general for the citizens-- okay, one more hit! Go for it, Jigano!"


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