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Old 11-06-2019, 09:02 PM   #21
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A slow rumbling stomach reminding Ringo that reality still existed and demanded more than idle thoughts. The night would be long but so was life. She wouldn't starve from one night without food, nor would she become a great soldier from simply standing guard. Little bits, one step after the other- that was the path to success!

The deepest part of night crept over Ringo before she knew it, and her eyelids snapped open as the sound of footsteps drew near. Like a dog she stiffened and her hair stood on end. Each quiet thud she counted, measuring the seconds between the steps to determine the gait of the stranger. Steady footsteps indicated this wasn't some drunk wandering off the tavern path. And there- unmistakable- three people? Even adjusted to the dark her eyes could not pick out any silhouettes or shadows, even as the noises grew louder. Was she bad at her job? Incapable of finding a bunch of untrained Seagull vagrants wandering through the tavern courtyard?

Or, she thought as the idea twisted at her gut, was it more likely that these three individuals were HIDING from plain sight? That they were hostiles, enemies of the Leviathan, their lives forfeit and deserving of no mercy...or maybe it was any one of a dozen other reasons why a group of fellows wouldn't want to be see sneaking around at night. Rushing to judgment was a good way to get in trouble. Instead Ringo stayed as motionless as a gargoyle and listened to their approach, and then departure, as they walked right past her hiding spot.

Her team slept in the room farthest from the entrance, on the second floor. A ground approach would be pointless. These strangers couldn't possibly pose a threat, especially if they wanted to climb up an entire wall and try and open a locked window while a Village Captain slept inside. Yet when she heard the noises move closer to her comrades location Ringo's muscles twitched with anxious anticipation. This was her job. Her order. To guard the night. She needed to do something.
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Old 11-06-2019, 09:15 PM   #22
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Light feet brushed past the foliage as if it wasn't even there. Not a blade of grass nor broken spider web trailed behind Ringo as she slipped across the yard. Her approach stopped when one of the figures spoke in a quiet, but distinctly masculine voice. “One of the girls is missing.”

Every cell in Ringo's body frozen solid. Even her breath stopped.

“You can tell that from here? I can't see a thing.”

“Draw your weapons,” the knowing voice wheezed. “Don't underestimate her because she's a child. Village soldiers don't give second chances.”

“Maybe she went to the bathroom,” suggested another hesitant voice. “We should wait, just in case.”

The silence that followed seemed to agree with the last voice. With her brain firing off in overdrive Ringo tried to piece together a reasonable response. These men absolutely must be talking about her team, right? There couldn't be a doubt about it. One of them must be getting a signal from somewhere about who was in their room- but Ringo checked for just that very thing that afternoon! Her wide eyes looked up towards the stars, then flew across the roof of the tavern. Was there a lantern lit somewhere? A wind chime ringing in a precise, coded pattern? Her attention turned to the faint, black and white outline of the window leading to where her fellow soldiers slept. A sense of helplessness grabbed her throat.

What if there were more hostiles inside, just outside the door to their room? There must be, if these men received information from somewhere. Ringo could jump out and threaten (and, time permitting, beat up) these strangers but that would do little but alert the rest that whatever nighttime heist they planned wasn't going to pan out. Waking up Captain Hideki had to be the priority.

“Jobs done,” said the voice with all the answers. “They're being loaded now. Chief says everyone is to stay alert, they're sweeping the tavern now for the girl.”

A heavy guilt rolled over Ringo like a wave. Oh no! Whatever was supposed to transpire was already happening! Her lungs filled with air as she prepared to shout, rousing her team from their slumber. Whatever was happening Ringo was going to put a stop to it!
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Old 11-06-2019, 09:21 PM   #23
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Light feet brushed past the foliage as if it wasn't even there. Not a blade of grass nor broken spider web trailed behind Ringo as she slipped across the yard. Her approach stopped when one of the figures spoke in a quiet, but distinctly masculine voice. “One of the girls is missing.”

Every cell in Ringo's body frozen solid. Even her breath stopped.

“You can tell that from here? I can't see a thing.”

“Draw your weapons,” the knowing voice wheezed. “Don't underestimate her because she's a child. Village soldiers don't give second chances.”

“Maybe she went to the bathroom,” suggested another hesitant voice. “We should wait, just in case.”

The silence that followed seemed to agree with the last voice. With her brain firing off in overdrive Ringo tried to piece together a reasonable response. These men absolutely must be talking about her team, right? There couldn't be a doubt about it. One of them must be getting a signal from somewhere about who was in their room- but Ringo checked for just that very thing that afternoon! Her wide eyes looked up towards the stars, then flew across the roof of the tavern. Was there a lantern lit somewhere? A wind chime ringing in a precise, coded pattern? Her attention turned to the faint, black and white outline of the window leading to where her fellow soldiers slept. A sense of helplessness grabbed her throat.

What if there were more hostiles inside, just outside the door to their room? There must be, if these men received information from somewhere. Ringo could jump out and threaten (and, time permitting, beat up) these strangers but that would do little but alert the rest that whatever nighttime heist they planned wasn't going to pan out. Waking up Captain Hideki had to be the priority.

“Jobs done,” said the voice with all the answers. “They're being loaded now. Chief says everyone is to stay alert, they're sweeping the tavern now for the girl.”

A heavy guilt rolled over Ringo like a wave. Oh no! Whatever was supposed to transpire was already happening! Her lungs filled with air as she prepared to shout, rousing her team from their slumber. Whatever was happening Ringo was going to put a stop to it!

Barely a puff of breath cracked out from Ringo's chest before one last incriminating sentence tumbled out. “Wouldn't the drugs have knocked her out?” Her throat burned as she choked off her battle cry.

“Maybe she didn't eat any of the yellowscale.”

“Liam said all their plates were clean!”

Because, Ringo realized, Captain Hideki ate her share after she refused it.

“Could it have not worked on her?”

“The Captain was out like a sack of potatoes, there's no way a girl her size wouldn't be completely out of it.”

Every word Ringo's straining ears picked up brought more and bad news. If she had yelled for help...if she had moved at all...! But such thoughts she pushed aside. The advantage was hers right now, so long as she stayed concealed. Her team was in danger but this was the very thing the Academy prepared her for. To be ready to die for a fellow countryman, that's what it meant to be a Village soldier!
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Old 11-06-2019, 09:58 PM   #24
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Whatever else the men would say fell on deaf ears. One did managed to mumble out “Hey, do you guys hear that?” seconds before any intelligible words became garbled alongside shouts and screams of pain. Maybe the night's darkness hide their faces, but Ringo's training prepared her for just such an occasion. As her club smashed across the knees of one target the other hand was swinging her buckler to intercept any possible counter attack. Nothing came and as the first man crumpled she quickly brought her weapon up through the darkness and sunk it deep into the bridge of where his nose ought to be. A gut churning crunch more or less confirmed she hit her mark.

The other man couldn't even get out a full sentence of disbelief before Ringo fell on him with equal fury. Judging from the first man these hostiles weren't wearing armor- plainclothes, if she was forced to guess. She put their size around that of the dock workers from that morning- muscular, but the kind of body built for hard labor and not combat. Her new target took a few swings and as she drew her buckler up to defend herself something sharp and metal scraped across it. Not a sword, too small...just a common machete, if she had to guess.

No reason to guess, though! Her tiny arms wrapped around the man's wrist as he withdrew the weapon and with a surprising strength twisted the handle out from his grip. Something shattered- not bone, but frozen flesh. “Agh!” The target tried to withdraw but seconds within getting disarmed Ringo thrust the tip of her club into where she estimated his throat would be. Another soft squish and the panicked garbling of the shadow in front of her confirmed another bullseye. Just like they trained her in the Academy!

As expected the man doubled over, either in pain or trying to breathe though his pummeled windpipe. It didn't matter now that the man stood at probably close to twice her height. Still working off instinct and guesswork Ringo's buckler hand reached out and caught her target by the collar, and by throwing her entire weight into her grip she sent the adult tumbling forwards. A little bit of fancy footwork and a trick with her grappling hook, and she had herself a makeshift prisoner at the end of a short, tightening leash.

A commanding, breathless shout ripped from deep inside her. “Identify yourself at once! I know one more of you is out there!” The man she attacked first sounded as though he was still curled up on the ground with a broken nose, and the second trapped in her noose couldn't talk on account of the whole being asphyxiated thing. “You have threatened Village citizens and encroached on the will of the Leviathan! Surrender now, or-” She stopped, because the official line she was supposed to use here was 'or we will respond with lethal force'. Technically she had already done that, so...

“Or I'll respond with even more lethal force!” There we go. To emphasize she drew the noose around her prisoner tighter, causing his coughing, choking sputtering to increase. “Who sent you? The Glassmaker? You have ten seconds!”

“H-help!” The man on the ground regained his composure, and could be heard dragging himself away. “Boss! Help!” Ringo let out a sharp exhale from beneath clenched teeth. Her muscles burned with an eager fire, and her head kept darting from side to side looking for the remaining target. Captain Hideki would have surely heard all her screaming, and as dim lights flickered behind the windows through the tavern building she was positive that these criminals wouldn't get away so easily. Even if this had been an inside job that double-crossing Liam couldn't possibly have the entire tavern booked with thugs. Mortal enemies or not, the people of Seagull would surely not stand for nighttime ambushes against children!

“I'm out here!” The man wheezed through a bloodied, crooked nose. “Help! The girl is out here, she killed him, oh gods, she killed him!” Ringo made a face at that even while she kept a firm grip on her leash. The man wasn't dead yet! Although now he stopped clawing at the makeshift garrote and seemed to be falling limp, true asphyxiation wouldn't hit immediately. His growing weakness did provide her a chance to react, though. The hazy yellow lights, dim as they were filtering through the room curtains, gave her just enough vision to make out everyone in the courtyard. The third man was nowhere to be seen and, given their sizes, she couldn't see anywhere for him to hide. She hadn't heard the frenzied footsteps signaling an escape, either. Where had he gone?
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Old 11-07-2019, 09:28 PM   #25
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One of the windows adjacent to her team's room slide open, and a very concerned looking woman peaked out from behind it to see what the ruckus was about. Seizing opportunities was part of being a good soldier too! Ringo let go of her prey, not really caring whether or not the job was finished, and dashed towards the brick wall of the tavern. Along the way the previously wounded assailant took a furious kick at her but she easily side-stepped him and cracked his skull with a flick of her baton. Right as she approached the sheer face of the tavern wall the woman above let out a tiny yelp and hurried to close the window again.

All things considered, it was a reasonable response! Ringo, after all, must have looked like the bad guy here. The arc of history was long and bent towards absolving the just of all sins, though, so she didn't take it to heart. Instead she quickly stowed her weapons and took a mighty leap upwards, planting both her heels on the edge of one of the first floor windows and boosting tiny body up just enough to wrap her fingers around the lip of the second floor one. She shimmied her way up what looked like an impassable barrier so quickly one might mistake her for a particularly feminine cockroach, or maybe a black-clad monkey.

She tried the first window and found it locked, and knowing that Captain Hideki would have his locked as well she opted for a different approach. Now most of the tavern tenants seemed awake and the whole row of room windows lit up with dim yellow lantern lights. A few didn't, however. Those few almost certainly wouldn't be occupied. After all, who could possibly still be asleep after all that screaming?

Hopping from window sill to sill Ringo leapfrogged her way towards one such empty room. The White Clamshell Tavern featured heavy iron bars across all their glass windows, which could be slid out for those wanting a bit of fresh air. Ringo threw her weight against the bars and slammed them against their hinges as they rolled along the interior metal track keeping them in place. The reverberating shocks rattled her bones as she moved to push the glass part of the window open, and with ease she disappeared though the room's curtain and into its interior.
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Old 11-07-2019, 09:38 PM   #26
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Now the alarm really blew up. Footsteps, some pounding, some scurrying, others pacing, bounced around the stonework interior. Doors were being locked, thrown open, and slammed shut as various patrons made their own judgments about what horrors might be transpiring outside. Ringo's own feet swiftly tiptoed to the peephole located on the room's entrance. The night's darkness still swathed most of the hall in impenetrable darkness but a few dim distant glows let her know that someone was out there holding a lamp or light of some kind. A disgustingly familiar voice yelled out from down below.

“Guests!” Liam shouted with an emotion in her voice Ringo couldn't quite place. “Please stay inside! A thief is loose!”

A thief! Ringo! A soldier of the Village, oathsworn to the Leviathan, upholder of the natural law of the sea! Thief! Were her sense of duty not driving her back towards her team, Ringo would have stormed down there and taught that vile woman what it meant to cross paths with a Village cadet! But now was not the time for that. Revenge would not serve her people the best. At least, not right at this moment.

Taking no chances Ringo threw the door open and scampered out into the hall. Nobody could be seen on either side of the hall, nor did it seem anyone was standing outside her team's room. Odd. Very odd. Had they all run away already? With a silent speed she darted to the door and held its cold cast iron handle in her hands, not turning it just yet. In her off hand her trust club found itself once again. She closed her eyes and took a slow, long inhale.

Coat rack to the left. Dress, full length mirror to the right. Three futons laid side by side on top of six two-and-a-quarter bamboo mats. Captain Hideki's equipment stowed along the north wall, Unmei's at a right angle to it and facing the window. Before that evening Ringo took the imitative to rearrange all the furniture to minimize the number of possible hiding spots for any lurking enemies, and the whole layout flashed in her mind like someone rifling through a deck of cards. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to take refuse. Anyone inside would be at the mercy of Ringo and her justice stick!
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Old 11-07-2019, 09:46 PM   #27
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Taking no more than a second to collect these thoughts Ringo then turned the knob and forced her way in. As expected the door's lock had been tampered with, and the deadbolt thrown open. How their foes managed that would have to wait for another day. She raised her club and swung it towards her blind spots, where she anticipated enemies lying in ambush. Attack where they will be, not where they are, her Academy teachers used to say!

In this case she did neither. Despite some fancy footwork and a few rolling dodges, it became rapidly apparent the room was empty. Reaching down Ringo scooped up one of Captain Hideki's match books, which held the matches he used to not smoke the pipe he didn't use. Nervous fingers flicked the top up and scraped the entire group of matches across the floor at once. The room lit up in a blinding red blaze.

Yup, there was no denying it now. Both Unmei's and Captain Hideki's futons were a mess and their bodies (hopefully still alive!) nowhere to be seen. Ringo's futon, still unused, lay neat and tidy. In fact everything in the room sans the things Ringo smacked by accident or bumped into during her ambush looked unaffected. There were no signs of struggle.

A growing sense of being alone rolled over Ringo as she stood panting in the empty tavern room. It was not a new feeling, but this was a new context for it. It was one thing to be unpopular in the Academy, or to be far from home without the support of your nine siblings and too many aunts and uncles to count. It was another entirely to be embedded deep in enemy territory without a single clue as to what in the blazes was going on.

Footsteps pounded up the spiral staircase just a short distance from their room, and Ringo heard the voices roar out from the still open door to the room. “She's small, but don't hold back! She'll kill you if you get careless!”

What did her teachers say about a time like this? To reflect on one's past mistakes, and learn from them? That wasn't going to do any good here. No, Ringo needed to take a page from the chickens she used to raise on this one. It was time to run.
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Old 11-07-2019, 09:58 PM   #28
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Far, far away, a whole few minutes walk from where the night's violent first act was unfolding, a pair of irate donkeys took turns nipping at each others' ears. It was far past the time that donkeys should be working, and the smell of fear hung heavy in the air. Two women worked quickly to load up the wagon which both animals were reined too, each lifting up a large object wrapped in cloth and strapping it down firmly with pairs of heavy iron chains.

“Good gravy.” One of the woman panted as she rolled the smaller of the two loads onto the wagon. “What a waste of some perfectly good rugs.”

The other woman seemed more preoccupied tying down their cargo than responding to quips, and focused right in on the heart of the matter. “There are supposed to be three. Where's the third?”

The first woman threw up her arms in a guilty shrug. “Ain't our concern, is it? We gotta get moving as soon as possible, Chief's orders!”

Rattling a chain threateningly the second woman spat back. “Getting all three was Chief's orders too. We can't do both!”

An unmistakable set of agonized screams tore through the night and both woman looked up, perhaps expecting some demon to leap from the moon's shadow. Through the rowdy cries bits and pieces of info could be picked up. Girl...my eyes...on fire...out the back window...into the woods...

“Sounds good to me.” The first woman leaped up into the wagon and snatched up the reins. “Let those weirdo shamans deal with their escapee. We gotta move!”

Another grouping of piercing wails brought the second woman back into the present as well. “Righto. Let's get moving, then.”

Donkeys weren't particularly fast beasts of burden, so the getaway wasn't quite as spectacular. With a clipclopping laziness the wagon prattled its way onto the main road and into the night, with nothing but the moon to guide the way. Both woman sat back to back, each watching for signs of some kind of trouble in the branches of the oaks and acacias that bordered the road.

“It's just the three, right?” Now they spoke in whispers as the noise of the tavern fell farther and farther away. “Don't theVillage usually send more?”

“Nah.” The other gripped a spiked mace in one hand, hidden down load below the edge of the wagon. “They are scared of causing another incident. Already got egg on their face from the whole Glassmaker thing.”

“Bloody hell, ain't that a kick in the teeth.” The woman snapped the reins to force the donkeys to stop their incessant nipping at each other. “Lot of good it did them, didn't it!”
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Old 11-08-2019, 08:31 PM   #29
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The night went on unabated by the events transpiring behind them. The getaway, minus the missing member of the Village trio, couldn't have gone cleaner. Donkeys weren't exactly race horses but traversing the road between the tavern and into the countryside wasn't a marathon. By the time they reached the fortress the first tickles of dawn could be seen coloring the starry night sky. The wagon rattled as it transitioned from the smooth graded dirt road to the fortress's brickwork, and the woman guarding the cargo began growing agitated.

“How long are these drugs supposed to work, exactly? Cause I swear I saw one of 'em twitch.”

“Have a bit of faith in the chemist, eh?” The worry was apparent in the other kidnapper's voice as well. They waited silently outside the rusty iron gates. “Faith, faith!” She said again, mostly for her own confidence.

“We got here early, didn't we?”

“How should I know? You were driving.”

“Maybe we should knock.”

“There's no watchman, all you would do is draw attention!” More time passed without anything but the early morning songbirds beginning to tweet. Somewhere very distant, a rooster crowed.

Then a rattling, rickety noise shook out from behind the entryway to the massive stone fort. The donkeys brayed inconsolably as the woman driving them quickly began urging them forward, as if at any moment the little heist may be discovered. The cart shuddered, then the wheels began to turn. Just as quickly as the caravan started, it disappeared into the darkness of the fortress gate. Seagull's Swamp Garrison had swallowed them whole.
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Old 11-08-2019, 08:51 PM   #30
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Nearly two hours later the first of the fortress's mighty parapets peeked out over the foliage. Ringo hadn't been sure what she was looking for but this certainly looked to qualify. Sweaty and covered in not a small amount of blood, most of it not her own, she maintained her distance from the main road and slowed her approach down to an almost literal crawl. The sun cast the mighty structure in a blinding yellow light, its normally brown sandstone walls looking positively radiant. Seagull's eastern shore could be heard nearby as well, either from the gulls or from the crashing waves. What must have been dozens- maybe even over a hundred portholes dotted the side of the fortress and pointed outwards towards the sea. Oaken shutters kept every point of access closed, though. Not that Ringo (even with her small size) could have fit through any of those boreholes, anyway.

As Ringo drew closer her mind reached back for what she learned about this place in the Academy. Called the Swamp by the locals, the fortress stood on the only access point into Seagull's eastern shores. Everywhere else was too rocky or the currents were too strong. The Village in the past three decades tried to claim it twice. Both times resulted in large casualties and no lasting damage to the fort.

It seemed the last ten years of peace dulled the Swamp's impenetrability, though! Gone were the pitfalls, nets, and traps that once surrounded it on all sides. Well, maybe that was only along this old supply road Ringo stuck close to. No doubt the beach itself was still littered with land mines. One of her Academy teachers only had one arm, having lost the other trying to storm these very shores. Being in the presence of such history gave the girl chills. Ten years of peace wasn't quite the way to put it after all, was it? It was ten years of ceasefire, with increasingly friendly relations...

...which might all go out the door now. In pursuit of the Glassmaker Ringo now stood in the face of a Seagull military operation. Coming to the clearing where the fortress began in earnest Ringo took the time to covertly walk back to the dirt road to check again- and sure enough, she found the trail that set her out on this trip in the first place. Just a little bit of blood stained the dirt.

Was it Unmei, or Captain Hideki, who left these breadcrumbs? Ringo only barely caught a glimpse of the wagon before it left the tavern and without much else to go on after giving her pursuers the slip, she followed it. Despair just as quickly turned to hope when in the moonlight she caught sight of slight patch of discolored earth along the road. Maybe neither of her teammates were alive anymore, and she was simply following their bleeding corpses into danger. Maybe this was all a huge mistake.

No, even if was ninety-nine percent certainly a mistake, and that didn't matter! Ringo steeled herself and readjusted her armor as she looked again at the daunting, legendary Seagull fortress. There was no cavalry to call on. Nobody to call for help. She could possibly hide in these island forests for ten days, wait for the Saint Kagusama to arrive, and escape that way, but abandoning teammates was unthinkable. Technically, it was illegal, by the Cadet Oath she swore just a few months ago! More than that Ringo already did the math. Her life was nothing, but Captain Hideki's life was by far more important. To sacrifice one for a chance at saving the other was just being a good patriot, wasn't it? And hey, if Unmei wasn't already dead, she could come too. Ringo's generosity knew no bounds!

...which was all well and good. But as she reassessed the situation that sinking despair began to creep back into her. From her vantage point in the tree line she could squat and think but before too long the sun would rob her of any shadows to hide in altogether. The gate was just the first checkpoint to the fort, there were still bridges to cross and soldiers to overcome. The men and women stationed here would be trained fighters completely unlike the thugs back at the tavern. If Ringo was going to go in, she needed a plan, and she needed one that eluded the Village's finest military minds for the last five decades.
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