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Hero, Don't Kill The Demon King! Chapter 1: Lives Not Yet Thrown Away

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Lavinia trusted her? When Jade didn't even trust herself? Not fully at least. That warms my heart, but you really shouldn't. The eye contact, and the shoulder squeeze confirmed that--like her compliments in the bath--the vampire was genuine about this. It was an odd sort of feeling, and left her confused, wondering if she should voice her protestations only to have these also get shot down.

The merchant took too long in making up her mind though, as the archer'd locked her arrows onto a new target. 'Kiss her and let us be off', a phrase that brought Jade a chuckle despite herself. "Oh please, I'm bad enough for laughing at it, but seriously? What if the places were swapped and it was Nessraya urging her to kiss you, or if they'd finished first while we still talking and shot something our way?" At least the Hero was a good sport about it, making Jade feel less guilty about continued snickers as Marina gave her advisor a hug, and a parting wave when she came to join them. Agni had popped out of the inn at about the same time, so it looked like their nighttime adventure would feature four.

"I'm certainly not going to turn you away, and I feel like Lavinia would welcome some additional buffer too. I'll lead on then," Jade nodded, and turned to head toward the arena. She hadn't even got five paces before a surprised squeal from behind her put a pause to that. Looking over her shoulder revealed a beet red Hero, still caught in the succubus's grasp.

It had nothing to do with her. The merchant shouldn't have felt anything one way or another. But she did. A twinge, and dark regret. Emptiness. This afternoon with Lavinia had been the most intimacy she'd had in years, and hadn't ended up in anything--not that she had expected or necessarily even wanted it to. In fact, she chalked that whole episode up solely to the fact that the vampire was also undead and had an overdeveloped sense of pity. But anyone with a pulse? Forget it. She was a zombie, after all.

She coughed lightly, then turned back around and continued walking toward the arena.

Edited by Balcerzak

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Things had certainly picked up in the last few minutes. Agni had shown up, and Lavinia was about to answer him, but Nessraya went and did exactly what Lavinia had been expecting. "Hah!" was all she could muster, snickering over the General's actions, and the girl's response. "Always keep your guard up with Nessraya, Marina. Get too intimate, and she'll be all over you~" Another bit of chuckling and Lavinia shook her head, taking a moment to glance at Jade... She was already heading off, so they shouldn't be wasting any time dawdling.

"Agni, of course, feel free to come along. The more the merrier, and yes. After news like that... I believe we could all use some stress relief. Come and knock some heads around-- Do take care not to get too knocked around yourself, though." Lavinia held her smile, quite amused by events, and trailed after Jade, taking quick steps to catch up to her.

"Don't lose us now, Jade. If you get there too soon, I'll miss your performance."


"Huh? Oh, uh, yeah!" Taliyah shot up, blushed a bit, and tried to calm down. "I-I'm alright, Gabriela. And sure! I'd love to go around town with you, just... Er, s-sorry I was, I didn't... Think miss Lavinia would be that upset. I didn't even know what that stuff was. I grabbed it from my... Dad... I dunno why he'd have vampire blood, though. But her scowl... W-Well, I, just wanted to disappear for a bit, there... But er, yeah! Walk, sounds great. Let's walk!" Taliyah was trying her best to pick herself up, nodding and smiling, even if it was a bit forced.


Asami settled into her room and gently placed herself on her bed, allowing her tail to wrap around her stomach so she could rest her hands against it, for a bit of warmth. Bladen and Ayane were here now, so it was time to get into the nitty gritty of things. "Alright... Where do I start..." She glanced at the both of them again, and then sighed. "I don't want to pick. You two decide. You can have: what I know of Ouka, what I knew about Nanbu, or... Why I, decided to run away." That was probably something only Bladen cared about, but she was going to leave it on the table anyway. It pertained to this a bit, after all... Not as much as her knowledge on Ouka, though. "What'll it be?"


The arena! Perhaps the most exciting stop for tourists in Aensbrook. Lavinia stepped into the foyer of the establishment, letting her hood fall. "Mmm... Nice and sheltered in here... Even if the arena itself isn't. A moment to breathe."

"Breathe, is it?" The gruff zombie from before looked over the group, spotting Jade and finding himself smiling just a small bit. "Well now! Buncha vampires and a zombie. Least I... Think yer a buncha vampires. Ain't yer hair s'posed to go with the sun?"

Lavinia felt a small spot of worry in the back of her mind, but tried to play it softly. "They're young. It'll take them another hour or so... The blood needs time to adjust, as it has for me~"

"Herm. Iffin ye say so. Still nice to see so many undead! Normally holed up in here by myself, so... Ah, y'don't care about that. Anyway, welcome to the arena! Who's up first, so we can get the combatants all roused?"

Lavinia looked back at the other three, stepping aside. "Jade, if you would? We're going to need the sun to go down just a little bit further if we want this to be a fair fight. I'll make sure to watch you from the stands~" Lavinia smiled and nodded, heading towards the viewing area, and pulling her hood back up as she reached the stairs.

"Alright! Welcome, Jade she said, aye? You can go as crazy as y'want in there, we'll make sure ta stop ya if things get dicey. Just let loose. I know how it must be, gettin' all those looks just 'cause you bite people sometimes. Hel with all of 'em, we're not crazy." He rolled his eye, the other covered by an eyepatch, shaking his head. "So let 'em have it, yeah? ... An', sorry if I'm assumin', I figure all us undead got it bad somehow. Always someone with a minute of prejudice on their mind!"

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Marina regained her focus briefly, shaking her head as she returned to Earth... more of, the world she's on... whatever. She turned over to Lavinia with a nervous laugh, "Haha, I uh... Suppose so, yeah..." She felt her hand through her hood, scratching her head in embarrassment. 

She also quickly realized her next mistake as she reached into pouch, taking out her gloves and equipping herself. "Okay, um... I'm good to go," She announced as she gave a confident smile. And then she noticed Agni as well. Oh good, he was coming too. Oh no, did he see that? Her sight almost just darting away as the embarrassment kicked in again.


And then they made it to the Arena. The redness in her face had gone away by the time they even reached the entrance. Stepping in, they were greeted by a seemingly nice zombie; definitely a lot more battletorn than Jade had looked. A moment where their disguised was seen through, but thankfully Lavinia came in and saved her and Agni. She didn't really say anything as she simply let Lavinia speak. Soon volunteering Jade to go first, Lavinia left for the stands.

"Good luck, Jade," Marina spoke as she gave the zombie at the front desk a small bow, making her way over to the viewing area herself, quietly speaking the words Jezebel told her to recite, "Dye, die..." And almost like that, as if a sign of the spell working, a flock of hair fell into Marina's face, back to it's usual dark blue. Even though it was only for a few hours, she missed her hair.

Catching up to Lavinia, she gave a smile as she turned to watch the arenagoers... go. "How do you think she'll do?"

Edited by Silver Gallade

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"If you want, we could talk to her about it together. So you don't have to do it alone." Xalrei offered as she began to lead her small group out of the inn. She didn't want to go into the idea further and risk bringing Taliyah's mood back down, but she had to let her friend know she was there for her. "But enough about that! We're going out to have fun, not to worry about things like that." Exiting the inn revealed the group that had gathered was dispersing -save Nessraya-, Xalrei blissfully unaware of the exchange between the general and Marina just moments prior.

"Oh, uh, hey, Nessraya. We were going to walk around town a bit, maybe go shopping or visit some of the other places around town. Do you want to come with?" Maybe if the succubus agreed, Xalrei could figure out what their relationship was supposed to be. She had gone to Nessraya to escape her dreams for a night, fully expecting to act as if it hadn't happened come morning; however, Nessraya was still flirting with her and now giving her gifts. Was it just her being playful, or was there something more sincere there?

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And off they went... Nessraya had considered following along in order to see how well the little group did at their attempts, but before she had made her mind up, they had gotten a bit ahead of her, and Xalrei had come along with Taliyah in tow, asking if she wished to tag along for some exploring.

"My my, inviting me along on your date? How risque~ Not that I mind such... daring proposals~ Of course I would love to come along~" Nessraya replied, though Gabriela also turning the corner soon afterwards put a little damper on her little bout of teasing. Oh well, perhaps she would still get an adorably flustered reaction.

"Gabriela as well? And I thought I worked quickly~"

Edited by Ether

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Xalrei was clearly not having Taliyah's sulking right now. It was time to have some fun! Gabriela was a bit behind the two of them, especially since Xalrei was practically dragging Taliyah out of the inn, so it was a little difficult to keep up.  She was pretty excited to finally be able to go out with some girls, especially after what Ayane said earlier. A little rude, that one.

When Gabriela turned the corner, she saw Xalrei and Taliyah talking to none other than General Nessraya. She looked to be having a pretty good time, and she could probably guess what happened. She still remembered seeing Xalrei and Nessraya in the same tent, and knowing the general, she was probably teasing Xalrei. This was confirmed when she heard more words come out of General Nessraya's mouth.

"General! You are such a tease. Looking for your next victim on this fine evening?" Gabriela winked playfully.

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Ayane was happy to be in a smaller company, even if this fox was sly. At least Bladen seemed like an honest type. When they got to Asami's room she was presented with options. "What you know of Ouka." She swiftly answered, she knew what she wanted alright. That being said, she turned to Bladen as she leaned against the wall. "Is that suitable to you? Or did you want another option?"

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Bladen carefully settled down into an armchair, twisting sideways so his wings weren't crushed against the back, and ended up almost lounged, feet hanging over one armrest. The options presented to him were all of varying interest, but the one that caught his attention the most was why Asami ran. But... The hint of sadness was lingering in the air. He couldn't shake the feeling that he shouldn't be here, that he shouldn't pry. He could feel a heaviness to all of this, like one wrong move and it would all come crashing down. She was offering something that he wanted, sure. But he wasn't sure he was ready for the consequences of taking her up on that offer.

Thankfully, Ayane settled the issue for him. Speaking up, asking about this Ouka, she made the problem simple. "Sure, that sounds good to me. She's going to be our enemy after all. Better to learn everything we can about her." It was safer ground. Something he could, and would, face with his blade. That much, at least, he felt confident he could handle. A fight, win or lose, had a known outcome. Dipping into Asami's past... For some reason, right now that felt more scary than any battle he could face.

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Jade wasn't sure why, but somehow Lavinia's words--when she asked her to slow down so she wouldn't miss the performance--caused the zombie to think of something she had forgotten. Brains can be funny that way, random stimuli firing synapses that connect to other ideas. The vampire was right on one count at least. There was something missing.

Suddenly stopping stock still, Lavinia's hastened pace took her right past the zombie she was trying to catch up with. "Do you think they'll let me bring DV," Jade mused aloud, "It's not like I can't fight without one or the other of my 'mares, but I do so much better when they are around. I'll catch right back up, don't worry," she finished, and made a quick detour to where her nightmares were stabled.


When the group finally pulled up in front of the arena, it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to see that the person booking the runs was a zombie himself. He seemed a bit skeptical about Marina and Agni, but there was plenty of reason for that, and presumably the pair would figure something out before the issue became a real problem. As Lavinia volunteered her for the first run, which Jade had known was coming and well prepared for, the merchant paused a moment to just confirm with the organizer, "It's okay if I bring a steed with me, right? I'm sure you get mounted knights and such from time to time, this shouldn't be any different than that." She gave Deep Vermilion a couple pats as she spoke, the 'mare currently looking like just an ordinary horse. Well, no, that undercuts things, she was still at the very least a black beauty.

"Hah! 'Course! Ain't no rules against that. Put on a good show," came the brisk reply, with hearty laughter. Then he confirmed her name again, and made sure to let her know she could go all out if she needed to, they had healers on standby and presumably strong warriors to hold her back if she lost herself. A brief smile and a half laugh, "Good to hear, but I'm hoping it won't come to that. Guess I don't need to worry that I'm using real bullets either? Didn't have the time to look into finding alternatives."

Then with all the formalities taken care of, it was actually out into the arena, down on the show floor. Late in the day, Jade had almost expected there wouldn't be anyone in the stands watching, but there were still some curious observers beyond just the group she'd travelled with. She was a bit nervous, having an audience, but when the first opponent, Galahad, a dwarf, came out and the match began, there was less time for self-doubt and uncertainty. The sturdy warrior seemed to shrug off her shots, and swung back with strong strokes of his axe, scoring two hits on her, despite attempts to shield them. By the time his third attack came, though, Jade had figured out the rhythm, and managed to avoid it, and she finally wore down the man's endurance after that. There'd been a moment's hesitation when asked if she'd continue, but things hadn't been too bad, and she was sure Lavinia would rib her for chickening out if she stopped here. Besides, she needed to run out more clock so the vampire would be stronger anyway.

The second contender, on the other hand, felt like a joke to her. The vampire's throwing stars had less impact than some mosquitoes she'd faced and Jade found herself worrying if it was still too early in the evening, if he was fighting at a handicap. But she couldn't let that deter her from taking a free win, and so she advanced to the next challenge.

A fellow marksman, if the werewolf's pistol was any judge of the situation, and getting caught up in the thrill of the moment, she swung down from DV, who had yet to have to exert herself, and was still presenting as just a brilliant black mare. Walking up to Frank, she held out her hand for a shake, and asked "Ten paces, then draw?" He responded with a laugh, saying "Sure thing, lass. The crowd'll love the suspense." And love it they did, apparently, when a roar erupted as it was proven that not only was Jade the faster gun, but also much more accurate. The zombie actually gasped a little in surprise upon seeing the man go down without a fight. Was she somehow better than she thought? This was an arena right? Established fighters, fleecing the foolhardy from their challenger's fees?

Her inner doubt continued when the elf with the overlarge sword was similarly dispatched with a single bullet. Was she being toyed with here, before the organizers finally pulled the rug out from under her? The dark mage that came next was more of a challenge, bringing back the difficulty she'd faced in the first fight. DV had had to rear up, push back the Incubus through size and intimidation, but the pair won here too without anything drastic or surprising occurring. The dark magic hurt, but not enough to push her past her limits, to feel like a real threat.

Leon Tennessee was another gunner, and Jade gave him the same deal as Frank. They started out, on the ground, ten paces apart, but Leon was significantly faster, and as he began firing twice for every one shot of hers, Deep Vermilion let out a whinny, and cantered up in front of her, taking a shot. The site of the bullet's impact broke out into flames, and as DV snorted smoke, with her mane also igniting in flame, a roar swept across the crowd. Based on the noise, the spectacle they were getting now was one the kind of was rarely seen. Jade quickly swung up, mounting her steed; the marksman's duel was only good for the first volley, anyway, as soon as Leon had fired his second shot all bets were off. The gunslinging finally came to an end, and she was the victor. They'd both fired enough shots to need to reload, and she'd come out the quicker on that, though even if she hadn't, his bullets weren't having nearly the effect on her as hers were on him. She probably could have gone another two, maybe three reloads? It was hard to tell, she'd begun missing some of her shots too, while the other zombie was still landing all of his. But further speculation was pointless. A victory was a victory.

Does she challenge the final combatant? The referee had arrived asking the now familiar question. The audience in the stands certainly seemed eager for more. While things had definitely begun ramping back up out of the early lull, she'd still not been in significant danger. Were they saving a truly overwhelming foe in reserve as their ace? It was a valid wonder, but to come so far and turn back right at the final cusp just really wasn't an option. Could she really call herself a merchant if the first hint of a little risk scared her off a potential profit?

The final fight was truly a culmination. Jade had unleashed a powerful initial round, striking the gorgon deep in the chest. But "Soft Snake" was quick to counter, vaulting up and pushing Jade off her horse, then jumping down and cutting deep into her belly with his wicked hunting knife as he landed. If she hadn't managed to quickly unload a second shot into him, putting a stop to the attempted disemboweling, she wasn't sure how bad things might have got. She probably would have been pushed to feral fairly quickly, a fate she was lucky to have avoided throughout the whole gauntlet. After the officials had pulled the exhausted competitor off of her, declaring her the victor and awarding her the prize purse, DV walked right up next to her and worriedly rubbed a nose in her stomach. "Ahh, yeah, I'm fine," she grunted, and patted the 'mare. "It looks worse than it is."...That said, it was also easily the worst blow she'd been dealt all night by a wide margin.

Then it was time to exit the arena, and return to her friends.

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...Did Nessraya really just up and did that? Kiss Marina in front of him?  ... There was nothing he could do about it at that point, so he turned away from the 'spectacle'. Hopefully Marina would pay more attention around Nessraya after the fact. "Perhaps I will be in need of some wanton violence to let my frustrations go... very well." Lavinia extended the invite to him, so of course he'd follow.


"Merely a trifle of the new blood flowing through my veins. It will leave soon." Agni waved a dismissing hand at the zombie receptionist's concerns, following Lavinia's story. Perhaps it would be a good idea to dispel and pursue Jezebel later. Surely they could find her quick enough. With Jade as the suggested first to attempt the arena, Agni relaxed himself, standing beside Marina. It was a curious piece of information to learn, that even among monsters, some subspecies found their struggles to be seen as peers --or in this case, as sentients?

What a messy world. Either way, for as chatty as the receptionist was, Agni remained of few words. "Who should go second, now?" He threw the question loosely at Lavinia and Marina, making his way to the spectator's rows to watch Jade's performance. Honestly, he didn't paint her as a fighter, so this would be a learning experience.

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"How do I think she'll do?" While Lavinia had plenty of outward confidence in Jade, her inner thoughts were less pretty. The zombie was, first of all, a zombie. While sturdy, she would be slow, and prone to her race's want to feed. If things got too tight for her, there was a significant chance she'd jump at her opponent... Which was fine, of course, but could ruin her chances at a victory. Then, she was a merchant, not a fighter, nor a warrior... "Hmm. It'll come down to how well she handles that gun of hers, I believe. She seemed quite the good shot before... We'll have to see how well that holds up in a more duel appropriate setting." Of course, Lavinia's worries about all her prior thoughts could be instantly shelved if Jade was a crack shot with her revolver. It didn't seem like her eyes had gone with the transformation, so as long as she held onto what seemed like very, very good aim, her chances of success would skyrocket. "She's much better off than if she was using a melee weapon, that's for sure~" Perhaps Lavinia was as well, though she had enjoyed using a spear, until Thesephine argued her towards the bow.

"All in all... I think she'll do just fine~"

As for a second to go... "I'd like you and Marina to go, if you don't mind. The sun is still up, and I'd prefer to have a go at this without the chance of being melted, I'm sure you understand~" Lavinia snuck a smile over at Agni, before a faint blush hit her face, and she turned away. "Mmm, yes, you should both, ahem... Go ahead. I'll make sure to watch, and all that."


'Just fine' was an egregious understatement of how well Jade had performed during the arena. Not only had she avoided going feral, she'd taken down some of the best contenders there with single shots! Even the end of the roster proved her little match, two rounds putting him down... Had she chosen her profession incorrectly? Should they hire another merchant, and have Jade fighting as much as she could? Lavinia couldn't hold the bright smile that kept creeping, as the sun continued to fade against the horizon, a shadow slowly descending over the arena.

Without a word to Marina, the vampire was racing back to the entrance hall! Jade had performed amazingly, this was exactly what Lavinia was hoping for, even if the odds were stacked against the zombie. This... This triumph, was just...! "Jade!" Spotting her as she dashed back near the receptionist, Lavinia didn't stop her momentum, picking the zombie up into a tight hug and spinning her around a moment. "Hahahaha~! You were amazing! That was wonderful fighting, I'm so proud!" She finally let her down, trying to stifle her excitement, but it was incredibly difficult. "You'll never convince me you're 'just a merchant' after all that! How well you worked with your steed and how much of a professional you are with a gun? Where'd all that come from? It was great! You were great!"

Lavinia felt a bit silly, laying all this praise into her, but... Considering how low the woman's esteem had been earlier, to see her do something so near perfectly... "S, Sorry, just... Well done. Really well done."


Taliyah gasped, poking her head out from behind Xalrei. "A date!? And the ribbon... Y-You two really are together! Xalrei... Good work." The girl was completely enamoured with the idea of Xalrei being together with the general, and seeing all the proof she felt she needed, she wasn't going to be quiet about it! "Alright! To the tavern we go! Gotta make sure no one gets in the way of my big sis' date!" Trying to stuff the remnants of her headache away, Taliyah marched on, towards the tavern... "Er... Where, exactly is it? I've never been here before."


"Ouka it is, then~" Asami crossed her legs and leaned back a bit, staring up at the ceiling. "Let's see... Crazy witch who's been around for a few centuries... Turns people into monsters, undead and-- oni, like you. Has been trying to overthrow the country for a few families now, and seems to have succeeded with yours... Hmmm." Where to turn for proper information? Ayane seemed to have the general gist of things, perhaps there wasn't much that she could share to the former princess. "She's weak to dark magic, has a penchant for playing with her enemies, is probably looking for the biggest sources of power here in Vaia... Which... Means that Thesephine will be in some trouble soon. I really should send that message." Sitting up again, she let her tail slip back behind her, as the tip of it started to write magic in the air, Asami sighing just a bit.

"Oh, did you make sure to burn the dead? Not bury, that's a waste of time against her... Her favorite little 'game' is taking your loved ones and raising them to fight against you. Did that quite a few times, from what I saw of her dealings, so... I'm hoping someone tipped your family off, or it was knowledge passed around." If not... This was going to get a lot harder for Ayane. "Anything else... She'll probably never personally come to deal with any of us until she's cornered. Body doubles means she can get away more often than not, and even if cornered, she'll surround herself with plenty of traps. What a mess that's come to Xensat, really..."

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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Marina's gaze was fixated on the field. She watched, not only Jade, but her opponents as well. She knew she'd need to study her opponents before she could go in. And it was good she had an idea, from the look of some of her future opponents. It was one, the one that was called 'Puff Trouble'. The way he handled his sword, he was tough, strong even. Marina trembled a bit just thinking about the thought of battling him. Regardless, she immensely enjoyed watching Jade fight.

It was only a matter of time before Jade had succeeded in defeating the gauntlet. "WOOHOO! GO JADE!" She shouted with excitement as she clapped while Jade returned to the lobby. Lavinia had already left by the time Marina had calmed down, but she quickly followed along.

It was warming to see Lavinia be so excited for Jade and her efforts. Marina still had her own proud look on her face as approached, hoping Lavinia's spinning would just catch and knock Marina over, "Congratulations, Jade. You did great!" Then, she eyed off to the entrance of the arena. She had her thought to go in, but she had an idea, and also didn't want to try stealing Jade's thunder.

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Jade had been leading DV out of the Arena, intending to ask the zombie who'd been in charge of sign-ups if there was some place to stable her now that her stint was done so that she could join her friends in the stands and watch the others. However, before she got the chance, a surprise interruption caught her by storm.

"Lav--What are you... Ahahaha," Jade's stuttered expressions of surprise quickly melted into joyous peals, as the taller woman caught her, lifted her, and twirled her around. The merchant dropped hold of the reins so as to not get all tangled up, and it was honestly lucky for the vampire that her 'mare recognized her, and further that she recognized Jade was laughing and enjoying herself. Even still, Deep Vermilion leaned forward, after the merry-go-round had finally stopped and she didn't have to worry about moving targets, and managed to catch a lock of Lavinia's hair in her mouth, giving a brief tug before letting it go and giving an almost playful nicker, followed by a bit of a snort.

As for the merchant herself, all the sudden praises left her feeling a little bashful, but also proud. "Well, I did start missing some shots against that man from Ringtail City," she confessed, then added with a hint of jealousy. "He was remarkably fast for a zombie. But on the whole, yeah, that felt really good." Jade nodded and smiled before launching into what was a mixture of excuses and explanation, "Probably got some lucky match-ups, but the fact that everything was one-on-one was really a godsend. When you're a bit on the slower side, as far as things like that goes, well it only gets worse the more enemies there are. Makes you gotta practice till you're as precise and accurate as can be, 'cause you can't afford to be wasting shots."

A shrug and a bit of a blush followed as she tried to downplay a bit of the more elaborate praise. "Well, 'just a merchant' isn't exactly wrong? I mean, sure I'm pretty unique in certain ways, but there've got to be plenty of other merchants out there with their own strengths..." Okay maybe that was a bit of a reach, better shift tactics to something much more solidly defensible. "And at any rate, I'm certainly no mercenary, I'd much rather get out of conflicts without resorting to fighting, either through talking or--" It was then that Jade suddenly noticed what the nightmare was getting up to.

"Deep Vermilion, you stop that right now." The somewhat rare full name address and her stern tone made it very clear she didn't think the 'mare's antics were as funny as creature itself obviously found them to be. "Ahhhh," she heaved an apologetic sigh and continued, "You're just so starved for attention aren't you? ...and maybe literally as well," Jade mused with a thoughtful look, turning back to Lavinia. "I definitely made her work out there, especially in the last couple rounds."

The interruption had brought a change of mood, and now a little more honest, the zombie pulled in for a hug of her own, stating simply, "Thanks. For... all of this. The kind words, the pleasant diversions. Everything." Then, briefly rooting about in her pouch, Jade produced a silver apple, and taking the vampire's hand deftly pressed the fruit into it. "Here, want to take a turn at feeding her?"

And by now of course enough time had passed that the others were catching up. Apparently Lavinia had made a mad dash, and Marina had followed with a more normal pace, but this fresh round of congratulations almost threatened to bring on a new batch of deflections. Closing her eyes briefly, Jaded decided, No, not this time. "Y-Yeah, I did my best. Looks like it worked out? I'm sure you'll have a great go as well!"

Edited by Balcerzak

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Lavinia had been about to chide Jade on trying to excuse her performance, but it was interested by several things, first of all her steed. "My apologies, Deep Vermilion, for monopolizing her, and ignoring you. You performed magnificently, as well~ Jade is lucky to have a partner as trustworthy as you." With a bit of a chuckle, Jade hadn't been expecting the horse to be so jealous... She also wasn't expecting a hug. Frozen for a moment, she gently followed through with Jade's gesture and held her gently, smiling somewhat at the thanks.

"Think nothing of it, Jade. I'm just glad you feel at ease." The moment spent, Lavinia was introduced to a rather metallic looking apple... It took her memory a moment, she hadn't seen something like this up close for decades. "Sure~ I'd be glad to. For a job well done, Deep Vermilion." Jade held the fruit out, palm open, making sure the horse didn't mistake one of her gauntlet covered fingers as an extra snack. Luckily, the mare seemed much happier to see food at all, gobbling it up without so much as a second glance at the knight's hand. Lavinia was quite thankful she wouldn't be wrestling with a jaw like that, only a bit before she'd be taking her turn to fight.

"There, there... She did do great, didn't she, Marina? You'll be taking the challenge next, yes?" Lavinia had been able to see some of Marina's fighting style, but given they had been on a battlefield, obviously, she didn't pay complete attention to how Marina fought. This would help her learn better, and in turn, keep the girl safer... Then it would be Agni's turn, and, really... Lavinia knew next to nothing about how he fought. He wasn't carrying around a sword, and she's spotted dark magic, that was certainly his... What else was he hiding?

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Some of the topics were things Ayane already knew, like the fact she had a thing against her family and the whole plotting. Seemed like the two had a professional relationship, but Asami didn't seem like she was directly involved with her plan to collapse Izuna. What she didn't know however was the fact that Ouka can bring back the dead and use them as bait...was that really true? She didn't burn any of the bodies of her family, she gave them a brief burial. At least whatever she could find in the burning castle, which included a few guards and her sister. She couldn't find anyone else. "....mm." She looked aside and bit her lip a bit. "Damn that woman...if she touches my sister's body I'll..." She gripped her fist again, as the rage returned.

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It seemed like they were facing a truly despicable character. Not only did she bewitch and transform people, she turned their dead against them. A weakness to dark magic... How ironic. The witch who twisted people was weak to dark magic, the type that some of the world viewed as evil. Everything else was just worrying. The fact that she was likely to target the King... The fact that it seemed Ayane hadn't burned her dead...

"So what do we do then? If we can't get her to come to her, we'll need to go to her, but how do we find her? Is there some way to track her magic or something?" The only thing he could think of was if people started being turned into oni or the dead started to be raised, but that was something they were trying to prevent, not use as a way to find her. Asami seemed like their best hope for finding her, even though he suspected that was going to be the thing she least wanted to do...

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All though Xalrei quickly realized Nessraya was just teasing her, the dragon's knee-jerk reaction certainly gave Nessraya what she was looking for. "Wha... D-Date!? No, it's not, I'm just-- Ugh..." She sighed and grumbled, a crimson blush now adorning her face. Gabriela deciding not to join in and poke at her when she was already so flustered was a small mercy she was thankful for. Taliyah confusing the situation --or maybe she could just see what Xalrei couldn't-- and boasting to the town about a date made her feel like she wanted to disappear...

She shook her head, a begrudging smile on her face. At least Taliyah seemed to be doing better, that was the real goal for heading back out into town. "C'mon, it's this way." Xalrei quickly took back her position at the front of their little group, leading the gaggle of girls towards the tavern.

Pushing open the doors to the Accidental Gopher revealed a pretty standard tavern. The smell of alcohol in the air, a variety of monsters chatting with each other in varying states of drunkenness, and overall a warm and almost friendly atmosphere. Just a place for people to get drunk and have a good time for whatever reason they could think of, or maybe even for no reason at all. There were some rougher looking folks in the back, but that was to be expected. As long as they kept to themselves there was no reason to pay them any mind.

"Well, we're here. Let's have a good time together yeah?"

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"That's quite the faith you have. Maybe Jade will prove my doubts unfounded~" Agni certainly doubted it, but it wpuld make for an interesting watch now. The zombie could pull her weight as a marksman huh?


Well, he ate his words.

Jade's performance was decisive. These combatants seemed hardly a match for her. It was almost humbling...

Agni followed down the stairs to the reception at the end of the final round. Lavinia has already said her piece before he got close enough, so Agni began a lone round of applause. "I must say, have you ever considered the life of a marksman?" It wasn't a joke, but with Agni's usual tone, one wouldn't be at fault for being uncertain. "It seems like you would have fit the bill just as well as your current profession."

Next up was Marina, then. "Take care, Marina. Though I doubt you'll struggle. Still, show us what you've learned, will you?" Naturally, if the zombie performed remarkably, it'd be an easy job for Marina.

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Watching Lavinia feed the nightmare reminded her, it was entirely Jade's efforts that got her the win. She gave a proud smile to the horse as well, "Deep Vermillion..." She had to repeat it to get a feel, she didn't know if she caught the name before, "You did great too. Thank you for keeping Jade safe," She went to give the creature a pet, but she wasn't sure how she would react to Marina's approach. Maybe late, Jade could help her get acquainted when they had the chance, as she backed up from her approach.

Then, she was given the spot to go next in the arena. She gave a gulp as she looked at the entrance. With some positive encouragement from Agni and Jade, it rose her spirits. However, she had a thought. In the least, if she did poorly, she wouldn't be in danger of dying... At least that's what she assumed from watching Jade fight. Time to experiment.

"Excuse me, Jade," she walked over to the zombie, with a small tap, "Could I... borrow your shield?" She humbly asked, with a light smile. Marina had never fought with a shield before, usually not wearing much armor protection either. But maybe, she could see how a shield could do protecting her.

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"Gabriela, dear... victim is such an ugly word... I prefer lottery winner~" Nessraya replied with a smile, drinking in Xalrei's embarrassment with glee. Worth it's weight in gold, that. In short order the small group had been lead by Xalrei to the local tavern... interesting first choice, not quite what Nessraya had been first imagining, but there was no real problem with it.

"A drinker, Xalrei?"

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"Lottery winner, huh? I like your style, general Nessraya~" Xalrei was getting pretty embarrassed, so it was probably time to leave her alone. Not that she had time to think, as Xalrei quickly led the group forward, onto some nice place in town to have a nice time in. 

And the tavern they arrived at was one called "The Accidental Gopher". While the name was interesting, the tavern itself seemed pretty standard. She wasn't new to taverns, and never minded a good drink. Different monsters, shady characters, smell of booze and drunk monsters, check. She wondered if this was really Taliyah's scene, as she didn't seem like someone who would drink and misbehave at a place like this. "So, Taliyah, what are you planning to drink?"

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Agni had undoubtedly meant his comments purely as praise, but it was a little unfortunate about the man's choice of wording. Had she chosen the wrong career? "Ehhh," the zombie drew out an expression of uncertainty as she considered the matter. "Maybe. Perhaps I could have been a sharpshooter doing trick shots for a travelling circus. Making circuits around the Hwein countryside, hanging out with the sword-swallower and the flying trapeze late at night, after the shows closed. Maybe that would've worked out better? Or I suppose I could have fought my way up the ranks, to be a seasoned sniper in a unit of elites."

Maybe I wouldn't have died on that stormy night, out on the road, trying to make a delivery. A wisftul, almost cheery thought.

Maybe I still would have died, but it wouldn't have been in Vaia. ...And then Morwen certainly wouldn't have found me. A decidedly less optimistic one.

A weak frown and a shrug of the shoulders. "I wouldn't really be me if I had, and I'm not sure I don't want to... be me." Marina had come up and tapped her on the shoulder, beginning to ask something, though, so Jade shook her head and closed out this line of thought, "Sorry, I took your joke a little too seriously there, Agni."

Ah, the Hero was just requesting use of the shield? A much easier matter than deep food for thought. "Of course you can. You should know I'm not shy about lending things out, so long as I get them back," a twinkle of a smile at this, before the merchant continued. "I should warn you, it might be a little awkward getting used to... Or maybe that was just me. You might take to it like a fish to water. Definitely seemed more help than not though! Picked it up when Lavinia and I went shopping earlier tonight, and don't regret the investment one bit."

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"Oof," was Asami's first comment towards Ayane's unfortunate reveal. Not burning their dead... Ayane's sister would've been Suzume, if Asami's memory was serving her correctly. "Brace yourself, is all that I can say, Ayane. If you can't handle killing your own family... Leave this problem to us." It wasn't as though they were in a different boat, if any of them were killed or taken by Ouka... Would Marina be able to strike down Agni, risen again, to torture her feelings? Would Lavinia be able to kill Nessraya? I've no idea what her magic would even do to me... Best we don't find out. "As far as tracking her is concerned..." Asami pondered a moment, and sighed.

"That... Isn't a terrible idea, Bladen, but the problem is that it means we have to wait for her to strike somewhere. If she's coordinated enough, that's... Not a good idea. Hopefully it doesn't come to that... Maaaaaybeee..." Asami glanced back over at Ayane, smirking. "Perhaps we could use you, to track her? If you're an Oni now... Even if you aren't a witch like her, you must still have the same magical essence. I'll have to get Nessraya to see to you, but considering the country hasn't fallen into a complete state of chaos... I don't think we have to worry just yet." She only hoped she was right, they still had to deal with Ithraxl.


"Me?" Taliyah pointed to herself to further demonstrate her confusion, what would she be drinking? "Uh... I've never drank before... So... I dunno!" That, was the purpose of a tavern, she supposed... That and rumors. Peering around the place, she noted a few specific groups. Two well armored men were talking over drinks at the bar. They seemed to be smiling, but their discussion was clearly heated... Then the rough group near the back, staring a few daggers their way. Taliyah didn't look at them for long, four girls coming into a tavern out of nowhere was probably suspicious enough... And the happy group of laughing drunks, a few playing cards, the others simply talking and drinking. They looked kinda fun!

Lastly... There was... "Whoa!" At one table near the other corner, one man sat alone, nursing a drink... But... But he had...! Taliyah bolted over, slapping her hands on the table! "You've got horns, just like Ayane!" It was a marvel for her, sure, but only after she'd ran over, did she realize that was rude. "Oh... S... Sorry! Haha... Uh... Hi! Do you, know Ayane...?"


"I think," Lavinia began, gently taking Jade's arm, "that she's just fine exactly where she is. With us, and dealing with money. You should've been there earlier today, fussing with the vendors in town... I wouldn't have gotten half the deals I did if I wasn't with her. Really... Whether she's a sharpshooter or a merchant, Jade is fine as she is~" It was true, that armorer had tried to mark up his shield as his 'best work', but it clearly had a few issues, some improper fitting on the back, and a small dent. Still a fine piece of equipment, but not worth the one thousand gold he was asking for. The six hundred that Jade had managed to work him down to was far, far more reasonable.

"Now, if Marina is going to be heading in, we should make for the stands, yes? I wouldn't want to miss any of you doing your best out there. I'm sure our little hero has something to prove~" Marina had handled herself in battle, to an extent. Lavinia was more interested in seeing how she battled with a shield. Perhaps that style of combat would be better for her? She had a smaller frame, so the hunk of metal covered more than it would on a larger person... But, its weight was certainly something to consider. It would be interesting, to be sure...

Lavinia then glanced at Jade's arm in hers and smirked. "I hope you don't mind, Jade~"

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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He could still feel the pull from his weapon, always knowing where it was even if apart for long periods of time.  Still, as Ren lightly twirled his drink, the group hadn't ventured far yet.  They were probably at the edge of the town, counting their supplies before they continued on their way.  A sigh left his lips, downing the drink quick before ordering another.  Head hanging low, he wondered when and how he'll retrieve Tonbokiri before meeting with-

Eh?

He startled, a sudden yelp leaving his lips, followed by a curse out of instinct.  "Son of a bi-" he snapped in his mother tongue, before stopping midway at who had approached him.  Blinking rapidly, the newly turned oni had to make sure that...she shouldn't...how could she know...

"Do...how do you know of her?" he asked back cooly, affirming that he knew who Ayane was, but being vague enough about the subject.  His eyes narrowed, free hand itching as his Yari stood harmlessly beside him...for now.

 While he did have the fear of Ayane finding him (and finding out about him gambling away Tonbokiri), he had more fear of what has happened to his cousin and why this person knew of her.

He wouldn't live with himself if something had happened to her while in this foreign land.

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Marina gave a nervous laugh when Lavinia brought up her needing to prove something. Of course, maybe she did. Prove to herself she was stronger than she initially perceived herself as. Hopefully, it’ll work as intended. If not… No! Don’t think like that Marina! As she watched the group walk away, she strapped on the shield, giving it a few moments before making her way to the front desk,

 

“Hello, I’d like to sign up, please.”

 


 

“...Cianna Katarn!” Marina’s name was called, and she stepped up to battle. It was an overwhelming thought at first, seeing all these people watching. Was it the excitement of the fight; much like fighting networks back home? Did viewers just want to watch their favorite fighters trash newbie newcomers as they made their approach onto the arena? Well, she was well on her way to figuring that out…

 

Galahad Ironhelm, wasn’t a big issue. Thankfully, she was well versed in fighting axe-wielders, almost like her specialty. Even with the weight of the shield in her right hand, she was able to quickly dodge Galahad’s first move. And with a quick shield tackle throwing him off and a final swing with her sword, her first opponent was down… I feel a bit stronger too. One step at a time.

//Lol cause level’d up//

 

Trevor Stalemont… These names sound so familiar… Was almost a complete pushover. Her shield easily blocked the shurikens he tried throwing at her and within a couple of minutes her second opponent was down.


Frank McCloud… No seriously, this is really weird and uncanny, Was also easily blocked by the shield. Suddenly, she felt herself getting a hand of the added hunk of metal on her arm. It was still straining on the arm; she could still feel weapon impacts like tiny instants of extra weight. Still, nothing compared to the physical pain of some injuries she’s come across.

//THE REST TO BE CONTINUED *CACKLES*//

Edited by Silver Gallade

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