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A night for Mana was spent alone.

Well, that wasn't entirely true, but it certainly seemed to be the case lately. It had to have been weeks since she called up Suzume or Kento for more than an idle text, but she wasn't just yet about to break that lull. Her night was spent disobeying the apartment's rules disallowing smoking on the balcony, a tradition she'd long figured out wasn't going to actually get her in trouble considering her neighbors' total lack of care.

After a simple meal, only half home-cooked, she went to bed, somewhat peaceful after her unusual encounter that day. Shaking things up, it felt, had given Mana a measure of happiness.


If it were any other street, Mana might have given the benefit of the doubt that a group of thugs' yelling and posturing was just their way of scaring a proprietor out of billing them for a large meal, but here on Niimura...?

Mana kept to herself as she strode slowly towards the verbally assaulted shopkeep, maintaining a speed slow enough that the thugs would have left in time, but not so slow it seemed she was merely watching them. A hand slipped into her hoodie front pouch, and out came a deftly lifted cigarette which she popped between her lips. Cops liked to keep smokers staying in designated areas, but they wouldn't bother her here. That her scene was able to loiter on Niimura all these years was evidence enough of that.

The man who owned the storefront there had long since gone, his business failed and replaced with the next cheap house of merchandise. She didn't know the shopkeep's name, but carried herself as if she might as well have. She knew this place like the back of her hand, even as the placards on the front of the buildings came and went.

"What was that all about?" she asked of the storekeep, her voice a tad muffled by the cigarette planted in her mouth. It bounced as her lips moved, casting tiny bits of ash onto the ground.
Mana blinked. What an equally odd name for a girl. She found herself appraising Kiwa, as if judging how likely it was for her to be stalked by someone. Given her athleticism, perhaps it was the case someone had become infatuated with success and popularity, but that was just imagination.

"Stalked hm..." Mana nodded, "Any idea by who?" she asked. Something caught in her throat, and her eyes turned to apology as she shook her head. "Ah, well I don't mean to pry or anything. Not like I'm a detective. But uh... Well this is all just a really odd situation. Probably more weird than you even know. Maybe... maybe it's important? The identity of your stalker that is." Mana considered all that was lining up in just the recent few days. It... couldn't have all been mere coincidence, right? Mana certainly wasn't immediately thinking that Kouta was stalking her for looking like Hanami but...

She couldn't deny it was in the back of her mind.

"And about that girl. Ahmya. Has anything seemed... strange about her? Anything at all?"
Forina was all for justice and mercy, but she understood just as well that being the ones to exact mercy was merely kicking the bucket down the road. However many soldiers these bandits had already slain was enough to sentence them to hanging or beheading, and all their mercy here would not change that.

And she was sure as hell not going to waste time pleading to the king to spare their lives either.

The knightess clicked her tongue before pulling out a cloth and wiping down her blade. After sheathing it, she followed Fanilly's orders and set to further securing the prisoners, moving them wherever it was they'd decided to start collecting them. All tied up, exhausted, and many wounded, Forina wasn't overtly worried that two or three soldiers could keep a good watch, but then again, the king's men had already died before to their blades.

She was inclined to go on ahead of the Captain, for fear that any traps laid out just before the bandit camp would meet the same oblivious fervor. She could preemptively stop it if she were ahead, or simply spring the trap itself with foresight of its nature. Seeing these pitiful fighters left Forina feeling confident that the coming assault would be similarly one-sided.

"We should make sure to check the bandits supplies for anything important stolen," Forina said to Fanilly, "Before we set to burning it down."
A hand immediately cupped at her neck, rubbing away the sickening feeling of having your windpipe pressed against muscles and bone. Mana seemed agitated, though not for the now sudden realization that she had identified the wrong person.

"I'm alright. I've... been clotheslined before, I guess," Mana grumbled, eyes to the ground. As she got her bearings back stepping off the wall, Mana turned up to the girl apparently named 'Kiwa'. Immediately she thought the name sounded silly in particular, but at least she probably had been spared the endless jokes throughout schooling about how she was named the after a fantasy magical resource.

"Kiwa Usui?" Mana repeated to herself, seeming somewhat skeptical. As she looked the short-haired girl once and twice-over, it felt unlikely that they'd be so similar, but then again, Mana had only physically interacted with Hanami at most three times. The situation, still, seemed way too coincidental. After all...

"I'm sorry Kiwa. You just... looked so freakin' similar to an acquaintance of mine, and she's missing. Maybe my worries got my hopes up. Sorry... again," Mana explained before continuing. "Though... that girl you were with, just before you got onto the train? You know her, right? She was wearing an eyepatch." Mana said as she swirled a finger around her right eye.

"What's her name? How do you know each other? Oh, uh..." Mana paused her questioning, realizing it was probably best to explain why she herself knew the eyepatched girl. "I uh... Well I met her during one of my lunch breaks a little while ago, as it so happens."

It wasn't a lie, in the end.
Untouched. Unfettered. No less unamused.

Forina stood over the corpse of her final and late opponent, a puncture wound erupting with dark blood through leather padding. All that hadn't surrendered or escaped were dead, and so she had loosened up her stance, though still kept her sword gripped tightly. Her face, however, had not relieved itself an inch. The red-haired knightess strode over to the gathering group, delivering testing prods and kicks with her steeled heel to the bodies along the way.

"Every second we waste tying these men up and hauling them onto a cart is a second the enemy gets to prepare themselves," Forina said low. She stood by one such bandit who had been captured, eyeing him with scorn. Her sword was held threateningly close to his stooped form, as if showcasing the thin layer of blood now encrusting upon it.

"...To say nothing of a cart full of bandits needing supervision. What would you have? One? Two? Three knights to babysit them? Each one is fewer to attack the camp."
"You idiot!" Forina practically screamed, already rushing for the Captain. The knightess had her blade drawn quick as a flash, but paused for a moment as the arrows sunk into tree and carriage with a quick thunk, thunk, thunk. The bandit that swung at Fanilly met with Forina's own steel before he could even try for another shot, and in an instant his life ended. The longsword cleaved right into the bandit's shoulder, sinking deep enough that Forina need an immediate wrench to free it from the flesh.

As the bandit crumpled into an oozing pile, Forina turned to Fanilly, her sword held low at her side. The red-haired knightess' face was a contorted mess of anger and disappointment.

"I caution everyone and then this?" she spat. Forina wasted no more time chiding her own Captain, taking to the rest of the bandits as the Order had charged in so recklessly to do. Forina added another unanticipated kill to her list as she drove her sword through the spine of a bandit which had only just begun to engage Narcissa. A scream escaped him as the tip of her sword shot out from his belly, only to be pulled cleanly out before the pained noise could die.

"At the very least, we can confirm they'd not expected us. This will be easy," Forina said to Narcissa. She flicked her blade to clean it somewhat, though her whole right arm remained dripping with blood. A nod of her head towards the Larette signaled she was ready to help her cousin charge further in.
"Exactly my issue," Forina droned. The knightess trotted her horse by Narcissa, eyeing her briefly before speaking to the group at large, though of course her voice was carried to resonate with their captain the most.

"Poetic waxing aside, my assumptions are with Druncarde. One of the many real possibilities as to why the King's men failed each time is that they have a continual scouting presence long before their camp. They may very well know we're here already, perhaps for days now. After all, the 'bandit king' did invite us of his own accord. No one is that stupid without a plan in place," Forina explained. "There's also the fact that we had not received any intel on the camp itself, which seems to me like evidence that none had even reached it before being slaughtered."

Everything about this screamed 'trap' to Forina. The brazen challenge by the bandits, the ease with which they dispatched the King's soldiers, the lack of information... She worried they were about to send but a few knights into woods coursing with bandits lying in wait, ready to converge on them before they could even reach sight of the camp.

"Ultimately, however, it's your decision, Captain Fanilly," she said, turning her gaze to the young girl.
Forina kept to the front. It was the closest position to leadership in spirit, and though she was no longer the spearhead of a banneret, it felt right to be near the one who did take the position. Forina's horse, the brown-colored stallion Origeld, paused idly beside Fanilly's own white mare. The knightess had a sour look on her face, doubtful of the necessity of their being there. As peace in general had been so enjoyed for years since the War of the Red Flag, it was difficult to believe that someone had risen up in the sanctity powerful enough to easily rout the King's men. Perhaps, she thought, these were the unfortunate remnants of the war, turned to banditry to survive where once their swords had been used lawfully.

Forina spoke up to the captain, her voice stern and composed as her gaze followed out onto the fields.

"Captain, if I might make a suggestion," she began. Forina reigned her horse to a turn, siding up along Fanilly with mere inches between them. Turned to the rest of the group, her eyes bore straight into Fanilly, seeming altogether determined, if perhaps skeptical of the girl.

"We've every reason to believe the King's men were caught off guard, either by trickery or numbers, or a combination of the two. I've confidence any one of us can hold our own against a number of these rats, but I'm cautious of what they may have prepared to meet with our superior skill. Entering their camp is not something I advise we do straight away," Forina advised.

Forina was painfully aware that Fanilly had next to no combat experience leading to this excursion, nor any significant force of established charisma behind her to embolden those serving under her. If they were to find the bandit king and his forces truly testing her ability, Forina wished to see to it that she left the area still alive, rather than buried six feet under after her leader failed to make the grade.

"Spreading out may be a good idea, as was already discussed, so as to ensure any planned entrapment of theirs is reserved for few, rather than many. Be alert for those who require immediate assistance once we enter." Forina's words seemed half meant for Fanilly, and half meant for the Order itself.
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