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It was unfortunate, that her puppet had missed. The odds had played against her. The doll had not been discovered yet, so there was still room to act. But Esben’s arrow did her job, eliciting the effect that Darah had wanted. Varda’s cry carried over the field. Her brother doubled back, snatching up Tyne’s weapon. An act of bravado, since he couldn’t yet know how many other assassins there were. While Lupin kept the Tynes’ right hand man busy, Darah would play with Jasper. Her doll would not work for this since he was already on heightened alert. She would have to do it herself.

Darah unravelled a piece of string between her gloved fingers. These were metal strings that were so thin that they were almost invisible. Treated with bonding magic to increase their tensile strength, it was a unique weapon of choice. The thinness exerted high pressure on any surface it touched with minimal force. Flesh, especially, would yield to it like butter to a hot knife. It might not be very effective against heavily armoured enemies, but for her lightly clothed targets, it would be more than enough.

As Jasper approached, Darah moved closer, then lunged forward from the treelines and threw the metal string forward like a whip, aiming for his hand. Presumably that the weapon he was holding was similar to the one used to injure Lupin, and disarming him would be the top priority. If her strings hit, at best it would cut deeply into his hand and force him to drop the weapon, and at worse his hand would be severed along with the gun.

“It’s nothing personal, just doing a job,” Darah answered to Diric’s question as she shifted her weight to counter any retaliation from the two Hildebrand siblings nearest to her. Unlike Lupin, the Darah did not have the physique of a killer. She appeared to be a slim young woman just entering adulthood. She wore a formal black dress that was impeccably pressed, and her long, light coloured hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail, with nary a strand out of place. Her stance and steadiness of her hands, however, spoke volumes about her ability in combat.

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Capricorn-Man-Art.jpgWell seems my aim is still rusty. Though I haven't had to fight in so long. I deal in slavery so this my first assasination attempt. I apologise for my rusty aim. 

Esben spoke as he approached one of the other hilderbrand siblings approaching Darah. The elf mumbling to himself and no one else. He decided to watch her play with Jasper, only there to help should she need it. He really hadn't had experience with killin another hume being up close. 

But he was enjoying himself. A new experience really.  He shook his head hoping the ore ridded arrows would effect the girl Varda more but he could always get a new target. 

A new toy. 

Esben grinned as he watched Darah play with Jasper again. Lost in his own thoughts.

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Though it had not gone as clearly as they wanted, the assassins seemed to have the situation in-hand. Nai and Aspen were defenseless, and Tynes would die without the treatment the former was giving him. Varda and Jasper were also now seriously wounded, leaving Diric as the only viable opposition left, and he was just one man with no weapons. It seemed as though the killers had one the day, until the sound of engines up the road reached everyone's ears.


"There they are." the gunner pointed-out.

"I see 'em." the commander acknowledged, "Load one round of HE. Pivot... Twenty-five degrees right, see the lone man separated from the group?"

"Roger that, he does not look friendly. Rotating."

"Elevation thirteen degrees. We'll hit him from behind to minimize threat to the Executor's entourage. Driver! Prepare to stop on my mark... Mark!"

"On target!" the gunner reported.

"FIRE!"


The sound of the main gun firing did not reach the site of the skirmish until the ordinance had already landed, a high explosive shell striking the ground behind Esben, not close enough to cause any significant harm to the combatants near the car, but enough that the shockwave and shrapnel were a threat to the archer. If the blast wasn't enough to send the assassins heading for the hills, maybe the truck that sped past the armored car and came to a stop about thirty yards from the jeep would. Four submachinegun-armed guards hopped out, as did Squire Dicken, who had managed to catch a ride in the front passenger seat of the truck when it left the estate.

"Get the executor to safety! Move!" the lead guardsman barked, the men fanning out and moving in toward the busted jeep.

Seeing that reinforcements had arrived, Diric knew he would only get in the way of their line-of-fire if he remained engaged with the sword-wielding assassin. Thus, he put all he had into launching one strong attack designed to force some distance between him and Lupin, then taking advantage of that distance, he dove and rolled away from the assassin, giving the guards a clear line of fire to the sword man.

"Take him down!" the guardsman sergeant pointed out Lupin.

One of the men immediately opened fire, keeping his aim high to avoid potentially striking the prime minister or anyone else lying on the ground. The others held the flanks while the sergeant approached Nai, Aspen and the wounded Joseph. As for Dicken, he held a Norkotian rifle in his hands, a weapon that the drivers in the truck had on-hand in case of trouble. The squire was an expert marksman, proficient in the use of crossbows, muskets and the more modern Norkotian arms. Indeed, his skills had warranted him certain special assignments from the Duchess Karradeen, not the least of which was the one that instituted them both into the titles they were owed.

Wordlessly he looked down the iron sights at Darah, not an ounce of guilt or hesitation in his mind or heart. Shooting obnoxious teenagers was not new to him, indeed, it may well be about to become a trend...

 

Edited by Tyler

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Diric strafed to one side but kept his body close, rather than make the attempt to put distance between them. Most weapon specialists spent so much time perfecting their craft that they failed to diversify, so most gunslingers were often pretty harmless once you got them away from their gun. Diric wasn't trying to use his gun though. He wanted to stay close enough to take away some of Lupin's advantage with the sword, so that he could not draw his arm far enough back to cleave him and so that if he meant to fence then his lines of attack would be predictable. Diric knew how to use his whole body like a weapon, that was the message, and Lupin was still deciphering it when Diric threw a practiced palm at the bridge of his nose.

The palm hit something. But rather than stumble back stunned, Lupin threw something back Diric's way, a fist to his diaphragm in an attempt to rob him of his breath executed at nearly the same instant as the strike he took head on. That put a little distance between them and taking in his opponent, Diric could see that the skeleton mask didn't so much as smudge with a hit he knew he landed. That was when Diric could think back to when he missed his perfect shot, when he was wondering if the gun messed up on him or if there was something else at work, and realize that the second option was now the most likely of the two. He could put the pieces together from touch and first-hand experience that Lupin was an assassin capable of making barriers. Lupin really had to take the guy out now. That was one of his trade secrets.

There were a lot of implications in that revelation, only some of which were obvious. Among the most obvious was the question of how Diric planned to win out in hand-to-hand combat against someone that looked capable of just as much precision and brutality but that could also, probably, block your attacks and screw with your footwork? 

Diric asked his question and Lupin had an answer.

"Dead." Came his reply from beneath the skeleton mask. "Same as you."

He spoke as the same time as Darah so who knows if Diric could make out either of their killer one-liners, but at least they tried. Hopefully someone did and would include it in their field report.

That was when Lupin heard the engines, moments before an explosive shell exploded on one side and the loud bang of it being fired caught up to them on the other, coming together to rock their worlds. Diric took quick advantage of the confusion to immediately put space between them. He would make a good assassin actually. That made Lupin angrier than he'd been in a long time. People were hurt but the jury was still out on whether anyone was actually dead, and Diric certainly wasn't, and now there was no time to clean up that mess. Troopers were storming, and spreading wild fire.

Lupin disengaged and dove after the now dead magnetic ball he had lobbed into the fray early in the fight. Next to it was a pistol and severed arm. Lupin just took the pistol. It was time to go. He wasn't an expert marksman but he also didn't intend to try to match a trained sniper pill for pill. He just needed to provide cover fire for their escape, and to do that he only needed to come close enough to be a threat. That, he could do. So Lupin began taking shots at the armed man while retreating and ducking behind trees for cover.  

Edited by eggsinabasket

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35.jpg

 

Jasper runs forward, shoving Aspen backwards to the relative safety of Nai and Tynes’ company, and shifts to pluck the gun from where it lies half-hidden in the grass, his feet ghosting over the dirt. A blur emerges from the bushes, dark fabric and light strands gleaming in the sun; a whoosh filters in to his consciousness, and Jasper twists around, trying to avoid whatever the woman had thrown him—

He comes crashing down, the world white-washed with pain, pain, pain, and a strangled cry wrenches free from his throat.

“It’s nothing personal, just doing a job.”

Jasper closes his eyes, biting down on his lip hard enough to bleed. He forces his body to stop convulsing, if only to keep unwanted attention away from himself and trained on Diric. He dares not look over at the stump that must have taken the place of his left hand.

Kalika, gods, Kalika—

And then suddenly, gunfire.

While the assassins are distracted under the barrage of shells upon them, Jasper grits his teeth against the pain, crawls forward across the grass and the dirt. His fingers close around the gun, slicked with crimson, his very own lifeblood spilling out where it does not belong, and heaves the weapon up with the last vestiges of his strength.

If he is to die here, he will not do so without a fight. Jasper squeezes the trigger, hoping against all hope it connects with its feminine target, point blank.

 

Spoiler

@jaistlyn attempted shot at Darah

 

31.jpg

 

This moment will forever burn itself deep into her psyche; this is where the fear begins, battling with that glorious spark for dominance.

This is where Aspen first tastes the gunmetal grey of helplessness. She wants nothing to do with it.

The sob that tears itself out from her mouth is bitter, tinged with the phantom shadow of the hundred-fold pain streaking through her siblings’ broken bodies. Aspen means to move closer, do anything instead of staying here sprawled amongst the clumps of grass, useless against the sight of blood, the scent of death—however, the assassins stride closer in their direction, and if she needs to use her very body as a barrier between her brother, the Grand Executor, and the people that seek to eliminate them, then she will.

It is then that the first hail of bullets ring out, and the startling sense of relief, of aid, is enough to send Aspen crumpling down to her knees.

"Get the executor to safety! Move!"

She watches numbly as the guards move to flank them; the hand that shoots out to tug at the sergeant’s coat is altogether wayward, moving on its own accord without much input from its owner.

“Please,” she begs, and the pleading, desperate tone in her voice is unfamiliar and raw, scraping up her throat and taking flight on fragile wings. “Please, save my siblings, please, please.”

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Bingo. Her target must not be very accustomed to pain, given how his body was overwhelmed by having his hand severed. She was right, then. He was only trying to be brave. Darah wound up her string neatly, then stretched them out again. A whip to the neck. It would be simple to finish him off —

Darah’s eyes tore away from Jasper at the sounds of the ground being ripped up by shells. The target wasn’t her; she was standing much too close to the people that the gunmen were trying to protect. A movement at the corner of her eye brought her back from the distraction. The barrel of the pistol was pointing at her, but Darah dodged Jasper’s bullet easily. An offhand shot with his trembling hand couldn’t hope to nick her. She kicked the gun out of his hand. It skidded over the ground, slick with blood, and was in turn picked up by Lupin.

In one swift motion, she hauled Jasper to his feet and put him in between her and Dicken. She pressed the strings to her hostage’s throat. They cut shallowly into his skin, allowing a thin stream of blood to flow. “Make a move, and he’s dead, while I may not be. Let us go, and I’ll return him to you.” The situation was working against the squire - while he couldn’t be sure if Darah would kill Jasper anyway, it would be bad for Dicken if he became the one responsible for the Hildebrand sibling’s death.

Edited by jaistlyn

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Capricorn-Man-Art.jpgWell, that was annoying as Esben raised his hand as the dust gathered around him. The man, was it a man, shooting at him. Seems his aim was terrible. Though, scraphel and bullets clung and hung from his form, they did little damage. And sure the stinging bothered him, he remained stoic, calm. 

Seems you've got them handled. Excuse me then. 

Was all the elf said before taking up his bow once more, as he then eyed the ones firing at him. Esben let loose a rail of arrows back upon the ones that tried to attack him. After this, he strolled up towards the other two assassins. 

Esben said nothing as he stood there, bow in hand. Seems things were getting out of hand. And though the other two seemed better at this, he enjoyed helping. At most part probably could get a higher bounty. O' how that made him chuckle. 

Well, seems nothing is ever easy.

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While a human may have had trouble understanding the two assassins speaking at once, Diric Redbridge was no human. As a Vulk, his mind was capable of receiving, processing and retaining information at a vastly superior to level than the common man. This was both a case of nature and nurture, as his race had naturally superior brains and longevity of life, but also a culture devoted to cultivating those brains, disciplining their minds and mastering the ways of logic.

Thus, the prime minister took in what both of them said and committed their words to memory, for even the smallest and seemingly most harmless of statements could be useful at a later time. But right now, the focus was on fending them off and protecting the VIPs that were being targeted. The arrival of the guards was not a moment too soon, and the spray of automatic weapons fire had forced Lupin on the run. While two of the men pursued him as he fled into the woods, their weapons tearing apart branches, bark and leaves, the guard sergeant and fourth man, along with the Karradeen squire, were moving on the other two hostiles. Diric returned to his feet, intending to assist them, but he found that Darah had reacted quickly to being targeted by Dicken and had pulled Jasper into a hostage position.

Dicken scowled, confident in his own aim, but not in Jasper. The young man was not handling the pain well, and for all the Squire knew, he could struggle and squirm at just the wrong time and put himself into the path of the bullet. Thus, he had to hold his fire, while the assassin put forth her terms. However, a flash of movement and the whiz of an arrow cutting through the air in his direction prompted him to drop his aim and spin his body out of the path of the projectile.

"AARRGHH!"

The guardsman between Dicken and the sergeant took the arrow in his side, causing him to spray bullets wildly into the ground before sprawling onto the ground face-down. Dicken regained himself quickly, raising his rifle again, this time toward the archer. However, the archer had already moved, position himself beside Darah and the captive Jasper. With Lupin likely driven away by now, this resulted in a standoff between Dicken and Diric, against Darah and Esben.

As all this was happening, Aspen had been begging for the sergeant to save her siblings. Not knowing fully who was missing and who needed saving, the sergeant naturally assumed Jasper was the one she meant, given he was in the process of being literally disarmed and taken hostage at that moment.

"Get the executor to the truck, we will deal with the attackers." was his response to her.

As he passed by, he joined Diric and Dicken as they entered their standoff with the two remaining assassins, a situation that did not favor anyone and didn't have a clear method of resolution.

"Lower your weapons, all of you." Diric finally spoke, referring not only to Dicken and the sergeant, but also Esben, "Release Lord Hildebrand, and we will permit you to leave. But rest assured that you will not survive if he is harmed further."

Dicken glanced at the Vulk, not liking the idea of compromising with criminals, but the returned glare from Diric spoke volumes. The stalemate had to be ended quickly, so that the wounded could be stabilized and brought to the safety of the estate. The lives of Joseph, Varda and Jasper were far more valuable than the apprehension of the perpetrators. Thus, Dicken and the sergeant lowered their weapons slowly to their hips, provided Esben did as well. Only once the archer had shown himself no longer a threat did they finally point their barrels away, however.

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Lupin had enough distance between him and the cavalry to feel less concerned about getting popped by a stray from a hail of bullets. Somewhat familiar with firearms he knew to check the gun's chamber and magazine to see how much ammunition he had but this particular model was new to him so it took a little fiddling around. He saw that he had enough for a few more shots, but not much more than that. Looking back to the cavalry, he didn't need to count to see that they had a lot more pistols, and rifles, and a tank too. This was no longer a mission, it was an uphill battle with a grade too steep to inspire anything remotely close to confidence in Lupin.

Squatting low Lupin was able to use the trees and a screen of underbrush to keep himself mostly out of sight, to minimize himself as a target at least, and used a small part in leaves and branches to take a survey of the scene. Darah was in control of the situation it seemed. For now anyway. It was her, and nearby Esben, against a firing squad. Thankfully they were in Ursa Madeum, which meant Norkotian arms and vehicles were in short supply indeed. Any more delays though and the Hildebrand forces would have all the time they needed to join the fray and their chances of escape would plunge to dismal.

Diric made them an offer. Lupin toyed with the idea of going for broke, firing off another blowgun needle while yelling at Darah to slit her hostage's neck, but quickly realized that was far easier for him to say as someone at a distance than it would be for someone who could probably smell the gun oil wafting over them.

"Hey!" Lupin called out when he noticed that the gunmen were serious and pointed their guns away.

"Sure! Sounds good! That guy stays right where he is, and so do I, until the other two are clear then everyone goes their separate ways. And hey, maybe we'll see each other again sometime!"

If they were close enough to each other Lupin would have winked but they weren't so he would just save that for next time he and Diric came face to face. Lupin had a feeling that was going to be sooner than later.

Edited by eggsinabasket

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15.jpg

 

Despite the arrival of the cavalry, Nai’s racing heart is still not assured. The danger is still very real, and his siblings are spilling out their lifeblood into the soil beneath their feet. He takes a moment to escort Tynes to the truck and into his guards’ waiting arms before returning back to the fray, not quite in the immediate vicinity of the standoff but close enough to observe his brother’s stark-white face, the grimace of pain he cannot quite hide from plain sight.

"Lower your weapons, all of you. Release Lord Hildebrand, and we will permit you to leave. But rest assured that you will not survive if he is harmed further."

Jasper’s mouth is pressed into a thin, pained line, and he looks dangerously pale against the sunlight, but those eyes are definitely aware of their surroundings, even with the encroaching frost glazing over his irises.

Hold on, brother, hold on, Nai silently begs him, gritting his teeth as the standoff continues further with every word sent flinging across the expanse and every second that stretches out, tenuous as a fraying thread: Varda and Jasper do not have all the time in the world.

Worried eyes flicker for a breathless moment towards the fallen figure half-hidden in the grass, unmoving but for the strained rise of her chest, reassuring himself on his eldest sibling before he then blindly reaches out a hand behind him. Shaking fingers entwine themselves with his own, and Nai does not need to turn around to know that Aspen is weeping heavily yet silently, lips caught between her teeth.

It is how she has always cried, especially when their father had died.

"Sure! Sounds good! That guy stays right where he is, and so do I, until the other two are clear then everyone goes their separate ways. And hey, maybe we'll see each other again sometime!"

Nai glares daggers at every individual on the other edge of the divide, holding his brother captive in their wretched grasp; the fact that they’ve done such a despicable thing proves to be a point against their case to properly follow through with their demands. Aspen whimpers, feeble and spent, and he turns his gaze towards Diric and Dicken, waiting to see what they would do should the assassins not keep their word.

 

@jaistlyn

Edited by vielle

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For a moment, Darah calculated the pros and cons of finishing the job by severing Jasper’s head from his body. Killing him would be easy enough. It was the getting away part that would be a challenge. The Norkotians had long-range projectile weapons, and though she wasn’t as susceptible to pain as the rest, repairing herself after the skirmish would be troublesome in a way that she didn’t want to deal with. Besides, Mister Brecht would be far from pleased. Lupin made a little joke that went mostly unacknowledged, but it confirmed that he was in favour of an escape. 

“Fair enough,” Darah replied to Diric’s proposition, and looked at Esben to make sure that he lowered his bow. She didn’t release Jasper immediately; that would give them a chance to go back on their word once he was clear. Instead, she hauled him along with her to the edge of the treelines, forcing him to move backwards slowly by the pressure of the strings cutting into his neck. Only once Esben headed into the forest, Darah shoved Jasper in the direction of Dicken, cutting off his line of sight to her. Diric looked like the better of the two who would more likely keep his word. With a brief swish of long hair, she, too, disappeared quickly among the trees. The doll lying on the ground jumped up and followed, though it would take a sharp eye to notice its small figure.

Edited by jaistlyn

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Esben stood there for a moment as he watched Darah and Lupin move into the trees. A botched assassination it seemed. How many non targets dead? Targets dead? 

The elf sighed as he lowered the bow. He didn't want to take them all on by himself, that would be stupid. Though possibly in the future come and disease them with his ore. 

He laughed to himself moving towards the trees, making his escape like the others, strolling at a pace until he too disappeared. 

Only his laugh remaining in the forest as he was gone.

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Dicken shouldered his weapon again, just in case the assassins doubled-back, but once they were gone, they stayed gone. Glancing to his left, where Diric stood, he gave the Vulk a disapproving glare.

"You should not have allowed them to escape so easily."

"On the contrary, they're freedom is only momentary." Diric replied in a matter-of-fact tone, "They will be found and punished for their transgressions, in due course. However, our concern must first be toward tending our injured and moving them to a safe location."

"What makes you so certain you will find them again?" Dicken growled.

"Because they made the most fatal of all mistakes that could be made by members of their profession." the Vulk answered, with a slight tilt of his head, "They allowed their faces to be seen."

He turned toward Dicken.

"And I do not forget a face."

With that, he turned and quickly moved to help the men load Joseph into the back of the truck, urging Nai and Aspen to board the back as well and stay with him. The sergeant moved to Jasper and likewise urged him toward the truck, while Dicken continued to stay on alert in case of a follow-up attack. The other two guards and Diric then converged on Varda's location, finding her still with the arrow sticking out of her side. Seemingly a man of infinite knowledge, Diric's first action was to break the shaft in half, preventing it from catching or hanging on anything that would worsen the wound. The next several moments were spent creating a temporary bandage over the wound, in order to prevent further bloodless and hold back contamination.

"Remain calm. Fear and anxiety offer no logical benefit in this circumstance." he told her, his bedside manner a unique one for certain, "However, if you require reassurance, I estimate there is approximately a seventy-eight point two-six percent chance of your complete recovery."

He then looked up at one of the soldiers.

"Guardsman, assist me in carrying Lady Hildebrand to the truck."

As the two of them moved Varda into the back of the truck, the handless driver climbed into the front passenger side, while Diric climbed in the back with the wounded. Though it was a crowded fit back there, everyone managed to squeeze in, though Dicken and the guards mounted the armored car that finally arrived on the scene. The two vehicles then began the trek back to the estate... 

Edited by Tyler

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The rendezvous location was on the ship they boarded in Gold Harbour, with promises that they could each be dropped off anywhere they wanted. Unsurprisingly, the sparse crew revealed themselves to be skeletons, like the one who had borne the very first message to them.

Bourbon, one with character. Darah sat with her hands crossed properly on her lap and looked beyond her drink at the skeleton she was having the pleasure of convening with. “The Hildebrands did not have support of their own, they survived because they were together with the Norkotians. This man is the one that needs to be gone before you can get to Joseph Tynes,” Darah said. From her pocketbook, she produced a sketch of Diric; inked by her hand, with detail using a pen of impeccable quality. “The Norkotians have unusual weapons and brings around defensive vehicles, but that alone would not mean much - they depend a lot on this man, who brings them together. He is both their strength and their weakness.” She took a leisurely sip from her glass, then turned to Lupin. “You still have the weapon you took from them, don’t you?”

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Lupin kept his mask on until the manor became like a shadowy dream in the distance behind them. He finally removed the mask and began to break it into pieces, throwing a chunk away here in a stream and a chunk away there over a cliff to get lost along the way. If they had the time and shelter for it he would have crushed it to dust or threw it into a fire to become brittle and break but they didn't have that time and he didn't want to risk getting caught with the mask on his person.

Along the way he also stopped at the base of a particular tree and grabbed a bug-out bag, where he had some money, a few other tools that he didn't want to get caught with, and a change of clothes. He left the old clothes in the bag and buried it then caught up with the other assassins.

He didn't keep track of the time now that they weren't on the job. Lupin was back to smiling and occasionally laughing at nothing at all, or really he was laughing at how the job went down but he didn't want to harp on anyone or make them feel bad, so he kept his reasonings to himself and just treated them to the random burst of laughter. Soon enough, it felt like, they were on a ship and on their way away from the islands of Ursa Madeum.

"They were only in danger because of the Norkotians too though." Lupin added as he rummaged around his person and withdrew the pistol and slid it on the table between all of them.

"If it wasn't for the limited space in their vehicles they might have thought to bring guards with them. If it wasn't for how much faster those vehicles go than horses, they would have been closer to the estate, to medical help and backup. Joe is going to be way harder to hit now. That Diric guy." Lupin smiled, scratching at his chin as ideas came to him. "He's very wary. Anyway next time you should really use some masks unless you not really tied to your faces, like me."

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