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[Dragon Fangs' Hideout] Unwilling Guests (Private, PM for Invite)

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To say that the Dragon Fangs Bandit Gang's cave was...well...'a fixer upper' was something of an understatement in itself, it was settled in the heart of a mountain that bubbled at its core - which the heat gave away making the insides almost uncomfortably sweltering during the day...but was probably extremely cozy at night. No cold nights on the hard ground outside, but cozy warm nights on the hard ground inside.

 

Unless you were the Bandit Queen that is.

And wouldn't she be happy today.

 

Her gang had brought in two juicy pieces of bit-bait indeed, they had made sure they were roped and well kept in place as they were brought through the cave, it was littered with multiple spoils of their heists. Turned over carriages, baskets filled with half eaten or half rotten food that stank in the heat of the cave - but the deeper into the cave the better the treasure appeared to be. Gold, jewels, silk, seals of traders and village mayors and at the heart of it a big throne that must've been part of some ornamental palanquin that'd now been changed into a ramshackle seat covered in tattered silks and treasures.

Needless to say a throne fit for an equally ramshackle pony, who happened to be sat on it chomping away at a peach before her eyes settled on what was being dragged into the 'throne room' with a cold stare as she threw the fruit away and shifted herself to her hooves to get a better look at what was being dragged in. However when she did get a good eyeful of her 'guests', there was a brief moment of disbelief that was completely overtaken by a cruel smirk that worked its way across her muzzle as she stepped down from her pedestal. If only the physical one.

 

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"I was about to tan your idiotic hides for interrupting me, you know I don't like being interrupted while I eat." Came her sharp bark as she walked past some of the bandits that'd immediately cowtowed to her, those that weren't keeping a hold of their prisoners that is. Eyeing over them again as she stepped up closer, she continued to smirk at the ideas bubbling away between those cruel violet eyes of hers. "But I'll admit, you muddling milquetoasts actually did something right for once this week...two pretty prizes indeed."

The venom in her smirk turned sweet, sickeningly sweet, fake and full of false promise as she took a step back and took a more condescending expression.

"I do hope your escort to our home was comfortable."

 

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Ochiru wasn't entirely sure what they were doing here.

 

Aside from the obvious.

 

The Ōkami had, up to this point, been quite happy to passively sit back and allow Nosk to take the lead, as she did most of the time whenever the two traveled together. When the ponies had set upon them, she had felt that first spike of adrenaline...but it had been more out of surprise than fear. The unexpected rather than the unwanted. She wondered if these ponies had been as surprised as she, when she had simply sat there and allowed the ropes to be thrown all around her body, her scruff, her legs. Nosk himself hadn't put up much of a fight either, when the short battle had escalated down, and that was something she had yet had a chance to ask him about. 

 

Being yanked around with ropes didn't lend itself to much conversation.

 

Which was why Ochiru was...well, confused. Oh, she was no fool to the danger of Yokai hunters. Hunters and poachers. One and same with different methods in between. But these ponies seemed...a little less than hunters and little more than vagabonds. A chance encounter that had been seized upon, but with an organization and camaraderie that spoke of a well-functioning fluidity rather than an opportunity of fortune. 

 

She wondered what Nosk made of it.

 

He was also being yanked around with ropes. Ironically, even more ropes than she had wrapped around her frame, for he had put up a fight, while she had sat down and made no move to stop her captors. Against the glitter from the pretty baubles thrown carelessly across rocky surfaces, the ropes seemed to shimmer in turn, looking almost regal in their simplicity. Her own did as well, and tugged against the skin of her lower legs, but the fur across her neck and midsection stayed their attempts to chafe and rub.

 

She wondered what Nosk felt of them.

 

Mayhaps she would need to wonder no longer, for they had arrived. At the heart of the mountain? At the end of the grove? A pony sat atop a pedestal of some sort stepped downwards, violet eyes piercing and wrenching, and Ochiru shifted slightly, slowly moving to sit down on the rocky surface. Her captors did not even flinch at her movement, entirely used to her passivity.

 

But they moved for her. Flinched and bowed and averted their eyes, even as they kept their grips strong on the ropes. 

 

"Yes," Ochiru stated, head tilting to one side as she looked down her mask slightly at the pony. Studying her as she studied her. Her voice whispered dual-toned, a faint echo following each syllable like the drawing out of a breath on the wind. "They were very kind."

 

 

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Nosk did not know.

 

This was the short answer to a multitude of possible questions. He and Ochiru had been travelling between villages when they were caught by surprise. How did they get the jump on him? He did not know. When they first appeared he made to fight them off, but it shortly became apparent that such a course was not safe. How many of them were there, hidden in bushes or behind rocks just out of sight? He did not know. After the skirmish was over Ochiru was roped up, but more curiously so was Nosk, who remained in pony shape, or so he thought. He had been a bit disoriented, had he let something slip? Or was this just an opportunistic group, who would just as soon capture a pony as a yokai? He did not know.

 

One thing Nosk had learned over the years was when a fight would be disadvantageous. He could have tried harder, and maybe even gotten away, but he might have gotten badly injured in the process. Worse, something might have happened to his travelling companion. Besides, there was much to be learned here, even as a hostage. Or perhaps, especially as a hostage.

 

For example, now that Nosk had been brought tied down to their hideout, he knew that they had a hideout. He knew it was in a cave, and while he probably wouldn't be able to find it again immediately should he have a need to return, he would at least have an idea where to start the search. He also learned they had a leader, when the 'queen' deigned to step down from her throne and inspect the captives, and he could make a rough guess how she ruled by the way she addressed her underlings. He made a token effort to tug at his bindings, although it was more to see how his captors reacted than any hope of escape. They seemed confident enough not to really react beyond small adjustments in stance.

 

The 'queen' spoke, disingenuously asking about their journey to the cave. Ochiru replied, causing Nosk to glance over at her. Was she just playing along, or did she misunderstand? Nosk would have to speak with her when they had a quiet moment, though not that he knew much more in some ways. He turned back to the queen, and replied to her in kind, in far too friendly a manner to be sincere. “Oh yes, very much so. It made me nostalgic for my younger days.”

 

From there Nosk fell silent. Clearly the bandit leader would have some sort of plan for them, a means to profit off of a pair of captives if nothing else. He would not feel forced to act until he or Ochiru were in immediate danger, and trapped and surrounded as they were sudden, reckless action would only make the situation worse. He scrutinized the bandit leader, waiting for her to decide what to do with the two captives.

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These two were definitely a pretty pair of prizes to be sure, smiling to herself more than she did with her 'guests' she eyed them in the way a buyer might've sized up a piece of jewelry she was seeing to buy or trade. The Yokai definitely fascinated her, especially that tail that she glanced over almost in a covetous manner before she caught the other guest's sickeningly sweet tone that'd been thrown back at her - it did nothing but provoke a near cackle that held more dark humor in it to be anywhere near pleasant...but held a more serious tone in it to be anywhere near humorous like a fairy tale bad guy. This was a mare that definitely held some bitterness in her and a threat in her tone.

Lifting a hoof she rubbed Nosk's head like one would've condescendingly done with a foal that thought they knew better then their elders as her cackle dissolved in a mockingly warm chuckle in her throat, it was obvious this wasn't her first time dealing with guests that had a bit of sass in them.

 

"Wonderful, I'd hate for such a pretty pair to be uncomfortable in our humble cave...granted the heat must be such a bother...I'm sure that was aided by any uncomfortably heavy valuables being.." She rolled her hoof with a small, smug grin. "'Liberated' from your person?" Her eyes wandered from bandit to bandit, at least the ones that weren't clung to the ropes holding the pair and she watched as they avoided her gaze, her grin disappeared quickly and was replaced with a slight frown.

"Nothing?" No answer from her bandits just gained another wrinkle in her brow as her frown grew. "Not even one COIN?"

When still no answer came from the shaking crew, the 'Queen' snorted a puff of black smoke in their faces before she eventually cooled off after a second or two of frustrated stomps into the black sodden dirt of the cave's floor, immediately that sickeningly sweet smirk appeared - this time more conniving and thoughtful as she wafted a hoof in a dismissive gesture.

"No matter! We'll get enough coin out of our delightful guests once I've had Jin appraise them, go through the books for what connections we have through our underground aliases and such.." Again she circled them, almost like a shark as she scrutinized their details. "I'm sure you two must be worth something, the Yokai most certainly, that tail might make a pretty scarf for some prissy little governess somewhere...maybe even silk for some geisha's gown." She looked to Nosk and gave a huff. "You...? Hmm...probably a servant, there's definitely a few assembly lines that would pay handsomely for a few workers that nobody will look for, especially not a hobo without any bits." This all seemed a very strong intimidation play, throwing verbal weight around to show she was the boss, the threat of undeniable odds and danger in case they wanted to be clever.

 

However such play went out the window when she stepped aside from the pair and raised her voice, the echo reverbing the walls of the cave.

"JINSOKU! COME HERE!

She grinned over her shoulder to the pair and flicked her tail partly. "But we'll soon see once my daughter has a better look at you."

 

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Ochiru nodded sedately as Nosk spoke of his younger days. So polite, her friend and her captors.

 

She continued to nod as the alpha female addressed her stiff subordinates, speaking of valuables and coins. Ochiru knew, did she not, the value that pony kind put on seemingly innocuous items that shimmered like sunlight on the water's surface, so much so that some ponies performed any manner of rituals and acts to obtain them. Such as capturing Yokai and selling them. Nosk did as well, for he bartered with the shiny baubles amongst ponies, who valued their metals and jewels over the bounty of the land underneath their very hooves. 

 

She wondered what ponies would think, if they could hear the earth sing.

 

It was silent in the cavern, save the rippling of heat that spiraled throughout the open space, and Ochiru tilted her head to rest it upon the hair of one of her captors, masked fixed on the alpha female's agitated features. More words exchanged - Silk was smooth and cool and flowed like molten silver, and she was not so averse to the comparison with her tail - and overall, the Ryuma pony seemed pleased with their presence in her cave. Herself, less so, but that was too be expected, was it not? Even though her first experience had not been so bad. 

 

The shrieking laughter of a small filly, darting to and fro underneath the cherry blossoms and leaving dumplings under the branches...a memory of home, of what her grove must have felt like before.

 

No...it hadn't been so bad.

 

But...

 

She has been learning. Now, this time it might be bad. She did not like the idea of Nosk being sold as a worker. Nosk belonged under the open air and amongst the sweet smelling grass of the plains. Nosk would not do well in a glass cage, not matter how many cherry blossom trees were planted within.

 

He might do well with daughters, though.

 

"Okay," Ochiru said agreeably, removing her head from the top of the pony she had been resting it upon, and to one who knew her dual tones well...a tinge of interest and intrigue. She liked daughters. "She will like my tail also," she stated factually, turning towards Nosk for confirmation. For most of the pony kind they met on the road seemed intrigued by her tail first and foremost. 

 

This, she did not mind.

 

 

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The bandit queen was not pleased to learn that there were no valuables to be had from her latest acquisitions, but she perked up quickly enough as she worked out what to do the pair. Nosk's fate was to be sold as an anonymous slave to some yet-to-be-announced workshop. It wasn't something he was particularly concerned about, as he was sure he could survive such a task. And what's more, the recipient would have no idea what they actually receiving. Whoever did end up purchasing him would likely end up not waking up the next morning. He could perhaps even liberate a few other unwilling workers in the process, earning himself a few favours and helping others improve their lots in life simultaneously.

 

Far less agreeable was the plan set out for Ochiru. Nosk had some hope that she would be sold as some sort of exotic pet. She'd been through such an even before, and had actually come out better for it. While it would be too much to hope that a second attempt would go quite so well, it was something he knew his companion would survive, and it was something he'd freed her form before.

 

No such luck, as mention was made of fashioning her tail into a scarf. Maybe it would stop there and the gang would wait for the tail to grow back so it could be harvested again, but it was just as likely they'd find other uses for too many parts of her. And letting another part of her be lost like that...that would be unacceptable. Nosk glared at the 'queen', and started to reply. “If you harm so much as one hair of her then I'll-”

 

But the 'queen' paid Nosk's unfinished threat no mind, and in fact had already moved on, intending to summon her daughter to inspect the evening's haul. Nosk let out a long, frustrated hiss through his teeth, as he wracked his brain for how to get out of this situation without too much unnecessary danger. Concerned as he was, the answer wasn't coming to him right away. Although he did realize that at least they had some time, as buyers would need to be found and contacted, and transport would need to be arranged. The realization was enough to calm him down, that he realized Ochiru had spoken as well.

 

It was hard to tell exactly what Ochiru was thinking at any given point. In this particular case though, it seemed she didn't fully understand the danger. “Ochiru...” Nosk muttered, glancing over at his friend and frowning. He didn't like the idea of her being unaware, but neither did he relish the idea of forcing her understanding. He found a middle ground. “Ochiru, I'm not sure they want to let you keep your tail.” Hopefully, it would be enough to clue her in without causing too much stress. Nosk turned to back towards bandit queen, and the direction of the cave he expected her daughter to arrive from. “I'll find us a way out of this,” he muttered, as much to himself as Ochiru.

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It took a decent chunk of time, decent enough for the echo to reach the back of the cave, even more so to get the Bandit Queen to twitch ever so slightly in irritation when her demands weren't met immediately and caused one hoof to scuff the dirt floor of the lair. After a few more seconds however, the Queen's daughter soon made her appearance from one of the offset tunnels that somehow lead further into the lair.

 

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Barring some small obvious traits shared between the two, it was obvious this young mare wasn't her mother's daughter. Her hooves trod lightly on the dirt as she was called and she scanned the cave briefly once she entered before her eyes locked on her mother, not seeming to notice the Bandit Queen's unwilling guests or the plight they were in as she approached the crimson Ryuma.

 

"You called mother? I hope it's not another instance of me checking if the bits are counterfeit-" Now she noticed them. As soon as she took a proper look to the guests she stopped mid sentence and eyed the pair over in relative silence, a fleeting expression of concern reading across her features as her eyes darted between the two and then immediately was replaced by a level headed and otherwise uncaring facade. Turning back to her mother with an arched brow as she saw the smug expression on the older mare's face.

"The black market? Really? After the bad deals we've had with them before?"

 

She received a snort for her answer as the older mare roughly pat her between the wings in some half hearted attempt to affectionate to the golden child in front of her, but she barely staggered at the treatment. 

"Yes my sweet, well this time they'll have to give us a good deal with merchandise like this and I'm sure you'll figure out just how much they're worth and deal with it yourself."

 

"Me? Not interested in dealing with it yourself, mother?"

 

The expression on the hot headed Queen's face grew briefly soured as she snorted and walked away.

"I doubt they'd enjoy seeing me again after the little 'incident' we had."

 

"You burnt down half the Underground Cartel, we're lucky any of them even still talk to us.

 

"Pff collateral damage at least, now don't backtalk your mother, after all you'll have to learn this trade if you want to lead this gang." Her words were met with silence and it seemed to be appreciated, even though it appeared that her words weren't appreciated in the slightest by the younger mare. "I'll be taking my nap, you can take these two to the cages we have in the back and give them a proper look over, see if any part of them is damaged and see what'll be deducted if we can sell them...you know what'll happen if they end up useless to us." The tone in the Queen's voice was enough to steel Jinsoku's gaze, but she remained silent.

 

With one last condescending pat on the back, the crimson mare made her way off down a tunnel away from her throne room as an exaggerated yawn escaped past her muzzle and the rope bandits and 'Princess' were left with the prisoners, said Princess eyeing the pair for a moment or two over her shoulder before sighing in mild frustration through her nostrils.
"Alright, bring them to the cages and I'll take a look at them." And turned to lead the other bandits and their quarry down the tunnel she'd come from.

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And so another conversation interupted, probably for the best though: Goto was about to make a wager with his friend that he could get some of the newer members of their own gang to to fall for one of his old pranks. This situation as it unfolded actually made him think it might be better he lay low now. Already he was growing anxious. Some yokai were caught by the bandit queen's legion and being brought to her for inspection. One of them had on a really creepy mask that this stallion wasn't comfortable even looking at, but possessed a tail like multicolored ethereal ribbons and the other one was... a pony? Probably some other yokai of some sort who bothered to keep his illusions up maybe another Okami with an even more vibrant pelt?. The mystical properties of pelts of any mammalian yokai were surely well known.

 

Either way, the brown bandit hoisted another jug over his muzzle as he watched Jinsoku ascend to her mother's side. Such a stilted dynamic they had. Seems appraisal was needed and the boss was up for the job.  Soon enough Jinn and some other bandits got up and began the trek to bring the two imprisoned spirits down to the caging area. A satisfied sigh later and he set the jug down and strolled nonchalantly beside the group as the prisoners were lead their place of holding. 

 

He fell back a moment behind to look over the creatures. Goto wasn't a big fan of other Yokai to be honest, he'd been on his own since the falling out with his clan and that was how he preferred it. He'd even tried to chase a few out who dared to come to his forest without good reason. He wasn't entirely without a degree of sympathy, as a tanuki his kind, both magical and normal had been hunted and poached for their fur. On some level he looked forward to the break out he was sure was happening at some point in the future... although he'd be waiting for now and playing the part of 'just another bandit' until that time came. "Any part of this pink one would probably buy enough booze to get the whole hideout drunk... " He looked over to the pair with his best seedy smirk, "As a resident low-life I thank you both for your sacrifice in the name of our vices. I'll raise a toast to you in thanks once it gets here."

 

 

 

 

Edited by Pretzelparty

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Her tail was beautiful, she had been told many times. She supposed it was not surprising, that these ponies wished to keep it for themselves.

 

She supposed she had been told that many times, as well.

 

"Oh," Ochiru said softly, less in confirmation of Nosk's information and more to herself. Yes, it would not have been the first time some pony wished her to part with her tail. And in truth, it might not have been such a difficult feat to accomplish when she had still had her cherry blossom grove. She remembers, faintly, little snippets of time, of cutting off small strands of her tail to give to the foals that gaped in awe at their prizes, and her tail never growing any shorter. She thinks she can regrow her tail, should it be removed.

 

Or could have, once long ago. Her time in her cherry grove becomes more and more difficult to remember in full as the years pass. Sometimes, those ages seem like nothing more than a fevered dream, one that makes her question what once was and what might have been.

 

It is getting more and more difficult to remember a time without Nosk.

 

"Okay," the wolf Yokai said, again, and for the first time wished the ropes loosened around her so that she might go over to Nosk and rest her head on top his pony one, "I will follow." The words might have made little sense to the ponies around them, but they had defined such an presumably large portion of Ochiru's life that they escaped past the present and spoke of all things to come. Even when they walked their separate paths, the words remained true.

 

Two new ponies joined them, then. One, a darkened pony with the stripes of a Tanuki down his tail. The other, similarly featured to the alpha female that quickly trudged off for sleep. The daughter, then. Ochiru tilt her head to one side, then the other in turn - like a curious dog, she had once been laughingly informed - to better look at the pair of them. This daughter did not seem as fascinated as the daughters Ochiru had played with in the past, but perhaps she was simply wiser to the world. Less innocent. 

 

The brown one simply seemed genial and sharp in turns.

 

"You are welcome," Ochiru said graciously, though with Nosk's clever eyes and ears, she had a feeling the brown one was not being entirely sincere in his thanks to their sacrifice. "But I think it only fair...we share a drink as well." The implication of the 'we' inferred both herself and Nosk, but Ochiru didn't look over to her long-time companion to see what he thought of such a proposition. Instead, the wolf Yokai simply stood up from where she was sitting, moving before her captors had even started moving to follow after the daughter, who was leading them back down the tunnel she had come from. "I am Ochiru." 

 

I am falling.

 

She was almost tempted to introduce Nosk to the two as well, but experienced stayed her tongue. Nosk was not as fond of giving out his name so freely, not like she. And she knew, too, that names had power. 

 

Though what power one could find in her fallen name was a mystery to even the ancients.

 

She supposed.

 

 

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Nosk was watching Jinsoku's arrival carefully, though as much out of an absence of other things to pay attention to as any particular strategy.  The 'queen', undoubtedly the biggest threat of the lot, stood next to her daughter to speak with her before leaving for a nap, and the bandits which had been assigned keep the pair secured weren't doing anything of note.  As such, he noticed the moment of hesitation when the younger first saw the day's catch.  A sign of weakness?

 

No, Nosk decided a moment later, not weakness.  The mare was being resolute when facing her mother, who evidently had the rest of the gang cowed, in being willing to openly criticize.  Whatever it was that concerned the mare, it was not borne of frailty.  That it might partly be caused by being the 'queen's daughter only raised more questions.  Having lived so long in close proximity to her mother's ruthlessness made her hesitation strange, and even if he had to make assumptions to get that far, those assumptions being wrong would raise more questions.

 

Further speculation was put on hold, as the two of them were to be taken to the cages and inspected there.  Nosk would be complacent for now, especially with Ochiru's confirmation that she'd understood what he had said, in her way.  The time was was not yet right to ask, and there were too many questions yet unanswered.  After a moment's hesitation and a glare in the direction of a couple bandits holding him, he complied and followed after Ochiru.  Although he did test his boundaries a bit, trying to inch over and walk beside the okami, to see how his current keepers reacted.

 

One bandit in particular made himself known, a brown earth pony with a peculiar tail.  In other circumstances that was a detail Nosk would have made particular note of.  At the moment his focus was elsewhere however, and so that snippet of information was pushed to the background, among other things in favour of reacting to what the bandit had said.  The disguised yokai held back his instinctual reaction, which was to say that he'd tear apart the organization and do similar to its members if any serious harm came to Ochiru, in favour of something more diplomatic.  “I feel it would be in everyone's interests to keep her in one piece.  I've heard of some families paying a lord's ransom for a yokai as an exotic pet.  I've known none gentler than Ochiru.”  Assuming he had been allowed to get close enough, Nosk would pat her gently on the shoulder, before moving on.  Both of them could survive a period of captivity, much better than then being 'harvested' anyhow, and such a state would all but ensure opportunities for future freedom.

 

“I've also heard,” Nosk continued, “of terrible things happening to those who would bring harm to such gentle creatures.  There's tales of the land itself, as if indignant, swallows them whole and they're never seen again.”  Granted, it wasn't so much a story he'd heard as a misleading description of how he'd captured prey in days long past, but he couldn't clarify without giving away his current, best advantage.  “Something to think about,” he finished, with a cold smile, as they drew closer to the cages. 

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The walk to the room with the holding cages was a decent one to say the least, a good few twists and turns in the heated cave tunnels of the mountain before the sunny golden ryuma eventually opened a heavy wooden door to a room that was just as full as the throne room...but certainly not as lustrous. Everything within the room was dusty or rusted, the only thing kept immaculate were the thick barred cages that side wisely away from any walls or anything to be tugged or pulled upon, the metal of the bars having odd sigils carved into them that must've prevented any magic whilst within the cage. The Queen was obviously clever.

But aside from the cages and their daunting size the room was surprisingly filled wall to wall with books, manuscripts, all stolen and all from different walks of life that the gang must've stolen and tossed aside in this room for some other reason or simply to be forgotten like an old coat or some rusted horseshoes. However where the majority of them were dusty and near rotten from the moons left alone, some were actually kept in quite good condition, like they'd been read religiously.

 

Once the princess, her partner in crime and the two prisoners were inside the room the yellow ryuma raised a hoof and waved it as the bandit group holding the prisoners secured them so they could not move even if they tried.

"That'll be all, I need to focus on their pricing and you all need to get back to work..." There was a pause before a small smile teased the corners of the golden princess' mouth. "Besides, I think chef managed to get enough turnip for stew tonight."

There was barely time to breathe or pause as the bandits near hurtled over each other to get out of the room, scrambling at the idea for a hot meal after their work grabbing the two unfortunate souls that were now left to the Bandit Queen's daughter and her odd ring tailed friend. She moved to close the door and throw down the heavy wooden beam that locked the room from the inside, purely one of the precautions to be sure if this was a prisoner room and then rested her ear against the flat of the door.

 

And stood there.

Silently.

Listening.

 

"...Alright, Goto help me remove their ropes in one piece." Her tone had immediately shifted, no longer stiff and partly numbed in her commands, now she was a touch more spirited and the concern rang obvious in her voice as she moved over to the Yokai and 'pony' with her brow knitted together, eyes briefly scanning the knots before they scanned the faces of the 'prisoners'. "You both aren't hurt are you?"

 

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A smirk came to got's muzzle upon Ochiru's response, "Nothing wrong with something to drink before you're brought to your eventual fate. I'll see what I can arrange once you're behind bars." 

 

While the group of outlaws made their way down the passage Goto listened to Nosk's thoughts on his previous statements. He made good points about how some might like keeping a yokai as a pet, but despite the company he kept, Goto didn't really put it past many ponies of doing something foolish or mean spirited for the sake of some pretty bauble or trinket. Some of his distant relatives lost tails to poachers in the not too distant past, some getting even worse no matter how sweet or gentle their owners could be. Hearing Nosk's kinda-sorta warning about 'terrible things' happening to such fools who'd lay a hoof on beings like Miss Ochiru brought up a small, sly grin from the ring tailed bandit. The stallion chuckled knowingly as they neared the cages,"Now isn't that ominous..." 

 

For a moment Goto's ear's perked up at the mention of stew, eyes sparkling with hope until he realized it was only part of the plan. It took a bit of effort not to join the scrambling bandits on reflex before they all went out the door. One faint rumble from his stomach could be heard while Jin listened up against the door... until she gave the okay. "Right away, Boss." Said the stallion, a smile steadily growing across his face as he looked over the various knots alongside his cohort. The knots around the two captives seemed to gradually grow slack until they were just loose enough to wiggle out of. 

 

"Sorry about the threatening 'suggestions' back there. Had to make it look good, You know? Once you're both out of here let's actually see about getting you both a drink."

 

 

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She was confused.

 

Ochiru watched as the ropes slipped like water from her body, mask blank and unchanging even as she lifted a now freed paw to study its freedom further. Did they not say they wished her tail not a moment ago? But now they had a change of mind? Ponykind was fast-paced and sometimes difficult to follow, she had found during her years of wandering, but usually not so fast as this.

 

"Yes," she said simply in response to the daughter's inquiry, "inside." She did not understand. Was her tail no longer beautiful? Still, at least they had removed the ropes, she supposed, for they had chafed and pulled even against the protection of her fur. And, they had freed Nosk, who was not meant for the chains and ropes of this world. Ochiru padded over to his pony form and bent down to rub the top of her head underneath his own, seeking comfort and familiarity and order.

 

And pats.

 

"You are...not putting us in there," Ochiru stated rather than questioned, mask facing the looming cages nearby. Yes, she did not mind a nice family to would shelter her amongst the sakura trees...but tiny cages were very uncomfortable. That, she understand, and that, she was grateful for as well. "Why? Are we to partake in drinking now?" 

 

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What peculiar creatures these bandits were.  At one moment, a dominating queen was ordering the two travellers be sold into slavery or worse.  The next, the bulk of the bandits were sent away with the promise of food, while the only two who remained released their prisoners the moment the coast seemed clear.  Nosk supposed that it made some sense that some among the bandits would rebel against the queen as he'd encountered her, but that didn't explain how her own daughter would be among them.  Either someone was playing a very long game, or something had happened to turn the child against the parent.

 

However, as much as Nosk enjoyed a good game, he set that mystery aside for the moment.  It was a long term question if it was anything, and the disguised yokai had more immediate concerns, such as escaping the cave and figuring out what these two rebellious bandits in particular were aiming to accomplish.  He opened his mouth to reply to Jinsoku's question, but fell silent and stared pointedly at the ground when he heard Ochiru's reply.  There were a few seconds of oppressive quiet, at least in Nosk's mind, before his mask of stoicism returned and he offered his own reply.  “We're well enough I think, I... we surrendered before the fighting could start in earnest.”


He also made note of Goto's- Jinsoku had let the name slip, or perhaps said it entirely deliberately- apology and explanation.  Nosk hadn't been expecting it, but the story fit together.  “I see.  Understandable I suppose, given the circumstances.”

 

Nosk intended to analyze.  He still didn't fully trust these two, and then even if he ultimately concluded their desire to help was genuine, it would all be for naught if the plan got them immediately recaptured.  Worse than that, they'd be recaptured and their newfound allies would recieve punishment on top of it all.

Nosk intended to analyze that is, until Ochiru rubbed her head up against his.  He knew what this meant, at least in part, and he couldn't help but smile as he lifted his hoof to rub between the wolf spirit's ears.  So much for being detached.  If he'd already shown his hoof that far, he may as well introduce himself as well, although he wasn't willing to reveal all of his secrets yet.  Without pausing the rubs he was providing, he looked to Jinsoku.  “Since I didn't say it before: I am Nosk.”

 

“We can't stay here indefinitely, and I can only assume we couldn't just walk out the entrance.  Is there a plan for leaving?”  As well as the immediate relevance, the answer could hint at whether this was a spur-of-the-moment rebellion or something longer planned.  Not to say Nosk would be unhelpful, even if he still held some lingering suspicions.  “I believe I still have some funds stashed away, I could maybe arrange for apparent payment.  Or we could fake an attack on the 'shipment', although that presents some obvious problems...”  He trailed off, trying to wordlessly coax a reply from their hosts.

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