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Hero on the Halfshell

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In the desert city of Ul'dah, a blonde young woman and a young man with blue hair sat in a tavern together, going over papers and comparing notes while idly picking at their food off-handedly. The young man looked up at his partner. "Any thoughts, Kaede?"

The young woman frowned, lilac eyes closing in thought, and after a moment she shook her head. "It just looks like random nonsense to me. If there's a pattern here, I can't find it at all." She paused, apologetic. "Sorry, Shuichi. I guess I'm not very helpful, huh..."

Shuichi shook his head. "Oh, no, Kaede! It's not that, it's just... It really does just look like nonsense." He pulled a few specific articles out, setting them side by side, pointing at a map spread over the table as it was relevant.

"Here, they're seen stealing from that big mining company, Amajina & Sons. Then over here, one of them is making a show out of dodging attempts by local militia members to capture them, while juggling fruit of all things. And here, they intervene in an attack from the Beast Tribes on one of Amajina & Sons' own caravans and don't even attempt to steal anything, instead driving off the beastmen and disappearing."

He pulled out a small notebook from his breast pocket and opened it up. "On top of that, we have no idea what any of them even look like, since they all wear full face masks and uniform white outfits that cover them from head to toe. No discerning marks, no facial features.... It's a puzzle, alright. These guys are certainly no ordinary bandits."

Shuichi's brow furrowed, a hand over his mouth as he began to mutter his thoughts to himself, but he was broken out of his reverie by Kaede giggling. "Ah? ....what's so funny, Kaede?"

Kaede shook her head, still giggling. "Sorry, Shuichi, I'm not laughing at you, I promise. I just find your dedication kind of charming. Ever the inspector, huh?" She smiled warmly at him, and Shuichi blushed in kind.

"Ah, well, that's just.... I'm just trying to live up to my uncle's example, you know? Anyway, I-" Before he could finish his sentence, a figure loudly burst into the tavern, drawing everyone's eyes to the front door, where a large man with an equally large robe covered in stars draped over his shoulders stood, giving a thumbs up and grinning.

"Good people of the Quicksand! Rejoice! Your hero, Kaito Momota, Luminary of the Stars, is here!" Rather than the applause he seemed to be trying to garner, most of the tavern's inhabitants went back to what they were doing with practiced familiarity, with the occasional 'Hey, Kaito!' sent his way. Undeterred, he walked down to where Shuichi and Kaede were sitting, pulling over a chair from another table and sat down with them.

"How do you even call yourself that with a straight face, Kaito?" Kaede asked, sounding amused.

"What? It's not that weird. Every coliseum great has a title, right? And besides, the stars hold my destiny! It's only natural that I should be named after them!" He grinned voraciously as he spoke, but Kaede only shook her head.

"If you say so, Kaito. I'll never get you gladiators." Kaito just laughed at that, then turned over to his other friend at the table, who didn't even look up once during the entire conversation, quietly checking map coordinates and cross-referencing his notes.

"Still working on those clown-faced bandits, huh?" Shuichi nodded, letting out a sigh.

Kaede shared a concerned look with Kaito, then turned to Shuichi. "Maybe you should take a break. I don't want to see you burn out on this case."

Kaito nodded and slapped Shuichi's back, startling the inspector. "Yeah, what Kaede said! And I've got just the thing! Some rich guy got his pet turtle kidnapped, and he's offering to give the ransom payment to whoever can retrieve it! Come on, this is just what you need to take your mind off of things!"

Shuichi let out a breath, then pushed his chair back and stood up. "Actually, yeah, that does sound like something I could use. Kaede, would you like to come with us?"

Kaede shook her head and stood up too, picking up her bow and stringing it over her shoulder. "Sorry, I've gotta get back to the Archer's Guild. I've got a training session coming up, and I don't want to be late. I'll see you later, guys!" They waved goodbye as she left through the doors of the Quicksand, leaving Shuichi and Kaito to plan out their approach.

"Don't worry, Shuichi! Between the two of us, we can get a group together in no time! Just leave it to me!"

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Out in a distant desert canyon, Shuichi carefully observed his targets. Three, no, four bandits, all surrounding the turtle in question, who was in turn the size of a house. The turtle only served to highlight how short the bandits themselves were, all of them being Lalafell, and therefore only three feet tall at the most. How they managed to abduct something of that size against its will was a mystery Shuichi may never solve. He carefully crept back to to the hiding spot where the rest of his party sat, waiting for his report.

When he made his way back, Kaito was the first one to speak. "So, what's the situation?"

Shuichi sat down and began scratching outsome diagrams in the sand to illustrate as he spoke. "Four bandits total, all Lalafell. They appear to be Conjurers, so look out for stones and wind, but they shouldn't be too much trouble. By the look of them, they're amateurs. The target itself appears unharmed, although very... large. I didn't expect Prince Adeledji's prized gil turtle to be that big, frankly."

The third member of their group, Ryoma, was taking the last few puffs of a cigar while waiting for Shuichi's return, dousing it on the inside of his shield. The Lalafell was probably the most heavily armored here, despite also being the smallest. Or perhaps because of it. "Yeah, turtles out here in Thanalan can grow to some pretty impressive sizes. If anything, this one probably still has a ways to go."

"Hey, Ryoma, I've been meaning to ask: How do you light those things, anyway?" Kaito leaned over towards Ryoma, looking at his cigar. "I never see you bring out a flint or anything, so what gives? Is it magic?"

Ryoma shook his head. "No magic here. I just use these." He pulled out a small, red crystal chip from an inner pocket and held it up to reflect in the light. "Chips from a fire crystal. They're warm to the touch, but they're sized out so that they only burn something small and flammable. Perfect for lighting a cigar or a pipe, but they don't have much practical use besides that. You'd need something a little bigger to even start a bonfire."

The fourth member of the team, an Au Ra named Maki, approached the sketch from where she was sitting, her dragon-like tail swishing in slight irritation at the detour in the conversation. "So, what's the plan?" It was said more like a command to hurry things along than a genuine question to Shuichi, although his impression may have been colored by the fact that he found her intimidating on even the best of days. Her death glare was only enhanced by those horns growing out in front of her face, and her doll-like face was rendered sinister by both her red eyes and the patches of scales scattered across her skin.

"Ah, right! Okay, so, what I think we should do is have Ryoma and Kaito charge in the front and get their attention. Ryoma is the most equipped to take the brunt of their attacks, and Kaito is a fist fighter so it's better if he can close the gap quickly so he doesn't get overwhelmed. It would be ideal if Ryoma were to block everything coming for Kaito with his shield, but considering the height differences, that's not strictly feasible, so just do what you can." Ryoma and Kaito both gave a thumbs up, indicating that they understood their role in the plan.

"Maki, you're an archer, so I want you to hang back and survey the battlefield, taking shots if you think you can finish them off but otherwise keeping an eye out for any unforseen threats. There could be more of them hiding out in the ruins and I don't want to risk getting flanked." Maki nodded briefly in response.

"I'll take a midpoint position between you and them, supporting Kaito and Ryoma with my magical attacks and doing my best to keep them healed, but still able to hear anything you shout from your position, Maki." Shuichi took out his weapon, a tome of arcane geometry, and a quill pen. After spending a few seconds inking in the book, the sigils on the page began to glow, and soon a resplendent little rodent-like creature stood with them, glowing with a green light all over its body save for the red jewel embedded in its forehead.

Ryoma paused and stared at it with a slightly confused look on his face. "What the hell is that?"

Shuichi closed his book and put it back on the carrying case hanging off of his hip. "Oh, this is a Carbuncle. It'll be assisting us in battle. I'd explain, but we're short on time as it is. Just think of it as a sustained magical spell if it makes you more comfortable."

Ryoma still looked skeptical of any meaningful contribution this little glowing marmot could make, but he chose not to make a big deal out of it, putting away his cigar case and finishing his preparations for battle. "If you say so. I'm certainly not going to argue with you before seeing it in action."

Maki strung her bow and got it ready for action, and Kaito was adjusting the grip on his gauntlets before picking up the cestii he wore over his hands. "Alright, we're ready as we're gonna be, Shuichi! Just waiting on your signal and then Kaito Momota, Luminary of the Stars, will save the day!" Maki rolled her eyes as though she'd heard this a thousand times before, and Ryoma just chose to get into position.

Shuichi nodded, steeling himself. He moved over to his lookout position, and when the kidnappers looked most vulnerable, he gave the signal. Kaito and Ryoma nodded and ran in as fast as they could, Kaito yelling "CHAAAAAARGE!" as loudly as possible to draw their eyes while Maki stealthily moved into sniping position. Shuichi ran behind them, Carbuncle in tow and grimoire open, ready to cast anything he needed it to. Time to prove his worth.

Kaito's shout, naturally, got the attention of the bandits. They immediately began to cast Stone and Aero spells at Kaito, pelting him with flying rocks and biting winds. "Ah! Damn it!" He stumbled back from the force of the stones, and the very air around his body felt like knives. Before he could come to any serious harm, Ryoma got in the way and deflected the rest of the stones with his shield.

From her lookout spot over the valley, Maki watched as Kaito ate dirt almost immediately after trying to be a hero and shook her head. "Idiot." Perched and bow drawn, she watched as Shuichi helped Kaito recover with his healing magic and they closed the gap.

Once Ryoma was close enough, he unstrapped his shield and flung it forcefully at the frontmost bandit, bashing into him with enough force to cause the shield to fly back to Ryoma, who caught it and strapped it back onto his arm. This also happened to startle the enormous turtle, causing it to panic and charge back into the canyon. It fled up the river and deeper into the valley, knocking over the bandits and disrupting their spells.

Kaito clapped Ryoma on the shoulder and gave him a thumbs up. "Good job, Ryoma! Just leave the rest to me!" With that, Kaito charged in and punched one of the now disrupted bandits square in the face, knocking him down to the ground. Before the bandit could get back up, Kaito lifted him up by the collar and hurled him across the rocks, into the river in front of the ruins.

"Yeah! Take that!"

Kaito immediately turned and attacked the next bandit, but he had unknowingly stirred up a nest of amphibious creatures that were showing signs of emerging from further down the river. Maki took aim at a bandit fleeing for the ruins and was about to fire when one of the creatures in question suddenly emerged and swallowed the small bandit whole. Measuring 22 fulms in length, with mottled green skin and bulbous purple eyes, they threatened to blindside Kaito and Ryoma before they could react. She couldn't deal with that many on her own, not at this range. All she could do was try to warn Shuichi and hope that he could get their attention in time. "Shuichi!" Maki shouted from her perch, tossing small rocks at him to get his attention before gesturing to the threat. "Danger from the river! Look out!" She took out her bow and began to pepper the creatures with arrows.

Shuichi's distance from the sounds of battle allowed him to pick up on Maki's cry, and when he turned he was surprised to see not reinforcements, but wildlife now charging at them. "Efts! But how?" He looked out at the melee combatants of the party and got their attention with a sharp yell. "Kaito! Ryoma! On your left!" Shuichi took out his grimoire and began casting debilitating poison spells on the creatures, hoping to weaken them enough that they might not overwhelm his friends.

Kaito turned to face the veritable swarm of Efts coming up at them, seemingly from nowhere, and was immediately swamped with them, but before they overran him completely, one went flying from a full force punch delivered by the Luminary of the Stars. "You get the HELL off me! Where the hell did you bastards come from, anyway?!" While he was able to keep the creatures at bay with punched and kicks, he was separated from Ryoma and Shuichi for the time being.

"Kaito!" Shuichi tried to formulate a strategy to rescue his friend, but before he could, Ryoma was similarly overwhelmed. His heavy armor began to work against him as the efts knocked him over and began to drag him back into the river. Shuichi began to panic, terrified that he may have led two of his friends to their deaths. He looked over the site of the battle one more time, trying to figure out a way to salvage this situation, when suddenly....

"That's it!" Shuichi directed his Carbuncle over to Ryoma while Shuichi ran to Kaito's side, casting ruinous magical attacks as quickly as he could to try and get the attention of at least some of the efts surrounding him.

Kaito saw what he was doing and began to sweat. While he had full confidence in Shuichi's skills, he knew the inspector also had a tendency to overburden himself. He couldn't let Shuichi offer himself up as bait in some misguided plan to save him from a bunch of stupid lizards. "Shuichi, don't be a hero! That's my job!"

Shuichi just smiled, making no attempt to move as the efts slowly moved in. "Don't worry, Kaito. I have a plan." More of the efts began to move in, and just as one started to charge, the entire crowd of them were suddenly bowled over, one of their number suddenly flying into them at great speed. Kaito looked over to where the creature had come from, only to see Ryoma and the Carbuncle, both ready to rejoin the battle.

"Ryoma! You made it! I thought you were a goner there for a second!" Ryoma shook his head at Kaito's remark, adjusting his helmet.

"I nearly was, until this little guy saved me. I was about to be dragged into the water and made into someone else's dinner when he showed up and unleashed this huge gust of wind." He reached out and petted the aetheric creature, to which is responded with a happy, high pitched mew. "Looks like the one that still has a ways to go is me. Shows what I know."

An arrow flew into the eye of one of the remaining efts, which promptly fell over dead. Maki approached, having abandoned her perch to join the fight at closer range. "If you're done being amazed at Shuichi barely avoiding a massive screw-up, we are still in the middle of a battle."

"Aw, don't be like that, Maki Roll! Try being more positive!" He gave her a wink and a thumbs up, to which she rolled her eyes. The four of them together either killed or drove off the remaining amphibians, leaving the four of them alone with one very upset giant turtle hiding in the corner of the valley, at the mouth of the river.

The danger seeming to be over, Ryoma chanced another cigar. "How exactly are we supposed to deliver this thing back to the client, anyway?"

Shuichi nodded. "We were given a sack of herbs to use to put it to sleep. They're pretty powerful, from what I'm told. Once the turtle is asleep, Prince Adeledji's men will come to pick it up and bring it back to the palace. The problem... is that we have to somehow entice it out of here to do it."

Maki's eyebrows knitted together. "Can't we just bring the herbs over here and let it eat that way?"

Kaito shook his head. "Nah. See, they plan to load the big guy onto a cart to bring him back that way, and for that we need a wide open space. Shouldn't be a problem, though! I'm great with animals."

Maki seemed unconvinced. "You say that about everything, Kaito."

"Confidence is key, Maki Roll! Ryoma, go set out the sack of sleeping herbs for our guest, would you?" With that, he approached the shivering turtle. "Hey there, big guy! Don't worry, I'm not here to hurt you. The Luminary of the Stars would never hurt an innocent!" He gently took hold of the turtle's shell and began to try and guide it over to where they came into the valley. "We're just gonna bring you over here for a nice snack, and- ack!" The turtle refused to budge, causing Kaito to slip when he tried to bring it over. He fell flat on his ass in the water.

"Smooth work, Mr. Luminary." Despite her deadpan expression, Maki sounded slightly amused.

"Yeah, yeah. These things take time. Hang on." He moved over to the turtle's face and looked him directly in the eyes. "Hey, it's all gonna be okay. Alright? We'll get you back to Teledji, and you can go back to... whatever it is rich turtles do. Eat leaves made of gold? Whatever. Come on, let's just-" He tried to gently move the turtle around so that he could bring it over to the sack, but again it would not budge.

"All right, you wanna play it that way? Fine." Kaito began to physically push the turtle as hard as he could, straining with his entire body in a comical display of ineffectiveness.
It was at this time Ryoma came back. "Okay, got them out, now what... What in the hell is he doing?" Shuichi just shook his head.

"Ah, hey, Kaito? Maybe we should try another way." Shuichi hoped that Kaito would listen to him, but unfortunately his trademark stubbornness had already kicked in.

"No, I got it! One way or another, I'm gonna move this damn turtle!" He continued to strain himself attempting to move two tonzes of giant reptile with nothing more than sheer willpower, so Shuichi and the others began to occupy themselves while they waited for Kaito to finally give up. Shuichi noticed the number of fire sprites floating around the valley's edge. They looked quite nice in the light of the setting sun. He wondered if Kaede might also like it- whoa, where did THAT thought come from? He blushed at the sudden thought of bringing Kaede to such a romantic locale, then shook it off.

After some time, Kaito finally gave up. He was sweaty, exhausted, sore, and now this dumb turtle just refused to move from the most inconvenient spot in the entire world. "Gods! Damn it!" In frustration, he punched the turtle's shell before walking back over to his companions.

"Alright, yeah, this isn't working. We're gonna have to come up with something else." Shuichi, Maki, and Ryoma's eyes all went wide, staring at him in shock. He glowered at that. "Oh, ha ha, stubborn Kaito finally gives up, what a shock. You don't have to-"

"Kaito, look out!" Maki's sharp cry surprised him and he immediately turned around to see the turtle he had so carelessly punched earlier suddenly charging at him full force. He wouldn't stand a chance in a direct fight, not in the state he's in. The only thing he could think to do was to run, as fast as he could.

"Shuichi! Help meeeeeeeee!"

Shuichi froze. The turtle they were sent to help was now charging full force at Kaito. He racked his brain for a way to save him without killing the animal they were sent to protect to begin with. How can they incapacitate the- "I've got it!"

Shuichi began to direct everyone with an unusual confidence. "Kaito, run over to the herbs! Bring the turtle over there! Maki, quickly, shoot one of the Fire Sprites and retrieve its core! Ryoma, get its attention on you! I'll go heal Kaito! Move!" Maki nodded and immediately moved to complete her objective, firing arrows at her target while Shuichi ran over to Kaito, who was frantically punching and kicking the turtle's head. At this point he was backed all the way against the wall of the canyon, and things were looking dire.

"Shuichi? What are you doing here?" Kaito strained his body, pushing the turtle's head as hard as he could to keep the animal from crushing him against the wall entirely.

"I'm here to save you, Kaito! Don't worry, I've got a plan. I'm not trying to take the burden alone. The others are on their way." Shuichi cast a healing spell, washing over Kaito's flagging body and invigorating him again, but it wasn't quite enough to fully regain his strength. However, before the turtle was able to fully close the gap and crush them both, a shield flew through the air and crashed into it's head. The beast turned around to face Ryoma, the Lalafell already reattaching his shield.

Shuichi grabbed Kaito's sleeve and pulled him along to the herbs, stopping to catch their breath while Shuichi looked across the valley. "Alright, Shuichi, what's the plan here?"
"I need to find Maki. I sent her to get- ah, there she is!" He spotted her running over to them, a shining red object in her hand.

Shuichi called to the Lalafell gladiator entangled with the angry turtle, waving him over. "Ryoma! Come back! Hurry!" As Ryoma and the turtle began to move, Maki made it back.
"I'm back. What's next?" She held out the core of the flame sprite, still fiercely warm to the touch. Shuichi snatched it up and plunged it into the middle of the sack of herbs.

Ryoma made it over to the others and stood in front of them protectively. "Now we wait. Everyone, back up slowly now." The party slowly moved back, angry giant turtle trying to decide who to attack next as it approached until it stood over the sack of herbs.

Ryoma glanced over to Shuichi. "Hope this plan of yours works. I don't think there's gonna be another way out of this if it doesn't." They looked over at the turtle and the sack of herbs underneath it, looking like it was going to charge at any minute and ruin the plan entirely, when suddenly Kaito charged out from the group to wrestle with the beast.

"Kaito, what are you doing?!" Shuichi shouted in a panic, but Kaito just gave him a thumbs up and a confident smile. "Hey, don't worry about me! You need him to stay where he is, right? Well you can leave that to me!" A reinvigorated Kaito was certainly strong enough to hold the turtle in place until the trap finally sprung, the heated flame core burning through the herbs and creating a cloud of sleep-inducing smoke that enveloped the turtle's entire body, causing it to grow drowsy, stumble to the ground, then fall asleep.

Shuichi released a breath he'd been holding the whole time. "Oh thank the gods, it's over. I was worried there." Ryoma and Maki sat down on the ground, exhausted, but Kaito climbed on top of the turtle, giving a hearty laugh.

"No need to worry! When the Luminary of the Stars is on your side, there's nothing you can't do! Ahahahaha! Hahaha, haha...ha...." Still standing in the sleeping gas, he ended up passing out on top of the turtle.

Maki just shook her head. "Idiot."

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At the Quicksand, Kaede sat at her familiar table with her Shuichi and Kaito, the two boys looking positively exhausted. "Wow, sounds like you guys had a wild ride. I'm kind of glad I missed that, honestly."

"No kidding. I don't think I've ever had so many things go wrong all at once in a single mission before." Shuichi let out a deep sigh before taking a swig out of his mug.

Kaede raised her fists encouragingly. "Well, hey! It was tough, but at least you managed to get the Prince's turtle back to him, and even got that ransom payment! Ooh, were you invited to the royal palace? Did you get to meet the Sultana?" Her eyes glittered with delight, imagining getting to meet the beloved ruler of Ul'dah.

Shuichi looked down, tugging his hat over his eyes by the brim while Kaito just pounded his fists together in frustration. "Fuck no! That little shit was a liar from the start! He's not a prince at all!"

Kaede was taken aback. "Wait, what? He wasn't a prince? Are you serious?"

Shuichi shook his head. "Well, Teledji Adeledji does have some blood relation to the throne, but it's.... Distant."

Kaito pounded the table with one fist. "More like non-existant! If he's a prince, then I'm an admiral! On top of that, this payment was a farce!" He tossed the sack containing the reward money onto the table, containing a fair amount of money but not what one would imagine to be the just reward for retrieving a wealthy noble's prized pet.

"Seriously? That's it?! I thought you said that he was offering the ransom itself as the reward?" Kaede was reeling from the news, resting a hand on top of her head.

Shuichi rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "That... was the ransom, actually. It turns out the kidnappers didn't actually ask for much to begin with. I suspect they just picked a number that sounded big to them."

"Oh man, no wonder you're so upset. I would be too if this was all I got after all... That." Kaede sighed, idly lifting the sack of gil in her hand before dropping it back on the table.

Shuichi cleared his throat. "Ah, guys, don't you think maybe you're focusing on the negative? After all, we made it through a really difficult situation, did a good deed, got an... amount of money, and we even bonded a little bit with Ryoma and Maki. I think that counts as a win, don't you?" He smiled at his friends, who both avoided looking at his eyes, feeling a little bit ashamed at how mercenary they were being there.

Kaede was the first to speak, clasping her hands together in front of her. "Yeah, you're right! And you also got to prove that you can really think on your feet! I'm really proud of you." Shuichi couldn't help but blush at the compliment, tugging his hat over his eyes again.

"Yeah, what Kaede said! You really did a great job out there, Shuichi! You're the best sidekick a guy could ask for! I'm gonna go order us some food, it's on me!" With that, Kaito got up with the paltry sack of gil and immediately headed over to the proprietor, leaving Shuichi and Kaede alone together.

Shuichi and Kaede fell into a comfortable silence together, looking around the the tavern idly while waiting for Kaito's return. Shuichi gathered up his courage and broke the silence. "Ah, Kaede... You know, the valley looks really beautiful in the sunset. It looked really remarkable, and... I was wondering if you would like to see it together with me." Shuichi blushed again, but rather than avoid eye contact like he usually did, he looked directly into Kaede's eyes.

"Ah, geez! Shuichi, that's... Aaaaaah!" Now it was Kaede's turn to blush and look away, crossing her arms in front of her chest. "I mean.... I wouldn't... mind it. If you wanted." She shook her head, smiling at him. "Geez, this is so unlike me! I'm not used to you being so forward, Shuichi!"

Shuichi and Kaede both laughed together, and that was when Kaito made his way back to the table with their food. "Alright, guys! Eat up! It's all on me!" He set out three plates with a brown loaf of some kind of meat with a thin red sauce on it.

"Uh... Kaito? What is this, exactly?" Shuichi asked, hesitantly.

"Mole loaf! A moist, juicy loaf of ground mole meat. Eat up! It was... all I could afford for us after taking out Maki and Ryoma's shares of the reward." Kaito didn't look terribly thrilled about this, either.

The three of them all sat staring at their plate of cheap food made from moles. Shuichi looked at his friends in sympathy. "Being an adventurer is pretty rough, huh?"
All three of them looked down at their plates and sighed. "Yeah......"

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Out in a familiar valley, a robed Lalafell slowly emerged from the abandoned ruins by the river, muttering to himself. "Gods, that was insane. Good thing I had the sense to get the hell out of there when I did. I'm never getting involved with a group like that again."

He looked around, scanning the environment for any sign of life. Once he was sure he was alone, he began to walk fully out of the ruins and make his way out of the valley. "Seriously, those people were idiots. I should have known better than to get involved with them."

"I dunno, I think that plan had potential! You could have totally turned it around with a little extra help! Shame your partners were so stupid, though."

"Right?! Why did I ever....think....." The Lalafell stopped. Who said that? He slowly turns around to find another Lalafell with purple hair, wearing a tattered white uniform, a large black cloak draped over his shoulders, and some kind of officer's cap. In one hand was a magical staff, in the other what appeared to be a clown mask. His face was contorted into a sick smile. "That was a lie. Your plan was stupid as hell. I mean, really, you call yourself a criminal? Apologize to all criminals and mischief makers that paved the way for you!"

'Where the hell did he come from? I know I checked the area, how did he sneak up on me?!' The surviving kidnapper slowly backed away from this new threat, before turning and running full tilt out of the valley as fast as his little legs could carry him.

"Yaaaay, I love playing tag!~" The one with the purple hair held his staff close to his chest. Aether gathered at the tip, and a Blizzard spell was launched at his fleeing target. "Tag! You're it!" The spell launched and smacked the fleeing Lalafell right in the back, forming ice around his body and causing him to topple to the ground.

The clown slowly walked over to his frozen captive, bending down to look at his captive. "Silly, you can't play tag that way! Oh well, guess I win!" He snapped his fingers, and seemingly from nowhere, several more people of all shapes and sizes emerged, all wearing the same white uniform and clown masks of their own.

"I watched your little performance, and frankly, it was unimpressive. But.... I do still wanna have a chat with you. The one with the blue hair, the one who led his team over all that nonsense. Even when I stirred up that eft nest to liven up the party, they still managed to come out on top!"

The frozen Lalafell's eyes nervously looked around. This guy was crazy, that much was clear. He had to find a way out of here before something terrible happened to him.

"I wanna meet him! And you're gonna help me with that! Beefy, pick him up!" Of the group surrounding him, what was easily the biggest one bent down to pick up the frozen Lalafell with one massive hand.

'No, no no nononononono! No! Please, no!' He silently prayed to the Twelve for a salvation he was increasingly certain would never come, and their faces were now level with each other.

"But before we get started, we should introduce ourselves! Communication is important for any collaboration, after all!" The clown stuck out his hand and fake-shook his frozen hand.

"I'm Kokichi Oma, Supreme Leader of Evil! I hope you're ready to tell me everything you know." His smile grew sick and twisted again. "And if you help me meet that super interesting inspector, I might even let you live! Nee-heehee!"

Kokichi and his pack of clowns began to laugh maniacally before he suddenly started coughing, flailing around in a panic. "A bug! I swallowed a bug! Help!" One of the clowns, whose most notable characteristic was a deep set of cleavage, leaned over to gently pat his back until he coughed the bug out. Kokichi let out a sigh of relief. "Thanks, La Rue. I don't know what I would do without you. Well, let's get going, everyone!" The clowns marched out of the valley with their frozen prize slung over Beefy's shoulder, singing joyfully and horribly out of tune as they went.