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Before The Storm

The Camp

The Moonblood camp is surrounded on all sides by a lashed together fence made of sharpened tree branches, with watchtowers placed at even intervals along the perimeter. Ginger and I arrive at the main entrance as a new rotation of guards takes over, with the fresh one climbing the improvised ladder to the station, saluting his counterpart, and then readying his weapon as the newly relieved soldier descended. It's not remarkably interesting, I wouldn't say, but it does remind me of one critical detail: that the Moonbloods are people too, much as the King wants us to think they aren't.

The dirt trail comes to an end and places Ginger and me right at the front gates. We'd normally expect at least one or two warriors out front prepared to receive us, but the posts are unusually vacant, and the gate is slightly ajar as well. I glance at my sister with befuddlement, unsure of what to make of it. It doesn't look like she has anything to say about it either.

"Do we just head in?" I ask her. "Maybe the guards are on the other side?"

Ginger thinks on it for a moment. "Is that really a good idea?" she cautiously answers. "You know how he can be..."

"We can explain ourselves if anyone asks," I persuade her, marching towards the crack in the gate. "Besides, is there anyone outside our village who visits them this regularly?"

"Not that I can think of..."

"Let's head in then," I tell her as I officially step onto Moonblood territory, wedging my way through the gap and to the interior of the camp. There's barely enough time for a twig to snap underfoot before a spear jumps up from around the corner and pushes itself just below my chin. Out of instinct, I freeze and put my hands to the side, after I cringe and make a buzzing sound resembling a bumblebee that had overdosed on coffee.

Ginger nonchalantly strolls in from behind me and gives me and the soldier holding the spear one of those smug I-told-you-so kinds of grins. "Thank you for not impaling my brother, Twitch," she singsongingly calls to him as she continues towards the camp's commons.

Twitch sighs and shakes his head, clicking his tongue with disappointment. "Jinny, Jinny, Jinny. What have we told you about knocking first?" His voice is high-pitched, despite his relatively tall size, and the words come out at such a fast rate I start to think I'll need a translator. His tone doesn't sound like he's reprimanding me, though, as much as it sounds like he's enjoying himself, like he just landed a fifteen pound fish or something.

I reach up to push the spear away from anything important before I humor him with a response. Only issue being I don't really have a good excuse for it. "There wasn't anybody out there," I start.

Twitch laughs to himself as he retracts the spear and plants it next to him. "Relax, brother. You don't need to explain yourself. You and your village are always welcome here."

I raise an eyebrow as I'm finally permitted to follow my sister. "Then you want to explain why you almost turned me into a kebab?" I ask Twitch after he signals for his comrade to cover his spot. I'm not upset at Twitch; practical jokes like this are his bread and butter. That doesn't make the question any less valid, however.

The Moonblood peers up at the tip of his spear as he follows me. "You know how boring this thing is to hold and not do anything with it?" he asks back, pointing to his armament.

I follow his eyes up to the point, seeing as how I'm no longer in mortal danger from it, and notice that the actual cutting edges are dulled down to a very not dangerous level. "You should probably get Nikolai to look at that," I advise him.

"I've been meaning to," Twitch agrees. "He doesn't come around as often as you and your sister do, though." His eyebrow raises a bit as he notices the sword sheath on my belt, and he brushes away some of my coat to take a better look at it.

"And speaking of Nikolai..." he begins to say as he admires the blacksmith's newest piece. "That is a very nice sword there. He make that for you?"

I ruffle the coat back over the blade, concealing it once again. "And he's offered me some training tomorrow too." Then an idea sweeps over my head. "You wouldn't know a lot about sword combat, would you Twitch?" Please say yes, I'd love to shock Nikolai in our first sparring match together.

"Can't say I do," he apologetically answers as he spins his spear onto his shoulders and hangs his arms over the shaft. "Lance is the only thing I'll ever need."

"Even that has to get bland at some point," I hypothesize.

"Brother, when you find the weapon that's right for you, you'll know it," he insists. There he goes using the word "brother" again, even though our bloodlines are about as distant as they can get.

"Kind of like you and that spear, eh?"

"Exactly," Twitch smiles in the direction of the blunted head of his lance. "I don't know, it just...spoke to me."

For some reason I can't take that literally. "It spoke to you?"

"I mean what I say."

"Call me what you will, Twitch, but I don't really believe in talking weapons," I inform him.

"You'd be surprised then," he argues back, peering over at my sister. She's in a merchant's tent, casually examining the fabrics and semi-precious jewelry inside. She's probably stopped out of courtesy, not wanting to visit Fuse without me. Ginger is nice in that sense; form a party with her and she's never going to leave you behind.

"So what does bring you here, Jin?" Twitch inquires as we continue towards the shop in no particular hurry.

I fish around in my pocket for the card and flash it to the guard. "Parents are out on a supply run, and Fuse dropped this off for me. Ginger and I thought we'd say hi."

Twitch face snaps with interest. "Oh right, it's your birthday, isn't it?"

"Twenty-one," I clarify. Instead of jumping onto me like Ginger and Nikolai, Twitch settles on a heavy-handed slap on the back that almost throws me off balance. How he manages to do that with only his lower arm is a mystery I'll probably never solve.

"Grats, brother!" he clamors, with no regards to the stumble or two I take right after. Well, at least it's better than getting strangled by a blacksmith with no perception of his own strength. "Shame your parents aren't here, we'd have set up something special," he notes.

"It's fine," I reply with a small grin. "We all need to do our part, and if they had to run out, they had to run out. We'll think of something later."

My eyes are still on Ginger, but I can tell Twitch seems pleased by that statement. "You probably don't hear this enough, but this means a lot to us. I mean, this goes against everything your King demands and..."

"I don't care what my King says," I cut him off. "I don't abide by unjust laws. Nobody does."

"What I mean is, your village is taking a huge risk by helping us out. And I don't think there's any way for us to properly say thanks."

"No need to," I say as I turn back to him. "That's what friends are for, right?"

There's a sharp whistle behind us right as I finish speaking, before the Moonblood can say anything back, and Twitch takes a quarter turn towards me to see where it came from. His friend from the watch is signaling him to return. "Twitch, that's enough of a break! We need you back to post!"

The guard nods and drops his spear back into his hand. "Right at the first intersection, second tent on the left," he directs me before giving me a friendly wave and jogging off back to his position at the gate. "And tell Fuse I say hi!"

I give him a nod back as he returns to his duties, and head inside the shop to fetch Ginger. I duck into the tent, and my eyes narrow at the shadowy, purple-clad merchant behind the sales table, those two glowing white spheres that apparently pass for eyes blankly observing Ginger as she continues to peruse the shop.

Her eyes light up as she catches a very unique looking pattern and waves me over to see it. "Jin, you really should come by here more often. Some of these look really exotic!" I obey cautiously, like the floor may be riddled with land mines.

"Only the best quality for my two most loyal patrons," the merchant says in a manner that, if this was your first time talking with him, would immediately cause you not to trust him.

"You're trying to chisel off my sister, aren't you?" I bluntly inquire. That guy is probably smirking with delight underneath that hooded cloak, not that I'd have any idea what goes on under there.

"Oh, don't be like that, Jin! Sereth is just trying to run a business," Ginger defends him as she flips over to another swatch of patterned cloth. I know perfectly well that he is, and compared to some of the other merchants around Zeplich I've had the dubious pleasure of trading with, I'd much rather take him over anyone else. His prices are fair and his store is always well-stocked.

But even that doesn't make...whoever Sereth is any less shady, however. At least there isn't ever a dull moment with him, I guess.

"Come now, my friend. You know I wouldn't do anything that underhanded when it comes to my shop," he reassures me, failing to actually do so.

"Why are you so skeptical about him?" Ginger inquires as she crosses to the other side of the store. "I mean, we're friends, right? What's the deal?"

She's right in a way; as far as merchant-customer relations go, ours with Sereth is about as well-developed as they come. But even that isn't going to stop me from getting my points across. "I'll demonstrate," I state as I glance over at the shopkeeper. "Sereth, say 'thank you for your business.'"

"Your transaction is most appreciated," Sereth whispers, tapping his fingers together.

"Who talks like that?" I follow up as I remove my backpack and drop it onto the sales table. I start to rummage around in it as I let Ginger think on that for a second.

Too bad the response came from the wrong mouth. "Well, I do, for one."

"I mean besides you," I clarify as I find my coin pouch and yank it out of the pack.

"Precisely. I'd say that makes me unique," he points out.

And at this point I realize I had made the fatal mistake of trying to win an argument against Sereth. I can't think of anything to say to that, and already Ginger is already starting to crack up at my lack of response.

I nonchalantly try to change the topic and draw my sword out.

"Ooh, shiny," the merchant comments. "That's one of Nikolai's blades too, if I'm not mistaken."

"And I'd like to make it even shinier," I add, setting it down in front of him. "What do you have?"

Sereth ducks underneath his table for a few seconds as Ginger walks up behind me. He eventually pops back up, his hands still empty. "Nothing at my immediate disposal, sadly. But I'm certain I'll find something in the back for you."

"How about we see Fuse while we're waiting, Jin?" Ginger suggests. "I'm sure Sereth can dig up something by the time we get back." It's not a bad idea, truthfully, and I'm always for a plan that takes care of two things at once.

But that of course implies I'm leaving my birthday gift with...him. I shoot him a glance of uncertainty for a moment, while he continues to stare back with those blank white eyes, as I finally point to the sword. "Handle with care," I succinctly order.

"You know that I shall, my friend," Sereth calmly replies as I spill out a small pile of gold pieces. I count out about thirty coins of ten, push them towards the merchant and slide the rest back into the pouch.

"There should be around three hundred there," I tell him as he double checks my work. "You can probably find something on that, right?"

"I believe I can, Jin," Sereth confirms as he accepts my payment. "I'll have it ready straight away."

"Alright then. Thanks, Sereth," I tell him, satisfied. Mysteriousness aside, it's hard to argue with how he does his business. And even if he gives off an untrustworthy air he either doesn't understand or can't control, that doesn't make him any less personable or even friendly.

Ginger is right. I'm glad I know him. All that's left to do is slip my backpack back on and get out the tent before...

"Oh, and before I forget: Your transaction..."

"Let's go, Ginger," I quickly show her out, denying the merchant the pleasure of finishing his closer.

We follow Twitch's directions exactly, first to the first main intersection of the camp, where the tents parted ways to form two improvised passages, and then to the second tent on the left side of that alley. Ginger is the first to pull back the front flaps and peer inside, but she looks back over to me with slight disappointment after a bit.

I peek into the tent as well, and notice that it's completely empty. Or at least as far as life is concerned. This is obviously where Fuse was now staying; he mentioned having to move to a different part of the camp last time we were here, and that is definitely his armor scattered on the ground of this one. Ginger and I don't know too many Moonbloods that opted for that bright of a silver finish on their armor, even though the full suit looked almost exactly anybody else's in the camp. We're in the right spot, surely, but Fuse himself is nowhere to be found at the moment.

Ginger presumably opens her mouth to ask me for ideas, but she's quickly cut off as a green pillar of flame suddenly jumps out from behind the tent, igniting the air in a boisterous fwoom. I flinch and Ginger shudders as we watch the fire climb at least twenty feet into the air before finally dissipating and calming back down.

"Found him," I coolly inform my sister as I begin to walk around the tent. Ginger takes a couple more seconds to recover, but spritely catches up with me as I round the corner to the tent's backside. As expected, Fuse is indeed behind the tent. He had sectioned off a small area using fallen tree branches, and had also constructed what looks like a small training dummy out of more branches, pine needles and some cheap fabric, probably from Sereth's shop. The dummy itself is actually on fire right now, and Ginger and I come around just as Fuse is scrambling for the water pail set against the back wall of his tent.

I look over my shoulder at Ginger, who looks understandably concerned, and I turn back just in time to see Fuse douse his dummy, squelching the green flames attacking it.

"Was that supposed to happen?" I call to him as the smoking effigy finally starts to die down. Miraculously, despite being covered in flames just a moment ago, not only is the dummy still standing but it doesn't even look that burnt either.

Fuse opens his stance to us and smiles with pride. "That couldn't have gone better, my friends," he states as he tosses the pail to the side of the arena.

"Hope this isn't a bad time," Ginger chimes in. That gets a small laugh out of the Moonblood.

"For you two, it never is," he states, slipping his hands into his pants pockets. "So what's the occasion? Apart from the obvious, of course."

He's obviously hinting at my birthday, and I get the feeling that he may already know what we're here for if that's the case. Regardless, I pull the card back out of my pocket to show him. It's gotten a little bent and folded since I first showed it to Twitch, but it's in perfect condition otherwise. "Got your card, and we thought we'd pay you a visit as a thank you."

"I'd certainly hoped you would," Fuse adds as he slides a metal tube off of his lower arm and motions towards his tent.

I start to follow him back to his quarters, but Ginger's attention is still focused primarily on the dummy he had been practicing on until now. "What were you doing, Fuse?" she asks him as she catches up to us.

Fuse pushes the main flap open to show us inside, while spinning the armor piece around using a finger on his free hand. It's rotating fast enough to blur the intimate details, but I do catch what looks like four fiery orange gems imbedded into the underside of the wrist plate, each one feeling almost alive, fully embracing that fierce energy only fire seemed to emulate. It was like they weren't actually gems at all, but...

"Crystallized fire," the Moonblood elaborates as he catches the wrist plate and sets it next to the rest of his armor. He takes a seat on a trunk across from me and Ginger, who have commandeered his bed for sitting purposes.

Ginger seems a little too enthralled by the response to ask the obvious question, so I do it for her. "I had no idea that was a thing," I comment.

"It usually isn't. It's possible, but it's really dangerous if you don't know how to do it right," Fuse replies, leaning against the wall and crossing his legs. He picks the wrist plate back up, in a sort of reverent way this time. "Because of that, they don't come cheap, but those crystals have a virtually limitless supply of fire in them. And I've been doing a little bit of research with them."

Ginger's eyes light up with fascination again. "That's...kind of cool actually," I respond.

"I was doing some trials in the back there before you walked in," the Moonblood explains further. "And it's hard to be upset at the results."

He peers at my belt as I remove my pack and set it down. "On a different topic, I could have sworn Nikolai was making something for you last time I saw him," he notes.

It takes me a moment to figure out what he's talking about. Ginger already seems to be on it though. "It's at Sereth's right now," she tells him. "We just dropped it off for an enhancement or two."

"And how long ago was that?"

"Five minutes?" I guess.

"He works quickly; it's probably done by now," Fuse conjectures. "Wouldn't mind seeing the final result, if you don't have a problem with it."

"Why would I?" I reply as Ginger stands up and reaches for my bag.

"Here, I'll drop the supplies off and then bring it over from the shop," she offers as she slips one strap of her pack off her shoulder, allowing her to carry both of them at once.

I appreciate the courtesy, but still feel like I need to be useful someway. I stand up to help her, reaching a hand out for my pack. "Let me carry some of that, Ginger. It's a little heavy."

She immediately, forcefully points me right back down to where I was seated. I promptly obey, like a dog being yelled at by his master. "It's your day today, Jin. You can start working again once it's over."

I have a list of things to say about that, but Ginger doesn't want to hear any of them. "I'll be gone for ten minutes. If that," she continues. "Just wait here, talk with Fuse, and I'll be back with your sword before you know it."

As a last resort, I peer over at Fuse, hopeful that he might be able to do something. Instead, he just shrugs and says, "You're at the whims of your sister, my friend. There's not much I can do for you."

Defeat. "I just want to help," I grumble. Though I have to admit having Ginger drop off the supplies like this is actually really nice of her.

She grins back at me and Fuse before waving and ducking underneath the front entrance of the tent. I look back over at Fuse, who seems to be listening intently for her footsteps to disappear. He then exchanges a very stern glance with me, and the air seems to get a little bit heavier on my shoulders.

He's not talking, but he's clearly thinking about something. "Fuse? Everything alright?" I ask him.

He's silent for just a moment more, and then sighs before answering. "We're being hunted, Jin," he gravely tells me, rubbing the back of his hands.

This is news for me, and I feel my spine chill slightly as I hear it. I'm aware that the King had cut off all relations with the Moonbloods, practically outlawed any support for them, and pretty much just tried to deny their existence. However, this is the first time I've heard of any offensives against them. Had this just started, and Fuse is trying to warn me?

No, he wouldn't have hesitated if he was. "When did this happen?" I question after a pause.

Fuse dryly swallows. "Two weeks back," he softly replies. "Some of the eastern camps near Everdawn Basin have been torn to shreds, and word is it's coming north. Right at us."

Slowly, I lean forward, resting my arms on my legs. "Why didn't you say anything about this earlier?" I bluntly but level-headedly demand.

"Because, my friend, the last thing your town needs to do right now is worry more than they already are about us." Something feels flimsy about that excuse, but I'm not going to challenge it. Fuse seems to stand by it with dedication; he's yet to take his eyes off of me, or even blink for that matter.

He clears his throat. "So, if it turns out my clan is next on the list, I want you and your sister to deny ever having relationships with us. You weren't sending supplies, you didn't even know we were here."

"You know I'm not going to do that," I swiftly return.

"I take care of my friends, Jin. And that means not putting you in unnecessary danger."

"Don't tell me that, Fuse!" I bark. He doesn't even flinch. "You say you take care of your friends, and so do I. I don't care if we have to fight one war band or the entire Royal Army. We're not leaving you behind."

"Your family takes enough risks as it is. The last thing I'm going to have you do is compound them to this extent."

"We are not abandoning you."

"Jin, please..."

"What would I tell everyone if we did?"

The Moonblood finally blinks.

"If Ginger and I stopped running down here and just disavowed everything we knew about this place, what could we say in our defense?" I repeat.

"That you were following orders," he quietly suggests.

"And let you burn in the process?" I snap back. "Sorry, Fuse. Not happening."

I can hear him breathe out. "You're one stubborn bastard, you know that?"

"We haven't left your clan behind before, and we're sure as hell not starting today."

The tent goes eerily quiet for a moment, until Fuse speaks back up. "Fine," he darkly, almost begrudgingly yields. "But for your sake, and Ginger's, I certainly hope you know what you're getting yourselves into."

I turn my head for a moment as I hear noise from outside. There are footsteps outside the tent, gradually getting louder and louder as each one falls.

I glance back at Fuse. I try to look confident but even then I can't completely hide the uncertainty in my words. "I hope we do too," I whisper as Ginger reenters the tent, my sword in her hands.

The evening sun soaks the forest in a bath of soft orange light as Ginger and I close back in on the village. Most of the conversation on the way back revolves around the sword and the work Sereth had done on it. From what Ginger had collected, he took a whetstone to it and sharpened up a few of the miniscule imperfections on the blade Nikolai may have missed while he was forging it.

What I don't notice until we're on the trail's final ascent, as I carefully slide my fingers down the blade, is that it feels a little more...slippery than when I tested it back at the house. My hand quickly gets away from me and I almost drop the sword to the ground out of fear of cutting myself. My other hand remains steady on the hilt though, and instead I just slip it back into its housing.

"What was that about?" Ginger asks from behind me. She sounds a little confused as to what just happened.

"Blade's a little slick," I tell her as I straighten up my jacket, like nothing had even happened.

"That's probably the polish Sereth put on it," Ginger explains.

That's what it was? Really? "You sure it's polish and not cooking grease?" I call back to her, slightly disgruntled.

"Well, that's what he said," Ginger shrugs. "He also said it's supposed to lighten the blade a bit. Make it feel less...oh, what was that word he used...?" She puts a finger to her chin contemplatively.

What would a guy like Sereth say? is the question I ask myself. "Cumbersome?" I toss out after a second.

"That was it! Cumbersome," Ginger confirms as she runs up the path to catch me.

"We'll see how it works tomorrow, then," I reply, peering off to the side of the trail. The rooftops of some of the buildings are starting to peek up over the ridge, and I start to pick up my pace out of instinct, accidentally forcing Ginger to hurry herself even more as we approach home once again.

We get to the village's back entrance just as the sun disappears over the horizon, setting fire to the lavender sky as it descends. Ginger and I don't spend too much time taking it in. There would be plenty of time for that once we get back to the house. We quickly walk down the main street towards it. It feels unusually empty tonight. Not that there's ever much traffic on it to begin with, but there's at least one or two people out usually.

Nevertheless, the house comes up on our left, and I preemptively dig the front door key out of my jacket. One quick turn of the lock later, Ginger and I are inside, and we put our packs off to the side of the room, next to the kitchen table, with Ginger using much more care setting hers down than my underhanded toss would ever produce. The parents should be home by this point, but they don't seem to be on the main floor.

Though they were on a supply run today. Maybe they wanted some extra rest tonight. "We're home!" I call out, thinking they're upstairs.

"We spent the day at Fuse's! Sorry we're back late!" Ginger adds on.

We wait a few more seconds. No response. Ginger looks over at me, understandably concerned.

I suppose there's a chance they didn't hear us, and I move over to the stairs. "Mom?" I try yelling again. "Pops?"

Silence. Again.

"Are they...still out?" Ginger inquires, her voice fluctuating slightly.

"Where would they be though?" I ask back, stuffing my hands into my jacket's pockets.

Ginger passes by me, and she looks like she wants to investigate upstairs further. She takes a step up, but then freezes. Both of us look back over at the front door. The sound is a muffled yelling fit, or at least that's my best guess, and my sister follows me back outside.

The yelling is a bit clearer. Still a mumbling mess for all the sense it's making right now, but now I can tell it's coming from down the street, past the house.

Something feels wrong. "Ginger, shut the door and lock it, please."

She nods back and secures the house as I slowly start walking towards the source of the screaming. Each step cleans up the noise a little bit more. Ginger seems to figure it out first, and races past me right to the spot, stopping right in front of the building's front door.

It's Nikolai's shop, a large stone brick building where he practically spent every moment of his life. He'd work on the main floor during the day, and then use the upper floor to eat and sleep at night. As a general rule, you could tell where he was at any time just by looking at the windows; he never liked being in the dark, so he lights torches wherever he goes to keep it away.

Only it's well past his shop's closing time for the day, but he's still on the main floor. And, most obviously, clearly livid with somebody unfortunate enough to be sharing the same room as him. "...don't bloody care! This isn't a safe spot for 'em!"

"The clinic's all out of room, Nikolai. I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to, but..."

"If they're as licked as you say they are, the last thing they need is a place where they're breathin' soot and sweatin' themselves dry!"

"Exactly. Which is why they aren't staying in the furnace."

"What does that...oh, you'd best not be kickin' me out of my house, son."

"Now, Nik, listen to me..."

"No, no it's fine. I, I-I can't even get angry at you now. You've gone and burnt me out."

"Look, I..."

"Shut up! You can take my bedroom, you can take my forge, why don't you take the whole freakin' building while yer at it! If yer so convinced there isn't a better spot for the people ya almost killed tonight!" There's a pause. Then Ginger jumps backwards as the door is literally kicked open, and the frustrated blacksmith marches out. He glares at Ginger and me for a second, and then his expression immediately shifts to something else. It looks almost sorrowful, actually.

"Oh, dammit," he mumbles, closing his eyes and shaking his head.

"Nik, what just happened?" I demand.

"Why's it gotta be you two?" he continues to grumble under his breath as he walks around to the side of his forge and leans against the brick wall.

I don't want to repeat my question again. Nikolai glances at me for a second, and sighs as he finally gives an answer. "That was...the bloke who pulled yer parents aside for that supply caravan today, yeah?" he quietly, solemnly says, licking his lips. "Nice, big convoy headin' down the south face o' the mountain? Needed 'bout...ten people to escort proper."

"What were you arguing about?" Ginger timidly asks. I continue to stare at Nikolai, not daring to look away from him for a second.

He takes in a deep breath. "Well," he starts, but then clears his throat right after. "The convoy got 'bout two-thirds o' the way to the Moonblood camp. Things were going aight..."

He has to stop to clear his throat again, though this time it sounds more like a sniffle. "'Til the caravan...got jumped," he continues. Ginger shudders as he says that. "Bumped into a Royal scouting party, who knows what they were doin' all the way up 'ere." His words are getting progressively slower and slower.

"There's a fight. There's blood. And next thing I know the convoy comes limpin' back up that hill there," he says, slowly pointing down the street. "Everyone's hurt, and the doc can only handle so many at once at his pad. So that...bastard inside just evicted me and is bent on turnin' my house into an infirmary, even though there has to be better spots to hold it." He sighs again. "Guessin' it's the volume, eh?"

He's still breathing heavily. There's more to his story. I look at Ginger again. We both know what the next question is, but neither of us want to ask it. Instead, the street goes quiet, save for that small wind disturbing only the tiniest branches of the pine trees above.

I swallow nothing and ask it. "Where's..." I can't finish my thought fully. My mind is caught on that first word, and can't bring itself to say the second.

Nikolai slowly turns his head to me and Ginger. The encroaching shadow cast by the sun onto his house kept his visage mostly hidden in the dark, but at this new angle, everything is clear. He'd tried to be calm and steady, but all three of us can tell he's on the verge of losing himself. He licks his lips again, and tries to blink away the tear in his eye.

I think I see Ginger do the same. Both of her hands are covering her mouth. They're shaking.

"I'm so sorry, Jin," Nikolai gasps. "But nobody's seen yer parents. They're likely dead."

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