Robin walked down the street feeling incredibly nervous for quite a few reasons. The first was that she was walking in public in her Teresa-branded armor, which felt awkward considering her mother was not a very popular deity around Azurvale. It also did little to hide her horn, but that was not a big concern for her right now. A much bigger issue was that this was one of the few times where she was separated from her sisters.
Keira had sent all of them out to different individuals for private tutoring, which meant they wouldn’t be seeing each other for the rest of the day, possibly longer. Robin had always been protective of her siblings, so she couldn’t help but feel uneasy. She had no reason to worry though, as their catgirl caretaker had not sent them out unaccompanied. Each of them was being shadowed by a handful of FIB agents disguised as common pedestrians. It was already widespread knowledge within the organization that the Hero of Chaos had essentially done their job for them, so watching over these three in her stead was the least they could do.
However, and this was the really troublesome part, Keira felt that their protection was inadequate. Her assessment had not been entirely unfounded, seeing as how it matched up with current public opinion regarding the Bureau. Hence why she had ‘outsourced’ some additional security in the form of the Sandman. Or, more specifically, his familiars, one of whom was to accompany each nephilim so that their master could react the instant any of them came under threat. Madeline got Xera and Drea was following Lydia, which meant that Robin was, via process of elimination, stuck with Kora.
“So, found some guy you wanna claim as your own yet?” the demon asked loudly.
It was this incredibly embarrassing arrangement that was Robin’s biggest issue at the moment.
“Well, when you do, make sure you stick something long and hard right up his-”
“What?” the demon shrugged.
“People can hear you!”
Though Robin wasn’t ashamed to walk side by side with her ‘dad’ despite the weird looks she got, those inappropriate things Kora kept saying were another thing entirely. Having been raised by a prude like Sigmund Law, all three nephilim had shared a sense of common moral decency. Well, some of them were more promiscuous than the others, but Robin most definitely disliked discussing such matters in public. Especially with her butt-obsessed obscenity-spewing parent.
“So? I don’t give a fuck,” the hoarder declared. “And you shouldn’t either.”
“Well I do, so could you please cut it out?” Robbin pleaded.
“I’m a fiend, so… no.”
Even if she was technically a hoarder at present, Kora was still very much in tune with her fiend side. She had been one for centuries, so it was only natural her personality wouldn’t change drastically over the course of a few weeks.
“Excuse me, Miss Law?”
One of the undercover FIB agents had approached Robin discreetly. He looked like a rookie adventurer of the Spell-slinging variety, though his robes concealed the leather armor, sharp knives, smoke bombs and other armaments commonly used by Rogues. He and his colleagues had not been briefed on the triplets’ familial situation, but they were quite aware of the details regarding Keira’s arrangement with the Sandman.
“May I suggest ordering the demon to shut up instead of just asking it?”
“Oh, right,” Robin suddenly remembered. “Da… Koralenteprix! I order you to stop talking about anything butt related!”
Kora grumbled in displeasure, but couldn’t help but go quiet. As part of the aforementioned agreement, she and her co-contractors had been ordered to obey any command given to them by the ones they were responsible for. They were given permission to disregard those orders should they put any of the triplets in danger, but the hoarder shutting her mouth was most assuredly not life threatening.
“Wow, almost forgot about that,” Robin sighed in relief. “Thanks for… Wait, what? Where’d he go?!”
The elf that had just given her that helpful hint had disappeared just as suddenly as he’d shown up. She had to admit, these FIB agents’ proficiency at remaining covert was quite impressive. Creepy and unnerving, but impressive nonetheless. Either way, now that she finally got some peace and quiet, Robin ignored her father’s looks of disapproval and checked on the slip of paper in her hand. It had a name and an address, but finding the place had proven to be a bit of a hassle.
She was, after all, unfamiliar with Azurvale. Not only did the Republic capital have a vertical element that made adjusting to life here a bit tricky, but this was her first time actually living in a city. The ancient streets, stairs and magic elevators were confusing enough on their own, but the sheer number of people walking around were enough to make her dizzy at times. Thankfully the crowd gave her plenty of space due to a certain six-armed reason, though that also made it a bit awkward to ask for directions. There were street signs and the occasional tourist map, but those were of limited assistance. Still, Robin did not give up, nor did she complain. According to Keira, if she couldn’t do something as basic as finding an address in a city, then she was already a lost cause.
What should have been a fifteen minute walk therefore took more than an hour of wandering around before the girl finally arrived at her destination. She wondered whether this was the right place though, as she had arrived at what looked to be a ranch built on Azurvale’s ground level. Certainly not the sort of dwelling she imagined a renowned knight might have. Her doubts were then instantly forgotten when she laid eyes on a familiar-looking sight.
“Woah, is that an imperial thoroughbred?!” she exclaimed. “Here?!”
The animal in question was an intimidating-looking horse that was so large that even Kora could probably ride it. Well over two meters in height and at least a literal ton in weight, it was clearly a species bred for battle. More specifically an ironhoof charger, judging by the majestic black coloration of its mane and body. Its kind were among the few non-monstrous creatures capable of Ranking Up, widely considered both a luxury and a status symbol within the Empire. Hence why Robin couldn’t help but feel surprised at finding one in elf territory, and such a magnificent specimen at that. She’d seen plenty of war horses that belonged to the Inquisition, but they all looked like ponies when compared to this maned mountain of muscle.
Feeling rather awestruck, the girl couldn’t help but approach the wooden fence separating her from the steed. It noticed her starry-eyed stare and drew closer, maintaining a stoic posture the entire time. She reached out a hand as if to pet it, but the horse snorted into her open palm and pulled away. This made Robin feel momentarily dejected. ‘Momentarily’ being the operative word, as she heard the sound of a heavy metal-on-metal impact coming from behind, followed by a rush of air and a furious growl.
The blonde dumbly turned around to see Kora’s massive back. Looking up a bit, she then noticed her father had caught an armored janther even bigger than she was, which had presumably pounced on her. The hoarder demon grappled with the six-legged beast for a few breathless moments, but it shortly became obvious which one had the upper hand. She let out a furious roar and kneed it in the ribs, circled around it while it was reeling, wrapped her arms around its torso and suplexed it into the ground. The monster let out a pained cry as its head made an imprint into the soil, its body tumbling away from Robin.
This series of events happened far too quickly for the inexperienced nephilim to comprehend, however. From her point of view she’d just seen a blur of fur and metal, and was now faced with the scene of her father staring down a cat-monster. Kora spread her arms wide and surged forward with the clear intent to kill.
“Wait, stop!” Robin bellowed, forcing her to freeze. “What are you doing?! What’s going on?!”
“I’m protecting my kid from this fucking thing!” Kora snapped at her. “What’s it look like?!”
“But, that’s clearly not a wild beast!”
Indeed, though the nephilim had taken a few moments to realize it, the janther in question was wearing armor along its chest, head and feet, not to mention a saddle on its back. It was obviously a domesticated monster, which would not normally attack out of nowhere. Though she had no idea why the thing tried to pounce on them, she wanted to believe there was a good reason for its actions.
Kora, however, was of a different opinion.
“Don’t care! I’m smashing it flat!”
“I would appreciate it if you refrained from doing that,” a man’s voice called out to her. “It’s quite difficult to replace one of those, you know.”
That stern tone belonged to a rough-looking beastkin gentleman in his forties. He had brown eyes, hair and fur with a pair of feline ears poking out of his scalp, though part of the left one was missing and he bore a blade-inflicted scar on his chin. His body, though of unremarkable build and height, was covered in weathered plate armor with a blue sheen to it, the metal marked by countless scratches and dents after years of service. Both the gear and its wielder carried their blemishes with pride rather than shame, giving this man the undeniable air of a veteran adventurer.
“… Are you Yoshin Amidori?” Robin asked after consulting the note in her hand.
“Yes, that’s me,” he nodded firmly. “And who might you be?”
“Uh, I’m Robin. Robin Law? Keira- Err, Miss Morgana said you were expecting me?”
The man sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Yeah, she neglected to mention you wouldn’t be coming alone, though,” he grumbled as he went to check on his injured pet. “Seriously, what’s the deal with that giant pile of hate over there?”
“She’s just, uh, my bodyguard,” the blonde said awkwardly.
“Really, now? Are you that much of a spoiled little brat that you need a bodyguard to walk down the street?”
“Watch your tongue, worm,” Kora snarled, “before I rip it out and shove it-”
“You be quiet,” Robin silenced her. “You don’t need to get angry just because he said the truth!”
“Well, so long as you recognize your own shortcomings…”
Though he sounded calm, Yoshin had a face that made it clear he was not at all pleased by what had transpired. He fed his injured pet some kind of pill-shaped restorative medicine, which gave the janther enough strength to stand up and purr loudly as he pet its neck and shoulders. The noises coming from it instantly became more akin to growling when it looked at the thoroughly unamused demon it had just tangled with.
“Easy there, girl,” he reassured the beast. “I’ll be fine, so why don’t you go get some rest.”
The janther snarled sharply before limping off down the path, towards the large barn-like building at the edge of the ranch’s fenced-off area.
“Just for the record, Ami only attacked because she felt threatened,” the catkin turned towards Robin. “Janthers are extremely perceptive, she was well aware you didn’t mean any harm. However, she couldn’t help but respond to the constant malice your big red friend is putting out.”
“She’s a demon though, she can’t help it,” the girl tried to excuse her parent.
“And that’s precisely why I despise their kind. At least monsters behave like living beings with sensible wants and needs. Demons just do whatever they please for shits and giggles with zero regard for the consequences.”
“Ugh, that’s an understatement,” Robin rolled her eyes.
“Anyway, you’re here, so we might as well get started. Come with me.”
The older adventurer turned to lead his visitors into his house, giving Robin a thorough look at the glaive attached to his back. She had seen the top of its long handle poking over his shoulder, but the rest of the weapon surprised her a little. Not only was this her first time seeing such an exotic blade in person, but it also had a pitch-black adamantite edge that gave it an ominous feel. This was clearly a man who seemed to value offense over defense, seeing as how his weapon was clearly a grade or two higher than his armor.
“Excuse me, Mister Amidori?” Robin piped up while they walked.
“Only government officials call me ‘Mister’ like that,” he responded. “Please, call me Yoshin.”
“Right, Yoshin, do you own the other one too?”
“Hm? Oh, you mean Agro?” he glanced at the steed from earlier. “Yeah, he’s also one of mine.”
“Can I ask why you have two mounts?”
As impressive as the warhorse was, the janther was clearly stronger, faster, and more durable. The saddle on its back made it clear Yoshin rode it into battle. Robin wasn’t going to suggest he get rid of the one called Agro, but the pragmatic thinking that Keira had been hammering into her made her question why he kept it when he had a superior option available. She knew for a fact warhorses were expensive and required a lot of maintenance, to the point where the beastkin could probably afford new high-end armor if he sold it off.
“They serve different purposes,” the man explained. “Ami is without a doubt a deadly predator, but she runs out of stamina fast and can’t take extreme heat or cold. Agro, on the other hand, can ride for days on end without rest and isn’t bothered by the climate in the slightest. Well, not unless it’s raining flaming icicles or something, but that only happens at the Shattered Isles. He’s also great for making favorable impressions on people.”
Robin couldn’t help but concede that last point, seeing as how she was awestruck upon seeing the steed.
“Plus, I can’t just throw the boy aside after I practically raised him,” Yoshin added with a heavy tone. “I honestly dread that one of these days I’ll take him out on a Quest he won’t return from. Might be best to retire him while I can, maybe find him a mate.”
“Wow. If I didn’t know any better I’d think you were talking about a son or something.”
“You jest, but that is more or less how I see him,” the knight smiled wryly.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize,” Robin apologized. “What about your big-ass kitty? Is she your daughter?”
“Ami? Nah, I only use her because I need her strength,” he shook his head. “She’s not family, just a tool I use to ensure my survival.”
“That seems rather cold of you.”
“And that seems rather naive of you,” he countered. “Ami is a monster made docile through my Monster Tamer Skills. If not for those, she’d see me as nothing more than lunch. Agro, on the other hand, has a noble spirit and will always try his best to aid a stranger in need. He’s certainly more good-natured than the various kinds of scum that call themselves people.”
The man turned his head towards the recently ‘trimmed’ hylt tree in the distance, but didn’t comment on it. Silence reigned as Yoshin and Robin walked up to the large house with Kora following closely behind. The nephilim couldn’t help but notice the rather… worrying number of house cats that seemed to be lazing around the place. The veteran didn’t bring his new protege inside, however, and instead led her around the back, where a circular patch of dry, hard-packed dirt had been trampled into the weed-covered soil. There was a humanoid practice dummy in the middle of it and three more around the edges. The girl was intimately familiar with this kind of training equipment, so she had a hunch as to why these were here.
“Oh, are you going to give me a test or something before we start?”
“Quite so,” he confirmed Robin’s guess. “I got your Appraisal results from Keira, but I need to see what you can actually do. Let me just get this stuff out of the way, though.”
He then proceeded to move the old metal statues out of the way and stood in the center of the ‘ring’ with his glaive drawn while the youngest nephilim blinked at him in confusion.
“Well? Do you need an invitation?” he beckoned her. “Come over here and show me what you got!”
“Wait, we’re skipping straight to a spar?”
“Bah, spar,” he scoffed. “Spars are for practicing dance recitals. What we’re going to do is fight.”
Robin was quite unsure how to respond to this, but her demonic guardian didn’t give her a chance to say anything as she stood between her daughter and Yoshin. She glared at him with four arms crossed and two more on her hips. She was still barred from speaking and the one who gave her that order had yet to realize it, yet Yoshin nevertheless understood what her problem was. Her posture was as close to a nonverbal ‘no’ as he was going to get, short of a boot to the face.
“Fine, fine,” he relented. “I’ll go get the training weapons.”
Kora wasn’t about to deny Robin from enjoying a good fight, but Yoshin was a fighter way out of her league. He was a Level 84 Warrior and Level 60 Monster Tamer who was aiming to challenge the upcoming Dragon Festival before he got too old to attend one. Though he didn’t mean to fight the girl seriously and would probably be careful not to seriously injure his trainee, it was not a risk the hoarder demon was willing to take. Yoshin was a reasonable man though, so he was unlikely to insist that he get his way, even if live combat was faster and more impactful as a form of education. It was one of the things he and Keira shared an opinion on.
As for the reason why Kora was so well informed about Yoshin, it was because her master had taken interest in him once it found out he was in possession of an Artifact. The item in question was the rustic-looking bracer on his left forearm, which bore the name ‘Arcanist’s Aegis.’ It didn’t look like much, but the relic could project an energy disk that could be used as a shield strong enough to deflect all but the deadliest Spells and attacks.
It wasn’t all that shiny or useful to Boxxy, however, so it had put off acquiring the item for the time being. Yoshin was also not the only such mark the shapeshifter had been keeping track of. Keira had sought out and made friends with a large number of unique, capable and good-natured individuals, contacts that she could call upon and use whenever the need arose. Boxxy also made sure all of them held the redhead in high regard and owed her a favor or three, and this beastkin was no different in that regard.
Yoshin had ducked inside his basement and returned less than a minute later with a pair of toy-like swords, each long enough to be a two-hander. They were hollow, their blades made from long wooden plates tied together with strings. It was a traditional beastkin training weapon called a shinai, used to educate youngsters in sword techniques before they were old enough to safely hold Jobs of their own. Yoshin himself had been born to a clan of swordsmen, so he was deeply familiar with these bladeless swords.
“Here you go,” he handed one to Robin. “You do know how to use a sword, yes?”
“I prefer a mace and shield, but yes, I do,” she responded while getting a feel for the extremely light weapon. “Uncle Sigmund had me trained in most forms of armed combat.”
“Hm, we’ll see. First one to strike a vital area wins. Take your stance and let’s begin.”
The girl entered the dirt ring and faced the seasoned veteran with her weapon held firmly between them. Hers was a basic posture, but by no means a bad one. Her opponent’s, however, was clearly advanced. He had his left foot forward and held his weapon up above his head with both arms, ready to swing it downward when the opportunity presented itself. It made his guard seem surprisingly loose from Robin’s perspective, so she went for the obvious bait and made the first move. She lunged at him without warning, stepping in while delivering a sharp and fast thrust, the tip of her shinai aimed at the man’s neck.
Kora could only shake her head as she watched events unfold exactly like she expected them to.
The man had effortlessly sidestepped the pinpoint strike and thwacked Robin audibly on the head with his practice weapon.
“Congratulations, you’re dead,” he coldly told her. “Again!”
Both parties returned to their starting positions, though this time the girl remained on the defensive. When it was clear she was no longer willing to make the first move, Yoshin closed the distance, dodged her downward swing, and then struck her.
The sequence of events repeated itself with minor variations several more times as Robin got repeatedly booped on the head. Looking at her daughter’s mounting frustration, Kora couldn’t help be reminded of how she had been prior to her first bout with Jen. Though just a lowly human at the time, the Monk had completely dominated the archfiend in combat, overcoming the difference in strength and endurance with skill and strategy. It was the first time Kora had experienced such a total loss in a battle, and it had served to make her realize that there was more to fighting than raw power. Kora very much wanted to share that nugget of wisdom with her daughter, but Robin’s earlier insistence that she ‘be quiet’ prevented her from commenting.
Though it would appear that ‘Old One-Ear’ was intending to beat that notion into the nephilim’s skull anyway.
Quite literally at that.
However, the daughter was nowhere near as thick-skulled as her father, which helped the lesson sink in a lot faster.
On the fifth round against Yoshin, she moved to jab at his throat like she had during their first clash. This turned out to be a well-executed feint, as the girl pulled her weapon back and resumed her orthodox striking stance when the beastkin sidestepped the trajectory of her thrust. This put her in a good position to parry his overhead strike, which was precisely what she did. She smiled fiercely in a fiend-like manner as she pushed his hollow blade away and made a downward swing at his neck.
Yoshin then barely dodged the strike by taking a half-step back, only to spring forward with a wide horizontal swing that smacked the side of Robin’s head hard enough to make her fall on her face.
“Ah, crap,” she grumbled into the dirt. “I thought I had you that time.”
“That’s your problem, you focus too much on the finishing blow and not enough on how to make it connect,” the cat-man informed her. “A Warrior fights not only with their weapon, but also their mind and body. You did well to try and think a step ahead, but you were too shallow. You’ll never beat someone like me unless you anticipate their next ten moves at the minimum.”
He offered the girl a hand and helped her to her feet, then patted her on the shoulder with a firm nod.
“Still, you did good. Most newbies that come to see me give up and walk away by the fourth bump on the head.”
“Yeah, I can see why,” she smiled awkwardly while rubbing her bruised scalp. “I’d think you were just bullying me if I didn’t get similar treatment from Keira.”
“Indeed?” he raised an eyebrow. “Though I’m told that the way I normally interview apprentices is like a pleasant massage compared to what her students have to go through. But, I digress. This isn’t about her, it’s about you, and you adapted to my fighting style very quickly, didn’t you?”
The sort of mind games that Yoshin liked to play relied on gaining information about his opponent with every exchange. Robin had been more or less a blank slate, so there was not much to read there aside from her simple, straightforward and slightly stubborn personality. He was therefore surprised to see she was more flexible than he originally anticipated. Too flexible, almost.
“I’m just familiar with Destroyer Stance,” she shrugged. “One of Uncle’s friends showed it to me once or twice, so I knew what to expect.”
The technique she was referring to was one of three Stance Skills available to Warriors and Armsmasters at level 60 of each Job. While Raider Stance employed combination strikes with dual wielding and Defender Stance focused on mitigating damage with a shield, Destroyer Stance allowed for truly devastating attacks with two-handed weapons. It also took arguably the most courage to use, as missing a swing in Destroyer Stance usually left the user wide open for a counter attack. Robin would’ve definitely caught Yoshin just now if not for the beastkin’s significantly superior speed and agility.
“I have to say though,” the nephilim added, “I didn’t know you could use it the way you use it.”
The Warriors Robin had mentioned were the type that relied on landing one-hit-kills to win battles and were typically the first ones to strike. Even if they missed, the sheer force behind each blow would surely put pressure on their opponent while their armor and vitality would absorb whatever counterattack was thrown at them. Yoshin did not employ such reckless tactics, however. He was slow, patient, methodical. Someone who only struck when he was certain his attack would find his target.
Unless his opponent was one of those pajama-wearing twinkle-fingered Spell-slingers, of course. That particular matchup required an entirely different battle plan.
“So did I pass your test?” Robin asked hopefully.
“The first one, yes. Now comes the second.”
He then took away her training weapon and handed her a large hair brush and a bucket of apples.
“… What are these for?”
“Grooming and feeding Agro, what else? We’ll handle cleaning out his stall of manure afterwards.”
Robin couldn’t help but be confused at that response. Not just what Yoshin had said, but also the way he said it as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. The blonde girl was left with the distinct impression she was missing something, so she couldn’t help but question the purpose of her task. Surely he wasn’t just going to have her do chores for no reason, right?
“Uhhh, I know I can be a bit dense, but how is any of that supposed to prove I’m a better fighter?”
“It’s not,” Yoshin bluntly answered.
“Then what’s it about?”
“It’s to see whether you have a knack for animal handling. ”
“And that’s important because…”
“Well, you can hardly be able to care for your own steed if you can’t do something as basic as-”
“What?! Who said I wanted my own steed?!”
“Keira did,” Yoshin replied bluntly. “Well, sort of. She said you had a gift with animals and that mounted combat would suit you, so she sent you to me.”
“That’s ludicrous!” Robin complained loudly. “I’ve never ridden a horse! Never even had a pet! All I did was guide a carriage down the highway for a bit!”
“You’re welcome to go back,” he shrugged. “However, then you’ll have to tell Keira Morgana that her judgement was wrong.”
Robin took but a second to consider this alternative before making a decision.
“… So, I need to brush from top to bottom, right?”
Frankly speaking, she’d much rather spend a whole day literally shoveling horse shit than risk getting on that scary cat-lady’s bad side.