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"What a wretched night!!!" Old Ashufu spat angrily as he tripped over yet another nigh-invisible root in the darkness. It seemed the tangled forest had taken an immediate disliking to the elderly man and decided it was going to do its best to trip him up and make him fall and snap his scrawny, little neck. The sliver of a moon was covered by black clouds, which allowed precious little light to see by. No matter how he squinted his ancient eyes, Old Ashufu would always miss a root or a rock and down he would go again.
"Again." Hanzo commanded.
Galford concentrated. He felt the power within him build like a fire as it had so many times before. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and the dry, summer air hummed with life.
"PLASMA BLADE!" Galford cried as he brought his arms together in a knife-like motion and released the energy he could no longer contain. The two whirling blades he had created, arcs of electricity sizzling and snapping between them, flew from his clenched fists towards their target.
The practice dummy exploded with a rustle of air and vanished in a puff of smoke. A moment later, the sky began to rain straw all around them. Galford grinned as he picked an errant strand out of the air.
"Guess I overdid it a little that time, huh?"
Hanzo grunted. He stood a short distance away, arms crossed, his lacquered black armor glistening in the sun.
"No, you're still holding back. I'm afraid you unconsciously refuse to use your full potential, Galford."
Galford frowned at the ground.
"What do you mean?"
"You have a natural affinity to control lightning, Galford. But you choose to repress it. You can tap into it when you desire, as your plasma blade technique demonstrates, but you are capable of far, far more."
Galford considered this carefully. Sometimes he did feel like he could summon, well, more. That was why he was here after all, to train with the legendary Hanzo to perfect new fighting techniques. He surveyed the rocky outcropping which served as a ninja training ground. The smoking litter of the other dummies he had destroyed earlier lay everywhere.
"Why would I need more?" Galford smiled again as he swept his hand at the mess he had created.
Hanzo laughed, a rarity for the master ninja.
"You're a good man, Galford. And you're quite right. I think the reason you shy away from your destructive power is that you value life too much. That's an admirable quality to have, and nothing to be ashamed of." Hanzo paused for a moment, studying the clouds in the sky, "A quality I wish more of us possessed."
Galford's eyes wandered to his dog, Poppy. She was lying on her back several yards away in a patch of sand, sunning her black and white fur. The wind blew a blade of grass onto her nose and she sneezed. His grin widened.
"Who needs lightning when I've got Poppy, the deadliest ninja dog in the world?"
At the sound of her name, Poppy's ears rose and she looked up expectantly at her master with her beautiful, pale blue eyes.
"Hai, Poppy! Go back to sleep girl."
Obediently, she put her head back down and closed her eyes.
Hanzo strode over to where Galford stood and together they studied her. The wind gently rustled the pale hair on her chest; it looked like waves on the sea. The large, ugly scar on her right side made Galford wince as it always did. Poppy had gotten that mark saving his life years ago, but it still made him feel guilty. Of course, he had scars of his own as well.
"Aye, that's one special animal, Galford. I've never seen anything like it, well, except for Nakoruru." Hanzo murmured at length.
At the sound of her name, Galford blushed and he dug nervously at the dusty earth with his foot. Underneath his ninja cowl, Hanzo smiled. Galford had a huge crush on the young Ainu maiden, and everybody knew it.
"Patience my lad, you'll be back with her before you know it. In fact, I think I'll send you on your way tomorrow, there's little more to teach you." Hanzo consoled, enjoying watching Galford's face turn an even deeper shade of red, almost purple. It looked quite comical to see a grown man behave so, and Hanzo had some difficulty not chuckling. Gai-jin, foreigners, behaved very strangely sometimes, but he liked Galford all the same. Unfortunately, he doubted Nakoruru's grandfather would agree, but he didn't have the heart to tell Galford this. Let them be happy while they can, he told himself, there's precious little happiness in the world as it is.