The Criminal Investigation Department
Pyrrha Nikos rubbed her forehead with the butt of her pen.
It was barely into the morning yet she was already feeling fatigued.
She studied the document on hand and diligently compared it to a worksheet. After a few moments, she went through the motions of stamping away at the physical document when everything matched and placed the papers back into its folder. With a soft sigh, she tossed it over to the done pile and forwarded the email to its recipient in the department.
When she stared at her work pile, it appeared as if nothing changed. It seemed that no matter how much work she did, the work pile remained stubbornly high.
She bit her tongue in annoyance.
With how things were going, each assignment blended together one after the other. What made office work so different from her coursework in Beacon, where she could diligently complete all her work with time to spare?
After all, Pyrrha had great confidence in her abilities concerning academic work and consistently placed among the top of her peers. If she could be great there then why did it feel like she was struggling here?
She sighed as her shoulders deflated a bit. "I wonder how's everyone else doing?" she whispered to herself.
Discreetly, she checked on her teammates to see how they fared.
Ren, to her left, was sipping at a can of hot tea while he typed away at something. He looked completely comfortable with his work and was making great strides. The other male in her team even had time to converse with Nora from time to time seeing as how the orange haired girl giggled or made faces at him.
Sitting up a little straighter in her chair. Pyrrha spotted Nora who was effortlessly multitasking. It was a strange sight for Pyrrha to see the usually energetic girl to be quietly plugging away on her computer. It was in stark contrast to how she acted in school, where it took considerable effort from Ren and Shirou to focus on her homework. Yet, despite Nora's reluctance for school work, her to-do pile was noticeably smaller than Pyrrha's own.
Pyrrha returned back to her desk, eyebrows scrunched together in deep thought.
Did Ren and Nora have some sort of prior work experience? They blended into their environment so well that if they hadn't worn their ID's then they would've easily been mistaken for actual employees and not work-study students from Beacon Academy.
And then, Pyrrha realized she had little to no idea of who Ren and Nora actually were. She didn't exactly know where they came from, where they graduated from, or what they even did prior to coming to Beacon. The thought proved disconcerting.
Everyone in the team knew somewhat of Pyrrha's history, but she knew almost nothing of her team.
In fact, there was one person she wanted to know even more sitting to her right.
"Emiya, Emiya!" An office worker cried out.
"I'm Emiya," she heard her partner reply.
"I've got Assistant Director Hae-in's department report ready. I sent you the file with the email. The paperwork just needs to be printed and stamped," a woman with straight, medium-length brown hair stood on the other side of his desk. "Please have it on her desk by the end of the day."
"Got it." Shirou nodded his head in confirmation.
"Thank you Emiya!" The woman threw a wave over her shoulder as she left. "You're a great guy!"
"Mhm." He hummed absentmindedly as he completed one assignment and began another.
"Emiya, Emiya!" Not even a minute later, a petite blonde woman with a blue hat rushed up. Curiously enough, a strand of blonde hair poked through her hat.
"Emiya here," Shirou responded plainly.
"If you're not too busy." She produced a thick file. "The other branches finished up their mid-year review. I sent the email with the reports and spreadsheets. If you can look over these for any minor errors and have it on her desk by the end of the week that would be fantastic!"
"Got it, look it over and get it to her by the end of the week," intoned Shirou.
"Phew!" The blonde office lady wiped her forehead. "With this, maybe I can finally afford to get time off and take some vacation at Luluhawa or something! Thank you for your assistance, Emiya!" She tossed him a wink and a peace sign before departing. "Hmm – maybe I should get some cup ramen for lunch today…"
Once again, Shirou simply hummed his usual response. He was blazing fast with how he processed his paperwork, reports, and emails. They seemed endless with how many people were coming to him for help, but he tackled them all the same. If Pyrrha had assumed Ren and Nora were experienced, then it seemed like her leader was something else entirely.
And then the same thought popped into Pyrrha's mind.
What did Shirou do before he attended Beacon? He was often so vague about his background that it was hard to describe him. He never offered too much about himself, only giving bits and pieces. Not to mention, whenever any topic steered into the direction of his story, he would simply smile and steer the conversation onto a different topic.
What was it that he had something to hide?
"Yes, Emiya here."
"H-Hi, um, if it's not too much trouble. C-Could you look over these files for me?" She held up the folder that covered a growing blush on her face. "I already got most of the work done. T-They just need to be looked over and be on the Assistant Director's desk by the end of the day."
"By the end of the day, correct?" Shirou repeated for clarity.
"Y-Yes! By the end of the day." She nodded. "Oh and, um, I got you a drink since it seemed like you've been really busy with work."
Her team leader paused from what he was doing and looked up. "Oh, is that green tea?" He smiled politely, taking the can. The blush on the woman's face deepened when he looked at her. "Thank you," his eyes glanced down to her ID, "Higashiyama, I appreciate it."
"It was no problem!" For some reason, Pyrrha studied the now named woman a little more intently. She looked to be of East Mistralian descent. Her height was rather petite and she wore the department's usual suit and tie uniform. Higashiyama shuffled a bit where she stood, as if trying to build up courage to ask him something. "U-Um, hey Emiya?"
"Yes?" He popped open the drink with a snap. "Was there something else you need?" he asked patiently.
"I-" Higashiyama licked her lips in nervousness. "I was um, wondering if uh…" The girl struggled to get the words out and took a deep breath. "I was sort of wondering if you were free-"
"Oi-! Kobeni!" A loud voice filled the office floor. "Where the hell are you Kobeni?!"
Another young woman with strawberry blonde hair strode into the office space. The first thing Pyrrha noted was the pair of horns on top of her head. The second thing was the rather untidy, half-dressed appearance. The tie was loose, shirt untucked, and the jacket hung off her shoulders as if it were one size too big.
"Damn it," cursed the aforementioned woman. "S-Sorry, gotta go!" She apologized with a bow and quickly left to the person calling out for her. "Ugh, maybe next time…" Pyrrha caught the woman muttering underneath her breath.
"There you are Kobeni!" Pyrrha assumed that was her partner of some sorts. "What the hell's takin' you so damn long? We need to get back to Makima and…" The person's voice faded once they walked out of ear shot.
Pyrrha's gaze lingered on the spot far longer than she would've liked.
"You finished day-dreaming Pyrrha?" asked Shirou, abruptly snapping her out of her thoughts.
"Ah," Pyrrha made a sound. "I was staring, wasn't I?"
"You were for a solid minute there," I mused lightly.
"Sorry, sorry," her cheeks flushed lightly, "I didn't mean to stare. It's just…" she collected herself for a moment. "I'm a little astounded at the amount of people who come to you for their work."
"Really?" I perked an eyebrow up, easily picking up on what she actually meant. "I don't think it should be surprising considering this is our job."
"What I think Pyrrha meant was-" began Ren.
I gave him a fierce look and his eyebrows shot up as he immediately took the hint. Ren's mouth clamped shut as he coughed into his hand to interrupt himself.
"I think what Pyrrha meant was that there's a whole bunch of ladies that seem to be coming your way," Nora bluntly stated. "Ouch," she hissed from a pinch, "Hey! That hurt Ren! What was that for huh?"
I blinked slowly and hid my exasperation. I wasn't blind to what was going on, but commenting on it any further would simply invite more trouble than it was worth. A person would have to be denser than lead to not have noticed Pyrrha tossing glances every time a female walked up to my desk. "Anyways, did you need any help Pyrrha?" I shifted the subject away. "You seemed a little stuck."
"O-Oh?" she grimaced. "You noticed?"
"Of course," I closed an eye. A part of me was thankful for Pyrrha taking an out from that particular conversation. "Just because I'm busy, doesn't mean I'm unaware." I pushed away from my desk and rolled my chair next to Pyrrha's. "So, what's troubling you?"
Pyrrha presented her work and how she processed all the paperwork. Her workflow was immaculate albeit very meticulous bogging her down. While she was processing the papers correctly, she lacked the experience to complete her work faster. Even Ren and Nora rolled their chairs over to see how their redheaded teammate was doing.
"Do you mind if I offer some tips?" I asked politely first.
"By all means!"
"So, just so you know, you're not doing anything wrong. In fact, you're doing pretty much how Miss Cha wants her files processed. However," I rolled back over to my desk and pulled my monitor over. "There are some tricks that she wasn't able to impart that will make this whole thing go a lot faster and smoother." I clicked on one of my finished files to show as an example. "See here?"
Pyrrha scooted in closer to view my work. "You have a bunch of… equations typed in?"
"Oh, hey Shirou!" Ren popped in. "I didn't know you knew how to do this as well! That's a function that allows you to save time and frustration by pulling information from multiple areas into one," he answered. "Very useful here. I was doing the same with my own work."
"Me too!" chimed in Nora. "I remember Ren teaching me this a while back when we were living alone! You do stuff in like half the time and clicks!"
Pyrrha glanced at both of her teammates before settling her gaze forward. "I… see," she replied slowly, trying to digest the newly acquired information. "So, this cell box, right?" she pointed at the top. "Allows me to use formulas to speed things up, right?"
"Yup!" nodded Nora.
"So, for instance if you needed the values of those cells," I pointed out to one side of her screen, "for the paperwork. You can look up over, click this, and bring up a set of formulas or equations to use." I showed her the process of doing so. "You look back over, plug in what's necessary, and it'll grab all the information necessary for you."
"R-Right," Pyrrha nodded, trying to follow along as best as she could. "So, A-two through A-nine, right? And then it adds up all the values from those specific rows to get what I need instead of having to manually input them."
"That's correct! You catch on quick, Pyrrha!" complimented Ren.
"Hehe," giggled Nora. "Watch out Shirou," she threw a teasing grin and wink. "There's a new rising star in the office. Soon, Pyrrha will have all the gals and guys lining up and down the office to do their work instead of you."
"Ha," I huffed in amusement, "that just means less work for me which I'm perfectly fine with." I winked at Pyrrha.
Pyrrha grimaced at the thought of getting any type of attention. "I- I think I'm fine if Shirou is the one everyone goes to for their work."
"Oi – I didn't sign up for this," I rebuked, looking jokingly betrayed.
"Well," elongated Nora, "technically you sorta did by signing us up for this work-study."
My mouth shut with an audible click as I realized Nora was right. "I'm going back to my desk," I said flatly.
Nora guffawed while Ren did his best to hide his laughter behind his hand.
"Aww," Pyrrha patted my shoulder. "No need to pout like that. If it means anything to you, I do appreciate the hard work that you put in for the team."
"I appreciate you too Shirou!" added Nora. "Even if, you know, you give us a bunch of work to do. And have us constantly zipping around everywhere. Also making us study a bunch too. Oh, and all the paperwork too, but technically you can say that's just plain ol' work too."
"And you were doing so well at the start too," I rolled my eyes.
Ren simply shook his head. "Oh Nora…"
"Team SNPR?" called out Cha Hae-in. The door to her office cracked open to reveal her head sticking out. "You can take your lunch break now," she glanced down at her watch. "Be sure to be back before one o'clock as I'll have something lined up for you."
"Ooh~! It's lunch time." Nora celebrated, practically jumping out of her chair and tossing her pen. "Let's go, let's go! Lunch time is break time!"
Our ball of energy was already pulling Ren up out of his seat. "H-Hey, hold on Nora!" he grumbled. "Let me get our coats! Don't you remember it's getting cold out there? N-Nora, coat first and quit shoving me around!"
"Hehe~!" she giggled. "Come on, come on, we're wasting precious time!"
"N-Nora-!" grounded out Ren as he struggled to put his coat on and barely grabbing hers.
"Oh, those two," Pyrrha smiled as the other two walked away. "Well, we better not keep Nora waiting."
I was already shrugging on my coat. "Where do you think she'll suggest for us to go eat?"
"North by Northwest?" answered Pyrrha.
"Again?" I said blandly.
It was the restaurant that Cha Hae-in recommended to us during our orientation.
"Well, it is a pretty good place," her shoulders shrugged. "Even if we go to it almost every other day," she giggled.
"Want to take bets as to what Nora will order?" I grinned cheekily.
"Ha," Pyrrha smiled, "as if I'd take that bet."
"Bacon and pancakes?" I grinned.
"Pancakes and bacon," she corrected me. "The pancakes coming first is an important distinction."
"Right, right," I nodded my head along. "How could I ever get that mixed up?"
Pyrrha giggled as we left the office to catch up to Ren and Nora.
"Bacon pancakes, makin' bacon pancakes!" sung Nora. "Take some bacon and put it in a pancake! Bacon pancakes, that's what it's gonna make!"
I grinned softly at how enthusiastic Nora was over her brunch. That girl truly was a foodie at heart. She enjoyed lots of things, but in particular she had lots of love for pancakes and bacon. Rather, in her words, it was mostly the pancakes and the bacon was just the proverbial cherry on top.
"Ren, can you pass the syrup please?" she asked politely.
"Hmm," she thought about it momentarily. "Let's do blueberry!"
"Blueberry, on the way," he passed it to her.
North by Northwest, abbreviated as NXNW, and referred by the locals and regulars as North By, was a popular spot for office workers around the area.
The establishment hosted local favorites for Vale, but also had a specialty with Mistralian type of foods. Nora for instance tended to favor Valean cuisine such as her current meal, pancakes and bacon. Ren on the other hand opted for their Eastern Mistralian menu, going for a simple rice porridge and tea. And lastly, Pyrrha had a particular liking for their Western Mistralian dishes, typically ordering something called a horiatiki salad with a panini.
I looked down at my own choice.
The person in the kitchen definitely knew what they were doing. A traditional Japanese breakfast that consisted of a small salmon filet, a bowl of rice, tamagoyaki, miso soup, and some pickled vegetables. Although, I suppose it wasn't correct to call it Japanese, but rather Eastern Mistralian.
"So Shirou," called out Pyrrha next to me. "I was wondering earlier."
"Hmm, well actually, I suppose this can go out to Nora and Ren too," she paused as the other two gave her their attention. "Where did the three of you learn how to work in an office?"
Ren took a sip of his drink before he spoke. "Before we," he gestured to himself and Nora, "came to Beacon. We had some jobs to hold us over while we waited on our scholarship application and benefits. Not all of them were office type jobs mind you. Some simply dealt with labor, others with a bit of craftsmanship."
"Oh yeah!" grinned Nora. "Ren and I did a bunch of stuff! I remember one time we worked at a restaurant and club. Another time, we were some sort of uh… what was it Renny?"
"An information clerk," he answered.
"Yeah that!" she snapped her finger. "Man, now that we're talking about it. We did a bunch of stuff over the years didn't we?"
"Wow," said a wide-eyed Pyrrha. "That's quite the number of jobs."
"Yup! I think we were at…" Nora quickly counted her fingers. "Number five? Or six? I'm not sure, it's one of those numbers, before we got our scholarship for a full ride to Beacon!"
"Oh, I didn't know you two were on a scholarship as well," I commented.
"Yup!" replied Nora.
"You're on a scholarship too Shirou?" asked Ren.
I thought back to my unusual circumstances and how I ended up enrolling into Beacon. "Yeah," I replied simply.
"Man, those scholarship applications were brutal!" reminisced Nora. "They had us doing a bunch of stuff. Submitting a boat load of paperwork. Doing a bunch of exams! Ugh, man those were some stressful, stressful times! Was it bad for you as well, Shirou?"
"No, not really," I lied.
A part of me felt guilty about how I was able to easily attain a full scholarship while it seemed that Nora and Ren went through a considerable amount of trouble to get theirs.
"So, what about you Shirou?" Pyrrha tilted her head. "Where did you learn your stuff from?"
The whole team stared at me with curious eyes.
I leaned back into my seat and rubbed my chin. How should I go about this? "I suppose I got my start from my old man." I started off simply. The three leaned forward in their seats. "He needed help with his work and I was more than eager to offer any assistance."
"If I remember correctly…" Pyrrha looked up in thought. "You said your father was an investigator or something right?"
My gaze stayed neutral. "Yeah, something like that."
"Something like that?" Nora tilted her head to the side.
I picked up my drink, contemplating my response.
"My… old man ran a private contracting firm." Emiya Kiritsugu was a mercenary. "He marketed his services to people that were in need of an independent arbitrator with a specialized skill set." If the job was worthwhile, he sold his services as long as it helped him to further his own. "So, I helped him with small stuff here and there."
"When did you start helping Shirou?" asked Ren.
That one I had to think hard on. When did my journey begin with Kiritsugu? How old was I back then? "Maybe ten? Eleven?"
Their eyebrows shot up.
"Wow, that's so young!" exclaimed Pyrrha. "So, what did you do with your father?"
"Hmm… obviously he did most of the field work while I handled the back-end stuff. At first it was just carrying papers, processing some files, and looking things up. I think that's what I mostly did for a while until he believed I was prepared to do some of the more… rigorous work."
"Aww, that's so cute! Imagine that Pyrrha!" brightly smiled Nora. "Little Shirou helping his dad around!"
Pyrrha giggled, "Yes, that is very cute to imagine."
"What would you consider rigorous Shirou?" asked Ren.
"I suppose he thought I could handle the big boy stuff," I grabbed my drink and took a sip. "Well, actually ha," I shook my head, "now that I think about it, he just shoved almost all of the office work onto me. That way, he could put all of his attention on completing his job while not having to worry about the little things."
A less edited version was that I handled preparing his firearms, obtaining visas to different countries, performing background research on places and targets of interest, and handling some of the finance.
"So, what exactly did you and your dad do?" further inquired Nora. "T-That is if you don't mind us wondering hehe."
I went quiet and thought hard about it. Saying that old man Kiritsugu ran a private contracting firm was rather too vague and ambiguous. Calling him an independent arbitrator was far-fetched as well. They were just a bunch of fancy words that were used like a smokescreen for what we really did.
"Saving people," I answered softly.
"Saving people?" Pyrrha repeated with tenderness.
"Yeah," I nodded, smiling a little at the memories. "We went around to a lot of places that were either ravaged by…" I licked my lips. "Grimm or by other people. We would take on assignments that people normally wouldn't take because it's too troublesome or not worth their time. From the deserts to the mountains. The oceans to the lakes. It didn't really matter to my old man where it put us."
"Wow," Pyrrha sat a little starstruck in her eyes. "Sounds like you and your father were a pair of heroes who traveled around a lot."
My eyes dulled a bit as I stared down at my drink. The once hot tea cooled down significantly. "Something like that," I murmured guiltily.
Yeah – we were heroes alright, as long as someone ignored the mountain of bodies we stood on. After all, Kiritsugu often reasoned that it was worth killing one to save the many. That was what he convinced himself and what he often reminded me, so much so that it was all he would ever say to me when his health started to seriously decline.
The ends justified the means.
Julian had thought the same too…
"Ha, well, I guess that explains why the three of you are so experienced," said Pyrrha. "It feels like everyone here except for me has um… well, work experience," she scratched the back of her head. "Now that we're talking about it, I feel rather privileged with my life."
"Aww, don't say that Pyrrha!" replied Nora. "You shouldn't compare our lives to yours 'cause I'm pretty sure yours was just as tough!"
"Indeed," nodded Ren, backing Nora up. "While our circumstances are different, we each had our own difficulties that we had to overcome. I doubt any of us would have fared as well as you did with your level of fame."
I downed the rest of my drink. "Did you get to travel around a lot Pyrrha?" I asked.
"Ha," she huffed with a grin, "very much. It had its moments in traveling around the four kingdoms and meeting all sorts of different people. However – I must say that nothing is quite like home you know?"
Home, just the thought of it made my heart ache.
"Do you miss it?" I asked.
"Miss what?" Pyrrha replied, tilting her head.
Pyrrha mulled over her response. "Sometimes," she admitted. "I do have periods where I miss Argus dearly, but… I think my mother said it best when she saw me off to Vale. She told me that as much as I will miss home, home isn't a place, rather… home is where the heart is." She paused before an embarrassed laugh came out. "It's rather sappy when I think about it. Although, more often than not, my mom is usually right. So, I guess you can say I'm content with following wherever my heart leads me."
"Your mother sounds like a wise woman."
"Ah," her hands covered her face. "My mother said it better. Hearing it come out of my mouth sounded worse than I thought."
We all shared a light-hearted laugh.
"No," I smiled, "I think it sounded just fine to me."
"Oh Pyrrha, don't be embarrassed!" assured Nora. "I think that's very endearing and heartfelt. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise! Else, they can come to me and I'll break their kneecaps with Magnhild!"
I shook my head. What was it with that girl and breaking people's kneecaps?
"Nora!" Ren's eyebrows furrowed.
"E-he~!" Nora winked cutely with her tongue poked out.
"What do you mean 'E-he'!"
Pyrrha wasn't alone, a part of me missed home. Life back in Fuyuki in Miyami Town. A quaint home that had everything a person could need. But thinking back on it, home was dead. There was nothing for me but snow and ruin. No Miyu that would greet me or even… Sakura to be with.
I sighed and tried to shake myself off from those thoughts.
"Thank you," Pyrrha spoke suddenly. "Shirou."
She was close, it was whispered into my ear practically. In front of us, Nora was up to her usual cute antics with Ren trying to calm her down.
"Hmm? For what?" I leaned back in my seat to enjoy the show.
"I never got to thank you for what you did at the airport," she said softly. With how rowdy Nora was being and Ren concentrating on her, they didn't notice Pyrrha had scooted herself closer to me.
I turned to her with a faint grin. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Pyrrha caught on quickly and returned with her own grin. "You know Shirou," her eyes sat squarely on me. "I think if I had met you while I was at Sanctum. I think I would have stayed and gone to Haven."
Without any hesitation, "Yes."
I was the first to break eye contact. "Ha," I looked back at Nora and Ren momentarily before turning back to Pyrrha. "I think we should get going and pay our bill. Lunch time is almost up and we should probably head back to the office."
Pyrrha stared longer than I liked. Those piercing green eyes were too much. With how her eyes moved and how the corner of her lips twitched. I had a feeling she caught on quickly when I would change the subject when things became uncomfortable for me.
"You're so silly Shirou," she smiled knowingly.
I grunted and looked away.
"Come on, let's pay and get going."
"Yes, yes, very well leader," playfully winked Pyrrha. "Come on Nora and Ren. Time to pay our tab!"
"Ah – welcome back Team SNPR," greeted Hae-in. "How was your lunch?"
Cha Hae-in's office was rather plain with little decorations. A rather spartan interior save for the picture frame on her desk and some other small knickknacks. We stood in front of her desk where there was a splattering of files and paperwork strewn about.
"North By is great as usual!" beamed Nora.
Our supervisor returned a small smile. "That's good to hear. I'll be sure to stop by sometime this week since it's been a while. Now then," she cleared out some of the clutter on her desk before fishing out a folder. "Today, we will be going out to your first crime scene investigation," announced Hae-in.
Nora's hands went up to her face, gasping. "We're going out into the field?!" She practically buzzed on the spot in excitement. "We're going into the field!" She turned to us, pumping her arm.
"Where will we be going?" I asked for more information.
Hae-in plucked a folder and opened the file. "To the eastern borough of Bexley. Specifically, one of the residential districts on the southside of Bexley."
"What's the issue that we will be looking into?"
All four of us squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder to read the file on her desk.
"A robbery of a dust shop." The blonde supervisor's fingers laced together in front of her face. "Something peculiar happened that warranted our attention. So, we're being asked to come in as a second opinion, collect our own information, and assist the V.C.P.D."
"Something… peculiar?" I murmured quietly. "Did they mention what this sort of peculiarity was?"
"Yes," she nodded in confirmation. "It's on the next page."
Turning to the next page, we all read earnestly.
"Huh?" Nora succinctly replied.
Her reaction summed up ours as a team. All of our eyebrows rose together the further along we read. "…in that the criminal Roman Torchwick left money to the store owner as he robbed the store?" Ren finished with uncertainty in his voice. "Does that still constitute as a robbery if money was still given for what was stolen?"
"There's a distinction to be made, Trainee Lie," began Hae-in. "Money was left there, not given," she corrected him. "Just because he left money doesn't necessarily mean he made a legal purchase."
"Ah, apologies," Ren bowed his head.
"I see," Pyrrha hummed. "So – that's why we're being sent out to answer the 'Why?' part, correct?"
"Correct," replied the supervisor. "Today, you will be utilizing the sum of your training and education thus far, and putting them into practice." She closed the file and got up. "Think of it as a practical field assessment. Since I'm your handler, I'll be quietly observing you while you assume the role as a fully-fledged inspector. If it's needed, I will provide support, but essentially you will have the reins concerning this case Trainee Emiya," her eyes looked at me.
"Understood," I nodded.
"Are there any other questions before we head out?" she asked.
We all shook our heads, more than ready to go.
"Good," Hae-in said approvingly. "Trainee Nikos and Valkyrie, go get changed out of your skirts and into your slacks. After that, get your standard issue sidearms then meet me in the garage. Trainee Emiya," she called out specifically. "You'll be driving."
She tossed the keys over to me which I caught smoothly.
I peered down at them in my palm. "Just like old times huh?" I whispered to myself.
"Team SNPR," I turned to them. "Move out."
Glancing at the rearview mirror. I spotted Cha Hae-in all the way in the back with her sunglasses on. She stared out the window with a passive expression. Although, every now and then her head shifted discreetly to quietly observe our team.
In front, Nora and Ren sat with the former trying to conjure up as much seriousness as she could. It was cute with how she tried her best to look the part. Contrasting to her was Ren who naturally looked the part with how calm he played it.
Up in the passenger seat next to me was Pyrrha. The case folder opened on her lap as she took the time to read through the contents. Her finger parsing through the lines individually indicated her meticulous nature.
"Senior Inspector Cha?" I called out.
"What's the southside of Bexley like?"
"A lower-to-middle class area," she answered. "It's not necessarily a rough neighborhood, but the development to the area has been rather lackluster. Especially if you compare it to the neighboring boroughs like Greenwich to the west or Havering to the north."
"Pyrrha?" spoke up Ren.
"May I see the file really quick?" he asked.
Ren thanked her as she handed him the file. "Oh, lemme see too Renny!" Nora leaned over in her seat.
"I just don't get it," he hummed aloud in thought.
"What's up Ren?" Nora nudged him softly with her elbow.
"Something about leaving money just…" he mulled over his words momentarily. "It rubs me the wrong way. Something about it just feels… off. If you're a criminal," Ren began his line of thought. "Why would you leave money in a store that you're robbing? It's like… hmm, demolishing a sand castle only to offer to rebuild the foundation. It just seems counterintuitive."
"Maybe he felt bad?" offered Nora.
Ren chuckled before shaking his head. "Haha, I don't think so Nora. If Torchwick felt bad then he wouldn't be stealing in the first place."
Nora had the decency to appear abashed. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Still though, what if he did?"
"What?" Ren gazed at her as if she grew a second head.
"Like you know, what if he stole all the dust and figured it would screw the shop owner over because he wouldn't have anything to sell. So, he compensated the poor guy with cold hard cash. See here?" She pointed out a line in the report. "Apparently he didn't even take anything out from the cash register. Just all of the dust in the guy's store."
Ren blinked as he read again once more. "You're right, but still…" his lips pressed thinly together. "All of the other stores that he robbed had both their dust and lien completely cleaned out. Even the cash storage in the back as well as the digital exchange." He inhaled deeply before exhaling out. "That begs the question, what made this guy's shop different from the others?"
"The million-dollar question," I commented softly.
"And that's why we're here," Pyrrha shot a small grin at me.
"Indeed," Hae-in spoke up, her voice cutting through. "Incidents like these are why the C.I.D. exists in the first place. Crime analysis is important for us to be able to understand where we need to deploy resources in an effective manner." Hae-in glowed positively from listening in on the conversation. "Asking these questions now proves you're on the right track about things Trainee Lie and Trainee Valkyrie."
"Hmm," Nora scratched her cheek. "I thought the V.P.D. had a handle on this stuff?"
"They do, it's still their case," shrugged the blonde. "But since they're stretched thin like us. They asked our department if we would be able to lend a hand."
"Ah – right, the Vytal Festival," Ren acknowledged with a nod. "It must be a terrible time for them with all the surge in tourism from the other kingdoms."
Hae-in glanced back at the window. "Trainee Emiya, we should be coming up onto the location."
The supervisor pointed to a spot.
The residential district had definitely seen better days. The streets were cracked with potholes strewn about. The sidewalks looked worse for wear with weeds growing out of them too. All around us, the shops occupying the buildings had security bars installed onto the windows. A tell-tale sign that it wasn't the safest of places when it turned nighttime.
I let my foot up off the gas slightly as we got close to our destination.
All four of us were scanning around the area closely.
The shop that had been robbed was cordoned off with police yellow tape. There was already a crowd of bystanders that lounged about chatting amongst themselves. A regular law enforcement squad car parked out in front with two officers keeping watch.
"Alright, parking next to the store." I parked our vehicle near the curb.
"Since this is your first investigation," began Hae-in. "I'll introduce you to the squad on the scene. Exchange formalities with them and then I will hand off the reins over to you Trainee Emiya. From then on, everything will be on you," she looked at me squarely through her sunglasses. "Are there any questions before we begin?"
I glanced at my team. They all carried small confident smiles and looks of assurances. Nora offered her patented toothy smile with two thumbs up. "We're ready," I stated.
"Sunglasses on, let's move out Team SNPR," ordered the Senior Inspector.
We exited out of the blacked-out SUV at the same time.
The black doors opened and closed in such a fashion that it drew in looks.
Within moments the two police officers realized there was a commotion. The crowd's murmurs grew with uncertainty as we drew closer. To my relief, they weren't agitated due to my redhaired teammate, but rather, it was because they saw the emblems on our uniforms. Some even elected to back away from the scene altogether.
"W-Whoa, it's the C.I.D.," someone said in the crowd.
"The hell are they doing here?" asked a person beside them.
"Shit… hell if I know, but it sure ain't a good sign if the C.I.D.'s getting involved if you asked me…"
Not even Pyrrha's fame could overshadow the Criminal Investigation Department's reputation apparently. They were an entity in which people gave a wide berth when they were out and about.
We flanked closely behind our supervisor in formation. When Hae-in came to a stop in front of one of the police officers, she peered down her glasses coolly. "Good afternoon gentlemen," she greeted formally. Already, her I.D. and badge were pulled out smoothly from her inner coat pocket.
The officer who was speaking to what was presumably the store owner raised his eyebrows above his own sunglasses. He was a bearded man who looked to be in his early forties at the very least. He wore the standard dark blues of the Vale Police Department sans hat. "Well – I'll be damned," he whistled. "Aren't y'all a sight for sore eyes, eh?" he had a disarming tone to his voice. "It's good seeing you again Senior Inspector Cha," he extended his hand.
A small smile was returned. "Likewise, Sergeant Burns," she greeted back.
"How's the boyfriend doing?" he asked conversationally.
"Oh, you know," there was a teasing smirk on her lips. "Being himself as usual."
"Ah," he nodded along, "I can't imagine." He shook his head. "I heard he finally took up a protégé. I feel sorry for the kid."
"If you asked me, I think he finally found someone that reminded him of himself," chuckled Hae-in. "Except blond."
"You mean like you?" Joked Burns.
Even though we couldn't see it. We could all tell that Hae-in rolled her eyes at that moment.
"Hahaha-!" Burns' chest rumbled as he laughed. "Anyways, you must be wondering why I asked because I'm surprised you took on some yourself. In fact," he leaned over to get a better look at us. "That's a whole four-man squad you got there."
"Oh, them?" She gestured with her head. "They're actually huntsmen-in-training from Beacon."
"Ohh, gotcha, that explains it then." The sergeant moved to introduce himself. "Hello trainees," he waved, "I'm Sergeant Burns of the Vale Police Department."
"Trainee Emiya," I introduced.
"Trainee Valkyrie!" saluted Nora.
"Trainee Lie," responded softly Ren.
"Trainee Nikos," nodded Pyrrha.
"Nice to meet you all," he smiled warmly. "Over there," he pointed over to a similarly dressed officer who was preoccupied with handling the crowd. "Is my partner, Senior Officer Heyman. He's busy with crowd control and the usual. "So," he clapped his hands. "I'm assuming you five are here to take over?"
"Officially, I'm here as their handler," answered Hae-in. "They'll be your point of contact for the duration of this investigation. Please forward any relevant information to them regarding the break in and robbery."
"Ah – gotcha, gotcha," he replied. "Alright then, so who's the leader?"
I stepped forward.
"Trainee… Emiya, is that right?"
Nodding my head, I replied. "Right."
"I'm sure you've read the report, but allow me to get you up to speed. This here," he gestured over to the person he had been speaking to, "is Mister Hullum. He's the owner and proprietor of this dust shop. At 11 A.M. in the morning, Roman Torchwick came to his shop, stole all of the dust, gave the man money, and then smashed up the shop on his way out."
I blinked, Hae-in blinked, and so did the rest of my team.
"Haha, yeah, that was my reaction too!" he laughed. "The order of events is just wacky!"
Reading it was one thing, hearing it first hand was another.
Mister Hullum seemed neither annoyed or angry. Interestingly enough, he seemed rather eerily calm about the situation. I would imagine that after such an ordeal he would at least be on edge.
"And I'm telling you, that's how it went." The shop owner's voice was neutral. When he glanced at our uniforms, his throat moved. "A-And… why's the C.I.D. here?"
"Yes, I understand Mister Hullum. I'm simply relaying what you told me to our friends here," calmly explained Burns. "As for reasons why? Well, that whole order of events is the reason why."
Remember the earlier discussion Ren and Nora had fueled more questions surrounding this particular robbery. Why did Torchwick leave money for the dust if he was already stealing it? What was the point of vandalizing the shop? Where was he storing all of this dust?
"I see," I responded evenly. "We'll have to proceed with our own investigation to get a picture of things."
"Yeah," snorted Burns. "I'll let you and your team take over from here. If you need any help or more information, Ill be helping my partner with crowd control." He then turned to the shop owner. "The C.I.D. will be handling matters for the duration of their stay. Thank you for your cooperation with law enforcement Mister Hullum."
I was able to get a good look at the shop owner. Mister Hullum appeared to be in his early forties like Sergeant Burns. He had dark brown hair that was slowly greying out at the sides and he sported a rough five o'clock shadow.
"Hello," I smiled placatingly and offered my hand. "I am Trainee Inspector Emiya and this is my team."
He glanced down before exhaling tiredly. "Hello, hello," he shook. "The name's Hullum. Hopefully this doesn't take too long so I can try and fix up my shop." He scratched at his beard when another thought popped into his mind. "And I guess make some calls to see if I can salvage anything too."
Ren stepped up, sharing the same type of disarming smile. "Our job here is to help you Mister Hullum and make the whole process easy for you."
"T-Thanks, I guess," he mumbled a bit, being taken off guard by Ren.
"Some of us will be going into your shop to collect evidence and photos. If you allow us, we'll also grab recordings from any security cameras that you have installed. Is this okay with you?" I asked politely.
He froze, just for a moment. When I looked at his eyes, he broke away for a split second before closing them and smiling. "Yeah, yeah," he nodded none too quickly. "Just um, take and do whatever you Inspectors do."
Ren and I shared a glance before I continued. "Got it." Getting his consent made everything smooth and easy. I turned to address my team. "Alright – Nora and Pyrrha, you two will be on evidence gathering. Start gathering anything useful from inside the shop. We're talking about photos, prints, and recordings. If you need any help, just call us."
"You got it leader!" saluted Nora.
"Understood Shirou," grinned Pyrrha.
"Ren," I turned to him, "you're with me. We're going to talk with the owner and then interview any bystanders. See if we can get an eyewitness account of the incident from another perspective if we can get it."
"Copy that," replied Ren.
I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply.
"Team SNPR – move out."
Pyrrha Nikos slung the straps for the equipment over her shoulder.
"Ready to go Pyrrha?" poked Nora.
"Ready!" she beamed.
Inhaling deeply, Pyrrha adjusted her sunglasses and closed the trunk. It was a foreign feeling, one that she could get comfortable with, to not be recognized. Her eyes glanced down at the emblem on her coat. An imperceptible, giddy smile threatened to dispel her calm and collected façade. Maybe the mountain load of paperwork was worth it if she could experience more of this.
She huffed and rolled her eyes. Who was she kidding?
When they entered the shop, it was practically void of any dust. It had certainly seen better days as all the glass displays and containers were shattered along with most of the shelves knocked over. "Alright Nora, let's break out the equipment," ordered Pyrrha.
"Maaan." Nora looked all around. "They really trashed this place up good huh?" With every step, glass crunched underneath her shoes. "Some of the dust filters are really badly damaged, displays completely messed up, and-" she sucked in a deep breath. "Even the poor vending machines weren't even safe! They didn't even take any of the snacks Pyrrha~!"
Pyrrha couldn't help but smile as she cleared an area on the floor by kicking away the glass. "They didn't leave anything untouched, did they?" she remarked. "Careful to not move anything Nora. Let's try to keep things as is. We'll take pictures first," she started off. "After that, we'll try and see if we can grab any prints then go for the camera recordings."
"Anything else after that?" Nora brought out her camera and took a couple test snaps.
"Not sure, but I think if that's all we can do then it's all we can do," Pyrrha shrugged her shoulders.
"Where do you want me to start?" The orange haired girl then eyed the massive amount of money left on the counter. "Well… maybe this might be a good place to start hehe." She was already snapping away with her camera.
"Haha, true," agreed Pyrrha as she took a couple herself. "How about you work your way from the back," she pointed, "and I'll start from the front? Call out if you see anything suspicious or strange."
"Roger that Pyrrha!"
The girl saluted as she made her way to the back of the shop.
Pyrrha was mindful as she stepped around her self-assigned area. "Hmm… let's start with the entrance."
Green eyes surveyed the door, welcome mat, and tiles. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Rather, it looked neat and tidy for a supposed robbery.
Briefly regarding the picture, she moved on. "How about those display cases?" Pyrrha muttered quietly.
Her feet carried over to where some of the dust cases were featured. Her brows furrowed as she studied it more. Upon closer inspection, the cases were unlocked and opened. What confused her was that if they were opened, then why were they hit with some sort of blunt object. "Hmm?" She tilted her head and bent down. "Why would you be unlocked and then broken open?"
It seemed things were getting stranger by the minute.
She took two pictures this time. One with the broken display case and then of the opened lock.
A huff escaped her mouth as she gazed around the shop in growing befuddlement. "I hope Shirou and Ren can make sense of what's going on around here."
We observed Mister Hullum closely as Ren and I stood closely around the notebook in my hand.
"Strangely calm isn't he, Shirou?" Ren kept his voice low. "For someone who just got his store cleaned out. He seems to be taking things rather in stride."
"Maybe he figured it's better to stay calm than freak out?" I argued.
"Possibly," he played with the idea. "However, I don't think that's the case here," he said as he kept his gaze on the store owner. "He's too calm, too nonchalant."
He stated with such sureness that it caught me off guard.
"How can you tell?"
My teammate looked at me for a second before tearing his gaze away back to Mister Hullum. "Just…" Ren inhaled and exhaled. "I guess you can call it my intuition."
"Has your intuition ever been… wrong?" I poked. Was this intuition related to Ren's semblance?
I casually flipped through some of the pages to bide my time through this moment. "Alright then, I trust you."
"Thanks," Ren crossed his arms as he surveyed around. "Anyways, we didn't get much from the crowd either. No other eyewitnesses were willing to step forward or if they did, they didn't really see much. Feels like these people aren't really trying to help us."
Ren wasn't wrong in feeling that the crowd distrusted us. Government agents prowling around usually brought trouble. And most people generally avoided entangling themselves with that type of trouble.
"Yeah, shame really," I scanned through the crowd that still loitered. "Would've made our lives a lot easier."
I observed each person casually, not really committing any to memory. Most of the individuals blended together. Dark brunette, dirty blonde, black hair, pink and brown hair, and-
Pink and brown hair?
My eyes snapped back to that person. A short girl, hidden among the crowd of people that seemed to practically tower over her. She wore sunglasses so it obscured her eyes, however, even with that, I could feel her gaze staring intently at the two of us. The hair at the back of my neck stood on end, as I felt a sort of premonition about the girl.
Noticing that I stopped talking, Ren nudged me with an elbow. "Shirou, you see something?"
"Yeah," I took my eyes off her for a second, "someone's staring at us. Short girl with pink and brown hair, wearing dark sunglasses," I quickly described.
"Really?" He began looking in the same general direction. "I don't see anyone with that description."
"What? She was standing right over-" The words died in my throat, when I looked back, she was gone. "…there," I finished lamely.
My lips pressed into a line.
Where was that person just now? I scanned the crowd, no longer being discreet about looking for that girl. One moment she was there and the next, she disappeared. Who was that person just now?
"Yeah, I don't see anyone with those two colors," observed Ren.
My eyes narrowed at the spot where they once stood. "Doesn't matter anymore now that they're gone," I audibly sighed and parsed through the pages in my notebook. "Going back to Torchwick. Do you think the money inside is the same money he stole from other shops?"
"Who knows?" Ren shrugged his shoulders.
"It was mentioned on the news that he typically targets shops that are in the high-income and affluential areas."
"We'd have to do research on that ourselves if we want to verify if that's actually true," critiqued Ren. "But," he gestured with his head, "it does sound plausible. Plus, we don't know if Mister Hullum actually gets to keep the money."
"Sounds like that's up to the courts to decide," I chuckled.
"Haha, yeah." Ren shook his head. "You know, it kind of sounds like he's stealing from the rich and giving it to the… less fortunate? If you think about it that is."
"Heh," I huffed out. "What does this Torchwick guy think he is? Daylighting as some sort of modern-day Robin Hood?" I mused to myself.
"Robin Hood?" voiced Ren. "Who's Robin Hood?"
My face froze as I realized the faux pas. "Nothing." I smiled with my eyes closed. "Was just reminded of a… children's story is all."
"Really?" Ren looked interested. "I remember reading lots of children's stories to Nora when we were younger. However, I don't think I ever came across a story with the name Robin Hood."
"It's not really a well-known story," I shrugged.
"Is that so?" he said suspiciously.
Ren's gaze felt penetrating.
"Yeah," I curtly replied.
He stared for a little while longer before finally acquiescing. "Alright, I believe you," he returned a smile of his own with his eyes closed too. "I believe we've exhausted all of our options here. We should probably check up on Nora and Pyrrha. See how they're doing."
The notebook in my hand closed with a snap. "Yeah, let's go see how the others are doing and wrap things up. I think we're done here."
"Pyrrha?" I called out as we walked in.
"Nora?" Ren looked around the empty store.
The equipment was on the counter near the cash register meaning they were still here somewhere in the building.
"We're in the back!" yelled out Nora. "We're almost done collecting the footage from the security cameras! We'll be out in a moment!"
"Alright!" responded Ren as he cast his gaze around him. "Talk about clearing shop. Torchwick and his guys really took everything that they could. Ha, if they had any more time, I'm sure they would have taken some of the appliances."
"You think he's the type to go for the lighting and fixtures too?" I smirked a little.
"I don't know, depends if Torchwick gave the guy enough money for that too," he shot back his own smirk. "Speaking of which, is that the money over there?" Ren pointed out the ludicrous stack of lien on the counter.
"Damn… Mister Hullum kind of failed to mention exactly how much money Torchwick gave him didn't he?" I pulled out my notebook again and made an estimate of how much was in front of me. "How much money do you think there is? A quarter million lien? Half a million maybe?"
"Something like that," he shrugged, eyeing the cash. "Personally, I've never seen this much money in my life before. Have you?"
"Yeah," I responded simply.
Ren fell silent as he tore his gaze away to look around some more. "I suppose you and your father were paid handsomely as private contractors huh?"
"Yeah," I breathed in and exhaled loudly. "Too bad it mostly got eaten up by our expenses. New equipment, researching locations, going to those locations, and all those things."
"Heh… it sounds like it was a lot of fun though," he mused.
"It was a pain in the ass sometimes," I grumbled lightheartedly, crossing my arms.
He gave me a poignant stare before chuckling while shaking his head. "Hahaha, this guy."
I couldn't shake off the smirk as we shared a moment. "What?" I grinned.
"What are you two jokers laughing about?" A new voice brought us out of it. "Nice to see you two slacking and having it easy while you make us do all the hard work!"
Pyrrha carried the rest of the equipment while Nora held a box full of tapes in her arms.
"Do you know how much of a pain in the ass it is to copy video tapes?!" The orange haired girl asked incredulously. "Video tapes! Like who the heck still uses video tapes! That was so annoying to actually have to physically rewind the tapes! Plus, plus, there were so gosh-darned many too! Ugh-! I don't ever wanna see another tape in my life again after this."
Ren peered over the counter and grabbed something. "Like this?"
"H-Huh?" Nora's eyebrow perked up. "Ugh-! That is sooo not funny Renny!"
It was tape that he grabbed; regular, old scotch tape.
Pyrrha giggled next to Nora. "Haha, I don't know Nora. Ren did get you there."
Nora groaned loudly in displeasure. "I haaaate you all~!"
"Aww, don't say that Nora," I smiled with my eyes. "Hate is a very strong word."
The orange haired girl's groan turned into a menacing growl.
"Haha," I held up my hands placatingly. "Now, now, no need to get violent." I turned to Pyrrha. "I'm guessing you two collected everything you could?"
"Yep!" Pyrrha nodded cheerfully. "Pictures, prints, and copies of the security footage are all ready to go! We just need to pack up is all."
"You heard her Ren," I glanced at him. "Let's help them pack so we can get going."
"Copy that." He was already moving to grab the box of tapes from Nora's hands. "Here, let's trade." He swapped their items smoothly. "Fair yeah?"
Nora flashed a devilish grin. "Oh?"
Ren immediately regretted it.
"Then I hope you don't mind also carrying the camera bag." She slung the strap over his right shoulder. "The evidence collection bag." She hung the bag on his left shoulder. "And, most importantly, the prints collection kit!" Nora made sure to sling the strap over his body. "There!" she dusted off her hands. "That should be it for me and my stuff!"
Ran craned his neck over to me, "H-Help!"
"Ah – Pyrrha, here, allow me to help you with your things!"
"S-Shirou!" he squawked.
Ren made his own bed; he should lie in it.
"Do you hear something Pyrrha?" I asked as I exited with my partner.
The redhead shot a glance back.
"Nope," she answered with a pop.
"Get your rear into gear mister!" Nora spanked him on the butt.
"Thank you for your cooperation, Mister Hullum," I offered my hand.
"Yeah, it was the least I could do," he said measuredly. "Hope you and your team were able to get everything you needed."
My eyes glanced to where Pyrrha and Nora were busy offloading the equipment and bags into the trunk. "We did, and hopefully it'll give us a better idea of what Torchwick is up to and how to stop him." Off to my right, Sergeant Burns was walking over with Hae-in. "Sir, Ma'am," I addressed.
"I'm guessing you're handing things back to me?" figured Burns.
"Yes sir – we've collected all that we could and conversed with any witnesses that were willing to share their account of the incident with us."
"I hope it's been an educating experience for you and your team then," he held out his hand.
I took it with a firm shake. "It has, thank you for giving us this opportunity."
"We'll send all of the information over to your department once we've compiled the evidence." Hae-in informed the detective. "You'll have it by the end of the week and we'll make sure to stay in contact."
"It's always a pleasure working with you and the C.I.D. as usual Senior Inspector Cha," he held out his hand to her.
"Likewise – Sergeant Burns," she returned and shook his hand. "Alright, Trainee Emiya, take us home."
"Not bad Team SNPR." There was a small grin that danced on Hae-in's lips. "For your first field investigation that is."
The blonde woman was leaning against her desk with her arms crossed. We were all in her office to debrief after today's mission. Cha Hae-in's subtle glow signaled to all of us that she was pleased even if she didn't put it out publicly.
"Admittedly," she pushed off and walked around. "This incident definitely had its oddities concerning the robbery." Her hands picked up the initial report from the officers at the scene. "Torchwick leaving money at Mister Hullum's store is definitely a cause for concern since it deviates greatly from his most recent… operations. Yet – it still falls in line with how he typical goes about."
Nora tilted her head. "What do you mean by that ma'am?"
"We still have Torchwick's old file on record," casually remarked Hae-in. "It was his M.O. to leave generous gifts to random bystanders and regular people. In fact, him doing so actually made him quite popular back in the day tch," she audibly tisked. "Made everything so much more complicated and a pain in the-"
Hae-in interrupted herself the moment she realized she went on a tangent. "Sorry," she smiled with her eyes. "Torchwick is an…" she paused shortly, "an especially infamous individual for the C.I.D. In the other sections, they often refer to him as 'The One that Got Away'."
"Whoaaa." Nora's eyes went wide. "That sounds so cool!" She blinked, quickly realizing what she said. "I mean, like as in, you know, it was cool to hear about his name… thing," her face cringed, the hole she was digging for herself kept getting deeper. "I think I'll shut up now…"
The blonde supervisor had a bemused look. "It's okay, if it means anything. I think it's kind of cool too, but let's keep it between us," she playfully winked at Nora. "Nevertheless – this still presents a significant problem for the V.P.D. for the time being. Something that I don't envy them too greatly."
"I thought the C.I.D. would help them?" questioned Pyrrha.
"Yes – we are," nodded Hae-in, "but only in a supportive role. Our current assignment and… disposition have us attended to another more serious and sensitive matter," she mentioned vaguely. "As such, until the city council deems that the situation has gotten too out of control. His case will remain with the V.P.D."
"Ma'am?" Ren raised his hand. He had kept quiet throughout the ride back and into the debrief. Something about the investigation didn't sit well with him. "Why Bexley of all places?" he asked.
"What do you mean by that?"
"It's a lower-to-middle class area," answered Ren. "So, why commit a robbery in Bexley and not, oh say… Greenwich or Havering?" He rubbed his chin as he went further into thought. "Senior Inspector Cha mentioned that the neighboring boroughs were more upscale than Bexley, right? So, therefore, wouldn't it make sense to rob those places since they would have higher quality dust and, in more quantity, too?"
"Now that you mention it… yeah," I started to get where he was going with this. "Makes you ask, why Bexley? And why this store?"
"And, furthermore, why pay Mister Hullum the dust and then vandalize his store?" continued on Ren. "What's the point of paying the man his goods before trashing up the place? If he already got the dust, what made him decide to tear everything up?"
"Maybe Mister Hullum pissed him off?"
"No, no," Ren's eyebrows furrowed. "Go back a couple pages on your notes. See there?" he pointed out on a page. "No mentions of any aggravations from either party."
"Who knows then?" Hae-in's shoulders shrugged. "There's only so much that we can infer before it just comes pure speculation. It's reasonable to try and figure out the why's and the what's, but be mindful how much of it that you do. Otherwise, you'll distort what information you do have to fit a narrative only to come out wrong in the end."
"Y-Yes ma'am, sorry," he bowed his head.
"No need to apologize," she smiled smally. "It's good to always be questioning yourself and things around you in this line of work. It shows you have a good head on you."
"Miss Cha?" Nora called out with her own hand raised.
"Yes, Trainee Valkyrie?"
"I'm uh, kinda wonderin'? What is it that the C.I.D. are currently working on that's uh… more serious and sensitive?" she asked.
"Apologies," she immediately responded. "I'm unable to share that with you at this time."
"Classified?" poked Nora.
The corners of Cha Hae-in's mouth pulled upward and everyone understood.
"So, moving on," the blonde moved some things around her desk. "Trainee Emiya," she called out. "Before we conclude this debrief. Have your team's report submitted by the end of the week regarding your investigation."
"Yes ma'am," I answered. "Anything else?"
"Just one more thing," she looked at all four of us. "How does Mistral BBQ sound tonight? My treat."
Nora's mouth opened. "MBBQ!" she exclaimed. "That sounds awesome~!"
Ren blinked several times. "Um… ma'am, are you…" he inhaled, "are you sure about that?"
Hae-in tilted her head. "Of course." She raised an eyebrow. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"It's just that-" Ren abruptly stopped the moment he glanced at the person next to him.
There was hunger in Nora's eyes. Eyes that flashed an image of a predator that saw dinner around the corner and wasn't about to let anyone get in their way to it. He coughed into his hand, "What I meant to ask is, is the restaurant all you can eat?"
"Yes," she answered. "I'll have a table for us reserved at around eight o'clock this evening. So, we can all head out together once we clock out for the day. Is there anything else?"
"No ma'am." We all shook her heads.
I struggled to hide my grin. We were going to see the first reactions of our supervisor witnessing the gluttony that was Nora Valkyrie. That girl could eat everyone under the table and still have enough room for dessert. And possibly leftovers too.
"Very well, I'll let the four of you go now and get back to your work. Remember, eight o'clock reservation," she reminded.
"Come on everyone!" cheerily pushed Nora. "Let's get our work done and out of the way so we can prepare for dinner!" She was already building up her appetite. "It's gonna be good," she elongated, "eating tonight~!"
I shook my head in bemusement.
As I walked out, I couldn't help but pity as to what was going to befall upon Hae-in's wallet.
"Shirou?" A voice called out behind me.
"Not coming to bed?" wondered Pyrrha.
My eyes glanced up to the clock in the living room and then back at Pyrrha who hung at the doorway to the bedroom. "No, not yet, sorry," I apologized. "I still have some work that I need to finish if I don't want to fall behind." I leaned back in my seat to let her see what I was working on.
"Work followed you home?" The redhead shared a patient smile.
"My fault," I shrugged. "It's what I get for taking on a bunch of other people's work at the office."
Pyrrha turned pensive, "You know… it's one thing to be helpful, but don't you think it's a bit um… exploitive?"
I chuckled, "Of course it is, I'm not blind to that."
"So… why?" she further questioned.
My eyes laid on her for a short while. The pen in my hand dancing and spinning between my fingers all the while. "Because," I started, "while it is exploitative, it paints us in a good light. And when it paints us in a good light, it's easier for them to accept us. And when it's easier for them to accept us, they may be able to help us when we're in trouble."
Pyrrha pursed her lips. "I can help, if you'd like," she offered.
"Haha," my chest rumbled softly. "You're in your pajamas and you just brushed your teeth. Don't worry Pyrrha, I'll be finished and in bed before you know it."
"Really?" she crossed her arms underneath her bosom. Her stance and body language made it clear she didn't believe me.
"I'll be in bed before…" I squinted at the clock on the wall. "Before three."
"Three?" Pyrrha deadpanned.
"Two?" I offered sheepishly, but her expression remained the same. "Ok – how about one?"
"Are you sure I can't help you?" the redhead tried one more time.
"I appreciate it, but I'd feel terrible if I offloaded the work I accepted onto you," I declined politely.
Pyrrha pouted cutely before sighing in defeat. "Fine, but no later than one alright Shirou?"
My partner knew by now my propensity to work late in the night and forgo sleep. We were well into our first semester, yet Pyrrha had me figured out.
"Right, right, I promise," I smiled graciously. "One o'clock sharp, no later."
"Good," she nodded in approval.
"Well," I got up from my chair and stretched. "Since I have a bedtime then I'll need to put some stuff back in the office." I gestured with my eyes to the sheaf of folders off to the side. "Just some reference documents I brought along."
"Oh Shirou," her eyes rolled.
"Sorry, haha," I laughed it off while shrugging on my jacket. "I'll be back, don't worry."
"Well, alright then," her shoulder sagged a bit. "I'll head off to bed first then. Goodnight Shirou," she waved smally.
"Goodnight Pyrrha," I returned her wave.
The door to the room softly shut. For a brief moment, I stood in the dark hallway before exhaling out tiredly. My hand reached up to rub the back of my neck. "It seems like I won't have much time then…"
The office floor for Section Six, Human Resources, was quiet as a graveyard.
It was strange to see a whole room devoid of any living being. A quick glance to the Assistant Director's office also told me that it was empty by how the lights were off. An excited smirk formed on my face.
My legs quickly carried me to my desk and I quickly dumped the folders onto the surface. I gave another quick look around before making a beeline to a door across the room.
Archive Access Point 1.
"Do not proceed beyond this point without an escorting inspector," I read aloud.
The inside of my mouth suddenly went dry.
This was it. The moment I swiped my ID card and stepped through those doors. I would be stepping into a whole new world of development. The consequences of my actions whispered at the back of my head if I got caught. I would be getting myself into so much trouble that we would be blacklisted by the department. Beacon would most likely also dole out their punishment too, and not just on me, but to my team too.
My actions reflected upon my team.
It wasn't out of the realm of possibility that I could be kicked out and even jailed.
"Sorry everyone," I apologized to no one. My own selfish priorities overrode my usual sensibilities.
The card swiped through the reader. "Access granted, Trainee Emiya."
The door unlocked and I stepped through. In the room was a single seat in front of a large access console that took up almost the entirety of the area. I closed the door behind me and quickly sat down. My fingers tapped on the keyboard, bringing the machine to life.
"Archive Access Point 1 – Online."
The machine whirred, filling the void of silence.
"What would you like to do?"
I licked my lips followed by a moment of hesitation.
"Request – DNA records, person of interest: Miyu."
Go Gun-hee swirled the contents around in his mug. "Yuck, it's gone all cold." He tipped it back and grimaced. "One of these days I should get Ozpin to send me some of the stuff he gets from his staff," he grumbled quietly to himself.
A soft knock on his door alerted him.
"Who is it?"
"Cha Hae-in, sir," answered a feminine voice.
"Come on in Hae-in."
The familiar short bob of blonde hair came through.
"Director Go," she greeted politely.
"Agh, it's too late in the night for formalities," he waved her off. "An old man can get tired of hearing the word director after a long day, you know?"
"I know," she smirked. "I just wanted to annoy you."
Gung-hee sunk into his chair. "I see Jin-woo has rubbed off on you," he remarked dryly.
"A bit," she replied coyly.
"Well, what brings you here to my office at such a late hour?" he asked, getting to the point.
She presented him with a folder that was in her hand. "My report and assessment of Team SNPR from Beacon Academy."
"Oh?" He perked up in his seat and took the document into his hands. "How have they been doing?"
"A stark contrast to the usual rabble that we get from Beacon," she said succinctly.
"Ho-? That's a rather big compliment coming from you," he chuckled good-naturedly. "Usually, you're complaining about the students and how arrogant and big headed they can be."
"Sir, I don't complain," she corrected him, "I gripe."
"Isn't that the same thing?"
"It sounds nicer," smirked the blonde.
Gun-hee huffed in amusement, "Ha."
"But yes, I must say that Mister Emiya and his team do their best to prove me wrong. For being a bunch of first years, they've handled all that we've thrown at them admirably well. Their leader for instance shows a rather… overwhelming knowledge and familiarity with our procedures," commented Hae-in.
"How young is he again?" he asked, browsing through the team's files. "Seventeen? Eighteen?" he read. "Awfully young."
"Indeed," she quickly agreed. "It's been noted by other sections in the department that he's often informing his team and getting them up to speed with a lot of things. Whether it be investigative practices and habits, understanding and interpreting law, or familiarizing themselves with our conduct."
"Sounds like Mister Emiya comes from a background of law enforcement, don't you think?" speculated the elderly director.
"Does he?" further prodded the assistant director.
"Don't know," he admitted. "I would have to ask for more information about Mister Emiya from Ozpin himself. And you know that man can be real vague and mysterious when he wants to be when it comes to certain things."
"Wouldn't it be cooperative for him to share?"
"Of course, but would he? No, I've known Ozpin far longer than you have Hae-in. The dear headmaster can be quite protective of his secrets," he softly said. "Nonetheless, I'll ask him the next time I'm in a video conference with him."
His eyes read through the papers that summarized the huntsmen-in-training team's time and experience. "I hear you took them out on their first field investigation? How was it?"
"Smooth, no hiccups or anything. Well," she tilted her head, "as smooth as it can be with anything concerning Roman Torchwick that is. They did everything we taught them and interviewed as many eyewitnesses that were willing to step forward."
"Gah," he groused, "that damn Torchwick again. What a pain in our asses. To think he decided to show his ugly mug around the city once again after all these years. And why now of all times? Especially with the Vytal Festival coming up soon. He just had to pick a terrible time to cause trouble. You would think," he pitched the bridge of his nose. "That after he made off with all that money, he'd live in retirement or something."
"Maybe he got bored of retirement?"
"What? He got so bored from stealing all that money that he decided to now steal dust?" he chortled. "Then he should know better that stealing dust is only going to get him killed by the end of it. What's he going to do with all his ill-gotten gains? Sell it back onto the market? He of all people knows the cardinal rule when it comes to dust."
"The dust must flow."
Gun-hee let loose a tired and grizzled old sigh. Silence filled the room as the woman across from him gave him time to collect himself. "You know," he began, "if this keeps up, we might have to put Mister Emiya and his team on active duty. What with all these shortages of man-power and resources going on."
"Surely you're joking," Hae-in raised an eyebrow.
"Haha, a bit, but," his head swayed in contemplation, "realistically. If something did happen and we needed all the personnel activated? Then maybe, but I hope that it doesn't come to that," he murmured softly. "The growing threat of Roman's heists and him gallivanting around the city unperturbed is something we won't be able to ignore any longer."
"Then I hope it doesn't come to that," she chuckled along with him.
"Yeah, neither do I. With that being said, is there anything else you would like to report?"
"No," she shook her head. "That's all that I have that's prominent. If you want any more then I'll have to draft up a more thorough report."
"No, no need for that," he waved with his hand. "I think I can do just fine with the verbal report you've given me. Now then, if that's all, I'll be-"
The phone on his desk suddenly rang to life.
"What now?" he grumbled. "Hello? Director Go here."
His face froze as he listened to the first words from the call. His features immediately set Hae-in on edge as she stood a little straighter.
"The SDC Main Distribution Hub has just been robbed."
Dark green eyes swept across the room.
The man flashed out a charming smile to an audience in the dark. He had a slight spring to his step as he trailed along the edges of the spotlight. In one of his hands, he held a cane that concealed his nerves.
He strode back to the center of the spotlight, straightening his back so he stood tall and proud.
The silence was deafening, the gazes beyond the veil of darkness made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He could feel them waiting, the air was thick with apprehension and anxiety.
He smiled, "Ladies and gentlemen!" His voice was calm and soothing. "What you are about to see tonight can be termed as illusionist or even entertaining trifles." His smile turned into a mischievous grin. "Alas," he took off his bowler hat and tossed it up. "I cannot claim this next feat as an illusion."
The light followed the hat.
He tossed his hat up into the air several more times. Setting a norm for the audience to be accustomed to and capturing their attention. When he tossed it up, but this time with more effort, the audience obediently followed along, and softly gasped as it vanished before their sight. "Watch carefully," instructed the showman.
When he strode back, the main spotlight turned with him that revealed a set of doors. With both hands, he pushed the double doors wide open with practiced flourish. The first thing the audience saw was his missing hat. Another light shined when he bent down to pick up, illuminating the area beyond the doorway that elicited a frenzied reaction.
Behind the man, all they could see was crates and boxes of dust. The Schnee Dust Corporation logo stamped on every single one of them. The sight made it seem almost endless in its amount as the light faded away into darkness.
"You'll see no trickery!" He plopped his hat back atop his orange hair and plucked out a dust gem the size of his palm. "No trickery is employed here!" He repeated once more, presenting it to them, allowing the audience to inspect it and confirm that it was normal. "Merely a technique familiar to certain citizens of Mistral and various holy men of Vale."
With practiced confidence, he tossed the gem over his shoulder, and closed the door.
"Indeed, many of you may be familiar with this technique, but for those of you who aren't. Do not be alarmed!" He put up his hands placatingly with a reassuring smile. "What you are about to see…" his voice trailed off, charging the audience up with anticipation. "…is considered safe!"
He grabbed the brim of his hat and tossed it up.
The light followed along; however, it was slow enough that by the time it caught up to where it was at its highest it had already disappeared.
Heads turned, necks craned, and eyes scanned everywhere on the stage. The showman's eyes curved upwards in delight at those he could see that sat up in the front. Some of them were more perceptive than others and had kept their sights trained on the double doors.
There were always those that believed they could outsmart a magician. That if they had seen it once, then they had seen it all.
It filled him with great joy to crush their hopes ruthlessly.
When he felt that they had suffered long enough. He heel-turned and marched to the door. Hands firmly grasped both handles before pushing the door wide open.
Muffled gasps resounded throughout the once quiet room. Many wormed in their seats to no avail as their bondage kept them securely grounded. Chairs rattled and the shadows writhed in impotent rage at the sight of a simple red band bowler hat that innocently sat on the ground of a now empty room. Gone were the crates and boxes that were packed in tightly.
Everything had been picked clean. If it had been any more thorough, even the lighting and fixtures would have been plucked.
The audience's eyes snapped back to the man who dusted off his hat.
"Thank you, thank you!" He turned to his spectators. His body was framed perfectly in the doorway. "You all have been such a wonderful audience! But alas, I must cut our time short." He bowed gracefully, hat in hand. "I endeavor to see you all again shortly! To that, I bid you adieu!"
The doors were slammed shut by an unseen force. The loudness silenced the audience at the suddenness of it. Everything became eerily quiet as they peered at each other. Not a single body moved from their seat or made a sound. Was the performance truly over? Had the farce of a magic show finally ended?"
Then, with a loud creaking sound that caused most to wince, the doors began to open by themselves. They all turned to where the spotlight still shined and observed the opening.
Roman Torchwick was gone.
Along with the dust, the theatrics, and all of his tricks.
It's me again, updating late to the surprise of absolutely no one. So, if you've been wondering what I've been up to. Around the time that Chapter 9 went up was also around the time that Genshin Impact also went up. Suffice to say, I got sucked in and have been juggling that game with Fate/Grand Order too because I may or may not be whaling in both games.
Also got back into League of Legends because of my editor. And yes, I'm throwing him under the bus. He knows what he did.
Evangelion 3.0+1.0 was released recently and, funnily enough, was one of the primary motivators to get me back into writing again. Watching the last movie of the tetralogy moved my heart greatly. After 25 or so years of watching Evangelion and finally seeing it come to its conclusion with the rebuild series made me cry ugly tears. If you haven't watched it, I strongly recommend watching the tetralogy. If you don't, at least listen to the song "One Last Kiss" by Hikaru Utada. I listened to it non-stop while writing Chapter 10.
First things first, I want to clarify that this is not a multi-crossover whatsoever. Any named characters that are introduced are more like extended cameos. Essentially borrowing characters from another series to fill in for the stories. I don't particularly have an inclination towards original characters. So, instead I opt for characters from other series to play out roles to expand not only the story but also the world.
I would like to hope that it's not too jarring, but I do understand people leaving reviews that it brought them out of the story. However, that's something I'll deal with in choosing that decision going forward.
So, understand that while those characters may appear they won't really have much of an impact on the story. They're being used to drive the story forward for Shirou and the others.
Moving on to some readers leaving suggestions for team names. I can state with confidence that only one reader so far has made the correct guess as to what Team SNPR's name will be. It's a really big moment for the team and the story so I won't delve any further.
In any case, onto my actual thoughts about this chapter.
I'm very excited to finally write in Roman Torchwick and not just in passing or through news outlets. He's a fascinating character and I'm really looking forward to how everyone thinks of my interpretation of him in the coming chapters. There's a lot of different styles and takes that's been done on him, but I would like to say that mine will be very unique.
Initially, I had written him at the beginning of the chapter, but thought it would be better if it served as the end to the chapter after the Shirou and his team investigated one of his crime scenes. Hopefully, you the reader, may also share the same sentiments.
I always have fun writing about Shirou, Pyrrha, Ren, and Nora. There's a song that I tend to listen to whenever slice-of-life stuff happens, "Des Cordes Op. 1" by Shiro Sagisu. It's really nice and helps me lighten up the atmosphere. This time in Chapter 10, we get to read about them opening up just a bit more and setting more things up. Shirou and Pyrrha get a little closer and she begins to understand him just a bit more. We take a peek at what Ren and Nora were up to before Beacon. And them learning to be inspectors.
There's some tidbits, hints, and references as usual sprinkled throughout the story. Hidden in either dialogue or narration. If you spot them, feel free to leave a comment!
Anyhow, I think I've rambled on this author's note long enough. As always, I'm grateful to all of you for your continued readership throughout all these years. I hope you are staying safe and living well through these troubled times. I appreciate everyone taking the time to read my story and its updates. If you are able to, please leave a review of your thoughts on the chapter or story!
I value any critiques or comments that you may have. I will strive to keep improving to deliver a quality update for your reading experience. If you want to, feel free to send me a private message. I can be a by abysmal with replying, but I will nonetheless try to respond in a timely manner.
Once again, check my profile periodically as I usually post updates about the status of the chapter there.
Thank you for reading another update to this story!
Word count before A/N: 13,626
Proofread/Edited by: Stiama