The Mistral Connection
"Request – Birth Record Archive, name; Miyu Emiya."
"Error CS0103: The name "Miyu Emiya" does not exist in the current archival records."
My eyes lingered on the screen hoping that the computer would give me the answer I was looking for.
"Request – Citizen Registry Archive, name; Emiya Miyu."
"Error CS0103: The name "Emiya Miyu" does not exist in the current archival records."
Unconsciously, I grinded my teeth. My eyebrows furrowed deeper as I scratched the back of my head in frustration. I glanced at the clock for time. It was five o'clock on the dot which meant the sun was going to rise soon.
"Request – Name Registration Archive, name; Miyu Sakatsuki."
"Error CS0103: The name "Miyu Sakatsuki" does not-"
"God…" My hand came up and thumped against the console. "Damn it." An exhausted groan came out muffled as I rubbed my face tiredly. "This isn't… ugh, you've got to be kidding," I complained petulantly. "Was I simply too optimistic?"
I slumped in my seat and stared at the monitor.
It patiently waited for me to input another series of commands, but I wasn't sure if I was ready for more disappointment.
"Request – Vale Registry Archive, name; Miyu."
"Error CS0103: The name "Miyu" does not exist in the current archival records."
"God damn it."
I threw my head back and glared at the ceiling.
"This is so…. Grrrhh," I growled out in frustration. "Haa…"
I exhaled fully and tried to calm myself down. Getting agitated wasn't going to solve my problems. As cathartic as it would be to lash out in anger and ruin the console, all it served to do would be to get me in trouble.
What was it that the fake priest said?
Observe, analyze, and act.
"Alright, let's test something out really quick. Request – DNA records, person of interest: Shirou."
"Item Found: Three results returned. Valean Citizen – Shirou Emiya. Registered Beacon Academy Student – Shirou Emiya. Criminal Investigation Department – Shirou Emiya."
"Fantastic," I commented dryly. "I can find myself, but I can't find her huh?" I bit out angrily at the end. "Come on, what's going on? She arrived here before me. How can she not be in the system! This is outrageous! It's unfair! How can I be in the system and not her?!"
And then a betraying thought slowly crept up.
What if Miyu and I hadn't been transported into the same area? Let alone even in the same continent? What if the grail punted her to one of the other three kingdoms? Hell, what if she wasn't even registered within the kingdoms at all? What if she was in some small village that was tucked away and secluded from civilization?
What if she wasn't even-
I clamped down on that particular thought.
"I can't…" I breathed out heavily. "I can't think like that."
Even as I spoke those words, I knew it wasn't convincing.
"Screw this," I sighed, "I need to head back and salvage any sleep that I can. What a useless-" I bit down on my tongue. Ranting and raving wasn't doing me any favors and the lack of sleep sure made everything worse. It was better to call it a night and figure something else later.
If the Criminal Investigation Department didn't have what I needed then perhaps it was time to look elsewhere.
The access console died down as I shut it off and left the room.
I quietly opened the door to the apartment.
Everyone should still be asleep at this time. Although, Pyrrha was an early riser like me, as long as I didn't dilly-dally any further, everyone should be none the wiser.
I slipped off my shoes and tucked them neatly with the others.
"Shi-" A yawn interrupted them. "-rou?"
Well – there went that idea of anyone being none the wiser.
"Good morning Pyrrha," I greeted tiredly with a smile.
The redhead was still trying to rub the sleep out of her eyes. She was already dressed for her workout in her usual sports bra and leggings. "G-Good morning…" She looked over at me, still stuck in the suit and tie uniform. "Were you up all this time… again?"
"Haha," I laughed sheepishly. "Sorry?" I offered weakly. "Work has been really… hectic lately!"
Pyrrha wore a visible frown. "I'm really getting concerned about them overworking you Shirou." She stepped up closer. "I know you've told me it's important, but I can't ignore the effects it's starting to have on you. If you'd like, I can talk to Miss Cha about-"
"N-No!" My eyes widened and I flinched as my protest came out a bit too loudly. "I mean, sorry, yeah… it's been a bit difficult. Sorry," I found myself sighing heavily. The past couple of days in the archival room were starting to take its toll on me. Returning back to the apartment disappointed night after night was demoralizing. "But there's no need to go to Miss Cha or anything like that. I think I've gotten most of the work out of the way… hopefully."
Those piercing green eyes stared at me. They searched intently into mine before Pyrrha's features slowly softened. Without provocation or a heads up, she wrapped her arms tightly around me in a warm embrace.
"P-Pyrrha?" I choked out.
She pulled away a bit, her face flushing heavily. "S-Sorry, but it looked like you really needed a hug. My mom would give me hugs whenever I had that type of disappointed look on my face."
Once again, Pyrrha wormed her way into my heart.
"Feels nice right?"
"Yeah…" I replied softly and hugged her back. "It does."
We stayed like this for a moment. Just the two of us in the middle of a dark hallway in the early hours of morning. My eyes closed as I enjoyed this brief respite.
"Feel better, Shirou?" she tenderly asked in a soft voice.
"Yeah… I do."
Pyrrha and I pulled away from each other. A part of me yearned for more of that warm embrace, but I pushed down the feeling. "I suppose… I should head to bed and try to catch up on as much sleep as I can." My hand rubbed at the back of my neck.
"Sounds good," she nodded. "When I get back, I'll let Ren and Nora know to let you sleep in as much as possible. Wouldn't want our dear leader sleep deprived," winked Pyrrha.
"Right, right," I agreed tiredly with a yawn. "Have a nice workout Pyrrha."
"Thanks, and goodnight. Well, technically it's morning, but you get my point," she giggled. "I'll be off!"
I scratched the back of my head as another yawn escaped my mouth. The door clicked shut as Pyrrha left to go do her morning exercises. "Ugh, I should probably go shower after a long night like this one. But whatever, I'll shower when I wake up."
My feet dragged me over to the bedroom I shared with Pyrrha. I quickly shed off my work clothes and crawled into bed.
"That hug… really was nice…"
"O-Oh my gosh…"
The moment Pyrrha Nikos closed the door behind her, she released a shaky breath. Her hands reached up to cover her face in growing embarrassment. She could feel the blood rushing to her head as her vision swam.
"That was probably the bravest thing I've done," she whispered quietly.
Pyrrha wasn't sure what compelled her to go in for the hug, but the fact that he hadn't rejected or pushed her away only served to build up her confidence. "Ah, haha," she squeezed her eyes shut, "I never realized it until now, but… he's got nice arms."
The blush came back in full force and the back of her head hit the door lightly.
A goofy grin wormed its way to her face.
Basking in the afterglow, she inhaled deeply before exhaling audibly and shaking her head. "C'mon girl," she patted her face softly. "Get your head in the game!"
With her hands, she pushed off the door and began her walk to the gym. There was a light spring to her step all the while. And even when she tried shaking it off, that goofy grin was still ever present.
"That hug… really was nice…"
I stifled a loud yawn into my hand.
"Shirou?" Pyrrha's voice called out to my right.
"Hmm?" I turned to her.
She held two steaming cups of coffee. "Coffee?" Pyrrha held one out with a beatific smile. "You look like you could use a pick me up."
"Thanks," I shot her a look of gratitude.
When our fingers brushed against each other, a light flush bloomed across both our faces.
"I-It was no problem. I wasn't sure if you liked cream or sugar so I left them out," informed Pyrrha.
"It's okay. I don't mind my coffee black."
"Great, that's great! I guess that makes the two of us then!" She held her cup out. "Cheers!"
Off to my left, I could spot Nora nudging her elbow into Rem's arm. "Psst, hey Ren. You see what I'm seeing over here?"
He blinked before turning to his partner. That smug grin that he wore told Nora a thousand words. "It's so nice to see them growing up." His voice was like a proud parent. "They grow up so fast," he wiped a non-existent tear from his eyes.
My right eye twitched.
Pyrrha gracefully sipped at her hot beverage to hide her face.
"I know Renny! Next thing you know they'll be hugging, and then-!" She suddenly gasped dramatically. "Then they'll be holding hands! Ohh~ how lewd of them!"
So – this was what it was like to be on the receiving end of being teased. I bit down on an exasperated sigh; fair play was fair play. It seemed like Ren was getting back at me for leaving him to dry back at Mister Hullum's dust shop.
"Anyways," I sipped my coffee. "The office has been hectic lately."
"Yeah, it's been really crazy the past couple of days!" added Nora. "Like, I mean, everyone is really on the fritz lately! Even Miss Cha looked like she lost some sleep too!"
"At the risk of stating the obvious. I'm almost certain that the department is going to be taking over the Torchwick Case due to the V.P.D. dropping the ball badly," said Ren. He casted his gaze all around the office to observe all the workers who had been pulling over time. "Ever since Torchwick cleaned out the distribution hub, everyone has been on edge."
"Maaan," Nora stretched her arms over her head, "Torchwick really humiliated the V.P.D. huh?"
"Ha," Ren huffed. "That's an understatement. Vale P.D. has been chasing him for months to no avail. If anything, it's more surprising the C.I.D. didn't take on the case earlier. Whatever they're working on must really be on the hush-hush side of things for them to not focus on Torchwick."
"I really, really want to know what they're working on," sighed Nora. "Like the secret is killing me!"
Ren shrugged his shoulders. "Could be a bunch of guesses, but well…" He poked his head up to look around quickly before ducking down and hushing his voice. "My money is on the White Fang."
"Shh!" Ren hissed with his finger on his lips and hers. "Keep your voice down Nora! But yes, that's the only thing that makes sense for them to be so secretive. Remember, a couple months before the semester started? On the news, they reported that a train carrying precious cargo and military-grade equipment was stolen."
My eyebrows shot up. That was certainly something to be worried about. A whole train carrying weapons and other things being stolen by a faunus supremacist group with known terrorist tendencies? Yeah, that was certainly a recipe for disaster waiting to happen.
"That really big incident in the Forever Falls?" Nora's eyes bugged out. "Was that really them?!"
"Well, they didn't report it as such, but I don't blame the VNN for not reporting it. People would get really scared if they heard that it was the White Fang that stole the cargo. And when people start getting scared, you know that the Grimm isn't too far behind."
"But don't people deserve to know the truth?" asked Pyrrha.
"They do," agreed Ren, "however, you have to look at it another way. Say you tell the truth, a person can be smart, but people are dumb. It's easy for a group to panic, even if you know deep down there isn't anything to be afraid of."
Pyrrha grimaced at personally experiencing first hand when it concerned herd mentality. "Y-Yeah… you're right."
"When do you think they're going to announce the department's takeover?" I asked casually.
"I don't know," shrugged Ren, "maybe in like-"
"Attention everyone!" Cha Hae-in's voice announced throughout the office.
"Speak of the devil," I smirked at Ren. "Looks like I got my answer."
"In a brief moment, Director Go will be addressing our new Priority One!"
"A new Priority One?!" winced a person not too far from us. The term 'priority one' was quickly sending everyone in the office into a frenzy.
"Damn it, a new priority?! Are you serious? We're going to have to deal with two Priority Ones?!" cried another worker.
"Uggghhh." Another person let loose the loudest of groans that everyone seemed to share. "Well, I guess I'll be earning my overtime bonuses this year. At least with this, maybe I can whale for that five-star without feeling guilty about eating into my paycheck…" A couple folks shared a laugh with the man.
Go Gun-hee's voice was unmistakable. Everyone fell silent, giving the man their full attention as they sat or stood up a little straighter.
"As of today, at 1000 hours, the Criminal Investigation Department will be officially announcing to the public that we will be taking over the investigation and apprehension of Roman Torchwick. Our new Priority One. Every Section within the Department will be getting their new orders and assignments at 0930. Due to the severity of the recent events, the Council of Vale has asked us for a complete mobilization. From here on out, Roman Torchwick is public enemy number one."
"Public enemy number one?" murmured Nora.
"Makes sense," Ren kept his voice low. "The Vytal Festival is getting closer. They want this wrapped up and done before then."
"Not to mention the dust shortages," I threw in. "The city must really be feeling the pinch for them to make him a Priority One."
"We will be rerouting resources to both Priority Ones accordingly. Section Heads will be receiving statuses on which Priority One assignment they will be handling. All information will be on a need-to-know basis from here on out. Good hunting Inspectors."
Gun-hee kept himself short and to the point. He wasn't one to mince words and the severity in his voice through the open comms meant that everyone was going to be pulling their weight and then some. One way or another, it didn't bode well for everyone's time off.
"Team SNPR," Cha Hae-in's head popped out of her office. "Step inside, I'll be discussing what you'll be doing for the remainder of your week here."
I glanced at my team. "Let's go, it sounds serious."
Cha Hae-in laced her fingers together as she propped up her elbows on her desk.
"I'll cut straight to the point. Due to the shortage of manpower and restructuring from two Priority One cases. Director Go has authorized and approved in upgrading your team's status to become provisional inspectors."
We all blinked at the suddenness.
Our blonde supervisor dropped a whole load of responsibilities onto our shoulders.
"W-Whoa," Nora sucked in a deep breath. "Are you… for real?"
"Yes," curtly nodded Hae-in. "It's one bad thing after another. So, while you're here finishing out the rest of your work-study. You'll be temporarily activated as a four-man cell of the department. I will still be available to provide oversight and supervision for your team, however the only change is that you'll be going out into the field without me."
I stepped up and so did the rest of my team, "What will our first assignment be?"
The blonde assistant director smiled in approval. "Same thing as last time." She pulled out a folder. "Another dust shop was hit last night, this time it's in the borough of Knightsbridge, a highly affluent area. Initial reports from the V.P.D. says it's another smash and grab."
She gave us a moment to parse through some of the papers.
"My suggestion is to quickly investigate the store and determine if you can find any leads or patterns. You'll be receiving a certain level of autonomy as a cell. Are there any questions?" she asked.
"No ma'am, we understand our orders. Investigate the dust shop in Knightsbridge and gather any information concerning Torchwick," I intoned.
"Very well – Good hunting Team SNPR."
We were quickly out of the office the moment she dismissed us.
It was an understatement when Cha Hae-in described Knightsbridge as an affluent borough.
As I drove through the streets, it fit the trope of a well-to-do area. Posh, upscale, and trendy luxury cars were a common sight to see, with high-end restaurants and shops at every corner. Pedestrians walked around the streets carefree knowing that their upscale community was well patrolled by the policemen of Vale City.
In addition, the sheer abundance of advertisements that hung everywhere bespoke the sense that people spent money without care. The digital screens and billboards plastered everywhere marketed anything from fine jewelry to a widely popular cereal brand.
In particular, there was a common theme that kept cropping up.
Nora whistled from the back seat. "Pyrrha, you are just everywhere!"
The aforementioned redhead buried her face with her hand in growing embarrassment. "Before I left… I was still contractually obligated to advertise products. And well, I had to do um… a lot," she grimaced at the end. "Like a lot, a lot."
"You can say that again," said a wide-eyed Nora looking around. "There's one for that one sugary cereal, sports brand from Mistral, luxury clothing brands from both Mistral and Vale! Oh hey, that sports clothing brand is actually pretty good, but kind of expensive," rambled on Nora.
I refrained from commenting when I glanced at Pyrrha.
She tried laughing it off. "Haha, like I said, contractually obligated. I thought by now with how I suddenly announced my retirement everyone would move on. But," a terse sigh escaped her mouth, "I guess that was a bit too much wishful thinking."
"Alright," I spoke up, "we're almost there. I can see the dust store up ahead."
The high-end dust shop being robbed in the middle of the shopping district garnered a lot of looks and gawkers. There were two V.P.D. squad cars parked nearby with two police officers trying to back people up to tape off the area. I could already spot some of the bystanders with scrolls in their hands trying to take pictures.
I slowed to a stop and parked the vehicle behind one of the squad cars.
"Everyone remembers their roles?" I shared a look at my team to which they all nodded. "We're going to make this quick. In and out, just like last time. Lots of cameras on this one and a whole lot more people too. Pyrrha, Nora, you two are on evidence collection duty again. Ren, you're with me again."
"Roger that captain!" saluted Nora.
"Got it Shirou," responded Pyrrha who kept glancing at the crowd.
"As you say," answered Ren.
I inhaled a deep breath and exhaled. "Shades on, move out team."
The cold fall breeze washed over us when we stepped out.
I slipped on the coat before closing the door. As we stepped out, the crowd's eyes were immediately upon us. Cameras flashed as the crowd immediately recognized that we were different from the V.P.D. that was on the scene.
Thankfully, the police had set up a perimeter around the shop far enough that the crowd wouldn't be able to disturb us. It was hard to discern what the crowd was saying as all I could make out was murmuring, but I decided to ignore it as they weren't important.
Pyrrha had the foresight to exit on the other side of the vehicle with Nora away from the crowd. There was no telling how fast the crowd could be whipped into a frenzy if they saw her. It didn't help that her face was plastered practically everywhere.
I turned my attention onto the officer that was in charge. "Good morning," I greeted formally. My I.D. and badge were already pulled out from my inner coat.
"Well, hello, hello," he grinned, "isn't it nice to see a familiar face again."
I blinked when I recognized the officer's voice. "Good to see you again Sergeant Burns," I offered a pleasant smile.
He pulled down his sunglasses. "Provisional Inspector Emiya?" he read and pulled his shades back up before looking over my shoulder. "Why, just a couple days ago you were a trainee! Moving up fast in the world, aren't you?" he joked. "I'm guessing Senior Inspector Cha isn't here with you?"
"Haha," I responded with a chuckle. "Sorry, it's just me and my team today. And we're only temporarily activated until our work-study is finished."
"That bad huh?" he asked with a grimace.
"Yeah," I simply replied.
Sergeant Burns clicked his tongue. "I guess we should be apologizing. That damn Torchwick humiliated the hell out of us. We're gonna be catchin' a whole load of flak for this one for years to come."
"No one's to really blame," I reasoned with him. "Both of the departments are stretched thin. Why do you think we're here and not actual Inspectors?"
"Ha, true, true," he nodded in agreement. "Well, since you and your team are here. I'm guessing you're doing the same thing as last time?"
"Right, same thing as before," I confirmed.
"Alright then," Burns clapped his hands. "A shame that we haven't been able to meet under better circumstances." He offered a smile. "I usually joke with Senior Inspector Cha and show off pictures of my wife and daughter. But with how things have been going lately? I haven't had time to really catch up with her," he sighed melancholically.
"I'm sure your wife and daughter are very beautiful," I offered respectfully.
"Maybe next time?" he grinned.
"Maybe next time." I returned his grin.
"Ok – here's the rundown," he began. "Officer Heyman and I have been keeping the folks at bay. Sergeant Ramsay and Officer Sorola are inside the shop with the owner. They can get you up to speed and hand things off to you for the duration of your stay. Oh, and one more thing," he leaned in close. "We'll give your friend a chance to duck into the shop quickly before they spot her."
I gave him a grateful smile. "Thanks, I owe you one."
He chuckled, "Don't worry, we all look out for one another! Good hunting Inspector Emiya." Burns tossed up a wave as he rejoined with his partner.
The officer spoke something into Heyman's ear before they both nodded in our direction. They did something as the crowd began diverting their attention to the two police officers. I motioned to the rest of my team and they quickly got the signal.
Pyrrha in particular did not even look in the crowd's direction and shadowed Nora closely as they entered the shop first. Ren and I followed suit before shutting the door behind us.
The state of the dust shop was far from pretty.
In fact, if I had to compare it to Mister Hullum's, I would wager that his store was left in a better shape than the one we were currently in. There were bullet holes in the ceiling, pockmarks in the floor, and every single display was smashed in.
Torchwick was a lot more aggressive with this store.
"Are you four relieving me?" asked one of the officers.
He had a wiry build with a rather narrow face. The officer sported a decently kept beard unlike his partner who was clean shaven. He wore the standard uniform blues like Sergeant Burns and Officer Heyman outside.
I presented my badge and I.D. to him. "We're here on evidence collection duty."
"Huh – so a temporary relief," he huffed and his shoulders slumped. "Well, it's better than no relief, I guess. I'm Sergeant Ramsay and that's Officer Sorola," he pointed over to his partner who acknowledged us with a curt nod. "And this here," he jerked his thumb at the last person, "is the owner of this dust shop."
The store owner was dressed in smart business casual attire. He wore a fitted suit jacket, a clean white button-down shirt, chinos, and tan colored brogues. The man definitely fit the part of fitting in with the rest of Knightsbridge.
He bristled as he stepped up. "I think I can introduce myself, thank you very much," he pointed his nose up at the two officers. "As you have been informed, I am the owner and proprietor of 'La Poussière', the finest Dust shop in Knightsbridge. I offer the best in the business with high quality equipment and services. We are the best, carry only the best, and serve only the best."
I blinked and took a moment to soak that introduction in. The man had never even offered his name, just information about his shop. "Inspector Emiya," I politely offered my hand. I was going to have to start somewhere.
He looked down at the appendage and then back up. "Saldana."
I refrained from rolling my eyes as I pulled back my hand. I could see why the two officers looked irritated. Through the corner of my eyes, the officers shrugged their shoulders. Sergeant Ramsay discretely pointed at Saldana and mouthed to me, 'Asshole.'
It was my problem now.
"We're here to collect evidence and photos of the incident. If you allow us, we'll also be grabbing recordings from any security cameras that you have installed. Is this okay with you?" I asked politely.
"Yes, yes," he flippantly replied. "That's your job, so go on and do your job."
I fought back the urge to sigh and motioned for Pyrrha and Nora to begin unpacking the equipment.
When Pyrrha moved out from behind me, I heard a sharp gasp from the store owner. "O-Oh my stars and garden…" His eyes went wide. "Is… is that The Invincible Girl that I see? The four-time champion in my shop!? In Knightsbridge?!"
Oh boy – here we go.
I moved to step in front of him. "Sir I-"
"Shush you," he stuck his hand in front of my face and sidestepped me. "Oh, oh my word, you really are Pyrrha Nikos! Pyrrha Nikos is in my dust shop!"
My right eye twitched.
Pyrrha, with practiced ease, slid on her public mask in an instant. "Hello Mister Saldana!" she pleasantly greeted him.
"O-Oh my! You even know my name!"
I inhaled slowly and exhaled even slower.
"The biggest celebrity of all of Mistral is right here in front of me! This is absolutely wondrous! Somehow, this day is both the worst and greatest day of my life!" He gleefully celebrated his fortune and misfortune. "I'm so, so terribly sorry that my store is in such a disarray, but I'll have you know that not everything was damaged! I managed to protect your Mistral Tournament Series Collectibles over there," he pointed off to a corner. "Still in perfect condition!"
My redheaded teammate's smile strained. "That's wonderful to hear! However, I must-"
Pyrrha's cheery tone was so fake that it grated my nerves. Even Ren and Nora, and the two officers, winced at the fakeness. Everyone could see through it except for the store owner himself.
Her knuckles went white from how hard she was gripping the handles to the equipment.
"Oh please, please," he interrupted her, "it would mean the world to me if I could grab a selfie with you in my store! All the other stores in Knightsbridge would absolutely be apoplectic if they knew you were in here! Oh, I can just already see their faces turn green with envy!"
"Mister Saldana, please I-"
"Oh? Did you need better lighting?" he tilted his head obliviously. "Or perhaps a selfie is a bit too drab and commoner-like? Oh, what am I saying? A selfie is way too tacky for someone such as the-"
Nora, seemingly having had enough of this, was in motion to interject on Pyrrha's behalf. The orange haired girl glowered at the man with murder in her eyes. I had never seen Nora so angry before since I arrived.
However – Ren's hand latched out to her sleeve and pulled her in close to him.
"Ren, let me go now," she growled.
"No," he refused. "Just watch."
The three of us stood off to the side and watched.
Pyrrha straightened her back and dropped all the pretenses. "Mister Saldana," she called out slowly. "I would like to remind you that I'm with the Criminal Investigation Department." The redhead smiled once again laced with a certain viciousness. "As we are currently on an ongoing investigation. I must remind you that interfering with my job is the same as obstructing justice under 18 V.C.C. Section 1519."
Saldana clamped his mouth shut, color draining from his face. "I- um…"
"Interfering during an investigation can be punishable by up to three," she stressed, "years in prison if charged by the court of the judge. Which I'm more than sure that someone such as yourself wouldn't want, right?"
"R-Right, no, yes, interfering with your work would be very, very bad!" stuttered the store owner. "I- I apologize for my transgressions! If, if the C.I.D. has Pyrrha Nikos then surely, they'll be able to apprehend Torchwick in no time!"
"As long as you cooperate with us by talking with my teammates Inspector Emiya and Inspector Lie," she closed her eyes with a smile.
"Y-Yes, cooperation! Of course, that's what I would like to do! Anything that Inspector Emiya and Inspector Lie needs!" he replied hurriedly. The man wanted out of this situation with Pyrrha and turned to me and Ren. "If you two would like any refreshing beverages before we begin with your questions?"
I glanced at Ren and Nora. We all sported similar smirks on our faces.
"Tea, Ren?" I asked him.
"Tea sounds good." Ren turned to Mister Saldana.
"R-Right, I'll be right back with the tea!" He forced a smile and scurried off.
The moment he was out of sight. Pyrrha sighed out and hung her head. I placed a comforting hand on her shoulder followed by Ren and Nora.
"Ah," Pyrrha made a sound. "H-Haha," followed by a nervous chuckle. "I-… I'm sorry you had to see that." Her cheeks flushed profusely. "That was…"
"You don't have to apologize for anything," I stopped her.
"That's right, we have your back. No matter what Pyrrha," supported Ren.
"Kneecaps," stated Nora.
That was all Nora needed to say to break the tension. We all shared a laugh as a team, but we all knew she said it in both jest and seriousness. That girl was more than willing to break someone's kneecaps if it meant protecting her friend.
"Thank you… everyone," said Pyrrha softly.
"With that out of the way." I looked at my team. "Let's get to work."
Pyrrha, Nora, and Ren nodded resolutely before breaking off. Ren stuck close by as we both waited for the man to come back with our beverages.
"Damn," whistled Sergeant Ramsay. "That certainly made my day."
"You're just happy that someone put that dick in his place," muttered Sorola.
"Hey," Ramsay sounded offended, "don't tell me that wasn't one of the most satisfying things you just witnessed."
Sorola smirked knowingly, "Geoff, one of these days. Griffon should really teach you how to be tact and subtle."
"What do you mean man? I'll have you know I am tactically subtle."
"No, you idiot," he palmed his forehead. "I said tact, tact as in having a keen sense of things."
Ren and I shook our heads as we listened to their bickering.
It wasn't long before Mister Saldana reappeared with hot tea on a serving platter. This time around, he was a lot more pliable and cooperative. His head was kept noticeably down the entire time. Cowed by Pyrrha who had finally put her foot down when it came to an unruly fan.
Sergeant Ramsay was right, that was definitely satisfying seeing Pyrrha being assertive.
"Thank you for your cooperation, Mister Saldana," I extended my hand out.
This time around, he wisely took the appendage albeit weakly. "Y-Yes, thank you for you and your teams… dutiful duties," he winced. "I appreciate," his eyes glanced over to Pyrrha before quickly backing away. "You and the department for coming out here."
I smiled, barely hiding my smirk. "You'll be kept in touch through the V.P.D. on any findings concerning Torchwick. Regarding the damages to your property, you'll have to talk with your insurance company. Do you have any more questions for me or my team before we leave?"
Mister Saldana's eyes lurched towards Pyrrha once again before it snapped back to me. "N-No, none whatsoever." He forced out a grateful smile. "I hope I was able to contribute something meaningful to your investigation."
"Have a nice day Mister Saldana."
On my way out, I tossed a wave to the two officers inside as they took back over. Sergeant Burns threw up a two-fingered salute upon seeing me. I acknowledged him with a nod before quickly reconvening with my team at our vehicle.
"Phew," Nora stretched her back until she felt a pop. "Glad we got that over quick. That Saldana guy, sheesh," she shook her head, "was a real character alright. I'm glad to finally get out of here."
"This time around it was pretty cut and dry," responded Ren. "Roman went in, shoved a gun in Mister Saldana's face, grabbed the dust and all of the lien, trashed the shop, and then went on his own merry way."
"Somehow, I don't feel bad at all for the guy," callously shrugged Nora.
"Don't blame you," Ren shared a small smirk. "Nevertheless, this doesn't exactly get us anywhere concerning Torchwick."
"We're pretty much going to be stuck in the same place as the V.P.D. aren't we?" chimed Pyrrha.
"If the C.I.D. decides to play defensively like the police department?" Ren glanced at the redhead. "Then yeah, they'll probably be given the run around all the same. Just responding to incidents instead of proactively searching for him."
We all climbed into the vehicle and settled in our seats. My eyes lingered on the store we just exited from. A thought brewed at the back of my head due to Ren's comments. If playing a defensive game didn't work out then that only left an offensive approach on the table. And playing offensively meant utilizing unorthodox methods.
Which, to me meant going to less than reputable sources to gain leads on Roman Torchwick.
"Alright," I said, suddenly catching everyone's attention. "Then let's play an attacking game."
"Attacking game?" repeated Nora. "Whaddya mean by that Shirou?"
I turned to her with a small smile. "The ball is in our court. We were granted autonomy by Miss Cha, so we might as well use it."
Ren caught on quickly. "Shirou," he licked his lips. "You're not suggesting…"
He blinked and inhaled slowly before exhaling. "I see."
Pyrrha glanced between the two of us, a confused expression on her face. "I-I'm not quite following."
"I'm suggesting that we look for info from sources that aren't necessarily legal," I stated clearly. "And at that place, we may or may not find a person that knows what's what. It all depends if we can find a person with the right sources and the right temperament that's willing to talk to us."
Ren and Nora seemed to be communicating wordlessly to one another. Their eyes danced around momentarily, each sending their own message. Whatever it was, Nora closed her eyes and consented.
"Shirou," Ren called out. "I… I believe I can assist in that regard."
A lone eyebrow slowly rose at the hesitancy in his voice.
"There's…" He did his best to steady his breathing. "There's a place I know that fits what you're looking for."
"That's," I regarded my words carefully. There was a certain type of tension in the air from Ren and Nora. It reminded me of myself whenever the subject about my past was brought up. "Convenient."
Ren winced and I stuffed down my own reaction as well. A not-so-great response from my part. "Yes," he sighed out, "but, I just…" he paused and closed his eyes for effect. "I'll tell you when we get there, is that okay? You're probably wondering a bunch of questions. Just, allow me some time to collect myself. I'll clear things up once we get there."
"Alright," I nodded.
I started up the vehicle and pulled out from the street. The ride to the location provided by Ren was a long and quiet one. Not a word was peeped out from anyone. Pyrrha, who sat next to me on the passenger seat, shot worrying glances to the back.
My hands tightened on the steering wheel.
What was I getting my team into?
"Park there," pointed Ren.
I slowed the vehicle to a stop on one side of the street next to a parking meter. When the vehicle turned off, I looked up into the rearview mirror and saw Ren collecting himself. Throughout our way here, he whispered with Nora back and forth. Sometimes pausing to look outside the window, other times directing me where to go.
For one reason or another, every time I stared at Ren, it looked like I was gazing into a mirror.
That appearance of trying to hide something, but finding out that it eventually wormed its way into the spotlight. Nora was trying her best to support her long-time companion as best as she could. Her hand wrapped tightly around his, discreetly backing him up.
The prolonged silence felt heavy in the vehicle.
However, it wasn't my place to break that silence. Ren appeared troubled as is, and me pressing him for answers wouldn't do anyone any favors.
Ren's chest rose and fell. "A couple days ago, we had a conversation back at North By. Do you remember it?"
"Yeah, I do."
"I…" he gulped, "I want to be transparent. With the both of you, that is," quickly added Ren when he glanced at Pyrrha. "About some of the circumstances Nora and I had when we first moved here to Vale."
"Ren, it's okay," placatingly smiled Pyrrha. "You needn't have to explain yourself."
"No," he shook his head, looking resolute. "I must."
It quieted Pyrrha immediately, her smile fading fast.
"Because the moment I walk us into that building," his eyes pointed at the building across the street. "Will be the moment you and Shirou will see the two of us in a whole different way." Ren's voice was more subdued than usual. "And we all know; things change when you discover something new. They always do…"
Neither Pyrrha or I were able to find our words.
Because of me, I had inadvertently unraveled something that Ren and Nora had sequestered away. Because of me, Ren was digging up something that he didn't want anyone else to ever find out about. It was because of me, that two people that I've befriended closely in this new world, now felt like they were in the proverbial hot seat.
Because of me.
And yet – I couldn't peel my eyes away from Ren.
The more I stared, the more I realized that I could be him right there, right now. Someone, anyone, just needed to ask the right questions, say the right words, and I would be in the same hot seat like Ren and Nora. That someone, whether it was Pyrrha or Blake, could accidentally pressed the right buttons and I would spill everything.
After all, only a hypocrite and liar would ask their friends to reveal their secret while guarding their own.
"It was hard," softly began Ren. "Two immigrant kids with nothing but the clothes on their back and a scrunched up one-way ticket to Vale in their hands. I can still remember like it was yesterday when we first stepped off the boat." He shook his head. "It was hard," he said once again. "Vale does try it's best, but sometimes people just… fall through the cracks."
"No one wants to take in two kids, let alone Mistralian kids," said Nora. "The orphanage was okay, but you know how things tend to end with that route," she shrugged helplessly. "It didn't help that Ren and I refused to be separated no matter what."
"Yeah…" he nodded along. "And so, when options began running out. I turned to people who wouldn't turn their backs on us."
"Other Mistralians," answered Pyrrha.
"I-" he briefly closed his eyes before opening them. "We did what we had to do to survive." Ren's eyes were filled with steely resolve not unlike mine. "I made sure that no matter what, Nora and I would get through that tumultuous time in our life in one piece. Together."
"Ren… Nora, who are some of these people exactly?" carefully asked Pyrrha.
The two looked at each other before Ren answered plainly, "The Xiong Crime Family."
And now, it all made sense as to why and how our two teammates had so many jobs prior to Beacon. No one in their right mind would hire immigrant orphans. That meant they had to seek employment through other means. And that other means was through the seedy underworld.
They were given access to resources that would typically never be allowed to them. All those jobs that they had were because of that crime family.
"Oh…" Was all that Pyrrha could muster.
"I wasn't lying when I said it was a… really, really stressful time for us when we were waiting on the mail to inform us whether we'd be accepted or not into Beacon," stated Nora with a grimace. "It was… rough."
I stared intently at Ren.
It was here, in this car, on some busy commercial street. That I realized Ren and I were more alike than I could ever possibly imagine. That although we were from different worlds and lived different lives, it did not change the fact that we shared the same type of pain and suffering.
"Ren," I spoke up for the first time in a while. "Nora."
I turned to address both of them.
"I want you both to know that I will always see you two as one of the first friends I made when I first arrived here. Your circumstances change nothing, that going forward I am even more grateful that I was afforded the opportunity to meet you. Regardless of who you were or what you did. What matters most to me, is the here and now, and the future from here on out."
Nora appeared to be moved as she struggled to hold herself back from tears. "S-Shirou," she sniffed.
"Thank you… Shirou." Ren's shoulders visibly relaxed and he let go of the tension he held within himself. He audibly exhaled as he leaned back into the headrest. "I want you, and Pyrrha, to know that… that I too am grateful to have met you both."
"S-Same." Nora's nose being all runny caused her to sniff a lot. "I honestly thought that this would've gone a lot worse for some reason. But… seeing you two still seeing us the same kinda makes me feel silly, hehe," she scratched the back of her head.
"No, no, it's alright, really," reassured Pyrrha. "It took a lot of courage for the two of you to come out like that. More courage than I could possibly ever conjure up if I'm being quite honest. If anything, I feel like we are getting closer as we get to know each other more."
I ran a hand through my hair. "Hey Pyrrha, let's give Ren and Nora some time alone. You two," I turned to them, "take your time alright? She and I will be waiting outside."
"Sounds like a good idea!" chirped Pyrrha. "I think some fresh air will do us wonders!"
My partner and I stepped out alone onto the sidewalk, waiting together patiently for our other halves.
I stood out in the cold streets with my arms crossed.
Silently contemplating the irony of the situation between myself and my other two teammates.
Ren and Nora revealing a big part of their history stirred something in my chest. A gnawing type of guilt that I was unable to beat down or shake myself away from.
How would I even go about explaining my situation in the first place?
'I have a secret I haven't told anyone – I'm a Magi.'
I rolled my eyes as that sounded absolutely ridiculous even in my head. The rabbit hole went further now that I thought about it.
'I have another secret – I'm actually from another world looking for my sister.'
And then that opens an even messier bigger can of worms.
'Also, in choosing to save my sister, I threw away my world's hope for salvation.'
I rubbed my eyebrows in consideration of those things. The more I thought about it, the bleaker things got. I knew that it was a matter of time before I would be put in the same situation as Ren and Nora. Whether I was willing to divulge my secret was what greatly concerned me.
"A lien for your thoughts Shirou?" poked Pyrrha as she stepped closely beside me.
I turned to her with a tired look, but smiled with my eyes. "Just… you know, going over the things about Ren and Nora."
"Yeah, that was some… heavy stuff." Pyrrha drew closer when a gust of wind blew through. "But I think in the end we will all come out for the better."
"You think so?"
"Yeah, I think so," she reaffirmed. "Ren's quiet and reserved, but once you pull him out of his shell. He's really supportive, caring, and kind. The same thing with Nora. Yeah, she can be boisterous and rowdy, but at the end of the day. She really does care for you and it's nice knowing that she'll always have your back."
She offered out a rare, from the heart, smile to the two still in the vehicle.
"You know," Pyrrha turned to me, "I was a bit apprehensive about who our other two teammates would be. When our names were called up to form our team. I had a dozen thoughts just running all around my head. 'Who were my last two teammates?' and 'What were they going to be like?' were two that I recall. And then, to my surprise, they just… smiled and introduced themselves. They treated me like a normal person."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"Yeah… they're good people."
We shared a silence between each other as we continued waiting. There wasn't really anywhere else for us to be at the time being. So Pyrrha and I stood there, enjoying each other's company.
"Hmm?" I acknowledged.
Pyrrha's arms wrapped around me. She hugged me tightly on a cold and windy street where no one was looking. "Everything's going to be okay."
"I-" The words died in my throat, but my face softened. "Yeah…"
It was better to enjoy the moment for what it was. I returned her embrace, relishing this small brief instance of happiness during a time of uncertainty.
"Hey guys, we're ready to-"
Nora was the first to exit in her usual fashion and came upon the sight of Pyrrha and I hugging it out. Her face froze with her mouth in an o-shape. It then quickly transformed into quite possibly the biggest shit eating grin I had ever witnessed in my life.
"Shirou, are you and Pyrrha ready to-"
Ren came around the back side of the car and stopped. He witnessed the same thing Nora did with his mouth also turning into an o-shape. Which then transformed into the second biggest shit eating grin I had ever witnessed.
Coolly and calmly, Pyrrha and I separated from each other before coughing in our own respective hands. Our cheeks flushed a light pink, but I blamed it on the cold weather. "Ready to go?" I finished for them.
"Yeah," nodded Nora, still holding onto that grin.
"Our lips are sealed," grinned Ren.
"Just… you lead the way Ren," I sighed.
As Ren took point, I couldn't ignore the giggles that Ren and Nora shared. In small part, perhaps that was a part of karma getting back at me.
"There are some things that I need to inform the two of you before we enter."
Ren pulled us aside prior to entering the building.
"While there's a handful of rules that are very important. There are two that come to mind that you must abide by at all costs," he turned to us with such seriousness that Pyrrha and I were taken back.
"One, no 'business' may be allowed to be conducted on the premises of The Spring and Autumn. This is a completely neutral area that they enforce heavily upon everyone the moment your foot lands those stone steps." He pointed at said steps right behind us. "Two," Ren brought up another finger, "everyone must pay when entering the premises in order to have access to the facilities. You can pay either by purchasing a drink or booking a room."
"What kind of… business are we talking about here?" I asked.
"No fighting, killing, or carrying out contracts in The Spring and Autumn," he answered plainly.
"And what about payment?" questioned Pyrrha. "How much are we going to have to… pay?"
Ren licked his lips before gulping. "I… think I can bypass that. Just… just let me and Nora do the talking when we go in. I should have something that'll cover us for the duration of our stay."
Pyrrha and I mulled over the information briefly. "Anything else?" I looked at him.
"Yes," he returned a poignant stare at me. "Be careful of what you say. In there," he gestured to the building with his head, "information and knowledge are the go-to trades. Lien can get your foot in the door, but what you hold in here," Ren tapped his temple, "and what comes out your mouth is the real transaction for that place."
"Right," I responded simply.
"If anything, that man should already know what's going on and will have a decent idea of why we're here. Our position of power will be at a disadvantage going in. So, I stress once again, be careful of what you say."
"Got it," I repeated once more.
Ren took a deep breath before exhaling loudly. "Let's go."
We entered through the posh double doors of the establishment.
Polished granite floors, white marble columns, and red carpet with gold trimmings. There was no end to the luxuriousness of the building. Employees fitted in finely tailored suits and dresses were the standard dress code. They stood at the ready to serve clients at a moment's notice.
"Welcome to The Spring and Autumn," greeted a fair-skinned man behind the concierge desk. "How may I…" his voice died when he looked up and saw the faces of Ren and Nora. "Ah," he smiled warmly, carrying a hint of fondness. "Little Brother Lie and Little Sister Valkyrie, how good it is to see you again."
"Hello Mister Wang," respectfully greeted Ren.
"Hiya Yanluo!" chirped Nora.
Wang Yanluo, the concierge, eyes flickered down and up. "I am presuming you are not here for personal reasons?"
"Apologies," answered Ren while pulling something out from his pocket. A single oddly ornate lien bill was slid across to the man. It was black with red trimmings.
"Ah, business," he muttered while typing down something and smoothly accepting it. "It is an auspicious day for you as his schedule is clear. In fact, he has been expecting a visit from the department for some time now. He has been waiting."
I glanced over and caught Ren straightening out his back. "Then it is best that we don't keep him waiting," he responded.
Yanluo's eyes regarded Pyrrha and I for a brief moment. A faint smile on his face formed. "Very well, please, follow me. Also, do keep your sidearms at your side at all times."
When his back turned to us, Ren motioned for us to keep close. Nora threw a thumbs up at his signaling everything was going well so far. If the man noticed anything, then he didn't show or make note of it.
He guided us through the building expertly while also giving us a wordless tour at the same time. We passed through an opulent waiting hall before ushering into the actual club itself. There were four enormous glass columns that dominated the space around the dance floor. A lengthy bar dominated one side of the room with endless bottles of liquor and alcohol.
"Up here," guided Yanluo.
The four of us followed up a flight of stairs that overlooked the whole area. A private, VIP balcony that gave a person a birds' eye view of everything. In one particular area, the section was raised from the others and had two plush black couches with a black glass table separating them.
"Please, make yourselves comfortable. Brother Xiong will be with you soon."
Yanluo departed shortly after leaving us to our own devices.
We all elected to stay standing while we waited for the man himself to grace us with his presence.
"So, anything you can quickly tell me about this guy Ren?" I hushed my voice so that only the four of us could hear.
"His name is Xiong Hei," he replied quickly in the same manner. "He's the man in charge of the entire Xiong Crime Family of Vale. Any and all organized crime that happens firstly goes through him. But first and foremost, he's an information broker. Anything that happens in the kingdom, he knows it. All the whispers and the rumors, he's informed about it. For him Shirou? Information and knowledge are the greatest commodities that he deals in."
"Oh yeah," chimed in Nora, "so, whatever you do. Avoid ever saying, calling, or mentioning the word, Junior."
"Why's that?" asked Pyrrha.
"His full name is Xiong Hei, the second a.k.a junior," further elaborated Nora. "But he doesn't like it because, well, it's a personal thing between him and his old man. Another thing, he can be pretty blunt and a brute, but like he can kind of be a good guy? I mean, he's still I guess a bad guy because you know the whole crime family thing. But I mean, he took Ren and I in and gave us our start. So, you know, he's not so bad?"
"Yeah, I get it," I said softly while rubbing my chin in contemplation.
The more Ren and Nora talked about the man, the clearer picture I was able to get. Xiong Hei was a bad guy, but he wasn't a completely bad person. He was capable of charitable acts, but operated under the table, hence bad in the eyes of the law. However, there was one thing that Ren spoke of that clung to me.
Xiong Hei dealt in information and knowledge.
He was the person that could point me the way to my sister.
Yet – even I realized the hazard of dipping my toes into this part of the world. Entangling myself with Xiong Hei was different compared to masquerading around as a huntsman. But, despite my wariness, my duty as a brother compelled me to keep looking for Miyu.
She deserved it.
"Alright, so what should we-" Pyrrha was interrupted when we heard doors opening and footsteps.
In came a man flanked by two teenage girls.
The man leading wore a black vest over a cleanly pressed white dress shirt, a red tie, black gloves, and black dress pants. Resting upon his shoulders was his black coat that acted as a mantle. He was also exceptionally tall, standing at least a head and shoulders above me. His face was set in a perpetual frown with how his eyebrows were furrowed.
My eyes then roamed over to the two girls starting with the one on his left.
I presumed they were twins with how identical their faces looked and matching pitch-black hair. Each girl wore similar strapless dresses, with laces and frills adorning the hem. But that was where the similarities of their appearance ended. Where one sister wore lighter, cyan colors. The other one wore crimson red with dashes of black that contrasted heavily with the other person.
Before I could delve any deeper, the man spoke.
"And so, the prodigal son and daughter finally return at last!" He opened his arms wide. "Although, not in clothes that I would have expected them to be in."
Ren never took his eyes off the man. "Big Brother Xiong," he bowed respectfully.
"Ah, Little Lie, always so stern and serious," he clicked his tongue. "Up, up," he motioned his hand for Ren to raise his head. "Let me get a good look at you." He inspected my teammate closely while putting his hands on his shoulders. "Not so little now, are you? You've grown up a lot. I remember when I first took you and Little Valkyrie in. You were so small! And you!"
He turned to Nora next.
"My, you grow more beautiful every day! And I see you haven't been lax in keeping up with your training. As strong as the Tiger of Jiangdong and as beautiful that puts all the flowers of Guifei to shame!" he complimented her greatly as Ren. "And here, I thought I would never see the two of you again after you departed our family for Beacon. Although your clothes tell me something else…"
"We still are huntsmen-in-training," informed Ren.
"Ah, cute, you're on one of those," he said tilted his head. His eyes roamed over to Pyrrha and then me. A grin slowly formed on his face in recognition. It then faded away when his gaze landed on me. "So Little Lie, introduce me to your team."
Ren stepped up and motioned to my redheaded teammate first. "This is Pyrrha Nikos, she's my teammate from Beacon."
Xiong Hei observed her. "The Rose of Argus, the Pride of Western Mistral, and the Invincible Girl," he listed off her titles casually. "A pleasure to meet such a… celebrity," a hand was offered out to her.
She shook it and curtly nodded, "Thank you for having us."
"And here," Ren said discreetly, making another gesture towards my way. "My team's leader, Emiya Shirou."
I regarded him carefully and so did he.
"Emiya," I extended my hand out.
He looked down and then back up, an amused huff escaped through his nose. "Xiong," he grasped the hand tightly, his gaze never straying. Then his eyes narrowed slightly as if scrutinizing me. "Have we perhaps met before?"
"I see," he let go and returned back to the other side of the table. "Now that the pleasantries are out of the way. Let's cut straight to business. Miltia," he called and the girl dressed in red acknowledged him with a bored glance. "Get the tea set."
"I pour you these cups in hopes that our conversation will flow smoothly as this tea."
Xiong Hei went through the motions of his tea ceremony.
In front of us were four ornate white porcelain cups. The teapot itself was clear so that the guest could see the contents. He poured in the dry tea leaves and allowed them to mix for a time. The waters darkened quickly as he gently agitated the liquid.
"My name is Xiong Hei."
After steeping the leaves, he poured out the steaming amber liquid evenly to all four cups. While he wasn't refined or elegant in his movements. They were at least being done properly with all the thought and consideration put behind them.
We took our own cups and introduced ourselves.
Xiong Hei placed his cup back down and leaned back into his seat. "With that out of the way. We may now proceed. I know why you're here and what you're looking for," he cut right to the chase.
I blinked, was it going to be that easy?
"Yes, you and the department may not realize it. But Torchwick is becoming a… complication of sorts," he said diplomatically. "For all of us."
"How so?" I asked coolly.
"There are many rules, both written and unwritten, in the underworld. Many follow these rules, but there are always those who disregard and toe the line. A natural state of things," he shrugged, "nothing too disrupting that endangers the status quo. However," he picked up his tea and sipped. "There is one rule that is absolute and must be recognized by everyone. Doesn't matter who you are, where you came from, or what you are. Above all else, the dust must flow."
Hei allowed his words to sink in as he drank in the aroma from his tea.
"While we may break laws mandated by the kingdom. We still operate within our own set of rules. Rules that make sure we maintain a measure of civility. Because without rules, we would be living with the animals," he preached. "Thus, in both the criminal world and yours. There are two types of people. You're either a mover or a shaker. Care to take a guess as to which one we don't like?"
It wasn't a hard guess as to which one sounded detrimental. "Shaker."
"That's right." Hei crossed his arms. "Shakers disturb the peace. Destroy the status quo for the sake of their own gain and put everyone in jeopardy. You see, Roman was a mover. A big-time mover, but a mover nonetheless," he said. "Some in your department would argue otherwise with all of his heists he pulled off back then. But he made sure he kept the general populace happy by keeping them entertained."
"Entertained how?" I questioned for clarification.
"Ha," he smirked. "You should've seen him in his heydays. He was quite the showman when he was out and about. Making a mockery of law enforcement was one of his favorite pastimes." His tone was smug as he went on. "Baiting them into a chase before suddenly vanishing out of thin air. Allowing himself to be trapped or cornered before pulling the rug out underneath your feet and escaping."
There was a fond look on his face as he walked through memory lane.
"And the money," Hei shook his head nostalgically. "Can't ever forget about the money he stole from the banks. He loved tossing his share out into the crowd and the people loved him for it. Even after the C.I.D. declared him as public enemy number one. Do you think the civvies cared?"
A rhetorical question.
No – they didn't care if he was stealing from the banks as long as it wasn't their money.
"If anything, stealing from the big banks and corrupt politicians endeared him to the public. Especially after that whole Vanille scandal broke out," he smiled warmly at that particular memory. "It seemed like everything he did, he just couldn't do anything wrong according to the public. And then his smile fell. "Now?"
He sighed out heavily, staring down at his quickly cooling drink. "I'm not quite certain what to consider him as."
"Because if he keeps this up, he'll be a shaker," I supplied.
The crime boss took the moment to pour himself another cup of tea before speaking. "We're criminals, but even we criminals have our code of conduct. And one of those is making sure the general populace is kept happy. Because if they aren't kept happy that attracts Grimm. And when they attract Grimm, well," he chuckled sardonically, "that's just bad news for everyone."
There was a tenuous balance for criminals to consider with law abiding citizens. When they broke laws, they had to be sure it didn't affect the latter too much. And if it did then it was either a low impact event or one that endeared them to the public else, they would foment negative emotions. Which would invariably attract Grimm.
"It sounds like you and Torchwick share a history," I commented.
He looked at me squarely. "We do."
"So, would it be too much for me to assume that the two of you are friends?"
"Heh," he huffed. "More like very close business associates. We've always kept each other at arms' length, but he does have privileges here."
I swirled what was left of my drink around. "A question."
"A possible answer," retorted Hei.
"Is this information free or at a cost?"
He tilted his head. "Consider this a courtesy."
"So, with that type of history between the two of you," I began. "Why meet with us? Why not say… go to Torchwick and confront him yourself? I'm sure he would be more than willing to discuss terms with you about how he's disrupting your business. After all, if you're treating with us then surely-"
"I tried," Hei cut me off.
"Approximately four months ago, he approached me out of the blue with the same type of card that Little Lie has," he pointed his chin towards Ren. "Requesting an audience with me seeking to make a considerable purchase."
"A purchase? Of what?"
"He needed bodies. People that would work for him for a short period. So, I said to myself why not? Torchwick's credit is good with me and additionally, he was willing to pay a hefty premium," he explained.
"What kind of hefty premium are we talking about?" I questioned further.
"A million lien as down payment and a hundred-thousand per person," he answered seriously.
We all blinked.
"Haha," he laughed. "You should've seen my face when he made that offer. I loaned him ten of my best men to him."
The laughter was instantly wiped off his face. "Don't know, he never told me. However, because his credit and relations with us were good, I didn't really press him for more. After I loaned them out, they never came back," he seethed. "And when I tried getting in touch; they never responded."
Ah – so that's why Xiong Hei was being so free with his words.
He felt slighted that he was used by Torchwick and so he was seeking retribution by entreating with us. The department would do the heavy lifting while Hei sat on the sidelines to watch. Rather petty, but it worked in our favor.
"So – does this mean you'll be cooperating with the department in apprehending Torchwick?" I asked plainly.
"Ha! Hahaha-!" He threw his head back laughing. "The balls on you to ask me that! Haha-!" Hei wiped a tear from his eye.
I rolled my eyes; a no would have sufficed. "Then what's the point of us being here?"
"Heh," he smirked while shaking his head. "Kid, you gotta learn how to ask the right questions."
My lips pressed into a line.
"Will you be able to inform us of leads that will help in apprehending Torchwick?" I tried once more.
He maintained that insufferable smirk. "Still not asking the right questions."
I refrained from clicking my tongue. I downed the rest of the tea in the cup to buy myself some time to brainstorm. What would be asking the right question? It seemed like anything pertaining to the subject of apprehending Torchwick was being shot down. Xiong Hei stated that Torchwick was becoming a complication.
So – where was the issue here? Hei would get Torchwick removed, the department would have their criminal behind bars, and the people would get to rest easy knowing that dust would be flowing once again.
And then it clicked in my head.
The man didn't want this coming back to him. All my offers were too official and relied on directly contacting him. It wasn't unusual for a man like him to converse with law enforcement, but to do it blatantly would rub everyone else the wrong way. Additionally, he must've wanted insurance in case things swung the other way for Torchwick.
A fence sitter through and through.
"Who is willing to inform us?"
The crime boss leaned forward with a grin of approval. "Finally, asking the right question."
I ran a hand through my hair.
Who knew negotiating and arguing semantics with a crime boss could be so troublesome?
"I'm glad that we were able to come to an accord Inspector Emiya." There was a self-satisfied look on Hei's face as he preened. "Normally talking to you people is nothing but a pain in my ass," he stated plainly. "But it's a lot easier talking to familiar faces."
I didn't respond immediately.
My eyes shot a quick glance at Ren and Nora. Pyrrha was with the two as they huddled closely to one another watching each other's backs. It was good to know that they were keeping their wits about them.
"It may not seem like it, but I do care about them," he commented off-handedly. "I try my best to care for any wayward countrymen and women that find their way to Vale. I make sure that we look out for our own because who else will?"
I begrudgingly respected that.
"While it saddened me to see them turn legitimate and not be included into my family. At the very least, I'm glad to know that they're doing well with their newfound endeavors."
"You're keeping tabs on them?" I turned to him.
"Of course – information and knowledge are powerful tools in this world. Something you'll be intimately familiar with the older you get," he said.
"I was told you're an information broker," I said in a hushed tone.
"No shit," he snorted.
"I'm looking for someone."
"Oh?" Hei raised an eyebrow showing interest.
"I'm looking for my sister."
A devilish, devious type of grin wormed its way to his face as he leaned forward. "Now that will cost you."
It was getting cold enough that I could see my own breath.
A part of me knew it was wrong to make a backend deal with someone like Xiong Hei. That I was bound to get into trouble, but the thought of Miyu was enough for me. It was worth plunging myself into the world that Ren and Nora escaped from.
I just wasn't sure how long I could keep this going.
Someday, this whole farce was going to end.
"Ready to go Shirou?" asked Pyrrha.
"Yeah," I nodded while casting my gaze all around us.
The commercial district that we were in was a lot busier by the time we left Xiong Hei's establishment. There were a lot more people on the sidewalks and cars on the streets. After familiarizing myself with the crime family, it became a lot easier to spot who worked for him. Also didn't help that they wore a bright red tie, but that was beside the point.
Just before I hopped into the driver's seat. My eyes spotted someone across the street from us. It was a girl, a short girl with pink and brown hair.
She was staring directly at me with an umbrella in her hand.
That girl wore the same sunglasses as before on that day.
The corners of her lips tugged upward. A small grin was on her face as she continued to stare me down like a hungry predator. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end.
Then, a car passed by that obscured my vision of her. My eyes never left that spot, but the moment the obstruction was gone; so was she.
My eyes narrowed at where she once stood.
"Shirou, you good?" Nora's head poked out of the window. "You've been kinda just… standin' there and starin'."
I blinked and softly shook my head. "Yeah," I licked my lips. "Sorry, just thought I saw something er- rather someone."
"Whoddya see leader?"
"Nobody I guess," I murmured as I climbed into the vehicle.
Just who in the world was that girl?
Blake belladonna held a bored expression as she trailed behind her team.
"The Vytal Festival!" exclaimed Weiss. "I can't believe it's right around the corner! This is absolutely wonderful!"
She rolled her eyes and shivered a bit when a cold breeze came through. A retort died in the back of her throat as Blake remembered Shirou's plea and her own promise to not stir up trouble with Weiss. On her part, she refused to be seen as the cause of trouble.
"Ya know Weiss," Ruby tilted her head. "I don't think I've ever seen you smile this much before. Kinda uh… kinda weirdin' me out here."
"Ugh, how could you not smile?" She turned around. "This is the festival! The festival that's dedicated to the cultures of all four kingdoms! There'll be balls, parades, and the tournament. The planning and organization that goes into this is monumentally enormous! Especially knowing the fact that this is done every two years is nothing short of amazing!"
"You really know how to take a good thing and make it sound boring," complained Yang.
"Shush you!" shot back Weiss. "I am simply appreciating the thought and care put behind this to make it all work! Just imagine all the meetings, committees, and calls that had to be made!"
"Wow – you really are doing your best to make the Vytal Festival sound boring," dryly commented the blonde. "Anyways, can you remind me why we're spending our Friday afternoon visiting the stupid docks?"
"Yuck-!" Ruby pinched her nose shut. "It reeks of fish!"
To that, Blake inhaled deeply. The cold breeze carried along with it the smell of the ocean. A familiar and nostalgic feeling surged within her that reminded Blake of Kuo Kuana. "Smells fine to me," she said off-handedly.
"Well," Weiss turned to her team with a flourish. "I've heard that some students from the Kingdom of Vacuo will be arriving by ship today! And as a representative," she stressed, "of Beacon. I feel that it is my solemn duty to welcome them to the Kingdom of Vale."
Blake rolled her eyes. "She wants to spy on them."
"Ugh, what?" indignantly sputtered her white-haired teammate. "You can't prove that!"
Her partner shot a knowing smirk, silently agreeing.
"Whoa, girls, look over there," pointed out Ruby.
Blake followed where her team leader pointed. Down the street there was a dust shop that was cordoned off from the public with yellow police tape. A pair of officers were on the scene holding the area down. One of the officers was trying to get people to back up while the other one surveyed the area.
As she and her team walked down the street to get a closer look.
Four individuals came into view. They were dressed sharply in their matching dark suits and overcoats. It was the signature style of the Criminal Investigation Department. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end, but Blake quickly calmed herself down. She wasn't a criminal anymore and her records were expunged by the headmaster.
As far as anyone else was concerned, her slate was clean.
When she oriented herself, the four individuals in uniform started to look awfully familiar.
"Hey is that… Team SNPR?" said Yang. "Whoa, aren't they lookin' pretty on point and sharp with that getup."
Leading from the front was the captain.
With his overcoat billowing, and rather unique red hair, Blake could easily spot Shirou from a mile away. Especially since he carried that signature look on his face that she grew accustomed to during their nightly meetings. A fond smile found its way to her face.
Her feet carried her forward ahead of the rest of her team.
Blake was sure that someone called her name behind, but it fell on deaf ears.
"Shirou?" she called out.
He turned to her. "Blake?"
This chapter kind of surprised me with how fast I typed everything out. It probably helped that I wrote a good bit of the details and flow inside my notebook. But I like to think it's because I'm getting to the meat of the story where things really start to develop and get going. Or that's what my editor tells me, but who knows? I've been in a pretty good writing mood as of late so I'm just riding the wave out.
Moving on, I want to touch upon something really quick.
If you haven't noticed already. This story will do its own thing to fulfill some of the needs concerning the main characters. The main focus is on Shirou, Pyrrha, Ren, and Nora as opposed to the show mainly concentrating on the four heroines. I've discussed it at length with my editor and reconciled with the fact that I will definitely have people who will disagree with the approach. And I think I'm fairly okay with that.
Anyways, onwards and upwards with talking about the actual chapter itself.
It was fun developing the interactions between Shirou and Pyrrha concerning their budding relationship towards one another. Small steps that lead to bigger things. And in this case, planting the seeds of a possible romantic relationship.
Ren and Nora's reveal was softly hinted with Chapter 10's conversation in the restaurant. It's a small detail that was overlooked. Their back story concerning what they did prior to Beacon was never really explored so I did my best to try my hand at creating something somewhat original.
Then we get to the consequences of Shirou's actions after he unintentionally forces Ren and Nora to reveal their history. He's confronted with his own issues and knows that he's on borrowed time. It's an inevitability that he's not sure how to approach let alone solve.
From there, we get to Hei "Junior" Xiong. Rooster Teeth never revealed the name of his club so I used the name of the period of Chinese history, Spring and Autumn. I made some adjustments to how Xiong was originally portrayed in the animated series to fit my story. He's still brutish and direct, but has some layers to him.
After that, we have a certain someone watching from afar doing her own investigation.
And capping things off, we hop back to Blake and her team coincidentally meeting up with Team SNPR.
It's pedal to the metal from here on out. This is where the fun begins.
With all that said, I'll end it here. I'm thankful for your continued readership and patience. Hope everyone is still saying safe and enjoying life as best as you can! I appreciate you taking the time to read the update to this story. If you are able to, please do feel free to leave a review or comment on your thoughts about the chapter!
Always doing my best to improve in whatever way I can. I do read through every single review. I will try my best as usual to reply in a timely manner.
Remember that checking my profile is the best way to check on the status of the chapter!
Thank you for reading another update to this story and Happy Halloween!
Word count before A/N: 12,801
Proofread/Edited by: Stiama