The Magician Part I
Pyrrha Nikos slowly woke up from her sleep.
When she moved her hand to rub her eyes, the cold air from the room snuck through the gap she made causing her to snake her arm back underneath. "Ooh, it's a cold morning," she murmured groggily.
For a few more moments, she allowed herself to enjoy the warmth of her bed. Pyrrha yawned and felt her body slowly lulling itself back to sleep. Rousing herself, she sat up in her bed and pushed off the covers. Her body shivered, protesting at the loss of warmth, but she pushed on as this feeling wasn't new to her.
Turning her head to the left, she spotted a vacant bed that was undone and messy. Green eyes blinked at the sight. "I guess Shirou wasn't feeling it this morning or perhaps…"
Was Shirou having one of those days again? Getting up inhumanely early to start working on everyone else's workload or was it staying up mind bogglingly late that he ended up crashing at his makeshift desk at the dining table. "Honestly…" she shook her head in mirth.
When it came to her partner and sleep, it was a fifty-fifty chance with both scenarios.
"Well, I might as well go wake him up and drag him back to his bed before I start my day," she said to herself.
Exiting out of the bedroom without looking behind, she trudged out into the living room while stretching her arms up above her head. Pyrrha walked into the common area noticing that the kitchen lights were on. "I guess that answers that question," smiled Pyrrha. "Wonder what he's making for breakfast?"
However, when she came up behind the couch, the unmistakable shade of red hair was sticking out. Shirou was softly sleeping away on the couch, still dressed in his uniform with the signature coat of the department being used as a makeshift blanket.
Pyrrha tilted her head in puzzlement.
Before she could ponder any longer, a sound in the kitchen alerted her that there was someone else.
Stepping away from the couch, Pyrrha peered over the counter to see who was there. To her surprise, she was greeted by a round shapely butt covered by a black lingerie. The owner swayed her hips as they rummaged through the refrigerator in search of something.
Pyrrha blinked owlishly as her brain tried to process what she was staring at even though she continued to check out the figure in front of her. Whoever was in their suite, was scantily clad in nothing but a long-sleeved white dress shirt that was a size too big.
Finally finding whatever the person was looking for, the person finally straightened out and turned around. A familiar head of black hair caused Pyrrha to raise an eyebrow as a dozen questions popped up inside her head. However, instead of jumping the gun and acting prematurely, Pyrrha decided that she would give the person a chance to explain themselves.
"Blake, is that… you?"
Nothing happened for a brief moment.
Just unnerving, awkward silence coupled with prolonged staring with both parties unable to figure out what to say to each other.
"U-Uh… good morning, Pyrrha?" sheepishly greeted Blake.
The black-haired girl was the first to blink.
"Good… morning, Blake," Pyrrha greeted back slowly.
Her eyes struggled to keep away from the shirt that the other girl wore.
Blake quickly picked up on where she stared and glanced down. "O-Oh? This?" She tugged on the collar. "This is uh… Shirou's shirt," she confessed with mild embarrassment in her voice. A light dusting of pink slowly grew on Blake's face. "I um, well, I didn't really have anything to change into and he offered me his clothes for the time being."
Pyrrha continued to stare unabashedly as a brief flash of jealousy washed over her, gripping her heart. While she knew that there weren't really any intentions, Blake in Shirou's shirt triggered something instinctive inside her. Once again, before her feelings could overwhelm her, Pyrrha kept repeating a mantra that Blake was simply just a friend.
"Y-Yeah, anyways um…" Blake scratched the back of her head at Pyrrha's unresponsiveness and closed the fridge with her foot. "Sorry for showing up unannounced and whatnot," she apologized. "Some… stuff came up with my team and," she sucked air through her teeth, "it didn't end well. Sooo, yeah, it's a really, really long story that's also really, really messy."
Immediately feeling guilty, Pyrrha ducked her head, feeling ashamed that she was jealous of Blake when the girl was clearly having a rough time. "I-I'm sorry to hear," Pyrrha finally replied.
"It's alright," morosely shrugged Blake. "Nothing you or anyone can really do about it."
"Perhaps… time and distance will heal some of the wounds?" suggested Pyrrha.
"Maybe," she shrugged once again. "I'm not counting on it though since… well," Blake sighed heavily. "A lot of things came out all at once. A lot of it is mostly bad and I think well, I think I've burned that bridge pretty badly," she grimaced at the end. "There was a lot of stuff that was said that I don't think I can take back."
A part of Pyrrha immediately empathized with the girl in front of her.
She remembered all too well of the things said behind closed doors after her televised announcement. Former close friends and classmates all expressed different levels of shock and outrage. Selfish, heartless, callous, and cowardly betrayal were some of the things she could recall instantly said to her face. Few offered any support as most decided to burn the bridge then and there.
And from that decision came confessions from the heart.
Confessions that still greatly stung.
"If it means anything to you Blake," Pyrrha replied gently. "And well, I know we haven't really spoken to each other before, but… you can always come to me if you want to talk or just um, hang out?" She offered before awkwardly chuckling. "Haha, sorry, sorry, I'm not sure what you really like to do other than read, but um, yeah…" her voice trailed off.
Blake replied with a small chuckle of her own. "Thank you, really, I appreciate the offer. And well," she exhaled out, "I'm sure you still have plenty of questions about what happened and-"
"Oh, no, no," Pyrrha waved her hands profusely, "if you're not comfortable with sharing, that's perfectly fine. Really! I-"
"No, no, it's alright," interjected Blake. "When I think about it, the cat's out of the bag," she smirked at her joke, "with my team so I might as well come clean to you, Ren, and Nora."
Pyrrha tilted her head slightly at the smirk, but figured she would get her answers later. "I'm guessing you and Shirou…?"
"Yeah," nodded Blake. "It was a… much needed conversation."
The redhead threw a quick glance behind her to where he was still sound asleep. "You know, when I think about it, Shirou is probably the most understanding and patient out of all of us."
"And the only one to actually do something," followed up the other girl. "Remember that incident at the dining hall with Cardin?"
"Yeah, I remember."
"Everyone just stood there, just watching in shock at what was happening. I remember being so enraged at what Cardin was doing, but I just… sat there and stared like everyone else. But Shirou?" Blake reminisced with a smile. "He just dropped his stuff, walked up, and actually did something about it. And then that fight with Cardin was something else. I'm pretty sure Shirou gave the guy nightmares afterwards."
"Cardin did seem very skittish around Shirou now that I think about it," commented Pyrrha.
"Serves him right," Blake huffed, crossing her arms before shaking her head. "I don't think I ever saw him mess with a faunus ever again afterwards."
"You think he learned his lesson?"
"Ha, maybe?" smirked Blake. "If not, we can always just throw Shirou at him," she joked.
"I don't think Shirou would take too kindly being thrown at Cardin," Pyrrha teased back. "But it would make for an amusing sight."
"Haha, yeah, it would."
They both shared a small laugh together before a relatively comfortable silence flowed in.
Pyrrha glanced around near her and noticed the state of the dining table. Papers and folders were strewn about, evidence of Shirou's work. He had probably been working well into the night since his pen was still protracted and wasn't with the others. She figured he had most likely finished and threw himself onto the couch the moment he was done. Taking a moment, she organized his papers to his preference.
Going back to Blake, she saw that the other girl was preparing breakfast, evident by the carton of eggs, package of bacon, potatoes, and pancake mix that was on the counter next to the stove. She had just fished out two pans and turned on the heat to a low medium.
"Ah – right," Blake turned around. "I should probably ask, but how do you like your eggs?"
"Sunny side up please," she answered while walking up to get a closer look. "I didn't know you knew how to cook Blake."
The black-haired girl simply shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, barely anyone knows and it's been years since I did something like this. And well, I figured since Shirou's letting me stay with you and the others for the time being. I thought it would be nice to cook up a meal for everyone."
"That's really thoughtful of you Blake," complimented Pyrrha.
"Nah, not really," she waved her off. "I figured it's probably the best way to ease myself in with all of you."
"Ha, well, as long as you make pancakes. I'm pretty sure Nora will welcome you with open arms regardless of the circumstances," replied Pyrrha. "And oh, just a heads up. You should probably grab the other boxes of pancake mix in the pantry."
"What?" Blake looked at her with one in her hand. "One's not enough?"
Pyrrha shot her a flat stare.
"Right, dumb question, it's Nora." She tapped her forehead and grabbed an extra two or three for safe measure.
Taking note of the time, the clock on the wall read that it was already half past six. As much as she would like for Shirou to get as much sleep as possible, if he slept in anymore, he would be running late to start his day. He was a creature of habit like anyone else and held a preference for resuming his work the moment he was up.
While Blake started on breakfast, Pyrrha stepped back over to where Shirou was slumbering. IT was rare to see him in such a peaceful state. As of late, she noticed a slow change in his usual expressions, as he seemed constantly stressed. Something had been bothering him, but as usual he kept it to himself.
A part of Pyrrha feared that if she tried to push for Shirou to open up, he would instead clam up and never talk about it. She knew that Shirou was rather particular about his privacy and internalized any issues he had. So, just as he used patience and understanding, so would she. "After all, didn't mother used to say discretion is the better part of valor?" quietly mused Pyrrha to herself.
Crouching down next to him, she softly smiled, and gently shook his shoulder.
"Shirou? Shirou, it's time to wake up."
I felt someone's hand on my shoulder stirring me awake.
"Shirou, it's time to wake up."
My eyes slowly opened up, greeted to the sight of Pyrrha crouched down. She wore a smile that I was quickly becoming accustomed to seeing when it was just the two of us. "Good morning, sleepy head," greeted Pyrrha.
"Good," I stifled a yawn into my hand, "morning, Pyrrha… what time is it?"
"It's almost a quarter to seven," she answered.
I blinked at the time, that was a lot later than usual for me to wake up. My hands rubbed at my eyes as I was still groggy. If it was six-forty-five, then that meant I was late making breakfast for everyone. Which also meant I would be behind a bit on getting started with work. "Ah, I can't believe I slept in," I murmured.
"Oh," Pyrrha held her smile, "that's my fault."
"You looked like you needed the extra sleep, so I figured it wouldn't hurt if you slept in a little more than usual," she explained. "Plus," her head gestured towards the kitchen, "you were helping someone last night."
I followed her line of sight and barely saw Blake's head over the counter. "I see you two got acquainted?"
"It was quite the surprise to see Blake in the kitchen when I walked into the living room," quietly said Pyrrha. "Had a nice time catching up with her for a bit."
I slowly sat up. "What were you two talking about?"
"Oh, you know, this and that," she teased with a wink.
I stared at my partner blandly as Pyrrha maintained her façade.
"Aww, come on Shirou, don't be like that!" She giggled at my expression as I rolled my eyes. "And it was nothing too bad. We just made small talk really, Blake informed me that she had a row with her teammates, but nothing in-depth. Said that she would explain everything better once everyone was up for breakfast."
I exhaled while rubbing my face. At least some of my worries were alleviated as I struggled on how to explain the situation to my team as to why Blake was here. However, it still remained to be seen as to how everyone would actually receive the news that Blake was a former member of a widely feared terrorist organization.
"Hmm?" I looked at my partner.
"I told you, remember?" she grabbed my hand into hers. "Everything's going to be okay."
"Yeah, you did…" Pyrrha gave a comforting squeeze to show her support and I smiled. "Thanks." I exhaled once again, feeling a little rejuvenated. "I should probably go clean up and get my day started."
Pyrrha let go and got up from her position. "I'll go and see if Ren and Nora are up, and then head in after you."
I watched her for a moment as she left before finally getting up and stretching. My face winced when an audible crack from my back could be heard. Sleeping on the couch wasn't ideal, but at least it was something.
Walking over to the dining table, I saw all my work was neatly organized instead of being haphazardly everywhere. "Ha, thanks Pyrrha," I murmured softly.
All the paperwork and files were arranged how they should be, including the handwritten notes that I scribbled. It was the little things like this where I appreciated her support. Unconcerned about any praise yet willing to support me and make my life a little easier. In a way, it reminded me of another selfless person.
I stood still, not moving, just staring down at the table suddenly feeling sullen. There hasn't been a moment since I've arrived to be able to properly mourn for Sakura.
"Ha…" I exhaled heavily and shook my head. "I'll deal with it another time."
Once again, I pushed my problems down onto the future me.
Moving away from the table, I turned to the kitchen where Blake had been busying herself. She was currently grating potatoes into a bowl filled with water to rinse the starch off. There was already a sizable amount, but she probably factored in Nora's gluttonous nature and had the foresight to prepare more than what was necessary.
"Would you like any help?" I asked, walking next to the sink.
"Huh?" She turned around. "Oh, no, don't worry about me," grinned Blake. "I wanted to do something nice for you in return for taking me out and letting me stay with you."
"Are you sure?" I pressed, wanting to help and set my mind off of things.
"Yeah, I'm sure. Besides, shouldn't you go clean up so that Pyrrha can go in after you? You're not the type to hog all the hot water… are you?" Blake narrowed her eyes. "Because that would be pretty messed up."
"What? No, I would never. Why?" I looked at her strangely.
"Oh, uh, well," she coughed to the side. "Yang's the type to really enjoy her showers and because of that she tends to use up all the hot water. You should've heard Weiss complain about it to Yang," she chuckled. "Scolded her about being considerate of others and the hot water."
"Let me guess, Yang took her time even more?"
"Yeah, sounds about right with Yang."
We both smiled at the exchange before Blake jabbed at me with a half-grated potato. "Speaking of, you should really get going."
"Right, right," I threw up my hands and stopped stalling. "I'll be looking forward to your meal."
"Shoo, go, go, you're stinking up my kitchen," Blake playfully wrinkled her nose.
I rolled my eyes as I left.
At least Blake seemed significantly better this morning than yesterday.
We all sat down at the dining table.
A breakfast platter was spread out across its surface, wafting a delicious aroma into the air. Nora in particular was salivating openly at the sight, her turquoise eyes seemed to zero in on the mound of pancakes that dominated the middle of the table.
"Bone Apple Tea!" exclaimed Nora as she began to load up her own plate.
"Uh Nora, it's Bon Appetit," corrected Ren, "not, 'Bone Apple Tea,'" he made a face. "I don't think the Northern Valeans would appreciate you butchering their language."
"Yeah, yeah, but man is this awesome!" Nora stared wide-eyed at everything. "We haven't had a feast like this in ages! I won't lie, like don't get me wrong, it's weird seeing you suddenly show up outta nowhere Blake. A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one!" The orange-haired girl dug in with gusto. "Oh man, the pancakes are awesome Blake!"
"I don't normally eat Valean breakfasts, but this is fantastic Blake," Ren complimented in his usual fashion. "You really out did yourself."
Pyrrha smiled pleasantly, "It's really wonderful!"
I was caught off-guard how well Blake was able to prepare and cook everything. It was a simple American, or well in this case Valean, style breakfast with eggs, bacon, hash browns, and pancakes. But everything was prepared perfectly like how it would be in a commercial. "It's really good Blake," I commended.
"T-Thanks," her face flushed from all the praise. "It wasn't much, honestly."
Morning breakfast was livelier than usual with the addition of another person. Blake's presence certainly had an effect on the rest of us, particularly Pyrrha as she poked at Blake's first forays into cooking and her experiences. Nora had been too busy stuffing her bottomless gut with stacks of pancakes while Ren would ever so often remind the former to breathe between bites.
When everyone had their fill and were sipping on their preferred morning drinks, that was when Blake brought everyone's attention.
"So," she inhaled and exhaled deeply, "Pyrrha, Ren, and Nora; you three are probably wondering why I'm all of a sudden, right?"
Ren and Nora shared at glance at one another.
"Yeah, sorta? I mean, it's always nice to like, see a friend and stuff, don't get me wrong," Nora waved her hands placatingly. "But uh, yeah, it totally caught me by surprise."
"I'm assuming Shirou already knows since you excluded him?" surmised Ren.
"Y-Yeah, he's… he's the reason why I'm here with you all," answered Blake. "It's well," she pursed her lips, "I mean, some, no – I mean, a lot of stuff went down with me and my team. Most of it, well, pretty bad. And, well…"
Everyone patiently waited, giving Blake all the room and time, she needed to gather her courage.
"I guess," started off Blake with her hand moving up to her bow. "I should start things off by saying that I am a faunus and I used to be a part of the White Fang."
The bow came off, revealing black cat ears and her story.
Blake Belladonna exhaled; her shoulders dropped as she anxiously awaited their response.
She came clean to them.
From her circumstances and origins, to how it all started between her and her team, and how she ended up in her current predicament. Even though she had confessed her sins and stories to someone else already, it didn't make the prospect of telling it again to other people any easier. In fact, she argued that it was even harder due to the fact that she didn't really know the other three as well as she did Shirou.
She chewed on the inside of her mouth.
The fact that they hadn't said anything yet sent her heart racing, imagining their response. What was it going to be? Scandalized? Dismay? Taken aback by what she's done? Or maybe they were just too overwhelmed by everything and were currently processing all the information she dumped onto their laps.
That was probably a reasonable assumption, she figured.
Even then, most people would find her actions appalling. Association alone with the White Fang was more than enough to draw condemnation. So, maybe, they were trying to figure out how to put their words of protest together? Or perhaps they-
"Okay," nonchalantly shrugged Ren.
Blake blinked, her eyebrows creasing in confusion.
"Yeah, I agree Ren, sums it up pretty well for me," nodded along Nora who crossed her arms.
"As they say, birds of a feather tend to flock together," quoted Ren. "Or well, I suppose in this case it would be former criminals."
Blake looked back and forth between the two, now completely and utterly flummoxed. What was this all about? Ren and Nora were former criminals that turned legitimate? Was that actually real or were they just trying to make her feel better? "You?" She pointed at Ren then to Nora, "and you? What? Seriously?"
"Indeed," confirmed Pyrrha with a small smile.
The black-haired girl's head spun to the redhead.
"Xiong Crime Family," answered Ren with a sip of his morning tea.
"Wow," flatly said Blake.
The Xiong Crime Family controlled the criminal underworld of Vale whose power was only rivaled by the one in Mistral. To hear that Ren and Nora had been former members was shocking to say. She certainly hadn't expected the quirky and eccentric Nora of all people to be one. Ren also seemed to be the by-the-books type of person as well since he was usually so strait-laced when it concerned the shenanigans his partner got into.
"So, I mean like, you know," Nora twirled her fork around. "It would be pretty hypocritical of us," she gestured back and forth, "to judge you about your former life. Cause like, man it's a really, really, really rough world out there. And I mean, you being a faunus is like living life in the hardest mode possible. So – we can't exactly fault you for, you know, being a former member of the White Fang," further explained Nora.
"Very hypocritical indeed," reaffirmed Ren. "We chose to attend Beacon because we wanted to live a better life. To make good changes through legitimate means, and to leave the world better than we found it. What happened in the past, happened, we can only live with the consequences, and hope to be better than the day before. Isn't that why you chose to attend Beacon, Blake?" He looked at her expectantly.
"Yeah," she responded softly.
"Therefore, in the pursuit of that goal, we are equals," stated Ren.
"Regardless of who we are, where we come from, or what race we are," continued Pyrrha. "We've chosen to fight, struggle, and labor together in the hopes of a better tomorrow." She put on a dazzling smile that made Blake go wide-eyed. "While I may not be able to share the same experiences, the one thing I can do going forward is offer my patience to try to understand."
While Pyrrha never stated it outright, Blake knew that the other girl empathized with her on some level. A person had to have been living under a rock to not know the fallout of Pyrrha's fated decision. While she had never personally been a follower of the Mistral Regional Tournaments. There were plenty in the White Fang who liked watching it to pass the time. Through them, she learned of Pyrrha's sudden announcement of retirement and decision to attend another kingdom's huntsmen academy instead of her homeland's.
It was a weird time and moment to see an entire kingdom rally together against a single individual. She could personally recall seeing some members who were fans of Pyrrha's burn or throw away memorabilia of the champion in protest. The ones who were of Mistralian descent were the harshest of critics and the most outspoken at the perceived betrayal.
From the bottom of her heart, Blake felt moved. When she glanced at Shirou, he simply held a small smile of approval. He seemed to be glowing, proud of his teammates.
"Ha… haha," she let out a laugh for some reason. Blake didn't know what came over her, but she just felt like laughing, even as tears threatened to overflow.
All this time, she had been worrying and stressing ever since she arrived at Beacon. Never truly feeling like she was truly a part of the group. Always feeling like the odd person out by hiding who she truly was. And to finally just let it all out, all she could do was just laugh.
"Thank you… everyone," smiled Blake Belladonna as she turned around to hide, wiping her tears.
She thought to herself, maybe, just maybe, she could still repair bridges with her teammates. However, like what Pyrrha said, time and distance was probably what was needed to heal their wounds.
"Alright team," I addressed everyone present at the dining table. "This is what we have so far on Roman Torchwick and his conspirators."
The culmination of all the investigative work we, as a team, have done over the week was laid out before us. The information painstakingly gathered, analyzed and summarized on where Torchwick has hit over the past month. Sifting through various witness statements, locations, and dates; we were finally at a point where we can start to predict where Roman would hit next.
Separately, much of our information didn't amount to anything concrete, but we began to see how he tended to operate.
Kiritsugu likened this to profiling the target.
Pyrrha, Ren, and Nora each had their own folders to pour over. All of them contained the same notes and information, copied from mine, so that we were all able to stay on the same page. This allowed each individual to potentially spot any discrepancies independent from one another.
In the middle of the table lay a laptop that had a map of the city with all the locations marked out as to where he had been.
"So," I began, "what do we know of Roman?"
"He's predominantly active in lower and middle-income areas," noted Ren.
"Tends to rarely hit affluent areas," followed up Pyrrha, "but when he does, he does it with a noted amount of aggression and prejudice."
"And he uses those funds from rich locations to give it out to the less fortunate!" lastly stated Nora.
I peered at her with a questioning gaze. "Is that a fact or is that an assumption?"
"O-Oh, um, hold on, one sec," the orange-haired girl flipped through her pages. "Ah, got it right here! Ahem, excuse me everyone, please refer to file five, pages four through seven, please and thank you!" She waited until we were all on the same document. "As you can see from the store in Bexley, the money that was left on Mister Hullum's counter was money traced back to a store over in Chelsea and Kensington. That's Exhibit A, over on Exhibit B, we have a corroborating anecdote from one, ahem," she coughed, "Mister Xiong, that Roman has a tendency to give his cut to random people on a whim."
Nora sucked in a large amount of air. "Therefore, it is from this inspector-"
"Ahem, trainee," corrected Ren with a playful smirk.
"Yes, yes, it is from this trainee," mocked Nora, "inspector's point of view that it is a fact and not an assumption or opinion!"
"Good," I grinned at Nora's growing ability to back up her arguments with evidence. "With that preliminary profile out of the way. What are some discrepancies that we can infer from the map and what we currently have on hand?"
Everyone quieted down as we poured over our respective files. The case that had been building up against Roman was massive at this point. Years upon years of cold files as well as recent ones meant that the backlog on the man would take a considerable number of manhours to go through. However, our job was to cut the fat and see in-between the details.
Something like this could be comparable to note taking.
A student in a class could write down as many notes as they wanted, but there was only a small amount of information that was relevant or important that they would need to actually study. In the end, they would typically go back, highlight the relevant parts, and write a summary.
"You know," Nora's voice broke the silence. "Something is uh… you know, kinda…" Her eyes narrowed down at the map on the laptop. "Strange."
"What makes you say that, Nora?" inquired Pyrrha.
"I'm just trying to make sense of like some of the numbers, and dates, and times, and all that stuff. And well," she rubbed her chin, "something just doesn't really add up. Ren, look at this." Nora showed her folder to him. "What's the first thing that pops out in front of your face when you see this hmm?"
Ren's lips pressed into a thin line as he roved over the page. "Some of the stores that reported Torchwick hit them are… too close in timings to one another," he answered before giving the folder back.
"Yeah, see? For example, remember that one store we went to in Knightsbridge? Well, get this, at around the same time that the Knightsbridge store was robbed. Another store all the way over in Merton, which mind you is literally across the river, was hit almost the exact same time!" expounded Nora.
"And it takes too long to simply drive from one location to another," commented Pyrrha as she commandeered the laptop and began typing into it.
"What if he simply used a bullhead to get from Point A to Point B?" I played devil's advocate for the sake of the argument. "That would drastically cut down travel time."
"True," agreed Ren, "Ruby did say that the one time she encountered him. He got away from her and Professor Goodwitch by using a bullhead. So, it's not exactly out of the realm of thought."
"No, no, no," Nora quickly disagreed. "Because in all of the reports, no one reported, or said, or even mentioned hearing any type of like, jet engines or something like that. And let's be real everyone, I'm pretty sure that if Torchwick came into their shop with a bullhead of all things. At least one of our reports would've said something."
"Maybe he got picked up after driving away with his ill-gotten goods?" I offered a counterpoint.
"No, because then all the rest of the bystanders that were around the area would've said something about hearing a roaring jet engine flying over their house in the dead of night," refuted Nora.
"True," I conceded. "All of the civilians we interviewed never mentioned hearing a jet engine, so we can potentially rule that one out. Still though, doesn't explain how he could possibly travel to another shop so quickly."
"Maybe it has something to do with his semblance?" said Pyrrha. "Perhaps there's something that allows him to assist in getting from place to place. It would explain some of the rather odd reports from years ago that where law enforcement would trap him, but he would suddenly disappear."
"Oh!" Nora snapped her finger. "Maybe something like a semblance that teleports! Or something like Ruby's where it allows her to transform into like rose petals and go really, really fast!"
"That is plausible," murmured Ren. "Would explain a lot of things actually…"
I contemplated on that as well, looking down at the old reports. "No one, not even the department, were able to really establish whether or not he had a semblance in the first place. Let alone what kind of semblance Roman has."
There was a strong possibility that Roman Torchwick used sleight-of-hand techniques to disguise his semblance. From my spars with Pyrrha, she had the same approach in subtly activating her semblance. She often avoided making overt actions that would tip a person off, but rather divert her opponent's attention with overt flourish. However, because not a single person from both law enforcement agencies were able to observe Roman's heists, it left us with little to work on.
A majority of the reports wrote him off as just being that good of a criminal.
He got in, did his show, and then got out.
"Oh well," I sighed, "a discussion for another time. No sense in guessing up a storm that wouldn't lead us anywhere. Let's move on and concentrate on what else we can infer from what we currently do have."
"Well," began Ren, "there is something that I've noticed that Roman's successfully done."
"Pyrrha, can you bring up the current patrol routes of the V.P.D. on the map?" he asked.
The aforementioned girl was already on it and flipped the laptop around. The police's route was highlighted in red along with all the stores being displayed that have been hit the past two weeks.
"He's successfully diverted a large chunk of manpower to either affluent boroughs or relevant industry infrastructure," pointed out Ren. "While it doesn't really stop him from going after them, it does make it easier for him to target other places. Look at Bexley for example and compare it to a place like Knightsbridge. It's stretching law enforcement thin in so many other places."
"I know you said relevant industry infrastructure, but uh… Ren?" Nora squinted at the map. "I think even then they barely patrol out there either."
"Most likely representatives of boroughs that can afford it are influencing where the police actually go," he explained with a shake of his head. "And with manpower short as it is, this means there's a lot of ground to cover and even more gaps in patrols to properly cover the city."
"Maaaan," Nora threw up her hands and stretched. "At this point, it's better to ask where hasn't this guy hit up yet? It seems like he's robbed almost every store in the city that has a lick of dust. Kinda uh… well, kinda impressive if you ask me," she shrugged.
"There are some high-profile dust stores that he hasn't hit up yet," identified Pyrrha on the laptop. "So those handful of locations can narrow down where he could possibly target next."
"That is likely, but those are heavily guarded and patrolled. It's more likely that he'll hit the ones on the periphery of the city. Closer to the walls, far away from the identified patrol routes allowing him time to clean house," said Ren.
As the rest of my team delved further into discussion, I silently contemplated, staring at the map. Approaching this like how Kiritsugu would have, I tried to reason why Roman's motive behind hitting the stores that he did. After successfully creating a ruckus and diverting police resources and manpower to the affluent, his next heist wouldn't necessarily be another store, but rather, somewhere that could net him the most amount of dust in one go without the police breathing down his back.
There were only two locations that came into mind.
One was the SDC's main distribution hub, but that had already been hit. And from his history of robberies, he avoided double dipping when he could. So, that left only one area that held the highest chance of being targeted.
And that was-
"I think it'll be the Port."
A new voice chimed in, we all turned our heads and saw Blake standing in the kitchen.
"As in the Port of Vale City?" clarified Pyrrha.
"Yeah." Blake wiped her hands dry and walked around the corner. "My money is on the port where all trade goods come in and are left to sit for inventory inspection before being sent on their way to their final destination."
Blake and I came to the same conclusion.
In the supply chain, inventory being left out on the port was a glaring weak point. Each container had to be scanned of its contents, inventoried, and then stamped before it could be transported into the city and the rest of the kingdom. It wasn't a slow process, but it wasn't a particularly fast one either with all the bureaucracy involved.
"With all the police getting drawn out further and further away." Blake pointed out at the map drawn up by Pyrrha. "It's pretty vulnerable and if Torchwick is as fast as the reports say then he'll pick the place dry before anyone is none the wiser. Although, knowing him, he'll probably put on a show just to laugh at law enforcement before getting away."
The others nodded as it made sense.
"I guess the question to ask yourselves now would be, 'When will he hit the port?'" stated Blake. "For all we know, he could hit it tonight, tomorrow, or weeks from now."
"Should we write up a report to Senior Inspector Cha?" Pyrrha turned to me.
Blake jumped in before I could respond. "I'd be careful, just saying. It's probably best if you all kept it close to your chest since, you know," she made a face, "Torchwick somehow and someway always ends up escaping."
"How'd ya figure," curiously asked Nora.
The black-haired faunus pointed at herself. "Uh… former White Fang, remember? You'd be surprised at how easy it is to get information from authorities through um… illicit means."
Nora looked at me while pointing at Blake. "Ya know, she's got a point."
I somewhat agreed with Blake that we should keep our cards close to our chest. However, we had no reason to act on our own accord. "Well, we should still make the report and deliver it to her at the end of the day. It may not necessarily be the right thing to do, but it is the correct one."
"Your call," shrugged Blake.
The four of us stood in Cha Hae-in's office as she went over our findings.
"…it is from gathered evidence, patterns, and data that we pinpoint the Port of Vale City as Roman Torchwick's next target." She finished reading off our report. Closing the file with a smile, the blonde supervisor nodded in approval. "Good job and good work. You've performed above and beyond the department's expectations with this. Your findings are solid along with the presentation of evidence to back up your claims."
She placed it on top of her other files, ones that would be sent straight to the director himself.
"We'll be using the information you've gathered and forward this to the rest of the other sections within the department," said Hae-in. "Mobilizing personnel throughout the department will take some time and effort, but we should-"
"Ma'am," I stepped up and interrupted her.
A blonde eyebrow slowly rose up.
"I disagree with the complete mobilization of personnel."
"Pray tell, why would you disagree?" Hae-in patiently asked.
"It's from my understanding after studying and reading other reports that large mobilization will only serve to alert Roman Torchwick. This will allow him to either change his plans or react accordingly, meaning he will simply escape and evade arrest once again," I explained. "Therefore, it was mentioned at the end of our report that a small-man squad would be the most ideal to capture him."
She carefully regarded me for a moment.
Her hands picked up the file again and flipped through the documents that were written by Pyrrha. She quickly parsed through before coming to the last page with our suggestions.
"And who would be… leading this small-man squad?" she idly asked while reading. "Yours?"
"If you asked us, yes," I answered.
Hae-in sighed before closing the file with a snap. "You're good, but you're not that good."
Nora moved to say something, but Ren grabbed her wrist before she could and pulled her back.
"I, and the department, are appreciative of what you've been able to learn so far. It stands to say that you four have been the best huntsmen and huntresses we've ever received into this work-study," she complimented. "However, it would be reckless and irresponsible for the department, let alone me, to approve of sending you four in alone. If anything were to happen to you four, there would be a lot of eyes suddenly finding themselves very interested as to what led to a possible incident."
Her thumb slowly rubbed right above her brow.
"There's simply too much at risk." She got up from her seat and closed the blinds to her office. "You four were entrusted to me to be cared for and I refuse to carelessly put your lives in jeopardy in the pursuit of apprehending a criminal."
She presented us with a new side that we hadn't seen before.
While she kept us at arms' length, Hae-in showed that she cared greatly for our wellbeing.
"If I had to choose between your safety or guaranteeing that we could arrest Roman, but at the cost of one of you," posited our supervisor. "I would always choose your safety."
I sighed and acquiesced. "I understand ma'am."
"Thank you," she sat back down behind her desk. "We'll work things out with the other sections in the department to see how to go about this and strategize accordingly."
"Are there any other assignments you have for us?"
"No," she said, "you've done more than enough with what you've given us. You can consider yourselves done for the day," she dismissed.
We all quietly left her office and packed up our things to return back to the apartment.
"Ugh – this blows," griped Nora as she plopped down on the couch tiredly.
"Senior Inspector Cha does have valid points," reasoned Pyrrha, taking her own seat on the loveseat. "I'm certain that people wouldn't feel enthused about sending a bunch of, well… newbies to deal with such a sensitive assignment."
"Don't forget to mention that it's her duty to look after our wellbeing." Ren pulled up Nora's legs and sat down with her.
"I'm taking that the conversation didn't go well?" Blake rounded the corner with a drink in both hands. "Tea?" She offered me the other cup.
"Thanks," I gingerly sipped the steaming beverage. "And yeah, our request was flatly denied."
"Damn, that sucks." Blake replied, taking a seat beside me.
"It is what it is, I guess," sulked Nora. "Would've been totally cool though if we actually go to do like a stake out or something. Maybe it was wishful thinking to think that we could've actually gone after Torchwick," she sighed out dramatically.
"We did what we could, it's out of our hands for now," comforted Ren. "You know, since we did all this work and the weather fits just right. How does a nice hot pot sound?" he suggested. "There's plenty of stuff in the fridge that we need to get through before this work-study is over at the end of the week."
"Ooh, that sounds good!" perked up Nora. "A nice, spicy, hot, and flavorful hot pot in this cold weather kicks ass!"
"Pyrrha?" Ren turned to her. "Have you ever had hot pot?"
"N-No," she shook her head. "I don't think so, but it does sound… nice? Is it like that one thing that Shirou made for us that one time?"
Ren and Nora turned to each other, the latter forming a devious grin. "Hey Pyrrha, how good are you with spice?"
"Oh um… I'm not quite sure?" she answered hesitantly.
I couldn't help but grin at what my partner was getting herself into. Nora began delving into a vivid description of hot pot and from the sounds of it, this one was going to be Sichuan based. I raised an eyebrow in thought, did this world have its own version of Sichuan cuisine? And if it did, did that mean they also had their own version of mapo tofu?
My face winced at the thought of that Chinese dish.
That fake priest, Kotomine Kirei, had an unhealthy fascination for that dish.
Seriously, I shook my head, how many plates of mapo tofu could that man eat in one sitting? He tore through them like Nora would tear through pancakes. At the very least, pancakes were light, fluffy, and could be drizzled with syrup to make them sweet. But mapo tofu, or rather his version? It was just pain incarnate.
And not to mention how he would-
My scroll vibrated in my pocket, ceasing my ramblings. Pulling it out to see who messaged me, I swiped up, and read the brief contents. It was a short message consisting of only four words.
"Port, tonight, eyes everywhere."
The message that was attached to the number came from an unknown contact. Although, recalling my agreement with Xiong Hei, it was easy to realize who it was from. While Hei fulfilled his end of the bargain, for some reason the timing of the message felt a little too conspicuous. What were the chances that he'd come through with a tip right after we gave our report to Cha Hae-in?
I read that part again, scrutinizing it over.
Did that mean Roman had eyes on us already and knew we would intercept him? Or perhaps it meant that Roman was watching for movement from the department to determine whether he would hit the port tonight or not. And if so, did that mean Xiong Hei was cautioning me to be careful about who we spoke this information to?
I scrunch my eyebrows in frustration.
"Shirou? Did something come up?" asked Pyrrha.
"Yeah," I nodded, "our source on the other side came through." Everyone in the room sat up a little straighter with Blake tilting her head to the side. "Roman Torchwick will be hitting the Port of Vale, tonight."
"Really?" Nora shot up wide-eyed.
"That puts us in… quite the conundrum, doesn't it Shirou?" Ren stated.
"Yeah, it does," I crossed my arms. "We just submitted our reports to Cha Hae-in. Perhaps if the message came a little bit earlier, we could have gone about this differently."
"Unfortunately, is there anything that we can do to bring this up to her?" asked Pyrrha.
"Unlikely," I responded back. "Mind you, our agreement with him wasn't exactly greenlit by anyone from the department. So, trying to use that to support our case is a rather dubious prospect."
"Perhaps," Blake made her voice known, "it's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission?"
We all stared at the black-haired girl for a moment.
"What?" she raised an eyebrow. "This is like the perfect opportunity to actually ambush the guy and stop him. Instead of just chasing after his trail, you can actually intercept him for once. You already know the when and the where, it's a matter of if you will or will not at this point."
I glanced at every person's face as they all looked at me to make the decision.
Eager, earnest, and excited was etched on all of their faces. They were here to make a change, not to be stuck behind some desk pushing pens and papers all day. After all, that was why they wanted to become huntsmen and huntresses. To slay the monsters of Grimm, protect the innocent, and defend the weak. To deny them justice would be to deny them their ideals.
"Alright," I sighed, closing my eyes. "If we go through with this, it's guaranteed that we'll be in a world of trouble, no matter the outcome."
Nora crassly snorted, "I'll sleep soundly no matter what, knowing that we at least tried doing something instead of doing nothing."
Ren offered me a nod of approval.
Blake had already stated her position on the matter.
I regarded Pyrrha closely as she contemplated the matter closely. However, after a moment of personal deliberation, green eyes met mine. The corners of her lips pulled upward. A confident and determined gaze beamed brightly with full support.
"Then that settles it," I stated and motioned for everyone to gather around the dining table. "If we're going to do this, then we're going to do this right."
They hovered over my shoulders as I began the long process of drafting up a plan to ambush Roman Torchwick. The day was short and the night would be long. Careful planning here meant precious moments saved when it came time to pull the trigger.
The time of sunset or during twilight.
Out there, over at the horizon, the sun had dipped into the ocean. It was a beautiful sight to see, something I hadn't had the pleasure of seeing in years. I could see why Miyu wanted to go and view the ocean so much. Something about it felt unnatural, an ethereal beauty that came from the heart of nature.
It felt so… free.
I hoped that maybe, just maybe, Miyu was able to see something like this for herself. And if she had not, then I still earnestly wished to be able to share something like this with her together. A memory to share between brother and sister.
That would be a nice ending after all this.
"Shirou, the port workers are finally leaving," informed Pyrrha.
"Alright, let's suit up," I ordered.
With the assistance of Blake, she was able to snag four uniforms for us to dress into. I wasn't exactly sure how, but she came back with the change of clothes faster than Nora could clean her plate. As fast as Blake procured them, she slinked back into the background and informed us that she would reconvene with the rest of us when we got inside.
"How do I look?" Pyrrha asked, slipping on a baseball cap on her head.
"Like as if Pyrrha Nikos worked as a port worker," I shot her a teasing grin.
"Is it the hair?"
I gave her a once over from top to bottom, "Maybe."
Pyrrha shook her head in amusement. "It was worth a shot."
I adorned my own cap and zipped up the jumpsuit. The port's uniform served well to hide our actual clothes that we would be wearing going into the ambush. Blake had gone ahead, opting to operate solo, and smuggled everyone else's weapons through ahead of time. All we had to do was pose as the night shift crew walking in early.
The other three nodded together, all giving themselves a final pat down.
It was easy to blend in with the crowd.
Most of the workers displayed clear excitement at being able to go home after a long day of work.
I kept my hands in my pocket as I made sure to keep far and away from the rest of my team. We were all spaced out from each other to make sure we came in at different intervals. That way, if there were any prying eyes, it wouldn't seem as conspicuous as four people walking together and checking in all at once.
My eyes kept track of them easily as I spotted Pyrrha in the lead. Off over to her right was Ren who adopted a slower gait than normal to appear as if he was dreading going to work. All the way to the left was Nora, who played it straight instead of her normal bubbly appearance. And lastly, I was in the back, to act as the watch to spot anything unusual.
I flitted from person to person, making sure to keep an eye out for that odd colored haired woman. Once was happenstance, twice was a coincidence, three times was enemy action. The fact that I had already seen her twice was one too many times for my liking.
It drove me up the wall not knowing who she was or why she was seemingly following us around.
I blew out some air through my mouth and trudged forward. It was a thought for later, for now it was best to concentrate on getting through the gate and into the port. After that, I had to make sure that-
"Oh, excuse me," someone apologized as they stepped in front of me.
In our attempts to avoid each other, we had inadvertently walked onto a collision course.
"Ah, it's okay," I offered a polite smile out of reflex watching as the man smiled back, nodding in reply.
We quickly went our separate ways to continue walking. As I kept moving forward, I slowed my pace, and shot a glance over my shoulder. The man was already long gone, blending into the sea of port workers. My lips pursed as I could barely recall what he looked like or how tall he was.
I clicked my tongue in annoyance and huffed in annoyance.
What an odd occurrence.
"Hey – what's up."
I tossed a sideways glance at Blake as she dropped down next to me out of nowhere. "Nice to see you too Blake," I said evenly.
"Dang, and here I thought I could surprise you," she shared with a small grin.
I raised an eyebrow. "You're going to have to do a lot more than that to surprise me."
"I mean, it was worth a shot," she shrugged. "Anyways, I got this handy-dandy little thing." In-between her fingers were a common access card. "Should give us access to everywhere at the port, here," she held it out to me.
"Ha," I shook my head and pocketed it. "I feel like I should be careful about my wallet around you from now on."
"You mean… this thing?" Blake innocently produced said object in her hand.
My eyes twitched.
"Gotcha," she smirked.
I rolled my eyes and held out my hand. "Very funny Blake."
Blake looked like the cat that caught the canary. I could feel the waves of smug satisfaction rolling off of her even as she tried to play it off nonchalantly. "Hey, you're the one that egged me on."
My mouth shut with an audible click. I pocketed my wallet in defeat and motioned her on. "Let's just… go meet up with the others."
She held onto that look the entire time even after we rejoined with the other three.
Pyrrha looked at the two of us with an odd expression. Her eyes swiped back and forth between the two of us. "Did… something happen?" she asked.
"Hm? I'm sure you can ask Shirou," Blake jerked her thumb at me, smirking.
Three sets of eyes stared at me expectantly with an answer. "Nothing happened, it-"
"He egged me on to steal his wallet," interrupted Blake. "So, I did."
Nora's eyes grew in excitement. "No way, you pulled a fast one on Shirou?!"
"How'd you do it?" questioned Nora.
Once again, she produced my wallet in her hand. I blinked a couple times and then patted my right back pocket. There was a clear lack of wallet as I patted my own rear.
"Very impressive Blake," complimented Ren. "Very quick set of hands you have there."
"Niiice!" Nora flashed two thumbs up. "I've never seen Shirou this flustered before."
I half-heartedly glared at them. At least there was one person that wasn't joining in on it. Thank goodness I could rely on my partner to not-
My head snapped to Pyrrha.
The girl stood there with both hands on her scroll, caught red-handed snapping a picture. My partner had the decency to look a little ashamed. "Sorry?" she apologized with the best smile she could plaster on all the while trying to hold herself back from laughing up a storm. "You just looked so… cute being all flustered and pouting like that."
"Oh my gosh, Pyrrha! Send me that picture, please!" begged Nora. "I neeeeed it!"
"Me too," coughed Ren off to the side.
"Same," Blake shamelessly raised her hand.
"I-" I palmed my face at a loss for words. "You guys…"
Pyrrha was merciful at least and pocketed her scroll. "Maybe later? Perhaps we should um… get a move on with things, right Shirou?"
I wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth and recognized when I was being given an out.
"Come on," I waved over my shoulders, already walking off. "Let's look around and see if we can scout out some hiding places for everyone."
The sniper's perch.
I was by myself at the top of the port crane that overlooked an area of shipping containers. There were dozens upon dozens of SDC marked containers that held countless amounts of dust that were waiting to be shipped to the distribution center.
Thinking back on it now, this was Kiritsugu's preferred position when he performed stakeouts.
I could still remember the sniper rifle that he had a penchant for. The Walther WA2000, a super heavyweight, semi-automatic sniper rifle that utilized some of the best electronics in the industry at the time.
Pretending like I had it in my hands. I peered down the non-existent scope to observe where all of my team were positioned. I had placed them in the best possible locations concerning their roles going into the engagement.
With Pyrrha's preferred close to mid-ranged style, she would be the first one to make contact with Roman's group. Therefore, I placed her closest to the shipping containers which would allow her to get the drop on them the moment they got close. Her presence would buy us crucial time as the anchor, absorbing a majority of the enemy's aggression, to then allow Nora to fall into position.
If Pyrrha was the anvil then Nora was the hammer.
Nora had been positioned directly across from where Pyrrha was hidden. A top another set of containers that would allow her to drop down and cause havoc with her hammer. The faster she can create chaos, the easier it would be for us to subdue and arrest them.
Ren and Blake acted as ancillaries to the other two that were closest to the action. They were to act as the safety net in case anyone tried to escape, but to also tighten the net. Since they had no set position, they chose to roam around and were prepared to jump in at a moment's notice if Pyrrha or Nora needed it.
A cold gust blew over the crane and I hiked up the coat's collar up.
It was far from comfortable, but someone had to be up here to cover them.
"Man… who knew stakeouts were so boring," complained Nora over the scroll.
"Shirou did warn you when we were planning that there would be a lot of waiting," chuckled Ren.
"Yeah, but like, I don't know, how long has it been since we got here? Scratch that, what time is it? Twelve? One?" she guessed. "I'm just saying, can this Torchwick guy get a move on and come steal this dust already so we can bust his butt?"
"Nora?" called out Pyrrha. "If you'd like, I can read off to you the shipping and handling guides on these dust crates from the SDC. It's been rather fascinating to read how the workers take care to ship dust from one place to another."
"Honestly? Yeah, sure, go ahead. At this point, I'm bored that I'll even listen to that to pass the time," replied Nora.
"Nora," Pyrrha chuckled on the other line. "I was joking."
"Uh, well, I wasn't so… can you start reading, please?" sweetly added Nora. "I'm so bored here!"
I could feel Ren and Pyrrha both shaking their heads.
I had a small grin on my face just listening in on my team.
My scroll buzzed and I pulled it away from my ear. On the screen there was another call being sent, a private line. "Yes Blake? Are you as bored as my team?"
"Huh? Oh, I guess," she answered noncommittally.
"Well to answer Nora's question, we've been here since six o'clock. She's probably a little hungry and angry by now. I'm guessing the chips and snacks aren't really holding her down," I chuckled a bit.
"Haha, yeah, probably not…" Her line went quiet for a moment. "Hey, Shirou."
"You remember earlier this morning?"
I raised an eyebrow. "What about this morning?"
"Your um… compliment about my cooking. Did you really mean it?" She asked all of a sudden.
My hand idly scratched at my chin. "Of course, why wouldn't I mean it? I don't really go for Am- I mean, Valean type of breakfasts, but I thought you made everything very well."
"Same here, but well, I sort of wanted to try something Mistralian. But I didn't see anything in the fridge for it," said a slightly dejected Blake.
I had to think about it for a moment and remember the culture swaps. "Ah, sorry, sorry," I apologized when it clicked in my head. "You were probably searching for the salmon, right?"
"With miso soup, some rice, and a rolled omelet?" I continued.
"Yeah, yeah," she sounded excited on the other end. "My… my mom used to make it all the time. So, for me, that's like my type of breakfast. It's been hmm… well it's been quite a while since I had something like that."
"Hmm," I hummed softly, "maybe when this is over. We can go grocery shopping and get the ingredients you need. I wouldn't mind trying your cooking again if you'd like to try mine?" I offered politely.
"R-Really? You'd like to try my cooking again?" she stumbled at first, before answering in earnest. "And um, yeah! That sounds great honestly, it would be nice to try someone else's cooking."
"Sounds like we have a plan then," I smiled excitedly at the prospect of cooking a Japanese-style breakfast.
"Looking forward to it," said Blake before going quiet for a moment. I could hear her shuffling around a bit from her end. "Hey Shirou?"
"Thanks… it, it means a lot to me to hear you appreciate it, really."
"No problem, Blake," I returned warmly. "You know," I huffed out in amusement, "this made me realize we actually have something in common. Something that isn't…" I trailed off trying to think of the right way to say it.
"Reading and drinking tea on a cold rooftop in the middle of the night?" finished Blake.
"Well, if you put it like that…"
"Haha," she laughed softly, "it does seem kind of lame, but yeah, it's nice to know now. I guess when we get back, we should-" She stopped suddenly mid-sentence, going quiet. "Hey Shirou, do you… do you hear that or is it just me?"
I stood up and pulled the scroll away from my ear.
The sound was faint at first, but it grew with each passing second. My head was on a swivel, reinforcement being applied to my eyes as they scanned the dark skies. It wasn't long before I spotted the familiar sight of red and green strobe lights out in the distance. "Switch back to the other line Blake," I ordered immediately before doing it myself. "Everyone," I interrupted whatever conversation that was taking place. "Eyes up, we got company."
Everyone on the line went silent as the roar of a jet engine approached.
Damn, I cursed to myself, Roman Torchwick wasn't coming by ground. He was coming by air with a flight of four bullheads flying in formation. The man wasn't playing around with this one it seemed. Highly unusual as he had a tendency to put on a show.
However, could this still be him trying to put on a show? But to whom? There was barely anyone here for him to try to dazzle with his display. Not to mention, he always made sure to be face-to-face with his audience. So, an airshow didn't fit his description at all.
"Are those bullheads?!" exclaimed Nora.
"Sounds like it," Ren whispered. "This isn't good."
"We stick with the plan," I said over the line. "Let them touch down, no one makes a move until we can visually I.D. Roman Torchwick. Once we can visually confirm his presence, we spring the trap."
All four bullheads came in hard and fast. Instead of circling around, they immediately went to land, dropping all the pretense. The area between the shipping containers and administrative warehouse was wide enough to act as a runway.
"Wait for them to exit," I ordered. "Keep your eyes peeled for Torchwick."
The engines wind down and the entrance ramp lowered to the ground. The moment the first boot hit the ground was when I knew shit hit the fan.
"Is that the White Fang?!" said a worried Nora.
"Visual confirmation, white mask, white uniform, heavily armed," detailed Ren. "That's the White Fang alright."
"Why would the White Fang be here?" questioned Nora. "And why would they be with Roman Torchwick of all people? What the hell is going on here?!"
"Shirou, what do we do?" questioned Pyrrha with concern. "Should we stick to the plan or abort?"
"Oh, I know what I'm doing," said Blake with clear rage in her voice. "I'm going down there right now to ask them myself!"
"No, wait!" I hastily ordered. "I know you want answers to your questions, but let's not jump the gun, Blake. Don't let your anger and confusion get the better of you. Does anyone have a visual confirmation of Roman Torchwick?" I asked with urgency.
My eyes scanned everywhere frantically, but one of the bullheads was parked at an angle to where I couldn't see the ramp.
Tension was getting higher with every second going by. Blake was most likely on a short-fuse that could explode at any given moment. This suddenly became very personal for her and that threatened everything. If she blew her cover then we may never get another chance at capturing Roman.
"One second," said Ren. "Getting visual confirmation now. Yes, closest bullhead to the warehouse building. I have a visual I.D. of Roman Torchwick exiting out of the ramp with White Fang members," he confirmed.
"Shirou? Do we go now?" pressed Blake.
"No, not yet," I replied. "Pyrrha, wait for him to get closer to you then spring the trap. Nora, when Pyrrha gives you the signal, you go out."
When Roman Torchwick was finally clear of the bullhead's frame. I was able to get a good look of the man for myself with my own eyes. He was a tall and lanky individual seeing as how he towered over everyone else present. He wore a pristine white suit with red lining, long black pants and matching dress shoes. His gloved hands held onto a walking cane. Adorned atop of his head was his signature black bowler hat with a small feather tucked into its red band.
That was the man alright.
"Pyrrha, get ready," I said and traced my bow onto my left hand. "On my mark."
Just a little closer and Pyrrha would be able to drop down on him with the man being none the wiser to what was about to happen. Cut the head off the snake and the rest of the body would follow. We would finish this fast.
But then, Roman suddenly stopped.
Why did he just stop? My eyes narrowed in suspicion.
And then, he turned and looked up; right to where I was lying in wait.
My eyes widened, a footstep to my left boldly announced another person's presence. To my utter bewilderment and shock, it was another Roman Torchwick. He stood tall and proud wielding his walking cane in his right hand. A smug smirk plastered brightly on his face.
With a flourish, he brought up his cane in a fencer's salute.
Happy belated New Years everyone, it's still January so I can still say it.
This chapter is going up on the day of Zhongli's second re-run. I've skipped him twice now, but I won't this time. I've got enough for him, Yae, and their weapons. Although, I might have to break out the wallet for Raiden's supposed re-run and Ayato that's right around the corner.
Anyways, onto the actual notes about Chapter 12.
There's something interesting I learned while I was writing this chapter. Apparently, to my knowledge, Pyrrha and Blake have never actually spoken dialogue to one another. Yes, they've interacted around each other, but they never actually had a face-to-face in the actual series. It kind of blew my mind when I was re-watching Volumes 1 through 3.
Although, it all works to my benefit.
Blake gets integrated into Shirou's team in the first part of the chapter. Pyrrha, Ren, and Nora are all mostly empathetic characters and exercise a fair amount of patience towards one another and other people. With Shirou at the helm, they follow by his example and put it to practice.
Afterwards, they go straight into compiling their evidence and findings together as a team. I wanted them to have meaningful conversations in their steps towards their conclusions against Torchwick. A deduction by carefully going over what they've collected the past two chapters or so. They all have their parts and carry their weight.
From there, it's pretty much gas, gas, gas to Torchwick.
After thirteen chapters, the main man himself finally makes an official appearance to Shirou. Not through the news, pictures, or stories from other people, but in the flesh.
I think I've rambled long enough, so I'll end things here.
I hope you, the readers, were able to enjoy another update to this story. I'm grateful to your continued readership and always look forward to seeing you again. I hope everyone had a nice start to the new year and that January is treating you kindly. I always appreciate you all taking time out of your day to read my story.
If are able or willing, please leave a review or comment on your thoughts about the chapter! I'm always trying to improve with each update. I read every review or private message sent my way, and also try to reply I am able to in a timely manner.
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Thank you for reading this update and see you next time!
Word count before A/N: 11,490
Proofread/Edited by: Stiama