Walk me through the Valley

Disclaimer: Characters and premise are the property of Kazue Kato. I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit fun.

Chapter One: Back to School

"Guten Tag!" Mephisto announced cheerfully as he waltzed into the kitchen at the Old Dorm. Rin and Nagatomo were cooking breakfast while Bon had been given a bowl to stir so that he'd feel useful without causing any sort of culinary disaster. Mephisto tried to help himself to taste from one of the pans on the stove and Rin smacked his knuckles with a spoon. Mephisto pouted at him in return.

"You can stay for breakfast, but keep your fingers to yourself," Rin declared.

"What brings you by?" Bon asked suspiciously.

"The school board, the Academy Board nothing to do with Cram School mind you, has discussed Rin-kun's situation," Mephisto turned toward Rin. "Given the number of days you've missed due to… one injury or another, it's been decided that it would be unrealistic to expect you to make up the time lost. Next year you'll start over with a clean slate, so you're excused from your regular classes during the third term."

"Okay," Rin said without much interest.

"What's he going to be doing instead?" Bon asked. "Not just sitting around the dorm."

Mephisto turned to Rin, "You do still need to catch up with all the cram school you've missed. There is always next year's Exorcist Exam to prepare for."

"We've put together a tutoring plan to get him caught up," Bon declared. Rin made a face at the other boy.

"I believe Rin's teachers should also have some input," Nagatomo said mildly.

"You and Tsuzo can tutor him. Professor Adachi's okay but not Karou or Shiku. They shouldn't be alone with Rin," Bon declared.

Rin flushed and muttered a complaint about not being some delicate flower under his breath. Bon gave him a stern look.

"Also, don't be late for cram school today!" Mephisto grinned. "I will be making some very important announcements as it is the first day of the new term!" He eyed Rin's pan wistfully. "I would stay but there is much to do. Ah the life of a principal has it's drawbacks."

Rin took pity on him and quickly wrapped up a small snack.

"What did the headmaster want?" Konekomaru asked, seeing the door shutting behind Mephisto as he and Shima came downstairs.

"He was just letting me know not to come to normal classes, 'cause I already failed for the year," Rin said cheerfully.

"That's not what he said," Bon objected. "You missed the first two weeks of second term, all of December and some days between. That's practically half the term, expecting anyone to make-up that much material would be insane. Next year'll be better."

"I wasn't planning on doing high school anyway," Rin shrugged. "Mephisto just signed me up when I said I wanted to be an Exorcist."

"You shouldn't be sitting around in the Dorm," Bon decided. "Maybe go to the supply shop with Shiemi this morning. Then both of you could meet us for lunch. We'll work out more of a schedule for you in a bit."

"Just come back to the dorm and I'll cook lunch," Rin volunteered. "It's not like I don't have time now."

Konekomaru looked thoughtful. "You really do like cooking don't you?"

Rin shrugged, "I'm good at it and it makes people happy, what's not to like?"

"It's girly," Shima suggested good naturedly and Rin threw a mushroom at him.

"Cooking is not 'girly'." Izumo announced as she and Paku joined them. "If it were I'd be better at it."

"Not going to touch that with a ten foot pole," Shima decided.

"So you have slightly more common sense than Suguro... who would have guessed," Izumo replied smirking.

"Um, excuse me," Konekomaru announced himself quietly as he peeked his head into Mephisto's office.

"Come in! Come in! What can I help you with," Mephisto replied effusively.

"Well, um, I understand why you pulled Rin out of his normal classes. Or at least I think I understand. But, um, we're all worried about leaving him alone too much. Rin, well, it's not good for him to be alone with his thoughts too much," Konekomaru explained. "He's still got all that- that garbage Yukio fed him rattling around in his head even if he's starting to question it."

Mephisto looked interested. "So, do you have a solution to propose?"

"Is there something he could do with cooking?" Konekomaru asked. "We'll make sure he gets caught up in Cram School and cooking makes Rin happy."

Mephisto steepled his fingers and tapped them against his chin thoughtfully. "His breakfast was very nice, is he generally that good at in the kitchen?"

"He's very good," Konekomaru answered firmly.

Mephisto smiled. "The chef I acquired for the school cafeteria keeps chasing off all his assistants, says they're not up to his standards. So far my familiar is the only assistant he's accepted. I suppose I could see if he'd take Rin-kun as an apprentice."

As promised Mephisto was waiting when the Exwires arrived at the classroom that afternoon. "Hello my little students!" he greeted them, grinning expansively. "Normally I'd go over the result of your first attempt at the Exorcist Exam and tell you why you all failed and what you need to work on for next time… But since you didn't actually take the Exam I'll just tell you the same thing I tell every first year class: You all failed, don't feel bad about it. We are just beginning the third trimester and you'll notice a change in your schedules because this is the first trimester where where you will be getting specialized training based on your selected Meister Candidacies. Your first attempt at the Exorcist Exam showed that you have developed sufficient mastery over the fundamentals to make it worth our while to assign mentors for specialized training.

That said, we weren't particularly satisfied with any of your scores in the category of Demon Classification. If you don't know what you're fighting you don't know it's weaknesses, in other words you will be ineffective and very likely to end up dead. This goes triple for my little Aria-Hopefuls. I am truly impressed by the sheer amount of scripture you have committed to memory, but being able to quickly and efficiently determine a particular demon's fatal verse is life and death for you and your teammates. It is better to know that you don't know a verse than to blindly recite in hopes of finding one, because there are other things you could be trying instead of wasting time. Even if you truly are desperate enough to go that route your protector needs to know upfront that they are in for a lengthy battle."

"Knight-Hopefuls your foundational knowledge is deemed sufficient for specialized training. You'll be assigned an appropriate mentor to disabuse you of the notion that you know anything about your weapon of choice. We found it intensely painful and/or amusing to watch you flailing around during the exam."

"Tamer-Hopefuls, we are all delighted to have candidates with this innate ability. You are all progressing marvelously with your familiar. However your familiar will not be able to address every situation which you encounter... In fact, all of you, regardless of specialization, tend to have issues with owning a hammer and seeing every problem as a nail. You all need to diversify your repertoire... Tamers, to summon demons outside of the kingdom with which you have a natural affinity will be more difficult and you will need to make formal agreements with them to acquire their cooperation. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt summonings outside of your affinity or to summon any higher level demons until you have some training in Contract Negotiation. Without appropriate preparation you will lose your shirt and probably your soul.

"Doctor-Hopefuls, if you have any hopes of obtaining your meister in the next year please forget about it now. The amount of studying necessary to complete a Doctor's meister will make your head explode if you attempt to squeeze it all into a single year. If your pride can't handle this fact, I suggest working toward a Dragoon Meister this year as well and testing in that category during your next exam.

"Dragoon-Hopefuls, you have demonstrated enough maturity that we are now willing to put a gun in your hands. Report to the shooting range as soon as you are able. The range master will help you select a suitable weapon and see that you learn the basics of maintaining and using it. After that you're on your own. This is a secondary Meister for most of you,the time and effort you put in will determine your eventual proficiency. If you continue to demonstrate a satisfactory level of maturity you will be allowed to take your weapon with you into the field in a month or two. Please try to avoid shooting any of your allies when that happens. The paperwork involved in friendly fire incidents is atrocious."

"Starting next week, your group classes will be Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. Your mentors, who will be assigned Monday, will provide you with a schedule for individual training. All done with the review," Mephisto announced brightly. "Normally I rearrange it a bit so it sounds less like a canned speech, but why? You lot didn't even take the test, it's too much bother for me to pretend that you're any different from the last 150 years of first year Exwires I've given it too."

Mephisto gave himself a few moments to bask in the outraged expressions the Exwires were sending his way then continued. "However there is going to be something unique about the coming term: I have decided that we should try a little experiment with your class. As I'm sure you all know, this is also the termin where we start looking for synergistic pairings for our Aria-hopefuls. While we normally put them with more experienced Knights or Tamers who have a better chance of getting everyone out alive if their Aria chokes, I thought it would be fun to have our current crop of Aria-Hopefuls teamed with their classmates!"

Bon glanced at Konekomaru and Shima then said, "Fine with me. We're not really feeling particularly trustful of our seniors anyway," he said. The other two boys nodded.

Mephisto clapped his hands, "Let's get started then. Up, up everyone." The Exwires grumbled and rolled their eyes as Mephisto shooed them out of their normal seats. "Moriyama-san, you've indicated an interest in becoming a Doctor as well as a Tamer. Excellent, you already have a firm rapport with your familiar and Nii-chan's ability compliments a Doctor's role, I find you a most promising Doctor-candidate. Given that, you won't be spending as much time diversifying your skills as a Tamer should. Which isn't all bad; your natural aptitude as a Tamer terrifies the higher ups, best to allow a bit of cooling time before you become even more proficient. When next year's test comes around you will apply for a limited Tamer's meister and will be expected to be making good progress toward your Doctor's meister."

Shiemi blushed at Mephisto's praise.

"However when you are acting as a Doctor you will need someone to watch your back, much like an Aria needs a partner to give them the space to focus on their recitation," the headmaster continued. "Which brings us to Shima-san. Your teachers tell me that the only time you crack a book is when you're using it to hide magazines that shouldn't be mentioned in mixed company. Not even particularly tasteful stuff I must say, I could recommend much better."

Shima cringed, "Don't mention it… Ever actually."

"You're not exactly the most promising Aria-candidate to pass through these halls, however I'm also told your skills with your staff would make you a most promising Knight-candidate. I recommend you spend the year preparing to test for a Knight Meister rather than an Aria. If you ever chose to get serious about becoming Aria, you and Moriyama-san will be a most versatile team." Mephisto herded Shima and Shiemi together and sat them at the nearest desk.

Mephisto turned to Rin, "You will be taking Contract Negotiation with the Tamer-Candidates on top of your Knight training. Humans are every bit as fond of fine print as demons are, so consider that class utterly essential for your continued well-being. Also, we never really bothered to mention this to you, but your sword is a bit of a political time bomb." He shrugged. "It's only matter of time before the sword's location for the last sixteen years becomes common knowledge and that's going to raise some issues, as I believe Surugo-san is well aware. You see when it was… borrowed to seal your powers, there might not have been much asking done prior to the borrowing."

"In other words the True Cross Order stole the sword from my temple," Bon clarified.

"Or Shiro and I did," Mephisto admitted. "However, Shiro was Paladin at the time and even if he'd actually carried out his official assignment and killed Rin-chan he still would have needed the sword. Since then the Myodha Sect has merged with the True Cross Order, hence political time bomb that the missing Myodhan sacred relic had been in the hands of a former True Cross Paladin at the time of the merger and wasn't returned," Mephisto admitted cheerfully. "We couldn't exactly give it back at that point, and it wasn't like you were using it. It was just laying on an altar gathering dust." He smiled at Rin and Bon. "It would defuse the situation a bit if Kurikara were being wielded by the Knight assigned to the protection of the heir apparent to the Myodha Sect's Most High Priest."

"I'll make my temple accept that Kurikara is Rin's now," Bon said. Then he tilted his head back and gave Mephisto a challenging look. "It'd be easier to get everyone to accept Rin's ownership of the sword if he let me adopt him into the Myodha. Hey Rin, have you ever given any thought to converting to Buddhism?"

"Um, no," Rin stammered looking startled.

"You should. When we merged with the True Cross Order it was with the understanding that the Myodha would maintain autonomy over the clans; the Grigori doesn't have the authority to sentence a member of our clans. If we adopt you all this jump through a hoop or get executed crap wouldn't be allowed. The Family Heads would never stand for the Grigori trampling over their authority like that," Bon explained.

"Could you adopt me without me converting?" Rin asked. "Dad raised me to be Catholic."

"I don't care if you're both," Bon said with a shrug. "It's your religion that has the exclusivity clause."

"It won't work now," Mephisto commented to Bon as he sat the two boys at another table. "Your ulterior motives are too transparent… But you're going to be fun when you grow-up."

He turned back to the front of the room. "Which leaves us Kamiki-san and Miwa-san. The two of you should learn from each other: Kamiki-san your teamwork is atrocious, even your bond with your familiars suffers from your excessive self-reliance. Miwa-san has a natural talent for seeing the strengths in others and how they could be advantageously combined. Allow him to show you how your strengths could be added to those of your friends, or colleagues if you can't bring yourself to call them friends."

Izumo grimaced.

"Miwa-san, your talents go largely wasted because you lack the confidence to assert yourself more often than not. Kamiki-san has had her own falterings of confidence but she knows the trick of appearing self-assured even when she doesn't feel it, and she's learned to move forward even when she is uncertain. As the head of the Miwa family you will find that trait immensely valuable. Pay attention to the example she sets."

Konekomaru nodded, his mouth pressed into a determined line.

Mephisto sat Konekomaru and Izumo at a third table then moved back to the front of the room and surveyed the class with approval. "Now these are work pairings, not romantic-"

"WHAT!" Came from numerous quarters. "As if I would-" "Don't even think about-" "La-la-la! Can't hear you!" "Stupid clown!"

Mesphisto smiled. "I've always thought the way Suguro-san and Kamaki-san fight is cute."

"I take it back, Rin isn't so bad," Bon said.

"I'd date a real gorilla first," Izumo added.

"Could you PLEASE stop thinking about our love lives?" Shima pled. "It's mentally scarring."

"Your magazines don't actually count as a love life," Konekomaru pointed out helpfully.

"Bon, you should be nicer to Izumo-chan if you want Paku to like you." For a moment the entire room stared at Rin in silence.

Izumo eyebrows slowly drew together in a fierce scowl while Bon protested. "I'm a serious student, I don't have time for girls."

"I'm going to have to kill you," Izumo informed him calmly.

"Rin, you do understand that as Bon's knight, you are suppose to prevent him from being killed, not cause his death?" Konekomaru asked dryly.

"You like Paku?" Shiemi asked clapping her hands in delight. "I can't wait to tell her, I bet she likes you too."

Bon turned to Izumo, "Okay kill me now," he said.

Mephisto smirked, enjoying every bit of the chaos. Teaching was even better than anime, much more interactive. He clapped his hands to recapture the class's attention. "Remember, you will be meeting your mentors Monday. Surugo-san, I suggest you make time with the range-master this weekend."

After Mephisto left Shima asked, "Rin, who do you think you'll get as a knight-mentor?"

Rin shrugged. "Somebody who uses a sword I guess."

"Kurikara is a demon sword," Konekomaru pointed out. "It's not a simple blade. The Paladin is the only knight we've seen with a demon sword. They'll probably need to reassign someone from a different branch."

Izumo glanced over at Bon, as they left the classroom she fell in beside him. "We'll want to check Rin's mentor out," she stated. Bon nodded in agreement.