When she had been a little girl, her world had been perfect.
People despised them, labelled them all sorts of things – monsters, traitors, sinners. But Kimiko knew the truth; lived it. Their home had been filled with smiles, their family filled with warmth. She'd seen it for herself. Anyone who said otherwise hadn't lived that life.
They truly were the perfect little family living in their own perfect world. Those were the moments ever playing in her dreams. She remembered those days of sticky table tops and flour covered hair. Running down the halls with dough stuck to each finger. Luca didn't remember those days anymore, but Kimiko remembered them well, even dreamt of it still.
Kimiko awoke from her dream missing the clean scent of sheets and roses from back home. As much as they had covered every last square inch of the place in glamorous furniture, the place was still foreign and the people were still strange.
The students, the rumours, the gossip. Mother was right, this world was filled with monsters.
She glanced toward the large clock hanging neatly on the wall, looked out the window just in time to catch the setting sun. Kimiko had always thought that sunsets were pretty, but nothing as beautiful as the dawn. There was just something poetic about the brightening of a world banishing away the dark, the irony of monsters going into hiding at the end of the night. Kimiko identified herself as one of those monsters.
And then all at once, it registered in her mind with a sinking horror that it was seven; she was so very late.
Immediately, she was running, tossing articles of uniform into an oversized gym bag as she struggled into her combat shorts. To think that the one lesson she was running late for was the very one that made her heart pound.
By the time she tossed her bag into the girl's locker room and made it to the combat arena out in the courtyard, the second match had already begun; some girl from the neighbouring class against that boy who always sat in the front row. Kieran? Kaiden? No, none of those names sounded quite right.
She took the empty seat next to Lynith on the bench amongst other spectating students, eyes tainted as they clashed. Kimiko was impressed. That boy with the dark hair was fast, quite uncommon for boys their age. As far as she knew, boys their age were too caught up with their muscles. But this boy was smart; where he lacked in brawn, he made up with in agility.
To her side, Lynith was looking far to amused to actually be watching the match. It was interesting, but not enough to evoke such a wide grin from her. Again, Kimiko thought she noticed Lynith's eyes doing that strange little glow. She thought to ask about it, but really wasn't sure enough to point it out. Under the light of the setting sun it was kind of hard to tell.
"Glad to see you could make it," Lynith said, eyes not leaving the arena. "Everyone was starting to think you wouldn't show."
"And miss my first combat lesson? Not a chance."
"Good choice. This one's an interesting one."
"How can you tell?"
A sudden applause quickly drew her attention back to the match at hand. Rightfully earned it was too. The boy with the dark hair pretty much had the match wrapped up at this point, feigning an attack from the left then striking the girl from above. Truly impressive. Then all too soon, Professor Woodwork was back on the field, practically kicking the two off the arena, ready to announce the third match of the evening. So much for basking in the light of his victory, the poor kid only got two seconds to make one leap of joy.
Kimiko remembered the brief mention from Omi at yesterday's supper that third matches were usually reserved for Purebloods in Woodwork's class. Obvious enough to them all, Woodwork was about to throw Kimiko out onto that arena.
Woodwork looked straight up at her sitting on the stands and lamented, "Young Lady Alistair, so nice of you to finally join us,"
Kimiko nodded, her smile unwavering. The obvious sarcasm wasn't lost to her, but-
"Third match," Woodwork announced, and as expected, he elected to put the new girl out on the field. "Lady Alistair Kimiko against–" he looked around, surveying his options, "–Lady S'valia Celeste."
The students were going wild with anticipation. Third matches in Woodwork's have always been the main event in combat classes. Nothing was more entertaining than watching their strongest trying to beat the crap out of each other. Kimiko supposed everyone was just a cynic in that sense.
From the corner of her eye, she caught Celeste giving Clay a strange look. Whether that was due to an uncertainty about losing to or overpowering an Alistair though, Kimiko wasn't sure. But it looked like the rest of the Purebloods had an idea or two. Arella for one didn't bother masking her smirk. The match was as good as over as far as she's concerned. Raimundo overheard her whispering to Omi on her left that Celeste would have her win in a minute or less, but Raimundo had to disagree. Celeste would ultimately emerge victorious of course, her swordsmanship was one of their finest. But he supposed Kimiko deserved a little more credit than 'a minute or less'; two minutes perhaps.
Raimundo watched both girls select their swords. He knew Celeste was fond of the twin mithril blades and she was a creature of habit. Kimiko on the other hand, he predicted would select the rapier. Girls tended to go with the rapiers; they were light and swing around like a fairy's wand. Twin blades were never the popular choice due to the level of skill required and that was why Raimundo ended up very surprised when Kimiko foolishly selected the pair of twin hook blades. She must be crazy, he thought. Then again, each time he thinks she's doing something crazy, Kimiko always found some way to surprise.
Both girls strode to the middle of the arena where they bowed simultaneously.
Woodwork stepped off the field to give way to what was certainly a highly anticipated duel. As the crowd settled, he announcement, "Begin!"
Celeste took first strike, aiming straight for the head. First strike and already going for vitals. Celeste, he knew, was determined to prove herself. He watched Kimiko intercept with a reaction time that almost seemed impossible, then gracefully side-stepped and deflected Celeste's strikes in single fluid motions. No wide eyes, no panic, no second thoughts. Everyone knew Celeste was a great swordswoman, but who knew the same could be said about the Alistair.
Five seconds into the match and already it was becoming clear that Alistair too was out to prove herself.
Celeste attacked with grace – slashing and deflecting blows with all the elegance imaginable in every stance. Kimiko on the other hand never wasted a single movement. Not into perfecting a stance, not into perfecting a strike. From the looks of it, she didn't seem to care about those. Completely unorthodox, but she was just as graceful without it.
Kimiko dodged Celeste's next swing at her ankles with a jump, purposefully landing atop Celeste's blade to wedge it between her foot and the ground. She aimed a slice directly at her hand and as anticipated, it forced Celeste to forsake her blade in order to dodge.
The crowd was roaring with excitement when Kimiko kicked her blade aside.
Celeste's stance had been perfect. Her strikes had been perfect. Kimiko merely waited for the right moment and slashed at her with success. Simply amazing.
After that, Kimiko turned offensive. Two blades against one. Celeste held her own extremely well for the rest of the match but as the match advanced, both girls were left with but a single sword and when Kimiko finally hooks Celeste's blade, she sent it skidding to the far edge of the arena.
Almost four minutes. Longer than any of them had expected and the victor hadn't been Celeste.
It was a good fight, Raimundo must admit. There hasn't been a swords duel as exciting as this in a long time simply because no one had ever been able to match up to Celeste. Arella had been a close second, but never quite close enough. This was about to spread like wild-fire in gossips around the school.
Frederick paid attention from the benches as Kimiko and Celeste exchanged acknowledgements, bowing and shaking hands. Genuine respect for a fellow swordswoman.
Well, if nothing else, at least Alistair was polite.
However, Frederick must admit that the girl was rather frightening. She, the devil, beat Celeste in a swords duel looking as innocent and angelic as she had been walking into their class last night.
For all the gossip and rumours that they were used to see being spread around, no one had been prepared for the news of Celeste's loss to create such a row. By the first lesson the next night, their entire school would have already come to know all about such a disgrace.
"What was that stance? I've never seen anything like it!"
"It's not so much a stance, more of a swordplay that my Aunt Freya taught me."
Kimiko tried to remain modest when fact was, she was absolutely beaming inside.
Out of everyone she's met since her arrival, Celeste had been the nicest, most pleasant creature imaginable. It could simply be due to her gentle demeanour but Celeste was absolutely radiant and Kimiko was almost jealous of how easily she seemed to pull that off. Because she knew, contrary to popular belief, elegance was something that took any young lady years and years to master. Celeste seemed to almost be a natural and wielded that elegance like a master.
"Your swordsmanship truly is extraordinary, Lady Kimiko. We must spar again sometime."
"We must. But you flatter me, my precision was nothing compared to yours," she told her. "And please, call me Kimiko."
"Gladly, please address me without any honorifics too then, Kimiko."
They entered the girl's locker room, two new friends bonding over blades and swords. Truly an unusual sight to behold and girls walking past gave them funny looks for it. After all, just hours ago they had never once exchanged a single word of pleasantries and all of a sudden, the two had become unlikely friends.
"This is where I leave you," Celeste paused before what Kimiko assumed was her locker. Simple and decorated with a simple purple ribbon strung by the corner. Okay, so not only was her hair a shade of lavender, she also seemed to particularly like lavender decorations. Kimiko found that kind of adorable. "I shall see you backstage at The Naked Truth then?" Celeste asked.
"That interview tonight, I believe Raimundo must've mentioned it."
"Right, that talk show with Faradaye Skives. Must've slipped my mind for a second there."
Kimiko had been trying to push the thought of being on national television into the furthest depths of her mind, evidently she'd been doing such a terrific job of it she'd gone and forgotten about the entire thing altogether. "Of course, I'll see you there." Kimiko faked her smile, even if her insides were actively churning.
God it shamed her to admit but she was really getting pretty good at this whole fake smiling business. Like mother always said, nothing should ever phase you, nothing should ever make you lose control.
She stood underneath the showers of the girl's shower room, listening to the chattering of girls with far too much free time on their hands, gossiping about the latest scandals and hottest make-up trends. It made Kimiko realise that she really knew nothing about any of those things. How was she to handle an interview when she knew next to nothing about the latest trends and tallest heels? Raimundo had mentioned how the questions on The Naked Truth were never rehearsed. They liked to keep it that way, he'd said – authentic and completely non-scripted. Kimiko, who never had any interest in scandals and gossip, had never so much as watched that talk show. Now she's greatly regretting it because last night Raimundo dropped the news that all the Purebloods attending Alyssum Academy were expected to attend. That, and judging from the uproar of their return, he was most certain Faradaye Skives would be calling her out for 'a little chat'.
Just smile and remember; breathe – Raimundo had told her – You'll do just fine.
He was right. She would be just fine. It was but a simple interview, nothing to be afraid of.
Kimiko stood beneath the hot water and revelled in the feeling of it washing away the tension in her shoulders.
"It would seem that the Fake is seeking shelter in the academy."
"A smart move. She's exploiting the academy's strong defences."
"The Alistairs must already be on to us."
"Be still, child. They are a cautious lot, but they haven't begun to suspect a thing."
"In that case, we have to dispose of the Fake as soon as possible. She poses the largest threat to me."
"Fake or not, she is the strongest of the lot. We must tread carefully when it comes to that one."
"She's sly, but I can take her."
"No, our pieces are moving into place. Just a little while longer, child. Vengeance will ultimately be yours."
"I can already smell it."
Backstage on the set was shrouded in quite the mass of activity, she quickly realised. The second she'd stepped foot into the vicinity, she'd been greeted by people attached to headsets yelling for staff to ready themselves and a few others scampering around in search of fellow co-stars. Kimiko stood right in its midst trying to understand how anyone could manage to attach the term 'bloody imbecile' to the back of someone else's name quite so easily.
Everything accounted for, Kimiko had simply never seen such an epic display of mayhem in her life.
Then a voice addressed her out of nowhere, deep with an unfamiliar, but charming rasp. It brought a calm so contrary to the outward chaos that it took her more than a mere second to even realise. "Good to see you here tonight, Young Lady Alistair."
"Lord Hawkesworth!" she whirled around, came face to face with the Supreme and curtsied out of formality. "Good evening, it is my pleasure to be here."
He nodded, then glanced around the set, almost proud. "Quite remarkable isn't it; this place?"
"It really is."
"Do you know how many people watch The Naked Truth each week, Lady Kimiko?"
"I've heard that almost every household watches it each week, my Lord."
Thousands of noble vampire households watching them television, not to mention their butlers, their maids and all of their one-hundred servants. Kimiko didn't even wish to wonder how many pairs of eyes that would actually amount to.
"You'd be surprised by the amount of influence a pureblood holds, Lady Kimiko. Say the word and we'd be having riots on our hands in every other state."
Lord Hawkesworth took another step toward her, intimidating and uncomfortably close but Kimiko was determined not to take a single step away. It might've been just her alone who was sensing it, but Kimiko was convinced she saw the faint spark of something hostile in his eyes. For one reason or the other, Lord Hawkesworth really didn't like her very much.
"I understand, my Lord."
People had often described Lord Hawkesworth's voice as warm, smooth. But Kimiko listened to his voice and thought of a snake.
"You best be watching yourself, my dear." Lord Hawkesworth said and as he straightened himself, plastered across his face was a smile so charming, it could've fooled just about anyone. "Have a nice night."
He strode off to take his place in the audience and it suddenly hit her why she would be standing in that very spot at all. The rest of the Purebloods are still awaiting her arrival in the guest room. Dear Lord, they were all going to have her head.
So, in a floor-length gown and four-inch heels, Kimiko began to run.
"Where is she? It has been ten minutes, she is late!" Omi was pacing with his hands behind his back. "How many times must the Alistair heiress be late in a day? First combat lessons and now The Naked Truth. Did she really believe that no one noticed?"
Arella crossed her arms, leant back in her seat. "Careful Omi, wouldn't want to get caught complaining about our little princess."
"Are ya done, Arella?" Clay finally spoke up. He rarely interrupted petty squabbles, always thought it nonsensical and not his business to care. However, Arella had been nothing but sarcastic whenever it came to the topic of Alistair Kimiko and Clay wasn't picking sides when he made it known how annoying that actually was. "I can't deal with this petty hostility okay?"
Right at that moment, Alistair Kimiko came running into the studio's guest room all glamorous and panting. "Has the talk show started? I'm so sorry I'm late!"
She was a mess and allowed her formality to slip. She needed to recover quickly. Arella glared but Kimiko chose not to care. Although she had to admit that it was rather humorous how the Lucard heiress wasn't saying anything for a change. Raimundo of course, offered her his usual smile; the formal one that she noticed he often wore in the presence of his peers.
"You look lovely tonight, Kimiko," he told her. In a room filled with dissatisfied Purebloods, his smile, along with the presence of friendly faces such as Lynith and Celeste's, was enough reassurance for her to regain her calm. Raimundo said, "Worry not, all is well, the talk show has yet to start."
"Oh, thank goodness."
"Your pin is coming a little undone though."
She touched her hair. But the curls were so intricately pinned that she couldn't seem to find what he was talking about.
"Here." And with all his charm radiating in waves, Raimundo reached out, turned her slightly to the side and gently pushed the pin back into place. "There, good as new."
It was the hair stick. The one with the dangling sakura flowers father had given her. "Thank you."
Behind her, Kimiko could distinctly feel Arella's glare drilling holes through her skull.
Raimundo, being ever the perfectionist, gave in to the urge to ensure that all was going according to schedule with the staff. However, a member of said staff entered the studio room right as Raimundo was about to exit the guest room and bowed so low she almost rivalled Raimundo's butler for the perfect ninety-degree.
"My Lords, my Ladies, it's time to take your seats in the audience." she told them.
Kimiko noted that Frederick was first to stand before the rest followed suit. How traditional, they've stuck to the hierarchy of the Purebloods; Hawkesworth, Alistair, Althalos. With her in no position to lead, in Raimundo's absence, Frederick was the leader. Made sense.
Kimiko made to follow suit but was quickly stopped as the staff took a clear step to block her exit. "Lady Kimiko," she bowed in the most respectful way she knew how, "We have a surprise prepared for you tonight. May I humbly request your presence on our program?"
Her smile, for lack of a better word; it's fake. It concealed a little something behind it.
Surely it was more than just a surprise, maybe they'd pull a gigantic roach in front of her on national television. But Kimiko was determined to let known that the Alistair heiress wasn't scared of some measly roach. Let the world know; she was more likely to step on that poor thing than to scream.
"Thank you, my Lady."
The staff member bowed again with her thanks and rushed off in a string of 'Excuse me's, 'Sorry's, then followed by a sharp 'I said get out of the way!'.
Although Kimiko didn't particularly agree or disagree with such crude behaviour, she found it all very interesting all the same.
Raimundo entered the room just in time to see the slight amusement in her eyes.
"Like what you see?"
"Of course. The people running around, the yelling – it's so energetic around here!" she told him. "Oh, and of course, there's also the language!" Kimiko laughed.
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose in annoyance. "Don't even get me started."
"Why? I think it's brilliant!"
"Certainly. It's nice to see such endearment amongst the staff."
She must be delusional. "You think calling someone a bloody imbecile is a form of endearment?"
Raimundo was staring at her like's she'd grown a second head and yet all Kimiko could think about was how she pitied him.
"It's hard to explain."
All anyone ever did all day was bow in his presence and if he asked them to, they'd probably drop to their knees and roll over without question as well. Such boring creatures they were. Kimiko felt slightly sorry for them.
"Besides that," she said, turning to scrutinise his expression. Those dark emerald eyes, that perfectly controlled expression. She reached up, pulled the sakura hair stick from her hair; the one Raimundo had pushed back into place earlier, watched for a reaction. Nothing. She placed the accessory onto the small coffee table between them. Luca had done a beautiful job of pinning it up so meticulously, but tonight, Kimiko was in the mood for a bit of a dramatic flair.
"You know, you could've just asked me directly about it," she said, taking her time letting the rest of her hair loose. All whilst Raimundo sat watching her in fascination.
"Asked you about what?"
"The spell you placed on my hairpin." She replied without preamble. "A spying charm was it?"
The jig was up. She shouldn't have noticed for he had been extremely careful. But now that she had, Raimundo didn't see a point in bothering to deny it. "A tracking charm."
She combed through her hair with her fingers, loosened out those curls. "So it was just a tracker. Honestly I would've agreed to it if only you'd asked."
"Oh, come on, Kimiko. You weren't born yesterday and neither was I." He leant in close, till his face was just inches from hers. "I honestly doubt that you would."
"Why? I have nothing to hide, Raimundo." She met his gaze head on, challenging, knowing.
It was a lie, of course. With every clan there would always be secrets to hide, the Hawkesworths were no exception so Raimundo knew exactly what that was like. However, concealed amongst those secrets were layers upon layers of lies. Lies she'd told the public, lies she'd told herself. The girl was like a living personification of the concept of deception and Raimundo simply couldn't leave that lying.
She didn't sense anything threatening about him unlike with his father. If anything, Raimundo seemed sceptical, curious and definitely unconvinced. So she tells him, with his face so close to hers she could practically feel the warmth of his body heat on her skin, "If there is something you would like to know, all you have to do is ask."
And there they stood for a moment. Just the two of them, heir and heiress, sizing the other up. She couldn't look away, for some reason, this boy captivated her in ways she never thought possible.
But then the staff with the largest stack of scripts she had ever seen entered the room without even the slightest thought of knocking and the moment was broken.
"Lady Kimiko, it's time."
That was the cue for a pair standing this close to jump apart. But with souls as prideful as these ones, neither budged for a good second. After which Kimiko nodded, with eyes still tainted on Raimundo, then picked up the sakura hair stick. The one with the tracking charm still embedded inside.
"I think I'll hold onto this for a little while longer."
They could try their best, but in the end, they would never catch her stumbling.
"Well then, I'll see you later. We still have a tour around the library to finish, don't we, Kimiko?'
"Yes, I believe we do. Until then, Raimundo."
Usually the level of enthusiasm on these shows were pretty phenomenal, but it's been a while since Raimundo last saw such uncontrolled reactions from the crowd. She had been escorted onto the set as Raimundo stood backstage behind the cameras watching Kimiko take everything in stride.
Faradaye had kissed the back of her hand, she had given him a casual greeting and then curtsied to the crowd. Even the way she crosses her legs as she sits gave no first-time jitters away.
Here we go; Faradaye's opening. One word from him and he had the entire audience captivated.
"That is quite a lovely gown I must say, Lady Kimiko. A beautiful gown for a beautiful young lady."
"Thank you. That is quite a lovely microphone you have there."
Faradaye laughs, "Yes, I do believe so, my Lady."
Kimiko was good. Even the crowd was chuckling along. Raimundo has heard of some of the guests on these shows having to guess at the upcoming questions in order to plan their perfect answers, but Alistair Kimiko just walked onto stage, opened her mouth and the entire crowd was instantly with her.
"So, I'm sure everyone is dying to know," Faradaye started, "Tell us, how has life been post-seclusion?"
Ah, the easy question.
"It's been wonderful. Such an eye opener, I received quite the culture shock."
"I can imagine that the transition was tough."
She chuckles, "No, what's tough is dragging all that luggage up to the third floor by yourself whilst your sister plays the I-have-no-muscle-mass card because she's twelve."
Laughter. Even in a crowd where amongst them sat individuals still harbouring ill-will towards the Alistairs, the response was generally a positive one. Raimundo stood impressed. Their conversation on air went on just like that, quirky the entire way. Kimiko took everything in stride, answered each question intelligently with a filter the size of Italy. Nothing scandalous, nothing offensive.
"Last question, Lady Kimiko. I have to ask, I heard this rumour going around that you've charmed several young men into sending you flowers in the short days you've spent here. Have you heard about those?"
She looked at him, stunted for the first time this entire interview. She recovered quickly though with an utter look of amusement. "Oh, trust me, I've heard those rumours, Faradaye. What I don't know about is the whereabouts of those flowers because they certainly weren't sent to me."
"What a surprise, I for one would've thought you'd be drowning in suitors by now."
"Well, I guess you can never quite trust the rumour mill can you?"
"Believe me, Lady Kimiko, I know."
Of course he did, Faradaye practically monopolised the rumour mill. A good number of rumours had originated from him and for all she knew, this stupid one about the flowers had been created by none other than Faradaye himself. Talk about the naked truth.
The interview ended incredibly soon after, much to their immense relief. Raimundo had joined the audiences in their applause. It really wasn't too bad for a first interview. In fact, it had been rather commendable if he had to be honest, witty, entertaining – the key factors of what a talk show should be like.
A little voice piped up from right behind him that almost made him jump. "I have to say, Kimi's doing a really good job."
He turned, behind him stood a little girl of ten, maybe twelve, wearing their school colours. Dark hair, with striking purple eyes. He's never met her, but something about her features seemed almost familiar somehow. But now wasn't the time to dwell on that. "I'm terribly sorry, but students aren't allowed on the set, I'm going to have to ask you to-"
"Oh, I'm not a student here."
"So, the uniform?"
"Shh, it's my sister's. I simply borrowed it for a bit."
Granted, the uniform did perhaps look two sizes too big on her. A non-student roaming the campus? It dawned on him then; this was no ordinary girl. "A pleasure to finally meet you, Lady Luca." He bowed, extended his hand.
She curtsied in return, offered her hand where he planted a feathering kiss. "The pleasure's all mine, Raimundo."
She had deliberately omitted the use of honorifics. Very interesting, very bold for a child. The Alistairs certainly had raised a daring litter. He asked her, "Are you supposed to be here, Lady Luca?"
"Not really. But I had to, I was getting bored." She pouted, returned her gaze onto the set where the cameras were now off and Kimiko was having a casual conversation with Faradaye. "Plus, I've never seen a talk show before."
"And how are you liking it so far?"
"It's amazing. I like how crazy it is with all the yelling and the cursing."
"Funny, your sister said the same thing."
She offered no other explanation and Raimundo decided not to push. He figured the Alistair household must be pretty rowdy for both sisters to enjoy the uncontrolled chaos on the set. Raimundo chose not to question that logic. Besides, Luca really seemed to be enjoying herself.
"I shall leave you to roam the premises then," he told her. She shuffled her feet, like she had something to ask of him but wasn't sure that was the smartest thing to do. So he prompts, "Something you need, Lady Luca?"
"You won't tell Kimiko I was here will you?"
She looked a little worried. Who knows, maybe Kimiko was actually really strict on her younger sibling. He offered her a smile quickly followed by a charming wink, "Don't worry, your secret is safe with me."
She did an adorable little curtsy and ran off in the direction of the dormitories. Although, with the slight cheekiness she had exhibited, Raimundo had a sneaky suspicion she wasn't quite heading back for her room.
Strange, before she made herself known to him, Raimundo hadn't sensed her presence standing right next to him at all. Perhaps the use of the Alistairs' famed barriers had several more variations to its use than they thought. Whatever it was, if a young girl of twelve was able to cast a barrier strong enough to completely mask her presence, Raimundo couldn't wait to see what an Alistair who had achieved the full maturity of her powers could do.
He watched Kimiko headed off-stage headed toward him in smiles.
Raimundo had made good of his promise to show her around. Not only was he giving her the tour of the library, but on their way there, they'd even stopped by the cafeteria for pistachio mint ice-cream. Kimiko had even made a comment about what a charmer he was in her moment of sundae bliss. Neither one of them had brought up their little pre-interview incident, which was just as well. Kimiko saw no point in its discussion anyway.
Now walking down long aisles filled with written and printed literature, Kimiko doesn't miss how Raimundo was conveniently pushing the books oddly jutting out of their rows every so often along the shelf back into alignment. It was rather endearing – this little tendency of his – and Kimiko was absolutely determined not to laugh.
"What's Hamlet doing on the top shelf?"
His head snapped up in search of the odd Shakespeare amongst compositions of Mozart. Something about that made her wonder if being a perfectionist was really worth all the hassle.
"I don't see it."
"It's right there," she pointed to a random spot on the top shelf. "See?"
He squinted as if that would've made a difference. He was really trying, but the look of confusion on his face sent her into a fit of giggles and just like that the jig was up. Raimundo ended up chuckling as well, even if he was shaking his head.
"You're just full of surprises, aren't you?" There was that tiny spark of wit in his eyes again. Kimiko had realised earlier on how carefully hidden that spark was before the rest of society. It was slight, but she was certain that at some point, that must've been one of his more attractive traits to flaunt.
"That aside," she said, glancing around. "This place truly is amazing."
"Extraordinary isn't it?" He had probably been silently laughing at her childish enthusiasm this entire time. "Every single piece of literature ever written is archived here. Every spell ever casted, every history book ever recorded. They're all here."
Decorum dictated that she at least attempt to mask her enthusiasm. It was inappropriate and it was unsightly for a Pureblood to be so blatantly enthusiastic about anything. But like most of their rules around here, Kimiko felt that it was complete and utter rubbish.
She watched Raimundo pull a book off a shelf, took a brief look at its cover before handing it to her. "Here."
"Babble's Favourite Nursery Rhymes?"
Raimundo nodded with that charming grin she's quickly finding herself quite accustomed to. "It's no Shakespeare tragedy," he told her, "But I thought this might be a little more age appropriate."
"Age appropriate?" she raised her brow with a laugh.
"Wall climbing and now habitual nit-picking, Kimiko is there nothing that you are incapable of?"
"Well, I seem quite incapable of reaching the top shelf." she offered.
"Then I guess we better go fetch a ladder before you get any more funny ideas."
Raimundo had known her only a couple days, but it was becoming increasingly evident how much they both enjoyed bringing up references to their brief encounter three years ago. It was nothing fancy, nothing extravagant, but it was a whole little secret that was entirely theirs to tell.
And for a Pureblood whose entire life had always been put up for broadcast, Raimundo thought the idea of keeping a little secret just to themselves slightly exhilarating.
They had been casually strolling down the aisle of books for a while and it had also been deceptively light-hearted when she finally asked:
"So, what is it you want from me exactly?"
She appeared care-free and slightly mysterious, but she also almost seemed to have him all figured out. He turned a puzzled look her way, amused and slightly curious. "Care to explain?"
"You distrust me so, yet you offer to take me on school tours and voluntarily choose to spend time with me when you could be with friends. You take the friendly route, try to get close, but you're careful because you're scared to offend. It's not the same as someone who's just trying to be courteous, Raimundo. You want something."
"You're incredibly perceptive, Kimiko." He smiled, almost like his version of raising a white flag to her. "You're right, I do have something to ask of you."
"And what would that be?"
She was willing to entertain his request. Wasn't an agreement, but he supposed her willingness to listen was a good start. "As you know, the Hawkesworths have been the only bloodline to inherit control over all the seven elements. Takes us almost an entire lifetime to be proficient in most of them. Even then there is always much that we cannot achieve."
She smiled, polite and patient. She already knowing where this was going. "Your clan has gained adequate control over most of the elements with the exception of one."
He nodded, made the actual request for himself. "There has never been an ice-user amongst us. Everything the Hawkesworths have passed down was self-taught, it's unspecialised and it lacks expertise. I wish to change that. I would like you to teach me."
"And give away all my family's secrets?"
"Not your secrets, but I would like to build some foundational skills. The right way; Lady Toreia's way"
She took a slight moment to think, gave it some thought. She guessed that the Hawkesworths had been casting ice in a method that was kind of like a hybrid of fire and earth casting for centuries. Probably was terrible casting, but they were already considered almost all powerful. He didn't need her. She had no interest in teaching.
"I appreciate your trust in my capabilities, but I have to decline." There was no way in hell that he genuinely thought she was that stupid.
"At least give it some thought."
"Don't you have tutors for that?"
"Not an Alistair," he told her. "Not like you."
"A bold statement to make considering you've never actually seen me cast."
"Any amount of proper guidance from you would be of great help."
"You've been suspicious of me, even attempted to slip a tracking charm on me. Why should I help you?"
"Because I am really trying my hardest to trust you."
Out of nowhere, he dropped that little bomb on her head and Kimiko simply didn't know how to react. Of everyone here, Raimundo had been the most confusing. Nothing about him was quite what it seemed. Kimiko didn't like that, she liked relationships kept straightforward and simple. "I know you don't believe me and we haven't made this change the easiest for you, Kimiko," he admitted. "But I am trying."
His bold declaration had certainly thrown her off guard. But it shouldn't have; she saw it in him, she's seen his effort. Kimiko knew they had ways to go but she looked at him and believed he really was trying. She decided in that moment that she would too.
"Okay. I'll do it."
"…Just like that?"
"Just like that. I'll teach you the basics of casting ice, no strings attached."
Raimundo had to say, he was rather surprised. He had thought he'd need weeks, maybe months to wear her down before she would agree to give him some tips, maybe even watch him cast then give him a couple pointers. But to receive a private lesson from an Alistair – to say Raimundo was pleased was a real understatement.
"Thank you, I really appreciate it."
"Don't thank me yet. Just so you know, my methods aren't exactly the most stress-free."
"I wouldn't expect anything less."
Luca would absolutely kill her. Giving the key to mastery of all elements to the Hawkesworths didn't sound like the smartest move to her own ears either. But her mind was made up now, and she was going to teach the Hawkesworth heir the most beautiful magic of all.
Sun was rising. She stood by an open window, made a twirl and soaked in the sunlight as it touched her skin. It was a long moment of quiet basking before she spoke. "So, when do we start?"