Author notes: This story takes place loosely between the Rewinding Town (Miranda's introduction) Arc and the beginning of the search for General Marion Cross. It is set in the manga continuity. Although there are no formal pairings in this story, there will probably be platonic hints of Allen/Rinali (since the author ships them, ahaha). I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1: Dark Skies
A thunderstorm was starting.
Elisia dodged between the raindrops as she ran home, or at least she tried to. She wasn't very good at it, though, so she kept getting wet anyway, even though they were fat, slow drops. The sky had grown very dark and the wind had picked up just before school got out, and now the air was very still. Lightning flashed and Elisia jumped, shrieking at the thunder he wind.
"I hate thunderstorms--!"
It was the third thunderstorm this week. Rain wasn't very uncommon in the spring but lately the storms were worse than usual. Two days ago a tree had fallen on her friend's house after it was struck by lightning. All the moms and dads that Elisia knew always looked very tense and whispered to each other, and two weeks ago Eric had stopped coming to class. Everyone said it was because he was hurt by one of the storms, but nobody knew for sure. On Sunday the priest had said that God always knew what He was doing, but Elisia thought that God must be angry to send so many storms. Elisia wasn't even supposed to be going home alone today but she wanted to beat the storm home.
When she got home it was dark inside because of the storm, so Elisia lit a gas lamp and went to the kitchen, where her mom would be. But the kitchen was dark too. "Mom?" she called, feeling scared now. If her mom didn't appear soon she was going to hide under the covers of her bed until the storm was gone and only come out when her mom got back from wherever she had--
There was another flash of lightning, and Elisia shrieked again. When the thunder had passed, she lifted her lamp - she thought she had seen her mother for a moment--
Elisia's mom was there after all, but only her head. It rested on a platter on the table.
Three Weeks Later
"Ah, I really dislike France," Allen Walker grumbled, bracing himself against the side of the carriage. The road wasn't designed for a carriage like this one, made of dirt and occasionally dusted with gravel, but it was too late now. They bounced along the road, Allen thinkng about how much more comfortable a hay wagon would have been compared to this formal contraption.
Rinali Li wasn't much better off, sitting opposite Allen. "Why is that? You don't just mean the roads, do you?" she asked, trying to be as polite as possible while clutching the seat to keep from being bounced too much.
"It's just the sort of place Master likes," Allen sighed. "Paris, France - a city of decadence."
In actuality, they were now south of the capital of France. Once again on the search for a piece of Innocence, Allen and Rinali had been dispatched together to a small town called Ville Reves about ten miles outside of Paris.
Allen laughed abruptly. "It's just lucky none of Master's debtors found us! That would have been unfortunate."
Rinali laughed nervously in answer. "H-how so?" she stammered, wincing as they went over a stone.
"Mm, well, sometimes it gets a little violent," Allen explained. "And--" But he was interrupted by the carriage pulling up to a halt. "Mm? We're here already?" He pulled aside the window curtains to see nothing but plains and a narrow but quick river. "Eh?" Allen poked his head out of the carriage. "Excuse me, why are we stopping?"
"This is as far as I can go," the carriage driver reported, his French accent thick. "See for yourself - the bridge has been washed out."
Allen exchanged looks with Rinali, and the two of them climbed out of the carriage. Indeed, the road led right over the river, but closer now it was obvious the river had once been nothing more than a creek. A stone bridge peeked out in the middle of the water but the rushing water had eroded away the road leading to and from it. "Oh ..."
"It's not a problem," Rinali murmured to Allen. "I can jump it with my boots." She raised her voice. "How far is the village from here?"
"Not more than two miles, but you'd best turn back and try again tomorrow - maybe the river will have receded by then. If you're lucky, that is," the carriage driver grumbled. "The weather lately has been terrible. Storms, one after another. I swear, it's like a curse."
Allen glanced at Rinali again. They had expected to hear this from locals. "We were first alerted by strange weather patterns," Komui had told them, "But now there are strange deaths in the area ... a serial killer is a small possibility, but ..."
Three Finders had been sent to Ville Reves two weeks ago, disguised as normal citizens. All three were now missing. With that news, the likelihood of an Earl operative had gone up dramatically. "The weather might be caused by a piece of Innocence," Komui had said, standing. "This is now the business of Exorcists. Go retrieve it!"
"We'll be all right." Allen smiled at the driver and handed him his fee. "This should be enough. Thank you for taking us this far."
The driver eyed them both, then sighed and reached behind him, handing down their luggage - a single bag for both of them. "If you get rained on, don't blame me," he warned, and turned the carriage around. "Hup hup!" And the carriage bumped away down the road.
Allen couldn't help looking up at the clear sky after that comment. "Really ...?" But he could see why the man was disgruntled. If the rainwater was disrupting his business, it had to be hard on him.
Rinali looked after the carriage. "He's gone. Innocence, Invoke!" With a flare of energy that lifted her skirts, her Dark Boots flared to life. She wrapped an arm around Allen's waist and Allen reflexively curled his arm around the back of her neck, grabbing their luggage with his other hand. "Hold on," Rinali warned, and leapt across the swollen creek with so little effort it was as if she was flying.
For Allen the experience was surreal and too short. The creek fell away and the opposite bank rushed up and then they were landing; Allen stumbled a little, staggering a step away from Rinali. Rinali smiled and her invocation ended, letting her ankle-length skirts once again settle around her legs.
Although normally as Exorcists they would have been dressed in their uniforms, for now they were supposed to be undercover. Usually this would be a horrible mission to send Allen on - his scar and hair were easy to identify and his face was known even by the Earl - but Allen's ability to see AKUMA before they transformed was invaluble. To protect against discovery, Allen was wearing a hat that covered most of his hair, gloves on his hands, and stage makeup over his forehead, hiding the upside-down pentacle scar. Rinali's clothes were plain and covered her boots, although they looked quite normal when not invoked.
"Thank you," Allen said awkwardly, and Rinali shrugged.
"It was the fastest way."
"Well, a two-mile walk isn't a problem for us," Allen remarked, swinging their suitcase over his shoulder. "We might as well get started, in case a storm really is coming."
They walked in amicable silence for a while. Their trip from England had gone rather smoothly. Paris had been a bit dodgy; while they had been kept up in a nice inn, it was hard to travel anywhere well-populated without running across AKUMA. For Rinali's part, she wouldn't have known anything was amiss except for Allen's eye. He covered his eye with his hand and smiled politely, but Rinali grasped his sleeve. "Are you all right?"
"Mm, it's hard to not do anything," Allen complained. Rinali could see the bitter edge in his smile now.
"We can't, though," Rinali murmured. They were supposed to avoid the Earl's attention.
"I know," Allen said, clenching his fist at his side. He lifted his gaze. "Ah, look, parfaits! Let's eat there!"
Rinali had let him change the subject.
Presently Allen was frowning at the sky. "Rinali, look," he said, pointing. Rinali followed Allen's finger. There was a line of clouds on the horizon; they didn't look very threatening, but it was almost possible to watch as they billowed skywards, great columns of white. "I guess that must be the unusual weather Komui told us about."
"I've never seen a storm form so fast," Rinali admitted. "If we don't hurry we'll get rained on."
"But aren't we hurrying towards the clouds?" Allen asked, smiling a little. But they picked up their pace all the same.
The clouds rose unnaturally into the sky as they watched, and then stretched across the sparsely wooded plain their path cut through. The town came into view as the wind picked up; Allen crammed his hat down on his head. Lightning flashed in the distance and thunder rumbled. Rinali couldn't help wincing a little at the sound.
Their feet hit cobblestone streets just as the rain started to come down. "Do you think a place this small has an inn?" Rinali asked over the wind; the townspeople were nowhere to be seen, sensibly indoors for the rough weather.
"We're not that far from Paris - there's probably at least one," Allen answered. "Ah, look, over there--" he pointed the way and Rinali shielded her face and followed him. The sign over the doorway swung wildly; Rinali couldn't read it before Allen opened the door and ushered her inside.
The room they stepped into was lit dimly by gas lamps; a young man was going about lighting the others with a long match, going between the empty chairs and tables scattered in front of a well-stocked bar. The windows rattled in the wind and rain, and the thunder was ominously close behind flashes of lightning. Allen touched the small of Rinali's back briefly before coughing politely. "Excuse me," he called. "We were hoping to get a room?"
The young man lighting the gas lamps looked up; his hair was in his eyes and he was pale. When he stood up squarely he was nearly a foot taller than Allen. "Bonjour, Monsieur, Mademoiselle. Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas anglais - mais si vous patientez quelques secondes, je vais chercher la patronne."
Allen blanched a little, his face screwing up comically. "Ah, um ... je suis desole aussi. Pardon, my Français is, er, mauvais." He paused, appearing to think. "Oui, nous ... nous voudrions obtenir une chambre, please."
Rinali simply waited, smiling pleasantly. Allen's knowledge of French was far more extensive than her own, although she could follow the proceedings slightly: something about the patron of the house and obtaining a room.
The man nodded and went behind the counter stocked with alcohol. "La chambre est à 30 francs par nuit. Est-ce que ça vous convient?"
Allen turned to Rinali. "He says the room is thirty francs per night. Is that in our budget?"
Rinali nodded, reaching into the small purse tucked into her petticoats. It matched her dark blue dress - her brother's design. "We have more than enough," she acknowledged, holding out enough money for five nights at that rate. Allen relayed the information while proferring the money, and soon the man was taking down a room key for them.
"Qu'est-ce qui vous amène dans--Mon Dieu!" the man exclaimed halfway through his sentence as the door banged open. The wind had torn the door from its jamb. He hurried around the counter, but Allen and Rinali both gasped with shock at the cold rain hitting their back and pressed the door shut together. "Ah, ah, je suis desole!"
Allen laughed nervously, his back against the door. "Non, non," he panted, smiling. "Le chambre, please? I'd - je voudrais mesécher."
The room was a single bed. Allen gestured and struggled with French in an effort to explain why this was not appropriate, but apparently there were no rooms with double beds. Rinali shook her head at the additional cost, and Allen apologized for the trouble. Soon enough they were alone, but not before the man lit both gas lamps in the room.
"Keep them lit throughout the storm," the clerk advised. Allen cocked his head at that strange advice, but the man said nothing more as he closed the door behind himself.
"I'll sleep on the floor," Allen offered as he stripped off his wet jacket and gloves.
"Nonsense," Rinali protested. "We'll share the bed. There's enough room," she pointed out. She picked at the tiny buttons that ran down her back, wanting out of the damp linen. "Can you help me?"
Allen had seen her in less clothes before, but he still blushed as he helped Rinali out of her dress. They laid out their outfits side-by-side to dry, Allen in his boxers and Rinali in her camisole and bloomers, and wrapped themselves in the blankets on the bed; they sat side by side and looked out the tiny window at the pouring rain. The storm showed no signs of letting up.
The approaching rain had so occupied Allen upon their arrival that he realized he had paid little attention to their surroundings. "A town this small, it likely relies on trade with Paris," he said quietly. "With storms this severe every few days, their crops are probably suffering. And this inn ..." Allen hunched his shoulders a little. "The common room was completely empty."
"No one wants to come here." Rinali didn't look away from the pouring rain. "Allen, where's the report Brother gave us?"
Allen turned to their shared suitcase and opened it, pulling out the sheaf of papers with details on the circumstances of their mission. At the same time, Timcampi shot up out of the briefcase. Allen startled, then laughed as the golem whizzed around the room as if stretching its wings. Timcampi had to stay hidden, since he was distinctive and golems were rarely seen far from the Exorcists. "Ah, hello, Tim." The golem made a few trips around the room before settling on the crown of his head. "Have I ruined your nest up there with my hat?" Allen asked mildly. Timcampi made no noticable reply, but it nuzzled Rinali's finger when she reached up to stroke its wing with a smile.
He handed the report to Rinali, and she flipped through it. "Mm, it doesn't say anything about the surrounding areas, but I wonder if it's extremely dry?"
Allen knew almost nothing about the weather or how it worked; he shrugged. "More importantly, where would the Innocence be? Do you think it might be floating in the sky?"
"Perhaps." Rinali pursed her lips. "Allen, doesn't it make you sad? Innocence is a weapon for God, but it always seems to do terrible things on its own."
Allen was quiet for a moment. It was true that Innocence, unchecked, seemed to cause horrible things; he had seen it power a murderous doll and lock a city into an endlessly repeating day. Here in this town it was causing such severe storms that livelihoods were destroyed and people were dying. But for him, he was unconcerned as to whether Innocence was a good or bad thing; it allowed him to do what he needed to - save the souls trapped on earth as AKUMA - and that was all that mattered. "God has a purpose in all things," he quoted, and smiled at Rinali. "Maybe we don't understand it."
Rinali sighed. "Mm. I suppose." Then she brightened abruptly. "Oh, Allen, perhaps we should try those translators Brother made for us! It will make things easier for you." She leaned over Allen to their suitcase and reached into the side pocket, pulling out the small devices.
They were egg-shaped, designed to fit in the ear. Allen took one from Rinali's outstretched hand and slid it into his left ear, founding it fit nicely. While it could not translate what Allen and Rinali said to others not wearing the device, it would translate what they heard to English. Thomas in the Science Department had been quite excited about the invention, half-talking over Komui who was almost as thrilled. Together they'd described very thoroughly how the translators worked; the explanation was completely wasted on Allen, who had nodded politely and said 'I see' when he thought it would be a good idea, but by the time they'd mentioned quartz vibrations he had been entirely lost.
He was a little apprehensive about using anything Komui had invented, but his French was pretty rusty and he didn't have time to relearn it properly. Rinali had not expressed any like concern, and she didn't speak more than a few words of French.
Allen jumped a little when he heard Rinali speaking in Chinese. The device in his ear made a staticy sound, then said mechanically, "Testing. UNKNOWN, can I be heard?"
Allen blinked. "I think it works," he said wonderingly. "Mm, Rinali, pouvez-vous me comprendre?"
Rinali laughed. "Yes," she nodded, "I understand! They work really well." She reached to take the device out of her ear. "I'm sorry you'll still have to do all the talking for us."
"Oh, no, it's fine," Allen hastened to assure her. Hopefully he wouldn't make any faux pas. "Master and I spent six months in Paris, so I learned a lot of French. I just need to refresh my memory."
"But while we were in Paris a lot of people spoke English," Rinali recalled.
Allen's smile did not falter, although he started to remember some things he would have been happier to forget. "We were in a very different part of Paris."
Just then a lightning flash and a simultanious crack of thunder so loud it deafened them both interrupted their conversation. Allen clapped his hands over his ears; Rinali jumped, letting out a little startled shout. They exchanged looks; that had been very, very close. Timcampi floated off of Allen's hair and whirred nearby as if curious.
A shout from downstairs grabbed both their attentions, and the device still in Allen's ear provided a translation. "Jean, Pierre's store -- a tree fell on it!" It was a woman's voice; Allen wondered if it was the Madame the clerk had mentioned before.
"Was anyone inside!?" This was the clerk.
"The store was dark! If someone was inside, it is probably too late," the woman replied, her voice dropping. After that it was impossible to hear more than muffled speaking.
Allen frowned; Rinali raised her eyebrows at him. "The store was ... dark? I don't understand what that has to do with anything."
"When we came into the room the clerk advised me to keep the gas lamps lit during the storm," Allen recalled. "It's very dark outside, but it seemed like strange advice. I thought perhaps I misunderstood him."
Rinali abruptly stood up, letting the blanket fall to the floor, and crossed the room to their clothes. "Allen, help me," she asked, struggling back into her dress.
"Rinali!?" Allen got to his feet and shuffled back into half-dry pants, throwing on his shirt but leaving it unbuttoned as he helped Rinali button up her dress again. Timcampi tried to burrow into the crook of Allen's shoulder as if finding the best recording angle for Allen's fingers on Rinali's back, and Allen batted it away irritably.
"Allen, there were strange deaths in the area. Remember the report? It said that some people were being beheaded and other gruesome things." She had to stand straight up so Allen could button her in. "Perhaps it only happens in houses that are dark!"
Allen hadn't read much of the report; reading comprehension wasn't his strong point, and Rinali was so smart. "I thought it was just rumors," Allen admitted, but he did her last button and tapped her shoulder to let her know before buttoning up his own shirt. "But I think we should see if we can help no matter what."
Rinali clasped her long black hair back into a single ponytail - she had no time to do more. Allen didn't bother to wear his hat or vest, only his gloves. The rain had lessened, but the sky remained preternaturally dark. "Tim, stay here," Allen ordered, but the golem bit his ear in response. "Ow! Please, Tim, you can't be seen." But the golem would not hear reason. "Oh, fine, come if you must!"
Together they both clambered down the stairs and out the front door of the inn into the thundering weather, the clerk left staring at the slammed-shut door.
to be continued