What I See
Chapter 1: To Touch Tragedy
It was not the sort of request Rin Tohsaka liked to make. In fact, she sincerely hated the situation she was in, as she was almost completely certain it would fall on deaf ears. "I need more materials."
The one she addressed did not even look up from his reading material. This was not uncommon: all hours in which he was supposedly available for consultation were always ones spent doing something completely unrelated to magecraft. Rin had the suspicion he crafted the notoriety deliberately. If he were working on a given topic, any number of factions within the Clock Tower might send a student in just to glimpse what exactly he might be working on. If not that, then his admirers might interest themselves in something as well.
So instead of something related to work, Waver Velvet sat at his desk reading a strategy guide to Valkyria Chronicles.
"No," he said.
"I've hit a wall on the replication process," Rin continued, as if she had not heard him. "If I'm going to make the deadline, I need more resources than I can actually generate myself."
Waver thumbed through to the next page.
"If I don't get the prototype in working order, crazy Wizard Marshall at my side or not, somebody is going to start crying foul. I promised them I'd get at least a demonstration in."
Again, the crinkle of paper being flipped over was the only response. Rin thought that the lecturer was no longer reading so much as using the book as a convenient excuse to ignore her. He could not actually be reading as fast as he made it seem.
"If I get that kind of scrutiny, as the person to recommend me into my current position, you're going to also—"
"Oh shut up," Waver finally ground out, throwing the book onto his desk. "I told you before, I wasn't going to help you any more than I already have. No, nein, fuck no, dame, get someone else to do your dirty work."
Rin could not help but scrunch up her face. "I can't get someone else to do my dirty work, that last apprentice you sent me just—"
"Yeah, yeah, he just oogled your ass and wanted to bukkake you or whatever the hell it is you Japanese people do, I don't care, it isn't my problem." He pointed to the door. "You already got your budget for the remainder of the year. You're the genius, you figure it out. Now, you need to get out of here."
She had been prepared for a long fight—dismissing her offhand was something new. She eyed the elder magus, but decided she would never get anything from his surly poker face. "Fine. If they blow me up for this, I'll make sure it's in your lab so you get to clean up afterward."
It was just another hurdle, she told herself. The higher-ups were starting to breathe down her neck, recovering from the fiasco that the appearance of the Wizard Marshall caused, and it did not bode well for her. They wanted to see what made her the supposed heir apparent to the Second, and she had better get a demonstration going…or else.
Rin, of course, could do it.
…If she had more funding.
A lot more funding.
It would have been nice, she thought, if that old man had left me more to work with himself. Where does he get his stuff, anyway? She had long ago gotten past the oh-god-the-grand-sorcerer-himself-is-here-he's-going-to-kill-me stage and was well into the why-couldn't-you-have-thrown-me-a-bone point. Even if she should just be happy that he did not want to wipe her out of existence for knowing some of his Truth.
It did not help that her time at the Tower was full of additional annoyances. From that Edelfelt heir getting her booted out of the dorms to the lack of potential apprentices—or at least, lack of ones that weren't just interested in the exotic barbarian girl—to the fact that she hadn't even been outside in days because she had spent nearly a week just sleeping in her lab. Cafeteria food was also starting to get tiresome, with the only break in that being some snacks Sakura and Shirou had sent with a care package some weeks ago. And no amount of perfume or spell trickery could make up for a bath. A real bath.
"No, you can't use my bath, so get out," Waver said, like he could read her mind. He made a shooing motion toward the door.
Rin felt like flipping his desk end-over-end at that. The man had somewhere along the line decided to import a deep furo-styled bath to his own living space. There had been some commotion when it was revealed, mostly due to the fact that it was revealed because some of his secret admirers had tried to sneak a peek at him in it once. "I wasn't…never mind. I'll come back tomorrow to complain when you're in a better mood."
"If you have that kind of time, you have the time to get your project done."
The words that every student, regardless to their talent or ability, hated to hear from their professor. Rin made sure to slam the door harder than was necessary behind her. She fumed for a moment in the hall, then took a few deep breaths and made back for her workspace.
Only for the unpleasantness to increase tenfold as she neared the staircase back down. Enforcers, Magus Killers, a rather large number of them, towing someone in chains.
"Oh, geh," Rin could not manage to keep from vocalizing her contempt. It was not the contempt that most of the students had, however.
There were five Enforcers—a strangely large number, considering their charge was a handspan shorter and looked around Rin's age. Rin was not even sure she had ever seen such a number clustered together. Since they were generally considered magecraft janitors, most of the Association looked down on them as individuals. A large group would certainly attract attention, and not the good kind. Rin herself just really did not like one of them, a towheaded man named Jane that leered at her whenever she saw him. Though she suspected it was just his default expression, it never failed to set her on edge. She had not met the other men, though the one leading the procession she had met on a couple of occasions.
They stopped when they caught sight of her—also not good. Thankfully, it was rose-haired Bazett, the one she was comfortable with, to speak up. "Hey, Tohsaka, great, just the person I wanted to see."
Rin tried not to let the fact that a sensation akin to a lizard crawling up under her skirt and through her clothes washed over her. She gave a polite smile. "That sounds ominous."
"Give me a second, I need to check in with your Lord of No Smiles first," Bazett said. "I'm sure you're probably busy, but this is rather important."
The suited woman swept past Rin, knocking once on Waver Velvet's door before diving in. Rin thought she heard Waver's immediate complaint with Bazett's no-nonsense manner before the door closed behind the Enforcer.
Bringing Rin's attention back to the group and their prisoner.
It just became more and more strange as she processed it all. The boy was shackled; that was, at least to Rin's knowledge, fairly common. But instead of a gag in his mouth as was also regular to contain a spellcaster, he had cloth around his eyes instead. Rin recognized the kind of Conceptual Weapon it was, clamped down on the involuntary shiver that tried to climb her spine once again. Like the shroud that Shirou had been forced to wear during the Grail War, the wrappings were meant to contain some kind of magical force. The fact that it was a full covering rather than the Mystic Killer lenses that Rider wore suggested something even more distressing than Cybele, and that was certainly worth some curiosity.
Though she could not discern his ethnicity without a good look at all of his facial features, after a moment's silence he revealed it on his own by asking, in Japanese, "You know, if we're going to be here for a while, is there a chair or something?"
Before Rin could respond, though, the biggest of the bunch, the one standing directly behind the boy, grabbed the prisoner by the shoulders and shoved him forward. "Pipe down," the Enforcer said in English.
"Hey," Rin complained, "You even understand what he said?"
"Like I care what a dead guy has to say."
"You magicians don't seem to understand 'elevator' so we climbed something like five stories, and these chains are kind of heavy. No? I'm just gonna sit down, then." The prisoner plopped himself down on the floor right there.
And the big one promptly grabbed him by his collar and hauled him back up to his feet. "Get up, you idgit."
"Caleg, if you don't stop harassing him, I'll hit you into next Tuesday, I swear." Bazett was back in the hall at that, frowning at the bigger man.
Rin would have been, too, if Jane, off to one side, were not giving her the same creepy stare that made her both want to take a shower to cleanse herself, and not take one because that's how horror movies featuring guys like that went bad.
"So, he wouldn't exactly say 'no,' so I got all the permission I needed," Bazett said. "This guy," she motioned to the shackled person, "he's from Japan. There's some delicate issues here regarding some of the people above even El-Melloi's head and some infighting already taking place over this one's status."
"Uh huh." Rin was already starting to see where this was heading, and she did not like it one bit. "So, when you talk about 'permission'…" she glanced to the prisoner, who was shifting from foot to foot in discomfort.
"Your advisor is the only person who really doesn't care and has some clout, so we were thinking of leaving him in his custody. He absolutely refused before, though, so I thought that it might work if we left him in your hands." Bazett gave a helpless shrug. "He'd technically be under the El-Melloi jurisdiction then, and well, this guy might be more comfortable with someone his age and nationality."
Bazett continued on, raising her voice to drown out Rin's defense. "We already have a lab that's been cleared out for him to stay in nearby. You'd just have to check in on him from time to time. And no, before you ask, I'm already due to be in Italy yesterday, and there is no way I'm leaving any of these clowns to take care of a pet dog, much less a person."
Rin could not help but eye the other Enforcers briefly in agreement. The big one, Caleg, sneered in return.
"Please, I know this sounds strange, but it might be the only chance this guy gets. You'll understand if you talk to him a bit."
Though the shroud still obscured his vision, the prisoner did seem to stare right at her when she glanced his way, his eyes assuredly making contact with hers if they were not obstructed. She was on the curious side to what was going on, and the obnoxious treatment he was getting did trip that protective instinct. A long, hissing sigh escaped from Rin's lips. "Do I have 'pro bono' stamped on my forehead or something? Or am I just really that much of a pushover?"
Bazett smiled, small and understated, then seemed to consciously compose herself. "I'll be back in a couple of weeks or so, so try to keep him in one piece until then? I left a brief and all in the lab, 1107, that explains everything."
"Fine." Rin looked back over her shoulder at Waver's office door, now understanding why he was trying to get her to leave. In his own way, the professor was attempting to help her with her work—by keeping her out of this situation. It seems I had this coming. "Fine, just go before I change my mind."
Bazett did exactly that, nodding her head down the hall in the opposite direction. The other Enforcers followed, Caleg pulling at the prisoner's collar again when he tried to go with them.
"No," Rin said in Japanese, batting Caleg's hand away and motioning for him to follow his peers. The man rolled his eyes and made a "forget you" kind of gesture. "They're leaving you with me. We're going back down some stairs and then you'll be able to sit, alright?"
He perked up at her change of language, a look of relief washing over what she could make of his face. "Oh, hey, I thought that Bazett would be the only one. Uh, lead on. I can follow by sound for the most part."
Rin could not help but test it out first thing. The hall they were in was actually fairly wide, the wall opposite to Waver's office a good couple of meters away. She started directly for it as if it were not an obstruction, watched to see how the prisoner reacted.
When he did not move to follow until after she had turned her steps down the hall lengthwise, she started to look at him much more carefully. "Okay, what are you doing? Faking some kind of injury? Can you really actually see from under that thing?"
A full grin broke out on his face. "Am I that transparent?"
"You're not going to fool me with that kind of sloppy acting. I see why they're keeping you in shackles."
"Hmm, are you really sure you're seeing it, though?" His grin only widened. "Oh, forget it. No, I can't see from this, but like I said, I can follow by sound, could feel that the air current only moved one direction, that sort of thing. Just, like, make sure to tell me if there's a piece of furniture in my way and we should be good."
"Keep grinning like that and I'll send you through an obstacle course." Sighing again, Rin considered whether she was getting some kind of cosmic karmic retribution of some sort and getting stuck with the smart mouths of the world. "What's your name, anyway?"
"Shiki Tohno," he said, holding out his hand.
Rin stared at it.
"No good? Isn't that what people do in England?"
It could not be that she got karmic retribution by being stuck with idiots, though, since she reached out and took his offered hand. Going on that same idea of films, the things she had once sat around with her sister watching also ended up with this sort of situation pulling her into a hostage predicament.
But he simply shook it once. "So, can we go? My feet are killing me."
It was a fleeting thought, but something that made something in the pit of her stomach feel like it dropped. She remembered shaking hands with someone else, before, someone else with a wrapping around part of his body and terrible prospects for the future. It was not exactly déjà vu, but the sudden echo it brought to mind gave her a strong sense of disconnection. It might have been the way this Shiki smiled, too, that helped it along.
Here was another idiot, she knew, and she was going to rue the day she agreed to shake his hand. "Then you should kill them first," she said.
The sound that escaped his mouth was like the noise a horse might make as he unsuccessfully clamped his jaw down on a laugh. "Also, not to sound like a demanding guest or anything—"
"Though I'm sure it will, and you're still asking…"
"I've heard bad things about English food. If you're Japanese, you wouldn't happen to have something from home?"
Rin sighed. Shackled and blinded for what was probably some terrible reason, and he wanted snacks? "I'll figure something out. Maybe." She rolled her eyes. "Rin Tohsaka, by the way. I guess I'm your babysitter for the foreseeable future."
"Babysitter, huh? Does that mean we could go someplace? I've always wanted to visit the London Eye."
You'll understand if you talk to him a bit, Bazett had said. Rin decided then and there she was going to curse Bazett sick for a week for this treachery.
To be continued.