“I don’t understand,” said San. “Why am I being sent back to training?” There had been nothing amiss with his performance as of late--- he thought, but didn’t say. Saying something like that was dangerous. Presumptions were dangerous. But still, surely--- it had been over a year since he had last gone back to training---
“It’s not remedial,” Hachi informed him. “Though if you ask me, they should have done it earlier if they were going to do it.” He looked tired, but he always looked tired lately. Maybe the higher-ups were pressuring him. Admittedly there had been a rough period when Juu had departed, and when Shi had taken over her role, but that had been a long time ago.
But whatever it was, Hachi didn’t share. That was the way of things among the Watchful Ones. No one talked about what they were thinking, how they felt.
They were the eyes and hands of the Ministry, and through them, the Dynast herself. They were alive, and they were all still useful, as far as they knew. Past that, it didn’t matter.
San wanted to press him for answers, but held himself in check. Hachi wasn’t the type who relished in the anticipation of others.
Rubbing at his face, Hachi spoke again. “They want you to learn Common,” he said. He held a dagger in one hand, flipping it idly over and over as he spoke. “I don’t know why, all of a sudden. We don't even have a new elemental yet. I speak it, but Juu didn't, and Roku’s collar only operates one language at a time. And if they’d wanted you to take a language, they should’ve done it in your basic training. You pick it up easier when you’re younger.”
Hachi’s expression turned pensive. “To be honest, I don’t know if I should tell you,” he said. “It’s not really classified information, but… Ah, what the hell.” He shrugged, shifting and resettling his weight. “Usually you don’t need it if you’re being posted in the capital, like us. It sees more use in the border towns, or the major ports. A few of our neighbors speak it, and it sees a lot of use as a trader language, especially the further west you go. But here, it marks you out. And since it’s a popular trade language, it doesn’t really work as a codespeaker language either; you never know if you’ll tip off some stray merchant’s son with it, exchanging secrets in the streets.”
A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, lifting some of the weariness away from his features for a moment. He looked back up at San, and shrugged again. “But as to why you, and why now…”
San digested this information in silence. It wasn’t that there was no logical end to that sentence, but there was also no point in speaking it aloud. It was all conjecture, and there was no sense in engaging in idle gossip. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe San was being relocated. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and any guess he might have had about the motivating factors would be just that--- a guess.
“Will you be training me then?” he said.
“No, not me,” said Hachi. “I’m not fluent. I understand enough to get a little something useful once in a while, listening in on merchant gossip. Not the most useful skill in the world, but hey.” He grinned a little wider. “Maybe when you’re done, you can help me practice.”
“Maybe,” San said.
“I’m sure you’ll find out soon. No sense in wasting time. You’re not getting any younger.”
Hachi was right about that. Hachi was right about most things, one way or another. The next day, during the time San normally would have spent resting or taking care of his tools, a handler came to fetch him. San followed him wordlessly through the underground halls until they arrived at their destination, just one more unmarked door among hundreds.
The handler knocked on the door, short and sharp.
“Come in,” came the muffled voice from behind.
San opened the door himself, and took two steps in before he registered what he was looking at.
It was a mostly empty room. The only furnishings within were a small table and two wooden chairs. It was not dissimilar to the arrangement under which San signed his contract when he first came here. But rather than the old man who had pressed him into his choice, he found himself facing a pale, blond man.
Smiling, Robin motioned to the empty chair. “Come,” he said. “Sit.” His Xin was accented, the intonation of his words not quite right, but he spoke it with the confidence of long practice.
For a moment, San didn’t move.
He had seen Robin before, a few times, always in passing. The news that Robin was based here had broken early; in retrospect San wondered if Juu had let it slip intentionally after all, that first night when they had all been introduced. It made sense, and later, when he had had time to think about it, he felt more the fool for not having realized it earlier. If Robin had taken him and Shi to the Watchful Ones, then he was certainly working for them; and if he was making a hit for the ministers here in the capital, it was fair to reason that he was an agent already stationed here.
They were on the same side now. If Watchful doctrine was to be believed, they had always been on the same side; his parents had been the ones who had chosen to be traitors. But San didn’t know about any of that, and thinking about it was only an exercise in suffocating frustration.
Still, it pleased him little to see Robin sitting there.
“Is something the matter?” said Robin. His smile was unpleasant. San could see that he knew exactly what he was doing, and that he was letting San see it too. That smile widened, and he leaned forward, steepling his fingers together.
It wasn’t a request. San remembered that Robin was an elemental too. Steeling himself into calm, he closed the distance and sat, forcing his breath even, his shoulders square, his eyes unwavering as they stared across the table at the blond man. Robin was all loose wrists and false languor, as though any of them could relax.
But then, maybe he could. San knew nothing about him except snatches of the kind of insubstantial gossip that was passed between agents of the Watchful Ones.
“It seems,” said Robin, “that you are to learn my… what do they call it here? My ‘unenlightened tongue’. Isn’t that something.” San had to repress the way Robin’s drawling voice made his spine crawl, even now. “I’m sorry, is it upsetting for you to be here? An insult to your pride to speak like a barbarian?”
“You are imagining it,” San replied. His voice, at least, stayed soft and even.
“Am I?” Robin blinked, inclined his head. “Well, good then. I’ll think nothing of it.” He leaned back, drumming his fingers idly on the wood of the table. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” he said, and San wondered if he was doing this deliberately, trying for a reaction, or if he really had forgotten. “You’re… San, is that right?”
“My reputation precedes me. Good. It spares me some trouble.” Leaning his head against one hand, he said, “We may as well start with introductions, now that we've made some in your language. Repeat after me--- you can do that much, can’t you? ‘-My name is…-’”
Robin was not a pleasant teacher, but he was an effective one. San certainly felt as though he had returned to the two years he had spent stripped of his name and training under the handlers. Robin's style was unrelenting, a torrent of barbs in both languages, poking and prodding and twisting until San gave him what he wanted--- Robin could have been a trainer himself, except for the fact that he was a known elemental, and the Watchful Ones wouldn’t waste such a resource in raising recruits that might never even make it to operating status.
“-I see,-” he would say, when San forgot some word or another in the litany of vocabulary he had had to memorize. “-That’s the best we can do, hmm? You must be the pride of your unit. Your brilliant little sister simply pales in comparison. What a wonder, that you haven't been tapped for a node of your own yet.-”
The worst part of it was that San knew enough to understand him now. But that was the point. “Ah, excuse me, I think that was out of line,” said Robin, feigning surprise. “Oh, but you didn’t understand a word in five of what I said, did you? Let’s just call it water under the bridge, hmm?”
San said nothing. It was useless to rise to the bait. The anger was a tool, a force to be harnessed. The next list they gave him, he memorized in every spare moment. The next time they practiced at conversation, he spoke faster, never minding that he fumbled the grammar.
The refinement, he knew, would come later. Hachi had said as much. And when Robin mocked him for being thick-tongued and slow-witted, San reminded himself that any reaction would only be feeding Robin’s satisfaction.
It was the work of three months before he had what anyone might have called basic fluency. And then, as abruptly as it began, it was over. The handler came to him just once more, to inform him. “Starting today, your sessions of Common are terminated,” said a man in glasses, his dark hair tied into a neat ponytail over one shoulder.
San was surprised, but he didn’t let it show on his face. “Understood,” he said.
There was no news about a transfer. Not for him, not for their unit. San didn’t ask about it. There was no point, just like there was no point in asking when they would be getting another elemental, or whether they would be getting one at all.
Days passed, and then a week, and then two. Nothing changed. San listened halfheartedly when they passed through the more mercantile parts of their district, but even there, he didn’t often catch anything he understood.
He was very nearly ready to forget about it when the handlers brought them another abrupt surprise.
“A new member,” Hachi explained. “But not a mage. Recon, they said, though they’re being cryptic about it.” They were gathered in the room they were currently using as their customary hub of activities. It was better lit than the one in which San and Shi had made their acquaintance with the unit, though furnished much the same, with crates and spare furniture lining the walls. Nana arranged herself along the back wall. San took his place next to a stack of crates, where Roku joined him, pretending all the while as if San didn’t exist.
“You won’t be the youngest one in here anymore,” said Nana, lifting a cigarette to her lips and taking a drag. “How about that?”
If she was expecting an answer, she didn’t get one. But then, the door opened not long after, and all questions of what San might have said vanished in the face of what he saw. Of what they all saw.
Standing there was a… a girl, San thought, except that wasn’t quite right. People weren’t made that small, not even by birth defects. There were stories of the kind of child that came from peach pits and flowers, but that was all they ever were--- tales, told to children, with no more truth to them than stories of swordsmen flying through the sky. It looked more like a doll than a living thing, but under the light he could see it--- see her breathing. A girl, not even a foot tall, standing beside a handler.
“Go,” said the handler. The girl didn’t move. The handler gave her a short, efficient push, and she stumbled forward a few steps before regaining her balance. Once she did, she merely stood there, staring at the wall.
She was a pretty thing, with delicate features and hair the color of fine mourning silks, but her face was empty of all feeling. And there was something strange about it, not the desensitization of an agent--- at least, San didn’t think so. Maybe he had looked the same when he had been introduced. It had been a long time since he had looked into a mirror for any length of time. But even then, he was sure that he had made--- had been capable of eye contact. The girl’s eyes seemed glassy and unfocused. They were the most doll-like thing about her. When he looked at them, he found himself second guessing his initial assessment, as though he might only now notice that her movements were some elaborate mechanical ruse.
Roku hopped down, pacing deliberately towards her, but the girl didn’t move. She only flinched when Roku’s tail made brief contact with her arm, and even then, she stayed standing where she was.
“What’s wrong with her?” said Hachi. His tone wasn’t accusatory, only conversational, offhand and easy as if they were discussing the coming week's weather or the contents of today’s dinner.
“She’s a fae specimen," the handler replied. His tone had the same curt, clipped quality that San had come to expect from handlers, though beneath it, San thought the man sounded defensive. But then, maybe he was only hearing what he wanted to hear.
The man went on. "She was caught in a border province, though probably brought in from abroad. There were some… mental peculiarities that made her resistant to training. We took measures to resolve that. You shouldn’t have much trouble with her now.”
San glanced at the girl, and wondered at the truth of that statement. From the way the rest of the unit were looking at her, San guessed that their thoughts ran among similar lines.
“So then,” said Hachi, “is she trained? If we took her out for a rest run right now, would she…?”
“That information is covered in the briefing,” said the handler, handing over a folder filled with parchment. Hachi took it, handed it off to San. He looked as though he might have said something else, but the handler cut him off. “That is all,” he said, then turned on his heel and left. The door closed soundlessly behind him.
Fiera Ferella: right??? i was really hoping i could find one of those pachee before the season was out.
May 26, 2020 18:51:32 GMT -6
Fanged: Oh wow that's an awesome garden find FF
May 26, 2020 18:13:26 GMT -6
Riku: Oh how perfect! I woke up wanting to post (unexpected, but yay) and saw I had a reply. <3 Meant to be.
May 26, 2020 6:40:43 GMT -6
Twilight-Claw: I really, really love all the updates that have come~! <3
May 24, 2020 2:12:37 GMT -6
Fiera Ferella: np!!! I hope y'all like it!
May 23, 2020 13:45:06 GMT -6
Riku: What an awesome update, staff! Thanks for that! <3
May 23, 2020 12:06:52 GMT -6
Jack: All have been found!
May 23, 2020 9:53:27 GMT -6
Jack: Might want to be on the lookout for anything... odd
May 22, 2020 23:51:22 GMT -6
Fiera Ferella: Yeah it’s definitely a coincidence but wow did it work out well for us! XD
May 22, 2020 6:43:27 GMT -6
Silver: I'm pretty sure that was just a coincidence, but it sure feels lucky!
May 22, 2020 2:07:09 GMT -6
Riku: So did you guys make this hosting switch perfectly RIGHT before pb broke? >.< Thaz crazy. It’s a huge relief and I’m very glad we’ve come to this. <3
May 22, 2020 1:41:01 GMT -6
Fiera Ferella: It’s free up to a certain number of GB, which we haven’t hit yet.
May 21, 2020 6:46:33 GMT -6
Twilight-Claw: Is the site that is going to be used to host all those images also the type you'd need to pay for? (definitely noticed the broken images yeah. Photobucket feels like it is standing on its last legs. X3 )
May 21, 2020 0:13:57 GMT -6
Morgan: I'm just kinda nervous about them going down before things get moved over completely. It's prolly nothing to be worried about though. :3
May 20, 2020 22:13:15 GMT -6
Fiera Ferella: Thank goodness we're moving out of there? XD
May 20, 2020 21:59:22 GMT -6
Renathan: Ugh, photobucket has the images broke again. x3
May 20, 2020 21:18:53 GMT -6