Most citizens in Xinzhou were humans, especially in the capital, where foreigners were a rarer sight than in the border provinces. There were a few outliers, but they were few and far between, most of them foreigners. Out in the countryside, he’d heard that it was more varied, but he had never been out of the city himself. Nor was he likely to go; his unit, and many others, were responsible for work within Ningjing itself, while other agents or units were responsible for work further afield. Or so he guessed, piecing it together from the snatches of what he heard. Even among the units within the capital, knowledge of each other and the movements of other agents was a piecemeal thing, dispensed on a need-to-know basis. Established agents might know of one another from past work, but even they knew better than to talk shop, so to speak, in any great detail.
As such, while San himself could not see as well in the dark, neither could most of the people he was dealing with. And he had the benefit of experience and training, so he knew to use his other senses, knew how best to read shapes in the darkness.
Rei, being a sort of fae, could do better. She could learn to see in the dark. It was one of the advantages in having her as a scout. They had Roku, of course, but it was always better to have more.
“It’s still the same game,” said San. “We’ll hide, and you’ll find us. I won’t call out names anymore. You can tag us when you see us.” He held out a hand. “We won’t hurt you. You can do it, can’t you?”
He waited expectantly. She didn’t move, but he practiced patience, even if he knew that she was just as good, if not better. He had seen her staring into space, seemingly for hours, so if she was stubborn enough, she could hold out on him indefinitely.
But he was counting on her wanting to do it, wanting to move on, or at least wanting it enough not to stall like that forever. And eventually she did reach out a tiny hand to touch to one of his gloved fingers.
San smiled. “Good,” he said. “And now Roku. It’s easy; his fur must feel a lot nicer than my hand.”
The cat stepped forward as though he were merely wandering up with no reason in mind, then sat with his tail around his feet, looking in a different direction. But contrary to San’s expectations, she took longer to approach Roku this time, even though it had taken her less time that first day, when he was teaching her that small initial game.
“It seems that she likes me better now,” he said to Roku.
“Does it? I thought it was merely that familiarity bred contempt,” the cat returned.
San shrugged. It may well have been just that. “Stay here and turn around,” he said. “Count to ten. Roku and I will hide.”
She did as he instructed, though if she was counting, it certainly wasn’t aloud. He and Roku took eight seconds to find their places. And then it was a matter of waiting to see if she would find them.
It took her longer to find them this time, but it did happen, eventually. “Good,” said San, smiling at her when she happened upon him in his hiding spot. “Now, let’s try again. Turn around,” he prompted. She did, and while her back was turned, he and Roku hid again, and waited for her to find them.
The session started off slow, but by the end of it, Rei reached something like the speed she had had before. It was probably just a matter of getting used to the darkness. Enough was enough, however, and when San felt his legs starting to cramp from too long held in the same position, he called the game to an end. “At ease,” he said, and deliberately relaxed himself. Roku did the same, and after a moment, some of the tension seemed to ease from Rei’s shoulders as well. They’d been using the word to signify the end of a session in the room every time, so she had at least picked up that it meant things were over. She still didn’t make a move, not even to go to the door, until San opened it and beckoned her over, but she seemed to know what it signified on a basic level.
End: At Ease
San dimmed the lights even further than last time for the next session. It wasn’t total darkness, but he was starting to have some trouble seeing himself. Still, he had long since grown used to working under conditions even more dim than this, so he remained unbothered by it.
He kept a careful eye on Rei though, simply because she probably wasn’t used to this sort of thing. Coddling their agents wasn’t the way of the Watchful Ones, but even they understood that it took time to build up skills, and a distressed individual was of no use to them.
Granted, there was more than one way to motivate someone to push past their fear or discomfort, but in this case, San felt that the methods they had used on him would not get them very far with Rei. Given the state she was in, pushing her further and using motivations grounded in fear were more likely to lead to her retracting even further inside herself than she had already.
And so they followed this slower, easier training regimen, with San framing these activities as games, and offering praise when she did as they wanted. It seemed to be working so far. For it to keep working, however, he had to be able to read her cues, and address her concerns if she had them. The fact that she didn’t communicate made it harder, but it wasn’t impossible. She still had more or less human body language. Some days she was easier to read than Roku.
He was watching her for any signs of unease with the situation, since it was a new thing they were trying here. Maybe it was only because he was looking for it, but he found it: her hands were clutching at the cloth of the skirt she wore. The grip wasn’t white knuckle tight, but it wasn’t one of her usual tics.
“Is everything okay?” he said, kneeling next to her. That didn’t put them at eye level, but then, she didn’t make a great deal of eye contact either. He didn’t so much ask the question to get an answer as he did to let her know he’d noticed, that he was paying attention. “Are you worried because it’s dark?” he said. There was no response, but her fingers tightened incrementally against the cloth of her skirt. “Don’t worry,” San said, “we’re here with you. It’s still the same room, and the same boxes. It’s just us.”
She didn’t relax, so he didn’t push her. “We don’t have to start right away,” he said. “We can stay right here until you feel comfortable enough to play.”
He kept his voice soft, low and soothing, the way he used to talk to his sister when they had been children, and she had been scared. She had been afraid of a lot of things growing up, including the dark.
But his sister had been with him through the same training, and if anything, she was a more successful outcome than he had been. Nothing scared her anymore. Just like nothing scared him, in theory--- at least, not badly enough that he would forget himself in the middle of a mission. And when they came back, when they took off their gear and went to their cots to sleep, he had become practiced at not thinking about things.
The ones who didn’t learn were retired, in several weeks or several years, whenever the Watchful Ones concluded that they were no longer viable. ‘Retired’ was the name for it, but in all likelihood they were dead. No one said it, but San wasn’t the naive youth he had been before he’d come here. Agents who were no longer useful were too much of a loose end to be left alive, no matter what kind of promises they made.
And if she didn’t get over this, that was the fate waiting for Rei. But for now, in the quiet of this room, she didn’t have to know that. “Breathe,” said San. “Just focus on breathing. In and out… You probably take breaths faster than I do, don’t you?” He couldn’t guide her through the pace of it, since their hearts beat at different rates, but he talked her through it all the same. “Try to make your next breath a little longer… And the next one a little longer than that. Don’t think about anything else.”
It took time, but eventually he could see her relax, bit by bit. He waited until she had let go of her skirt, and then a little while longer, before he spoke again. “Now, it’s just the same as yesterday. All the same rules, just like we did before. Do you think you can do it?” He eased back as he said it, but she didn’t seem to tense noticeably, which he took as the closest thing he was going to get to an assent. “Okay, turn around. We’ll hide,” he said. And she turned, so he and Roku went to their hiding places.
There was an adjustment period, just like there had been the last time, but she managed to show some improvement by the end of the session. Seeing as she had had some difficulties this time, however, San didn’t make the room any darker for the next, since she didn't seem ready to move on just yet. And he waited with her after they entered, the same as the previous session, talking her through what might have been nerves, until she looked as if she was ready to start.
It took a few days, but gradually that delay at the start of a session became shorter and shorter, until she seemed ready to start without it. By that point, the actual seeking aspect of their games was no longer an issue for her. And then, for their next session, San cut the lights down almost entirely, so that it was about as dark as it would be on a moonless night, where there was a little starlight but not much else.
There was a limit to the extent to which he could facilitate that with artificial lighting, when the rooms hadn’t been designed for this kind of training, but it was close enough.
Considering how she was, San didn’t think it would be a good idea just yet to take her out to see the real thing. Here, underground, the Watchful Ones had the labyrinthine halls and rooms at their disposal, but there was no such controlled space for them on the surface, excepting the very top portions of the towers, and those were set aside for purposes other than training new recruits.
Rei froze up immediately when they came into the room.
“It’s okay,” said San. “It’s just a little darker than it was before. Remember what we talked about before, about breathing? Try to breathe now.” He crouched beside her again, since it did seem to help a little; or at least it never seemed to make her any more uneasy, anyway. He said, “You’re safe. It’s just dark. And we’ll teach you how to see even when it’s dark like this, so you don’t have to worry about it anymore.” It wouldn’t always be safe, not once they started taking her along on real missions, but by then she would be able to deal with it. If she got that far, anyway.
It took a long time, like it did the first time he’d had to do this, but hopefully this would be the last big shock to her system as far as darkness was concerned. They were simulating true night now, and even San didn’t often have occasion to work in total darkness, so there was no sense in preparing her for something as unlikely to occur as that. There had been sensory deprivation as part of his training, but that had been more for mental fortitude… or as a form of punishment. Sometimes both. And neither would be likely to be useful for Rei.
Eventually she did calm down, and they began the game again. At first, San wasn’t concerned that things were taking a long time. He had gotten used to the long wait, especially since they had just darkened the room. But the minutes dragged by with no sign of Rei, and gradually, he began to think it might not be working after all. Frowning, he listened for any sign of her movement. She hadn’t yet been taught how to disguise the sound of her steps, and he could make them out, faint little footfalls on the floor of the room.
After listening for a few minutes, he concluded that she was merely wandering around with no real aim, and thought sometimes she might even have bumped into an obstacle, though he couldn’t be entirely sure. If it had been a regularly sized person, he would have been more confident in his assessment, but she was so small that it was hard to hear her, at least for him.
He stepped out of his hiding place and went to her, and saw her briefly startle as she registered his presence. “It’s okay,” San said. “It’s just me.” She probably couldn’t see him all that well. He could see enough of her silhouette to make out the tension leaving her somewhat once she recognized his voice. “You’re having some trouble with this one, aren’t you?” he said. “Hmm. You know, time is almost up anyway. Let’s just end it here today, and try something different tomorrow. At ease,” he said.
Roku came out of his hiding place too, and San took out a flashlight to light the way for Rei’s benefit. Together they exited the room, and San tried to think of something else they could try, something easier than the game they had been playing so far.
The next day, when they came to the room, it was just the two of them, with the cat nowhere in sight. Roku wasn’t necessary for what he wanted to try, and so the cat was taking care of his own business. San had the sense that Roku was better pleased to have his free time back, since the two of them were doing this on the time that was usually reserved for themselves. Neither of them were trainers, and they were still expected to fulfill their duties even though they were undertaking Rei’s training, so there was no other arrangement they could have taken.
San didn’t ask Rei to find him this time. Instead, he sat with her near the door to explain what they would be doing. “The game we played yesterday didn’t work, did it?” he said. “So we’ll try something easier today.”
Without anything being asked of her, and with San close by, Rei didn’t seem to be as on edge as she had been yesterday. That was a good sign. Maybe some of her troubles were simply coming from stress, though he did also think she wasn’t capable yet of what they were asking of her.
Maybe he should have started off with this, in retrospect, but he had little enough experience with what he was having to do. Maybe this wouldn’t work. But he held up three fingers, and said, “How many fingers am I holding up? If you can’t say it, just hold up the same number with your hand.”
She blinked at him. He had gotten a little better at reading her cues--- they weren’t completely absent, he’d realized; just a good deal more subtle than he was used to, even from an agent.
Or maybe it was just that whatever it was they’d shocked out of her was coming back bit by bit. This time she had been caught off guard. He didn’t know what she had thought he was going to ask her, but this wasn’t it.
“It’s okay if you get it wrong,” said San. “We’re working on it, right?” He smiled, and settled in to wait; and after a moment, her gaze shifted from his face to his hand. So she could see, even if it was just a little bit. With a big, stationary target like himself, the silhouette was enough to guess at where things were, roughly. It was a strategy San himself used too, though his human eyes had no potential to move on further.
He was curious if she could do any more than that.
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