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Thread: Strings [Kara no Kyoukai]

  1. #1
    Lay beside you and pulled you close, and the two of us went up in smoke. Prix with a Silent X's Avatar
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    Strings [Kara no Kyoukai]


    Strings








    I. This is Only Hello




    Her fingers were covered in red. All around, between them, caught beneath her nails. The red was smooth, silky, and moved like... water. She lifts her fingers up, adjusting them as they work about the head, coming away clean except for the slight, tacky stickiness that lingers just beneath the short, rounded length of her fingernails.

    Teeth tap softly down against her lower lip, kneading with concentration. Another angle, and she brushes the red back from the ear, watching it catch yellow, focused light. Her fingers comb through the silken strands again, splaying out its length to get it out of the way as she carefully ministers to the cap of the wig, securing it against the delicate, palm-sized head of the doll. It has started to resemble something quite alive, but it is half-finished, still-grotesque. Half-alive... is an image of the lack of life, of death. The wig is, perhaps, out of order, but as she has worked on this doll, she follows some instinct that asserts itself more and more... that this is the right step to take... the way forward, as it might not have been with any other created thing of hers in the world.

    This carefully held focus is the reason she does not notice how the surrounding darkness becomes increasingly more tangible. Her hair becomes a soft, tickling annoyance at her temple. She tosses her head slightly and frees up one hand to tuck it back behind her ear and out of the way. Never mind that it leaves behind some of the special, carefully chosen adhesive in her own hair—two or three strands, perhaps, ruined and a problem for later.

    She takes a short breath in and out through her mouth before pursing her lips neatly together again. Finally, she notes movement apart from her own. Her eyes track the movement, and for an instant something tenses in her chest, around her heart – dread. Her brow forms a scowl as she fights down the clawing in her chest. She can hold her own here; there is nothing she should be afraid of. She swallows hard, finding her voice. Before she can make a sound or locate the source of the motion, in an instant, she hears a deep voice.

    It sounds almost as if it ought not to be comprehensible, but she hears every word and in a familiar tongue – her own.

    “Who is she?” he asks. He is tall – very tall. She looks up from where she sits at a station in a workshop. She had been certain she was alone. Even young magi have certain times of day when they work, or sleep, and her body has not adjusted to the cycle of day and night here. She has had little reason to, and she downs coffee more than she has in her life. Even if it is not the renowned drink of the masses here in England, its bitterness suits her lately.

    “It's a doll,” Touko says, tone soft enough and even.

    “I thought she might be you,” the man says. It is hard to track the movement of his eyes; they are so dark, almost entirely unreadable. They are defined more by the white around them than by pupil or iris, somehow like the negative of a photograph. Watching his consideration of her face, the doll, her hair, its nearly attached wig, she finds the glint of the frame of her glasses a brighter, brassy distraction from his gaze. Touko's brow furrows again, but as she shakes her head, she does not look away.

    She is not anyone. She's a doll,” Touko repeats, her volume lifting just enough to match his. She will not be outdone, but there is no hint in her tone that she intends to extend the argument. She starts to return her eyes to her work but is interrupted by this man who does not seem to take the point right away. It strikes her as strange. He does not seem like he would be the talkative type. For all his size and the imposing, strange weight of his gaze, at first he had barely seemed to be in the workshop at all.

    “Who will you make her become?” he asks. His hand reaches out to the edge of the wooden surface where she works. His hands – large to match the rest of him – are completed with long fingers that are more blunt than elegant. His fingernails are ground short and smooth. Touko takes their slightly dry, clean appearance to be the result of something incidental but quite stringent – whatever happens to be the work of those hands.

    “Why are you so interested?” she asks, countering his question with another.

    “You looked like you were searching for something while you were making it. The doll,” the man replies. He picks up his hand and smooths his dark, heavy robes.

    Touko considers two answers. She steadies her gaze back on her work, continuing it as she thinks as if there is something to be proven by it – dedication or disinterest. I'm not looking for anything. I'm working, or...

    “Aren't we all?” she settles on.

    A moment of relative silence passes between them. Touko cannot help but hear breath – her own, now that she is aware of not being alone. She settles that the wig is secured above the doll's opposite ear which makes the hair look almost real. She glances up when she hears the soft shift of something that must have been the layers of his clothes. She thinks she is looking to see if he will leave.

    “Perhaps,” the man says. With that, he turns to leave the workshop. It is a lengthy room, and he chooses the opposite end as his way out. There is no betrayal of tone in his voice, no readable expression on his apparently wizened-beyond-his-years face. Even in the lack of evidence, Touko feels some flash of perception wash over her. She senses a certain... assurance about him. Her first impression is that it is smugness.

    She reaches up with her left hand, careful with the metallic frame of her glasses. She lifts up and neatly sets them aside without folding them, away from the doll and any stray adhesive, off into a shadow away from her work lamp. She leans forward, arms folded and bracing her slender frame right against the edge of the work table.

    “Haven't I seen you before?” she demands before he can get away.

    “I suppose you have,” he says, stopping but not turning back around.

    “And your name?” she asks with a huff of breath, an audible sigh – a little calculated, in a way she thinks that thing she had identified as smugness might not be.

    “Araya Souren,” the man says. Touko looks back down at the doll without retrieving her glasses at first. She says nothing more to keep him there; then, he is gone.







    - - - - - - - - -

    CONTENTS

    I. This is Only Hello
    II. This Could Be a Problem
    III. The Movers and Shakers





    - - - - - - - - -
    Yes/No/Maybe? I have an idea. We'll see if it's a good idea.
    Last edited by Prix with a Silent X; December 13th, 2016 at 03:53 AM.

    All heroes are broken beyond repair. And all villains are just heroes who chose truth over dare.


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    Spoiler:
    Quote Originally Posted by Snow View Post
    Let Sakura say fuck and eat junkfood you weirdos.


  2. #2
    野晒し Dullahan's Avatar
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    Interesting so far. Araya doesn't often get written. I'll be keeping a close eye on this one.
    おん

  3. #3
    Lay beside you and pulled you close, and the two of us went up in smoke. Prix with a Silent X's Avatar
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    Oh, I'm excited. I hadn't seen it personally, but I was concerned this would be overdone (as much as anything for KnK fic can be called "overdone").

    All heroes are broken beyond repair. And all villains are just heroes who chose truth over dare.


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    Spoiler:
    Quote Originally Posted by Snow View Post
    Let Sakura say fuck and eat junkfood you weirdos.


  4. #4
    Yes… very, very, abstract… An Abstract Platypus?'s Avatar
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    This has the capacity to be spectacularly ominous from start to finish. I'm definitely following this one.
    Likes attention, shiny objects, and... a ball of yarn?
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    I joined two years too late...
    Quote Originally Posted by Hymn of Ragnarok View Post
    That makes me think of Rin as a loan shark.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hymn of Ragnarok View Post
    Admittedly, she'd probably be the hottest loan shark you'll ever meet. She'd probably make you smile as she sucked you dry.


    Oh dear, that doesn't sound like yuri at all.
    Quote Originally Posted by Techlet View Post
    Not with that attitude.

  5. #5
    Lay beside you and pulled you close, and the two of us went up in smoke. Prix with a Silent X's Avatar
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    'Ominous'? That's a new descriptor for anything I've written. I'm glad to have picked up another reader!

    All heroes are broken beyond repair. And all villains are just heroes who chose truth over dare.


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    Spoiler:
    Quote Originally Posted by Snow View Post
    Let Sakura say fuck and eat junkfood you weirdos.


  6. #6
    Lay beside you and pulled you close, and the two of us went up in smoke. Prix with a Silent X's Avatar
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    II. This Could Be a Problem




    Seeking out friendships – covenants of blood thicker than that which runs through her veins – has not been a part of any goal she has had since returning to London. Touko likes to believe she left behind any such girlish, innocent, naïve notions back in her home country. That is what she considers when she happens upon Araya Souren for the next time.

    The frames of her glasses create a familiar glint around Araya's large, imposing form. Less imposing, she finds, as he is sitting hunched over a thick, hide-bound volume at a table in the library. Finding their positions reversed from the first time they had spoken, she looks at him more clearly, pausing in the midst of what she had been in the library to do. She turns toward him the rest of the way and approaches him – while he is at peace, working, as he had disturbed her some days before.

    Coming to stand in front of him, however, she sees that he is not at peace. In the better light of this open, day-lit place, she sees a furrow on his brow and etched across his face that makes it seem that, if ever he had seen peace, it had escaped from him entirely, a long time ago. She reaches out and makes her presence known, gripping the back of a chair on the opposite side of the table. She does not pull it out and notes, with a cursory glance, that she might be the only person to have ever joined an occupied table in this place, if she follows through with the motion.

    Magi are not exactly known for genuinely group study habits.

    The faint creak of the wood does what she wishes for her, announcing her presence without a word.

    Araya does not look at her.

    She feels taller than usual, standing over such a monumental figure. She had never felt short for a girl her age, back home at her all-girls school. She had not felt particularly tall either. She had not cared about her own height relative to some of the great daughters of her home country, which she might now never see again.

    “You may sit down, if you like,” he says politely, in their native tongue once more. Touko feels an impulse behind her eyes as if she might glance around again. She defies it. Instead, she looks at him and feels the faintest relaxation in tiny muscles of which people are very rarely aware. She narrows her gaze a bit, to compensate.

    He is not a monumental man because he is of any great renown. She had never noted his existence with clear comprehension before he had come upon her in the workshop that night. Since, she has heard no mention of him, in spite of his way of creating a dark swath across any room or street he passes through. She does not even know if she has seen him since or if she only imagines what it must be like for strangers who do see him – that face and his clothing like a shroud sewn for mourning. He is like an idea taken form in a way that even she might find... haunting, granting herself the luxury of mulling it over. Perhaps, then, it is not a monument but a monolith of which he reminds her.

    She has still made no determination or acknowledgment as to his invitation. He looks up at last, either having reached a concluding note in his reading or losing some invisible hold on patience. Touko's hand grips tighter against the wooden chair, but she does not betray her intention. Instead, she meets his eyes. She finds that she is looking for what they mean to show, but she has never met anyone who so puzzled her with an absence of apparent inner-working. In one way, it is as if she must rely on the fact that he has a book opened in front of him to discern that he is, probably, intelligent.

    Her thoughts are not entirely charitable or kind. She has not had much room for charity or kindness in her priorities of late. Even in this cool, competitive air, she thinks her reasons for being here might make some of them turn nervous and cold. Or not. She would have to speak to more of them to know for sure. In any case, unless this man's purview includes the reading of thoughts through some means, she supposes that...

    “Unless that is not what you would like a chair for,” he interrupts her. In that same gravel tone, she cannot tell from the sound of it whether or not it is wry. Instead, she suspects it because of another involuntarily muscle's movement – this time the faintest pull at the corners of her lips. She presses her lips together, contemplatively and resistant to such a prompted smile.

    “What do you study, Araya?” she counters, nodding with a fully unrestrained movement toward the great tome he has held in front of him all this time without turning a page. The toss of her head moves her loose, fine and plentiful hair. In the blaze of a nearly cloudless morning overhead, seeping in through windows and drowning out any artificially summoned light, even Touko can see the burnished glint of a few stray strands fall to the side of a temple and down across her shoulder. As it settles, she breathes – expectant, waiting.

    “It is my understanding that we rarely speak of such things at this institution,” he replies, cleverer still, but with that same, inky lack of inflection.

    “You have seen my work,” Touko points out, reeling her tone back in like disappointed fishing lure, cooler and fleeting.

    “So I have,” Araya says. He still has not lost patience with looking at her. That is what she thinks she sees through her bespectacled, narrowed gaze – the faintest, nearly unreadable, trace of patience. Something occurs to her then, about the carriage of his tone and what it might convey through its lack of easy conveyance. Patience.

    She would not be ready to call it kind, but she wonders what it is that makes such a grand and somber man patient.

    Her hand's grip changes its intention and she inches the chair out toward her body so that its corner almost meets her hip where she stands.

    “What else might I like a chair for?” she asks.

    “Kindling,” Araya suggests, or says. There is no hint of uncertainty.

    Touko is ready to side-step it and to ease herself down into it when something quite... abrupt keeps her on her feet.

    Touko's awareness of the quiet, studious, and suspicious magi around them is drawn into sharp focus when a man clad in shades of red takes a few backward steps in clumsy imitation of the way her attention had been drawn to her new stranger-made-acquaintance. This man, rather than having any discretion in his approach, jaunts up to the head of the table. He holds out one hand as if he is the host of an invisible feast. This one gestures magnanimously toward an apparently uninterested Araya Souren. Araya's eyes fall back down to the text of the book he had been studying without so much as a glance toward this man.

    Touko, on the other hand, finds that her gaze is unpleasantly fixed upon this creature who seems like a sad affront to the thespians who inhabit this damp country. As if to prove this point for her, the newcomer lifts up an ornamented and quite dandy cane and taps it down atop Araya's book – the thwack of a nun's ruler which would have broken any stray fingers in its path. The irreverence for the ancient text offends Touko as a mere matter of taste, but she notes that faintest hint of a snarl deepen the furrow on Araya's brow. He grants the man a glance at last.

    “What is it, Alba?” he asks, impassive, in the common tongue shared by the three. Touko believes she understands something about this response that this man would not notice unless he looked past his own performance. For whatever it is worth.

    “'What is it,'” this man called 'Alba' mimics back to him. “What is it, indeed, Araya. It is nearly noon, and I would think that a man of such impressive stature should feel ready for a bite to eat,” he says. He says 'bite to eat' as if it is a pleasant, benign euphemism for food. The look in his eyes, however, seems more like that of a starved, domestic animal held a bit too long by a fence, baited with the scent of fresh meat.

    The strange – but not altogether strange – thing about this conversation is that while Alba speaks to Araya, he begins to look at Touko and only at Touko. He has forgotten his cane such that he only adjusts it when Araya picks it up at its end and pushes it off the edge of the table. To his dubious credit, Alba does not falter and begins to pose with it, the jut of a wooden, slender hip.

    Araya begins to close the book with appropriate care and to push it to one corner of the table, not too far to the edge. He seems resigned to this man's invitation, possibly. Or perhaps, he means to simply walk away from him without response. That is something Touko cannot tell, even when she glances to try and find his dark eyes at the near-pinnacle of his height.

    “You can invite your new friend,” Alba says, just shy of crying out in the center of the library. Somewhere, someone shushes him in a harsh, demanding way. No other consequences befall him.

    There is a rumble of tone in Araya's throat, a clearing of it perhaps, or a hum. Touko does not wait and does not allow herself any sense of remorse for leaving Araya to his own devices with this creature.

    “Excuse me,” she orders, pushing the chair back in and turning to take her leave. She walks past Alba before he can reach out and try to grab her shoulder to wheel her back around. His voice tries to perform the action for him instead but with no force of power behind it.

    “Wait, young lady. I do not believe I got your name?” he asks, the strained pitch of cloying politeness enough to make Touko have universally legitimate grounds to decline a lunch invitation – a distinct loss of appetite.

    “You know, I just remembered... I was brought up in a place where I was never to approach strange men,” she calls back without looking around, unable to resist. She does not linger to wait for reply from either of the men. She exits the library to return to her doll and her work without a book or so much as a pamphlet, content to be alone with her thoughts in blessed silence. She knows that one aspect of her assessment of Araya Souren must have been correct – the man must have the patience of a saint.







    - - - - - - - -
    Using Nasu-copout of stomach as segue, excuse me. I really should have mentioned this before, but I owe many thanks to user You for helping me untangle some lore things as I go along which are unavailable to me in English.
    Last edited by Prix with a Silent X; May 30th, 2017 at 12:39 AM.

    All heroes are broken beyond repair. And all villains are just heroes who chose truth over dare.


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    Spoiler:
    Quote Originally Posted by Snow View Post
    Let Sakura say fuck and eat junkfood you weirdos.


  7. #7
    Preformance Pertension SeiKeo's Avatar
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    Not sure if there's much to say right now but I'm here.
    Quote Originally Posted by asterism42 View Post
    That time they checked out that hot guy they were just admiring his watch, yeah?


  8. #8
    Discord: Beamu#1574 just Beamu's Avatar
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    This is most interesting fic you've done so far for KnK, tho part of that might be its nature as a multi chapter work. I'm always glad to see more Touko but perhaps more intrigued to see Araya since I struggle to recall more than one or two fics that I've read with him in it.

    I'm glad you mentioned writing this on Skype or I might have missed it entirely on account of not checking Fanfics very often. I'm eager to see more in the future.

  9. #9
    Don't @ me if your fanfic doesn't even have Shirou/Illya shipping k thnx ItsaRandomUsername's Avatar
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    There's a certain pervasive pressure in the interactions of these three, and it isn't just because of the foreknowledge that they will eventually be at odds with each other come Paradox Spiral. Fine work establishing the foundations of tension thus far. I've no idea what sort of direction you plan to take this in, but the quality of and storytelling potential of the work at hand so far have me at my attention, so consider me subscribed.
    McJon01: We all know that the real reason Archer would lose to Rider is because the events of his own Holy Grail War left him with a particular weakness toward "older sister" types.
    My Fanfics. Read 'em. Or not.



  10. #10
    Lay beside you and pulled you close, and the two of us went up in smoke. Prix with a Silent X's Avatar
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    III. The Movers and Shakers




    Loneliness, or rather the act of being alone, was and remains a vital part of any magus's life. There has never been any magus who successfully and permanently ignored this sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken mandate who has lived very long to tell about it. Being known, or being known well, leads to eventual ruin. These were things of which Aozaki Touko had been certain all her life.

    The old man on the mountain, the wise man on the mountain, the eccentric man on the mountain.

    Every ordinary person knows that story.

    The teenage girl on the mountain.

    People think that's a different story. The princess, locked in a tower, guarded by a dragon who holds life, virtue, and value, all with the same claws, teeth, lock, and key. If only.

    Touko had never been locked away in a tower, exactly, but she had found one of her own. Clock Tower, technically, but there is more to it than that. Some of the students live in residence halls owned by the Association for that very purpose. Others have finer tastes or have done things which landed them in trouble with the particular bit of Clock Tower bureaucracy that acts as a housing authority but which were not enough to send them away from the institution entirely – either due to talent or simple nepotism. Then, of course, there were the native Londoners – those whose families gave the city its beating heart of power in more than one way.

    Touko belongs to none of these groups. Instead, she lives in an ordinary flat, flanked on one side by very loud neighbors and on the other by neighbors who seem as silent as the dead. She lives close to the center of it all, paid for on the Association's tab through the loans she has procured. If she does not find a means of paying them back, there will be hell to pay, but there had never been much apart from hell to expect since she left home. Squirming against her futon so her shoulder blades shift against the back of it, Touko stretches to sit up straighter. She has a blanket tented across her knees, a book from the year 1890 on the subject of runes propped on top of both.

    Touko turns another page, fingertips sliding over the edge of a text that looks as if it ought to be more brittle than it is. Her eyes flit back and forth. Her teeth press softly against her lower lip. She shifts her weight again. Somewhere in the flat, a clock ticks, steady and faint. She is alone here, locked away – but by her own choosing. The alternative – staying in a place where blood had been poured over her hands – would have been a different kind of entrapment entirely.

    As her thoughts drift to something far away, something unfair... She tries to push it back, out of her mind, but her eyes flit to the windowsill across the room. Outside, there is a faint haze of darkening, evening sky, nearly gone dark. There are the faint indications of other features of the falling night, but most of them are drowned out by scattered sources of light, far beneath the night sky. She squints a little, changing her focus but finding no satisfaction in it. She adjusts her glasses on the bridge of her nose.

    Her next movement is decisive. Almost in the same motion, she closes the books, neatly aligns it to one side of an end table, parallel and secure, and gets to her feet. Her blanket is more haphazardly pushed away, but she gathers it up and tosses the mass of it up onto the futon so that none of it touches the floor. Cool air brushes her bare legs, but the chill that follows after her is more complete when she whisks off the shirt that had covered her body down to the tops of her thighs.

    The faint yellow of the shirt drapes over a pair of practical shoes left by the door of the closet which she opens up to a neat row of black and white. There are matte materials, some that shine faintly, and others that draw a bit more attention. The few interruptions to the monochrome scheme rest to her left hand in a short, limited spectrum of color. She exhales through her nose and takes two curved hangers into her hand, decisive enough. She bends down, finding a pair of heeled boots, the same black as her chosen skirt. She drapes their length over her arm and retreats into the tight little washroom to find a place to perch the clothes while she puts them on in front of a mirror.

    She tugs a drawer that is just a little stubborn beneath the narrow vanity – in London, even a willingness to part with money only goes so far. Out of it comes a soft roll of warm, dark nylon which her thumbs softly unravel. She slides one foot down until it reaches a tiny seam at her toes. She wriggles them, just a little, and steadies against the slick material. As she secures the tights on her other leg, she feels the faint change in her stance, the grip on the cool, hard floor that keeps her steady. When both her calves are held equally in the darkened sheen of the material, she straights her spine, coaxing the material up with gentle, circling motions until she has a neat hold around her slender waist, just above her hips. The rest of her dressing is faster, less methodical, but drapes over her body with the same straight, only faintly ornamented line. A black, loosely pleated skirt drapes over her hips in turn, and a white, soft shirt finally covers her chest and abdomen against the cool air. She steps into boots which zip faintly with hardly a thought. A look in the mirror, some fingers and then a brush through her reddened hair, and she is satisfied.

    Out of the washroom, she briefly visits the closet again. To her left hand, she reaches in and chooses a coat that widens her own eyes to look at it to slip her arms inside. The length of the woolen garment falls past the short hem of her skirt, and she warps the woolen shell around her body, securing at the front with rich, brown fasteners. The color is yellow – like honey with a warm light shown through it. For a moment, it seems like it could be the only color in the little flat, making everything else gray by comparison.

    Touko shuffles her feet forward, one inch, then another, testing her weight on her heels. Into one of her coat pockets she tucks some money and her little ring of keys. By the door, she turns the lights out, and heads out into the night.







    Pubs in London were nearly as common as the people, but Touko follows a somewhat familiar path to a place she has been a few times before. On one of her first days in London, she had heard this particular establishment's name chattered among some some delicate, poised looking girls who were altogether too eager to whisper to keep their whispers a secret. She recognized their kind and tucked away the name, the thought, in her mind. When she found the place, it was easy to recall, and didn't seem like an entirely bad idea. For anything else she had come to London to do, she did need to eat.

    Dim lighting, a combination of leather and wooden seats, seats along a bar, seats for groups of friends, nearly-hidden tables of quiet business deals and quiet affairs – all of these things, Touko believes, are probably like any other door she might have stepped through, filled with the same purpose and parallel pockets of people. She does not immediately notice anything strange about the establishment – except, perhaps, that nothing seems especially broken or run down and that there are a few white sculptures decorating the rack of various bottles of spirits that seem evocative of something a bit sad.

    She takes a seat at the bar, across from one of those statues, and scans her eyes across some of the other occupants, measuring her posture while she considers them. Absently, she gives the bartender an order – drink, but no food yet. Her stomach tells her that she might want something, but she has not yet determined if there is something or someone else she needs here. If there is one thing that she senses about many of the women and men seated here and there it is that nearly all of them carry a sense of entitlement. She imagines, from the angles of their faces, the cuts of their clothes, the color of some locks of hair, some people's eyes, that some of that entitlement may be quite literal, here in London.

    The tail of her honey coat hangs down over the back of a bar stool. One of her thighs crosses over the other, finding the bar to rest her foot on beneath. The heel of her boot acts almost like a stabilizing hook. She glances down at her lap, and finding her skirt in order, she is interrupted by the delivery of her drink. The liquid in her mouth tastes white hot after the cool London air, and it offers some jolt of focus, clarity, for an instant.

    Through a narrow frame of people, she sees one man who seems to be at the center of a conversation. A few years older than the pack that surround him, the man's blond hair is combed backward in a kempt and calculated sweep. His demeanor has not noticed the faint lines around his eyes that would not have been there when he had been several of his companions' age. He is mostly surrounded by young men, but there are a few who are his age that linger a bit further away, focused on him but diminished by his selfish lure of the light. At Clock Tower, there seems to rarely be enough to go around – much like everywhere else Touko has been.

    Her eyes flit to the prematurely ashen face of one of the blond man's contemporaries and she can't help but feel her teeth try to show a bit behind her lower lip. She looks down to rein the half-smile back in, holding it at bay. She sweeps her hair back behind her shoulder with a smooth, absent motion when she decides there is no one here worth ignoring hunger for. She draws the attention of the bartender, downing the rest of her drink. Before he can pass his attention along to her from his well-memorized queue, however, Touko suddenly wishes that she had not finished her drink with quite so much confidence that she wouldn't need to deal with anything anytime soon.

    A hand clasps over her shoulder. It is not the tap-tap of a nervous stranger, the friendly prodding of an acquaintance. No, it is a warm grasp, soft in its speed and its confidence that it will not be shaken away. Even after her recent efforts, she can feel some of her hair lightly tugged – trapped beneath it. She turns her head to see the forward party, to decide how to respond. Through the rims of her glasses – worn without particular thought – she sees someone she has nearly forgotten but realizes she had hoped to never see again.

    Had almost hoped. Hoping required more investment than she wanted to give him. There was, and is, something... off about him. He is wearing a top hat indoors. That ought to be reason enough.

    “Hello, there,” the man from the library says when she meets his eyes coolly. “Aren't you the young prodigy who was talking to Araya the other day?” he asks, answering his own question with his tone.

    With a relatively discrete movement, Touko shrugs her shoulder enough to make the soft, presumptive grip unstable. Then, she turns to face him, knees like a tight perimeter fence.

    “Interesting description,” she replies. Her eyes meet his without much interest but with a focus that bores into the too-bright twinkling of his eyes until it diminishes a little.

    “Yes, well... if you'd give me a better name in its place... to go with it, perhaps,” the man says.

    “Alba,” Touko addresses him, recalling the name Araya had called him by. Her hands come up to rest, wrists on her knees, in a way that keeps her posture tight but closes off her body even more before him. “What do you want?”

    Met with the question, he blinks once, punctuated as any response. Then, something seems to flip like a switch, and his gaze is cooler, less eager, but more... apparently cognizant.

    “I had not seen you here before,” he says – however reflective that may or may not be of Touko's dining and drinking habits. He has something of a point. “I wondered if you might like an introduction,” he says. The weighted point clearly being that he is just such a man to make those introductions.

    “That depends. To whom are you introducing me?” Touko asks, the consideration an almost amused consideration.

    In true form of anyone confident enough to give such an answer...

    “My family is very well-established, very—” Alba explains.

    “Old?” Touko finishes for him, interrupting the starting rhythm of what seems to have been quite the practiced pitch. She shrugs with one shoulder and uses the movement to wheel herself back around on her seat, facing the bar again. “Mine too,” she says, not inviting any further discussion of it.

    “But—” Alba says after a few pregnant seconds of silence. She couldn't miss that he is still standing there in her wake. He hoists his dignity back upon his own shoulder and slides over to the nearest stool, standing just behind it and inclining his gaze toward her. In her peripheral vision, she sees him study her.

    “If you would like a drink, Alba, there is no one stopping you,” she says flatly. Then, she turns her attention to calling the bartender again – ordering some small basket of greasy, warm food to quickly consume before she makes her leave.

    To his credit, quite impossible to ignore, Alba takes the seat beside her and does as she had suggested. Looking down into the amber glint of the liquid in his glass, he tilts it, as if he means to divine some thread of conversation not yet tried. She wonders if this is his usual level of tact or if he is simply unfamiliar with foreigners. Something like a distant bell sounds in the back of her mind – she can ask him about Araya, her fellow countryman who had seemed to at least tolerate him. She wonders what she might learn if she does, but she says nothing of the sort when she sees the presentation of pub food pretending it is something finer. The paper that lines the basket is white, edged with two lines around a border of sequential thickness. It is a peculiar sight, altogether more sophisticated than the red and white checkered paper she has seen elsewhere.

    “Might I get you another drink?” Alba offers when she picks at the edge of the paper with mild scrutiny.

    She glances at him and her eyes flit back to the bartender, who seems drawn in quite easily.

    “Coffee,” she says to the bartender, who nods.

    “This time of day?” Alba asks, as if it genuinely puzzles him.

    “What time of day, Alba?” Touko sighs, finding herself rather trapped in the conversation. At least it is background noise as she begins to chew.

    The man actually looks down at his pocket watch. Touko glances down at it. It is, perhaps, the first interesting thing about him. It is a nice watch, and she takes note.

    She catches his eyes on their way back up, and she does not try to mask that she is looking. What harm will it do? If he is among the well-liked in this place, there is no sense making enemies without a proper amount of investment or thought. The fact that there is something about him that she finds mildly revolting is, perhaps, an unfortunate clash of personal taste and nothing more.

    “I can read a clock,” she tells him, unable to resist speaking just as his mouth opens to tell her his findings. It is the first time she nearly smiles at him.

    “Yes,” he allows. “... Yes, I'm sure,” he says, giving her a genial laugh that goes on just a bit too long. It sounds almost genuine. “That reminds me...”

    Touko takes a carefully timed, impolite bite of food into her mouth. She cannot say she wishes to know what follows through on that thought and gives herself plenty of time to mull it over.

    “Didn't I see you in the library again?”

    Touko does not respond except to concentrate a bit harder on the silly, elegant basket-paper.

    He persists.

    “You see, I was looking into some texts about runes...” he explains.

    Touko swallows the and takes a sip of her recently delivered, quite hot coffee.

    “Divulging family secrets in a pub?” she mocks softly, for lack of anything better to say and finding herself in a position where silence is the frustrating equivalent of agreement.

    “Please, dear,” Alba says – 'dear,' scratching Touko's eardrums with an unwelcome, humid presence, “do note and remember... I am Cornelius Alba,” he explains, gleeful to be back on this subject. He is speaking near her ear, like a friend. “Descendant of Henrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim,” he says, any natural accent of his own thickening with fervor. He is close enough that Touko wants to shift a little away from him on her stool. Instead, she disinterestedly takes a few quick, easily swallowed bites. “My family's accomplishments are history...”

    Touko's study of her purchased meal shows a bit of bread left unfinished. She cannot imagine sitting here and feeling it turn soft, doughy in her mouth while Alba continues to chew his own ego into pliable mush to spread about like an enthusiastic hound. Decisively, she grips a napkin with some of her frustration and drops it atop the basket. She fishes down into her coat pocket, retrieving money, and leaving it in place beneath the coffee cup.

    “So soon?” Alba asks, recognizing everything her body language easily implies.

    Touko takes a deep breath, steady and clear. She looks around, past the bridge of Alba's nose, and notes that the blond man from earlier is still sitting there. He is less festooned with Fundamentals students with drunken eyes and visible genetic pedigree. The tired, dark-haired companion-friend remains seated across from him, nursing another drink, looking invisible. The blond man leans forward, fit and expressive as he gestures lightly, delicately with one hand as he explains something to a remaining rapt listener.

    “Things to do,” she tells him, getting to her feet and leaving him behind on the stool.

    She is almost grateful to the blond, self-satisfied man in front of her when she reaches him. He has made himself a clear, stationary target. She stands in front of him, looking right at him with apparent interest. That gratefulness diminishes a little when his captured gaze seems to draw an amused cluck through his ingratiating smile.

    “Hello, young lady,” he says. It is less grating than 'dear,' but only just. He leans back, considering Touko in a familiar way. “Are you in one of my classes?” he asks, frowning as if his lack of recognition is itself a pitiable insult.

    “No,” Touko says easily. She approaches his sofa anyway – one he had willingly shared with eager young men not long ago. She perches down beside him, seated at the edge with little room for protest to drive her away. On his level, she looks at his blue eyes, considering their sobriety – or lack thereof. “But you're a lecturer?” she counters with interest that seems to steady him a little. He touches his temple as if it addles him – the question.

    “Yes,” he says, suddenly beset with something like caution.

    “I was trained as a girl,” Touko says with a light tilt of her head, offering no details but she sees the relief wash over him. He recognizes her, at least, not as an outsider. She can almost imagine his clamoring heart.

    “Not from here, I note,” the man says, with some smugness that apparently he finds almost friendly in its nature. He leans forward, picks a glass off a low table, and sips from it. His shirt looks tired from the day but moves with him to show its expense and tailoring. “But qualified?” he says, just barely with the weight of a question. He does not wait for her to answer. “What department has swept you up? Certainly mustn't have been mine...” And there is the flattery.

    “You'll have to tell me. I might have considered listening to a lecture in...” Touko says, trailing off. His eyes narrow, judging her closely, but she thinks it must be interest or alcohol that loosen his tongue in spite of whatever suspicions he holds.

    “Spiritual Evocation,” he says.

    Finding an exit and little point dawdling with this man any longer, Touko smiles warmly, reaching up and adjusting the frame of her glasses sweetly. She gets to her feet and adjusts the length of her coat like a train, skirt's length disappearing beneath it. She glances back over her shoulder at him, like an afterthought.

    “I'll see if I can remember,” she says.

    With a glance back toward the bar, she notices Alba has begun nursing another drink. The look of glowering annoyance on his face has fixed entirely on his rival blond. She slips out the door behind a young couple and parts ways with them along the way home feeling, once again, almost grateful.








    - - - - - - - -
    Do I have notes this time? I guess I should note that there are, possibly, some realignments of minor canon sequences of events that aren't very important for narrative effect or something. Oh yes, and thank you to everyone who commented last time. It really helps me, though I didn't do itemized replies this time.
    Last edited by Prix with a Silent X; December 13th, 2016 at 03:50 AM.

    All heroes are broken beyond repair. And all villains are just heroes who chose truth over dare.


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    Spoiler:
    Quote Originally Posted by Snow View Post
    Let Sakura say fuck and eat junkfood you weirdos.


  11. #11
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six SpoonyViking's Avatar
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    Very interesting read, Prix! Sorry if I can't offer any in-depth criticism, but I'll definitely be waiting for more.

  12. #12
    Lay beside you and pulled you close, and the two of us went up in smoke. Prix with a Silent X's Avatar
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    Thanks so much, SpoonyViking! It'll probably be just after Christmas before I have time again, but we'll see...

    And since I'm doing a reply, I wanted to address IRUN's comment that I didn't do except in a cursory way because I forgot to before I posted the new chapter: I think that the quality of pressure you mention is something that is threaded throughout magi culture. In this, I think Touko has a unique perspective because she is coming off the events that made her leave Japan in the first place.

    All heroes are broken beyond repair. And all villains are just heroes who chose truth over dare.


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    Spoiler:
    Quote Originally Posted by Snow View Post
    Let Sakura say fuck and eat junkfood you weirdos.


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