Chapter 1024: Rendezvous

Surprisingly, even after staying at the Tohsaka Manor for more than a month, Rin never came to him to ask for help with her own research. Vahn was actually a little surprised, causing him to feel somewhat awkward around her as he had been ‘expecting’ her to ask for a while now. She seemed determined to conduct her research alone and, though she would often check on him to see what he was working on, that was the limit of their interactions regarding Magecraft. The only other times Vahn met with Rin were during their meal times but, as of late, she had been rather quiet and dismissive…

Knowing Rin had many secrets he wasn’t privy to, Vahn could only continue his own training as her mood continued to decline. Any attempt he had made at broaching the subject often ended with Rin holing herself up in her room, only to reappear the next day as if nothing happened. It only took Vahn experiencing this twice to stop asking about it but, even after the fact, he was still a little worried about her. He wasn’t sure if her mood was related to the changing of the season, perhaps having lost someone she was close to around this time, or if it was the result of an upcoming event. Though they had become a little closer, Rin hadn’t actually opened herself up to him and explained anything that happened in her troubled past. Vahn knew he could have given her a few ‘pushes’ to improve their relationship but, primarily as a result of his own inhibitions, he kept mum on the issue.

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It wasn’t until the morning of Vahn’s thirty-ninth day in the Nasuverse that something changed, coinciding with the transition of the seasons between Fall and Winter. Vahn had been outside training his body when Rin, wearing a long jacket to protect against the cold, appeared outside before the sun and even risen. Bringing his routine to a stop, Vahn furrowed his brows slightly but was preempted from asking any questions as Rin said, “I’ll be leaving to meet with an associate of mine from the Mage’s Association. While I’m gone, you shouldn’t leave the house. We can’t be certain your presence hasn’t already drawn the attention of some troublesome individuals…”

The last part of Rin’s statement was very quiet but, regardless of whether or not she had wanted him to hear it, Vahn understood there was ‘something’ going on behind the scenes. He had detected a surge the Mana flowing through the earth as of late and, even without Rin drawing his attention to them, Vahn was keenly aware of the fact that people with an abnormal amount of Od had been frequenting the area. Though his senses were somewhat limited within the Manor, the result of Rin’s barriers, that didn’t apply when he was training in the grounds. Vahn’s domain was slightly over 4km in radius so he could sense the presence of any enemies within fifty square-kilometers.

Choosing not to badger Rin, when she obviously wanted to keep things a secret, Vahn returned a casual smile to her before saying, “Take care of yourself, Rin. I’ll make you something delicious when you get back…” This caused her to hide the lower half of her face within her scarf before she turned away and re-entered the Manor through the back door. As she turned away, however, Vahn’s smile faded away as he placed an [Effigy of the Hero] into her purse and began to focus his mind. One of the things Vahn had been developing lately, anticipating something like this would happen, were his stealth capabilities. If he were back in Danmachi, even gods would be hard-pressed to detect him without using the Arcanum. He used to be able to blend into the natural world, hiding his presence even from animals that were right in front of him…

Waiting until Rin had left the Manor’s grounds, Vahn’s breathing slowed to the point that it had stopped completely. He didn’t actually need to breathe but, as it would appear ‘very’ odd to anyone viewing him, Vahn often went through the motion of breathing, even if his purpose was usually just to draw in Mana from the outsides. Now, however, he was removing any traces of his existence that could be detected, regardless of how complex the magical formation. Rin had activated a formation that normally lay dormant, likely meant to protect the Manor while she was away, but Vahn knew it also served the dual purpose of informing her if he left. Though she knew he was far more powerful than she could conceivably hope to be, Rin still worried about him in her own way…

After a little under fifteen minutes, Vahn could sense Rin getting on a train so, even though he hadn’t ‘completely’ erased his presence, he determined it was better to ask for forgiveness than wait around doing nothing. With that in mind, Vahn disappeared from the Tosahka Manor’s backyard like a phantom, completely bypassing the proximity barrier. It wasn’t until much later that he would find out that the barrier only detected things that directly passed through it, making it functionally useless against his ability to teleport short distances…

Not even a minute after she had left her house, Rin could ‘sense’ that Vahn was up to something, causing her to release a sigh that kicked up a large cloud of condensation. Even in the short time she had known him, it was easy to see that he had an almost overbearing desire to ‘protect’ others. This behavior continually reminded her of the one person she had been desperately trying to forget and, as her troubles were just around the corner, Rin couldn’t help reminiscing about the past far more than she ought to. She knew this was only making Vahn even more worried about her but, as it had been some time since someone looked at her as someone needing protection, she also felt a little gratified by his concern…

With her destination being on the far side of the City, Rin elected to take one of the earliest trains, even though she would be forced to wait a few hours once she arrived at her destination. If she waited until the early-morning rush, most of the cars would be filled to the brim, causing her to have to cram together like everyone else. As there had been a man foolish enough to try and grope her in the past, Rin preferred to avoid traveling by train when she could. Though he ended up with a broken arm and a police escort, she still felt he had deserved a heavier punishment for having the audacity to even attempt the crime…

Shaking her head to clear the distasteful thought from her mind, Rin boarded the train before moving towards the front car and taking a seat close to the door. There were only a handful of people present so she had an entire bench to herself, a trait she shared with a few other lonesome passengers. Almost as immediately as she sat down, however, Rin felt something was ‘wrong’, causing her mind to wander to what Vahn must be doing. This thought overlapped with her prior memory, causing Rin to, for a brief moment, imagine what it would be like if Vahn was the one who tried to grope her…

It was fortunate that she had decided to wear a scarf today as Rin was able to hide her face from the view of passengers, her twin tails concealing her profile from view. She knew Vahn didn’t see her in that manner but, after living together for so long, Rin was actually a little surprised that she had even ‘expected’ something to happen. Since the chance of him being what he claimed to be was almost certainly true, Rin even felt a little guilty for even thinking he might be ‘tempted’ by her passive attempt to draw his attention. It was obvious that he wasn’t even considering such thoughts as, every time they interacted with each other, it was almost as if he saw her as nothing more than a child seeking attention.

After calming herself down, Rin released another sigh before listlessly leaning her head against the cold metal pole at her side. Though she knew it was ‘disgusting’, and that she shouldn’t be putting her face on it, Rin didn’t really care about such things at the moment. She wasn’t looking forward to the rest of her day, even though one of the people she would be meeting with could be considered her closest ally. They would be working together in the events to follow and, though his own power was even weaker than her own, his connections and influence would be necessary for the success of their plan.

Thinking of the nigh-impossible task ahead of her, Rin’s focus became split between the past, memories that were engraved into the deepest and most sensitive area of her heart, and the future. She even humored the idea of asking Vahn for help as, with what little he had shown off, Rin knew his power would be the equivalent of a trump card in her future battles. This would, however, expose Vahn’s existence to the rest of the world, especially since there would be members from all three factions trying to intervene with the upcoming even, the Holy Grail War. When this thought crossed her mind, Rin couldn’t help but quiet mutter, “Has it really been ten years…?” in a melancholic voice tinged with emotion.

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During the previous Holy Grail War, the fifth in a long history of bloodshed, she had barely managed to survive due to her failure to properly summon a Servant. To make matters worse, she ended up nearly losing her identity when the Archer-Class Servant, Ishtar, a literal Goddess, fused together with her body. Though this gave her an edge against most other Servant-Master combinations, it was only due to the interference of her closest companion, Shirou, combined with that of his Saber-Class Servant, Artoria, that she managed to escape her fate of dying alongside Ishtar. The foolish and licentious goddess had fallen into a rage after the appearance of a second Archer-Class Servant, Gilgamesh, the Legendary King of Heroes that had spurned Ishtar’s affections in the past. Even till this day, the hole in her abdomen, where Gilgamesh had pierced her body with his hateful blade, served as a constant reminder of how close she had been to death…

Suddenly feeling a searing pain in her abdomen, Rin habitually rubbed her wound as another woman aboard the train gave her a ‘knowing’ look. Rin returned a polite, albeit embarrassed, smile before pulling out her phone and distracting herself with its contents. Unlike other Magi, she didn’t completely shun technology as, from experience, it was easy to exploit the gaps in your opponents if you had more options available. Though she still rarely used it, primarily as a result of having few people she actively talked to, it still came in handy when she had nothing better to do. She had even started playing one of the more famous ‘gacha’ games that were on the market, using a bit of her vast fortune to get a few of the more adorable characters that others had to fight tooth and nail to obtain…

Before she realized it, Rin heard the train announce her stop so she stowed away her phone into her purse, hearing it hit against something ‘hard’ in the process. Curious, Rin opened her purse and began to check its contents, finding a strange human-shaped ‘idol’ at the very bottom. As there was no way she would have forgotten purchasing such a strange object, Rin allowed a small smile to adorn her face as she wondered how Vahn had snuck it into her purse. She couldn’t imagine him rummaging through it while she was distracted so it was more likely that he had the ability to ‘create’ things at a distance. At this point, even if he tried to deny that he could use True Magic, Rin would have looked at him with an expression normally reserved for patients in a psychiatric ward…

Choosing to believe that Vahn wouldn’t do anything that would bring her harm, Rin put the strange doll back into her purse before exiting onto the platform. It was much colder outside than the heated interior of the train, causing Rin to rub her palms together before adorning a pair of red gloves. It had always been her favorite color, even when she was a child, so Rin tried to incorporate the color into most of her wardrobe. It helped that high-end tailors tended to stock the color as it was the ‘habit’ of the upper-class to wear colors that stood out amongst the crowd. Rin didn’t particularly want to draw the attention of others, even though she had already become ‘immune’ to having people idolize her, but she still wore predominately red clothing regardless.

After walking a few blocks, Rin once again felt something was ‘wrong’, causing her to turn her attention towards one of the nearby roofs. Though there was nothing there, she still continued to stare towards the sky for several seconds before finally dismissing the idea that Vahn had followed her. Even if he was overprotective, she didn’t think he would actually stalk her to the other side of the City just to make sure she was safe. Thus, ignoring her own intuition, Rin continued forward until finally arriving at her destination, a small Cafe called the Lux Ravs. The sign showed that it was closed but, without minding it in the least, Rin opened the door before stepping inside. When it closed behind her, a circle of blue runes shone around the knob as a much larger formation, invisible to the naked eye, activated.

Though she had noticed the fluctuations of Mana around her, Rin could feel that there was no malicious ‘intent’ contained within. This was actually the same method in which she was able to sense what Vahn was thinking as, like most prominent Magi, she was very sensitive to when someone was directing their ‘intent’ towards her. If she lacked this capability, she would have died like many of the lesser-Magi that often become the ingredients used in the experiments of rogue Magi. As Vahn was ‘literally’ an existence that seemed to be comprised of Mana, at least from her perspective, Rin was especially sensitive to his presence and thoughts, even whilst sleeping…

After reaching the back of the Cafe, Rin set her purse on the floor before taking a seat at a circular table. She wasn’t scheduled to meet with her allies until 8AM, so there was still well over an hour until either of them would show up. Since there weren’t any serving staff within the Cafe, almost as if it had been completely abandoned, Rin pulled out a thermos of hot cocoa and a small bag of cookies from her purse. When she saw the neatly wrapped package, Rin’s face naturally formed into a smile as Vahn had a habit of ‘leaving’ them around for her to find. He also seemed to be able to determine if she liked something as, after a month of living together, most of the treats she found waiting for her were things she relished quite a bit…

Just as Rin was beginning to regret showing up so early, a bell could be heard from the front of the Cafe as the magical formation in the surrounding ‘shifted’ slightly. Rin rose to her feet, preparing to greet the middle-aged man who had just walked in. He was a rather tall man, standing at 186cm, with straight brown hair that extended beyond his shoulders. There were two distinctive bangs framing the sides of his face while, at the very center of his parted hair, a thick strand clumped together like a ‘point’ that nearly extended past his nose. Flanking this wayward clump of hair, two piercing black eyes, set within a face that had just started to wrinkle with the passage of time, looked back at Rin with a distinctive lack of emotion.

Though their status wasn’t all that dissimilar within the Magus Community, Rin still bowed politely before greeting, “Welcome to Fuyuki, Lord El-Melloi the Second. I hope your flight was a pleasant one…” This man, while having a slightly lower status than her as far as ‘Family’ was concerned, as her Senior within the Mage Association and one of the more prestigious Lecturers within the Clock Tower. Though he was born with low status, being only a Third Generation Mage, he had worked his way up through diligent effort and, even with lacking talent, his knowledge and resources were paramount to the success of their upcoming mission.

For the first time, Lord El-Melloi II’s expression changed, a small smile breaking through the facade he wore before most others, Mages and Civilians alike. In response to Rin’s greeting, he crossed his arm before placing his hand atop his heart, bowing in a gentlemanly fashion as his deep voice echoing, “Miss Tohsaka, it pleases me to see you in good health. Have you been enjoying your ‘vacation’ while I was away in London?”

Returning a smile of her own, Rin waved dismissively as she complained, “If I didn’t have a deal with that Old Man, I wouldn’t even bother returning to that dreary place. Seriously, I have no idea what possessed you to become a tenured Professor at that place that only smells like moldy books and iron.” Though she said her words lackadaisically, the last few to escape Rin’s mouth carried a heavier intonation that caused Lord El-Melloi II to sigh heavily before saying, “The Mage’s Association is necessary to maintain the balance of the world…however, I do share your sentiment. It would be nice if someone were to breathe some fresh air into the Academy…”

As there was always a chance their current conversation could be monitored, as neither Rin nor El-Melloi had set up the meeting spot, both were speaking in code to avoid any potential trouble that might arise from a simple slip of the tongue. In truth, both were part of a conspiracy of sorts that, depending on how things developed, would replace the current Administration with Magi that were more invested in Modernization and the future. Currently, most of the most Senior members of the Mage’s Association, including its affiliates, were several hundred years old. It was the consensus of many Fifth and Sixth Generation Magi that a change in the status-quo was long overdue. There were too many Magi who had failed to adapt to the times and, having amassed a ridiculous amount of wealth and power, it was almost impossible to implement any real change while they were still making the decisions…

With their introductions barely having concluded, the door of the Cafe opened once again, this time allowing a woman who fit the designation ‘extravagant’ to a tee. Not only was she wearing a luxurious dress that looked as if it had been stolen from the Victorian Era, she even had embroidered sleeve warmers and tall white riding boots that were adorned with solid gold buttons. Causing her to stand out even more, her hair was styled in the nigh-impossible ‘drill-style’ that only the highest-paid hairdressers could pull off. She even had large blue ribbons tied at the sides of her hair, dwarfing Rin’s own particularly large black ribbons in size. When she laid eyes on the latter, the woman held the back of her hand towards her chin in a condescending manner as she asked, “Oh? I’m the last one to arrive? I half-expected Rin to sleep in…ohohohoho~.”

Seeing her ‘nemesis’, Rin’s face formed a deep scowl as her twin-tails seemed to move against the bounds of gravity. In a very unladylike display, she held up her right hand or, more specifically, her middle-finger as she said, “Screw you, Luvia. You’re the last to show up and are already picking a fight!?” This elicited a peal of laughter from Luvia that didn’t sound all that amused as she haughtily murmured, “How barbaric…” In response, Rin looked like she was about to enter a battle stance but, before things could devolve any further, Lord El-Melloi II sternly interrupted, stating, “Enough of this farce. We have not gathered here for the sake of a petty squabble…!” This caused Rin to grit her teeth in an effort to calm down but, apparently unwilling to let things lay, Luvia remarked, “Yes, Rin, please stop acting like a child so we can have an adult conversation, mmkay~?”

Immediately following Luvia’s words, an explosion sounded out within the Cafe that served as the signal to a catfight that Lord El-Melloi II would later describe as, ‘an event worse than the fourth Holy Grail War…’

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘I am one with the universe…’,’Surely he can’t be ‘that’ overprotective…’,’Like Water and Oil…’)

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