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View Full Version : The 2012 Fanfic Contest Entries Part 3: Drama



Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:30 AM
This shall be for all fics Drama, first post shall be the Table of Contents and the following will be the fics themselves.

Table of Contents:

Family Values
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646798&viewfull=1#post646798)
Archer's Story
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646801&viewfull=1#post646801)
I Am Not There
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646802&viewfull=1#post646802)
Twisted/Bended
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646803&viewfull=1#post646803)
Ash and Snow
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646804&viewfull=1#post646804)
A Madman's Happiness
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646805&viewfull=1#post646805)
Fate/Alternate
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646806&viewfull=1#post646806)
Moonlit Purpose
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646807&viewfull=1#post646807)
Njeri (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646808&viewfull=1#post646808)

Seeking Solace in Servitude
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646809&viewfull=1#post646809)
Shared Interest
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646810&viewfull=1#post646810)
The Magus' Heart
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646811&viewfull=1#post646811)
The Reverie of a Winter's Day (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=646812&viewfull=1#post646812)

Season of Amber
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/1770-The-Fanfic-Contest-Part-3-Drama?p=647969&viewfull=1#post647969)
For a link to the wiki version you can go here:
http://beastslairwiki.pbworks.com/w/page/51598253/Drama

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:30 AM
Name: Family Values
Author: Anon


A Fate/Zero Story
--------------------------
Waver Velvet isn’t sure how he keeps winding up in situations like now.

Well, that’s not entirely true. As a magus expecting the unexpected is simply par for the course, especially when competing in something as fantastic as the Holy Grail War, but he hadn’t foreseen this. Pinching his brow in what he knows is a futile attempt to alleviate his growing headache, Waver looks down at the newest complication in his already over-complicated life.

The little girl with the strange purple hair and dull eyes doesn’t look back, or do anything besides what she’s been doing in the hour since she woke up-stare silently at her feet and remain very still.

Waver sighs. Sprawled out on the bed, Rider helps himself to one of the senbei crackers Martha had brought up earlier.

“Now what?” Iskander asks, crunching down on the cracker. His Master doesn’t respond, not having any more of an answer himself.

-----------------------------

Like practically everything relating to Waver’s life these days, it had all begun innocuously enough before quickly spiraling out of control. “Go out and find Caster’s hideout” had seemed a straightforward goal, even if he had to bribe the initial water for the search of Rider with a set of modern clothing. He had covered his bases, not forgetting that while out for Caster other Servants and Masters could easily become an issue. Waver had been careful about things, meticulous in his planning. Every Servant in the war he had taken into account what he knew of them and their abilities. Admittedly, some were more thorough than others. Berserker, for instance, is such a largely unknown factor beyond ‘very fast, very strong, can make anything weapon-like a Noble Phantasm’.

New information had recently extended those parameters, although Waver really hasn’t had the time to condense it into anything other than ‘also very unpredictable’ and ‘Oh God, Oh God, I’m really going to die this time’ with a generous amount of incoherent babbling and some frantic hyperventilating. This is chiefly because Berserker had ambushed both Waver and Rider while they were some ways from the MacKenzie house, and even now is dedicating his minimal mental faculties and impressive physical ones to turning them both into smears on the pavement.

Rider, of course, is being his usual self about things. From Waver’s point of view, anyone who looks that thrilled about someone coming this close to landing a fatal strike on their person was due for a serious talk about how often they had been dropped on the head as a child. Only Alexander the Great could make a still in-progress battle to the death feel more like a friendly rugby match.

“A splendid strike, Berserker!” Rider congratulates the raging black beast genially, parrying vicious blows made with a telephone pole-turned-Noble Phantasm all the while. In turn, Berserker gives off another of his strange, howling roars and swings his impromptu weapon at a speed Waver’s eyes are incapable of following. The best he can do is guess the trajectory from the way things are being smashed around them, though by some miracle he’s avoiding being hit by debris thus far. Somewhere in the back of Waver’s mind he notes that being able to mire up inner sarcasm is actually an improvement on his mental standing during battles, probably a sign he’s becoming more accustomed to his life being in peril. This realization does not in any way comfort him, as does the thought Rider’s special brand of madness must be contagious.

What also doesn’t come as any particular comfort is their location. Though their initial landing spot had been chosen specifically because it was far enough away from the MacKenzie house not to arouse suspicion, Waver’s carelessness in not checking to see what else it was near was the cause of their predicament now. By this point they are in the midst of the oldest and stateliest part of Miyama’s residential district, where the Western-style houses and mansions can be found. This is bad, to say the least. It’s not just the possibility of attracting outside attention that has Waver on edge. He knows enough of the area to be aware the further south they find themselves, the closer they get to the Tohsaka mansion. Engaging Archer under such poor circumstances, in a location as unfit for combat as this-even someone with his poor experience in battle can see this should be avoided if at all possible.

“Rider!” Waver practically yelps when a piece of concrete torn up by Berserker just barely avoids turning his skull into something with the consistency of porridge. “We need to finish things off before Tohsaka decides to send Archer in!”

Rider gives him a look Waver has quickly learned to read as ‘the king recommends you chose your words more wisely and fast’, and he scrambles to add, “The more you toy with Berserker the less strength you’ll have to face Archer. You already said Berserker can’t be conquered, so let’s just finish him and move on!”

“Mm…well said. It’s good you’re starting to show a bit more nerve, kid,” Rider says conversationally. He parries once, twice, three times more before hitting Berserker’s makeshift weapon at such an angle that it is hurled out of his hands. Temporarily de-armed, the Black Knight races to pick it up again with blazing speed. However, the King of Conquerors uses that split second of time to his full advantage. A slice of the air with his sword while grabbing Waver’s collar with his free hand brings a crack of thunder and the Gordius Wheel before them. On the defensive, Berserker waves his reacquired polearm only to be clipped by one of the sharp scythes on the side of the chariot as Rider charges forward. “Maybe now you’ll only have to wish for twenty-nine centimeters of height from the Grail instead of thirty!”

The contact causes the Berserker to crash through the gates of the old manor they are in front of with powerful force. He finally stops when he collides into the ground, creating a crater deep enough to reveal the pipelines underneath the Servant’s body had cracked open. It’s not a killing blow, but even Waver can tell it’ll only take one more good strike to eliminate the weakened Berserker. Why his Master hadn’t waited longer for the Servant to recover from the first time Rider had run over it Waver didn’t know, but his enemy’s lack of judgment could only be his gain.

Then what his own Servant said hits him. “I only improved by one centimeter?!”

“It was generous, I know,” Rider laughs while Waver sputters with indignation. Before Waver can try to take him to task for it the massive Servant takes the reins in hand, expression going rather more focused. That combined with the ozone-like atmosphere of Rider’s prana gathering tells Waver all too clearly what’s coming next. “But you can thank me after we finish this guy off, eh?”

Waver should be satisfied by all rights, that Rider is taking this seriously now and they’re about to finish off a dangerous Servant with a minimum of damage. For the most part, he is. But there’s this nagging feeling in the back of his mind that he’s missing something important, something that could prove their undoing.

“Via Expugnatio!” Rider shouts, invoking the name of the chariot’s true charge to give it that much more power. Considering Berserker barely survived the unnamed one, there’s no doubt in Waver’s mind this strike will prove the end of him. And yet, as they move forward with incomparable power he still feels uneasy, and that strange smell in the air isn’t helping-

Lightning crackles with the fury of the storm brought to earth against its own will, and in a split second four very significant things happen.

Berserker disappears in an instant, with a surge of prana that can only come from a Command Spell issued order.

Waver realizes that the manor they are currently on the grounds of is the Matou one.

Rider is still moving forward with the full power of his Noble Phantasm and unable to slow the charge in time.

And that smell in the air is leaking gas.

If Waver had more time to think about it, it would have been that the movies had it all wrong. Time didn’t trudge to a halt, the disaster playing out in slow motion. There had merely been the beginnings of ‘Rider, stop’ on his tongue before the lightning and gas collided and his world reduced to an explosion.

-----------------------------

Someone is calling Waver’s name. He thinks. It’s kind of hard to tell when sight and sound have been reduced to the same consistency as golden syrup. Even his memories are…what had just happened…

Enough of his facilities come back that Waver can switch on his Circuits for a full body prana charge. It’s a pretty rough method by anyone’s standards, but in his current state it works like a cold shower for a hangover to bring him some approximation of coherence.

“Kid! Kid! How many fingers am I holding up?”

It’s reassuring Waver is in command of his senses enough to realize how inane that question is. And that Rider is the one doing the questioning.

“Three, and stop shaking me.” Waver takes a look at his surroundings, trying to recall what had just happened. There had just been a fight, that much is obvious. But what else had happened?

“Well, if you’re feeling good enough to be prickly I’m not worried.” Rider sits back on his heels, bright eyes alit with amusement.

“What happened?” Waver gives up trying to make sense of the situation on his own, and can only hope he’ll get a straight answer from his boisterous Servant.

“It’s not obvious just by looking?” Rider says before looking to his side. Following the path of his gaze, Waver’s jaw drops. The Matou manor-

No, it couldn’t really be called a manor in that state. Not a building, even. Wreckage is probably the best term to describe a place that consists of mostly rubble and one tentatively standing wall.

“You got stunned by the force of the explosion, but we were far enough away that Gordius Wheel didn’t take any damage. Not that a mundane blast would even dent it,” Rider says with a sniff. “That building took the worst of it.”

Waver doesn’t know what to think. This is a war and it isn’t like the Matou were unaware of the risks when they entered. But even someone as selfish as himself lacks the coldness to just walk away as if nothing happened.

“How long ago was the explosion? How long was I out?” Waver finally asks.

“Not long. Two minutes, maybe?”

Two minutes. That doesn’t leave them much time before emergency services will presumably show up, but it’s enough.

“We need to do it fast, but let’s look for any survivors. The least courtesy we can give them is a chance to live.” Waver can’t pinpoint why he feels strangely embarrassed by the look Rider gives him after that, but he isn’t given long to dwell on it when that large hand slaps his shoulder with approving if not bruising force.

“We can,” Rider says with pride before taking another glance at the rubble. “It seems like it was practically empty though.”

“Let’s just get to it. We don’t have much time.”

To Waver’s secret relief, it seems that Rider is correct in his assessment. He finds the crushed corpse of one man, a half empty bottle of sake still clutched tightly in his hand. A massive slab covers another so completely the only hint anyone was killed under it at all is the blood-flecked walking stick just by it. The guilt weighs at him, but it could have been so much worse. Waver still can’t quite believe a massive house like this one hadn’t even had a single servant in it, but who is he to complain about fewer casualties?

“C’mon Rider. I think those two were the only people in the whole mansion…” Waver trails off, seeing his Servant staring at what little remains of the building intently. The great man is moving strangely too, taking a few steps, stamping his foot down, then taking a few more steps again before repeating the process. “What are you doing?”

“It’s hollow, underneath. There must be a basement or something,” Rider says, brow furrowing as he carefully paces the ground. All Waver can wonder is where his Servant is going with all this.

“In a house like this, probably, but why would someone be down there this late at night?” Waver asks skeptically. Despite this, an anxious feeling is starting to make its way to his stomach. Good instincts come with the territory of being a magus, a survival mechanism ingrained from the earliest divide between those with magical power and those without. Foolhardy magi don’t live long, as a rule. Right now, everything Waver has is telling him there’s something down there he doesn’t want to see. The fact that he last had this sort of feeling at Caster’s base is not helping matters any.

Rider moves aside a slab that once served as a wall, revealing a half-demolished door barely hanging onto the hinges. The entrance, to the underground space. Waver doesn’t want to go down there with a strength that is palpable, but as usual Rider takes the matter out of his Master’s hands and into his own. Darkness looms, worn stone steps trailing down into the dimness like jagged teeth. Every nerve in his body tells him to stay away, not that it matters. With his natural fearlessness Rider descends, and by this point trailing him has become second-nature to Waver.

Master and Servant aren’t far down before the smell hits them both. Damp, sickly sweet, and above all reeking of decay, it assaults the senses. If his stomach hadn’t already been empty from seeing the gruesome horrors of Caster’s lair, Waver probably would have thrown up right then and there. As it is Waver still can’t help but retch emptily on air till his throat feels raw with it. His knees buck with a wave of dizziness, but even through that the derision he feels towards himself now is clear. Why had he gone down those steps in the first place? Waver knows he’s no sort of great man, nor even a good one.

It’s Rider’s fault. Rider and his ability to draw you into his vision of the world despite all knowledge, experience, and instinct speaking otherwise, and make you believe it to the point it became your vision too. Waver would call it charisma so intense it had a presence all its own, but someone he doesn’t think it comes down to just that. Something about his Servant just makes it so much more-

“Calm now?” Rider’s voice rumbles to break Waver’s thoughts up.

Not really, but he doesn’t feel like sharing that. It doesn’t matter, as he at least has it together enough to keep his priorities in order. “I’m fine. Let’s just go now, there’s obviously no one here.”

Rider cocks his head, not replying. Waver is about to take him to task for it when the larger man says, “Someone is. I can hear breathing. Faint, but it’s still there.”

“In a place like this?! Who would be down here?!” Waver can’t help his incredulous tone. He doesn’t actually doubt Rider, knowing full well how vastly superior Servant senses are to his own. In terms of visibility and smell, Caster’s lair had been worse than this basement, and Rider had done just fine when the Assassins showed up. But trying to fathom why this place of rot and decay would have a person in it…Waver knows enough of how magi can be to connect the dots, and his mind has only begun to scratch the surface of the chilling scenarios as a result.

In all this time Rider didn’t respond to the question, rhetorical as it is. He merely continues heading down the stairs with his usual self-assurance, leaving Waver no choice but to follow or be left alone. And the prospect of being without his Servant’s protection in a place like this is by far the scarier option. He relies on Rider’s back before him for a lead to follow than anything else. There’s a dimness suffusing the basement, a phosphorous glow not unlike that given off by certain types of mold, but it isn’t nearly enough for eyes that are still adjusting to it. Waver has a feeling it’d be hard to see in even for someone used to the level of illumination.

After what feels like forever, the stairs finally end at a floor of the same cold, worn stone. That isn’t all that’s there. Waver had only been dimly aware of it before, between his own turbulent emotions and the gloom of the basement, but there are insects chittering everywhere, on every surface, skittering in and out of the many holes where bodies are tucked away to slowly decompose . As this is the basement of a magus family, there is no chance that these are ordinary vermin and he finds himself stepping closer to Rider without thinking about it. The revulsion he’s feeling right now skips past conscious thought entirely, landing straight into primal instinct. Do not get close to those things, they are vile, they are dangerous. Stay away. Those feelings are as written into his body as the need for air and sustenance.

The one thing that reassures Waver is that Rider is simply far too powerful for them to bear. Unable to withstand the sheer force he radiates any more than a human can walk on the sun, the worms flee away in black ripples to retreat as far as they possibly can. As the insects that can only be some level of familiar do so, another shape is revealed amidst the gloom. It’s too indistinct for Waver’s eyes to make out, bigger than the worms but far smaller than Rider’s massive form or even his own slighter one.

Waver squints, trying to discern what it is without having to move away from Rider. Especially when the Servant takes in one single, deep breath and tenses up. If Waver hadn’t had nearly the same experience happen to him in Caster’s lair he wouldn’t have seen the action for what it is-a struggle to keep control. A chill sets upon his spine, knowing Rider can see that small thing far more clearly than he can. And that whatever it is, it caused a reaction like that out of a man who had seen far more than a young English magus.

“Stay right here. Those parasite familiars won’t get close enough to be a problem, but I can’t be sure of this. Not with the kind of magus who would have a workshop like this to begin with.”

Rider moves forward, calm and measured. But if he meant to protect Waver, it’s already too late. His eyes have finally adjusted to the point where he can see clearly enough, as much as he now wishes they hadn’t.

It’s a girl, that little shape he couldn’t make out. A young, young girl.

The way the sheer horror washes like an icy wave over Waver has a weird effect of being so all-consuming his emotions become numb with it, leaving nothing but observational thought behind. Five, maybe six years old at most. Unconscious but breathing. Completely naked, and shackled to the floor at the wrists and ankles. So she couldn’t possibly get away, not the tiniest bit, in this place of rot and damp and bugs-

Waver backs away in a way that requires no cognizant thought, and bumps into something on the ground. Tearing his appalled gaze away from the girl he nearly jumps before seeing nothing but a little basket. He picks it up to see there’s clothes in it, a pink ribbon, dark violet dress and socks. Despite its innocuousness, that basket just makes things that much more disturbing. There’s something in it that adds a cold calculation to the nightmarish tableau. Someone brought that basket down so there would be a place for those clothes, someone who calmly went ahead and chained up a young child to leave her to the mercy of the vermin abounding in this place.

Waver doesn’t even realize he’s shaking and near hyper-ventilating until Rider’s heavy hand on shoulder snaps him out of it. It’s oddly reassuring, that touch. Somehow, Waver finds it in himself to pull it together and face his Servant.

The King of Conquerors holds the purple-haired girl as carefully as a great treasure, her small frame wrapped up in the heavy folds of his great crimson cape. It’s a little hard to tell when she’s so completely covered, but she at least doesn’t seem to be in any immediate pain. Waver reaches out a hand to perform a basic analysis on her, only to have Rider pull just out of his reach.

“It might not be safe for you to touch her,” Rider cautioned, serious expression visible even in this poor light. “I’m no magus, but there’s something-several of them-underneath her skin. I could feel it when I picked her up.”

Waver doesn’t bother to respond, the analytic part of his mind that allowed him to pull ahead so far despite his brief lineage working at a furious pace. He embraces it thoroughly, the place of pure logic and thaumaturgy’s laws that leaves no room for his still-present horror. There’s only so much he knows about the situation, but it’s enough. Familiars, especially of a parasitic type as these worms, and something strange in the flesh of a girl trapped in a place full of them. A girl who can only be the descendant of magi, that much he can tell from her weak but present magical energy. He’s not a magus whose strengths revolve around surgical modification and healing, but genius means nothing if not finding some sort of solution.

The first step to take now is obvious: leaving this place. Waver is no saint, but even he can’t fathom leaving the girl behind.

“Let’s go, then. You’ll have to carry her up.” Waver says shortly, voice slightly raspy from all the abuse his throat had gone through. Trusting his Servant to follow, he makes his way back up the steps and has never been so relieved to leave somewhere in his life. Moving quickly, it isn’t long before they are out of the house proper and off the grounds completely.

The second step is obvious as well. There isn’t much time for it, maybe a minute or two more before emergency services arrive. But the one thing Waver has never doubted about Rider is his unfaltering strength. The King of Conquerors can surely manage what he is about to be tasked with.

“Rider,” Waver starts, and when his Servant looks at him in acknowledgment some small part of him thinks it’s with a regard he hasn’t seen before. “Can you destroy this place so completely not a single one of those insects remain, and do it fast?”

A grin splits Rider’s face as he carefully sets the girl down and draws out his blade, but it lacks the jovialness Waver is used to. This is a different sort of smile altogether, one that can only come in anticipation of a well deserved beat down.

“One minute.” Rider slices the air, the familiar crack of thunder greeting the arrival of the sacred bulls. “That is all I need for total obliteration of low-level vermin.”

“Good,” Waver says, meaning it completely. “After that, keep the Gordius Wheel out. We’re going to have to stop by where I summoned you before going back to the MacKenzies.”

Rider raises a brow at that, but merely takes his rightful place in the chariot before charging off. It’s fine, Waver thinks. After he’s done, there will be plenty of time to explain why he needs quick access to a fully ready magic circle.

-----------------------------

After the destruction of the Matou grounds, things had progressed so quickly Waver still hadn’t fully processed it.

First had been his business with the summoning circle. Had Waver been at the Clock Tower with full access to his lab and materials he would have been ashamed for anyone to see such a rough working of thaumaturgy. But the circumstances were what they were, and getting rid of the Matou place wouldn’t have done much good in the long run if he hadn’t done something about the familiars still in the girl’s body.

Even with the useful backup of a full magic circle, things probably wouldn’t have turned out as decently as they had if the spell Waver had fallen upon wasn’t of the most basic sort. The main challenge of dealing with the worms had been his inability to remove them at all, not without causing serious or possibly fatal damage.

So he had done the next best thing possible.

It was an old spell, one long out of fashion and that even a devout researcher like Waver only learned of in his studies of magic circuits and mage bodies for the thesis he had put together. A simple spell, most popular in the days witch burnings and the Inquisition had been at their most serious level of threat to every magus across Europe. But one where simplicity only aided in its effectiveness.

στάση, or stási̱. A Greek spell of freezing and locking all prana movement within the body, to the point where the person it was performed upon became indistinguishable from a being lacking magic circuits. Similar in effect to St. Martin’s cloth, the ultimate means of avoiding detection by witch hunters. A simple but risky spell that fell out of style for its primary weakness of needing to be broken by someone with working circuits, requiring a level of trust and reliance uncommon in the magus community. Nonetheless, even the seal keeping the spell in place itself does not generate prana, leaving the person it has been performed upon completely off the radar of those seeking magi. The effect of paralyzing all prana sources in the body includes those that may be originally foreign to it.

It was a stop-gap measure to be sure. But it would hold for the time being, and for now that was enough. No longer having to worry about physical contact with the girl, Waver dressed her in the clothes he had brought along from the basement. Just thinking about it disgusted him, but it was all available for her to wear.

That had just left the MacKenzies as the most immediate problem to be dealt with. Waver could only imagine how two grown men showing up with an unconscious little girl late at night would look like to them. It was far beyond the point where simply overwriting their memories would work at all, and he was getting wary of overusing that one any way. In the end, he had settled for as much of the truth as he could safely share, aided with just enough magical suggestion to be persuasive.

The girl’s home had been destroyed in an unexpected accident and her family with it, Waver had told them. Her body was delicate and had a physical condition due to be treated, and he couldn’t simply send her off for social services to deal with. She had no one and nowhere else to turn to, and Waver had taken it upon himself to keep an eye on her for the moment. The only outright lie he had told was that she was the sister of the ‘friend’ he had gotten the chickens from, but how else to explain a connection to her?

All this, along with Rider collaborating his story, had been enough for Glen and Martha. It had probably been the effect of his Servant’s extreme charisma more than anything, but Waver was pragmatic enough to take his victories however he could. Something of a Mother Hen attitude had taken over Martha, and after bringing the child up to Waver’s room she had shooed both Master and Servant away to change her into an old nightshirt. Only after tucking the little girl in had Martha deemed it okay for them to enter the guest room once more. She returned once more to set out a spare futon for Waver, who could only resign himself to the loss of the bed with grace, and senbei crackers for them both before excusing herself to go back to her interrupted sleep.

Shortly afterwards, the girl had woken up. Waver hadn’t been sure exactly what to prepare himself to deal with, but it hadn’t been what he had gotten. The purple-haired girl had looked about the room silently, a kind of muted confusion visible on her face. He had tried in vain to get anything out of her, but the girl just sat on the bed without a word, listless and passive.

-----------------------------

Which brings them all to the present moment.

“Look,” Waver tries again. He’s never been good with children, and considering what this one has probably gone through he feels like he’s walking on eggshells filled with dynamite. “Don’t you want to know what’s going on or anything?”

Still nothing from her. Waver slumps, wondering at how someone so passive could also be so rock stubborn. He doesn’t have any idea about what to do, now that thaumaturgy isn’t involved.

Beside him, Rider rubs his chin in thought. Then he straightens like something has just occurred to him, and reaches over to where the girl’s things are piled up.

“Well, will you at least let us return this?” Rider speaks to her for the first time, dropping the pink ribbon into the girl’s lap. “This belongs to you, after all.”

Of all things, that does get a reaction out of her. The girl clutches it to her chest, careful and possessive at once like she’s afraid they’ll take it back. But it’s an opening, and if anyone can do something with that it’s Alexander the Great.

“What’s your name?” Rider asks, and his voice is just the right balance between gentle and friendly. “Mine’s Alexander, or Iskander, or a couple other things depending on the area. And this guy’s Waver.”

The girl visibly hesitates, eyeing them both. It takes a moment, but she eventually decides that much can’t hurt at this point.

“Sakura.” Those strange purple eyes are cast immediately downward, and she stares so hard at the ribbon Waver half-expects it to burst into flame. “M…Matou Sakura.”

“Mm, yes…that means ‘cherry blossom’ in this country if I recall. It suits you,” Rider says, and though her face is still quite emotionless she at least doesn’t seem scared. For Waver, it will have to do.

“Sakura, how much do you know about what’s going on in this town right now? You are the child of a magus family, after all.” Waver strikes a compromise to put her at ease as best he can, serious tone but not burdening her with a direct gaze on top of it. It doesn’t work, and every bit of her body language closes up stiffly. Fortunately, Rider dives in to salvage things.

“What he wants is to make sure you know your situation,” Rider tells her in a reassuring tone. “It isn’t just about the Holy Grail or gaining any sort of advantage, but why you’re here and what’s going to happen.”

“…Uncle told me…” Sakura begins very slowly. “That he had to do something big…and I know a little bit from the stories. There are seven spirits, and they’re fighting for a wish.” She’s silent for a moment, lost in her own thoughts. “Which one are you?”

Rider straightens in a grand manner, and about the only comfort Waver has is that he’s not yelling it out at the same volume he had at the pier. It’s depressing to realize that he’s gotten used to everyone knowing his Servant’s real identity. He could still do without the dramatic posing, though.

“I am Alexander, King of Conquerors! Brought forth in this war under the Rider class!” The Servant pauses for a beat, during which Waver catches a flicker of deepest confusion on Sakura’s face. “Follow me, and you shall know the thrills of world domination-”

“She’s a bit young for that,” Waver cuts him off mid-speech, a brief vision of the little girl clad in full Greek armor rising up in his imagination before being dismissed. He braces himself for a finger-flick, but it surprisingly doesn’t come. Thrown by this, it takes him a second to regain his bearings.

“Anyway, so you know there’s a big fight going on right now.” Waver sneaks a glance at her as subtly as he can. If he isn’t good with kids, he’s even less skilled with small girls. But he remembers distinctly he never appreciated being talked down to when he was young, and so speaking plainly is the least he can do. “Rider and I here were engaged by Berserker tonight, and the Matou house ended up getting destroyed in the crossfire.”

Sakura shows no more of a reaction than if he had told her the sky is blue. Feeling more uncertain, he forces himself to continue. “When we looked for survivors, you were the only one we found. As this is a matter between magi, I thought it would be best to bring you back here.”

“Why?” Sakura asks, so softly Waver suspects she didn’t intend for him to hear it.

“I can take responsibility for that much,” Waver says, hating the embarrassed flush rising to his face. Quickly, he adds, “And there’s a very dangerous Servant around who’s been making off with kids. Right now this is probably one of the safest places in the city.”

Sakura gives a tiny little nod, accepting this. Then she glances down at her hands, flexing them as if testing the sensation.

“It’s a stasis seal,” Waver tells her before she can ask, and feels a little more at ease now that the topic has switched to magecraft. “Don’t worry, I can take it off whenever you want. It doesn’t hurt, does it?”

“….no. It doesn’t.” Sakura seems to accept this as well. Waver knows it probably feels quite strange to have no sensation of prana in her body, but considering the alternative...

“That’s it for now. If you aren’t hungry or anything, go to sleep.” Waver watches as Sakura settles in without protest-not that he expected any-setting that pink ribbon with care on the side table before curling up in a little ball and shutting her eyes.

Master and Servant wait in silence, until her breathing has evened out into the pace of true sleep.

“Got something in mind, kid?” Rider finally says as Waver goes to turn off the lights. As usual, he doesn’t bother to dematerialize, but after today Waver just doesn’t have the mental energy to try to get him to do so.

“For her, or the war?” Waver can’t help the dryness infusing his tone. He lets out a sigh as he flops down on his futon and tries to get comfortable. “We’ll go into town tomorrow. We can figure it out then.”

------------------------------

“Here you go!”

Waver pauses, piece of toast half-way to his mouth. Still in her borrowed night shirt Sakura nibbles quietly away at her own food across the table from him, while Rider spears the very last bit of egg on his plate with gusto.

“Clothes? They’re a bit small for me, Grandma.” More than a bit small actually, and though they are clean and smell of being freshly washed, he can tell the little jeans and simple white and blue t-shirt have been worn before.

“Not for you, for Sakura-chan. Didn’t you tell me last night she had nothing to wear?” Martha smoothes down a crease, a soft smile alight on her face. “These were Luke’s when he was her age. I dug them out of the attic this morning. It’s not terribly cute, but it will do until she can get some new clothes, right?”

“Right,” Waver agrees, brain kicking into gear. He had thought the MacKenzie residence had gone unnoticed and their location still secret, but the presence of the Assassins last night had cast doubt on that. If the house is being watched, there could be some advantage in concealing the identity of its newest resident. After all, anyone looking for Matou Sakura would be expecting a girl, not a boy. It certainly worked for Saber. It still left the matter of her distinctively colored hair, but… “It’s bright out. Is there a hat or something she could wear?”

“Mm…yes,” Martha says after a moment’s thought. “Shoes too. I’ll go get them down now.”

The matronly woman bustles off. Finishing her toast, Sakura looks up at Waver, then Rider uncertainly.

“We’re going into town today. When Martha comes down with the other things, go and change, okay?”

Sakura tilts her head slightly and blinks, but obediently scoots out of her chair and heads for the stairs. Not for the first time, Waver can’t help but wonder what the hell he thinks he’s trying to do.

“The marketplace?” Rider asks, eyes bright with enthusiasm. Waver snorts, surprised at how excited the King of Conquerors looks at the prospect, but nods in acknowledgment all the same. “Ah, I look forward to it. There is nothing to tell you the character of the land like its bazaars.”

“You just want to shop,” Waver grumbles, feeling the danger of his Servant’s feelings catching. A thought strikes him abruptly, and he quickly stands and points in the most authoritative way he can muster. “And no stealing and trying to call it ‘conquest’! I’ll just give you money if you need it, alright?!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Rider brushes off his words, energy not dampening in the slightest. “How are we getting there?”

“Your way,” Waver says, checking around to see if anyone is close enough to hear. “I’m worried about Assassin still, and anything to help keep them from tracking us. You can find a remote enough place to land from the air, right?”

“Of course.” Rider looks almost offended at the notion he wouldn’t. But then he looks to the stairs, pausing. “Think she’ll be able to handle it?”

“Considering the other option, she’ll have to.” Waver stands to pick up his plate, and the one Sakura left behind-something he’ll have to talk with her about. “Besides, I got used to it, didn’t I? Just skip the standing on the very highest part of the bridge part.”

“Heh, true.”

-----------------------------

Sakura takes her first trip on the Gordius Wheel far better than Waver did, and he’s not sure if that should be a credit to her or a blemish on him. She does hold on to Rider’s leg tightly when they’re really high up, but other than that doesn’t do anything remotely worrisome. Once they find a discrete enough place to land, they dismount and walk the rest of the way into town.

Waver keeps an eye on her as they cross the great red bridge spanning the river, though it isn’t really necessary. An old Toronto Maple Leafs’ baseball cap, one just a little too big for her head, does an excellent job of concealing those plum colored locks. Someone would have to be right in front of her to spot the delicate features she’s still growing into. Anyone else would simply see a little boy, and that’s just fine by him. Once Assassin is gone they’ll have a little more leeway for what she can wear outside, but Waver hasn’t gotten this far by being stupid.

Thumbing through the guide to town as best he can with the rudimentary Japanese he’s picked up, Waver takes the time to note other things about her. She stays close enough to Rider and himself for safety, but no more than absolutely necessary. There are no attempts to hold hands, or cling to a convenient piece of clothing. Sakura doesn’t talk freely, and she doesn’t look at all at her surroundings. The little girl moves through life as if she drifts long enough she’ll find a way out.

Waver’s been a part of the magus community his whole life, and as a result he knows he shouldn’t be so surprised by this. But still…you always heard rumors, crazy things like little towns that had their whole populations vanish, or corners of the remotest parts of the globe where a magus would all but declare themselves a god and proceed to act out their blackest excesses, or even that the Church still made good use of experimentation chambers constructed during the Inquisition. Sometimes they are even true. But usually rumors were all there is to it, because inevitably either the Association or the Counter Force would take care of you. It simply isn’t worth the risk.

But that scene in the basement…that was madness on a different level. There is no advancing of knowledge, no hard work that still results in the continuation of a family legacy. It had just been cold blooded torture, and for what? Waver doesn’t know much of the Matou family, but that’s going to change fast. Berserker and his Master are still out there.

Had Matou known? Participated? Meant to help but hadn’t for whatever reason? Waver didn’t know. All he could believe in were the facts presented to him. Sakura had been purposefully hurt by that family. She could not be left to their devices.

“Ah, kid! Isn’t that the place you marked?” Rider points at the sign, fortunately written out in English. ‘Verde’. According to his guide, it is the biggest shopping center in town. When he had asked the MacKenzies that morning about children’s stores, they had remembered one where the clothes were well made and reasonably priced. It’s as good a place to start as any.

It doesn’t take them long to find it. Stepping inside almost gives Waver the feeling of being in a Reality Marble, this strange alien place that abounds with bright, cheery colors and lively animals and flowers on the walls. To be honest, he’s not even sure where to start. Defeat by children’s clothing store, that had to be a new low among lows this whole war had brought him to.

His helplessness must be more palpable than he originally thought, because it isn’t long before a salesgirl catches sight of the three of them standing awkwardly near the entrance. Walking over with a friendly air, she greets their odd group in a genuine manner that puts Waver a little more at ease.

“Good morning, sirs! Is this your first time coming here?” The girl-whose nametag reads ‘Otoko’-smiles in a very feline sort of way.

“Er…yes. She needs some new clothes.” Waver nudges Sakura gently forward, conscious of his poor Japanese.

“‘She’?…ah, I see!” Otoko’s smile widens when Sakura pulls off the baseball cap, leaving her hair to tumble free. “Let’s find you some cute things, okay? What colors do you like?”

“Pink,” Sakura murmurs very quietly. The salesgirl doesn’t appear to mind her shyness, and makes a gesture indicating the far wall of the store.

“There’s lots of good things over here in your size, especially in pink. Come on, let’s go take a look.”

Otoko-or Neko, as she politely but firmly insists on being called despite the nametag-ends up being a minor Godsend to Waver. Rider of course immediately takes a shine to her, moreso when she recommends her family business as a nice place for a drink. She makes what could have been a much more tiresome task easy, offering up suggestions without being pushy, and providing a woman’s much needed perspective for appropriate attire for a girl. An hour and a half later Sakura is in possession of a coat, two dresses, three shirts, two skirts, overalls, pajamas, a matching set of gloves, scarf, and hat, and some much needed socks and underthings.

“Ugh, finally,” Waver says as Oto-Neko-san waves them out, though in truth things didn’t turn out nearly as expensive as he thought they would. Sakura walks some ways in front of them, close enough to keep an eye on her but still noticeably distant. “Now that Sakura’s taken care of, we can go get the stuff Martha asked for and then go back-”

“I can’t agree with you there, kid,” Rider interrupts, and his eyes have a rare somberness that has Waver paying attention despite himself. “She still needs something more.”

“Like what?” Waver’s brow winkles in thought. Clothes, food, shelter-all the essentials are covered. “I didn’t miss anything.”

“Only if you mean for her to survive, not live,” Rider says with a note of sharpness that takes Waver aback. Staring up at the great man, Waver barely remembers to check and make sure Sakura can’t hear any of this.

Rider sighs, deep and low. There’s a haze over his face now, the kind one gets when sifting through memories that carry their own sort of darkness.

“Things were so different from the way they are now. But some things never change. You could always tell back then, even when they never said anything. The children who jumped at the barest hint of noise. The children who shied away from any man. But those weren’t even the worst ones, because there was at least something in them to still react.” Rider pauses. “The worst ones were those who didn’t even have that much. The ones who broke and became nothing more than flesh that still happened to breathe.”

“What would you have me do, then? I can’t magic away trauma,” Waver says bitterly.

“No. But to go through that and live, she’s a tough little thing.” Rider indicates Sakura’s small figure with a lift of his chin. “It depends on her, but you can help. Give her something to do. Something for her to think about besides that place. All she has now is her own mind to retreat to-and there’s only one place she’ll go from there.”

“Like what?” Waver asks as Rider stops abruptly. Noticing they are no longer walking, Sakura goes to rejoin them, face as still as ever.

“Like that.” Rider points with one large finger. Following it, Waver takes in the shop they’ve stopped in front of before groaning.

“Are you kidding me? ‘Fancy Shop’ is possibly the dumbest name I’ve ever heard for a …” Waver cuts himself off, pressing both hands to his temples in anticipation of a headache. “Let’s just get this over with.”

He has to nudge Sakura inside, and after enduring the unabashed gaze of more than one salesgirl for a lengthy pause, gives in and pointedly clears his throat.

“Well? What are you waiting for?” Waver asks.

“For you to finish,” Comes the soft reply. It’s another thing he’s noticed about Sakura. She only speaks when spoken to, and never a single word more than absolutely necessary.

“What would I want with a stuffed toy? We’re here for you, now go and pick something out.” Waver takes a deep breath and tries to calm himself. It’s not easy when he realizes why Sakura is giving him her equivalent of an astonished look.

“…for….me?” Sakura trips out the words unevenly, looking around the store again like she’s seeing it for the first time. A lump rises in Waver’s throat at that, and he fears saying anything. Even someone like him can read the fragility of the situation right now. A single poorly chosen word could tear down everything in an instant.

“I know, it’s hard to pick. So many!” As usual, Rider steps in without a single care and makes it all work somehow. Not all embarrassed by being seen examining the soft plushies so diligently, Rider starts to wander through the racks, Sakura trailing behind him like a baby chick following its parent. Not for the first time, Waver thinks Rank A Charisma is truly a force with which to be reckoned. It takes a real effort not to be won over by Rider, and the King of Conquerors didn’t gain his fame by losing battles.

Lost in his thoughts as he is, a few seconds pass before it registers that he’s been left behind. Restraining the urge to grumble, not to mention wonder why the number of salesgirls looking his way with interest has increased, he finds the great man and the little girl two rows over.

A brown bear.

“Too big.”

A penguin with a red bowtie.

“Too small.”
A very weird looking cat…thing…in a white shirt and purple skirt.

“….no.”

A yellow and green mushroom holding a mallet of some kind.

“Yeesh, what are they trying to sell to kids here?”

As these and other toys are deemed unworthy by Alexander the Great and summarily tossed aside, Waver finds himself more interested in what Sakura is doing. She’s being pretty subtle about it, but he can see her eyeing a pile of bunny plushies. They are cute, he has to admit. The soft brown fur and white ribbons around their necks reminds him a little of reading The Velveteen Rabbit as a small child, and how desperately he had begged at the time for a bunny of his own.

“Oh, there’s a white one too.” He almost misses it, buried under the other ones as it is. Tugging it carefully out, he sees this one has a dark rose ribbon instead. While examining it he draws Rider’s attention as well, his Servant tossing aside a creepy white weasel thing with ruby red eyes and gold rings to look at what he’s holding.

“Hey, it’s almost the same color as yours!” Rider’s referring to the ribbon of course, the one around the rabbit’s neck. Side-by-side they really are practically identical, only a few shades off. Through all this Sakura hasn’t said anything, and remains just as expressionless as always. But this time it feels a little different-more like a game face than springing from genuine apathy. She’s already steeling herself for disappointment, and the realization of that makes Waver a strange combination of angry and sad.

Nonetheless, he does his best to force the feeling down. Even knowing her for the short duration of time as he has, Sakura has already proven unusually empathic towards the emotions of others. He doesn’t want to frighten her, after all. Waver kneels down instead to meet her at eye level, and presents the rabbit to her.

“Do you like this one?”

Sakura hesitates for a long moment, and the hands she eventually holds out for the bunny are trembling slightly. When the plushie is in her arms she buries her face in the soft white fur, hugging it closely. Waver supposes that’s answer enough. She doesn’t let go as they make their way to the counter, and he’s surprised she even relinquishes hold of the bunny long enough to pay for it.

“-Sir? Sir?”

Waver forces himself to pay attention to the politely smiling woman at the counter. Seeing she has his interest, her smile widens while her gaze flicks from him to Rider and back again.

“As I was saying sir, it’s so sweet of you two to go out shopping for the young miss here.” The woman leans forward slightly, and Waver can’t quite pinpoint just why her eyes are sparkling the way they are. Or why she seems to be flushing a little. “You gentlemen have such a natural rapport. I bet you must have been together a long time.”

“Uh…only about a week…” Waver gets out, confused about what that has to do with anything, even more so when the salesgirl clasps her hands to her chest and looks ready to swoon. He can see that Rider looks like he wants to say something, but is showing an unusual amount of restraint about it for once. “Anyway, the rabbit?”

“Oh, right,” Comes the response with a somewhat diminished amount of enthusiasm. Bouncing back, she holds up a little card shaped like a heart. On it are two lines, one blank and the other filled in with the date. “Has your little girl decided on a name?”

“Name?” Waver echoes. Then the rest of her sentence hits him. “A-and she’s not mine, I’m just watching her for a friend-”

“Be that as it may, sir,” the words following an ‘I’m humoring you now’ sort of smile, “We give all the stuffed toys we sell a name. It goes on the heart and then we sew it up inside-a more personal sort of touch, if you will.”

It’s a little sentimental for Waver’s tastes, but then he supposes he’s not exactly the demographic the store has in mind for this thing. Turning down to look at Sakura, he’s surprised to see her fingers playing against each other like she’s anxious.

“Can you think of a name, Sakura? If you need time that’s fine.”

“…” Sakura whispers under her breath, the mumble so indistinct Waver can’t make out a bit of it.

“A little louder, so she can hear you.”

“…R-rin.” Sakura looks down at her feet, and Waver knows that’s all he’s going to get out of her without pushing hard. Thankfully, the salesgirl is better at reading Sakura’s mood than his, and merely beams.

“Rin-chan, mm? That’s a lovely name.” She writes it on the card in very elegant hand, the hiragana characters “り” and “ん” together. It’s simple, enough for a child or even an inexperienced foreigner such as Waver to make out. Turning back to table behind the counter laden with a very strange looking sort of machine, the salesgirl makes an easy incision in the bunny and slips in the heart. Closing it back up again with some pins, she sets it up under than machine to sew the seam up so neatly Waver doubts he’d be able to spot it without having known beforehand.

“All done!” The salesgirl practically sings the words. “Now, would you like a bag?”

Waver glances at Sakura, the longing in her eyes palpable. “We’ll just carry it, thanks.” Once the bunny is safely back in her arms, the little girl clings to it like she never wants to let go.

-----------------------------

Exiting the shop, Waver lets out a sigh he hadn’t been fully aware of holding it.

“We are never going back there again. The merchandise is weird, and their salesgirls-” Even now he can catch them looking out the window at them, all women and all more interested in their group than common sense can explain.

Rider’s mouth twitches a little, from amusement or something else. “Hey kid, can I guess you’ve spent the past few years doing nothing but being buried in books? Your knowledge of magecraft is first rate, but I think you’ve paid for it in worldliness.”

“What does that mean?! Riderrr-!!” As Waver sputters indignantly his Servant holds him off with his thumb and index finger alone, his other hand grasping the list of things to pick up Martha had written out for them that morning. Absorbed in her bunny, Sakura barely pays either of them notice.

“Yarn…ah, I see. To the craft store!”

“Rider, explain yourself first!!”

Waver never does get his explanation, though at this point he really should learn to resign himself to Rider getting his way. But the next couple of hours while away pleasantly enough for all he’d rather be focusing on the war, going from shop to shop with a short break for lunch. Rider is even livelier than Waver is used to out in the market, every place catching his eye and every bit of merchandise worthy of examination. The great man takes such delight in all that he sees, in a way Waver can’t even fathom. He just supposes he should be grateful Sakura isn’t as much of a handful to watch after-if he had to deal with such energy from two different ends his hair would have gone whiter than the Einzbern lady from the stress of it all.

Although, he’s still worried about Sakura. Waver had thought they made some small bit of progress today, but she’s gotten so quiet and listless by the time the clock strikes four. His concern must be more obvious than he realizes, for Rider stops his intent examination of a crepe store’s window and slaps his hand against Waver’s back. Thankfully, Rider’s learned by this point to modify his strength some in regards to his Master, which in turn prevents a face-first collision with the concrete. Instead, he just stumbles some before regaining his footing to give his Servant an annoyed look.

“Eh, kid, so serious now? It’s been very interesting out here.”

Waver clears his throat and lifts his chin Sakura’s way. She’s sitting on a close by bench, head resting against her rabbit’s.

“She’s even quieter than usual and I don’t know why-”

“You should, it’s not so great a mystery.” Rider laughs easily at Waver’s frustrated expression, and elaborates, “We’ve been walking around for a good couple of hours now. She’s just tired. It’ll be better once we get back and she can take a nap.”

Sure enough, once Waver looks a little more closely he can see Sakura’s violet eyes shuttering open and close like she’s barely managing to stay awake. Seeing as it is such a simple reason, he feels more than a little foolish for not figuring out the clearest answer. It’s a little hard to remember Sakura is just a child, sometimes. Her behavior is so unlike any other Waver’s met before.

Rider just moves forward, confident as always. Crouching down to Sakura’s level, the large man holds out the arm not laden down with purchases unaffectedly.

“Come on, up now. We’re ready to go back.”

Sakura stares at the arm in silence, old wariness at war with her own exhaustion. But eventually her dwindling energy takes the win, and she lets Rider pick her up without protest. Waver can’t help but watch in muted astonishment. Even regarding his own experience with his Servant’s ability to win people over, he knows just how remarkable this is. The rules that apply to the world and the way it works seem to skip over Rider entirely.

Or more like the King of Conquerors decided long ago not to be bound by them. He’s looking at Waver like he doesn’t know what he’s so shocked about, and his day has been tiring enough that he doesn’t feel like pursuing it.

“Let’s get going. Martha needs the food we got to start dinner, and more importantly we need to plan what to do tonight.” Waver turns on his heel before Rider can pick at his thoughts. Though he expects his Servant to say something anyway, he doesn’t, and merely follows while carrying the drowsy child like she weighs nothing at all.

----------------------------

After spending the day doing nothing to advance their position in the War, Waver is absolutely determined to make up for the lost time. While Sakura naps away and the sounds of dinner being cooked play out distantly, he and Rider make their plans. They’ve located the castle hidden in the forest, and by extension Saber and her Master. Tohsaka’s place they already know, and Waver is keeping as close an eye on Kotomine Church as he can without violating the rules. He doesn’t know for sure about Lancer’s status, the destruction of the Fuyuki Hyatt that he knows can’t be a coincidence aside. Anyway, as his student he’s more personally familiar than most of Lord El-Melloi’s skill set. He’s sure the bastard wouldn’t be taken out as easily as that.

That just leaves Berserker and Caster still unaccounted for. They’ve dealt blows against them both, Berserker with his injuries and Caster with the loss of his lair. But Rider points out that a cornered animal is all the more vicious for its desperation, and Waver can concede the wisdom of that. He’d like to take Berserker out of the picture while he’s still weak, but tracking his Master is even harder now that the Matou manor is gone.

Eventually, they settle on Caster as the most practical option. He’s guaranteed to come back to the wreckage of the lair, so it’ll be just a simple matter of leaving a few familiars to alert him to that event. After that, Rider’s speed when mounted will mean cornering Caster before anyone else can get the chance to. Waver doesn’t want to share victory with anyone, not with an extra Command Spell at stake.

A knock on the door puts a stop to their planning.

“Dinner’s ready,” Martha says, peeking her head in. Her usual kind expression warms even more at the sight of Sakura sleeping so soundly, and Waver wonders if she’s remembering her own son as a child. “Wake Sakura-chan and be down as soon as you can, alright?”

They settle down to a dinner of simple yet homey and comforting food. There’s a mix of western and Japanese dishes on offer, perhaps out of a concession to himself and Rider. He knows after so many years of living in this country the MacKenzies cook Asian food more often than not, and it’s probably what Sakura is used to as well. She doesn’t speak much through dinner, but she does seem a little less stiff to Waver’s eyes. She has surprisingly refined table manners for a five year old, and when Glen compliments them as such her ‘thank you’ is unassuming.

After dinner Waver and Rider retreat to his room to finish planning up and prepare to go out. Sakura doesn’t follow for some reason, but he knows he can trust the MacKenzies with her. It’s only later, when he and ‘Alex-san’ are making to leave that he sees what she’s been occupying herself with.

“Grandma, Grandpa, we’re going out for a bit!” Waver calls, not seeing either one of the older couple. Not getting any response, he steps into the living room and catches sight of distinctive purple hair. Sakura sits on the couch with Martha, eyes focused on-

“Knitting?” Waver blinks, the too-large needles in Sakura’s small hands almost comical in their disparity.

“Ah, yes.” Martha holds up her own project, what looks like a scarf of some sort. “I started with the yarn you brought back. It’s always nice to do in company and Sakura-chan didn’t know how, so it seemed like the thing to do to teach her.”

He can see now Sakura already has a little square of material already completed. He supposes it’s not too bad for a first timer of her age, occasional uneven spots of being too loose or too tight aside. The color, however…

“Sure is unfortunate,” Waver says without thinking. He immediately regrets it when Sakura’s face falls in her restrained way, and Martha frowns severely at him. The little girl looks down at the square of material with slumped shoulders, and it’s all Waver can do to explain himself before things get even worse.

“The color, I mean! You’re doing a great job for your first try at this,” Waver hastily babbles, and he never thought someone as gentle and maternal as Martha could look so scary just sitting there. By some stroke of luck, Sakura takes his words to heart and her hurt air lessens.

“Green…isn’t good?” Sakura speaks up unprompted for the first time, and it’s so unexpected it takes Waver a moment to reply.

“No, no, I like green!” Though not that shade, a truly ugly mildew-like shade Martha must have deemed good enough for practice before starting her on something nicer. There’s no way he can just say that, though, and quickly casts a way for an out. “It’s just…see that tan yarn there?”

Pointing to the item in question, Waver waits until Sakura spots it before continuing, “I just think that one’s a bit better because it matches more. You know, it goes with the green I’m wearing, but also your clothes and Ri…Alex’s, right?”

It’s something of a stretch. But for once the universe takes pity on him, and Waver breathes easy again when Sakura nods in agreement. Martha’s serene look returns as if it had never been gone, but suffice to say Waver won’t be forgetting that sensation of an irate mother bear any time soon.

“When you’ve gotten a little more practice maybe you can try that one,” Waver says. “Anyway, Alex and I are going out for a bit. Be good for Grandpa and Grandma, and don’t forget to brush your teeth before bed.”

He retreats to the safety of the yard before he can say something else thoughtless. Once outside, he looks up at Rider who stands with clear anticipation. Without needing words, they start to make way to the newest hidden spot they’ve picked for taking off, another night’s work ahead of them.

---------------------------

They’re out later than originally projected and cover an extremely wide range of ground. It’s tiring, and leaves Waver so groggy the next morning he agrees to Rider’s request to go back into town with a minimum of protest. At least, that’s what he tells himself between yawns and sips of the hot tea he had been fully prepared to murder someone for. The truth is probably more along the lines that Rider wanted to go and Waver would have been pulled into things whether he liked it or not, but there is such a thing as being able to live with oneself. Even if it gets harder and harder each passing day of this War.

Watching Rider go around with even more excitement now that he no longer has to worry about his company, Waver finds himself missing Sakura. Her quiet presence would have been very much welcomed now, though having her stay inside at the MacKenzies had undoubtedly been the wiser decision. As it is he finds himself barely able to keep up with Rider. He swears the King of Conquerors doesn’t know the meaning of ‘slow down’, and would just disregard it anyway if he did.

Draining away the very last precious drops of his Earl Grey, Waver throws away his now empty cup and feels awareness slowly return to him. Rider isn’t hard to spot at all, inevitably being the tallest man in any crowd of people. Even one as large as that surrounding what looks like a liquor store and pub in one-Copenhagen, the tavern Neko-san had mentioned the other day. There are banners and balloons about, and he figures there must be some sort of event. It takes a second for him to mentally translate, but there’s something about an anniversary and prizes…?

Well, how Rider wanted to spend his time in town didn’t really matter to Waver. Disinterested in the pub in a way that had nothing to do with the fact he is quite the lightweight by British standards, he scans the area aimlessly for something to occupy his attention until Rider gets bored and wants to go somewhere else. There’s not much, though. He doesn’t know the area that well, and just about the only place he recognizes is the craft goods store he had picked up Martha’s yarn from.

Boredom being what it is, he walks over to it anyway and scans the window. There’s not anything he’s really grabs his focus, just a set-up of activities suited for an area still feeling the chill of winter. Tea blending kits, lanterns with fanciful shapes, and unsurprisingly a large set up of assorted yarns and needles. One of them does catch Waver’s eye due to nothing more than sheer pinkness. A little set of three balls of yarn, ivory, light blush, and dark magenta, along with a pair of child sized metallic pink knitting needles. ‘Ideal Set For Beginners!’ the package reads in cheery font, along with ‘Ages 5 and up’.

Waver takes a long, hard look at it and tries to tell himself he’s being ridiculous.

The knitting set continues to sit there, completely uncaring of his internal struggle.

His brain points out he’s disgracing the Clock Tower and magi everywhere by even thinking about it. His conscience points out he thinks the Clock Tower is a rotting, corrupt beast of an institution anyway, and doesn’t Sakura like pink? It’s such a small thing, what could it hurt?

It is times like these Waver kind of hates himself, a feeling that only increases as he steps inside and asks about the set in the window with his faltering Japanese. By the time he walks out again, one pink knitting set the richer, it takes everything he has not to pull his collar up and look for the uppity Association nobles who seemed to have some sort of sixth sense for when he was embarrassing himself and turn up accordingly.

Shoving the bag in the deep pocket of his jacket, Waver decides to go check and see if Rider is done yet. He can already spot the large man waving at him like he has something to share. Making his way through the dense crowd with some effort, Waver finally manages to reach his Servant who stands genially next to-

“Archer?!” Waver squawks in a way he’d normally acknowledge as doing his dignity no favors. Ultimately, primal fear in the face of a man who has the very air of someone who would crush you like a bug and think about the same of it wins out. He’d run behind Rider and perhaps demand to know why he looks so cheery in the face of mortal peril, but his legs refuse to cooperate towards this end.

“Mongrel,” Archer replies boredly. Waver is at least still alive at this point, and his lungs decide to start working up again. Having expanded about all the attention he deems Waver worthy of, the golden Servant currently clad in modern, extremely expensive looking clothing turns back to Rider. “This isn’t doing much to convince me on your part.”

“Don’t be so uptight! Even kings can have their fun. Besides, anything’s got to be better than being holed up in that dreary mansion, right?” Rider grins, looking like he’s having a chat with an old friend instead of standing freely before someone he’s supposed to fight to the death. “If you didn’t think otherwise, why would you be out here at the bazaar right now?”

Archer lets out a long sort of snort through his nose, but doesn’t dispute the point. The tiny part of Waver’s brain that’s still somehow thinking through the terror supposes that counts as a victory on Rider’s part. The rest is too frozen in place to do much.

“I dislike boring things, and wastes of my time,” Archer finally says. Evidently done here, he turns neatly on his heel and starts walking away. “See that you are not guilty of either tonight.”

Rider waves him off in a carefree way. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t be late, you shiny guy.” He shakes his head before looking down at a still speechless Waver. “He’s a friendly fellow, eh?”

Never before have words failed Waver Velvet so completely. Evidently taking his silence as permission to go on, Rider points to the stage where several prizes are set up, from smaller goods like rice cookers to bigger ones like basket assortments stuffed with goods. In the very center is a barrel of wine, with the script ‘Vosne-Romanée Les Beaux Monts’ in French above it. Waver doesn’t know much about wine, but the murmuring of the crowd and urgent holding of lottery tickets tells him this is definitely worthy of being a grand prize.

“That’s the one I’m getting,” Rider says it like a simple matter of fact. “I’ve been searching the marketplace for the best wine for tonight’s symposium. Only that one there will do for a gathering of kings.”

Words don’t fail Waver now, but they do have to fight amongst themselves for the right to come out first.

“W…what are you going on about, Rider?! A drinking party? With the other Servants?!” Waver forces his volume down once he sees heads turning their way, but his emotions still run strong. “Have you gone crazy?”

“Of course not. True conquest is subjugation without humiliation. I am merely following the means to that end. And this is for kings only, so there will just be Saber and Archer.” Rider raises one thick brow like he has no idea what Waver is so worked up about. “Calm down before you hurt yourself. They’re about to announce the winning ticket.”

“Which brings me to that,” Waver whispers in a furious tone. “You can’t just go jump whoever wins that wine and call it conquest-”

“There’s no need for that,” Rider says, looking affronted. “I’m going to win it.”

“Rider, you-”

“And now the last and best prize, our Rouget’s Vosne-Romanée Les Beaux Monts! This is a rare treasure indeed, fit for a devoted lover of wine-or just those who wish to enjoy a drink fit for royalty!” The older man who could only be Neko’s father nods to the girl herself, standing next to a large barrel stuffed completely full of tickets. Giving a few strong revolutions before drawing to a halt, the teenage girl reaches her hand inside and pulls out a ticket. She hands it to her father, who reads it over with a bemused expression before leaning towards his mike again.

“We have a winner! Would ticket number 720356,” the man pauses for a second, “um…‘Alexander the Great’-san please step forward? That’s ticket 720356, ‘Alexander the Great’-san.”

Rider beams and strides triumphantly towards the stage to claim his prize, while behind him Waver’s palm meets his forehead in a pretty spectacular manner. Even with A+ Luck, shouldn’t there be limits to how much nonsense Gaia would take with probability? Judging by the lack of a Counter Force closing in on the area, evidently not. Really, one couldn’t be blamed for falling into despair in a universe where omnipotent personifications of the planet itself couldn’t be counted upon to follow their own standards.

It’s a relief like cold water on a hot day to get back to the MacKenzie’s, where normalcy still has some small say in things. Waver lets himself in while Rider finds a place to stash his wine until it’s time to go to their ‘symposium of kings’. His words, not Waver’s.

“I’m back,” Waver says tiredly to thin air. The sound of light footsteps reaches his ears, and then the girl herself emerges from the living room. Sakura looks up at him, and then around. “Rider’s out back, but he’ll be inside. Where’s Grandma?”

“Living room,” Sakura says. She tugs at his sleeve for the briefest of seconds, then releases it to walk back to the place in question. Martha sits on the couch, cup of tea in hand and her knitting project on her lap.

“Ah, so that’s why Sakura-chan dashed off so suddenly!” Martha smiles at the girl currently seating herself next to her. Sakura evidently took Waver’s suggestion more seriously than he expected, because that camel-colored yarn is now on her needles, the shape of a scarf already emerging. “Would you like some tea too, Waver-chan?”

Looking at the table he can see they have a whole traditional tea set up, nice china and little treats included. It’s the sort of thing he can see a young girl having a soft spot for, and a part of him can’t help but admire Martha’s savviness. He’s not really in the mood for tea though, but before he can decline the elder woman stands up.

“I’m sorry, I forgot we’ve already drank up the last of it. I’m going to put on the kettle for more.” As she bustles off to the kitchen, Waver finds himself alone in front of Sakura.

“It looks good,” Waver says a little awkwardly, but he genuinely means it. Compared to the knottiness of her earlier effort, this new scarf looks a lot tidier. He remembers his purchase then, and fumbles around his pocket. Presenting it to the purple haired girl goes less smoothly than he would have liked, but Waver never had such high expectations of himself to start with.

“Here.” Dropping the set in Sakura’s lap, she looks down at it and then up at him with a perplexed little frown. “Look, the needles are more your size. You won’t have such a difficult time this way.”

Sakura doesn’t say anything, her fingers lightly stroking the package like it is a mirage that will vanish away if she presses any harder. Still feeling flustered himself, Waver decides to go before things get even more awkward.

“Thank you, Waver.”

The words reach his retreating back, soft and ephemeral as a fleeting dream. But they’re no less real for it.

“Just do something good with it, alright?” Waver says, and feels his ears redden with every step he takes up to his room. Rider doesn’t take long to show up afterwards, and provides a much needed distraction. Tonight’s plans end up the topic of discussion. For a completely insane idea, Rider has put a great deal of thought into it. Waver’s still not sure exactly what he hopes to accomplish with it, though.

“I just don’t see either Saber or Archer giving up the Grail like that. Charisma only goes so far, you know.” Waver flops out on his futon, exhausted from the way the conversation is going in circles.

“It’s not giving up if it’s for mutual gain,” Rider says with confidence. “Besides, we are all kings, Saber, Archer, and I. The minimum we can do is a civil discussion.”

Waver really doubts it will be that simple, but Glen announcing dinner saves him from having to attempt the herculean task of convincing the King of Conquerors otherwise. Walking down the stairs, he’s surprised to see Sakura helping out. The extent of her contribution seems to be setting out the place ware, but she goes about it with utmost seriousness. It doesn’t explain the apron, far too big for her and folded up several times around the waist to counter this.

“She helped with dinner too,” Glen elaborates when Waver asks about it. “The salad, at least. Martha chopped everything up and she mixed it.”

“It’ll be really good, then,” Waver says, conscious of sensitive ears and little girls in need of every bit of self-assurance they could get. Besides, it’s not like she could really mess up something already prepared. What if Martha tries to get her to help with other things, though? They need to be careful about that. Waver isn’t sure how well she’ll be around sharp objects.

Looking back, it’s not like that dinner is anything truly remarkable. Not to say it isn’t enjoyable. Martha’s simple, tasty food is just right for the atmosphere-comfort food, Japanese style. Time and conversation flow like honey, easy and smooth. If Waver had to pick a word to describe it, it’d be cozy. Yes, a gentle, soft, warm sort of gathering, where everyone is at ease. Sakura even looks a little bit content now. Perhaps this is why, but for such a small thing…

Then again, maybe that’s why. Waver fumbles a little with the chopsticks he’s still not great with as his mind flashes back to that grandly forbidding manor. By the standards of this country the MacKenzie house is quite generously sized, but one could probably fit the combined kitchen and eating area into the kind of formal dining room that mansion would have with room to spare. To say nothing of the casual air, free and relaxed. Waver can’t imagine it ever being like that for her.

He can’t help but think on it all through the dinner, rendering him a little reserved though Glen and Rider do more than fill that void. Still, the magus does his best to enjoy this time. He’s well aware the ‘gathering of kings’ is before them tonight, and even a very optimistic soul would have a hard time believing that meeting will be as stress-free as this one.

-----------------------------

It’s so much more than even Waver could have possibly imagined, as it turns out. By the time they return to the MacKenzie house the moon is high and pale in a dark midnight sky, as serene as his thoughts are jumbled and his mind reeling.

There’s so much that happened in such a short time. Saber, Archer, the meaning of kingship, the sharing of that golden liquor, the Assassins showing up only to be defeated just as quickly. But there’s only one thing Waver finds himself going back to again and again, a labyrinth trapping all his thoughts.

Ionioi Hetairoi: Army of the King.

It isn’t awe over the sheer power of the Noble Phantasm, though that emotion is there. Nor envy towards such a rare piece of magecraft belonging to one with no aptitude for the art, or even anger that Rider hadn’t shared this beforehand with his own Master.

No. More than anything it is idea at its core that Waver cannot let go of, or maybe cannot be released by. Rider had sought to smash Saber’s ideals for the hollowness that he thought them to be that night. Judging by the look on her face afterwards the King of Conquerors had done something close to that. It is just unfortunate he happened to take down all Waver had held in such high regard in the process.

Undying loyalty. He’s not ignorant of the concept, defining it to be devotion at its zenith. But he’s never really understood what that truly means until now, even if it is just in the most fleeting of ways. Believing in someone and all they are so completely, so utterly it became engraved upon the very soul and could defy the laws of the world. Beyond following to the very end, it is dedication at its very essence. And all Waver can think of right now is how pale and thin his goals and dreams now seem in comparison.

To be acknowledged by the Clock Tower? To prove his superiority? Oh, those had been things he had wanted, but it now seemed to be the way a child wanted things. Fleeting, a desire held in the moment until something new came along. He’s never really had faith in anyone or anything. Having seen that fire for himself, it all seems so meaningless now.

Rider doesn’t raise the issue, but with his usual canniness can sense the current of Waver’s mood. He’s simultaneously grateful for it and disappointed. The distraction would have been a welcome change from thinking about how petty his life feels at the moment.

Even once settled on the futon he’s become more accustomed too, sleep eludes Waver. He tosses restlessly, unable to calm down his racing mind no matter how tired his body actually is. The magus feels what he considers a fairly justified annoyance with his Servant, who snores away blissfully ignorant of the turmoil he instigated. Likewise, Sakura-

Waver blinks upon seeing her. She’s asleep, but it’s different from what he’s seen thus far of her habits. Every other time she’s been at rest like the dead, completely still and silent. This is different, though. Even through the weak moonlight, he can see her shuddering underneath the blanket. No, she isn’t just shuddering. Sakura’s scraping at her skin like she’s trying to tear it off, leaving angry red trails where her fingers have dug in. Hard enough that little gashes are emerging here and there, welling up crimson against pale flesh.

“Sakura, wake up,” Waver whispers, trying to make his voice as soothing as possible as he lightly touches her shoulder. Why hadn’t Rider woken up already? The great man would be so much better at this than him, he’s sure of it. “Sakura.”

Her eyes flutter open, purple eyes made even darker with how stark white her face as gone. Waver can see the way the pulse in her throat is pounding, how she breathes hard like she’s been running, and he’s reminded of nothing so much as a small, desperate animal caught and cornered. They stare at each other for a long moment, the clumsiness of words unsuited for the situation. It isn’t until Waver feels she’s fully alert and aware of her surroundings that he even thinks about speaking.

“Sakura…” What to say at a moment like this? ‘Are you okay’ just seems so stupid. She’s not okay. Waver doesn’t know if she ever will be. He’s so terrible at this, he knows. All he can do is take it all one step at a time. “We need to treat those, before they get infected.”

Sakura doesn’t blink, doesn’t even move. Waver wants to avoid forcing her into anything if possible, and tries again. “Come on, bleeding shouldn’t be left alone. Please.”

Something about that gets through to her. Sakura moves slowly, but she does slip out of the bed and into the bunny-head slippers they had bought her. Very carefully, Waver holds his hand out for her. The little girl looks at it before laying her own onto it, light as a feather but there all the same. With care, he curls his fingers around hers and knows just how much is being placed upon him with that one gesture.

“Let’s go. The medicine kit is right downstairs.”

They sit at the kitchen table while Waver sets to work. As much as he’d like to use magecraft on the scratches, he’s aware that using thaumaturgy on Sakura’s body at this point would be vastly overstepping the glass-fragile trust built up of the past few days. Fortunately, the cuts themselves aren’t serious, and the redness is already starting to fade away. Waver settles for antiseptic and band-aids instead of words of power, and does the best he can with that.

Through it all Sakura sits at the table in silence. Even bringing down her bunny to hold onto doesn’t ease the stiffness in her frame much. Waver remembers well what Rider said about the danger of letting her mind go back to that dark place. The least he can do is bring forth a light to keep those shadows at bay, no matter how insignificant it may be.

“Whenever I have a hard time sleeping,” Waver begins awkwardly, “I try drinking some warm milk with honey. It always helps me relax.”

Sakura doesn’t exactly respond, but she doesn’t protest either. Waver considers that the best he’s going to get, and sets to work. It’s been a while-the truth is his mother used to make him the drink when he was small, but he has a feeling talking about pleasant childhood memories with Sakura would be salting a still fresh wound-but it comes to him with ease. Sauce pan, milk, a few tablespoons of honey, dash of vanilla, some cinnamon…

“…You…can cook?”

Waver’s so absorbed in getting the drink together he nearly misses it. Whisking away, he tries not to falter in his action and instead be as natural as possible.

“I’m magus with strengths in alchemy, cooking isn’t that far removed from the lab,” Waver says. “Besides, not all of us come from grand houses with hundreds of years of prestige, you know. This much isn’t unusual.”

“It’s only two hundred years…” Sakura starts before shutting up abruptly. Waver can feel her eyes gauging his response, and only the motions of whisking the milk and other ingredients hide his slight jolt of surprise.

“Close enough,” Waver replies with a dismissive air. Seeing Sakura’s tense shoulders lose some of their rigidity out of the corner of his eye, he makes a show out of looking for the cups while his mind jumps into action, adding this fact to the ones he already had at hand.

Two hundred years, she said.

Waver knows the Matou family has a five hundred year history. After that encounter with Berserker he hadn’t stinted on the research. Research which had also spurred him on to further look into the other two original Grail War families. The Einzberns, with their millennia of striving for that distant miracle, and the Tohsaka. The Tohsaka family, of their young but brilliant two hundred years.

Pouring out the warm milk into two ready cups with casualness at odds with his thoughts, his gaze falls to the rabbit held securely in Sakura’s arms. ‘Rin’…Tohsaka Tokiomi had a daughter named Rin, didn’t he? She’s a little bit older than Sakura, a year and change. A pretty girl who takes after her father in coloring but her mother in features, especially the line of her nose and rosebud mouth. Features that Waver could now see as being extremely similar to the girl sitting in front of him.

“It’s a little hot, so be careful,” Waver cautions Sakura when he sits down. Taking his cup, he blows on it before taking a testing sip. He has to go first. Waver’s shared enough meals with the purple haired girl to notice she never eats anything someone else hasn’t tried beforehand. It hardly takes a mind of his caliber to figure out why.

Waver takes the time granted by drinking his beverage to sort through his thoughts. He’d like more information, but there will be no getting more of that without leaning on Sakura. It’s something he can’t bring himself to do.

So that leaves speculation based on what he does have. Waver still doesn’t think he’s all that far off the mark. Sakura must be a daughter of the Tohsaka house, maybe even Tohsaka Tokiomi’s own. He had wondered how the Matou family, one known to have the magical power all but vanished, could have counted a girl with obvious circuits among their members. It all made sense-a horrible sense, but sense all the same-if one took into account the fact Sakura wasn’t born one.

So, Sakura had been given away to another family to serve as successor. Waver knows any magus would praise the decision as a sensible one, and he should do the same. Just the thought of it has bile rising in his throat.

Oh, presented in black and white Waver could see why it would be a good idea, even a thoughtful one. Though the rule is that only one can fully inherit a family’s legacy of magecraft, it’s rarely so cut and dried. In a backwater like Japan he could see keeping the other children ignorant of the true nature of the family, but that’s really a waste of what tends to be considered as much as resource as a Crest. In Europe the more common solution is usually to teach those not given a Crest the basics, perhaps more if they were from a prestigious family or were born with rare attributes. Then it’s either a lifetime serving the Crest holder and getting their protection in turn, striking out on their own as a Freelancer, or being married off to the Crest holder of another family in thaumaturgy’s unique take on eugenics and political alliances.

Compared to all that, being chosen as a successor to even an outside family can be considered the best option. Even if there are additional hardships when adjusting to a different style of magecraft, it’s at least a chance to be in control of one’s fate. Waver knows of a few people who had that happen to them, though in both cases it was still to families with some biological link to the original one. For what had happened to Sakura…

It’s inexplicable. Not that it could have turned out that badly, but that the Tohsaka head wouldn’t have taken any sort of safeguards for such an eventuality. Even if Tohsaka Tokiomi hadn’t cared at all for the girl, there is still the possibility his family secrets could be taken from her body. And if he had cared…how to explain it? Either he had been stupid enough to blindly trust the Matou, naïve enough to believe Sakura would be well treated without any sort of guarantee, or arrogant enough to assume purely because it had been his decision everything would be fine.

It depresses Waver to think how likely that last one is. Magi arrogance is a universal trait, it seems. It’s just tragic that a little girl had to be the one to pay for it.

“It’s good,” Sakura murmurs, breaking his train of thought. Looking down, he can see her cup is already empty.

“Thanks, but it’s much better with fresh milk taken that morning.” Waver stands, both cups in hand. “There’s a little more left if you want some.”

Sakura nods, and he pours out what’s left into her mug before bringing it back. She sips daintily at it, but her eyes are on him like there’s something she wants to ask.

“Yes?” Waver prompts.

“Fresh milk?” Sakura asks, and for all he doesn’t understand why… she looks genuinely interested. It’s a little embarrassing to go over how he knows this, especially considering the sort of disdain his family history has always gotten him at the Clock Tower. On the other hand, this is Sakura. He can’t even imagine her being malicious about it.

“As far as magi families go, mine’s a very young one,” Waver begins awkwardly, a flush he can’t help for anything rising up on his cheeks. “Not even a hundred years yet. I’ll be the third head. It was chance that ‘Velvet’ happened to become a magus lineage at all. Before that we were just a farming clan from Sandford, Gloucestershire. ” He sighs a little at Sakura’s blank look. “It’s a county, in England.”

His backpack is nearby on a hook, and it’s a simple enough matter to pull out the mapbook Rider had ‘conquered’ away from the library that first night and bring it to the table. Flipping through it to the page on the British Isles, he points out the approximate spot in England’s south for her benefit. “Right there, see? The farm and the land, it’s still ours too. At this point we’re probably still more renowned for that than magecraft.” Something which brought him no end of torment, but there’s not any point in weighing Sakura down with his baggage.

She traces the spot he’s pointed out with her finger, moving around to various places that catch her interest. After a second, she glances up at him.

“If you weren’t a magus clan originally, how did it happen?”

That’s a little less painful to go over, even if it’s not quite the saga of glory some of the great families have. And lecturing is something that has always come easily to Waver. It’s a bit in depth as far as set up, but Sakura’s bright. He knows she can keep up, and this will give her something to think over besides basements and worms.

Waver takes a moment to flip the map over to the one that encompasses all of Europe. At five going on six, he doubts Sakura’s got any notable knowledge of military history, but some explanation is necessary for her to follow along.

“You probably haven’t learned it yet, but back in the early part of this century there was a huge war between all the countries in Europe. The wrong person got killed, basically, and once countries started calling in favors other countries owed them, and then those countries started calling in favors of their own…well, things blew up really quickly. At the time they called it the Great War, because there hadn’t been any conflict so huge in history, but now it’s usually known as World War I. You got that?”

Sakura nods, and she isn’t getting that glazed over look yet so Waver supposes he can go on. “So basically, there are two sides fighting against each other here. The Allies-” He circles them for her benefit as he lists them out, “-England, France, and Russia, against the Central Powers. That would be the German Empire, Italy, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.” At that last one Waver rests his finger on the border that separates what was once a single entity, and he can’t help but think how easily things can fall apart. Before he can get too distracted, Waver returns to the gist of things.

“Anyway, my grandfather was drafted to fight for the British when the war first broke out. He was only my age at the time, but he didn’t know then he had any sort of magical capabilities.” Waver takes a second to find the Somme River within the borders of France. “He might’ve even never realized it he hadn’t been part of a very big battle around here. When they were fighting in the trenches he realized a grenade had been lobbed in right next to his unit’s medical officer. It was only because he ran so much prana through his legs sub-consciously that he was able to move fast enough to pull the man out of harm’s way in time.”

“And that’s how he found out?”

“Well, sort of. When he did that he pretty much mangled his left leg. But the man he saved, Jason Constantine, happened to be a magus from a family specialized in surgical procedure and modification. He fixed it up as best he could at the time, and I guess he felt like he owed Grandfather or something because after the war was over he sponsored his admission to the Clock Tower. His great-granddaughter Judith Constantine is the current head of Althos Department. She’s the one who wrote the letter of recommendation that got my into Advanced Evocation program at the Eulyphis Department.”

Waver can see sleepiness finally starting to take a hold on Sakura, and moves to wrap things up. “Anyway, he worked incredibly hard and managed to form a Crest to pass down. That brings us to now, more or less.” He takes a moment to return the used cups to the sink before pulling Sakura’s chair out for her. Her yawning very noticeable by now, Waver nudges her in the direction of the stairs. “Back to bed now. We both need to rest.”

Sakura settles into the sheets looking much more at peace. Waver does the same on his futon, not knowing of the dreams that would come that night. Of how a single word would continue to haunt his waking mind.

Oceanus. The sea at the edge of the world.

-----------------------------

After that dream of Alexander before misted waters, Waver can’t really look his Servant in the eye. He takes refuge in talking with Sakura, who needs updating anyway as the only other person in the MacKenzie house truly aware of the undercurrents in Fuyuki.

“Assassin is gone for good now, so it shouldn’t be a problem for you to go outside. But since Caster’s still at large, just go out to the backyard until I say so, okay?”

Sakura nods, and though Waver wars with himself for a moment over it he believes her up to handling the responsibility of what he asks next.

“Sakura…I know you don’t have your normal sensitivity because of the seal. Nonetheless, I believe your instincts haven’t been dulled by it. If you feel like something strange is going on, head inside the house and make sure Glen and Martha do too. I’ve put up a few bounded barriers that will at least hold someone off long enough for Rider and me to show up, but they won’t protect you if you’re outside. Can you do this?”

“Yes, I can,” Sakura says, softly but with conviction. She then tilts her head, eyeing him. “Did something happen?”

“No, everything’s fine,” Waver quickly says, regretting how perspective the little girl could be. “So don’t-”

“Hey kid! Breakfast is ready, so come on.” Rider injects himself into the conversation, and Waver’s not sure to be relieved or worried over the distraction. Unbidden, images come to mind, dreamlike yet crystal clear all at once-

-Walking shoulder to shoulder, bolstered on by nothing more than their belief in that great man, onward and outwards until beholding that sea of legend-

“Fine. After we’re done, let’s go into town. ” Waver turns his face away from two surprised expressions, and feels the redness coming.

“Eh? That sounds like a fine prospect.” Rider grins, and for one brief second Waver thinks it’ll end at that. Of course, that would take far more luck than he has. “What made you change your mind about going?”

“I need a book,” Waver says as they sit down, and tucks into the morning meal with vigor before he can be further prodded.

As much as Waver would have liked to keep just which book he was interested in a secret, he should have already seen that wish as being fruitless. But still, for Rider to have shown up after purchasing that silly video game set and instantly figure out Waver had been looking at a biography of his life…if Luck Ranks could be attributed to non-Servants, his would probably be at E.

Still smarting from their conversation, it takes Waver a moment to realize Rider has a book of his own at hand. Normally he wouldn’t have cared that much, but anything to move away from the conversation of Rider when he had been alive.

“Did you want to get that?” Waver asks, looking to see the title. “…The Complete Works of Aristotle?” That’s a pointless purchase when it’s being done by a man who was personally tutored by one of the most noteworthy philosophers in history. Waver can’t imagine why he’d want it.

“Some of it has been lost to the ages…and the translation, but it will do for a start.” Rider thumps his chest in a matter of fact way. “If you don’t start a proper education early, how else will Sakura grow up to be a good adult?”

There’s so much Waver can say to that, and wants to. In the end, pure disbelief wins.

“She’s five! Don’t you think you’re starting at least ten years too early?!” Waver throws his hands up in frustration. “And I don’t want to hear about being a good adult from you!”

“Virtue is knowledge, and the man who knows the right will act rightly,” Rider issues forth the famous quote of Socrates without missing a beat. “Age is irrelevant in pursuit of philotimo. It is a way of life that takes from all forms of goodness, from family to friends to even the small kindnesses of strangers. That girl was never given such a foundation from the start, so the difference needs to be made up.”

They go back and forth on the issue until Waver finally gives in. Rider does at least accept the point Aristotle will be easier for Sakura if she has something a little more on her level to bridge it to. By the time they leave the bookstore Waver’s backpack is dense with literature, Aristotle nestling next to Japanese translations of Alice in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, and several other children’s books just enough above her level to challenge her without being hard.

It’s only when night falls and they are on the path back to Miyama that Waver realizes reading will have to wait. His Circuits aching in resonance with the strange prana in the air, as one Master and Servant look to the river dividing the city.

“And off to battle once again,” Rider says, though his tone is more somber in light of this new threat. “Come, kid. Let us take Caster’s head!”

-----------------------------

Waver doesn’t realize it at the time, totally overcome by the pure light born of the Sword of Promised Victory. But that battle on the river is the first domino in a chain of them, the defeat of Caster marking the beginning of an inevitable end. Maybe he hadn’t wanted to see it, caught up in those peaceful days and exhilarating nights.

But it had come down to this, end of the Holy Grail War. The end of Waver Velvet’s role as a participant, at least. Bereft of his Command Spells and his Servant-his King, his friend-the young magus stays where he kneels on the ground, watching the retreating back of the victorious Archer recede into the distance.

Even now, he can hear the sound of waves.

He could have stayed there forever, but that last order won’t allow for such a thing. Live, Rider said. Staying this close to where the Grail will be summoned and the remaining Servants will battle it out can only be a death sentence. Waver Velvet gets to his feet and starts the long walk back to the MacKenzie house, feeling like a stranger in his own skin.

On the way Waver only falters one time, because the flaring of his Circuits had become too much. The Grail must have been summoned, or close enough to it-and then a golden light that Waver has seen before flares up in the distance. Numb as the loss of Alexander has made the former Master, he still keenly feels the shock. As suddenly as it appeared, the Grail’s energy seeps away. The only cause could be the Noble Phantasm of the King of Knights.

Why had Saber thrown it all away just as it was within her grasp? He can’t even fathom a reason. But this is no longer his concern, he supposes. What remains to him now is to carry on.

Only about twenty minutes have passed since Waver had been left alone, but the night is so late it bridges the very earliest morning. It comes as a surprise to him that both MacKenzies are awake and waiting for Waver when he lets himself inside. Perhaps it stems from some primal alertness deep within, that kept the old couple on edge at this advanced hour even without Magic Circuits to key them onto the events taking place not so far from their home.

“Grandma, Grandpa?” Waver does his best to affect surprise, though the effort doesn’t truly require much. “You’re up late.”

“We were worried,” Glen says with a stern note in his voice, tempered with real concern. “You and Alex-san still hadn’t come home, and without a single word-” The older man stops abruptly, registering the missing presence. “Where is he?”

“I’m sorry…” Waver begins, hiding the true grief he’s feeling. “There was an emergency, and that guy had to return home suddenly. I just saw him off. But he told me to thank you two for your hospitality. He really…had fun.”

The couple glances at each other, no doubt sensing some of sadness filling Waver despite his best efforts. But they don’t press, simply taking it for the pain of one friend missing another.

“That’s a shame. Please tell him he’s welcome here any time, alright?” Martha says, tone gentle. “We’ll be heading to bed now-be careful not to wake Sakura-chan up.”

“I will, Grandma,” Waver tells her. It’s unfortunately a promise he won’t be able to keep, not when the little girl will know the real reason Rider is no longer by his side. Sakura’s too bright for that, and she’ll want the truth even if she won’t say it outright.

Sure enough, when he opens the door to his room Sakura isn’t even in bed. Curled up on one of the futons with a small light to read by, she looks from Alice in Wonderland to up at Waver instead.

“You’re back,” Sakura says, placing a bookmark on the page with care before shutting the volume. Those violet eyes flit about the area, searching, until once more they rest on him for explanation.

“Rider’s gone.” This is the first he’s said those words aloud, and the mere admittance feels like a stab in the heart. “The War’s over. It was Saber against…I’m not sure which one, but probably Archer. I don’t think anyone really won, though. The Grail disappeared too fast, and…” Waver chokes up, unable to continue.

“Rider’s…really…” Sakura echoes, and she looks thrown in her own quiet way. Then it vanishes just as fast, leaving nothing in her face. Waver probably should pay it more heed, but he’s just so tired, body and soul alike. “What about Berserker and his Master?”

“They must be gone, the both of them. Every Master who’s ever summoned a Berserker has always died of mana deprivation.” Some part of him wonders why she’s asking about that specifically, but he lacks the energy to pursue that thought any further. “I’ll tell you the whole story later, I just…I need to rest.” Waver tries to move to his futon, but Sakura’s small hand clutches his pants leg to stop him.

“Take the bed,” Sakura tells him, and shakes her head when he tries to protest. “You’ve had a long night. It will help.”

She looks so resolute about it, and Waver just doesn’t have it in him right now to argue it over. So he does as Sakura says, and even through the exhaustion he can’t help but be a little amused when the purple haired girl tucks him in. Who’s really the caretaker here, he wonders as his eyes shut.

“Go to sleep too,” Waver still manages. “You shouldn’t be up this late anyway, it’ll throw off your internal clock.”

There’s a pause, one a Waver more in command of his facilities wouldn’t have missed.

“I just want to finish this chapter,” Sakura says. Another pause, then just as sleep has all but claimed him-

“Thank you, Waver. For everything.”

Deep as his sleep is, it does not end up being a long one. Strange hands shake him awake barely an hour later, and it takes him a moment to realize it is Martha. Groggy as Waver is, the distraught look on her face still registers quickly.

“Sakura-chan’s gone!” Martha tells him urgently, and those words have him snapping to full awareness in an instant.

“What?!” Waver sits straight up and scans the room. No little girls in sight. The only indication she had ever been there at all are all the belongings she’s acquired, clothes, books, toys alike, neatly folded up and piled together. On top of them all is the camel-colored scarf she had completely, a note reading ‘Waver’ pinned to it that is written out in the style of a hand that copied the shapes of the letters rather than understood them.

“I found her stuffed bunny downstairs when I was getting a glass of water…” Martha begins shakily. “I brought it up so she could sleep with it, but…she wasn’t in here. I’ve looked all over the house, even Glen’s looking outside-”

Why had Sakura done it? Why had she left, now of all times and not bringing a single thing with her? Cold fear and hot anger clash together, leaving Waver torn. Kneeling down on the ground, he picks up the clothes…and sees what’s missing.

“And all those children who have disappeared, oh God…” Martha continues on, before taking a deep breath and straightening with determination. “I’m going to go call the police.”

“Wait, Grandma.” Waver pulls his coat off the hook and heads for the stairs. “I think I know where she is. Give me a chance to get her before calling the authorities.”

Martha rushes after him, brow knit with worry. “But-”

“It’s alright.” Done pulling his shoes on, Waver stands and turns to her. “I promise, I’ll bring her back so you can scold her properly for worrying us all.”

The older woman blinks, but something in his voice sways her in the end. As Waver opens the door to leave, she lightly presses her hand to his shoulder.

“No, there won’t even be a scolding. Just bring her home.”

There’s no one out at the hour to see Waver running too fast for a human being. His body is not the most athletic to begin with, but with the right reinforcement he’s able to overcome that for now. It helps that he knows exactly where to go, not wasting a single second. By the time he arrives at his destination his lungs are burning with exertion and sweat beads against flush skin. Waver doesn’t feel it. Not with what he had sought right in front of him.

It’s a far sight from what it had been just two weeks ago, the Matou grounds. There’s still emergency tape barricading the area, but Waver ignores it. Ducking underneath the black and yellow plastic, he walks to the small figure seated at the edge of the hole that marks where the mansion used to be. Sakura hugs her knees to her chest, face buried in the hem of that gloomy purple dress that had been the only clothing she had when they first met.

Waver can’t ever remember being as angry as he feels right now in his life. Not that kind of fury that would bring him to lash out at her-never that-but that she would do something so stupid, that she would run away from home without even shoes on her feet. It’s cold out, and that thin dress and those socks are no protection at all. What had she been thinking?

But even in through the red haze coloring his thoughts Waver knows expressing this is not the answer. A few deep breaths in and out has his head cooled enough to talk calmly. Keenly he feels how fragile this moment is. Waver Velvet knows the danger of carelessly smashing it.

“Sakura,” Waver says, quiet but utterly firm. “I don’t know why you decided to come out here, but we’re going back to the MacKenzies now.”

“I can’t.” The words come out muffled, soft and sad. “I don’t belong in a place like that. This is where I should be.”

“That’s not true-” Waver starts, only to be cut off.

“It is.” Sakura lifts her head up, and her sorrowful eyes bore right into him. “Every day, I told myself that I would leave. Someone like me would only darken a warm place like that. I-if I really valued your kindness, I’d return to the Matou land…b-but I liked it so much, and I was too weak to do the right thing.” The little girl inhales, her delicate frame shuddering with the motion. “It was a wonderful dream, even though I was fooling myself the whole time. But when you came back, a-and Rider wasn’t there I realized it was time to wake up.”

“Only a kid would say something so ridiculous.” Waver drops himself on the ground next to her. “Thinking that is your delusion. The real Sakura is the one who I got to know at the MacKenzies, the one who likes pink things and rabbits and reading. Trying to convince yourself you belong in this dying place is just a lie to yourself and everyone else.”

Sakura’s lower lip trembles, and she looks like she doesn’t know what to say.

“Your name, didn’t Rider say it meant ‘cherry blossom’? Those can’t survive in the dark.” Waver feels the tension that had carried him along this far leave his body as he exhales and finishes. “Their place is under the sun.”

“…I don’t have anywhere else to go,” Sakura finally says in a small voice. “Everyone is dead or…doesn’t want me.”

“Someone who wants you is right here,” Waver snaps, embarrassment giving his voice a harsher tone than he would have liked. His attempt to be collected about this having already failed, Waver gives up any pretense of dignity to get his message through. “Look, I’m not a great man like Rider. I’m just me, so I’m sure there’ll be times I’ll mess up, and you’ll get mad or upset. But I’m a magus, so the least I can do is make an equivalent exchange with you.” He looks her right in eyes gone wide with wary hope. “I’ll swear to do my best if you promise to do the same. It’ll be an oath between magi, alright?”

“You…you really…”

“We need to go to London anyway, because the only person good enough to treat your body is there.” Face very red by now, Waver finishes in a rush. “I’m just asking if you want to live with me in England when you’re better.”

Sakura stares up at him, and he knows just how much faith is being put in him by even considering his offer. She’s a girl who has been let down by hope before-he cannot do the same. It would break her completely.

“Is it really okay?” Sakura asks timidly. She’s shivering so strongly by now Waver can barely understand the words. Frustrated with her stubbornness, he takes off his coat and drapes it over her slight shoulders.

“I wouldn’t say if it I didn’t mean it. Now will you at least come home with me before we both freeze?” Waver does his best to frown and show his firmness on this point, but it seems Sakura already can see right through his posturing. She sighs softly, but something in her expression clears up.

“Let’s go to England together.” There’s such hope in her voice, and a trust Waver feels he doesn’t quite deserve. He’ll earn it, one step at a time.

“First we need to get back to Glen and Martha. You really worried them, you know?” Waver gets to his feet and crouches. “Get up. If I let you walk back without any shoes on in this cold, I’ll get lectured for hours.”

His coat trailing off her small body like a dress, Sakura climbs on carefully and lets herself be picked up. He’s lucky she’s still so light, otherwise he just wouldn’t be strong enough to do it. That’s a thing to remember, isn’t it? She’s just going to keep growing. And he’ll be there to see all she’ll become.

As they make their way back to the MacKenzie’s neighborhood, Waver can see that a fire has sprung up downtown. He wonders about it for a second, but it won’t cross the river. Waver’s already made his choice on what to prioritize. He’s sure this won’t be the first time he’ll be put into a position where Sakura comes first, so it’s only natural to get used to it.

----------------------

When he had promised to take Sakura to England, Waver had been mentally preparing himself for all that would entail. Just getting her into his legal custody and out of the country would take months on his own, even using magic to bypass anything that prevented him from doing so.

What he hadn’t taken into account is how much his value had risen at the Clock Tower. Upon contacting Judith Constantine on Sakura’s case so she could begin putting together a treatment plan, Waver had been informed in no uncertain terms just how many higher-ups wanted to talk to him. Many people wanted to know what had happened in Fuyuki, and he was apparently the only surviving Master with membership in the Magus Association. Kotomine Kirei had also survived the War, he had been told, but he would only answer to the Church.

Waver felt indescribably uneasy upon hearing that, an instinct surpassing his conscious knowledge. It’s not hard to decide to not go anywhere near Kotomine Church, and avoid contact with the priest at all costs.

Still, he doesn’t understand the urgency. There’s no changing what has happened, and magi are accustomed to waiting for their goals. Then he finds out the two groups clamoring the most for his return: the Archibald family, and more surprisingly, Jubstacheit von Einzbern. That worries Waver. He has the sense that no good could ever come out of drawing the attention of such an obsessive family.

Nonetheless, he sees his chance in this interest, and knows he’s not likely to have a better opportunity.

“I need to get Sakura to England and under my guardianship,” Waver tells Judith when she calls him with the news. “Until then, I cannot and will not leave Japan.”

“You’re playing a dangerous game here, Waver. That Acht, he had all his hopes pinned to this. As you can imagine, he’s not happy,” The Althos Department head tells him, but there’s a note of grudging respect he’s never heard from her before. “I’ve never known you to risk yourself like that.”

“Just let them know,” Waver says grumpily. “No matter what you think of me for it, this is something I can’t compromise on.”

Three weeks later a somewhat confused looking worker from social services arrives with paperwork clearing the adoption of Matou Sakura. Waver doesn’t want to think too hard about exactly what had been done to make this happen with such speed and likely exploitation use of magical persuasion, which is probably the best case when dealing with people like the Einzberns. The papers are legitimate, and that’s enough for him.

Sakura peers over his shoulder as he signs paper after paper. When he’s finished, he hands them off to the social worker for processing and filing.

“It’s done?” Sakura seems anxious about it, and frankly he doesn’t blame her.

“Yeah.” Waver leans back and stretches, sore from sitting in place for so long. “I already got your passport, so pretty much all that’s left now is to get you a few shots and get our flight arranged.”

They all have a big dinner that night to celebrate it, though the MacKenzie’s pleasure with the adoption is tempered somewhat by the fact they’ll be leaving soon. The week leading up to their departure is spent simply as family, no matter how unconventional it may be, and Waver remembers it with fondness. It seems like almost no time at all before Waver and Sakura find themselves at the train station that will take them to the airport, bags in hand.

“Oh, I wish you could stay longer,” Martha says tearfully,
giving Waver another hug.

“You know we’d like to, Grandma. But Sakura needs this surgery as soon as possible.” The call for the approaching train sounds, and for what feels like the millionth time Waver checks to make sure they have everything they need for the trip. “I promise we’ll come and visit as soon as she’s recovered.”

“Alright then,” Glen smiles. “Come back. If we’re lucky, the cherry trees will still be in bloom.”

“A flower-viewing?” Sakura pipes up.

“You want to go see the trees in blossom?” Waver asks her as the train pulls up and the doors open. He gathers up their bags, allowing the MacKenzies to hug them both one last time.

“Yes. Let’s go see them together,” Sakura says, slipping her small hand in his. For the first time since they’ve met…she smiles.

-----------------------

Ten years pass.

Waver’s not quite sure where they all went, sometimes. Everything just happens so fast-Sakura’s surgery and recovery, the meetings with the various Clock Tower groups wanting information on the 4th Grail War. The title of El-Melloi being passed onto him.

He finds his rapid rise more than a little mystifying. The fact that just when he stopped caring about prestige in the Clock Tower marked the start of his own only convinces Waver that the universe is not without its own merry sense of twisted irony. But it still happens, the whole “Lord El-Melloi II” and custodianship of the Archibald family. Waver doesn’t understand the idea behind tying their fortune to the man who had contributed to the loss of their head and Crest, but whenever he tries to bring up the subject to the girl who had been next in line all Nora Archibald does is glare and make comments about taking responsibility.

The professorship had come to him much more naturally. As much as Waver would have rather focused on his own thaumaturgy, teaching and lecturing came as easily to him as breathing. He had made professor just two years after returning from Japan. Only a year later he already assumed leadership of the Eulyphis Department. Word had got out by that point, and Waver’s intrinsic skill with magecraft theory and maximizing the potential of Magic Circuits had garnered him no small amount of fame among the Western magi.

Of course, he never would have bothered with that kind of research as much as he had if Sakura hadn’t been around. Having removed the remaining parasite familiars from her body, much of the work and advances Waver made had simply been to undo the damage caused by the tampering of her body, and compensate for what couldn’t. She has flourished in England beyond his wildest expectations, as a magus and simply as a girl. Waver knows there are people out there better suited for raising a child than himself, but when all is said he hadn’t done a half-bad job of it. It hadn’t happened overnight, but Sakura reaches the point where she can smile honestly, where she can take pride in herself as a magus. For Waver, that’s enough.

Simply being raised by Waver puts Sakura far ahead of her actual age group as far as magi go, and that’s without taking into account her excessive raw potential. She grows up learning his methodology, how to analyze to produce the greatest results. Combined with the Crest Waver worked to return to the more traditional form as with any other magus, Sakura Velvet is well-known for being Waver Velvet’s protégé.

He hadn’t been certain of that, both the Matou Crest and the family name. But Sakura had simply said taking control of the Matou magic to live her own life was part of overcoming the evens of the past, and it happened to be a good combination with her Imaginary Numbers element. As for the last name, she had smiled and said it was one to be proud of and that was that.

Waver never stops thinking about the Holy Grail War, and doesn’t think he ever could. Not when it shaped the man he had become so drastically. But he does think its role in his life is done with, and when the MacKenzies move back to Toronto for health reasons neither he nor Sakura have any motive to go to Japan.

Unfortunately, he’s wrong about that part.

It’s a peaceful day in late January when it happens, ten years after the 4th Grail War. The view of London from the luxurious apartment he and Sakura have in the upscale Belgravia neighborhood-one of the few things Waver had appreciated about inheriting the title of El-Melloi was never having to worry about money again-is made softly dreamy by the gray winter’s day. He would have preferred to enjoy it without the stack of thesis papers he’s been grading since the morning to occupy his attention, but it could be worse.

“Mail’s here,” Sakura says in English that carries the faintest hint of the Japanese accent she’s never totally dropped as she sorts through the stack. Waver can’t help but be amazed at the difference between the beautiful, confident young woman in front him, compared to that timid and gloomy girl in the past. His pride in her is absolute. Not that he’ll share that-he still has some image to think of here. “Oh, your new issue of Edge.”

Waver takes the gaming magazine and starts to flip through it, feeling he deserves a break. A few pages in, though, and his already semi-perpetual scowl deepens.

“That contributor you don’t like again?” Sakura asks, sweetly and maybe only halfway teasing in her manner.

“Sakura, if I’ve taught you anything, it’s that using italics every other word is the surest sign of sick mind there is. Such people need watching. Preferably from a safe distance.” Waver turns the page past the offending column as a dainty snort reaches his ears.

“You or Terry Pratchett? That’s stealing, Waver.” Sakura shakes her head at him, setting down the rest of the mail but for one enveloped postmarked from Canada.

“It’s not stealing, it’s an homage,” Waver says, closing the magazine. He looks at the letter in her hands. “From the MacKenzies?”

“Yes.” Sakura opens it, scanning the contents with a fond smile. “Martha says Glen’s arthritis has improved immensely since he’s started taking that medicine you bullied Althos’ R&D section into making.”

“I didn’t bully anyone,” Waver says calmly, “I just suggested with…emphasis.”

“Too bad, I already know your secret.” Sakura tucks the letter back into the envelope with care, lips quirking up in a way more mischievous than innocent. “Waver Velvet, ‘Professor Charisma’…is just a big softy.”

“Sakura, I believe I told you the penalty for bringing that up,” Waver says, having zero mercy to spare in this regard even for her. “I hope you didn’t think I was joking when I said your allowance would be forfeit.”

“It’s a little hard not to, seeing as just yesterday I got…” Sakura pauses, ticking off her fingers, “Four confession letters for you, three offers for ‘you and of course Professor Velvet’ to attend various upcoming functions, and Professor Halévy of the Numerology Department said she would love to have you come along for a ‘private training seminar’ at her summer home in Bouches-du-Rhône.” The violet haired girl finishes that sentence with her best effort to mimic Shoshanna Halévy’s Gallic purr, before raising a brow at her guardian.

“Okay, you hate me right now-”

“Just a little,” Sakura assures him.

“-And that’s understandable. But rest assured, I’m at least a hundred times more miserable than you about it. So no more bringing up ‘Professor Charisma’, understood?”

The sound of the kettle’s boiling whistle interrupts anything Sakura might have been ready to say. She heads to the kitchen to prepare their afternoon tea, leaving Waver to lean back in his chair and sigh. He supposes some level of increased female attention isn’t strange with success, but the level of popularity he has-and never asked for-with the Clock Tower’s female population just furthers his opinion that even Akasha pales as a mystery compared to feminine mind. Acting cranky only encourages them, for some reason. All Waver can pray is that Sakura will keep her sensibility as she grows older, one of his sole remaining bastions of sense in an increasingly irrational world.

Sakura returns with the tea set prepared and even snacks. When she first started learning to cook Waver had been doubtful, but she truly had a gift for it. If Waver hadn’t been the sort who often forgot to eat when in the depths of research, he’d probably have a much harder time keeping his weight reasonable with her around.

But more than perfectly brewed Earl Grey and fresh scones are required for his forgiveness, and when Sakura sits herself at the table he passes her half of the remaining thesis papers.

“I’m pretty sure you have TAs for this sort of thing,” Sakura wrinkles her nose, nonetheless grabbing a red pen for marking.

“And when I think they’re actually up to the task I’ll give it to them,” Waver says flatly. “You’re still years ahead of the idiots they keep foisting off onto me.”

“That’s the Velvet charm talking, I kn-aghh!!” Sakura drops the pen, grabbing her left hand as pained tears spring to her eyes. “What the…”

When Waver sees her hand, his stomach sinks. Three red marks, fanned out like the petals of a flower and radiating tremendous prana. Command Spells.

He should have known. With the energy cut off so suddenly and unused, of course it would be far less than the normal sixty years until the next Grail War. But it’s fine, Waver tells himself. Sakura doesn’t have to go. They’ll contact whoever has been chosen as the supervisor for this round-probably Kotomine-and simply tell him she’s opted out.

Only Sakura doesn’t look like that. Rather, there’s an expression Waver knows all too well: determination. No, he doesn’t like it at all.

“Sakura, you’re not going,” Waver says in a tone that books no argument. It doesn’t work; she simply presses her lips together and if anything looks more set on it.

“You don’t think I’m capable?”

“That’s not it at all,” Waver replies sharply. “It’s not your abilities I doubt, it’s the one of the six other supernatural entities who will be doing their very best to kill you. And I’m not letting a fifteen year old girl throw herself into danger for a mere chance at a wish.”

Things go downhill from there. Waver can count on the fingers of one hand how many times he and Sakura have actually had a fight over years. It’s not even a fight in the sense most people think of, because he has never been able to bring himself to yell at Sakura even at his angriest. More like a mutual freezing out, in which each side waits for the other to break first.

Such a strategy won’t work this time, though. Not with time ticking down to the start of the War. And Waver knows Sakura. When she’s set on something, there’s no dissuading her otherwise.

Waver thinks about all this, five nights from when her Command Spells appeared. If he’s going to lose to Sakura the way he usually does, it may as well be on his terms. Standing outside her bedroom door, he clutches a box in one hand and knocks with the other. There’s a stretch of silence, but it eventually swings open to reveal the girl on the other side.

“Sit,” Waver says as he makes use of her desk chair. Sakura tilts her head, clearly on guard but nonetheless does as he asks. He just looks at her for a moment, and despite his frustration is warmed by the glow of pride.

“I don’t want you to go to Japan,” Waver begins, ignoring how her eyes narrow slightly, “But I know you’ll find a way over there whether I like it or not. So you can fight, and I’ll give you my blessing and support. On one condition.”

“Condition?” Sakura asks skeptically. Without another word, he hands her the box. Opening it carefully, she draws in a surprised breath before closing it once more. “Ah. I see.”

There’s a playful note in her voice Waver takes issue with. “It’s not like that. I’ve already accepted the way things finished there. This is only because I want your Servant to be someone I can absolutely trust to get you through this in one piece.” Waver looks her over again, this girl who blossomed so wonderfully in every way sometimes he can’t even believe it, and sighs. “You’re a much finer magus than I was at the time. Without a doubt, you’ll be a splendid Master.” He coughs awkwardly, and changes course before things can get too sentimental.

“Get your passport and anything else you need. We’re taking a flight out tonight.” Waver stands, raising a brow at her. “I assume your bags and supplies are already packed up.”

A guilty pause. Then Sakura reaches under her bed, pulling out a fully stocked traveling trunk along with another suitcase.

“I would have been disappointed if you hadn’t,” Waver says with grudging pride. “We’re leaving in an hour. If I am letting you go gallivanting off in Asia, I’m covering all my bases.”

The flight doesn’t take long, only about four hours during which Waver longs for one of his cigars. By the time they touch down in Thessaloniki his edginess is peaking to points it hasn’t since he was a teenager. Sakura notices, of course, and gives him a concerned look even though she has much better things to be worrying over.

“Are you sure you want to stay for this?” Sakura asks as they board the train that will take them from Thessaloniki to Pella. She bites her lip, then continues, “With…how the records work there…”

“It’s nothing I don’t already know,” Waver says. He settles back in his seat to look out at the passing scenery. It’s mountains he sees, with the occasional town to break them up. It’s a little strange to think the quiet town they’re headed to was once the seat of an empire, but that’s time for you. Unforgiving and relentless. “It doesn’t change anything either way, so put it out of your mind.”

Sakura looks very much like she wants to respond to that, but out of some concession to Waver stays quiet. Fortunately, the train ride itself only takes about an hour, and by the time they exit at Pella he indulges in a much needed smoke. Sakura on the other hand merely examines the map she brought along, growing worry knitting her brow.

“Something wrong?” Waver asks, extinguishing his cigar and throwing it away.

“Well, it says there’s a tourist center just over there…but it’s not and I know I’m not reading this incorrectly-” Sakura’s frantic rambling stops when her shoulder is gently tapped. Both magi turn to see a young man, one with a sleepy expression, dark mussed hair, and for some reason two cats at his feet.

“Tourists?” He asks, Greek accent coloring the English. Sakura nods, calming down a little. “The center’s…closed for remodeling…now.”

“It is?” Sakura’s recovered calm vanishes, and she looks more stricken than ever.

“Don’t…worry…” The man yawns a little. “Mm, where are…you headed?”

“Um, the Pella Hotel,” Sakura tells him, blissfully ignoring years of Waver telling her not to give strange men personal information. “But we really need to get to the palace ruins.”

“There’s a bus…coming in ten minutes. You…can take it to…the hotel…” The Greek picks up one of the cats-four now-and rubs it gently behind the ears. “It is…not far from the ruins. They…will take you…to the site from there.”

“Thank you, Mr…ah,” Sakura trails off awkwardly. The man gives her a slight smile, green eyes gaining somewhat more animation.

“Herakles. Herakles Karpusi.” Setting the cat back down, Herakles gives them a lazy wave as he walks off. Like some strange Greek Pied Piper, the felines follow right after him. “Enjoy…Pella.”

“So much for ‘don’t talk to strangers’,” Waver says sarcastically to Sakura, who primly folds up her map and tucks it in her bag. There’s something unusual about that man, but he can’t quite put his finger on it.

“Waver, I’m not five anymore, he was friendly, it’s bright day out, and finally we’re surrounded by people.” Sakura’s smile takes some of the bite out of her words, though. “Also, I’m a magus. Now let’s go get that bus. We don’t have time to waste.”

The directions prove correct at least. Sakura’s magical power hits its daily peak around midnight, and so it’s shortly before then they make their way onto the ruins of the once grand palace. While Waver establishes a simple bounded barrier to keep out any unwanted attention, Sakura takes the jugs filled with ox blood and starts to draw out her summoning circle.

One minute till midnight. Waver tells her as much.

“Are you sure?” Sakura asks as she sets down the delicate artifact with great care. Waver stands some ways back, there if she needs the support but mostly observing.

“What kind of idiot would get the time for a summoning wrong?” Waver shoots back before checking the watch again. “Thirty seconds.”

Sakura places herself before the circle, taking a deep breath to center herself. Waver can feel her prana humming to attention, ready for activation.

“Now.” It comes out hoarser than Waver means to, but his part here is done. Sakura’s eyes half-shut, releasing the trigger that will open up her Circuits as she begins the incantation.

“Ye first, O silver, O iron. O stone of the foundation, O Archduke of the Contract.”

Waver’s heart pounds like he’s running a marathon, and his legs feel like they’re barely keeping him up. He doesn’t know how things are going to work out here. But he’s not regretting it. He’s not.

Sakura’s magical energy surges as she chants on, but even the impressive levels she can manage are nothing compared to the sheer power spilling from the glowing lines of the circle. It’s mana so dense it warps the air around it, misting like a phantasmal fog. It out glows the moon hanging overhead. The spell is nearly done, and Waver’s hands tremble at his sides.

“Thou seven heavens, clad in a trinity of words,” Sakura raises her voice, nearly shouting to be heard over the wind whipping with a fury around them. “Come past thy restraining rings, and be thou the hands that protect the balance-!”

The light flares up, a sun chained to the earth. Waver Velvet does not look away. It fades away, and the dust kicked up by the wind dies down. Not that he needs it. Nothing can conceal the strength and overwhelming power of the presence standing majestically in the center of the circle.

Alexander the Great is before him for the first time in ten years, and for a moment Waver feels like that brash young magus again. He can’t speak, he can’t even breathe.

The eyes of the newly summoned Servant move from Waver to Sakura.

“I ask of you, are you my Master?”

Sakura seems as unable to form words as Waver, but she holds up the hand bearing the Command Spells and looks the King of Conquerors right in the eye.

He looks satisfied with that. “Then my sword is yours, and your fate mine. Thus, our contract of the Servant Rider is sealed.”

Waver isn’t sure what to expect next, but as he remembers being typical with Rider it’s about the last thing he sees coming. The great man grins brilliantly, and bounding forward picks up both Sakura and Waver in a firm embrace.

“Glad that’s done with. You two are looking good!” Rider tightens his grip, managing to support the two of them with ease. “It’s been what…ten years, I’m guessing?” He pauses, taking a closer look. “You grew up to be a real beauty, Sakura! And you, kid….” He blinks. “What did you do with your hair?”

“I keep on trying to convince him to cut it, but he always says he doesn’t have time-” Sakura says apologetically, like this is all totally normal.

“Wait, wait, wait!!” Waver yells, his language centers finally kicking into gear. “How do you remember? That’s not possible!”

“There is nothing impossible to him who will try,” Rider says calmly as he sets them down. Waver can already feel a headache coming on.

“First, it’s pretty narcissistic to quote yourself, and second, there’s the whole matter of ‘laws of nature and the Throne’ you’re ignoring here.” Waver crosses his arms, choosing to overlook how amused Sakura is looking by all this.

Rider laughs before shaking his head in amusement. “I know you’ve grown, kid, so I can’t believe I have to explain something so obvious. We have an oath, you and I, unaffected by Death or what follows it.” Stroking his beard thoughtfully, he continues, “Of course, the nature of the Ionian Hetairoi helped. ‘The loyal servants of Alexander shall follow their king, and he will keep them in his heart in turn’. The record was added as my dying dream, but the memory will not leave now.”

“…” Waver doesn’t say anything, but in this moment words we be just trite. Rider seems to understand this, and turns to Sakura.

“So, you’re the one chosen this time.”

“Waver insisted, but it was the same as what I wanted,” Sakura smiles. “I’m glad we could meet again.”

“As am I.” Rider scans their surroundings, looking thoughtfully over the ruins that were once the grand heart of his empire. Maybe he has a moment of ruefulness, but it vanishes before Waver can be sure.

“Let us be off to the battlefield,” Rider declares, unsheathing his sword. A slice of the air and a crack of thunder breaks through to leave the Gordius Wheel before them. “Victory awaits-and then conquest to the very edge of the stars.”

They’re in the chariot, which takes off smooth as silk. There’s thunder and wind rushing past Waver’s ears, tremendous and undeniable.

Beneath it all, like the pulsing of the heart, he hears the sound of waves.

{FIN}
------------------------

Well, this has been a strange yet fun journey. Thank you to everyone who stuck through with to the end-I know it couldn’t have been easy. I’m not even quite sure where the whole inspiration for this sprung from, but I think it started with the dropped ‘amnesia loli Assassin’ subplot in Fate/Zero. Seeing as Team Bros (which, naturally, is BEST TEAM) already had a semi-canon-ish penchant for loli-adopting, the progression to Sakura seemed natural. I didn’t even intend for things to be this long, but the story wanted to be told completely and wouldn’t let me half-ass things. This is intended to companion Fate/Zero-after all, we have the actual novel if you want to read about fights instead of stuffed animal shopping. Having finished, I’d like to write more of Sakura and Papa Waver. Theirs is a good combination: a man whose specialty is Magic Circuits, power flows, and maximizing the skill of his students (knowing what we do of Waver from both Zero and Companion Materials, I strongly suspect his Origin is “Teaching” or something similar), and a girl who has a lot of raw potential that has not ever been properly realized. I’d even think Sakura raised by Waver would be a finer magus than Rin as we know her, simply because Waver is such a great teacher and Rin’s had to do a lot on her own (I’m not counting Kotomine as all that good a magus after all). Even genius can only take you so far by itself. How the 5th War would play out under these circumstances I’d find extremely interesting to explore as well.

Two points where I had to make my own connections, though I did try to follow according to Nasuverse canon:

Sakura’s worms: Based on Heaven’s Feel (where not only had they been activated, but had grown vastly within her body and nerves over the course of ten years), Kotomine was still able to remove most of them. I figured treatment and full recovery when she had only carried them for a year, under the hands of a healer equal in capability to Kotomine would be likely. As Waver did not have the means to remove them himself at the time, I felt a spell that froze and locked in mana much like St. Martin’s cloth would work until he could find a good enough healer for the job. Added bonus: showing up like a normal person under Kiritsugu’s heat scope and avoiding the inevitable headshot.

All of the worms located in the Matou mansion were destroyed by Rider’s charge, the ones in Sakura are destroyed eventually, and the ones in Kariya died of mana deprivation in the Berserker vs Saber fight. Zouken is gone for good, and Waver worked to basically give Sakura a normal Crest with the knowledge in her body. (I personally don’t think any of the insect mastery is in there, because I believe it to be Zouken’s personal preference rather than a signature attribute of the Matou. It’s only because he’s run the show for so long it appears that way. Again, just personal opinion).

Rider’s memories: I based this on simply the way the Ionian Hetairoi works. Waver was loyal enough to him and vice versa to qualify for being recorded in it (if Kayneth had been his Master, Rider wouldn’t have recalled anything). And then there is this quote from Zero itself: “In the face of the oath, even separation was meaningless; under the command of Alexander, the bond formed between King and servant was eternal and beyond time”. Try finding a clearer indication of “Alexander remembers Waver Velvet and the 4th War” than that. Besides, this is Nasuverse, land of rules are rules except for the incredible specific circumstances where they aren’t. I think we can all agree Team Bros>The Throne of Heroes anyway.

I had a good time with this, and hope you all did too. There are also a couple of Shout Outs here and there, so bonus points to anyone who catches those. Thanks again for reading-it’s been a blast.

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:30 AM
Name: Archer's Story
Author: Anon

Disclaimer: I don't own Tsukihime. I don't own Fate/Stay Night. Honestly, I'm nowhere near good enough to do Nasu's works justice. On the other hand, I did write works in both universes. This is based off of those, rather than canon for either.

I DID create Arihiko Tohno Brunestud. He's a decent OC for the standards of this rather short fic, at least by my standards, and made for a perfect foil to Archer in “The Death of Bloodlust 2: Arcueid's Grail War”. If you use him, or any other of my original creations, hit me up for permission, all I'm asking.

Author's Notes: I'm best with script-writing sort of writing, and emphasis using single sentences. This may be a irritant, but I try to keep it from affecting my writing badly.

I also did a lot of work making both “sides” for this story. The second builds upon the first's flashbacks.

The plot for this story was based loosely upon the agreement Crimson Moon Brunestud made with Gaia in the first place. To quote the wiki, “He responded to a call from the collective will of the earth, Gaia, over four thousand years ago, and made a deal to allow for him to live on the Earth in exchange for protection against human corruption. The planet, unable to use a mirror to reflect itself, is unable to set its own standards, so only another celestial body is able to understand the death of a celestial body. True Ancestors based in his image were created as a natural protective system for the earth, and were set to return it to its natural state.”

As Arcueid is his strongest descendant, without her bloodlust, she makes for the perfect “next option to use” in the series. After all, what can you do when a planet comes calling, to enforce the agreement of wiping out human corruption before the humans kill the planet you're living on, besides following it?

Now, on with the show!

Whenever you walk down a road, you have choices. You can go forwards, backwards, left, or right. Right? Time works the same way.

Everyone has choices, be it for good or evil. Many choices don't affect things in the long run. They affect things short term. If you buy cream cheese for lunch one day, it won't damn the world. Right? Right.

But some choices DO have that sort of power behind them.

And Shirou Emiya's came twice.

First, on December 23, 2010, and again on April 27, 2023.

The first date, would have led him to becoming Archer of canon. He would have been a smug, slightly arrogant man, who expressed his caring through irritating comments. After his death, he would become a Counter Guardian, saving mankind from itself.

Or, alternatively, he would have married either Rin, or Sakura, and had a happy life with either of them, learning to enjoy one of them as his wife. He would have died as a happy grandfather, alongside his wife, knowing he had done well, and even if he hadn't been considered a hero, he had done the right thing all his life. And that would have been enough for him.

There was a third path, though, and upon that path we embark. However, even in this, there is a choice. The second date is what we look at today. This is what made or broke Shirou Emiya. All over gathering a few extra flowers one day.
-Shirou's Perspective-

-Date: December 25, 2025-

-Location: The Remains of the Mage Association's Headquarters, the Clock Tower-

I'm looking at the judge, as she stands, ready to sentence me. I can't see her face under the cloak. But I can tell it's a woman from the sound of her somewhat familiar voice.

“Shirou Emiya, due to your use of a Reality Marble to save this association, we have been torn as to what to do with you.”

She pauses, silently, contemplating, and sounds depressed when she continues my sentence. She obviously doesn't want to do this, but sounds like she has absolutely no choice in the matter.

“But, in the end, your crimes of killing so many to take down Arcueid Brunestud have overwhelmed the ones willing to let you live and be an ally to our orginization. Regardless of the fact that you saved us, too many have decided that your death is a necessity.”

I can feel myself going pale in horrified comprehension. Not just at the sentence, but WHO is sentencing me.

“Your sentence, hated by myself as much as it is, Emiya-kun, is death by immediate execution by beheading... by Arihiko Brunestud. I'm sorry, Emiya. I did what I could to save you.”

Rin Tohsaka. They really know how to make this worse for me.

They drag me off, even as she weeps in depression.

Rin... I'm sorry.

My head gets slammed down onto the chopping block, sideways.

I'm still too exhausted to use any magecraft, from how the battle was when they decided to capture me. After I ran from Arihiko in depression from having to kill Arcueid Brunestud.

“Shirou. This day, you will die for your crimes against me and my family.”

My eyes meet my would be Executioner's, with his axe hanging limply by his side, even as he unbuckles it in what seems to me to be slow motion.

And my mind flickers back to the past. To the day I met Arihiko in the first place.

-Fade Out-

-Date: December 23, 2010-

-Location: Eastern Coast of Japan-

Silence reigns supreme over the cold, freezing bitter winds, as I walk.

It's midwinter, 6 years after I survived the Holy Grail War, to be more specific, the day before Christmas Eve.

And God, I'm cold.

The Winter's chill is probably the coldest on record.

I breathe out, letting my mind wander, while I heat my fingers with my breath under my scarf. And it naturally wanders to my father. Kiritsugu Emiya.

The man who gave me my ideal, a dream for a better future for everyone.

Who sacrificed his own happiness to save the world.

My father, a wonderful man he may have been, who may have damned the world.

The bomb under Fuyuki, which destroyed the Ley Line, proved that. My abilities with anything more than tracing simple swords, have been giving me problems ever since.

Even with the training under Rin for 4 years, as her apprentice, didn't prepare me for the consequences of that.

My mind fades back further, to the day I lost Illyasviel. The day she died from being a homunculus, holding me, her brother in her arms. And I remember going to Rin the day after the funeral, begging her to teach me in magecraft enough to ensure that none of it would happen again. That I wouldn't lose someone I cared for again. Amazingly enough, she did it. As a mage, I'm as advanced as I possibly can be, now. My tracing skills were top notch, before the Ley Line detonated like it did.

The Ley Line detonating did kill Zouken Matou, though, and all his worm familiars. That's one good thing out of this entire mess... even if Sakura still won't talk about what he did to her.

So here I am, on a road in the middle of nowhere, walking towards a reactor, over rumors that the nuclear reactor has problems. Some 'cakewalk' life as a vigilante superhero turned out to be. Even if this IS my dream that I'm following through with, I'm still pissed about having to walk for this long, to sneak into a Nuclear Reactor like this.

My mind drifts back to the day I killed Kotomine, before I shake my head slowly. Memories of killing him will only bring up my memories of Saber, and I need to focus right now.

I turn, and hesitate. To my left, is the road that I was planning on taking originally. To help people at a nuclear reactor near here. I'd been journeying here to ensure they survived if something happens, but for some reason now, I've been having second thoughts. If I'm wrong about the rumors of the people needing major help due to reactor problems, then the trip will have been for nothing.

To my right, on the other hand, is the path towards home.

I pause, pulling myself under the protection of a low tree, as I think.

Why am I not wanting to go to the Reactor, after this long journey? Is it because I want to go home?

Sakura and Taiga are there, I'm sure. And if I hurry, I might make it home by Christmas, to visit them.

I pause, noticing something. Straight ahead lies a faint path.

Obviously created recently, I can't help but study it.

A Prequel for "The Death of Bloodlust 2" And "Blades Under A Crimson Moon"

I pause, at the sound of a little boy crashing through the underbrush.

"You can't catch me, daddy!"

He doesn't see me, but I reach out and gently catch him anyways.

"You should be more careful, child. You could get hurt running like that."

"Eh? Who're you, mister?"

I smile a bit at his adorable face, looking up to me like this.

"My name's Shirou Emiya. What's yours?"

Archer's Tale:
Light Side of the Moon:
The Resolve of a Hero

"My name's Arihiko!"

I smile, and nod at him.

“You should get back to your parents, Arihiko. The wind's so cold, it could hurt you.”

He's blinking at me in confusion, then running back as crashing sounds through the underbrush sound closer and closer.

I look up at what obviously is his father running through the underbrush, calling for him.

“Arihiko, did you really have to...”

He's spotted me.

“Ah, sorry. Arihiko ran out of our camp site. Would you like some tea for your trouble?”

I breathe out, then nod.

“It would be appreciated. I'm rather cold, right now. Comes from coming all this way, and realizing I might have been wrong about the rumors I heard.”

He's blinking at me, in surprise.

“Rumors...?”

I nod, silently.

“The nuclear reactor near here's rumored to have been having bad problems. I wanted to see if I could help anyone if things went wrong.”

“You're a helper, then?”

I blink, then chuckle.

“No, I want to just make everyone I meet's lives all for the better.”

He's nodding, slowly.

“Follow me, then. I'll introduce you to my wife, Arcueid.”

I blink, then follow his footsteps.

“Unusual name. Where's she from?”

“Ever heard of the Brunestud family?”

My blood freezes in my veins, for a moment.

“That... Brunestud?”

He pauses for a brief moment, looking at me.

“You're like Sensei, then. A mage?”

I quirk an eyebrow.

“Maybe. Who was she?”

“Aoko Aozaki. She gave me my glasses.”

I breathe out slowly, trying to cover up my shock.

“I'm nowhere near her level, if that can be believed.”

“Ooh, Shiki! I've got the fire going!”

I turn, and look up, at a beautiful woman with short blonde hair, and red cat slitted eyes.

Arcueid Brunestud. The last known of the Shinso. Their one time White Princess.

“Oh, hi! You're a guest, then?”

She looks at me, like... she trusts him completely.

I nod, and bow to her.

“I found your son while debating going home or going to a place near here, to see if I could help out... may I ask what you're doing here, Miss Brunestud? I've heard a little about you specifically, but I don't know much about your family and current lifestyle.”

She's smiling.

“A mage, Shiki?”

“I invited him for tea after Arihiko bumped into him. It's the least I can do with this cold weather.”

She pauses, and her eyes are boring into mine. I can barely breathe, for the moment. It's like looking into the eyes of a predator far higher on the food chain than you yourself are.

And I can tell, right now, that she'll kill me if I hurt Arihiko.

“I'm no threat to your son, Miss. I'm a rather mediocre mage, myself. I only specialize in a few select things.”

She's standing down, slowly, and bringing out tea for us all to drink.

“May I ask what you're all doing, with your son in tow, in this sort of weather?”

They blink, then nod.

“I'm taking my Shiki and my Arihiko in a couple days, to see if the Millennium Castle Brunestud might have a cure for his Anemia. I don't want to lose him anytime soon...”

I blink, at that, then pause.

“I'm pretty good at figuring stuff out, and putting things back together. Mind if I tag along and help?”

They pause, in surprise. And Arcueid smiles happily.

“Really? That's nice. Would you happen to be a good fighter, too? I know some stuff's supposed to be stored in a hidden place in the basement, but not what...”

-Fade Out-

This day, though I didn't know it, would change my life completely. I chose to travel with them, and help

14 days later, I learned that the nuclear reactor I had worried about had indeed melted down, as my worries were.

Without me there to stop it, millions had problems.

Even now, I can't help but wonder... was it the right path to join Shiki and Arcueid on their journey?

My mind flickers, again, to only a week later, even as Arihiko stops beside me.

-Date: December 28, 2010 -

-Location: The Millennium Castle Brunestud-

They brought me to my home for Christmas. It was possibly one of the most wonderful times I've had. Sakura enjoyed company of people that I was off to help. She'd finally admitted she was a mage to me, after the Holy Grail War ended.

“Man, I didn't know this place was so huge!”

I turn to Shiki, slightly, while keeping my eyes reinforced for anything that might come.

“Indeed, it is. Can you tell me much about the place?”

He's pausing, in mid-step, then turning to me.

“There's labs deep down below. We'll be getting to them in the next few days. It's too big to easily get to, and really deep.”

I nod slowly, before resuming my search to see if there's anything that could hurt us, that's close.

“Ah! Emiya?”

I turn, towards Shiki again.

“Yes? What is it?”

“Ah, call me Shiki, please. But... our son has been interested in sword fighting recently. Could you teach him how to fence, or something, after we're done? Maybe even take him in as a student?”

I breathe out, then nod.

“Of course. It would be an honor.”

He's smiling. He's a good man at heart.

Good. I'm glad.

“We have a huge supply of blades here, according to Arcueid. You may wish to look them over in a while. We even have things like the legendary shield, Rho Aias.”

I blink, in sheer surprise, while turning towards him.

“Oh? Indeed?”

He's grinning.

My arsenal of blades can be expanded even more. That should prove useful.

-Fade Out-

I look up, at Arihiko's massive axe, slowly rising, even as he smirks coldly down at me. And a woman nearby him, paying off dozens of Mages that are with the Mage Association in plain sight. Akiha Tohno. Damn it. I should have known.

My mind flickers back, even as my heart is full of regret.

I failed Arihiko soon after wards. I failed him utterly, even if I know we couldn't do anything.

None of us could have saved Shiki that day.

-Fade Out-

-Date: February 28, 2011 -

-Location: The Millennium Castle Brunestud-

Another rabbit lunges at me, easily decapitated by Kanshou.

Bakuya, I shift into position, before slicing through another rabbit brutally.

“Shiki, get back! I've got this flank covered, keep Arihiko safe while Arcueid disposes of the source!”

My mind flashes through the blades I've seen, as I trace a dozen, then launch them at incoming killer rabbits.

Not one survives the blades.

En-mass, they come, only to die.

And I grant them all their deaths.

Shiki's scream horrifies us all, as I turn.

And stare at a huge bunny, three times bigger than the others, with it's teeth in his throat.

I kill it with ease, even as Arcueid screams in rage, and slaughters them all.

My tracing Avalon doesn't heal him.

He's losing blood so fast, he won't survive for more than a few minutes, at best.

“Daddy! DADDY!”

“I screwed up... Arihiko... take good care of your mother, ok?”

Arihiko nods, even as he sobs against his father.

“Arcueid...”

Arcueid appears, as if out of nowhere, and takes Shiki's arm. I can see tears in her eyes, unshed.

“Yes, Shiki?”

“Arcueid... I had fun. Did you...?”

She's sobbing, hard.

“Yes, Shiki. I had fun with you.”

A slight smile on Shiki's face.

“I want you to raise Arihiko. Don't... lose yourself to your blood lust, Arcueid. Be a protector to humanity, like I know you can be... and make sure Arihiko learns how... to be a fine warrior... under Shirou...”

She's nodding, even as his eyes are fluttering shut, slowly.

He's fighting to stay alive long enough to say what he needs to say.

“Arcueid... I love you. With all my heart, and soul... move on after me, please... find another to be happy with...

I don't...

want you...

sad...”

His eyes slide shut, as his pocketknife slips from his hands, to the ground.

Arcueid's scream of grief echoes through the entire castle, as she cries over her dead love. And Arihiko's isn't far behind.

Even as I slump to my knees, in grief as well.

I've lost a good friend this day.

-Fade Out-

I lost the best man I had ever met that day. And I'll regret the fact that I couldn't save his life, for the rest of mine. No matter how short it will be here.

The worst thing, though, was how Arihiko took it.

I look at him now, at his axe raising up past his waist, and the look of sheer hatred on his face. I truly have failed him.

My mind flashes back, once more.

-Fade Out-

-Date: December 25, 2015 -

-Location: The Millennium Castle Brunestud-

Arihiko runs to be with his mother on Christmas morning.

She no longer smiles anymore. Arcueid's eyes are dull and glazed, all too often now.

But she still loves her son, and he knows that too.

“Coming, Emiya-Sensei? It's CHRISTMAS, and Mom's birthday! You can let me slack off on lessons for today, right?!”

I can't help but smile, even as I follow him. My student has improved immensely as of late. His skill, even for an 11 year old, has grown to the point where I think I can give him a proper weapon. Even if it DID cost me a fortune to get made properly.

As I arrive, I sit, watching him give out gifts to him and his mother. He's worthy of it. I can see him still half in a stance, ready to attack anything that might attempt to harm him or his mother. And that's what Shiki wanted most for him. To be able to defend himself no matter what.

No matter how brutal the methods might be. And he entrusted me to train Arihiko.

I fold my arms, smirking when he asks me where his present is.

“You'll find out soon enough, but here's a little something for while you wait.”

I slide a package over to him. As he pulls it over beside him, with his mother's present on his lap, I smirk more, even as I put down a present in front of her.

“Mom, open my present first? I've got another one for your birthday party later, but I thought you'd want one for Christmas now...”

As she hesitantly, slowly unwraps it, I recognize the shape. A painting of some sort?

As she slides it out, though, we both pause as we recognize it.

It's a portrait of Shiki and her at his last moments. The detail is stunning in it's sheer complexity. He captured the moment perfectly, from his perspective. His father reaching up to Arcueid's hands, holding hers in his last moments, even as he bleeds out.

“I have a perfect memory, so I thought you'd want to see dad again, mom. I'm sorry I couldn't draw a better picture, but it's the only one I saw clearly of you two holding each other, that wasn't in pictures...”

Arcueid's crying, and hugging him tight. I can't help but cry as well, seeing his last moments again, like this. The shock of seeing him, again, once more like this can't let me do much but cry.

How do you react? To knowing the son of a dead friend, your student, has what looks to be an obviously perfect, photographic memory?

What do you do to soothe a child like that, who can never forget anything he sees?

I don't know, myself. I just, honestly don't know.

When Arcueid settles down, still holding him close, he looks up at me.

“What's my gift, Sensei?”

I can't help but smile, even as I pull his present out from behind the couch in here.

His eyes go wide in surprise, at it. It's far heavier than it looks, after all.

And when he unwraps it, even Arcueid can't help but gasp in surprise.

A massive blued steel blade, thin yet strong, sized for approximately how tall he'll be when he's a full adult. And with a rather unique bamboo handle, having a button on it.

“Press the button, my student. I forged it for you, after all.”

He pushes it, and I watch as his eyes go alight with joy at the blade splitting, with a long 30 foot length of chain connecting the handle to the blade.

“Incredible, Sensei! Who did you have make this?”

I chuckle, softly, as I settle back.

“I was the one that made it for you, it cost me quite a bit to ensure the chain wouldn't snap. You wouldn't believe how many chains I went through before I figured out the exact pattern that Rider used in the Holy Grail War.”

He's pausing, in surprise.

“She stabbed me in the arm with a nail attached to a chain, after all. I thought something similar might work well for you, especially your family's Reality Marble and Marble Phantasm involving chains...”

I watch him study it more closely, and nod.

“It's beautiful, Sensei. Thank you for forging such a blade for me.”

I chuckle softly, and watch Arcueid wait for him to stop. Her eyes are more alive now. Not quite as dull as before.

I'm glad of that. She was scaring me as of late.

I watch her give him a present, far more elaborate than the others, just like mine was for him.

A massive black cloak having hundreds of small pockets, filled with throwing daggers. No, not just daggers, but also having weird chains of all sorts, that look like they have sharpened ends, and sharper sides.

I breathe out slowly, in stunned shock.

“Wow, mom! It's really nice! Thank you so much! I'll practice with it all every day, just for you, mom!”

Arihiko's hugging her tight again.

I can't help but smile, then blink at them putting down a gift for me, as well.

I open hers first, and freeze at the garment that lies before me.

“It's a set of holy clothing I got from Ciel custom made to protect you. It can also repair itself, Shirou. It should be handy for while you train my son in the art of the blade.”

Archer's clothing. This is all Archer's clothing.

I was Archer.

“I... thank you, Arcueid. Thank you...”

“You look like you've seen a ghost, Sensei. Why are you staring at them like that?”

I breathe out slowly, then look up at them.

“These are Archer's clothes.”

“...The evil servant from the Fourth Grail War?”

I shake my head slowly.

“No. Rin's Servant. The Archer that killed Berserker 7 times before dying to him. He killed a Demi-God 6 different times, Arihiko. Illyasviel was stunned at that, as you can imagine.”

They've both frozen in stunned understanding, as I slip it on, over my normal clothing, and look in the mirror.

“He was you then?”

I glance over at Arihiko looking at me with curious gazes.

“Or another me. Parallel universes would be more understood by Zelretch, after all, but it could be surmised that he achieved something that I myself have not.”

I watch them nod in understanding. Good.

“Ah, Sensei? Open mine, now? It's a little flimsy, so don't rip it with the wrapping paper.”

I blink, then take his package, unwrapping it with care.

And I slide two things out. What looks like a poem, and what looks like a set of Portraits.

“The poem, whenever we spar, I get the feeling it has to do with your abilities as a mage, Sensei. I'm not sure HOW, but... even still, it seems accurate.”

I look down, and study it, silently, then freeze at the words impacting my very soul and Magic Circuits, as I read them.

“I am the bone of my sword.

Steel is my body, and fire is my blood.

I have created over a thousand blades,

Unaware of Loss, Nor Aware of Gain.

I Have withstood pain to create many weapons,

Yet my hands will never touch the woman I miss.

So, as I pray...”

“It stops there, Sensei, because I can't grasp what the ending is.”

I look up at him, still shaken.

“What...” My voice nearly cracks, and I pause to swallow. “What do you mean, Arihiko? Why can't you see the ending of it?”

“It's... like seeing a distant image, Sensei. I can grasp that that is the lines for it. But... I can't see what it activates.”

I breathe out, then slowly nod.

That poem shakes me. Even still, maybe I can use it to trace more easily?

I turn to the portraits, and freeze.

They're of Saber. He drew Saber perfectly. As I saw her, in every day life.

From my description and the single photo of her that I have, he...

“Are they right, Sensei? I worked hard on them for you.”

I nod, slowly, even as I feel tears falling down my face.

“They're perfect, Arihiko. They're absolutely perfect. It's been so long since I saw her, that day when we destroyed the Holy Grail together...”

I wipe away my tears slowly, and smile down at him.

“Thank you, Arihiko. They're well done.”

He's beaming up at me.

-Fade Out-

Those days, I thought they'd last forever. With my student, and his mother, I eventually started hoping that Arcueid could have a relationship with me. Wrong of me, I know. But even still... I had to try, right?

The day I went to her, to see if I could date with her, things went wrong, though.

So very, horribly wrong...

-Fade Out-

-Date: April 27, 2023-

-Location: The Millennium Castle Brunestud-

I've got flowers with me, even as I walk up the stairs to meet with Arcueid. I've spent most of the day picking them, in fact. For a while, I thought I'd just bring only a few, but I decided to get a proper bouquet. Even if they're not roses, they're still beautiful. I just hope she appreciates them.

We've been getting closer lately. Much, much closer. Enough that I think I could take her on a date, tonight.

I pause, as I see her door, though.

Something's off. Something that I haven't felt in a long time.

Killing intent is radiating from her room. The intent to kill, to destroy... and it's radiating from her room, like nothing else I've ever felt before.

...Something's wrong. Something's horribly, horrifyingly wrong.

I run towards her room, as fast as I can, and slam open the door.

And my mind freezes, as I stare at Arihiko pinned to the wall with chains, and Arcueid floating in the air.

“Sensei, RUN! She's given in to her Bloodlust!”

She seems to disappear from my vision, and I roll forwards, barely dodging under her claws aimed for my back. To kill me? No. To injure me enough that she can drink me dry.

I roll, using my experiences from sparring with her, to dodge the next blow that would go for my legs. My thoughts are proven right, when my pants are nearly pinned to the ground by a chain erupting from it.

I trace Kanshou, effortlessly, and block her next strike aimed for my neck, even as Bakuya comes up to strike at her, to drive her back.

It fails to do much more than scratch her dress.

Anyone would freeze at that sight, except for myself. I roll instead, and throw Bakuya to cut the chains pinning Arihiko down.

And then I trace Rho Aias to counter the chains heading my way.

It's nearly not enough. The chains send me flying towards the edge, even with the mighty shield stopping the chains from outright killing me, and my momentum...!

I slam Kanshou down behind me, and adjust my feet so they run into the blade, even as I teeter on the edge of the balcony.

It's enough to hold me, barely. An inch from my death, I look up, at her glowing golden eyes.

“Shirou, lower your shield, and let me drink from you.”

I freeze up, feeling myself crave with every fiber of my being to do what she wants.

I want to make her happy.

My shield flickers, even as the pressure on my mind seems to abate.

“You want me, Shirou. Come to me, let me drink from you, and I shall let you live forever as mine.”

I... I wanted that. So very badly, to be hers. But... what about Arihiko?

“Do not worry about my son, he shall be happy with you as his new father, even as we drink humanity dry.”

My mind freezes, at her words.

And I snap out of it.

“Sensei, RUN!”

I narrow my eyes, instead, focusing.

“With your Reality Marble, Unlimited Blade Works, you will serve me well. Come and be my greatest servant, Shirou Emiya. I will reward you with your service.”

She's not talking to me. She's not talking to me... this is an affect of her Mystic Eyes...

Wait... what was that about me having a Reality Marble?

She dashes at me, when Rho Aias flickers. But it holds, barely.

I trace the sword I made for Arihiko, and throw the blade at him, and when he grabs it, I pull him back, even as I push the razor sharp edge of Kanshou so the blade pushes the final few inches through the wall, and starts sliding down through the castle wall, my weight forcing it through the stone like a hot knife through butter.

I can see her above me, even as Arihiko falls over the side, and into my arms.

And she narrows her eyes, as we pass out of sight.

-Fade Out-

I watch Arihiko's axe, at shoulder height now. He's glaring at me all the harder.

And my mind fades back to the fifth and final fight against Arcueid Brunestud. The day I made the agreement with Alaya. The day I chose to become a Counter Guardian in order to save the Mage's Association.

-Fade Out-

-Date: October 31, 2025-

-Location: The Mage Association's Headquarters, the Clock Tower-

“Sensei, I can still save my mother!”

I turn towards him.

“You have one chance, Arihiko, to make her see reason. If we can't... then I'm going to have to kill her.”

I look over the poem again, memorizing it over and over.

The poem Arihiko gave me, that I know in my heart will let me have victory.

Unlimited Blade Works, my as of yet still unaccessable Reality Marble.

“Emiya, will you be ok with your student?”

I glance over at Rin and Sakura, then smile wanely.

Turns out they've become sisters again in truth. I don't know exactly what happened, but... I know they're happy.

I breathe out slowly, then nod.

“You two take care. I know we've had too many losses, but Arihiko's our best bet to make her see reason. And if that fails... we step in and fight her.”

A slow nod from them both, even as they hug me.

“I'm sorry I couldn't see you before now, Senpai, but the fighting against her's been so horrible...”

I nod, silently. Losses have been devestating. Europe's a barren wasteland. Africa is a ball of molten rock and metal. Russia's a massive, smoking crater. China was completely wiped off the map. The Americas are all still there, but only due to the fact that they haven't been actually targeted by her yet.

I give them both hugs.

This may be the last day I see them alive, after all. If Arihiko fails to stop her, it's up to me to stop Arcueid.

I'm the only one that knows her fighting style enough to dodge her attacks, and we all know it.

“Emiya... watch yourself out there, you hear me? I won't ever forgive you if you die...”

I grin a bit, wryly at Tohsaka.

“I've always come through before, and Berserker didn't kill me with that blade that day, remember? I'll be fine.”

She's nodding slowly. That's good. I'm glad I can keep her from worrying needlessly over me. After all...

My body is made out of swords.

I walk outside, and wait, watching for her arrival.

And she comes into sight soon. She's as beautiful as she is dangerous. She's clad in a long white dress, with a blue petticoat underneath it, that shows in the front. And weird long gloves that don't cover her hands at all. Most likely to let her fight more easily.

And she floats through the air, with her eyes bright gold.

“I have come to purge Gaia of enough of her inhabitants that Gaia herself will survive. Those of you that wish to serve me in this task, step forwards, lay down your weapons, and I will spare you the slaughter that shall be done to your companions. Those of you that are foolish enough to step in my way, and fight with me, in Gaia's name, come and fight. You have no real hope, no matter what you say or do.”

Arihiko steps forwards, running towards his mother.

“My son... do not force me to attack you. I do this by Gaia's will. After I am done, we can go return, and be a family again.”

“Mother, PLEASE! There's been enough killing! There's so many dead already, isn't it enough?!”

I watch Arcueid pause, and look at Arihiko carefully.

“Listen to me, Mother! It's enough! All but the Americas and Japan are completely wiped out! It'll take millenia for humanity to recover from the devestation you've brought onto it!”

She's frozen, in surprise.

“Please, mother. It's enough. Enough are gone that we don't have to worry anymore. We can go home NOW, mother. We can go home and be a family again. Don't you want that?”

Arcueid studies him, dead in the eye, even as her eyes flicker red.

“Arihiko... I...”

“Please, Mother... I need you. Stop with the fighting and come be with me? Enough is enough.”

Slowly, silently, with the finality of the grave, she shakes her head.

“Go home, Arihiko.”

“Mother!”

“Go home. Take Shirou with. After this is done, I'll return, and I'll not be forced to do this by the agreement my Father made with Gaia. As the Ultimate One of the Earth, I MUST respond to Gaia's call, my son.”

I watch Arihiko go pale, even as her eyes glow bright gold.

“Mother, don't! Sensei will fight with you if you don't stop! I don't want to lose you!”

Her right arm is forming a clawed hand, even as her eyes flicker red again.

“Mother, please... I don't want to lose you! I don't want to lose you or Sensei... please don't do this! Please...! Don't you want to be happy with me?! Don't you want me happy?!”

“I'm sorry, Arihiko. I can't fight Gaia's will any longer.”

I watch her strike at him, prepared to send him flying, screaming in agony. Screaming in sheer betrayal.

At least, he would have, if my Hrunting hadn't hit her hand the moment before her claws could rip through his skin.

“You spare my son the pain of my attack, Shirou? Impressive, for your speed in tracing, now. But nevertheless, it cannot beat me.”

And with those words, she comes at me, like a freight train charging full speed at a person stuck on the tracks.

Rho Aias is my second projection, the defense that I prepared long before I saw her. It's the only thing that saves my life from her blow... and it barely holds long enough for me to roll to the side, from the sheer speed she's moving at.

Her claws grate against it, like a nail screeching against a chalkboard.

And the petals around the middle of it, fall one after another, instantly, leaving it to shatter as she finishes her pass, and moves on to the magi in the Clock Tower.

I'm sent flying, and even as I flip in midair, launching blade after blade at her, I know I won't be able to beat her as easily as I thought. She's moving too fast for to be natural. And if I don't miss my guess... she's being possessed by the planet itself. How the HELL do I counter such a thing?

-Fade Out-

-One Hour Later-

The Clock Tower is in ruins, and she's not slowed down at all. But that doesn't matter as much as my current predicament.

I can't move.

My body's broken, my bones are nigh shattered, and I can't even move a muscle.

I'm out of Prana and Od both, the contracts I made with Sakura and Rin both not holding up to the strain of fighting her. And Sakura's dead. That one hurts, badly.

She was one of the very few that I could call friend.

My mind flickers back to the past, even as I stare, unmoving at Arcueid beating Rin like she is.

And I remember something Saber once said. One single incident. She had made a deal with something, to be able to change the past. What did she call it?

I can't remember anymore.

But it gave her the chance to be a Heroic Spirit while still alive.

I close my eyes, the only thing I can do, and cast my mind out, praying as hard as I can that it will hear my call and offer me a deal.

“Do you want power?”

I freeze, for a moment. The voice is in my head, sounding like millions of voices, yet not.

“Or have you wasted my time?”

I breathe out slowly, and with all my might, I try to respond to the voice.

“I need to stop her.”

“And what will you sacrifice to stop her?”

“I will do anything I must. Please...”

“Including serving me after your death?”

I breathe out. This is my last chance.

“Yes. If that's what it takes, then yes.”

“I am Alaya. You will become a Counter Guardian, saving humanity from it's evils after your death as long as I claim hold of you. Do you understand?”

There's no turning back now.

“Yes. I understand, Alaya. Please... give me the strength to use my Reality Marble. To stop her...!”

“The bargain is accepted. The deal is done. Upon your death, your soul is MINE, Shirou Emiya. Never forget that.”

My body is mending itself, even as my body surges with newfound Prana, and all my Magic Circuits activate.

27, not 2 like I had thought.

I arise, slowly, pulling myself up from the ground, even as my mind seems to flow inwards, showing me my Reality Marble as it truely is.

And the words engraved on a piece of paper within it, the same Arihiko gave me, that are slowly changing.

I read, and I understand.

My mind flashes out, even as I look up, to the woman I could have loved. That I had started to fall in love with.

I'm sorry, Arcueid. But to stop you... I WILL win this.

My voice sounds, with the words of this new Aria.

“I am the bone of my sword.

Steel is my body, and fire is my blood.”

She turns, looking down at me, with a look of surprise.

And my mind focuses on that inner world.

“I have created over a thousand blades.

Unknown to death,

Nor known to life.”

Her eyes narrow, even as they flicker red.

She's contemplating me as a threat, and Gaia's will is being fought by her.

I hope I have enough time before Gaia forces her to attack me.

I close my eyes, going to one knee, even as my mind flashes on my inner world, wrapping it in all the power I can call upon.

“Have withstood pain to create many weapons.

Yet, these hands will never hold anything.”

She's slowly lowering down to the ground, and I can hear her walking to me.

“You can't win, Shirou. Give up. I can't fight Gaia much longer on this, so please... give up. I don't want to see you or Arihiko dead.”

My heart breaks at her voice.

“Once I'm done, we can return to my castle, even as humanity begins anew. We can talk about what you were going to discuss with me, that day. I'm not a fool. But I can't...”

I hear her holding her head.

“Shirou, run!”

I can't. I can only win this.

“Run, now!”

For her sake, I must do this last step.

“I'm sorry, Arcueid. But I have to stop you here.”

She freezes, and I can hear her claws being prepared to slash me. But I've won already.

“So as I pray, UNLIMITED BLADE WORKS!”

Fire runs out from me, as I push my power, all of it out of my body.

Letting my Reality Marble form.

When I open my eyes, it's beautiful. A grassy field covered with familiar flowers, with massive gears in the air. It looks like the fields from the Millennium Brunestud Castle, that I trained Arihiko in.

But it's covered with blades unnumbered.

“Shirou, this...!”

“I made a deal with Alaya to stop you, here, Arcueid. I'm sorry, but I have to stop you from killing more people.”

She dashes backwards, even as I throw a blade at her, testing my Reality Marble.

The blades follow my will.

I can use this.

I raise my right hand, focusing, and watch unnumbered swords rise up with it, high into the air.

And when I bring my hand down, it rains swords at her.

This isn't enough, I know. But it's a start to my victory, and I need to take it.

I look around, briefly, before I realize the gears form new blades constantly, non-stop. With that in mind, I notice that they're roughly in a circle.

As I will them to a circle, I raise my left hand, forcing more blades to float upwards, high out of sight even to her eyes, as I use the right to control the ones attacking her. And I position the only hole to be above myself.

She won't see it coming.

I focus harder, forcing the gears to churn faster, as fast and hard as they can go. And the grinding of the gears turns into something more along the lines of trains smashing together, even as they shift to form a perfect, massive circle around the area she'll be lured to, as they form a wall of blades around the area we're in.

She can't see it. She doesn't notice as she dodges blade after legendary blade.

Caliburn, Excalibur, Gram, to name a few.

The untold numbers of weapons left in the Millennium Brunestud Castle, and the ones I saw Gilgamesh use back then when I projected Avalon that day, to save Saber.

And I wait, even as she runs out of blades to shatter or dodge, and she comes after me, to finish this.

“Sorry, Arcueid. But it's my win.”

She looks up, at half the blades above her raining down. She can't see the rest, so she can't see the trap. And she goes for the only “hole” in the descending blades, jumping straight for them as hard as she can. Exactly how I planned.

I can see her face going bone white, as she sees the trap, even as the blades underneath her flip, and the entire massive sphere of blades I've constructed starts to close in on her.

And her eyes are red now.

“I'm sorry, Shirou. I couldn't stop it...”

The blades kill her before I can stop them.

Even as my Reality Marble shatters, and I drag Arcueid's body to be in front of Arihiko.

I hate myself.

Because in her eyes, I didn't see hatred in her last moments. I saw a look of caring.

“You BASTARD!”

Arihiko sends me flying.

“YOU KILLED HER!”

I roll, desperately, as well as I can.

“I TRIED TO SAVE HER!”

“SHE'S DEAD BECAUSE OF YOU! I'LL SEE YOU DEAD FOR THIS, EMIYA!

I look up at the look of sheer rage in his face.

And I run.

-Fade Out-

I look at his face, even as his axe is high over his head now.

“I'm sorry, Arihiko.”

He freezes, for a moment.

“I never wanted to kill her. I loved her, and if things were different...”

His eyes stop for a moment on me.

“Sorry isn't going to bring back my dead mother, Emiya-Sensei.”

And then he brings the axe down on my neck.

I'm still aware, even without my head attached to my body, at him staring at his axe.

“Why isn't his soul in this?! You promised me his soul would be sucked into this, letting me use his abilities as my own, Aunt Akiha!”

“I don't know! I don't know what happened, Arihiko!”

I can hear Rin speaking up, even as things go black for me.

“The only way it wouldn't happen is if he promised his soul to something already. And since he's dead, I think it's a moot point. You've broken your treaty with us by using a damned weapon such as that, Arihiko Brunestud. Get yourself and your despicable Aunt off our lands. You're no longer welcome here, and if I see you again, I'll gut you myself!”

Before everything goes completely black, though, I hear a voice in the back of my head.

“And now, Shirou Emiya, you're MINE. And I expect you to be mine for a very long time to come. Never forget your deal, brave warrior. You've sold your soul to the collective will of humanity, and I intend to ensure you keep your bargain.”

-Fade Out-

-End of Archer's Tale:
Light Side of the Moon:
The Resolve of a Hero-






Shirou Emiya became a hero. He won the fight he set out to win, at the cost of his happiness, and his life. But, what if he arrived a little bit earlier on that fateful evening? What if he decided the flowers he had gathered were enough?

Archer's Tale:
Dark Side of the Moon:
Blades Partnered with a Bloody Moon

-Date: January 15, 10 ATDG (After The Great Destruction)-
-Location: The Millennium Castle Brunestud-

“Dad? Why don't we have more people over?”

I turn towards my adopted son. It's about time he's asked. But I still have been anticipating this question with dread. How will he react, I wonder, to the monster me and Arcueid have become?

“There's not many left, Arihiko.”

I watch him freeze.

“Do you remember the journey me and your mother took?”

He's slowly nodding, in silence.

“That's why there's not many people left. It all started a few days before then.”

He's sitting beside me.

“Please tell me, Dad. I want to know.”

I've been dreading answering this. But I can't refuse him.

“It all started on April 27, 2023... the day before I proclaimed you as being a master of my fighting style...”

-Fade Out-

-Date: April 27, 2023-

-Location: The Millennium Castle Brunestud-

I've gathered quite a few flowers today. They're gorgeous, and I've made a beautiful, albit small boquet.

I pause, thinking about it. Should I get more for her?

No, it's quite enough now as it is. I'd spend the entire day just picking flowers for her, and if I did that alone, nothing would get done.

I smile, and return to the castle, even as I spot her on the balcony, looking like she's listening to someone that I can't see.

That's odd. Maybe she's communicating with Altrouge?

I shake my head slowly, even as I walk to her room.

“Arcueid, are you there?”

“I'm here, Shirou. Do come in.”

I walk in, and look around. Her portrait of Shiki that Arihiko painted for her is in her hands. She's obviously been crying.

Damn. Maybe I screwed up.

“What is it, Shirou?”

I breathe out, slowly.

“Is this a bad time?”

She looks up at me, silently, then shakes her head, even as I catch a glimpse of gold in her eyes.

Her mystic eyes are activating by themselves. That worries me. But I won't say anything.

“Arcueid... we've gotten closer over the years, both of us. I was wondering... is there any possible chance of a relationship between us? If not, tell me now, and I won't bring it up again.”

She freezes, even as she looks up at me in surprise.

Then, in a broken voice, that breaks my heart to hear, I hear her reply.

“After I'm done, if you'll still have me, maybe.”

“After you're done? With what?”

She's crying, silently, and wiping her tears away. Something's really, really wrong. She wouldn't cry like this for no reason. Not at all...

“Gaia has called upon the pact my father made with it, to wipe out the bulk of humanity, Shirou. I can't resist the call much longer. It's the only reason why I'm allowed to be on Gaia in the first place, as is the rest of my race... what's left of it, anyways.”

My mind freezes, even as I understand.

“Why, Arcueid?”

She's looking up at me, with her red eyes full of tears.

“There's too many humans. Gaia has two more years, at best.”

I freeze, even as I comprehend the entirety of the situation. The planet's going to die.

“What happens if Gaia dies, Arcueid?”

She's looking up at me, her red eyes even more red from her crying.

“All life will cease to be able to breathe, as the atmosphere becomes more poisonous. In effect, all life on Gaia will die.”

I sit, in front of her, silently.

“Only a Dead Apostle, or a Shinso could survive such a thing, Shirou. I don't... have a choice but to kill most of humanity off, to save the few that can learn to work with Gaia, Shirou.”

She's crying harder

And I understand her dilemna. The hero's dilemna, only reversed.

To kill a few, to save the many. But, indeed reversed. To kill the many to save the few.

“I'm scared, Shirou. I won't be able to stop Gaia from imposing it's will on me much longer. I'll become a monster, worse than my father by far...”

I pull her into a gentle hug, even as my mind races.

“How many must die, Arcueid?”

She's crying into my arms, sobbing relentlessly.

“Too many, Shirou. 99.9%...”

My breath catches in my throat, at that number.

“The only ones would have to be left would be the farmers. You'd have to start things over again, wiping out the major cities, Arcueid.”

She's nodding, weakly, even as she cries.

“Can you ask Gaia to give you time to come to a decision for how to do it, instead of pushing yourself relentlessly? You need time to figure out how to do it, if you're going to go through with it, and exactly how things need to be done...”

I feel her nod against my chest, silently, and a burst of pure power off her for a moment.

When she looks up at me, even as she wipes her eyes, her eyes are red again, no hints of gold in them at all.

“Shirou, don't leave me alone tonight. I don't think I could take it, right now.”

I breathe out, and nod softly.

“I picked you these flowers, earlier.”

She freezes for a moment, in surprise, then smiles at them.

“They're beautiful, Shirou. I... thank you. That's what kept you out earlier?”

I nod, silently, even as we sit beside each other, her admiring the flowers. And I look at her. She doesn't want humans to die. But she can't keep Gaia from forcing her to do it.

No. She doesn't have the power to fight Gaia.

I breathe out, silently, while thinking, as she admires each flower.

What should I do?

I think I love her. I haven't felt this way, since Saber, so long ago. Except for the feelings for Rin, that ended when she left for the Clock Tower, to study there.

I brush out her hair, with my fingers, even as she falls asleep, her head resting on my shoulder.

She's at peace. I've never seen her at peace like this, before.

What should I do?

I've always wanted to be a hero.

But at the same time... I can't fight her.

She has a sense of innocence about her, that I've never seen in anyone else. A love for life, in all it's forms, that strikes to the very core of my being.

And now, she's being forced to wipe out most of humanity in order to save the world from itself.

I can't hate her for that. She doesn't want this.

But what do I do?

What can I do?

I breathe out, letting my mind settle, as I think it over.

I think I love her.

If I want to have a chance with her, I need to accept her, completely and unconditionally.

To do that... means I have to throw away the one thing I have left for myself, to keep her happy.

My ideals.

My dream of being a hero.

The question is... is she worth it? Worth knowing that she caused the near extinction of the human race?

I breathe out slowly, and adjust her so her head is on my lap, even as she sleeps.

This is the first time that she's trusted me like this.

I won't break her trust.

I close my eyes, thinking, feeling my mind drift inwards.

And I find myself in front of twenty seven lines, only 7 of which glow green.

I freeze, even as I look at them.

My Magic Circuits. I have 27 of them.

As I comprehend that, I look down, and see a massive field below. A beautiful, flower filled field, with blades impaled in the ground everywhere, and massive gears churning out copies of each blade, sending them flying into the green earth below.

It looks like the field I was picking flowers from. The field I was standing in, in front of the Millennium Castle Brunestud.

Something inside me compells me to turn, and I turn, looking at the poem that Arihiko wrote for me during Christmas, floating in my face.

“I am the bone of my sword.

Steel is my body, and fire is my blood.

I have created over a thousand blades,

Unaware of Loss, Nor Aware of Gain.

I Have withstood pain to create many weapons,

Yet my hands will never touch the woman I miss.

So, as I pray... Unlimited Blade Works”

The name of it. Unlimited Blade Works. And I comprehend. This is mine. This is my Reality Marble. The ultimate expression of who I am, and what I am.

A blade, no, a sword to be wielded. A man, who's literally... made out of swords.

I snap awake, even as I feel Arcueid shifting.

“Shiki...”

I look at her, resting on my lap like this, even as I can't help but understand her more.

She still misses him. That, I understand. I suspect she wakes up every day, hoping he'll be there, alive again, and hates it when he isn't. And I know it's going to destroy her slowly. With her still greiving him, this must be the most horrible thing she could go through.

And she can't do it alone. I've fought for others for all my life. I've fought for others, and spent my spare weeks visiting here, training Arihiko when I could, learning how to fight better myself at the same time.

You can't do such things alone. It'll break you in the process. But if you have an anchor, a person to fall back on... then you might be able to survive the trauma.

Can I really be so selfish, though? To cast my ideals away, and dedicate myself to her and Arihiko? My mind races, as I think.

I don't have a choice. She can't do this alone. Even if she has to wipe out so many, I'll help her. I'll be the anchor she needs. I'll be the blade she needs, to carve away her depression, and her problems.

I smile bitterly, even as I fall asleep.

Father, if you could see me now... would you be proud of me?

-Fade Out-

When I awake, it's to my stomache growling. It's the middle of the night, and we've missed dinner. Arcueid's waking up too, I can tell, though she hasn't budged.

“Did you sleep well?”

I watch her, as she turns, and looks up at me. “Shirou...? I was dreaming of Shiki, sorry...”

I nod, silently, to her words, and brush out her hair with my fingers again.

“We should get to the dining room, Arcueid. We're both hungry, and I know you're wanting to distract yourself from what you have to do.”

I pull her up, gently, even as she looks up at me.

“Why don't you hate me, Shirou? I have to destroy most of mankind...”

I pause for a brief moment, as I get up.

“It's the opposite of the Hero's dilemna, Arcueid. You have to save the few to ensure humanity as a whole survives.”

She's pausing everything but moving, studying me, even as she relaxes into my embrace while we head to the dining room.

“The Hero's Dilemna being that you have to sacrifice the few to save the many... in this case... it's inverted. We have to sacrifice the many, to save the important one...”

I nod, silently, even as we walk into the dining room. Arihiko's in bed, thankfully. I don't know how I could explain me and his mother being like this right now. But food is still left out for us to enjoy, most likely by him. I'll have to thank him later.

She's studying me, as we eat the cooled off meals. They're rather tasty, though. I'm glad I taught Arihiko how to cook. Wisest decision of my life, I suspect.

“Shirou... I...”

I look up at her.

“What should I do, Shirou?”

I breathe out slowly, thinking about the understanding I came to earlier.

“I'll help you.”

She freezes, her eyes going wide.

“What...? Shirou, that goes against...”

“Everything I believe in? I know. But...”

I watch her silently, even as I drink some of the cool tea.

“But I've found that I care more and more for you every day, Arcueid. And I finally understand what my nature is.”

She stills, studying me.

“Your nature, then? You've figured it out?”

“A blade. More specifically, a sword. The missing lines to the Aria Arihiko wrote that day, 8 years ago on Christmas... I figured it out.”

She watches my every movement, silently.

“What is it then, Shirou?”

I close my eyes, reciting the incantation aloud, feeling each of my 27 circuits (how did I not feel them before?) open up wide.

Every iota of my body screams with the power I'm channeling, even as I prepare to unleash this. What I am, in my truest state.

When I state Unlimited Blade Works, and fire runs around us, I hear her gasp.

And when I open my eyes, she's staring at everything, wide eyed. Like a young child seeing a new toy for the first time in their life.

“Incredible... A Reality Marble?”

I smile softly, as I look at the flowers below, and pick one up, smelling it. It's indeed the same smell as the ones outside, in the fields outside the Castle.

“Indeed, Arcueid. Unlimited Blade Works... my magecraft, my whole entire existence.... has rotated around this my entire life, without me knowing. The fires that nearly destroyed me as a child proved as the furnace that forged my abilities and origin to be based around swords.”

I kneel before her.

“Let me be your sword for this conflict. I am meant to be wielded, like a blade, or a bow, rather than let loose by myself. Let me aid you in what is to come, Arcueid.”

I watch her, staring at me in wide eyed, stunned shock.

Before she hugs me tight. It's a wonderful hug, more deserving than I am of it. And yet, I relax in it. I will be her blade for this.

“Are you sure, Shirou? There's no going back if we go through with this. I don't want you getting hurt like Shiki did...”

I look at her, then hug her as tight as I can. I want to be selfish. I want to, for once, protect the girl I'm with. She's going to go to war against the world, and she'll need a blade such as I to protect her. I will be that blade. I will be that weapon.

“I'm sure, Arcueid. I'm sure. Will you date with me, while we go through with this?”

She looks up in my eyes, meeting my eyes with her beautiful red ones. And I take the initiative to kiss her. My mind flickers back to the only other girl I've really kissed... Saber. While she was calm and cool, passionate but hesitant, Arcueid is like a flame, full of passion and excitement. And the difference between them is a wonderful thing.

“I won't take away Shiki from your heart, Arcueid. But I want to be in your heart as well. Is that ok?”

She stares at me, like she never really understood that before. I can see her smiling though, a smile that lights up her face.

“Ok, Shirou. Let's go rest, and then we'll talk in the morning, ok? We need to decide on what to do.”

-Fade Out-

Those days, were the start of what became known as “The Great World Disaster”. Our calander starts at the end of it, “After The Great Destruction”, also known as ATGD, rather than BC and AD. Make sense, Arihiko?

He's staring at me, in stunned shock.

“Before passing judgement, hear me out. But... if you wish to kill me for what happened back then, remember that it was your mother being forced into the situation. I forsook my ideals to help keep her safe. And I did. Oh, I did...”

-Fade Out-

-Date: May 11, 2023-

-Location: The Outskirts of Beijing, China-

It's been 2 weeks since the day we decided our plan of attack, and 1 week since we actually left, with Arihiko in charge of discovering what the devices in the lab that held the killer bunnies were for, as well as defending the castle.

We've chosen to go with China first, mainly due to problems of dealing with nuclear powers before we're ready. That, and we want to wipe out the majorities of the people, while leaving the farmers.

Thankfully, we agreed that Mages would be a good way to keep up the world's equipment, so people don't die out instantly... but it was a close decision. Gaia doesn't like mages much, I suspect.

I breathe out, watching her, as we walk.

“Shirou, when we fight, I want you to cover me. Ok? Don't do any killing, but protect me. Just in case...”

“Of course, Arcueid. I'll be happy to do that for you.”

I can hear her smiling, somehow. It's one of her unique traits.

We walk up the crest of the hill, slowly, and stare at the massive city before us. And then I watch her rain spells and chains upon Beijing, completely wiping it off the map in seconds.

The sheer destruction I've witnessed makes me pause.

After a bit, I manage to force myself into a calmed down state, where I can look at things more realistically. They didn't suffer. She gave them all quick, painless deaths. At least she did that, right?

-Fade Out-

We continued, wiping out the entirety of China's major cities, and the larger minor ones off the map, before moving on through several other countries, Arihiko. Your mother, though doing it, made sure they never felt a thing. No pain, no agony... that changed, in our 5th week in, though.

That day, was the bloodiest fighting, I've seen to date.

-Date: June 1, 2023-
-Location: New Dehli, India-

They knew we were coming. By the time we reached there, we had gone through the entirety of Asia, wiping out everything, including Russia.

So they knew we were coming, they knew how to spot us, and they knew we were using some sort of attacks that could pierce through conventional body armor. That didn't save them, though. Arcueid's chains cut through their tanks like hot knifes through butter. Unlike before, though, the tanks give them long enough time to try and dodge, leaving huge blood trails, and screams of sheer agony instead of just nothingness where the people were.

And so I stare at huge geysers of blood shooting up from the tanks, before the blood seems to disappear, almost like the blood is being absorbed by the chains.

My keen eyes spot a bomber coming. One going far too fast for a normal bomber. And so I trace a blade, and the bow Arcueid showed me... the same one that possible me used as Archer, in the Holy Grail War so long ago, and shoot the damned plane down.

It explodes spectacularly, my mind notes, but I'm too busy vomiting from the realization that I just took an innocent person's life, to care. Even if it's for Arcueid, and Gaia, this is far more horrible than I ever thought it would be.

To go against my ideals like this. Am I a villain, instead?

I breathe out, feeling my body stop vomiting, then take a gulp of water from my canteen, trying to wash out the horrible aftertaste of vomit.

I hear another plane coming. I have no choice but to protect her. So I grab my bow, and shoot this one down, too. Then the next. And the next. Constantly, over and over, until I realize that the planes are all gone, and it's just me and Arcueid.

When I look down, the entire city is gone, left with flat dirt that is red with blood. Red with the shed blood of soldiers.

And I hold her, helping her stay calm from the sight of it all.

“Shiki killed my bloodlust, long ago.”

I pause at her words, silently. “He did?”

She nods silently against me. “He didn't do it perfectly, though. He killed off the accumulated cravings I had gained over the years, leaving me with access to my full power. If I drink again, though...”

I can feel her shudder. I can't blame her.

“You'd go berserk. You'd go insane from the bloodlust and kill everything in sight.”

She's nodding, silently.

“Let's go back to the castle for a couple days, Arcueid. Then we can go on for the next targets.”

She's nodding silently against me.

“Gaia seems pleased with our progress. It seems that us together, we're moving far faster than I would have being possessed by Gaia, because Gaia wouldn't have known what to look for to keep humanity from dying out completely...”

I breathe out slowly, even as I feel us shifting to someplace else.

“Then I guess we're lucky. At least we can find ones that'll help the planet survive more easily, right?”

She's nodding softly.

-Fade Out-

“That was the worst of the battles for a good 2 months, Arihiko.”

I watch him stare at me in openmouthed horror.

“Do you think I'm a bad man, now, Arihiko? For giving up my ideals to protect your mother, and keep her happy?”

He's still frozen, but I watch him shake his head slowly.

“No, Dad. But... was it really so necessary?”

I nod, silently, even as I word the best way to reply to him in my head. I let a bit of time pass, while drinking more water, since talking makes me thirsty, before replying to his question.

“The Shinso exist here only on Gaia's sufferance. Quite literally, without Gaia's express consent, the Shinso cannot exist on this planet, and would be stuck on our moon. No air, barely any gravity, and not much of a chance of a relationship there, either.”

He freezes in understanding.

“You wouldn't die, but you wouldn't have a happy life there, as far as I know. No technology, nothing much to aid you, just...”

“Just staring at Gaia, and wondering what it would be like to live there?”

I nod, to his reply. “Gaia brought Crimson Moon Brunestud here, the Ultimate One of the Moon. He was brought here to ensure humanity stayed in check. If humans grew to the point where they could kill off Gaia... he was to act as a safety valve, wiping out enough of humanity to ensure they wouldn't be a threat to Gaia.”

He nods. Good, I'm glad he understands.

“Our next real battle was in July, when we hit Britain. That's about when you found what the Shinso had been working on, and figured out the experiments.”

He studies me, and nods slowly, even as I start talking about the past again.

-Fade Out-

-Location: London, England-
-Date: July 5, 2023-

When the Clock Tower and Church both confronted us, we had told the truth to them. Gaia demanded most of humanity to be wiped out, in order for Gaia itself to survive.

The looks of sheer horror in their eyes, as Arcueid explained it to them will never leave my memory, as long as I live. The explination, the reasoning, and showing exactly how bad off the planet was, all pounded through their heads the truth.

The simple truth was that it was humanity or the planet, and if the planet went, so did humanity. It wasn't a racial purge, it was a lifesaving purge. To save the few, the many had to die. And as much as they hated the fact, they understood. Thus, Rin was assigned to watch over us.

And I came face to face with her in the first time in 19 years.

“Hello, Rin.”

She freezes, before she recognizes me.

“Shirou?! My god, you've changed...! You look nearly the same as Archer...! ...Oh, hell.”

I grin wryly at her reaction. The same I had when I realized that she had most likely summoned some version of me for the Holy Grail war.

“You've noticed it too, huh?”

She turns back to me, and looks me over more closely, before nodding slowly.

“Can you tell me what happened this last year? You went out of contact so quickly...”

I breathe out. This will be a long story. Kami, but this will be a long story.

With that in mind, I grab my water canteen, and I start to tell her everything.

Two hours later, when I'm done, she's studying me silently, before nodding.

“It makes sense. Your abilities, everything all rotates around blades and replicating them. That's why you had so many problems with normal magecraft before, even when I tought you. And with what happened between you and Arcueid, I perfectly understand.”

She walks forward, so she's eye to eye with me, then kisses my cheek.

“It's a pity you hadn't come and visited, though. I was hoping you'd eventually get together with me, instead.”

I breathe out, even as Arcueid starts randomly giggling at this.

“Of course, there's my sister, long adopted, who you still need to explain things to, but you should be able to explain things to Sakura when she arrives later, right?”

I freeze. Oh, hell. That's going to go badly.

“Especially with her massive crush on you that you never picked up on. Why, I imagine she's going to hurt you terribly with how you'll probably have broken her heart.”

Kami... she was crushing on me?

I spoke that thought out loud without meaning to, from the looks on both of their faces.

“Yup. And I'll be ensuring you explain everything to her in exact, specific detail, Emiya.”

I shiver at the smirk on Rin's face. Some things just stay the same, I guess. Rin's scary evil look is just one of those things.

-Fade Out-

When Sakura arrives, we're prepared to move out, even as I prepare to tell her the story. The truth about why this is happening.

The cannon shell that blows her head off is the only warning we have that we're under attack. I stare at her body, even as I realize I'm screaming her name. Even as I realize I'm numb, and can't even think.

“Emiya, SNAP OUT OF IT! WE NEED TO GET TO SAFETY!”

Rin. She's calling for me.

My mind flickers to her, and I instinctively snap Rho Aias into existence, even as I turn towards where the shell was fired from. Even as the next shell meant for me hits Rho Aias, and shatters against the legendary shield. I hear Rin screaming and falling backwards from the cannon shell exploding beside her.

My mind flickers, flashing through my arsenal, as I raise one arm into the air, focusing.

As I bring it down, the world changes, reforming into my Reality Marble, and it starts raining blades.

Millions of blades slam down, carving through the buildings, revealing the entirety of London was no longer filled with Civilians, but only military troops and soldiers. Soldiers that die under my assault.

“WHAT THE HELL, EMIYA?!”

Rin looks up, and I hear her gasp at my Reality Marble, even as the gears churn, sounding like jet engines. Their roar bringing death and destruction in the forms of as many blades as can be created at once by my Reality Marble, down upon my enemies. Down upon these soldiers.

To kill them. To slaughter them. To avenge Sakura's death, and crush them. I don't know how long I launched my blades at the military. There was no way to tell, except when Arcueid held me from behind.

“Shh. It's over, Shirou. It's over.”

And in those moments, I realize how much I love her, even as I pass out.

-Fade Out-

I awaken in my Reality Marble. I can tell it isn't projecting anymore, but I pause at the difference. The flowers are red.

The color of blood.

My mind spins, even as I sit, and my fingers brush against a flower. For a moment, it shows white, before red liquid flows over it again.

No, a drop of blood fell on it.

I realize, now. The entirety of my Reality Marble's flowers aren't covered with blood. It's dripping blood from above.

And when I look up, I see a sky of corpses. A sky of the entire city of London, rather than the gears that usually lie up there, covered in corpses of the dead. Of the dead I killed.

The corpses all open their eyes, and look down at me.

And with one voice, Sakura's voice, I hear a scream. A long, single, solitary scream that horrifies me down to the depths of my soul.

“YOU KILLED US!”

Then I flash awake, out of the nightmare.

Am I doing the right thing? Is this the right course? Why am I doing this? What have I been doing to cause my friend to die like that? Am I truely worthy of being called a hero, when I'm nothing more than a mass murderer?

“Shiriou, I'm sorry you lost her. I know she was a good friend to you...”

Arcueid's behind me. I look back, and realize something rather important. We're both naked.

“Let me help you forget the pain for a while, Shirou...”

With those words, she kisses me, pulling me back against her.

That night, we made love together, in that quiet room in the Clock Tower. More than that, we most likely made a contract between us, from what we did during it.

Afterwards, as she slept, snuggling against me, I realized how much I love her.

I've lost Sakura, one of my best friends from when I was a boy. But I have a woman I'll die for. I'll mourn my friend, but I'll keep Arcueid safe.

-Fade Out-

“After London, we moved on to Africa. We had already cleared out the middle east, but we skipped out on Africa, due to the sheer expanse that we'd have to go through to get to the major cities there, even with your mother's teleportation.”

Arihiko's sitting across from me, occasionally bringing me more water as we talk. And I can see acceptance in his eyes.

“That how my sister, Sakura came about, isn't it?”

I nod, softly. “She was named after the Sakura I knew in school. And with how they're alike, I wonder if she's the Sakura I knew's reincarnation, sometimes.”

I breathe out, letting my mind focus.

“After Africa, South America was a cakewalk. Most of it was desolated enough to deal with any problems, and Canada was even more sparcely populated then that. When we got to America in late September, we found out why.”

-Fade Out-

-Date: September 28, 2023-

-Location: The Mexican Border, Texas-

There's been a weird sandstorm in Mexico for days now. Or a dust storm. Whatever it is, it's been keeping me from seeing too far ahead. Arcueid's kept us safe, but I know she's getting irritated.

We walk to the border, hand in hand, and as we go, my gut feeling that something was wrong increases.

“Arcueid, something's off. Can you check what it might be? My gut is screaming at me that something is just plain WRONG here.”

The sound of a massive crunch is audible to my ears, from far away, as well as a massive grinding sound.

I turn, and stare in the distance.

Another crunch sounds.

The sounds pick up the pace, and draw steadily closer.

“Arcueid...”

She says nothing, but moves behind me.

“It's big, Shirou, and it's coming closer, FAST.”

I look up, and freeze, as out of the shadows a massive machine can be seen running full tilt at us. A giant fucking combat mech.

A giant fucking Kami damned combat mech.

I seriously have to wonder exactly WHO made this shit, right before it comes into range and opens fire.

Even as it opens fire, I project Rho Aias, and block the hefty barrage of gunfire.

It holds, but barely. Even still, I can make out an American shouting inside it, into a microphone.

“You bastards won't take us alive!”

Ah, so that's what he said. My mind comprehends that, right as it rushes at us.

Arcueid's staring at it, open mouthed, even as I narrow my eyes, letting my Prana flow into it as it rushes us. My mind traces it, scanning for any weaknesses, using my Structural Analysis. And when I spot the target, I let loose with a Replica of Hrunting.

It moves, but not fast enough to stop Hrunting from hitting that sole weak spot, over and over.

“We'll all kill you both, before you can get to the city!”

I pause, even as Hrunting slams through, leaving a small opening in the massive armor. A foot and a half thick, the hole is tiny on such a gargantuan monstrosity. But to my eyes, the hole is a perfect shot.

And Arcueid takes the shot perfectly, sending a massive chain through it, and ripping the gargantuan machine apart from the inside out.

Silence reigns, as the machine falls.

I watch a hatch open on the side of it, and a man race out furiously, trying to pull out a weapon to aim at us.

“Will you stop for a moment, and explain what's going on?”

My words freeze him.

“The reports are that everyone's dead! Me and the other groups were ordered to hold the line, and they've forced our families to be hostages in these monstrosities, in order to ensure we'd fight you!”

I breathe out, but before I can speak, Arcueid does.

“Do you know why we've been doing this?”

He stops, stilling.

“You're homocidal monsters, right?”

She shakes her head, slowly, as her eyes show remorse for the first time since we started this.

“No. It's because the planet is dying. Humanity has a little over a year before Gaia dies from the trauma of having too much life on it to sustain itself.”

He freezes.

“What do you mean, dying?”

“I mean, unless enough of humanity is wiped out, the atmosphere will turn into poison, the seas into acid, and all life except humans that are smart enough to be hiding out somewhere like a submarine will instantly die!”

He freezes, in horrified, stark understanding, as he looks at her.

“You're not kidding, are you? That's why you're...”

I speak up, quietly, even as he looks at Arcueid.

“I've always wanted to be a hero. But what's the heroic thing to do here? To kill off humanity and leave a token left, that can eventually learn to live with Gaia rather than use the resources to horrible effect? Or to let them continue on their path to destroying the entire planet, with no humans or anything else left?”

He turns, looking at me, before nodding slowly.

“I was a humble farmer. I was forced into that war machine. My family was held hostage, wiht the choice of either obeying or being shot. I... what do I do to help stop it?”

I breathe out, slowly, as I contemplate how to word it.

“Become a farmer again. Learn to live with the land. Enjoy life, as well as you can, and teach your children to learn to work with nature rather than against it.”

He's nodding slowly, even as Arcueid brings out his family from the wreckage of the titanic war machine, releasing them unharmed.

“You're attacking the major cities, where humanity is at it's worst, aren't you?”

I nod at his words, even as we walk to the machine, studying it.

“They've got some sort of spaceflight plan getting ready. I don't know what the details are... but they've been mass evacuating most countries you two haven't gotten to yet, to a weird facility. The facility place is huge! It's the size of a small country, in and of itself.”

I look at Arcueid, even as we think it over.

“What do you think it might be, Shirou?”

I shake my head slowly.

“Not sure, Arcueid. How far does the facility go down?”

He pauses, while thinking.

“I heard a scientist say that it goes down past the crust, though I don't know how far down exactly. It might be that it goes down to the edge of the crust, and has a shaft that can get metals from deeper, though. It's the only idea that comes to mind for HOW they got the metal to build 57 of these war machines.”

57?! Kami above, with how difficult it was to take out 1 of those monstrosities, 56 more would be an incredible pain, even for us.

I blink, then muse.

“What did they call those things?”

He pauses, trying to remember.

“I heard they took the basic design idea out of a game called Mechwarrior. Something about it being the easiest to build around, using previously designed ideas. I think they called mine a 'Timber Wolf'. Only 57 of the 138 built actually move well, though. The rest, they use as sentry towers for the facility itself. They're all nuclear powered, so...”

I freeze at the words nuclear powered.

“Does that mean they have control over the reactor?”

He pauses, then nods slowly.

“Arcueid, get us out of here, NOW!”

She pulls all of us out, using her ability to teleport people from continent to continent, even as I hear a “This mech will self destruct in 5 seconds. Have a nice nuclear explosion, you bastards!” from the wrecked war machine.

-Fade Out-

“So, dad, that's when you visited for those two months, right when I cracked the codes of how the Shinso made humans into other Shinso, right?”

I nod, softly, even as I drink more water.

“Yeah, it was, Arihiko. You surprised me with your intelligence with labratory equipment, too.”

“As I said, Dad. It just really honestly... clicked. When I looked at it, it was like I understood it all. It's just like how when you looked at blades, you understood them.”

I can't help but smile wryly.

“And that led us to the endgame assault, too.”

“Pity you were too late, though.”

I sigh, and nod, softly, as I relate the last few steps of our story.

-Date: November 28, 2023-

-Location: Northern Texas, near the State border alongside Oklahoma-

It's early morning. The sun is slowly rising in the sky, as we approach the border to Oklahoma. In the distance, there's a massive, long line. And as we approach closer, we can see it's not a line. No, it's a wall. A massive, gargantuan wall, taller then I thought would be possible, that has clouds brushing against the tops of it. And when we get closer, we can see a massive, gargantuan glass dome covering it.

Then I hear the sound.

A sound suspiciously like a hundred million jet engines going off at once. We both turn, looking for the sound. I can't see a thing, but we can hear it growing louder and louder.

And then I realize the wall is moving UP.

I can only stare at the massive chunk of land slowly rising high into the air, and the ground cracking, being pulled up with.

They're putting the entire goddamned place into the air. And we can't do a thing about it.

“Shirou, stop. They won't be connected to Gaia anymore. As long as we ensure they don't land again, it'll be ok.”

I freeze at Arcueid's words, while turning towards her.

“Are we done then?”

She nods, and hugs me close. It feels wonderful, soothing my soul in ways that even Saber couldn't.

“Let's go home, Arcueid.”

She nods, and smiles.

-Fade Out-

“That brings us to today, doesn't it, Arihiko?”

He's nodding, slowly, even as he studies me.

“Do you regret it, the bloodshed?”

I pause, then close my eyes.

“I do, and I don't. If there was another way, I would have gone with it. But... it was the only way we could find. The only way to save everyone we could.”

He nods, and hugs me close, tight.

“I'm proud of you, Dad. You did the best thing, even if it wasn't the right thing, in your eyes.”

I breathe out, even as I feel him holding me, like a son does his father.

“I'll have the Shinso method prepared using the only Vial we could find with Crimson Moon Brunestud's blood, ready in a week. That'll let you be converted to be a Shinso, so you and mom don't die.”

I nod, even as I feel him hold me closer.

“I'm proud of you, Dad. You did the right thing.”

I glance out the window, and stare at a massive floating island, high up in orbit around the earth. The island containing the rest of humanity, sealed away from Gaia by Zelretch's power.

Did I do the right thing? What would have happened, if I had arrived late? What would have happened, if I hadn't gone this route?

I can only wonder, even after I'm converted to be a Shinso, two weeks later.

Even a hundred years later, I still wonder, as I work with her to lead our new race into a happy life on Earth.

Throughout eternity, as I spend a happy eternity as a Shinso, with Arcueid by my side as my beloved wife. I still have my nightmares of those I killed, and the one last question that forever haunts me.

“Did I do the right thing?”

-Fade Out-

-End of Archer's Tale:
Dark Side of the Moon:
Blades Partnered with a Bloody Moon-

Tell me, dear reader? What is a hero? Is it a man that sacrifices the woman he loves to save humanity, unknowing that humanity would die in a few hundred years due to his killing the answer to the problem?

Or is it the man that joins the woman he loves in wiping out the bulk of humanity, to ensure that the few that are left learn to live in harmony with it?

Which is the monster, and which is the man?

The one that sees the fact that the few are better than the many? Or the one that thinks the many are better than the few?

Both regret the past. Neither could tell you which of them is the one that did the right thing.

It's up to you to decide.

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:30 AM
Title: I Am Not There
Author: Anon

“You’re an idiot, you know that?”

There was no response, though it was not as if Rin expected one. The location was silent and sullen—like even the breeze refrained from intruding on her grief.

“You could have at least had the decency to not die so easily.”

She stood on a small hill that was within sight of a town, though it was a good hour long hike from the nearest road. The wooded area surrounding the place looked like it had suffered from recent logging or was recovering from a forest fire, though one singular tree had survived where others had not, near the top of the mound. Rin had decided to place the marker beneath that tree, wished it looked somehow more elegant than a simple headstone beneath a gnarled plant that had bark chipped away and a scorch mark along one side.

If she could have placed the grave exactly where he had died, she would have—but there was nothing left to recover of his body. The marker did not even truly mark a grave, as nothing was buried beneath. So it stood at the site of the last battle, empty in more ways than one, overlooking a town that was not his own.

A town that he had saved, and that would have to do.

The little farming community had little more than two hundred occupants, though numbers had not really meant much to him in the end. He could do it, so he did.

Shirou Emiya.

Rin had not known what else to put on the stone—all of her jumbled thoughts had seemed too trite and annoyingly cliché. In the end she had come to realize that he really had nothing appropriate to be signified with: no family, few friends, not even the legacy of a magi. Even the people he had saved would not remember him, the truth of what had occurred covered up as per the standard practice of the Association.

Nothing to show, nothing to leave behind.

“I’m sorry that it’s such a pitiful thing,” she said, beneath her breath.

Everything about the situation sat wrong with her, boiled in the pit of her stomach and infused every nerve in her body with the desire to shake. She was still not sure why, though, whether it was because of anger or sadness, frustration or regret. She’d heard of the stages of grief, but everything was still so new and raw, she was sure she hadn’t even settled on one yet.

“You really…” she sighed, curled her arms around herself as if to ward off a chill, “you should’ve left me with a better idea of what you wanted if you died, you know.” She inwardly kicked herself. Not that she expected him to die. After everything she had witnessed him survive, it was probably some deeply seated idea in the back of her head that he was somehow invincible. Immortal. A force of nature, like the thing he aspired to.

Empty grave, empty stone, empty location…arguably, even an empty reason, though he would not have thought so. Unaware of loss, nor aware of gain. Words that upset her too much—why she refused to consider marking his life with the aria he lived by.

But still, it all seemed too simple, too devoid of character. And while he might have claimed to have no sense of self…

There were many things about him she would always remember, and she wanted to say so.

On impulse, she moved up to the tree and reached out her hand. Whether it was a gesture to herself, a sentimental touch to what otherwise felt barren and empty to her, or if she thought it really could have meaning, she was not sure. But she brought to mind the blade she had given him long ago, the Azoth sword that had taken Kirei Kotomine’s life, and Projected its image.

It was, of course, nothing like what he could have done, but it would last a few minutes. Long enough to do what she needed.

She stabbed the blade into the scorched bark, carved lines into it. Those lines became letters, until she had formed words, in English—words she recalled learning about in school. School she had not needed to attend. For the first time, she felt she had garnered something irredeemably important from it, and not just the memories of spending it with him.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

The tree, though damaged by the battle that had painted the earth around it, was still hardy and hale—to have survived as much, it would have needed to be. Cutting into it took much longer than she expected. By the time she was starting the comma after weep, however, the spell failed and the knife disintegrated in her hands. She could, of course, make another blade and continue, but by then she had lost the impulse, lost whatever inspiration had struck, and she once more felt like she could not get away from this place fast enough.

So the young magi fled the hill, muttering to herself how even in death, the one she had left there still made her more frustrated than anyone else could. “I’ll get back to it someday,” she said to herself, though even those words somehow felt empty.

Rin Tohsaka left that hill, so she would not weep at his grave.

--

It was spring, and Sakura had come as soon as it was possible.

Rin had long since explained to her the circumstances, described the location, and when the winter snows had cleared and the frost no longer hardened the soil, she had come bearing two young trees. It probably looked odd to the villagers nearby, an outsider showing up one day carrying gardening supplies and plants from a nursery out of her hometown. But when she had explained that a friend was buried nearby, nobody had questioned her further, and she was left to her own devices.

The grave was, as Rin had described, inelegant and simple, a single stone beneath an old and damaged tree. The signs of battle and fire had receded somewhat under the new spring growth, and Sakura intended to add to that vision.

So, without preamble, she settled the trees down, took a large trowel out of her day bag, and worked on digging.

It took her the better part of two hours—the earth had softened but was still quite hardened beneath the topsoil—until she was dusting herself off and regarding two little blossoming trees no higher than her waist. One was for her sister, who had refused to come visit with her: a maple tree, one that would turn a deep red. The other was for her, the cherry blossom, and it was already a pale white in hue. They would eventually flank the grave, though it would probably be years before they looked the way she imagined them to.

Once Sakura was finished, she made her way over to the grave and knelt down before it. She had considered the variety of things she wanted to say and the numerous feeling she thought might overwhelm her, but now, sitting there, she felt less sure of the preparations she had made before as everything assailed her at once.

“I…don’t really believe in a religion, you know,” she said, already berating herself mentally for starting that way. “I know your father was buried at the temple, and To…nee-san made a Christian marker, but…” She sighed, tried to collect her thoughts. “So…I’m sorry I didn’t bring incense or an offering.”

The one thing she was glad for was the peaceful setting. Rin had described the place as burnt and damaged from the battle, but the time since had been good to the earth and the spring bloom was in full effect. Grass had drifted up through the scorched dirt and the tree standing over the grave had a shot of green about its branches from budding leaves. Now, her plants would only add to the faint color that began to reclaim the site.

“I brought things to make it look better, though. At least, I hope it looks better. Nee-san didn’t want to put things here unnecessarily, but…graves are more for the people left behind, aren’t they? I thought it would be okay. You were important to us, so, I wanted to show that.”

She knelt down in front of the headstone, ran her fingertips along the engraving to his name. They still marked the doorway to his house, but here the characters felt more like a presence, the only thing she could speak to that carried him with it. A part of her was glad there had been no body, nothing to view for a funeral service—it would bring it all down to a physical level, tangible and real. Here, instead, he could exist up in the ether, an image or an idea. Probably something he would have appreciated.

“I hate magic,” she said, absently, distractedly. The same kind of tangent one might have in everyday speech. “I hated everything about it and the life it gave me. I hated how it was all that became important to nii-san, how it seemed like it was more important than I was to nee-san.”

She spotted the carvings on the tree beyond the stone, the words her sister had began but had found too difficult to complete. So the young woman made her way over to the tree, to the unfinished poem.

“But…it also brought me you. And watching you struggle with it, make it yours…and use it to try and save others…”

Her voice trailed off into the afternoon, from the sentiment she wanted to express to him in life but never had the chance to say. His eyes had always been on the horizon, and she had known he would eventually move somewhere beyond the everyday. Still, that everyday had been enough for her, enough to give her something else than hatred—

She could not have said it, or break that mundane life. But now, it was broken regardless, so she could try and let him know: I was saved because of you.

She used the trowel to carve the next line, though she couldn’t remember the entire poem. She thought that maybe, it was alright the way it was, though. She was just one of the people in his life—it might as well be that she left it, in case…

Or at least, she hoped. She hoped that somehow, he had done that for others, that his horizon had given some what it had given her.

I am not there, I do not sleep.

--

He was one of the villagers, one of the few that knew.

The battle had been fought, and all of the village had known at one time. It was impossible not to know. One minute, perfect peace. The next, some kind of entity had rained terror down on them, had enveloped the entire town in unspeakable horrors. Monsters out of nightmares, out of storybooks meant to frighten, out of the history of the land. Wraiths that pulled people into the shadows to terrorize until they died. Dragons that swam out of streams to pull buildings apart and eat those within. Ghosts from wells and the darkest corners of every house, cursing the living until their flesh began to melt. People had screamed, fled; some went insane and others died.

The entity, formless, but with presence, had hovered about the town like a parasite feeding on a larger animal, microscopic in size yet infecting the body in horrible ways.

And one man had come, had destroyed it.

The villagers did not know what the man had done. But when the creatures swarmed him, the beasts had died with inhuman screams of their own. It was like this stranger had an invisible army with him, shooting down the creatures as he moved, cutting a swath through the village and into the wilderness. The nightmarish ghouls and dragons and demons had followed after him, enraged as a displaced nest of hornets.

And golden light had bathed that night.

Nobody knew what happened for sure.

A woman that had accompanied the man had then spoken with the townsfolk as the night had receded, and the next day it was as if nothing had happened—

Though everyone remembered the lightning storm that had burnt a swath up in the hills nearby, that had set fire to a couple of the houses and killed the occupants.

He could remember, though he did not know why. It might have something to do with ancestry, since members of his family had once upon a time maintained a shrine nearby. Whatever the reason, he could still remember, could still see those creatures in his nightmares, see a neighbor eaten by the shadows, could hear the footfalls of people as they ran like headless chickens.

He could still remember the single man that had saved them all.

So, when Obon came, when the day to honor the spirits of the dead was upon him, he ventured out to where the battle had ended. The villagers had no explanation to the gravesite that had turned up there, though the popular explanation was it memorialized a firefighter that had helped stop the blaze. Kids in town had other views, of course, from a long-forgotten grave of a dead warrior to a vengeful spirit trying to haunt the locals.

A single stone on a hill. Newly planted trees flanking an old, scorched giant.

He made to pray, to offer a candle to this fallen hero, when he spotted the marked-up bark from the survivor. He didn’t recognize the words, though he knew they were English. Curious to the origins, he did what he came to do—offered his wishes of wellbeing and a tiny light of the soul—then returned to his home.

And after a few days of searching on his computer, of etching out the unfamiliar lettering in practice, he returned to the site, to offer his addition.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

The township remembered the storm that had raged through their countryside. He remembered the divine wind of their savior.

--

Sella made sure the grounds were well-kept.

It was not within her personal impulses to visit the grave over the sentimentality that the Matou had visited for, or the Tohsaka had created the location to begin with. But it was within her to do so for the sake of one who no longer could, one that might have wanted to make sure at least that his final resting place was maintained.

So she had received directions from the Tohsaka girl and went to the remote town. She purchased a water pail, filled it in a nearby brook, and trekked out to the site to water the young trees planted there. It was a short, simple task, and one the homunculus had finished within five minutes of arriving.

Which…distressed the maid.

Though Sella was doing this in the name of another, though she had no personal attachment to the boy that had changed her master’s life around, the shortness and simplicity of the visit seemed to undermine the very purpose she had come for.

Thankfully, one further opportunity presented itself. She found it when examining the health of the vegetation, discovered the out-of-place carvings on the elder tree. A poem.

I am the diamond glints on the snow,

Sella had memorized the poem beforehand, a poem that the one buried here had evoked at Illyasviel’s funeral. Despite the fact that she was not in any way attached to the man this gravesite memorialized, the fact that these words were in the name of a girl born in the winter, who had met the one that made her happy in the winter, and had died in the winter…

It felt appropriate to contribute to its continuation in this way.

--

He had saved her from death, and she came to pay her respects.

It was one of the first things he had done, apparently, in pursuit of his dream. He had rescued her from the otherworldly, from the unusual. Magi that carried out experiments in pursuit of knowledge did terrible things, but so long as they did not disrupt the peace, those terrible things were excused. So she and a handful of others had suffered, and nobody was the wiser—

Except him, an aspiring hero.

She never had asked him how he found out, what had told him there were lives he could help. But he had come regardless to the secrecy.

Time had since passed, and she had been returned to the realities of normal life, but she had never forgotten. She sent him letters of thanks every year at New Years, hoping he would also know that his actions had meant something, somewhere, even if he himself forgot about them.

When the return letter came that he had passed on, she had sent another letter to his family, inquiring his final resting place. She visited at the turn of the next year, delivered the letter she always wrote herself. When placing that letter, she noticed the tree, and the poem, and used her house keys to carve in a line.

I am the sun on ripened grain,

She returned every year for many years, giving him letters as she always had before.

--

He was the supposed savior of the noble house El-Melloi, a renowned lecturer at the Clock Tower, and a survivor of the Fourth Holy Grail War. He, too, was not the most sentimental of people, nor did he feel exactly obliged to come. But he did, for a myriad of reasons. He was Waver Velvet.

Though a teacher of magi, he had not taught the one buried there. Though a participant in a war, he had not fought the one buried there. He had only met the deceased once, and they had little enough to interact over—their situation one of life and death.

To destroy the Greater Grail.

Nominally, Waver had been there to counter those that would misuse the system and taint the world with the evil it housed. Personally, Waver could not help but be glad that there were other magi out there unwilling to sacrifice lives in the pursuit of knowledge and power. For Waver, sudden leaps in advancement were no trade for hundreds or thousands of lives—not when, eventually, a person could get to the same results through hard work and determination.

The fact that this Shirou Emiya was a magi that worked hard rather than a talented prodigy did not go unnoticed, nor the fact that the magi was close to Waver’s best student.

“Although she expressed it differently, Rin Tohsaka sends her regards,” Waver said.

They were the only words he felt he had to voice, and he understood them to be empty anyway. If the deceased was like any other human, he would be reborn into the cycle of life and death that ruled over the world. If not, if he had somehow accomplished his impossible goal, he would reside elsewhere, far beyond the reaches of any but true magic to reach.

Still, Waver accepted that there was magic beyond the spellwork he had dedicated his life to. It was, after all, the words and presence of another that had turned his life around.

That though ran parallel to the desire he had to visit the grave. If Shirou Emiya aspired to heroism, he was born in the wrong era. It was an impossible desire, but one he had apparently pursued to his dying breath.

He was remarkable, in his own way.

A poem marked the nearest tree, in place of a missing epitaph marking the headstone itself. It was something Waver had read in the mundane schooling he had received prior to entering the Clock Tower, and after a bit of pondering he could recall what was still unwritten.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

It was a sad thing, really. No storybooks would speak of him, no civilizations would sing him praise. But perhaps, the determination that had made up a magus capable of winning the Holy Grail War paved the way for something else. If one could no longer reach the throne where heroes resided by heroism and praise alone…

If success as a magi could be made by hard work…

Waver contemplated these things to himself, wondering where they would take him, wondering where, if anywhere, they had taken the boy with aspirations beyond anything Waver could comprehend.

--

The locals believed them a simple family of tourists, visiting the remote Japanese farmlands, an infrequent but not otherwise unusual situation. The town was on a thoroughfare between major cities and remote temples that were a common locale for foreigners, and the occasional family or tour group would stop by the community and take a look around. So when a group of five—a couple and their pre-adolescent children—came bearing Japanese translation dictionaries and speaking in broken phonetic speech, it was nothing to pay much attention to.

It was a little strange of them, though, to step outside the beaten path and wander out into the hills.

There, the family found it, a single headstone atop a hill, beneath a tree. The grave had a name they could not read but had looked up and copied to serve their needs. The parents of the family had taken a long while to investigate the name of the one that had saved them, had gone through the same processes one might in searching for lost ancestral records or an adopted child might search for biological family.

He had saved them from captivity, from execution. In the Mediterranean, pirates had taken them hostage to ransom their government. Yet somehow, the seven armed men that had captured the family yacht had all been killed or driven off. Not by the French military of their home, nor UN forces: but by a young man in black and red. One minute they were kept in the sleeping quarters of the boat, the next they were looking upon this savior as he unbolted the door and released them in time to see the sunrise of their fifth day away from port. He had said little to them—unable to communicate beyond hand signs and a bit of broken English—but they were able to at least learn a foreign name that they insisted he write down. They wanted to look him up and someday, with words he could understand, thank him.

They found he had died some years later. His hometown temple kept his death records, though he had been buried far away from home, for reasons the family could not find.

Still, it was enough to go from. They tracked down his final resting spot, came to offer flowers to the grave.

And found an unfinished poem carved into the nearby tree.

Bored and with the excess energy of youth cramped up in a car for too long, the children took direction from their parents and carved new words into the tree with broken twigs they could scrounge up from the surround.

When you awaken in the morning's hush

“Thank you for saving us,” said the eldest, a boy not yet ten. He said the words with the sincerity of a child, though he clearly could not quite comprehend the severity of the situation since he could only vaguely recall what had occurred.

But his mother put arms around the boy’s shoulders, while the father ran a hand through his son’s hair. They knew, and it was enough.

--

Taiga Fujimura was not one to dwell over the past, and she had not even visited Kiritsugu Emiya’s grave after his death. But this was a special occasion, and she wanted to share it at the least.

“You should meet your uncle, at least once,” she said.

The baby in her arms, a little boy with a tuft of hair resembling a tiny Mohawk, merely yawned in response.

Taiga grinned at the child, then down at the headstone. “Yep. Meet my little one. He’s six months old.” The woman turned her child around in her arms, as if to hold him out for another person to take. “Say hi!”

Of course, the stone said nothing, and the baby said nothing in return. It did kick a foot once, flinging a loose booty up over the grave like it were a soccer goalie.

“Aww, why’d you do that?” Taiga returned the child to a more comfortable spot at her breast, grinned sheepishly down at the grave. “He’s real energetic. I think we’re quite a match.” She thought for a moment, then nodded to herself. “You’re probably wondering who the daddy is, but I have a confession to make. I’m still not married.” She stuck her chin out, as if he would somehow object from the beyond. “No, no, it wasn’t out of wedlock or anything. See, I guess Kiritsugu always did inspire me when he took you in. I’ve always admired that about him, and he did a good job raising you. So, I thought, why not me too?” If she did not have an armful of infant, she would have taken up a superhero pose. “I’ve got plenty of practice for when this one is older, at least.”

She circled around the gravestone to pick up the discarded footwear. At least it would not be too dirty—though out in the middle of nowhere, the hill Shirou was buried at seemed to be well-maintained. After talking to the people in town, Taiga had found out that some of the locals deemed it necessary to keep the place looking nice, despite the fact that nobody had personally known Shirou.

“Anyway, I thought I’d come up here, let you see him. I brought a packed lunch—sorry that you can’t have any.” Taiga had set her things up against the tree, and when she went to retrieve the bag she had brought with the food, she noticed the carvings. “Hey. I know that one…how does it go?”

She mulled over the words as she settled in for her meal, her little boy lulling about next to her, napping like he was related to his mother by blood. When the new mother finished the first of the sandwiches she had brought, she sought out something to carve with as well.

She thought it was something like: I am the swift uplifting rush…

--

“Thank you for watching over our professor.”

There were three of them. Young men, students of the Clock Tower. Students of a new lecturer there. Students that looked up to the woman from faraway Japan.

They came because of the whispered rumors. Rin Tohsaka had apparently known a magus killer. He was said to have gone against the teachings of the Clock Tower, to regard magecraft as merely a means to an end. This heresy supposedly cost him his life defending simple farmers in a backwater country.

Like their beloved teacher, however, these three were determined to live their life by their own rules. The one buried here was only a source of inspiration to that.

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

They wrote out the next line in silence, wondering at the timing of their entry. Though no birds flew here—the fall weather had sent many southward—they themselves hoped to some day take flight as magi of a different sort.

--

“You carried many sins on your shoulders. More than any one man should have tried to bear. For that, you are foolish…but the Lord does watch over fools, too.”

Caren Ortensia came to pay her respects. She would have visited earlier, had the magi of Fuyuki been more forthcoming. It had taken more time than it was probably worth to wheedle out a confirmation of Shirou Emiya’s death, and more time still to be told where his grave rested. The Tohsaka and Matou girls seemed to believe Caren might do something improper with that knowledge.

For the work he had done, helping the Church behind the scenes on the occasional exorcism or mage-hunt, Caren had considered moving his grave to the proper cemetery. But, as he had professed no interest in truly joining the order, nor had he seemed to consider giving up his secular stance, it was, in the end, something she gave up on.

She allowed instead for the thought that this small little monument to his life, one dedicated to service, was at least somewhat fitting.

She did, decide, that it was certainly the will of something he probably did not believe in that brought her to his grave when the next line of his tribute poem should be written.

I am the soft starlight at night.

For, at the very least, she was one who believed in the existence of a promised destiny, of the Lord’s promise to Abraham: descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.

And she was certainly one of the few who knew that he carried with him a light that few other people in this world even hoped to aspire for.

--

It was a mere rumor, a short little story she had found online, that led her here.

As a student pursuing a journalism degree, Gwen had basked in the challenge. It was a curiosity that often came back to her time and again, a mystery that perhaps had driven her into the career that she now pursued.

Gwen’s mother would not have lived to bear children had it not been for a stranger. A devout Christian, her mother had been tripping through Israel on a religious pilgrimage of sorts. Despite the rising tensions in the region. Despite the frequent fighting in nearby Gaza. Despite the suicide attacks that were almost a daily sign. It was important to her mother, so she had gone.

The freedom fighters, terrorists, soldiers, fundamentalists—whatever you wanted to call them—had targeted a bus her mother was on. The bomber had charged where the vehicle had stopped to let passengers off for lunch, and it was clear people would have died. Gwen’s mother had said it was a cold sort of resignation, knowing you were going to die, and that the locals were all so desensitized to the situation, hardly anyone flinched.

Their savior had been a man in black, a man with stark white hair in contrast to his choice of clothing. Though he was most apparently the one responsible, Gwen’s mother still to this day had a hard time explaining what the man had done exactly. “It was surreal, really. You’re so convinced that you’re going to die, what happens is like out of a dream. You know what happens when you’re there, but recalling it is too confused by everything else you think of. The fear of never going home, of not saying goodbye to your mother, your brothers, or arguing with your father again. I can remember the feeling…a sort of shiver that locks up everything. I can remember a sense of light—but I don’t even know if that’s real, or just picked up from all those people that say you see life flashing before your eyes before you die.”

When the dust had cleared, the man had not made it to his destination beside the vehicle, instead exploding in the middle of the street. It hurt sensitive ears and rattled bus and building, but no casualties came from it besides the attacker himself.

“Still,” Gwen’s mother had said, “that man had seemed so sad, even for the terrorist.”

The man had not given his name, not spoken a word. With the danger clear, he had simply left when nobody was looking, though his appearance had apparently stayed with Gwen’s mother.

The story had always fascinated Gwen, sometimes keeping her awake at night.

Ever since she had a computer of her own, she had wandered the internet looking for stories that might fit this mysterious Samaritan. She would idly wander sites dedicated to stories of hostage takers and negotiators, firefighters and policemen. She would bookmark a few, follow up with questions if she could find an eyewitness, and move on when it turned out to be something or someone else. For years she did this, not truly obsessed with the idea, as each story she investigated was interesting itself. It became habit, though, and certainly it made her proficient at her intended job.

The story itself was a mere footnote. It was tied to how folk tales began, how real stories evolved into local myths and legends, how in certain superstitious cultures things might be exaggerated toward the supernatural. Gwen always paid a little more attention to Asian-based stories, since her mother had said the man had appeared a lot more Eastern in looks.

Local myths in Japan. “Town protected by a god of storms” was the title of the anecdote. Evil spirits that started a forest fire cleansed by a man who could bring a rainstorm. It was something that probably started with children of the village making up tales, or parents trying to give their kids some kind of bedtime story that explained everything. The strange part that led Gwen to the story, however, mentioned a gravesite now standing where the fire had ended, and the way the children apparently described their hero:

A man who wore black, had white hair, and carried light with him.

It had taken a while, but she had searched down the source of the myth, had ventured to the village while on a vacation between school semesters. She came for many other reasons, not just to visit this site of supposed battle, but she did plan to look into it.

The gravesite was secluded and small, out in the middle of nowhere. Trees flanked the headstone, blooming red, white, and green all around. With the clear blue sky beyond, it was definitely a pleasant sight even amidst a country of pleasant sights.

“I don’t know if you’re the one that saved my mother,” Gwen said when she regarded the grave: a simple gray slab with nothing but a foreign name on it. “But if you are…then thank you. Because I’m alive now, and I’d like to think that’s a good thing.”

Since it had been a bit of a lengthy hike, and she had time before she had to catch a ride back into the city for the rest of her trip, she lounged about the site for a little while, eventually noticing the poem carved out on the largest tree. She did not recognize it, but had brought along the convenience of modern-day technology to aid her in a search.

“If you are him, and this poem is about you, well, I’d hope you’ll somehow find out that I won’t, at least. I’ve got too much to look forward to.”

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

--

It took some doing and the passage of many years, but Rin was finally convinced to return.

No words from Sakura had ever managed to convince her, nor the words of those that had known him in life. But eventually, in the years that had followed, it had been at the urging of those that had not known him—her husband, her children, students that she taught in London—that finally dragged the promise out of her. It had been years, they said, and she was a different person now: why not go back, say things left unsaid, face the darker days of her youth with a different expression?

Sakura arranged for the both of them to take their families and meet there, and though Rin had once or twice attempted to dodge the commitment, Sakura had used the one thing that always guilt a response from the elder sister: “We’ve already bought the train tickets, so unless you want us to waste all that money…”

So Rin was coerced and convinced, though she grumbled the entire way. It did not help that gathering up the family was also a pain in the neck: what would take two adult women a few minutes took them a good hour with their offspring behaving as children did. It also did not help that Rin’s children seemed to take great delight in making their mother fume—the witch sometimes thought that if Shirou had been reincarnated, he’d done so into one of her kids, since nobody else had ever frustrated her so.

One long train ride followed by a short bus ride made for antsy kids, and by the time they were setting out of the nearby town to their destination, the energy could no longer be denied and all those under the age of twelve were running off ahead. Whereas Rin and Sakura took their time and spent a good hour trekking to the site, the children probably could have made three laps to and from the village.

What they found was a little unexpected.

It was not the site itself that surprised them. The trees Sakura had planted were growing full, though they still were dwarfed by the old survivor, the canopy of the larger tree eclipsing even the shadows of the smaller ones. The grave itself was still as plain as Rin had made it, and the ground was green with grass up to their ankles. Taiga had told them of how the poem Rin had started was slowly being filled in—by who, they didn’t know—but even that was not something to startle them with.

By the time they reached the hill, their kids were playing alongside a group of local children, all of them battling away with sticks or chasing each other around in a game of tag.

The oldest of the locals, a boy that had clearly yet to reach full adolescence, stopped in front of the women and bowed. “Uh, we’re not doing anything wrong, promise.”

Rin, the natural teacher and parent that she was, immediately caught on. “Then why apologize? We’re just here for a visit.”

“Er…”

Sakura hid a laugh behind her hand. “We’re not here to check up on you. Just visiting the grave.”

“Huh.” The boy eagerly went for the more amiable of the two adults, trying to ignore the suspicious look the one in red was still giving him. “You know the person buried here?”

“Not really,” Rin said, before Sakura could reply. “Why, do you?”

“No.” The boy looked baffled, his eyebrows converging out from beneath the fringes of his hair. “Then, you’re hear cause of the legend?”

Sakura asked, “What legend?”

The boy seemed to recant on his eagerness for the nicer of the two women, giving her a well duh look that only kids could manage perfectly. “The legend. You know, about the god that rescued our town, and how he could only do so by becoming mortal, but because he became mortal, he died. The legend.”

Rin and Sakura were silent at that, staring at the boy like he had grown a second head. Their children, who had gathered around to hear this all, grew once more bored with their parents. Rin’s son and Sakura’s youngest daughter decided to interrogate the other children for more information, while Rin’s daughter and the rest of Sakura’s troop decided they would join in on tag.

The boy watched the women, wary of what he was going to get in response.

“Well, I guess it works,” Rin said, finally. She crossed her arms and for a moment looked as surly as her mentor. “If he was gonna do everything wrong in life, might as well be wrong with what he leaves behind too.”

A fake legend. If one could not make a true legend in the modern era…

“So, do you know who finished the poem carvings?” Sakura asked the boy.

He looked confused again, followed where she pointed to the tree. “Is that what that is?”

“Yes.”

“People come here, like you. Cause of the legend. Maybe them.” He looked at the carvings, then motioned to the last line. “Ahh, that’s new I think. It wasn’t here last week when we were up here.” He glanced up, hopefully, at the adults. “Do you know what it says?”

Sakura smiled. She looked to her sister, but Rin was looking up and away, her thoughts wandering off into the distance. If Sakura had to guess, probably to the day she had last been at this very spot.

Thankfully, the expression Rin wore was not one of sadness, anger, or regret. It was not exactly a happy look, though—more contemplative.

That was fine, though, as Sakura could be the one to smile. She nodded to the boy. “Yeah.”

I am not there; I did not die.



End



Poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye.

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:31 AM
Name: Twisted/Bended
Author: Anon

This is a story about a man and a woman.
The man tried to love a woman.
The woman loved the man.

There wasn't anything special in the way they met.

It was a simple meeting between a priest and a believer. He heard the woman's confession and gave her, her penitence. She told the priest all of her sins, as few as they were, and followed his intructions. After that he stood there. After that she just left. For him the meeting was unremarkable. For her the meeting was forgettable. And yet it was the first time they met.

After a week or so, the woman returned to the church. The priest welcomed her. He asked her what could he help her. The woman answered that she just wanted to talk with him. The priest nodded and invited her into a room inside. In there the priest and the woman talked about various themes. Religion, way of life, illness, the way of God. The priest never questioned her. The woman never explained herself.

Satisfied, the woman excused herself. The priest watched her go.

That was their second meeting. It wasn't anymore special for the priest, but for the woman it was memorable.

The third time they met it was in a hospital.

The priest was called to give the last rites to a dying patient. It was a job that he enjoyed, but he never showed it. It was something wrong with him that lead to his enjoyment. He was 'twisted' as he enjoyed the suffering of others. Seeing the family's body language when they realized that the situation was hopeless was the moment he waited for.

The woman was there for a regular check up. She had a fatal disease. She had lost her right eye thanks to it. A medical patch now covered her eye. It was a natural progression of her illness and she had resigned to it.

The two of them met at the entrance of the hospital, the priest was stopped by the woman's yell. He was surprised at seeing her condition. The woman just smiled at him. The two of them walked out of the hospital. The woman joked about how meeting like that was fate. The man just stared at her. The woman laughed. With no common way to go home, both went the opposite way.

The meeting was special for the man, as he had found another person who suffered.

The meeting was special for the woman, as she had found something to cling to.

Their fourth meeting was special. The man was in his church when the woman found him. The man welcomed her. He asked politely why she had come. The woman answered that she wanted to see him again. The man then offered his services as a priest. But the woman said that she had not visited the priest, but the man.

The man was perplexed. Why would someone want to meet him? His curiosity was piqued. And so the man, not the priest, decided to acceded to the woman's demand.
The man and the woman talked about non-important things. The woman was always smiling. The man simply followed her conversation. An hour or so later, the man stopped talking. It was not because he did not wish to continue, but he had duties to perform as a clergyman. The woman understood and nodded. The two said their farewells and the woman left the church.

The man finally felt something. It was interest. Every human wishes to love someone, have a family and die peacefully. That he knew. He held no such wish but the woman was attracted to him. He had known this after this meeting. Perhaps, he could give himself another try, another shot for what many call happiness.

The woman was interested in the man. She had made no attempt to hide it. She was sure the man had picked on it. But, she wondered, why was she interested on the man. Was it his body? She would admit that he was good looking, but that wasn't it. Perhaps it was his behavior? No, he was cold and distant, always focused in his duty. Was it his eyes filled with anguish and despair? ...Perhaps it was that.

Their fifth meeting was a short but important one.

He was leaving the hospital.

She was entering the place.

It was a short conversation of no more than a minute. But the woman had proposed to meet later. A date she had said. The man accepted with his usual polite demeanor. The woman had smiled and left. The man looked at her walk away and he went to the place ha was asked to be.

And so came their first date.

It wasn't as romantic as a normal first date always is. There was no nervousness, no awkwardness on both parts. The man was as serious as he always was. The woman was as happy as she always was. The two of them just walked without destination, arms crossed together.

The man tried to imitate what he knew about what other people did in their dates. It wasn't awkward for him, it was just something he did mechanically. He did not get any joy out of doing it.

The woman was happy. Even though the man was not showing it, he was struggling to do what another couple did. That fact made her happy.

And so the night passed and the couple knew that they had to leave the other. The man decided to accompany the woman to her house. The woman tried to dissuade the man, but she couldn't do it. Sighing, the woman lead the way toward her house.

As they arrived, the man noticed that she lived in a small department. The woman then explained that she was living alone. She had been alone for a while, since her parents had died and she did not know if she had another familiar.

The man saw the gaze of sadness on the woman. It was momentary of course, but he still saw it. And he took joy out of it.
The woman bid him a good night with a kiss on the lips and then she then ran toward her home. The man stood there perplexed. Had he felt joy out of the kiss or was it the lingering feeling of her suffering? He could not answer the question and so he returned to his church.

After that the woman visited more regularly the church and the man received her.

There were times that the two of them talked about philosophical things.

There were times that they talked about the small things.

And there were times that they just enjoyed each other company.

For the man it was a new experience. Every time he saw her, he could see a glint in her eyes. He could not place that emotion of hers, but he clung to it. It was his last hope.

For the woman it was an exciting experience. Every time they saw each other, she could feel that the man acted different towards her. His eyes, previously filled with despair, now shone with a hint of hope on them.

And so the two of them continued like that for some months.

And then, the man did something unexpected.

He proposed to the woman.

It was his last chance. Perhaps she was what he was seeking all his life. A person that had tried to help him.

It was the happiest moment of her life. She had given up on the average happiness of a normal woman. Her body was frail, and everyday she was thiner.

The woman accepted crying.

The man found himself smiling. But he did not understand. Was he smiling because the woman had accepted? Or was he happy because of the suffering she would feel.

Their wedding was a quiet affair. The woman had no family. The man only had his father, which was the one who celebrated the wedding. The father congratulated the man.

It was a simple honeymoon too. It was something that would have been romantic for many others, but for the man was simply something he did not understand.

And so the man and the woman made love.

It wasn't something special for the man. He did not see the point to it. And yet he did so, for his borrowed dream required him to do so.

It was the most special night for the woman. She had never been caressed or touched like that. She had never dream of being able to be intimate with someone she loved.

After that their routine changed.

The woman started to sleep in the same bed that the man did. The woman made his food and helped him to take care of the church. She did so to repay his kindness.

The man accepted the woman's actions. It made him see her struggle with her weakened body. It was an enjoyable sight.

And so their life went on.

Until one day, the man confessed to her his distortion. He could only be happy by seeing someone else suffer. He had tried many things, but that was how he found happiness. He had done so with no regrets expecting for the woman to leave. Why had he had done so, he did not know. Perhaps it was regret over lying to her? Or perhaps he just wanted to see her face filled with despair?

But the woman accepted him with his distortion. She had knew he had something wrong with him, from a long time ago, she confessed. And she had still accepted him. The woman then said that she had selfishly tried to help him, as if it was not known for the priest.

The man nodded and the woman hugged him. The woman did not saw the disappointed face on the man. Why, he asked himself, had the woman not broken?

And so their life continued.

Until one day the woman grew weaker. She passed out while she was helping the man to clean the church. The man took her to the hospital as quick as he was able to.

It had been a long time since the woman had visited the place, the man realized. He waited for the doctor to tell him what had happened. The doctor congratulated the man as he announced that the woman was pregnant. The man accepted the congratulations and he felt happy. There was doubt in his heart as he wondered why he was happy. He had finally been blessed with a family. So there was no reason to feel like that.

And so the man and the woman's routine changed. The man looked out for the woman as the woman grew weaker. It was to be expected. She was already sick and now she wasn't living for herself anymore.

With nothing important happening, nine months passed by.

It was the happiest moment for the woman. The happiness that she had thought was denied of her had finally come true. A loving man and a beautiful child.

For the man it was something that caused him despair. He had finally made his wish come true. So why did he still feel that emptiness on his body. Was he truly twisted with no way to be straightened out?

And so the few months on their life together came to be.

After giving birth to their child, the woman was bedridden. She was weaker than before. It was no surprise, as she had given up on her life. She had finally realized what had been forbidden to her.

The man took care of the woman and the child. Those where months where the man suffered the most. He was tormented by his conscience and his way of life. Why had he been born? There was never any goodness in him, only a twisted self that wished for everyone's suffering.

And then all it came to an end.

The man had decided that he did not deserve to keep on living. He had no right to live.

However before taking his life, he had one duty to do before.

The man entered the woman's room, a ghost of her former self that still radiated happiness, and spoke the terrifying truth.

“I could not love you.”

The woman smiled. In one of her hands was a knife, She held it with quite difficulty since most of her strength had already left her.

“No, you loved me.”

And with the few strength she could muster, the knife went to her neck and cut.

And she took her life with a smile on her face.

The man decided to not stop her. Her life was barely a life anymore.

“See, you're crying.”

Those were the woman's last words. But the man was not crying, nor he would mourn her.

And with this, the man would break away from the teachings of the God, the responsibilities of being a father and his will to live.

In the end, the woman loved Kotomine Kirei and Kotomine Kirei tried to love the woman.

That's all there is to this story.

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:31 AM
Name: Ash and Snow
Author: Anon

-------------------------------------------------------------------

The sweet vision of the Holy Grail
Drove me from all vainglories, rivalries,
And earthly heats that spring and sparkle out
Among us in the jousts, while women watch
Who wins, who falls; and waste the spiritual strength
Within us, better offered up to Heaven.

-------------------------------------------------------------------


*****

“I will no longer be human. I will be a force that kills everyone to protect everyone. Yes……from the very beginning…I was prepared to become a king.”


Her eyes snapped open. For a moment she wondered where she was, until she once more recognized the snowy landscape. A world full of snow. The once great city was now in ruins, the skyscrapers nothing more than empty hulls and skeletons of once living creatures. The sky had been blotted out by grey clouds, and everything seemed to be of monochrome colors.

In other words, hell.

A flake of ash landed on her nose, and she wiped it off with a slow movement. Her right hand was gripping the blue handle of Excalibur, so tightly that she feared her knuckles were bleeding. As she gazed to the sky above her, she saw how the raining ash seemed to have no end. But there was a logical reason. After all, the Holy Grail which she and the other woman fought for so desperately, hating and despising each other…

…….It’s physical form was destroyed. Turned to ash.

In a single instant, the destroyed grail covered this empty world with clouds of raining ash.

“…………It is like the aftermath of Camlann.”

So muttered the King of Britons, Altria Pendragon. She was the only thing with color, blue and silver, in this endless city of snow and ash. The same kind of desolate landscape now appeared in two of her last moments. The one during her life, the one during this fight for the Holy Grail. Her life, one battle after another, had led only to moments like this.

“Once, long time ago, I was so close……so why cannot I…remember?” Altria uttered to herself, a pained expression on her beautiful face.

An oath she had made so long ago. Lying there, in the shadow of a beautiful tree, she stared up towards

the skies. The long journey she was not able to finish. Shameful ending, one unbefitting her beautiful country. She had become a perfect king, but that was all for naught.

But why…?

Why did not his eyes blame her? The one knight that had stayed behind with her, the one who watched her till the very end. Why did even he refuse to blame her for her actions?

“Oh, Bedivere………such kindness, even to the death.”

And what her death granted her was another chance. A chance to redeem herself.

Yes. Long ago, for sure, she was already reaching out for the Holy Grail. And not only that……she remembered many things. She remembered war that was more akin to a tragedy. She remembered powerful men, ridiculing her way of a king. She remembered a black-haired man, cold and distant. She remembered a white-haired woman, kinder than anyone else. She remembered many people who, one-by-one, died in shame and regret, with no one but her to remember their rage-filled faces as they succumbed in defeat. She remembered…….him. The one she never blamed, yet who was consumed by mad rage.

She remembered herself succumbing to that same rage, in her final moments. The Holy Grail, the reason why she had endured all those pointless deaths and humiliations was within arm’s reach, and yet there was that single obstacle, that thrice-cursed man who she could not defeat, that bastard of a---!!

Altria flinched at the thoughts of anger which invaded her mind. So much time had passed, yet she still felt all that.

But there was more……

She remembered how she was, once more, summoned. She remembered him, a boy as kind as the white-haired woman. One whose warmth was enough to even melt her heart. She remembered pledging her sword to him and fighting with him, until……everything…

……..Was taken away from her once more.

Black rage. Anger unlike any other. Once more she succumbed to the hellish flame inside her, unable to fight back. That tale too…

Ended in a tragedy.

He stood there, dagger in hand, above her. Tears in his eyes, he brought down that dagger. And she remembered how she simply stared at him with cold, hate-filled eyes.

If there was one regret Altria Pendragon had, it was how she could not cry at that moment. She would have given everything she had in order to go back to that moment, to cry during that moment.
--------- She could only shed tears of bitterness afterwards.

But now, after so long time, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t remember the details. She couldn’t even remember the names.

…….If only she could remember the boy’s name.

“…..!!”

Her thoughts were stopped by the sound of a blade swung through the air. Altria’s sixth sense warned her, and she dodged the blade by only few millimeters by ducking under it. The beautiful silver sword quickly recovered from the miss and advanced again into another attack. But this time, Excalibur was there to meet it.

And as the sparks illuminated the ash-filled air, the two knights finally looked each other in the eyes.

Jade met sapphire.

“…..Ruler…!!” Altria growled, seeing the woman who had attacked her. It was not as if there was anyone else anymore who could attack her.
------ But the mere sight of this woman made Altria feel deep anger.

“Saber----“ Ruler answered with her own determination as they separated their blades.

Excalibur and La Pucelle danced across the sky.

When they met again, the shockwave sent the snow from the ground to the air. It mingled with the ash, creating ethereal fairies of the apocalypse who danced to the rhythm of steel hitting steel. Two holy swords creating a web of death in the already dead air.

Altria slashed horizontally, trying to cleave her opponent in half, but the latter jumped over it and brought her longer, yet more graceful, sword down in a powerful cleaving strike. Altria dodged to the side like a dancer and tried to strike with that momentum, utilizing her sword like a sickle. But the opponent simply ducked forward, rolled over and rose up in yet another sword strike, ready to skewer Altria.

It was a fight of equal forces, neither which could defeat the other.

How many days this fight had raged, no one knew. It was simply the endless repetition of what had already happened, over and over again. The swords met each other and filled the void of sounds with their voices. It was as if the world itself had decided to replay this war infinitely, as there was nothing else that as there was nothing else that prevented the stagnation of the world.

They were the only living force in this world anymore.

Excalibur was momentarily overpowered and pushed to the ground, and the other knight attacked with her knee. It hit Altria straight to the shoulder, almost dislocating it. She responded by moving to the momentum of the attack, spinning around and bringing her sword around like it had been a mace. The sword hit her opponent to the back, but the armor was enough to block it. Still, the force of the attack threw the opponent forward like a ragdoll, and Altria followed after her, intending to finish the fight.

But as her opponent rose immediately after hitting the ground, Altria was forced to reconsider her plans.
----------- To one of pure-force attack.

“Strike……Air!!!”
Her shout pierced the air, and in that moment, typhoon of wind was released.

It hit the purple and silver knight straight to her chest and sent her flying with ever-increasing force. With a thunderous sound that shook the snow, she hit the skyscraper behind her, leaving a crater in its surface. Altria, seeing that, picked up her speed and followed.

Her foot was placed on the vertical surface…
…..And moments later, Altria ran up the wall of the skyscraper, after her enemy.

The King of Knights poured her magical energy into her steps and became a blinding flash that rose ever upwards. In her wake, the wind broke the hundreds and hundreds of windows of the skyscraper, bringing down a of crystallized glass. The shards intermingled with the falling ash, creating a show of light and shadows that, for a moment, illuminated the whole field of snow far, far beneath them.

Seeing her opponent approach, the knight in purple moved upwards on her own, running up the wall in a manner similar to Altria. This time it was the King of Knights who had to endure the rain of glass as she braved forward, in order to catch the one enemy she could not accept.

“I am a king……I am no longer human……After I gave away so much, after I gave away everything, there is no other Heroic Spirit more fit for Holy Grail than I am--!!” Altria yelled as she released the rest of wind covering Excalibur.

----------- Then, why?
Why did this one enemy have eyes that reflected Altria’s own?
Why did her determined, pained face tell of sacrifices of equal value? Why did this enemy’s sword swing with strength equal to her, with unwavering force equal to her? Why would she not fall? Why was this equilibrium unbreakable?

Why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why----------

“Why won’t you surrender already!?!? The grail is mine!!!” Altria roared, announcing her hatred to her enemy.

---------------------------------------- The King roared her anger.
Yet……
The girl once known as Altria felt something else.

The released galeforce cleared the path up to the knight in purple, destroying the windows and the surface of the wall in process. Altria utilized that path of wind to catch up with her enemy, her yell still echoing in the empty world. Excalibur drew a fiery line of sparks along the wall as Altria swung it with power, trying to cleave the opponent in half. Her back turned to the King of Knights, this enemy should have had no chance at all.

And yet, she anticipated the attack. It was like watching a miracle being born.
The enemy turned around spun around as she approached Altria, lowering herself so that the sword passed overhead.

“----Ah!?” Altria managed to simply let out a sound of surprise.

Her enemy dodged Excalibur so close that one could not have even wedged a sheet of paper between the girl and the blade. The sapphire eyes were locked into Altria as the enemy dived closer, her sword prepared in her lithe hands. And as Excalibur had passed, the other knight began to rise.
------------ Then time seemed to grind to a halt.
La Pucelle was swung. Having dodged the sword, the purple knight’s face was only a few centimeters away from Altria’s, and in that moment that stretched to a small eternity, the two girls stared at each other. They reflected their own faces from the eyes of their enemy in complete silence, amidst the glass shards that were like fireflies of that desolate world.

“The question is……why will you not surrender?” the purple knight spoke. “After these countless eons, on this final chance, I finally give in to my selfishness…….and yet you appear, to prevent me from saving everyone!!!”

The final words were spoken with hatred that matched Altria’s.

And…

--------------------------------------------------------- La Pucelle connected with Altria’s chest.

The King of Knights was flung back towards the ground from over 400 meters. She became a blue comet that plummeted towards the ground with ever-increasing velocity. Seeing that her enemy had momentarily been delayed, the knight in purple climbed into the skyscraper through one of the broken windows to catch her breath.

Altria on the other hand…

“……aaaaaaAAAAAAAAA!!!”

Roared, as if with that sounds she could have denied her rival’s existence.

In order to gain utopia, she had given up everything.
-------- She became a king.
So should it not be her who had the most right to set things right?

Should it not be her to whom the Grail belongs to!?



*****

“I would rather die than do something which I know to be a sin, or to be against God's will.”



Jeanne d’Arc heaved heavily as she pushed herself to the horizontal surface inside the skyscraper. Even though her reserves of magical energy were vast, such leaps up the skyscraper were taxing. Now she was catching her breath, trying to calm herself down before yet another encounter with her enemy, the knight in blue.

“……Lord…why, in my final battle, the only battle in which I yearn for something for myself, I am denied it…? Is it not a worthy cause to prevent what happened back then, so many years ago…?”
------------ Jeanne’s hands were positioned in a prayer, and her gaze was directed to the cloud-filled skies.

But, in this empty, white and grey world, even Jeanne had begun to feel that…
…Her prayers fell to the deaf ears.

The world has long since ended, and nothing but the shadow of a life that once was remains. Only the two of them, living as an echo to the war and calamity that, in the end, destroyed the planet. It would have been ironic if it had not been so sad.

Jeanne felt pain even when she thought about the untold innocent lives that were lost.

A flake of ash landed on her forehead, and Jeanne gazed up. Now that she had a chance to breathe in the midst of this long overdue battle, she once again saw the familiar scenery. The ash that kept falling from the physical form of the destroyed grail, mixing with the snow.
--------- Yes, that ash was like the back then, on that final day.

She had felt the flames and the heat. She had held her head high, proud of what she did. Not once did she curse or hate the ones that executed her. It was simply the human nature. They were the creation of the Lord, and thus, what they did was forgivable. Jeanne had only felt sadness, for she could not finish what she had been tasked with by God.
And………

“Jeanne! Jeanne! Jeanne! Jeanneeeeeee!!!”
That pitiful, sorrowful cry that echoed in her mind as the flames ate away her body.

A single familiar, a crow as black as the soot around her, circled around the pyre. In its eyes, she saw the one who had been most loyal. The one who had been the kindest of them all, supporting her cause with all of his heart.
And now, he was forced to watch how she was executed. He could not even be there himself. Confined, he had sent his only familiar, that old crow, to see her for one last time.

“Jeanne! Jeanne!! Jeeeeaanneeeeeeeee!!!”

Such a sad howl, almost to the point of madness. The crow dove towards her, akin to an arm reaching out in desperation. Flames ate away the body of the bird, but it did not stop. Not even for a moment. A desperate attempt to save her, without any basis in reality.
---Organs burned.
---Skin burned.
---Flesh burned.
Black feathers were scattered across the fire, dancing in the heat of the air. Around her, a beautiful requiem was being performed by a friend descending into insanity. In her eyes, it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Jeanne, seeing that effort, managed to reward it with her tears, as if to reassure him that he had done all that was needed from him.
He had lamented her death. And that was enough.

“Oh, Gilles………such kindness, even to the death.”

Memories from beyond that time blurred into one long journey. A single figure standing as a guardian of wars fought for relics unified by a single name. She became a knight defending the greatest miracles humanity, the blessed fools, had managed to produce. Innumerable times, innumerable wars, innumerable victims, with not a single being capable of grasping that bright future ahead of them.

Was it mankind’s destiny, to never attain salvation?

Never once had she desired to attain that miracle herself. She had deemed it enough that she had done her part, whatever the outcome might have been. But as endless turned into infinity, she began to wonder. Wonder if she could, even once, be selfish.

Those thoughts she hid deep into her heart and readied herself to once more guard the miracle of humanity.

But even infinity is just a single concept. It will, some day, come to an end. That was where she stood right now. At the end of infinity. This last chance for mankind to attain their Holy Grail.
------------- It was here, right here, that she finally succumbed to her selfish wish.

At the end of the world.

The saint shed her innocence after her long, long journey. And she became a human, just a normal human, for the very last time. That was how she wanted to leave this world.

Not as someone who was seen as a pillar of faith.

But as the human she once was.

“……..”

The moment Jeanne heard the earth rumble outside, she gripped her sword, La Pucelle, tighter. She forced her tired body to rise up from the ground, to once more charge into the battle that had raged for longer than either combatant could remember. They had already destroyed the physical form of the grail with their war. Yet the miracle was still there.
----------- Buried here, at the end of humanity.

A blinding light was being emitted from outside the skyscraper. One that challenged the white of the snow with its brilliance. Jeanne hurried to the window, only to see something which she could scarcely believe. In the midst of the ruins, a tornado of wind had appeared, pushing aside both grey and white that governed the dead world.

She sprung into action, jumping outside. Jeanne’s magical power transformed into speed, and soon she was speeding once more towards the far-off top of the gigantic building. Gale rushed past her as she ran ever higher and higher, turning the windows into a waterfall of glass behind her. She became something akin to an angel, ascending to the heavens.

But even angels have been known to be brought down to the ground.

“---------------------!!!!”

There was not that much distance to the top anymore. Not even hundred meters. The land below seemed like a collection of miniatures, depicting a war-torn landscape.

Even that was not enough.

“EX---“

The blue knight roared aloud, along with her magical power.

“----CALIBUUUUUUUR!!!”

A cut of light filled the dead world, and for a moment, it took an appearance of the Pearly Gates. Slicing through the death of the earth itself, the holiest sword showed them both, for a moment, a memory of the living reality that once had been. But inside that light was nothing more than death, in the end. It sliced through the base of the building, destroying the lower pillars that kept the skyscraper standing.
-------- It was a well-placed attack. One that destroyed the one fortress Jeanne had put between her and the knight in blue.

“T-this is……!?” Jeanne gasped.

The skyscraper let out a moan of pain that echoed throughout the country. There was no one to hear it but these two, but they both knew the power of that sound. It was the sound of the tallest building this civilization had created, falling down.

Jeanne quickly switched her trajectory and started circling the body of the building, determined to get to the top-side so that she would not be crushed under the huge structure. The sky flew in her vision as she picked up her speed, running past a corner and another, finally ending up where she wanted.

……And where her enemy wanted.

The blue knight crashed through the glass window of the falling skyscraper. An amazing leap with a huge amount of magical power behind it had sent her rocketing to where Jeanne was. And now her enemy appeared in front of her, appearing from the window just ahead of her. Jeanne braced herself, swung La Pucelle forward and attacked.

The two swords clashed together. Excalibur was thrust forward almost immediately, but Jeanne redirected the power by sliding it to the side with the flat of her own sword. La Pucelle instantly went for a slash afterwards, but the blue knight dodged to the side and aimed a swing at her feet. Jeanne spun around in the air, utilizing the free-fall in which they were locked now, and avoided Excalibur. Her counter-attack caught her enemy off-balance, forcing the blue knight to retreat.

The skyscraper kept on falling, a movement which seemed to stretch into eternity. In truth, Jeanne and her opponent were moving with such incredible speeds that their sense of time was distorted. Together they exchanged strikes back and forth while moving around the surface of the building. Particularly intense one forced the two of them into a run, one which took the around the body of the skyscraper.

Swords screamed at each other in the language of steel and sparks. Ash falling from the sky was caught up in the whirlpool of wind that was created around the two, and it created a funnel cloud of grey and white above the two fighters. Their strength and power tore apart the air and the already weakened walls of the skyscraper, creating shockwave after shockwave across the sky.

Finally, the old building could not take it anymore. Jeanne felt how a crack appeared behind her, and she jumped backwards, not intending to fall with it. The blue knight retreated backwards instead, and so, a great chasm appeared between the two fighters. The crack widened and widened, until it came to the breaking-point and passed it.

The sound was like the spine of a god had been cracked.

The top-most section of the skyscraper was cut from the main body, and in the huge fall down below, it separated, beginning its own free-fall. Jeanne watched how the knight in blue stared after her as the piece of building distanced the two girls. Jeanne knew that if she let the blue knight go now, the fight would return to the starting point once more. She could not afford that. This eternity had gone on for long enough.

Without hesitation, Jeanne drove magical energy into her legs and leaped after her opponent.

“Ruler-------!!!” the knight yelled as she saw her approach. “Why...?! Give it up, already!! This is my last chance, the only chance I have left!! I will not lose here, not before I have made right what once went wrong!! I will not back down, I will not fall, I will not die……”

The blue knight’s expression was twisted by anger.

“So why do you insist on fighting, when you have no chance of winning!?”

Her anger, her desperation, was like a slap across Jeanne’s face.

“I will not give up.”

Jeanne landed, and the force of her entrance was enough to send the ruin of the skyscraper spinning around madly, nearly throwing the two of them into the air. Wind rushed all across the body of the building, with sky and earth switching places constantly. Yet, even in the middle of that chaos, Jeanne met the eyes of her opponent and rushed forward, La Pucelle ready to bring her victory.

“For this one last time…! For this one last moment! I will take back what I destroyed long ago! I will finally allow myself to feel like a human, and grasp that miracle I’ve been yearning for this whole eternity---!!” She yelled as their swords met again. “You say you cannot lose? Neither can I! No, I refuse to lose! I will right the wrong that was done that day, as my first and final act as a human----!!!”

Jeanne pushed forward, feeling anger welling up inside her. She could not accept this enemy. The one who claimed she had as much right to the Holy Grail as she herself. Jeanne had ignored innumerable miracles just to follow her nature as a saint. Never once had she acted for herself, but always for the sake of order and good. But now……..

------------ Now there was nothing more than this. This fight, and this miracle, were the last things to exist.

And Jeanne had decided that she wanted to return to being a human.

…What could the blue knight possibly have as her justification? Such arrogance. The mere thought that someone, in this final moment, appeared to deny her of her final and earnest wish, made Jeanne feel boiling hatred towards her opponent.

Should it not be her to whom the Grail belongs to!?

She would never accept her.

And the enemy would never accept Jeanne.

“Haaa----!!!”

Excalibur cut the air and was struck through the wall they were standing on. Immediately, the wall crumpled and opened a hole below the two combatants. Jeanne and the blue knight fell into the building, their bodies floating due to the free-fall. Around them, the hollow skin of the building kept spinning, becoming like a sturdy cage that was now around them.

“Time to end this….!” Jeanne murmured and spun backwards, placing her feet on to the inner wall and pushing off.

She was shot forward, towards her enemy, as though from a cannon.

Loud explosion cracked through the air. Both the blue knight and Jeanne exchanged strikes as they flew past each other. The moment they hit the walls on the opposite sides, they jumped again, being on a collision course with each other. Their speed picked up as they ricocheted inside the spinning, falling building. Both women became flashes of light and steel, avoiding the pillars that had once kept the skyscraper standing up.

La Pucelle and Excalibur hunted each other down, ramming against each other again and again. From down and below towards the skies, soaring like eagles in the spinning space that was now their battleground. Jeanne descended on the wall and started running, jumping to get some air and landed on one of the supporting pillars. She spun around the pillar, using the momentum the building had gathered to launch a counter-attack on the blue knight who approached with sub-sonic speeds. They collided together and were thrown across the empty air. But the knights landed on their feet and jumped forward again. Both followed a narrow path past the pillars, avoiding hitting them, and finally found each other.

Their swords hungered for blood and flesh. They tore the armors of their opponents in a flash of a moment that was enough for both Jeanne and her opponent to launch more than a dozen strikes.

Once again the knights hit the opposing walls and were thrown in to the air. The structure around them was spinning wildly, out of control, headed on a collision-course with the ground. Inside that whirling cage of anger, the two of them charging again and again, announcing their right to the Holy Grail.

Excalibur sliced through one of the supporting pillars in order to hit Jeanne, who was thrown backwards from the force of the sword attack. Her back hit another pillar and she spat blood, unable to contain a scream of anguish. The pillar broke her fall, but she broke the pillar in turn. Subduing her pain, she spun around and got into the free-fall again, deflecting blindly against the next attack that came with La Pucelle.

The swords hit together and created a loud shockwave that shook the falling building. Like a house of bricks it crumbled from the middle, exposing the two of them to fresh air once more. Wind howled in their ears as Jeanne and the blue knight landed on their respective parts of falling debris.

The ground was not far away now. Jeanne knew she had to make her move.

Gathering speed, she jumped from one falling piece of rubble to another, advancing towards her opponent. Seeing that she was about to meet a full head-on attack, the opponent narrowed her eyes and did the same. The two of them headed straight at each other, determined to finish the battle. The debris was being crushed under their feet, but their magical power was enough to send them flying to the next piece.

The sky was their battlefield. It was their domain. As the rubble kept spinning, so did the combatants, both earth and sky appearing above them, switching places. But the eyes of Jeanne were focused only on one thing.

The jade-green eyes of her opponent.

“Ruleeeeeeer----!!!” Her opponent’s yell of anger silenced even the howling wind.

“----Sabeeeeeer!!” she answered with her own shout of hatred.

The two knights collided mid-air, their swords thrusted forward.

For a moment the two of them were in a dead-lock, both holding back the sword of other while trying to pierce the other one with their own. Excalibur and La Pucelle, holy swords both, now trying to kill people who their owners simply could not accept. Two clashing ideals. One who had always searched, on an ever-ending path, for a miracle. And one who had always waited, without selfishness, for someone worthy of a miracle.

But now the two of them had cast aside their innocence. They were through with it. Their time was running out, for this was their last chance. And so the one who searched while holding on to her honor, succumbed to her obsession. And the one who waited while holding on to her ideal, succumbed to her selfishness.

The two of them became dirtied by their own quest.

“The Grail is mine!!” Jeanne roared. “To right the wrong that the world did to me!”

“It is mine!” her opponent answered. “To right the wrong that I did to the world!!”

With those two shouts, the two of them crashed to the ground with an earth-shattering sound. It ripped through the ruins of the city, creating a wave of destruction that destroyed a good part of the area they were in. A huge cloud of smoke and rubble erupted, only to be drowned in an even greater cloud that appeared when the rest of the body of the skyscraper hit the face of the earth.

Ash. Snow. Glass. Dust.

It rained down upon the two figures lying on the ground. One was on top of the other, holding down a sword. Two knights who had finally come to a conclusion.

An end to the final war in the history of humanity.

To the victor the spoils.

But----------------------------



*****

“The Holy Grail! What is it?”

“The phantom of a cup that comes and goes.”



A flake of snow took a flake of ash as a dance partner. The two of them waltzed down through the sky, in unison with innumerable others who had joined this last dance of the world. The last movement of nature. It’s requiem of death, in a mockery of those who killed it. The flakes were broken and separated by the glittering dust that was smashed glass, so neatly crushed that it was like a mere breathe. A sparkling arc of light that no longer existed.

This was the weather around the two. The ones who had just finished their long, long battle for that which they both had yearned. Two girls who could not accept the regret of the other, unable to see that their grief was equal in size. A grief for a person and a grief for people. Just who could judge which one of these was heavier than the other? For the two of them, they themselves owned the sorrow that most needed to be comforted. The wrong that needed to be righted. There is no impartial judge in this world who could tell which one is right or wrong, for both believed they were right and that the other is wrong.

But……perhaps it was because they saw a reflection of their own desperation inside the eyes of each other that the two of them could not accept each other? For them to see someone yearning for a miracle as much as they themselves did must have been something their hearts rejected.

---------- The possibility that our greatest source of sadness might not be so special after all.

That is what humans fear the most.
The simple fact that we ourselves are not as special as we think we are.
That our worries, our sorrow and our pain might not be the one that is important to the world.

Time goes on without caring about any of us. It is the sad truth in this world. Our greatest mistakes leave a mark in our hearts that will never go away, but at the same time, it cannot be transmitted to anywhere else. It can be understood, but it cannot be truly shared. For it does not touch others like it touches us.

Altria Pendragon knew the pain of Jeanne d’Arc and saw her pain. But in her mind, what anguished her was truly important.

Jeanne d’Arc knew the pain of Altria Pendragon and saw her pain. But in her mind, what anguished her was truly important.

The duality between these two girls, put into this final of all wars, made them reject each other from the moment they met.

“….uuuu…..uu….”

Quiet sorrow. Tears fell down on to the armor. They made small sounds, like rain against the rooftops. The hands gripping Excalibur tightened as if to make sure that the wound she inflicted had been fatal. The golden hilt’s brilliant color had been dimmed by the falling ash, like the honor of the girl taken over by her obsession to restore the glory of her country, to choose someone who would not make the same mistakes she did.

Altria Pendragon cried while pushing Excalibur deeper into her opponent’s body.

Teardrops merged with others, ones streaming from the eyes staring up towards the face of Altria and the grey, dead sky beyond it. The sapphire eyes of Jeanne d’Arc gazed at her opponent with a myriad of feelings. Her silent sobbing was only broken by the occasional twitch of pain as Excalibur was pushed deeper. But at the same time, her own hands kept a firm hold of La Pucelle, pointed upwards. The blade, dirtied by snow, jutted towards the sky. Two lines of blood brought color into the whiteness.

Jeanne d’Arc cried while piercing with La Pucelle the body of her opponent.

Saber and Ruler. Two knights fighting for their own wish, their own miracle, both wounded fatally. Pierced by the swords of their opponents. Both knew, at the moment the dust had settled into the slow dance of the petals of destruction, that there was no victor. The war ended with the loss of both sides. Everything, in the end, had been for nothing.

------------------ There was nobody to claim the Holy Grail anymore. The world, and the two final forces that had existed, were now dead.

“No……n-no…..I don’t….I can’t…….this was not how it was supposed to be!” Altria’s pain-filled howl rang out.

As if she had lost her strength, finally, Altria’s head descended down and her forehead touched that of Jeanne. To someone observing from afar it would have almost seemed like the girls were embracing each other. But for them, it was nothing more than merging of their grievance. Anger had disappeared into the wind, leaving only empty regrets behind.

“Even in the end…….I cannot die as a….human?” Jeanne whispered, her teeth grinding so hard together that one of them broke. “Why….why-----!? Why am I denied……even that…..!?”

Jeanne shed tears of regret. The young girl, the one denied of her life by using God as an excuse, cried due to the injustice of her death. Pain that had been pushed away for so long came flooding into her mind at the height of their despair. Now, when she finally understood that she could no longer change anything, she finally realized that her dream, the dream of becoming a normal girl once more, had been reduced to dust.

Both of them, Altria and Jeanne, finally understood the truth of what was the Holy Grail.

An impossible dream, a miracle that would never exist. Searching for it was a quest of impossibility, a chase to drive away the pain of accepting your own mistakes. Humanity always wished they could change something, erase mistakes they had made, and bring forth a world where everything was better. But there was no way such a thing was possible. Humanity could never achieve something like that. What had happened could not be undone.

------------------ The Holy Grail was nothing more than a fool’s wish.

Whether it was to save your country or to save yourself, mistakes like that were already made. There was no undoing them. A concept known as a Holy Grail was nothing more than a fancy name for impossibility, a gold-gilded delusion that we would not have to take responsibility for something that had passed. If the tragedy were to be averted, maybe then the people responsible would not have to blame themselves for everything that followed.

And so it was the case for Altria and Jeanne.

Driven by mad obsession, they sought for the last of the Holy Grails in order to erase that one mistake that defined them.

But………….

When humanity dies, so to does the Holy Grails disappear.

“I just don’t want to………know that my country was destroyed because of me….” Altria’s voice was now nothing more than a powerless whisper.

“And I want nothing more than to live the life…….I was denied”, Jeanne answered, every word draining more of her strength.

The two gazed at the eyes of each other. Covered in snow and ash, they were nothing more than two pitiful remnants of the desires of men. Incarnations of the regrets left behind, finally having come to the realization that no Holy Grail exists. There never was something as convenient as that. Life and time march on, leaving us behind with our sins and regrets, to cry at the decisions we made. It is a chase for empty dreams, one which can only be won by those who live in delusions.

For our mind is the only place where we can be free of our grief.
------------- The opponent we fight is none other than our own image.

Blue reflects green. Green reflects blue. The dying two gaze into the abyss of their reflection. These two, who, if under any other circumstances, could have been the greatest of friends. Only due to the cruelty of the world and the scars of their hearts did they clash against each other. Only due to their obsession did they reject everything the other stood for, in order to justify their own regrets. Chasing the phantom cup of illusions they hurt each other, wounded each other, and finally, killed each other.

Now, when their strength is gone and all they got left is bitterness and sorrow, can they look their opponent in the eye. Sharing the cruel realization of their folly, the realization of the mankind’s greatest and stupidest wish, they finally know.

Perhaps…

Some other place…

Some other time…

…….They truly could have been friends.

“…………………………………………………………………Ah.”

A field of wheat inside their hearts.

It is only now that they both see it. Stretching to the ends of earth and lit by the twilight. With the ever-present moon filling the sky above them, the two of them finally walk upon this yellow field, together. A better and more forgiving place, one inside their delusions. In their mind, they create utopia, a thought where they can exist before the tragedy befell them. A world so different from the dead one they belonged to.

Wind gently brushed the wheat and sends it rocking slowly, as if it was sea. A faint scent of home lingers in the air. A slender hand brushes the stalks. Nothing but the wheat moves in this world. There are no animals on the ground or birds in the sky. No humans save for these two. It is a perfect world where they can be free of pain.

Altria.
A girl in a simple tunic and brown pants, her hair on a ponytail. She holds her wooden sword with a tight grip. A smile adorns her young face. She waits for the right moment, standing there amongst the wheat. Her friend is finally here. They have finally met. And now, this world is theirs.

Jeanne.
A girl in a linen blouse and skirt with slit, her hair flowing freely. The wooden sword in her hand is worn out like her face, but on her lips she has a smile equal to that of her friend. She stands there, in the middle of rocking stalks. The burden on their shoulders is gone.

“……..I never did anything wrong”, Altria says, sounding content.

“And I……always lived true to myself”, Jeanne answers, with a clear voice.

The wooden swords are raised. The two of them point them towards each other.
And…

“Then isn’t it alright?”

---------------- Which one of them, in the end, said that?

Two pairs of feet kicked the ground. Swishing sounds filled air as two young girls charged forward in the field of wheat. As they met, the wooden swords were swung forward, and they met with a loud clack. Immediately, Jeanne spun around and aimed a slash towards the ribs of Altria. The latter dodged by moving backwards and came forward with a thrust. Jeanne moved sideways, using her momentum for her advantage and aimed an attack towards Altria’s head. She ducked under it, bringing her wooden sword up in a majestic arc.

The sound of wood hitting wood filled the empty world. Like the other one, this was a world with no one else but them. But in this world, there was warmth. In this world, there was no harsh truth. In this world, there was no need for a Holy Grail.

This was a world where they both were freed from their sorrows.

A fight with no true style of technique. Just two young girls, attacking each other with wooden swords. A friendly competition that was held for the sake of fun. And indeed, soon enough, bubbly laughter escaped from Altria’s lips. Jeanne giggled as she brought her sword down in a slash that was immediately followed by another. Altria blocked both of them and used her sword with two-handed grip to counter-attack.

Jeanne put her hand against the wooden blade and pushed forward, blocking the chopping attack. For a moment the girls tested their strengths. Then they broke off, immediately resuming large arcs of attacks and untrained movement. Altria’s sword cut the air with two-handed cuts while Jeanne relied on her fast movement and fast thrusts. Clacking sounds continued and dents in the wood showed just how much power these two were putting in each strike.

Dodging Altria’s two-handed, horizontal strike, Jeanne went for a sweep with her leg. Altria jumped up in order to avoid it, but messed up her steps. Instead of flying over it, she stumbled on Jeanne’s legs, causing both of them tumble down into the ground. Wooden swords flew from their hands. Altria fell, sprawled, on top of Jeanne, letting out a silly yelp.

For a moment, the two of them stared at each other. Green eyes reflected blue eyes. Then both burst out giggling and laughing. Jeanne threw Altria off of her, and the latter rolled sideways, stopping on her back. Now they both were staring up at the enormous moon. Scent of wheat filled their noses. Laughter, as innocent as two young girls can only muster, echoed in the field.

There, holding hands, these two friends were finally able to smile as in the past.

This moment probably lasted forever for them. Maybe they are still seeing it. But the world is not so convenient. Delusions can only stay delusions. Illusions become illusions, returning to ash and snow. Glass falling from the sky reflects only the truth.

As girls known as Altria and Jeanne enjoyed the freedom from their tragedies……..

………………Girls known as Saber and Ruler drew their final breaths.

Never reaching the phantom of a cup that comes and goes.

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:31 AM
Name: A Madman’s Happiness
Author: Anon

Disclaimer: Fate/stay night and all characters part of it belong to Type-moon.

A Fanfiction Contest Entry

Kotomine Kirei was in a garden, behind what seemed like a church. He was wearing his usual priest clothes and coat, his mullet partially hidden by a straw hat. He was wearing work gloves and carrying around a potted plant.

He was constantly looking around the garden, looking for an open area to transfer the pot’s inhabitant, a small sunflower. Finding such a spot, he showed a quick grin of satisfaction and started parting the earth with his gloved hands, making a hole roughly the same size as the pot. He carefully took the pot, dug out the dirt from underneath the small plant and in a swift motion, brought the clump of dirt from the pot into the hole he had created.

Using the dirt he had dug the hole from, he filled the edges and leveled the dirt around the garden’s newest plant. His surgery complete, the little sunflower was now part of the growing garden, in an area where sunlight could reach it unhindered.

“Well, like that, Caren will have little to complain about.” Said a voice from the edge of the garden. Kirei turned around, still on his knees in the dirt, to see his father, Kotomine Risei.

“Well, father, I did promise her. That girl is rather fearsome when she gets angry.” The younger Kotomine said, getting up and beating away the dirt on his pants. He carelessly threw the gloves aside, on the pavement, and walked up to his father. “You seem well, father.”

“And you, my son. I see that Italy has left you in good shape.” The older man said, extending his arms. Kotomine accepted the invitation and gave his father a hug, something they did the few times they met. “If you’re wondering about the little Caren and her mother, they said they’d be here later today.” He added, retreated from the embrace.

“Ah, good. That’ll let me cook them the big supper that I planned.” Kirei said, a radiant smile on his face.

‘Now now, my son, not everyone has the same tastes as you. If you cook what you believe to be a feast, we’ll all end up with our tongues numb halfway through the meal.” His father said teasingly.

“Father, I believe I know how to moderate myself. I will not put the same amount of spices as I would for a meal by myself.” The younger man said, an exaggerated look of hurt showing on his face. “Besides, father, that is what you are here for.” He continued, a devilish grin on his face.

“Kirei, what do you mean?” Risei said to his son, narrowing his eyes.

“Simple, father. For the sake of your cute granddaughter, you will taste-test my food to make sure it is all nonlethal.

“I suppose I have no say in this, my son?” The older man asked, an amused look on his face.

“None at all, father. Come, we have Chinese dishes to make.” Kirei enthusiastically said, walking back into the large church the garden belonged to.

Behind him, Risei followed, grumbling. “Living for eight years in Italy, he has, but he still only cooks chinese.”

Kirei, through some miracle, heard him from inside the church.

“If you don’t like it, father, you shouldn’t have taught me it in the first place.”

“Indeed, truly a blunder on my part.” The old priest sarcastically said.

X-X

“Mommy, help me out!”

The little, white haired girl had grabbed the church’s door handle and was pulling furiously, her face red from effort.

“Caren, stop that. You’re going to hurt yourself.” Her mother said sternly, causing the child to cease her efforts. “This door doesn’t open by pulling. It’s a push door.”

The child’s face lit up in fascination, as if she had just discovered the greatest thing in the world. She then faced the door again, face filled with determination, and pushed with twice the effort she had pulled with. Her mother simply smiled and giggled at the child’s antics, and walked up to the slowly opening door, helping her daughter push it the rest of the way.

Inside, almost ominously, was a figure standing in front of the altar. The lights were dimmed, and the candles surrounding the figure made him look like a cheesy villain from an American action movie. He turned around and in a loud voice that echoed in the church, greeted them.

“Rejoice, my beloved Ortensias, for Kotomine Kirei has cooked you dinner!”

The child acted first, running through the church aisle towards her father. He quickly stepped down from the elevation surrounding the altar and walked the distance between them, picking her up in the process.

“Hi daddy!” the girl said in between giggles.

“Hello Caren. Did you miss me?” The man said, wide grin on his face.

“Yeah! It was boring at the Tohsakas.” She said, making a pouting face.

“Now she’s just being mean. We had fun there, and she made friends with Rin and Sakura.” Said the older woman, walking up to the familiar scene with a smile on her face.

“What? Rin and I are not friends.” She said, wearing a pouting, angry expression.

“Sure thing, Caren.” Her mother said, wearing a doubtful expression. “Didn’t you have something to ask your daddy about?”

The little girl’s face lit up in realization, and then turned to look at her father’s eyes, a task rather easy because he was still holding her.

“Daddy, did you remember to plant my flower?” She asked, eyes narrowed.

“Of course I did. It’s in the garden. You’ll be able to see it when we go outside to eat.” He said, a fake expression of hurt on his features.

“We’re going to eat in the garden?” His wife asked, while Caren made a sound of ‘ooh’ at the prospect.

“Isn’t it fine once in a while? I’ll just open up a foldable table, take out the food and we’ll be able to eat while seeing the flowers.” He said, a sheepish grin on his face. “I’ve already cooked the food, so it won’t be too much work.”

Both females suddenly became silent, with worried expressions marring their features.

“What?” He asked, unsure of his error.

“Darling, don’t take any offence to this, but the food you cook, it’s, well...”

“It’s way too hot, daddy!” The little girl finished, practically screaming in her father’s ear.

“I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that.” The newest occupant of the church said. It was Kotomine Risei, having just entered from one of the side doors.

“Grandpa!” Caren said, wriggling free from her father’s grasp to go hug her grandfather. He crouched down on one knee and returned her hug, smiling all the while.

“And why wouldn’t we have to worry, Risei?” The older Ortensia asked.

“Simple, my dear.” The old man said, standing back up to his full height while his granddaughter walked back to her father. “I helped him cook it, and forbade him from making mapo tofu.”

The elder of the girls sighed in relief, while the other tugged on her father’s hand, eyes begging for him to pick her up again. He gestured for her to turn around, and picked her up from behind and placed her atop his shoulders. She giggled loudly, moving energetically on his shoulders in a way that forced him to constantly keep a firm grip on her legs.

“Let’s go eat, shall we?” Kotomine Kirei said, addressing his beloved family.

X-X

“I must admit, I did not expect her to fall asleep like that.” Kotomine Kirei said, propping up the folded table on the church wall.

“The trip was a lot more draining than she would admit, and children do like to sleep after a meal.” His wife said, still sitting on the sole chair in the garden, now that Risei and Kirei had put away the arrangements.

“Ah, sorry…” Kirei said, looking guiltily at the ground. “I guess I should have paid more attention. Do you want to go to bed, too?”

The white-haired woman giggled at his reaction.

“Kirei, you worry too much. I’m not a child, I can stay up late.” As if to demonstrate her energy, she got up from her chair and walked up to him. “See? I won’t need to be carried off to bed like Caren was.”

“Are you sure you’re alright? I mean, in your condition…” Kirei hesitantly said, looking away. They never liked to talk about her condition.

“I’ll be fine, Kirei.” She said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Now, I believe you wanted me to stay outside for a reason?”

“Ah, yes…” Her husband said, putting his right fist into his left palm. “Stay here a moment, I’ll be right back.”

He ran inside the church quickly, and after a solid minute came back outside with a radio, a CD stacked on it.

“Kirei, what’s this?” She asked, tilting her head as he set it down on the edge of the grass, right next to the growing plants.

“Well, you mentioned when you were in the hospital that you wished you could have gone to one of the big parties the church throws. Well, we might not be all dressed up, and there might not be a giant chandelier, but…” He sheepishly said, scratching his cheek with a finger, while the other hand pressed the play button on the radio, which started playing ballroom music. “We could at least dance the way you said you wanted to…”

“Oh Kirei…” She said, a visible blush creeping up on her face. “I don’t need a fancy party to be happy. I would love to have a dance.”

At this, Kirei beamed. His smile reached his ears, and he got up and walked over to his wife. He extended one hand and bowed, in a fashion that didn’t suit him at all.

“May I have the pleasure of this dance, my lady?” He said, his smile never leaving him.

“Of course, good sir.” She answered with a tiny giggle, putting her hand in his. His hand engulfed hers, and he drew her close.

For what seemed like hours, the two simply held each other closely, rocking back and forth to the sound of the music. Neither of them were accomplished dancers, and to any who could dance what they were doing was clumsy at best. But to them, it felt better than any true dance. They could feel the warmth of their loved one, and that was enough.

They both sported warm smiles as they held each other close, a truly happy feeling any family would possess.

X-X

Kirei woke up and rubbed his head.

“That dream…” He muttered, half-awake.

It was a happy dream, to be sure. It was a happy dream where a man spent time with his family. It was a happy dream where he got to see his wife again.

So, he left it at that and refused to think of it. To think of his wife at this point could only corrupt his image of her. So he threw the dream into the deepest part of his mind, where he could not think about it. No matter how much he accepted his nature, his wife did not deserve such a thing. Where he had been evil, she could be called nothing but a saint.

He looked at the small clock beside his bed, and noted it was five in the morning, on a Sunday. He had a fair amount of work to do today.

X-X

“May the lord watch over you.” He said to another elderly couple as they left the church.

“And you, father.” They answered.

Now there was only one left, an elderly woman who was always last to leave. Every time she came to the church, she would bring the photographs of her husband and son, and place them on the bench alongside her to listen to the priest. Afterwards, she would light a candle in their names and donate generously. But as she got older, she would take more and more time putting the pictures back in their place and properly lighting a candle.

She slowly inched her way closer to the door, and the priest prepared to bid her farewell, when she spoke first.

“Did something happen, Kirei-chan?” She asked, her voice cracking under its sheer age.

“No, nothing has happened today, why?” He answered, unsure of what the old woman meant.

“Well, Kirei-chan, during the prayers you had a sour look on your face, rather than your usual smile.” She stated, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“I did? Hm, I did not notice.” He said, falling into deep thought.

“So, Kirei-chan, did something happen? Did you get off on the wrong foot this morning?”

“The wrong foot? No… but I did have a dream, I suppose. Maybe that is the cause.” He answered, still unsure of himself. He had pushed that dream away, so it wasn’t the cause of his gloom at all.

“Well, what was the dream about?” She asked, always eager to have someone to talk to.

“It was a dream about my family. Or rather, about my defunct father and wife, and my daughter, who no longer lives with me.” He said absentmindedly, still trying to piece together his sour mood.

“A sad dream, then? I understand, I’ve had those as well for my poor husband and son.” She said, patting Kirei on the arm. If she could reach his shoulder, she would have pet there, but Kirei was very tall for a Japanese man.

“No, it was a happy dream. I played with my daughter, I helped cook supper with my father and I danced with my wife.” He said, a frown on his face. “It was a happy dream.” He added, sounding as if he was trying to convince himself.

“Well, Kirei-chan, sometimes happy dreams can be sad too.” She said, taking Kirei’s inquisitive look as a sign to keep going. “Because when you wake up, you’re not there anymore. You realize that happiness was just a dream, and it leaves you a little sad. So maybe that’s why you weren’t smiling today.”

“I see, that is truly an interesting point…” He said, pinning his chin between his thumb and finger. “Perhaps that was the cause, then. Thank you for pointing it out.” He said, with a tiny cynical smile.

“It was nothing, Kirei-chan. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my daughter’s grandchildren need babysitting today, so I should go. It was a pleasure talking to you, as always.” She said, before exiting the church.

“Likewise. I will see you again next Sunday.” He said, closing the door.

His mood was not lifted, but at least he knew why. But now that Morning Prayer was done, he had an entire day to look forward to, and surely something in there could make him smile.

X-X

The day had been magnificently boring. Not a single thing had brought a smile to Kirei’s face, no matter where he went or what he did. He even went out to Taizan for lunch, and the mapo tofu did nothing to please him at all.

“All because of a happy dream…” He muttered to himself, sitting on one of the couches in the church’s back room. The dream almost drifted back into the realm of conscious thought, but he pushed it downwards again.

He heard the sound of the heavy church doors creaking, even from where he was, followed by a loud and familiar call-out.

“Kotomine-san! Are you here?”

Of course, it was night time so it could only be her. He had been expecting her, but his dreary day had driven him to forget for a moment. Making sure he was properly dressed, with everything that entailed, he went out to greet his guest.

He stepped into the church proper, and made contact with Bazett Fraga Mcremitz, the enforcer whose presence he had requested.

“Ah, Kotomine-san. There you were. I just arrived, so I came here as requested.” She said coolly, in the tone of a professional.

“And I thank you for your assistance in this manner.” He said, his voice filling the church. “Is your servant here with you?”

“Lancer said he’d prefer waiting outside.” She answered, keeping eye contact as Kotomine slowly made his way towards her. “Unless you would like to meet him, in that case I could tell him to come in.”

“No, that will not be necessary. But you got Lancer? How interesting, one of the three knights given out as a third summoning. Did you use a catalyst?” He asked, his expression still the one he possessed all day.

“Yes I did, and I must say I’m rather happy about the result. He’s everything his legend made him to be.” She said warmly, the priest barely two steps in front of her. “With him, I’m rather certain I’ll win this war. So, you don’t have to worry about misuse of the grail.” She finished strongly, extending her hand.

“Indeed.” Kirei said, taking her hand and shaking it, making the assessment that her seals were indeed on her left hand. “Lancer will go a long way to securing this grail war.”

Before she understood what he was talking about, Kotomine’s other hand whipped forth, holding a black key, and chopped off her left arm. She staggered backwards, and he threw it directly at her. The key moved so fast it was nothing but a blur, barely allowing Bazett the time to register that an attack was on its way.

When he saw the look of surprise coupled with incomprehension in the woman's eyes, Kotomine Kirei, for the first time this day, smiled happily.

X-X

Good End

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:31 AM
Name: Fate/Alternate
Author: Anon

“See, you are crying…. You… do love me.”

Those were the only words that rang in the mind of the young priest that sat outside his house, shedding tears, the final haunting words of his now deceased wife that had died. The woman that died to show him that Kotomine Kirei was not a man incapable of love. The women that up till her very end… believed in Kirei and loved him.

Even as the paramedics that had arrived to the scene and left in the end with the verdict that his wife was dead, the priest stood there, his stone expression never revealing a single sign of sadness save for his tears that were dropping down his eyes.

The final words of his wife…

“See, you are crying…. You… do love me.”

Did he even love her? Kirei could only wonder…. After all, in his current state of emotions, he could only come to hate himself for deceiving the woman who was like a saint even in her dying moments. For….

One moment he would hate himself for having such thoughts about his deceased wife.

One moment he would grieve that he never got to kill her.

And then the next thing, he would be rejoicing that she died in his own twisted ways.

The emotional turmoil he was going through felt like a whole bunch of colors thrown into a bowl and being mixed into something that one could not even understand or comprehend the thing that was the result. He did not know what to express at this point of time. However, one thing rang true: He never loved his wife.

However, if he did not… then why? Why did he pick that woman? Even if it was his rational logic, there had to be a validated reason why he chose her. And something told him that it was not because he wanted to enjoy her suffering. It had to be something else.

In the end, it only created an endless debate in the priest mind on what he truly was and whether he truly loved the woman. And as the debate in his mind finally came to a close, the conclusion was clear:

He never loved her. He only was with her to enjoy her suffering.

As he understood that, the priest could only end up being disgusted at himself… how could he? How could he even enjoy the suffering the poor woman was going through?

Those thoughts continued to ring out and after a brief period of time… they faded, leaving him with only questions about himself:

Was he truly evil? Was he a defective person? Was there any value in him continuing to live till today?

That question… the priest never found his answer on that painful day, the day where he lost his wife. However… in time to come, the priest would find it.

------------------------

“In other words, the Grail is giving me, a Tōsaka, two shares of command Seals, and for that, it chose you as a Master.... How about it? Does this explanation satisfy you?”

The man in a red coat who had spoke with such great conviction was the man known as Tohsaka Tokiomi, an acquaintance of his father, Kotomine Risei. Tokiomi was the son of a friend that his father had made back in his younger days and that today, Risei had brought Kirei down for one reason:

Sometime back, Kirei had received what the magi call the command seals, the mark of proof of one as a master that would eventually compete in one of the conflicts of magi for the ‘Holy Grail’, a vessel that could grant the wish of the one left standing. Though, through Tokiomi’s brief introduction to the war, Kirei had learnt the grail selects the masters, one way or the other, he could not understand.

Why? Why was it that he had been chosen? He had no background as a magus, he had no magical capability, and he did not have a desire for anything…. He had absolutely nothing to offer that would want the grail to select him.

Yet, why was he selected in the end?

The words previously stated by Tokiomi were his answer to Kirei’s question. However, It did not serve to dispel Kirei’s doubt about his selection. While Tokiomi on his part had given logic that he probably could not dispute with… Kirei could not help but feel that there was something off with his answer. That he knew deep down within him, that Tokiomi’s answer was not the correct answer.

With that realization, Kirei understood at that moment, that perhaps…. The answer he wanted would not come from Tokiomi, not in the present and the future. As a result of that understanding… Kirei could only feel a deep sense of pain at the fact that there may never be an answer to why he was chosen. As disappointed as Kirei was, he could not show signs of it, not in the least, he did not wish to offend him, for the sake of his father’s friendship with Tokiomi.

Thus, he immediately switched the topic in order to avoid any more discussion on something that he was beginning to feel uncomfortable with, “When do we go to Japan?”

And immediately, as the topic changed, deep down inside Kirei, he could feel something stirring within him….

-------

Why was he chosen? Why was he a being with no purpose as compared to his father, compared to Tokiomi was chosen?

Even as he walked away from the villa that was Tokiomi’s residence here in Italy, Kirei’s thoughts continued in that direction, the question on why was he chosen. He knew and understood that his entire being, if he were to compare himself between his father and Tokiomi was clear as the day.

He had nothing he wanted to work towards to.

And as he continued to think about the reason why the grail could have chosen him, a familiar image popped out, an image of a kind, gentle yet frail woman with white hair…

The image then led Kirei to recall the day where that woman, who was his wife died. And as he recalled the events of that day, he remembered the familiar surge of emotions that he experienced and the question that he never got any answer to.

Could that have been the reason why he was chosen?

No. It could not be. No.

Kirei immediately tried to deny that thought. As he struggled to deny it, as a result of that intense mental pressure he had unwittingly placed on himself, his head started to feel very light. Kirei quickly clutched his head, sensing that he was about to lose his balance.

By the time he recovered, he realized he had reached the bottom of the hill which Tokiomi's residence was. He closed his eyes and decided he would figure this mystery out later....

He would sooner or later come to the answer... He believed he would. Perhaps the next few years in Japan, training how to use magic... would give him an answer. Till then, he did not need to rush to find the answer.

---------------

"Kirei, Its about time."

The voice that greeted him came from Tokiomi, the man who had now become his mentor in magecraft, doing his best to give him an education in magic that will be sufficient for Kirei to get through the coming Holy Grail War.

Kirei, who at this point of time, had been in Tokiomi's workshop, practising a certain spell that Tokiomi had recommended him, immediately set aside his work and responded, "Tokiomi. What do you mean by...."

Tokiomi immediately replied to Kirei's question with a certain confidence as he stated, "Your training has gone even more smoothly then i anticipated... Kirei, you are ready to summon your servant."

Kirei stared at Tokiomi for the moment. He then replied, "Are you sure....?"

Tokiomi nodded his head in approval as he said, "Yes. And if you find the timing awkward, this is because... I will need you to be well accustomed to your servant for the upcoming conflict and time will be of the essence here. So having you summon your servant will make things easy for me."

Kirei remained silent for the moment. so finally.... He would take his step into the war. He would summon the servant that would become his tool and partner in this conflict.....

And he had yet to find his answer in the training that Tokiomi gave him... However, he decided, he would continue on, not because the grail had sealed his fate as a participant... but that he hoped to find his answer as he continued fighting in the war.

And thus, with a certain resolution set, his eyes brimming with confidence as he looked at Tokiomi and announced, "Then I will summon my servant, as you requested."

Tokiomi could only smile in approval at Kirei's words and expression.

-------------

"Kirei, behold...... the catalyst that you shall use to summon your servant."

As Tokiomi said those words, he showed to Kirei a box that he promptly opened it. And the moment Kirei saw the artifact, his heart missed a beat as though it had been captured by the wonderfully made scabbard that was within that box. Something about the scabbard resonated and called out to him, willing to accept him for who he was.

And as he reached out for the scabbard...

Tokiomi spoke, snapping Kirei out of his trance, "This is... the scabbard of the legendary King Arthur, Avalon. An acquaintance of mine gave me this opportunity to get a hold of this artifact.... the artifact which I thought would be impossible to get, especially since my contact mentioned the Einzberns were after it as well. Though, it seems fate has placed this artifact into my hands after all."

Kirei looked at the scabbard once more. And there, his heart seemed to rejoice. It told him....

This maybe your chance... The questions you have never been able to answer... the answer that you want to know.... This servant, shall show you the path.

His heart did not verbalize that message, but instinctively, Kirei knew it was trying to tell him that message, as though... the wielder of that scabbard would answer it all.

And in the midst of his thoughts, Tokiomi proceeded to speak, "Kirei. let us proceed with the summoning then. Though keep in mind, you are very likely to summon a Saber class servant. And if we do.... we will be likely the side that has the highest chance to win it all for this war. Now, go Kirei. Take your first step into being a part... of Heavens Feel."

Kirei took a deep breath as he proceeded to the circle that Tokiomi had kindly set up for him, taking the legendary scabbard that King Arthur once used to sheath his sword, Excalibur and placed it at the front of the circle. With everything set, Kirei could now focus.

After all, it was the ritual to summon his servant. The ritual itself was one that would allow Kirei to call upon a heroic spirit from the Throne of Heroes, where all Heroic Spirits will go to at the end of their days. And once summoned, the heroic spirit would do battle with six other heroic spirits summoned by the other masters, who were also magi like Kirei and Tokiomi.

This would be the turning point for Kirei’s life. The moment he successfully summoned his servant, His life will now enter into another phase… and that there was no longer any turning back for him.

With that thought in his mind, Kirei closed his eyes and begun to open his circuits. He began to slowly let his prana flow as he begun to focus on the circle the catalyst given by Tokiomi. Now he needed to focus everything he had into calling upon his servant, with no distractions allowed for him.

And as time passed, Kirei slowly begun to feel his magical energy build up, like a wild beast gaining strength by the minute and ready to break free from the bonds that now bound it. And the moment Kirei felt it, the moment that his magical energy was ready to be unleashed…

He chanted with great power:

“Ye First, O Silver, O Iron,
O Stone of the Foundation, O archduke of contract,
Hear me in the name of our great teacher, the Archmagus Schweinorg…
Let the descending winds be as a wall
Let the gates in all directions be shut, rising above the crown, and let the three-forked roads to the Kingdom revolve.
Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut.
Five perfections for each repetition.
And now, let the filled sigils be annihilated in my stead
Set.
Let thy body rest in thy dominion, let my fate rest in thy blade.
If thou submittest to the call of the Holy Grail and if thou wilt obey this mind, this reason, then thou shalt respond.
I make my oath here.
I am that person who is to become the virtue of all Heavens.
I am that person who is covered with the evil of all Hades-“

As he neared the end of the incantation, he paused for the slight moment, recalling back his tendencies to lean towards his pleasure at watching people suffer. And once more his hesitations were playing out, his own doubts about himself were once again surfacing.

Am I lying to myself? Am I really unable to be capable of any virtue?

Before his thoughts could proceed further, as a result of the thoughts that had surfaced in Kirei’s mind, he spat out some blood from his mouth, as a result of losing his concentration, which caused his prana go wild.

Quickly, he regained back control with a bit of struggle, with Tokiomi watching with worry as Kirei finally finished off the incantation,

“Thou seven heavens, clad in a trinity of words, come past thy restraining rings, and be thou the hands that protect the balance-!”

And immediately, as the ritual finished, as though to congratulate Kirei for succeeding, the prana that was accumulating as a result of the ritual exploded, resulting in the entire basement being covered with smoke.

There, as Kirei and Tokiomi held back their breaths, in eager anticipation of what was the result of the summoning, a clear female voice rang out:

“So I ask of you, are you my master?”

Now, Kirei’s own story was about to finally about to begin.

------------

It had taken some time before Kirei had made himself comfortable with the fact that he had summoned the real king Arthur, who in reality was a girl. While he did not wish to know what went on in his servant’s life, he only could wonder what motivated the girl to forsake her own identity as a girl and to become… A ‘king’.

Either way, they were now deep into the war, having passed a few days. As per Tokiomi’s plan, he had engaged with the various servants, save for Assassin and Casrer, on the idea of intel, mainly for Tokiomi to compile the data and follow them up with a plan which he and Archer, who was the King of heroes to follow up.

Either way… he was now alone with Saber in Tokiomi’s living room, with Tokiomi out with his servant to hunt down the servants, as to his plan, now that he deemed himself ‘fully prepared’ to take them on.

The female knight, dressed in her usual black suit sat down in the couch with her eyes closed. As for why she was not in her spirit state, it was due to the fact that due to certain circumstances (Mainly on the part that she did not die, but was in a near-death state when she appealed to the throne of heroes for the grail). As a result, she had to make do to fitting into society as part of them.

There, Kirei took a seat in another couch at Tokiomi’s room and closed his eyes. However, before he took some rest, Saber spoke, “Master. There is something that bothers me.”

Kirei looked at Saber for the moment. The green eyes of Saber were hard for him to neither understand nor comprehend what was going on, though it seemed that from the looks of it, it was important. So he then nodded and gave a silent sign of approval for Saber to continue on.

Saber remained silent for the moment, as though to consider what she wanted to ask, then finally she said, “Master, the way you fight…. I have seen it first hand as you took on the various masters. You put yourself into harm’s way, have no regard for yourself… as though you hate yourself. Why? Why do you continue to hurt yourself?”

Kirei looked at Saber for the moment. How she managed to infer that much about him and came close to what he actually was…. Was surprising. He was unprepared for Saber’s question. Unprepared to handle what to say. Finally, Kirei decided….

It would be better off to expose himself to his servant.

“Saber, You are correct. I hate myself. I hate myself for being only able to indulge in the pain and sufferings that people go through. I hate myself for being only to enjoy these and not things of virtue. I hate myself for being so empty, unlike Tokiomi.”

Kirei admitted all of these. And there, he took a deep breath and he begun to narrate his life before Saber, something which he was doing so… very comfortably. Like as though he felt that Saber could understand. And as he finished up his story with the day where his wife died, his struggle with the emotions that he had and how much he wanted to kill his wife….

Saber cut in, “Kirei. You wanted to kill your wife… I understand why. It is not because of the twisted personality that you think you have. But it is because you have, up till this date, carried guilt that your own twisted personality caused the death of the woman you loved.”

Kirei looked at Saber for the moment. He immediately objected with a loud thundering voice, “You are wrong, Saber. I did not love that woman. No, I choose her for the sake of my own entertainment!”

Saber remained calm as Kirei objected to her. She then look at Kirei with a certain look of sympathy and understanding. It felt familiar to Kirei… like… his wife. Before he could even try to continue his argument, Saber immediately rebutted calmly, “Kirei. Surely there were other people who were suffering even more then the woman that you chose. Have you ever considered then, why did you chose her? Did you not have any doubt about the reason why you chose her?”

Kirei remained silent in the tense atmosphere that had resulted from the conversation. He closed his eyes and thought about everything that had led to his choice of the woman that he had picked to be his wife back then. As he pondered, he finally understood. As much as it was that he picked her for her own suffering… he had just as much, loved her. Even though he could not feel it nor did he ever experienced it.

However, he did love her, despite his seemingly inability to do so. And that was the fact.

Saber finally broke the silence as she said, “The reason why you wanted to kill her yourself, the reason why you were enjoying her suffering… were the only means you could try to deceive yourself, Kirei. You hated it. Her very suffering, did you not? You could not stand the sight of her suffering, and till that end, subconsciously, you decided that you enjoyed it, to stop thinking about it. your wife killed herself for you, you hated it. You were so filled with guilt that you had rather tried to kill her yourself and proved her wrong. Such that she need not die.”

Kirei realized that Saber made even more of a point. There was a time when he first met his wife… did he not wonder whether was there a God? That the woman that treated him kindly had to suffer? Did he not hate it? And then as the time passed, his feelings had changed to that of enjoyment.

Then at the time of his wife’s death… indeed, he did experience guilt. Over how much he had enjoyed her suffering and how she died. Just a moment before he decided he should have killed her himself.

He could not argue back on Saber’s point, not when the evidence looked like it was making Saber’s case solid. Then finally, he then made one last attempt to break Saber’s argument, “Tell me then Saber, if I could even dare to change myself to trying to enjoy her suffering and even want to kill her, then tell me! Am I a mistake?!?”

For the moment, Saber’s expression changed to one… that was grim yet filled with sorrow. Then she finally said, “No. For someone to have willingly… sacrificed her life for you to prove to you that you are, for someone to have continued to smile whenever she was with you, there must be something good about you that she saw. And the fact that you feel hatred and remorse about how you felt, there is something in you that is of virtue, Kirei.”

Kirei closed his eyes as he digested what Saber had said, processing it. He finally understood. In the very least… if his wife had died for him as Saber said, believing in what he truly was….

“Then Saber, what can I do now?”

Saber closed her eyes for the moment. And with a soft smile, she said, “Kirei. You can make amends. It is not too late. Even the most depraved of people can still turn back in their last moments.”

Kirei looked at Saber, for the moment, he thought he saw the gentle woman that loved him… and saw in him, every good point. For the first time in his life, he smiled. Perhaps… there was still chances for amends.

Perhaps… He could still change for the better.

-----------

It was there in the blazing ruins of what was part of Fuyuki, that a priest stood hunched, trying to save a boy. Kotomine Kirei was the ultimate winner of the Holy grail. However, at the last moment, he rejected it. And at the price, he caused many to lose their lives and now even his own life was fading as the curse of Angra Mainyu took effect.

He was dying. But he wanted to do one last thing not just to rebel against Angra Mainyu’s claim that he was evil… but to prove Saber and his wife that their belief that he was good was not wrong.

He could not save the boy, or so he thought…

But he remembered. He had one last treasure with him.

Avalon. It was a pointless treasure for him to hold on, however… it would be useful for the dying red-haired boy. With his dying strength, he took out the sheath of that his servant, Saber had treasured. He infused as much mana as possible into the sheath and placed it into the boy.

And as he felt his life fade away and saw the boy slowly recovering from his badly damaged state, he smiled.

“I guess.. I was not as bad as I thought I was.”

And at long last, the priest died. And there, perhaps… he was reunited with the woman who loved him and believed in him.

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:31 AM
Anon: Moonlit Purpose
Author: Anon

Even now, on his last night in this world, the only thing that truly seemed familiar to him was the shining face of the moon. It's existence, unlike his own, would only grow stronger as time revealed more and more of it's surface, culminating in a brief glimpse of an object that was not unlike the burning figure of the golden sun.

Yes, to say that the man known as Assassin admired the moon would be one of the only pure truths you could find in his existence.

Sasaki Kojirou.

That was the name of the man that he had been summoned into this war to represent, the name of a fictional Heroic Spirit who had merely been created in the minds of people as the foil for another swordsman of legend, a necessary rival whose eventual defeat would serve to strengthen the belief in the skill and strength of the greatest Sword Saint.

But the man known in this was as Servant Assassin was not that rival of legend, even if he had acquired the skill of Sasaki Kojirou during his life, he had been little more than a nameless farmer, someone who had discovered a skill of legend, and yet had still died as nothing more than a simple farmer, with no fame to his own, non-existent name.

Sometimes, when the night was particularly uneventful, and the witch was with her Master, he had given some thought to the matter of what his name would have actuallly been in life.

Would it have been something like Daichi?

Or perhaps Susumu?

It was a question that he would never be able to answer, as the world seemed to find it entertaining to constantly him with assurances that he was Sasaki Kojirou, even though his lack of a Noble Phantasm, along with what little remained of his memories, made it clear that this was a lie.

His memory, his name, all of these things had been stripped from him by the Grail, leaving him with little more than the swordsmanship he had used his lifetime to develop, the other truth that defined the farmer who had been chosen to play the role of another, to accomplish great things, not in his own name, but in the name of someone who had never existed in the first place.

Because of this, he had been an irregular Servant, and his Master had treated him as if he were disposable, binding him to this gate with the sole purpose of guarding it from enemy Servants.

As he had heard that the Grail required all Servant but one to be defeated before it could be used, he had always expected that, even if he defeated every Servant that appeared before him, that he would meet his end through the very witch that had summoned him in order to protect her.

So from the very beginning, to this Servant who didn't exist as a hero, the Holy Grail had meant less than nothing, as the chance to acquire it would never present itself to him.

So here at the end, with his arms turning translucent like glass, his Master slain at the hands of some enemy Servant, and the evil winds of something indescribable pushing against his back, what was the reason that Assassin continued to exist?

He could not, and would not, seek the Grail, even if it was, at this very moment, lying just beyond his back. Movement itself strained what little time he had left, and even now, his very existence was something that could be said to be a miracle.

And if he wanted his wish, the sole desire of the farmer who had never known glory, then he just needed to hold onto this world for a few more hours.

Funnily enough, his desire had been born of his time here, in this war that someone like him would never be able to experience under normal conditions.

To put it simply, his desire was for combat, to battle those worthy of the skill he had traded his entire life to acquire, to fight against those who had been blessed by fate, those whose blades could sing with more truth than the most ancient of prophets.

And the desire for one battle in particular, the fulfillment of his duel with the golden haired woman known as Saber, to test his skills against her own one last time, was the sole event that had kept him from fading back into the cold, blank void of death.

After all, the only thing that gave his existence meaning in this world was his swordsmanship, unlike most who could claim themselves as heroes, he had never been destined for glory, he had never been blessed by those deities who watched over the world with an intrusive eye.

And yet, he could stand his ground before the very greatest of humanity, even if his name was lost to him, as long as his swordsmanship was still intact, then the nameless farmer that had never known greatness still existed in this foreign world, even if it was under a name that was not his own.

And if he came out on top at the end of their final duel... What would it say about himself?

That some nameless peasant, someone who had never been noticed by history, could fight and defeat the king of knights, not through some blessing of fate, but through the skill he had developed throughout his life. The ultimate testament to the strength of humanity, a technique that did the impossible with nothing more than the natural powers possessed by humans.

He had been brought here without a name, without a purpose, in order to better fulfill the role of someone who had never existed.

But he had created a purpose for himself, for the farmer that lay beneath the role of a legend, and he would see it through until the very end.

The light clanking sound of armor drew Assassin out of his reverie, and with light, even steps, he took the same position he had stood in for these past few days of war, his expression as calm and composed as it always was, a small smile that displayed nothing but confidence.

Even if the moon would be the only thing to bear witness to this battle-

“-I have been waiting for you. I am glad you made it in time, Saber.”

He would prove that he was, without a doubt, the greatest swordsman of all time.

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:32 AM
Name: Njeri
Author: Anon

The incessant bounces of the SUV, like the rocking of a mother’s tired arms, had sent the little silver-haired girl straight to the land of dreams.

With every breath, gasps of white smog escaped the girl’s red lips in the cold winter Balkan morning. Stirring uneasily, her elegant eyebrows twitched beneath her long snow-white fringe, her eyes seemingly fretting to and fro as her mind wandered in outlandish realms.

The long flight from Germany had taken its toll on her young body. From Munich, like a moth leaping into the fires of the sun, they had flown east throughout the night with barely a pause over the mighty Alps, fabled Venice, ancient Zagreb, and broken Pristina – until they landed in their mountainous destination, in a corner that the world itself had forgotten and practically erased.

Carefully cradling the head of the sleeping princess in his lap, the other passenger sitting in the back seat of the decade-old SUV leaned forward towards the driver, his voice a smooth murmur as they trudged along the treacherous and narrow mountain passes towards their destination.

“How far is it to go, Frau Dunn?”

The thin woman sitting in the driver’s seat barely glanced at him from behind her brown headscarf, which partially covered the lower half of her face. With a grumble in heavily-accented English that sounded halfway like ‘a few more minutes’, she kept piloting the vehicle over the uneven tarmac with practiced ease and refused to answer any more questions. The inquirer sank back into his seat with a displeased grimace marring his handsome face, his brows knotted into a frown that was barely concealed under his short white hair. The early morning sunshine filtered through the dusty back window of the SUV and fell on his profile, sparkling with annoyance in his crimson eyes. Grumbling in German about manners, the young man leaned back into the seat and shut his eyes in irritation.

Feeling the tension that was building up in the car, the other white-haired man sitting in the passenger’s seat attempted to break the ice with a hearty laughter. With a dramatic swing of his long white ponytail, he half-turned to his companion and their sleeping charge, deliberately using English so their driver and local guide can feel a part of the conversation as well.

“Sigmund, leave Frau Dunn to her driving. We’ll get there in no time.”

The short-haired youth said nothing and simply opened his eyes to stare back at his fellow traveller’s equally carmine irises – so similar that, in fact, they could well be twins. Their chiselled cheekbones, their snowy hair, their pallid and pristine skin and their almost mirrored face – all of this spoke of an uncanny relationship of some sort between the two young men in the car, and the equally pale and beautiful girl curled up next to Sigmund’s leg.

With a snort, the young man sitting in the passenger’s seat shrugged exaggeratedly, and turned back to face the windscreen, having given up trying to dissuade his companion from continuing to wallow in his sour mood. However, within moments, it seemed like Sigmund had changed his mind.

“… Can we trust this woman, Johannes?”

The soft words spoken in German did not escape the long-haired young man’s ears. Barely giving a look towards the female driver or his twin at the back of the SUV, Johannes responded in German, his voice just a notch or so deeper than Sigmund’s otherwise identical intonations.

“She’s what we hired, anyways. It’s some good money that the Head of the Family paid her too. Besides, what can harm the two of us?”

“It’s not the two of us that I’m concerned about –” Sigmund sounded as if eager to burst some words out of his throat, but caught himself just on time. Swallowing back whatever he desired to say, he sank back once again into silence, his slender fingers periodically running through the little girl’s spotless hair in tender care.

Johannes did not respond as the vehicle gradually slowed down to pass one more military checkpoint, as Frau Dunn rolled down the window and produced their papers for the coat-covered soldiers to inspect over. High above them, too high on the mountains for mortal eyes to see, the German visitors knew snipers should have been placed, ready to fire upon seeing any suspicious movement on the ground.

Further north, in the heart of this war-torn province, they knew massacres had already occurred, with innumerable lives swallowed up by the blood-stained earth.

Deeper south, at the borders of this country plunged deep into the grasps of violence, they heard rumours of tanks and artilleries gathering, of foreign aircrafts ready to launch into the air to deliver ‘justice’ for the greater good.

Johannes narrowed his blood-red eyes as the soldiers waved them through, but proceeded to spit on the windscreen of car behind them before allowing that unfortunate vehicle into the check point.

“What was that for?” Turning to look behind him, he queried in English.

“The driver spoke Albanian.” Her mouth and nose concealed behind her heavy scarf, Frau Dunn muttered quietly as they set out again. “For soldiers, this land is not Kosova, but Republika Srbija… we do not speak of such things, Herr Einsbern. Not outside the city.”

“I… understand.”

The SUV lurched forward as the path wound around the mountains and moved to descend upon the narrow river bed, heading towards the town. Driving with the sun behind them, which was just peeking over the highest peaks of the snow-capped mountains, the German visitors squinted to catch a glimpse of the city within the thin cleft of sky between the cliffs that enveloped them, the vehicle making sharp turns all the time.

“Mmm …?”

Those turns which were sharp enough to wake the little princess from her sleep. Her eyebrows fluttered as sunlight danced on her snow white skin with the car bouncing down another slope. Slowly, hesitantly, another pair of sanguineous eyes opened as the girl sleepily gazed upon this new world.

For a moment, confusion clouded those eyes, which were identical to that of her fellows’ garnet orbs.

“Huh…?”

Helping the little girl sit up straight, Sigmund gently buttoned up her long winter coat with his long, slender fingers. “Do not fear, Lady Illyasviel. We’re driving towards our location as we speak, and will arrive there shortly.”

“Huh…” Evidently still drowsy, the girl allowed Sigmund to straighten her coat for her as well as she gave a big yawn, her long silver hair tousled into an unruly halo around her angelic face. “Ahhh… uhhh…”

“Yes, Lady Illya, we’ve already landed.” Turning his head around to have a proper look at his newly-awakened charge, Johannes gave a small salute together with a wide grin. “You slept the whole way from Munich. Right from the moment we took off, almost. Sigmund had to carry you off the plane and into the car when we landed. Aren’t you going to thank him, my lady?”

Narrowing her eyes in mock anger, the girl ignored Johannes’s words and mischievous smile, shifting her focus to the driver instead, blinking incomprehensively at this unfamiliar face.

Her guards made to reply, but were surprisingly beaten by the person in question herself.

“I am Agnes Dunn.” Despite her heavily accented English, her name sounded genuinely pronounceable. “I’m the guide Lord Einsbern hired. We’re heading to town, my lady.”

Rubbing the last residues of sleep out of her eyes, the little girl edged forward, her small hand clinging to the back of Frau Dunn and Johanne’s seat as she peeked towards out of the windscreen of the car.

“Yes, to town.” With a movement of her chin, Frau Dunn motioned towards the front as they glided down the final hill, rounded the city’s water processing plant, and finally had the end of their prolonged journey in their sight.

There was a stunned gasp as the little girl beheld the city before her eyes, which was slowly rising up from its winter slumber. Blinking into wakefulness as the sun slowly rose and pulled away the veil of the night, the red-washed tile roofs of the city seemed to stretch their arms and inhale the refreshing air under the shifting shadows of the immense mountains. Strands of silver smoke wafted eagerly out of early-waking chimneys, some quickly rising up into the dawning sky while others clung to the soaring minarets that dotted the town like a mortal, reluctant sigh. Nestled gently between the curve of the Bistrica River and the Šar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Šar_Mountains)Mountains like a loyal hound waiting patiently for its whimsical master, the most beautiful city in southern Serbia glittered as its crimson roofs and ancient creamy bricks caught the earliest golden light of the day. Reflecting so brilliantly in the January dawn, the tormented yet alluring city burnt its pristine image into the little girl’s blood-red eyes as she beheld that unspoiled, quiet morning for the first – and the last – time in her life.

“Welcome to Prizren, Kosovo, Lady Einsbern.”

Like a fleeting, momentary afterthought, Frau Dunn’s low voice echoed in the car as they moved along the last stretch of the road toward the town.

-\-\-\-\-\-

The journey did not just start today, however.

No. This was merely the last leg of a race that had continued through millennia and consumed innumerable lives, driven only by a dogged determination that had long ago lost its original cause and vigour.

Neither Sigmund, Johannes, nor Illyasviel were alive when the feud first started. They couldn’t have known – they shouldn’t have understood this obsession of the Einsberns, one that was started by their ancestors aeons ago.

Yet they knew, they understood. For it was encoded in their blood, their flesh, their soul – all of which were derived from the Lady of Winter, the greatest of Einsbern homunculi, the ‘Mother’ of all the ‘children’ who came after.

It was a duty that Sigmund and Johannes had lived their whole short lives knowing. When they received the summons from Old Acht, the head of the Einsberns, they did not hesitate for even a second before answering the call.

“Johannes, Sigmund. I believe you have seen and heard of the Vessel of the Grail?”

In the frozen hall that had seen the passing of countless homunculi, a room that the little girl’s parents have doubtlessly stood in before their departure years ago, Illyasviel von Einsbern had stood and listened to the ead of the house’s command in silence, her head bowed out of habit and respect. Seemingly oblivious to the twins’ entrance, she did not make any recognition to their presence when Old Acht turned his attention to the two new comers.

Soundlessly, the twins nodded in unison. Since their birth – no, their manufacture – they had always been acutely aware of her existence. The Vessel of the Holy Grail, the epitome of Einsbern homunculi, made to receive the fountain of power that is Akasha and retrieve the lost Third Magic – and yet set in human form, born of a human womb, and lived with a human heart.

Unfortunately though, they knew that unlike those before her, her existence was not a subject of elation or even satisfaction for the Einsbern family.

She should have been a machine. Her mother should have been a machine. For a daughter of the Einsberns to have tasted love and desire was undoubtedly the root of their downfall, the cause of the Einsbern’s unforgivable failure almost a decade ago. It was the perfect opportunity, and yet, this girl’s parents threw it all away for some wanton dream that they had dared to harbour and somehow also resolved to discard with the miracle of the Grail – yes, it was a betrayal and a sin, the Einsbern elders had decided in vengeance and regret. A sin that that the lone child who was left behind would have to redeem.

The Maiden of Winter had been reborn in Illyasviel von Einsbern in the past ten years. Not in flesh, or soul, but in the way that she had simply obeyed the demands of her duty and nothing else. Her heart was frozen, just like the winter storm that eternally raged on outside the door. Johannes and Sigmund heard how she had been sent out into the woods to ‘train’ for days at a time, that wood which was rumoured to have buried mountains of discarded Einsbern homunculi deemed to be ‘faulty’. The twins had once spied the small girl as she returned from one such journey, accompanied by one solitary guard. Her steps dragging, her face slack, the most outstanding homunculus of the Einsbern had traversed the icy and ancient hallway like a wraith, as if burdened by invisible shackles and chains. The two men had indeed secretly discussed this in the brief respite between their intensive training for the past year, for serving her was undoubtedly their reason of existence.

Was this empty shell what the Holy Grail should be all along?

“Sigmund? Johannes?”

Like a pair of poor Rosencrutz and Gildenstein, the twin homunculi jolted and stood to attention, the soles of their leather boots creaking as they scraped against the granite floor. Lowering their heads, they stood behind Illyasviel von Einsbern and listened to the family’s decree.

In that long, solemn hall, eternally frozen in the bleaks sunlight that tore its way through the long and narrow windows, Old Acht’s voice echoed out monotonously. Standing still, the only thing the Einsbern children were allowed to do was listen, and nothing else.

“Illyasviel, is the Vessel ready?”

“Yes, Grandfather. It would function well even in Fuyuki.”

Acht’s chiselled eyes narrowed briefly on Illyasviel’s small figure, then moved away.

“I am not sending you to Fuyuki at this stage. Do not overestimate yourself, Vessel.”

The girl instantly quieted down like a meek rabbit. No longer paying any attention to her, Old Acht turned his keen gaze on the two newcomers into the hall.

“I trust you have been briefed about this mission?”

Sigmund and Johannes nodded mutely, not wishing to say anything unnecessary least it angered this elder.

“Good. You go to retrieve the catalyst that we have selected. Ever since this valuable Vessel showed signs of Command Seals, the Einsbern house had tried its hardest to look for the most suitable Servant for her.” Despite his words of apparent praise, the look Old Acht gave for the girl was most foul, as if she was a stain that he had to put up with for far longer than that allowed by his patience. “We have since decided on one such hero befitting of the Einsberns’ prestige and her power – that of Herakles… to be summoned as Berserker.”

The girl’s body twitched visibly with those words, yet they could see that she controlled herself. It was just one shiver, no more, as if she steeled herself against the torment and agony the summoning of a Berserker would entail. To summon the mad Heroic Spirit, to hold the reins of the crazed beast that knew nothing but slaughter – it was certainly not the choice the little girl would have made herself had she been allowed the luxury. No, she was only the Vessel for the Grail, after all.

Would those shaking fingers be enough to hold the ropes that tied the insane beast to the world of men? Would that slender flesh sate the ravenous hunger of the monster that fed and drained endlessly on prana?

And would that wounded, staggering mind hold itself together till the end?

Impervious to her, her grandfather’s voice did not stop. “A stele, previously of Herakles’s own temple in Greece, has been located. The temple itself is now far beyond repair, and has been deemed unsuitable for any use. We have therefore discarded the notion of travelling to that actual place of worship, and settled for the most efficient choice of using the stele. You will therefore travel to the place it is kept, and bring it back to us.”

“And you shall bring the Vessel of the Grail with you to authenticate the stele. The temple may be useless to us now, but the association to the divine remains. Not everything with a connection to a hero can become a catalyst. Illyasviel,” there was one more look of distain towards the girl’s direction, “will see for herself if the catalyst is suitable for her Servant, who will most certainly win the War for the Einsberns.”

With that, Old Acht walked towards Sigmund and Johannes, leaving Illyasviel to stand in his elongating shadow.

“You depart for Prizren tomorrow. Transport to Munich and then to Serbia has been arranged. The Einsberns have also hired hands on ground, a mercenary well-known in those parts, a woman who goes by the name of Agnes Dunn. She will be picking you up at the airfield and be responsible for your safety in the city until your departure at noon of the same day.”

“In the same day?!”

Sigmund elbowed Johannes in the stomach for inadvertently exclaiming out. Turning his granite eyes to the long-haired twin, Old Acht merely grated out a few words as an answer.

“There’s a war between mortals going on there, homunculus. It would be… unwise not to do so.”

-\-\-\-\-\-

The four of them had surreptitiously parked their vehicles in a dusty, ancient street, lined by buildings that had seen at least a century’s worth of days and nights. Stumbling a little, Illyasviel tried her best to keep up with the group, which was walking in the war-silenced northern edges of the town with their heads bowed, not willing to gain more attention than they already have.

“Hurry, Lady Illyasviel. This way.”

The girl’s knee-high purple boots hit a boulder on the uneven uphill road, and she let out a small gasp, her hand desperately clinging to Sigmund’s. Sighing, the white-haired youth bent his back and used both hands to guide the little girl along, grinning resignedly as Her Ladyship stared back at him with red eyes full of embarrassment.

“… It’s alright, Lady Illyasviel. I can help you – ”

His helping hand was flung away by the arms of the little lady, however, as the ashamed garnet eyes were now filled with spite and arrogance.

“I do not need your help, Sigmund. I can walk on my two legs. You’re better off helping your twin and the mercenary woman. The sooner we get out of here,” pulling the hem of her coat closer to her with her now free hand, she turned away from Sigmund, speaking her first coherent words since landing, “the better.”

There was a brief silence as Frau Dunn paused in her steps during this little show, no longer leading the way for the group. Standing in the early morning light with the sun shining behind her, Sigmund and Johannes couldn’t help but stop in front of her shadow as well. With her scarf covering the most of her face, only her unblinking ebony eyes peeked out sternly at the little girl as if in reproach.

An awkward grin creeping up his face, Johannes hurried to the rescue. “I – ahh, Frau Dunn, she didn’t mean it. The flight must have –”

A cold wind blew past, sweeping up Frau Dunn’s scarf and the timeless sands that had lain on the unkempt road. Johannes had to stop talking, coughing as he covered his nose and mouth. Beside him, Sigmund and Illyasviel had to do the same. As the wind briefly lifted up the woman’s scarf, Johannes spied a stern mouth and lips downturned in displeasure. But when he had coughed out enough sand from his mouth to try to speak again, the woman had already turned away, her scarf once again settled against her visage to hide it from his eyes.

“She is right. Sooner you get out … the better.”

“But –” Rubbing his eyes, Johannes took one step forward, wanting to explain. However, as if hearing his footsteps on the gravel, Frau Dunn turned around, her bottomless eyes staring into his face.

“The relic you want is also… wanted by other people.” Her English, a little low on vocabulary, nevertheless made her point clear. “Hurry – before other people find the stele pieces.” Turning back, she set off down the road once again, leading the group.

“Stele… pieces?” Sigmund’s soft and incredulous voice rang out as he paused in his steps.

“The stele is already broken.” Frau Dunn’s voice drifted downwind to their ears. "In three pieces, hidden in three different places in the city. This way… if your enemies get one, you can still summon your Servant for the Grail War as long as you have one piece as well.”

As Frau Dunn responded, Sigmund’s thin brows drew closer and closer.

“Sigmund…” Seeing how his brethren was walking quickly up the front of the group, Johannes stammered. Reaching out, he tried to prevent Sigmund from making the mood worse, but the short-haired homunculus easily dodged his grasp and placed his hand on Frau Dunn’s shoulder.

“You didn’t tell us the stele was in pieces, Frau Dunn.” Sigmund’s soft, emotionless voice echoed in the narrow empty street, barely audible over the drone of small airplanes that patrolled the skies. “You could well have quartered it or more and kept some pieces for yourself… and you also know a terrible lot about what we’re here for. Are you sure that Lord Jubstacheit is the one who told it all to you?”

Frau Dunn didn’t move a muscle as she allowed Sigmund to hold her shoulder, seemingly unwilling to retaliate. Yet the mere detachedness of her voice spoke otherwise. “… Let me go, Herr Einsbern.”

“An untrustworthy guide is no less than a –”

“Quiet, Sigmund, and let her go.”

Sigmund’s arm froze, rigid on Frau Dunn’s shoulder, as both Johannes and he looked behind them to the little girl – to Illyasviel von Einsbern, who had issued this command with an authority that allowed no violation. Walking carefully in her purple knee-high boots, the little girl slowly approached the twin homunculi and Frau Dunn.

“An untrustworthy guide is still a guide.” Looking right into Frau Dunn’s half-obscured countenance, Illyasviel’s tone did not waver on a single note, despite Johannes’s concerned look and Sigmund’s dark frown. “It is no coincidence that Grandfather had provided me with two bodyguards, both of outstanding power. Do not dare to defy us, woman. The loss of your pay would be the least of your worries then.”

There was a brief silence as none of the three responded. Sigmund and Johannes simply stared at Illyasviel, not expecting such a reaction from this usually passive and silent Vessel of the Grail. Frau Dunn’s expression was impossible to see – but she was the first one who broke the mute tension.

“You can find the stele on your own, Lady Einsbern?”

“Stele or not, I will have my Servant – !” As if suddenly aware of her outburst, Illyasviel bit her lip and restrained herself with a frown, and lowered her head as she quickly walked past Frau Dunn, her face briefly covered by a light veil of embarrassment and shame. Stopping a few feet ahead of the older woman, she mumbled a question.

“… Where is it?”

Johannes could have sworn that the ends of Frau Dunn’s eyes tilted upward in a small smile as she moved forward to stand behind the young lady, her grating English somewhat gentler to the ear. “Higher on the hills. But we parked the car close, it is now near to us. In walking distance.”

“We’re in the middle of a war… and yet they are still allowing people to walk about freely in the city?” Behind them, Johannes queried, casting his eyes around.

“… We are in a war, but Prizren is not badly affected.” With a nod, Frau Dunn indicated towards a few straggling soldiers lazily wandering in the street, their guns loosely clutched in their hands. Right behind them was a group of women, evidently going to the morning market closer to the Bistrica River to the south, their hair covered with colourful scarves and their long dress extending almost to the ground. “People live normally here. There are few soldiers… no tanks.”

Without so much as pause, as if determined to lead the way, Illyasviel began to walk forward. As she passed the soldiers, her white hair and cherubic appearance attracted more than a few gazes – but the soldiers did not inquire further. Perhaps it was due to the two males’ presence, or perhaps it was due to the glance that Frau Dunn gave them. However, all saw Illyasviel give out a small shudder as she passed the men and their guns, held waist-high and pointing their dark barrels towards the street.

“… You don’t like war, Lady Einsbern?”

Frau Dunn’s low voice whispered as they walked out of earshot of the soldiers, as if concerned for the little girl’s well being. Illyasviel shivered again when she heard these words, but her answer was evidently not what the older woman had expected at all.

“No… I… I like it.”

The little girl’s two hands clutched into fists as she walked, her short nails digging into her own pallid flesh. She exhaled, deeply, slowly, and with each forward step that she took; but she found just enough strength to keep speaking.

“I like it… I like it… I like it… for the sakes of the Einsberns…”

Bending down, and with a quick flick of her wrist, Frau Dunn grasped Illyasivel’s hand tightly, breaking the little homunculus’s self-convincing mantra, and began to march down the street with long steps.

“Hey –!” Sigmund made to protest, but he was too late. Despite her ordinary height and seemingly average physique, Frau Dunn already made quite the progress moving down the road, half-dragging Illyasviel with her. Sigmund and Johannes had to jog to catch up.

“F – Frau Dunn!”

Her hand held in an iron grip by the elder woman, her little legs doing the best they can to catch up, Illyasviel was momentarily lost for speech and simply stared, stunned, at the older woman.

“Yes, you like war, don’t you? Otherwise you wouldn’t be in one later, one full of blood… Yes, Lady Einsbern, which is who – what – you should be.” Her eyes fixed straight ahead, Frau Dunn didn’t even flinch as Illyasviel struggled feebly, trying to wrench her small hand away from the other’s vice-like grasp. “I should help you to get to your weapon quicker then, no? Lady of the Holy Grail?”

With fast steps that outran his twin and soon caught up with Frau Dunn, Johannes bent down and bodily swooped Illyasviel into his arms, his powerful and calloused hands pulling Frau Dunn’s fingers away from the little lady. With a frown making his handsome face sour, Johannes held Illyasviel with one arm as he chased Frau Dunn, his long white ponytail swaying behind him as he trotted with an uneven gait.

“Frau Dunn, I don’t know if you hold any grudges against the Einsbern, but that was no way to treat your employer, if nothing more. Lead us to wherever you need, but don’t take out your anger on her, for goodness’s sake! She’s been through –”

Johannes’s sentence stopped abruptly as Illyasviel pinched his arm. The little girl was biting hard on her lower lip, her face flushed and her eyes downcast as she mumbled: “… I didn’t ask you to defend me, Johannes. Don’t meddle in things that are not of your business.”

“I only know you need your Holy Relic,” ignoring Johannes’s words, Frau Dunn kept marching forward. “Do you want to hurry, Einsbern?”

“I do hope… it’s not far…” Catching up, Sigmund paused for breath. Putting a hand on Johannes’s free arm, it took the short-haired homunculus a while before he could stand on his own. His thin brows creased slightly, Johannes nonetheless silently allowed Sigmund to lean on him, despite his present burden with Illyasviel.

Lifting her hand, Frau Dunn pointed towards their right, towards a small building jutting out from halfway up the hills. Their gazes following Frau Dunn’s hand, the three Einsberns blinked at the tiny church decorated by a simple dome perched near the altar and a tower to the side, standing alone on the hillside, looking down on the quiet northern quarters of the ancient town. At the foot of the church, they could spy some ordinary folks moving about, dressed in muted shades of brown and black, some engaged in conversation while others simply hurried along the rocky and perilous path.

“You hid it in a… church?”

Merely tilting her head at Sigmund’s incredulous words, Frau Dunn seemed more puzzled than anything else.

“Why not? It is a stone. Where better than a house of stone? Besides, the people who worship there is the best protection, no? They tell me what I need to know. That’s enough.”

The twin homunculi remained standing there for there for a while, stunned in shock at the boldness of this woman to hide their catalyst in one of the more famous churches in this town dotted with places of worship. However, as they moved up the hill, they received even more curious looks from the passersby. Frowning a little at the excessive attention, Illyasviel reached over and pulled the hood of Johannes’s military jacket over his snow-white hair, prompting Sigmund to do the same. The amount of people that stared of them immediately reduced.

A few of the women had walked quickly towards them, greeted with hostile gazes by Johannes and Sigmund – but they headed straight for Frau Dunn. Babbling in their ancient, Slavic tongue, the women conversed in hushed tones, with Frau Dunn looking towards the main doors of the small church once in a while, her face graver and graver. At last, she turned and beckoned the homunculi over, while the other women scattered away like a flock of alarmed geese.

“… Ahh, bad news. Someone else is already here.”

“…I knew it.” With a frown on his face, Sigmund’s expression darkened. “I don’t know if you’ve felt it, but there is a… barrier right around the church, though very subtle. A skilled magus is here.”

“Huh? But –”

Johannes’s hand quickly silenced the little girl’s startled words as he smoothly bent down and set her feet on the ground, relieving himself of that burden. Beside him, Sigmund frowned as he reached into his coat pockets, and his hands grasping something in his palms when they became visible again. Johannes had reached beneath his long coat, searching for some weapon that he surely hid next to his person, but did not draw it and simply muttered to Illyasviel.

“… Lady Illyasviel, keep close to us. We won’t be able to hold onto you anymore. Please be wary, least the enemy decides to attack. The barrier closer to the church would prevent any magecraft battles from being discerned by outsiders – which means the enemy may be very well prepared.”

Hugging the long, dragging coat closer to her thin frame, the little girl nodded - first hesitantly, then resolutely.

“Yes… I will do that, certainly.”

-\-\-\-\-\-\-

Despite her bravado, Illyasviel’s heart was at her throat as she followed the other two homunculi across the dusty brown road, creeping ever closer to the main doors of the quaint Church of Holy Salvation standing aloof on the northern hills above the town.

Even though she was not a combat homunculus, and was never meant to be one, she crept towards potential danger with her companions – because she desired what lay ahead.

Her Servant.

Her sword.

Her hammer to shatter the chains that bind her. Her answer of defiance to the abysmal fate that will swallow her whole.

Today, she walked and moved for that purpose alone, for it was the only purpose that belonged to her – and not to her duty as the Grail of the Einsberns.

Her hands shaking with fear and anticipation, her eyes were glued to Johannes’s back as the latter crept closer and closer to the tightly-shut main doors. Within the room awaited her prize. The stele of Herakles – a catalyst that Old Acht had sought for years, a fabled fragment of a mystery that time itself had buried and lost. Illyasviel had vaguely heard of how hard the Einsberns fought to secure this piece of seemingly harmless rock ever since the end of the last Holy Grail War, or how much fortune was thrown away on the pursuit for the most powerful Servant – the Servant that would be second to none. No, not even to her.

The star of glory that the Einsberns had chosen almost a decade ago had ruined their best hope; had attempted to destroy the very existence that the family lived for, even. This time, the Vessel of the Grail must not fail no matter what – it was not only her birthright and duty, but a creed drummed into her flesh and bone, a pattern of blood-stained tattoo sunken into the deepest part of her soul. However, it meant far, far more than that for Illyasviel von Einsbern.

For which child would be willing to burden the sins of her father?

“… Watch your steps. I think there may be magecraft traps beyond this door.”

Creeping up towards the front of their group of four, Sigmund crouched down and felt around the edges of the church’s main door, now completely devoid of the throng of worshippers. Running his slender fingers suspiciously along the lower parts of the ancient door, he frowned slightly then motioned for Johannes and Frau Dunn to move away from him as he opened his palms, revealing a ball of what seemed gold and silver threads.

“Wait! That –” Giving out a stunned, almost surprised gasp, Frau Dunn moved to step forward, as if struck with disbelief upon seeing Sigmund’s weapon. Johannes’s hand on her shoulder prevented her from getting closer to the other Einsbern homunculus, however. The long-haired homunculus softly but sternly shook his head at her, telling her not to interfere with the other’s moves.

Muttering words of German under his breath, the threads in Sigmund’s hands writhed and twisted, each individual loop extending towards the door and expanding like the living head of a hundred snakes. Some of covered the door like ominous vines as the Teutonic homunculus kept chanting beneath his breath, some sneaking into the creaks between the door and the floor like a corps of hungry leeches. The rest could hear small sounds from the other side of the door, frizzing sounds as if small bolts of lightning were being released into the air inside the church. Taking an unsteady step back, Frau Dunn seemed more stunned than before – and an audible gasp could be heard from her as a deep boom, almost as if a small explosion had gone off inside the church, sounded deeper within.

With his ‘weapon’ still entangled with the door, Sigmund did not move but simply tilted his head, and the door creaked open with a light sound of a bolt being lifted from the floor.

Eagerly trailing behind Johannes and Frau Dunn as they rushed into the door, Illyasviel barely had one moment to grasp the general layout of the small nave before Johannes stepped before her, blocking her from the solitary middle-aged man standing near the altar.

“… well done, Einsbern. I would do better to give my defences more thought next time.”

As if completely ignoring to the prospect of being attacked by the Einsberns, the man at the other side of the nave simply lowered his head in a small bow. His elegant and composed manner, combined with his bespectacled pale face and the head of flaming red hair he sported, gave out nothing less than the reserved and confident aura of someone in a position of power. He was a magus. Of that Illyasviel had no doubt.

Moreover, what concerned her the most was the fact that a piece of rock was lying on the ground next to his feet – a rock that positively gleamed with power.

“Hey! That – that stele! That Divinity – !”

“Yes.” Frau Dunn’s voice dropped. “That is one third of the stele. He…found it.”

“You – you are –” As if recognising the man, Illyasviel heard Sigmund’s voice falter. Next to him, Johannes once again reached into his jacket, ready to withdraw his weapon.

“Allow me to introduce myself first, you of the Einsbern. I am not surprised that you may recognise me, for I am the current scion of Sophia-Ri family, the Head of Eulyphis at the Clock Tower in London – does that ring a bell, my competitors for Herakles?”

But Johannes already had withdrawn a short steel pole in the blink of an eye as the red-headed man spoke. As Illyasviel watched, the pole extended under a quiet spell muttered by Johannes, growing longer and longer and expanding until it settled into form, solidifying into a long halberd under the skilled manipulation of the Einsbern alchemy. Etched with intricate patterns that radiated with strength and power, the cold blade of Johannes’s weapon sliced through the air with a sharp sound as Johannes pointed it towards his enemy.

“Yes, it does ring a bell – and not a pleasant one. Are you the one sent by the Magi’s Association this time, then?”

“One sent by the Magi’s Association? Please, Einsbern, one such as I do not need to be sent.” Brushing a stray bang of hair away from his forehead, the man – the head of an ancient and powerful house that would not fall beneath the Einsberns in terms of ancestry or prestige – only grinned charmingly in response. “I came here of my own volition, seeking a great catalyst that will lead me to a similarly miraculous Servant – yes, though I do not care much for it, I have reasons to participate in the Holy Grail War that you host, homunculi of Winter. Especially since,” taking one step forward, with shoes that creaked on the granite floor, the man’s eyes darkened briefly, “especially since my own little sister fell by the Einsbern’s hands years ago into the same war.”

A collective shudder ran through Illyasviel’s group as Sophia-Ri’s voice echoed in the empty church, sending a chill down the spines of all four of them. Johannes bit his lip. Sigmund widened his eyes. Illyasviel took a stumbling step backwards and Frau Dunn lowered her body, her hands sneaking into her long coat in a pose ready for battle.

“Therefore, please forgive me if I happen to destroy all of you out today, even if you ARE the Vessel of the Grail, my Lady.” Stretching his arms out expressively, Sophia-Ri did not look at his imminent enemies but shifted his gaze skyward, as if something may fall from the plastered ceiling of the church. “For your arrival, I had prepared the most exquisite of my magecraft –”

As if suddenly sensing something that he had missed all this time, Sigmund’s expression shifted and he reached out, grasping Johannes’s shoulder. “Wait, he’s the head of Eulyphis… wouldn’t that mean –”

Before he could finish his sentence, the walls of the small church exploded with a multitude of colours and shades, with crimson red and blinding gold, with verdant green and blue-hot azure, as tens of Magic Circles sudden sprang into life on the walls. Startled, Sigmund barely managed to command his flowing golden and silver threads to form an intricate cage around the group before the runes in the Magic Circles swirled and gleamed, and hands – feet – eyes – claws – limbs – tails emerged from each and every Circle, as a battalion of unworldly creatures stared down at the Einsberns with ravenous and insatiable hunger.

“You –” It was Frau Dunn who still had enough courage left to speak. A low, dry rasp escaped her throat as her ebony eyes bore into Sophia-Ri’s face.

But that was to be expected. It was Team Einsbern’s fault for not noticing it sooner – for wasn’t Eulyphis the study of summoning and binding?

With one wave of their master’s hand, the hordes of unwholesome familiars swept down upon the four who still stood, shocked, and were simply staring upward. With a loud curse, Johannes turn around, and grabbed Illyasviel’s hand as he ran for the main doors, which were still held open by a fragment of Sigmund’s threads. Behind them, Illyasviel could hear Sigmund and Frau Dunn running as well, the frail cage of the homunculi moving to accommodate their speed at the same time.

“Out!” Once again proving to be physically stronger than how she seemed, Frau Dunn gasped out a sentence as they reached the door, the familiars only one step behind them. “With the people… in daylight… and the army… he can’t fight with magecraft!”

Fleeing, with Johannes dragging Illyasviel along and sprinting as quickly as possible away from the church, the four of them soon escaped from the place, leaving the main doors wide open in their wake.

“… You decided not to kill them, Lord Sophia-Ri?”

The red-headed man smoothly out the lightly creases on the sleeves of his black suit before deigning to give a look at a younger man walking out from behind the altar and speaking to him.

“Not for the moment. They – no, she – doesn’t know what she got herself into the moment she stepped into this town.”

With a dramatic sigh, Sophia-Ri stepped out across the nave towards the doors, letting the other trail behind him.

“After all, I will hunt her until she tastes the despair that my sister and her husband had tasted because of her, experience the fear of being hunted as my sister had… Wouldn’t that be an even greater joy than obtaining the Holy Grail itself?”

At the thought of actually fighting at Fuyuki and gaining the Grail, Sophia-Ri couldn’t help but let an indulgent, sardonic smile creep up his lips.

“But if that little group actually manage to survive beyond Prizren, it won’t be bad to meet that little Vessel face to face again in the future – and watch as my Herakles tear her tender flesh asunder…”

-\-\-\-\-\-\-

Racing down the rocky path and descending onto the city, Illyasviel had to wonder why their little commotion attracted so little attention from the outside world.

Even with soldiers roaming the road, it seemed what happened inside the Church of Holy Salvation remained undetected. Wait, no… where are the soldiers now?

The previous patrols on the street seemed to have disappeared, together with the few military-coloured trucks that she had glimpsed parked near the area. As they tore through the block, sprinting in full speed southward, Sigmund and Johannes had hastily reduced the sizes of their weapons and shoved them back into their coat pockets. With Frau Dunn now in the lead once again, they were moving back towards heart of the town, towards the more populated areas nearer to the Bistrica River, the waterway that flew between the Šar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Šar_Mountains) Mountains and the town of Prizren – and to the location where their vehicle was parked.

However, before they managed to reach their car, a figure darted out of a side alley and dragged Frau Dunn aside, disappearing into the inky blackness still occupying the narrow streets in old town. Before Sigmund and Johannes could respond, though, the figure poked her head out again, revealing an elderly and wrinkled face of an old woman under a black headscarf. Waving one hand, she beckoned the three Einsberns over. With one look at each other, the homunculi saw little choice but to follow.

Having raced through half of the small city and were now huddling under the majestic shadow of the Orthodox Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš, it took them a while to adjust their eyes to the darkness of the alleyway. When Illyasviel could finally see again, she found Frau Dunn to be deep in conversation with the old woman, their voices barely audible whispers. From the way they gestured in earnest and the speed with which they spoke in, however, not all seemed to be in order.

Gazing around, Sigmund positively sniffed at the air, as if he could catch a whiff of their pursuer’s scent. Cautious, Illyasviel also reached out with her senses, only to bounce against something she did not expect.

“Another barrier! Right next to us!”

Johannes and Sigmund froze as Illyasviel gasped those words out, looking apprehensively at the grand construction looming close to them, its roof gleaming with the light of pale blue tiles that echoed the bare morning winter sky. Frau Dunn also paused in her conversation, narrowing her eyes against the five intricate domes and a myriad of slopes of the Orthodox design as she looked up, muttering at the refracted sunrays from the crosses perched on top of each vantage point.

When Frau Dunn returned to her conversation, the old woman gestured straight ahead rather than pointing towards where their car was parked and gestured anxiously. Listening to her, Frau Dunn’s thin eyebrows furrowed dangerously, her almond-shaped eyes narrowing as she processed all the information that was being given. Lifting up her head to look at the Einsberns with an unusually grave expression, she said a brisk word to the older woman, who immediately disappeared into a dark doorway, and walked back towards the homunculi.

“… Did Lord Acht say anything more about your journey?”

“… Um, we’re here to collect the catalyst …?” Scratching the back of his head, Johannes answered awkwardly, apparently not knowing what she was asking.

Her gaze full of mistrust, Frau Dunn beckoned them to follow her as they quickly traversed through the incredibly narrow backstreets of the old city, abandoning the main thoroughfares for good. As they walked with her through the suddenly quiet town, they heard her words drifting back to them.

“You should have been more careful… unless he wants this to happen?”

Sigmund and Johannes gave uncomfortable looks to each other, knowing what she was hinting at. Neither of them was willing to believe it.

“I… er, Frau Dunn, it’s probably not what you think it is. This place is a warzone, after all. That Sophia-Ri guy could have easily bought the local troops, made some inquiries…”

Johannes’s weak explanations fell on deaf ears as Frau Dunn kept walking along, her hand on her chin, deep in thought. The homunculi had no choice but to follow her. As they rounded a corner to come to the front of the large church they were circling, Johannes and Sigmund were sure that they would be seeing their vehicle by now – and yet they found themselves pulled into the dark porch of the Church and then into the slightly opened ancient front doors by yet more local women, evidently others who knew their guide.

The Teutonic magi couldn’t help but be amazed at how deep Frau Dunn’s connections ran, and Sigmund heaved a resigned sigh as one of the women closed the heavy doors after them, sealing the room in dim darkness, lit only by the sunlight that filtered in through the small windows that glittered far up in the wall.

“Another old church… excellent. How many more of this does she have in store for us?”

Johannes’s words were ignored by the collective. There was more hushed conversation, and Illyasviel could make out many voices, talking in a language she could only assume to be local. Portrait after portrait of old kings and saints lined the walls of this large structure, and colourful stained-glass windows cast varied hues of red and green into the vast three-naved basilica. Then there was a pattering of feet, and a brief frame of light as something of a backdoor opened, and the women filtered out of the room. When the door shut again and dim shadows once again claimed the area, its walls undulating with altar apses and vestibules, Frau Dunn drifted backtowards Illyasviel, and the scraping of wood against hard floor could be heard as the elder woman reached a pew and sat down.

“Well, you are quite certain that Jubstacheit wouldn’t have sold you three out?”

Illyasviel could not see her surroundings very well. However, she sensed that Johannes and Sigmund were still close to her. There was a thump as one of them sat down straight onto the floor. When Johannes coughed from the dust in this place and his voice sounded at the level of Illyasviel’s head, the little girl figured he must’ve been the one. Sigmund must have still been standing, for when he spoke questioningly, it still sounded at his normal height. Nonetheless, those were not her main concerns. Just then – their guide’s tone –

“... Frau Dunn, your English –”

Yes, Sigmund must have noticed it as well. The Slavic accent was still there, sure, but the vocabulary, the grammar… she suddenly sounded like an adept with the language, and the pronunciation of the Einsbern head’s name indicated it wasn’t the first time that such a long, Teutonic name had rolled off her tongue.

“Never mind about my English. Tell me, are there no chances that Jubstacheit could have pre-arranged this, and allowed Sophia-Ri to slip in like this?”

As Illyasviel’s blood-red pupils slowly adjusted to the dim interior, she could now spy the inky shadow of the older woman sitting at a pew, facing them. Johannes’s long white hair shimmered dimly as he settled down on the ground, his back leaning against a pew. Sigmund, now that she could see the outline of the furnishings, had walked up to the pew in front of where Frau Dunn sat and stood directly in front of the woman. Though he had his back to Illyasviel, she could guess that he was glaring down at their guide.

“Explain yourself, Frau Dunn. We’ve been played enough, even though we’ve just arrived in your town.”

“You seem like a caster-type homunculus. Why don’t you tell me what this place had just been subjected to?”

There was a pause as Sigmund was taken back. Curious, wondering just what she meant, Illyasviel tentatively tried to ‘feel’ her surroundings, reaching out to gauge just what she was after –

With a collective gasp, with Sigmund and Illyasviel pulled their senses back. What had seemed to be a peaceful, harmless barrier they were standing in had revealed itself to be crawling with – no, almost filled to the brim – with the aftermath of magecraft.

It was as if someone had suddenly lifted away a shroud that had covered this spot up to this moment, as if the violent undercurrents of magecraft that had been unleashed in this place had been revealed to the light for the first time. Illyasviel had no idea how many familiars were involved in digging up the second piece of the stele, which Frau Dunn had undoubtedly buried within this very church. In fact, she involuntarily edged towards Johannes and sat down next to him, and the tall man protectively wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“He… he was already here…”

Illyasviel’s shivering voice was met with a sigh as Frau Dunn’s voice sank even lower.

“… That’s what my friends just told me. They had noticed two foreigners entering the town, and how soldiers were slowly being moved away… It was as if someone was preparing for something. Some of the local magi also noticed traces of Magic Circles, but never managed to trace them. It was as if they could move those at will, since you certainly didn’t detect their presence when he suddenly summoned the familiars back then. With such powers, and slowly moving the occupying troops out… And he’s doing all this without the Einsbern’s notice? Not when you claim to have hunted down Herakles’s stele for so long?”

There was a bang as Sigmund slammed his hands on the wood.

“Then what are you doing sitting here, Frau Dunn?? If this town is as dangerous as it seems now and all your hiding places have been discovered, we should be on your car, getting out! What’s the point in staying in this dar –”

“Not possible. My car already got burnt. My friends have just confirmed it with me. Had we moved further, we would have been caught by Sophia-Ri’s underling, who was waiting on the spot. Currently, I’d like to stay in here for a while until he passes away.”

Another heavy thud sounded as Sigmund sat down on the floor in dramatic anger. Despite the darkness, Illyasviel could imagine Frau Dunn narrowing his black eyes at Sigmund.

“No need to make ourselves so obvious either, Einsbern. I’d appreciate it if you don’t try to get them to find us.”

Silence reigned in the spacious church for a few more minutes as Sigmund restrained himself and didn’t reply. Holding her breath, Illyasviel stiffened every time she heard someone walking past the door on the street outside, but no one burst in. After a long while, Frau Dunn finally muttered her proposal.

“I could hardly imagine two pieces of the three already being taken… but things are now a little out of my hands. You have two choices, Einsbern. One, we retreat at noon according to your Lord’s original plan, and leave the stele for Sophia-Ri and try to take it from him later. Two, we fight – though I can’t imagine we’d have much chance of winning.”

The twin homunculi didn’t respond immediately. Hesitantly, Sigmund opened his mouth: “Perhaps we should reconsider –”

“No!”

She wanted to hold back. She wanted to listen to Sigmund’s safer decision. But a desperation had suddenly taken hold of Illyasviel’s heart and the little girl couldn’t stop herself from crying out – crying out with stubbornness, with audacity, with desire.

“No! I have to have him – I have to have my Servant!”

There was a long breath from Frau Dunn as she replied.

“Lady Einsbern… I had thought you to be better than this. Do you really desire war this much? Do you truly desire such glory and power?”

“I – I”

Words cluttered around Illyasviel’s throat and couldn’t get out. Not giving her time to pause, the other woman kept talking.

“This land has seen enough warfare, Einsberns, even if much of it were fought over matters far more trivial than the Holy Grail War. Really, what was the difference between an Albanian hill and a Serbian mountain, or a Christian river and an Ottoman creek…? And yet millions have been slain for just such a definition. I have read some files, and I know you have other Servants lined up after Herakles. If you leave now –”

“No, you don’t understand! I have to have Herakles – I have to have the strongest Servant!”

The room was completely silent after Illyasviel’s second outburst. Suddenly ashamed, Illyasviel drew her legs to her chest and buried her face in the long drape of her jacket.

Gently, Frau Dunn’s voice sliced apart the heavy silence.

“… You want to fight, Lady Einsbern?”

Thousands of words swelled up within Illyasviel, but she could only pick one thing to speak.

“I just… want to be strong for myself.”

Burying her face deeper into the fabric, Illyasviel mumbled, her voice only audible because of the claustrophobic quietness.

“I want the strongest Servant… I want him so I won’t ever be beaten again. I want to show everyone that I can control him, that I can fight as well as anyone else. I want to… I want to…”

“Are you… trying to prove yourself?”

Illyasviel lifted up her face. Frau Dunn’s voice had sounded – sad, gentle, and understanding.

“Lady Einsbern, the Albanians have a saying. Nuk ishte ankthi më parë nuk kishte njeri – There was anguish before there was man. That is who we are. That is the reality humans cannot escape from. We should not let anguish overwhelm us or attempt to act upon it. Nor should we attempt to fight and remove it from the world, for it will persist even long after we’ve faded away. Is fighting to your death… what you really want?”

Biting her lip, Illyasviel could only make an affirmative noise as she emphatically nodded.

She needed that power. She needed that strength. If she does not gain it, if she does not have that strength, then she’ll just be like –

But even her mother had failed with the greatest sword by her side.

No, perhaps she had been lying to herself. Proving herself and getting the Grail was only one part of what her heart wanted.

Even if she has absolute power in her hands in the form of her Servant, she still would not be able to escape her fate. But she would be given power nonetheless. What would she do – how would those short days of power relieve her of all the anguish that she had suffered through, revenge all the agony that she has yet to suffer…?

Was there truly… no escape?

However, she was not given any more time to think as the door violently burst open with no warning whatsoever, and the first thing that Illyasviel’s sight beheld was the silhouette of a twisted, grotesque spirit familiar.

-\-\-\-\-\-\-

An exploded eyeball. A squashed limb. A severed head.

Sounds of gun fire echoed as the blood-stained halberd swung and cut, as alchemical threads tightened and enveloped, as pieces of flesh scattered and flew out like a most morbid flower.

Illyasviel, shielded securely by her fellows, could only blink in fear and wonder as the battle turned the open nave in to a river of blood – and somehow, with a barrier that she had just realised to have been reinforced, the city remained oblivious to it all.

Just inside the doors of the church stood the man who had orchestrated this scene of horror, lips muttering continuously as he cast Magic Circle after Magic Circle, summoning familiars after familiars. With sweat almost dripping down his brow, he skilfully manipulated his army of spirits, which had now surrounded the Einsbern group in the spacious church.

Single-handedly, Johannes exerted a mighty swing with his weapon, cleaving two familiars mid-flight. Next to him, without so much as moving his little finger, Sigmund’s low humming made his threads twist and weave the most intricate cages before collapsing into itself, reducing its prisoner into little more than pulp. Lastly, while evidently not a magus, Frau Dunn showed her worth. With a light, semi-automatic firearm in hand, she had stopped wave after wave of enemies, the sound of gunfire ricocheting off the walls – and yet there was no end to be seen.

They have no doubts now about the unique magecraft Sophia-Ri specialised in. They detected no signs of the magus approaching, and there were no Magic Circles already drawn within the church. The only explanation would be that the barrier moved with the man – and the Magic Circles were drawn instantaneously and with words alone.

The enemy they currently faced was not Sophia-Ri himself, but undoubtedly a student of his, at the very least. This man, younger than his master and of a darker complexion, was nevertheless as good a fighter as Sophia-Ri. Had her guards been anyone of a lesser calibre, Illyasviel would not have stood a chance.

Even so, the amount of familiars summoned seemed to be endless. Just as they defeated one wave, more sprang into being around them, some so close it caused Illyasviel to jolt back in fear. Gritting his teeth, Johannes stood in front of Illyasviel, shielding her from the view as he struck them with a single blow.

“This is never going to finish!”

Johannes’s exasperated cry was echoed by the grunts of his fellows. Wiping his brow, Sigmund cursed loudly as three enemies rushed him all at once. Had it not been for Frau Dunn, who rapidly fired half a dozen bullets towards their direction, Sigmund would have suffered a grievous blow.

Muttering words of thanks, the short-haired homunculus barely had time to rest before he had to face more foes. Irritated, Johannes swept away two enemies with his large halberd, his long white ponytail swaying behind him as he took one step forward to yell at the lone magus who never ceased from summoning.

“Who are you?? Are you a lackey of that Sophia-Ri’s? You’d be wiser not to provoke the wrath of the Einsberns – you’ll regret it one day, I swear it!”

Their opponent only gave a thin smile as he chose not to answer and drummed more prana into his Magic Circles instead. It was quite obvious by now that, if this magus was not defeated as soon as possible, the Einsbern group will have a very difficult time fighting their way out of the church.

Sigmund made the first move, sending two strands of his weapon whipping toward the magus while two more assaulted from the side. However, one of the familiars raced back to its master, and swept aside those four threads with its claw. Unrelenting, Sigmund proceeded to entangle the intruding familiar into his web, dismissing it for good. But as his attention was diverted elsewhere, his weapon, usually a defensive and not aggressive device, proved to be too slow in such cramped battle conditions. With one swipe of its claw, one of the other familiars landed a blow on Sigmund’s right arm and blood gushed out from the cut, flowing in unwholesome cobwebs of crimson over the homunculus’s immaculate white skin.

Sigmund sank to one knee with a sharp cry, and his threads suddenly went slack as his attention shifted to his bodily pain. With the triad protecting Illyasviel now lying broken, two familiars seized the opportunity to rush at the Vessel of the Grail, who had no choice but to stand there, having no means to defend himself.

Having stepped a little away from the collective, Johannes turned around with a roar, angrily rushing back to her lady’s aid. Yet he was stopped by more enemies, forced to fend for himself first.

“Frau –“

Before he could finish even one word, Frau Dunn’s black-form had already appeared between Illyasviel and her enemy, her body resolutely shielding the little girl. Pulling out a pistol and shifting her semi-automatic weapon to a single-handed hold, she fired both gun in front and behind her in a circle, eliminating as many enemies as possible. As she turned, the weight of the semi-automatic still showed as her right arm sank just a little lower, and she shifted her body weight accordingly to accommodate it.

That was not ignored by the last two familiars left in the room. As their master proceeded to summon the next batch, they rushed towards Frau Dunn’s right side in a blur of movements and bit into her flesh simultaneous with two sharp, shrill cries.

The semi-automatic flew off in an arc as Frau Dunn flung the familiars off her shoulder, her blood spluttering a sanguineous pattern on the pale flagstones. Her face contorting with pain, she nevertheless gathered enough strength to swing her left hand back, and fired two sure bullets, ending the existence of these familiars.

“Goddamnit…”

Cradling her arm, Frau Dunn muttered more than a few curses as she, too, knelt on the ground. Growling, cursing furiously, Johannes finished the last familiar who was fighting him and rushed, headlong and heedless, towards the opposing magus. Eliminating his enemy was the only thing on the combat homunculus’s mind as he dashed past numerous Magic Circles, ignoring their inhabitants as they slowly formed, and headed straight for the summoner instead.

Sounds of frustration slipped from his throat as more enemies materialised from right before his eyes, blocking his path to the magus. Swinging his weapon in a wide circle, he chased back some of them and wounded one, but still could not get much closer to his original target.

Then, gunshots could be heard amidst the cacophony of this place.

Crouched next to Illyasviel, Sigmund had set up a protective cage around the rest of the Einsbern retinue, and Frau Dunn was firing her pistol through the gaps at the enemies surrounding Johannes. The taller homunculus did not miss this chance. Bodily shoving some enemies out of the way, he leaped forward in lightening fast speed and jumped up, ready to cleave the magus in half.

More claws and tails entangled about his weapon, trying to stop him, but he couldn’t care about them anymore. With a mighty yell, he swung his weapon down with all of his inhumane strength. The magus dodged, but too slowly – evidently not one used to physical combat – and Johannes’s halberd made a solid hit into his leg.

The man screamed with pain, crumbling down onto the floor as Johannes, bringing his halberd back around, sliced his head straight off his neck.

“Jo –”

Illyasviel made a small sound when she saw Johannes’s weapon first hit the man’s legs, as if startled. Next to her, as if sensing what was coming, Frau Dunn quickly wrapped her good arm around Illyasviel and shielded the little girl’s eyes from the gory scene right before their enemy’s head left his shoulders.

“Hahhhh… hahhhhhhh…”

Sigmund panted loudly, his cage collapsing as all the familiars around them shrieked and disappeared. Frau Dunn also let go of Illyasviel, breathing heavily as she fought the pain. Running back to them, Johannes rummaged in his backpack to bring out their first aid supplies, and hastily bandaged the wounds on both of his companions.

“We need to move.”

Grimacing, Frau Dunn indicated with her head towards the door. “We can’t stay here for too long.”

Once they staggered out of the church, the elder woman motioned them to move south, towards the river, and away from town.

“There. The Kaljaja Fortress is on the hill to the south of the town and across the river… you’ll be able to find it easily… you won’t need my guidance to reach it. Get there, hurry, and leave.”

Illyasviel’s face fell as she trudged along after her guide, reluctance written all over her countenance.

“… Frau Dunn, we’re not retrieving the last fragment of the stele after all?”

Sigmund’s voice sounded at long last, when Illyasviel looked like she was on the verge of crying.

Shuffling along the street to avoid detection, the mercenary woman paused and gave a look at Sigmund as he stopped after her on the empty road.

“I was under the impression that I should protect your safety above all else. Am I mistaken?”

An awkward look passed between Sigmund and Johannes. To lose Illyasviel, or to lose Herakles – they were not sure which one would displease Old Acht more.

“I won’t be surprised if Grandfather allowed this to happen, Frau Dunn.” Behind them, in a subdued voice, Illyasviel mumbled. “After all… he can always create me again.”

“Lady Illya!”

With a baleful look at Johannes, who had just exclaimed out loud regardless of their current situation, Illyasviel then turned and gazed away. “You know the only thing he wants is the Grail, Johannes, not anything else. If doing something can make him one step closer to the Grail – then he would do it, no matter what it is. Creating me, destroying me – if is for the greater good of the Einsbern’s pursuit of the Grail, then I won’t be surprised, not at all.

“I am, after all, just a tool of the Einsberns… a fragment of the Lady of Winter, a mere section of a whole.”

“Lady Illya…”

Illyasviel did not respond immediately to her companions, her face impassive as she continued gazing southwards towards the river, where a string of minarets stood under the grim shadow of the silver-topped mountains.

“I hear where you’re coming from, Frau Dunn. Perhaps my grandfather did plan this, and really did allow Sophia-Ri to set himself up. After all, this Sophia-Ri seems such a powerful man… Grandfather would surely gain something by appeasing him, no?”

“He is a strong man indeed.” Lowering his head, Johannes muttered. “But it doesn’t mean he cannot be defeated. Heck, even though he seemed to be able to walk with a barrier around him, he’s still there in this town. Lord Acht sent Sigmund and me with you for a reason, Lady Illya. Frau Dunn,” turning to the older woman, he continued, “I respect your decision, but we still want the stele no matter what. That is the desire of the Einsberns.”

Frau Dunn did not reply at once. Instead, her brows were furrowed as she followed Illyasviel’s gaze southwards across the river.

“You make a point, Herr Einsbern. That man, Sophia-Ri, did seem to have perfected his craft to a level where he’s able to have a mobile barrier surrounding him, preventing us from spotting him at all times. He is probably eager to find the last piece, so eager that he gave up his apprentice to for it. But he forgot that he wasn’t the one who hid it, that the person who hid it in the first place also knows of his destination…”

Something sparkled in Illyasviel’s carmine eyes as she blinked, suddenly realising what Frau Dunn had said. “Then – does that mean you approve of it, Frau Dunn? That I can still get my Servant?”

Though none could see Frau Dunn’s face thanks to the scarf obscuring her nose and mouth, Illyasviel got the distinctive feeling that the other woman was smiling kindly, as if a mother to a child.

“We’re not going to be so spent with this small wound, are we now? Go for it, Lady Einsbern. His barriers also emit a small amount prana. I know you Einsberns are excellent casters – so where are we headed for?”

Her eyes wide open in elation, Illyasviel eagerly pointed her finger towards a minaret that soared on the banks of the Bistrica River, its bleached roof shining dully in the sun.

“There! There’s a small amount of prana! It’s very small so I dismissed it earlier, but that’s probably because he’s shielding it with his barrier! He’s probably in there!”

Narrowing her eyes, Frau Dunn’s eyebrows knotted together.

“Xhamia e Sinan Pashës – you’re correct. That Sophia-Ri really has guts, daring to go into one of the most famous mosques in this land…”

There was a pause as all three of the Einsberns looked at her, waiting for her to continue.

“… Well, shall we head there, then?”

She didn’t need to repeat it twice, not when Johannes and Sigmund had both started southwards and towards one of the many bridges that crossed the river, trying to reach their new destination as soon as possible. Trying her best to catch up, Illyasviel’s childish legs nonetheless could not match her fellows’ on speed. As she fell behind, however, a hand unexpectedly stretched towards her.

“Lady Einsbern, come with me.”

Blinking, Illyasviel looked at Frau Dunn before her, and hesitantly took her hand. Her eyes narrowly softly, the mercenary woman straightened and pulled Illyasviel along.

“… Here, Lady Einsbern. I had thought that, being who you are, you would be more passive about this choice. But now that I have seen your resolve… let me assist you…

“… let me help you gain your Servant from the Sinan Pasha Mosque.”

-\-\-\-\-\-\-

Illyasviel in hand, Frau Dunn quickly led them down to the river’s edge, slipping in and out of the mosque’s view using the relatively thick crowd around the shops there as cover. As they lowered their heads and crossed the Bistrica using one of the less famous bridges to get to the southern side, Sigmund checked his watch and muttered.

“It’s eleven o’clock now. We’ve got one hour before we have to leave.”

“No need to remind me.” Frau Dunn grumbled uncharacteristically, leading the party away from the main thoroughfare and going around the block to approach the Sinan Pasha from the south. “I only hope he hadn’t found the last fragment and already took it with him.”

Illyasviel’s hand clenched Frau Dunn’s even tighter. “No, he’s still there. At least, the barrier is there…”

- and I still want my Berserker.

Frau Dunn needed no sound to hear what Illyasviel wanted to say. The little girl’s nails dug into the older woman’s palm, and the way Illyasviel bit her lip needed no extra deciphering. As if in reassurance, Frau Dunn responded by holding Illyasviel’s hand even tighter.

“We’ll get him and the last piece then, Lady Einsbern, and make it out by noon.”

Gazing up at Frau Dunn, Illyasviel’s eyes widened at the reassurance in the other’s voice, but she did not slow down, her short legs doing their best to catching up to the other woman’s strides. Circling around the back of the block, they soon approached the back wall of their destination, the place where the last fragment of the stele rested.

There was no back door. Edging carefully along the barren brick wall, hiding out of view from the windows that peered out from three different levels, the four of them shuffled towards the ruined porch. Instead of a door, the front entrance was nothing more than a black, gaping doorway, and the group did not dare to look in and crouched down next to the wall instead – even though they knew they had hit the right spot.

“We’re inside the barrier now.” Sigmund whispered. “They – or, I think, just him – is probably inside right this moment, getting his spirit familiars to dig the last piece up…”

“You think we can surprise him?” Johannes continued, his hand clutching the pole within his coat. “Even with his spirits, he is still just a man.”

“What we need to do is to get rid of his moving Magic Circles. We’ll have another never-ending wave of enemies otherwise.” Sigmund looked down on the ground. “We took down his apprentice, true, but he’s the best at this craft… and being such a good magus, Frau Dunn wouldn’t be able to touch him even with her aim…”

At that, the elder woman’s eyes looked downward and did not speak again, her hands shuffling in her coat, no doubt fingering the rest of her ammunition. With a sigh, Johannes stood up a little, and moved closer to the door.

“Nothing we can do about that, Sigmund. We’ll just have to take it as it comes. You try to stall his familiars for as long as possible, and I’ll try to rush him… Honestly, how many spirits can one magus control at a time anyways?!?”

Wearily and with one last, cautious touch on the wound on his right arm, Sigmund stood up from his crouching position and moved to stand next to his twin, his elegant brows briefly furrowed as his arm grated against the gritty stone walls. Just a block away, they could still hear the subdued sounds of this city, hear the steps of soldiers and the quiet chatter of shoppers mixed in the lulling, slow flow of the winter river. However, as they had already experienced twice already, the air around Sinan Pasha – the most famous mosque in this city – was eerily quiet and still.

What now remained of the mosque was nothing more than a stone cube, its elegant arched porch demolished half a century ago. Its dome roof, used to be clad in tiles of an alluring indigo, now lies barren and pallid under the sound. It had been many years since its century-old stone floor felt the hands and feet of a worshipper, even more years since anyone had preached on the podium near the door. Standing on the outside of this bare front wall, Johannes and Sigmund couldn’t help but feel naked and vulnerable, as if something was able to burst out of the windows that peeked out from the walls. With one look at Sigmund, Johannes gave a curt, yet decisive nod.

“… You ready, Sigmund?”

Behind Sigmund, Frau Dunn had sat on the ground, gingerly massaging her right shoulder. Next to her, Illyasviel also sat, her eyes opened wide in worry as the older woman hissed under her own touch. As if feeling the twin’s gaze, the girl looked up towards her guardians, yet it wasn’t a beseeching look that filled her eyes. She was worried, she was concerned, and yet… she did not falter.

Her hands clutched into fists, her short nails digging into her palm, she mouthed one word to the twins.

Please.

Please!

Please defeat him.

Please get the stele.

Please, help me – help us – get the Grail.

As if it was the voice of the thousands of homunculi sisters created in the past eon echoing together upon her lips, Johannes and Sigmund felt her words, understood them. It was the one wish of the Einsberns, the only wish they harboured as they pursued their lost treasure in their castle frozen to time and the world. With one last look at Frau Dunn, Sigmund pursed his lips. She had been a good guide, a brave woman, one who had evidently had some unpleasant dealings with the Einsberns in the past but still decided to help them – yet they can’t count on her time and time again.

Taking out his tangled threads of metal out of his pockets, watching as Johannes’s pole emerged and was grasped once again in his hands, Sigmund gave a decisive nod back.

“Let’s go, Johannes.”

Moving as one, they took one step forward – then leapt into the interior of the small mosque with inhuman speed.

Unhindered by melee enemies this time, uneven stone briefly touched the duo’s feet as they crossed the small distance from the front wall to the back in the blink of an eye, paying no heed to the Magic Circles that had started to glimmer on the peeling plaster of the ancient walls or of the ominous figure that was already coming into shape in the podium area. All they saw was the red-haired man, who was hunched over a gaping hole on the ground, his entire attention devoted to that one task as some unknown creature periodically flung up some dirt from deep within the hole, evidently digging. Gritting his teeth, Johannes swung his shaped halberd towards the man’s neck, hoping to end this as quickly as possible.

A clawed hand caught his weapon mid-way, however, and a grotesque, devilish face appeared right before his eyes. Leaping backward to avoid a swing of the creature’s other hand aimed at his abdomen, Johannes steadied his feet before knocking the creature back with the end of his halberd, landing a solid blow onto the familiar’s face. His enemy wobbled but did not fall, and growled inhumanly before diving down and clawing at Johannes’s leg. Stabbing his halberd downward, Johannes grimaced as he pierced his enemy through and it screeched, sending a shiver down his spine. However, he was offered no respite, as two more similarly unholy creatures leapt at him from both sides, forcing him to swing his weapon to defend himself. As a third familiar joined the fray, Johannes had to move aside to avoid being clawed – and lost his sight on Sophia-Ri as he left his position in the middle of the hall, concentrating on his fight with the three familiars.

Just slightly behind him, Sigmund wasn’t faring much better. He already stepped aside when the first enemy attacked Johannes, only to hear the sound of something swooping down towards his own neck. Muttering a spell, he sent his threads lashing outwards, sending the creature flying out towards the other wall. Not giving his enemy a moment to catch its breath, his threads whipped out again at its neck, with enough force that it took the creature’s head off its torso. As he gathered his threads and made one forward step towards Sophia-Ri, however, he heard the wind wheezing with a heavy blow slicing through the air – and didn’t manage to dodge as a mighty blow found his ribcage. With a scream, the short-haired homunculus’ body flew out towards the side wall, away from the centre of the room and where Johannes was fighting. Gasping for breath, barely managing to open one eye against the torrent of searing pain that tore through his chest, Sigmund saw a behemothian shape looming over him, its limbs dangling off its sides as it growled in a tongue out of this world… it was the dark shape that Sophia-Ri had first summoned near the podium. Struggling to his feet, Sigmund readied himself for a tough fight, all thoughts about Sophia-Ri temporarily forgotten.

And amidst the fighting, Sophia-Ri still stood near the far end of the mosque, next to the deep hole that his familiar had dug. Reaching down, ignoring the screeching of his dying familiars and Johannes’s enraged growls, he took a large, uneven slab of stone from a clawed hand that reached up from below, cradling the last piece of the stele as if it was the most important thing to him in the world.

“Why, thank you, Einsberns. Thank you for finding and completing this priceless Holy Relic for me, for I surely wouldn’t have been able to chase it down on my own funds…” Muttering in admiration, yet projecting his voice so that even Illyasviel and Frau Dunn, who were still crouching outside the front wall, could hear him, Lord Sophia-Ri ran his hands slowly over the surface of the ancient stone, tracing the barely perceivable Greek letters etched into it. Bending down, he placed the heavy stele down on the floor, propped up next to his leg, and casually cast his eyes over the small room.

“… And to think that your homunculi would put on such a fight against my familiars – isn’t it the best treat? However, there is one last problem to be dealt with…”

As Sophia-Ri raised his hand, the familiar that had been digging the hole emerged from below the ground. Shaped almost like a mole, with a protruding mouth and curved claws, the familiar crouched next to its master, ready for a command.

“The problem of the Vessel of the Grail, of course. Guarded only by a wounded, puny human. Aren’t you careless, Einsberns?”

Both Johannes and Sigmund’s eyes widened, yet they were unable to disentangle themselves from their fights. With a shrill laughter, Sophia-Ri pointed his hand towards the front door and his familiar ran, almost faster than the eye could see, towards its target.

“Now wallow in despair, Einsberns! Fools you are, thinking that you can defeat all my familiars by the two of you. Stricken by anguish, I’ll slaughter all of you, one after the other! And when I get to the Holy Grail War in Japan, you shall experience even more anguish as you’re forced to wait for more millennia –”

The mole-like familiar all but leapt in all fours towards the front door, its claws and teeth bared as it prepared to tear its target to shreds. It could almost see them now – the little girl with the white hair, sitting on the ground with eyes filled with fear –

Wait, just the little girl?!

Before the familiar could respond, a flash of black swung past him and a hunting knife, thrust with an accuracy and power honed after a lifetime of bloody battles, planted itself squarely and surely into the back of its skull.

With a gurgling sound, the familiar disintegrated into dust as it collapsed at Illyasviel’s feet. Between Illyasviel and Sophia-Ri, just inside the mosque’s small room, Frau Dunn’s coat still fluttered in the aftermath of her movement as she half-crouched, blood dripping from her right arm as her right hand reached into her pocket.

Startled, Sophia-Ri was taken aback. Just as he started on another spell to summon another familiar, Frau Dunn’s hand emerged, her blood-drenched right hand tightly grasping a shotgun.

A brief panic fluttered past Sophia-Ri’s eyes as he tried to take a step back, only to be stopped by the heavy stele that he himself had rested against his leg. Two familiars abandoned Johannes, trying to save their masters, only to have their legs taken out by the long-haired homunculi. Aiming the heavy gun with her damaged arm, blood flowing freely towards the ground from her black sleeve, Frau Dunn pressed down on the trigger.

“… There was anguish before there was man, Lord Sophia-Ri. Don’t underestimate that.”

The bullet traversed the fourteen metres between them in a heartbeat, sinking deeply into the man’s abdomen. The magus writhed in pain, but bit his lip and did not scream. For a moment, Johannes grudgingly admired the man’s willpower, as a Magic Circle could be seen forming around Sophia-Ri, slowing healing his wounds.

However –

“Therefore, don’t expect to avenge anguish by causing more anguish. Because that – will only send you to the same end…”

The flesh around his wound bubbled, contorted, and split apart. Then, sinew after sinew, tendon after tendon, radiating out like a lethal flower coming into full bloom – all the tissues on his abdomen exploded outwards, moving towards his chest, his groin, his back. His eyes wide open in pain and incomprehension, Sophia-Ri’s lips hung open as he let out a pure, animalistic roar of unadulterated pain, his hands madly clawing at his abdomen, the Magic Circle around him shimmering even brighter in his attempt to stop his body’s morbid transformation… but it was to no avail.

“… the same end that your brother-in-law had faced.”

With one last, ear-piercing shriek, Sophia-Ri fell to the floor, his entire body swathed in spasms as his limbs twisted on themselves, his blood ran reverse, and all the Magic Circuits in his flesh imploded onto itself, sending torrents of prana to run rampant in his mortal body. Around him, the Magic Circle dimmed and disappeared. All around the room, the familiars screeched in unison as they, too, started to shimmer and disappear, reduced to piles of ash and goo as their summoner met his demise. Blinking in incomprehension, Johannes and Sigmund slowly shifted their eyes towards Frau Dunn, who still stood there with her weapon.

She swung the long barrel downwards as if throwing off a blood stain. The empty cartridge flew from the opened magazine into the air with the momentum, falling onto the stone floor with a faint trace of sulphur.

It was a scene that was repeated almost ten years ago, in the upper corridors of the Einsbern Castle in the winter of Fuyuki.

Drip by drip, Frau Dunn’s blood flew down the Thompson Contender. With a sigh, the woman looked down on this weapon, completely ignorant of her companions’ startled, disbelieving gazes.

“Ahh… I was once entrusted with this gun by its lawful owner. I did not think I would end up keeping it for all of eternity.”

-\-\-\-\-\-\-

“– Hey, Maiya. Why… do you fight for Kiritsugu?”

A lifetime ago, someone with those beautiful red eyes and silken silver hair had asked her this question.

“The person who picked me up and kept my ‘life’ was Kiritsugu; therefore, he can use my life in any way he wishes…”

And she, holding her gun, in the storeroom at the Miyama district of Fuyuki, had answered and then inquired her in return.

“Then, madam, don’t you have any wishes of your own?”

Barely able to talk, barely able to move, that Lady of Winter had replied.

"This is already the fourth time, and I wish for this to be the last Heaven’s Feel. In terms of homunculi sacrificed as vessels of the Grail – I hope I will be the last one.

“If Kiritsugu and I fail, that child will become the experimental specimen for ‘the Dress of Heaven’.”

Yes. It wasn’t a grandiose goal. It was not far-reaching dream like that of the man they both love. It was the plainest, most ordinary anguish – the love of a parent towards her child.

“Then, if such a world can really be changed… no matter how Kiritsugu chooses to use my life toward that end, I will not utter a single word of refusal.”

What Hisau Maiya had not expected was being able to outlive them both.

In another life, she may well have died in that attack by Berserker, aimed to kidnap Irisviel. In a different universe, the child soldier who devoted her life to Emiya Kiritsugu would have died right there, her body going cold in the man’s arms as she told him not to mourn.

But that was not how this story happened.

“… Maiya, may you… excuse me a moment? I want to be alone with my thoughts, if only for a little while…”

She had stepped out of the storeroom then, and moved back to the main house. As for why she didn’t stay next to the storeroom on guard – she did not know. Perhaps she should have, perhaps she would have, but she could not turn back time and go through it again.

She didn’t manage to save Irisviel when Berserker attacked in the guise of Rider. Helpless, she could only chase the fleeing enemy with her mortal legs as they flew, Irisviel in their arms.

Hisau Maiya had then sank to the ground and cried, the first time she did that since she could remember.

Kiritsugu did not utter a single word of blame when he heard of the news, yet Maiya could see it in his eyes, that brief moment of absolutely bleakness and despair before cold nonchalance quickly overwrote them.

He also didn’t let her follow him into the final battle with Kotomine Kirei. She had watched from distant Shinto, alone, as the suburbs beside the Municipal Hall burnt with Phlegethon fire. She watched as the Holy Grail burnt – and there was nothing she could do.

She found Kiritsugu at long last as he staggered back into the house in Miyama that they had brought, as he spoke of finding an orphan in the ruins of the smouldering town. He had changed since they last met. He had aged, wizened, and shrunken.

He was defeated.

Even so, she wanted to stay beside him, but he did not wish for that. As if his soul was lost, he had looked at her with those empty eyes and asked her to go, asked her to find a life of her own.

“You must search for your family and your own name, and the whereabouts of your child. They are things that shouldn’t be forgotten. They are things that should be remembered.”

Remembering her words as well as his, she had then set out with reluctance, changed her name, changed her passport, and went forth into the world.

And she had stayed here, in this remote corner of the Balkans, in this land that had claimed her son’s life – for more years than she cared to count.

And she was no longer Hisau Maiya. She was Agnes Dunn. She no longer spoke Japanese, or English, but adopted the native Albanian and Serbian tongue – though she still could not speak either of them with great fluency.

Yet she did not care. For what is a name, if not simply a symbol? Getting what little money she could gather as a mercenary – serving the world of magi as well as the world of humans – she had survived in this war-torn land, creating a name for herself, creating what passes as an illusion of life.

Then, at long last, a parcel from Kiritsugu arrived in her hands, having been passed through many close and trustworthy contacts. She had opened it in elation, expecting news, any news – only to find his beloved Mystic Code, the rest of his Origin Bullets, and a curt note explaining briefly his defeat under Kotomine’s hand and his current condition.

The only man she had ever loved was dying – no, he would have been dead by the time this arrived in her hands.

Agnes Dunn had cried again.

There was nothing else left for her.

Just like when she was born, she will live in this world alone – and die from this world, alone.

If it wasn’t for her son’s bones resting in this land, she would have left this place a long time ago. That, and all the local women that helped her over the years, those poor but trusting and genuine faces that aided her and sheltered her for more times than she could count.

Funny how the things that she never used to care – the intangible ideas of family and companionship – would end up binding her so.

“Ahh…”

The feel of hot, sticky blood running down her arm brought her back to reality, where she has just killed one more magus with the weapon that Illyasviel’s father left her.

A reality where his daughter was standing before her together with her other created brethrens as Hisau Maiya’s knees gave out and she crumbled to the ground and the Contender fell with a clang.

Hah, she was getting too old for this. No doubts about that.

“You… you are Hisau Maiya?”

Looking up at the girl’s quivering voice, the older woman sighed, and removed the headscarf with her still intact left hand. Her short hair fluttered as she tore the headscarf aside, revealing her Asian features and her ebony eyes, which were narrowed wearily in response to Illyasviel.

“Yes, I was.”

Behind her, Johannes tended to more important matters. He walked up to Sophia-Ri’s mangled corpse and retrieved the last piece of the stele. Looking around, he then moved to a sack lying next to the far wall, and found the other two stone pieces lying within. Putting them all in the same sack and heaving it over with his augmented strength, he planted it heavily next to Illyasviel and cracked a lopsided grin, trying to divert the girl’s attention away from the older woman.

“Lady Illya… hey, Lady Illya, all three pieces are here. What about we head towards the mountain top to catch –”

Putting up her arm, Illyasviel stopped Johannes, her face not leaving Frau Dunn’s at all.

“… I’ve heard rumours that you’re still alive, Hisau Maiya… but I did not expect to meet you here…”

The older woman grimaced at the tone Illyasviel was putting on. “And I would not be surprised at all if Old Acht had staged this just to remove me… though I had done my best to keep my past a secret.” Looking down at the Contender lying near her hand, she shook her head. “Of course, I completely did not foresee the need to use this…”

A shadow fell across the doorway of the mosque as Illyasviel took a step closer to her, looming over her, her carmine eyes narrowed in an altogether unfriendly way. Looking up, the Asian woman raised her eyebrows wryly.

“A sudden change of heart, Fraulein Einsbern?” Her voice lowered on her name. “Thinking you should have left this guide for good back when we first meet?”

Illyasviel did not respond. She only edged closer to the Asian woman still.

“… You know what happened to my parents?”

The Asian woman paused in her movement, gazing back into Illyasviel’s intense, sanguineous stare.

“What if I do?”

Before Johannes and Sigmund could respond, Illyasviel reached out and grasped Frau Dunn’s coat collar, her small hand pulling the older woman closer to her. Startled, the veteran fighter gasped slightly as the small homunculus pulled roughly on her collar, causing her head to roll forward, putting Illyasviel’s blood-red eyes straight in her vision.

Illyasviel’s lips moved, but no sound came out of the girl’s throat. As if staggering, struggling with the emotions that were welling up inside her, she simply cluttered her teeth, not knowing what to say or how to say it. Blinking, pushing back the nameless tears that suddenly started to gather in her eyes, the girl took deep breathes and tried again, opening her lips to speak – only to feel Frau Dunn’s arms around her, pulling her into a tight, gentle hug into the older woman’s long black coat.

“… It’s alright, Illyasviel. It’s alright…”

As the older woman soothingly caressed her back, the little girl broke out into sobs in Frau Dunn’s arms, her tears drenching the Asian woman’s coat as she drew in one shuddering breath after another. All those years of pain, of loneliness, of incomprehension – yet when she finally met one who had been there, who had known the end of that previous war and the last day of her parents’ lives – she could not utter a single question, could not give a single accusation.

She wanted to know, she wanted to understand. Most importantly, she want to – even if only by a little bit – feel know that they had indeed lived, fought, and loved.

That they had not left her behind to rot in Castle Einsbern.

“Your parents… fought and died bravely, my lady.”

Illyasviel froze as Frau Dunn spoke, the older woman’s low voice gently filtering into her ears.

“Your mother… fought until her last breath, fighting to protect you. Your father fought as well, for you, for your mother, for his ideals… They did not throw away the War, no matter what others may say.

“… I’m sorry for having failed at protecting them, my lady. I’m sorry for still being alive when they both died, leaving you all alone in this world. I –”

“That’s alright, Frau Dunn… That’s why I’m here for my Servant.”

Pushing the older woman away from her, Illyasviel wiped her eyes, snuffling to regain her composure. Looking at the sack that stood next to Johannes, she lowered her head – and then uncharacteristically screwed up her face and sneezed.

“You didn’t catch a cold, did you, Lady Illyasviel?!”

Shaking her head at Sigmund’s startled question, the little girl rubbed her nose and mumbled to Frau Dunn.

“… You smell like blood and gunpowder.”

With an apologetic expression, Frau Dunn gently patted Illyasviel’s shoulder with her left hand, her words mixed with a sigh.

“I’m sorry… I shouldn’t let you smell those things.”

Shaking her head again, Illyasviel shook off Frau Dunn’s hand, and gave the older woman a weary – aged – smile.

“No, that’s fine… that’s what my parents would have smelt had they returned to me.”

-\-\-\-\-\-\-

With the three slabs of the stele resting safely in Johannes’s backpack, they had set out on the road home towards the hill to the south of the town, the crumbling and wind-tousled Fortress of Kaljaja set into the mountain top.

The loss of their car made the journey more difficult as they had to move up the hill on foot, the frost on each leaf of the grass not making it any easier. The twin males had little difficulties with their physically augmented bodies – even with Sigmund’s wound – but Illyasviel had more problems than she would admit as she climbed up the steep path under the flaccid winter sun.

Amidst the ruins of the ancient fortress, they could already see the lone pilot waving his hand at them at the top of the hill. According to Frau Dunn, there should have been snipers on duty – but apparently the reaches of the Einsbern had even affected that as it was now replaced by a helicopter laying silently in wait on the windswept grass.

Heaving and panting, Johannes ran the last few metres up the hill to reach the helicopter first, unceremoniously dumping his heavy backpack into the vehicle. Next to him, Sigmund quickly moved up to rummage out the helicopter’s first aid box, and sat on the grass to gingerly reassess his wound.

“I’ll help with that, Sigmun – where are you going, Lady Illya?”

“… Nothing. I’m just looking down upon this city, that’s all.”

And what a city this had been.

Moving to the edge of the hill, the little girl cast her sight out over the town that she had spend the day in, ignoring the wind that roared past her face and tousled her hair, her eyes slightly narrowed as if deep in thought.

“Let me tell you about your parents, my lady. I believe… such an explanation is long overdue.”

Inhaling in a long breath that reached all the way into the end of her lungs, the little girl closed her eyes, letting her rampant thoughts slow down. Her heart beating like a little drum in her chest, she forced her brain to digest all the information at a lesser pace, shaking her head slightly to clear her thoughts if only for a bit.

“Your father did not tell me everything about what happened at the end of the last Holy Grail War, and therefore I am unable to provide you with the truth of the last battle. What I can tell you is just who he is – and that alone.”

“The Magus Killer… huh.”

Flexing her fingers, Illyasviel’s skin remembered the feeling of holding her father’s gun in her hands, a weapon that she did not recall ever seeing him holding – but was now the only thing that connected him to her.

“… And what does it matter even if I know who he is now? It won’t change the fact about my life, won’t change what I’ll have to do, what I’ll face in the coming war…”

“I just wanted you to know and understand, my lady. To suffer and not to know – is a torment indeed.”

To know that her parents had made a bid for world peace and failed? To know that her father, a man who she both worshipped and reviled, wished for something that would sacrifice his beloved and could not benefit himself in any manner??

How could he ignore his own anguish as a man and seek such an impossible goal instead?

“I… will only ever fight for myself…”

Whispering into the wind, the little girl allowed her words to be carried downwind into the winding highway below, not bothering to brush away the strands of silver hair that had been blown over her small face.

“I won’t fight for other people’s sake. Even if I can’t get out of my duty… I would still fight, no matter what.”

A weak smile had emerged on the older woman’s face as Illyasviel said this, much to the little girl’s confusion.

“Kiritsugu said that… as he looked into the Grail, he realised what he cared for the most should be your mother and you. If anything, I don’t want you to live for an empty ideal like he and I had… for when the ideal is no more, we realised had nothing else to live for.

“Your father was caged by humanity’s anguish. As a man, he did not fight for himself, he did not live for himself. He only sought dissolve others’ pain… he did not realise it when his own started to swallow him whole.

“Though you are who you are created to be, my lady, you have pride and a sense of self in the sea of pain that is humanity – just like your mother had, all the way until the end.”

Hisau Maiya no longer knew if she was still looking at Illyasviel, or if the image of Irisviel’s face that surfaced in her eyes was actually the truth. She blinked, unaware of the tears that has slowly started to gather in her eyes, as the little girl looked away in silence.

“Lady Illyasviel… Lady Illyasviel!”

“… What, Sigmund?”

Running up to her, Sigmund paused uncertainly a few feet behind her. “So… Frau Dunn is not coming with us after all?”

“No.” Illyasviel muttered. “She said that her own life now sleeps in this land… whatever that may mean.”

“And…” Sigmund didn’t know whether he should ask, but curiosity got the better of him, “what did the two of you talk about in private, after you got Johannes and me to get out of the mosque?”

“… Nothing.” Unmoving, standing like a statue in the wind, the little girl’s voice carried weakly on the wind. “Just some history about a man.”

“Lady Illyasviel…”

No longer answering Sigmund, the Maiden of Winter only cast her empty, sanguineous eyes down on the city. Like the waters of Prizrenska Bistrica, which had timelessly flown westward into the sea for millennia on end, for a moment it seemed that Illyasviel herself had also become a fixture in this broken landscape, this mortal world where none may transcend pain.

“There is nothing I can do to help you against your fate. No one can, for none can escape the end. I just don’t want you to throw your life away like we had, living a life that only caused endless pain for yourself… I only wish that, before the Grail claims you, you would fight for and gain some happiness for yourself – for that is what we live for.

“… Let’s get going, Sigmund. We shouldn’t let the Holy Grail wait.”

Turning away from the city for the last time, she briefly recalled the Asian woman’s last few words as her short legs ascended into the hull of the helicopter with Johannes’s help and the engine whirred, ready to take her back home, back to preparation for the inevitable war and agony.

And no matter what happens, my lady… I will be here, wishing you the best of luck.





FIN

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:32 AM
Name: Seeking Solace In Servitude
Author: Anon

Disclaimer: This is a project not meant for profit, nor do I claim to own any of the characters, themes, and ideas taken from Type-Moon, Fate/Stay Night, or Tsukhime. Type-Moon is created and owned by Kinoko Nasu and not by the writer of this fan work.

Warning: This fan fiction contains strong sexual content of a heterosexual nature. You have been warned. In other words, there’s porn, kids!

It felt as if every centimeter was enveloped in a dull, icy ache; that weights of lead had been tied around all of her limbs, torso, throat, and head. Each step was a colossal effort, but she would not be stopped. Tohsaka Rin’s jaw throbbed as she ground her teeth together while continuing to forge her way home.

Rin, we can stop and take a break.

“No,” Rin said, her voice shockingly loud as she tilted her head to the invisible presence beside her. She shook her head and said, “We’re almost home.”

From out of the ether her Servant materialized, towering over her and looking imposing in his red mantle and black armor. Grey eyes met hers as he folded his arms and looked down at her. “It wouldn’t be any good for either of us if you dropped and I’d be forced to carry you,” her Archer said with one eyebrow raised, but the tone was soft, almost gentle. Utterly unlike his normal sardonic tone.

Rin sighed, the movement driving hundreds of tiny needles into her chest, and said, “I can make it back home, you don’t need to worry about me.”

“I could argue differently,” Archer said in a low voice before he vanished into thin air again.

She sighed and absently picked another leaf from her hair before forcing herself to continue. Cold wisps of air were already nipping at her thighs, legs, hands, and face. In a futile gesture she wrapped her arms around herself as she continued to walk, her fingers gripping into her sleeves. One glance heavenward confirmed the sun beginning to set and the sky drenched in a hellish red as darkness was creeping into the horizon.

Tendrils rippling and angry, black edged with crimson, attacking without thought. They were hungry, Rin had realized, and they were coming straight at her. Emiya-kun was momentarily forgotten as Archer moved to put himself between her and those things. Rin was in motion as well, slinging one of her precious jewels with a flick of her wrist and a scream.

Brilliant, wintery crystals rapidly formed over the appendage, causing it to gleam like diamonds in the sunlight. Then Archer’s black falchion severed it in two as Rin moved back to his side, drawing another jewel from her pocket. The Shadow attacked, sending more and more of those wicked appendages, like ribbons from Hell, flying towards them. The air around Rin was becoming thicker and thicker, so thick she could barely breathe but Archer was fighting against all odds.

“Tohsaka,” a thick voice said from below her.

She looked over to see Emiya holding his left arm, crimson rivulets dripping down his fingers and splattering the ground below. Beside him a pair of ruby eyes that were too old for the face they were set in met Rin’s. The Einzbern heir’s face was grim as she said, “She’ll kill us all, even with your Archer protecting us.”

Rin looked up to see Saber approaching, the Servant’s pitiless, cold, yellow eyes focusing on them. From beside her the freakish form of Assassin appeared, the skull serving as his face was enough to make Rin’s blood run cold. Archer stepped forward, each hand gripping a blade as he started to step towards certain death.

Rin sighed when she saw her mansion looming up on the hill. Within a few minutes she’d be safe at home. Then what? There’s no way that Archer and I can win this. Not against Assassin, Saber as she is, and Berserker taken by the Shadow. She sighed before rubbing her forehead. Absently she grabbed her keys from her pocket as she drew nearer to the threshold. A few words collapsed the oppressive wards that surrounded the Tohsaka home long enough for her and Archer to get in. With another chant she put them back into place while unlocking the door.

Unfortunately, the house was just as cold inside as the air outside. Rin went to go turn on the heat when she saw Archer materialize beside the thermostat. “Thanks,” she said before rubbing the back of her aching neck.

“You should leave the furnace on during the day when it’s this cold outside, you know.”

“It’s too expensive to run the heater when I’m not here,” she said with a wave of her hand.

Archer snorted and said, “Being frugal is admirable, but being cheap isn’t.”

He’s lecturing me on being thrifty when we almost died today, she thought as she narrowed her eyes at him. “I don’t really think this is the time to quibble over yen, Archer. We’ve got other more pressing concerns,” Rin said as numb fingers began to tug on the ribbon that held her left pig tail in place.

Archer shrugged and said, “It’s not all that bad really. It could be worse.”

She narrowed her eyes at him and said, “I really doubt it.” I’m going to have to kill my sister, if what Kirei said was true, and it looks like it is. Emiya-kun’s going to want to protect her, and I don’t want to hurt him either, and worse than that there’s that altered Saber, Assassin, Zouken, and the Shadow. Now really isn’t the time for a sarcastic pep talk, Archer.

“We could be dead,” Archer said with a shrug before turning and giving Rin the view of his broad back as he walked down the hallway, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

***

Archer materialized on the roof, realizing that it would have been better for both Rin and himself if he had just remained in spirit form until they both recovered. The Shadow fed off of prana, and as a magus and a Servant they had been a virtual beacon for it. That, and that thing was actively trying to kill Rin over the rest of us, he thought with a frown as he tilted his face up to look at the three-quarter moon glowing in the dark, velvety sky.

That thing is Sakura, Archer thought with a sigh. The easiest and best thing would be to go to the Emiya house and use a Broken Phantasm to erase it from the face of the Earth. However Ilya’s presence there was more than enough to still his hand from any destructive thoughts. Then there’s Rider to think of as well. That’s not a fight I want to go through again.

Despite the obvious gap between himself, Lancer, Saber, and Gilgamesh, the “famous heroes” all had exploitable weaknesses in a fight. Mainly the fact that they relied more on honor, just didn’t have the sense to do something more in a fight than to charge into battle waving weapons, or their arrogance was a crushing handicap. Rider, unfortunately, had no quibbles about fighting dirtily as Archer did. Clever snake, he thought with a snort.

And she’s Sakura’s Servant, and Sakura is Rin’s sister, Archer mused as he heard water start to flow from the pipes inside and pour out the faucet. Rin was caught up in something she didn’t deserve to be, and if it kept pushing and eating at her, it would kill the girl he admired and leave someone else in her place. He looked up at the moon as he clinched his fist at his side with a frown.

Everything’s different. Killing the boy won’t bring me peace, his path has diverged too much from mine. The kid realizes who’s most important to him and is putting them above everyone else. There’s no chance for him to become a Hero of Justice now. However I’m here, Archer thought as his eyes narrowed. I’m here, and I’m a superhero who has no qualms about who they need to choose to save.

***

Sleep was what she needed, but she knew it would elude her for several hours now. Rin was fully aware how her biorhythms were at their peak during the night, and that she was filled with too many troubled thoughts to sleep. Teeth gritted, she ran her brush through her still damp hair to comb the tangles out. The brush tugged and yanked at her scalp, and with a grunt she dragged it through the rough knot of hair.

A sigh escaped her lips when she saw the giant mass of black hair that was entangled in her brush, but she continued with her task. She looked up at the hollow eyed and pale girl staring her back from her vanity’s mirror and scowled. Looking closely, Rin noticed that there were dark circles under her eyes and her face was almost completely void of color, and a leanness in her features that hadn’t been there a few weeks ago. Rin quickly looked away from the haunted specter in the mirror before working on the arduous task of untangling her wet hair.

After countless minutes, she pronounced her hair tangle free and began to clean the mass of raven hair from the brush’s bristles. She frowned at the sheer volume that the brush had collected and absently ran her hand to the back of her head. Questing fingers didn’t find the bald spot she had been expecting, so she continued to clean off her brush. Once she was finished she stared at the knots of black hair between her fingers before letting them fall into her waist bin.

She absently rubbed her forehead before slumping onto the vanity for support. Her eyes were burning, her chest was tight, and there was a steady pounding in her skull. The yellow flannel of her pajamas with their cheerful black cat pattern was clinched tightly between shaking fingers. Rin felt her lips tremble as she fought hard to keep focused, to keep from crumbling under the burden that she found set upon her.

I am a magus. It was only a matter of time before I had to do something like this. Being a magus is like walking hand and hand with death. If I have to kill my own sister to protect my magecraft then I will strike the finishing blow.

Rin looked up again and whispered, “But I don’t want to.”

Teeth ground together as Rin’s fingers dug even more into the sleeves of her pajamas. Something boiling hot was rising up within her, threatening to burst. Red was starting to seep into her vision as heard a loud clatter behind her and forced herself on her feet. Then the door opened and Rin spun around, her face locked in a fierce glower.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she asked her Servant as Archer made his way into the room.

His eyes met hers as he lifted up the tea tray he was carrying and said, “I thought you needed some tea and something to eat.”

“If I wanted some tea or food, I would have asked for it or gotten it myself,” Rin said between gritted teeth.

Slowly, Archer walked into the room, his eyes never leaving hers as he set the tea on the dresser before turning back to her. His hands were raised slightly as he said, “Or you might ignore the fact you haven’t had anything to eat today other than a cup of tea this morning before we went to the Einzbern castle.”

She frowned and said, “I’m not hungry.”

He walked over to her and picked up the chair to her vanity. She stared at it, not even realizing it had fallen, before looking back at Archer. He said, “Sit down, Rin.”

“I may not want to sit down, Archer, and I’m not going to have you patronize me right now. I’m not in the mood for it,” Rin replied as she lowered her arms to her side, “So you made tea and whatever else for nothing.”

His eyes narrowed and suddenly he was right there. Large, warm hands descended on her shoulders and lightly pushed her into the chair. She yelped as she found herself sitting again and clinched her fist with the Command Seals on it. And I wasted the first seal, then I had to use the second to keep Saber from slicing him in half, and that just leaves me with one more. Use it and we don’t have a contract. He’d be within his rights to kill me.

Isn’t there anything else I haven’t screwed up?

Then he presented her a tea cup resting perfectly on its saucer. Even from his hands she could see the steam floating in the air in fanciful, pale grey eddies and the sweet scent hit her nostrils. She could almost taste the bergamot in the tea as she asked, “Earl Grey?”

“I would have fixed lavender tea if you had it in your stores,” Archer said with a half smile as he handed her the delicate cup. She took the saucer with her left hand and wrapped her right hand around the tea cup itself. Soft warmth radiated through the china and into her chilled palm.

Lavender, to help calm me down, Rin thought with a shake of her head as Archer grabbed his tea cup and then stood beside her, leaning against the vanity with one leg crossed over the other. She inhaled the steam before taking a sip and resisted the urge to sigh like she always did when drinking his tea. It was perfection. Archer really did pride himself in this task, and with good reason; even the amount of cream and sugar added enhanced the tea’s robust flavor coupled with the clean tang of bergamot.

Comforting warmth began to seep into her, relaxing some of the weight on her shoulders as she drank. The two of them drank in silence until both cups were empty. She rested hers on her vanity and Archer asked, “Would you like some more? I brought the pot up too.”

“Thank you,” she said softly as he took her empty cup and headed back to her dresser. She studied his broad back as he was turned from her, knowing the care he was taking to pour and sweeten the tea to her liking. He was so tall and large, but she noticed that there was a certain refinement to his motions. Her Archer lacked the natural grace of Saber, Lancer, or Rider, but made up for it in other ways, like all the care he took in his actions.

He turned back, that familiar boyish smile on his face as he carried her tea cup and a tiny plate with a sandwich cut perfectly horizontal in half. Rin stared at the lettuce peering from between the two slices of bread and heard her stomach rumble. She felt heat fill her cheeks at that; obviously she was hungrier than she’d thought. She turned so she could use the vanity as a table as he stood beside her, leaning against the vanity again.

She began to eat, noting that Archer knew what ingredients she liked in a sandwich and knew the delicate balances of the types of sauces she favored. Who knew that my Servant was going to be such a servant, she thought with a snort. Archer folded his arms and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m just thinking,” Rin said after swallowing and reaching for her tea.

Archer nodded and said, “I’m not surprised. A lot has happened.”

She curled her fingers into a fist and released them before eating again. She looked up at him and said, “We should talk, Archer.”

“Eat first, then we’ll talk about whatever you want to,” he said with a nod towards her food. She nodded in return and began to eat again. The silence made Rin relax as she took her fill. Once she was finished she realized that the throbbing in her head had eased quite a bit and most of the heaviness had left her limbs.

She turned towards him and said, “You were right, I really needed that. Thank you, Archer.”

“We were both almost completely drained by the Shadow today, Rin. You need to keep up your strength,” Archer said with a shake of his head and a lopsided grin that seemed brittle at the edges.

Rin looked down at the mention of the Shadow and saw her pendent laying on top of polished wood. Even in the soft glow of her bedroom, the jewel still flashed brilliant crimson when the light hit it. She idly picked it up and let the familiar weight rest in her palm before she said, “Sakura’s right to want to kill me.”

Archer stared at her with wide eyes before nodding. She thumbed the platinum chain in her palm and said, “I don’t know if you know this, but magi generally only have one child and can only train one heir. I’ve never been quite sure if Sakura was an accident, or my mother desired to have a daughter that wasn’t a magus, like I was going to be.”

“And Sakura was born with Magic Circuits,” Archer said with a frown.

Rin nodded and replied, “Yes. Of course she was. Even though the Zenjou, my mother’s family, may have been magi at one point in time and lost their circuits, they still had this innate ability to produce children with maximum potential with what genes were available.”

“Well, that explains a lot,” Archer said with a slight smile as his eyes met hers.

Rin felt her cheeks heat up again and ask, “What’s that suppose to mean?”

“You’re an exceptional magus, Rin. I’d easily say you’re the best Master of the War and I’m glad you’re the one who Summoned me,” Archer said as his smile turned to a lopsided grin as he shook his head.

“If I’m so exceptional, then why do I screw up all the time?” Rin asked as she narrowed her eyes at him.

Archer shrugged and answered, “Because you’re young and you’ve lived alone with no one to help or teach you. I wouldn’t count that fake priest as much of a guardian.”

She looked back at the pendent and said, “There’s something about Kirei that unsettles me. Like he did something horrible to me, but I don’t know what it is.”

“If you feel that way, then he probably has,” Archer said with a wan smile before uncrossing his arms and resting one on his hip and the other to help support his weight on the vanity.

Rin bit her lip at his insight. She knew from their shared dreams about what sort of life he had led to becoming a hero. From what she had seen, her Archer had been something of an idealistic idiot trying to save everyone that he could with no thought of himself. She hadn’t seen the end of his life yet, but had a feeling that her Archer really didn’t have a happy end to go from the idealistic idiot in her dreams to the sarcastic man before her.

She said, “Well, Sakura obviously had talent too, and my father thought it would be better if she went to a magus family to be trained so the Clock Tower wouldn’t think she was some anomaly and want to study her, or worse. He thought the Matous would see her as a godsend and train her as a magus, and then I didn’t have a sister anymore.”

The brilliant red gem swayed back and forth as Rin lifted her hand and let the chain spill from her hand. She watched it as it began to swing back and forth like a pendulum. “I was told that this would be the best thing for Sakura. She was given away and then my father died in the War before this one. I don’t know the details, Kirei wasn’t exactly forthcoming, but I also know I never saw Uncle Kariya again either.”

“Uncle Kariya?” Archer asked with a frown.

Rin felt her lips curve bitterly as she answered, “He wasn’t really my Uncle, but he was a close friend of my mother’s. He used to bring Sakura and I presents when we were really little. Pretty, glittering pieces of costume jewelry that little girls would go crazy over. Last time I saw him was after we’d given Sakura away. He was really upset about it, but Sakura really adored her Uncle Kariya and it was blatantly obvious he felt the same. Then again when her own father didn’t pay that much attention to her so who could blame her, right?”

When my own father was so awkward in his own affection, Rin thought as she clinched the chain tightly. The last memory of her father was so vivid in her mind. He had no idea how to treat her, and his pat on her head had almost been painful, but she had been so happy at the time because he was paying attention to her. She wanted to tell him a joke to get him to laugh, but that one gesture had made her so giddy that she had forgotten her joke and just basked in his presence.

“Looking back at it now, Dad was always sort of distant with us, even me,” Rin said, “I wanted to make him so proud, Archer, but he gave Sakura away to that. At first I just thought the worms were part of the training, but to hear what Kirei said when he was healing her . . .”

Tears burned her eyes as Rin looked up at her Servant. Archer’s face had fallen, his mouth was set in a grim line, but the look in his eyes was soft, pensive even. She let the pendent fall to the wooden surface and whispered, “Did he know that Zouken was going to do that to her? Did he know and not care?”

“Your father was an idiot,” Archer said in such a low voice she almost strained to hear it.

Rin looked up at him and felt her eyes narrow. He looked at her and continued, “Magi are idiots, Rin. They’re socially awkward idiots who don’t know how to deal with the human race. They’re so absorbed in their research that things common sense would dictate don’t even register to them.”

“So I’m a socially awkward idiot who doesn’t know how to deal with the human race and that I’m so absorbed in my research that common sense doesn’t even register to me?” Rin retorted with a glare.

Archer shook his head and his expression softened. He answered, “No. I know you well enough to see that you’re lonely. That you don’t want to block yourself from the world like that, but you don’t know how to interact with people. You’re a good person, Rin.”

Rin stared at him and said, “I left my sister to . . .” She looked away, “I left her to all of that. I had signs you know, of Shinji abusing her. And did you know that she had black hair and blue eyes like me when she was little? I just thought that was a side effect of what the Matous were training her in. I should have done something, but I didn’t.”

I’m just as guilty for hurting her as Dad was. As Zouken is. I lied to myself to assuage my own guilt, and look where that got me.

“And what could you have done Rin?” Archer asked as she jolted and looked into eyes like steel. Broad shoulders shrugged and he continued, “You could have tried to save Sakura, but what would have happened? It would have been seen as a breech on the treaty between your two families and Zouken would have been in his rights to kill you.” His eyes narrowed at her, “Or worse.”

A sliver of ice danced along her spine at those words and she shivered, wrapping her arms around herself. “I still should have done something,” she said in a soft voice as she looked down, her hair falling over her face. One hand briskly went up to shove the still damp locks out of her face as she saw Archer looking at her with a tiny smile.

“And what, gotten yourself killed for your trouble?” Archer said, “Then where would Sakura be now? Or that punk kid you wasted all that prana on to bring back from the brink of death?” Archer said as he moved in front of her.

Rin blinked at him as he knelt before her Japanese style with his hands resting atop his thighs, his eyes slightly lower than hers. She looked away, closed her eyes, and said, “I saved him for her. I saved him for myself too, I guess.”

“Oh, that punk must be pretty lucky if he has your favor,” Archer said with a chuckle that made her eyes snap open again. She turned to him as he continued chuckling and shook his head.

Heat filled her cheeks and she replied, “It doesn’t matter anyway, and don’t mock me. I’m being serious here.”

“I know you are, Rin,” Archer said with a slight smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, “It’s just not fair to you.”

She rubbed her arms and replied, “I went into this life knowing that there wasn’t going to be a lot that was fair. That I was going to be alone, and that if I married it would most likely be a loveless one to produce the best heir possible. Besides, Sakura likes him too, and I’d be even worse a sister if I take that little bit of happiness from her.”

“I think she’s good for him. She’ll keep him off the path of destructive idealism he was on,” Archer said with a sigh, his shoulders slumping slightly as he shook his head.

Rin stared at him and asked, “Something you know all about, right?”

“You don’t have the faintest idea,” he answered as his lip curled into a sneer.

She curled her legs under her and looked down at him. She said, “And I’m going to ruin that.”

Archer’s eyes met and held hers as he said, “Killing Sakura would be the best thing to do. Any hero can tell you that sacrificing one life to save many is always the best course of action.”

Ice filled her veins at his words and she quietly nodded. “Of course it is,” she whispered before looking away. The chain was gleaming and the red stone dangling from it sent flashes of crimson even as it lay perfectly still.

“However, if I was in your shoes I’d do anything in my power to save my little sister,” Archer said.

Rin whipped her head back to face him and stared at him. “What did you say?” she asked as her breath caught and her chest tightened. Fire and ice were currently at war within her, her face felt burning hot but her fingertips felt frozen. Her heart was pounding like a drum, so hard that she could hear it rushing in her ears as Archer shrugged and lazily smiled.

“If that was my little sister in that situation, I would say the hell with everything and save her no matter what the cost. Heroism means nothing if you have no one to share it with,” Archer said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

Silence stretched on for an endless moment until Rin moistened her lips with a flick of the tongue and asked, “Then, does that mean you’ll help me?”

“Well, you did go through all of that trouble Summoning and sustaining me. Plus I did promise to be your sword, right? And, you do have me under a Command to obey you,” Archer said with a nod and sardonic grin, “So it’s not like I really have a choice, now do I?”

Rin stared at him for a moment and was in motion before she realized it. The smell of smoke, leather, and steel filled her nostrils as she wrapped her arms around broad shoulders. The feeling of holding someone in her arms was utterly alien to her, the feel of their warmth against her, the solid presence that another body had, and the sound of someone else’s heartbeat in her ears was something she had altogether forgotten. Her eyes widened as she felt large arms wrap around her in kind and a long finger hand deftly stroking her hair.

Countless moments passed as Rin simply continued to hug Archer. During that time they had shifted so her head was resting on his shoulder and his cheek against the crown of her head. She clung to him; he smoothed her hair as if she was made of spun glass. Heat was blazing in her cheeks, and she knew she’d held on for far too long and expected Archer to tease her about it.

But her Servant was oddly silent as he continued to return her awkward embrace.

Red cloth was surprisingly stiff between her fingers as she dug them into his mantle and moved her face into his shoulder. “This doesn’t mean anything,” she said against him.

There was a soft chuckle and Archer replied, “Of course not, I’m just your Servant after all.”

“You are mine,” Rin said, “And I think you’re the first person I could really talk to. So maybe I overreacted, but I’d forgotten what this was like.”

His arms tightened around her and Rin’s eyes widened. His breath ruffled the hair beside her ear and made her shiver as he said, “I’m sorry.”

“I’m a horrible Master,” Rin said as she moved her cheek so her voice wasn’t muffled.

Archer moved back enough so he could look her in the eye. His face was startlingly close to hers, and there was something oddly bright in his grey eyes. His expression was open for once, his guard completely dropped. He said in a slightly hoarse voice, “It’s really not like you to beat yourself up like this, Rin.”

She leaned forward, closing the distance between them, and bestowed the honor of her first kiss to her Servant.

***

It was reasonable knowledge that he had gone through the Fifth Holy Grail War as Tohsaka Rin’s Servant countless times. Archer knew the moment he regained his thoughts and sense of self to prepare himself for anything just to reach his goal. He also reasoned that there had been a myriad of times where his goal had been diverted or changed. Immeasurable ways to counter other Servants and plans to attain his goal were probably stored within the “records” that counted as his memories.

Archer knew he was metaphorically armed for bear, but he should have realized that Tohsaka Rin was one of the few things that could surprise him, but he had not been ready for this.

Her lips were warm and silken against his, the touch light at first before increasing with pressure. The caress was thick with her inexperience and eagerness. Warmth radiated from her slight form and the smell of strawberries from her shampoo was making him lightheaded. His heart started to race as he returned the dance her lips had started, brushing them languidly at first then faster and faster until she gasped.

Rin’s lips parted and he darted forward, the hand that had been stroking her hair going to the nape of her neck to hold her still. His tongue slid into her mouth and gingerly flicked against hers to entice it to move with him. Small hands gripped his shoulders as Rin began to kiss him back, following his lead. Soon they were moving their lips and tongues in perfect synch, each kiss following into the next.

The sweet taste of tea, the tartness of citrus oil, and the flash of spice enveloped him. Archer felt his own blood roar to life in his veins as he moved one hand up and down her back, feeling her warmth beneath soft flannel. Rin arched at this, her head tilting back to separate their lips as she moaned. Her eyes fluttered ever so slightly as he traced the supple curve of her spine as her thick, raven hair was a heady weight upon his hand.

A lump rose in his throat as he studied her. Pink lips were parted and slightly swollen and gleaming from their kisses, a deep flush was spread across her pale cheeks, and her eyes opened to focus at him, gleaming like aquamarines. He almost moaned at the sight as his body flared to life even more, becoming painfully hard within the confines of his pants. Rin stared at him as she panted for air; the simple act brought Archer’s attention to the steady rise and fall of small breasts. His eyes eagerly traced the hard points poking through the yellow fabric and started to bring his hands up to brush his thumbs over them.

Stop it, idiot, he thought as he took a long, slow breath and looked at Rin. He moved his hands to her sides, barely touching her. Yet he could feel her warmth radiating through the barrier of her pajamas. Pajamas with little black cats all over them.

“Rin, we should stop,” he said, forcing the words from his raw throat.

Rin blinked and said, “Archer.”

“That shouldn’t have happened,” he said with a shake of his head as he lowered his eyes from her.

Rin said, “I was the one who kissed you.”

“Yeah, you did, but you don’t know what you’re doing,” Archer said with a shake of his head, “You’re just stressed right now and reacted.”

A small hand moved from his shoulders to lightly rest on his cheek. He blinked as she tilted his head back to her and stared into her gorgeous aquamarine eyes. “Why should we stop?” she asked.

He swallowed and said, “Because that kiss will lead us both somewhere we’ll regret.”

“Archer, you’ve said it yourself that I’ve been alone for far too long,” Rin said as she stroked his cheek. Her fingers were surprisingly rough, tiny calluses along the sides and palms, but they were warm.

He shook his head and said, “Which means I need to be responsible. I’ll be more than happy to stay by your side, but what lies beyond that kiss isn’t a path you should take. At least not with me.”

“You were the one who responded to the kiss like that,” she said as he watched the flush grow in her cheeks even more, “It just felt right after that.”

He felt heat bubble forth in his own cheeks and said, “I shouldn’t have.” I shouldn’t have been greedy. I should have pulled away and just held you. It would have been torture, but I would have held you while you slept if it made you feel better. I shouldn’t have kissed you like that.

“Then why did you?” Rin asked in a firm voice.

Archer blinked, looked down at the ground, and then back to her keen eyes. He answered, “Because I wanted to.”

“Then why do we need to stop?” Rin asked with a tiny smile.

Archer met her eyes and said, “Because I’m your Servant. Because you’re a virgin and I really have no desire to hurt you.”

“You won’t hurt me,” Rin said with a shake of her head before her eyes met his.

You know how long it’s been? What it’s like to suddenly have all these needs brought back to life? I’ll lose control and hurt you.

“You just need some rest,” he said as he moved to push her away.
Her hands caught his wrists and she said, “I know the first time will hurt, but I’ve already decided. I want to do this with you, because I trust you. Because you’re my Archer and you’ll take care of me.”

Then she leaned forward and her lips were on his again. A groan escaped him as he pulled her closer, her words lancing through him. He kissed her harder this time, ravishing her mouth in warning. Rin held him close and moved her lips with his as best as she could, but he could feel her trembling against him. He pulled away from her, gasping for air as the world seemed to spin around him. Every nerve within him was firing, his heart was pounding, his chest was tight, and his blood was roaring through his veins. Need grew and throbbed as Rin panted as she looked up at him.

He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against hers and inhaled her scent while holding her close. “Tell me to stop, please, Rin,” he whispered against her lips.

Warm air tickled his lips as she replied, “I want my first time to be with someone who cares for me, so see me through this to the end.”

His breath left his body in a rush as he held her tightly before trailing his lips down the side of her face back to hers. Then he claimed them again, but this time Rin swept her tongue through his mouth, as possessive as always. This time she took control as her mouth danced along his, teasing and tasting him until they were both breathless.

She pulled away and tugged at the red cloth of his mantle. Wordlessly he released the prana holding it and the tail around his waist together, letting them melt from his form. Then he leaned forward to kiss her again, but this time his hands moved up her sides to the front of her pajamas. His thumbs found the tiny points sticking up within the soft fabric and slowly rubbed tiny circles over them.

Rin moved her head away with a gasp and he trailed his lips over her cheek to lightly lick at her ear. She arched with a tiny cry as his teeth lightly pulled at the soft lobe, her body quivering delightfully against his. He stored the knowledge as he ran his kisses down the slim column of her throat and pressed his palms against small, firm breasts. Each touch fed the need howling with in him more and more, distantly realizing the painful torture that was swelling from within.

“Archer,” she said with a groan as she turned her head away, her eyes tightly shut.

He frowned and asked, “Am I hurting you?”

Raven tresses flew back and forth as the girl shook her head. He asked, “Do you want me to stop?”

Again, she shook her head and answered in a shaky voice, “No, just . . .”

No one’s touched you like this before and you’re scared. He swallowed and moved his hands from her breasts to pull her close. “Too fast?” he asked as he stroked her hair.

He could feel her slight nod against his shoulder as she looked up at him. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. She was shaking in his arms and he sighed as he held her close. He stroked her hair from her face, moved back and asked, “Why don’t you take the lead for a while?”

Rin blinked and asked, “What do you mean?”

“I’m yours to command right? Then command me. Tell me what to do and do whatever you want with me,” he said as he felt heat rush into his cheeks but he managed to look into her eyes.

Her eyes widened at that before narrowing. She swallowed and lightly strummed her fingers across the hard shell of his cuirass. “Off, the boots too,” she said in a low voice before looking up at him and taking a step back. He nodded as he released the prana holding those together as well, leaving him only in his pants.

Rin’s eyes widened as she studied him, slim fingers trailing over his heated skin. He bit back a groan as long, feminine fingers skimmed over scars before stroking the thickest that still marked his heart. His eyes closed as her caress grew bolder at the heavy scar as his heart felt as if it had suddenly lodged itself in his throat. The groan that left his lips came unbidden as he clinched his fists at his sides while his toes curled into the carpet.

Then something velvety pressed against it, sending thousands of tiny sparks through him as he shivered. Wet softness stroked it as heavy strands of hair like rough silk caressed his bare skin. His hands moved from his sides to gently run through her hair, his knees wobbling at the sheer tactile joy of it. “Was this the wound that killed you?” Rin’s voice vibrated against his skin and his back arched while her hands splayed across his chest and abdomen before curving into the hard muscles there.

He nodded and whispered, “Yes.”

I’m not lying, it did kill me, but you brought me back. It’s not like I have the rope burns around my neck from when I was executed now.

“You really weren’t that careful, were you?” Rin asked with a sigh before tapping her thumb on what had been a gunshot wound on his side.

Archer opened his eyes to see utter fascination on Rin’s face as she studied him. The sight shot another bolt of desire through him and he felt himself throb in response. He shook his head and answered, “Lack of sense of self.”

“Idiot,” she whispered before wrapping her arms around his neck, standing on her tip-toes, and furiously kissing him. He intertwined one hand in her hair at the nape of her neck while the other rested on her lower back. She hadn’t told him to touch her anywhere else, and he wouldn’t until she gave him the leeway to do so. He just returned her kiss, lightly kneading her back as he did as he forced his body not to arch and thrust into hers.

Yet she rubbed against him and he jolted slightly at the sudden touch. Rin licked his lips before pulling away and looking at him with wide eyes. She moved one of her hands to shove her hair back and said, “Archer, I want to see you. All of you.”

He swallowed, closed his eyes, and finally bared himself to her gaze. He gritted his teeth at the rush of air that surrounded his heated, throbbing skin and took a deep breath. He heard Rin gasp then swallow. He opened his eyes to find her staring at him before taking a step back.

“What’s wrong?” he asked as she stared down at his aching length. He looked down as well, staring at the swollen and aching flesh. Heat rushed his cheeks as he saw that the engorged tip was already glistening and nothing had touched it yet. Rin took a slow step forward before her shaking hand reached out and ghosted over it before pulling away. The not quite touch was like torture, only serving to make him pulse and twinge even more.

“Just . . . different than what I expected,” Rin said as she twisted the bottom of her pajama top in her hands.

Archer looked down with a frown. Rin said, “Like, I thought it would be smaller from what I heard.” Her voice caught and she looked up at him, fear flashing through her aquamarine eyes. He moved over to her and rested his hands over hers.


“We can stop,” he said as he looked into her eyes.

She stared at him and then looked down to his aching length. Please don’t touch me. Please touch me. God, please touch me Rin. Warm fingers clasped around him and he almost screamed when they slowly moved up and down him. His hands gripped her shoulders and his breath came out in a rush at the sudden touch. Then there was the shock that ran through his body as her thumb circled around the thick head, rubbing the slickness she found there.

“It’s wet,” she said in a soft voice and he nodded.

I’m going to go insane.

“Yes,” he said with a hiss as he forced himself to be still.

Her voice trembled as she said, “I don’t think I’m ready to put this in my mouth.”

He opened his eyes without realizing he closed them before hugging her close as she moved her hand from him. “That’s okay,” he whispered against her hair. The idea of Rin on her knees with her hot mouth on him and her hair caressing his thighs almost completely obliterated his control.

He was kissing her again, logical thought all but gone, and his hands were going to her breasts again. The soft warmth pressed into his hands as he began to knead them

together and apart while his thumbs worked the hard points of her nipples. He was rewarded with a little cry against his mouth that made him trail kisses to her ear. Rin arched up sinuously, rubbing against his throbbing need and he growled before lightly biting the shell of her ear.

“Archer,” Rin moaned as she clutched his shoulders.

He ran his teeth along her throat before nuzzling it. He looked at her and said, “I’m going to take these off.” Then he moved his hands from her breasts before unbuttoning the tiny black buttons.

Rin flushed prettily and said, “But . . . I . . .”

He kissed every bit of creamy white skin he exposed as he unbuttoned the pajama top. “I want to see you too Rin.” He then slid the top off of her shoulders and gasped at the sight of Rin topless and blushing, her nipples hard, coppery pink points atop of small, perfectly formed breasts. He admired the definition in her arms and shoulders and wanted to rest his head on the soft flesh of her stomach.

Wordlessly, he lifted her into his arms, her weight barely registering, and carried her to the bed. Her eyes were impossibly wide as he laid her down, admiring the spill of inky black hair on top of white pillows. He laid beside her and kissed her again, moving on top of her.

He used one hand to support his weight as he languidly kissed her, sucking and nibbling on her lips before darting his tongue in and out of the hot, wet cavern of her mouth. Her nails bit into his back as she danced her tongue against his, making him shiver even more. She was panting beneath him as he ran his lips from hers and down to the soft swell of her breasts. The right one was taken into his hand while he lavished the left with a combination of kisses, languid licks, and tiny, stinging nips.

Rin cried out at that, almost bucking off the bed as her clothed core brushed against his swollen length. It jerked at the contact, feeling the warmth beneath and Archer rocked his hips forward slightly before capturing her nipple with his mouth. He sucked eagerly on it, drenching it with his saliva as Rin’s sweet little gasps and cries filled the room before flicking his tongue around it. While he lightly strummed its twin between his fingers and thumb he savored the salty sweet taste of Rin as he rubbed teasingly against her.

He switched his line of attack, moving his mouth to her other nipple while playing with the slick point with his fingers. Then he trailed kisses down her stomach to the waistline of her pajamas. He looked up to see Rin watching him with wide eyes and reddened cheeks, but she closed her eyes with a sharp nod.

Sighing in relief, Archer quickly slid both the flannel bottoms and white cotton panties from her long legs before rearing up. Rin blinked up at him, utterly bare as she moved one hand to the bare slit between her thighs. His eyes traveled over her glistening nipples, down her skin to her sinfully long and sculpted legs to rest over where she was covering herself.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Rin asked as she stared up at him.

He moved forward to stroke her hair and smiled. “Please move your hand, Rin,” he said.

She bit her lip and nodded, leaving herself completely bare to him. His heart racing, he ran his index finger over the smooth slit that guarded her soft folds. Rin bit her lip and looked up at him. “That feels . . . different,” she said before squirming at his touch.

He deftly parted her until his fingers skimmed searing, silken wetness. “Oh,” he said as his breath left him with a rush, “You’re wet.”

“I know, that’s good right?” Rin said as she looked up at him with a frown, “So . . . we’re ready?”

He shook his head before traveling down her body again. He answered, “No, not yet. I think you need to be kissed here.” He slid his finger over the apex over her folds and her hips jolted. He moved his hand to open her thighs to him but she was starting to sit up, her hands going to his head.

“Archer, stop, you can’t do that, it’s dirty,” Rin said, her voice growing higher as he licked the smoothness of her inner thigh. He felt her shiver at that and repeated the motion with her other thigh. The spicy, musky scent coming from her core was making him drunk with want. He needed to lick every millimeter of her until she was languid with bliss and taste her lust on his tongue.

He gently moved her legs onto his shoulders as he rubbed his thumb over the gentle slit. “You just took a shower, right? Then you’re still clean,” he said with a smile before parting her open with his left hand. His nostrils flared at the sight of soft, pink folds that were glistening from her drenched core, the tiny nub still mostly hidden at their apex, and the small entrance to the haven of her body.

Without another word, he lowered his head and slid his tongue inside her as much as he could, which wasn’t very far, and lapped her tangy, almost metallic essence. He distantly heard some sort of muffled cry from above that was like pouring napalm in the fire raging within him. The first flicks of his tongue clumsily laved between her folds and inside her before flicking over to the tiny, swelling nub at the very top. He moved his tongue over it back and forth, faster and faster as Rin’s cries grew louder and louder, spurring him on.

His lips wrapped around the point and began to suck as he slid one finger inside her. Tight, hot wetness gripped his finger as there was the slightest resistance before he was moving it in and out of her while sucking on her. The nub was starting to withdraw from his questing lips, but he redoubled his efforts and Rin’s body grew tense before shaking like a leaf as she cried out. She nearly bucked off the bed as her inner walls gripped his finger almost painfully, but he kept sucking until he was rewarded with more shrieking and trembling.

Archer was vaguely aware of his face being drenched with Rin’s wetness, but he didn’t care and was spurred by her cries until she started to push desperately at his head. He lifted his lips from her and slid his middle finger in with the index, watching as Rin winced slightly. The tiny pink nub was still shaking with small aftershocks as he gave it one last kiss before looking up at her, his fingers moving back and forth as much as they could in the tight confines. Rin was pink from her head to her toes with her cheeks resembling cherries.

He found himself grinning from ear to ear at the dazed look in her aquamarine eyes as she lay panting for breath. Reluctantly, he slid his fingers from her tightness and moved up her body, already drenched with her. She stared up at him and said, “A-archer . . . what did you do to me?”

“I wanted you to have something good from this,” he said as he pulled her close, settling between her perfect thighs. They both gasped as his pulsing length met her quivering, wet flesh. Their eyes met and he intertwined her fingers with his before rubbing against her, torturing himself with that silken caress.

Then his lips met hers in a gentle apology as he drove his hips forward.

***

Rin blinked for a moment, distracted by Archer’s gentle kiss. His fingers gripped hers as he ran his lips against hers in feather light touches. There were still tiny flutters coming from her core, tiny aftershocks that were intensified each time Archer rubbed his heated length against hers. He was prodding her; that thick blunt head running over her heated flesh and making her shiver as each pass made both of them slicker and slicker.

Having her Servant on top of her was different than what she had thought. She thought it would feel like a dead weight pressing into her to trap her helplessly, but Archer on top of her was nothing but. Instead the there was this ache inside of her that made her want to hold onto him and touch every centimeter of muscle that was tightly corded in his body. Even now she could feel him so tense that he was trembling against her, and somehow that made her relax ever so slightly.

She flicked her tongue out against his lips and felt him draw up.

Then burning pain wiped away any bliss that had been left over from moments before.

Rin cried out at the searing invader that was burrowed inside of her, tearing her open as the massive length thrust its way inside. Untried muscles clamped down, tensing as they tried to voice the intruder out. Uncomfortable pressure was making her squirm as she felt Archer fill and stretch her far more than his fingers just had. He felt impossibly deep and far too large within her and her whole core was awash in scorching agony.

She expected him to start thrusting, creating more pain as he tore her open even more. However the pulsating length was still within her as Archer’s labored breathing echoed the room. The pressure from his grip made her flinch as his head was bowed and muscles were locked, forcing himself immobile. She took a deep breath as she could feel her own heart racing as the burning inside of her started to quell slightly and the pressure lessened enough so she could relax.

He lifted his head and bleary eyes the color of old steel met hers before she lifted her head and captured his lips in a kiss. He still tasted like tea and the smell of smoke, leather, and steel was still thick in the air and mingled with the spicy, musky scent of her own lust that Archer had coaxed from her just moments ago. He returned the kiss with the same restraint he was holding himself still with, not the hunger and passion he had when all of this started.

It’s hurting him to hurt me like this. Oh my Archer, you really are something, aren’t you? She smiled as she let his fingers go to move up and down his back. He gasped, his head snapped towards her, and he stared at her with wide eyes. Even though he was burrowed deep within her with that odd, burning pressure she had to at least give him something in return. Your actions speak louder than your words, she thought as they just stared at each other and she nodded.

He blinked and she pushed herself up. The movement slid him against her, brushing something inside of her that made her gasp. She dug her fingers into his back and whispered into his ear, “Let go.”

“Rin?” he asked in a raw voice as those eyes gleamed like newly minted coins.

Rin nodded, kissed him, and hooked her legs around his waist.

And that was all the prompting he needed, and she could literally feel the last of Archer’s control shatter.

His tongue swept through her lips as his hips drew up and he started to slide out of her. Then he thrust forward, withdrawing and retreating with enough force to make the bed shake. Loud creaks mingled with the sound of Archer’s labored breathing and the tiny little cries Rin found herself making with each thrust. With each thrust the ache was being joined by something else, something that made her feel light and heavy at the same time.

That odd, burning pressure seemingly heightened the tension that was coiling more and more within her as she dug her fingers into his back. Distantly she heard him begin to gasp her name as he pulled completely out of her. She cried out in frustration as the tension gnawed at her and he lifted her up and spun her around so her back was against his chest.

She tilted her head to look up at him as she lifted herself onto her knees as he guided her onto his lap. Deft fingers moved to open her cleft and found that point that had completely shattered her when he had kissed her there. Sparks went shimmering through her veins as she cried out, that tension growing even more as Archer lined the thick head of his length to push into her again. She looked down to see tiny crimson rivulets trickling down her thighs and streaking his as he brought her down, joining them again. Rin bit her lip at the sudden fullness and the sharp, searing sensation of being stretched and filled to the breaking point.

One of his hands moved to cup her left breast and he began to lightly pinch and rub her nipple with his fingers before kneading the soft mound. She groaned at the wash of pleasure that sparked through her veins as his other hand rubbed at the tiny nub right above where he was thrusting in and out of her. Wet sounds filled the room along with the bed creaking.

Rin felt herself blurring more and more, dancing on a line of pain and pleasure as heat raged within her. That tension was becoming unbearable, she was going to shatter, and she could somehow feel Archer swell within her more and more. Each thrust brought them higher and higher, and pleasant little flutters seemed to shimmer from her body, tightening around the thickness inside of her.

Archer’s hand moved from her breast and to her thigh as his thrusting became harder and faster. He bent forward, pressing her lower as well, changing the angle so he was even deeper within her. Each thrust opened her up more and more to him, as if he was determined to mold her body to his shape. Her blood was pounding in her ears and her mind was swimming. She was teetering on the edge of something impossible, something intangible, as if the Root her father had sought was somehow within her grasp.

“Rin!” her name was torn from his lips, a loud and desperate scream filled somehow with both agony and bliss. He pulsated and twitched hard inside of her and she arched, her body unable to take any more. Warmth flooded her and Rin screamed, her vision whiting out as the world ceased to be. She shattered into a thousand pieces, screaming as the tension sprang and she writhed helplessly. Her inner walls collapsed around Archer, grasping him as she moved to wring more out of him until she simply melted against him.

Moments later they were still joined, her on Archer’s lap as she felt liquid warmth deep within her, filling her. Their breaths were loud as she felt Archer’s arms wrap around her and hold her close. Rin blinked at that as he whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Then he shifted and slid out of her, causing her to cringe at the sudden emptiness. She gasped as she felt an odd feeling of something else sliding from her as she felt his essence start to spill from her. She stared at him, he moved beside her, and gently moved his hand between her legs. A moan escaped from her lips as his fingers gently skimmed over her battered flesh.

Her eyes widened as she sat up to look down as well to see pearly white streaked with red dripping from herself. Archer wrapped his arms around her without a word and just held her close. Rin blinked, but didn’t protest his embrace and in fact snuggled into it with the realization that maybe her Servant needed comfort more than she did.

***

The first thing that Rin was aware of when she woke up was warmth. It surrounded her, cradled her, and held her close. Bright light streamed through dark curtains and tiny dust particles danced in the beams of light, almost like tiny fairies dancing in the air. She moved to stretch only to find heavy weights around her waist, draped over one of her thighs, and curved behind her. Her eyes widened when she looked at the dusky arm wrapped around her waist before tilting her head to see that she hadn't gone to bed alone.

A small sound that wasn't quite a snore slid through Archer's parted lips as his chest rose and fell with each breath. Rin felt heat fill her cheeks as she moved again, flinching ever so slightly at soreness between her legs. Last night. He . . . We . . . Oh. The memory of it made her cheeks flame and she felt the urge to flee, or maybe hide for the next several years. Ignoring that urge, she leaned back against his hard warmth and watched him sleep.

White hair was currently falling onto his forehead, and his expression was softer, wiping years from his face. She didn't remember falling asleep with him behind her like this and both of them on their side, so he had to have shifted them during the night. One of his legs was caught and pillowed between hers and he had an arm wrapped around her stomach. He was completely curved against her with his face burrowed in her long hair.

A smile crossed her lips as she shook her head at the thought of Archer being so affectionate, but she wasn't going to push him away. She would definitely tease him a little about it later, but it wasn't something she minded. If anything, it sent a tiny spark of warmth through her that made her tingle and want to smile like an idiot. So she rested her hands on top of his, absently rubbing the calluses she found on his palms and fingers.

Rin was aware that no matter how good it felt they couldn't lay like this forever.

Still, she would savor the moment while she could and Archer deserved it too. She was burning everything to memory from the lingering aches, the warmth surrounding her, the silly little whistling sound Archer was making while sleeping, and just the feeling of someone with her for once. Someone who she could be herself with.

Someone whose actions speak far louder than their words, she mused, if last night and right now are any indication. The events of last night played far differently than she anticipated. She had expected Archer to take the roll of an older, experienced lover teaching a young woman about the joys of sex. Instead she got something else, something she hadn't anticipated at all.

Last night wasn't about sex or comfort, like she was originally thought it would be, but even she knew well enough when someone was making love.

So, not only do I have Sakura to save now, I have to make sure you stay with me, Rin thought with a sigh to her sleeping Archer.

Grey eyes opened and she chuckled at the haziness there before Archer blinked, shook his head, and blushed. She smiled and said, “Good morning.”

“Hey,” he said, his body curving into hers just a little more before he started to let her go.

She gripped his hand and said, “Just for a little while longer, okay?”

“Okay,” he said, a smile flashing across his features as he settled back against her. She shifted so her head was resting against his shoulder as his hand idly stroked her stomach. He looked down at her and kissed the crown of her head before resting his cheek against it.

Rin smiled and said, “You know, I wouldn't have pegged you for being a cuddler.”

“And I wouldn't have pegged you for liking to be held,” Archer said with a slight smirk.

She stretched slightly, releasing some tension in her muscles, and replied, “Well, you're so big and warm. I'll allow it.”

“Thank you,” he said before his chuckle reverberated through her. Then he eyed her and asked, “How are you?”

She looked away as her cheeks heated up again and answered, “A little sore, but nothing too bad. It's not like my Crest acting up or anything.

“Well, I should not have expected anything less from you, Rin,” Archer said with another laugh, his white teeth flashing against his dusky skin, “I'm just glad I didn't hurt you more than I did.”

She giggled as well and intertwined her fingers through his that were resting upon her stomach. She looked up at him and said, “It wasn’t too bad, I’m used to pain remember, and what you did before more than made up for it.” She paused for a moment before eying him and added, “You know, I have a lot of questions you're going to answer.”

“Rin, I . . .” Archer began before sighing and nodding.

She gave his hand a tiny squeeze and said, “Later.”

His eyes widened before he nodded and said, “Later.”

“I know where your loyalty lies, Archer. Besides, we have other things to deal with right now,” Rin said with a sigh.

Archer nodded and answered, “Saving your sister.”

“Yeah, which is easier said than done,” Rin said before shaking her head with a groan.

He gave her a tiny squeeze from behind and said, “But you're not alone, Rin. No matter what, we will save Sakura.”

“And you'd better not die doing it though,” Rin said as her cheeks filled with heat and she looked down.

He moved so he could look down at her and asked, “What do you mean?'

“I mean, you'd better survive the War so I can find a way to keep you here,” Rin retorted with a glare.

Archer's eyes widened before he frowned and said, “Rin, we don't know what's going to happen.”

“No. You have too much to answer for anyway, so you have to stay. I'm not taking this lightly you know,” Rin said with a frown.

A slight smile crossed his lips and he said, “Fine, I guess I have to prove I'm really the best Servant then, don't I?”

You already have. She grinned in returned, “Right, and the first thing you need to do is help me save my sister.”

“Then let's go save Sakura,” Archer said before kissing her cheek and holding her close.


Fin.

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:32 AM
Name: Shared Interest
Author: Anon


The first point of contact was their heads meeting one another.

With a terrific thud she was shoved backward by the force of impact, losing her balance and landing on her rear in the process. She glared up angrily to see the face of her attacker, so that she knew what he looked like before he paid for the offense with his blood.

What she saw however wasn’t near what she had expected. An apologetic look or one of anger she would have understood, considering what she knew about humanity in the present era. But what she saw…were cold, beautiful pale eyes. It was like peering into the depths of death itself, with nothing but emptiness reflected within the silvery-blue pools.

There was a flash. A movement so fast she was barely able to react to it, but react she did. A split second later, the sound of metal scraping concrete howled through the quiet morning air, the echoing of it lasting for what seemed an eternity. By the time her mind caught up to what had just happened she was a few steps away from her attacker, who stared at her like she was a slab of meat, a knife in his hand.

What she noticed next sent a wave of confusion throughout her. The ground where she had previously been was cleanly broken, as if it had just been caved in by a chisel shaped and used by giants. Other than that the material was still as flawless as it should have been, yet the only thing that could have made such an impossible cut was the slender blade in the man’s hand. Yet it was simply impossible for a fruit knife to cut through a slab of concrete like that. And anything that might have been able to make as precise a cut as this wasn’t something one man could carry on his person unless it was a something special, which was equally impossible since she felt nothing from the blade. So, rather than the knife it must have been the man whom had so effortlessly sliced through the pavement as if it were butter.

And so she again found herself drawn to those exquisite eyes. She didn’t care that the man that had just knocked her to the ground was in fact the one she had come to see. The only thing that held her attention now…was his eyes.

But a moment later the pale color faded from the lucent spears, along with the hold they had on her. He blinked once, then twice. Than his face shifted, contorting into one that contained several emotions. Surprise, disgust, and relief were all present, but the dominate emotion there…Fear wasn’t the word, she mused to herself. More like horror. When she realized that, a peculiar thought rose to the surface of her mind. A man such as this was rare. Perhaps he could…entertain her for a while.


It was perhaps fortunate that the next day was a Sunday than, as it gave the man no excuse for showing up late according to their agreement. Of course even if it hadn’t been such a day she would have found and dragged him along with her anyhow. As the agreed time approached, she sat and lightly swung her legs back and forth, the old rusty swing she sat upon straining slightly under even her petite weight. She sighed as she glanced at the clock again. 10:58. She huffed before kicking her feet against the ground and gently rocking forward and back, forward and back, again and again. He was doing a fine job of making her wait, and she had a feeling he would keep her waiting for him a while longer.

She was right. An cross frown ordained her face as she glanced back at the clock again. 11:09. He was nearly ten minutes late now. If he wasn’t here in six more, she would head to his home and drag him here…if she didn’t kill him first. Interesting as he was for a human, she did not like to be kept waiting.

11:13. She heard the hard pounding of shoes on pavement and the heaving gasps of a person’s breathing from behind her. She stayed perfectly still on the swing, waiting for it to come to a stop. “You’re late,” she said flatly without turning around, knowing whom it must be. Before he could apologize she hopped off of the swing, causing the derelict chains to clang loudly against one another. She than began to move towards the exit without a word, leaving him to sputter incredulously for a second before breaking out into a jog to catch up to her.

A few hours had passed since he had finally arrived at the park. As they walked throughout town, she found herself thinking of several things. Was this man an idiot? What the hell was he doing? She had told him to entertain her, yet all they had done so far this day was go about town and do frivolous things. Human things. He had taken her to a movie that attempted to be new, but the plot was relatively something she had seen several times already over the past few years. She had an annoyed look on her face the entire two hours in the darkened theater, him nervously twisting in his seat whenever he tried to look over and see how she was doing. A grin would flash to her face for the briefest moment after he looked away, however.

They had been to an aquarium and seen several manners of sea life, but again the vast majority she had already seen before. The various kinds of saltwater and freshwater fish did not pique her interest, as they (like most of the planet’s creatures) were not part of her normal diet. An amusing image of the man tied to a wooden board for her to carve into any amount of pieces she wished brought another wide grin to her face, which made him more nervous than ever as she made eye contact with him.

They had eaten lunch at a small establishment that catered towards that horrendous style called “fast-food,” which she begrudgingly accepted. While she did prefer warm meals this wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. As she bit into the small round conglomerate of beef, bread and other filler, she tried as best as she could to imagine that the red liquid oozing from the edges of it was blood. She was taken aback when he suddenly snickered, but one glowering look was all that it took for him to freeze and return to looking meek and nervous.

He then had taken her to a store for children (presumably because of her small frame) and offered to buy her a small stuffed white dog, saying that it was a nice contrast to her long raven hair. To be honest, she hadn’t minded this last one destination. It pleased her when people sought to present her with gifts when they both knew that they unworthy chunks of garbage. But still, it wasn’t as if there was anything that tied them together, so such a gesture was pointless and without meaning. Still, she wasn’t going to let him know that and she quietly thanked him and hugged the small toy close to her the rest of the day.

There was a rather amusing meeting along the way though. Whether he knew her or not, they had run across a girl that instantly recognized her for what she was, yet said nothing about it. She quickly recognized the girl as well. After all, it hadn’t been too many years since she had heard of this woman’s…unique position within the Church as an Executioner.

She surmised that she had come to this city near the time of the Serpent’s rise, but that had been over a year ago. By reading her reactions to her presence, it became obvious as to what had kept the Agent here after so much time had passed, and it amused her greatly. She took advantage of the situation and playfully clung to her escort like a whimsical child filled with delight as she watched a dog bark at the air.

Later, the sun lowered in the sky and the scene around them shifted to a deep shade of orange and red. Her feet stopped moving, and he in turn seemed to notice and halted as well with an eye watching her over his shoulder.

“Why are we doing these pointless things?” she asked simplistically.

At first, he said nothing. Then he turned and looked at her with a quiet smile. “Small things like this are meaningless, but they still have meaning,” he replied cryptically.

A few seconds passes before she nodded slightly, gazing up at the fiery skyline. “It almost makes me wonder, what if I had been the one who was here that day instead of my ‘sister’.”

Silence drifted between them, the only sounds being that of the wind fluttering through the air, the occasional faint footsteps of other passerby, or the rare sound of a car motoring down the road. But for the two of them there was only one thing, or more specifically, one entity on their mind.

“Really, I come here to learn more about the man who broke and healed her, and I only find myself with more questions. You are a difficult man to comprehend, Tohno Shiki.”

“…I’m nothing special. I only know how to live in the moment. I don’t exactly think much about the future, because I know how fleeting life truly is.”

“Hmm. I think that is perhaps one of the most important things one can understand. I admit, it is quite difficult to fathom such a thing when I’ve lived as long as I have.”

“…”

Silence returned then, and almost simultaneously they resumed walking. Within several minutes they had returned to the park with the rusty swing from which they had begun their day. There, they sat on one of the small benches across from the swing, her present between them like a visible barrier. They both gazed longingly at the delicate metal structure.

“…How long did it take for you to realize who I was?” she said quietly, her voice barely above a whisper.

He leaned back and sighed, his hand hanging loosely off the side of the bench. “Almost immediately. That horror I felt after almost losing to that part of myself again…to me, it was too much of a coincidence.”

She laughed lightly. “Well, I feel a little silly for trying to keep my name a secret then. Does she talk about me much? You know, when you’re with her?”

“Not really. She tends to be like a hyperactive kid and runs to and fro checking the next thing that catches her interest.”

Again, silence. For a minute nothing happened, and then she stood and dusted herself off. They both knew that their meeting was over.

“Well it was an interesting day, all things considered. Take care of yourself, for my sisters’ sake.”

“I’ll do what I can.” It was a statement full of truth. One that acknowledged that he wouldn’t try to do more than he thought he was capable of doing.

A smile hinted on her face as she turned and walked away. She paused at the exit to the park and turned back to him one more time.

“The date was fun, Shiki. But you’d better hope that Arcueid doesn’t find out you were with me today.”

As he sat there gawking and in disbelief from her choice of words, she giggled and walked away with her present and the days memories in her hands.

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:32 AM
Name: The Magus’ Heart
Author: Anon

Author’ Notes: This follows a HF AU. Essentially, this is a snippet of a bigger story I planned but haven’t had the time to write. However, I believe this story can stand on its own without prior knowledge of what happened before (as long as you keep in mind this is a HF AU route). Also, the two OCs are required for their roles in the story.

Definitions:

Tonkatsu: Deep fried pork cutlet
Youkai Agency: A Japanese organization meant to deal with dangerous supernatural elements. Originally introduced in Battle Moon Wars.

=====
- Life -

Shirou hummed to himself as he lugged the heavy bags of groceries through the door and into his home. The familiar sight of the tiled entryway and long wooden hallway greeted him, and down the hall he could hear the muffled sound of talking and laughter. Gently placing the bags down, he slid the entry gate closed and put his shoes in the usual place. Hanging up his jacket in the closet, he shivered slightly from the February cold. Unlike the more modern western houses, traditional Japanese homes did not have central heating.

As he reached down for the bags, he smelled something off in the air. Something that shouldn’t have been there. He took another deep breath of air just to be sure.

The savory smell of roasting meat and vegetables: cooking. Most likely by Sakura.

He grumbled slightly at that thought. Today was supposed to be his day to cook dinner. Yes, he admitted he may have been slightly late picking up the groceries but that didn’t mean she could simply replace him in the kitchen; even if she was coming close to his level of culinary skill. A sinister thought crossed his mind: “If the apprentice wants to challenge the master then I supposed I’ll just have to teach my disciple a lesson.”

Walking down the long wooden hallways, Shirou thought of all the myriad recipes he would use to...

A tall blonde woman peeked her face from the far end of the hallway corner. Wearing a simple white sweater and jeans, she stared at him with an a hopeful look plastered on her face; her long ponytail hair sway too and fro as her head moved back and forth staring at him. Pausing in his tracks, Shirou looked at her and she towards him as they both shared a moment of silence. Finally, she moved her head forward and her eyes widened in excitement as she looked towards the groceries and Shirou followed them to their destination: the large bottle of Saké.

“Oh, no...” he thought.

“Shirou! You remembered!” came the excited voice of Sable down the hall. Her hands shot upwards with joy as she gave a cheer of jubilation and, like an unstoppable locomotive, she raced towards him at an alarming speed.

“Wait! Sable, just hold on! I need this for cooking tonight...” said Shirou nervously. Unfortunately for him, his words failed to reach her. Moving at speeds normally recorded in flight, the woman continued speeding towards Shirou; her long hair trailing almost horizontally behind her. In his peripheral vision, he saw one of the washroom doors open.

With no other choice to avert catastrophe, he deftly lunged into the washroom; missing the supersonic woman by a mere hairbreadth. If he had listened closely he might have heard something ram into the front door at a high speed. Unfortunately, his dodge resulted in him losing his balance and colliding with the woman that had been leaving the washroom.

Collapsing sideways, the pair fell together in a jumbled mass of tangled limbs, vegetables and tofu. Looking from his tilted view on the floor, he saw an assortment of foodstuff strewn about the floor, including the box of Japanese curry he had bought earlier. Luckily, it seems the warm bathroom cushions had softened his head during the fall. With a groan, he used his left hand to push himself off the floor... And found it sink into something round and soft.

Three things occurred to him suddenly: He had collided with someone after dodging Sable’s charge, they didn’t have any cushions in the bathroom, and his left hand was currently pressing somewhere forbidden on Caster’s body. Slowly lowering his gaze, he saw the Caster looking patiently at him clad only in a bath towel; her long locks of damp raven hair cascading down her figure. Due to the towel’s short length very little was left to his imagination as the towel conformed to the mature woman’s enticing silhouette. Her face held an amused expression as they simply stared at one another in silence.

Maybe it was from the hot steam in the washroom getting to him but Shirou’s face went beet red as he felt himself freeze in place. It was odd but at a dangerous time such as this his brain failed to work. After waiting a moment, the older woman calmly looked at him and said, “I believe the proper course of action would be to remove your hand, Shirou.”

With speed that amazed even himself, he flew backwards and placed himself flat against the wall. All at once, he found his mouth moving at a thousand words per minute and his mind finally began to work again.

“I’msorry,reallysorry,Caster.Ididn’tmeanerrImeanit wasacompleteaccidentthatthathappened. You.You.YouseeIjustgotbackhomewhen...“ He was sure his face was turning redder, if that was even possible, and his vision began to blur as he ran out of air.

Caster rose from the floor before placing a finger up to his mouth to silence him. “Shh... Remember to breathe, Shirou. Breathe,” she said.

Listening to her advice, he stopped himself and took several deep breaths. Slowly but surely, he felt his body return to normal. Finally catching his breath, he looked up and was met by Caster’s blue eyes.

“There... better?” she asked with a warm smile. He nodded. ”And I thought I told you to stop calling me that. Call me Elesia,” she said. Even though the frown on her eyebrows indicated she was annoyed, the way she spoke in that smooth and calm voice of hers made it sound more like a caring mother correcting her child than Elesia actually being mad.

“Heh, sorry Elesia,” he said.

“Don’t be. Just remember it,” she said. Looking around the washroom she saw the floor was littered with the night’s dinner ingredients. ”Here, let me help you with those.” Crouching down, they gradually collected all the foodstuff back into their respective bags.

“So... Sable?” she asked as she put a daikon back into the brown bag.

“Sable,” he said with a nod. There didn’t need to be anything else said.

As if on cue, the tall blonde woman poked her head into the washroom. “Someone say my name?” she said with a smile.

“Ohh!” she said as she reacquired her original target. “Yoink!” In one swift motion, she grabbed the large bottle of saké from the newly reorganised bag of groceries and then disappeared into the hallway.

“Wait! I need that to make dinner!” said Shirou as he followed behind her; groceries in tow.

“Eek!”

*Whap*

Leaving the washroom, the now unconscious Sable lay on the ground; the precious sake cradled in her arms as she muttered Incoherent words about “her precious.” A bright red spot marked where something had hit her on the top of the forehead. Standing triumphantly above the dazed woman was Saber; her face an almost innocent smile. “Almost” because he could see the long shinai she was hiding behind her back.

“Welcome back, Shirou,” said the small Servant cheerfully.

=====

- Light and Darkness -

Standing in the kitchen, Shirou gently wafted the scent of the delicious Tonkatsu to his nose. In the end, Shirou found out Sakura had simply been preparing the miso soup and a side dish while waiting for him to return. He felt slightly ashamed at his initial assumption in the hall. He sighed. He supposed he should be happy. The fact that she was willing to take the initiative in the kitchen meant she was recovering well enough from everything that had happened to her. Perhaps now would be a good time for Sakura to take a greater role in his kitchen.

Gently cutting the Tonkatsu on a plate he said, “Hey Sakura, could you bring the Miso soup and the other main dishes out? I’ll finish the Tonkatsu over here.”

“Of course, Sempai,” she said with a warm smile.

He watched her as she moved the food to the table. Looking from the kitchen, an outside observer might not have noticed the extra spring in her step or the way Sakura’s smile seemed to shine brighter than before. However, having known her like family these past years, Shirou noticed the change. The best comparison he could make would be as if a patient had just been told he had recovered from an incurable illness.

She seemed more energetic now than anytime in the past. Perhaps it was a sign of her recovery; like a bird relearning her wings. His thoughts drifted to the wormed abomination known as Zouken Matou. He thought about what Zouken had done to Sakura, the torture he’d inflicted and the pain he’d caused, and he heard the knife resonate hard on the ceramic plate. Taking a deep breath, he cast aside his thoughts of Zouken. The monster was dead and gone; the best thing he could do was let the selfish bastard fade from memory and history.

“Sempai? Is everything ok?” asked Sakura as she walked towards the kitchen. She must have seen the brief anger on his face.

He forced a smile and said, “Everything’s fine, Sakura. Just take a seat. I’ll bring the food over.” Grabbing a hold of the plate of Tonkatsu and another dish of vegetables, he carefully walked out towards the table.

Currently sitting at the tabler were four beautiful women. Elesia had managed to finish getting dressed and now wore her casual dark navy blue coat; its cuffs and outer edges adorned with cross motifs. With her index finger, she pushed up her glasses and put down the novel she had been reading. Across from her sat the slightly intoxicated Sable with the smaller Saber sitting to her left. Currently, Saber held the saké in one arm while using her other arm to push Sable’s head back and keep her arms from reaching the bottle.

After using the saké in his recipe, he had eventually relented and given the bottle to Sable; although not without slight reluctance. It was either he gave her the bottle or the tumultuous blonde would sulk and whine for the rest of the evening. Observing the bottle’s swishing contents, he saw that she’d already drained almost the entire bottle.

“Stop drinking, Sable-san, you’ll ruin your appetite,” scolded Saber.

“Meanie!” said Sable as she finally relented and surrendered the bottle to Saber. She crossed her arms and glared at the petite girl with an annoyed expression. “Besides, you’re one to talk. At least I have an appetite to ruin. All you have inside there,” said Sable as she pointed to Saber’s stomach, “is a blackhole.”

If it was possible, Saber’s head would have turned crimson red. Sensing her opponent was distracted, Sable launched herself at the saké bottle behind Saber but was intercepted in mid air by the stalwart warrior. Both teams were evenly matched with Sable having reach but Saber having the greater flexibility. On the sidelines, Sakura and Elesia were content to simply smile and watch the entertainment as the two fought.

Shirou placed the dishes down before returning with a stack of plates, bowls, and utensils. As he arranged the dishware, he saw Elesia hand Sakura a stylish purple fan before Sakura wafting the sent of the delicious Tonkatsu towards the fighting pair. As if a dinner bell had been rung, they quickly disentangled and arranged themselves at the table.

He double-checked to make sure everyone had a plate: Sakura, Saber, Elesia, Sable and himself. Five plates arranged at the correct spots on the table. Holding the sixth set of dishware and utensils in his hand, he carefully placed them in the one spot closest to the door; careful to make it look as tidy and neat as usual. Finally, he headed towards the kitchen to grab the fresh batch of tea he had brewed.

Returning with teapot in hand, he saw everyone waiting patiently for him; except for Sable. She was look around the table in confusion. “Oh? Are we missing someone? It looks like you’ve got an extra set of plates over there, Shirou.”

Silence.

All eyes turned to her as if she had suddenly turned into Berserker. She opened her mouth to talk but then thought better of it. Saber was glaring at her with eyes that could melt tungsten.

“You... How could you be so inconsiderate. You naivety here is beyond description. Even after everything that...” said Saber.

“You idiot! It hasn’t even been a two weeks since the end of the war and you can’t even...” said Elesia

“ENOUGH, from both of you” said Shirou. Placing the teapot down on the table, he turned towards Saber. “Sable only came back to Fuyuki today. She doesn’t know what has been happening since the end of the Holy Grail War.” His explanation seemed to have calmed down Saber, who was now content to simply glare at Sable.

“Shirou? What’s going on?” asked the tall blonde innocently.

He turned his attention to Elesia and said, “Could you explain the situation to Sable? I’m going to check on Tohsaka.”

Hearing that name, all the inebriation seemed to disappear from Sable and her face turned white. As he left the main room, Shirou could see her bowing her head down shamefully as she realized what was going on.

Retreating from the light and warmth of the main room, he walked down the darkened wooden hallways; shivering slightly in the cold shadowy halls. For a moment, he thought he saw something move at the end of the hallways, but then chalked it up to paranoia; The Grail War had had him on the edge of his nerves since the beginning. Besides, Elesia’s enhanced alarm spell would almost certainly have been able to detect any hostile intruders.

Even without turning on the lights, he easily found his way past each corner and corridor. This place had been his only home for as long as he could remember and he knew every single nook and cranny. If there had been another home before this one, the fire had burned it from his memories.

Turning a corner into one of the outer halls, he saw white moonlight bathe the central yard and light the path before him. Walking along, he glanced outside at the yard.

Though they had fixed most of the superficial damage to the house, the section where Berserker had cleaved straight through the perimeter wall remained. He reminisced how he and Saber had worked on the wall for long hours only for their slipshod attempt at masonry to end with a very angry Elesia covered underneath rubble screaming how she was under attack by the house’s malevolent spirits. He grinned. It wasn’t their fault that she ignored his warning to let the mortar set for a day. Of course, the 30 minute lecture she gave afterwards about building construction and safety wasn’t nearly as entertaining.

He inhaled the chilly air and then exhaled; watching his breath wisp in the air. With everything that had happened in the Holy Grail War, he was grateful for the way that everything turned out. He thought for a moment and then revised that statement in his head.

That wasn’t completely true.

Turning a corner, he saw a raven-haired magus sitting silently on the edge of the wooden hall and looking out at the moon-bathed lawn. A slight chill passed through his body as he noticed she had opened one of the sliding glass doors onto the lawn. Despite the chilly temperature, though, she still only wore her regular crimson red shirt and black skirt.

Her aqua-blue eyes stared out at the empty lawn in front of her while her arms entwined together at a slightly upward angle; almost as if she were praying. Walking towards her, she neither stirred nor seemed to notice his presence as he sat down next to her.

“Hello, Tohsaka,” said Shirou. He forced a warm smile on his face for her. However, if Rin had heard his words, she showed no outward sign of it; her face was still an emotionless visage. With great care he gently moved several stray strands of hair away to look at her face. Looking at her this close, he could see her eyes were bloodshot and cheeks puffed up. It was clear she wasn’t getting much sleep.

“Sable came back today,” he said with slight enthusiasm; as if the news might change her silent demeanor. “We’re all ready for dinner. I can take you to the main room if you’d like. I’m sure Sable would like to see you.”

Silence was her only response. Her eyes continued to stare outside as if he didn’t exist at all. Placing his hands on hers, he called out her name again to no avail. The stillnes hung in the air like his foggy breath and he had to force the smile to stay on his face.

He gave a pained sigh; It was like this everyday.

As he began to get up, he felt a light tug against his arm. Still unable to look into Shirou’s eyes, Rin shook her head to get him to stop. She gave a barely audible *mph* before she looked behind her at the floor which led to her room.

“You want to go back to your room?” asked Shirou. She gave another *mph* before silently nodding her head. Holding her by the hand, he opened the door to her room before leading her to her bed. She quickly slid underneath the warm covers and then turned to face the wall. Tucking her in, he said, “I’ll be in the main room if you need anything, Tohsaka.”

Before closing the door, he took one last look at Rin’s sleeping form. If she had been looking at him, Rin might have seen his expression turn to one of sadness as he removed his hollow smile.

Walking back from the dark hallways towards the main room, he noted it was quiet inside; only the sound of his footsteps reached his ears. Opening the door, all heads turned towards him. He took his seat next to Sakura and then shook his head. At his response, the group dropped their shoulders glumly. Even Sable, who was normally infectiously cheerful stayed quiet. For several moments, the group stayed silent before Sakura broke the silence.

“Come on, cheer up,” she said with a look of resolution in her eyes, “Nee-san wouldn’t want all of us being sulky like this.” Her expression suddenly softened with a warm smile, “Taiga always said our mood is dictated by the people around us. So let’s be happy and eat plenty.”

With nods of agreement from everyone, they said “itadakimasu” and began dinner.

=====

- A Betrayal Worse than Death -

“Come my dear, its time to begin your training,” came the voice of Zouken Matou. Grabbing Rin by the hand he led her towards the shadowy entrance. Rin shivered as her uncle led her down the damp stairs. Even though she didn’t really like Uncle Zouken, Rin held on to his grip tight. The wind down the stairs reeked of an unknown stench and even someone as young as she could feel... the sense of wrongness that emanated from below.

“Uncle Zouken, where are we going?” asked Rin. As they descended down towards the stone stairs she caught a whiff of outflowing air and had to stop herself from gagging. She wasn’t quite sure what it was but it smelled musty... and sickly organic, as if hundreds of animals had been herded in a pen that was too small.

“To the Matou training chambers,” he said in his usual hoarse phlegmic voice. He continued to plod downward into the darkness. Rin didn’t want to go, but father had said the reason he had given her away was so that she could eventually become a strong magus.

The steps downstairs eventually evened out onto a walkway which led into a cavernous room. The stones of the wall, like the stairway that preceeded it, were lit in a greenish hue. All along the walls were holes and shallow indentations where coffins and skeletons lay. Then she realized what this place was. It was the Matou crypt. An odd sound reached her ears, like the sound of tearing flesh.

She felt bile fill her throat at the image before her. Thousands... no... millions of sickly white worms writhed in the chamber below them, their hungry toothed jaws snapping like a chorus that rose to a dull din. There were so many she thought the very ground itself was moving; like some eldricht horror made real. The meager torchlight reflected off the secretions from their body, making the entire floor seem to flicker like primordial sludge. With debilitating fear, she clutched onto her uncle’s arm, the only sense of safety and familiarity she found in this tomb of horrors.

“No, I want to go. I want to leave. Please Uncle Zouken!” she cried. She didn’t know what her training entailed but she knew this was wrong. Nothing of this was like her father’s workshop. Everything here was wrong.

His blackened eyes stared at her with mild interest before he gave a light chuckle. “Don’t be silly,” he said, “this is Matou magecraft.” He continued to lead her down the stairs towards the nest of familiars. “

(Hey derek, I’ll finish this soon. Instead, I’ll skip down to the pertinent section)

With a sudden shove, Zouken Matou pushed Rin forward and she fell towards the gaping maw of the worms. Like sugar to water, her clothes disintegrated from the onslaught of familiars. She could feel them burrow under her skin and wiggle their way into every single crevice of her body.

Pain. Pain the likes of which she had never felt exploded throughout her body and into the core of her being. It felt as if someone had lit her body on fire but even that would be mercy. The pain flared past her skin, right into her bones and organs. She writhed. She screamed. She flailed. Yet no matter what she did it was futile. The familiars didn’t care; they simply continued their work.

“Help me! Please! Uncle!” screamed Rin. Her echoes filled the chambers before eventually faltering into nothingness.

From his perch on the stairs, he watched as his familiars went to work on the young girl. If someone was watching him, they might have even seen the dark eyes squint as a smile appeared on his face.

=====

Rin woke with a start and screamed. Her eyes darted around wildly as she tried to coalesce her memories into a coherent form, however all she saw was an ever present darkness. It was then she noticed it; something warm that completely covered her body. Suddenly, her mind returned to the basement underneath the Matou household; the image of those... things... enveloping her. Fear gripped her heart.

She screamed and desperately tried to push them off even as she scurried backwards from the swarm. Her heart felt as if she had ran up all of Ryudo Temple’s steps. Using her hands to push herself back, she retreated from the worm familiars. Unfortunately, before she had even moved a meter her head slammed into something hard and she realized she had backed herself into a cornerl. She felt the well grow within her stomach as she realized she had nowhere else to run.

She brought up her feet to her chest and shut her eyes. Even as she clamped her ears shut, she could hear the faint hissing and clicking of their tiny teeth as the white worms approached. Trapped in the corner, she whimpered quietly; the phantoms of her nightmares closing in all around her.

Please, make it stop. I’m sorry, Sakura, I’msorryI’msorryI’msorry....

=====

- Deathless Enemy -

They had finished dinner almost half an hour ago. Despite what had happened before dinner, everything had returned to normal. At the end, Sable had been able to convince Sakura to come watch one of the recent TV shows she’d discovered. Normally Taiga would have beaten them to the TV room but she was still staying at the Fujimura residence and recovering from the war. Saber had decided to head to the dojo to practice her combat exercises, explaining that although the war was over a “warrior should always keep their skills sharp.” Elesia herself was simply content to read a book in her room.

This left Shirou cleaning the dishes; not that he minded. As he cleaned a plate by hand, he glanced back at the table. Tohsaka’s dishes and utensils were still on the table; ever ready to receive its designated owner. He’d made it a habit to place Tohsaka’s plates back last after everyone elses.

Picking up all the chopsticks, Shirou took the sponge and began washing them down. Even though they had a dishwasher he still preferred washing the dishes by hand. It was odd but he enjoyed the process of scrubbing and rinsing the dishes clean; it gave him time to think and reflect. In a weird way it was oddly therapeutic. Shirou had just finished washing the chopsticks when he heard her screams. He ran to Rin’s room.

Turning on the lights he saw the the room was a complete mess. The bed’s comforter, pillow, and sheets had been pushed off into a lump onto the floor and the standing lamp adjacent to her bed had fallen and had taken some of her Alchemy tools on her desk with it. In the corner of her bed sat Rin, her feet pulled to her chest and her arms pushed to her ears. Her eyes were shut as she tried to close all senses to the outside world.

Her hair, which he remembered had always been kept straight and proper everyday, was completely disheveled and entangled in front of her face and he could hear her quietly whimpering from the corner.

Moving with haste, Shirou hopped over the lamp and jumped onto the bed. Perhaps in reaction to the bed’s movement, she curled herself into the corner even more. Moving towards her, he grasped her by the hands so she might be able to hear him. However, moving her arms felt like moving rusted steel.

“Rin! Rin! It’s me, Shirou,” he said. Rin didn’t respond to his words.

Grasping her by the shoulders, he shook her to get her attention and received a kick to the torso for his effort. Falling from the bed, Shirou collapsed onto the blankets and heard the sound of shattering glass as something broke underneath his weight. He lay there for a moment on the bedsheets, simply heaving and gasping for air. Eventually, he pushed himself onto his hand and knees; finally recovering his breath.

He coughed before saying, “Damn it. *cough* Rin. Wake up!”

As the words left his mouth he realized he had made a mistake: even he was able to hear the anger and irritation in his voice. He said it hoping Rin would wake from her stupor, but he hadn’t meant it to come out like that. As he slowly raised his eyes up to her he saw the consequences of his actions. Tohsaka, not having made eye contact with anyone since the end of the Grail War, simply sat there looking at him in shock as the tears fell from her face. Her bloodshot aqua-blue eyes stared directly at him, a look of sorrow on her face told him all she wouldn’t say: “I’m sorry for everything.”

“Wait... no... I didn’t mean it like that...” said Shirou. Unsure of what to do next, a voice from the doorway saved him the effort.

“Nee-san?” came Sakura’s voice. Looking at the situation, Sakura immediately ran to Rin’s side and hugged her. “There there. It’s okay, its alright.” She quietly whispered into her ear as the two simply sat there. Shirou lay on the jumble of pillows and bedsheets thrown on the ground; unsure of what to do. As he watched, he noticed Rin’s whimpers and cries slowly subside in the warmth of her sister’s arms.

“Come on, I’ll bring you to my room,” said Sakura. Slowly she helped Rin up and walked her to the door. As they left Rin averted her gaze from Shirou and instead placed her head onto Sakura’s shoulders.

He gave a loud sigh and sat on the bedsheets. He felt oddly tired right now. He’d have to apologize to Rin later and clean up the mess in this room but right now, he was content to rest for a moment.

A year ago he could easily have seen the roles between the sisters reversed. Now... there was an odd dichotomy between the sister’s past and present selves.. Rin had always been the strong one with a seemingly invincible attitude while Sakura had been the quiet one that stayed on the sidelines. Rin was the strongest student. Rin was the master Magus. If the world was to come to an end, it would be Rin that could save it. But then... he thought about how she was now.

Shirou and Saber had also suffered through the war, but while their major wounds had been physical, what Rin was going through no salves could heal nor magic fix. That burning truth made him angry beyond words. Grasping one of the plastic containers on the floor, Shirou threw it angrily against the wall. The cylindrical container rebounded off the paper walls and knocked several more vials off of Rin’s wooden desk; a useless act of rage.

No, that wasn’t true.

He wasn’t mad. Rather, he simply felt helpless because there was nothing he could do. This was an enemy that he couldn’t defeat, an enemy with no weapon to destroy; no body to kill. Even when he had faced Berserker, he felt as if he had ‘some’ way to affect the outcome. Berserker was an enemy that could be met with blade and magic. He was an enemy he could face together with his allies... How could they defeat Rin’s enemies when they only existed in her mind? When she wouldn’t even talk about them?

How do you defeat an unkillable enemy?

-----

He wasn’t sure how long Rin and Sakura had left before he stood up and looked around. Just like before in the past several days, he began to pick up the scattered clothes and miscellaneous paraphernalia and place them back in their correct place. Looking at the sheets and blankets he noticed there were now several multicolored stains coating the middle. Carefully lifting the bed covers, he noted with annoyance several shattered alchemical vials underneath them. He must have fallen on them during the confusion. He gave a sigh as he looked at the multicolored mess on the floor. Wonderful...

A slight shuffle caught his attention. In the doorway stood Saber, her calm visage offset by Sable’s head poking out from the hallway above the short warrior like an odd totem pole.

“We thought you’d like to know. Rin seems to have calmed down now and I think she’s feeling better,” reported Sable.

Saber cut in, “Sakura was able to convince her that it may help her relax if she took a bath so I will need to borrow...” She stopped talking, however, when she noticed Sable was making funny faces above her head and using her hands to imitate wings. A quick elbow to the ribs quickly ended Sable’s fun and toppled the totem pole.

*eep*

“In any case, I will need to borrow some of Rin’s clothing,” said Saber. Thinking about Rin’s clothes brought about memories of their foray into home invasion. Unsure of how to deactivate the Tohsaka residence’s defenses without the command words, they had decided to simply try brute force. Several explosions and traps later, one of which oddly enough consisted of spilled milk, and they had access to new clothes for Rin; albeit at a slight cost to Saber’s pride.

“Go ahead, Saber,” he said. The petite Servant nodded and then quickly collected some clothing from the drawer before leaving. He began to clean up again, picking up a textbook from the floor with the title “Alchemy for Novices: a Reference for the Rest of Us, By Lord El-Melloi II”, before he noticed Sable was still standing at the doorway. Even though her normally uplifting smile was still there, it was tempered by the troubled expression on her face.

“What’s wrong, Sable?” Shirou asked.

“I feel kind of like dead weight here until I finish my report about the Grail War. Do you mind if I help you clean up?” she asked. He shook his head and Sable immediately began to get to work by looking for a mop.

=====

In the steam filled bathroom, Sakura quietly hummed a pleasant tune while she washed Rin’s long hair with care. Taking another handful of shampoo into her hand, she lathered the sweet scented lotion up and down her sister’s dark raven hair; taking care to undo any knots along the way. Satisfied she had lathered every strand of Rin’s hair, Sakura took the shower head off its holder. Turning on the warm water, she began to wash the soap and suds from Rin’s body.

As Sakura continued rinsing Rin’s hair, her sister had stayed quiet. Sakura was used to this by now, of course, but it still tore her heart every time she thought about it. The last time she had heard her speak a complete sentence was the last day of the war in the cavern. It pained her that their last words had been filled with insults and shrieks of hate. She would have gladly taken all of Rin’s anger and malice right now if it meant she would return to normal.

Sakura sighed. It was a wish she prayed for everyday even though she knew it would not come true; especially with the Holy Grail finally shattered into pieces. She felt her chest scrunch as she thought of what her sister used to be and she forced herself to keep the smile on her face. There was no use in showing Rin any worry.

“Come on, let’s get to the bathtub. I’m sure the hot water will help you relax,” Sakura said with the same cheerful tone she used before. She guided her over to the tub of steaming hot water. Touching it carefully with her big toe, she found it at a perfect “sauna hot” temperature that might help Rin relax.

As they slowly sat down in the large tub, Sakura held Rin above and below her breasts; cradling her within her arms. She held her with tender care and slowly they both began to descend into the warm water until the waterline reached just above their collarbone. Holding her tightly Sakura could physically feel Rin’s heartbeat jump as something triggered within Rin’s memory.
“mmph,” muttered Rin, as her body thrashed about. Her head shook vehemently as imagery from the past resurfaced. Memories of her time with the Matou returned; of spending days locked in the suffocating darkness as her body was taken to new limits of pain when she was immersed within those horrible familiars.

“Shhh, shhh. Just listen to my voice. Its alright, Nee-san, its alright. I’m right here,” she said encouragingly. She felt Rin’s hands grip her own as she tried to fight off the pervasive fear.

“Everything’s fine,” she whispered. After a while, Rin’s thrashing stopped and Sakura could feel her heartbeat slowly return to normal. Silence echoed across the room as they simply sat there for long moments, neither one speaking to another; simply content to enjoy the soothing heat of the water and the comfort of each other’s presence.

A single sniffle echoed across the bathroom. Then another and another. Sakura was crying.

Rin looked up from her reflection in the water in surprise and turned to face Sakura. On her face, a single tear rolled down her cheek even as she made a pained smile.

“Why?” said Rin, wondering why her sister was crying.

“I’m so sorry, Nee-san,” she said, “I never had the chance to say this to you sooner but this is all my fault,” said Sakura as she hugged her sister tighter. “I wasn’t strong enough.” She slouched further into the pool as if the water could remove the shame she felt, “If only I had been stronger... None of this would have happened.”

Rin lowered her face before slowly shaking her head. “Not your fault,” said Rin plainly. She returned to her original position of leaning again Sakura’s body.

“But why?” whispered Sakura her eyes wide with surprise, “I was the monster.”

Rin didn’t answer her question. Her eyes returned to look at her own reflection in the water; content with looking at her reflected image. Sakura herself said nothing, not wanting to push Rin’s already fragile mental state.

=====

- Fallen too Far? -

The cavern shuddered under the relentless power that was building from the Greater Grail. Even more rocks began to fall from the battle between the two sisters as shadow met light. A silence finally permeated the cavern as both sisters faced one another along the Grail’s plateau.

"…But is that my fault? The ones who made me like this are Grandfather, and my father that sold me to the Matou family, and Nee-san who didn't come save me…!” said Sakura. The dark flames of prana whipped around her body like fire as she poured her heart and soul into these words. Eleven years of torture and pain flowed for the first time from her wounded soul.

“I didn't become this monster because I wanted to…! I was forced to become one because everyone cornered me…!" Sakura yelled. She wished for someone to hear her. For someone to understand her and her plight.

And yet... even her last plea in life is denied.

“Oh. What of it?" says Rin casually, as if Sakura had told her she’d she’d forgotten to bring a book to school.. "Things like that happen. It's not like crying will change anything, and besides, being a monster doesn't sound so bad. It doesn't hurt now, right?"

Anger. Red hot anger clouds Sakura’s mind. Rin continued talking. She said she didn’t understand her plight. How she wouldn’t even bother understanding her troubles. Then Rin says something that blankets Sakura’s mind white:

“I never thought I was blessed.”

Sakura’s vision turns into static and shatters into a million pieces. Anger, the likes of which she hadn’t ever felt throughout her entire life vaporizes all logic and reason from her brain. And at that moment, when all her anger is directed at Tohsaka, Rin enacts her plan.

A brilliant shining light envelops the cavern and the shadow colossus evaporate in its bright light. Now is her chance. Rin grips her secondary dagger and lunges while Sakura is still blinded by the surprise attack.

When Sakura opened her eyes, she saw the tip of the dagger scant inches from her head. Looking down, she saw two shadow tendrils piercing Rin’s chest. Even though she hadn’t willed it, the Shadow knew how to protect its host.

Sakura laughed even as Rin dropped the dagger.

“I won!” she cried with joy.

Dark tendrils, looking almost like living cloth, wrapped around Rin’s limbs and bound her in place.

“Sakura?” said Rin, worry lined her voice and a look of fear lined her face. Sakura chuckled as the tendrils slowly lifed Rin off the floor.

“You never thought you were blessed? Let me show you just how lucky you were. Let me show you the hell I had to endure!” she yelled.

Rin’s eyes opened wide with surprise before the tendrils began to constrict around her entire body. In less than a minute, Rin had been covered head to toe like a mummy. With a mere thought, she repaired the wounds she had inflicted on Rin. Sakura had no intention on killing Rin. The selfish bitch’s words had made sure of that.

“Sleep peacefully,” said Sakura, an expression of absolute joy filled her face. Even now, Sakura could feel her magic seeping and pouring into the core of Rin’s body. As she walked towards the edge of the stairs, she could see everything Rin was experiencing. Even thought it had been mere seconds since Sakura had bound her, in Rin’s mind a day had already past.

Sakura gave a hearty as she savored every scream and drank up every jolt of pain Rin experienced. To Sakura, this pleasure was even better than anything the worms could inflict; it tasted like a sweet dessert after a bitter tea. She reveled in Nee-san’s pain and pleasure.

“Hah, she’s already crying on the first day,” said Sakura, as if Rin’s pain were a comedic spectacle. She looked down the flight of stairs as Shirou raced towards her.

“I should thank you, Senpai. This was the best present you could have brought me.”

=====

- Magus’ Heart -

With a quick push, Sakura plugged the nightlight into one of the electrical sockets into her room. The nightlight was shaped in the image of a cartoonish smiling frog; something that Shirou had oddly found amongst his old childhood things.

“There. That should keep the shadows away,” Sakura said with a cheerful smile. Rin looked towards her from her position on the bed. With a motherly touch, Sakura carefully tucked Rin in bed before kneeling down next to the bed and grasping Rin’s hands with her own, “if you need anything, I’ll be next door, ok? No matter what it is.” She waited until her sister nodded silently
and then gave her one last hug before departing.

They had decided that, with Rin’s room still a slight mess and in need of cleaning, now would be a good time for Rin to have a change in scenery and moved her to Sakura’s room.

Saying goodnight, Sakura quietly closing the door and was met by the concerned faces of the current residences in the Emiya residence. Despite the darkness and chilliness of the hall, the group had waited while Sakura let Rin drift off to sleep.

“How is she?” asked Saber, her hands clasped together in concern.

“Better. I think just getting out of her room helped nee-san relax just a little,” said Sakura. Her eyes perked up and she gave a reserved smile, “She looks better than before. Happier.”

“Ah, well that’s a relief,” said Shirou while leaning against the wall.

“Not really, Shirou. This isn’t something she can recover from in just one night,”said Elesia

Sakura tilted her head in confusion, “what do you mean, Elesia?”

Elesia closed her eyes and gave a sigh. She began to explain, “It might not look like it, but Rin is psychologically wounded. Wounds like these don’t simply heal within a day. She might look better now but this might simply be a small respite.

“Then how can we heal her?” asked Shirou.

Elesia shook her head, “You misunderstand. This isn’t a wound that you can suture and seal. These wounds will stay with her for the rest of her life...”

“For her entire life!?” exclaimed Shirou.

Saber and Sakura made *shushing* noises at Shirou’s loud response and pointed into Sakura’s bedroom.

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly.

“Let’s take this conversation back to the main room. We don’t want to disturb Rin’s sleep,” suggested Saber. The rest of the group agreed.

Walking back to the main room, Sable offered to make tea while the rest sat and listened to Elesia.

Elesia continued where she left off, “Rin is a casualty of war despite the fact that all her physical wounds have healed. I’ve seen people break under stress and launch themselves like a madman to their untimely death. Others have cracked completely and shutdown on the battlefield. Rin’s case is similar yet different. Very few people have experienced what she has.” At that part, she glaced at Sakura who simply nodded silently in understanding.

Elesia continued on, “The sheer pain, feelings and sensations... Most regular people would have been mindless husks by now. The fact Rin still maintains her sanity alone means she is emotionally stronger than even most of the soldiers and church agents I’ve met in the past.”

At that moment, Sable arrived with a new batch of green tea. With her same indomitable attitude and inexhaustible supply of energy as before, she brought several teacups before pouring everyone a cup. She continued to hum a tune as she returned to the kitchen for more hot water.

Elesia continued. “Like I said, these wounds will always haunt her but that doesn’t mean they have to control her. With enough time and support we can help her recover past the worst of it. However, this isn’t something you cure. No one really fully recovers from this; they simply learn to live with the trauma. The most important thing is we must never give up. All of us.” She emphasized her point by giving a resolute stare at the group. “

”Then... isn’t there any other way we can help her recover faster?” asked Shirou. It was obvious he was desperately looking for anything he could do that might help Rin recover quicker.

“My master once said that all victims have a story to tell. If Rin talked about her experience... her fear... If she let it out in the open it would certainly help speed her recovery... but...”

The grouped looked morose as Elesia’s voice trailed off. Each person heard Elesia’s unspoken words: “Rin no longer spoke to anyone.”

After a moment of silence, Saber spoke up, “Elesia, how do you know all of this?”

The older woman didn’t answer at first, simply content to take a sip of her tea. Looking at the wall in distant thought, she savored the feel of the green tea as its warmth spread down through her body. Then she gave a warm smile and then spoke reminiscently.

“I was like her long ago,”Elesia said succinctly, “the difference was that I bottled it up and forgot it ever happened.” Unconsciously, she began to fiddle with the silver chain around her neck. “It worked... except when it didn’t,” she gave a morbid smile at the statement. “But the day I finally felt free was when I found friends that helped me lift the burden.”

=====

Their impromptu meeting had concluded nearly an hour ago. They had all decided to go to sleep with the exception of Sable, who had to finish what she said was “a thesis length” report on the Grail War. Considering her actions in the war itself, Elesia was amazed she had the patience to write such a lengthy report; her personality gave no credence to such discipline either.

Closing her textbook, Elesia put the thick tome she had been reading down onto a growing stack of similar books. She pinched the bridge of her nose in fatigue and then rubbed her eyes. Gaining official recognition within the Magus’ Association was looking like it was going to be more trouble than it was worth. Even more so since she was an unknown Magus trying to hide her status as an all powerful Servant.

“Of course, the Association could never know that,” she thought to herself with a smirk. Putting down her glasses, she picked up the sci-fi novel she had been reading: The Imperium’s Hero by Mitchell Grane. It might have seemed odd for a Servant of magecraft to be entertaining herself with lasers and space marines, however it helped to have something to unwind with at the end of the day that wasn’t related to her work. Opening thee door to her room, she figured it was about time she took a refreshing break from the rigors of studying and headed towards the kitchen for a fresh cup of tea; novel in hand. Heading down the hall, she noticed the front door was slightly ajar far down the hall.

She walked to the entrance and closed it but not before checking the boundary field was still active around the house. She reinforced the alarm spell Kiritsugu had placed around the residence and she doubted there was any living magus that could beat her magecraft, though it always helped to be sure. Walking back towards the kitchen, she muttered a simple incantation and tested the boundary field before breathing a sigh of relief. Everything was fine.

“Shirou was holding large bags of groceries when he came back,” thought Elesia as she recalled the evenings events, “maybe he simply forgot to lock the door?” Reaching her destination, she pulled the door aside and entered.

Sitting at the table was Sable, her face illuminated mostly by the laptop’s lamp which she was so keenly staring at. One arm supported her head while the other held a bottle of milk tea. On a small dinner plate was an amalgamation which might have been called a sandwich if one took the definition far enough. Looking at the table, Elesia saw scattered bags of chips and chocolate bars dotting the battlefield as Sable washed down her late night snack with the bottle of milk tea.

“Still awake?” asked the Magus servant. Etiquette and politeness refrained her from commenting on the mess atop the table. Sable nodded her head as she took a bite from the slipshod sandwich.

“Dang Jet lag,” she replied after she’d stopped chewing.

“Jet lag?” Caster repeated with some bewilderment, “I thought Youkai headquarters was located in Japan.”

“Yup,” she nodded in confirmation, “but there was nothing but old magazine on the flight back so I caught some shuteye. Now I can’t sleep.”

Elesia sighed and walked towards the kitchen, “Well... Next time remember to completely close the inner door on your way back from your late night venture to the store. The war might be over but I’m sure Shirou would appreciate the lower heating bill.”

“Eh?” said Sable with confusion, “I didn’t leave the house. I bought all this in the afternoon. And the door was locked last I checked. I should know, I collided into it.”

“What?” said Elesia with confusion, her hand hung midway towards mug in the cupboard.

The cogs in their mind began to turn as both women began to realize the implications of their shared statements. Before either could speak, however, Sakura appeared in the doorway. She wore a worried expression on her face and said, “Elesia? Sable? Have either of you seen Rin? She isn’t sleeping in her room anymore.”

=====

- Downward Spiral -

If there had been any pedestrians, they might have been alarmed at the shivering young girl as she walked down the lonely road. As it was, the recent murders from the Grail War had essentially shut down all late night traffic. No one saw the lone girl walk silently down the illuminated pale yellow streets as she meandered towards an unknown destination.

Rin wasn’t sure why she was out here herself. All she knew was she couldn’t stand the suffocating darkness of the room anymore. It wasn’t as if she had developed Claustrophobia or anything idiotic like that. She just needed something new to look at, a change in scenery, or else she felt she would go insane.

As she walked onward a refreshing downward mist began to descend from the sky and lightly tickled her nose. She had to blink her eyes several times to stop her eyes from blurring. She turned to look at the path where she had come. She wasn’t sure what time it was but she only now noticed how far she’d walked.

It was getting kind of late, maybe she should head back? She hadn’t wanted to disturb any of the others since she thought this was going to be a short walk, but if she went further it might take her a while to get back. They might be worried.

A sudden voice spoke in her head.

“Why? So you can bother them again?” came a voice from beside her.

Rin looked up and saw herself standing there; Rin Tohsaka in all her glory. Unlike her, however, this image was perfect. Every strand of her hair was perfectly aligned and her smooth clothes hugged her silhouette like a model. It was the Tohsaka that once curled boy’s hearts around her finger at school; the honor student and the great magus. She was perfection. She was power and strength.

Rin wasn’t sure what she was... Maybe it was penance for her sins; punishment for her crimes. All she wished was that it would leave her alone.

“Go away,” she said, in a tone that was mired between an order and a desperate plea.

“All you do is bother them. Just like today,” the image said, ignoring her order.

- - -

“Rin! Wake up! It’s just a stupid dream! Wake up to reality!”

Snapping open her eyes, she saw Shirou clutching his stomach and coughing in pain on the floor. Of course, he hadn’t said it like that. Shirou was much too kind to ever say that. However, she heard the malice and anger in his voice.

He was right, they were just stupid dreams... Dreams couldn’t hurt her. So why couldn’t she just make them go away? Why couldn’t she just ignore them?

- - -

“That was an accident,” she thought, “he was just trying to help me.”

“Exactly. You’re a nuisance. Even when they try to be nice you all you do is hurt them. You’re nothing but a drain on them. They only put up with you because they feel obligated be nice to you. If you just disappeared they’d be happier.”

“Shut up! That’s not true! They’re my friends... They’re family. They love me. You’re lying! LEAVE!”

“Am I?” asked the voice. “Then what about at dinner? Do you think they’d have gotten into that argument if you hadn’t existed?”

“Just leave me alone!!” yelled Rin, her cries echoing against the cold dark sky.

The image bared her teeth like a predator sensing weak prey. “Leave you alone? Just like how you left your sister alone so she could be raped and tortured for the rest of her life? Sure, I’ll do that,” it said.

Rin collapsed against the sidewalk railing and clutched her chest as the memories returned, “No... don’t show it. Don’t remind me. Stop...” However, it was useless. The moment she thought about it her mind already formed it.

The voice changed, this time taking the form of Sakura. When she looked up, she saw her standing before her; her black and red striped robes eerily helped her blend into the night. Dark Sakura was looking at her, her crimson red eyes gave her a damning look.

“Eleven years. Eleven years, Nee-san! That’s how long you left me there in that hellhole,” it said.

Rin tried to crawl further into a ball as Dark Sakura’s words hit her. “I didn’t know! I couldn’t know...” whispered Rin and she placed her arms around her head trying to block out her words.

“You didn’t know?! Is that the best excuse you can come up with? Is it you didn’t know or because you didn’t care because it might interfere with your precious Magus honor?” Sakura’s eyes flared with anger and the wisps of crimson and black smoke rose behind her. “Did you know? The Makiri even put poison in my food so even eating became agony. For my entire life all I knew was pain and you couldn’t even be bothered to know me! Your own sister!” By now, Sakura was screaming; her cries rang into Rin’s ears and echoed silently into the night.

- - -

It had felt like a lifetime ago. She remembered it had begun to rain before she finally found them. Standing on that lonely field were Sakura and Shirou, both of them hugging one another in a warm embrace despite the falling cold rain all around them. The sound of wet footsteps caught both of their attention. Rin stood facing them with her Azzoth dagger drawn menacingly at her side. Looking at her, Shirou saw her eyes were cold enough to send a chill down his spine..

“You know that if she lives she’ll continue taking more lives,” said Rin.

“She is family, Rin,” said Shirou, the statement was all he needed to say.

“She’ll eventually kill again. You know what that means,” she said, her emotionless stare colder than the rain that fell.

“We can find another way, Rin. There’s always another way. Don’t just give up on her!” yelled Shirou. This time anger seeped into his voice.

“No, you won’t. You won’t find a solution; not before many more people die,” stated Rin. In that one statement, Rin had severed her ties to the both of them. Archer materialized behind Rin. However, even his expression betrayed a hint of sadness. She gripped the dagger harder in her hand, its blade gleaming in the parks artificial light, before she said, “I’m sorry. But it must be done.”

- - -

“I’m sorry, Sakura. I didn’t mean... I didn’t want for any of this to happen,” said Rin as she stared at her sister with bloodshot eyes.

Sakura laughed. “Of course not. You wanted me DEAD so you could go to your precious Mages Association with the grand prize. THAT’S what you wanted to happen.” This time, Rin had no response. All she could do was sit there in fear.

Then, Sakura’s demeanor changed. Placing her head between her hands, she began to giggle. It was the sort of soft-giggle that would have driven fear even into one as strong as Saber. Sakura fell to the ground before she began to crawl towards her, each movement in her slide smooth and sultry until she was eventually face to face with Rin.

“But don’t worry. I’m your Nee-san so I’ll be here with you forever and ever. I won’t ever leave you alone like you did to me. I’ll stay with you everyday for the rest of your life. We’ll be the best of friends,” she said. Then her mouth cracked open into a chilling Cheshire smile that would have frozen even Berserker in his tracks.

Though Elesia hadn’t been aware of it, Rin had overheard her through the thin paper doors earlier in the evening. Right now, Elesia’s words echoed through her mind:

“These wounds will stay with her for the rest of her life...”

Rin thought she felt her heart stop. Pushing herself backwards with her numb hands, Rin bolted and ran. She didn’t care where she was running, she just wanted to escape the shade that was haunting her waking dreams. So she ran towards the darkness and further into the night. Sakura sat on the sidewalk, content to watch her run away.

“Don’t worry, Rin. The moment you think of me... I’ll be back.”

=====

- Snowballs and Dominoes -

Rin’s lungs felt as if they were on fire. She’d ran for what felt like forever and the burning in her calves and chest felt unbearable. Unable to continue any further, she collapsed with her back to the metal railings. During her run down the main street, the light rainy mist had transformed into a torrent. As she tried to regain her breath frigid rainwater ran down her face, soaked through her crimson shirt, and chilled her to the bone. She hugged her sides; trying to shield herself from the onslaught of water.

Eventually she felt she’d finally regained her breath and pulled herself up to regain her bearings. From where she stood she could see the black splash of water as it swirled against the riverbanks on this moonless night. With a look of surprise, she realized she’d run the entire length of Miyama and reached Fuyuki bridge.

“You always were one of the best in Track,” came the voice of her imaginary twin. Looking behind her, she saw her sitting on one of the opposite banisters; nonchalantly swung her legs too and fro while watching her disheveled counterpart stare at her. Despite the strong winds and heavy rain, she looked as immaculate as ever. “It must have been useful during the war too,” it said, jumping down with a spirited hop that ruffled its skirt. “You ran away from all those memories; all those feelings and emotions. Must have been handy being able to stash away all your failures like so much useless junk. All so you could get the Grail.”

More images appeared behind false Rin, each one representing a victim she couldn’t save. One group represented a family with their daughter smiling and waving at her. The girl’s father silently nodded towards her with a gentle smile while the mother held the daughter’s hand. Is that how they’d died? Holding on to one another in fear for comfort? She recalled when she and Archer arrived at the home she had to leave before she retched out her dinner. There wasn’t enough of them left to identify them and only a nearby photo identified who they once were.

Her view then turned to several young men. Simply looking at their dress clothes, she’d guess they had probably worked in downtown Shinto. She remembered the news report stated it had taken DNA matching to find out who they had been; the only thing at the crime scene had been chunks of flesh.
Finally, her eyes went to the one figure she knew. Like a moth to a flame, she wanted to shut her eyes and forget all about her yet

“Yo, Tohsaka,” said the girl. She gave the same cheerful greeting when they normally met.

When she and Archer had arrived at her home, she remembered ramming through the partially opened door; ignoring Archers warnings. If she had been simply visiting, very little would have seemed amiss in the empty house. It was only when she’d opened the door to Ayako’s room that she saw something wrong. Books and other various paraphernalia lay scattered across her room as if one of her wind gems had blow through the room. She then saw the large pool of blood on the ground and realized Ayako was dead; without even a body to mourn. The authorities still listed her as missing but Rin knew the truth: Ayako was gone as sure as ice against the Saharan sun.

Rin lashed out in anger and hurled a punch that phased through the false Rin and landed against one of the streetlights lining the bridge. “They’re not junk!! They’re people!” she screamed through the numbing pain in her hand. In an instant, Ayako and the rest of the dead disappears from sight.

Her counterpart laughed, “Of course they’re not junk. But that doesn’t make it any less true. You failed as the supervisor of Fuyuki to protect them and now they’re dead because of you.”

“You failed as a Magus, Rin,” this time, in the voice of her late father, Tokiomi Tohsaka. “All you had to do was win the Grail but you let your heart get in the way.” He turned his back on her and refused to even look on her. “You are a shame to this family and a disgrace as a Magus.”

Another image appeared, this time of Dark Sakura, “You couldn’t even bother to get to know me. I wish you were never my sister. I wish I never knew you!”

Another figure stepped out from behind Sakura in the image of Shirou. This made Rin stumble back until she hit the metal safety railing. Looking behind her, she saw the sheer drop that would have landed her in the water. “Why are you even here?” Shirou said, his eyes full of hatred “You’re an annoying eyesore, Rin. All your annoying sniveling and crying drives us mad. Why don’t you just leave?”

Rin shut her ears as the din of the ghosts hammered against her. Her counterpart stepped in front of the crowd, as if to give the coup de grace, and spoke:

“Everyone hates you. They’re only putting up with you now because they feel obligated despite everything you did to them. However, one of these days you’ll be kicked out. One day their patience will end, and then what’ll you do? You’r an utter failure. You have nothing! You ARE NOTHING!”

“SHUT UP!” screamed Rin. As she she wondered, “Why did this have to happen. Why couldn’t I have just died in that cave?”

“You still can,” a voice said. Rin’s mind was mired with such fatigue that she wasn’t sure if her other self or her own voice that spoke the words.

Blissful silence followed those words. She raised her head and found the walkway empty. Taking in a breath of cold air, she raised her face to the sky and enjoyed the feel of rain on her face. Her entire body felt numb and cold, yet... under this chilling rain, she felt at peaceful. As much as she wanted to deny them, she knew they spoke the truth. She was a failure. She’d used all of her jewels and even her father’s heirloom to win this war and had failed. She had nothing to show for it.

In that crucial time during the war, she had abandoned her sister. When Sakura was at her most vulnerable, she had abandoned her. No... worse, she’d actively tried to kill her. Her own family. And all for what? Some stupid prize she hadn’t even cared about.

Her hands were numb as she gripped the railing. She tried to climbed the banister but slipped from her numb hands and the slick rain. “Stupid failure,” she thought, “I can’t even climb a rail correctly.”

She was defective. Damaged. While everyone had gotten past the war and on with their lives, she had lingered on like some lingering shade. She wished she could just will all her problems away but she knew that was impossible. She wasn’t strong enough. She wasn’t like Shirou who could carry the world’s burdens on his shoulder or Sakura

“It’ll just be a quick moment of pain,” she convinced herself,” then everything will be alright.” She smiled. Maybe this will finally all be over.

With that final thought, she let go.

=====

Author’s notes: Well, how was it? This isn’t actually the completed story but I unfortunately ran out of time to finish the rest of the chapters so I thought this was a good as time to end as any. This thing really grew a life of its own (not that I think that’s a bad thing.) I had originally planned to make this a short 5k short story but it definitely surpassed that.

The story’s themes and the storyline are not complete and I do want to finish it, but I guess that will have to depend on whether people believe it would be worth it. (I get discouraged easily T_T) If I had to estimate, I would say it is ¾ completed.

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 04:32 AM
Name: The Reverie of a Winter’s Day
Author: Anon

“So?” I urge her to begin.
“Once upon a time…”
And thus she begins her so-called tragedy...


Actually, I’m going to begin this story by telling you what it means to me. I’m doing this for your sake, really. You need to understand that you are not like me. You will never be like me. You’re still human. You still have hope. I am at the opposite side of the spectrum. I became the monster I feared to become. I killed and killed, and even devoured my sisters. I have no right to be used as a figurehead for anything. Don’t laugh. It’s true. I had nothing and I still don’t have anything. But don’t be so sad either. I know you are doing your best to help me have a happier tomorrow. I’m just warning you that there is no point in what you are doing. I can no longer be saved since even you can not change the past. But you… you’re different, those eyes… No, it’s nothing. I guess I am just being a bit selfish here, but enough of that. You should hear this story because it will become your fate and I am sure you know it. You know it, and your eyes know it as well; therefore, this story is an ending that should be branded onto your soul because like him, you will never be able to escape.
Who is 'he?'
His name was…


I don’t think that I saved her because I felt that she was special. I would never do anything like that. That’s just not me. As the third son of a third-rate freeman I had no responsibilities. My eldest brother would be the one to continue the family trade. My second brother? Why, he would join the army and then marry into a household which probably owned some land and then he would live the rest of his days as a farmer. I was really just an eyesore. There was really no point in my existence, but I still wanted to live. This was my only wish, yet I only wanted to live because I didn’t want to die. So eventually I who knew no alternate path other than the pathetic one I had been living all my life slowly began to hate myself.

So I left. I left that place with all the coins that my father had saved up. It’s not an honorable thing to do, it was the action of a child, not yet an adult, who felt he was cornered. Is there something wrong with me though? To feel absolutely nothing even though I had taken my parent’s livelihood and what was rightfully my eldest brother’s money? I really don’t want to think about that. I am who I am, nobody else, nothing else. Therefore I should be fine. I know I was selfish, I know what I did was wrong. I understand that. I even understand why as well. But as a human who has never received any attention or love... can I really be called a human? After all; humans don’t see lines on other people.

Yet I did save the girl. Throwing the apple I was munching up into the air I immediately dashed in, first detaching the closest one’s hand, and then slashing his accomplice across the chest. Their ragged breathing sounded as if they wanted to continue, yet they did not. Like all humans that face me they simply turned and ran away. It’s rather peculiar, not their escape but the detached hand which does not bleed. Rather it seems like it was actually just… dead. Paying no more attention I threw the hand behind my shoulder trying not to hear the splech as it fell onto the dust roads, and without turning my attention to the person that I saved I left. Unlike the many who I have saved she does not try to thank me. She didn't try to rush up to me; she only continued what she was doing. Perhaps that was because she looks like a different type of priestess? Even so, priestesses aren’t that uncommon here in Delphi where the Oracle of Apollo lies.

And it is because this is where the Oracle of Apollo lies that I am doing so well as a man of business. Slowly taking out the golden coin from the inside of her purse I open my mouth and with a delicate touch take a bite only to test the purity of the coin. So you see I only saved that poor girl because I wanted compensation for my actions. By trade I am a moneylender and in a place where the Oracle demands payment… well let’s say my living condition isn’t horrible. The problem is having that capital to begin with, and that’s what my other profession is for. I don’t really think of myself as a thief, no, not really. I save damsels who are really priestesses in distress and for my troubles I take their coins. Of course I am not partial to priestesses; I help priests as well. So essentially I guess I am partial to Apollo’s clergy? Of course doing so is a gigantic risk, after all; I am stealing from the servants of the god of justice himself, but with these eyes… I think I could even kill a God.

My shop is nothing to be proud of but at the same time something that I find great pride in. My father proudly boasted that he first rented and then bought his store in ten years. I find that remarkable since I obtained this store in just ten hours of my arrival. In a town where everyone wants to know the future there is a lot of gold to be wanted and lended. To supply that lust for knowledge of the future and therefore gold I steal from the holy men, driving the priests to ask their customers for more gold to make up for the losses. And so in that manner the cycle continues. I think I have created a money making machine that can never be traced to me which is why I find it astounding that the girl I saved this dawn is just standing in the doorway of my store asking me to lend her the amount of money she had lost.

“Ah…” Surely this is a joke of fate.

“Some people told me you were the money lender who asked for the least amount of interest.” It’s true because of my glorious cycle does not require interest.

“Y-You do understand that if you do not give me back my money with interest, you will die?” I ask her trying to be as threatening as possible.

“I have the need and you have the funds.” There is something wrong with her. She’s only allowed to have money worth more than a medimnos of barley because she is a priestess, a normal woman would not be allowed that freedom, yet she acts if it is her divine right.

“I’ve never lent money to a woman before. Is your head priest fine with this?” I really, really want her out of here.

“He’s in Delos right now...So I guess it’s fine with him.”

Damn, I guess all I can do is refuse her service. Except if she really is a priestess then I will be punished for refusing her service since this place is basically ruled by the Oracle.

“What do you need the money for?”

“Room and board, perhaps food as well.”

Ha? This priestess isn’t making sense at all.

“Why don’t you just stay at the temple?”

“This is Delphi, apprently kings and nobles board here, the temple told me to wait until tomorrow and that I would be unable to stay the night. I would have to search for room elsewhere because I doubt I could last a night in the wilderness like this. They gave me that money and told me to leave. Such insolence.”

Hah? Again there is something really wrong about this girl. I really don’t want to give her money because of that. Yet if I don’t I’m sure the Oracle and the zealots will come after me so…

“I guess you can stay here,”

Why on did I say that of all things?

“I’ll take you on that offer, my 'luggage' is behind me, please see to it that it is taken care of because there is something I must present to the Oracle tomorrow. And as for food, I eat nothing but wild animals.”

“Name, what is your name? I need to know that much right?” I ask the demanding priestess.

“Phaesporia.”

Stupid cult of Apollo.


She never once asked for my name. I think it is better that way, since now I won’t have to deal with a priestess hounding me. I’d rather be left all alone in this world, truly. Yet, I can never really escape “contact with others” since it is a part of living and I doubt I’d be any good as a hermit, so I am reduced to this. In trying to be an island among a sea of people I must refuge some people for a brief amount of time and then kick them out abruptly when they have worn out their welcome. It’s the way I have been living for all my life, so it is the only way I know how to live. This priestess of probably Apollo is probably just another person. A mundane existance with her own hopes and dreams that I will dare not infringe upon. To infringe is to become a part of. I don’t want to become part of anything or anyone. Why? That’s obvious isn’t? I know no other way of living. That’s why I became a money lender, only lending, never giving, and therefore expecting everything that is given to be returned. My life is professional; the only one thing I deal in is money, a cold, hard, calculated reality, unlike the subjective, ever changing illusion that I see inscribed on every person. Those lines… those lines that show me death.

With that said, how am I supposed to live? I do not have a farm. I do not have livestock. I do not have a family. How am I supposed to live on a diet of money? That is the reality I should to be faced with every day, but not the one I am faced with. Money is rare and everyone needs coins, so I barter. I lend money and let farmers and the like who pay me back with food and firewood. I am good enough to handle household chores myself. It doesn’t matter if it’s a woman’s job because if I can’t cook I won’t survive. It’s better to be humiliated and alive than to have honor and death. That’s my view of life anyway. Living is better than anything Hades can offer me. So I am lucky, lucky that I do have some wild boar left. Hunters need weapons. Of course they can make their own weapons but bronze comes from blacksmiths. Money is required for this exchange and that’s where I come in. I would call my money lending business a machine in the sense that it is interweaved and connected in all aspects of life in Delphi, but unlike a machine it never actually touches and changes the balance of power. I never wanted that… power, it’s useless to someone like me.

Phaesporia eats ravenously as if she has never eaten before. She doesn’t seem like a priestess. She does have the noble bearing that is found in most priestess's since they are usually the third daughter of nobles, but she carries none of the finesse. There is something more primal, something that I understand from the bottom of my heart but that is the only place where I can understand it. Maybe I have deviated too far away from the original human structure to understand what she truly is or was. So I just silently watch her eat. It really is ironic that such delicate hands could grapple food like she does, almost if she’s a lunatic.

Being a lunatic would therefore describe why she wants to walk outside tonight. There will be a full moon tonight, just the right moon for worshippers of Selene and not one bearing the name of Apollo. I tell her of this, yet she does not listen, she wants to see the moon that has so many legends and origins attached to it. However I do not want to go. I really, really don’t want to go. But I have to. I finally infringed on someone’s life and the moment she dies, so does my neutrality. I don’t want to be kicked out of this city. I really don’t. It’s been the home that I never had and even if I don’t care for the people or the priests… I could not help but to admire the city and how well it works. It truly is a miracle based off chance and compromise which attracts and synergizes so many walks of life. I don’t want to leave. However the full moon scares me. Lines… Those lines are so ugly. Those lines are the flaws of humanity. Those lines frighten me like nothing else since they represent the fragility of this illusion known as reality. Therefore I prefer a blinding light or absolute darkness to shield me from those lines. It’s a wonder that I have survived without going crazy for so long. Could it be that this is the girl who will finally drive me insane? She has intruded on my peaceful life, eaten my food, and is now taking a walk. This is seriously too much retribution for stealing just one purse. She doesn’t even know that I stole her money. She only knew that it was possible for me to replace that money. If this is not a cosmic joke I do not know what else it is, yet as I weigh the options that I have in my hands…
I know exactly which choice I cannot afford to make.

“My, my, Selene you are truly bright tonight.” Phaesporia’s voice echoes through the empty night above the lakeside, but I do not listen to her sounds as I am enraptured. Enraptured by the fact there are no longer any lines which sully that cloaked body I can only gasp. She is definitely not human because I am beyond sure that any human I meet will have those lines scribbled all over his body, but if she’s not human what is she? She cannot be a god because I am sure if a god is living I would be able to kill it. I can turn anything that is alive into something no longer alive, even this grass I am stepping on, which is why I told myself and believed that reality is only a fragile illusion. But then, what is she? What is this solitary rock protuding from my ever-shifting pond?

“What…What are you?”

She turns away from the full moon and the lakeside to face me with an angelic look upon her face while replacing my question with her own question.

“Why do you mortals scramble so dearly for ’things?’”

“I-“ I start but then, “I do not understand.”

But I do, I do understand, so why are those words coming out of my mouth like that?

“The things you squabble over for, the things that you die for, the things that you find so precious. What are they in the end? You have intelligence, as much as I do in fact, so you should realize what you do is wrong. Yet you do not learn from your own mistakes.”

You? She’s talking as if she is not part of the human race.

“Phaesporia, I think you have been spending too much time looking at the gods when you should have been looking at the worshippers who come into your temple.” I take a deep breath because I am unsure about what I am about to impart. “You shouldn’t make fun for human desires. Of course they are not the same as your ‘god’s." Of course gods can also lust and envy; however, these are only temporary escapes from the boredom of being ‘immortal.’ People live and people die, therefore their preoccupation is to be distracted from death. Even so, humans, they weigh what is important to them and choose accordingly. They don’t try to live because of their desires like your gods, but rather carry those desires as they live their lives. So you shouldn’t hate humans. They are flawed, very flawed, and so fragile that even a piece of bronze could turn someone that was smiling a second ago into a cold corpse. However, they’ll fight and die for the illusions that they think are precious. To be able to do so yet know that particular something one is dying for is only a delusion and yet still fight for it… that’s something your gods could never even conceive.”

And for the first time since I have met her, she smiles. Only a slight shade of a smile, but there is something mysterious in that bend of the mouth.

“And what about you? You lend people money expecting interest, but you never demand that interest because you always settle for goods and services. You’ve never done anything for yourself or anyone else in your life. You don’t want to do anything more, you just want to keep living. Live, and never achieve or fail. Live, and never infringe on anyone or be infringed by anyone. But you know, no matter whom or what you are you can never survive alone. Anything trying to do so is kidding herself. Do you understand?”

A flash of emotion appears over her face. A flash of an emotion I cannot read because I do not understand that emotion. Actually I don’t think anyone could understand that emotion, especially me of all people because that emotion is not sullied with a single line. Therefore the only thing left for me to do is open my mouth and answer the priestess I have only known for a day.

She nods, acknowledging my answer, and then putting her both her hands behind her tunic…

“What is your name?”

And even if it is almost a day late I introduce myself to her.

“What a shame, if the first letter of your name was different you could have been one of my lions.”

A strong winds blows, and exactly like the way she came into my life she leaves as if abducted by the wind, yet still troubling me with the final smile seared upon her face that just roared
-loneliness.


She left. She left me and never appeared again.

So why am I in the temple surrounded by pikes which are all ready to pierce my heart? Why is the head priest screaming from the top of his lungs: “Where is she?”

But I can only stare, as just behind the infuriated man is where the body of an old woman lies, her lifeblood dribbling from her mouth onto the throne she once ruled from.

I spit out a thick globule of blood before answering “I don’t know who you are talking about.”

“Don’t you lie to me boy, there have been sightings of her with you.” The man snarls “She entered this temple yesterday and smote the Oracle.”

“Did you actually see her kill the Oracle?”

That remark earns me a smack to my head.

“She whispered something to the Oracle and gave the Oracle an item then the Oracle died, the holy representative is dead. Do you understand the gravity of the situation, moneylender? Apollo’s holy representative is gone from this city. Unless we catch her and punish her to appease Apollo our city will suffer. You know of the legend of his plague, moneylender, so do not be a fool!”

It annoys me. It really does annoy me much like this fly does. This is what I get for infringing on someone’s life. This is the inevitable conclusion that I forsaw, yet ignored by continuing on this path. So I am annoyed at no one else but myself. Annoyed at myself for being in this situation where the only way out is as a corpse.

But-

-Why did you swear?

-Why did you swear to never let go?

Looking around this temple it is apparent that my chances of escaping are zero as there are magi who could smite me in a second. This really looks more like a parade than an interrogation in which no one is speaking up for me. No one is here to defend me even though I leant them money. Of course they wouldn’t, I never infringed upon their lives. I believed them a nuisance to my solitude. I was always seeking a return to even up the debt they had made me, so it's not difficult to understand that in their eyes I am a machine. Something fair but not something worth saving. No one will save a machine like me.

I breathe in, accepting that there is no salvation allowed for me.

-Because I want to live.

“Moneylender, where is she?” But his voice does not seem to register.

-Why?

In one smooth motion I take out the bronze knife from underneath my tunic and stab it into a spindly line which travels from the kidney of the guard holding me to the base of his arm.

-Because I have never lived another way, so, Phaesporia, it doesn’t matter if I will never become one of your lions-

-I’ll always be Bion.

The guard approaching has a line which extends across his chest slashed and therefore crumples as the next wave of pikes approach me.

-What did you lose?

-What did you lose in exchange for your fragile illusion?

One by one the pikes which are all aimed at the same spot stab a point where I no longer am allowing me to instantly cut ten lines, but the moment the heads are looped off their neck I am pierced by lightning from all sides.

Falling, I’m falling. It feels like that time. That time I received these eyes. The time I killed my own family. Beaten half to death, I could only look into my soul until I found its origin and its destination. I found an overwhelming force that I could only obey. Yes, that was the moment I was able to see these lines.

And what was the voice who was someone else’s yet my own?

What did that voice say? It was only one word but-

-I have unceasingly held that word so close to my heart that it has usurped my heartbeat, so-

-what was that one word I held to my heart for so long?

The word that is more like an impluse than anything else. The word that she called completely useless, but was the only emotion allowed for a machine like me.

That word was-

My muscles convulse sending shockwaves of pain through my body.

-Live.

Even if it’s painful.

-Live.

Even if it hurts.

-Live.

Even if you can’t bear it anymore.

-Live.

This is the path I have chosen; the lonely path that has no grand destination. Only a wasteland like the one which can be found on the moon awaits me. An illusionary reality in which everything that is alive has lines etched on them warning me of their fragility.

-Live

I’m not like her. I’m not like her at all. I’m not like that girl who could only pity her own loneliness while she condemned those she did not understand.

-Live

Yes, unlike her, I’ll continue to live because I want to, not because I am forced to.

So,

-Live.

The magi must be quite shocked that their spell only grazed me, and as they prepare for another spell, one that should wipe me away from the face of the earth, the rest of the temple gaurd charge, stabbing an unmoving me in the gut with their pikes.

-Live.

I unflinchingly spit out the blood and painfully remove myself from their pikes to instantly dissect my nearest attacker into seventeen pieces.

-Live

The tendons of my thighs have been completely slashed open by the guards, and reinforcements are clamoring to this place because of the fuss. I shouldn’t be able to move anymore yet-

-Live.

My bronze knife manages to sever each line even as I am being butchered by deadly stings at the same time. Still, I do not find it a problem because-

-Live.

It’s obvious that I won’t die; death is something that is becoming foreign to me. I only understand what it is to live. Maybe so much that I am becoming life itself. The magi have finished their spell and are ready to bestow their miracle onto this earth. I won’t die from it even if the pain which courses through my veins instead of blood tells me I should have certainly died twenty times over. It is definitely by some miracle that I am still alive, so before they unleash the spell, they all...become lumps of meat.

-Live.

The moment I stop moving my innards implode. I am sure every vital organ in this beyond half-dead body is destroyed, yet I still rage on like a tempest of blood. As long as my brain which serves as the anchor to my soul is untouched I should stay alive. Therefore...

-Li...

Thirteen pikes stab my heart in unison and finally the whisper that was keeping me alive betrays it's host.

“Ah”

That’s my limit. That is the limit of a human body that has not fully awakened its origin, and therefore could not become a concept. Because I didn't reach that level I comically fall to my knees and then to the floor.

I don’t want to die.

I really don’t want to die.

Death is scary; death is something that I have never been through before.

-Yet

“I don’t believe the way I live is wrong.”

Those are the words I said to her. The words I imparted to that girl before she could no longer stand to stand with me. She looked as if she did not understand them and I doubt anyone else will. The impetus of my existance is life, so I want to live; I want to live so much that I cannot believe how much I want to live.

My head hits the ground with a thud but I can no longer hear as my ears no longer function and slowly these eyes of mine stop receiving light.

I don’t want to die.

That should be my last thought, so why is it actually:

“O goddess who amuses herself on the mountains with archery, why are your moonlit wings so lonely?”


The end of the story? Why no, there is a bit more. After Bion seemingly died a woman appeared who was crowned with a halo-like tiara, moonlit hair, and outfitted with a longbow. She notched an arrow to that bow and fired it into the air. On that day the sky about Delphi rained arrows and the roads were washed with the blood of priests and priestesses. No one can escape from the bow of Artemis, Niobe found out the hard way. Artemis then went up to Bion who was on the brink of death and revived him the only way she knew how to, by making him immortal. What? Of course. It is widely spread that I was defeated with a mirror, isn't it? Well now you know that I wasn’t, it was that cursed pouch that killed me. Huh? Yes, Artemis did have a consort, it was Bion. What about Phaesporia? Oh really? Really? She was Artemis, sent to kill the Oracle who had become too corrupt. I thought that was implied. You didn’t? Well now you do know. Why did Artemis enter a human form? The goddess of the moon loves a hunt, I would think. So now you're saying that a goddess appearing right at the end and solving everything is a Deus ex Machina? You know, love is the greatest Deus ex Machina, I mean just look at those two in the kitchen. Their ending and this ending was happy so you don’t think this story sounds like a tragedy?

Do you understand why I told this story to you? You understand that Artemis fell in love with Bion, and Bion who never let anybody infringe on him let Phaesporia infringe upon him. But can’t you understand? You should with those eyes of yours. Artemis was a goddess, merely a clump of devil molded by the wishes of humans. Yet she made Bion immortal and because it was her wish it was the wish of those humans who wished for her. Bion was immortal, but Artemis was not. Artemis would eventually die when those humans stopped worshipping her and moved onto Diana who did not share Artemis’ love for Bion. Artemis was selfish you see. She didn’t want to be lonely. That is why she went back to save Bion. Maybe it is romantic, maybe it is sweet, but it’s not right. She should have let Bion die. That is better than giving him an eternity of pain. I should know. What? You’re sure that Bion was happy? How so? I doubt it. Don’t you think that Bion was pained; don’t you think no matter what type of person he was he felt alone in the end? She…wished for his happiness? But she didn’t understand what his happiness was. You as well, you do know that no matter how immortal I seem I will eventually disappear when my Master disappears? You, on the other hand, with those eyes, you can live forever if you really tried. What happened to Bion? I don’t know. I guess he is still roaming the world unable to die. You think he’s really happy? You don't think this story is a tragedy? Why?


My breathing is ragged. The years have accumulated since the day I have become immortal. It seems that in doing so I have become a threat to the World and to humanity. Like the witch of the Land of Shadows I once met, the World seems to be closing me off. Yet I fought it. I fought it because I wanted to stay in the forests she once roamed as my hunter goddess. We met and lost each other in a day, but a day is all it took for the both of us to realize what we had lost and what could no longer be gained.

Slowly I raise my almost transparent hand accepting what has come for me. I should have accepted it that day so long ago, but I do not regret it. My transparent hand goes up to the crescent moon and even if it no longer reaches her, there should be something that will remain in our hearts, so there is nothing to regret, my memory of her will soon fade, and I will forget about her voice and her gestures, but still it will be inscribed upon my soul that I did, no matter how I went about it, love Phaesporia.

I start to fade away completely; unlike the witch of the Land of Shadows my immortal life is being corrected by the World rather than isolated, and like that time so long ago a peculiar thought runs through my mind. But like so many illusions before me before I am able to put that thought to words I disappear; my last moments spent wishing for the happiness of the next person who carries such a cursed yet miraculous origin.


Y-You really think that? Then? And what if it doesn’t work? What if we fail and stumble along the way? What if you cannot find the me who has forgotten you? What if we are separated and can never find each other? I’m really asking if that’s okay with you. Why can you say something like that so seriously? Is it truly possible?


“Medusa, no matter what, we’ll always be together.” And with my lips rather than my voice I close her winter reverie.


Glossary


[winter’s day]
Fuyuki City
Two years and nine months after the shutdown of the Greater Grail by a homunculus and Master of the Einzbern family. Only one Servant remains; her Master is therefore the true victor of Fuyuki’s Holy Grail War.


[I]
You
Youth who is the next successor to the Ryuudouji Temple. Not mentioned but he has an established romantic relationship with ‘her’. Although he seems ordinary, his glasses hide a myth that is not named here.


[I]
Her
The remnant of Fuyuki’s Holy Grail War. Should have disappeared with the destruction of the Greater Grail; however since her Master was still connected to ‘the other side’ her existence is maintainable. An existence who should not be alive in this era: a Divine Spirit, Heroic Spirit, and a Monster. Fiercely protective of her Master and due to her legend is generally misunderstood.


[Delphi]
“Where the Oracle of Apollo lies.”
Situated on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus it was the most important oracle in Greece where anyone with enough coin could pose a question and recieve an answer. It was protected by a dragon by the name of Python (to rot) until Apollo slew the dragon and set up his own oracle. Python would live on as the ‘Pythian Games.’ An eternal flame is supposed to burn in the inner hearth.
The answers of the Oracle are never absolute; one of the more famous statements was to the King of Lydia, Croesus: “If Croesus goes to war he will destroy a great empire.” Croesus never understood the army the Oracle was referring to was his own. Anyone in such a situation would feel cheated.


[Mystic Eyes of Death Perception?]
“humans don’t see lines on other people”
Death is the end of everything. Everything in existence is the just one step away from death. To be able see that death is to have the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception. What is terminated is not the existence but the lifespan of that object. Lines represent the parts which are easily breakable and the points signify the death itself. There is an evident strain on the user since the human brain was not built to so throughly comprehend an object. Even if the protagonist claims to see death, it is debatable whether or not he actually possesses Mystic Eyes of this caliber since even amongst the True Ancestors they are only a ‘myth.’


[out of period]
"damsels who are really priestesses in distress"
It is true that a damsel in distress was a term coined in the Medival Era, so it is best to consider this line as literally as possible. "Young ladies who are really priestesses in suffering."


[the boundary of emptiness]
“I think I could even kill a God”
God is a phenomenon that is neither dead nor alive and does not care about humans. Therefore it cannot be killed, at least not by the protagonist; the very same reason he is unable to see any lines on Phaesporia.


[cult]
"He’s in Delos"
The island of Delos is where the goddess of the hunt was born with her twin brother. It is also the place of their best known cults. This is another reason why the protagonist believes Phaesporia is a priestess of Apollo.


[Phaesporia]
“Stupid cult of Apollo”
Phaesporia is another name for the goddess of the hunt, but is literally translated as “Light-Bringer.” The protagonist looked too deeply at the denotation of the name while completely ignoring its connotation.


[Mystic Eyes of Life Perception]
“…everything that is alive has lines etched on them…”
Easily mistaken for the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception because the lines overlap, the unofficially named Mystic Eyes of Life Perception does as its name states. The life of an object is seen and therefore can be ‘severed’ or in the case of a particular hybrid ‘plundered.’ Of course since non-living objects do not have ‘life,’ their life cannot be seen. There is less of an impact to the mind of the user as one needs no connection to the Root, the information conveyed by the eyes is where life can be ‘severed.’ However a fundemental understanding of ‘life’ and how it flows, rather than the object is necessary. The protagonist, being aware of his origin, has reached that level of understanding. If he were to awakened his origin, his eyes should be able to see ’points’ of life as well. The protagonist misunderstands and believes he is seeing 'death' simply because things no longer live when he severs the lines.


[Phaesporia]
Artemis
Goddess of the Crescent Moon and ruler of the mountains, a Divine Spirit. Inherently flawed and like the moon, an existence only capable of reflecting her world. As a natural phenomena she cannot be killed (TATARI). Eventually humanity will worship Diana and she faded away as even Gaia abandons her for the new Roman protectress of the forest. Even though she was an elemental she is unable to actualize Marble Phantasm. At the age of three while sitting on the knee of her father asked him to grant her six wishes: to always remain a virgin; to bear the name ‘Phaesporia;’ to have a bow and arrow and a knee-length tunic; to have sixty ‘daughters of Okeanos,' all nine years old, to be her choir; and for twenty Amnisides Nymphs as handmaidens to watch her dogs and bow while she rested. Even if she is a goddess it is doubtful that she actually received all she asked for.


[I]
Bion
The protagonist of the story. His name is the root of the word Bionic and means “life,” in Greek. An almost amoral man who laments at the flaws of humanity without seeing his own. He often compares himself to a ‘machine.’ Of course machines weren’t officially defined as such until Archimedes so he's alluding to a political machine; therefore, the double meaning exists and at the same time shouldn’t exist. Whether or not one agree's a political machine is 'fair' is up to him or her.


[I]
“as there are magi who could smite me in a second”
The magi attending the ‘parade’ are merely apprentices that could not smite him down in a second even if this is set in the Age of Gods. The protagonist has a tendency to exaggerate and he also lies to others and himself: “My father proudly boasts that he first rented and then bought his store in ten years. I find that remarkable since I obtained this store in just ten hours of my arrival,” is another example.


[Origin]
“an overwhelming force that I could only obey”
The driving factor. Starting point which defines one’s existence; the part of the soul which is recycled continuously. Generally verbs or ‘to do…’ however exceptions exist. There are three stages of an origin: when one is unaware of what their origin is, however it manifests itself as merely one’s ‘instincts;’ when one is aware of their origin (can be discerned from fortune-telling, tarot reading, or even in-depth self-analysis) they are more inclined to follow such an origin; and awakened, where all one’s memories of his previous lives are returned to him eventually overwhelming his ego. The Protagonist’s origin is ‘life’ or ‘to live,’ it manifests itself in his single-mindedness to survive without worrying about any consequences. This effect also makes it impossible for him to even contemplate suicide as it goes against his origin. The origin also gives him a more death resistant body; if his origin was awakened he could move after being pierced in the heart for about half a minute before dying. Yet, the destruction of the brain, anchor to the soul, still means instant death. Through his awareness of his origin he has immature form of Mystic Eyes of Life Perception and while he was on the brink of awakening his origin he never is actually given the chance to do so. It is doubtful whether he could awaken his own origin without any help from a certain magus. It is however certain that he would be consumed by his predecessors's memories the moment his origin is awakened.
[a machine-like me]
"a machine like me"
Both meanings apply.


[moon princess]
“dissect my nearest attacker into seventeen pieces”
cliché homage.


[fever dream]
“why are your moonlit wings so lonely?”
Artemis does not have wings at all. This expression may refer to the prana that is simply seething off her, but it is doubtful that even a goddess is willing to waste precious prana.


[the massacre of the niobids]
"Niobe found out the hard way."
Niobe boasted about her fourteen children to Leto who only had two. Niobe also made jokes about how one of Leto's children wore male clothes while being female while the other wore female clothes while being male. Artemis slaughtered Niobe's daughters with a bow as they were embroiding while Apollo did the same to the sons while they were practising outdoors. Apparently one or two of them escaped by praying to Leto. Niobe turned to stone out of grief and can still be seen today on Mt. Sipylus.


[I]
“those eyes of yours”
A legendary set of Mystic Eyes. According the Noble Colors ranked green but they are neither binding, charm, nor whisper Mystic Eyes. Has no ancestor, rather it was the price a god paid to exchange his knowledge for wisdom.


[I]
"The goddess of the moon loves a hunt, I would think."
Artemis was the one who decided to go to Delphi to cleanse her brother's priestess. Apollo was going to go himself, but Artemis, lonely and wishing to see what humanity truly was implored him to let her go. It is not a stretch to say that Apollo dearly regretted allowing her to do so in his steed.


[Scathach]
“…witch of the Land of Shadows…”
Teacher of Cu Chulainn. Became a concept, as is the fate all those who come close to the realm of Gods. Her final wish was to die as a human and even that wasn’t even granted to her. Truly a tragic story.


[I]
immortality
Medusa is mistaken. The protagonist is not ‘immortal,’ Artemis first healed him and then blessed him with eternal youth. How Divine Spirits are able to do this is unexplainable (e.g.Avalon). However the protagonist can be killed rather easily; a stray bullet in the head, a stray arrow in the head, a stray knife in the head, all of these lead him to his death. What has kept him alive is then his impulse to stay ‘alive.’ Other than his eternal youth his body is human, although in the recent years he has started to become a concept. He never wished for ‘death;’ rather, he understood that his time should have up the day he became immortal, so he sought to be corrected by the World after a long period of time. He intentionally tried to reach the Root without hiding his actions from the World and was thereby crushed. His only legacy, his origin, will be recycled.

Keyne
March 6th, 2012, 02:26 PM
"Ash and Snow"

;_;

ItsaRandomUsername
March 6th, 2012, 03:37 PM
Njeri is full of surprising win. Kudos to that Anon.

Mike1984
March 6th, 2012, 07:09 PM
Family values was really sweet and moving (I was particularly moved by the part where Sakura named the rabbit "Rin"), although I did feel quite sorry for Kariya there, and I also feel that his fate (and that of Aoi and Tokiomi) is a bit of a plot hole, since there's no way he'd just keep on fighting as he was before if the Matou house got blown up and Sakura was nowhere to be seen (he'd be searching desperately for her), and A Magus' Heart was very moving, although quite clearly unfinished.

Milbunk
March 6th, 2012, 09:36 PM
Late Entry

Name: Season of Amber
Author: Anon


He is sitting on a bench, his handsclasped together as he wears a nervous expression. It's alright,he tells himself; he has sorted out everything, his wallet is in hispocket – stuffed with cash, of course – and he is pretty surethat the suit-wearing man sitting on that bench is hisfamily-appointed body-guard.

But hestill nervously wrings his hands. And as if just noticing that, heforces them apart and takes a deep breath. Why am I actingas if it's my first date? Hementally asks himself. I've dated plenty of girls before!But despite his thoughts, it does little to calm the butterfliesfluttering about in his stomach. Grimacing slightly, he settles thewaiting by resuming his prior activity: watching the pedestrians.

Sure, it isn't ahealthy habit, but nonetheless he has nothing to do. It is lateenough in the morning that both the 'rush hour' and the stragglershad passed, but there had been a few people walking by. Bland peoplereally, going about their businesses without a care. There had been ayoung businessman, sloppily dressed, running through the park andgarnering stares. There had been a group of young men and womanchatting amiably as they passed by. They had been a couple walking byas they held hands--

But a glance toeither side reveals no one in sight. Sighing, he leans back onto thebench's back rest and checks the time. The clock on a distant postreads half-past ten – so he has to wait another thirty minutes.“Why did I come so early?” he murmurs to himself. He isn't anaïve school boy!

Regardless though,the wait is fraying his nerves and the butterflies in his stomachincrease in number. Would shutting his eyes for a little get rid ofthem? He tries to remember if that's true. He vaguely rememberssomeone saying so; Glancing down both ways again, the young mansettles in his bench to let his eyes have a brief respite.


His insides are

broiling,

burning,

melting,

squirming as if it is made outof worms. Nausea is building up in the back of his head and dizzinessis threatening to overwhelm him. But an alluring darkness is slowly creeping up on him,

Slowly

Inch by painstaking inch

His mind is beingeaten alive. But he does not scream. He does not scream in pain, does not scream in rage, does not scream for help, for relief, forsalvation, for the pain to end, for _____.

Someone is behindhim. Who is it? Is it help? He turns around and sees a boy.

It's ______. He cando it. He can ___ him if he ______s.

Disguising hishappiness with a sigh, he whispers,

“...Please, ____ya.”


His eyes snapopen.“!” A blinding glare assaults his organs and instinctivelyhe shuts them close. But already flashing spots are imprinted on theback of his eyelids and a pounding migraine assaults his still-wakingconsciousness. “...gah,” he groans.

What was that? “Whatwas that?” He asks himself. Nausea threatens his hold on consciousness, and had he not been sitting down he would have collapsed onto the floor. Instead though, he sags onto the backrest.

“Adream...?” he answers his earlier question. Yes, a dream.A dream about children; they were standing on a rooftop and talking.Why? Why were they there? Histhroat is parched; Why? What were they talking about? Whowere they? His breath is comingout as pants. He really needs a drink. I've seen thembefore... He runs his tongueover his dry lips as he gets up –

Bonk! Something notso gently jabs into his forehead. He yelps in surprise as he crashes back onto the rest, cradling the sore spot with his hands.

“Tohno-chan,are you awake now?” A mocking voice calls out. A mocking, familiarvoice. It takes all of one second to put a face to it in his stunnedstate.

With a small growlthe boy jumps up and confronts the person---

A girl with empty eyes

staring out the window


“--ki?”

That voice calls him back. Blinking clear his eyes, he finds that that... vision had been replaced by apair of worried amber eyes, barely an inch from his face. “!” Hejerks back in surprise.

“Ko-ko--”

“Are you alright?” The girl asks, completely abandoning her earlierteasing tone as she peers worriedly into his eyes.

Hestares blankly back at her. Where'd she come from?He briefly wonders. Aware of her mindful stare, he replies, “Yeah,I'm fine. It's just that--” he pauses. What was that? Hementally asks himself.

Predictably, thereis no answer. “... it's nothing,” He finishes lamely, fightingthe urge to scratch the back of his head.

“?”She purses her lips together in confusion... but they soon turn intoa scowl as a stern glint comes into her eyes. The boy shivers, as herealizes what's going to happening: she's getting into her 'Onee-sanMode.'

“Tohno-san,”she says, her voice carrying a hard, warning tone, “It's notnothing. I had called your name several times and you didn't evenhear me!” She jabs her finger into his chest, forcing him back astep, “If there is something wrong, you can tell me.”

She jabs again, and as he takes anotherstep back, the back of his knees catch the edge of the bench. Hefalls onto the bench, but that provides no respite for him as thegirl maintains her proximity by climbing onto his lap. “AndTohno-san, It is unacceptable to fall asleep here. What were you thinking?”

“... Sorry Fujou-san.” The boy replies in a mild-shock, “It wont happen again.”

She continues to glares at him – buther gaze softens a moment later. “As long as you understand,Tohno-san.” She says with a smile. The boy looses a breath inrelief – and the girl gives no intention of getting off. Instead,she squirms around as if settling in--

“Kohaku--!”

“Ufufu, Tohno-chan,” the amber-eyed girl giggles as she carefullyenunciates his last name. “You still are really easy to tease. Yougotta work harder to become a real man, Tohno-chan.” Having saidwhat she wanted to say, she nods and slips off his lap.

With the severity of a knight, the boynods... and then pauses. “Oi, Kohaku,” he calls out, “Why areyou still calling my by my last name?”

Had it been anotherperson, he would've accepted the formality with the grace of hislineage – but it isn't. They are two individuals who, after yearsof being 'family' yet not exactly, had decided to move on to the nextstep. So the use of his name isn't foreign to her – but not in thissituation.

Not as her lover.

Kohaku stiffens in surprise. Hiding her face behind her hands, she says witha mocking tone, “Ara ara Tohno-chan, you really are blunt.”But like the sun on a cloudy day, the boy could see the goofy smilethat she had tried to hide.

He can't help it. The boy smiles too,as if saying 'Well, what did you expect?'

“But,”Kohaku giggles, unable to put up the charade any longer, “that's what I like about you, SHIKI.”



“Hey SHIKI, how do you like my clothes?”

Broken out of histhoughts, SHIKI glances in surprise at the red-haired girl... or, at least where she is supposed to be, as there is a distinct lack of Kohaku beside him.

“SHIKI,are you alright? You've been spacing out a lot today.” She calls out from in front of him, a few feet away.

“I'm fine,” SHIKI replies as he stops, “I just got a lot on my mind, that's all.” Turning to face her, he smiles to let her know everything is alright.

For the last ten minutes, he had been preoccupied with his thoughts – of her. SHIKI and his sister, Akiha, had practically grown up with the elder Kohaku Fujou and her twin sister. They had met during one of their father's corporate parties, got along pretty well, and had to be separated bya metaphorical crowbar.

Thoughhe hadn't realized it then, he had already fallen for her. It hadn'tbeen until high school that he acknowledged his feelings, that SHIKI Tohno 'likes' Kohaku Fujou. And then, it hadn't been until now thathe had the courage to ask her out. Their pseudo-familial connectionhad been partly to blame for that – it just didn't seem right toask his 'onee-san' outon a date (his best friend, and pseudo-brother, however apparentlyhad no qualms about that. He had been the one to get SHIKI to dateher) – but there had also been the fear of rejection.

Irrational, heknows, but very possible.

“SHIKI?” Kohaku asks again.

He needs to pull himself together. Getting distracted on a date spells disaster – especially so whenthe partner is Kohaku. Get your head out of the clouds. SHIKItells himself, mentally rebooting his brain to clear his thoughts.“You look amazing,” he offers, saying the first thing that popped up.

She giggles. “Youflatterer, you,” she says bashfully, hiding her happy expressionbehind her hand – but her expression hardens a moment later. “ButI didn't ask about myself, SHIKI,” Kohaku points out imperiously,“I asked about my clothes.”

When he tries toadmit they look fine, she lets out a menacing “Ho~”. Swallowingback a dry globule of spit, he discreetly takes a short pause anduses that to carefully examine his girlfriend's clothes. They aren'texotic or flashy, though they had still stunned the boy. She iswearing a blue sundress and a white cardigan; her feet are bound in apair of white high heels, and her hair is bound up with a white ribbon.

After a carefulpause, SHIKI admits, “They look great.”

“Yay,” Kohaku happily says,skipping back to his side, “SHIKI complimented me ♥(heart sign)”

And... he face-palms. Though he doesnot know how she managed it, Kohaku had actually said that heart outloud. It's one of her hundred special skills, or so she had told him.Regardless, she had been pacified – and his body is no longer inany danger. Nodding to himself a silent job-well-done, SHIKI smilesas well picking up his pace.

“Yeah,it's better than that brown kimono you always wore.”

“?”What did I say? Evenhe is surprised. It had been a mere after-thought, something that hadbubbled to the forefront of his mind and should have stopped there.Instead though it had leaked past his lips.

“?”He could hear her surprise. Quietly glancing at her from the cornerof his eyes, SHIKI sees her staring back. With dull, lackluster eyes.

A shiver runsthrough his body. The image of that girl flashes in his mind as sheasks slowly, in a voice that lacks all her usual inflections. “Whatkimono?”

Everything slows toa standstill.

Stoppingin his tracks, SHIKI completely turns 'round to confront her – andsomewhere, a set of bells begin to ring. Dong... Dong...they proclaim. “That brown kimono that you always wore to work...?”he asks aloud, both to himself and to his lover.

Those dull eyesblink slowly; and when they open again, that warmth so familiar tohim is back. “Ehh, SHIKI-chan, I haven't worn a kimono since wewere kids.”she says giving him a worried, if curious, look.

That's right,SHIKI realizes as he releases a breath he didn't know he had beenholding, Kohaku's right. It's been years since I saw her ina kimono. And almostimmediately, an image of Kohaku dressed in one flashes before hiseyes. A blush fights its way to his cheeks. The situation is already awkward; no need to make it worse!

Scratching the backof his head, he awkwardly apologizes, “Err, I'm sorry. I don't knowwhy I said that.”

“That'sfine, that's fine SHIKI,” Kohaku replies with her usual grin,“You're just tired, that's all.” And then, as if a thought hascome across, she smiles slyly. And SHIKI shivers again, though thistime for a different reason. “Ufufu, is there something you like totell me, SHIKI-chan? Like what you want to do, or like a certain...fetish?”

She's laughing.She's definitely laughing behind that mischievous smile of hers!

He very nearly childishly screams.Nearly. He had to clench his teeth together, but the childish screamdoes not leave his throat. For one matter, it would ruin the image hehad set up for himself... but more importantly, it would be more fuelfor Kohaku's teasing. Hiding his embarrassment beneath a calm face,SHIKI raps his knuckles on Kohaku's forehead.

It makes a pleasant bonk,admittedly.

“Ow,”she whimpers as she comically covers her forehead. There are eventears in her eyes. “Why did you do that for, SHIKI?”

“Just drop it,” SHIKI responds coolly, retracting his hand as he speaks.Giving her a glare as she pouts, he asks, “Where do you want to go?I've got a few places lined up, but if there's any place that youreally want to go, then just tell me.”

“Ehh?”Kohaku stares disbelievingly, the sort of expression that one getsafter dropping a rather life-changing sentence. While his questionmight have been new to her, it doesn't – or at least, shouldn't –qualify under those terms. But upon seeing his seriousness, she bursts into a broad grin. “Though you certainly were polite,there's no where in particular that I want to be.” she skips ahead,her dress fluttering after her, “So you can decide then, SHIKI.”

SHIKI grins, and quickly he matches herstride. “Let's go then,” he announces cheerfully, as he slips hishand into hers. Her response is immediate; she stiffens in shock,freezing in place just as her foot is about to lift off the ground.She stares at their intertwined hands in stunned silence – Did Ioverstepped a boundary somewhere? SHIKI wonders, dropping his grin ashe stares at her stunned face.

But, as if answering his unspokenquestion, Kohaku soon smiles and gives his hand a small squeeze. Shegiggles as he turns away from the park, his own goofy grin back on his face. There's no point of worrying over the past, he decides, notwhen she's here beside me.

But ever so softly,the ringing of a bell could be heard.


Contraryto her earlier words, Kohaku hadforcibly taken charge of their date. They had visited a variety ofplaces: a pet store, some food stalls, an arcade, an apothecary...Admittedly though, they are placesthat SHIKI had planned to go. Just not at that hectic pace.

And the clouds had recently cleared, revealing a blue sky that seems to stretch forever.It is a pleasant mid-Spring day – where the air has neither thechill of winter, nor the overbearing heat of summer; where sproutsand buds are beginning to grow and blossom; where the city itselfseems to thrum with a pleasant sort of energy.

“Hereyou go,” SHIKI says not unkindly, as he hands over his recentspoils of war. From a vendor some dozen of yards away, he haspurchased a pair of crepes; one for him and one for her. And, he isnot going to do anything cliché, such as tricking her to share abite or anything else that probably only occurs in a romance comic.

“Thanks SHIKI,” With her everpresent smile, Kohaku reaches over to accept the pastry – only tomiss it completely. It falls to the ground silently and various bitsof dough and fruit splatter over their legs. SHIKI stops his surpriseshout and stares at it. The radial pattern of the cream, thepositioning of the dough and assorted fruits – he wonders why, butits resemblance to a corpse is strong.

“I'm sorry about that,” Kohakufrantically apologizes as she hops onto her feet. SHIKI snaps out ofhis thoughts.

“It's alright, you didn't mean forthat to happen,” SHIKI denies her apologies, as he absently brushesoff the pastry splattered over his jeans. “But is something wrong?Normally you have really great hand-eye coordination.”

“...”

She remains silent, and he shivers;though he might have imagined it, there had been a victorious,malicious even, glint in her amber eyes. As if she were silentlydeclaring her victory – though it could have been his imagination.Standing up, SHIKI announces, “I'm going to get some more napkins,and another crepe. You want the same right? Well, be right baaack –hnngh?”

Kohaku, who hadbeen silent and unmoving, had suddenly, but gently grabbed his shirtsleeve. Turning around to look at her, he sees her pleasant smilestill on her face. He tilts his head quizzically, waiting for her tospeak. It doesn't take long though, as but ten seconds later shesays, “That's alright SHIKI.”

“But--”

“That'salright, SHIKI,” she cuts him off instantly, placing her indexfinger a centimeter from his lips, “there's no need to pay foranother one, when we still have another one.”

Her amber eyes shift downward, andSHIKI instinctively lowers his gaze. There, in his hand, is the othercrepe he has forgotten about. Stepping back, SHIKI tries to offer the snack to his girlfriend. “Here,” he says, moving to turn around,“I'll go get another one.”

Denying his offer with a shake of herhead, Kohaku pouts. “Do you take me for a glutton, SHIKI-chan? ThatI will willingly starve my boyfriend? I am disappoint if you believed so.”

She takes his free hand in hers andsays, “We'll share it; how about that?” and then she smiles.

SHIKI Tohno hasexperienced a good number of dates in his seventeen years of living;some went well, others... not so well. But all of them – perhapsunjustly and cruelly so – have been casual get togethers with theopposite sex. But still, he has managed to pick up a good number ofadvice, and acquired a healthy resistance at some of the things thrown his way.

He is fairlyconfident that he could resist the infamous puppy-dog eyes for aminute before he breaks. But that smile – that smile is just unfair.

Blushing furiously,SHIKI nods his head in acquiesce. “Sure,” he blankly says, evenas Kohaku takes the first, and dainty bite.

“Yum,”she says, shutting her eyes in food-induced bliss. She's teasing him.She's definitely teasing him! The way she licks her lips, how hereyes crinkle in delight, her smile widening – she's most definitelyteasing him!

And it is working.Unable to draw his eyes off her, SHIKI slowly raises the snack to hismouth and then bites into it.

It's good.


“Thatwas delicious, SHIKI,” Kohaku happily chirps, licking her lips withobvious pleasure. Having finished the small snack, the pair are once again holding hands as they wander about.

“Yeah,”SHIKI says, smiling as he does so. “So, is it my turn to lead or doyou still want to?” he asks humorously, as the two stop by a crosswalk and wait for the light to change.

“Ha ha ha,” she gives a nervouslaugh as she nervously scratches the back of her head. “Sorry aboutthat... I *might* have been a little too excited,” the light turns green and Kohaku hops to attention. Shetugs at his hand and says, “Come on, you can lead now -


“-SHIKI-sama.”


The words in his throat die down. Had he actually heard that? Kohakucalling him 'sama?' But it didn't sound like Kohaku – a cold,emotionless voice could never fit the cheerful girl holding his hand.That's right,there's no way.

He shakes his headand tries to ignore that hallucination. “Alright then, just followmy lead.” he announces, picking up the pace so that he passes byher. She replies with a humorous “Yes!” and tightens her hold onhis hand.

SHIKI smiles. Butat the edge of his hearing,

Dong... Dong...

a bell could still be heard.



“HeySHIKI, let's do this one together.”

“Alright,prepare yourself, Kohaku.”

For any other girl, SHIKI Tohno wouldnot have even consider this placefor a date. Well, not for a serious date – loud, a little dirty andcrowded with a disdained 'certain' crowd, this placegenerally is not beneficial towards any budding, romantic relationship.

But for KohakuFujou, there is no better place to spend a few hours (and not-solittle money).

In school, she isoften regarded as everyone's unofficial 'big sister,' even among theSeniors; mature and elegant, friendly and popular, the one whomeveryone approached for help – and he is sure that there is a wholefan club devoted to her.

Everyone would havebeen shocked to see how she had spent, and still spends, her time.

Their image of her would be totally ruined by this,SHIKI muses, Theiridol, playing around like a kid in a place like this? Definitely.

The background chatter momentarily increases in volume, as Kohaku isilluminated by a flashing red light. And on the screen in front ofher, the words “NEW HIGHSCORE” are seen.

The two are at an arcade.

They are at a videogame arcade.

Yes, their 'big sister' is enjoying herself with gaming. KohakuFujou, a student with top grades, who had once been chosen to givethe Senior Representative speech at the beginning of the year (whichshe respectfully declined, of course), is an avid gamer.

“SHIKI,come on! You're just staring at me again; are you still distracted byhow I look that you intentionally lost to me?”

Though she tries to act indignant, herown expression betrays her; it is too cute to even be remotely angry,and SHIKI fidgets as he tries to keep the smile off his face.

It's not effective. “No, no, I wasjust thinking,” he says.

“About~?” Kohaku prompts, “Ufufu,SHI.KI-chan, I hope you aren't thinking of anything... weird. Like,let's say, certain formal dresses?”

Nonplussed at her not so subtle jibe,he replies, “Nah, it's nothing. C'mon, let's try that one next.”

“Alright Kohaku, I think we've spent a little too much time in there – andwe need to be at other places.” SHIKI says, holding her hand asthey maneuver through and around the crowd. And Kohaku refusing toleave isn't helping either.

“Couldn't we at least play another round?”

“Wecan't,” SHIKI says, turning right at the corner, “I'll make it upto you later, but for now we need to move.”

With his words spoken in an unhurried pace, the two exit the arcade.They had spent just a few hours tucked away in that small arcade andalready the sun has traveled a significant distance from before. Thenumber of pedestrians has increased as well; where before there mighthave been one or two per street, there is now an almost continuous stream of people heading one way and others.

Gently tightening his grip on Kohaku's hand, SHIKI leads the poutinggirl into the crowded sidewalk. They weave around, pass by and arepassed in return by the many different people who delegate the pairwith secondary, cursory glances.

Heknows that it is because of the girl attached to his arm that hasdrawn their stares but the fact that theyarestaring at hisgirlfriendinfuriates him to no end.

Punish them,a powerful thought silences the rest of its comrades, leaving itpainfully clear, teach them their place. Strike them down. Break their limbs.

Why...? Why is he thinking such things, he wonders to himself, shuddering asif the temperature had dived ten degrees. But the thoughts aren'tfinished yet, and each new one brings an even darker command. Killthem KILL THEM stab them crush their heads tear their limbs off ripoff their heads bask in the massive fount of BLOOD---

“SHIKI,where are we heading to next?” Those innocent, sudden words drownout his thoughts, casting them away into a white oblivion.

… Whathad just happened? He... just can't remember. Judging by the relativepositions of the pedestrians, less than ten seconds had passed; theyare outside the arcade and holding hands. There's a coppery tang inhis mouth and, and something important. Something... wrong. Frowningin contemplation, SHIKI mentally puts it off in favor of answering his date.

“SHIKI, Kohaku! How have you been?”

And he shuts his mouth.

Okay...not the words he had wanted to say – and certainly not the words hehad said. The frown dropping off his face, SHIKI turns to face his 'little brother.'

“Yo,Shiki.”

SHIKI Tohno, Akiha Tohno, Kohaku Fujou, and Hisui Fujou had originallycomposed the 'family;' they had practically grown up together,knowing only a handful of other children through their parents'connections. That had been until the age of eight, when thatchild hadentered their lives. He had been the only one not associated withtheir father – practically the child of an enemy, in fact.

That had been Shiki Nanaya.

But if one are to compare the Shiki from the past, to the one in thepresent, it would' be hard to believe them to be the same person.Shiki Nanaya in the past had been a quiet, little boy afraid of hisown shadow, unwilling to be in the spotlight; but the present Shiki –

“Sorry about messing with your date, SHIKI,”

--not so much. Well, he is no more willing to attract attention thanbefore, but he has fixed his introverted personality.

“It's alright,” SHIKI replies offhand, “your own date was messed withtoo.”

As if on cue, the two Shikis turn around to face the culprit. Afternoticing the pair, Shiki and his date had stopped by to say hellobefore leaving for their own date. However, a certain someone had decided that this would be a time for “family bonding.”

Andthat one is walking a few feet back, walking and chatting amiablywith another girl – Shiki's date. Other than a few differences –the dress she is wearing is white instead of blue, there is a lack ofa hair ribbon, and her eye color is jade – the other girl is a nearperfect replica of Kohaku.

Her name is Hisui Fujou, and she is Kohaku's twin sister. But theyare only similar in appearance; their personalities are completelyopposite of one another. Whereas Kohaku is the cheeky, cheerful andimpetuous of the sisters, Hisui is not, being more reserved andquiet.

Andit had been obvious to anyone who knows her that she had a crush onShiki... except for the person in question until about a month agowhen, encouragedbyher sister, Hisui had made Shiki aware of her feelings.

It had been an incredibly awkward, and heartwarming, scene, to saythe least.... though he can't seem to remember what had happenednext...

“How'sit been going for you then?” Shiki asks, after giving a smallhand-wave towards his date; she smiles and gives a small wave inreturn – which Kohaku immediately pounces on and drags her timidsister into another conversation. “The date, I mean. Where did yougo anyway?”

SHIKI shrugs. “Here and there, really. We just visited a few storesthat caught her eye and fooled around in the arcade for a littlewhile. We were about to head out for food when we met you.”

Frowning slightly, Shiki begins, “That's not--”

“--reallyromantic, I know,” SHIKI finishes. “Which is why I'm taking herto that place.”

Shiki raises an eyebrow in confusion – and realizes what he istalking about a moment later. He sighs, “You really are a sappyidiot, aren't you?”

What can I say? SHIKI's smile says in return.


An old fashioned bell chimes, its high-pitched song barely louderthan the background. “Thank you for your patronage,” a girl callsout as the party of four leaves the small cafe/restaurant. They wavein return, large smiles on their faces (except for Hisui, whose smileis a small upward turn of her lips) before they step back into thecity.

““Howdid you find the food?””

“Itwas very delicious ☺!”

“Itwas very pleasant to eat.”

“Kohaku-”

“Yeah,the food was really good.”

“...Shiki, um, did you really like it?”

“YesSHIKI?”

“-not that I'm complaining, but did you really had to do that?”

“?Yeah, Hisui, it was delicious. Why?”

“Whatdid you mean by that, XP?”

“Youknow what I mean, Kohaku! Even though we are dating, don't you thinkspoon-feeding memy foodwas a bit too much?”

“...”

“Ehh!!Hisui, you don't need to worry about that! You don't need to do whatyou can't do--!”

“Nope♥!”

“You'renot helping, Kohaku!”

“Ehh,Shiki-chan, I wasn't talking to you,”Bonk,“SHIKI, why did you do that for~?”

“No,I will cook for you Shiki.”

“No,no no Hisui, you don't have to force yourself--”

Shiki desperately explains, slowlyretreating from his girlfriend determined to cook for him – andunintentionally send him to the hospital. Smiling at his littlebrother's imminent demise, SHIKI silently approaches from behind andplaces his hand on Shiki's shoulder to –


kill ___.

His throat is parched. His insides areburning. His head is pounding. It hurts. It's driving him crazy. Ithurts. Please make it stop.

She's staring at ___aya again. Why?Why? Why why why? Why is she staring at ___ like that? Why him, whynot me? Why why why whywhywhywhy??

Let go. Let go.

Let go of his _____ity, let got of hismoral___, let go of the fact that ___is his little _____.

It hurts. His head hurts. Its burningwith a maddening fever, burning, burning, burning him until his bodyis ash.

Make it go away. Please, make it goaway!!

Just kill ___. It will make it allgo away.

He hears a growl.What's that? What's making that sound?

He's running. Whendid he start? The growl comes again, a low pitch, inhuman growl. Ithurts his ears. His arm hurts. It feels bigger and heavier than usualand it hurts. Why? Why does it hurt?

Kill h__. ___'s dangerous, ___ willkill you if you don't KILL ___!!

“AAAaaAaaaaAAAAAAaaaAAAaaaAAAAHHHH!!!”

The boy runs. Hishead hurts. His arm hurts. Everything of his body is in pain or onfire. It hurts. The beast runs regardless.

There are twopeople. Two kids. The one on the left is harmless – the beastcharges towards the one on the right. Appendage is drawn back forthrust. There is a shout. The beast ignores it, charging towards thedangerous one. Appendage is released – another shout, this timemuch louder, much closer.

A dark shape getsin the way. The beast doesn't care. The beast does not care, so thebeast will go right through. The sound of tearing flesh. A warmfeeling, a good feeling splashes over him. The beast stops and pullsout the appendage. It comes out with a squelch.

The shape falls to the ground; there is another scream, much higherin pitch than before. Hearing the pure anguish in that scream, theboy laughs, “A ha ha haha hahaha haHaHA HAHAHAHAHA!!!”


“Hngh,”The world swirls and a wave of nausea washes over him.

“Gofor it Hisui-chan! XD” He hears Kohaku cheering as she claps herown hand on Shiki's free shoulder, “And Shiki-chan, make sure youeat it all up!”

With a startled cry Shiki turns towards his 'elder brother' for help.“SHIKI?” he asks surprised as he sees the pained expression onhis face.

His contorted expression twists into a rueful smile. “Good for youman; you get to eat Hisui's personally made food.”

Shiki's last bastion of hope has just joined the dark side. FromKohaku egging him on with starry eyes, to SHIKI's betrayal, toHisui's determined gaze, there is no way out from his imminent doom.And you could tell from his eyes that Shiki knows that too.

Clapping his shoulders once more, SHIKI and Kohaku cheerfully depart,leaving their poor brother to the devoted administrations of hisgirlfriend.

“DAMMMNYOOUUU!!”

“Fufu fu, I feel sorry for Shiki-chan already.” Kohaku giggles as sheskips alongside her date.

“...yeah,” SHIKI responds halfheartedly, staring at his palm with adazed look.

“?SHIKI, is something wrong?”

“No,”SHIKI says, lowering his empty hand back to his side, “it'snothing.”


Leaving Shiki to his fate, they hadspent the next few hours before sunset window-shopping – which, headmits, had been sort of a mistake. Despite himself, he had forgottenone important thing: anything of remote interest would attract hisred-haired date. Puppies, jewelery, televisions on sale, and a set ofchains and handcuffs.

That had really worried him,especially when he had to forcibly drag her away.

“Um SHIKI, why did we come here?”Kohaku asks, staring curiously at his final destination. The sky isalready a mix of orange and red, and the few clouds are steadilyflying towards the horizon. And underneath the sunset, the pair isstanding before a brick and iron wall.

“There'ssomething I wanted to show you,” SHIKI says and furtively glancesleft and right. There's no one in sight, not even his body-guard, herealizes with a shock. When had he left? Dropping the missing manfrom his mind, SHIKI continues, “Come on, let's go.”

Spotting a nearby garbage can, SHIKImaneuvers it next to the wall and climbs aboard. It's strong enoughto support him, he notes. Making sure of his balance, he vaults ontothe wall and beckons Kohaku to follow.

Kohaku sighs in response, but she still grins and climbs onto thetrash lid. “Here.” Looking up instinctively, she sees a handbefore her, silently offering her assistance. With a “thanks”Kohaku accepts the hand, and soon enough the two are crouchedtogether on top of the wall.

“...Tell me again why we are, SHIKI-chan.” Kohaku says, not taking hereyes off the building, “And don't give me any of your excuses –why are we,at our schoolon Founder's day?”

Crap. She's resorting back tohonorifics again! He needs to head her off quick, before she decidesto *bleep* him. Sure, it wouldlower the impact of that,but there's no time to waste – not when his *bleep* is at stake! Heleaps down into the school grounds without a moment's delay. Spinning around once he makes contact with the ground, he opens his arms wide.“There's no time to waste,” he half-whispers, “I'll explain itall later, so you just need to wait a little longer. I'll catch you,so jump.”

She stares down at him silently, as if weighing the two options inher mind before she can choose. Though he feels a little foolish,waiting there expectantly with his arms outstretched, he continues tohold that pose, confident of his girlfriend's decision.

Their shadows are elongating as the sun dips lower and lower.

And then, Kohaku sighs and stands up to her full height. “I'llcooperate for now,” she says imperiously – and then she jumps. Itisn't necessarily a tall wall, but Kohaku's descent seems to beimpossibly slow. But his worries disappear as she enters his grip;hugging her tightly, the two spin once, then twice as they bleedtheir speed. “but for now, I'll trust you.” she whispers, herhead tucked in his chest.

SHIKI smiles. Grabbing her hand, SHIKI turns towards the building ashe says, “Come on, there's no time to lose.” Though it is an exaggeration, he believes that they should still tread on the side ofcaution: there is still the near regular patrol of the janitor afterall, and the time needed to pick the locks.

Hearing an affirmative grunt – her head is still encased in his shirt – he quickly made his way over towards the school building,with Kohaku in tow.

Entering the school proper had been very easy; all students,regardless of their grades and levels, should be able to break intotheir own school. And the janitors are not even patrolling yet; theirshift begins at about 6, nearly an hour away. So it had taken themless than five minutes, from breaking into the school grounds, toclimbing the stairs.

“OkaySHIKI-chan,where are we going now?”

Might as well as tell her, SHIKI mentally says. What he says aloud though is, “Your classroom.” He pauses on the second floorlanding, his skin prickling with tension. For a moment, he sees –or thinks he sees – a blur of white and blue, pursued by a cloud orred. But when he blinks clear his vision, he sees... nothing.

A trick of his imagination?

Brushing clear his black hair, SHIKI resumes his climb up the flightof stairs. “?” He could hear her stunned confusion, “Wait,what? Why are we going to my classroom?”

He reaches the third floor – and he's not alone. A pair of figures,blue, shadowy figures, one with a spot of white, and the other withblack, rush past him and onto the roof. But there's no one there whenhe blinks once more. There is no sign of them, not even footsteps.Muttering to himself, SHIKI lightly raps the side of his head withhis knuckles.

Was that a hallucination? Hebriefly wonders, making his way down the hall with Kohaku, Really,what's with me today? Seeing things that aren't there, seeing those... dreams, thinking thosethings– didI hit myself on the head, or something?

“Because,”SHIKI responds, as the two stop right before Kohaku's classroom.Turning to look at his date as a cover, he visually checks out thesky. Perfect.“Because your classroom has the best view.” He finishes, checking the doorknobs.

Huh... they're unlocked.

“? What are you talking about, SHIKI?”

Slowly, the boy cracks open the door an inch to peer inside. It's empty, so with a dramatic pause, SHIKI slides the door way open and announces, “This.”


A small classroom on the third floor of the school would normallyhave a rather mundane view of the city. But when timed just right,that mundane picture would become unforgettable:

A red sunset, lighting up half the sky in vibrant, warm colors; theblue night, sprinkled here and there with a multitude of barelyvisible stars; and the city itself, both shining under the crimson sun and twinkling with its vast number of artificial stars. A city preparing for night.

And before it all, SHIKI Tohno steals his first kiss from Kohaku Fujou


Darkness.

A voice wakes it up.

drug trial 207 has proven unsuccessful, Master Tohno

The beast can barely hear it – let alone recognize ithears as 'words.'

A pity. Let him rest for now and continue it tomorrow

Its throat is parched. The beast is thirsty. The beast needs to drink. It struggles, trying to quench its thirst – but thebeast is bounded in chains.

▀▀▀█▄▄█▀▀ █▄▄▄▄▀▀

The beast roars,thrashing and lunging against its chains of captivity.

He's awake Master Tohno

Fulfill your duty as a Synchronizer

… Yes Master

The beast roars again as a light approaches. It is not a bright light – the room isbarely lit up. But the beast can see. The beast can see the worn stone walls. The beast can see the food as it approaches it.

One food, taller andolder than the other, stoops closer into striking distance. The beast lunges, only to be brought by the chains around his arms and legs. Useless noise comes from food's mouth,

Don't worry SHIKI, you will get better

Moczo
March 8th, 2012, 12:29 AM
... I like 'Solace in Servitude' a surprisingly great deal. I'm 99.9% sure I know who wrote it, of course, so high quality is to be expected, but Rin (And shockingly, Archer) were utterly adorable in there. I approve. ^^

Keyne
March 8th, 2012, 08:20 AM
... I like 'Solace in Servitude' a surprisingly great deal. I'm 99.9% sure I know who wrote it, of course, so high quality is to be expected, but Rin (And shockingly, Archer) were utterly adorable in there. I approve. ^^
"AND NEXT TIME I SEE YOU HERE, I'LL GUT YOU MYSELF... but it's not like I hate you or anything, baka!"

EXiku
March 21st, 2012, 07:43 AM
Thoughts on Drama...

Family Values

In a nutshell, it was all right (didn't move me all that much), but I feel it could have been fleshed out a little more - this was certainly something that required more time to work on.

I liked some of the descriptors you used; they were quite nice...it's a shame I can't find the one I liked in particular (I'd have to go over it again...) I'm not too sure, I got the feeling it was written from a narrator's POV; it's quite different from what I'm used to, but it felt like it kept jumping between two or more styles.

There are a lot of wrong words being used ('perspective' instead of 'perceptive' at one point); grammar and punctuation errors, especially the use of the hyphen '-' When using it as you have done, i.e. It’s been a while-the truth is... there should be spaces on both sides of the hyphen, otherwise it looks like a compound word, which it isn't. Though, really, the whole passage should have been something like the following: (without changing too much of the style you used)

"Whenever I have a hard time sleeping," Waver begins awkwardly, "I try drinking some warm milk with honey - it always helps me relax,"

Sakura doesn’t exactly respond, but she doesn’t protest either; Waver considers that to be the best he’s going to get and sets to work. It’s been a while; the truth is his mother used to make him the drink when he was small, but he has a feeling talking about pleasant childhood memories with Sakura would be salting a still fresh wound. Surprisingly, the process comes to him with ease - sauce pan; milk; a few tablespoons of honey; dash of vanilla; some cinnamon...

Something like that anyway. The change in subject in the middle (from talking about his mother to Sakura was a little weird) Interestingly, sticking your text through Grammarly (with the Creative Criteria) as it was gave it a score of 70/100...my edit gave it 100/100 >.> But then...how accurate is Grammarly anyway...? I'm not even sure that some of the punctuation is in the right places...

There are certain aspects of the story that bothered me...especially the Rin situation - that felt largely unresolved. It didn't seem to add up considering how clear it was Sakura still held her very dear... Some characterisations felt off at points too and definitely, long speech could have been broken up. Personally, I don't feel comfortable using full-stops in the middle of speech and when the time comes for it, I try to add in something else happening outside of speech to break up the flow.

Overall, your writing really needs more polish but that should come with time and practice. Also shout-outs...personal choice, I know...Oh! And then there's your inconsistencies when referring to characters in conversation.


Archer's Story

Inconsistent use of naming convention early on - Shirou Emiya > Emiya-kun > Emiya. I suppose you did it to reflect Rin's closeness to Shirou - in that moment, she wasn't a judge, but his friend...but then, you could have just used 'Shirou' since you referred to him as 'Shirou Emiya' before and not 'Emiya Shirou' But then, it's pretty inconsistent anyway - the bulk is all English with a few sprinklings of Japanese, and my personal taste is dislike; dislike; dislike!

I'm not going to go into a blow-by-blow; line-by-line review (oh...the temptation...) I know what you said about being more of a script-writer (interestingly, that's how I started out and it's how I still write in the draft stages) but I didn't expect so much...so much difficulty. There are certain words used that are simply understatements for the emotion you want to convey and at other times it just feels too over-dramatic. Also, emphasis on certain things changed because of the placement of punctuation...That said, the simplicity does make it easier to visualise, but there's so much I'm in disagreement with as the basis for the story and how it progresses...

If I'm going to be honest, I lost interest a long time ago and only willed myself to finish it out of fairness. The overall message is good, despite being a repetition of FSN anyway (Fate and Heaven's Feel Routes), but it was pretty poor in its execution.


I Am Not There

Overuse of 'though'; comma placement made it difficult to follow your point sometimes - at times (as I was taught) a comma can be used to separate a point from the rest, i.e. begin, mid, end - where 'end' is a continuation of 'begin' and 'mid' is a side point (I'm looking at the early passage about the lone tree on the mound, where clearly 'end' is a coninuation of 'mid' - perhaps a hyphen should have been used between 'begin' and 'mid' if you didn't use that 'though') If it's not used for that purpose, then it serves as a short pause for pacing.

In my English classes, 'and' never followed a comma (nor does it begin a sentence) but I believe that there are certain conditions for the comma-stalking, i.e. when the two sentences involving 'and' are two complete thoughts related to each other (rule also applies to: For, Nor, But, Or, Yet and So...)

That said, it was a good read. Really bitter-sweet and a nice perspective - lovely poem choice also :)


Twisted/Bended

Interesting to see how these events played out for someone else (my vision was entirely different to an extent) I have an issue with certain words you chose - I know there was a certain tone you were trying to maintain, but some words felt wrong.

I'm not sure if this is the best way it could have been presented, but I'm also unsure as to certain aspects of your take...


Ash and Snow

Okay, first and foremost you definitely need to work on your punctuation use. '............' does not have more of an effect when compared to '...' and too many full-stops make the passages look choppy, rather than flowing the way you intend them to.

However, your story was incredibly beautiful and I felt it so strongly. I don't have words to describe how much I liked it - I am very moved and I do like your style of writing, albeit more than acceptably repetitive (for me!) at times, but it was quite powerful. There were points where the action was a little hard to follow, but the imagery you conveyed was awesome - it was kind of a strange contrast.

The ending was incredibly heart-breaking and I don't think I'll ever forgive you for that :p


A Madman's Happiness

Apart from the weirdness...did I detect a Star Wars reference? I don't know...I'm not sure what to make of it...but certainly you need to experiment with other types of punctuation and this one word: 'defunct' I've never seen it used that way. Yes, it is another word for 'deceased' but the context for its use seems different...interesting... - The word, not the story.


Fate/Alternate

First..."the final haunting words of his now deceased wife that had died" That's redundant and you could have ended that at 'deceased wife' and 'that' is more for objects, rather than people when used that way, so you should have used 'who'.

Reading it, I was prepared to pan it completely...you really do need to work on your writing. It was quite difficult to get through, but dude...that was quite an interesting 'What if' I've never even considered that idea...


Moonlit Purpose

Very sweet - it was a pleasant read. However, a paragraph is not a sentence and I feel you used commas where other forms of punctuation would have been better.

It didn't really leave me with any special thoughts/feelings, but it was nice to read something like this :)


Njeri

You did mean 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern' right? 'Brethren' is plural for 'Brother'. I don't think your choice for 'Teutonic' as a description for the Einzberns is correct...it's a very dated term and is not just limited to the Germans, as far as I know - but then, someone more versed in the historical use of words would be better suited to making a better opinion on that. I'm just supposing that most of the errors I've come across and questions I've formed are down to you making your writing as...'flowery'(?) as possible. It's not something to take offense at - I dabbled in that early on and found it didn't work for me; I kept asking myself why use 10 different ways to describe the same thing in one paragraph? It kind of ends up breaking the flow.

It was quite good though - I've grown quite fond of Sigmund and Johannes, and you did a good job of keeping Agnes' identity secret until that one moment, when I guessed it as you planned. I do wonder though...can anyone use the Contender and the Origin Bullets?


Seeking Solace in Servitude

I dunno...reading this, the impression I was left with was 'wishy-washy' at best. There was something about the characterisation that felt severely off - maybe it was the banter between Archer and Rin...it didn't flow as it should.

Then there was the nature of your R18 section...apart from being left with the very strong impression that I have a lot to learn when it comes to writing that, the whole thing just seemed so easy and un-Rin-like. I suppose a bit more build-up would have worked...but ah, despite not being against Archer/Rin, I wouldn't have seen it go down like that. Maybe that's what it is - a difference in opinion, but still it seemed like there was a bit of self-insertion behind some of Rin's behaviour.


Shared Interest

Most noticably, you need to keep an eye on your grammar. Surprisingly short, sweet and simple...as such, it didn't really leave me with any special impressions but the idea is weirdly interesting. Altrouge checking out the guy her sister digs...despite their history, she still cares enough to do that?


The Magus' Heart

Right...it started out on the 'meh' side of 'okay' then I got confused. If Sable came back that day...why would everyone freak out like that? Maybe it's due to it being a snippet of something larger, as you explained...but still perhaps you should have chosen something that didn't skimp on certain details...

Sakura should have referred to herself as 'Imouto' (Younger Sister) since 'Nee' is for older sisters and she wouldn't refer to herself with '-san'. With the English naming convention you chose to use, it would have made more sense to stick to English terms (at least for me) but that is such a glaring error...

The idea is interesting, but I feel it could have also worked without it being HF-AU.


The Reverie of a Winter's Day

Woo...I liked the writing (a little more use of punctuation and being a bit more mindful of grammar/subtle spelling differences e.g. 'stead' instead of 'steed') But wow, reading the Glossary...I really respect the thought that went into this and it was something so very unexpected.

Would it be shallow to call it my next favourite (after Lunatique) among all the fics entered, simply because of how you dared to take the T-M legends further, beyond the characters we know, and put your knowledge to use/to the test?


Season of Amber

Did you write this in NotePad? Because some of your spaces seemed to have been eaten...also, at points the formatting seems to have gone weird, though those are not your fault.

'Nonplussed' - dunno if it's worth bringing up, since I know that the true meaning of the word is being overwritten by how the US has been using it, but it actually means the opposite of what most people think - it means to be puzzled by something.

Also...your writing is not one that floats my particular boat - I'm not too big on writing everything a person says (laughter; hearts etc.) phonetically, since there are perfectly good adjectives that can be used to convey the nature/intent you're going for.

That restaurant scene was just...bad. With just speech, there's nothing to add context and it was hard to visualise.

That said it was a strangely interesting idea, but needed more refinement since it clearly felt rushed.


Hmm...I've noticed that my reviews have taken on different formats for each category...and then each review became shorter than the last. Simply, I guess I got tired of repeating myself >.>

Let's see...the ones I liked most (in no particular order) were: Njeri; I Am Not There; The Reverie of a Winter's Day and Ash and Snow.

Overall, yes, Reverie of a Winter's Day comes a close second for me after Lunatique, possibly tied with Ash and Snow.