View Full Version : Secret Santa Contest (2016) Entries

December 25th, 2016, 11:12 AM
Herein lies all the submitted fics. Voting will begin in a day or two. Each fic will have the prompt at the end, in a spoiler tag. Both the prompts and fics will remaind anonymous, for now.

Without further ado, here's what you've all been waiting for, the Wall of Shame:

Gally (0/2 submitted)
TyrantOfKings (0/1 submitted)

And a table of contents.

Wanderers (Lemon) (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568550&viewfull=1#post2568550)
Prodigal Son/Oedipus Rex/Sins of the Fathers/Welcome Hell (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568558&viewfull=1#post2568558)
Untitled 1 (Incomplete) (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568566&viewfull=1#post2568566)
Untitled 2 (Incomplete) (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568571&viewfull=1#post2568571)
Paradox Eclipse (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568578&viewfull=1#post2568578)
The Gift (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568581&viewfull=1#post2568581)
BAD FIC: No Beta Readers, We Die Like Men (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568583&viewfull=1#post2568583)
Sakura for All Seasons (Lemon) (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568594&viewfull=1#post2568594)
Starship Girl (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568598&viewfull=1#post2568598)
No One's Hero Here (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568601&viewfull=1#post2568601)
The Winter Woes of the Backalley Alliance (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568602&viewfull=1#post2568602)
Where the Circle Ends (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568605&viewfull=1#post2568605)
Part-time Heroes (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568611&viewfull=1#post2568611)
Split Conscience (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568615&viewfull=1#post2568615)
Untitled 3 (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568620&viewfull=1#post2568620)
At the end of duty (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568626&viewfull=1#post2568626)
Quiet Lives (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/7249-Secret-Santa-Contest-%282016%29-Entries?p=2568628&viewfull=1#post2568628)

December 25th, 2016, 11:16 AM

Deja vu. The recollection of a phantom memory, the extrapolation of experiences forced over cherry-picked characteristics of the present, coincidence given meaning by the brain's desperate attempt to rationalize the vagaries of fate. A single transient link between the past and present, quickly forgotten about once reminiscence ends and existence resumes.

Hell no. Life is made of moments that you shouldn’t, can't, and won't forget. Ordinary or extraordinary; there's no difference. Even eating a cheap burger at a restaurant is precious. And yet, that moment was definitely extraordinary. It changed my life. Moments like those are something you keep with you to the moment you die.

Especially if you see them twice.


In retrospect, he should've worn a hat. He'd look ridiculous, of course; not even years could erase his sister's laughter after he'd tried on a top hat found in the attic. But he needed the shade. It made no sense that the sun slumped on him no matter where he walked, but it did all the same. Earplugs would've been smart as well. The cacophony of the city was annoying at best, but today was especially painful. The bass of a barely familiar language and the percussion of car horns wrung his brain like a sodden rag. Not for the first time, he contemplated pouring cement into his ears. He looked up, wiping at his brow with one hand - a terrible mistake.

His eyes hurt. The sun bored into his skull, and each drop of sweat was a spark from the collision. Wincing, he shook his head, and turned to the side.

There was a girl there, dressed in purple and white.


She sat lightly on a rail, legs waving above the ground. People worth no heed paid her no heed.


The girl looked up, and he saw beautiful, unnatural eyes, red like rubies, red like fresh blood-

She blinked, and stared at him, puzzled.

He stopped, suddenly hearing ragged breaths and urgent heartbeats. His hand in his pocket curled open slowly, finger by finger, releasing the hard mass within. He looked again, and saw long white hair, and youth, and frailty.

“Are you alright?”

“I, uh... Yeah. Just a little overheated.” His grin came out sheepish instead of predatory. Good.

The girl smiled, and with a swing of her legs jumped to the ground. She flitted forward, and his heartbeat shifted up a gear.

“Is there any particular reason you’re here?”

He gulped. “No, not really. I was just walking.” Had her grin widened just then?

“Then help me out. I'm a little bit lost.”

It was his turn to blink. “Excuse me?”

“Really now, did I stutter?” The girl pouted. “When a lost child asks a young man for directions, it’s the man’s job to take care of them as long as they need.”

This would be nothing but trouble. “Ah, right. Yeah. Listen, I’m kind of in a hurry here, so why don’t you just go into a nearby building and borrow a phone?”

She took another step forward, bringing her inches from him; her crimson eyes bored into him. He dodged her gaze, eyes retreating to the pale white of her forehead. How was she not sweating in this heat? Was she carved from marble or something?

“Nope. It has to be you.”

“That’s flattering, really.” He took a step back. “But I really have to go, so-”

Her hand shot out to grab his, lunging like an asp. He was trapped.

“If I raised my voice, wouldn’t you be done for?”

His presence in the country wasn’t exactly secure, so even a minor incident could be fatal. The last thing he needed was the attention of an overconscientious bystander. With a sigh, he relinquished himself to fate.

“Alright then, little girl. My name’s Shiki. What’s your name?”

The girl released him and stepped back before sinking into a flawless curtsy.

“My name is Illyasviel von Einzbern. But if that's too long for you, then you can call me Illya.”


Shiki sighed and rubbed at his temples. He couldn’t afford to get lost in the past, or the eggs would burn. Let alone Illya’s reaction, the smell alone would linger in the hotel suite for several hours. Shredded cheese fell into the frying pan as Shiki stirred the eggs with a spatula, twisting the lighter egg chunks under their more cooked brethren. Scrambled eggs weren’t his preference, but Illya had balked at the standard way of preparing them, and if there was anything guaranteed to doom a day it was her petulance first thing in the morning. He’d tried making an omelet once given that she liked them, but-

“Is this really the best that you can do? My brother made omelets that were much fluffier, and shaped like puppies too.”

He sighed again, and blinked reflexively. The last thing he needed was another mention of Illya’s brother. So Shiki compromised, and with a modicum of grumbling Illya accepted it. With more idle flicks, Shiki stirred the eggs again. They were almost finished; the color and aroma made that obvious. He stared out the window, gazing down at the cars driving by. How long had he been cooking for that familiar girl? A week? Maybe a month? No. It was-

The sunlight shifted, sending bright rays bouncing off the opposite building straight into his eyes. Shiki retreated to the eggs. He lifted the frying pan and scraped the eggs onto two plates to join the rest of breakfast, turned off the stove, and set the table. He couldn’t remember.

As was her due, Illya entered the kitchen once everything was ready.

“What happened to the lingonberry jam?”

Shiki sat down across from her and began to eat. “We ran out. There’s marmalade if you want that instead.”

“Ran out? How did that happen?”

Shiki swallowed a bite of toast. “Well, you ate it all.”

“But didn’t we buy a dozen jars or so?” Illya eyed the orange marmalade on the table distastefully. “And we ran out?”

“Like I said, you ate it all.”

“Well what I don’t get,” Illya paused to take a bite, and swallowed. “You’ve improved on the eggs, by the way - what I don’t get is why you didn’t get more.”

Shiki’s fork hung in midair, and he sighed.

“I’d have loved to, but we’re a little bit banned from Ikea.”

Illya scowled. “Oh right, that overreaction.”

“A building exploding is hardly an overreaction.”

“It wasn’t my fault they had a gas leak!”

“You run into gas leaks quite a lot, huh?”

Illya sighed and spread marmalade on her toast. “You don’t know the half of it.”

The two sat and ate. Utensils clattered against plates, and then were set down. Shiki cleared the table - leaving Illya’s morning chai of course - and placed a large book in the middle. Countless colored tags leaked from the sides like crushed snakes. Shiki grasped the worn leather cover and flipped the book open. Densely packed scrawls covered the pages, while faded newspaper clippings, photocopied reports, and cheap Polaroids hung from them like a lizard’s scales.

Illya gazed at him expectantly. “So what’s next on the itinerary, Shiki?”

Shiki detached a sheaf of papers from the book and rifled through them, eyes narrowed in focus. Finally, he pulled a brochure from the sheaf and slid it across the table to Illya. She picked it up and looked at it quizzically.

“The Shining Gospel of the White Queen?”

The front of the brochure showed a stylized image of a woman in white on the peak of a mountain. Illya opened the brochure and winced.

“What’s with this New Age swill? Who on Earth would think that this hodgepodge of icons and symbolism would mean anything even remotely resembling worth experiencing? Forget being an affront to whatever philosophies this dreck apes under the guise of espousing it, it’s an affront to graphic design.” With every second spent staring at it, Illya grew more incensed. “And what’s with these quotes? It’s like someone grabbed the first ten philosophy books they found in a library and copied out platitudes at random, except half of the quotes were from fortune cookies. This is worse than that movie you took me to with the giant robots and orange juice.”

“Look, I already apologized for taking a friend’s recommendation at face value-”

“And besides, this thing says you have to take a pilgrimage to the Himalayas. I’m terrible with the cold.” Illya slid the brochure back at Shiki. “You have another option, right?”

“Yeah, one more lead.” He took the brochure and slid it into the book, and then pulled out a stack of papers held together with a strained, dirty rubber band. Shiki’s chair scraped against the floor as he stood and walked to the other end of the table. He reached out to set down the stack - and Illya grabbed it from his hands before it ever touched the polished wood. The rubber band snapped off as she flicked through various articles and grainy photographs. Shiki’s mouth opened, and then closed. He walked away and sat back at his end of the table.

At last, Illya spoke. “So it’s a graveyard.”

“Yeah. There’s been a history of odd sightings and strange noises - of an apparition of a woman in white, and the sound of rattling chains. It’s all pretty ridiculous, but there’s enough of a match in the details that it’s worth looking into.” Shiki scratched his head. “Still though, it is a graveyard, so if you don’t feel like going you can stay at the-”

Illya giggled. “Don’t be silly, Shiki, graveyards are fun! I had a great time playing with my brother in a graveyard, you know.”

Just what kind of brother did she have?

His charge met his eyes. “So when are we leaving?”

Shiki began collecting the scattered photos and clippings, piling them into a stack. “There were two common points between each of the accounts in the graveyard. The first was that it was nighttime. The second was a full moon.”

Illya idly glanced at her nails. “Isn’t there one of those tonight? Certainly convenient.”

“Yeah, I guess I lucked out there.” He clicked his tongue, and smoothed out a bent corner of a photo before adding it to the stack. “Since this is a nighttime thing, I’ve got another place for you to see during the day. That okay with you?”

“Yes, that’s fine. As long as it’s fun.”

He placed the last picture on top of the stack and lifted it up. The stack clattered against the table as Shiki pushed it against the table to even out the edges.

“Ah, Shiki?”

“Yeah, Illya?” He pulled a new rubber band from the inside cover of the book and wrapped it around the stack, pushing down on the mass to compress it.

“When are you going to tell me her name?”

Shiki paused.

“What are you talking about?”

“You know.” Illya traced the rim of her cup. “The name of the woman you think of whenever you see me.”

“You mean Illyasviel von Einzbern?”

Illya sighed. “The name of the woman you’re searching for.”

The rubber band snapped, sending sheets of paper flying across the kitchen. Shiki’s hands hit the table with a thump, and Illya’s cup rattled.

“Let me clean this up.”

Shiki massaged his temples, sighed, and went to work.


She was pouting again. That was never a good sign, and ordinarily Shiki would do everything he could to fix that. An unsatisfied Illya was an Illya who made unreasonable demand after unreasonable demand until her anger subsided. If it was merely cooking something or buying her something, then his meager skills and funds might be able to suffice, but if it was something like the last time... Shiki pushed all memories of that out of his head. That thing was long gone by now. Yes, he’d never see a panda costume - let alone a sexy panda costume - ever again.


He smiled as benevolently as he could. “Yes, Illya?”

“Was this sardine can what you meant when you said you’d take me somewhere fun?”

The crowded train rattled, sending a hand strap swinging into Shiki’s arm.

“Well no, but it’s part of the journey. Walking there would take way too long, especially with how hot it is out there, so taking the subway is faster and cooler.”

Beads of sweat rolled down Illya’s face. She continued to pout.

“Okay, so maybe it’s a bit packed, and it’s a bit warmer than usual.”

Her nose twitched.

“But still, it’ll only be another five minutes at most. So just keep sitting, relax your feet, and this’ll be over in a moment.”

The constant thump of the train stopped as it jerked to a halt, shaking the passengers like popcorn in its popper. The ones lucky enough to brace themselves with a handhold - for example, Shiki - wobbled, but stood in place. The unlucky ones staggered into their nearby brethren - for example, Shiki - sending them tumbling against the train seats. He winced and threw out his arms, stopping an inch from cracking his head against Illya’s. Her pout had been rattled away, but her stare remained. She was gazing up at him, pale cheeks a bit flushed - from what? From the impact, of course, and the heat. It was practically boiling in here; sweat crawled down his back like a colony of fire ants. His tongue was a slab of cotton so he swallowed, but no saliva came. No relief came. She was staring up at him, and he was staring down at her, and why were her eyes such a brilliant red? Instead of eyes, they were pools of fire, boiling him from the inside. They were like the garnets he’d seen one day in the old man’s study, or the brilliant, intoxicating poppies in the back garden, or the unmistakable vibrance of fresh blood.

The train rattled once more, and resumed its journey. Shiki squeezed his eyes shut and shot upward, one hand reaching out for the ceiling pole. He rubbed sweat from suddenly aching eyes with the other, and then looked at Illya.


“You shouldn’t say another word.” She looked frazzled; her normally pristine hair was lank and scattered. He instinctively flicked his eyes away as she composed herself. “Who knows what’ll go wrong if you keep talking.”


They continued in silence. Every so often Shiki felt a gaze on him and looked down, only to see Illya staring out the window, watching dark lights whiz by. The train doors hissed open. Icy underground air flooded in, and Shiki shuddered as people jostled past him to him. He reached down to tap Illya’s shoulder, and she started.

“Gah! Shiki, what was that for?”

Shiki blinked in puzzlement. “It’s our stop.”

“Oh, right.” Illya stood, and the two stepped out of the train. They waded through the torrent of people, Shiki taking the lead through the throng of travelers as Illya walked close behind him. Should he take her hand? No, he wouldn’t be able to push forward as well as he could. Getting out of here was the priority. The wall of people parted, and Shiki winced as he approached the exit. He stepped into the violently bright sunlight. Behind him, Illya walked out of the train station and slapped him on the back.

“What are you dawdling for, Shiki?” She ran ahead of him and looked back, skirt and hair still twirling forward. “We don’t have all day.”

Shiki opened and closed his hands, and strode forward. All too quickly, he caught up to her. The two continued along the sidewalk. Illya would run forward, stop to wait for him and tap her foot impatiently, and then step beside him for a bit before running off ahead again, leaving Shiki to jog a bit to keep up with her before catching up and slowing to a gentle stride. Illya reached the street corner, drumming her fingers on the light pole until he caught up.

“So, what’s this fun surprise you have for me?”

Shiki looked down at her and smiled. “It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you, now would it?”

Illya huffed and stared straight forward. “Well, it had better be good!”

“You’ll be the judge of that.” He led her around a corner, and stopped underneath a bright red and white awning. “We’re here, Illya.”

Shiki opened the glass door of the building and stretched his arm inside, bowing slightly. “After you, madame.” Illya walked forward, chuckling at her steward’s comedic display of grace. She paused as the air conditioning hit her in the face and stared. He’d taken her to a diner.

The door swung shut behind them as Shiki walked in. He spoke to the maître d', who led them to a booth in the corner. Illya sat facing Shiki; Shiki faced the door.

“Welcome to Robin’s Rawhide, home of the best burgers in the city! My name is Fiona, and I’ll be your server for the day. What can I start you off with?”

Shiki glanced through the menu. “I’ll have the Bucking Bronco Burger.”

“And what will the little miss have?”

“What are you having, Illya?”

She stared at him. “Why don’t you decide? Surprise me.”

“Err... Then the Stallion Sliders for her. Both orders should be well don-”

“Medium rare.”

Robin look back and forth between the two. “So that’ll be one well done Bucking Bronco Burger and one set of medium rare Stallion Sliders...?”

“Yes, that will be fine.”

The server left at Illya’s words. Shiki looked at Illya. “Originally I was planning on going here later, but with the train delay we’d have to eat now if we wanted to be on time for the other half of the day. Besides, I’ve heard a lot of good things about this place. Did you know that they-”

“Shiki. I’ve eaten a hamburger before.”

“Well, sorry. I figured that it might’ve been a new experience for you, madame, but it seems I was mistaken.”

“What kind of person has never eaten a hamburger before?”

Shiki looked away.

“Ahhh. So that’s what it is.” Illya snorted. “That ever so mysterious woman.” She leaned over the table, blood-red eyes fixed on Shiki. “Are you ever going to tell me who you’re basing my directions on?”

“This would be a lot easier if you told me what you’d already done before.” He crossed his arms and continued. “Especially so I don’t have to keep being compared to this brother of yours.”

“I’m not comparing you to-”

“Yes, you are. Every meal I cook, every place I take you, and every gesture I make for you you compare to this brother of yours. Before talking about me, why don’t we talk about you?”

Illya sat back with a thump. Red and gray refused to meet.

“Here are your orders! If there’s anything you’d like, just let me know!” Fiona set their meals on the table, and waited for a response; upon not receiving one, she left, not quite managing to repress a sigh. The two customers ate in silence.


Grand Park was known for many things. Its verdant fields and sturdy wood and stone pavilions were perfectly suited for picnics and receptions, while its rustic copses laced with dirt paths served as ideal areas for hiking and retrospection. Elegant cobblestone plazas with sculptures of stone and steel granted patrons places to meet and rest. Generally, the park was a harmonious place where all manner of people would come and coincide, leading to countless opportunities for memorable and pleasant experiences. Generally.

“Well... Here we are.” Shiki stood by a fountain - a pelican dripping water from its mouth as a fish tried to escape. He looked toward Illya, who was sitting on a nearby park bench.

Her fingers drummed on the edge of the bench. “So what’s the plan, then?”

“I figured we could walk around some, maybe see the sights.” He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and sighed. “Sorry. You’ve been to a park before.”

“No no, it’s - I mean, I have, quite a lot, actually, but-”

“You certainly know how to make a guy feel better.”

“Oh, shut up Shiki!” Illya took a deep breath. “Not this park.”

Shiki looked at her. Her mischievous face was tinged with melancholy.

“I’m sorry. You wanted me to show you new and exciting things, but this place and this sort of thing must be horribly mundane.”

Illya stared at the uneven cobblestones of the plaza. “It’s not like I hate mundane things, but...”

“It’s not the kind of mundane you used to have.”

Her drumming fingers stilled.

“The days you used to have were fun. They were simple, and pleasant, and priceless. Things were innocent, and all that mattered was what today held, not what tomorrow might bring. But they were fleeting. You might have realized that then, you might not have. But days like those are destined to end.”

Her fingers pushed against the bench.

“It’s something inevitable, you know that much. But you still want to go back to those days you spent and the people you spent them with. But when you go back, you realize that the people who spent those days with are gone. Some of them changed, and some of them disappeared. And most of all, you changed.”

Shiki walked out of the fountain’s shadow.

“I think that if you keep looking for those old days that you’ll always be lost.”

Illya looked up at him with reddened eyes.

“Then where am I supposed to go?”

Shiki stepped forward and met her gaze.

“I can’t be the one to answer that. But I’ll stay with you as long as it takes for you to figure that out.”

He walked forward and offered Illya a hand. “After all, what kind of young man abandons a lost little girl?”

Illya grasped his hand and stood.


Shiki smiled. “Now, let’s see what the Grand Park has to offer.”

Side by side, the two walked into the trees. The fading sun shone through the canopy, dappling the path with mottled green that rattled like a kaleidoscope as the wind blew. Every so often a squirrel would stand at attention at the path’s side and scamper up a tree as they approached. Mossy green mixed with vibrant purples and reds as vines wove around aged trees. Cool wind tugged at clothes and pushed away the gentle warmth of the sunlight’s caress. Illya shivered, and nestled against Shiki’s side. They strolled past wildflowers and birdsong. Eventually they reached a bridge, and the red wood creaked underneath as they crossed a clear stream. Grass crumpled underfoot as they left the path. Shiki clambered onto a pile of rocks and pulled Illya up, and they sat against a large stone to overlook the stream.

“This... This is nice. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a visit like this to a park.”

The stream gurgled quietly.

“The last time was with my brother. He was an idiot. He was chasing a stupid, destructive, selfish dream, but he was still worried about me. The big sister’s supposed to worry about the little brother, not the other way around. Even though he had his dream, he still saved me in the end.”

Illya watched the falling sun.

“It’s because he’s not here that I am. Even so, is this alright? Just spending my time like this, walking around, when he wanted to do so much?”

“It’s not your responsibility to live his life. He may have had a dream, but it died with him. That’s something he had to have known.”

Shiki wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“People are meant to live their own lives, and no one else’s. Nothing good comes from living as a shadow. So don’t regret how you spend your life, or think that you have to live up to someone else’s decisions.”

He looked at Illya and smiled.

“Enjoy yourself.”

The two sat there, watching the stream flow. The sun continued to fall, desperately scrabbling at the trees with increasingly strained shadows. A chill wind scraped at them, tearing the warmth from their light clothing.

Shiki was the first to move. He slid off the stone and clambered down before stretching a hand out to Illya. .

“Let’s go. There’s one more thing I want to show you.”

Illya took his hand and climbed down, and the two returned to the plaza. The pelican had ceased its gargling, leaving the cobblestone circle in silence. Shadows draped themselves over the benches and sculptures, drenching them with the dourness of dusk.

“So what is it, Shiki?” Illya glanced up at him, and then frowned.

Shiki opened his eyes and blinked rapidly for a few moments. “It’ll be a few more moments, Illya. Just wait a bit.”

“Alright then, Shiki.”

The two of them stood in the plaza’s center. Illya was still, while Shiki’s foot tapped. She opened her mouth to speak - and then she heard it.

The rich song of a violin flowed into the plaza. Illya spun, searching for the source of the music as the melody continued; her eyes landed on a faint corona of light at the top of a nearby hill.

“This... Shiki, how did you make this happen?”

The deep baritone of oboes and clarinets wove into the melody, giving it clarity and confidence.

“Once a week, there’s a musical exhibition at the pavilion over the hill there. I wasn’t able to get us tickets, but you can hear most of the songs perfectly well from the plaza so I went with the next best thing.” More instruments joined the melody, and it approached a crescendo. Shiki outstretched a hand and lightly bowed. “Would you give me the honor of a dance, madame?”

Illya curtseyed, and then grasped his hand. “It would be my pleasure.”

As the song of the symphony flowed through the plaza, they danced. Sometimes Illya would spin away from Shiki, barely connected by the light touch of hands; at other times Shiki would hold her tight at the waist as they twirled together. She laughed, and he smiled, and they waltzed among the stirring sounds of winds and strings. Shiki pulled her in again, and she leaned against him as they slowly stepped. The music softened at they clung together.


“Hm?” He looked down at Illya, still nestled into his chest.

“You’re going to be late.”

He sighed. “There’s still time in the concert, you know.”

“The sun’s almost completely set. I’m happy Shiki, but the day’s over.” She looked up at him. “You don’t need to hold yourself back anymore.”

The song ended, and Illya stepped away.

“Now come on! We have a graveyard to see!”


The graveyard was a fairly large one, as graveyards go. A thick stone wall surrounded the cemetery; atop it sat an imposing iron fence with requisite spikes. Ivy crawled along both surfaces, forming a curtain to provided the dead with a modicum of courtesy. At the graveyard’s entrance was an ornate gate of black-painted steel. A thick padlock hung from sturdy chains lashed around each side of the gate, leaving a clear message - Do Not Disturb.

“So how are we trespassing this time, Shiki? Bolt cutters? Hacksaws? Bombs?”

Shiki elected to ignore the glitter in her eyes at that last one. He squeezed his eyes shut, and then opened them. Shiki squatted and held his arms back.

“Climb on, Illya. We’re going over this one.”

Illya climbed onto his back, and Shiki stood. He backed away from the gate. Shiki took a deep breath and ran at the wall. He leaped up and kicked off of the rough stone, vaulting upward; his arm shot up to grab the metal fence and he grabbed one of the spikes at the top. With a grunt of exertion Shiki kicked the fence, and his body curled over its top with his hand as the fulcrum. Shiki released the spike as he fell to the ground and landed on all fours.

“Wow.” Illya slid off him and stood. “I really thought you were going to impale your hand there.”

Shiki brushed himself off and stood. “I’m used to handling sharp objects.”

They walked into the cemetery, feet crunching against stiff grass and dead leaves. As they approached the first row of graves, Illya spoke.

“Are we searching for anything in particular, or just wandering around waiting for something to happen?”

Shiki crouched in front of a tombstone and idly traced a finger along the cold marble. “The reports were fairly vague about any circumstances in common besides a full moon at nighttime. Some people were alone and visiting their relatives. Some were in a group to test their courage. A few were desperate enough to try stealing some offerings. And some just wanted to, uh, reenact a horror movie.” He stood, turned toward Illya, and winced.

She had a smirk a mile wide.

“So should we try that, then?”

He edged back instinctively. “Try what? The theft?”

“Oh no, not that.” Illya walked toward him, and somehow, despite walking on grass Shiki could hear every step she made, too fast and too loud. Or was that his heart? “The reenactment.”

She grew closer, and Shiki gulped.

“There are plenty of opportunities, you know. The bushes over here. The tombstones over there.” Illya was in front of him now, mere inches away. “Or if you want more privacy, the mausoleum. How about it, Shiki?”

Her finger traced the line of his jacket zipper.

“Should we do it?”

Shiki gulped and reached out - and patted her on the head.

“Let’s save that for when we don’t have any more options.” He turned away from her and walked farther into the cemetery.

Illya sighed. “Really, you’re no fun sometimes.” She watched him go for a bit, and then spun to look behind her, a hand already raised to transmute strands of hair. The only thing that moved was the wind.

“Was I imagining it?”

She turned back toward Shiki and ran to catch up with him. Behind her the wind blew, stirring dead leaves and loose twigs into oncoming mist.

Illya and Shiki continued their search, combing over tombstones and grave markers and peering into bushes and dusty, cobweb-ridden corners. Every so often Shiki would look down at his notes and compare them to the graveyard, aligning himself with different tombstones or gazing at the rough bark of gnarled trees. Shiki walked into the center of a circle of cairns, and Illya trailed behind him, watching for movement natural or supernatural. Or anything besides tombstones, grass, and dirt. She shivered as cold mist rolled over her skin.

“Shiki, can you tell me more about this woman?”

Shiki tensed up, and Illya continued. “It doesn’t have to be her name, or why you’re looking for her. But if I don’t know anything about her besides ‘wears white’, then I can’t help you look for her. I want to help you. Who are you looking for?”

He paused for a while, staring into the shadows. Illya stepped forward to reach out to him, and then he spoke.

“She was fun. Teaching her things was fun. Learning things from her was fun. Just being with her was fun. She was incredibly wise in some ways, yet oh so very stupid in others. She was a foreigner. She traveled a lot - all over the world even - until one day she came to the city where I lived. She was tracking someone down who kept escaping and who was very persistent; the kind of guy who wouldn’t die even if you killed him. It was pure chance that I met her.”

The misty night was silent.

“Because she met me, she lost her way. I took away the path that she had. I made her a wanderer. So I decided to help her get back on her path. There were setbacks, but there were also fun times. She was never meant to wander, but it was good for her. I got to show her all sorts of new things and take her to all sorts of new places, and then it all came to an end. We found the man she was looking for. I killed him. And with him, I killed the path that she was traveling on. But even then, she still had more to lose. Her journey was over, so she couldn’t stay with me anymore. She was too tired to linger, to waste time wandering about a small city.”

Shiki’s fists clenched, and blood began to drip.

“So she left. She went back to her coffin, unable even to wander. A white princess in an empty castle.”

Illya stopped, and her hand fell. She faced Shiki, and he faced the darkness, and neither were looking at what was before them. A frigid wind blew.

“Illya. Let’s keep looking.”

Shiki walked forward into the fog, and Illya trailed behind him. She reached for his hand, but it swung out of grasp as he strode forward. The fog thickened, blurring Shiki’s outline into a dull silhouette. Then Illya heard the noise of metal rustling against metal - the clattering of chains.

“Shiki, wait! There’s something up with the fog!”

At Illya’s cry, the shadowy figure turned around.

Shiki gasped in pain and doubled over, his eyes clenched shut. Sweat streamed down his body as his heart tried its utmost to claw its way out of his chest. His head felt like he was wearing a helmet made of vises; his eyes were bombs straining to blast out of his skull, like sacks of acid in a microwave. He tore at the dirt, his fingers digging furrows to channel the agony out of his body somewhere, anywhere but his head, which was melting, boiling, igniting-


A familiar voice called his name.


He raised his head closer.


Shiki opened his eyes.

Before him was a beautiful blond woman, clad in the pale light of the full moon. She smiled at him, her face shining with ethereal light. Tears carved lines into his weary, dirt-caked face. He scrabbled forward, sobs ripping themselves out of a hysterical grin. The woman floated to the earth. She held out her arms in welcome, and Shiki jumped forward to accept.


Shiki staggered as a chain lashed around his arm, holding him back. What was this thing doing? The woman smiled ever so slightly less brightly.

“Let me go! I need to go! She’s right there!”

The voice rang out again, louder and more clear.

“No! This isn’t the way! If you stop now, you’ll never find who you’re looking for!”

Shiki thrashed wildly and yanked at the chain, yet it would not budge. This wasn’t right! She was right in front of him!

“Why are you holding me back now! She’s who I’ve been looking for! I finally found her, so let me rest! Let me stop wandering!”

He screamed until his throat rasped with blood and clawed at the chain, and yet---!

He stared at the woman waiting for him until his eyes felt like they would burst, and yet---!

He stretched every muscle in his body to take even one more step forward, and yet---!

“Then what’s her name?”

Shiki stopped. He sank to his knees, he fell to his hands, and he wept. Before him was the radiant light of the moon. Before him was the woman in white who waited for wanderers. And yet, he could not move forward.

Because stepping into that light would mean forever losing his way!

Shiki climbed to his feet. He stood tall, and he wiped his tears away. And then he took off his glasses, and opened his eyes.

The woman wailed in wrath, and the wind howled as it whirled into countless blades. Shiki ran forward. Lethal blades were killed. The others were ignored. He saw everything: the sadness, the anger, the regret, the despair. And with a single stab, he brought it to an end.

Clouds covered the moon, bathing the cemetery in darkness. Shiki stood alone in the center of the cairns, a knife loosely hanging from one hand. Ghostly blue lights shone for a moment, and then winked out as he sealed his sight once more. A light thump hit his back.

“Sorry, Illya.”

She clung to him tighter. “Don’t apologize. You needed to do that, to let yourself go. Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve been restraining yourself. I could tell from the moment I met you; only someone special would’ve been able to see me at that time.”

Slowly, her hands slid away from him.

“Don’t let anyone hold you back. Not even me.”

Illya moved to step away from him, and Shiki grabbed her hand.

“Shiki? What are you...?”

He smiled gently. “You said not to hold myself back. C’mon, Illya. Let’s go home.”

She blinked in shock, and then grinned.


Hand in hand, they walked out of the night.


Shiki and Illya sat across from each other at the dinner table. When they’d arrived, a matter of grave importance had rapidly asserted itself. Namely, that they were more starved than King Midas’s palace rats. Shiki had hurriedly whipped up something resembling a meal and the two had scarfed it down with uncharacteristic gusto. In the end, the only survivors had been two cups of tea: Shiki’s bitter and Illya’s sweet.

“That was certainly a busy day,” said Illya, her fingers tapping on the table.

Shiki snuck a glance at Illya, flinching away to the nearby window as he caught her gaze. “Yeah, definitely. It all started going crazy from that train ride, you know?” He took a large swig of his tea.

“Yeah, that was too close for comfort. You were practically stripping me with your eyes there.”

Shiki choked, barely managing to spit the majority of his drink back in his cup. “Stripping!? That’s not what I... well... that’s not what I intended, or...” He wiped his mouth and continued. “A-Anyways, that’s nothing compared to your graveyard fetish. ‘Should we do it? There’s a nice mausoleum right over there!’ When people say ‘boning’ they don’t mean it literally!”

Illya’s reach for her tea went wide, and she barely grabbed the cup before it fell off the table.

“T-That was obviously a joke! A joke!” She stood up abruptly. “Anyways, I’m going to bed. After this day, I’m exhausted.”

Shiki shot up as well, his chair scraping against the floor with a clatter. “Yeah, me too.” The two of them tried to walk out of the kitchen, but crossed paths. Illya tried to slide past Shiki, who moved to accommodate her - right into her way. Illya bounced off of Shiki into the table, knocking her cup of tea onto her shirt.

“Ahh, now my shirt’s ruined.”

Shiki turned to face her.

“Let me clean that up.”

He walked toward her and kneeled down, his face parallel to her chest. Shiki lifted her shirt, fingers sticking slightly to the stained fabric, and kissed pale skin.

Illya moaned. “That’s not... how you clean up a spill...”

“What are you talking about?” Shiki inched left, moving from her side toward her navel. “You have to clean up the liquid, right?”

His kisses - light sucks with the occasional flick of his tongue - continued across, staining her white skin with peach splotches. She tasted of honey, of sweat. Of desire. Shiki slid his hands up her slender body, pushing her shirt up, and Illya raised her arms for him to pull it off, leaving her bare. His kisses traveled upward now, tracing loops along her chest as they wound their way toward her nipples. He traced around them in circles, winding inward as Illya shook from anticipation and pleasure.

“Stop teasing me, Shi-kiiiiii!”

Illya gasped as his lips moved from white to pink. Shiki traced one peak with fingers and the other with his tongue, feeling them harden at his touch. His other hand slid along the silky contours of her back, slowly tracing each vertebrae as she shuddered. Illya grabbed his head and pulled it upward. Amber drool leaked from her lips.

“You spilled some here, too.”

She bent down to Shiki as he rose up, and their lips met. They kissed; softly at first, light brushes of first meetings and welcoming before he split her lips and she his, their tongues devouring each other as they kissed. They moaned, filling the air with a deep thrum that turned to haphazard gasps as they split for air. Shiki stared at Illya, watching the rise and fall of her flushed face. Their eyes met.

“The bed?”

“The bed.”

With a grunt, Shiki lifted Illya up, a hand under her legs and the other on her back, and carried her to his bedroom. He laid her down and leaned in to attend to her anew, but she stopped with a hand.

“Wait. It’s your turn.”

Illya crawled forward on the bed and grabbed Shiki’s jacket. It came off in short order, and his shirt followed. She slid small hands along the rough brown of his scar, sending shudders up Shiki’s spine. They moved downward, growing slick with sweat as they traced each bump of his abs until reaching his belt. Illya unhooked it and pulled free with a tug, and with both hands pulled his pants and boxers down.

He stood at attention, twitching at Illya’s touch. She grasped at him with slender fingers, stroking the shaft as it hardened further in her hands. It was Shiki’s turn to moan, and he grabbed the footboard as Illya shifted him from her hands to her mouth. Her tongue slid circles around him, scraping against his head as he shook with pleasure.

“That’s good...! Like that, that’s it, that’s---!”

Illya pulled away from him, her face returning to a coy smirk. She slid back on the bed and looked up to meet Shiki’s gaze.

“Not there, Shiki.” Illya slid a hand over her stomach. “Here.”

Shiki climbed onto the bed and slid off her skirt. His hands ran down slender legs as he pulled the fabric down and off, and then up again as he went for her panties. Shiki slid his hands between them and her, and pinched her ass as he dragged the damp fabric down. Illya gasped, and then moaned as Shiki kissed his way down her leg, her panties slowly moving downward at his touch. Finally, he reached her toes, and her clothing joined his on the floor. His lips began the slow journey upward, lingering on the crooks of her knees before continuing downward. Shiki moved farther upward, savoring the pale skin of her inner thighs before at long last reaching the pale cave at their end. He blew on the peachy nub at its tip, and his tongue followed.

Illya gasped as he probed and sucked, nearly juggling her bead on his tongue. His lips moved down to hers, and she writhed with pleasure as he slid his tongue inside her, lapping the dew from every petal.

“Shiki- That’s it...! Good, do it more---!”

She grasped at his head as he attended to her and moaned as she approached an inevitable crescendo. Shiki pulled his head up to look at Illya. Her entire body was drenched with sweat, causing her pale skin to glisten like a polished gem. Her white hair lay slumped against the pillows, billowing out from her like a halo.. Her ruby eyes were moist with desire. Shiki looked at her, and he hardened in lust.

“Are you going to be alright?” His voice came out as ragged desperation.

“Don’t worry. I’m older than I look.” So did hers.

Shiki chuckled. “I’m used to that.”

“Hurry up and fuck me.”

Shiki needed no further invitation. He slid himself into Illya, slowly at first as she gasped and gritted her teeth, and then faster as the initial resistance gave way. Her fingers clenched against the bedsheets as he drove into her, each pump squeezing out a fresh moan. He looked down at her - into those intoxicating eyes - and kissed her; she answered him hungrily, hands flying up the grasp his back, to pull him closer, to pull him into her.

Shiki rolled onto his back and Illya peeled her body up, now riding him. Free of the confines of their intertwined lips, her gasps and his moans resounded, echoing throughout the room in time with their motions. Illya rolled her hips forward and slid her hands along his chest, clinging to each crevice like a professional boulderer; Shiki answered in kind by rubbing his hands along her chest, rolling her nipples underneath his palm like an experienced potter. Red met gray once more, and they stared into each other as they made love.

Illya’s gasps grew louder and Shiki’s thrusts grew faster. They clasped hands, Illya still riding Shiki, desperately clinging to him as he held onto her. They sped up, sped up, sped up, and with a final thrust Shiki grabbed Illya and pulled her flush with him as he flooded into her. The two laid together for a while, chests connected, breathing each other’s breath, savoring each other’s warmth.


Illya looked up at Shiki, puzzled.

“That’s her name. Arcueid.”


Sunlight streamed through the kitchen window, illuminating its two occupants. Shiki sat at one end wearing a pair of pants, and Illya sat at the other in his shirt. Between them was a heavy book.

“Do you know where you’re going next?”

Shiki sighed, and looked at Illya. “To be quite honest, no.” He laid a hand on the worn cover. “I don’t have enough information to flesh out any more of my leads, so I’ll probably just have to wander around for a while searching for something.”

“In that case, may I make a suggestion?”

Illya reached for the book, and Shiki slid it to her. She flipped through it, searching through it until she pulled out a pamphlet and tossed it to him. Shiki looked at it in surprise.

“This is that thing in the Himalayas!” He frowned. “But didn’t you say you were bad with the cold?”

She smiled. “I am bad with the cold. But you’re not.”

Shiki walked toward her. “Will you be okay, though?”

“Don’t worry about me, Shiki.” Illya smirked. “There’s a certain someone who I never got along with but owes me a favor. I’ll stay with her for the time being.” She laid a hand on his chest and gave him a gentle push.

“Go. Find Arcueid.”

Shiki held her hand, kneeled, and kissed it. “Goodbye, madame.”

“Goodbye, Shiki.”

Shiki packed his bags and walked out the door.

Straight porn of Illya and Shiki Tohno. Theme is transience.

December 25th, 2016, 11:19 AM
1/ Prodigal Son

“Good day father. I’m glad to see you in good health.”

“Sit down.”

No greeting, no kindness. That was the Lord Eulyphis, as he had always been. The young man complied at once. The fireplace crackled, sending embers over the hearth. Over the room, a single crystal chandelier illuminated portraits of dead ancestors and decorative adornments. Polished hardwood made the floor, covered by a large rug decorated in the Persian style. One might have called it typical of every aristocratic family in the country, and that was exactly what the decorator wanted.

“You have been abroad for nigh-on five years now. What have you achieved that was worth more than this legacy, pray tell?”

“Nothing, father. I have squandered my time in lesser studies. I have been a fool.”

It was the complete truth. He was a graduate, magna cum laude, of three different schools, and yet in none of those was his talent anywhere beyond boring, bog-standard excellence. A magnificent achievement for any third generation Magus perhaps, but worth absolutely nothing to a house of the Lordship. He was certain that had he actually failed to achieve as much as he did, he would have been disowned, and his Circuits recycled for the benefit his next of kin.

“A fool! How excellent that you realize this. Indeed, you have been a fool, to race away from home as you did. All for nothing, not even a research appointment. Just what could you have been thinking? No, don’t answer that. It’s beyond relevance. Now that you have returned, I can complete the transfer of the Crest. It’s not yet too late, and you’ve enough of it already. Damn you, there’s still time.” Iron grey hair, swept back and pomaded. A close cropped beard and whiskers. They covered a face of deep-set lines, and only enhanced a powerful jaw. His build was powerful; muscles and tendons almost threatened to burst from underneath his suit. It was entirely unlike him to speak so desperately, as if he was consumed in the depths of some fever.

And perhaps he was. Veins lanced through his eyes, and the faintest sheen of sweat decorated his brow. As he spoke, his mind spun and spun. A legacy to fill, so much to teach, so much to teach! Things he had learned when he was half a decade younger than his son. How would there be time? Time enough for adjustment, study, and most importantly; advancement of the technique?

If he had known, if he had known, he would have produced more children. But it was tradition! There had been no need for siblings, not in his generation nor in his father’s, nor his father’s before him. The simple existence of a “spare” allowed for the possibility of failure with the first one, and that was unacceptable. Pride would not allow it.

Until this foolish bastard, it had been an absolutely perfect system! But maybe that was the mistake. It hinged too much on the strength of the father, and the obedience of the son. Generation through generation, it would take no more than single breakdown of order to end it all. And calamity had struck all at once. First, the family lost their position in the school of Spiritual Evocation. Ousted by some second-rate upstarts propped up by the Archibalds. Next, the accident took his wife, and her family withdrew contact at once. Blast them, they knew what the risks were! Crowning it all, his son had wandered off in the middle of his study of the family craft. The nails in his coffin were almost all hammered in.

Lord Eulyphis would never admit to fear of any sort, but it consumed him entirely. If things continued like this, he would find himself excommunicated and Sealed, with nothing but a vivisection to look forward to. It was fortune, only fortune, that Marius had seen the error of his ways and returned to him, but now...

He would have to beat his successor into shape.

2/ Oedipus Rex

I never hated Father. I think I was incapable of it. But he frightened me nonetheless.

I can barely recall my mother’s face. In my dreams, it’s nothing but a haze. An unfortunate circumstance of losing her too early in my life, I suppose.

There’s just some phantom of warmth, the sound of a heartbeat. Those things you never really forget, but then that’s true for any warm blooded animal. It doesn’t take too long for all that to vanish, and when I wake, I see her face at once, but it’s not precisely hers, you see, and it’s ever so cold.

But that’s just anatomy. A person’s face is expression, it’s the little tics and habits that form over a lifetime and paint themselves on flesh. There’s no way you can preserve those, no matter how hard you try. It’s just a faded copy.

No, don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t bother me. I know why she had to die. It’s just an occupational hazard, one we had to take. The family, I mean. It was the best option we had at the time.

But it terrified me. Waking up every day to see her face. The first time I told Father, he explained it to me as Spiritual Resonance. He was always a somber man, and didn’t put any affectation into his words. Long story short, I understood why I was seeing things, but it didn’t make me any less frightened. It wasn’t that I was particularly fond of my mother, and from her diaries, I’ve learned she didn’t hold much warmth for anybody either.

I was just petrified of ending up the same way she did.

She was a middle daughter of a family of appropriate prestige. Father won’t say their name, and had it erased from all the records, so there’s one part of my pedigree that I’ll never know. It doesn’t much matter, since I’ll live on all the same.

There are two other things I see. A magnificent coffin, decorated like the world’s finest iron maiden. A grand old magic circle, inlaid onto the floor of our workshop. Father told me it was from the time of our Foundation, and that I would learn more when I was ready. I guess that’s why I decided to never be ready.

The first pieces of the Crest were implanted when I was six, and a few more every year. I can’t describe it. No, the pain you and every Magus can imagine, so don’t worry about that. But there was the whispering. Soft, garbled voices, like they were speaking to me through the ocean, whispered to me. With every successive piece, they became a little louder. I found myself thinking things that I didn’t know, remembering events that I had never experienced. It was like I was being eaten away and replaced by something else.

It made me remember mother’s hollow face, the way she walked. Oh, it was human, it was human, but it wasn’t her. I wrote out an apology to father, though it was as thin as the paper it was printed on. I took the first train to London and enrolled myself into the Clock Tower on the strength of the family name. I read every letter that Father sent, each a paroxysm unto itself, until he stopped sending them.

I met Bram Nuada-Re Sophia-Ri in my third year, and his fifth. He was at that point an assistant lecturer at Eulyphis, the department that shares my name. We might have met earlier, but I couldn’t stand to approach that part of the school. As these things go, he was the one who approached me.

“Are you Marius? I’ve heard wonderful things about you from my friends in Mineralology.”

Maybe it was a provocation; he ought to have known what kind of relationship we had with the Archibalds. But I don’t know. I didn’t realize, so I answered him in kind.

“I see they weren’t wrong about you. Come, let’s talk for a bit.”

At this point I might have expected to be drawn out to an empty classroom and put on display for the pleasure of his friends, as so many scions of diminishing houses were, but as it turned out he had no such intention.

“What does a human being leave behind in the world? Put aside the canned answer of great works and immortality through recognition. Those are separate from the individual.”

This was the same question my father had put to me when I was ten, and so I had no difficulty in answering.

“Blood, meat, and the echoes of the soul.”

“Textbook. Just what I’d expect from the son of the former Director. Now, do you know what it means?”

I was a bit irritated at this point, and didn’t hesitate to let it show. Maybe you could call me immature, but he was probing too closely to things I wanted to forget.

“That’s the basic axiom of Spiritual Evocation. Why should it mean anything other than that?”

He shaked his head, tut-tutting. “This is no question you could answer with a freshman’s knowledge. Try a bit harder, I’m sure you should have learned.”

The echoes of the soul, grudges, unfinished business, no matter what you call it, these are the lingering wisps of consciousness too persistent to vanish along with the corpus. Enough of them in one place, and you’ll find a wraith forming. A coalescence of overlapping desires, like the amplification of a waveform.

Harness them for energy, use them as mediums for the actuation of Magecraft, transfer them into inert bodies to provide locomotion, whatever you do, every function of Necromancy, known more politely as Spiritual Evocation, relies on them.

I never read that in any book, nor did Father teach me. But it was the answer that I gave to him, and this time, he smiled properly.

“Well, look at that. Why aren’t you in one of my classes? It’d be a pleasure, you know. That’s where you belong, not playing around with rocks and metals, no offense.”

I can’t, won’t, you won’t ever make me. Don’t make me. Please. “It’s not where I want to be.”

“Come now, nobody chooses where they go here. Talent dictates everything, and someone of your birth ought to have a lot of it. It’d be a shame to see it wasted on something it’s unsuited for.” We talked a bit more after that, but he left me, citing a class he was desperately late for, and promised we’d meet again.

Over the next year, we talked too frequently to be called acquaintances, but I never felt that we were friends either. Rightly, we should have been against each other, as our families were. Looking back, he might have been playing the part of the gracious victor. So assured of his family’s dominance of our field that he was willing to build me up from nothing. Yes, if I think of it all from his perspective, I must have been an interesting pet.

But all things end, and one day he shook my hand, and departed to go take up a resident lecturer position in Prague. Some machination to broaden his family’s reach, before he assumed his guaranteed position at the head of Eulyphis. It hurts me to say that, but not as much as it hurt my father. I suppose I just haven’t the same fervor.

But, the things he made me think, I’ll never forget. I can’t. The little whispers won’t allow it. And whenever I lose my concentration, they slip in little bit and pieces into my thoughts. A word here, a sentence there. They have been dead for so long; you’d think they would have appreciated some silence.

I kept them down as much as I could, just as I kept my head down and studied hard. It wasn’t enough to be offered an appointment, but I certainly had the credentials now to venture out and open a Workshop.

I didn’t. Instead, I wrote to my father, and packed my bags for home.

Back to the old mansion in Wales.

Back to my mother.

To the great grave.

3/ Sins of the Fathers

One night, while Father tinkered away at the Bounded Field, monitoring the flow of mana around the mausoleum that we called a Workshop, I went and explored our reliquary.

Imagine vaulted ceilings and braziers, filled with tiny quartz spheres, each with a tiny wraith sealed inside. They produced a pale blue light, bright enough to see everything, but as though you were exploring a ruin at the bottom of the ocean. In proud display around the room, the history of our family. Great achievements by every generation stretching back almost a thousand years.

Great-grandfather’s spirit scrying lens, some more distant ancestor’s first attempt at creating a vessel for possession. These were the genuine articles, the things our family had produced, then sent out to be replicated by every student who made it far enough along their line of study. In Father’s words, we were the pioneers of the art, willing to go further than any other family.

There are, of course, the less pleasant articles. The dungeons, the ritual sacrifice, the experimental efforts at conjuring a more powerful sort of Wraith, but those are hardly different from what we do these days. It’s just so much more… automated now. I barely saw Father flinch at the operating table. It was only when it came to spirits that he had any emotion to show.

But look at me, getting caught up in that. No, I had a specific goal there. At the far end of the chamber, there was a heavy glass case, and underneath it, something I had only seen once before.

A tarnished silver rod, patterned with little vines snaking their way up to a perfectly polished human skull that leered down at you. two opals twinkling in its eye-sockets. Father said that it had no name, as it was as yet incomplete. Despite that, this was the symbol of our family. Every portrait of our former heads includes this, always grasped tightly in hand. A reminder, I suppose, of the powers we worked with. A Magus walks with Death.

The last time Father had brought it out, on that horrible night, Mother was reduced down to a little heap of dust and a few wisps of light that danced around me before—

An explosion rocked the building down to its foundation. That was unmistakably the external fail-safe of the greater Bounded Field that surrounded the mansion. We were under attack.

We had arrangements for this, and Father made sure I knew them as well as he did. The first was to contact each other, but…

I read somewhere that when a king dies, his successor is not made king upon coronation, but instantly. There is always a “king” alive at any one moment, until the line is exterminated. But how would he know? How would that information reach him? It’s immaterial, because nontheless, he is now king. Thus, the king is dead, long live the king.

This must have been the philosophy my ancestors followed, as our Crest has a rather curious function. At any time, there can only be one heir, and so the portion of the Crest he bears constantly emits a miniscule pulse of mana, only perceptible if you know what to look for. To preserve the continuity of the family legacy, as soon as the bearer of the greater crest dies, the physical Circuits are automatically converted into information, and annihilated. What remains is borne by a particularly persistent Wraith straight to the next-of-kin. It was a wasteful, paranoid countermeasure, designed to preserve our secrets even at the cost of losing valuable material, but it was what saved me.

Mother floated down to me, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say that she embraced me. The instant I received the Crest, my own began to spin, rising and rising in frequency. Heat and light blasted out of it, as it stole energy from my own body to fuel its growth. Like a cancer tattooed onto my chest. The “space” it occupied on my flesh expanded, and the phantom began to inscribe itself upon me.

Try to understand how that feels. Something reaches into your very core, and instead of resisting, your body splits open down the middle to accommodate it. That’s the best way I can put it. I was down on the ground, writhing and screaming for nearly two hours, and if it hadn’t been for the Wraiths and the other truly ancient defenses our home sported, I would have quite likely been packed up and sent back to London as a specimen for research. Instead, a dozen interlopers found themselves possessed and set upon their comrades. The halls distorted and windows shattered as the house awoke. The Workshop itself was, not to be trite, a right proper haunted house.

You see, there’s a reason we’re scared of ghosts. And it’s simple. So very simple. They remind us that we’re all going to die. These men weren’t prepared for that lesson. Enforcers can’t do their jobs without a certain degree of insanity, even above and beyond that of a normal Magus. To throw yourself headlong into danger again and again, you need to be just a bit convinced of your own immortality.

I was not, and that made all the difference.

When I recovered, I noticed first that the little whispers in my head were now voices. A congress of a hundred different voices. But in unison, they directed me to fetch the staff. It was a mere suggestion, one I could have shrugged off with the least exertion of will, but I had no such thing to put forth. Mine was a march to the conclusion of our goal. Father would have been proud. I’d accepted the family legacy at last.

But Mother, but Mother… But what? I can’t even recall. I’d never felt wiser, never so sure of myself.

Two drops of blood, and the glass melted away like water. The moment I touched the staff, its eyes came alight with a blue light, and my eyes opened.

Mystic Eyes, specialized for seeing spiritual beings. The plane of Imaginary Numbers, a wild subset of Numerology, now open to my perception. Ah, so that’s why Father was able to use it. Yes, it made sense. The staff perceived everything far more closely than I could, and sent the information straight to the Circuits around my optical nerves.

“Going to die, you imbecile.”

“...a better successor.”

“Your duty… it.”

That was where I ended, and Lord Eulyphis began.

4/ Welcome Hell

It was a heavy thing, to see a father so strong in life unable to rise.

Filled with a cocktail of emotions, I closed his eyes, and went on to confront his murderers. There was little else to do; the Crest had already completed the emergency transfer. The body was, for the most part, consumed by its own security measures.

Our basic security measure was a limited sort of telegnosis. Using the Wraiths as familiars, we partitioned our vision like a great compound eye, to see essentially the entire property at once. I honed in on the leader of the marauding band and left the remainder to the house itself. If any survived, they would learn better than to try such an assault again. No doubt, each was a veteran of the business, but our family had always kept the best secrets to itself.

As if he was awaiting me, I met Bram in the courtyard.

“Ah, Marius. How perfectly unexpected! I had no idea that you’d returned home. Would you excuse us? We’re simply doing our jobs.”

What nerve. This fop sincerely believed that I would simply fold. To tell the truth, he was almost correct. I was exhausted. The Crest transfer had simply taken too much out of me, but at the same time I was full of more energy than I ever knew I had. I simply hated, had to avenge, I don’t know. I didn’t think at all. I simply fell into the role.

“You’re intruding.”

“Well now, was that really necessary? We don’t need you at all. It’s your father’s Crest, why don’t you help us find him? Why, I’ll even petition to have you exempted from Sealing.” And at once, I understood. When my father’s corpse ignited, he had assumed it was a surrogate. A fake. It was practically insulting, so absurd I had to laugh out loud.

Bram gave me a bemused smile. “Don’t be absurd. I admit, your house has made substantial contributions to the greater field of study, but there’s no more need for you. We’ve innovated on a field you’ve been content to leave stagnant for nearly three decades. What, do you think that there’s anything left for you out there? Surrender here, and I’ll guarantee you your life as a free man.” But at this point, the chorus of whispers screamed, louder, and louder, and my voice joined theirs. Subsumed into the collective.

“I think that the Clock Tower will be happy to negotiate, once your corpse is down to room temperature, and your family begs to have your Crest returned.”

His eyes narrowed. “Hmph, a shame. All the same, I see you have the Mystic Code I wanted. Thanks for saving me the trouble.”

He began with a barrage, simple blasts of fire. Spells that didn’t take so much as a snap of the fingers.

A pair of knights materialized out of the fog, shields raised. The flames splashed off. Two corporeal manifestations, in the shape of old family retainers.

“That’s a neat trick. When did you learn it?”

But I couldn’t answer, as I had never learned it.

6/ All’s Well that Ends

It ends as promised. I am far worse for the wear than I started, now with a broken arm and much of my skin burnt.

Bram is headless on the flagstones.

The chorus decomposes into a thousand small voices, now much quieter than before. I clutch my head. Thoughts bloom like cancer, faster than my consciousness can track them. Whatever it was that I recognized as myself is now far, far from me.

I don’t know my name.


But that isn’t my name.

Thesis: The Preservation of Minds in Cognitive Synchrony in a Spiritual Medium. Store away a sliver of the soul in each iteration of the Crest. Repeat ad infinitum. Ignore breakdown, ignore loss, ignore the destruction of the ego. Allow it all to coalesce into one. Overlapping waveforms, multiplying in intensity. A fragmented Wraith in a living body.

Then, this staff, what is it?

It’s no thought, but Consensus itself that answers.

Possession by a conglomerate produces risks. A Mystic Code capable of conjoining them, something of a communal corpus callosum. Bridging the gap between mind and soul.


It's insanity. No Magus would allow it. Such an imperfect method, such an absurd attempt at immortality. But these lingering souls are happy to call it enough. For the craft. I feel something, like a pat on the back. Congratulations.

I do not understand, because there really is no more I now.

There is Lord Eulyphis, and there is work to be done.

Supreme Code heist. (A Supreme Code is like a Lord's prized Mystic Code, for example Kayneth's moeblob)

December 25th, 2016, 11:23 AM

Let’s start with the climax.

Reien Academy: the typical scene of tragedy.

Broken windows and smashed doors. Tears and screams mix in the air and ride the wind to high heaven. The stench of rusty iron hangs about the place, just as the blood pools around the dead, and paints itself all over the Dead that hunt them.

And in the headmistress’s office, a young girl sits on the desk, legs dangling innocently. Below her feet, the scorched corpse of the office’s owner.

As if some signal has sounded, she hops down and tenderly, tenderly sinks her teeth into the old woman’s neck, draining the corpse completely dry. With that, she allows it to fall away, and does not consider it again. Through the windows, the light of the full moon filters in, clouds blown away. Bone white skin, eyes the color of fresh blood, and the uniform of a student.

She brings a finger to her lips, and giggles.


“I’m afraid I would never care to come after you. Hardly my business what someone else gets up to around here.” “Oho? Then I think we can come to an arrangement.” “However, I can’t overlook that you’re my student. My responsibility.” A dollmaker that wouldn’t even die if she was killed, content to toss her soul about different vessels, with no regard for the sanctity of the self.

She was a fitting teacher for the eighteenth incarnation of Michael Roa Valdamjong. Maybe he would even show her something good if she impressed him.



Something heavy pinned him down at the shoulders, like a Horla of his very own. Taking it to be his own lethargy, Mikiya forced himself up, and was slammed back down.

Black hair tickled his face. He opened his eyes, and met a pair staring down directly at him.

A face, he knew that face. It was—


Once she released his lips, she placed a finger over them.

“Shhh. Don’t say a single word.”

And her eyes flashed so beautifully, he saw no reason not to comply.

Any of the major characters from KnK as a Dead Apostle.

December 25th, 2016, 11:25 AM
The deconstruction was proceeding as planned. First, the Grail was cut off from the area’s mana. Second, and where they were now, was the hard bit.

From the top of the cave, it would have seemed that there were now a few dozen concentric circles surrounding the Great Grail, but on closer examination, each was a ritual-grade magic circle in its own right, corresponding to its inverse within the Grail itself.

However, nothing was so simple, and every law of risk taking assured them that any number of things could go wrong. Therefore, RIn Tohsaka and Shirou Emiya were not there for business, but simply for pleasure. The real thing would start tomorrow, when Lord El Melloi II was content to stop beating them about the heads with his criticism and give them a final review.

“Are you sure you’re alright with this? You won’t be able to see Saber again without it.”

He nods, smiling softly for Rin’s sake. It’s not even an option he’s considered, to leave this gate standing.

“And what about you, Rin? Don’t you still want to win the Grail? You’re still a member of a founding family. I’m sure you could convince someone at the Association to help you get it going again.” “Don’t remind me, idiot! Geez, what are you trying to say?”

He allows himself a giggle at her expense. Still the same as always.

The next day, Lord El Melloi II takes his position, berates them a little less than expected, and coordinates the destruction of one of the greatest rituals of the modern era.

Shirou is assigned a place to stand, and told not to move from there for anything, you damn monkey. Rin is happy to stand beside him.

The ritual array is a beauty once it’s spinning up. From the outside in, each circle begins to glow, golden, much like that sword. At some critical point, the circle vanished with a pop, and the least of the Grail’s security countermeasures joined it in oblivion. Little flashes of golden dust and blue mana filled the cavern, illuminating it like an impromptu fireworks show.

Somewhere in the middle of that process, Saber’s face passes through Shirou’s mind.

But then, he was also looking at it.


“I had not expected to find my sheath again, in a place like this.

She speaks, and he realizes that they are no longer in the cavern under Mount Enzou, but now in a grassy field that he has only seen before in dreams.

Her smile is gentle, a smile that can only be worn by those completely removed from the normal goings on of human life. Ordinary people could not maintain it, with all the little injuries that came with living.


She frowns for a moment, but then nods.

“I see, if that is the name you know me by. There was some fragment of myself here, was there not? Though I could not have come to meet her.” He understands to a degree that this is Saber, but not Saber. If only Rin were here, she’d be sure to understand… Ah, but she was here.

“Saber? Don’t joke around like this! I saw you vanish, what’s going on here?”

“Pardon me, I don’t know what association you had with the person you call Saber. That was what I was curious about.” “Wait... if you’re not Saber, then just who are you?”

“Lion King, or do prefer Artoria?”

Aside from her height, there was no mistaking the voice. For a little while, they talked, just as they all had in those lulls during the War.

“I see. So in the end, she trusted you to end it all. I cannot say that I would have done differently.” “And what about you? Just how are you able to talk like this anyway?”

That was Rin, unable to keep her curiosity in check.

“It’s a little privilege, I suppose. You could call it, the right of a god? I admit that I’ve never really understood it myself.” As she settles, down, something changes.

“Ah, time is almost up. You should return before this world vanishes once more.”

But before that, she wanders over to Shirou.

“I can see why she likes you. Here, consider it a little blessing.”

Grabbing his head with both hands, she presses her lips to his forehead. He squirms only a little bit, because in the end, it does feel rather nice.

“Hey!” Rin says, though what she really means is “Back off.”

“Farewell, Shirou, Rin. I’ll meet you again, if fate should allow it.”

The image of Avalon falls away, and they are once again in the cavern. Magi are scrambling around, Lord El Melloi is screaming at a hapless undergraduate, and the Great Grail is now down to its core.

Shirou squeezes Rin’s hand, and together with the rest of the crowd, they race for the exit as the last traces of Winter Saint’s body are annihilated, and the cavern begins to collapse.

Shortly before the Holy Grail's final dismantling, Rin and Shirou encounter the Lion King.

December 25th, 2016, 11:29 AM
Paradox Eclipse

— Suddenly, I awake.

A brief respite in a silent land. It’s so eerily silent that there is no indication that there was ever a great battle here. The mountains of bodies with gashes for tattoos and arrow wounds for love bites have been replaced with verdant mountains while the land that the warhorses trampled into hard clay is once again a sea of green.

Too quiet… it’s too quiet. Even the wind is too afraid to disturb me or this stillness – like we are in a theater waiting for a play to begin. Or perhaps the play has already started and we are merely a step before and after the performance, the intermission. While those two states might be transcendently different – paradoxical, even – they are both but a brief respite.

But then again, you could say that about my life as well. While some memories have stagnated, there are still others that glimmer. Even so, I cannot call myself a hopeful person.

Rather than the all-drowning moonlight of tonight, I prefer a sorrowful all-oppressing darkness that covers the world – me. The moon is too bright tonight; it hangs so low that I could reach out and embrace it. But the moon was never for me. That moon is my hope, something that was finally gained after seventeen years of finally living. The final step one makes after they’ve thrown off the shackles of their youth and the first step when reaching into tomorrow. Yet, here, there is nothing else but the grass and this sharp, white, darkness – so black, it is as if my surroundings have sunk and are drowning in the night sky.

Even after everything that has happened, it is quiet. Just like it used to be, just like how it will be tomorrow. Those rambunctious, chaotic yesterdays seem like a joke. But actually, if we’re talking about jokes, my life up to that point was more of a joke. The dream of a child that couldn’t be achieved, the sight that a youth couldn’t accept, the uncompromising of a man who had the weight of his own world on his shoulders, and what about the me of now…?

The things that I fought for. The things that fought back. And the result that was reached.

With enough time, the amazing turned into the mundane.

And with some more time, I realized that the mundane was always the amazing.

I tried to make sure that no two days were the same. But the more I tried, the more I found I couldn’t reach the place I sought or return to the place where I was. I have many regrets. But I still can’t deny my first wish. I have stood between the boundaries of emptiness my entire life. That is what has made me weaker than anyone else, but in turn led me here.

Even if it wasn’t something that I desired, even if those that who have already passed on can’t be saved – that’s okay.

I will admit it.

This world is still beautiful. This life is still worth living.

There’s a mix of emotion, from the guilt and helplessness of my past, the acceptance of the present, and finally a tiny fragment of hope towards the future.

Tomorrow doesn’t have to be better than today. But I think it would be very worthwhile if it was. That is why a boundary moves in the first place. I know that now.

Then again, no matter how worthwhile it might be, I’m sure there will be more than enough headaches ahead…


I crumple over for a moment, and my head beats loudly.

The usual dizziness assaults me as I grip the rims of my glasses, waiting for this episode to pass. But even if the dizziness is gone, nausea and the ringing in my ears still remain.

I tell myself to be still. This is the foregone conclusion, the price that one must pay as long as the continues to see death – those thin lines scrawled all over creation. The owners of Mystic Eyes never live long. Eventually, the eye itself will turn on the owner; after all, as the body ages, the less life force one has to maintain a pair. So then, if I am the owner of that True Ancestor fairytale, my life must be tragically short.

Of course, if these were the actual Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, that is.

The scar on my chest is gone as well. Then, if it is not either, this unbearable fragility must be because of another reason. If a certain dear friend were here, I am sure he would tell me that I’ve only lived this long because of my tenacity – like the curse where a candle continues to burn long after the wick is spent and the wax has melted. The only difference between the two is that hatred maintains that spell while I….

“How unsightly. It makes me slightly uncomfortable, seeing you like this.”


A somewhat familiar voice.

“Aozaki, huh.”

“What do you mean by ‘huh.’ You weren’t expecting someone else, were you?”

She frowns. I am sure she would be crossing her arms if she wasn’t holding that trunk.

I shake my head. “If we’re talking about expectations, I wasn’t expecting anyone.”

She’s changed a lot but at the same time, she hasn’t changed one bit. Actually, considering who she is and what she is capable of, I’m not even sure I’m speaking to an Aozaki that has met me before.

“I heard that you were in the area. In fact, I thought you would be on your way to stop me.” I decide to be honest with her. “But our paths never crossed so I thought we weren’t going to meet this time.”

“Stop you? Why would you need to be stopped?” She smiles.

That might have been a blessing in disguise. If we had met up there’s no knowing what could have happened. Even if I am no longer affiliated with the Association or the Church, the name Aozaki still means trouble.

But I’m glad.

I’m really glad that this person is still alive. I’m really glad that I got to meet this person again.

“I was called here, but it seems whoever caused the mess cleaned up after himself.” She tries to explain. “And well, considering what happened seems to be partially my fault as well, I decided to find the one who started all this as some sort of final follow-up.”

“You definitely found me.”

Her scarlet hair flutters about as she turns around to look at the landscape before murmuring, “Yes, I did, didn’t I.”

Before turning her attention right back to me,

“Long time no see. You’ve degenerated, Araya.”

“Yes, it seems you have also strayed from your path, Aozaki Touko.”

With that, she takes off her glasses and gives me one of her classic looks as if she has seen through me the entire time. We sit down and start to talk just like we did when we were classmates.

We endlessly talk about things like how I tried to construct an apartment complex, what happened to Cornelius, how she got her Sealing Designation pardoned and how the pardon was revoked – senseless things that have no meaning to anyone other than ourselves.

Finally, we talk a little about what happened here and how I became like this.

“I knew you had bad taste Araya, but this takes the cake.” The edge in her voice is far more on the side of distaste than disapproval. “So, you’re saying you met a kid who was injured in a car accident and you took over his body.”

I wouldn’t say that I took over his body – it’s much more complicated than that. Normally, I would correct the person talking, but I know that Aozaki knows what I truly mean; she’s just simplifying her words so we can continue our conversation without going into technicalities.

“But Araya,” she looks at me, meaningful and concerned, “if you successfully transplanted those eyes…”

“Mystic Eye Collection Train.”

She looks at me dangerously, “You kidnapped a child and went to Rozay-en for help? No, of course you did, you’re living proof that you did.” There’s enough tension to cut the moon. I half expect her to kill me on the spot, but in true Aozaki fashion, she shrugs her shoulders and that clears up the air between us. “I shouldn’t disparage you for that. That’s what any other magus would do if they had a pair of rainbow ranked mystic eyes in their grasp.”

“These aren’t the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception.”

Aozaki barks a short laugh. “You’re the only one would think like that. Regardless of what they were before, as long as the function is the same, you may as well call them by the same name. Or do you not want others calling you ‘Balor?’”

“This isn’t like calling Dagda’s Cauldron a Holy Grail, Aozaki. You know full well.”

She raises an eyebrow while murmuring about how she’s surprised that I made such a European reference. But we both know what I am getting at; the owner of these eyes was not someone born with the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception. Instead, he had the ability to see things that one normally cannot see – Pure Eyes. Going through a near-death accident meant seeing and understanding the form of death itself, while at the same time forming a connection with the Swirl of Origin – the goal of every magus.

Aozaki doesn’t say anything about that, though. That’s what sets her apart from other magi. She knows that I couldn’t reach the origin with that alone, that’s why I had to go to the Mystic Eye Collection Train.

“If the body was connected to Ymir’s entrance, you wouldn’t need to implant the eyes. Implanting the eyes is too risky in the first place, anyway. You would just need to take over the body. But what you did was much more serious, Araya. Using that boy like one of your spare bodies, you didn’t just take over his mind–“

“Yes, if Mystic Eyes are merely traits that one obtains, independent magic circuits that express a certain phenotype, then these Pure Eyes are the inheritance of a karma, the very destiny of this child. Only the tuners in Rozay-en’s train can accomplish something like that.” Not just the transmission of a pair of eyes, but also a fate, a mission. Actually, it’s more than that, it’s a promise, a wish passed down from parent to child.

“Surgery with only an infinitesimal chance of succeeding. Araya… you….” She stops herself. “So then, how does it feel, being connected to what you wished for.”

“Utterly infuriating. It is like being to see through a peephole but never being able to open the door to step through.”

To see the world like Godo Word does and being unable to reach the outside of the World, again in the same fashion as him – that is why I attempted that. Of course, there were a lot of other factors like the arrival of the Princess of True Ancestors and the advent of the Six Royalties while the situation at “home” also deteriorated as I found it harder and harder to stay myself. In the end, it was only because of my origin that I was able to still myself within this body.

That is correct, even to the bitter end I was able to stay myself…

“Do you really think that, Araya?”

I must have unintentionally said it out loud or this face was too obvious.

“Like some sort of changeling, you took a child’s place. But we can’t even call you a changeling because you took that child’s fate as well. Even a pond where ripples cannot form can be changed if a drop of color is added.” Aozaki pauses for a second before continuing, “You threw away your old self for a body that could collapse at any time and an uncertain future. All of that was to obtain a pair of Mystic Eyes that you learned couldn’t even help you make your way to your goal. No matter your tenacity, no matter how stubborn, or how much you wish for true knowledge, you must have started hating yourself.” She stops and narrows her eyes at me.

“No, you definitely did. Otherwise, all this wouldn’t have happened. So, then Araya, why did you stop? All reports say you were one step away from the Spiral of Origin, yet you turned back. I didn’t take you as the same type as my sister.”

She’s right. Manipulating certain events until the conditions were perfect and then being able to dispatch the Counter Guardian that came through the hole, my dream was right in front of me. Yet in that moment… in that very moment… I….

I looked forward, at the end of the world. At the salvation of those who could not be saved.

I looked backward, at the deaths of those who became precious to me. Those I had trampled in my quest to save them.

And finally I heard the voice a nine-year-old boy for the first time in ten years.

The world is full of death. Every body, molecule, chair has death scrawled on it. Yet humanity… no, yet humans still live and try their best to flourish in this world. Slightly ignorant, slightly scared, slightly accepting, these ugly, ugly humans live to their fullest.

Saving those who couldn’t be saved is only self-satisfaction – self-satisfaction of the highest order. But I can’t deny that it’s still a beautiful goal. To undo this paradoxical spiral of a world and deliver meaning; there is nothing wrong with that.

Even so… even so… when facing this overwhelming, all-consuming scrawled death, we make our own meaning. That’s right, meaning is created, it cannot be forced upon someone else.

That was the moment I degenerated.

How arrogant is it, trying to extinguish the meaning that gives meaning, meaning? That is the truth behind these lines and dots.

It is okay if I do nothing. It’s okay if people can’t be saved.

It might crush me that there are those out there who might never be saved by anyone. It might feel like my soul is being ripped out when I know that there isn’t a person who will mourn them.

But that’s okay, that’s fine.

We all live in-between the emptiest boundaries of all creation – these lines. We do our best to live in a world that is so fragile that a single cut can unraveled anything and everything. But a boundary is only a boundary. We are the ones who can define what is inside.

Even for those who haven’t been saved.

Even for those who will never be mourned.


“I stopped because I found something more important than true wisdom.”

That should have made her gasp, but an understanding smile is all that I will get out of her. Too late, I’m too late in figuring that one out. It must have been something she realized an eon ago.

“Araya, what was his name? Actually, what is the name you’re going by right now?”

His name. The person that I usurped and used, yet still believed in me right to the end. His name is…

“-Shiki, Tohno Shiki.”

She delightedly laughs at that.

“Too fitting. That’s too fitting, like some kind of cosmic joke.”

I just nod as she wipes away tears from laughing too much. There’s no need to explain the joke. I think we will just leave that as it is.

Mundane coincidences pile up and create miracles that can never be formed again; this is just one of those. Two old friends finding themselves in the same place. Two old classmates who promised to hurriedly run through two separate paths, meeting in the middle rather than the end. And of course, both having degenerated. Both realizing the worthlessness and baseness of the world. Both knowing that no matter how special they may seem to others, something like being special never held any meaning.

Aozaki pushes herself off the grass and takes her trunk with her while mouthing that will we see each other later if we do.

I just lie there and watch her leave. I am satisfied with this ending; I have said everything that I wanted to say, so even if I never see her again, I think that will be okay.

The clearing is silent and the grass doesn’t even sway as she moves further and further away – like the magic lantern projection that she’s so fond of. But I know that she will turn back because there’s one thing she hasn’t asked yet.

A line of untested apprentices standing in the office of a great Lord comes flowing back to my mind. She turns to each one and asks them a simple question and they all give the exact same answer. All of them except–

Aozaki turns back towards me; her face is framed by the moonlight.

“Araya, what do you seek?”

“To deliver my thanks.”

Thank you, Aozaki.

“Araya, where do you seek it?”

“For all those I have met.”

You remembered this battlefield was where Araya Souren was born.

“Araya, where is your goal?”

“ – Isn’t it obvious? The dawn after this paradoxical eclipse.”

So, it should come to no surprise that this is the same place where Araya-Shiki arrived.

In the grassy field outside his hospital, the one Shiki Tohno meets is not Aoko Aozaki, but Souren Araya

December 25th, 2016, 11:33 AM

“I want to die at your hands.”

In that castle courtyard which no night-time sound could reach, her words echoed almost as if she had shouted them. It was an outrageous statement, made even more so by the calm, reverent tone of voice she used and the smile on her face. The youth sitting by the campfire, his bone spear resting lazily on his lap, had no response other than to stare, dumbfounded. The woman frowned at him.

“ ‘Tis no idle request I make, lad, nor a passing fancy of mine. That I am even asking for something should be reason enough to do it.” From the look on his face, she saw she would have to explain things further. With an exasperated sigh, she changed her approach: “You know full well who I am.” He nodded. She was Scáthach, Lady of the Fortress of Shadows, the Witch of the Otherworld; warrior, sorceress, slayer of gods, monsters and men. Even the youth felt no shame in admitting she was the foremost warrior of that era.

So why would...?

Sensing his question, she cut him off, the harshness in her voice masking the sadness in her heart: “Think, dumb puppy! If you know who I am, you must know what will happen to me. I have walked much farther than any mortal should; I stand on the threshold between existences, and I fear a single step more will take me over the edge.” That much he did know. Already, she couldn’t remain for long in the land of living and had to confine herself to this realm of shadows in the isle of Skye, the boundary between worlds; already, she was an endless existence. Endless, but not immortal – at least, not yet.

And he thought back to the druid’s prophecy from so long ago – that he could become a great hero known throughout the land, at the cost of dying young – and how he didn’t hesitate an instant before taking up arms that very same day, eagerly trading long life for a glorious one; for surely it was better to burn brightly like the lightning of the gods than to slowly wither away like the once-proud oak.

As she saw understanding dawn on him, she nodded and continued: “Aye, child. What good is life for a warrior who can no longer face death? I want to meet my fate on the blood-soaked fields, as it should be, and I want the pupil whom I favoured over all others to be the one to surpass me. Can I count on you, lad?” For a minute, there was only silence, heavy with expectation, as the young man only stared at the fire with a seemingly uncaring expression. Then he took out his pendant – a wolf’s head holding the crescent moon in its mouth, one of her gifts – from under his shirt and looked at it.

Finally, he looked back at Scáthach and grinned.

“Idiot. Sure, I’ll do it. But didja have to ramble on like that? Next time, just say ‘I wantcha to kill me ‘fore I can’t die.’ Ain’t that much easier?”

An outrageous answer, but one appropriate for an outrageous request. Then he snapped the pendant’s cord and threw it to her. As she deftly caught it in the air, he said:

“There, that’s my pledge. Keep it safe until I come back for it.”

Scáthach only snorted. “I am not so old that I need a puppy to tell me what to do. Might you already be missing the tender mercies of my training, boy?” But her harsh words were belied by the softness in her eyes and the firm way she held the wolf head amulet. They both laughed – quietly, at first, but then louder and louder, and for a brief moment, the veil of dread covering that desolate fortress was lifted by the sound of their hearts.

The next morning, Cú Chulainn left the castle.


It had been a year since then. His shaggy hair had grown longer and was now tied in a ponytail, but other than that, there was little else which marked the passage of time on him. However, it would be dangerous to assume the same could be said of his battle skills; for someone like Cú Chulainn, who could learn in a day what took others many months, a year was an entire lifetime. Clad in steel, leather and fur and holding his spear at the ready, he stood at one end of Dun Scaith’s courtyard facing his former teacher on the other, wearing an easy smile which didn’t quite reach his eyes.

For her part, Scáthach showed no signs of the excitement she was surely feeling. Even her stance didn’t betray the Godslayer’s legendary bloodlust; instead she just lazily held her own bone spears at the side, one in each hand. But Cú Chulainn knew her well enough to be certain her soul was trembling with eagerness for the game of carnage that was to follow.

Still, even if he knew it would shame them both, he had to ask:

“Last chance to back away, master,” he called out to her. “ ‘Ya sure ‘bout this?”

She humphed. “It seems my standards have really fallen when a mere child questions my will. Do not disappoint me now of all times, lad; you wouldnae enjoy the consequences.”

The cold fury in her gaze sent shivers down his spine. ‘That’s my master, alright’ he thought. “Fine by me, then,” he replied. “Just don’t come haunting me after I kill ya!” Then, drowning all other emotions under his battle-fury, he pounced.

Crossing the distance between them in the blink of an eye, he struck with the speed of lightning and the force of thunder, an unerring blow aimed directly at her guts, but to no avail – even before he jumped, she had already assumed the perfect stance to defend against his attack, crossing the tip of both spears in such a way as to block his own and completely nullify the force of the attack. He chuckled.

“Damn. Guess I was half a second too late,” he said.

She merely lifted an eyebrow. “Half a second? What a generous estimate. To me, it felt like the passing of the seasons.”

Growling like a feral dog, he hopped back and lunged again, this time delivering a flurry of attacks; where before he was lightning, now he was a whirlwind, using his superior speed and strength to overwhelm Scáthach’s defences. But the Warrior Maid of Dun Scaith wouldn’t fall prey to such simple tactics: moving with a grace that belied her speed, she sidestepped in between his attacks, a leaf blowing in the wind, and struck two blows of her own, one with each spear. Cú Chulainn cursed and jumped back, but wasn’t fast enough to prevent the tips from piercing flesh and drawing blood.

Steadying his breathing and keeping a wary eye on Scáthach, he quickly assessed the damage: both spears had reached muscle, but not bone, the first on his right leg, the other on his left shoulder. Had he been only an instant slower, she would have taken both arm and leg. He was bleeding profusely, but those wounds wouldn’t be enough to hinder him; Scáthach had to know that.

Why, then, was she grinning like a wolf eyeing a fatted calf?

She wouldn’t give him time to ponder. Her right-hand spear moving in a blur, Scáthach traced three lines on the air and spoke a single word:


Immediately, the blood on the spear-tip ignited, flames that could melt steel completely enveloping the weapon without harming Scáthach in any way. She ran to Cú Chulainn, scraping the fiery spear against the cobblestone; then, right before reaching him, she swung it in a wide, upward arc. The flames shot from the spear and rose like a living torrent threatening to engulf him. He jumped back once more, unhurt, but half-blind – the fire burned too bright.

Scáthach wasn’t finished, however; the spear was no longer wreathed in fire, but it still burned red-hot. Attacking relentlessly, she delivered quick, precise blows aimed at his vitals, each one strong enough to tear a raging bull apart. His vision still blurry, Cú Chulainn was forced entirely on the defensive, blocking her strikes with his own spear-shaft. Had he been using any weapon other than the fearsome Gáe Bolg, carved out of one of the bones of the sea-devil Coinchenn, he would have surely lost both weapon and life.

However, even in such dire straits he was still Cú Chulainn, the greatest warrior of Ulster, and he would not die cowering against a foe’s assault. Planting his feet firmly on the ground, he blocked another strike of the enemy’s spear and pushed back with all his strength, throwing Scáthach off-balance. Taking advantage of the opening, he twirled his weapon into position, tensed his upper body and struck with all the force he could muster. The spear broke through the air, the chariot of the gods trampling the skies - a blow so powerful, so skilful, it could split apart the Stone of Destiny.

But it couldn’t kill Scáthach of the Shadows, she who had fed well the gods of war for time untold. For even as Cú Chulainn had been gathering his strength to attack, she was already moving out of his reach, like a snake coiling upon itself and evading the hawk’s swift claws. Only the air pressure from the spear-strike had reached her, pushing her back enough to give Cú Chulainn a chance to recover.

For a moment, neither one moved nor spoke, until Cú Chulainn broke the silence:

“Damn, I thought for sure I had you this time,” he said, his vision slowly recovering. “Your magic is as strong as ever, master. But I ain’t goin’ down to just that, y’know. This time, I’m gonna—”

“Nae, lad. ‘Tis over.”


For a moment, Cú Chulainn was struck dumb by the sheer certainty in her voice, until he saw—

‘Shit! I forgot the other one!’

For even as Scáthach had attacked him without pause with the right-hand spear, she had used the left-hand spear to carve several more runes on the ground, smearing some of his blood on each one. This wasn’t the rune magic of the people from the frozen north, it was the magic of the land of Eire, ancient and powerful, which had been passed down from druid to druid since the time of Amergin of the White Knees. With a single, terrible utterance, Scáthach brought it to life:

“Crom Cruach.”

Immediately, an immense pressure fell upon Cú Chulainn, nearly bringing him to his knees as pain throbbed throughout his body. The spear-wounds inflicted by the three sons of Nechtan Scéne, slayers of Ulstermen; the sword-bites of Cochar Cruifne’s jealousy and Aífe’s hatred; even the marks left deep on his flesh by Domnall, Ferdiad and Scáthach herself during training. Scars which told of valour, of friends and enemies, of a warrior’s honour, all violated by the Blood Curse of Crom Cruach as they were forcibly reopened and his blood flowed out freely – a gruesome wine to serve the earth.

Before he could react, light that was somehow dark cut through the air and pierced the ground at his feet, materialising in the shape of Scáthach’s left spear – the one still stained with his blood. In the same instant, all his remaining strength immediately left his body, and try as he might, he could not move. His body was still standing, but even that wasn’t a conscious act; instead, it was as if it had been frozen in time, neither alive nor dead.

His senses were still working, however. “You were careless,” he heard Scáthach say. “You cannae look down to see it, but I pierced your shadow with my curse. It shouldnae be this effective, but using your blood greatly increased its potency.” She sighed. “What a pitiful conclusion to this fight. ‘Tis your own fault: you could have defended yourself if you used the magics I taught you. Stubborn lad.” She was downcast for a moment, but only for a moment. When she spoke again, her voice had a cold, hard edge. “I would have forgiven you for not killing me, boy, but I cannae forgive you for fighting so miserably. ‘Tis not much compensation for the disappointment I feel, but your head will be my last trophy from this world.” The world froze.

For the briefest of moments, the world froze as Scáthach collected a monstrous amount of magical energy from her surroundings.

“Goodbye. I will take that life of yours.”

She jumped high in the air, like a salmon leaping up the river, and yelled:

“Gáe Bolg.”

As she did so, she threw her remaining spear at him, releasing all the gathered energy in the same instant. The air around the spear distorted, and it split mid-flight into seven spears total, each, in turn, splitting into seven more. Forty-nine spears rained down on her paralysed foe, each swift and powerful enough to break even the bonds of blood and love.

Cú Chulainn roared.

No human throat could make such a sound – it was as if ten thousand hellhounds had been unleashed upon the world. He roared, and his whole body burned red-hot; he roared, and his muscles, nerves and veins twisted and bulged inside his skin; he roared, and his eyes deadened as he was overcome with unearthly power.

Such transformation defied common sense not only in its shape, but also its speed – for all of it took place in less than an instant. Scáthach’s spears collided against his skin and splintered into thousands of pieces, inflicting little more than shallow wounds. Scáthach stared in amazement.

‘The warp spasm of legends’ she thought. ‘He’s drawing the magic of the earth directly into his flesh and blood, distorting himself into an existence closer to a beast of the Otherworld. Even his magical energy is rising!’ As if in confirmation of those thoughts, the cursed spear which held him frozen shattered completely, as if destroyed by an unseen force from within, and the runes of the blood curse were blown away by a wind that could not be felt. The shadow-binding curse could no longer contain Culann’s Hound; the blood-crazed beast pounced once more, putting his earlier speed to shame.

But Scáthach was far from defenceless. Not only had she mastered all forms of combat – including unarmed fighting – but a long time ago, she had inscribed the runes of the five sacred trees on her very soul. With a single phrase—

“Eó Mughna!”

—she reinforced her body with the strength of the oak tree; lines of pure, glowing magic covered her every joint in less time than it took to blink. Immediately, she assumed a defensive stance, crossing both arms in front of her to block Cú Chulainn’s strike— —and was thrown back several yards by its sheer power, the mere shockwave crushing the ground where she stood. Such magnificent strength! Where before he was the whirlwind, now he was a hurricane, tearing up everything in its path. Scáthach’s heart sang with the sheer joy of battle even as her muscles and bones cried out in pain. The oaken shield spell had worked, however: even Cú Chulainn’s new demonic strength hadn’t pierced her skin.

But the blood-crazed beast’s attack wasn’t over yet. Though his fighting techniques had been reduced to their most basic levels, he compensated for it with pure ferocity and overwhelming power. If a single blow had failed to kill his target, he would simply continue to strike until there was nothing left to destroy. Now it was Scáthach’s turn to be forced into the defensive; if not for her magic and skills, she would surely have died, and even those couldn’t withstand such an assault for long.

“Bile Tortan!”

For a brief moment, it was as if the world had been rent asunder. Cú Chulainn’s spear, a mere instant from fulfilling its cruel duty, pierced only air instead even as he was hit by a blow that could uproot a tree and thrown back through the wall. Scáthach, covered in a thin, translucent energy membrane, stood to the side of where he had been, both arms still outstretched in a punching stance. Bile Tortan, the magic of the ash tree, beloved by druids and magicians. While cloaked in its power, Scáthach could step from one world to the other in between seconds, granting her speed beyond even that of the warped Cú Chulainn.

However, she could be three times faster that it still wouldn’t be enough to stop his demonic battle-rage – and she knew it. She had cast the spell not to defeat the enemy, but to create an opening during which she could do so.

“ ‘Tis a shame I don’t have a cauldron of poppy milk ready, lad” she said conversationally, “or I wouldnae have to hurt you this much.” She was lying, of course – Scáthach never chose the easy road, either for friend or foe. Then, right as the debris exploded outward and Cú Chulainn rose, she spoke the remaining three phrases of power: “Éo Ruis! Craeb Uisnig! Craeb Daithi!”

The spells which were already enhancing Scáthach’s body were simply washed away by the torrent of pure magical energy which surged from the land and sea and air into her. The five sacred trees, whose seeds originally had been brought from the Otherworld; by invoking their names, Scáthach was drawing on the power of that land of gods, giants and spirits. However, her natural affinity – no, the authority she earned as the slayer of ten thousand foes, it wasn’t over the sunlit realms of eternal delight.

The veil between worlds parted.

Strong as the passage of time, sharp as the pain of a broken heart, cold as the depths of despair – such was the otherworldly wind storm which fell on Cú Chulainn. He pushed against it, for it never even crossed his maddened mind to retreat, and slowly but surely moved forward, spear in hand, each step bringing him closer to his prey.

Five more steps. With five more steps, Scáthach would be within range. She couldn’t move – even there, in her place of power, she had to maintain full concentration on the spell, or she would lose control of it.

One step. He pushed. The cold of eleven winters had been let loose on him, but it broke against the heat of his warrior’s heart.

Two steps. He faltered. The icy wind started covering him in frost, which melted off almost as fast as it formed

Three steps. He stumbled. The frost didn’t bother him, but it wasn’t boiling off his skin anymore. His muscles and flesh started trembling.

Four steps.

Cú Chulainn roared – but this time it sounded like the wailing of the angry dead, for even he couldn’t fight against death’s raging tempest anymore. His entire body was trapped in ice, a statue fit as a gift for a king. Scáthach, her own body on the verge of breaking apart, released the power and let it gently wash away from her. The natural boundary between worlds – unseen, but felt, by all – was restored.

Through it all, the warrior-witch never once took her eyes off her former pupil.

With a final burst of strength, Cú Chulainn broke free from his prison. He was wounded and bleeding and frostbitten all over, and his shape was distorted no more – a clear sign that the battle-madness and its prodigious strength had left him –, but in spite of all that, he still stood tall, an impudent smile on his face.

“That was a nice trick, master,” he rasped, “but you don’t have to hold back anymore. I’m ready to fight for real.”

Scáthach, too, was smiling. Her body was feeling the cumulative effects of fighting Cú Chulainn’s demonic form and invoking the most powerful magic at her disposal, and she had almost completely exhausted her own magical energy, but such was her nature – she had no other feeling in her heart as pure as her love for battle, and this had been the greatest fight of her long life. For a moment, she felt only pride in her student’s growth, but she quashed it mercilessly.

“Oh, so you want more? Dinnae worry, lad, it never crossed my mind to stop now.” Using her last reserves of magical energy, she closed her eyes and intoned once more: “Éo Ruis”. As with the oaken shield spell, her body was filled with magic, only this time it was her veins which glowed.

Éo Ruis was the charm of the yew tree, which brought healing to the magician by enhancing the body’s natural recuperative abilities a hundredfold. That wasn’t the reason why Scáthach cast the spell, however: the yew also brought death to enemies. In a reversal of its blessing, the charm greatly increased the harmful consequences of all wounds inflicted, so that even a glancing blow could cause serious injury.

Even unarmed as she was, Scáthach wouldn’t have any difficulty in taking Cú Chulainn’s head with this spell.

“We will never meet on the other side,” she said in a calm, serious voice, “so let me say it now: Thank you for this gift, Setanta. I will always treasure it. May the Morrígan treat you kindly in your passage.”

“No, master,” he replied with saddened eyes, all traces of his former levity gone. “I haven’t given you my gift yet.” Energy blazed along his spear, distorting the very air around it, and he leapt.

It was useless. That he could stand at all, much less raise his weapon, was already a miracle. While his attack would have certainly killed any lesser warrior, against the likes of Scáthach, it was little more than spitting on the executioner’s face. Even as he closed on her, she was positioning herself to dodge and counter-

“Gáe— ”

Her eyes widened.


The spear shot through her heart. Dozens of barbs sprouted all throughout her body, tearing her from the inside out.

What happened was a violation of common sense, a defiance of the natural order. She had evaded his attack, that was an undisputable fact; and yet, his spear was now embedded deep in her heart. It was as if fate itself had bowed to Cú Chulainn’s spear-strike. The result – Scáthach’s death – had already been declared, and so reality could only follow suit.

“This was the technique I spent a year developing specially to kill ya,” he said, his voice trembling slightly. “I just had to make sure you didn’t have enough power left to protect yourself.” He wasn’t crying. He wouldn’t cry. But he also wouldn’t look her in the eye. “Goodbye, master. Seems like a pitiful thing to say, but thanks for everything.”

“Aye, lad. ‘Tis goodbye, but not for the reasons you think.”

He looked up, eyes widening in disbelief. There she stood – her heart destroyed, her body torn from within in a grotesque mockery of what had once been a human figure – and yet, she spoke effortlessly, seemingly without feeling any pain.

She gave a sad smile at his incredulity, even as green flames gently – like a lover’s caress – spread from within and burned the barbs inside her body to less than ashes, her flesh reknitting itself as if it had never been touched. When she saw she could move again, she bit her right index finger until it bled, then she drew the Odinic rune of healing on his forehead, berkana. The wounds still open slowly closed, and some strength returned to his body.

“I’m sorry, child. I dared hope you could kill the existence I have become, but it seems that was too much even for you. Truly, one cannot come back from a boundary already crossed.” She chuckled hollowly. “Your technique was excellent; it would surely have killed me not long ago. Perhaps if you had been born only a little earlier...” Both stood still as if time had been shattered, not daring to move. It was only a moment, but it felt heavy like the passing of the years.

Then, a sad smile on her face, Scáthach took the wolf head pendant – his wolf pendant – she had under her shirt and put it around his neck. “Goodbye, my lad. I’m glad we could have this last visit, and I thank you again for your gift. Now go and live well; I dinnae want to see your pitiful face again.” And she laughed, pouring all her spirit into it, one final, brief burst of light amidst the shadows of that place.

And then she was gone, and Cú Chulainn stood alone in the courtyard of what had once been Dun Scaith, his spear clattering on the floor. The fortress was still there, but without Scáthach’s magic, it was nothing more than dead stone.

Wordlessly, staring into the empty space before him, Cú Chulainn violently ripped the pendant Scáthach had returned from his neck. He looked at it for some long seconds before speaking to the air:

“Idiot. I didn’t give ya anything.”

He dropped the amulet to the ground, picked up his spear and walked away, tears streaming down his face.

It would be a long time before he cried again.

Cu Chulainn versus anybody

December 25th, 2016, 11:34 AM
Bad Fic

aka "No Beta Readers, We Die Like Men."

You hear the sound of your phone vibrating next to your head on the bedside cabinet. Each buzz resonated with an aching pain in your head. Reaching over, you lift the bright screen to your face - the glare only irritating your already heavy and weak eyes. You read the time on the screen 10:50 AM. As much as you want thirty more minutes of blissful rest - you've already slept through enough of your alarm.

Stepping into the cold shower, the pipes let out a dull moan before spitting out cold water. The unpleasant shock to the system felt like the edge of needles scraping against your back, your chest feels tight as you struggle to catch your breath. The few moments you had to endure were bad enough before you switch it off and climb out to clean yourself with a dry towel. Why did bills have to be so expensive to pay?

After an extortionate train fare, you manage to make it to the bar on time. The doors didn't open to customers until 12:30 but you needed at least an hour to make sure everything was set up beforehand. Today you once again were having to combat the wine draught taps. The damn thing just refused to work. It rarely was co-operative but it was always worse on Thursday night. Student night. That meant the bar would be filled with college student who only just came of drinking age, university students who found drinking more preferable to studying or dealing with their own issues, high school kids with bad fake ID's. Now with only 15 minutes remaining, all the stock and tills were counted, the surfaces were wiped down and all the chairs were in position. It was just the damned taps that refused to work and the moment the doors opened, patrons would come rushing in for their fix and expecting nothing less than the finest overpriced alcohol in town.

The more you threw yourself into work, the more you could ignore the lingering headache.

With several minutes remaining, you threw in the towel. It would be easy enough to apologise to customers that a particular brand of wine was unavailable and ask if they wanted a cup of… Whatever the hell was available that day but that wasn't the problem. There would always be those who would complain endlessly but customers faces would be forgotten the moment you looked away. It was easy enough to remember brands of alcohol, much easier than at coffee shops with all their pretentions titles that probably weren’t even Italian.

Two minutes left. You could hear someone coming through the back door. You already knew who it was. You could feel the glare of disappointment on your back already. But hey, let's give optimism a shot.

"Oh, morning boss."

All you receive in a snide jeer in response.

The poor goatee your boss had was maintained as poorly as ever and his so-called "manbun" which was still barely the size and density of a golf ball. Every time you looked at it you couldn't help but think about cutting it off. And with that sneer on his face you could tell he hadn't gotten out of the right side of the bed today. Not that he ever did.
"I see you're above maintaining equipment, aren't you?"

You take a deep breath before replying. "I'm sorry sir. It won't co-operate."

He just looks at you like you’ve defecated yourself.

"Do you honestly think that machines can rebel against us like we're in a cheap movie?"

You groan quietly, but clearly not quietly enough as your boss's eyebrows elevate to halfway across his forehead. You stay silent and avoid eye contact as you pretend to listen to his ranting about your inadequacy. After he eventually finished and exited through the back door again you find yourself alone at the bar though oddly you can't see anyone coming to the bar. Not even through the widows.

The first few minutes are no issue but it drags out to five minutes. Ten. Twenty. Fourty.
Time drags out, making every passing moment feel longer and more agonisingly slow. Your eyes feel heavy. Your motionless legs begin to ache as your brain functions slow to a crawl.

After an hour of no patrons and contemplating if there were any job vacancies that didn't rely upon becoming nocturnal you finally, finally hear a customer open the door.

This guy's appearance would have made him stand out like a sore thumb in a crowd. He had somewhat pale skin combined with the kind of well kept golden hair that only models had. Although his facial features weren’t particularly youthful, his attire said differently. A white and fashionable V-neck that went halfway down his chest and with three quarter sleeves and leggings that seemed to be made of snake skin. You deduce that he's probably in his last years of university, probably one of the more expensive and fanciful ones.

There's a way he carried himself. A regal elegance like a blazing flame. He glides over to the counter and takes his seat, staring at you with those striking red eyes.

God I hope those are contact lenses.

"I think I'll start the night with some wine. I hope the house brand is good enough."

It's been an hour and the only customer to show up ordered the one thing unavailable. You curse silently as you prepare yourself.

You smile sweetly with that fake positivity that had become a familiar mask in the retail and service industries. "I'm terribly sorry but due to technical difficulties it is unavailable. Would you like me to offer an alternative?"

You brace yourself, old money always got angry when they didn't get what they want but instead, a smile.
"Very well." He says, "I have been trying to limit myself with more humble tastes, but I suppose I'll settle for the most expensive drink available."

You reach for the top shelf and pull out a golden bottle, pouring out a deep purple liquid into a long flute glass. The blond man smiles, taking the glass in hand and tilting it - almost as if examining it from another angle would improve the experience before raising it to his lips. He reveals a crinkle on his nose and then gives off a bemused expression.
The blonde man remained motionless until speaking a single word. "Curious."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Is it not to your taste?" You ask, fake politeness coming in as useful as ever and all condescension hidden. It's typical. People always say they want the 'Most Expensive' but often those kinds of drinks were never worth the cost. The pricing ranged from double to ten times the cost and the flavour was either little different or frankly rather revolting. People only ever ordered it to show off to their friends, rather in this case it was a complete stranger.

The blonde man gave a response. "It has a strange taste, yet I can't help but feel compelled to have another drink."

"It does have that effect. Would you like another?"

"Indeed I would."

After all this time, this man was still the only customer. May as well get a tab open and get a steady stream of cash. A happy customer and drunk customer is also a generous one. And that means there is a less pissy-than-usual manager. Excellent you can't help but think to yourself, it's about time something went right today. The man keeps talking, you keep pouring, the tab keeps growing. However as the night continues and no one else comes in, leaving you stuck with the man. As you keep pouring and he keeps drinking and talking to himself, you can't help but pick up a few names he repeats over.

"Excuse me." You interject, "Can you tell me more about this Saber lady?"

"Ohhh" You hear him drawl out. This action seemed to catch his attention. He swivels around on his stool in a needlessly dramatic fashion before he stares directly at you - piercing you with his red eyes. Resisting the urge to interrupt, you allow the drama queen to continue his prose. "Saber is a fine woman who has caught my eye. We met not so long ago."
"Oh, when did you two meet, what's she like?" This was hardly your first time feigning interest to a customer and if it meant more money then it's all good.

x x x

After you finish reading the word document you re-open your skype tag on your computer and start the call. Your friend immediately picks up, it seems as if they were expecting you.

"So, how is it?" They ask wide-eyed and eager. "It's the first half of my fic and I need some commentary."

You mumble under your breath as your eyes trace over the last sentences a few more times before turning to them. They stare at you straight in the eyes, clear that the next statement should be filled with absolute earnest honesty. "Are you open to constructive criticism? I don't want to sound mean." you ask.

They nod eagerly in response. "No, go ahead. I want to hear it. Any feedback is good, a way to improve further until this piece of work was the masterpiece that it deserved to be, a true examination into the character of Gilgamesh-"

"It fucking sucks." you bluntly cut them off.

They're silent for a moment and blink as if to register what happened before finally replying "…That meme isn't even in date anymore."

Oh thank god they got the joke and I didn't sound like a prick.

You take a deep breath ."For starters, the prompt is 'So a Servant, a Magus, and a Dead Apostle walk into a bar.' You've only fulfilled half of the asked content so far without alluding to any others at the least. You need to introduce them sooner or perhaps foreshadow more."

They nod their head. Checking their expression, its fairly neutral so perhaps they aren’t pissed at you just yet so you consider it a cue to continue.

"Your prose isn't bad per-say but you could consider using a wider dialogue as it's otherwise a little drab - then again that could just be the perspective of the reader insert. Gilgamesh himself seems fine but we haven't seen much of him so perhaps expend his role. Also I've done bar work, it's not quite like that so that perspective may not work as well. Perhaps you could get a different one like say… watching the chaos unfold from a third party stand point. That would be better than something that could be considered a few-steps away from every other coffee fic."

"When in doubt I can always rip off Carnival Phantasm."

Now that they always could do.

So a Servant, a Magus, and a Dead Apostle walk into a bar.

December 25th, 2016, 11:47 AM

Sakura for All Seasons

Spring Roll

The first moments between a Master and Servant. A first impression that can shape the link that determine life and death.

A swirl of blue lightning coalescing into an image of reddish pink.

Some servants introduce themselves by their name, a few are more comfortable to be referred only by their class, some are even surprised to be summoned at all.

“Okita Souji, captain of the first unit of the Shinsengumi, has arrived. Are you my Master?”

A simple bit of insight, but enough to build a rapport even if unfamiliar with their legend.

But when one meets a known story, the first moment can become something different.

“Um, don’t the Shinsengumi wear a haori?”

Dealing with the end of the world, you learn to flow along with little things like deified heroes being somewhat different than expected.

But everyone knows the haori of the Shinsengumi. Even if the humanity was gone outside the walls couldn’t the world at least give him that?

“…..Haori?”-with that ‘meep’ mixed with a light blush on pale skin, it seemed like she hadn’t noticed her not exactly workplace outfit- “.....I’m not I’m not quite sure where it’s gone.” And now he felt bad for making the superhuman samurai worry about her uniform. Eyes needed to be averted as she started peering under her pale hakama as if the missing uniform was hiding under there.

“Um Master even if my uniform is misplaced, please do not doubt my words. I am most certainly Okita Souji. Even if I cannot prove it with my uniform, my skills in battle will certainly suffice.”

Well it’s not like he really doubted her identity. And even if she wasn’t the Okita most imagined, each and every hero that answered the call against the end was a miracle.

Still the coat thing did bug him, maybe Roman or DaVinci could explain it.


“Hmm? Well I’m not quite sure. Judging by how Okita-chan talked about it, her coat was another noble phantasm. It could just be that the FATE system couldn’t accommodate that with her Saint Graph. Though in the few cases where that occurs it’s because a noble phantasm contradicts with FATE’s connection with the container that servants-”

Something Roman forgets that magic babble doesn’t mean anything to the guy that’s only here because he answered a help wanted ad.

Well if Roman couldn’t help her with magic then there was only one thing left to do.

Summer Grinding

A monstrous beast of legend.

“One step crossing sound…”

The body mainly that of the great king of beasts with a proud, if ragged, white mane. But as if mocking human reason, parts of other animals; a hissing serpent and ornery goat were misshapenly attached.

Yet for all the unnatural form, its speed was excellent, able to cross great lengths and attack in a single leap. A leap that it now took.

“Two steps, surpassing any distance….”

But that leap, aiming to take a simple human life was cut short by a massive shield. One that met a charge that could crush tanks and refused to give that impossible being a single inch. His kouhai had really gotten a hang of that unwieldy cross-shield.

“Three steps, arrival of the ultimate blade.”

Knocked off its course but otherwise undeterred, the beast could have possibly out-maneuvered that defence with superior agility. Given time.

“Mumyou Sandanduzki!”

But there was no time left, nor defense strong enough to block this charge.

A thin blade, a masterwork of normal human craft unsuited to the slaying of monstrous beasts. But in her hands, a single thrust could pierce through phantasmal ribs cleanly and even with three heads a chimera’s heart is thankfully singular.

The massive figure slumped on the ground, still somewhat vital by its monstrous nature. Alive enough to see the center of the great shield end the fight with a simple smash.

“Another win for the Sword and Board Combo.”

Now that the beast was down for the count, it was time for scavenging! Even if it wasn’t on the level of Miss Lily’s cooking one couldn’t ignore rare drops.

“Yes Senpai, though that was a strong breed of chimera. Perhaps the white fur is unique to this singularity?”

With how weird singularities could get that seemed possible but trips to these bubbles of space-time tended to be less ‘Animal Planet’ and more ‘Crocodile Dundee’.

“Do not worry Shielder-chan, no matter how strong the beast as long as it is made of flesh, it can still die.”


Was it good or bad that even after so many battles, Okita still managed to weird him out……

That reminded him to make sure that the cafeteria back as base was stocked up on dango and konbeitou. Even an unstoppable blade could be dulled with candy.

Oh well back to harvesting monster parts. And wait, what is this?


“Are you sure that you wish to use them Master? I know that it was difficult to collect that many monuments.”

It was an interesting function of Chaleda’s servant system that even if their magecraft was too weak to bring out a servant’s full power from the start, with time and effort even a poor master could fill the gap with effort.

Well that and enough luck to amass the various catalysts needed to alter the saint graph.

Reassuring the swordswoman, the process began and the items were absorbed into the swirling light, last of all five small golden figures. And from that sacrifice was a very small change but one that brought a smile to both master and servant.

“Hmm, well I suppose you might be the real Okita after all. Though anyone can put on a coat.”

“Master! Surely you do not still doubt my skills. Who else could use such techniques?”

Perhaps he should end the teasing now….but then again.

“Sorry Saber, but after Sasaki, Benkei and I suppose even EMIYA you can’t just make assumptions based on legendary techniques anymore. But don’t worry I still appreciate all your hard work (even if you are a fake).”

“Gah! That’s far enough! I couldn’t use it before with my mana but for the pride of the Shinsengumi no cost is too high! Flag Of Sincerity!”

A troop of blue swordsmen appeared out of nowhere and it seems unlikely that a plate of dango would be enough to stop this charge.

Wishful Fall “So boy what are your intentions with my comrade?”

Usually the one who wakes him up would be Mashu with a gentle call, not a shorthaired samurai with a mean look and sword at his side. Still this was hardly the worst situation he’d been in, just needed to come up with a clever disarming response.

“You lost me.”

Oh wow so this is how he was going to die.

“Do you know who I am boy?”

Well considering the coat he was sporting, affiliation at least seemed obvious.

“I think we met when Okita summoned the Shinsengumi a couple months ago, but I thought Roman said not to use that Noble Phantasm too much?”

The pain wasn’t as bad as when he tried to use Hercules at full mad enhancement but he wasn’t capable of supplying that kind of power effectively and Okita didn’t have the energy stores needed to maintain it herself.

“Kondo Isami, commander of the Shinsengumi. And as long as it’s just me outside of battle, you should be able to maintain it.”

So this isn’t supposed to be a battle situation then?

“I’ve come here for a simple reason. The Shinsengumi are a collection of killers but when it comes to that girl, think of me more as a concerned…..comrade. I will tell you of Okita’s history. With that knowledge, I will know your intentions as a master.”

And so he listened to the tale of the Shinsengumi’s captain from one who was family. And so the choice as a master was made clear.


As she came out of the Swirl, even his weak magical senses could feel the change in her presence. Not just in quantity of power but in intrinsic quality, she was altered.

“I don’t understand.”

How many times had he said those exact same words. Though those times, it wasn’t so much to question a decision as to know what was even going on.

“Well I know you were disappointed that the grail couldn’t get rid of your illness but isn’t this fine? With this you should be able to fight as much as you can.”

For a moment, she looked agape and a moment was taken to admire that image. Then A+ agility was put to work as a bladeless thurst struck right between the eyes.

“Gah! Have you been taking lessons from Li Shuwen!”

No one ever thanks him for anything.

Winter War
“Everyone, please take your last break. Even though it's only four hours, take a nap, eat something, have some fun chit-chat, leave a record... anything is fine.”

“Master if you could…..please tie this around me?”

The headband that she gave was something that he hadn’t seen before.

Not new, numerous gouges on the metal plate- from slashes?- made it clear that this had been heavily used. Still, she was waiting, eyes closed for him. The light pink cloth of the band was worn and the ends showed the markings of those she swore to. Softly he raised the light bangs revealing paler skin and gently began to tie the band round her head.

It was almost laughable how delicately he tried to tie it around her, slowly working around the strands of hair. As if after all these battles, she could be harmed by him. Yet even knowing that, to do otherwise seemed somehow equally laughable.

Finally it was done but when his hands started to withdraw, her own stopped them. Still eyes closed as if not wanting to meet his. Yet her voice, clear as a bell, did not waver in it’s tone.

“Master, I have always felt that I was unexperienced. In life I was just an incapable teammate that didn't make it till the end with my comrades. However, the 'Loyalty' that has been engraved into my heart..... Only that, I can assure you that my loyalty is genuine. My sword, my all is, is yours. That is most of all is my truth.”

Those words are what is remembered when the 72 pillars face the last hope of humanity.

That is what is remembered when Heroes of all Eras come to this final singularity and she strikes down a Pillar with a seal empowering her beyond limits.

This oath is what mourned when the First of Original Sin comes and takes away his Sword and Shield.This promise is what is exalted when another seal is used to strike down Seventy Two Demons with a single blow.

Her words are all he can think when for the first in a long time, he sees the outside world and knows that in every way that promise was fulfilled.


Lord Camelot; a gathering place for heroes. The core of where the greatest knights met.

Seven holy cups.

Seven flawed wish granting devices.

‘Fuyuki’ had been put aside for Mashu even if no longer needed, to immortalize Chaleda’s wish to see beyond the death of humanity.

‘Septem’, ‘Okeanos’, ‘London’, ‘America’ and ‘Camelot’ to bring her to the highest limits he could. Sacrificing the founts of power to not just temporarily empower but ascend a servant’s container to as close that of the true Heroic Spirit as magecraft could accomplish. To give a simple human the arrogance to think he was the best Master he could be.

‘Babylonia’ gave the path to the Final Singularity.

Seven Cups from Solomon.

And then outside of the Seven……

One More from the Origin of Heroes.

The last gift of the Sage-King.

For the human who thought that the citizens of Uruk that he saved were just an illusion, yet still fought to save a mere 500 lives.

This last chance was what Humanity’s Last Master offered to the Round Table, raising the golden cup in hand.

A single remaining command spell was all that was left from that Time Temple, illuminating the grail in red.

Power to attain any wish within the scope of humanity’s ability was the claim. If so then let it try match what he had already done once before!

“Your wish was to fight, you faced the greatest of foes and did not fall until the end. Was that enough for you? If so then no response is needed. But if you still heed this call even if you can no longer remember me then…….Another battle is ready to begin!”“And I do not wish to go without my Saber in hand.” More power than he even imagined. Greater than any Mystic Code or Craft Essence. Even so he was not done, mediocre circuits flared, adding as much power as his own body could bear.

From circuits, from seal, from grail and anything else he had to give.

“If you abide by this feeling, this reason, then answer!”

The familiar swirl, seen countless times, repeated itself. Seal flaring into nothing as the grail turned to golden dust drawn into the blue lightning. And as the weight left his fingers, so it seems did everything else.

And so he fell.

And as he fell, so he was caught. By a figure arising from the swirl almost before it was done.

But the figure was not the warrior clad in pink and red from his first memories. Laying him down, the servant looked at the poor excuse for a master that summoned them.

And smiled in familiarity.

“Okita Souji, captain of the first unit of the Shinsengumi, has returned. And this time I remembered to bring my uniform.”

Together they walked (or rather Okita walked while supporting him) once more down the hall of Chaldea, structure still damaged from the battle with Solomon.

“Looks like this place really went through some trouble.”

Cracks spiderweb’d through the walls but only a few lights weren’t working, keeping the corridor in a steady glow.

“Eh it’s mostly cosmetic in the areas that weren’t directly attacked by the Pillars. Da Vinci will probably get it up and running soon but for the meantime everyone’s been relocated from the common rooms.” They paused as Okita took a moment to consider that.

“Really? Is my room still fine?”

Most of the damage was on the left side from the impact of Solomon’s demons so……

“Should be, the move was mostly just for precaution’s sake.”

Their direction changed from to the medbay to common room and while some of the faculty staff were noticed, they only stopped them to offer quick words of congratulations before moving on.

“This is it right? I can wait here while you check on your things.”

He had seen many of Okita’s faces; sad, happy, confused even deathly ill but never had he seen such exasperation.

“I realize that I’m a bit dull when it comes to things like this, but I assumed bringing you here would be clear enough. Well I suppose it is a servant’s role to handle the tough parts.” With that she pulled him by the lapel into the room and locked it.

He was close enough to see her pale irises despite the dim light, and her natural fragrance stroked him. Not strong, yet it filled his body with coiled tension that chased away any pain from the summoning.

Lips captured the other and he finally tasted her and she him, tension now mixed with something electric. Small yet calloused hands in black hair, revelling in the touch. His, larger yet soft on her thighs, kneading the toned flesh.

The coil built up against her and she pulls him deeper still. Lips part as he becomes the first to moan before falling back, eyes still taking everything she was.

He’s only on the mat for a moment before almost involuntary the body tries to rise, to savor more of her taste. A singular foot on his chest stops him, not with strength but the tenderness of how it runs along him.

Painfully it drags towards his apex, her face holding a soft fascination, as if marvelling at his reactions.


She pulled back the foot to that desperate whisper. Then the haori fell; the winter of blue, white and battle put aside for a season. And as she laid atop him, sakura in the spring never been so beautiful.


Whether to the ends of the earth or the sea or even the edges of the underworld their battle was not over yet, all they could do was enjoy a season of life whenever it came. And as long as that was there, there was always meaning in this recurring cycle.

An adult (MA+) romance story between Gudao and Okita Souji. The story's tone must consign with the order of seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring again. Setting is writer's choice, but it must have a happy ending. OPTIONAL: Each season's opening sentence must consign with the Tanka structure: five, seven, five, seven, and seven (words instead of syllables are fine, too).

December 25th, 2016, 11:50 AM
Starship Girl

At first, it was a superficial attraction: he was also her height. Ship’s gravity was kept at navy standard - 70% G, a compromise between efficiency, health, and the gravity of Mars below them. Mordred wasn’t quite as tall as its colonists were, thin and nimble and breakable, but she’d still spent more of her life in artificial gravity than on a planet, and, at 19, had no more years for normal growth. So she was tall for a woman, comfortably over six feet, with long legs and arms, close enough to the edge of normal human proportions that you’d take a second look. Growing up in a metal box did that.

Lancelot didn’t quite have it that bad. Maybe he was a hair taller, and looked just fine in a flight suit or dress blues; in casual clothes, gym shirts, or even less, however, his limbs had the same nearly surreal elongation as she did. The similarity was how she broke the ice, coming into the gym after he’d nearly finished his set.

Later that night, he’d told her that it was because he was only half a military brat: his mother had insisted on growing up with him until he needed to go into orbit for the Academy at 14. Obviously, she didn’t mind his somewhat privileged upbringing; it wasn’t that kind of jealousy. He told her about soccer, on a field atop a skyscraper - that was what stuck with her, something so basic, uncomplicated, friendly, and she hated that the only similar stories she could share were the times like when her trainer had snuck her a bit of real chocolate after weights. Mom would have hated that. But it was her childhood: holding onto those little moments when the people her mother hired treated her as a person, when the people in mom’s chain of command stopped being so afraid of breaking the admiral’s daughter to sit down and talk to her about engines or missiles, even when the people who hated mom took her out for a ride in a mobile suit just to get mud in mom’s eye. And, yes, mom did hate that. And so did Admiral Pendragon. One and the same.

Even though being the Admiral’s daughter didn’t even begin to balance the ledger, it had a few benefits; one of them was that she, for all practical purposes, had rank just below mom’s. It was easy to make requests, once she got used to the personal side of it, easy to slip into restricted areas on the Excalibur, or simply to find and keep safe one of the many overlooked places that were all over the titanic battlecruiser. It made carrying on with Captain Lancelot (Commander, Air Group) much easier. It started after that one day in the gym: a game of cards in a maintenance closet over a bottle of ship gin, and then. Well.

It kept happening, the pair becoming less and less careful until Mordred had the heart-pounding experience of trying to sneak Lancelot out of her cabin at 430 so he could make his morning training flight. What, precisely, their relationship was was something they’d never discussed - but sitting back against her closed door, tired, naked and exhilarated, it was hard to admit that it was something that could become a problem.

Equivalent Exchange

Still, Mars only has one space elevator. Two are in planning: unfortunately, they’re two of the most expensive objects in history, and location is a problem, so for now it’s just the original: a 40-year old beast stretching up from Pavonis Mons into Phobos. Despite its immense value, it hadn’t been attacked during the revolution - perhaps precisely because it was too valuable. Nevertheless, the battlecruiser Excalibur has been parked in orbit near Phobos with the keys to the Red Planet for the past 19 years since the peace settlement.

Elevator cars come up and down. Each is about four stories tall, with a transit time of five days one way.





Carbon Allotropes

Rocket Engines


AI Seeds




Needless to say, security has not been perfected.


Admiral Pendragon’s assistant comes to give her the morning’s brief. She waves him off, taking from her desk the stamp with her signature on it and begins to work through papers which require her approval but lead to nothing - there hadn’t been a reason to pay attention in years. Lately, she’s taken to bringing the brief with her along with a cup of tea and settling into her chair, turning on the radio feed for morning Mobile Suit training.

It isn’t nostalgia. Out there with the mechs in the black, weapons unloaded, holding the throttle and stick 20% under the limiters is nothing like the war, she discovered when they convinced her to take a run at it for the weekly navy vid. Some of the chatter is useful; nobody else knows she listens in, and there’s never much reason to discuss the actual exercise. Instead, the radio is full of commiseration, gripes, gossip, strained, well-worn camaraderie. Which is almost painful for her, to hear them say much of what she feels and be incapable of reaching out. That circle of selfless friends was also a story for the vids. The frustrations of a few officers never goes anywhere, though, and she hasn’t tuned in until recently, through all her tours up here.

Yet she’s not clueless, and it’s easy to tell what changed - Lieutenant Emiya, fresh out of flight school. He annoys everyone else: if they could, they’d have him transferred by next week, but they couldn’t. And by now, she wouldn’t let them anyway. He was good for them, and they didn’t see it; incessantly on the radio, obsessing over procedure and results and errors, he seemed completely unaware that everyone had reason to hate him for being a good pilot. His seniors thought it was insubordinate, that he should conform to the culture on the ship. His peers thought he was trying to grab attention, or that he was trying to suck up to her, or simply wanted him to stop getting on their case. The hangar crew hated him to suck up to their pilots. As far as the Admiral was concerned, he didn’t deserve all that just for trying.

Nobody else was going to make it right. One day, she showed up on the hangar right after the flight got in, meeting Emiya as he pulled his loose shock of orange hair out of his helmet and invited him up to her cabin, just for a chat. It turned out that his story was more or less normal: his father a former private contractor, wounded in the rebellion, who came back to Earth for a short desk job, retired, and adopted a son. That made sense to her; it was like most of the other officers, spurred into the military by their fathers in some way or another, either from direct action or in their memory. Yet, they all spoke of sacrifice when she asked them: other opportunities, freedoms, chances that they’d given up for what they did now. Emiya - Shirou - when asked what else he might have decided to do, responded with a blank stare, and after an uncomfortably long pause, a boyish aw-shucks sort of shrug, saying that he “hadn’t really thought about it.”

Later on, to her, it seemed as if he had told the truth and nothing but. He was in the hangar, or the simulator, or the archive, or the library, anywhere besides doing his own thing in spare time. She pulled the security footage for his bunk: pressed and made clean, ready for someone else to come sleep in it.

Whenever someone told her he was odd, she shrugged. Of course he was. It was perfectly fine that way.

Black and Red

They didn’t care about making noise anymore. Two years: people retired, promoted, or died, and Excalibur emptied out to the point where Mordred’s cabin had the entire hallway to itself, so that when her 21st birthday rolled around there was nobody to disturb when she, her boyfriend, and his people crammed into her cabin for the liter of Jack Daniel’s he’d smuggled up from Mars for the occasion. She went around the room, toasting each of ‘them’ - still, it was hard to figure out what to name the group. Knights - she kept coming back to knights, and always wanted to reject it.

Mordred looked each of them in the eye and downed half a shot in their honor: Lancelot, Gawain (awkwardly), Hector, Blamore and Bleoberis, and round to Lancelot again - none begrudged her the special attention paid. Roaring with laughter - drunk - they brought her and Gawain back into the glory days of putting Mars down. Shipyards burning, tent towns going up in flash fires, dogfights below the deck in Noctis Labyrinthus - Hector cut in, telling them about when he was shot down and saw Nægling’s sabotage from the ground, pieces of the ship coming down on the red soil like a meteor shower, on and on until they gave him an extra drink just to stop him - five glory years when the now-old warhorses meant something and had nothing to worry about but the next day, and Lancelot’s Suit hadn’t been taken back for the museum on Luna, and their muscles did more than gleam for magazines.

“Earth is here,” one of them slurred, slamming a glass on the table. “Mars…” Another glass, this time full. “And we’re…” Helplessly, he waggled his fingers around the space between, hoping to find something before giving up and drowning the glass he’d called Mars. Mordred had never been down to the planet, so she asked, and Lancelot remembered agreeing to it the next morning.

A week later, when she was starting to suspect he’d forgotten, he knocked on her door at 0400, slipping her into a flight suit he’d found her, though not without openly sneaking a feel or two along the way, and hustled her to the hangar. One of the crew chiefs had a dual-seater training Suit fueled and ready - she recognized him as an old hand even from her first memories aboard and from a photo Lancelot kept in his room. He helped them into the cockpit, Lancelot sitting in the pilot’s seat in front and below her.

For a moment, Mordred’s finger flicked on the abort switch as they swung into the launch tube before she remembered it’d been her who told Lancelot her mother hadn’t left her cabin in weeks. It felt like a shove in the chest drawn by a caricature artist: she didn’t remember the launch forces from her previous travels, this had to be four, maybe five, but the rushing spars of the launch tube suddenly vanished, inertial dampers kicked in, and she was left floating alone with Lancelot in a glass bubble below the huge red planet. Below, above, it was all a matter of perspective, and it changed as soon as he flipped the Suit feet-’downward’ to prepare for atmospheric entry, which made her slightly nauseous: above had been better. But she was flying! The sensation took a while to hit her, with Excalibur behind the back of her headrest and the body of the Suit and with the planet creeping up on them only slowly. Even still, she couldn’t find her voice - it’d flown out the perfectly clear glass sometime and was having a grand time dancing in the impossible number of stars, that kept moving past her eyes.

She tore her eyes away to discover that the planet covered more of her view than the sky, and that they’d crept away from the usual descent - instead of keeping a respectful distance from the Elevator and following it down, they were falling away to the Martian south, towards the Terra Sirenum, where on a good day from orbit she could have picked out 90% of the craters even through the rocky chaos. Now it was covered by a sandstorm that was turning a full twenty degrees of the planet into a soft blur of color, and Lancelot pointed the Suit’s feet straight into it.

Martian atmospheric pressure was still low, but the 350/kph winds made up for it, and the Suit shook as they fell into the dust, Lancelot keeping the rocket boosters silent and slowing their descent with the main engines, which every manual she had read said was stupid, they’d be too heavy, maneuverability compromised, but he shot through the murk even when the only way for her to tell up from down from inside the dust was her instruments until suddenly the floor of a small crater came up at them. He swung the Suit towards the crater wall, playing the wind to get it on its knees next to a suspiciously vertical bit of wall. To her great surprise, it rolled open, and a number of small rovers rushed out, attaching guide-lines to the Suit and pulling it into position in what looked like a hidden hangar, low-power lighting illuminating a circular, scratched image of Mars on the floor painted in blood red.

Only Child

Captain Shirou Emiya was in the hangar as they winched Lancelot’s suit onto the deck. He didn’t envy its crew: everywhere the white paint was stained by pale orange dust, pitted and scarred like an old photograph of a smallpox survivor. It certainly looked as if it’d been stuck in the dust-storm for two months. One of the crew chiefs climbed up to the cabin with an emergency saw, slicing the joints open and pulling out the pilots, Lancelot and Mordred, looking a bit thin but flushed and cheery as they stumbled out into the ship’s higher gravity. Shirou caught Mordred as she started to fall, twice as heavy here as she had been on Mars, and she took his hand, letting him keep her steady before firmly pushing him away, looking around the hangar. “That’s it?” She turned away from him, disgusted, wiping the sweat from her brow; Lancelot came to her and helped her off into the ship.

Later that day, it occurred to him that it shouldn’t have been a surprising reaction: save for himself, the deck had been more or less empty, with no greeting party or emergency team or Admiral there to greet them. Though they seemed unhurt, so what was the problem?

Maybe a month later, Shirou was in the hangar again before the rest of the ship had woken up, doing a rundown on his suit from a live-fire exercise yesterday when it seemed like every alarm on the ship went off. Master, fire, every siren they had was blaring and he saw Lancelot and his friends come around the corner dressed for combat, completely ignoring him as they leapt into their Suits, automated launch quickly moving them into the tubes. Whether he was ready or not, Shirou thought in an instant, he was lucky, fueled and armed, and he kicked away the ladder as he jumped into the cabin in his shirtsleeves, locking in the same automatic launch and shooting out of the tube.

Despite all the alarms, Excalibur seemed fine from the outside, its black, faceted surface looking as it always did, like a giant crystal that someone had stretched out for a kilometer. He counted five Suits now jetting away from him towards the bow in a V formation and fell in behind them at a ways before he saw them stop over the bridge and level their guns. Five streams of blue plasma lurched out and severed the communications dish. He saw flashes of light from inside the bridge and a splatter of blood on one of the windows; the one next to it blew out, venting a blue cloud of rapidly freezing air, debris, and a writing body that grabbed onto the rim of the window before the emergency shutters sheared his fingers off.

Abruptly, the five Suits pivoted towards him, apparently realizing he was not part of the plan. Magnification brought up a red map of Mars painted on the side of each before it lost focus as they gunned the afterburner towards him. Someone aboard had apparently noticed the same thing: a single suite of flak cannon opened fire and two of the oncomers suddenly vanished in a bright cloud, blown into the stars. The lead Suit pivoted, stitching the hull with well-aimed blue fire for a slice of revenge.

Shirou had never run a three-on-one in training before, but the theory seemed simple enough to guess. Slamming the throttle forward he went in close to the ship, shots flying over his head as the remaining three overshot. So he had distance to work with, and they were being lazy: they turned around, not bothering to kill their momentum and tried for missile lock. A touch on emergency thrusters pushed him out of sight behind a turret, but that was a five-second solution until they gained enough altitude. Just like he’d figured out earlier: the theory said he’d lose, so the only thing left was something stupid.

Turning around, Shirou opened up the throttle and went straight at the incoming missiles. You could make them smart or cheap, but the navy had always chosen the latter; so, with him giving them a straight course to home in on, they’d simply pick a straight line, and if the pilots were just a bit too confident about the whole thing…

With the computer on, flicking the stick and dispatching all three of the incoming missiles wasn’t even a hard shot; Shirou held down the trigger and before they even started to move, two more Suits went up in flames, leading only the leader who couldn’t get a shot on Shirou somehow and who Shirou couldn’t hit with his gun now overheating.

They collided with a metallic crunch, locking together, and Shirou could see Lancelot in the glass just ten feet away, screaming and flicking the controls on reflex, causing his suit to kick into Shirou’s and shear away a thruster. But he was angry, and Shirou only knew that he needed to save the ship, so he drove his suit’s fist through Lancelot’s cabin. Instantly, the air vented, frosting his glass, so that it was only twenty seconds later when Shirou could see the dead man inside.

He limped the Suit back to the ship on one engine, slowly flying over the outside, though there was little more damage than their short duel had already caused, and came back up to the bridge, where he could see Mordred, staring at him with Admiral Pendragon on her knees, gun pressed to her neck.

A mecha- or war-based Alternate Universe. Think Aldnoah Zero or Gundam 08th MS Team, but it can really be based on anything.

December 25th, 2016, 11:53 AM
No One's Hero Here

The number of things that change during Shirou's last year in Fuyuki are too many to count or to take note of in any itemized fashion. At first, he does not notice their changing at all. It is only in the way that one thing leads to another which leads to a certain unraveling, a peculiar loosening of grip that he notices the faint wind of change, blowing across everything. For many years, he has had much the same routine. He has walked the same streets, had the same classmates, done the same chores, and cooked the same food.

As things had changed over the course of his life – the beginning of his life, when he had begun to remember it – he had never had reason to take note of them. Not until now. Now there is a countdown involved. Now there is a finite point at which he will leave Fuyuki and no longer call the same familiar movements home.

Over these past several months, however, these movements have become marked by less and less familiar things.
There is, of course, the most obvious change to have happened in his life. Saber. The War that so few knew had ever existed. And what had followed...

However much he thinks that is the most marked change that has ever taken place in his life, it is all but invisible. He wonders if anyone but Tohsaka knows the truth or even senses it. She has a way of playing at the truth, smiling at the small things that have changed since then, and tilting her head in a certain way to make curious stares leave them alone.

He isn't sure whether or not he is grateful for that. It is a power that he does not understand, and he is not sure that it should be left unchecked.

He knows that Issei has been left mortified, traumatized, and a little betrayed. All by Tohsaka's design. Most days, though, Issei still finds it within his willpower to secretly speak to Shirou before Tohsaka can take notice. By the turn of the year, he is less frequent in his attempts to devise a way for Shirou to discreetly signal the extent of the abuse he must undergo every day. Shirou is glad that Issei seems to have found some peace of mind.

After all, he will not be able to keep his eye on him quite so keenly when he has gone to London.

Taiga's state of mind seems a little more precarious. She is not quite so vocal with her disapproval and confusion as she once was, but when she sits across the table from him, Shirou sometimes sees her wide, flitting eyes cross from him to Tohsaka and back again. She seems to be trying to put more clothes on them with her eyes, even though they are both fully dressed. Part of him pities her. Part of him wishes she would mind her own business.

“I could get in trouble!” Taiga implores once, when she broaches the subject. “Can't you see? You're both students, and as students you are under my care and responsibility. If anyone found out that you were behaving so flagrantly right under my nose—”

“Then they won't find out, will they?” Rin asks, calm as ever.

Taiga fumes. Shirou withholds any immediate reaction, glancing between the two young women.

“Miss Tohsaka, I should think that you have far more of a reputation to uphold than even Shirou here!” Taiga announces. She is grasping at straws.

Something about it causes Rin to look at him, though. He wilts a little under the sly syrup in her gaze.

“Is that so?” she asks sweetly.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Shirou demands of Taiga.

“It is not my fault that you two can't keep it to your rooms,” Taiga says, suddenly very mindful of her business and her plate as she helps herself to seconds. The matter seems to have been settled once more.

It isn't what Taiga thinks. And it is what Taiga thinks. Shirou doesn't quite remember if it has happened since the very morning they returned home at dawn or if there was some intermediate period of uncertainty when neither of them had been able to sleep. It doesn't matter, now. More often than not, and without question, where she sleeps, he sleeps. Where he sleeps, she follows him there and lies alongside him.

Sometimes, they sleep.

Sometimes, there are other things.

What matters – to both of them, he thinks – is that they have started to not bear sleeping alone. It does not matter if they are in her great, western house, or in his old, Japanese mansion. They had both become accustomed to someone standing guard outside as they slept, and now they are each other's guard. Now they are alone.

The fact that Taiga thinks they have simply done away with any sense of restraint on their hormones is, perhaps, a blessing disguised as a curse. Shirou thinks that if she knew the reasons why – if she knew how often they are quiet, how often they are still and cold save for the other's warmth to their backs – that maybe she would think worse of it. Shirou does not want to scare her, and he does not expect her to understand.

“She might kill you, you know,” Rin says one day from her familiar, canopied bed. Shirou has sat himself on the floor and her comment once again breaks his concentration from the training task she had given him. Neither of them seem to have much heart for it this afternoon. Tohsaka is focused, out of habit, on a syringe she is using to draw from her arm. Shirou has long since stopped being squeamish about this and many other things. Blood is blood, and Tohsaka knows what she is doing.
Shirou glances back over his shoulder. His slightly narrowed eyes answer her, requesting more clarification of silence.

Rin looks down at him and gives a half-shrug with the arm that it is not particularly precarious to move.

“Who knows? We are both women, and she thinks you have sullied my virtue,” Tohsaka says, her words' drama in no way matched by her tone. Her tone is nearly droll. He does not know why she brings it up at all until the next time they share dinner with Taiga. Tohsaka absents herself to the kitchen to start washing up with an implied threat of bodily harm to anyone who disturbs her.

“What did you do?” Taiga hisses at him, rather indiscreetly.

“What did I do?” Shirou asks, then he glances over to see Tohsaka. She glances at him and gives a little directional nod. Then, he understands. “Come on. Let's give her some air,” he says, reaching out to usher Taiga lightly by the forearm to her feet and out the door if she will not come quietly.

“But – Shirou, it's your house! You're just being rude,” Taiga protests. Shirou doesn't pretend to understand her reasoning for it anymore.

“Well you're the one who complains she practically lives here now, so it should be fine,” he counters.

Apparently, he momentarily wins the argument, because they walk in silence for a while, away from the house.

He does not know where they are going at first. The silvery moon rises above them as the last breath of dusk fades from the sky. Day bleeds into night very quietly without much left to give in the way of fight.

Taiga worries her hands together. Shirou wonders if she has caught cold, but then her warm eyes show him that this is still he fretful stance, held onto from before.

“It's really nothing to worry about,” he tells her, whatever it is. There is little joy in stringing along her anxieties when they are so frequent now.

“Shirou, I know you're growing up. But there's such a thing as too fast...” she advises him.

“You'd know?” Shirou grumbles, teasing and defensive at once. Taiga looks away from him and scowls. She is still walking at his side, but she is suddenly much less receptive.

“Sorry,” Shirou mumbles. He pockets his hands. “I'm going to another country with her, Taiga,” he says. It is not the first time he has told her. He'd heard that particular fit of panic and shrieking some time ago when he'd been airing out futons.

“I know. And she's a very nice girl. But you're very young,” Taiga says. It surprises Shirou. With the way they get along, sometimes, Shirou is both surprised and pleased to hear Taiga characterize her as 'nice.' Perhaps she means she is nice for him. Somehow, that would seem even kinder.

“Do you think—?” Shirou starts to ask, but then he is silenced because they turn up a familiar path. He has not realized quite how long the walk must have been, or how steep, because by the time he recognizes the path he can hardly believe that Taiga has willingly come this far in the dark. Something about it makes him anxious, but there are far fewer monsters lurking in the dark now than the last time he'd worried for Taiga's safety.

“Will you come?” Taiga asks, apparently seeing the realization on his face. When he stares at her dumbly, she reaches out and takes his hand like he was still a little boy, no higher than her hip. “... You'll be leaving before you know it,” she tells him. She isn't guilting him, but something in her eyes looks sad nonetheless.

He doesn't want to see her cry. He can't stand it. He doesn't want to see anything even close to it.

“I'll go,” he says, before he can stop himself.

And just like that, he is making a trip he never has before. He is hiking up a trail he may never traverse the same way again. He knows, before he reaches the top, that he might never return.

Kiritsugu's grave site is traditional. For all the times Shirou has thought of coming or has thought of reasons not to come, it is fairly unremarkable. He feels no tingle of dread, no warmth of real solace. He does not smell Kiritsugu's hanging clothes or the faint dust of cigarette smoke. He does not hear his chuckle and does not see his sad smile. He hears no echo of the promise he had once made to Kiritsugu, except in his own heart.

“It's well-kept,” is the first thing that comes out of Shirou's mouth. He has pulled his hand away from Taiga. He can't remember when last he'd traded its warmth for the interior of his pockets. He looks down at the ground and scuffs his shoe a little. Then, he thinks better of it, and tries to gently undo the motion. It seems disrespectful.

“Well, I do try to come up here. When I can,” Taiga agrees. She reaches out. She touches something that perhaps she had left for Kiritsugu, not long ago. She glances sidelong at him, and Shirou can feel the nature of the glance. He wants to tell her not to, but the words won't come. “I'll leave you alone for a few minutes. I won't go far,” she promises him.

Shirou's heart tightens and darkens in his chest into a knot that almost makes him run after her. There could be something in the woods that he ought to fend off for her. There are wolves everywhere, even where and when there are no wolves. His feet don't move from that place, though, and he hears Taiga sounding almost happy as she hums to herself. He wonders what she might be tending at the treeline, but she finds some way to occupy herself. He cannot imagine how it is that this has become a place of peace for her.

He stares down at Kiritsugu's tombstone. He tries to make some kind of connection between the monument and the man.
“Father,” he says. He crouches down and his fingers touch the earth before the grave. He thinks he is reaching out with some sense in his mind, but he draws back before it could ever mean anything. He wonders what Tohsaka would say about it. What Issei would recommend. He does not know if it is meditation or nostalgia.

He glances over his shoulder, but Taiga does not seem especially nosy.

“I'm sorry it's been so long,” Shirou says, not sure if it is a kind thing to say or the truth. He wonders if he would have ever had the strength to lie to his father like that when he had been younger or if that is something born of the things that have changed since. His fingers grasp at grass. Some of the strands are supple and give. Others are dry and crumble between his fingers.

“I met someone,” he says. It is the cliché that he has heard so many people his age and older carrying on with at times. It seems wrong. He does not even know if he is talking about Tohsaka alone, or if he means to say more about it. “Something happened, and I don't think I'm going to stay here after spring,” he explains. “I should have told you sooner, but... there's somewhere I need to go. She – my friend, Tohsaka Rin, she thinks it will be good for me. For us. To really study magecraft at this place in London. I don't know very much about it, but she says it's the best place in the world, and she knows about things like that. Really studying magecraft... I don't know what I'll do with it, but I think it would be better if I knew what I was doing. I want to help people. I know you wouldn't... approve, completely, if you were here, but I hope you can understand. I want to do what you... didn't get to do, before you died...”

The wind blows faintly up on the hill. It is cool, almost a little icy. Shirou breathes in and still smells no trace of ember of cigarettes. He wonders if he even remembers what Kiritsugu had tried to tell him about his dream anymore or if too many things lay between here and there, between life and death, between Shirou and the silent light of the moon.

After graduation, Shirou decides to visit Kiritsugu's grave for the first and last time, before he leaves Fuyuki for good. (Alternatively, the visit could be when he returns to Fuyuki)

December 25th, 2016, 11:55 AM
On a cold December night, a small group of five huddled around the roaring flames of a burning barrel in a desperate attempt to stay warm. While Misaki Town winters were not usually known for being especially harsh, this year’s frost chill had a bone-deep bite - one particularly annoying to those stuck in a back alley.

“Jeez… Why does this weather have to suck so much?”

One member of the group, a boy in his late teens, could not help but complain about this poor state of affairs. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been in that back alley, but one thing was certain: the bitter cold was driving him even more insane than he usually was.

“Quiet, you fool, the more energy you waste talking the worse it’s gonna get!”

Another member of the group, a young, red-eyed girl wearing an elaborate gothic lolita dress, with a large bow tucked in her silver hair, snapped at her companion testily. Her elegant appearance and delicate features were completely out of place in the depressing industrial environment the group found themselves in, and she could not help but sigh after seeing just how dire their situation had become.

“Oh yeah? Then why don’t you change back into your cat form?” the teen suggested, the dark gleam in his eyes sending shivers down the back of one of his companions: a brown haired girl dressed in a somewhat rumpled, stained high-school uniform. She wasn’t the target of his ire, of course, but she could not help but feel ill at ease, given that while he was the spitting image of the boy she loved, his murderous personality fit not at all. “I bet all that warm fur would fix your complaint easily.” He paused, the corners of his lips drawing up into a cruel smirk. “Maybe I could even make a nice hat.”

“I-idiot why would I do that?” the white-haired girl retorted, her cheeks heating with indignation. “Transforming isn’t that simple, and even if I changed forms this cold would be too much. And b-besides, I am your Master!” she declared. “There is no way you could ever lay a finger on me if I didn’t want you to!”

“Oh, but are you sure you don’t want me to?” the youth retorted, slipping a switchblade emblazoned with the kanji for “Seven Nights” from his pocket and flipping it open, running a callused finger along the edge. “Shall we test that, Master?”

The last was said with a hint of mockery as he gazed at the petite girl who called herself his Master, as if implying that deep down inside she wanted to be hurt by him.

But just as it seemed the barrel truce would be broken, both the boy and his self-proclaimed master were rudely interrupted, with a fourth member of the group, a disgruntled young woman who wore her long purple hair in a long French braid, delivering knife-hand chops to both of their heads.

“That is quite enough,” the young woman noted cooly. “By my calculations, the longer you two argue and posture like fools, the more heat you are wasting. If you wish to freeze to death, then by all means, continue, but if you would rather keep on living…”

She trailed off, but her uncaring words had made an impact, all the same.

For despite the heat of their apparent animosity, both the boy and the young girl who called himself his master were as cold as could be. After all, while the others had been quietly trying to gather what warmth they could, those two wasted energy on their pointless feud, though neither were in a state to really do much about it, as could be seen by the boy’s shaky grip on his blade and the girl’s increasingly obvious shivers.


With a grunt, the boy snapped the blade shut, and slipped it back to his pocket, the girl turning away with a muttered “hmph” as he did so.

“Still, those two are right you know, this cold really does suck…” the brown-haired girl muttered despondently, sighing once again at the unfairness of it all. She’d been doing that a lot lately, despite the fact that she knew the more she did it, the less attractive she no doubt seemed to Tohno-kun.

“Oh? Then why not use our bodies?” the fifth and final member of the group suggested with a sly smile as the tall, lithe young woman came up behind the purple haired one and hugged her close from behind. From the brown haired twintail girl’s perspective, it looked almost...obscene, as if she was molesting the purple-haired girl, taking advantage of the situation to grope her chest.

“G-geez Riesbyfe now is not the time for jokes.”

Judging by the purple-haired girl’s reaction - that is to say, the way she blushed and struggled in the embrace of the taller woman to no avail, she rather agreed.

Looking at the scene, the brown-haired girl began to blush, as she could not help but imagine her crush doing the same to her, his warm fingers leaving trails of fire on her skin as he squeezed and massaged and had his fill of--

The girl shook her head.

Bad thoughts. Bad thoughts.
“Um, maybe we could look for some other way to stay warm?” She suggested weakly, trying to change the subject, as the blush spreading over her body was doing nothing to preserve what little heat she had. She looked down, sighing mournfully. “If only we had some other place we could hide besides this back alley. Some kind of house or...something.”

The youth from earlier glanced over at her, only half-listening to her words until she mentioned the word ‘house’, at which he stiffened as an idea crossed his mind.

“Hey, you!” He called to the tussling duo, where the purple-haired girl was still struggling against the crude affections of her companion Ries. “Atlas chick.” What was her name? S...sakura? No. Saber? Nah. Ah, yes. "Sion, was it?”

Both Sion and Riesbyfe turned at the question, with the purple-haired girl taking advantage of the distraction to push Riesbyfe away from her with a sour glare. There was a time and place for such jokes, after all, and this wasn’t either.

“Yes, Nanaya?” she asked, wondering what it was he wanted.

“Say, do you still have that spare set of glasses for my other self?” the youth asked, the kernel of an idea forming in his mind.

In answer, Sion reached into her pocket and withdrew a set of large circular glasses, showing them to the boy.

“I do indeed. By my calculations, Shiki is bound to loose his old pair eventually, so it was only prudent that I had a backup ready in the event that occurred. Why do you ask?“

“Aha.” With the reflexes of a trained killer, the boy snatched the glasses from the Alchemist’s palm, an evil-looking smile stole across his lips as he slipped them on. He wasn’t usually much of an ideas guy, preferring to just rush in and let his knife do his talking for him, yet occasionally, even he could come up with something brilliant.

“H-hey, what are you--”

“I’ve had enough of this alleyway,” the youth declared. “Follow me if you want to go somewhere warmer. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter to me.”

Without another word, the boy spun on his heel and took off, ignoring any comments or complaints from the other members of the group. The group wondered what to do for a moment, given the abruptness of his departure and how hard it was to do, well, anything in the cold. Still...if he knew somewhere warm…

All at once, the group lurched into motion, with Sion dragging Riesbyfe away from the fire by her long black and silver jacket, while heroically avoiding her friend’s attempts to grope her.

Signalling for the other members of his ragtag party to hide behind a nearby tree, Nanaya observed the Tohno Mansion carefully, knowing that in just a few moments, ‘he’ would be appearing. After all, comfortable people had a routine, and whatever else he could say about his other self, he was damn sure that Tohno Shiki was more comfortable in that mansion of his than in a back alley.

Sure enough, his hunch proved correct, as a lanky youth resembling him in every way emerged from one of the second story windows, climbed to the edge of the roof and dropped to the courtyard soundlessly, before sneaking through the courtyard’s front yard and leaving altogether.

“Tohno-kun…” The brown-haired girl couldn’t help but sigh at the sight of the boy she loved. At the moment, she wanted nothing more than to go over to him and say something to him, to embrace him and feel his warmth, but--

“Focus Sacchin,” Sion interrupted. “Tohno Shiki is not our goal right now. Right now, our goal is the warmth that house can provide, and by my calculations if we simply wait a few minutes, we will be in a position to enjoy that warmth shortly.”

Sion’s words rang true to Sacchin, reminding her of what was important. Though she desperately wanted to see Tohno-kun again, keeping herself from freezing to death was perhaps a little more important than love. So, she waited, and waited, and waited, until at last the bespectacled Nanaya brazenly walked brazenly through the gates of the mansion compound and up to the front door as if he had every right to be there, holding tightly onto a small package he had previously acquired.

As soon as he stepped through the door, out of his allies’ sight, and into the grand foyer, his demeanor changed completely, with his arrogant smirk and threatening posture melting away to reveal a facade of innocence and caring. As an alter ego, a shadow born from the darker impulses of Tohno Shiki, he knew exactly what it was like to be his other self, and though he despised acting this way, being restrained by rules and expectations, he knew it was important so he made an exception as he called out.

“Ah Ahika, why don’t you come out? After all, I snuck outside to get you a present!”

Surely enough hidden behind the grand staircases a girl with long raven hair and something of a cliffside chest walked out, arms crossed and a grumpy expression on her face. She had indeed been waiting for her brother’s return, given that she knew he liked to sneak out late in the night, though he’d never said anything about knowing she was there - and had never come back so early, or with a package for her.

“Just what do you think you are doing Nii-san?” the girl asked coldly, though she accepted the parcel he pressed into her hand anyway. “Sneaking out so late like this? You could have gone out during the day. And if you were going to give me something, you could have waited until tomorrow.”

“Oh I’m sorry but I just couldn’t wait,” Nanaya replied, playing the part of the doting brother to the hilt, though he could tell Akiha was more than a little suspicious. “Is it wrong for me to want to spoil my dear little sister?”

This...Akiha knew Shiki usually wasn’t so considerate, so this unexpected turn of events only made her suspicious. Still, if he had gotten her something…

“Open it,” Nanaya suggested. “It’s something I think you’ll like.”

Though her grumpy expression never wavered, her curiosity eventually got the better of her, as she wondered what it is Shiki thought she would like, and she slowly removed the packaging from the strangely shaped box.

What could it contain? It was too small for a dress clothes, and didn’t feel like chocolates. Could it be, could it be p-p-pant--

Her cheeks flushing despite herself, the girl tore off the rest of the packaging perhaps a bit more roughly than necessary, only for thick white smoke to emerge from the now-open box, surrounding her. Surprised - and not expecting an attack in her mansion - she’d inhaled in shock, which was all it took for the sleeping gas to take effect.

The last thing she saw before everything went dark was her brother’s innocent smile twisting into a wicked grin, as he spoke the words: “Yes sister, I got this just for you…”

“Nanaya…” she breathed in realization, but was powerless to do anything more, slumping to the floor in a boneless heap.

Seeing the result of his handiwork, the boy calmly walked over to her, confirming that she was indeed sleeping and not simply feigning unconsciousness to ambush him later. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had done that, after all.

“Heh, out like a light,” he snarked, on observing the slow rise and fall of her chest. “Despite your cold demeanor, you really are such a lightweight, my dear sister.”

With his target incapacitated, Nanaya returned to the front door and opened it, signalling for the others to join him inside.

“So this is Tohno-kun’s room…”

Sacchin was almost overcome by the smell of her beloved Tohno-kun. It had been so long since she'd talked to him, and now, s-she was in his bedroom, surrounded by his scent. Not that she was a stalker or anything, really she wasn't. She was just here since she and her companions were hiding from the mansion’s other denizens wanted to hide for the rest of the night.

On that note, though, a thought crossed her mind.

“W-what if he comes back!?”

Just the thought of him discovering Sacchin doing something like this sent shivers down her spine. She knew deep down that though he was a nice person, he would never forgive her for breaking into his house and attacking his sister. He might even come to hate her for it.

“It will be fine Sacchin. By my calculations Shiki will likely be gone the rest of the night and when he shows up tomorrow he will likely be distracted. Indeed, he may never return to his room. It is a special day after all.”

Walking over to a nearby chair Nanaya, who had been holding the body of his unconscious relative, set her down gently before flopping down onto the floor and sitting cross legged.

“Ah he has it so lucky doesn’t he? A luxurious house and such a cute sister as well. Honestly, I’d just like to destroy it all.”

Nanaya put his more destructive impulses on hold for the moment though, as he was content to enjoy the stolen warmth of his counterpart’s room. However the quiet peace was soon interrupted as Sachin noticed what Riesbyfe was up to, her eyes widening in horror at the impropriety of her companion’s actions.

“What-what are you doing Riesbyfe!? That’s Tohno’s bed!”

While the others contented themselves with enjoying the simple warmth of the room, Riesbyfe had dared to sneak over to the bed and crawl under the covers, enjoying the lingering heat of its former occupant.

“Ah. Still warm.”

“Y-you can’t do that! Get off right now!”

Ignoring Sacchin’s panic Riesbyfe continued to make herself comfortable rolling around under the many layers of blankets.

Seeing just how comfy she was, the petite girl changed form into that of a little white cat and jumped into an empty corner of the bed before curling herself into a sleeping position and yawning.

“Hey you! Stop it! No cats allowed on Tohno-kun’s bed! If he finds out who knows what’ll happen!”

Unable to talk the cat simply glared at the girl as if to say, “You dare to order me around?” and continued to relax on her corner of the bed.

“Hey girl, be quiet,” Nanaya grunted. “If you keep up this racket you’re gonna alert the others in this house.”

“Nanaya is right Sacchin, by my calculations if you continue to be loud one of the maids will soon discover us.”

With perfect timing a voice echoed through the door from outside in the hallway silencing everyone in the room.

“Shiki? Is everything alright in there?”

The doorknob began to twist open sending a shiver of dread through most of the occupants, though Nanaya was quick with a response.

“Everything is fine Hisui, I was just working… On some homework… Please… Go back to bed.”

Perhaps not the best response, but it did the job.
Thankfully, the door had only opened a crack, not enough for Hisui to see into the room, and after hearing Shiki’s voice her suspicions were assauged.

“Oh, Alright then Shiki-sama, you have a good night.”

“Of course, and you as well Hisui.”

Sadly, his voice slipped for just a second causing Hisui to leave the door open for a split second longer. In this moment a black cat slipped through the crack and froze upon seeing the residents of the room. The white cat noticing her counterpart hissed and stood up preparing for their inevitable confrontation..

Seeing Len freeze so suddenly the maid on the other end fully opened the door and also came face to face with the back alley alliance.

What seemed like an eternity passed as both sides contemplated what to do, however before either of them could react a new voice echoed from the darkened corner of the room.

“Ah, so that’s what it was! I thought it was weird when the motion sensors detected Shiki returning so soon after leaving, since he normally doesn’t get back until early in the morning. Good thing I had some cameras installed in his room to keep an eye on him.~ Now sister, please stand back while I take care of these intruders.”

A thick white gas began to spew from the vents, with the group backing away and holding their breath in an attempt to avoid inhaling the fumes.

Nanaya, who had expected something like this, could not help but smirk at how obvious Kohaku’s counter-intrusion scheme was. He stared into the shadows, looking at the corner of the room that he believed held the hidden camera as if to say, “Is that really the best you’ve got? Do you really think such a simple trick will work on me?”

“Oh by the way that is not sleeping gas~”, the sing-song voice of Kohaku continued. “That’s a special concoction made from plants in my garden. It won’t hurt you, but people who breathe it in have said they can’t sleep for days…”

A chill raced down Nanaya’s spine as he realized the horror of what the maid was saying. He turned around to see what his worst fears come to life: Tohno Akiha, the demon hybrid he had tricked by impersonating her brother, was now very much awake.

And very, very angry, if her hair changing from red to a bloody crimson was any indication.
“Ah s-sister, I-I can explain!” Nanaya said, attempting to placate the angry girl by taking on the semblance of his more innocent alter-ego. But it did no good. If anything, it made things worse, for Akiha had had enough of brother-impersonators in her lifetime.

Her hair cut off their escape route the furious head of the house shrieked in anger.


An explosion rocked the mansion as five bodies were flung high into the sky that night, with some witnesses later reporting that they saw five falling stars - a sign of good fortune..

“Oh Akiha you can be so violent sometimes~”

"Ow ow ow..."

Rubbing her head in pain, Sacchin stood up and began to look around.

"Just where are we?"

Though she was not particularly proud of how she’d gained her knowledge, Sacchin knew her way around the city rather well. This was mostly due to not having a home to return to and thus being forced to wander for long stretches of time. But even still this area was unfamiliar to her, with what light there was showing her that they had somehow ended up in a cavern after getting tossed into the sky.

"According to my calculations, with the trajectory and force of Akiha's blast, we should have ended up near the school grounds,” Sion muttered. “It is merely a possibility, but it could be that hit the ground with sufficient momentum to break through into a heretofore unknown cavern beneath the earth."

"Hmph.” The cat, having landed with grace, as cats were wont to do, returned to human form, and sniffed contemptuously. “Whatever this place is, it's not suitable for a majestic being such as myself."

"Perhaps the afterlife would be a more suitable place?” Nanaya interjected, a murderous smirk tugging at the corner of his lips one more. “I would be happy to take you there myself, master."

The young girl glared at the youth spitefully, but before things could go down this long and familiar road, a new voice rang out, echoing in the hollow cave.

"Oh! Guests! Visitors!” the unknown voice remarked, clearly surprised. “It has been so long! Really...please, please, come inside!"

Glancing at each other in surprise that someone - anyone - might choose to live in this dank, dark cave, the group shrugged, thinking there could be no harm in taking the voice’s invitation - it wasn’t as if they were helpless, after all.

And so they walked, tracing the source of the voice, walking on and on until at last they reached what appeared to be the center of the cave, a great cavern with tunnels branching out in many directions.

There stood a wiry man, his bare chest completely exposed to the frigid temperatures, though he paid this discomfort no heed. Instead, he smiled as he saw the party, gesturing for them to come closer as he set about preparing something.

"Welcome welcome, I am so happy! Oh I'm sorry. Your visit was most unexpected but please make yourselves at home by the fire while I prepare some small tokens of appreciation."

Gesturing vaguely towards a pile of rocks, he made his way towards a corner of the cave, leaving his guests to themselves. Not wanting to cause trouble, his guests moved in the direction he suggested, but all they saw were was stones.

No chairs. No fire. No carpet or any amenities whatsoever, just frozen piles of rock.

Thus, despite the man's open hospitality, the group could not help but be put off by him. Something about him seemed...odd. Sacchin especially was rather suspicious, as looking at him gave him a funny feeling - and not at all like the one she got when she looked at Tohno-kun.

"He looks...familiar," she murmured, though she couldn’t quite place where she’d seen him.

"It’s...so warm."

Sadly, the cold seemed to have addled one of their companion’s brains, as Riesbyfe had taken a seat on one of the rocky piles and stretched out, warming herself by the imaginary fire.

"According to my calculations his appearance fits that of Michael Roa Valdamjong,” Sion related, narrowing her eyes. “Judging by his odd state of mind and his crazed demeanor it is likely that he has been trapped down here for quite some time."

"Well if he's an idiot then,” White Len declared. “He better stay away or I will have to show him how fierce a cat can get when cornered."

"Heh, watching master struggle would be a sight to see," Nanaya snarked in reply, putting yet another sour expression on White Len’s face.

Still, despite their resolve, there really was no telling just how dangerous this man was.

Behind them, footsteps approached, and the party whirled to confront this “Roa”, only to see him cradling an armful of hollowed-out pebbles.

"Sorry for the wait, everyone,” the man announced, offering them the stones. “I thought you might like tea on such a cold night. Take some, make yourselves at home. It’s a special night, after all!”

Each of the gathered people took one, quickly noting that the contents weren’t tea at all, but cold water - cave water, at that.

"So tasty," Riesbyfe murmured, nodding her head in gratitude as she took a sip of the water as if it was the most delicious thing she’d ever tasted.

"This cave is already full of idiots,” White Len groused under her breath. “Do we really need another one?"

Ignoring the grumblings of her companion, Sion chose to speak to Roa himself, since the man seemed pleasant enough - if somewhat deranged.

"Excuse me,” she began. “Roa is it?”

“Mm?” the man asked, looking up at the purple-haired Alchemist.

“If you do not mind me asking...just how long have you been living here?"

"Oh I'm not sure,” the man replied blithely, an innocent smile on his face. “I used to keep track of the days on that wall over there but after a while it all seemed pointless. These days, I just spend my days playing piano and enjoying myself with these tasty treats."

Pointing towards one of the cavern walls with a bit more in the way of illumination, Sion could clearly make out a large number of markings etched into the stone, with the groupings seeming to indicate that this Roa had been here at least ten months.

"Oh!” the man remarked. “Speaking of piano, I'd very much enjoy playing a tune for you all, with your permission. It's been so long since I’ve had an audience!"

Without waiting for permission or protest, Roa raced towards a corner of the cave, where two piles of rock had been assembled - a large one vaguely shaped like a piano, and a small one about the height of a bench. Perching himself on the smaller of the two, he reached towards the larger, his fingers dancing over rock as he hummed a tune.

"Ah....so beautiful,” Riesbyfe whispered, nodding her head in time to the unheard melody.

"Will you knock it off, Ries? This is serious!” Sacchin interjected. “There’s...there is something about that man I just don’t trust."

The brown-haired girl wasn’t enjoying this situation as much as Riesbyfe clearly was, perhaps because her mind had yet to be addled by the chill. And given that she was, as yet, undistracted by the man’s games, she soon realized they had a bigger problem than possibly being trapped with a madman.

The fact that they were trapped underground at all.

"Say, how do we get out of here?” she asked uneasily, looking around the cavern. “I mean, if we got in, there has to be a way out, right?”

Not that they could use the way by which they’d entered - that entrance had caved in after them, sealing itself up tight.

“Yeah, there's got to be an exit around here somewhere, right?” White Len chimed in. “Maybe...maybe this idiot was just content to stay in this cave by himself! He can’t...he can’t actually be stuck down here or anything, right? ...Right?"

In the hope of assuaging White Len's concerns, Sion walked over to Roa and asked a simple question.

"Excuse me, Mr. Roa, while your company and hospitality have been quite excellent, I was wondering if you might be willing to show us the exit to these underground chambers,” she inquired. “We have others we need to visit on this holy night, so we should be going.”

Pausing from his imaginary performance, Roa's smile grew even wider, as he looked at the girl.

"Oh I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you,” he answered airily. “You see, there is no exit. I've been stuck down here for quite some time, and have come to the realization that escape is impossible, so we’ll be enjoying each other’s company for some time to come. Now then, please make yourselves comfortable, the concert isn’t yet over!"

Roa began to perform once more, his fingers dancing over stone as if he could coax beautiful melodies from them - but sadly, he could not.

Nanaya was quickly becoming annoyed by the madman’s antics. It had been mildly entertaining to see the irritation of his companions as the situation became more and more ridiculous, but the novelty of it had soon worn off.

"That's it, I have had enough,” the youth said, shaking his head. “Secret technique: Flash Step!"

Before anyone else could react, Nanaya seemed to blink out of existence, reappearing behind the unaware Roa to deliver a sharp kick to their host’s neck, knocking him out instantly.

"You idiot, what have you done!” White Len snapped at him, seeing the body of their host collapsed on the ground. “He was our only ticket out of here!"

"Hey, I held back,” Nanaya grumbled, shrugging. “I could have just killed him you know."

The two began to argue once more, ignoring Sacchin’s pleas for them to calm down. Riesbyfe continued to ignore them, clearly lost in a world of fantasy, and Sion...well, being the only one not distracted, she noticed something odd.

Already, Roa was stirring once more, though the attack should have kept him unconscious for a good while longer.

“According to my calculations, Roa should not be recovering for a time yet…”

Her words cut through the bickering, with Nanaya and White Len looking over, narrowing their eyes as they noted how the body of Roa was beginning to change.

The thick black hair that had once adorned the man’s head was shortening as they watched, losing its color in the process. The man’s face and form were shifting as well, with his body now slimmer, and his face...no longer that of Roa’s.

Rubbing his neck, the man stood up, speaking to himself as if unaware of the others nearby.

“Damn it all, my neck hurts, and it’s freezing down here!” he complained, walking over to a nearby rock, pulling out a thin blue bathrobe from behind it, and putting it on before turning to his erstwhile guests. “Well, that’s mildly better. Sorry about that - my other self tends to get a bit wild so I like to keep him hidden in this cave.” He chuckled quietly. “Please, allow me to introduce myself, I am SHIKI Tohno, head of the Tohno family.”

Immediately Nanaya let out a laugh unfitting of his character.

“You? Shiki Tohno?” the youth scoffed. “What a funny joke. If anyone would know who Shiki Tohno is, that would be me. But by all means, imposter, if you wish to pursue this line of thought, I’d be happy to test your skill with a blade.

Flipping open his knife, Nanaya pointed the towards SHIKI’s chest, a fierce killing intent leaking from his eyes.

Immediately SHIKI’s demeanor changed, his once calm expression tinged with hostility as he readied himself for the inevitable conflict.

“If you do not believe me,” the man growled. “I’d be happy to show you the skills of a true murderer.”

“I believe that is my line,” Nanaya retorted, blurring into motion, seeking to slay his enemy in a single blow as--


--a fist hit him in the face, knocking him to the floor, with Sacchin crumpling to the floor as well, having fainted to avoid what she seeing what she thought would be a life taken in front of her.


SHIKI, having already set himself into motion to avoid his opponent’s attack, was likewise unprepared for a fist to the jaw, slamming him into the wall.

“I swear this is why I hate men,” Sion grumbled. “Now! You there! Show me the exit!”

Dazed, SHIKI barely noted a silver thread snake from the Alchemist’s wrist to his head, attaching to his skin.

“Ah, I see,” Sion nodded, as she processed the data coming from her victim. “A secret exit hidden with a lever.”

Without giving SHIKI a chance to speak, Sion walked towards a corner of the room and pushed aside a stone, revealing a small wooden lever. She pulled on it, with part of the rock face sliding open to reveal the cold night air once more.

“Now then,” Sion said with satisfaction. “Nanaya! Seeing as you were the one to begin the fight you are going to carry Sacchin.”

“Hmph, whatever.”

Less than pleased by this turn of events but unwilling to argue against the one who’d found a way out, Nanaya gently picked up Sacchin’s unconscious body and began to follow Sion out of the cave.

“And you! Take us to your proper house at once. This girl needs a proper place to rest.”

The confused face of SHIKI changed to a smile.

“Ah, so you wish to reside at my glorious mansion, very well allow me to show you the grandest of abodes!”

With that, the group of them left, Riesbyfe following only after making sure to put out the imaginary fire.

Alas, the place they arrived at was very familiar to the group, so much so that Sion could not help but sigh, as she felt a headache coming on.

“Are you sure this is the place?” she asked, as, looking at their intended destination, it looked remarkably like the place they had been forcibly evicted from earlier in the evening.

“But of course!” SHIKI said boisterously. “As I said, I am the head of the Tohno, so why would I not go into my own house?”

For the place to which the white-haired man had led them was indeed the Tohno Mansion, unless, by some quirk of probability, where was a second Tohno mansion identical to the first secreted away somewhere…

‘I am surrounded by idiots.’

“Now then,” SHIKI declared, rubbing his hands. “Follow me. I know a secret way in that cannot be detected!”

Despite claiming to be the Tohno head of house, SHIKI opted to take one of the back entrances, carefully staying out of sight of the windows. Opening up a thick steel door he entered into what looked like a vary ominous pit.

“This way!” he said, waving for the group to follow. “I would hurry if I were you, it’s pretty cold out there.”

Curious as to where he was headed, and not wanting to linger in the chill for a moment longer than necessary, the rest of them fell into step behind him, descending into the depths of the residence.

What they saw though, shocked them quite a bit. Rather than the luxurious decorations that adorned most of the Tohno estate, all that was down here were a row of prison cells covered in a multitude of thick steel bars.

“Ah yes, this is truly paradise,” SHIKI murmured. “Well then, have a seat, just this once I’ll let you guys borrow the nearby guest rooms.”

Given that the so-called “guest rooms” were austere cells that held nothing but chains and a pathetic looking blanket, it was clear that this was not the paradise SHIKI spoke of.

“Ah don’t be shy, the maid will be here soon, as I already requested our meal for the night. If you will just wait here, we’ll be treated to the banquet of a lifetime!”

Unamused by the boy’s odd comments, so reminiscent of Roa’s, they were nonetheless stunned to see him walk over to one of the walls and fasten heavy chains around his body, a tranquil expression on his face as he waited for food.

“...I think not,” White Len remarked. “As if I would let myself be chained in this rotting dump. Come, familiar! Let us leave this man before he taints us with his stupidity.”

Turning back the way they’d come, White Len made her way up the stairs to the heavy metal door and attempted to open it, only for it to refuse to move.

“What?” she muttered. “What’s wrong? Why won’t it move?”

Try as she might, she could not get the door open, or even to move at all.

With an exasperated sigh, Nanaya made his way to her side, thinking that perhaps his Master was just too weak to move the door by herself, only to realize that it wasn’t a matter of strength.

The door was simply locked from the outside.

“Ah I thought he had returned a bit early.” A disturbingly familiar voice came over a hidden loudspeaker. “Hello again, intruders. This is your friendly neighborhood maid speaking. Please wait right there while I dispense the meal~”

From a secret passage in the gloom, a figure emerged: an mecha maid with shiny purple skin, with arms outstretched.

With a single well aimed shot, it launched glass darts full of a strange looking purple liquid at the chained SHIKI, the tip piercing his skin and injecting the contents with a hiss.

“Ah that hits the spot, a nice and satisfying dinner. Come on guys, join in, it’s pretty tasty!”

SHIKI’s excited cries only furthered the panic in White Len’s eyes.

“Ah don’t be shy, everyone, the pain only hurts for a second,” the voice called to the group. “Just sit and enjoy it. After that you’ll become my wonderful test subjects~”

As if on cue, the mechanical maid now turned towards the group, launching obviously drugged darts out of her arms from where her fingers should normally be.

“Any ideas, Ms Computer for a brain?” Nanaya snaked as he leapt into motion, his knife flashing as repelled dart after dart, his movements encumbered by the sleeping Sacchin. Sacchin, for her part, slept peacefully, murmuring about Tohno-kun and how she wanted him to ravish her - something which annoyed Nanaya to no end. “I can’t hold her off for too long, not with just one arm free.”

Sion’s mind raced, running through possibility after possibility, until she came to a workable solution.

“Ries, do you still possess the True Apocrypha?”

In response, the silver-haired woman pulled an instrument shaped pile bunker from her coat, a weapon almost larger than she was!

“Great, then take down the door,”


Aiming the huge weapon towards the steel door, she fired, the force of the blast ripping the heavy portal right off its hinges with a tremendous crash, as it went flying off into the forest..

“Ah, that’s no fair,” Kohaku’s voice complained. “You can’t just summon your weapons like some kind of legendary hero! And that door was expensive! It cost me at least a year’s worth of salary!”

Ignoring the complaints coming over the loudspeakers, the group ran for the exit.

“Oh well, if it’s a game of tag you wanted to play then all you had to do was ask!” the voice continued. “Mech-Hisui ge-”

Before she could finish her command though, another familiar voice cut her off - one whose owner had been annoyed enough by the earlier events of the night that she was not in any mood to deal with her maid’s antics.

“Kohaku, what is going on!?” Akiha’s voice snapped. “What was that crash and what are you doing with that remote control?”

“Oh Akiha! W-what a surprise to see you here!” Kohaku replied nervously, every word audible over the loudspeaker. “I wouldn’t worry about that crash or this remote. I was just playing a video game, you see. So just go on, go back to sleep.”

Thankful that Akiha had shown up to distract the insane Kohaku, but fearful of what might happen should Akiha find them here yet again the group quickly made their way out from the Tohno estate, returning to the city streets.

“Oh Tohno-kun. Tohno-kun. Tohno-kun.” Upset with Sacchin’s nonstop moaning of his arch-nemesis’ name, and more than fed up with how the night had gone so far, Nanaya decided that enough was enough, unceremoniously dropping Sacchin to the ground with a thud.

“Ow, what’s going on!?” the girl muttered, brought unpleasantly to wakefulness by the impact. “I was having the nicest of dreams. Tohno-kun had come to save me and was holding me tight, and it wa-”

Realizing from Nanaya’s glare that she hadn’t been in Tohno-kun’s arms after all, but someone else entirely, even if he looked like Tohno-kun, Sacchin shuddered, feeling rather dirty all of the sudden.

“Oh? What’s the matter little missy?” Nanaya quipped, leering at the brown-haired girl, still in her school uniform. “Did being carried in my arms not meet your deepest desires? If you would like I’m sure I could find other ways to satisfy you, though however much blood you want to spill would be up to how much you want to resist.”

“Will you be quiet, you idiot?!” White Len snapped. “As your Master I order you to halt this useless talk. None of that is going to help, not when we’re back on the street like pitiful mutts, with the cold worse than ever...”

“Oh, I can assure you our activities would be most warm indeed,” Nanaya all but purred.

That was enough to cause White Len to turn the other check and cross her arms in a pouting motion, which was almost unbearably cute - enough that Nanaya decided that was enough teasing of the little familiar.

“She’s right though - what do we do now?” Sacchin mumbled. “Should we just...give up, and go back to the alleyway?”

The despair in Sacchin’s remark was enough to down everyone’s spirits. Even Nanaya couldn’t be bothered to come up with some snarky remark, as it seemed that, at the end of the day, everything they’d done amounted to naught.

It was then that a voice spoke to them from high above.

“I believe I might be able to solve your current predicament.”

“A ghost!?”

Riesbyfe aimed her massive weapon straight into the sky, scanning the area around her to try to see who had spoken, though what she saw was no ghost - merely a blue crow with eyes of crimson red.

“Well, we might be classified as undead, but I am hardly a mere ghost.”

A booming voice issued from the crow’s mouth, quite startling Sacchin - who hadn’t expected a talking animal. Sion, though, recognized exactly who this was.

“Nrvnqsr Chaos…” she said with a hint of resignation. “By my calculations, there is no reason you should be here. Tell me, why have you shown yourself?”

“Ah that matter is simple, I heard that a number of rare creatures have been spotted wandering the back alleys, and I wanted to investigate if there was any truth to this,” the ancient vampire replied. “That was how I happened upon your group, wandering aimlessly, without home or destination. If that is the case then perhaps you might be interested in staying with me? Its warm enough, and I even have food that I would be happy to share.”

The offer was a risky one, since Nrvnqsr was known for being...eccentric, no, chaotic, at the best of times. Still, the thought of a warm home with warm food that hadn’t been scavenged from a dumpster was enticing to most of them.

Riesbyfe’s mouth was already watering at the thought of being able to eat something, anything delicious.

“Ok, we’ll be right over,” she replied on her companions’ behalf, ignoring any and all comments, complaints or such as she began to followed the crow towards his hideout.

The others were of course, a bit hesitant to trust a Dead Apostle Ancestor, but in the end, had little choice but to go with her. Besides, they reasoned, after what they’d already been through, what was the worst that could happen?

As they approached the abandoned animal sanctuary that seemed to be their destination, the group could not help but wonder why, if this place was supposed to abandoned, were the sounds of so many animals ringing out from behind its walls?

The answer soon became clear, as the crow led them past various exhibits, past rows and rows of creatures, both mundane and magical, all of which all exhibited the same tar black skin and crimson red eyes.

“According to my calculations, this place must be Nrvnqsr’s home…”

“Yes this is where I am currently staying,” the ancient vampire’s voice boomed from the crow. “It was… Troublesome finding a place large enough to house my many beasts but after some luck I came across this abandoned sanctuary that used to house an assortment of creatures.

“Isn’t that just a zoo?”

“No obviously not! Only a sanctuary like this could house this many creatures! Now then why don’t you take a seat and enjoy your meal.”

As they approached the table, they came face to face with Nrvnqsr himself, who despite his enormous form and menacing look showed no hint of danger, as he was already focused on a vast spread of food laid out before him.

A banquet.

A feast.

Hesitantly the group sat down at the table,with Riesbyfe digging into the food before her as if she hadn’t eaten in days, while the others were more uneasy, glancing back and forth from the food to Nrvnqsr himself...

“Delicious…” Riesbyfe moaned, the juices of a haunch of deer running from her mouth.

Raising an eyebrow with confusion at their hesitation to partake, Nrvnqsr looked up from his food to reassure them.

“If you’re wondering about the meal, do not worry. All of it is quite suitable for consumption, with the vegetables hand grown in a garden near here, and the meat caught by my finest hound. If this is not suitable for your tastes, however, I believe I can even provide a few cupfuls of the finest blood - all given voluntarily, of course.”

“Yes, please if you don’t mind,” Sacchin asked politely, and was pleasantly surprised when a small cup of red liquid was placed before her. Drinking it quietly, she found its flavor calmed her - and seeing her drink, the others finally began to eat.

“After tonight’s meal, I will of course, have my beasts show you to your rooms - separated, of course, by gender,” Nrvnqsr noted amiably. “But seeing as you all have decided to accept my hospitality, I would like to ask for something in return. Call it payment, if you will.”

The group froze at his words, with Sion speaking their collective thoughts.

“And what might this payment be?”

“Oh I assure you Miss Atlasia, nothing from you,” the ancient vampire declared. “It’s just that, as a collector and connoisseur of creatures magical and mundane, I have a wish to study that creature there.”

This he said while pointing at White Len, his eyes shining with eagerness as his voice echoed through the room.

“Me? What kind of idiot are you to want to study someone like me!?” White Len sputtered.

“Oh I can assure you young lady I am no idiot. As a collector of all things rare or otherwise your existence is rather unusual,” Nrvnqsr replied smoothly. “You are the rarest of rare, the greatest of prizes for one such as myself, and really, what kind of a collector would I be if I did not seek you out! Do not worry, while your skin might blacken a little I can assure you that you will not be lonely. After all I have a multitude of beasts of a similar nature to your own!”

Opening his trenchcoat, a small black cat emerged, pacing about the table and meowing plaintively before returning once more to the man’s body.

“Yes just like that! Come, little lady! Would it not be exciting to travel the world looking for the strange and powerful? Think of the adventure! The excitement! Would that not be enough to sate your curiosity?”

“I-I refuse! Such a thing is pointless to me! And besides I already have a contract.”

The excitement in Chaos’ mind faded as realization dawned on him.

“Ah I see, it is not your decision to make.”

Turning towards Nanaya, who was still ravenously partaking of the sumptuous meal, he spoke.

“Mr. Nanaya, I presume,” the Lord of Chaos spoke warmly. “As I believe you are the true owner of this feline, would you consider parting with her in exchange for shelter and perhaps...more?”

“There’s no way he would dare do something like that!” White Len protested, confident that the youth she had created would not dare to betray her, yet as she looked on, seeing Nanaya nodding thoughtfully as he considered the proposal, that confidence ebbed. “Hey you idiot, speak up! Tell this man that you have no intention of selling me off like some cheap toy!”

“Well then, Mr. Nanaya, what is it to be?” Nrvnqsr politely interjected.

“Hm, I’m afraid I would have to pass,” Nanaya said after some thought. “While it is true that watching her be consumed by black goo would be entertaining, it is more entertaining to have her around. As such I’d rather not part with her, for now, anyway.”

“See! I told you,” White Len declared triumphantly. “What kind of idiot do you think you are. Thinking he’d sell me off in exchange for food and a roof over his head...”

The expression on Nrvnqsr face grew cold as Nanaya declined his most generous offer. .

“Clearly asking you to be a reasonable man was expecting too much,” the ancient vampire noted cooly. “I bring you to my table. I offer you food and shelter. I go out of my way to help your sorry little group, and yet...you refuse my small request. Well then, since you’ve partaken of my generous meal, I’m afraid I’ll just have to take my payment by force.”

Immediately the crow that had been silently resting on a pole near by swooped down upon White Len, intent on covering her with its essence, before being blown out of the air by a well aimed shot from Sion’s gun.


Ordering the group to retreat White Len summoned forth the largest force she could muster using her power to materialize rumor, to turn illusion into reality.

As such, a blackened face emerged from the aether, coming face to face with the one on which it was based. It was an illusion, an imitation of Chaos, based on the rumors of his abilities, but it was potent enough, as the illusion’s coat opened, loosing a menagerie of creatures - dogs, lions, wolves, hawks, even sharks- at the still sitting Nrvnqsr.

“Hmph, do you really expect these fakes to match their originals!”

Annoyed by this attempt to delay him the mastermind released his own copies, each one larger and more ferocious than their counterparts.

His hounds consumed, the lions roared, the wolves circled and pounced, the hawks were like bullets in the night sky. Truly he possessed the strongest of creatures, and as such the illusions did not stand a chance.

By the time his beasts finished, the illusion of himself was no more, but the group had escaped.

“I just wanted to complete my collectionl…” he sighed, releasing even more beasts from within his coat, beasts that would chase down their foes no matter how far they ran.

In an attempt to run as fast as he possibly could Nanaya had scooped up White Len and charged in the opposite direction that the other three were headed, jumping right over the body of a large alligator.

“You know, this would be far easier if you were a cat right now.”

Though she puffed her cheeks up in an pouting manner, White Len agreed with his line of thought changed into her smaller feline form.

“Ah much better, now you look a lot cuter. You know as a cat you are still probably fine”

Continuing his comments even after he sliced straight through the horn of a charging rhino he winced as White Len proceeded to bite his finger.

“Yeah yeah, I get it, you’re the master and I’m the familiar, well then Master. What do you think we should do now?”

Easily jumping the fence of the zoo, Nanaya skidded to a halt as he found himself face to face with an enormous creature with scaly skin and huge blackened wings.

“Heh, I don’t think the Nanaya techniques have ever been used on a dragon. Well then Ms. Cat, do you think my abilities can overcome one of the strongest mythological creatures to ever exist? I think my handicap of only using one hand will help to even the odds!”

Letting out a provocative roar the dragon turned to the intruders in its midst and charged, its wings outstretched and jaw gaping open, intending to eat them both whole.

“Like a shadow in the night, Extreme Death: Seven Nights!”

Taking a stance, Nanaya flipped open his blade and tossed it towards the dragon’s face before taking off after it.

With astonishing speed, the youth reached the dragon and jumped high into the air just as the knife reached the dragon’s face, stabbing it straight though one of its enormous nostrils and causing it to howl in rage.

Ignoring the bellowing, Nanaya reached his hand into what he believed to be the dragon’s neck and pushed with all his might, grabbing onto the thick spinal cord like object and pulling as hard as he possibly could.

His hand was bruised, his arms being sliced up by the razor like scales, yet Nanaya took a foothold and continued to pull as hard as he could.

“C’mon you damn beast, let me see it! I wanna see what your death looks like!”

Under too much pressure, his arm snapped, the liquid agony of it rushing through his body, though he did not scream, pulling yet harder with desperation, until the cord itself finally broke in two, with the dragon seizing where it stood and collapsing jerkily to the ground.

“Heh, heh, heh, jeez these dragons are tough, if only I had met one sooner it would have been so much fun!”

Retrieving his blade from the nose of the beast, Nanaya jumped down from his perch and checked the damage in his arm. Carefully he set White Len down and took hold of his oddly twisted appendage before forced it back into place as best he could.

“Ah there we go, nothing like a good battle to the death to reawaken the nerves!”

Distracted by his own arm he was surprised to hear the mewing of White Len. Turning in surprise he continued his running color commentary

“Heh what’s the matter Master? You know, if you made noises like that more often I dare say you might be able to pass yourself off as cute! Oh shi-”

Turning around at a bellow of rage, Nanaya sighed as he saw the dragon he’d killed come back to life, angrier than ever.

“Oh. That’s right,” he recalled, a bit too late. “This guy can just revive his beasts, since they’re a part of him. Geez just this once I wish I had the ability of my alter ego, at least then it would be quicker. Well sorry buddy but I’m afraid you are just gonna have to die again.”

Picking up White Len once more he readied himself to move. It was true his body had taken quite the beating from his intense actions earlier but he refused to stand down. For in this killing arena who else was better suited to rule than the master of death himself?

“Very well then bring it on! Flash Sheath...”

With his one good arm, he took hold of his blade, but instead of throwing his dagger he awaited the dragon’s charge.

He wasn’t disappointed as the creature rushed for him with a mighty roar, its wings accelerating the beast to faster than even a jet could go. But Nanaya stood there undaunted, watching as it came at him, and as it was about to reach him, the youth pulled forth his dagger and slashed with all his might.

“Lost Prison Shramana!”

Mimicking a samurai’s ability to unsheath and defeat a foe with a single strike, Nanaya sidestepped the charge and sliced the dragon’s face in two. But that wasn’t all. With each passing moment another slice was added, and then another, as if Nanaya was an artist adding daubs and swathes of beautiful colors to an emerging masterpiece with each stroke of his knife.

When his masterpiece was finally done, the boy watched as dragon rushed past him, till it collided with a nearby wall, where the beast collapsed bleeding into the rubble.

“Heh, what trash!” the youth jeered. “Unable to withstand even that! Just what kind of a dragon do you think you are?”

However Nanaya hadn’t emerged unscathed from the encounter, as one of the dragon’s claws had been lucky enough to scratch his face slightly.


Not letting down his guard now that he remembered Nrvnqsr’s ability, Nanaya fully expected the dragon to recover and challenge him once more, yet this time, upon being defeated, the beast merely returned to its goo based form and flowed away.

This seemed...odd to the youth. Was Nrvnqsr really going to give up that easily?

Shrugging at his luck but cursing the fact he could not actually kill the dragon for good, Nanaya began to walk out of the lone street, as the cat in his hands began to struggle.

“Ah will you just settle down…” he began, though a thought came to mind. “Well, I suppose he might still be looking for you… Sigh I guess I have no choice, do I?”

Making sure his sigh was audible Nanaya held onto White Len and with a well aimed chop knocked her out.

“There, that should keep you quiet for the rest of the night, now be a good familiar and do what your Master says, just this once I’ll make an exception, especially on a night like tonight.”

Still holding onto the unconscious cat, Nanaya disappeared into the darkness of the street.

Once more Nanaya returned to the familiar alleyway. Not a single soul was in sight, wherever the other three had gone they had yet to return but Nanaya was not worried.

“Those three are like roaches after all, no matter how many times you kill them they’ll just keep coming back.”

Muttering that comment, Nanaya carefully set the unconscious White Len on the ground before heading to a nearby corner of the alley where a roof jutted out protecting a few precious cardboard boxes.

Opening the contents of the box Nanaya put an outfit on and left for his destination.

On this quiet frosty night the Arima residence was one of the calmest in the entire town. The only exception was the young girl who was so excited she was having trouble sleeping.

“Heh, tomorrow I’m gonna be able to see Nii-san, tomorrow really is a day where wishes come true.”

The girl had been excited all day when she learned from her mother that tomorrow she would be allowed to visit her brother. With such excitement awaiting her, she refused to get a wink of sleep, instead choosing to glance out of her window and towards the direction of her brother’s house wondering just what he might be up to.

It was then that she noticed, appearing from below a brightened streetlamp, the figure of the person she had been least expecting.


The large figure of the panda stood silent in the pool of light cast by the lamp, waiting. Knowing it would be rude to refuse, she chose to answer his call, throwing on her coat and leaving her house - while being extra careful not to wake her parents.

After making it a safe distance she began to run towards him with arms outstretched.


The bear, seeing her rushing towards him, stood at attention and spoke to her in his commanding voice.

“Greetings Miyako! I am glad to see you are well, have you been following the training regiment I have laid out for you?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

Matching her newfound confidence, the girl began to show off some of her punches.

“Excellent pupil, now then I have prepared your next test. Do you believe yourself capable of handling any task no matter its size?”

“Of course Sensei, anything you order of me I will do!”

“Good! Now then here is your task.”

It was at this point the Panda retrieved from his back a small white cat that was quietly sleeping.

“A cat?”

Curious as to why her master would have such a creature she tilted her head in confusion, however those thoughts were quickly dispelled.

“Remember your words and your future goals, Miyako! If it helps with your training you will accomplish this task no matter what. Now then, take this cat tightly in your arms.”

Once more remembering her role the young girl gently reached for the cat and took it in her arms, despite being covered in a thick white coat of fur she couldn’t help but be surprised at how cold the creature seemed.

“But sensei, what I am supposed to do with this cat?”

“You are to take this cat and keep watch over her for the entirety of tomorrow. Much like yourself this cat is a young thing with little experience but has a desire to grow stronger. In fact the reason she is sleeping now is due to the fact she was training all day today.”

“All day?”

Amazed that such a small simple creature could have a desire as strong as her own, Miyako continued to gaze at the cat, her expression now changing to one of amazement.

“That is correct, Miyako! However, though she may seem earnest she is still young and often gets into trouble. Therefore you will be in charge of keeping watch over her to make sure she stays safe. Do you understand?”

“Yes sensei, of course!”

“Excellent Miyako, I knew I could count on you, now then return to your home and keep an eye on this young lady. Make sure that no matter what happens she does not escape your sight. I must be going now, I wish you the best of luck with your training.”

Giving a mighty punch in the air, the giant bear turned around and began to walk off.

Miyako standing in the light of the street watched him go however just before he vanished around the corner she could not help but shout one final farewell.

“Oh and Sensei! Merry Christmas!”

Though she could not she his expression underneath the large panda costume, if she could have she would have seen a joyful smile more fitting the boy’s alter ego than himself.

Returning once more to the cold comfort of his back alley, Nanaya carefully stashed away his costume in it’s safe location. Though it was true that he was warmer inside it he was not about to risk Miyako running into the passed out figure of her sensei in a place such as this. And besides, he hated to see it get dirty.

Slouching against the metal can where the fire had still burnt to ashes, Nanaya felt the drowsiness that accumulated of the course of this single night finally taking its toll on him.

Though it was freezing he figured his abnormal body would be able to take this frost without shutting down. His familiar was one aligned with the ice itself, and if she could take it why couldn’t he?

Shutting his eyes, Nanaya Shiki finally fell asleep in the dirty dingy alleyway he called home.

“Still alive eh?”

When he awoke, the darkness of night had already turned to day. Assessing the damage to his body, Nanaya shivered once more to see that the cold had taken its toll. What’s more, his arm was swollen and hurt quite a bit, with a thin scar forming across his face - a lingering present from Nrvnqsr’s dragon.

“A scar, eh? Quite befitting of a master assassin such as myself. Proof that not even the most legendary creature stands a chance against me”

Even though no one was around to hear him, he continued with his witty remarks and forced himself upright.

“Now then, time to walk off this freezing cold.”

Muttering to himself once more he left his alley thankful at the very least it had been able to shield him from most of the winds. As he walked out into the town a variety of thoughts crossed his mind.

‘Hmm, maybe next year I will decorate it a little more, though I imagine her expression would prove most enjoyable.’

Despite it being rather early in the morning, judging by the position of the sun in the sky the town was completely empty. However, Nanaya was familiar with this kind of emptiness. It was not an emptiness driven by fear that he had once controlled, it was an emptiness driven by a love of the holidays.

With such pointless thoughts in his head Nanaya could not help but sigh as he wandered the empty town.

“What an unusual sight, even a murderer such as myself could get used to something like this!”

Yet even as he wandered the town he felt as if something was missing. It was at this point that realized where his path had taken him.

“Here again eh? I guess fate has a funny way of showing itself. Here I am, for the third time in under a day.”

Standing near the top of the hill surrounding Misaki the boy could not help but glance at the mansion nearby. Though he was not a hero or a being that could overcome the impossible, his excellent body at least gave him the vision to see far enough that he could make out the figures in the window of the living room.

Surely enough a multitude of people were already consumed in their merrymaking. The head of the house, his so called sister already held a glass of wine in her hand as she appeared to be arguing with the curry loving church member.

The vampire princess on the other hand was already laughing with joy as she continued to tease the other two much to their annoyance. However she was interrupted by the appearance of Sion who was likely at this point mentioning something about her calculations. This was quickly followed by an exasperated sigh following another attempt at a grope session started by Riesbyfe which forced the third member of their little party Sacchin into yet another storm of blushing.

“So they did make it out alive, excellent. I had hoped for another chance to kill them all.”

With a smirk the boy smiled as he saw the maids bringing out more food and drinks which in turn created even more chaos as the group rushed for the food, only for the ones that reached for Hisui’s plate to start coughing violently.

On another side of the room two men sat face to face quietly drinking with one another as they enjoyed a light chat. It appeared even Roa and Nrvnqsr had been invited to stay for the morning celebrations.

Finally in a lone corner of the room a single girl lay on the couch sleeping peacefully likely due to the fact she had been so excited the night before to visit her brother. In her arms lay a little white cat who had since woken up and was now glaring at a similar looking black cat who lay on the opposite side of the room.

“Heh glad to see she’s found company as well, though I have to admit it would have been interesting to see the look on her face up close. Watching her acting so frustrated brings joy to my heart. But there is one thing that brings even more joy than that.”

Despite the pain in his arm Nanaya reached once more for his blade and turned around, coming face to face with the person he had been expecting to see most of all.

“And that would be the death of my other self.”

With his smirk regained Nanaya was confident that despite his weakened body he would easily be able to take this boy out. He was certain of it in fact. After all, he knew better than anyone else the weaknesses of this boy.

He was a boy that cared for life more than anyone else, living it to the fullest even going so far as to drag others into his lively energies; this boy was the antithesis of what Nanaya the master of death stood for.

However the boy upon seeing Nanaya pull out his blade merely sighed. Pushing his glasses up he took no offensive stance and merely continued to stand there, silently watching to see what Nanaya would do.

Seeing that Tohno Shiki was unwilling to continue their unfinished fight put Nanaya in a bad mood. Cursing under his breath he put away his knife and spoke.

“Hmph consider yourself lucky, it seems that today of all days, I am just not feeling it. Now then if you will excuse me, I think it is about time I leave.”

Nanaya was just turning to do so when Shiki finally spoke.

“I carry a message from your friends, they wanted to thank you for buying time for them to escape. When you rushed off, the path they took eventually caused them to run into me and Arcueid out on on a midnight stroll. It was then that Arcueid was able to persuade Nrvnqsr to give up the chase. In exchange for giving up on White Len, she agreed to reveal to him the location of an even rarer creature, the dreaded Neco-Arc.”

The smirk on Nanaya’s face faded, a tinge of annoyance stretched across his itching brow as he sighed at the mention of those people being called his friends.

“I see, it figures that they would do something as idiotic as that. Now then if that is all, I really must be going. If I stay any longer it is likely that my impulses will take over.”

Once more he began to walk away, only for his alter ego to speak up once more.

“You know… I consider you a lot of things.” Shiki Tohno said quietly. “A mass murderer, a criminal, a villain who must be stopped at all costs, and even a part of me that I can never truly escape from. But one thing I never realized until now is that you are also a terrible liar.”

These words caused Nanaya to freeze, shocked that his other self would be willing to utter such bitter words. For a moment, he began to reconsider his previous comment that he was in no mood for killing, but before he could act on his impulse, Shiki spoke up yet again.

“I can’t force you to join us, but I will say this: If you choose to leave I’m sure at least one of us will be really sad.”

With that final comment the boy left his alter ego’s side leaving Nanaya to himself once more. Grasping onto the small switchblade as tightly as ever Nanaya cursed in frustration once again.

Yet with an exasperated sigh his expression wavered as he glanced once more through the window his eyes locking with that of the pure white cat who had noticed him even across this distance.

‘Damn cat and your eyesight. I should have cut those feline eyes out of your skull long ago. The gore would have been enough to entertain me for ages!’

Despite being nowhere close to Nanaya and being unable to read his mind the cat tilted her head in a pouting manner as if to say:

“I would have liked to see you try! Your own eyes would have been ripped out long before mine.” She then turned away and nestled up to the little girl as if to add. “And this new familiar is leagues better than you ever were!”

Letting out another sigh Nanaya could not help but think to himself that as of late he was sighing quite a lot lately.

Hesitating at first he let out a final sigh, as he changed course and headed towards the mansion, noting that Shiki had already long since entered into the merriment and was likely already enjoying himself to no end.

Seeing his alter ego like this, seeing him happy - it angered Nanaya.

‘If this sick boy can have this much fun then why can’t I?’

In an attempt to persuade himself Nanaya once more walked into the courtyard but instead of barging straight in he proceeded to knock on the door.

Immediately it was thrust open as the cheerful voice of the creature who had tried to kidnap them the night before who greeted him with a smile.

“Welcome! Please come in, we’ve been expecting you!”

Put off by the cheeriness Nanaya hesitated, in this short moment the cat that had been resting in the lap of Miyako jumped off and rushed towards Nanaya’s side before promptly biting him on the hand.

“Ow, you damn brat that hurt!”

However the cat ignored his cry of pain and instead began to purr as it brushed against his leg.

“Yeah yeah I get it, jeez I should’ve killed you when I had the chance…”

Despite his harsh language Nanaya proceeded to bend down and pet the cat before it once more rushed into the house to escape the biting cold.

The door was still open, and cries of joy could be heard from the inside. Taking one more glance around the mansion itself Nanaya’s smirk returned as he took his first step inside where he was greeted with a multitude of voices.

“Nanaya-san, Merry Christmas!”

A fic about Nanaya and the Back Alley Alliance. Together, they try and fail to solve their homelessness. But where in Misaki is there a cheap room that also allows pets?

December 25th, 2016, 11:57 AM
Where the Circle Ends

Sand and dust grinding under his feet were the only sounds in the air as he leisurely ascended the worn steps in the darkness. He had already climbed dozens of floors - he had lost count after the first twenty - but there was no impatience in his step. Neither was he tired. At one point he may have felt anticipation at what lay ahead, but he couldn't say that now.

While there was no anticipation, he still felt something akin to anxiety. Today was a special day, an hour of reckoning. The end of another test, whose results would mean life or death for the entire world.

Within the depths of the long-forgotten skyscraper, there had been no wind to carry away the dust his passage had kicked into the air. Only the intermittent sound of a distant rumbling, like far off thunder, disturbed his silent ascent. Now, however, far above, he could hear the faint whistle of moving air passing over a not-quite sealed opening. He couldn't help but give a sigh of relief. He was getting a little tired of the stairwell. It felt like he had been climbing for hours, so it would be nice to have a change in scenery.

After a long last few minutes, he finally came across the source of the noise - a heavy metal door, slightly ajar, marking the end of the ascent. A dull light peaked around the edges of the door, indicating it was still very much daytime. He would have preferred to do this at night, but unfortunately the actors were not so kind as to adjust their performance for him, so he had no other choice than to go out now. Otherwise he might miss the whole show.

With a gentle push, he shoved the door forward. Even cracked open slightly, the door still stuck for a moment before the rusted-over hinges gave way, and with a loud squeal the door swung open. Though his first instinct was to retreat from the soft, grey afternoon light, he instead stepped out onto the roof while shielding his eyes with his hand.

The light was...unpleasant, to say the least. But it was not harmful. Certainly, standing in direct sunlight was incredibly dangerous, even for a vampire of his calibre, but there was no threat of that now. Looking up, he could see that as always, a sheet of steel-grey clouds covered the sky from horizon to horizon. Just as the wall of clouds had blocked the moonlight from ever reaching him at night, they also blocked the sun from ever reaching him in the day. So while being out and about during the daytime wasn't pleasant, it wasn't nearly as dangerous as it had been in ages past.

Stepping over to the edge of the roof, hundreds of stories in the air, he gazed across the desolate wasteland around him. Meeting his eyes was a mosaic of greys and browns, stretching off into forever. Though he had picked the tallest tower he could find, all around him lay buildings of comparable sizes, each as dark and silent as the one he had just walked through. Beyond them lay smaller buildings, and past those open land, but they were all the same. Though the buildings around him reached for the sky, those far away huddled around the ground, and the land farther out stretched out into a featureless desert, they all spoke the same message to him.

We were.

They had each once been part of a thriving city, a nation whose movements shook the world, a culture whose accomplishments endured thousands of years. But now they just stood here, silent and abandoned, members of an audience that could only wonder if this was the final episode.

And they were the lucky ones.

Taking his eyes off the silent monuments, he looked up at the sky once more. It would only be a short while until the show began. And while in a way he was eagerly awaiting its conclusion, he also kind of wanted to just...put it off. Delay the inevitable conclusion that it would bring. The faint drone of aircraft overhead, however, promised to him and the silent audience he accompanied that there would be no putting off the conclusion that today would bring.

He supposed it wasn't really fair to call this the beginning, though. After all, the people of the planet - he could hardly call them human anymore - had been locked in combat for almost seven full days. But try as they might, they were running out of time. If they did not end things quickly, they would lose, and though it was only one battle in the war, it was probably the most important, most desperate battle yet. Winning here meant that they would live to fight another day. Losing would put an end to their resistance in its entirety, across the entire world.

To him though, it didn't mean much.

Whether they won or lost, his fate had already been sealed long ago. Watching this battle unfold was no more than entertainment for him.

After only a few moments of watching over the scenery before him, the faint sound of footsteps reached his ears. He had to admit, he was a little embarrassed at having taken so long to recognize someone was following him, but within that confined stairwell, if they had kept a reasonable distance away, or climbed a parallel stairwell, he supposed detecting them would have been impossible. Regardless, as the footsteps approached, it was clear their owner was not attempting to be stealthy.

He shrugged to himself. It was his own sloppiness that prevented him from realizing he was being followed, but he couldn't say he would have done anything about it if he had noticed.

The door to the roof squealed once again in protest as the second visitor in centuries stepped onto the roof. Turning to greet his new company, as he met her eyes, his smile froze on his face.

After a brief moment to get over the shock, he broke the silence.

"Well, if it isn't Elesia. You certainly look...different."

"How kind of you to notice," her response came back dry. Whether that was because of the name he called her or because of his comment that she had changed was anyone's guess. It was probably a bit of both, actually. "You look the same as always, Roa."

"Well, in the end, I just can't say anything but my original look suits me. Don't you agree?"

With a snort, the girl - or perhaps he should say woman now? - stepped up beside him and looked out over the dead cityscape.

Even as she showed no apparent hostility, he couldn't help but keep his guard up with her standing so close to him. It wasn't that she was a threat to him - not anymore - but that had never stopped her from trying to kill him in the past. Now, though she didn't seem particularly happy to see him, there was no aggression to her demeanour. She was certainly armed, but even standing no more than a few feet away from him, he couldn't sense any hostility from her at all.

But what was even more unsettling was her appearance.

Though her clothes had obviously changed from the Church garments she had worn a thousand years prior to something more suited to surviving in an empty wasteland like this one, what was more terrifying was her face. It looked...older. This woman, whose appearance hadn't changed since she turned 16 over a thousand years ago, had now clearly aged. She still appeared quite young, perhaps in her mid twenties now, but the fact she had aged at all had terrible implications.

"Well I guess that settles it," Roa chuckled to himself. "This really is the end of the world."

As if to agree with him, a handful of small streaks of black smoke fell from the clouds above, descending into the empty city before them. The distant rumble of ruined aircraft crashing into abandoned buildings filled the air.

"Is that why you're here?" the woman said, her voice distant and tired.

"Yes, actually," he replied with a wry grin. "I figured if today was the last moments for the remnants of humanity, someone as old as I am should probably be here to send them off."

"Which one are they fighting this time?" Her voice was almost disinterested as she looked up at the cloud wall above, as if expecting she could see through to the battle occurring above it.

"No idea," he shrugged. "I can tell you it's not Jupiter, Mercury, or Pluto. Saturn doesn't seem the type to try for a full frontal assault like this, either."

"So Venus, Mars, Uranus, or Neptune? If you put it like that, it almost seems like humanity is winning."

"As long as you ignore the fact that humanity itself is down to a few dozen members," he replied with a laugh. "But hey, who's keeping score?"

"I thought you would be," she replied in a condescending tone, matching much closer to the Elesia he remembered. "After all, its your food that's getting annihilated out there."

"Oh don't worry about me," he answered her feigned concern with an honest deflection, "there's still plenty of blood out there for me even if humanity is wiped out." Pay no mind to the fact that supply is shrinking rapidly as well, he added to himself.

Though he spoke casually, he still watched her out of the corner of his eye. Despite her calm demeanour, he still couldn't relax with her nearby. Their past together had just been a bit too...bloody. Not that he minded bloody all that much. Maybe that was a bad metaphor.

"So," he continued, "we know why I'm here. What about you?"

Without even being able to see her face, he could somehow feel her eyes roll. "To kill you, of course." Her answer sounded suprisingly sarcastic, considering how hard she had tried to do just that in the past.

"Well, you better get on it," Roa replied with a short laugh as another handful of aircraft plummeted from the clouds. "If you don't hurry, we might both die before you get the chance."

At that, she turned to him with a look of genuine surprise. "You can actually die?"

"Of course," he replied with a grin. "In fact, I'm pretty sure I hold the record of most deaths for a single person." Seeing her expression turn flat, he laughed again before giving a serious answer. "Technically no, but if there's no one left to have children, it might be difficult for me to reincarnate, don't you think?"

"To think the Serpent of Akasha would meet such a boring end," she spoke once again with feigned pity, turning her gaze back to the clouds above.

"Indeed," he replied, turning his eyes to follow hers. "I'm going to have to do something very creative to avoid that, aren't I?"

Silence fell over the pair as yet another wave of aircraft plunged to their deaths. It seemed as if this was truly going to be the end. Despite having a full seven days to muster their forces, it seemed as if they hadn't managed to mount a sufficient defense. What a shame.

Another quick glance at his companion's face told him very little. Her face was as impassive and unreadable as ever, no indication that she had any vested interest in the result of the battle overhead. Or in her arch-nemesis standing beside her, for that matter. She really had changed a tremendous amount since the last time he saw her, and not just physically.

It was almost like she had given up.

"Do you miss her?" She spoke again, breaking the long silence.

Taken off-guard by the question, Roa turned back to the desolate cityscape, maintaining a thoughtful quiet.

Did he miss her?

There was, of course, only one person 'her' could be. And while he had never really had the chance to spend any real time with her ever since their...falling out, he could always rely on her to come find him again. Wherever he was, whenever he was.

But not this time.

This particular incarnation of himself had been roaming the world for decades. After bringing a single city to its knees covertly, he then openly waged war against those around him. He was as brazen as he had ever been, encouraging his enemies to come to him, to fight him, to strengthen themselves...to provide an even more powerful host for his next incarnation. He had not been disappointed with their response, but...it never ended. She never came to stop him, as she had many dozens of times before.

It was something he had understood implicitly, but had avoided thinking about consciously.

The Earth was finished. The World had died. And so she was gone.

She had handed him the keys to eternity, and she had become the one thing other than eternity he could honestly long for.

But those intense feelings had faded with the centuries. Every time he reincarnated, he felt more distant from her...more distant from the Roa that cared about her. And in a way, he was grateful for that.


Because he could answer that question honestly now. He could mourn her end without being hurt by it.

"No. She had nothing left to offer me. I am grateful for what she has given me, but she was already no more than a ghost of my past. Clinging to her now, the image of her now, would just be unsightly."

The girl snorted derisively. "I take it back, Roa. You've changed a lot. Are you even the same person?"

He met her comment with a sly grin. "Of course not. The Roa you knew died long, long ago." Looking up at the clouds again, he spoke in a much more solemn tone. "Of course, there is a possibility that she is not completely gone. Maybe a small fragment of who she was still lives above those clouds, waiting for the sky to open so she can descend again. So she can put an end to everything on this husk of a planet."

"That's why you stopped attacking humanity, isn't it? Not to keep your food stock alive. You just wanted them to survive long enough, to see if there's anything left of her in the Moon."

Roa's only response was a grin and a shrug.

As she said, after it was clear that she was not coming to put an end to him, he had put a stop to his conquest against humanity. After the Aristoteles had arrived, he had even turned his efforts to assisting humanity, helping to fight off their impending doom. His legion of the dead had been effectively annihilated in the confrontation, and had accomplished little more than delaying the deaths of the nearby humans by a few months. But considering his opponent, he felt like that was a tremendous accomplishment.

Of course, he didn't care one way or another about the humans he may or may not have saved. It was all simply an attempt to keep the game going, to lure the Moon into descending.

He may have had no more emotional attachment to her left, but if there was even the most remote possibility of even a fragment of her remaining, he felt obligated to seek it out.

He wanted to seek it out.

"Is that why you haven't tried to kill me, either?" She pressed.

"I haven't killed you because I have nothing to gain by doing so," he replied dryly. "Besides, murdering such a long-time friend would spoil the moment. These kind of spectacles are so much less interesting when you are watching alone."

"Even if I could kill you before you saw her again?"

Roa laughed. "Could you kill me?" Her bitter expression was all the answer he needed to that question.

Sure, she could injure him gravely, as could any human. Her magecraft, if she deigned to use it, would certainly be a powerful weapon as well. But without the Scriptures, she couldn't hope to cut his cycle of reincarnation. And without the World's influence to protect her, she couldn't hope to survive an encounter with someone who was physically and magically superior to her in every respect.

With the Scriptures and Sacraments of the Church, she might have been able to put an end to his eternity. She certainly had had ample time to train, and as far as skill was concerned, she was almost certainly superior to him, who had had to restart from scratch every twenty or so years as he died and reincarnated. But with the collapse of the Church, the conceptual strength of the Scriptures and Sacraments had vanished. She no longer had any tools left that could do more than inconvenience him.

She knew that, of course. He suspected that's why she hadn't bothered to attack him when she first arrived.

"If you know you can't kill me, why did you follow me up here?"

This time it was her turn to shrug. "If only I knew. I've spent my whole life trying to hunt you down and kill you, but with this state of affairs, that seems meaningless now, doesn't it?"

Roa gave her a sidelong glance. He had been wrong before. He had thought her listless demeanour was because she had given up, because she had given in to despair.

But her tone held no despair. Her blank expression gave no indication it was hiding hopelessness, no sign that she had surrendered to her fate.

Rather than having given up, it was much more...like himself. Like she had already won.

"I never did really ask you, did I?" Roa spoke up, watching as what must have been the last few planes fell from the sky into the city below. "Why did you want to kill me so badly? I always assumed it was out of revenge, but if that was the case, you wouldn't be here right now, would you?"

After a brief moment, as if considering whether to tell the truth, she replied. "Revenge was certainly a part of it. But more importantly, the idea of living forever was...unpalatable, to say the least. Especially after what I...what you did. I couldn't die until after you did, and you had already taken my whole life away from me, so hunting you down was killing two birds with one stone."

"But now you can die all on your own, so all you have left against me is a thousand year old grudge." Her silence was all the answer he needed.

She had what she wanted. The centuries had dulled her rage against him, and had turned revenge impossible for her anyways. But now she was fully capable of dying, regardless of his own continued existence. Therefore, she had no more reason to fight.

"I will die along with the rest of humanity," she said after another long silence. "And with humanity gone, you will die too. In the end, I guess we'll end up dying together. It seems fitting, in a poetic kind of way." Despite the obvious revulsion she felt in saying so, she was right in a way. It would be fitting if the two who had once been one would disappear together.

"Sorry, but I'm not disappearing with you."

Elesia blinked a few times, as if stunned. "How do you plan on living on without any food, or any hosts to reincarnate into?" Rather than challenging, her tone was more confused. She didn't seem to doubt what he was saying, she just didn't understand where his confidence came from.

Squinting his eyes at the cloud wall overhead, he strained his ears to listen. Over the sound of the wind, he could faintly hear the drone of an aircraft's engine. It was faint, meaning there could only be a small handful of them left, maybe two or three. Perhaps even only one. But they were still there.

"Long ago, before she killed me again, she asked me a question. 'Where does the circle end, Roa?'"

A parasite like you can't survive forever. You need a host to feed off of, after all. Where does your circle end? Are you just going to hang on to the last pitiful moment, when you starve to death?

She must have known at that time that humanity was on its way to decline. Or maybe she was just guessing as such, considering the state of the planet at the time.

"No doubt, she intended it as a question to intimidate me, to make me question everything I was doing. But even so, it piqued my curiosity. It may seem an inane inquiry at first, but as a seeker of eternity, it seemed like the perfect question. Naturally, she killed me before I came to a satisfactory answer, but it stuck with me, so I thought about it long after."

He couldn't remember how long ago this story had taken place, but it wasn't really important. His companion continued listening in silence, looking at him with as blank an expression as ever.

"The next time we met, I had yet to come up with an answer that satisfied myself. Sure, it seemed like a paradoxical question, but if I admitted that, would I not admit that the eternity I sought was a paradox as well? So I turned the question back on her. She was far from a scholar, but it was her question, so I figured it was only fair to get her opinion." Even as faint as his recollection of the event was, he still couldn't help but laugh as he recalled her answer. "She said, 'wherever I cut it.'"

Elesia gave a wry smile. "Sounds like her."

"As much as her answer lacked seriousness, it was quite a valid one. Even the symbol of eternity, even a circle will end if you cut it off. However as valid as that response was, it didn't really solve the paradox, did it? So over my next few incarnations, I continued to mull over the problem."

After a great deal of mental effort, he came to the conclusion that there was no answer. A circle would only end if you cut it. That was what it meant to be a circle.

He had accepted long before the question had been posed that his eternity was a false one. Even if he could outlive humanity, an eternity alone was no different from death. If humanity was to end, he had no qualms with following them into the great beyond.

But as that end came within sight, it made him think. Could he find a way to live beyond humanity? Maybe there would be no meaning in it, but was it possible? This inquiry, out of pure curiosity, revived that old question. Where does a circle end?

This time around, however, he realized his mistake. He had approached the question as a magus, as a philosopher, as a scientist. He was looking for an answer in logic, in fact. In reality. But the reality was that it was an impossible question. So if there was going to be an answer to such a question, the answer itself would have to be just as esoteric.

After approaching it from that angle, he had found his answer easily. As if it had been staring him in the face the entire time, just waiting for him to recognize it. And when he had, it changed everything.

It took only one more incarnation, the last one 'she' put an end to before she disappeared, for him to realize that answer. And as such, he had finally done it.

In another moment of poetic justice, just as Elesia had shed her false eternity and accomplished her goal of mortality, just as she had found the answer to the question that was her life, so too had he. By answering that one question, true eternity had fallen into his hands.

An inhuman shriek suddenly tore the air. As if the sound itself had physical force, a hurricane-like wind buffeted the pair atop their skyscraper, knocking both of them backwards. After the initial shock of the sudden wind, they both braced themselves against it and rose to their knees, wide-eyed faces turning to the sky.

Curtains of dust and sand blew into the air, as if the city had suddenly been struck by a sandstorm, but with their elevation their view of the sky was still unobstructed. After a few moments, the shriek trailed off, as did the wind that accompanied it. As if time itself was stopped, the clouds of sand and dust hung in the hair, obscuring the view of the city below.

Both of them watched in silent awe as the clouds above burst. A form bigger than they could imagine, comparable in size to the entire city around them, fell from above the cloud wall as if in slow motion. Still wrapped in clouds, its form was mostly obscured, except for a pair of enormous wings, each large enough to put the skyscraper they were standing on to shame. The form fell as if in slow motion, dozens of kilometers away from where they were standing. After what seemed like forever, but had likely only been a few moments, it crashed into the ground.

As the sound of the impact reached them, a shockwave tore the city. While not as powerful as the hurricane force winds of just moments prior, an enormously powerful gust of wind tore the clouds of dust from where they hung above the city, throwing them away like light throwing out shadows. At the same time, the tremors caused by the entity striking the ground threatened to throw the two off their feet once again. Even as they watched, the more unstable and decrepit buildings of the city collapsed, kicking more dust and dirt into the air to be carried away by the shockwave.

By some miracle, the skyscraper they were standing on remained firm, and as the tremor subsided and the shockwave passed, they both slowly rose to their feet, eyes still locked on the fallen creature.

It had landed just outside the city bounds, annihilating the nearby structures. The dust cloud it had kicked up from landing prevented them from seeing it in any sort of detail, but they had seen enough of it while it was falling to know what it was.

It was an Aristoteles.

And it was dead.

"...they did it?"

Elesia was the first one to break the silence.

Roa threw his head back as he laughed. "They actually did it! It took them until the last possible moment, but they actually managed to bring down another one! I can't say I expected it, but I am certainly impressed! I guess that's what happens when you underestimate humanity!"

Though he had convinced himself he had no preference as to the outcome of the battle above, his jubilance at seeing the human victory showed how much of a lie that had been. Even Elesia beside him could only look in shocked disbelief at the truth before her. Despite being caught in the very jaws of defeat, the humans had somehow managed to succeed. And the two of them had been here to see it.

Still unable to keep his eyes off the plume of dust in the distance, he spoke out of a strange euphoria. "It looks like humanity will last for a little while longer. In fact, such a resounding victory puts them one step closer to winning the war, doesn't it?" Though he knew he gained little from the victory, he couldn't help but feel like he had just won an enormous gamble.

"That makes three." Her disbelief was still clear in her voice as she muttered to herself. "Three Aristoteles have been defeated."

"And it's all thanks to humans like you," Roa said with a playfully patronizing tone.

The victory here was entirely unprecedented. At worst, they had lost hundreds of lives in trying to take down this Aristoteles. Compared to the hundreds of millions wiped out by Type Jupiter as it died, that was almost a bloodless victory. It was almost like humanity had a chance to win this war.

Of course, neither of them would say that. As euphoric as all of humanity was doubtless to be after news of this victory traveled, there was one sobering fact that kept this momentary feeling from becoming something more.

Three Aristoteles had died.

One wiped out an entire continent in its death throes.

One was killed before entering the atmosphere, but killed humanity's strongest defense in the process.

And this one had died mere minutes before it had reached the ground, minutes before it would have spelled the end of humanity once and for all.

Every victory they had had come at a tremendous cost. Humanity was straining under the weight of those costs after just two, the third showing just how close they were to losing everything.

And there were still six more.

Humanity may be able to hold on for a little longer, but win? Such an assertion was naive at best.

But even as that threat of despair hung over humanity as a whole, it had little sway over the two witnessing it. One who had sought death for more than a thousand years, and one who had already found a way to cheat it. Humanity's continued survival meant nothing to them.

After another long silence, once the shock of what they had witnessed finally subsided a little, Elesia finally turned to him.

"So? You told me her answer, but what about yours? Where does a circle end?"

"It's so simple," Roa replied with a smile, still feeling the excitement of the spectacle he had just been fortunate enough to watch. In fact now that he thought about it, the two of them might have been the first people on the planet to see an Aristoteles die and live to tell about it. Aside from whoever had managed to kill it, theoretically. "It's almost embarrassing to think of how long it took me to realize the answer."

Breaking a piece of concrete off the edge of the roof, he walked over to the door he had entered through earlier. He had no need to explain it to her in such detail, but he was in a good mood now. Closing it firmly, he used the broken piece of concrete to carve a circle into the door's weathered surface. Slowly, methodically, he drew the circle as large as the surface would allow. After a few moments, the line met its own tail, forming as perfect a circle as he could manage freehand. Turning to face Elesia, who had followed him over to the door, he gave another triumphant grin as he pointed to the top of the circle, where he had finished carving it.

"Where does a circle end? The same place it begins."

As if watching the Aristoteles die had broken her expressionless facade, he could see her work through the implications of what he had just said. First, a raised eyebrow at such a simple sounding answer. Then, confusion as she began to see what he had said. Finally, wide eyed shock, as she realized the answer behind the answer.

"But wait, there's...how could you...but what..." One by one, she raised objections, shooting them down herself before she could even finish voicing them.

"It's simple, right? I had already created the solution, almost two thousand years ago, and I hadn't even realized it!"

"You already transfer your soul to the Root while you wait for your next reincarnation to be born. But since the Root exists outside of time, you just need to specify a place to incarnate in the past. That's basically time travel!"

"And that's where true eternity lies, is it not? An infinite eternity is impossible. You cannot exist in perpetuity as an individual, as you will eventually, given enough time, come to an 'end.' So the answer is of course, to pursue a finite eternity. In other words, a loop."

Elesia raised a hand to her forehead as her mind raced. He could see it in her widened eyes, see that she was realizing the simplistic genius of the solution. Without looking at him, she finally managed to raise an objection she couldn't immediately answer. "If you can select a host after you have already moved to Akasha, it seems reasonable. But if you go back in time, don't you risk causing a time paradox? If that happens, you'll be annihilated. Nevermind the Counter Force, reality itself will crush you."

"Oh, that's easy." Using the chunk of concrete in his hand, he scratched a line to indicate where he had started and finished drawing the circle. "Sure, if I replace the soul of someone else in the past, that might create a time paradox. But what if I replace my own soul? From the perspective of the Root, nothing will have changed. Certainly the quality of the soul inhabiting Michael Roa Valdamjong will be different, but the true essence of it will remain unchanged. There will be no paradox."

Just as Elesia seemed like she might crumble under the revelation, she lunged forward. Even faster than he could react, two black keys emerged in her hands, punching through his left should and right arm and pinning him to the wall behind him. With a grunt, more out of surprise than pain, he gave her a quizzical look.

The black keys of the old Church held no conceptual power now, but they were still sharp. They weren't really that much of an obstacle to him, but he supposed that was as much of a weapon as she had against him. Seeing that she still had no real means to hurt him, he decided against retaliating for now.

Her expression was one he hadn't seen in many hundreds of years from her. She was not impassively expressionless, as she had been earlier today. Nor was there anger or bloodlust in it. Instead, it was a much more pleasing emotion.


"No...you can't! I can't let you! I can't let you do everything all over again!" She all but screamed as she threw her body weight onto the swords, trying to keep him pinned to the wall despite the fact he wasn't resisting. He could have resisted. He could, with the swipe of a hand, crush her skull, and finally kill her for good. But where would the fun in that be?

"Oh don't worry," he said with another manic grin, "it won't be the same. No, not at all. This time, I'll be much smarter. I'll know much more. I will know all my mistakes before I make them, and be able to correct them before they happen. And though I will have to wait eight hundred years to do so, I will remember to take especially good care of your body this time. It was such a waste, dying so young when I was you. And with so much potential! No, this time I'll get something much more useful out of it."

"As if I'd let you!" Now, with the threat being personal, there was fury mixed in with her fear. But with both her hands tied up with pinning him to the wall, she had little she could do to hurt him.

Or so he had thought. Without missing a beat, without breaking eye contact with him, she began to chant. A chant he knew all too well, a spell she had learned from perusing his own memory.

Roa threw his head back in laughter once again. She almost never used magecraft, especially against him. This showed just how truly desperate she was. If only she could also see how futile it was as well.

"Oh, don't worry so much, Elesia," he managed to say before lightning arced across the entirety of his body, igniting his clothes and charring the skin underneath. This time, there was very real pain. After an unintentional cry of pain, and a few deep breaths to regain his composure, he continued before she could begin chanting another spell. "There's nothing you can do to stop it now. Even if you could kill me, the deal is already done. But you can't kill me anyways."

"Just watch me!" She shrieked as lightning arced across his face, destroying one of his eyes and the majority of his nose. He hadn't even noticed her using an incantation that time. Had she learned some magecraft he wasn't aware of over these past thousand years?

"Oh, my poor Elesia, it's not because of you." As he spoke, he felt his body becoming lighter. And as his smile widened, he could tell she recognized it too.

"A proxy?!"

As his body began to dissolve from the feet up, she dropped one of her black keys and punched a hand into his chest, as if to grab his heart. Though normally his body would be much too tough for a human to do so, the weakened state of his dissolving body made it like she was punching through wet paper. Of course, for the same reason, she wouldn't be able to find what she was looking for there.

"You won't find me again before you die, I'm afraid," he continued as she desperately tried to trace back to where his real body was. "But we will meet again. The next time we meet you won't remember who I am at all. But don't worry..."

The remaining black key dropped from her hand as the rest of his body turned to dust, the Dead he had been possessing disintegrating as his controlling influence left it.

"...I will remember you very well. You were always one of my favourites!"

As his body lost the last of its form, the dust it had dissolved into floating away with the strong wind at the top of the skyscraper, the sound of his laughter echoed across the rooftop.

As a despair she could barely understand drove her to her knees, collapsing under the weight of such a complete loss, Elesia looked up at the engraving of the circle on the door Roa had made.

Where did the circle end?

For Michael Roa Valdamjong, it didn't.

As humanity faces its final days, Roa contemplates the end of eternity.

December 25th, 2016, 11:58 AM
Part-time Heroes

“Six thousand, five hundred and sixty-five, please come to the front desk,” a voice called from every direction. "Six thousand, five hundred and sixty-five.”

Another number was called, and then another. They served as the only measure of time in this isolated space, for no clocks hung on its sterile walls. Each number signified a moment passed; a person chosen, and for the others who still waited, an increment towards the inevitable.

Save for these steady interruptions, the crowded lobby was still in a state of stillness, no less tranquil than the softest of seashores. After all, the ones here did not have much to talk about. They had all been through this before, and would all go through it again. They would do their duty, just as they always had: as symbols, as weapons, and as heroes. As Heroic Spirits.

The voice called again, and one of such heroes looked down at the number in his hand -- seven thousand, seven hundred and forty-two -- and yawned. A few seats down from where he was sitting, a dark-suited man rose from his chair, holding onto his brimmed hat with a smirk like a madman who had found his true calling. The hero scratched his beard. At least someone was excited about this, he thought.

With every number, more empty seats formed around him, only to to be filled moments later with new occupants. One of such newcomers was a young woman who took a seat to his right, a silver veil flowing from her head. He noticed she held the number twelve thousand and fifty-two.

He glanced at his own number again, and had an idea. Would this be against the rules? He wasn’t entirely sure. “Psst,” he whispered to the girl, showing her his number. “Want to trade?”

She was not too impressed by his question. Her face was akin to that of a statue, sculpted to fit a single type of expression. It was hard to even imagine such a face ever smiling. He couldn’t help but think that a little sad.

Realizing she wasn’t going to answer, he chuckled softly. “You can’t blame an old man for trying, right?”

She continued her blank stare. It was almost as if she was completely incapable of understanding what he was saying.

Maybe that was only natural. Some here would probably think his behaviour cowardly or unfitting for a hero, but he was used to that by now. Besides, it wasn’t as if he was afraid of being called. Ask him to hold down a fort? He could do that. But these expeditions? They just didn’t suit him. They’d have a better time asking someone more youthful and full of vigor. He’s sure that kid probably loved these things.

“Seven thousand, seven hundred and forty-two, please come to the front desk. Seven thousand, seven hundred and forty-two.”

But, in the end, a job’s a job.

He waved his neighbour goodbye, for what little that mattered, and headed to the front. While there were multiple different stations before him, he saw the empty one, and went straight for it.

To his surprise, behind the desk was a small girl, barely appearing old enough to hold a job like a receptionist. She wore a faintly coloured suit, and her light hair was bundled up in a long ponytail. “Uhm, please wait a few moments,” she said, scrambling with some papers on her desk, “I’m still processing your assignment.”

“It’s fine, take it easy. I’m in no rush.” He had thought his words would be reassuring, but he still saw faint tears building up in her eyes. It made him feel a little bad; even he could tell the suit she wore was painfully unsuited for her. She seemed more the type to sit on the sidelines offering moral support, not being forced to work away like a slave. But damn if she wasn’t trying her best anyway.

He had once heard that those who ended up getting stuck with the desk jobs were the less popular ones: local legends, uncommon aspects of certain heroes, and the like. He didn’t exactly pity them; a nice cushy desk job didn't sound half bad right about now. Unfortunately, he was all out of luck. Having a unforgettable legacy like his really wasn’t all it was chalked up to be.

As if fate itself was mocking his inner musings, his eye caught a youthful man a few stations down from him, his bright hair sticking out like a sore thumb. The youth also noticed him in the same moment, and the two of them locked eyes. Both of their expressions soured instantaneously.

A noise escaped his lips. “Geh.”

“Is something the matter, mister?”

He turned back to the receptionist, who had apparently finished what she was doing. “I just saw an old acquaintance, that’s all.” He tried to hide his grimace. “Everything’s fine.”

She smiled. “Great! You should be good to go now. The details are on these, but if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.”

She handed him some papers, and he took a few moments to check over them quietly. Apparently he was to be in a Holy Grail War. A quick glance at the participants had him sighing in relief: the kid wasn’t there. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“If you go down the hall to your left, it should be the eighth door on the right. I believe a few of the participants should already be there.”

“Thanks little lady,” he said, nodding his head, then left in that direction. When he was out of sight, he casually tossed the
papers in a nearby bin.

A Holy Grail War, eh. It wasn’t too surprising he ended up being assigned to one; most of the people here would probably find themselves in a similar situation. Everyone fought in one eventually. Or maybe had fought in one would be a better way to describe it.

That was the funny thing about this place: it was hard to keep track of the time. He bet some kept dutiful track of everything they did, and then there were those special ones who didn’t even need to do that. But for most of them, it was simply impossible to remember each and every detail. He wasn’t even sure how many times he had gone through these motions; in this case, it was entirely possible he was just repeating something he had done once before.

Come to think of it, hadn’t he been summoned for one of these Grail Wars already? A few hazy memories floated in his mind: a self-proclaimed king ordering everyone around with a scowl on his face, a ship full of colourful individuals, a young princess that looked very, very familiar…

He reached the eighth door. Oh, well, he shrugged. Maybe this one would go a little bit better.

When he opened the door, he was greeted with a nostalgic combination of senses: the sound of calm waves hitting a shore; the crisp smell of seawater; the sticky air of a hot humid day. The sun -- yup, that was the sun up there -- blinded his vision as he stepped further into the room, but as it returned, he saw that he was now on a secluded little coastline.

A bunch of benches were clumped about, almost like an afterthought, not unlike the waiting room from earlier. Two of these spots were currently occupied: one by a dark-skinned man with a mask resembling a skull, the other by a silver-haired knight, his chest glowing with a strange scar.

He waved at the two of them. “Yo.”

The knight greeted him with a polite nod of the head, but the masked man seemingly made no notice of him at all. Well, that was alright. They weren’t the most talkative bunch, but it was probably better that way.

He was going to take a seat across from the knight, but before he could do so, a voice called out.

“Do you feel it?”

At first he looked to his two new acquaintances thinking they had a change of heart, but it was obvious that the voice had come from neither of the two. It was then that he noticed there was actually a third member to this party. Standing on the water’s edge, staring on into the horizon, was a burly man. A grand red cape hung across his shoulders.

“Do you feel it in the air?” the man asked again, his voice carrying as much as the one in the waiting room. “The anticipation of meeting a new obstacle head-on. Anticipation so thick you can breathe it into your lungs and through to your bloodstream, transforming it into the all too familiar adrenaline that accelerates us towards the end.”

He glanced at the other two, as if to say, “is he talking to you?”

“Do you feel it, legendary defender of Troy?”

He frowned.

The caped man broke away from the horizon. A toothy smile larger than any he had ever seen was plastered on the man’s face. “Are you that worried to have me as your opponent?”

“Worried? Nah.” He was definitely feeling something, though. Mostly confusion. Now that he could see the man’s face, he knew he had never seen him before. Clearly, though, the man seemed to know him. Thinking back to the names that were on the sheet from earlier, there was only really one who'd care who he was. “...Alexandar, I’m guessing?”

“It took you long enough,” the man laughed. By now, the distance between them was only a few feet, and he was beginning to realize just how large the man was. “Though for now, perhaps you should be calling me ‘Rider’.”

“In that case, the name’s Lancer. Nice to meet ya.”

“And an honor it is! I have waited for a day like this to come ever since I took up the sword. To reenact the glorious battle at the gates of Troy would a dream fulfilled; let our coming battle be one of legend, a tale so grand that even Homer would be envious to tell it!”

He grinned, thinking the guy before him reminded him of the kid, at least a little bit. The biggest difference was that Rider seemed a lot more bearable. “Can’t promise anything, but I’ll try not to disappoint.”

Despite his air of casualness, he couldn’t deny his blood was running a bit faster. Was this what Rider was talking about? Jeez, what was he getting so worked up about. He was far too old for this.

“Eh? Are you guys starting the fun without me?” The door had been opened, and with it came another participant. This time it was a young fellow, lightly-haired and slim, dressed in the garb of a shepherd.

Rider went to greet him, as loud as ever. As it appeared, the young shepherd was also a king, and the two of them talked and talked, as kings usually do. Lancer took this opportunity to slink away and get some rest before everyone else got here.

The next few minutes felt vaguely repetitive, with Rider greeting each new entrant as they came in. His enthusiasm for this certainly made up for the lack-thereof in the rest of them, though the shepherd-king -- who turned out to be Archer -- chimed in from time to time with comments of his own.

The next one to show up was Caster, an attractive woman with long black hair and a matching dress. Archer had been pleased by her appearance, and apparently believed her to be one of his old wives. Somehow, Lancer doubted that to be true. Caster’s reactions to Archer’s initial welcomings had given even him a shiver up his spine, for it was like her words were laced with a deadly poison. She was a scary one, certainly.

Finally, the last one to appear was a gigantic beast of a man with large bull horns, who made even Rider look small in comparison. It wasn’t hard to guess that he was Berserker. With Archer distracted by Caster, Rider greeted him in full, making some remarks about a labyrinth. Berserker wasn’t much of a talker, though, and he eventually escaped to sit off by himself.

Evidently, Assassin and Saber were already here, so with that, everyone had shown up.

The banter between the boisterous of the bunch continued for a while, with Lancer trying to drone it out. His eyelids were getting heavier and heavier as he slouched in his seat, secretly wishing he could stay on this sandy coastline forever.

However, just as he was getting comfortable, his little rest was interrupted by a loud tone. He woke to see that the sun had died down, painting the coast with a red glow. Everyone was silent, their attention lying directly on the center of their little gathering. A large artificial map had materialized in mid-air, and a small marker pointed a certain location on it. As soon as it came to his attention, the map zoomed into the marked area quickly, close enough that only a few regions could still be seen. The marker appeared to indicate a specific city in one of the regions.

Another tone dinged, and the map disappeared. A small pamphlet materialized above him, and fell into his hands. The region on the map was illustrated on the front, with a few words painted above it.

2016 AD

Rider was the first to break the silence, laughing enthusiastically. “It seems I have been summoned to renew my conquests immediately!”

“I think it’s more that the people have prayed for me, their great king, to return,” Archer exclaimed, “it’s only natural, after all! I wonder if we will have time to stop by the capital… I believe I have some interest to collect.”

Caster’s eyes watched the others with a faint delight, and Lancer could even see Assassin grinning to himself. Some of them would be working on familiar territory, he guessed. “It looks like we’re the odd ones out, eh?” he said towards Saber and Berserker, who looked at him, perplexed.

“But see this,” Rider said, pointing at the pamphlet that looked comical in his large hands, “the surrounding regions do not look stabilized in the least. Civil war, guerrilla attacks, ha… fine, then! If it is war they want, I will crush them and add them to my own army! It is only a question if I should first go north to home, or south… my Alexandria could be a valuable asset in the wars to come.”

“You talk as if you have already won, conqueror king,” Caster said, amused.

“Oh, but victory is close enough, is it not? If any of you wish to lay down your arms and join me in my conquests, I will happily accept you!”

“Sorry, friend, but I can’t just abandon my people,” Archer said, grinning. “I’m their king, you know. A great one, at that. I’m not going to lose to you.”

Caster ignored him, and looked towards Rider. “Is that your wish, then? To incarnate into this new world?”

“Yes, that’s right.” Rider stroked his beard, and was a bit more hushed than usual. “I have unfinished business there. Is there something wrong with that?”

“It does seem like a lot of work to me; I’m fine with just relaxing after all of this is over.” Archer had the pamphlet in hand, and was circling locations on the map with a pen he had somehow obtained. “My dear Abishag, do you think a new beachfront property would be suitable? Or would you care for something closer to the city?”

Caster rolled her eyes, though it was doubtful Archer had noticed. “Oh, that’s sounds wonderful, my king.”


Rider got up, his excitement returned, and looked around the room. “What of the rest of you?” he asked, cheerfully, “would any of you care to share your wish for the Holy Grail?”

A wish, eh? Truth be told, Lancer had forgotten about that part of the bargain. What could an old man like him wish for anyway? It just seemed like a massive hassle.

Either the others agreed with him or had different misgivings, as nobody else seemed motivated to speak up.


All eyes turned to the source of the voice, Berserker. He was crouched to the side, playing in the sand with a tiny stick. If he didn’t know better, Lancer would have thought the voice had come from someone else.

“A fine wish if there ever was one; everyone has a desire to be free! Anyone else?”

“Prosperity for my people,” Assassin said, from the corner of the gathering.

“Ooh, prosperity,” Archer chimed in, “I like that.”

“Freedom, prosperity, they are all fine wishes. Should I point out again that were you all to join under my banner, you would see all that and more!?”

Once again, the conversation continued, with Rider getting into more of his war strategies, Archer with his schemes, and Caster watching them both with a conniving smile. It was all quite funny, Lancer thought. This was more like a celebratory party than group of people about to kill one another. Imagine if all wars could be fought like this, with zero bad feelings on either side. That’d be a sight to see.

“So,” Lancer asked in Saber’s direction while the fun continued, “what’s yours?”

Saber had been distracted by Rider and Archer, so it took him a while to register Lancer’s question. “Oh, I apologize. What did you say?”

“Ah, no biggie. I was just asking about your wish.”

“My wish? I do not have one.”

“You don’t have a wish? There’s not a single thing you want?”

“Well, if there’s one thing,” Saber hesitated, doubt clouded on his expression, but it quickly faded, replaced with resoluteness. “I’d like to continue helping people, as a hero of justice.”

Lancer wasn’t sure what to say. Fighting for glory, he understood, as he had seen enough of it already. Fighting to protect those you care about was something he understood even better. But fighting to help people indiscriminately? It was a confusing concept to swallow.

“What about you?”

“Eh, I’m not so sure.”

“Sorry. If you don’t want to share it, then you don’t have to.”

“No, no, that’s not what I meant,” Lancer waved his hand, “I’m like you, I don’t have a wish. This whole Grail thing is a bunch of nonsense if you ask me.”

“Oh, I see.” Saber stopped, thinking. Eventually, he continued, as if he had just come up with an idea. “Well, you could do the same as me.”

“A hero of justice?” Lancer chuckled. “I’m not sure that suits me. I’m a warrior, not a hero.”

Saber nodded, seemingly accepting that explanation.

The sun was almost out of sight, and the light was fading out. Evening was fading away into night, and the final conversations were dying down as everyone went off by themselves in preparation. It was only a matter of time before the final tone rang, and the war began.

None of the participants here would remember this little calm before the storm: not the small dialogues, nor the promises made. But even so, it still had its own importance, for it signified the common bond shared between each of them as Heroic Spirits. No matter the difference in their beliefs, no matter the ancient feuds that lay rooted in their past, and no matter the fact that they were destined to kill one another, this bond would still hold true.

Each one of them held a desire in their heart, regardless of whether they knew it themselves, and it was for this reason the call of the Grail was answered so.

The final tone.

One by one, they began to fade. Lancer watched Saber disappear before his eyes, then Rider, then Assassin. Before he knew it, he was the last one left, his only companion the soft sounds of the seashore.

Finally, his summonings came. A muffled voice called out to him, swearing upon heaven and hell to request his aid. Strange, he thought. It sounded almost like she was crying.

As the summoning reached its conclusion, a faded vision of his summoner began to emerge: a small child, painted in the moonlight. Blood stained the sands beneath her. She was surrounded by bodies.

“...a hero of justice, eh?”

The last wave hit the coast, and Hector of the Gleaming Helmet, prince of Troy and a hero of the Trojan War, answered the call.

Servants/Heroic Spirits in the Throne of Heroes 'waiting room' (imagine one exists) or in some other limbo state, before or after manifestation into a Holy Grail War. Do they smack talk? Do they have a different perspective than when they're 'on the ground'? Choose any set of Servants.

December 25th, 2016, 12:00 PM
Split Conscience

Light beams at the left side of Artoria’s face. Awakening from sleep, she finds herself seated upon her chair. Evening spills in through the window panes of the hall. Long tables stretch on opposing sides of the walls. Chairs tuck into their respective spots, equal in amount on both sides, with their backs facing the wall. In contrast to the side with window panes to the outside world, flags hang in suspension in a neat row.

Artoria turns her head from side to side, taking in the sight of her court. How long was I at rest?

Wanting to spend more time with her knights, she waited here. In anticipation, she wore a small smile. As the minutes went by, her expression softened. An hour passes by with a frown set on her face. Then drowsiness started to set in. Within the second hour, Artoria’s head lulled to the side.

Sighing, she stands up from her seat. Her sabatons thud along the carpet path. Her blue dress fans out with each step. Thinking to herself, perhaps today was just the day all her knights didn’t lounge about the castle. Reassuring herself, she’ll try again tomorrow. As she nears the court’s exit, her pacing slows down. Artoria looks back toward her chair and then to the windows. The sun slowly sinks over the hill; its blue skies transition to an orange hue.

Inhaling then exhaling, Artoria tears her gaze away from the windows. She scans the empty court one last time before hearing footsteps clink closer. Turning in the direction of the sound, Artoria’s expression becomes elated then frozen.

Her own visage glares back at her with the eyes of a nocturnal beast.

Bleach-white skin stood out amongst the courtroom. Her ebony armor and attire sink in with the shadows. Crimson highlights rake across metal. Pale blonde locks of hair sway in tow as the Artoria’s dark counterpart steps closer. She stares back into those unflinching eyes.

“Hmph,” the woman clad in black smirks, standing in direct opposition of Artoria.

The break in stoic demeanor irritates Artoria, “Answer, who are you!?”

“To believe this was originally myself, what nonsense,” the ebony knight slowly blinks. She strides past Artoria towards the end of the hall.

“What was that!?” Artoria steps to the side, never taking her eyes off her alternate counterpart.

“It’s no wonder our kingdom- your kingdom- inevitably fell to ruin,” she says as she reaches the end of her path.

“That’s not true!” An earnest voice calls out. Artoria turns her head back to the hall’s entrance. Eyes wide in surprise a second time today. The one who objected in her defence steps forward from the dark hallway outside. Upon seeing the new entrant’s appearance, Artoria steps back into the middle of the court. Bearing her face, this woman wears dove-like armoury and garments in contrast to the ravenous outfit of the other. “Our efforts had meaning and helped our kingdom thrive!”

“How foolish,” the dark Artoria furrows her brow. “Your naivety will break down along with that which you sought to protect.”

The two stare each other down, determination versus domination. At the same time, they begin pacing around the room as they argue in clockwise motion. Artoria doesn’t move, standing in bafflement of their encirclement. Like Lions circling their prey to hunt. The swirling contention made her feel slightly dizzy.

Was this actually happening? Was she still asleep? Is this just a weird dream?

Looking out the window, the hour of twilight peers in.

Ah, surely this could be her conscience wavering? The two must be her manifested representations of good and evil. If she tried pinching herself, could she somehow jolt her awake from this deep dream?

“”That is right!”” Two voices shout in unison, breaking the three in the court out of their stupor. Hooves clack against the pavement as each horse of contrasting color scheme standby. Much like the other two counterparts to Artoria, the two sitting atop their stallions look to be much older. As well as-

T-Their chests! Artoria gasps internally.

-fully mature in more ways than one. Before even having time to process these new recursions of herself, a carol rings closer.

“Merry Christmas!” What appears to be a festive iteration of the first dark counterpart of herself greets the entire court. Over her right shoulder, a large bag while a weapon hangs low to the ground in her left hand. Upon scrutiny of her outfit, Artoria spots crumbs around the new entrant’s lips.

And then, with water sloshing inside, a gun appears at the back of the festive woman’s head. Holding on to the handle- who fails to surprise herself now- is Artoria in what appears to be swimwear. In her free hand is her very own Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. Oddly enough, it seems appropriate considering her attire.

Without hearing the latest participant of her madhouse of a dream, the room devolves into chaos. From one to another, taunts and disputes erupt among herselves. The noise becomes to much to bear, and Artoria wishes for something to end it all.

Suddenly, the window shatters, spraying glass shards everywhere. Breaking inside spinning through the air, the intruder rolls on the ground to a crouch. Their scarf falls to the side over their blue jacket. Glass shards crunch underfoot her long brown boots. Eyes hidden beneath the bill of her black cap. Swinging her right arm to the side, her sword beams into existence.

Finally standing up from the ground, she puts her free hand to her waist. Lifting her sword behind her, she turns her head towards the room’s occupants.

“Will this war ever end…” The intruder grumbles. Everyone is stunned for words and stares at the newest addition to the madness. Feeling their gazes upon her person, she grits her teeth in open displeasure. With her ponytail flipped behind her shoulder, she pulls out another sword in a dark flare. Slashing to her sides, the intruder bellows in a rage, “All Sabers must die-!!!!!”

With that statement declared, the room resumes into its former frenzy. Faced with no other option, Artoria screams out the name of the most likely culprit who spawned this entire situation.


Vanilla Arturia is in a hall replicated to look close to her old court at Camelot so that she may mingle more easily with her fellow Knights of the Round Table when her other versions start entering one by one.

December 25th, 2016, 12:02 PM
The moon shone unnaturally bright above Fuyuki’s Ryuudou Temple, as if to counteract the insidious darkness of the creatures that dwelled in its depths.

Closest to the light of the moon was Servant Caster of the Fifth Holy Grail War, who was pacing back and forth across the wooden floors of the temple. No words escaped her mouth, but one hand rested on her chin as her thoughts raced by at the speed of light.

Currently, Caster was at a disadvantage.

As the weakest Servant in the war in terms of pure physical strength, she had to rely on her own magic and cunning to even up the odds. With that said, even her magical capabilities were almost nil in the face of her opponents, who were all either fast enough or strong enough to weather all but her most potent spells.

Saber and Archer’s Masters had teamed up, and between their close-range and long-range abilities could take out almost every Servant in the War.

Lancer was a wild dog in every sense of the word, unpredictable and downright nasty if unprepared.

And the less said about Berserker, the better- none of the Servants who’d faced him had done better than slowing him down for a brief time. Truly, the God Hand was a thing to be feared.

Caster had utilized her own magic to bring forth a second Servant, one bound to her despite being a Servant as well. But his skill was nowhere near good enough to take down Berserker or Saber, and so she’d relegated him to the one thing he could do right- guard duty.

Unless Caster could turn things around, the next one to go off the list was likely to be her. And she’d be damned if she didn’t do everything she could to keep that from happening.

To her left, the door opened. In the moonlight, Kuzuki’s near-naked form could be made out as the shadows danced along it.

“Why can’t you sleep, Caster?”

Kuzuki Souchirou was her Master, the one who’d saved her from death after the fall of her last Master. He was a man of few words, who wasted little time on idle conversation. Yet it was for that exact reason that every word that did exit his mouth was genuine.

And that was why she knew Kuzuki truly loved her, and why she loved him in turn. The so-called soulless man was the one who had saved her, and the one whom Caster was determined to survive the Grail War for.

-no, not ‘survive’. Win.

“Just trying to plan our next move, Souchirou-sama. Rider has been eliminated thanks to our efforts, yet if anything the focus on us has increased.” Souchirou’s expression couldn’t be seen, but the relaxing of his shoulders was clear for her to see. “There are now six Servants, instead of seven. It would be more surprising if we gained no extra attention after we personally took out Rider.” Caster huffed out a laugh. “Indeed, you have a point. Still, we should be making plans for when they start acting on that attention.” Kuzuki paused, considering her statement. “Are any of them moving in our direction tonight?”

Caster shook her head. “Not right now…”

Her Master nodded, and held out a hand. “Then sleep. It will be morning soon enough.”

Caster hesitated, then nodded and went to rejoin her Master- and fiancé- in the bed.

The next morning, as she watched Kuzuki head to work from afar, it occurred to her that the answer to her troubles was already in place.


Taiga Fujimura let out a sigh, her breath misting in the cool weather of late winter. The trees had started to thaw, and snow had finally left Fuyuki City for good. It was finally warm enough to comfortably trek out into the woods again, so she went to Kiritsugu’s grave.

Kiritsugu had loved the snow. It gave him colds and left him sick in bed even more than he already was, but whenever he saw Shirou playing in the snow the pain in his eyes- in his soul- seemed to disappear for a while. Even more so than Shirou’s existence had saved the man, winter was what truly put him at peace.

When you thought about it, she shouldn’t have been surprised that the day he died was the last day of winter.

Taiga didn’t know a lot about Kiritsugu’s past. She knew that he’d been involved with some of her dad’s more… messy business affairs in the past, and that he used to live far away from Japan. Then something went wrong, possibly related to the Fuyuki Fire ten years ago, and he settled down in Fuyuki for good.

He’d probably had someone he loved, besides her and Shirou, out there in the rest in the world. Every now and then he’d disappear for weeks at a time, only to come back despondent and cold and looking even more broken than he had before.

Shirou put him back together again, though. He always had.

And now that Kiritsugu was gone, Shirou almost seemed to have taken his dad’s broken-ness onto himself. He wasn’t quite as bad, of course- he had her, Issei and Sakura, not to mention the recent additions of Rin Tohsaka and Saber, all determined to see him live a good life. But the fractures were there all the same, to anyone who had the eyes to see it.

In the years since Kiritsugu’s death, Shirou had never come back to this grave. He’d been a spunky little spitfired kid before, still as attentive and caring as now but with enough backbone and enough common sense to make sure he didn’t overburden himself with the desires of others.

Still, he was regaining what he’d lost bit by bit. She wasn’t particularly happy about leaving him alone under a single roof with two beautiful women- what had manga taught her- but in the end, she trusted him. So even if he caused her stress, she knew when push came to shove he wouldn’t let her down.

Shaking her head to chase off the heavy thoughts, she turned to pick up her bag and leave-

Only to be greeted by the appearance of a blue-haired maiden and a silent man in black.

Unnoticed, the rain began to fall.

“Kuzuki…?” She recognized him, dressed in funeral clothes that were admittedly not all that different from his teaching outfit. “What’re you doing here?” When a response came it was from the woman to his side instead, speaking with a voice of soft melodies. “This is Emiya Kiritsugu’s grave, no?” Taiga frowned, trying to resist the unexplainable urge of danger her sword hand was giving her as it twitched towards Tora-Shinai on her back. “Yeah, it is. I’m here to pay my respects to him, now that the snow’s thawed.” The other woman smiled. Vaguely, Taiga noticed her left hand was tracing imaginary symbols through the air. “How nice.”

She turned away then, and with her right hand snapped her fingers. “Souchirou-Sama.”

‘She’s calling him –sama?!’- she thought- but then her shinai was in her hand, whispering urgently to her, just as a blow with the force of a sledgehammer crashed into it and sent her flying.


Caster frowned, staring down at the unconscious figure of Shirou’s teacher on the forest floor. Disturbingly enough, the shinai hadn’t even budged from her grasp.

“What was that? I thought this woman was a regular human, Souchirou-sama.”

Her Master had the slightest hint of a frown on his face, staring down at the other teacher with something akin to uncertainty in his eyes. “I had believed she was. It seems I was mistaken.” Striding over, Caster took a closer look at the sword. “..There’s no sign of any strengthening magic upon it, or any magic at all. How on earth…” She reached down to pick it up-


And recoiled, pulling her hand away as if it had been burned.

Souchirou took a step towards her, his face asking whether she was okay- but it was too late.

A wave of inexplicable power erupted from the shinai, carrying with it not a magical pressure but pure, primal energy. Caster staggered, and Kuzuki stiffened. He turned towards the fallen Fujimura heir once more, just in time to see her eyes open.

Rather than their usual brown they were a dark, muddy gold- shaped like the pupils of a tiger.

In a single moment she leapt up from the ground and thrust her shinai at Caster in a vicious stabbing motion. Caster fired off a spell, but the shot went wild. The other woman ducked beneath the second blast and continued with her strike, switching the stab to a slash that caught the Servant directly in the chest.

Caster’s eyes widened, a rush of air leaving her mouth before the shinai sent her flying. She slammed into a nearby tree trunk with a sickening crack before falling down to the ground.

‘Caster!’ Kuzuki wasted no time, charging straight in with his Snake primed and ready to go. He stepped in with a single straight hook, and as Taiga dodged to the side he curled his fingers into a hook and pulled back sharply. The unexpected attack caught her smoothly, and tightening his grip around her neck he grabbed the woman with both hands and slammed her into a tree.

Taiga’s eyes closed again, and this time it seemed like they wouldn’t open. Kuzuki let out a breath of air, letting the rain calm his heart before moving to recover Caster.


When Taiga woke up again, she was on a bed in a fancy red room with no idea how she got there. Her head felt a little heavy, like she’d been on the losing end of a kendo match, but regardless she dragged herself out of the bed and onto her feet.

‘How did I get here…? I’ve never seen this room before in my life!’

The last thing she remembered was heading to Kiritsugu’s grave. For some reason, she’d decided to bring Tora-Shinai with her so she could talk a little about the old days.

…And looking around this new room, with its maroon floors and walls and gold-embroidered curtains, she couldn’t find Tora-Shinai anywhere. All the rest of her things lay safely on a table in the corner.


She turned at the voice, to find Tohsaka Rin standing in the doorway of the room. Her expression was strangely guarded, almost solemn.

“Rin? What was I… where am I?”

The young woman’s expression didn’t change. “What do you remember?”

“I… remember heading out to Kiritsugu’s grave… Kiritsugu Emiya, Shirou’s father’s grave. I know I got there, but…”

Of all the things, Kuzuki’s face was the one that came into her mind at that moment. Shaking her head, she dismissed the strange thought.

“Sorry. That’s all I can remember.”

Rin’s darkened, and for a second her eyes flickered to the top corner of the doorway beside her. “I was afraid of that. I found you at the base of Ryuudou Temple, looking like you were about to collapse. Shirou went up the mountain to see if any of the monks knew what had happened to you, but he didn’t find anything. However, since I didn’t have any keys to the Emiya residence… I decided to bring you here.” Taiga sighed. “Huh… weird. Say, what time is it?”

The expression of the Tohsaka heir melted into one of sympathy.

“Actually… It’s about 5 PM. On Monday.”


After talking for a little more, Taiga gathered her things and headed for home. If Shirou had forgotten to let her dad know, then the yakuza might be out looking for someone to blame… She shuddered at the thought.

…On the way there, though, she decided to head back towards Ryuudou Temple. She really did want to find her shinai.

After a little walk, she made her way around to Kiritsugu’s grave once more. The flowers she’d placed there before were still there, though the incense sticks had been doused by rain.

A short distance away, next to a beaten-up tree, was her Tora-Shinai.

Serious Taiga Fujimura.

December 25th, 2016, 12:03 PM
At the end of duty

Legends would speak of the beauty of the kingdom, of the honor of its knights, of the legend of the king who had sought to bring peace to a land of war and of the glory that had been realized throughout countless battles. Of King Arthur’s story, every moment would be passed down in legends, from their birth to the day they had drawn the sword from the stone, and eventually to this last day, where the legend would come to an end with a promise of renewal.

Yet of Arthur’s thoughts, not a one would be recorded. Who was there to be entrusted with the privacy of the king? Certainly there had been some who were deserving of it - yet, one by one, they had been pushed away, had fallen, had turned away. The king was the one that you turned to for counsel, to whom you could entrust your hopes and dreams; the king had no rights to push their worries unto others.

This, then, was the result of that isolation.

The river had long since run red with blood, and its bank had become nothing more than a repository of corpses. Yet there was no invader in sight, no matter how far she looked, she could not see a single person that she would be able to recognize as an enemy that should be defeated. That was because all those that had fought here was her subjects. For the sake of Camelot, thousands had raised their swords against a king that they could not agree with. For the sake of Camelot, thousands had rallied at the defense of the king who had given them all that they had. It was for the sake of Camelot also that she had stood against those who rebelled, until even the gleam of the holy sword was darkened by the pain of the fallen.

What should have been a simple matter of punishment had become a desperate battle - not of survival, but of protection. Everything that had been done was for the sake of desperately clinging on to the dream that had brought her to this day, a vain attempt to keep hold of the fading light even as chaos once more spread through her country. Camelot had survived all outside forces, but it couldn’t possibly hold on against itself. She understood it from the start, that her rule was temporary, that it would come to an end someday. That was natural, but never had she imagined that the final result would be this.

Failure, complete and utter ruin, the worst result that she had never wished to imagine.

Why then hadn’t she simply abdicated? Certainly there were no other who were as fit for the throne, but the country would have had a chance to survive an incompetent king. It wouldn’t have been the utopia that they’d dreamt of, but it would still have been ‘Camelot’. Yet the thought had never crossed her mind, and it had never been demanded by those who rebelled.

Perhaps they all understood that Camelot could only have one king.

But now, there was nothing for her but those thoughts and visions of might have beens as she stumbled through the field of corpses. She had intended to at least protect those who had fought near her, but no sword could have halted the wave that had fallen upon them; curses, rejection, and the imposition of a different ideal had taken them all, one by one. For every opponent that she bested, two more passed by her to strike at her friends and soldiers, as if they had given up on all thoughts of victory.

She had witnessed it, but could not comprehend it. Whenever she had moved to suppress rebellions in the pasts, they had eventually surrendered before the holy sword, understanding that there could be no victory, yet these men had fought to their last breath. If they could not slay the king, then they would take everything from the king and obtain victory that way. The very act was at odds with the reason that they had started all this. Instead of a desire to protect their way of life, all that she could feel from them was a blood red malice.

The last of her opposition fell, and only corpses remained as far as the eye could see. Everyone here should have been comrades, so how had it ended up like this?

And...why had they failed? If it was going to end up like this, with her heart numbed by sorrow to the point that she couldn’t cry at the death of a friend, it would have been better if one of them had managed to land the fatal blow they sought; then at least someone would have felt triumph at the end of the battle.

The wind howled the name of Arthur in a familiar voice, a bloodlust that surpassed the oppression of the battlefield filled the air, and she understood. The country was in ruin, her friends had fallen or departed, those that she should have protected had fallen by her own sword, but all of it was meaningless before the overwhelming clarity that the howl brought.

It was time. Today was the end of the long journey.

She stepped forward with renewed vigor toward the source of the challenge, toward the one who bore her face and had led the country to ruin. She found them standing by a mountain of corpses, exhaustion clear from the fact that she, who had always arrogantly charged across the battlefield, now used her stolen sword for the support. Arthur wouldn’t allow her own exhaustion to show; not here and not now. If this was to be the end of the road then she had a responsibility to all those that had stood by her side to not falter.

The clash of the holy swords, the accusations that spewed from her doppelganger’s lips, the pain that made her feel as if her arms would collapse from meeting her strikes, all those feelings were muted as though in a dream. Soon her duty would be fulfilled, with this last act, she would be allowed to rest for a time. She had never regretted taking on a king’s duty, but now that release was almost within reach she felt her exhaustion and sorrow lift from her shoulders.

“You did not have the capacity to be a king.”

The battle ended without ever beginning in earnest; though they should have been existences that surpassed humans, at this moment the two of them had to use all their power merely to lift their weapons, it was impossible to showcase the talent that would earn them a seat among legends. The tip of the holy lance pierced through her opponent’s armor without mercy, and she knew by rote that the blow would be fatal.

A chill spread through her spine. This wasn’t right. If she emerged victorious - if she was allowed to walk away from this battle, it was possible for her to gather others to her cause once more. Camelot would rise from its ashes, even if it would only be a shadow of its former self. ...The thought fills her with inexplicable dread.

With a roar of rage her doppelganger lifts the stolen holy sword and strikes a blow in return and banishes the fear - it might be the first time that Arthur is grateful toward an enemy. Of course, it is unthinkable to show such a thing to someone who rose against Camelot, so she merely confirms that the last opponent has fallen and begins the walk toward the edge of the battle. All those that came to fight alongside her have fallen, but there should be survivors amongst those who were positioned at the flanks; the king cannot merely disappear, she must return to them so that they can ascertain her last moments.

Wounded, exhausted and on the verge of death, she drags herself through the remnants of the battlefield, stumbling on corpses and feeling as if her own fallen comrades stare accusingly at her back. Why was it that the vision of a reborn Camelot frightened her?

The answer reaches her with pain that far surpasses the lethal blow she received; she is tired. Her duty as a king long ago washed away her enthusiasm, and the thought of returning to it when she believed it to be over repulses her. This place was her first and final defeat, having to return to her task only to know that a repeat of it awaited in the end was too painful.

In other words, she could not shoulder the trust that her comrades had placed on her in the end. Her desire to be the perfect king had failed, and brought the country to ruin; if she could not maintain her role within her own heart to the end, then how could she be worthy of judging if others were capable of it or not? If it ended in such a way...then perhaps it would be better if she had never been king to begin with.

A voice that she knew well called out to her, but she didn’t respond as the knight approached to bring her to a place where she could rest.

“You did not have the capacity to be a king.”

Perhaps there was meaning to the fact that she had spoken those words to one who bore her likeness.

The final confrontation between Arturia and Mordred at Camlann.

December 25th, 2016, 12:05 PM
Quiet lives

A nightmare of crimson and flame stood before me. Like a rabbit all I can do is stand still, ready to bolt away at the first sign of aggression, all the while aware that it probably won’t do any good. I have no confidence in my stamina on the best of days, and the heat has been striking hard all Summer.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Wasn’t it only half an hour ago that I was quietly at the mansion, before Akiha asked me to go buy some groceries? It’s true that the city’s had a lot of problems recently, but it shouldn’t have become a place where I can’t live a peaceful life. Yet now, the simple of task of going to the store has begun a battle between life and death.

As if he’d just stepped out of a nightmare, the broad-shouldered man stands with his back to me. I don’t think he’s noticed me yet, but the thought of fighting never enters my mind. I’ll die if I go up against him, that guy is a nightmare that even Akiha when she goes berserk can’t compare to. The moment I reach for my knife, I’ll definitely die.

In the depth of my mind, a scarlet deeper than red spreads as an old memory seizes my heart. We’ve met before, definitely. I’ll die if I meet him, definitely.

The person at the register that he’s standing in front of speaks words that I can’t hear with a smile, completely oblivious to how close they are to death. Any second now their heart will pop like a grape, and I can’t bring myself to even scream a warning.

A large hand extends toward them from an arm built so strongly it might as well be rock. This is it, it’s over. The creature called Crimson Red Vermillion reaches out and-

-Calmly takes hold of the extended bills, folding them into a pocket and picking up the basket that was lying on the register. In the same movement, so graceful that I can only compare it with a dance, he turns toward the door that leads outside the grocery store. Toward me.

A single visible eye through unkempt hair meets my gaze, and I curse my instincts that wouldn’t let me leave as soon as I spotted him. No, on the other hand it couldn’t be helped, there’s no way I could have possibly imagined meeting a man named Kishima Kouma at the grocery store.

His serene gaze that belies the bloodlust within pierces through me in an instant, a flicker of recognition sparked inside the iris. That’s right, to me this man is an unforgettable existence, and to him I must be a remnant. ...For an exterminator, there’s nothing worse than meeting something that you left behind in the past. It’s too late now; I can’t escape even if I ran for my life. The only thing left is toWithout a rush of wind, his large frame appears next to me. When did he move? There was no motion, no bloodlust, I hadn’t even realized that the battle had started yet, but it’s already my loss.

A voice as deep as the ground flows through my rattled brain as I resign myself to my fate.

“This is a quiet place, it shouldn’t be disturbed by private matters.”


Without another word, the man who should definitely have taken my life continues along his way with unerring calm. Under his arm is the basket that he brought out of the store, a loaf of bread sticking out. Disappearing among the people who go about their business, there isn’t anything that would make him stand out, and no sign that he saw me as an enemy to begin with.

The choking feeling vanishes now that I’m not in his presence anymore; the fated deathmatch ended lamely without even a single punch thrown, and the feeling of dropping adrenaline makes my head feel excessively light. I’d be sure that he would kill me, or that I would miraculously kill him, and yet… Fighting had never been on his mind. After all, he’d only come here to pick up groceries, just like me. Something as brutal, as exhilarating as fighting to the death would have been the same as a defeat when you take that goal into consideration. And the words that he left me, weren’t they just another way of saying “I don’t want to fight you, let’s just go on our way.”?

In other words, the monster that haunted the dark corners of my mind had never once intended to come after me. What can I call that, except complete and utter defeat?

“What the hell, he’s just a normal guy?”

A monster that should naturally have sought to destroy, an existence responsible for an unforgivable sin, and a man who wished for a quiet life. That was the man I’d just crossed path with.

Even if I forgot everything about it, that bloody night would never leave my mind. Even if I gathered all my will, I probably wouldn’t be able to forgive what happened then - anything else, but not that. But that doesn’t mean that night needs to continue now.

Shaking my head bemusedly, I enter the grocery store. First the vegetables that Akiha asked for, then a few things we’ll need over the next few days. Well, that’s about everything I needed to grab.

I decide to take a loaf of bread on a whim.

Shiki Tohno meets the real Kouma Kishima for the first time.