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Thread: Calling Card (Psyren x FSN - Nasuverse)

  1. #161
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    Chapter 19

    “Why my place specifically?”

    I ask the obvious question for clarity. After all, if I’m going to tell them I don’t want them there, I need a plausible reason for it. So, it’d be better to get all the facts first.

    “Well, your place is also as big as Tohsaka’s—”

    “Bigger,” I say, correcting her.

    Ayako goes along with it, if only to appease me. “—bigger than Tohsaka’s, it’s closer, and we don’t have to worry about being overseen or overheard if it’s done while your sister is heading the Archery Club’s practice. It’s the best place to both train them up and discuss things while the Temple is off-limits with the brothers gone, and without heading all the way out to Neko’s place.”

    Well, she’s not wrong. The manor can easily fit all of us inside and, with the Old Worm long dead, we can practice in private for the most part. The additional time may prove beneficial, given we don’t know when we’ll be pulled back into the future either.

    That and I’m sure it’d be thrown back in my face that I was acting hypocritical after telling them to make sacrifices for their training. Besides, I can use the opportunity to try and steer the training in a different direction since I’m calling the shots. An experimental approach to go along with the established ones.

    “Okay,” I say, sitting forward. If there’s no getting out of it then I might as well dictate the rules. Resting my elbows on my desk and folding my hands in front of my mouth, I continue. “If you can agree to my terms, I’ll go along with it.”

    Her brows rise in curiosity. “Name them.”

    “First, we need to run it by Sakura. We don’t know how long it’ll take, and I don’t want her walking in while we have them tied to a chair and gagged like you had us.”

    Makidera nearly chokes on her snack with a look of pure shock on her face. In contrast, Saegusa’s eyes are cast down at the table while there’s a red blush painting her face. Between them, Himuro is staring with a half-puzzled gaze. It’s clearly not something they expected to hear this morning.

    “It makes more sense in context for their training, and it won’t apply for you three,” Ayako assures them. She follows with a slight glare towards me. ‘You worded it that way on purpose, didn’t you?

    I only shrug and continue on. “Anyway, you and I will tell her that we’re doing a study session at my home. Since the newcomers and I missed yesterday due to being incapacitated, she’ll buy it if we tell her that you want to try and catch us all up.”

    It honestly didn’t matter as far as getting her permission went. In terms of authority in the household, I call the shots. However, we have enough issues and Ayako has some level of trust from Sakura when it comes to keeping me in check. So if she’s vouching that it’s her idea, then Sakura won’t be needlessly worried now or in the future when we use this… study club as an alibi for psychicer business.

    Ayako nods in approval. It’s a completely rational course of action, so there’s no reason to lobby against it. “Okay. What else?”

    “Second, no one is allowed to wander around besides the areas I tell them to. I am a private person by nature and there are some things that need to stay private. If anyone violates that, no matter who they are, then whatever goodwill I’ve shown will disappear and everyone leaves. Understood?”

    The rule is for obvious reasons. The Library and Basement are locked up when not in use, but psychic powers make opening them up a breeze. Since there’s no oversight and I can’t watch them all, I need to stress that the consequences will be dire.

    Consent is given to varying degrees from all of them. Not surprising, considering my goodwill is why these five are still alive and not something they’d easily to throw away for curiosity. That’s good enough for now.

    I move onto the final condition. “Last is that we divide up the training into rotations between the three of us. I think we’ll cover more ground that way and neither of them will feel pressured about the progress of the others.”

    I really hated that Gotou managed to get ahead of me during Burst training. That frustration did not help the situation and, if I hadn’t managed to get Telepathy out of it while he couldn’t, there might’ve been some issues working with him so well in the future. Or at least to the extent that we had.

    These three have known each other since their First Year so the chance is minimal that there will be long-term issues. But better safe than sorry. Not to mention it I’ll only have to deal with one of them at a time, meaning that I can test different approaches when it comes to Trance training to expand my options.

    Ayako closes her eyes and tilts her head in thought as she sips her drink. Considering it. Then she nods. “Okay, no harm in that either.”

    Excellent. “Then I’ll handle the basics of Trance, while you handle Rise, and Gotou handles Burst.”

    “Why me?” Gotou asks. He sounds surprised by his role, no doubt expecting to handle Rise instead.

    I count off my reasons with my fingers. “Rise is the field where they’ll get the most use in terms of immediate survivability, so we need the most experienced teacher. Mitsuzuri has more control than either of us, so she can minimize the chance of accidentally injuring one of them while the Student President isn’t available. And, while I’m the best Trance user so I have to be the one to teach it, you caught onto Burst faster than I did.”

    He still seems reluctant but nods his head slowly in agreement. “Fine.”

    Ayako follows suit. “Fair enough. We’ll go with your approach and see where it leads.”

    That settled, I address the Track Trio. “I’ll need an hour or so to make sure everything is in order after we discuss things with Sakura, so you three use that time to handle the matter of your club attendance. Mitsuzuri knows how to get to my place after that. Oh, and bring your own Lunch.”

    [-Break-]

    I need the hour to go through every room of the manor and make sure that there's nothing that could give away the fact that we were more than a wealthy family that had been around for a few centuries.

    The Makiri came to Fuyuki and established themselves as one of the families that reside in the Foreigner’s District after it had been built in the late 1800s, after the country’s isolation policy was forcibly made to change. It’s possible that the Old Worm managed to sneak into the country before then. But he wouldn’t have been able to have the manor built to his specifications until the influx of foreign blood allowed him to buy the land and have the construction done.

    Even so, he had the manor built so that sunlight couldn’t enter inside easily despite the number of windows. Only lanterns and later artificial lights provide illumination. Things that wouldn’t degrade his form quicker and leave him constantly hiding down in the worm pit below.

    The building itself is large enough that there are entire rooms that haven’t been used since I was a child. Those rooms may have once been used to house guests or the like, but now their opulence was left to be buried beneath dust and time since we got rid of the housekeepers as an unnecessary expense. No sense in cleaning them if they weren’t going to be used.

    I don’t bother checking Sakura’s room before I shut the door to it. No one should go into her room under any circumstances, but she does have a right to privacy. And it wasn’t as though she had something to hide. After all, she has no interest in magecraft.

    Besides, of the guests coming over, only Gotou would be tempted by the mundane secrets of a woman’s room. And if he had the guts to do that then he would have braved asking Himuro out already instead of trying to get on her good side and winding up involved in all of this. Not that it hasn’t proven helpful for my long-term survival, so I guess I’ll call it a fair trade-off.

    My room, on the other hand, requires a little work to be presentable. It’s not as clean as it could be, given my frequent night terrors and the latest bout of health issues I’ve been going through. But, just in case one of them is stupid enough to tempt fate, I won’t have to gouge out their eyes to hide the shame now.

    I make sure to place a particular book inside the nightstand drawer, a bookmark between the pages to mark my progress. It’s the Old Worm’s journal from over a century back. Given he’s been involved with the Einzbern for some time now, I’m hoping it has the location of where their main castle is. It’s probably unnecessary, since it’s in German and I doubt any them could read a letter of it even if they trespassed into my room, but better safe than sorry.

    I lock up the Library next. A good number of the books are in languages other than Japanese, so it probably isn’t necessary either in hindsight. The others are pretty ignorant of the world outside of Fuyuki, after all, and even I can’t read the Church Slavonic text that trace back to our family roots in Russia. But again, better than them discovering something they shouldn’t.

    The Basement… is a nonfactor. Since Zouken’s death, it hasn’t been unlocked at all. Neither I, the manor’s owner, nor Sakura have any business with it anymore as neither of us has the desire or ability to continue the Art. It died when he died.

    Once I finish the rest of the preparations, I change my clothes to more casual wear and head outside to wait for the others. The autumn wind blows and scatters brightly-colored leaves as I lean against the left column. It doesn’t take them too long to arrive after that.

    Ayako leads the front and Gotou follows next to her, a bag from the bakery in Miyama in his hand. Makidera is behind them, looking upset as she rants to Himuro about something I don’t care about while flailing a plastic bag with what I presume to be take-out. Saegusa follows behind them last while holding a handmade lunch box.

    Ayako approaches the gate and greets me. “Sorry we kept you waiting, Shinji.”

    “I’ll let it slide since we managed to convince Sakura without any problems and will have plenty of time.” Though, to be honest Sakura didn’t argue against going to Emiya’s place, and he was apparently entertaining Fujimura tonight as well. So that works for us.

    Gotou whistles as he looks up at the manor. “You could probably fit our entire class in here.”

    I scoff at the suggestion. “I suppose it wouldn’t be a problem in the context of having too little space or need of supervision, but I’m not fond of guests. Emiya’s place would probably be better suited for that sort of thing.”

    “Oh yeah, it’s a traditional manor, isn’t it?” Ayako muses. “The kind that has a wide-open courtyard and tatami with sliding doors. The type of place where you’d stay to feel like you took a step back in time.”

    Saegusa tilts her head slightly at the description. “That sounds sort of like Maki-chan’s home.”

    Makidera tenses up as we all look at her, bringing her hand to her face and covering it to an extent. It almost seems like something she’s not proud of. “My family just so happens to have a place that they got a long time ago and transformed into a store that sells traditional kimonos and stuff. It’s not that great.”

    Saegusa didn’t see it that way though. “But I think you look really elegant while dressed in traditional clothes. It really suits you.”

    “…I can’t see it,” Gotou says. “I mean, the Black Panther of Homurahara in a kimono is just difficult to process.”

    I agree with him. Not for a lack of effort on my part. But the thought of the energetic monkey dressing regally in a high-class kimono is just… beyond my ability to rationalize. And that’s saying something considering all I’ve seen.

    “It surprisingly works on her,” Himuro vouches. “I had her model for me once for a portrait that turned out well.”

    “Is that so?” Ayako puts on a cheeky smile as she faces Makidera. “Then I think I might stop by and check out the selection. Maybe you can help me pick something out?”

    “…It’s not like I dress like that because I want to,” she states, fist clenched as she looks away embarrassed. There’s some actual resentment in her voice. “I have to dress like that at home because my family is strict. The only time I get to wear the clothes I want is when I’m heading out for track or casual stuff, and that’s because it’s impractical to wear one during then.”

    Surprisingly, Ayako’s expression changes from teasing to sympathetic. “My family has a long history when it comes to martial arts, so I don’t think that we’re different in that aspect. They’re pretty strict when it comes to things other than that for me and my brother, so if not for the fact that Issei’s brother vouches for me I wouldn’t have nearly as much free time as I do. Though, I’m pretty sure that my place is smaller than yours from the sound of it.”

    “You guys have it tougher than me,” Gotou admits. He’s rubbing the back of his neck as if ashamed of that fact. “I mean, I just live in a 2LDK place closer to the residential area and my folks have ordinary jobs, so I don’t really have anything I can or can’t do as far as rules go.”

    “A three-bedroom in my case, but it’s the same for me,” Saegusa adds with a nervous chuckle. “I guess we’re just typical then.”

    …Huh, she’s right. Myself, a wealthy bourgeois. Himuro, the daughter of the mayor. Ayako, the daughter of a line of martial artists. Makidera, the daughter of famous merchants. Whereas these two are just… normal.

    Well, as normal as a group of time-travelers with psychic powers can get. I stand up straight and push open the iron gate. “As riveting as this conversation is, we should get inside since we’ll need about six hours to feel everyone out. Follow me.”

    I lead them through the front door and through the corridors to avoid one of them getting lost. If you aren’t used to the place it can get pretty confusing. Or so Emiya told me before our estrangement. I’ve lived here my entire life, so I know the place like the back of my hand and lead them all to the Dining Room first.

    “This’ll be where you can eat when you get a break in the training, or before you start with Burst or Trance training with Gotou or myself.”

    “What about before Rise training?” Ayako asks. Not surprising given she’s handling that lesson.

    “You won’t have an issue, since you won’t be the one straining yourself. But its best if whoever you’ll be teaching don’t since Rise is the most strenuous physically and you don’t want to try that on a full stomach. By the way, Makidera will be the first one there.”

    She gives me an incredulous look, remembering this morning no doubt. It pleases me. “Why do I have to do Rise first?”

    “You would be working out with the Track Club around now under normal circumstances, right?”

    “…Yeah,” she mutters under her breath.

    “Then, since you’ve been doing that for the last three years, it’s likely a habit. I don’t think that you’d be able to sit still long enough to handle getting down Burst or Trance while so restless. So it’d be better to have you burn off all that excess energy, eat, and then focus on one of the other two while you’re digesting. I mean, don’t you do the same thing during your practice while pushing the other members of the club hard enough to leave them in tears?”

    Nnn…” I can tell from the look on her face she wants to come up with an excuse, but it’d be unfair to not push the expectations she places on others on herself. So she follows the group in silence until we enter the Parlor next.

    I open the thick curtains, giving them view of the backyard. The tree and bushes are dense since the Old Worm had cultivated them to house his insects. It’d serve to give them some privacy. “You can take that door by the clock to get to the backyard. Our property extends for some distance and there’s an opening in the greenery behind the tree-line. It’ll be a good training ground for one-on-one practicing.”

    I take the time to float a message to Ayako as well. ‘Mitsuzuri, you’ll be able to push her the furthest because of how competitive she is and her own work ethic. Use that to your advantage, because the other two probably won’t have that same level of stamina.

    She nods. “Okay.”

    That established, I lean over to a table that’s in the middle of the room, wood with curved legs, and pick up a group of fifteen cards set out from the deck. “The parlor itself will be used for Burst training. From what we’ve seen so far, Telekinesis manifests in either the creation of constructs or manipulating the physical object directly. But given the trouble I had with the former, I thought I’d present the chance to explore both with playing cards since they’re light and malleable.”

    Since I managed to pull that chain trick in the future, and was stuck unable to move for a day, I had the time to better grasp how to use Telekinesis. Rather than attempting to make a construct like Ayako, it was simpler for me to saturate the object. Then I could visual how I want it to react—programming it, for lack of a better term.

    Holding them between my hand, I breathe slowly and concentrate my own Burst ability into them. The process of construction and rules are established in my mind and then impregnate that energy saturating the cards. Finished, I extend my hand out to put on a show.

    The cards flew off to the table. Six formed a group of three triangles to create the foundation. Two formed shelves. Four more formed the second floor. One formed the second shelf. Two formed the roof. A house of cards standing in the middle of the table, still saturated with some of the energy I dumped into them.

    “Gotou. Knock it down with yours.”

    He blinks before realizing where I’m going with this. Then he pulls the same trick he did when we were tied up, forming a simple construct ball that hit the house of cards. They naturally topple over before flying back up into a neat pile in the center of the table as the rest of the energy is expended.

    Satisfied, I turn to Himuro and address her next. “Start small with just getting a card to move from a distance and expand from that when you get comfortable with it. If you feel you’re getting a headache then stop and just wait for it to settle. Likewise, Gotou has a trip on you, so he can put any theories you might want to test into practice better than your current ability if you explain it to him.”

    Himuro briefly adjusts her glasses as she observes the cards, her mind no doubt working out the basics of what I’ve done. She’s smart enough to probably work things out on her own, so I don’t think she’ll need nearly as much handholding as the other two. A student who’ll be quicker on the uptake will help warm Gotou up for the others in his role as a first-time instructor.

    And, well, he likes her for some reason. So if I reward him for saving me by allowing him to spend time with her, it might help him get over his issues quicker. If not, I still tried.

    Last, I face the third member of the group. “Saegusa, you’re with me first. We’ll be heading to a study on the other side of the manor, further away from here since you’ll need silence to be able to concentrate. During that time, I’ll mostly communicate with you through telepathy, so you can get used to it. It’s not as physically strenuous as Rise or as taxing as Burst, but it’s essential to survival so you’ll have to focus. Understand?”

    She consents with a nod and as determined of a face she can make. “Yes, Matou-san. I’ll do my best.”

    “That’s all I ask.” Realistically speaking, regardless of what ability she gains, Saegusa’s a liability in direct combat due to how meek she is. I get the feeling she’d break if she had to kill anything during the next trip, so I’ll work her into a supporting role for the time being.

    Looking at the grandfather clock, I take into account the time. If they have Lunch now, then we can begin around to 1:30 PM. “Okay, everyone who’s going to eat now feel free to do so. In thirty-minutes we get to training.”
    Last edited by Twi; June 11th, 2018 at 04:37 PM.
    Yet the burden shall be shared by two entwined, from which the sword will part from the body and be bestowed upon the vassal to sacrifice themselves and cleave through space and time.

    Mark upon this unworthy flesh the emblem of the sacrifice, the vassal whose death shall bring forth victory through the fields of steel and blood!

    The oath is laid here. We are the ones who represent all the good within the pure lands, and we are the ones who judge what is evil within the pure lands. Thou, Seven Heavens clad in three mere words of unequal power, shall emerge from the spiral of control, O keeper of the balance—!


  2. #162
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    Chapter 20

    After she finishes her lunch, Saegusa follows me down a corridor that leads to what was formerly the Old Worm’s study. She’s nervous as she trails behind me, eyes peering into every shadow. It’s like she’s expecting something to leap out and attack her.

    ‘We’re—’ She jumps the moment my mind touches hers. ‘—almost there. You need to calm down or it’ll be harder on you.’

    Her short hair bobs as she drops her head, bringing her hands to her chest to settle her heart. “I’m sorry. I’m just a little nervous.”

    More than a little. Not that I can say I’m surprised. It’s not just her mousy disposition at work, but how the Old Worm constructed this place.

    The domain of a magus was one where they were most comfortable, and the place where they had the most power. The shadows hid countless cracks and crevices his familiars could fit themselves into. The walls were always watching and listening. Even now, the ghost of his presence persists.

    “It’s just us here,” I tell her in as nice of a voice I can manage, trying to set her at ease. “Nothing will hurt you. I promise.”

    Her eyes look up towards me for a moment and there’s relief in them. But then she looks away, casting her eyes on the walls again. “…Umm… I’m surprised that you don’t have any pictures here.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Of your family,” she clarifies. “I just thought that a place like this would have a lot of pictures of your ancestors. To help you remember them since your family has lived here for a long. Maki-chan has a lot of them.”

    The Old Worm didn’t bother with keeping portraits of the family members, including himself. They weren’t important to him beyond continuing the bloodline. And there was probably nothing he felt the need to keep around to preserve a memory, since he kept himself alive to remember it.

    “I guess my family was never interested in that sort of thing.” We reach the door to the study at the end of the corridor. I enter first and flick on the lights, causing the room to brighten from absolute darkness to a subdued and dim brightness. Enough to read something without straining the eyes, but not enough to warm the room.

    Saegusa sits in the chair in the middle of the room, about a yard away from the of the thick, wooden desk I sit behind. It’s large and cushioned, so she’d be comfortable for the next two hours. But a mixture of anxiousness and nervousness keeps her spine stiff on the edge of it.

    ‘Sit back and relax. We’ll be here for some time and you need to be comfortable.’

    She slides back in the seat before settling in to listen as best she can. Her eyes never leave mine while I give her a larger overview of the nature of Trance than what I did when we were in the future, such as the factors that influence the telepathic waves, limitations, and so on. It’s only when I explain the concept of the Mind Jack that she looks lost. “So… it’s like those can-and-string telephones my brothers played with?”

    ‘Those work because sound waves cause the cans to vibrate, which passes through the string to do the same to the other one. Mine uses a hollowed-out channel for trance waves to pass through without interference through the active-use of psychicer’s power. We can go over the specifics another time, but for the moment you need to learn how to project your own thoughts to others. Are you ready to begin?’

    She takes a deep breath. “I’m ready, Matou-san.”

    I walk her through the basic steps and sit back to see if she can manage on her own for the next thirty minutes. In theory its relatively simple: you bundle your thoughts up and float them over like a cloud. Since Trance energy has a more ‘immaterial’ feel to it than Burst energy under normal circumstances, viewing it that way helps the unformatted energy inside of you take on that nature.

    However, it… doesn’t go over so well with her in practice. Her soft pants pad out the isolated room and beads of sweat dot her brow. But, even with her appearing to try her hardest, her failures only continue to mount.

    Once we reach the thirty-minute mark, I call it. “It’s been thirty minutes. Take a break.”

    She refuses, shaking her head. “I can do it this time. I know it.”

    “I said that’s enough, Saegusa.”

    The message carries, and she stops straining herself needlessly at the slight rise in my tone. But her head hangs low with the weight of her failure and she takes a deep, shuddering breath. Don’t tell me she’s about to cry?

    “I couldn’t get it,” she says in a small voice, barely above a whisper, while placing her hands on her lap. “I tried, but...”

    “That’s fine,” I tell her. “The whole goal for now was to see if you could grasp it on your own enough to where I’d be confident that you could manage even if not under supervision. The fact that you couldn’t just means that I have to guide you with a more hands-on approach.”

    Her skirt shifts as she clutches the fabric tightly. “But... if I can’t use this one, then I’ll have to...”

    “If you can’t get it before our next trip then we’ll keep you safe and then try again afterwards. By then your abilities will have increased so we can make it work.”

    “But I don’t want to be protected.” She slowly brings her hands up her chest and crosses them over her heart. “Maki-chan, Kane-chan, and even you… all of you got hurt helping me. I couldn’t do anything but watch. It hurts when I think about it, and I don’t want to just watch again as everyone else...”

    Her voice cracks as she trails off. Not that I can blame her when I know that feeling. Or a similar kind of feeling—hers are likely a product of her caring nature, whereas mine stems from the need for personal independence.

    To not be able to do something you should on your own eats away at you. Because not only did you lack the power to deal with a problem yourself, but you were completely at the mercy of someone else who saved you on a whim. Had it been anyone other than Emiya who saved me, albeit through Tohsaka, and Sakura who helped nurse me in my weaker moments, I’d never be able to live with the shame.

    Taking that into consideration, it’s likely her mental hang-ups are also what’s stopping her from getting the hang of it. She needs to have a clear mind starting out if she’s going to do this. But if we’re going to fix that issue I need to know what’s going on in her head.

    “Fine, we’ll try a few more times.” I construct a Mind Jack from the back of my neck. “Now then, with your consent, I’m going to try connecting directly into your mind with this.”

    She seems a little skeptical. Not surprising given I had mentioned being able to read minds with it. Few people were comfortable with that and for good reason.

    “It’s going to act like that telephone idea you mentioned. With it attached, you should be able to transmit your thoughts to me through it with less effort and feel it more clearly when my thoughts touch your mind. I’m hoping that between the exposure and connection you’ll be able to manage, but if you want to refuse I’d understand.”

    She looks down for a moment in thought, biting her lower lip. Then she looks up anxiously and asks, “And you promise you won’t read my mind?”

    “You have my word.” The lie comes easily and with a reassuring smile. “Do I have you permission?”

    Saegusa buys it and meekly nods her head, giving consent. The Mind Jack connects into the base of her skull slowly and carefully, but the foreign sensation still makes her twitch in her seat. She reaches back to rub the spot instinctively, only to be surprised when her hand goes through it.

    From my experimenting earlier, I can tell people who don’t have access to PSI can’t feel it or see it. Even then, unless she uses her own Trance or Burst she can’t remove it. ‘Can you feel my thoughts clearer now?’

    “It’s hard to put it into words exactly, but it feels… delicate.”

    ‘That’s the Trance energy, or at least how you’re interpreting it. Keep this sensation in the back of your mind and then try to focus on wrapping your own thoughts in it that same feeling and sending it out through the line. Unless you push it through, it won’t come to me.’

    She closes her eyes and tries again. This time I passively pull at her thoughts in the process, keeping the channel open and letting me hear her thoughts. If I feel her Trance energy starting to form then I’ll close it properly, but this is the best chance I’ll get to check right now.

    He’s shown me how to do it. I just have to wrap it up like a present and send it to him. Matou-san, can you hear me? Am I doing it…?

    No, he said I have to push it after wrapping it up in that sensation. I can do that much. Just wrap it up… why isn’t it working? I’m trying. I really am. You’re listening to me now aren’t you?

    You probably think I’m a failure, but I really am trying. Please tell me its working.

    —I keep my features entirely schooled when she eventually opens her eyes, unable to resist her doubts as they mount. There’s more than a little fear in her eyes that I heard all of that, but I pretend otherwise. “Nothing’s gone down the line yet. Try it one more time.”

    She screws her eyes shut and tries to block out the paranoia that I’m listening to her inner rambling as it continues, but it doesn’t take. There’s also no hint of her own Trance energy in the thoughts she’s trying to project outwards. Her doubts appear to be actively hampering her.

    If we don’t do something about that she might hit a mental block and it’ll force us to relegate her to something like a pack mule for our belongings to make her useful. And while she might do so without question, it’d probably only add to her doubts. But I can’t just tell her that everyone has doubts or some spiel like clearing her mind since she’ll think it came from me reading her mind.

    I mean, she wouldn’t be wrong considering that’s exactly what I did. But she doesn’t need to know that. What she needs is one solid success to wipe away the doubts. She only has to succeed once today.

    And to do that she needs a distraction. ‘Saegusa, I want you to focus on one of the happiest memories you have.’

    Her eyes open at that. “A memory?”

    ‘Any that you’re comfortable sharing with me,’ I clarify. ‘I think part of why this isn’t working is we aren’t going big enough. PSI responds to strong emotions, so if it’s a really happy memory then it might work because you’ll want to share it. I’ll walk you through a visualization technique aloud to keep your thoughts uninterrupted by mine, okay?’

    “I’ll do my best,” she says, her brows folding in determination. The sensation of my thoughts actively touching her mind seems to ease her doubts a lot that I wasn’t listening in since she didn’t feel it. That’s more so a lack of experience on her front, but whatever works.

    I start guiding her through it. “Now close your eyes and pick out a memory that you treasure. The more vivid, the better. Immerse yourself into it as deeply as you can until it’s as clear as possible. Take as much time as you need.”

    She closes her eyes and settles in to do so, shoulders rising and falling. It takes several minutes as she tries to find the right memory to use, thoughts flickering back and forth on the surface. Most of them are dreadfully boring at a passing glance, but eventually she settles on one longer than the others—a family moment that spreads a soft smile on her lips.

    I take that as a cue to continue. “Since you’re smiling, I’m assuming you’ve got it. Now try to visualize that memory playing in front of you rather than being in the moment. Picture that you’re a separate person looking down on that memory.”

    Her lips furrow slightly as she tries to do so. It’s not something most people do, looking at a memory from the outside in. But by pulling herself out of the memory she’ll be able to picture it as a separate object and thus have less compunctions about sending it my way.

    She tries a few different methods of doing so, but it takes a long time for her to truly manage it. This memory is precious to her and she doesn’t want to part with it easily, so she’s starting to wonder if she should find a different one. But then she reasons out that I can relate to the feeling as an older brother of having a sibling, and part of her wants let someone else see her brother the way she does even when he acts naughty.

    The last step is left now. “If you’re ready, I want you visualize that you’re sending that memory to me. Our minds are connected, so just picture it being wrapped up in that delicate energy you felt earlier and then picture it floating to me. The rest will follow naturally.”

    I feel the prickling of Trance energy mere seconds after I go silent. She’s doing it. Good. I close the channel between us and ready myself to receive it since her PSI should push it through—

    “Yuki-chan, we’re back,” Mommy says as she steps through the door to our home. “Did you miss us?”

    I rush over to her side and stand on my toes to hug her. She’s been gone for days now, and she looked like she was in so much pain. Even though Daddy told me she’d be fine, I was worried the entire time. “You’re both okay now, right?”

    “Better than okay.” She kneels down and I see that she has him wrapped up in a bundle of blankets in her arms. My little brother who was inside of her stomach until now. “Say hello to your sister, Kouta.”

    He looks so cute as he lays there with his pacifier in his mouth, bobbing while his eyes remain closed. It’s almost enough to make my heart flutter in my chest. “He’s so little.”

    “You were even smaller when you were born.” Mommy tells me, smiling as she gently rocks him back and forth. I lean on my toes to get a better look at his sleeping face and it seems like he’s sleeping well. “Do you want to hold him?”

    My head bobs fast enough that I almost get dizzy. Then she carefully holds him out and tells me to support his head. He feels warm and smells nice, but he’s a lot heavier than he looks. I’m afraid he’ll fall so I hold him close to me.

    “Nh...” His little arms shift around, and he starts to move in my grasp. Not enough to make me drop him, but it scares me enough that I might. Then his pacifier falls out of his mouth and his eyes open as they look around, glimmering. Did I wake him up? “Naahhh...”

    “Nonono, don’t cry.” I rock him back and forth like Mommy did. “It’s okay, Kouta-kun. It’s okay.”

    He stops crying as he looks into my eyes, staring at them. Long enough for Mommy to carefully put his pacifier back in. It bobs up and down slowly as he keeps looking at me until his eyelids get heavy and he closes them again.

    I let out a sigh, but my heart is fluttering. “That scared me.”

    “He normally cries a bit more before he goes back to sleep.” Mommy brushes his hair softly. “I think he likes his big sister even more than he likes me.”


    —and barely manage to free myself before it swallows me up entirely. The smell of new baby lingers in my mind longer than it should as I disconnect the Mind Jack before there were anymore surprises.

    “Did it work?” Saegusa asks, looking at me expectantly with somewhat tired eyes.

    “A little too well.” I make a note to refine it before giving someone else a straight-line into my brain like that. Judging from how she’s swaying a little in her seat, her first time seems to have thrown her for a loop as well. “How do you feel? PSI tends to be overtaxing the first time it’s used, from personal experience.”

    “My head feels really tingly and a little foggy,” she admits, wearing a soft smile flushed with success. “But I really did it this time?”

    “That’s right.” Realistically speaking, it’s likely she won’t be able to use it unless we get her comfortable enough using Trance to get around how long that took. It’ll be incredibly hard to think happy thoughts during our little trips. But right now she needed a win and she got it.

    That was what mattered.

    Letting her bask in success for the moment, I look to the clock and see we’ve moved ten minutes past the hour mark. “Since you’ve done it successfully and I don’t want to burn you out for your next part, why don’t we take a longer break this time?”

    [-Break-]

    We return to the Parlor once the two hours are up and find the others are already there since they were closer.

    Gai sits next to Himuro and watches as she levitates a playing card off the point of her forefinger. It’s wrapped up inside of what looks to be a sleeve of energy and spins slowly in place as she twirls her finger. I think it’s safe to say she’s gotten through the basics of how to use Burst then.

    On the other hand, Makidera is slouching over the arm of the sofa like a wet rag. There’s practically no energy left in her body. The pragmatic part of me notes that might be a bit of a problem in the long run and so I force myself not to smile.

    Saegusa naturally rushes over to check on her. “Maki-chan, are you okay?”

    She sloughs off the couch and into Saegusa’s arms, whereupon she starts whining. “Everything is sore... and I’m starving...”

    Himuro offers no pity to her plight, only cold words as she sets the playing card down onto the table. “She was reckless once she learned how fast she could move despite the warning she was given and now she’s paying the price.”

    “But she can still train, right?” That’s really all I care about now that my thirst for petty revenge has been sated.

    Ayako nods. “It shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Trance or Burst training since those don’t really require her to move around much. Though she’s probably going to be sore until tomorrow.”

    “Ahh… They’re all so cruel to me…” She nuzzles her head against Saegusa to wring out some sympathy from probably the only person here who would give her it. “Yukicchi, you’re not going to turn on me too, are you?”

    Saegusa awkwardly brushes her back softly and assure her she won’t before deciding to help her get into the Dining Room so that she can finally get something to eat. Himuro follows after her while inquiring about her own training efforts. She smiles as she tells them that she succeeded on the way out, leaving the three of us to talk amongst ourselves.

    I start the conversation. “Well, I can guess from that Makidera shot past the starting line and hit a tree along the way, but what about the other one?”

    “She asked a few questions, but she mostly handed it on her own,” Gai answers with a slight smile on his face. “She’s really amazing.”

    “It’s safe to say they’ve both got talent in those fields to get it in such a short time,” Ayako muses. Then she turns to me. “What about yours?”

    I don’t want to sugarcoat it considering the stakes. But I also don’t want the Track Trio to overhear by chance and undo my efforts. I send it to their heads with Telepathy just to be safe instead. ‘Keep quiet on this, but she wouldn’t have gotten it on her own. Her mind is filled with so many doubts that she’s basically repressing her own PSI unless she goes to a happy place in her mind first. We’ll need to see if that’s the case with all of them or just Trance, but we’ll probably have to spend several days working with her when we can just to get decent results.’

    Ayako’s mouth forms a slight frown at that. ‘You didn’t have another… episode, did you?’

    Her question and the uncertain look on her face tells me enough. I guess now is as good as a time as any to address this whole issue. ‘Gotou, give us the room for a bit.’

    Once he’s gone, I sit across from Ayako and look her square in the eyes before addressing the elephant in the room. ‘You read my mind.’

    ‘I did,’ she admits. ‘I was worried about you and I just figured I could help better if I saw what was doing that to you.’

    ‘I appreciate the sentiment, but you shouldn’t have done that.’ I’m not happy that she did it at all, but my priorities are increasing our chances of survivability and yelling won’t help right now. ‘Have you’ve seen the same things in your dreams since then?’

    She shakes her head. ‘No. I can't even remember it very well, but I know there’s an impression of something that’s—’

    I cut her off. ‘Don’t try to remember it anymore. Your mind wants to forget, so just let it happen and you’ll be fine. But don’t do that again or you might not be so lucky.’

    She breathes out a sigh of relief inadvertently and then looks upset at showing weakness. ‘What was that?’

    ‘It’s complicated, but I’m dealing with it. I know my condition better than anyone else, and since I’ve had time to think about it I’ve come up with a way to possibly stop it from happening again. But don’t tell the others what you’ve seen.’

    ‘Shinji, you flipped out when we were under attack. It’s a liability that can get you killed.’

    ‘Mitsuzuri, you told me you trusted me not to read your mind. I kept my word and stayed out of your head because I didn’t want to betray that trust. Can’t you do the same for me on this?’

    She bites down in her lower lip. Thinking. ‘Can you at least tell me how you plan on handling it?’

    ‘I’ve been studying a couple of different solutions in my free time even before now with cognitive psychology. I’ll spare you the details, but the gist of it is that what’s happening to me isn’t something that can be dealt with by modern means. The best and simplest option I had was using sleeping medicine until I gained PSI.’

    It isn’t a lie. Not entirely. I’ve been looking into the problem since it started. It’s just that there was nothing I could do about it until now.

    ‘Since then I’ve been experimenting, and you’ve seen some of the results. I know I can use Trance to influence my perception of time, so self-hypnosis isn’t out of the question. I can read memories on a surface level, but what about removing them? Rewriting them?’

    She points out the obvious. ‘That sounds dangerous. Issei can fix physical damage to the brain, but there’s no telling what will happen if something goes wrong with what you’re doing to yourself.’

    ‘That’s why I’ve been working on it slowly while my attention is on stopping the body-jacker next time. I just need to be able to do so without being harassed or questioned.’

    Ayako doesn’t seem quite that satisfied since I’m being vague about it. But unless she has an alternative she really doesn’t have a choice but to accept it. Eventually, she sighs in surrender and crosses her arms.

    ‘…Just promise me you’ll be careful?’ She gives me a gentle look not unlike those my sister does, which is annoying in its own way. ‘I know I’ve been quiet on my own issues, but you still stuck your neck out and got involved with all of this. If it’s making this worse, then it’s my responsibility to help you deal with it and if that means butting in then I will.’

    That’s probably the best vow of silence I’ll get from her, so I accept it and we shelve the topic there.

    [-Break-]

    Eventually, the ‘Study Club’ comes to an end and the results are mixed with the Track Trio.

    In terms of Trance, Himuro has some degree of talent while Makidera is an utter failure. The former managed to send out her thoughts without the level of help that Saegusa needed. The latter didn’t even manage with help so she’s probably as bad as Gotou when he started out.

    As for Burst, Saegusa saw success under Gotou’s tutelage while Makidera only barely managed to create a construct at all. Both of them were behind Himuro in that department as well. The Bartender and Ayako will be busy with them, but its good that they’ve all got potential there.

    Rise is where the situation is reversed. Makidera had the strength aspect down without question, but Himuro didn’t seem able to use it for more than a short burst. Saegusa had no luck whatsoever. It’s possible that they might be more proficient in using the Sense or Healing subcategories, but we didn’t have time to check and our resident experts were already out of town.

    Since tomorrow is our day off from school, Ayako wanted to use that for a little more practice. But since Makidera has obligations with her family store and Saegusa has to look after her brothers, they wouldn’t be able to do training that day. Himuro and Gotou did have time and the pub was closed on Sundays, so Himuro would study under Ayako and Gotou under the Bartender since they wanted to get him used to his new ability.

    As for me, I’ll continue to work on finding the Einzberns by visiting their castle. I should be able to walk well enough to get back there and see if there’s anything left that I can use to locate them. I’m not eager to go there but I can’t pass up the chance while I have it.

    After that I’ll head to the Church to speak to the old man there. Father Dilo introduced himself in the hospital while I was being checked out and had my condition made clear to me. He wanted answers about what happened to the former priest and the Master who had been dispatched by the Clocktower for the war but vanished.

    Since Tohsaka and I both knew who had the Command Seals for Lancer it didn’t take much effort to put two-and-two together. And since the asshole priest murdered one Master, the old man didn’t really question me much when I said the Old Worm went missing along the way. Since it was only natural that he’d be eliminated to get the grail, Dilo went ahead with the paperwork to get the Death Certificate for the Old Worm handled so I could get everything transferred to me.

    Since the Church was supposed to handle the flow of information, while the Association and Einzbern cover the cost of collateral damage for the Holy Grail War, he might know where they’re located. I won’t try reading his mind, since its likely he knows magecraft, but asking won’t hurt. Even if he doesn’t know or won’t tell me, as long as I can find out who repaired the damages and see who footed the bill I can get somewhere.

    I’ll find a lead that’ll point me to them eventually.
    Last edited by Twi; September 22nd, 2018 at 05:45 PM.
    Yet the burden shall be shared by two entwined, from which the sword will part from the body and be bestowed upon the vassal to sacrifice themselves and cleave through space and time.

    Mark upon this unworthy flesh the emblem of the sacrifice, the vassal whose death shall bring forth victory through the fields of steel and blood!

    The oath is laid here. We are the ones who represent all the good within the pure lands, and we are the ones who judge what is evil within the pure lands. Thou, Seven Heavens clad in three mere words of unequal power, shall emerge from the spiral of control, O keeper of the balance—!


  3. #163
    Nice chapter and i am glad this got an update.
    Also, with how many views there are how come there's so little comments or posts in general?
    For those writers looking for new story ideas visit my account: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/6347453/FateOnline. There are dozens of challenges there waiting to be picked up.

  4. #164
    Author of Mages Twi's Avatar
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    There's not much to discuss, I would presume. I'm not even sure how to check how any views there are.
    Yet the burden shall be shared by two entwined, from which the sword will part from the body and be bestowed upon the vassal to sacrifice themselves and cleave through space and time.

    Mark upon this unworthy flesh the emblem of the sacrifice, the vassal whose death shall bring forth victory through the fields of steel and blood!

    The oath is laid here. We are the ones who represent all the good within the pure lands, and we are the ones who judge what is evil within the pure lands. Thou, Seven Heavens clad in three mere words of unequal power, shall emerge from the spiral of control, O keeper of the balance—!


  5. #165
    It was listed on the link in the fanfic thread. To the left of the last person to post, under replies.
    For those writers looking for new story ideas visit my account: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/6347453/FateOnline. There are dozens of challenges there waiting to be picked up.

  6. #166
    Author of Mages Twi's Avatar
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    Oh. Neat.
    Yet the burden shall be shared by two entwined, from which the sword will part from the body and be bestowed upon the vassal to sacrifice themselves and cleave through space and time.

    Mark upon this unworthy flesh the emblem of the sacrifice, the vassal whose death shall bring forth victory through the fields of steel and blood!

    The oath is laid here. We are the ones who represent all the good within the pure lands, and we are the ones who judge what is evil within the pure lands. Thou, Seven Heavens clad in three mere words of unequal power, shall emerge from the spiral of control, O keeper of the balance—!


  7. #167
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    Chapter 21

    My breath fogs over with every step I take.


    The sun had barely risen when I set out from home around three hours ago. Since then I’ve been walking through the forest, down a specific route that I know that will lead me to the castle. But there’s still an hour or so before I reach it on foot.


    I hate that the castle is such a long walk away. But the boundary field was taken down shortly before the albino brat and her servants were killed, so other than the distance there shouldn’t be any complications reaching the place. And, if by chance someone put it back up, I can counteract the Mental Interference to avoid it with my PSI and will know for a fact that someone is there.


    I am armed with a knife in case the Homunculi are there and pick a fight with me. But I’ll leave if it comes down to a fight. There’s no point in risking my life when we have the Veterans to do the heavy lifting. Better to point them in this direction and have them clean house while I go over the place with a fine-tooth comb afterwards.


    I’ll be happy if I find anything that’ll bring us another step closer to freedom. At least some of the rooms should still be intact as long as whatever fight the Servants had stayed centered within the hall. There might be a basement or archive or storage facility somewhere that’s designed to last through the Holy Grail War—


    My blood vessels swell, writhing as hot mire flows through them from the second heart wedged in my stomach. It hurts.



    —I freeze in place, clutching my stomach as something breaks through and pushes aside my organs. But there’s nothing when I pull my hands away. Nothing more than phantom pain that’s akin to muscle memory, stemming from that moment of betrayal.


    I’m not surprised. The path I’m walking is the same one that I took when I was leaving here the last time. Familiar locations link to memories so much easier than distant places, so that was inevitable. It’ll probably get as bad as it did when I first visited the mountain, if not worse, but this time I’m ready for it.


    Exhaling, I tap into the wellspring of energy within me and formulate it into the Trance-energy. Then I program and layer it to my mind. I have to be careful since if I damage my own brain then there’s no coming back.


    A broken arm or leg can heal with time.


    A damaged brain not so much.


    Once I’m done, I keep walking forward as the minutes continue to pass. It’s not much further now, but the occasional breeze whips through the twisted copse of trees and assaults my face every time. It’s not as cold as it would be during the winter, or in that ruined future. But the leaves blotting out the morning sun makes the air even more frigid than when in the city proper.


    If I had more time I would have come later. But I need every minute I can get to visit the priest and see if he has any information I can use as well. Better to do that later than be stuck here until nightfall and trying to worm my way through the dark until—


    My flesh grows painfully until everything is stretched to the breaking point, nerves alight with fire that eats away my sanity. It stretches with fat that rots into mud until the flesh tears and spews it out. It hurts. It hurts. Please, help me.



    —I stumble to my knees. The phantom pain takes the place of the footsteps and blood from the last time in marking my path. I can feel that I’m close to the spot now where that happened now.


    I can still feel the Trance energy saturating my brain. The rules I programmed in haven’t been broken, so it just hasn’t triggered yet. Since I can’t make the rules laxer due to the risk involved, I’ll have to put up with the occasional hallucination until it gets to the point where it goes off.


    I really hate that I have to come out here at all, but I can’t get the others involved carelessly to do it for me. The others… well, most of them aren’t stupid. If I bring up this place to them without a decent excuse, they’ll see cracks in what I’ve told them so far. And if they somehow find out about everything I’ve done, they’ll cast me aside and leave me to die.


    That is, if they didn’t kill me themselves.


    I can’t say it’d be unwarranted. After all, I was more than willing to have Rider to melt them all down for the sake of giving her a little more power, so she wouldn’t be so useless to me. It didn’t matter whether it was every person in the school or every person in the city, I’d have sacrificed them all if it meant I would obtain the grail.


    Their value as people didn’t matter if I got what I wanted in the end. Even now I’m not that different. I’m moving them around like chess pieces on a board to keep them alive. Not so much for their own sakes, but because they’re useful in keeping me alive and I don’t want to see Ayako looking so pathetic again.


    Emiya is a fool who’d save someone even if they tried to kill him and everyone he knew. Sakura is soft enough that she’ll forgive someone who deprived her of things she’ll never get back. And Ayako will shed tears at the thought of someone who’d wronged her dying in front of her.


    If I had been like them, I wouldn’t have survived to this point.


    Not living with the Old Worm.


    I catch my breath, get to my feet, and continue to walk while lost in my own thoughts about the future. We don’t know when we’ll be called back. We don’t know what we’ll find there. And I still don’t have a concrete way of dealing with the body-jacker—just a theory.


    I’ve worked out that they managed to infiltrate my central nervous system, using it to both control my body and access my mind. That explains why my PSI fried them in trying to remove it. I can’t help but think it’s similar to a wire that acts as an artificial nerve, similar to how the worms inside of Sakura turn into nerves when not in use.


    The question was how do I stop it from happening a second time—


    Thump.



    —I fall and hit the ground, but I don’t know why. Did I trip over something or stumble? There’s a gap in my memories, like I was thinking about something only…


    No. No, I know these symptoms. I can’t feel any Trance energy in my mind but, considering I’m close to the Einzbern’s place, it’s likely the result of the PSI I probably had layered on my mind. I must’ve had a panic attack and it went off like depth-charge, clearing out my working memory and suppressing whatever triggered it.


    It’s… crude. A rudimentary form of memory manipulation at best. Definitely not feasible in the long-run, but I can’t refine the process further since I don’t know the extent of what I’m capable of and don’t want to risk long-term memory damage to myself. I just don’t have enough control as of yet to even try something like that.


    I’ll have to practice on other people first. The Student President will likely run his mouth off about it if he finds out, so I’ll have to keep quiet on that. It’s probably for the best since I can’t let them know that memory manipulation is a thing, given that most of them are under it to some extent.


    I’m not sure which method was used by the Church since I’m not aware of their Foundation. It was probably just the standard ‘dumping the memories in the part of their minds they’ll never find’ for the students, given the number of people who had been affected by Rider. But I know they had to deprogram the monks since they were under a compulsion that would trigger if questioned on Caster’s identity.


    Then again, maybe I should find some way to break it to them as a failsafe? Like if their powers end up stirring their memories by some chance, given how much unventured territory we’re in. They might remember something they shouldn’t and make things difficult for me, so I should have something I can tell them to save face.


    Ugh, more things to think about before the next trip.



    I shake my head and continue walking until the castle comes into view. Or what’s left of it. I knew the place had a decent amount of damage beforehand, but now it was a mass of weather-worn and charred slag. For the stone foundation itself to have melted meant it couldn’t have been a normal fire. But it didn’t spread very far, otherwise the entire forest would have went up in flames.


    It’s probably safe to assume that no one has visited the place in the last few months. If the other homunculi had been here, they would have either restored the place to perfection or destroyed it so thoroughly that nothing remained. The latter would have also been more likely if it had been raided by the Church or the Association.


    The castle itself should still have protections to protect the valuables inside from this kind of damage. So, in theory, there should still be something here I can use. The problem is that I can’t get through all of this on my own with the stonework collapsed, let alone factoring in the structural damage from the fire and weather.


    I’ll need one of the others who can lift the rubble. And I can’t bring one of them this far out without explaining myself. There’s nothing I can do here right now.


    Hopefully the priest will be more helpful in giving me the information I need.


    Otherwise this whole day will be a waste.

    [-Break-]
    I take a Taxi from the civilized part of Fuyuki to Shinto to save on time and to give my aching legs a moment to rest.


    It isn’t a short trip on its own, maybe an hour or so. But it feels longer due to how crowded the roads across from the Big Bridge became on the weekend. Since the train station makes it a good central hub shops naturally line the area and bring enough traffic that walking might have been faster.


    The crowds become less of an issue once we leave the Station Front and take a turn into the suburban area. Fewer buildings surround us and more greenery takes their place since it costs more to build a foundation for houses on the steep incline of a hillside. And since less people are around it becomes quiet enough that I almost drift off looking at the ocean once we were high enough. Thankfully, I manage to stay awake until we reach the church that resides at the top of the hill.


    In hindsight, its far more grandiose than it needs to be. The flat, sculpted lands didn’t suit the suburbs leading up to it and I can’t imagine that many sheep flock to the place during service hours. Then again, the gaudiness is something I can see the Tohsaka’s relishing enough that they’d foot the bill for it. That might even be why they had the Kotomine family in their pocket until the last war, when the damn priest decided he wanted the grail.


    I can’t be sure if that relationship is still being upheld now that the old priest is running the place. The Holy Church is supposed to oppose Magi on principle as a balancing act, with the two keeping one another in check. His help in expediting things might have been due to the fact that they were trying to smooth things over, but he seems reasonable enough that I feel like I’ll walk out of here with some answers.


    I don’t intend to be here long, so I instruct the driver to wait before I walk towards the doors and the sound of pipe organs reaches my ears. It’s a foreign sound I haven’t heard in ten years, when I spent my time overseas during the last war. I don’t recall an organ being here the last time I came, but I shouldn’t be surprised that this church would have one.


    The melody drowns out the creaking of the hinges and reverberates down into my bones the moment I open the door. The church itself is devoid of life, with no congregation to hear the hymn. Despite that the white-haired woman in a nun’s outfit continues to play a tribute to her god as the light from the brass that makes up the organ’s pipes gleam brightly.


    I take a seat at one of the pews that allows me to get a better look at the nun from the side rather than interrupt her practice. She seems foreign but some of her features are native, so it's likely she’s of mixed heritage, giving her something of an exotic appeal if not for the bandages I can spy. Her hair has more of a grey tint to it as well compared to the homunculi, almost like ash instead of snow.


    Her slender fingers move with grace over the keys, despite her eyes being closed as she listens to her own hymn. I’m not familiar with the composition, but everything sounds like its flowing smoothly. As far as I can tell not a single key is out of place by the time her playing comes to an end.


    “Thank you for being patient,” she says as she rises from her playing bench slowly, bringing down the wooden cover over the keys to signify that her practice is done. She then turns to me and opens her eyes, revealing them to be a dull golden color. “Matou Shinji, I presume?”


    “You know who I am?”


    “Yes. Father Dilo had saw fit to inform me of the members of the Tohsaka and Matou households before he departed. I have already introduced myself to the Second Owner as is custom, but I did intend to introduce myself to your household as well once I finished settling in.”


    “Ah. I wasn’t aware that Father Dilo had left recently.”


    “A man of his capabilities has duties to fulfill elsewhere and this house of worship is relatively small, so a replacement was chosen,” she answers while walking towards me. “I am Caren Hortensia, and for the time being I have been entrusted with overseeing this church in a similar capacity as he did. If there is something you require of him then you may ask me in his stead.”


    I wanted to speak to the Father since he had been handling everything else. Substituting someone else in at the last-minute means that there might be things that he didn’t tell her. Then again, I do find that women tend to be easier to speak with.


    Even if she is an agent of the Church. “Well, I had a question related to the matter of the Grail War and I was hoping that he could help me with clarifying a few things. Since the former priest was the mediator and his father before him was the prior one, the Church itself should have answers I wanted.”


    “Perhaps your arrival here was not merely by chance after all then. I had questions for you as well that I intended to ask at a later date regarding the last Holy Grail War. If we could share information, then I believe both of our questions could be resolved.”


    I sit upright. “If it's something I can answer then I will.”


    “As you may know, the nature of the Holy Grail itself has become something of a concern in light of the previous two incidents. To that end, we seek to question the head of the three families involved about the grail itself.”


    “If that’s the case, then the information I can offer is limited,” I tell her. “I may be the head of our household, but my Grandfather is the only one in Fuyuki who would have an understanding of that since he’d been around from the beginning. And he was killed by the previous priest who was stationed here.”


    The Nun clasps her hands together as if in prayer. “You have my sincerest apology on behalf of the Church for that transgression.”


    “The fact that the previous priest may have exorcised him in an attempt to claim the grail doesn’t change the fact that it needed to be done. Grandfather was a monster who preyed on humans in a manner that was no different than a vampire. And besides, Father Dilo expedited the transferring of all of his possessions and the other paperwork we needed to continue living as we do, so his actions don’t reflect upon the Church in itself to me.”


    Well, to be more accurate, I had him killed with Gilgamesh because he’d pissed me off for the last time. The fact that I did something good for the world is just a by-product. Not that much different from getting involved with Ayako’s mess.


    “Be that as it may, upon learning of his involvement in the Fourth Holy Grail War from the Second Owner and an investigation of the incident caused by the grail’s manifestation at that point in time, we believe that something else may have been at work. Are you aware of what demonic possession is?”


    Demons—creations born from the 6th Imaginary Factor that possess men and destroy their minds in the process over time. Considering what happened to me, it was one of the first things that I had checked by the doctor affiliated with the Mage’s Association. “The doctor ruled that there was no spiritual entity within me.”


    “I have no doubt that may be the case. After all, normally demons possess those who would be considered virtuous. The actions that were on record from your participation would not coincide with such a trait.”


    My lips pull back in a frown. The Nun’s words themselves aren’t said in a biting tone, but it feels like she’s accusing me of being a monster. No different than the Old Worm. I have to make an effort to keep my temper in check.


    “If you’re referring to my actions in regards to the school and other incidents with Rider, I explained that I wouldn’t have done those things had Grandfather not threaten myself or my sister. It should be clear that if I didn’t prove useful to him, he would have killed me as readily as he did my parents. I’ve kept my hands clean since he’s been gone, and if your agent had eliminated him sooner a lot of innocent people could’ve been saved over the years.”


    Her expression doesn’t change much, but she knows I’m right. I wasn’t a saint during the war, but the majority of my victims have at least recovered. The people the Old Worm preyed on are still reported as being missing and would never be found. The last priest knew that and still let him go free for at least a decade.


    For a member raised in their house, with power granted by their god to act as an instrument in their stead, to neglect their duties and leave him unpunished... well, that makes them and their god accomplices, doesn’t it?


    “Humans are not infallible,” she answers. “They face temptation from the demons as well as the vices around them, and sometimes they succumb to them. They strike at the hearts of even the most virtuous humans after all, and in the wake of possession a human’s morals is often the first thing to go before their minds.”


    Her response is decidedly that of a person desperate to defend the fallacies within their faith. The next thing she’ll say is that the priest himself was possessed or something to explain away his acts. A nice little story about a virtuous priest being corrupted as an excuse for their incompetence in keeping him in check.


    “In any case, regarding my question about demonic possession. While the Association may have ruled you were not possessed, our own investigation has led us to believe that you may have been in the proximity of a demon.”


    “On what basis?”


    “Your body changed into something that was quite distant from the human form, which indicates the presence of a strong demon within a host. In normal cases, the human body undergoing such a violent transformation would die after their minds were destroyed and the demon would fail to manifest. Such tends to be the fate of most demons and their hosts.”


    Ba-thump.



    My body aches. I don’t want to remember. If I remember the hallucinations will return. But I know she’s right. The normal mind can’t cope with such a thing and remain sane, and so it struggles to forget. “Maybe, but I’m alive.”


    The Nun looks as if she wants to say that’s obvious but she refrains. “Indeed, your survival would have been unlikely if you had been personally possessed. But the signs of a powerful demon are evident since they can even affect the surrounding land and the spirits of the people around them when they manifest. Father Dilo investigated both the actions of the previous agent and the site of the previous grail’s manifestation, the latter of which has been found to be steeped in the presence of evil and grudges. Between your own case and these ones, there has been one factor linking all of them together.”


    It clicks in my mind almost instantly. “You think the Einzbern have been using a demon to power the grail, don’t you?”


    The entire reason for the Holy Grail War was for the winner to have a wish granted. The grail was meant to be a device to do so through Wishcraft, which basically amounted to using enough magical energy to force whatever change you could. But, looking back, is such a thing really possible?


    Magical energy can be used as fuel to power something, but to grant any wish without a consequence is a stretch. It has to be formulated through a system or foundation to be useful after all. On top of that the war itself never truly finished since its creation, so no one had their wish granted to test if it really did work, but in the conclusion of the last two wars the grail itself did manifest to an extent and something bad happened.


    Demons born from the 6th Imaginary Factor existed for the sake of realizing the wishes of those that called them forth in a distorted manner. So, if they managed to bind a powerful one into the grail, then they’d have their wish-granting device. One that would make every wish end in the worst possible outcome if there were no failsafe systems in place—provided it wasn’t designed to end that way.


    The Nun nods her head. “It is only a theory at this point. But since the only common factor between that land and the spiritual damage you undertook was the presence of a homunculus, we believe that there’s a chance that a demon exists within the core of the grail.”


    “And you think homunculi are likely meant to be used as a medium to materialize the demon itself while using the accumulated magical energy, in order to realize whatever wish is involved. But the only ones who would know for sure are the ones who provided the grail in the first place.”


    A bitter laugh escapes my mouth. The war itself was rigged from the start because the core was the homunculi themselves. And since they kept getting themselves killed every war, no one could use it the damn thing properly. Even if I had won the war, I wouldn’t have gotten anything to balance out the Hell I’m going through now…


    I’m going to kill them all if I get the chance.


    Slowly and painfully.


    “Naturally, we would prefer to hear an answer from the Einzbern family themselves,” the Nun says with a slight frown when my laughs peter out. “But they have always been notoriously difficult to contact, and our attempts to inquire into the nature of such a possibility have received no answer. In fact, since the end of the war it has been as if they have disappeared off the face of the earth itself. To that end, we also would like your assistance in the matter.”


    “How so?” I ask, presuming that by ‘inquire’ she meant killing every last one of them. No doubt the thought of something called the ‘Holy Grail’ being a vessel for a demon must’ve really stung their pride. The fact that one of their own covered that fact up probably didn’t help, so they’d want the ones who provided the grail itself. “I don’t know where they could have gone.”


    “We believe that Zouken Matou might have some documentation of the Einzbern and some introspective on the nature of the Grail since he was the sole remaining person from the War’s creation. Since you have expressed the intention of no longer practicing magecraft, the Church would like to procure the Matou Library’s contents as part of the investigation. Of course, we are prepared to compensate you appropriately for them.”


    She was asking for me to give up the entirety of the Matou Library. Everything related to our craft since our family’s founding. To ask such a thing of a normal magus family would be unthinkable, since it meant giving up everything their family sacrificed towards reaching the Root. It would be tantamount to a declaration of war.


    But after everything Sakura and I went through because of it, it’s likely that whatever profile of us they’d composed stated we would be open to the suggestion. “Compensated how exactly?”


    She quotes a very nice sum of money to be paid upfront. The only reason I don’t tell her to have a truck come to the house within the hour to take the entire collection is because I need them now for the other Drifters. Since our powers straddle the line between magecraft and psychics, to sell them off now when that could be the very thing between life and death would be foolhardy.


    After all, I can’t spend the money if I’m dead. “The offer is more than generous. And, to be honest, if the Church wanted to destroy the particular branch of magecraft that Grandfather pioneered entirely, I would be willing to give you his research without complaint. But he collected many different notes on many different forms of magecraft, and even if I can’t practice and have no desire to, they still have some value to others. That being said, I would be willing to part with all the information on the Holy Grail War and Einzbern for free if you can assist me in another way.”


    She regards me with curiosity. “If it is within my power, I shall offer it.”


    “The damage that the grail did to me was something that the mages said they can’t fix. But, if it really was the result of being in proximity to a demon, can the Church fix it?”


    “It is unfortunate, but to reverse what has already transpired is beyond the ability of exorcists who serve in His name.”


    In other words, until I die and my soul passes through the Akasha, the spiritual damage will remain. Of course, I knew that. I just saw another potential avenue that could present a solution to my problem and felt obligated to ask.


    That was all.


    I notice her pitying me and it fills me with disdain, but I don’t let it show as I move the conversation along. “Then, if you’d be willing to keep me informed on the situation with the Einzbern and the grail, I’ll be willing to give them to you instead. If I’m going to be tormented every night and die because of this, I want to make sure that it won’t be in vain. Closure will bring me more peace than money will at this point.”


    Besides, if the Church wants that information badly enough, they will take it without regard for our lives. Sakura is largely untrained and I don’t have access to any powers as far as they are concerned. We might be defenseless but we’re still heretics in their eyes and they can justify killing us rather easily. If I offer the information for the sake of seeing justice done, then that was a different story.


    Vengeance is a part of human nature, and emotion can rule out logic. It won't cost them anything and I’ll be shortening their time spent researching by sorting out what they needed. That way they stood to benefit without giving us more trouble in the short-term and I can stay on top of the situation.


    “I shall need to speak with my superiors on the matter of divulging that sort of information,” the Nun answers. “If they agree, then whatever information they see fit to send me will be forwarded to you and a specialist will be sent to take possession of the materials. Even if you are willing to part with them, there is a chance that there has been magecraft cast upon them to prevent outsiders from handling it.”


    “That will be fine. But if you could keep the Second Owner unaware of that fact, I’d appreciate it as well. I don’t want her to think that the Matou are involved when I’m basically doing this to get some form of closure given my condition.”


    “The Church are independent of the Tohsaka and will show them no preferential treatment. What is disclosed between us will remain as such. You have my word on that.”


    I don’t believe her. Not entirely. But even if she tells Tohsaka, she’ll only receive information that I’m acting out of vengeance and directing it towards the third family because they did this to me. It’s still information that I controlled the flow of.


    “In anticipation that they do agree to my terms, I’ll give you my contact information and begin sorting through everything. Whether the offer is rejected or accepted, even if it’s the middle of the night, call me when you get a response. I’ll answer right away.”


    I give her my cell phone number before I leave out with my thoughts running over the situation with the new pieces on my board. The Church would be more pawns that I can play, keeping my important pieces safe by letting them deal with the Einzbern family. If the future has been changed because of it by our next trip, then we’ve done our part to Nemesis Q. If not…


    Well, none of us died. And we’ll know they’re more dangerous than we gave them credit for in this time period. So that’s progress on our end either way.


    Maybe this day wasn’t a complete waste after all.
    Last edited by Twi; February 18th, 2019 at 07:15 PM.
    Yet the burden shall be shared by two entwined, from which the sword will part from the body and be bestowed upon the vassal to sacrifice themselves and cleave through space and time.

    Mark upon this unworthy flesh the emblem of the sacrifice, the vassal whose death shall bring forth victory through the fields of steel and blood!

    The oath is laid here. We are the ones who represent all the good within the pure lands, and we are the ones who judge what is evil within the pure lands. Thou, Seven Heavens clad in three mere words of unequal power, shall emerge from the spiral of control, O keeper of the balance—!


  8. #168
    Not much action but still enjoyable.

    And you do pose a good point in here: As much of a monster Shinji was, how could he really be anything else living with Zouken? Yes, Sakura could care about others and went through far worse. But even then she was still damaged, and how much of that was cause Shinji bowed his head so Zouken wouldn't need to?

    Also, correct me if i'm wrong, but does the church think to get the Grail to work Illya's family trapped a Demon in it, instead of having summoned Avenger in the Third?
    For those writers looking for new story ideas visit my account: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/6347453/FateOnline. There are dozens of challenges there waiting to be picked up.

  9. #169
    Author of Mages Twi's Avatar
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    Nobody left alive knew about Avenger being summoned, so as far as they know the last two times someone came close to winning the Grail and it manifested, bad things happened akin to when a Demon manages to manifest. Even if it wasn't a demon, its clearly something in it that's dangerous enough that they want to know what's happening given all the things Kirei did like with those children in his basement.
    Yet the burden shall be shared by two entwined, from which the sword will part from the body and be bestowed upon the vassal to sacrifice themselves and cleave through space and time.

    Mark upon this unworthy flesh the emblem of the sacrifice, the vassal whose death shall bring forth victory through the fields of steel and blood!

    The oath is laid here. We are the ones who represent all the good within the pure lands, and we are the ones who judge what is evil within the pure lands. Thou, Seven Heavens clad in three mere words of unequal power, shall emerge from the spiral of control, O keeper of the balance—!


  10. #170
    I figured as much. It's just...well subtle things like this I've always had trouble with so i figured i'd check.
    For those writers looking for new story ideas visit my account: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/6347453/FateOnline. There are dozens of challenges there waiting to be picked up.

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