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Thread: The Dollkeeper [Fate]

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    渇き Kirby's Avatar
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    The Dollkeeper [Fate]

    I knew the man.

    It was empty here; that’s the first thing I notice. The car rumbled and bobbed up and down, up and down, as I made my way through the forest path.

    He lived here, somewhere in this bitter winter forest. God, I can’t even begin to understand how he could’ve stood any of this. It’s April already; winter should be over. There’s no good reason this place should be so cold. Even in the comfort of my car, the cold still bit, right down to the bones. I couldn’t feel my toes. I turned the heater up higher. It didn’t help in the slightest.

    The dirt path is a sad and bumpy one, only faintly visible beneath the snow and ice, faded tire marks printed in the ground. This was the path he took, a two hour drive there and back again, slowed further by deteriorating roads littered with fissures and potholes— and that was when it was lucky enough to get any pavement at all. I’d never taken these roads before, and now that I am, I’m glad I’ve never had to. I shudder to think what it must’ve been like, to have to make this trip every week in these conditions. Maybe Freiburg’s spoiled me. Maybe the cold was making me grumpy. Maybe he was just more dedicated than I. But I never knew the man well anyway; it’s been nearly twenty years, but I only realized this just now.

    I hadn’t heard of his disappearance until the day before.

    The story, now. I’ll keep it short. A magus— foreigner, from the looks of it— arrived in town a few days ago. He inquired around as to where he could meet Der Zweitbesitzer von Freiburg im Breisgau. And so, he met me.

    We met; we talked briefly. His German was atrocious, so we spoke in English. The conversation escapes my mind, some business with family and the Einzberns or something of the like. He thanked me; he left. He returned the next day, and stopped by to thank me again for the help. Offhandedly I asked, as one does in casual conversation, about how his business went. He told me that they had disappeared, their estate deserted, no sign of life at their castle. There was no business left to conduct. And so he left.

    And so I found myself here.

    I arrived after God knows how long— probably not long, but the cold. Christ, the cold. The car’s parked on the side of the road, and I pray it’ll still be there when I get back. I mutter a charm under my breath, lest some car thief— if there even were car thieves out in this frozen wasteland of a forest— try to jack it. And another wouldn’t hurt, I suppose, lest it freeze over in the snow. Better safe than sorry.

    Something cracks beneath my feet. I look out of curiosity. A pale-green walnut sprout, frosted over in the snow.

    The rest of the journey is not worth recalling. It’s a lonely, lifeless forest; that’s all this place was now. A month ago, I wouldn’t have even been able to drive this far, before the bounded fields would kick in. So they say. I don’t know, I’ve never tried coming here in the first place.

    As I make my way down the path, I feel the bounded fields brush against my skin, an invisible membrane, feebly passing over my body in waves, down to the bone. It’s weak. It’s all so weak, now.

    I see it now, a fairy-tale castle, its spires still capped with snow.

    I cross the bridge, and enter through the front door. No one stops me. No one’s there.

    I wander through desolate halls, looking for nothing in particular. Empty halls, empty rooms. Silence weighing on my eardrums like the bottom of the sea. Frosted window sills, air so cold it stung my lungs. A castle frozen in time by the endless winter.

    I come across a room, holding a pool of shimmering ether. Instinctively, I knew. The homunculi had returned whence they came. No graves for dolls, I suppose. This would do just fine.

    I didn’t know why I was here. Maybe to sate my curiosity, maybe to confirm the rumors. Even if I knew the man, this business had nothing to do with me. I made my leave. As I exited the castle, off to the side at the edge of the forest, I noticed a small house. His.

    By the house was a small glade. Upturned earth; disturbed snow. In it, a single grave. The only grave in the entire estate.

    It was a small, simple thing, a slab of white stone.

    On it were two things. One, a journal. The other, a name.

    Lea von Einzbern



    Quote Originally Posted by Contents




    The Dollkeeper

    Part 1

    January 14, 1987

    A week ago I received a letter. I didn’t have to open it to know what it said.

    Well, London, it’s been fun. Never thought the day would come, where I’d find myself missing you, missing the Clocktower, missing magi of all people. Yet here I am. The networking and politicking was a pain, but we’ve had some good times. At least the average magus can hold a conversation. It’s been five years, but I’ve been called back to the estate.

    James said he’d send souvenirs; I don’t even know if he knows my address. Anderson offered me a position in his research team, a position that I wanted, but had to decline, unfortunately. I promised Eliza I’d call, maybe visit once in a while, but I don’t know if we even have a phone back home. Empty words all around. She probably knew this too, and cried at the airport. She never found out I was a magus. It was fun while it lasted, at least.

    Two days ago. We arrived at the airport as the sun set. The man next to me ooh’d and aah’d at the view, but I had the aisle seat. I remembered little of the flight there, other than someone kicking the back of my seat the entire time, and boring myself reading a magazine about duty-free wine. It comes with Economy class. Maybe I should’ve splurged. As I got out of the plane, I saw it in big, white, blocky letters. EUROAIRPORT BASEL MULHOUSE FREIBURG.

    I saw a wiry man at the terminal, faintly familiar, with messy brown hair and unironed clothes. He blearily squinted around at the passengers— at us— standing on tiptoes peering over a crowd, holding a sign with a name. Mine. I waved to him, and he didn’t notice me. I waved harder, and he looked in my direction, eyes passing over me. At some point, I forget when, I had to walk straight up to him, obscuring his view. And then he finally noticed I was there.

    He laughed at it all, and introduced himself as Erwin. A friend and associate of Father. A magus, who didn’t look or act the part. I told him my name in turn, though he already knew it.

    “Hell, I didn’t recognize you there for a second—” Liar. That was more than just a second, “—but Christ. Fucking hell. How long’s it been, what, six years? Seven? You grew tall, kid!”

    So he said. Lies, again. I’m not tall at all.

    But he laughed at that, and moved to take my luggage.

    The drive from the airport to Freiburg took a little less than an hour; a comfier ride than the plane, at least. I was tired from the flight, so we booked a hotel. We’d leave for the castle maybe a day or two later. Erwin took me to the Augustinerplatz for dinner, the city square just as I’d remembered. We went to a bar— a new one, from the looks of it, as it wasn’t around when I’d left— and got potato dumplings with braised pork shoulder, and finally some good beer. Absolutely heavenly. It felt almost nostalgic. I didn’t know how much I’d missed this stuff.

    Freiburg, I suppose, was the real ‘home’ for me. It was home for all of us, that’s how our family was. We grew up in Freiburg, and when our time came, we went to the Einzbern estate to fulfill our duty.

    I called it homecoming, but I wouldn’t even be living here from now on. It was a weird feeling, even now. It’s like leaving home for a second time. First, leaving London, then leaving Freiburg. Home now was an old winter castle, a factory of dolls. Charming. I can just see it now; I’ll go mad from the isolation, madder than even the dolls themselves. Then again, I can’t change this. This is the duty of our family. I knew this day would come the very day I left.

    This morning, we left Freiburg.

    It was strange to behold. At some point off the highways, we took a ramp off into some old beaten path, the trees growing thicker, the air growing thinner and colder. At some point, it began to snow. Freiburg wasn’t a cold city— hell, it was one of the warmest in all of Germany— but here the winter really did bite. An almost jarring difference.

    We drove and drove, for what seemed like what was far too long, given that on a map the estate shouldn’t have been too far away. Once in a while, I’d feel something creep over my skin, though I knew perfectly well what it was. The tell-tale signature of a bounded field. I felt eyes on me, but Erwin seemed unconcerned. I didn’t know what I was afraid of. Of course, they wouldn’t object to my arrival— they were the ones to call me here in the first place.

    It had only occurred to me today, that I’ve never really been to the Einzbern estate.

    It was my first time seeing the thing. Snow-capped spires jutting into the sky, walls flanked by flying buttresses, a giant of a castle looming through the falling snow. It reminded me of that Cinderella castle, from a cartoon I watched as a kid.

    That wasn’t to be my new home. Mine would be the small hut out back.

    Well, that sounds unfair. I call it a hut, but it was actually quite cozy. A wooden cabin, the size of a small house. Two stories. It has a porch and a deck that will probably never see use. Smoke rose from a chimney; I could see the glow of the hearth through the window. Erwin parked the car by the entrance— if you can call it that, seeing as how there’s no real proper path or road, no real in or out to this area. He helped me with my luggage from the trunk, just two small suitcases, and we made our way to the hut.

    On the bottom floor, a workshop, a kitchen, a living room. Hundreds of clocks adorned the walls, some laying in a pile in the workshop, half-assembled and disassembled. I felt another bounded field in the air— an air-filtration spell, keeping the sawdust and mana in the workshop.

    We made our way up the staircase, and dropped the suitcases in an empty bedroom. As mine landed on the bed, it disturbed a thick layer of dust. I coughed. Erwin laughed. With that out of the way, we visited Father.

    He was in the only other bedroom in the house. We knocked; he answered. He was bedridden.

    A young woman stood by his bedside, standing and unmoving, with silver hair and red eyes. My first time seeing an Einzbern homunculus.

    As she saw us enter, she bowed and took her leave without a word. Erwin waited outside. And so, I was left alone with the old man.

    We spoke briefly. He didn’t have long left. I was to continue the duty of the family. All this I knew.

    I told him I understood, and took my leave. With that, I bid Erwin farewell, and watched his car disappear into the forest.

    I spent the rest of the day cleaning dust out of my new room.



    January 15, 1987

    Work began today. There honestly was not much to do.

    In the morning, I visited the head of the family, the eighth humanoid terminal Acht. We met in the chapel.

    The Einzbern weren’t religious like that; I don’t even know if they believe in a God. Styled like a cathedral but anything but, Acht stands by his lonesome at the altar, where a priest would give his sermons. The aisles are lined with pews, though I can’t imagine what audience they would take, what faith they would preach. Light filtered through stained glass, their visages not of saints or angels, but of dolls like them— their legacy. Millennia of fruitless efforts.

    In the center of it all, behind the altar, was the image of a woman, her hair like snow, her eyes like blood, her image that of a saint. Justeaze von Einzbern. The splitting image of all the homunculi in the castle. The sole replicator of that miracle this sad factory pursued.

    Acht greeted me formally as I approached the altar. I introduced himself. He didn’t say much in response. He simply nodded and nodded, and told me they’d call me when I’m needed. And with that, I was dismissed.

    And with that, I found myself without work.

    They didn’t eat, they didn’t drink. They slept at irregular intervals, whenever their programming dictated it. I wasn’t needed there to cook, or clean, or to care for anything or anyone in particular. They were self-sufficient, a factory with no foreman. What the hell was I here for, in the first place?

    A homunculus took care of Father, the same one from yesterday I supposed. He told me to leave him be, to focus on my work. And while I’d like to happily oblige, what work was there to be done?

    I found myself sitting stupidly on the steps, watching the maids mill about. They don’t seem to notice me just lingering there, doing nothing in particular. Maybe, once or twice, one would glance on over, but they’d go on about their way, no comment or interest. Of course.

    Or maybe I just hadn’t been sitting on the steps that long. I don’t know; I couldn’t keep track of the time.

    At some point, I remembered the workshop in the house out back.

    A workshop littered with clocks. The work of Father, which would now be continued by me. My time for research had been cut short as I was pulled from the Clocktower, but I supposed I could continue my work here. I looked around.

    Every clock here is unique. We made these all ourselves— me, my father, my father’s fathers and mothers all the way down to the roots of our bloodline back to some shipyard in Genoa. Last year’s pieces hung beside kin centuries old. On their faces, they measure not just seconds or minutes or hours, but the phases of the moon, movements of the planets, the maps of the stars— the lifeblood of the planet.

    All things lead to the Origin. Every magus knows this to be true. Some sought it through the language of the soul. Others sought it through the passage of time, or the cycle of death and rebirth, or the perfections of the human body. We sought it through the stars.

    I picked one up from the table out of curiosity, a work unfinished, a light coating of dust on its surface. I brushed it off. Lights like pinpricks slowly shifted, delicate geometric motions, constellations and lodestars mapped out along its surface. I traced my finger along its surface, feeling them beneath my skin, bumps and grooves forming and unforming. Ursa Minor. Leo. Orion. Faint lines connected the stars as they moved, drawing out constellations, its intricate geometries forming magical arrays. The subtle flows of prana along the arrays mirrored the leylines of the earth, the breath of our planet a microcosm of the heavens, a reflection pointed at the sky.

    In theory, anyway. It was half-built and lacked a case as well as several other components, the mechanisms and clockwork still visible like exposed innards, slowly shifting and clinking along, gears upon gears, chains upon chains. Many stars and corresponding leylines went unaccounted for, and would probably stay that way. With every star counted, ten more were found.

    It annoyed me, looking at it. Astrology, perhaps, was not my forte, even if that’s essentially our craft. The more we learned about the stars, the more chaotic and random it all seemed. We tried assigning meaning and patterns to it all, a universe like clockwork, a carefully crafted machine, orderly and meaningful, but these meanings slipped from our fingers, leaving us— our bloodline— here. A family reduced to a father and son. We knew not if there was or was not meaning. Maybe it didn’t matter. Even if there was, I suppose, we wouldn’t be able to understand it in the slightest.

    At some point, I set the clock back on the table. I noticed, for a moment, eyes on me. One of the dolls had been watching me from the door. She turned and left soon after without a word.



    January 19, 1987

    After several days of doing nothing in particular— dusting my room, wandering the castle, dusting the workshop, trying and failing to make conversation with the maids, dusting anything and everything I came across, the works— they finally needed me for something. Perhaps they took pity on me.

    My job, in a sense, was to do everything for the dolls that they could not. This I knew. What I didn’t, was what they could or could not do. They could care for themselves, yes, but they distinctively lacked that human element. In other words, I was to be their eyes and ears, to deal with the rest of the world for them. Today, I was to go to town.

    Good. I was starting to miss civilization anyway, and we were running short on groceries. Even if there were more rooms to be dusted.

    I had just realized that Erwin took the car with him, when the Einzbern presented to me a car of their own, a Mercedes. I wasn’t sure why they’d need such a thing, but apparently they bought such a thing on a whim. Maybe for Father. Evidently, money was of no concern to them.

    Before I left to town, they gave me two things. One, information regarding their bank accounts and finances— money, in other words, and God knows how much of it— two, a slip of paper. A contract. It was nothing much, just the terms of a deal, a purchase of a variety of materials, to be picked up and payed for today. Aqua regia. Prima materia. Pfahnen solution. Mercury and sulfur. This, I supposed, was what I was being sent to town for. One of the dolls was to accompany me. Protection, apparently.

    Today, I got to experience firsthand the nightmare that was the Einzbern castle roads.

    I hadn’t gotten to truly appreciate it on the way here, seeing as how Erwin drove here with relatively little difficulty. Maybe he was experienced. Maybe I was a bad driver. Maybe small paths perpetually encased in snow, with no other indications that they existed other than “there are no trees blocking you here” didn’t make for an exactly pleasant road to drive on.

    Maybe I just should’ve gone to driving school, instead of hypnotizing that clerk.

    The doll besides me stared blankly as I struggled to drive out of the snowy forest. She wore no expression, but I could feel a faint aura of disapproval. After some time— I’m bad at keeping track of time— she spoke. It shocked me, not that she spoke, but how it sounded. A bit more annoyed than I’d expect from a doll. It was the first time I’ve heard her voice.

    “—Do you need help with that?”

    My newfound hatred of snow and roads outweighed what little pride I had left. I took her up on that offer.

    She was a much better driver than I. This surprised me; after all, why would a doll be programmed to be able to drive? Such was my thought process. But perhaps a doll that could drive had its uses, such as now. Getting me out of this hell, or compensating for magi who had hypnosis in lieu of proper licenses.

    Before, the wordlessness of the drive was filled with muttered swearing and screeching tires, snapping twigs and crunching snow. But with her at the wheel, we were left with an uncomfortable silence, just a smooth, quiet ride. I deigned to fill it.

    “What’s your name?”

    “Lea.”

    And that was the end of that. We continued the rest of the drive in silence.

    The drive to Freiburg seemed like it took less time than the drive from it. From the terms of the contract, we were to meet at some neutral ground, the Freiburger Münster. A lovely cathedral, though hell if I knew why we’d meet on the Church’s territory, or why they’d even accept magi and their heretical deals into their halls. Regardless, if those were the terms, who was I to object? I hadn’t even been working when the order had been placed.

    We arrived just before noon. I could see it over the buildings, the most beautiful spire on Earth so they said. I would’ve taken time to admire the thing and see for myself, with its arcs and vaults and Gothic statues, but I didn’t. The thought slipped my mind; I really ought to visit the place again next time. In hindsight, I was nervous.

    The cathedral was empty, which I should’ve found odd. But at the time, it felt normal, even right. I would’ve pinned the place as a tourist trap, but there wasn’t a soul to be found. As I stepped into the central aisles, making my way to the altar, I felt the shimmer of a bounded field against my skin.

    At the altar stood two figures, neither of which I recognized. One dressed herself in a simple waistcoat and suit. The other, the garbs of a priest.

    Their eyes drifted on over to the doll as we made our way over, walking silently by my side, though they turned their attention to me once I reach them. They frowned as they get a good look at me.

    “A different man…?” So the magus said. The priest simply looked on without a word.

    “My father, probably. But he’s ill. I will be taking over transactions from now on.”

    She nodded. I extended my hand to shake, and she took it. We exchanged names. The magus was of the House Falkenhayn, first name not given. A long business associate, apparently; a dealer of alchemical materials. The priest, Father Heinrich. First name also not given. I almost introduced the doll, but they knew her already, leaving me hanging stupidly mid-sentence.

    I handed over a check. Falkenhayn looked over it, squinting and muttering spells under her breath. She handed me a trunk. The doll verified its contents. The priest took the contract, looking it over, and nodded in approval. Satisfied, we parted ways, and exited the cathedral. I’d worried on how we’d get the trunk into the car, but it seemed the doll had the strength to lift the thing easily, surprising given her frame.

    And that was the end of that.

    The transaction went smoothly enough, to almost feel anti-climatic. I didn’t know what I expected.

    An utterly unremarkable exchange. I don’t know why I remember it so. I felt the priest’s eyes on me the entire time, a silent wordless stare.

    And what else, besides that? Nothing, really. I entertained the idea of lunch in the city, finally some good food rather than what I cobbled together at home, but I realized I’d have to take the doll with me. Did she even eat? Would she even eat? Would she just sit there, wordless and silent and staring and all, as I ate my meal? The thought of that chilled me more than that priest. Thinking of the stares, I’d probably physically implode out of embarrassment.

    And so, I only ended hastily buying some groceries at the first market I could find, a small general store and farmer’s market. The doll waited in car, as I skimmed over the goods— dried foods, produce, cured meats, the works— hastily stuffing everything I’d need into a bag, as the girl at counter made idle conversation. “A new face in town?” “Where were you from?” “Oh, you came back?” “What was London like?” “You’re here for work?” And so on, as I nodded and answered without thinking, an automatic response like clockwork. Really, I just didn’t want to leave the doll alone in the car too long.

    Thus passed my brief return to civilization.




    AN: Thanks, as usual, to Frosty for beta-ing. If it wasn't clear by now, this fic is based on the section about Tuners in the extra info about the Einzberns, here.

    Here, we are assuming the Einzberns to be living somewhere in the Black Forest region, as A) they were said to live in the mountains, and B) Illya is associated with the Rhine, what with the whole Die Lorelei thing and all. Thanks to the Questions thread for that. Pfahnen solution is something I stole from Dullahan. I still don't know what "pfahnen" means, or what language it's even from. Falkenhayn was originally named Falkenrath, but was changed so it could be a WWI reference; not my idea, as I don't know shit about WWI.

    That dish he ate, by the way, was Schäufele with Kartoffelklöße.
    Last edited by Kirby; December 4th, 2016 at 02:28 AM.
    <Lian|work> lynch kirby imo


    Linger: Complete. August, 1995. I met him. A branch off Part 3. Mikiya keeps his promise to meet Azaka, and meets again with that mysterious girl he once found in the rain.
    Shinkai: Set in the Edo period. DHO-centric. As mysterious figures gather in the city, a young woman unearths the dark secrets of the Asakami family.
    The Dollkeeper: A Fate side-story. The memoirs of the last tuner of the Einzberns. A record of the end of a family.
    Overcount 2030: Extra x Notes. A girl with no memories is found by a nameless soldier, and wakes up to a world of war.

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    Eightfold Blessings of Smug Superiority Rafflesiac's Avatar
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    . Mine would by the small hut out back.
    be, not by

    And this came out sooner than I expected. Keep up the good work.
    Supports:

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arashi_Leonhart View Post
    canon finish apo vol 3

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    渇き Kirby's Avatar
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    Right, thanks.

    And I actually wrote most of this chapter within the span of, like, three or four days. I'm getting faster, at least.
    <Lian|work> lynch kirby imo


    Linger: Complete. August, 1995. I met him. A branch off Part 3. Mikiya keeps his promise to meet Azaka, and meets again with that mysterious girl he once found in the rain.
    Shinkai: Set in the Edo period. DHO-centric. As mysterious figures gather in the city, a young woman unearths the dark secrets of the Asakami family.
    The Dollkeeper: A Fate side-story. The memoirs of the last tuner of the Einzberns. A record of the end of a family.
    Overcount 2030: Extra x Notes. A girl with no memories is found by a nameless soldier, and wakes up to a world of war.

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    Skills: Tsukkomi EX Nobody's Avatar
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    Well I am definitely intrigued and will be following the story. I also like the gloomy, matter-of-fact tone. It's really fitting.

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    Preformance Pertension SeiKeo's Avatar
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    Hey this is good Kirby.
    Quote Originally Posted by asterism42 View Post
    That time they checked out that hot guy they were just admiring his watch, yeah?


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    TATARI Heiress ItsaRandomUsername's Avatar
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    The subject matter compliments the medium. Its fitting, giving the importance of documentation and repetition to magi as a whole and ESPECIALLY the deal with the Einzberns.

    I've no idea what direction you'll take this in, but I'll stand by and watch how it unfolds.
    * Dullahan 12/13/16 9:30pm
    there is an important difference between bullying and mindbreak
    * ~Keo 12/13/16 9:30pm
    one makes her cry and in one, she stops crying eventually

    McJon01: We all know that the real reason Archer would lose to Rider is because the events of his own Holy Grail War left him with a particular weakness toward "older sister" types.
    My Fanfics. Read 'em. Or not.



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    Hipster-senpai Walnut Sparks's Avatar
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    Looking good.

    I always imagined Castle von Einzbern was in the Black Forest, if only because it's the go-to forest in Germany for non-Germans.
    Quote Originally Posted by Samuel Hoffenstein
    Wherever I go,
    I go too,
    And spoil everything.
    Quote Originally Posted by Meat Loaf
    They got a file on me and it's a mile long
    And they say that they got all of the proof
    That I'm just another case of arrested development
    And just another wasted youth

  8. #8
    Good stuff, good stuff, dolls a cute, waiting warmly for more.

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    A mecha-loving Shotacon who plays children's card games naschyamamoto's Avatar
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    Good work here. Honestly hadn't expected you to pop out the fic this soon, but I'm all the happier for being proven wrong. Looks nice, the two main characters (the relative and the Tuner) are both interesting, and assuming you squeeze every bit of info you can from that little segment in the Einzbern notes we might meet Kiritsugu and Illya soon.

    Also I'm expecting an obvious, cringy, totally-worth-it clocks and Clocktower joke eventually. Just a matter of time.


    Quote Originally Posted by Elf View Post
    There was contributing. And suggestions and . . . okay a bunch of people demanding me to write this.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aiden View Post
    Well yeah, that last one always happens.

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    渇き Kirby's Avatar
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    February 2, 1987

    A doll spoke to me today.

    I recognized her, almost. It sounds callous, but it really is hard to recognize anyone in this castle. Everyone here, save for old man Acht, looks mostly the same— all female, red-eyed and white-haired. If one had to distinguish them, to identify them by any unique features, it would be by how they wore their hair.

    Some had their hair cropped short. Others left them long. Some wore them in ponytails, or buns, or wore them down, and I might even have spotted one with twintails. Lea, who accompanies me every time I returned to town, likes to wear a low ponytail, tied with a simple white ribbon. I wasn’t sure what the point of this was. Maybe this made identifying each other easier to them. Maybe it was just an idiosyncrasy in their programming.

    This one was Father’s caretaker. She wore her hair down. I remembered her name. It was Alice.

    “It’s Elise.”

    So she corrected me. Turns out I still can’t remember anyone here.

    She was the one, the one who’d watch me in the workshop, standing there like a silent sentinel. Part of me found it unsettling. Part of me wondered if she was skipping out on work. Well, Father probably wasn’t needy when he was sick. I suppose even dolls get bored.

    Today, however, she greeted me. I must’ve done a double-take. I wasn’t aware that dolls were capable of conversation, but it seems that they were equipped with even that function. And so she greeted me, and asked if she could watch. It was a strange question, honestly. She had watched me at work before.

    I forget how I responded. Perhaps I said yes. Perhaps I just grunted. Regardless, she took a seat. And so I worked.

    I continued my project today. On the worktable laid planks of wood and boxes of gears to one side, goods I had procured on our trips back to town, and my components brought back from London to the other. Ether-conductive crystals, formed into uniform five-millimeter oscillators. Sheets of silver, their surfaces imprinted with standard magical arrays. Spools of aurichalcum wires, to form the circuitry of the thing. And a very nice disc of painted glass. It had no notable properties whatsoever, but it was quite pretty to look at. It had arrived in the mail two days ago, a souvenir from James. It had arrived with a letter, that read something like this.

    —you lucky son of a bitch, you never told me you came from a castle full of maids, once our team’s done our project we’re gonna fly down over and once we’re there we— you and me and the rest of the lads— we’re all gonna go down and— And so on. I knew he wasn’t going to act on any of this, but I appreciated the thought.

    I still don’t know how he managed to send this to me. I didn’t even know we had a mailbox.

    My project was another astronomical clock, if you could even call it that. Strictly speaking it wasn’t quite a clock, but a machine that calculated and predicted. A continuation of my work from the Clocktower— an ephemeris. Input a date, output data. A view of the stars, and corresponding projected conditions of the mana densities on Earth, an image that looked like meteorologist’s map. It’s an ugly, inelegant thing, taking more after modern interfaces than the works of art of old. It had a keypad, of all things.

    It sat on the table about half a meter tall, and at the moment looked like a timepiece and a small difference engine taped together.

    The general theory on reaching Akasha involves a thing’s origins or ending, taking one’s craft to either extreme. The origin of language. The end of time. The works. With our craft, as with many other astrologers, we sought the Thema Mundi.

    It’s a concept that originated in Hellenistic astrology, though it’s been refined over the years. In short, it was originally the positions of the seven heavenly bodies at the beginning of the universe. From this, one derived the meanings of their positions, their pulls over each zodiac, the thaumaturgical domains over which each presided, and so on. Each heavenly body was said to represent the gods and their will.

    Western academia was split on the matter, the true meaning and purpose of the Thema Mundi. The traditional Hellenistic model was considered outdated in ways, as at this point it was clear that the universe did not operate off a geocentric— or even heliocentric— model. Thus, two main schools developed. One based on the original model, interested less in the stars themselves in relation to Gaia, but their connection to the gods of old— the primal concepts each embodied— hoping to trace their origins from the world before the Age of Man, to use the theory to replicate conditions from the Age of the Gods. The other focused more on the stars and their astronomical significance, seeking Akasha not through the gods, but through birth and death of the stars, the beginning and end of the universe, of time and entropy. All things came from the Origin. The Thema Mundi symbolized this principle. To the mundane world, the analogous concept would be the Big Bang.

    Our family was of the latter school. And so we return here.

    An ideal, completed ephemeris could, in theory, calculate the state of the universe at any point in time, even its beginning and end. With a machine such as that, one could look into the birth or death of the universe— Akasha, in other words. Almost stupidly simple in theory, but in practice, it would be a mechanism beyond human comprehension. Seeking such an ideal machine, we worked.

    Each of our works could only measure a fraction of the whole, each generation adding their own piece, the endgame being an engine that could see into the beginning of time. But until then, I had this. A jumbled, mishmash of clockwork that could maybe tell your fortune for the week. Piece of junk.

    “It’s pretty.”

    So she said. I was too surprised to disagree with her. I wasn’t aware dolls could find things pretty or ugly, either.

    “It doesn’t work, you know.”

    “I can see that quite clearly. But it’s quite pretty to look at, nonetheless.”

    I frowned at that, and followed her eyes. The case had not been completed on this one either, and so she looked on at its innards.

    I had been testing the thing, inputting sample dates, and checking the outputs with our records, several compendiums I had borrowed from the Astronomy department. In its current state, it couldn’t give too complex an answer, nor nearly as complete as one would like, but it could, at some level, function.

    Each time I input a date, the difference engine would click and whirr to life, columns and wheels shifting and spiraling, faintly resembling waves. The faces of the timepieces would, in response, change— the hands of one shifting into new positions as the dials changed to see fit, and the glass of the other fogging and defogging in places, forming clouds of varied densities, shrouding the surface of a small globe— the gears of their clockwork visible, shifting and turning. Taped to this all was a keypad I swiped from a broken typewriter, that James had once thrown out a window.

    There was a certain, quaint charm about it, I suppose.

    “Are you interested in this sort of thing?” So I asked. Come to think of it, this must’ve been the first time I’ve asked a doll anything about herself.

    Surprisingly, she nodded. “Your father talks about his work, at times.”

    “Our work?”

    “The clocks, not your thaumaturgy. I do not know what the purpose of these works are.”

    I breathed a sigh of relief. I was about to say. What happened to secrecy, again? Of what little I knew about Father, he didn’t seem the type to simply tell an outsider about our craft.

    Then again, I wonder how much of an outsider these Einzberns could be called in the first place.

    “They are exactly what they look like. Astronomical clocks. Like the one in Prague, you know?”

    “Prague?”

    “It’s a city.” She frowned. “In Czechoslovakia.” She stayed silent. “On Germany’s eastern border.”

    She blinked. “Ah.”

    An awkward silence. I had the faint suspicion she didn’t know what I was talking about.

    “Have you ever left the castle?”

    “No.”

    And that was the end of that.

    I continued to work, fiddling with gears and configurations and testing the inputs, as she silently looked on as I worked. Her eyes wandered, sometimes watching the shifting and clinking of the work before me, sometimes wandering around the walls, taking in the completed works, the works of our fathers. In other words, works with a thousand times the artistry than mine right here. Here and there, I could see some of my own projects, simple in comparison, mundane clocks and pocket watches scattered about.

    I heard the clocks tick away in unison. Normally this didn’t bother me. Clocks ticked, and that was simply what they did. But it annoyed me now. Maybe it made the silence heavier.

    I spoke.

    “So what do you do?”

    She blinked. “I care for your father.”

    “And?”

    “And what?”

    “That’s it?”

    She frowned, and nodded. “That is the extent of my duty, yes. I cared for the house in the meantime.”

    “Wait.” I felt almost indignant. “But I’ve been cleaning this house this whole—”

    “Now that you have arrived, my duties to care for the house are no longer necessary.”

    We fell silent. It was my turn to frown, and not just from the indignance of doing chores that I hadn’t needed to in the first place. No, even if she did clean the house with her free time, that shouldn’t have taken so long either. “Surely, taking care of Father couldn’t be that time consuming?” “Not at first, no,” she said, shaking her head. “He only became bedridden recently, but even before, his condition was unstable. He had first manifested symptoms about seventeen years ago, and his condition only worsened from there. Thus, I was created to treat his symptoms as they manifested, and watch over him lest his symptoms interfere with his work.” A voice like monotone, as if reciting a record.

    This was all new to me. I hadn’t even known the old man was sick, until very recently. Then again, we never talked much anyway. Come to think of it, if it was that long ago, I must’ve been maybe four or five when his onset illness manifested.

    Come to think of it, I didn’t even know what he was ill from.

    “Do you know when, exactly, this all started?”

    She closed her eyes for a second, and opened them again. “January 24th. 1970. I was created two days later.”

    I blinked. Frowned. “So that makes you seventeen?”

    “Nine days ago, yes.”

    And then we fell silent again. At some point, this felt less like a conversation, but an interrogation. Input question. Output answer. It irritated me.

    I don’t know came over me. Maybe I felt curiosity, or some measure of pity. Maybe I just wanted a get a rise out of her. My eyes fell upon a work of mine, a crude, ugly thing, from my beginnings as a clockmaker. It was an ordinary pocket watch made of copper, with a case like a locket, its surface embossed with the image of a siren. I tossed it over to her. It landed in her lap. For the first time, she looked confused.

    She held the thing in her hands, staring at it, as I went back to work. I don’t know how long she stared at it. I simply threw myself back into my work.

    “I do not understand.”

    “Happy belated seventeenth.”

    I didn’t look up. She didn’t answer. At some point, I heard the scraping of her chair against the floor, heard her footsteps as she made to leave. I don’t know if she made a face or not. Come to think of it, I felt irritated at everything at the time. God knows why. Before she exited the room, I heard a pause in her footsteps, the shuffling of clothes.

    “Thank you,” she said. And then she left.



    March 9, 1987

    For the next few days, we’ll be in town. Me and Lea, that is. Elise waved goodbye from the window as we left.

    I honestly forget what makes this upcoming transaction any different than the others, other than that client could not set a fixed time or location, and that this was important enough that such inconveniences could be ignored. What this meant, was that we’d be staying at Freiburg for a few days.

    What I took to mean, was that I’d have a few days of vacationing.

    It’s March, now. The old castle was still the same as ever, as bitterly cold as if it were still mid-winter. I hope, honestly, that it warms up a little eventually, though always having a fireplace going’s pretty nice. I’ve tried cooking things over the hearth recently; there’s no practicality to it and actually more cumbersome than using a range, but it was fun to amuse myself with. Freiburg, on the other hand, was beginning to warm up. Perfect for a little outing.

    The home at which I grew up had already been sold, so staying there for the time being was out of the question. Against my better judgement, we deigned to stay at a hotel. Lea, with her odd appearance, drew stares. The unusual hair and eyes were one thing, but as I tried to convince her to change into normal clothes, she seemed obstinate on wearing her maid’s uniform. Her hat bobbed up and down as she walked. The clerk at the desk sniggered at us as we checked in.

    At least the very least, our client will know us when they see us.

    We arrived shortly after noon, and left to town shortly after. I had originally planned on leaving Lea in the hotel— seeing as how she displayed utterly no interest in going out, emanating a faint aura of disapproval at it all— but at some point, grew paranoid. What would she do? Would she just sit there the entire time? What if cleaning services came in and saw her just sitting there, just staring at the wall? I decided the awkwardness of dragging her in tow outweighed the awkwardness of leaving her all alone, and I ended up running back to the hotel to retrieve her. The clerk laughed at me again.

    Today, I supposed, was as good time as any to visit the Freiburger Münster. Normally, we’d do our dealings with Falkenhayn there, and leave as quickly as we could. I’d never gotten the time to take a good look at the thing. Today, however, I could take it easy. On the way, we stopped by a travel shop to buy a briefcase.

    Our client had specified they wanted their payment in paper form. Today, I’ll get to assemble one of those briefcases full of cash, just like in the movies. We’ll do it back in the hotel.

    And so, what? What was there to say about the spire? It’s pretty, I guess. I discovered now that architecture was not my forte, and not really something I could appreciate. Surely there’d be a more qualified admirer than I. There was a majesty to the thing, sure enough, even one that an unreligious man like me could appreciate, but majesty doesn’t do it for me. I found more beauty in the complexity of things, things broken down into pieces and fitted back together, each piece fitting perfectly with the other. Oh well.

    Lea seemed to be enjoying herself, though— as much as a doll could enjoy herself, I guess. She stared for a while at the stained glass windows, frowning at the figures, as if this was her first time seeing them. Perhaps she had never really paid attention to them before.

    She pointed to one. “Who is this?”

    “Dunno.”

    “This one?”

    “Dunno.”

    “And this?”

    “I dunno.”

    She paused, and frowned. The image of a crowned woman, carrying a child in her arms. “What about this?”

    Ah. “The Virgin Mary.” She stared at me. “Jesus’s mom.”

    “Ah.” She nodded at that, and continued on her way. She didn’t seem to know who that was.

    “What’s with that face?” She wore a strange expression, a thinning of the lips if I had to describe it.

    “I was surprised,” she said.

    “Huh?”

    “I didn’t think you knew who any of these figures were, either.”

    I felt my eyebrow twitch. I must’ve made a face. I’m not sure what it must’ve looked like; probably the you didn’t know any of their names either kind. Regardless, she wandered off before I could think of any retort, let alone a witty one or anything, perhaps to admire some more murals or windows of strangers, leaving me on my own.

    I’m not sure what I did then. Perhaps I stared at the ceiling, directly into the spire; Gothic cathedrals had that quality, in which they had ceilings one could stare at without it being too strange. It looked like a rose doily, the bell a black dot in its center. It made me dizzy, to stare too long. I heard approaching footsteps.

    I found myself alone with Father Heinrich.

    “—What brings you here, magus?” His face betrayed no expression.

    I turned, and gave an awkward nod. “Just you know, touristy stuff. Seeing the sites and all,” so I said. A stiff nod. A smile that didn’t feel like it. In hindsight, this all probably sounded suspicious as hell. “I have some free time now.” I wasn’t sure if he’d believe me, but I wasn’t lying. He merely grunted in response.

    For a while, neither of us spoke, the air itself suffocating. I grew bored of staring into the spire, and made my way down a hall, just to keep moving. He followed shortly behind.

    “And the doll?”

    “Who, Lea?” I shrugged. “Wandered off on her own. I suppose I should go looking for her.”

    And so I did. We walked for a while, wandering about the halls, neither of us speaking to each other. Tourists passed us by. Figures in stained glass stared as we walked, their visages silent sentinels. After a while I stopped. He stopped too.

    “What do you want?” I was getting annoyed by now.

    “Me?”

    “Yes, you. What do you want? Don’t you have anything better to do?” I turned, made a face. I’d imagine it was an irritated one. “Why are you watching me?” I felt myself get angrier, pent up from several weeks of this. He would be like this every other time, too. I enter this church, I feel his eyes on me. A silent, judgmental stare, like I was being picked apart and observed under a microscope. And yet he’d almost never say a word.

    “To keep an eye on you.”

    “Do I look dangerous?”

    “Am I to blindly trust a magus?

    I glared at him. He stared calmly back. I think I huffed or something, and turned to go on my way, pacing throughout the cathedral. As always, he followed behind. A wordless affair. I broke the silence again.

    “What about Lea?”

    “What about her?”

    “She can wander around as she likes?”

    He snorted. “I’ve known it, magus, since before you were born. Since your father had come here in your place, and his father in his. It poses no danger.” “And I do?

    “Even if you do not look the part, you are still a magus,” he said. “These dolls may practice thaumaturgy, but they are not true magi.”

    “Yeah?”

    “They lack that human element of cruelty.”

    “Cruelty doesn’t make a magus, Father. If anything, cruelty and pettiness is just a hindrance to a magus’s purpose.” It was my turn to snort. “And besides. Humans don’t have a monopoly on evil. I’m sure a doll could be selfish and cruel, if it wanted to.” “And yet they would have no desire to be so in the first place. They find no pleasure in such things— no sadism, no superiority, no catharsis. Homunculi are machines, magus. Nothing more, nothing less. The actions of men are dictated by forces— pull, and push; pleasure, and pain. The actions of dolls are dictated by their purpose alone. They have utterly nothing outside what they had been progr—”

    I know, you—

    I snapped a little. I lost my cool. I was going to call him an asshole, but stopped myself before the words formed on my mouth. He stopped talking at that, anyway. Perhaps he touched a nerve of mine, but I was getting annoyed now. I knew what he had said was true, but it annoyed me nonetheless. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I felt like I was being talked down to. Maybe I didn’t like reliving lectures from Intro to Preformationist Alchemy.

    “My apologies,” he said. He probably didn’t mean it, but it calmed me anyway. We fell into silence.

    I supposed I must’ve felt guilty about it all. What he said was certainly true, and it wasn’t unreasonable for one to keep an eye on a new magus. Even if his way of going about it made him come off as a creep.

    We stopped by the altar, back in front of Mary. I tried to make out the expression on her face to distract myself. I failed. Whoever made these windows wasn’t great at making expressive faces. She stared impassively back at me, a visage frozen in time. I tried to cool my nerves but found myself replaying the conversation in my head. I thought of Lea. I thought of her and those glass windows, how she watched them so. Something odd stuck out to me. I found myself speaking.

    “—Lea.”

    “Hm?”

    “How long have you known her?”

    He raised an eyebrow, and snorted. “A long while.”

    “How long?”

    “Decades. I didn’t count the years.” He paused, to think it over. “My predecessor had known her before I.”

    “And his predecessor?”

    He shook his head. He didn’t know. Well, he wasn’t young. Perhaps he had never asked.

    “And this entire time—”

    “Ah, yes.” He seemed to have guessed what I was getting at. “I have never seen her come here before for anything, other than her usual work.” And with that, he left me alone at the altar. Mary frowned at me from the windows.

    I forget what I did next. I found myself on a bench outside. A pigeon poked at crumbs at my feet.

    What the hell was that supposed to be? Had he just come over to gloat? Was he just curious? Did he actually have some advice to give? I found myself mulling over his words, and felt myself getting annoyed again. I never really got along with these Churchy types. I decided not to think about it too hard, and kicked at the pigeon. It ignored me, merely hopping aside, poking more at the crumbs. I kicked at it again, and hit a leg.

    Lea looked down at me, at the new patch of dirt on her dress, wearing an expression of faint annoyance.

    I looked up. “Had fun?”

    “I couldn’t find you,” she said with a frown.

    “Sorry.”

    And I left it at that, as did she. I got up. Absently, I took out a pocket watch. A nostalgic thing, one of my first works that I’m proud of. It had a gilded frame and a case of glass, the innards and gears visibly ticking away as I held it. It hadn’t been too long; it was only two o’clock. I got up from the bench, looking around the streets, and turned to her. “Lunch?”

    Another frown. “I don’t need to eat.”

    “Suit yourself.”

    I didn’t feel like convincing her. And with that, I walked off in some random direction, tired and aimless, probably hoping to just eventually come across a restaurant. Even fast food would do. For a few moments, she seemed to do nothing, perhaps to stay at the cathedral. Soon enough, I heard her footsteps follow behind.

    We wandered aimlessly through the streets for the better half of an hour, and found ourselves at a pub.

    Lea attracted stares as we entered, as usual. I felt eyes on the two of us, and hastened to get us a table. Somewhere not too conspicuous. I ordered something off their sandwich menu; I picked one at random. Lea, after a long deliberation, got a slice of Black Forest gâteau. She asked me what it was after she had ordered it, and frowned as I explained.

    Someone waved from another table; I recognized her as that girl, the one who worked at that general store I frequented. She sat with two friends of hers, who stared at Lea. I hoped she didn’t come over to chat. I couldn’t remember her name.

    The arrival of our food saved me from that awkward fate. Turns out I had ordered a döner kebab. Lamb, from the looks of it. It was acceptable. Lea poked at a cherry with her fork.

    I didn’t want to linger too long; Lea’s hat was drawing attention again.

    I finished lunch as quickly as I could. It helped that I was hungry. Lea, too, didn’t seem too intent on savoring, and ate it mechanically. One wonders why she bought the thing in the first place. Every time she bit into a cherry, she paused and frowned. At one point she tried to make me eat them instead, picking them out of the cake, placing the cherries onto my plate, sliding them off her fork with a knife. They were sour.

    We finished our lunch in silence, and left the pub. We found ourselves at a bus stop, one back to the hotel. I suppose she had the same idea as I, or maybe she simply followed along aimlessly. I neither knew nor cared at that point. I felt tired, even if I hadn’t done much this whole day.

    Back at the hotel, Lea fell asleep on one of the beds without a word. Knowing homunculi, this was probably akin to a standby mode. But I feel restless. I can’t sleep. I can’t rest. Maybe it’s because it’s still bright out, but I could’ve sworn I was tired before. Yet here I am, writing. Recording. It’s something for me to do.

    I came back to take a break, but I feel it doing more harm than good. With nothing to do, it all becomes agitating.

    I hear breathing. It’s not that it’s loud. No, if anything, there’s no other sound in the room besides that faint rhythm, as she sleeps. She lies on the other bed, eyes closed, chest rising and falling in rhythm. She turns in her sleep, her lips move. She mumbles something. I can’t make out the words, and see her frown. I feel the start of a cold sweat.

    I try to remember what else to write about, what else to record, but I can’t. They slip my mind. She’s right there, sleeping. I don’t know why this bothers me. Right now, she doesn’t look like a doll.

    I need something to distract myself. I can’t stay here like this. I don’t want to wake her. I’ll leave her here, let her rest. I’ll be going out on my own.

    Where to, I haven’t a clue.




    AN: Thanks to Frosty for beta-ing. A difference engine, by the way, looks kind of like this when in motion, though presumably while working it'd move faster than in the demonstration. Here's another video of one, starting at around the 2 minute mark, but the rest of the video is a lecture.

    "Preformationist Alchemy" was a term I made up. Preformationism was an old biological theory, to quote Wiki, that stated that "organisms develop from miniature versions of themselves. Instead of assembly from parts, preformationists believed that the form of living things exist, in real terms, prior to their development. It suggests that all organisms were created at the same time, and that succeeding generations grow from homunculi, or animalcules, that have existed since the beginning of creation." And then I just stuck that term onto 'Alchemy' to imply 'alchemy dealing with homunculi' and so on.
    Last edited by Kirby; October 31st, 2016 at 01:00 AM.
    <Lian|work> lynch kirby imo


    Linger: Complete. August, 1995. I met him. A branch off Part 3. Mikiya keeps his promise to meet Azaka, and meets again with that mysterious girl he once found in the rain.
    Shinkai: Set in the Edo period. DHO-centric. As mysterious figures gather in the city, a young woman unearths the dark secrets of the Asakami family.
    The Dollkeeper: A Fate side-story. The memoirs of the last tuner of the Einzberns. A record of the end of a family.
    Overcount 2030: Extra x Notes. A girl with no memories is found by a nameless soldier, and wakes up to a world of war.

  11. #11
    TATARI Heiress ItsaRandomUsername's Avatar
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    Twice the Einzberniness in a day? Simply unheard of. Far from a bad thing, though.

    So. Second update in and the philosophical angle is already starting to show. Makes perfect sense, given the nature of the factory and the people who are involved with its maintenance and otherwise. So far I'm liking how you've begun to set up Lea's relationship and character development with the protagonist -- the little details definitely seem to indicate that there's going to be a fair amount of personal growth to come. Which is all the more profound and ironic, given the Einzberns' traditional stagnancy.
    * Dullahan 12/13/16 9:30pm
    there is an important difference between bullying and mindbreak
    * ~Keo 12/13/16 9:30pm
    one makes her cry and in one, she stops crying eventually

    McJon01: We all know that the real reason Archer would lose to Rider is because the events of his own Holy Grail War left him with a particular weakness toward "older sister" types.
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  12. #12
    Eightfold Blessings of Smug Superiority Rafflesiac's Avatar
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    I ordered something off their sandwich men;
    menu

    Is he grumpy because Einzberns aren't all there or because they're partially there? I feel like it's the latter. I like his distinctive voice; you're good at that, Kirby.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arashi_Leonhart View Post
    canon finish apo vol 3

  13. #13
    渇き Kirby's Avatar
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    Right, thanks.

    Voice was actually something I was kind of worried about, seeing as how I had trouble figuring out myself what exactly his voice was, and trying to keep it consistent and distinct. Glad to see I at least succeeded there.
    <Lian|work> lynch kirby imo


    Linger: Complete. August, 1995. I met him. A branch off Part 3. Mikiya keeps his promise to meet Azaka, and meets again with that mysterious girl he once found in the rain.
    Shinkai: Set in the Edo period. DHO-centric. As mysterious figures gather in the city, a young woman unearths the dark secrets of the Asakami family.
    The Dollkeeper: A Fate side-story. The memoirs of the last tuner of the Einzberns. A record of the end of a family.
    Overcount 2030: Extra x Notes. A girl with no memories is found by a nameless soldier, and wakes up to a world of war.

  14. #14
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Alternative Ice's Avatar
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    great work Kirby

    can't wait to see where you go with this

  15. #15
    Surrender, but don't give yourself away. Prix of Heroes's Avatar
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    I remember seeing you talk about this in one of the discussion threads and wanting to read it. I finally got around to it, and I really like it so far! I hope you feel like continuing soon. I read some others' comments as well since this has been up for a while, and I agree that the voice of the narrator is kind of interesting. I notice a sort of refrain of "And that was that," kind of phrasing which I think is interesting both to the narrator's voice and the subject matter of the Einzbern homonculi. I am interested in the homonculi you have introduced, and I think you have differentiated their characters to an appropriate level so far. I also thought your description of this family of magi's pursuit of the Origin quite captivating and interesting. I might actually have gained some insight about What On Earth Are Magi Doing in General from it.

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  16. #16
    Seriously, dolls a cute. I especially liked that scene with the black forest gate- gate- cake. The scene with the black forest cake, and the cherries which he ate.

  17. #17
    渇き Kirby's Avatar
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    Part 3

    March 10, 1987

    I went out drinking last night, apparently.

    That’s what my body tells me. I woke up at the hotel today, finding myself sprawled about the bed, Lea sitting and staring from the other, her expression that of half worry, half disappointment. On the nightstand, a glass of water and some pills. I took them. I don’t know if they helped. I felt a prana signature on my body, and the taste of brandy on my tongue. I smell like booze and lavenders.

    My head hurt, but I don’t think I vomited. At the very least, I don’t taste any acid or bile. It leaves a taste. And however much I drank, it wasn’t enough to make me forget. Much.

    I’m trying to remember, what’d I do last night? I wandered around town yesterday after I left the hotel. This I know. I forget where exactly; the details slip my mind. I remember a gift shop. A bag sat by the bedside— coffee mugs and painted models and other random trinkets. I don’t remember why I bought these things, but it was probably to send back to London. God knows what use they would be to them, but I don’t feel like thinking about it at the moment. Maybe James would find them funny. Maybe it’d give a bit of comfort to Eliza. Maybe they’ll collect dust at home. I’ll figure something out.

    There’s a crumpled receipt for a bottle of cola in my pocket.

    What else, where else? I visited the Freiburg University.

    It was an old place, a place with a history. Heard of it before. A lovely campus, though the modernization projects made it look a bit odd. A mishmash. Gothic spires by clean, blocky, modernism. Maybe my aesthetic sense is just antiquated. Most of the universities in Europe with a history also housed magi, like offshoots of the Association. This was no different.

    I’m not sure why I went. I have no use for networking, no use for buttering up Lords and negotiating for research grants. It was about time, anyway. I suppose it was something I couldn’t put off. I met with a magus there, and arranged a meeting with the Second Owner. This month or the next. It was customary. Even if I was once a magus from this city, it still wouldn’t hurt to check back in, even if Erwin had apparently taken care of that for me. Might as well meet the man himself. By the time that was done, the sun had started to set.

    I didn’t come back to retrieve Lea for dinner. This I know. She didn’t need to eat, anyway, so I probably supposed it would’ve been fine to leave her be. I went to a pub near the campus.

    There, I found Falkenhayn. The first time seeing her outside of business.

    Through the usual song and dance, the awkward one of knowing-but-not-knowing someone, of stilted pleasantries and accidental obligations, that lovely tango of politeness and manners and “well, might as well”, I found myself dining with her. Today, a hamburger. I wasn’t too hungry.

    Her given name was Katsiaryna. I had trouble pronouncing it, which she found funny. I called her Kat for short. She ordered a bottle of brandy, and we talked.

    She was a friendly and cheery woman, with a taste for dime novels, cognac, saltwater taffies, and mindless violence. She was a member of the Freiburg University faculty. They listed her as an anthropologist, but really she was a necromancer. She often traveled to conflict zones, sites of proxy wars— “God bless the Cold War”— picking up the pieces after the carnage and battles, an easy way to collect material to work with. She sold the by-products of her work and salvaging as a side business. Pocket-change for her not-alcoholism. We, or at least the Einzberns, were a long-time customer. Her most recent trip was to Afghanistan; she sighed at Gorbachev’s withdrawal from the front. She showed off a letter opener she had, a work she was quite proud of, a Code made of bone. Made from a soldier back in Vietnam. She didn’t remember his name.

    She was older than she looked, and was old enough to be my aunt.

    I told her about our business here. She looked annoyed at having a prospective competitor, but relieved it was just a one-time thing. I talked about London. She reminded me of James, if he were a woman and maybe fifteen or so years older. She told me to break it off with Eliza; long-distance relationships were hell. Speaking from experience. I knew that already, but I shrugged at that. We were never serious anyway.

    I didn’t mention the dolls; she was the one to bring them up first. We had finished our first bottle when she asked.

    “Where’s Lea?” She had looked around, at this, as if only just now noticing her absence. I don’t know what she looked around for; maybe she expected her to be waiting outside on a bench or something, reminiscent of a puppy tied to a lamppost. Though if it were her, she would probably attract more worried stares.

    “Back at the hotel. Sleeping.”

    “At this time of day?”

    “It’s almost ten.”

    “You know what I mean. She wasn’t with you either when you came in.”

    I snorted. “She’s a doll, Kat. They just sleep whenever they feel like, and wake up whenever they’re needed.” I poured another glass of brandy. We were on our second bottle, by now. “It’s not like she needs to eat dinner, either.” “Do they eat at all?”

    “Cake.”

    “Huh?”

    “We went out for lunch. She had a cake. Didn’t seem to like it.”

    “Not like they can dislike anything, though, right?”

    I frowned. “Doesn’t like cherries.”

    “...Huh?” Another one.

    “She doesn’t like cherries,” I said. “Won’t eat them. Made me eat them instead.”

    She stared at me at that, slack-jawed. She started to laugh. A man from the other table looked our way. It annoyed me.

    “What’s so funny?”

    You ate them?”

    “Yeah?”

    And then she laughed harder. Her face was reddish. Looking in the glass reflection, I could see mine was too, or maybe that was just the color of the brandy, a distortion in the reflection.

    “But really, now,” she said, pulling herself together, “She didn’t like them?” She emptied the rest of the bottle into her glass.

    “That’s what I said, yes.” I frowned at this. “Why do you care?”

    “Well,” she said, leaning forward, “doesn’t that seem odd?”

    “Probably. But I don’t know how they’re programmed. It could just be a quirk of their directives. Not my business.”

    “You don’t care?”

    “Do you?”

    She shifted in her seat, leaning forward. A smile. It made me uncomfortable. “You know I’m a necromancer, right?”

    “Yeah?”

    “So what do you think I deal with?”

    I frowned. What the hell was this? “Death?”

    She snorted. “That’s pointless. Death, on its own, is pretty uninteresting. ‘The cessation of life’, no? In that case, death is completely defined by life. What one would study in lieu of death would be—” “—Is that a no?”

    “It is. Guess again.”

    “I give up.”

    “Already?” She said this as I glared at her, and she just laughed back. “Well, alright. It's the soul.”

    I frowned. “And you’re a necromancer?”

    A small pout. I had to remind myself she was almost forty. “Oh, come on now. Even the nutters who raise corpses are more interested in life than death. Think about it. If we were so interested in death, why bring them back to life? Why wouldn't our study be about murder than resurrection?” “Aren't you the one picking up after the killing fields?”

    “Well, yeah, but that's just for material. Necromancers study the dead, but really it's all a matter of convenience. Another approach to the matter. A dead specimen stays put more than a live one.” She grinned. I must’ve recoiled. She actually looked a bit sorry at that, and sighed.

    “But really now. What a necromancer— at least, a scholar who really studying to reach the Origin, rather than some brute playing with corpses like some child— studies is really the human body. The replication of life through the closest possible materials one can gather— those once living. Easier than just making them from scratch, yeah? As for me,” she said, taking another drink of brandy, “I study the soul.” I blinked. “Okay.”

    “Okay?”

    “Sure. I get it. But what does this have to do with Lea?”

    “Everything!” She leaned forward, looking positively giddy. “C’mon, aren’t you wondering? What’s it like, for a machine to have a soul?” “How should I know? I don’t even make the things anyway, all I do is—”

    Well shit, what even do I do?

    I didn’t want to dwell on this too long. I changed the subject. “Wouldn’t this be leaking family secrets?”

    She snorted. “I thought you didn’t care? Hell, I thought you didn’t know?”

    “If I don’t know, what am I supposed to tell you?”

    “I don’t know, tell me about her!”

    “Tell you what?”

    “Well,” she said, finger to her mouth, “Does she seem happy?”

    I blinked. “She doesn’t seem anything.”

    “You can’t tell?”

    “I can tell. A doll’s a doll. She doesn’t look happy, or sad, or anything, really.”

    “How do you know?”

    “I—”

    —don’t know.

    I forget the rest of the night. Maybe I was distracted. We had another bottle of brandy or two. I remember little of our conversation afterwards, though I faintly recall complaining about some of her old boyfriends, talk of some research program her little sister got into, funny stories— well, “funny” to her, at least— from her days in Myanmar and Zaire. I forget what I talked about, or if I even talked at all.

    No, I probably talked. Wouldn’t have made sense if I’d just stayed silent the whole time. Kat didn’t seem the type to just talk to herself a whole evening.

    Whatever the hell happened, I woke up here, back at the hotel. Home. I didn’t ask Lea how I got here. I’m not particularly keen on finding out. I We’re heading out, soon, to meet the man. He called while I was out of it; Lea apparently handled the arrangement fine. We leave in ten. Why we’re waiting, I don’t know. I don’t suppose Lea knows either. Perhaps we wait because it is protocol, or proper, or maybe she just doesn’t want to be early. People talk of ‘fashionably late’, but I doubt she cares about that. Machines are precise. I won’t complain. This downtime gives me time to write. To remember.

    I asked Lea about the man, after she told me of the appointment. He was a magus on the run, in need of funds. We could get materials from him relatively cheap. Stuff Kat didn’t supply. Sealing designated? Not likely. She didn’t know either. We’d meet somewhere, apparently near the Botanischer Garten Freiburg. The Association’s territory. What was he, stupid?

    I’m sighing. I’m worrying too much and tired of it. Screw it, we’ll leave now.



    May 20, 1987

    I haven’t written anything in a long while.

    I’d apologize, but I wonder who it’d be for. Books don’t have feelings. They won’t feel lonely or neglected, or call you in tears and shout about you being “distant” or “secretive” or whatever. To whom, then? Myself? Maybe it would be for me. Wouldn’t be undeserved. I wrote to keep a record, to organize my thoughts for my own understanding. But I’ve forgotten to write, didn’t even consider it. I’ve fallen into a routine.

    Sunday to Thursday, I’d work on my projects, making daily visits to check up on the castle. Fridays, I’d head down with Lea to the city, buying more materials from Falkenhayn and groceries from that general store. I remembered that girl’s name now. Alice. Funny that. Saturdays, I’d head down on my own to drink. Sometimes with Kat. Sometimes with Alice. You’d think that the snow would subside, this far into spring, but nope. This place is cursed. I needed the city.

    Repeat said week ad infinitum, or rather for two months Put bluntly, I didn’t feel like writing at all.

    I also found out I’m living under the same roof as a terrorist.

    He was here the whole time, apparently. Years before even I had arrived. He had a wife (a doll) and a kid (also a doll), too. But I had only met him once, about a month ago. I’d like to dramatically recall the meeting. After all, we were the only two humans in the castle, but it was nothing so memorable. If it weren’t for the black hair, Asian features, and the fact that he was a he and looked messy, scruffy, where the homunculi were always immaculate, I would’ve taken him for a doll too.

    I don’t like the man. It has nothing to do with the fact that he killed. Kat killed too, was practically a vulture preying after battlefields, but I liked her. I didn’t like the man. They call him the Magus Killer, but we’ll call him Kerry. Now Kerry’s feats of brutality— senseless, too, not even conducive towards any goal or end game or anything— made even desensitized magi cringe. The trails of bodies a magus would leave at least be for some greater purpose, but him? God only knows. He simply killed. I didn’t know him personally, but that was reason enough. I don’t think he liked me, either. Though I’m not sure about anything he thought, or if he thought at all.

    I could probably count the words we’ve exchanged on one hand.

    His wife was another vessel. The Einzberns quite liked making these, but I suppose this time, given her arrangement, they probably won’t be discarding this one. Disposing of the failures wasn’t my job, and I’m glad of that.

    As I understand them, they’re catalysts to be used in their thaumaturgy, the keystones of their grand rituals, the ritual to reenact that miracle left to them by their creators to pursue. And so they performed this task with mechanical precision and diligence, and failed three times. Perhaps this will be the fourth. If they succeed, their task will be complete, and I’ll get to leave this dreary place, move somewhere nice and warm. Italy sounds nice.

    One wonders, then, what the point of giving the doll a husband would be if she was born to die. Wouldn’t a husband and a family just make her job all the more difficult, make it harder to let go? Why give her a reason to want to live? Wasn’t that just pointless cruelty, at that point? I asked Elise all this, and she just shrugged. But that’s how most of our conversations went. I’d think aloud, rambling and pointless, and she’d listen all the while and shrug by the end of it all. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t worry about secrets.

    I wonder, at times, if she gets bored from all my talking. Even for me, it’s just dull noise to fill the silence. But if it bored her, she would’ve stopped coming by to listen. Right?

    I complained about this a lot, this stranger I’ve been sharing a figurative roof with— well, I live in a shack outside the castle, anyway— and she patiently listened every time. Why a bloody terrorist, of all things? Who in their right mind would marry such a thing, or even approve of this? What kind of masturbatory Pygmalion fantasy led to this decision? I was surprised she’d even listen all this time, and even wondered at times if she even was listening, or just filtering out the noise as she watched me work. It’s what I would do. But she had listened, and had understood.

    I’m writing today because she spoke again.

    Reading that over, it sounds stupid, celebrating— celebrating? I don’t know. Acknowledging, then, her speaking as a special occasion. She wasn’t a deaf-mute. She wasn’t ill. But nevertheless, that she would even speak or respond had never crossed my mind.

    What was it, then, what she had said?

    Maybe she loves him?

    Maybe. Well, maybe she does. Takes a machine to love a machine. I responded, didn’t I? I remember.

    Can she even do such a thing?”

    “Such a thing?” She looked confused at this.

    “Love. Him.”

    A nod. “Most likely.”

    “Isn’t she a doll?”

    “Yes.”

    “And can dolls love?”

    “Maybe.”

    How?

    “Maybe she was programmed to.”

    “And you call that love?”

    “Yes.”

    My eyebrow twitched. I was annoyed. “What the hell’s the point, then? Isn’t that no more special than a clock that ticks, or a machine that moves? What’s the point of love if you’re just doing it because you’re told to?” At this point, I was venting more to myself than her. “Can she really love, if it’s just a directive in her system?” “I don’t know.” She looked sad. “Can you?”

    I didn’t respond, at first. I had no response. Silence creeped in, long and unsettling, to the backdrop of ticking clocks. The ticking made the silence feel even deeper.

    I think I settled for something like, “Well, at least I wouldn’t fall for a mass murderer.”

    To which she responded, “I agree.”

    We settled into silence again. I continued work on my project, the ephemeris, checking a star map I borrowed from the Freiburg University faculty. I fiddled with a gear, changing its speed. As it changed, the others responded, clicking and turning in tempos in turn. Sunlight filtered through the windows, sawdust hanging in the air, glinting of the teeth of the gears and clockwork. Elise watched it all, sitting up straight, an intent expression. It’s a wonder how she hadn’t fallen asleep by now.

    She sat there, wordless.

    I didn’t like the silence. It made it all too clear that she was watching me. I knew that already, but I could pretend otherwise. She observed me. For what purpose, I don’t know. It was uncomfortable to think about, so I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to talk. So I did.

    “What’s it like?”

    In hindsight, it sounded rude. Like a comeback, or a barb, something with petty undertones. A continuation of the argument. Something to get back at her. But I didn’t mean it like that. I simply wanted to know. She merely tilted her head in response, wordless, confused.

    “—I mean, well, being as you are.”

    “...I don’t know.”

    It was an obtuse question in the first place. It probably would’ve been odd, to ask anyone else questions like this. But she was a doll, and I don’t suppose she’d mind.

    “Do you want anything?”

    “To care for your father.”

    “Do you fear anything?”

    “For him to die.”

    “...Is that it?” I frowned.

    “I suppose. It matches my purpose. I was created to care for your father’s illness. Thus my directives are centered around such a thing.” She looked a me. A small frown, as if summing me up.

    She really was a machine. Perhaps the vessel was just an anomaly, so I thought.

    “...Do you… feel anything?”

    A small nod. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t function.”

    “Even if your function is just that one task?”

    “It’s a single task, but a complex one. I suppose that’s why I feel. If it wasn’t needed, a machine of clockwork would work in my place.” I frowned. Complex? I suppose. I thought of it as a simple task at first, like monitoring a heartbeat, but come to think of it, that would be wrong. Painfully so.

    I thought of a hospital. Sterile white walls, complexes of wires and machinery and electrical screens. What would be needed to care for a patient? Monitors for his condition, certainly, but what else? There was more to it than just that. Decisions had to be made; the machinery only gave you the numbers. It was up to the staff to decide.

    Was anything wrong? What was it? How does one treat it? Which treatment is administered? The machine that performed these operations was no monitor, or database, but the brain of the doctor in question. Information couldn’t just be recorded and reported; it must be synthesized. From that, the answer. The procedure.

    She continued.

    “As a machine’s task becomes complex, as the variables it must process and consider increases. Simple input-output systems are insufficient, they said.” She stared at me as she spoke. “The Terminal does not believe in creating homunculi for simple tasks. Instead, rather than concrete processes, the directives resemble more closely directive forces.” “Forces?”

    “Pull, and push. Pleasure, and pain.”

    I thought I understood. Beneficial actions and stimuli were rewarded and reinforced by the system. Harmful ones taught it aversion and avoidance. Thus, I supposed, her emotion was molded around this. That which fulfilled her purpose fit the bill of pleasure. That which threatened it, opposed it, that fit the bill of pain. I postulated this to her, and she nodded. She didn’t seem too fazed about this all, dissecting her emotions like this, a specimen in a formaldehyde jar.

    But, if these were just behavioral forces and impulses, rather than concrete directives, what then? Surely, within all the information processed, there would be at least a single error, something processed that she was not made for. How could she feel nothing towards everything else?

    I asked her this. She only smiled. A small, sad thing.

    “To be otherwise would be called being defective.”



    June 3, 1987

    Father died today. They’re sending his body to Genoa for burial, to be laid to rest with his forefathers in Staglieno cemetery.




    AN: Thanks to Frosty for beta-ing, as usual.

    He came up with the "masturbatory Pygmalion fantasy" line, by the way. Little else to comment on, at the moment anyway.
    Last edited by Kirby; December 4th, 2016 at 02:30 PM.
    <Lian|work> lynch kirby imo


    Linger: Complete. August, 1995. I met him. A branch off Part 3. Mikiya keeps his promise to meet Azaka, and meets again with that mysterious girl he once found in the rain.
    Shinkai: Set in the Edo period. DHO-centric. As mysterious figures gather in the city, a young woman unearths the dark secrets of the Asakami family.
    The Dollkeeper: A Fate side-story. The memoirs of the last tuner of the Einzberns. A record of the end of a family.
    Overcount 2030: Extra x Notes. A girl with no memories is found by a nameless soldier, and wakes up to a world of war.

  18. #18
    Eightfold Blessings of Smug Superiority Rafflesiac's Avatar
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    She was member of the Freiburg University faculty.
    was a member

    It's nice to see some of that stuff Nasu said about the actions and beliefs of a doll being real to them but fake to others.
    Supports:

    English FGO: 793848092

    Quote Originally Posted by Arashi_Leonhart View Post
    canon finish apo vol 3

  19. #19
    渇き Kirby's Avatar
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    Right, thanks.
    <Lian|work> lynch kirby imo


    Linger: Complete. August, 1995. I met him. A branch off Part 3. Mikiya keeps his promise to meet Azaka, and meets again with that mysterious girl he once found in the rain.
    Shinkai: Set in the Edo period. DHO-centric. As mysterious figures gather in the city, a young woman unearths the dark secrets of the Asakami family.
    The Dollkeeper: A Fate side-story. The memoirs of the last tuner of the Einzberns. A record of the end of a family.
    Overcount 2030: Extra x Notes. A girl with no memories is found by a nameless soldier, and wakes up to a world of war.

  20. #20
    TATARI Heiress ItsaRandomUsername's Avatar
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    I'm pretty sure that, intentionally or otherwise, more than a little bit of the concept of being a "philosophical zombie"-- the vaguely solipsistic notion that one cannot anyone's thoughts or feelings are true but their your own -- went into authorial creation process of the Einzberns, so it's nice to see those aspects touched upon all the moreso here.

    Bonus points for reminding the audience that slightly more conventional magi loathe Kiritsugu and what he stands for, while also linking his role to the themes this story is exploring.

    Kat also became something of a breakout character, for me. I'd like to see more of her, but if there isn't, then that's fine. She was a decent foil to Kerry and a pillar for the ideas this update had.
    * Dullahan 12/13/16 9:30pm
    there is an important difference between bullying and mindbreak
    * ~Keo 12/13/16 9:30pm
    one makes her cry and in one, she stops crying eventually

    McJon01: We all know that the real reason Archer would lose to Rider is because the events of his own Holy Grail War left him with a particular weakness toward "older sister" types.
    My Fanfics. Read 'em. Or not.



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