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Thread: Overcount 2030 [Extraverse/Notes]

  1. #21
    Jester of the Moon Cell's Sovereign Kieran's Avatar
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    It was a nice chapter - lots of world-building - though I'm certainly curious at the effort the Harways have gone to here, for a presumably-relative unknown . . .

    And yes, the reference(s) were cute, too.
    “Love will be cruel to who it entices — love will have its sacrifices.”

    — Carmilla Theme




    "Evil isn't the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it's a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference."

    ―Jim Butcher, Vignette

  2. #22
    zz Kirby's Avatar
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    3/Si Vis Pacem

    “...I… Wha—”

    She started up at the sight, scrambling, staggering, backing up into the wall. Something in her throat constricted, breath tight, lungs heavy, a sense of nausea that bubbled up from her stomach. The stench hit her before the image. It took her a moment to register the scene.

    The alleyway was dark, though the smell made her gag. Stings of salt and iron and rust. She couldn’t see well; there was no light. The sun had long set, it seemed, as the webs of steel loomed up above, blotting out the lights of the stars. She was left alone with the silhouettes, shadow puppets along the walls flickering like ghosts.

    The body laid there in the alley, face-up, shards of glass sticking out of the eye, the leaking blood a steady drip. One of his arms was bent the wrong way. Something splashed as she took a step back, blood that stuck and rusted on the bottoms of her shoes. A passing car’s headlights briefly illuminated the alley. The man’s expression was frozen, wide-eyed and open mouthed, a look of shock.

    “He’s…”

    “—Dead, yes.”

    She spun around, nearly tripping over herself, collapsing against the wall for support.

    A silhouette, some ten meters away. Rin watched her from the end of the alleyway.



    They locked eyes. Normally, Rin put on a coquettish face, teasing and smiling, but she simply stared from the end, cold and emotionless.

    She felt fear. Not for her own safety, the fear one feels in the face of danger or death. No, this was a fear of things unknown, things she didn’t understand. Why was she here?

    “No…”

    “No, what?”

    “I— no, this can’t have—”

    “Can’t have what?”

    The words lodged themselves in her throat, like plaque clotting up pipes, constricting and suffocating. She opened her mouth, and closed it, open, and close. She shook her head, as if by believing hard enough, she could reject this.

    “He can’t be…”

    Rin strided forward, taking an apparatus out of her pocket. A cable that retracted out of a black box, that she plugged into the datajack at the base of the man’s neck, the box locking itself against the skin. Something in her hand lit up, and she shine it on the man’s face. Bloodied, and lacerated like glass, the bottle out looking like a cartoonish eyepiece.

    “Does he look alive to you?” An LED on the apparatus lit up, and she nodded in satisfaction. She felt a Code-cast set itself up around the alley.

    “But how—”

    “Because you killed him,” she said with a shrug. A matter-of-fact tone.

    “I didn’t.”

    “I watched you do it, like thirty seconds ago—”

    “...I didn’t.”

    “I can give you the recordings, if y—”

    I DIDN’T!

    Her voice echoed throughout the alleyway, reverbing about the walls. Whispers of ghosts, I didn’t, I didn’t.

    Rin was wrong. She had to be. She didn’t kill him. She didn’t do anything to him. She wasn’t capable of killing someone like this. If she did, she’d remember it, she’d know. So that’s why—

    She gasped for air, a sudden shock. Rin plugged something into her datajack, something seeping into the back of her neck. Instead of going dark, her body froze.

    What are you—”

    “Just shut up and watch.”

    Images flooded her mind, colors painted across her retinas, silhouettes like a shadow puppet show. A figure of a girl and a man. They speak, she runs. She’s blasted to the ground; he moves to pin her with an eerily glowing hand. Her body jerks, sudden movement, rolling out of the way. By the lights off his arm, she saw his face. Shock. Miscalculation. The girl picks up a glass bottle, shatters it against his skull. A shout of panic. A twisted arm. His body’s thrown to the ground. She plunges the shattered bottle into his—

    The jack came out. She gasped for breath, stumbling back into the wall. She sank down to her knees, tasting bile in her throat. She couldn’t afford the energy to stand.

    I did it. I really killed someone. I—

    Rin watched her all the while, impassive and expressionless, and moved to the body, examining and fiddling with it. As she wiped her mouth with her sleeve, the taste of acid still lingering on her tongue, Rin spoke.

    “Are you done?”

    She didn’t answer her. Rin seemed to take that as a ‘yes’.

    “If you’re done, then we should go. It’s already late.”

    “But I—”

    “Hm?”

    She struggled with her words. She didn’t understand. Questions raced through her mind, a maelstrom of disoriented thought. Something weighed on her, a lethargy and exhaustion ever since seeing that memory. She only managed to articulate a few words. “—but the body?”

    “Huh? Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ve called HQ; they’re sending someone to pick it up.” She moved to the alleyway exit, and glared back as Hakuno stayed rooted to the spot. She looked irritable. “Well, come on now. You aren’t planning on spending all night here in this dump?”

    Mechanically, she followed, like a puppet on strings. As they exited the alleyway, like walking through a veil, she felt something shimmer, brush against her skin. Another Code Cast. Her archives told her this was to hide her from the public eye. Shimmering lights and textures layered themselves over the blood on her clothes, the dirt in her hair. A mask. She heard Rin whisper to her.

    Keep your connections offline.

    They made their way through crowds, pedestrians and traffic, roadside stalls and twisting streets. Blaring noise and glaring lights. An atmosphere of life and energy she couldn’t stand. Rin shot her a look, half of concern, half of pity. She sighed.

    She beckoned to her to follow, and sat herself down at a roadside stall. Hakuno followed suit.

    Rin spoke to the server in accented Mandarin, and the man nodded and worked behind the bar, brewing tea, steeping spices, blending juices. They waited in silence.

    The stall smelled of spices and fruit, warm and sweet, amidst the chaos of the night market. Hakuno looked about her. Food stalls lined the roads, frying snacks and grilling meats, the streets smelling of sweat and food and smoke. The street goers made their way as usual, chatting and walking and eating, as if someone hadn’t just died in the alleyway just a few blocks away, as if that death had simply happened in another world. As if she could just act like them, too, and pretend nothing had ever happened. To them, at least, that was very well true.

    Soon enough, the server brought over two cups. Rin slid one over to her.

    “Here. Drink.” Hakuno hesitated, and Rin glared, her voice irritable. “Just drink it. It’ll help.”

    She took a sip of the tea. It tasted sweet, warm spices soothing her throat. She didn’t feel much less nauseous, but she still felt a bit calmer.

    Rin looked at her, and down at the tea tray, and tapped the back of her neck. On the tray was a connecter jack, a small grey connector box. Hakuno took it, and plugged it into her datajack. In the air, nearly invisible to the naked eye, she could see the etherlite cable linking to Rin, a stream of information linking their cyberbrains. She heard Rin’s voice in her head, saw her looking very carefully into her eyes.

    “Have you calmed down, now?”

    A pause. She took another sip of tea. Rin still hadn’t touched hers.

    “I— yeah. Thank you.” She fell silent, and simply sat there. She could feel the fear and anxiety leaving her body, being back in the crowd. Like a whole other world, where the happenings in the alley were a far off dream.

    “I see, then. Well? Any questions, or can we head back once you’re done with your tea?”

    She hesitated. “Well…”

    “Hm?”

    “How did you find me?”

    “You caught a cyberbrain virus in the bar. Not sure where, or how it even got past your defences. But we noticed, so we did something about it. The man ended up making you wander off on your own, using low-level Code Casts to try deceive us. Unfortunately for him, he was up against me.” She could hear the smugness in her figurative voice. “We pretended to be tricked to lure the man out. Though then again, you seem to have handled the situation yourself.”

    “...I don’t remember anything.”

    “Odd. Maybe they installed a counter-measure into your body. Go all Terminator in the face of danger?”

    She smiled inwardly. Jain had shown her that movie, a few nights before. Mister Velvet, uncharacteristically, had watched it with them.

    “I don’t know.”

    Rin snorted over the etherlite connection. “Well, I doubt it. Higher ups aren’t paranoid enough to install something like that, something that could backfire if the protocols fails to deactivate.” She sighed. “You had the muscle memory programs installed recently, right?”

    “Well, yeah.”

    “That solves that, then. Your body was just still acclimating to your memories. You were distressed, so your body responded before you could think about it, using the muscle memories you’d received. Emotional reactions are processed before logical thought, you know? So it’s not different than your spars with Nanashi.”

    “Except—”

    “—except you actually managed to land a hit this time, didn’t you?”

    “...Don’t joke about things like that.”

    It took her a second to realize she had said this out loud.

    Rin smirked. She blew on her tea, taking a sip, and winced as she burned her tongue. The tea still hadn’t cooled down after all her talking.

    They fell silent. Rin ordered a pastry, some fried bun sprinkled with sugar and sesame seeds, and munched on it all the while as they drank their tea. Hakuno, using the allowance and fake ID she’d been given by Linan, bought one too. It was filled with sweet red bean paste.

    Hakuno felt calmer now. She didn’t do anything wrong. The man attacked her first, trying to kidnap her. It, everything she’d done, was in self-defense.

    And yet he died.

    “Miss Tohsaka.”

    “Hm?”

    “What will they do with him? The body?”

    “Who knows.”

    “Will they just leave him there?”

    “Who cares?” She shrugged. “Police will take care of it, and we’ll take care of them.”

    Rin downed the rest of her tea, and stuffed the rest of the bun in her mouth. She winced again; the filling was still hot. Regaining her composure, she got up to leave, disconnecting the etherlite connection.

    “Well? Shall we go, then?”



    “There’s no need to glare at me, like that, Emiya.”

    He stood in a darkened room, a holographic display on the other end. It formed the image of a woman, sitting in a chair behind a desk, her back facing the man. She was looking over her shoulder, half her face scarred by burns, a faint smirk on her normally stern and authoritative face.

    He was scowling, even if he knew it wouldn’t do anything. She wasn’t the type to be intimidated, nor to think anything of it. But he couldn’t help it. It had to be done, he knew. And yet…

    “It’s just a bit cruel, to make me use my own soldiers as bait.”

    She laughed at this. “What is it they say again in your language? It can’t be helped. Relax. She was never in any real danger in the first place.”

    “Really now.”

    “Have some faith in your soldiers.”

    “It’s no question of faith.”

    “Of course it isn’t.” She sounded unconvinced. “The agents stationed here, compared to her implanted memories, should not be much of a threat to her. Hangzhou’s too far from Europe for the Harweys to keep a tighter watch out here, even with the Net— not without knowing of our presence here beforehand.”

    “But they’ll know now, won’t they?”

    “Perhaps. They will know the patient’s here now, but they won’t know the rest of it. Who our affiliates are here, or how much of a presence we really have out here— if your group was just caught as you relocated, or if we had set up base here,” she said. “The hole in Hakuno’s security software was only enough to allow a low-level cyberbrain hack, with enough fabricated information to think he’d succeeded. Sialim will patch it back up once she returns. Nothing of importance was truly compromised.”

    He sighed. “Was capturing such a grunt-level agent really worth this risk?”

    “But of course. Even the most lowly of Harwey agents format their cyberbrains when we corner them ourselves, so managing to obtain even one intact was a challenge. As we finally caught this one by surprise— he let his guard down against Hakuno, I assume— we managed to obtain one before they could remotely wipe it on his death.”

    The hologram gestured with her hand, a snap of her fingers. Something blipped in his field of vision, a downloaded file— the autopsy report for the man.

    Shirou looked up. “Find anything?”

    “Not going to read it?”

    “I won’t understand any of it, anyway.”

    She snorted. “I’ll summarize it for you, then. Ask ‘Rin’ later if you want the full details.”

    The hologram turned to the wall, and motioned. Various images appeared on screen, documents and files found in his system, visual input from memories transduced into digital photos and videos.

    “His pseudonym at Hangzhou, Adams. His real name, Francis Hathaway. Most of of we found isn’t relevant to you directly: locations and identities of other agents, orders and missions from up above, an insight into the internal structure of the Harwey’s organization. As expected, they’ve bugged many of the public interfaces with a cyberbrain virus, that lays dormant until certain triggers are detected in one’s memories. It was through this they found the girl.”

    This he knew. The rest of the staff, on the other hand, had more secure systems, and were more careful with regards to viral infection. Monitored interfaces such as the bugged television were more common in Europe, where the Harweys had a greater hold on the social system at large, and could get their hands on all the interfaces in the name of ‘regulation’ or ‘security’, official business. Transactions, public transit, the works.

    But so far out here, without a complete hold over the government, they could only act through agents, than agencies. If they were to try track them through triggered viruses, then Hakuno should be the only blip on their radars, as far as Hangzhou went.

    She continued. “What we did find, however, were documents on the Parabellum Virus.”

    Something in him froze. He paused mid-thought, and looked up.

    “Paying attention now, I see?” She smiled. Several files in his field of view opened up, forming a web of screens and words. “To be blunt, we didn’t find much that we didn’t already know. What little we managed to decrypt only indicates that this agent had been issued orders pertaining to the virus, and its investigation.”

    He sighed. Disappointing. “So even the grunts know of it, now? Seems they’re getting pretty serious about cracking down on the thing.”

    “Have you watched the news, recently?”

    “I’ve been busy. Hit me.”

    Another flick of the hand. More files opened, news reports and articles from the Net, as well as autopsy reports, some of KRONE’s own documents. While they’d been out retrieving the girl from the ruins of Pieceman’s facility, the tensions in Romania had finally ignited the fires of civil war. The spark, a terrorist attack. A story that he’d heard too often nowadays, almost so much that he hadn’t thought much of it, when he heard of the war from hearsay.

    What caught his eye was the autopsy report of the initiator, and KRONE’s analysis. Officially unspecified, only noting infection by cyberbrain virus. KRONE’s report gave it a name.

    Parabellum. Madness born of ideology. Pieceman’s last gift to the world, whether he wanted it or not.

    “Romania’s too close to home,” the hologram said. “These incidents had been mostly confined to Asia and Africa, less cause for their concerns of stability, but it’s starting to rear its head as a real threat.”

    “...I see.”

    “From the looks of it, this agent was stationed out here not for us, but for the virus. The rest of the cyberbrain’s files are encrypted; not even the HERMES system could crack it. Completely locked down upon death— but not successfully wiped. Of course, you know what this means.”

    He sighed. “Our next mission, then?”

    She nodded. “Miss Scarlet should be able to help you with this. As usual, we’ll provide the funds for the transaction.”

    Miss Scarlet. Of course, that wasn’t her real name. A brilliant dollmaker, and a magus of no loyalties. A freelancer, like he used to be. He had only met her a few times in passing before joining up with KRONE, after which, they seemed keen on using him as the intermediary between she and them for their business. Even if they were officially amended, she still had some beef with what once was the Association.

    He’d questioned this once, to which they replied that she’d probably be less wary interacting with another free agent like her— even if said agent could not longer be considered independent.

    How the mighty have fallen. Rin always said I’d just get myself killed, if she didn’t chain me down first.

    “You’re sure she’ll be fine working with KRONE?” He knew the answer already, but couldn’t resist asking.

    “Even if she has always rejected our invitations to join, she has had no problem working for us— so long as it’s as a freelancer.” A compartment opened up, rising out of the desk. A briefcase. “Here. The cyberbrain.”

    His eye must’ve twitched. He felt a hint of revulsion. “...Why?”

    “A physical brain will be required for her to work with; just the digital copy won’t do.”

    He strided over to the desk, taking the case into his hands. Something could be felt sloshing around inside it as the case moved. He felt a twinge of disgust, like he was carrying a briefcase full of spiders or flesh. Sure, the brain was probably treated so it wouldn’t rot or smell, and he’d seen worse in his lifetime.

    But a brain’s a brain.

    “Keep it safe.”

    The image flickered like a snuffed-out candle, leaving him alone again. He spoke aloud, perhaps to the empty room, or perhaps to the brain.

    “Sure thing, Queen.”



    She toyed with a pocketwatch in her hand, looking out the window of the plane.

    When she had returned the the building from the whole debacle of the alleyway, they ran her through a few days of psychiatric evaluation and emotional treatment, after which she had been declared mentally sound. They had reinstalled her security software— they’d detected a security hole in hers, attributed to outdated software— and added to her training regimen defense against cyberbrain hacking.

    Hence, the watch. While they had only installed the basic know-how of dealing with software and hardware before, they’d started to give her proper training given recent events. The watch was a gift from Nanashi.

    It was a wholly antiquated thing, a brass locket, that opened and closed like a clamshell. On the surface, it was engraved with what looked like a snake eating its tail, and opened up to a watch face, hands ticking away beneath a glassy surface, slowly shifting gears and clockwork visible beneath the crystal.

    These days, there’s not much you can trust.

    Senses can be fabricated. Information can be fabricated. Memories can be fabricated. Anything and everything could be faked, created out of nothing. We live in an age where we no longer trust our minds, where digitization threatens our perceptions of reality.

    People have questioned the nature of the reality they perceived for ages. You know. The whole question of the brain-in-a-jar, or the genius malignus. Is what they see real? What they hear? What they feel? How do you know the reality you perceive truly exists, rather than being a fabrication? And so on. You can imagine how digitization helped with all that, now that what once were just the realm of thought experiments became a real, concrete reality.

    —She dreamt she was a butterfly.

    Hence, this.

    This is just a watch. Go on, take it. Looted this back at the ruins they found you in. Probably not yours. Yes, it works just fine. The point is, people use these sort of things— photographs, trinkets, mementos, material anchors to ground themselves in the physical reality.

    It doesn’t really help with the big picture, of course, but it helps against cyberbrain hacking. Manufactured sensory inputs aren’t perfect. They’re engineered by humans, after all, and humans are not omnipotent. What happens then is that there are, inevitably, oversights in their fabrications; they can’t perfectly replicate a false reality, only try come as close as they can. These anchors are tools to help you detect these flaws.

    Study this watch. Know its details; how the hands tick, how the gears turn. A watch like this is useful because it’s mechanically complex, a complexity that can be observed through vision alone. If you suspect your mind to be under attack, take out the watch. You’ll see it in its clockwork.

    Once you realize your mind’s been compromised, it’s easier to see the seams where the illusion falls apart.

    If you can’t trust your mind, at least you can trust this.

    She raised the watch to eye-level, as it gleamed from the sunset from the plane window, lights that traced themselves along their surface. The hands ticked, second by second, a steady mechanical rhythm.

    There, on the 6 o’clock line. For a second there, the hand froze.

    “Miss Tohsaka.”

    “Oh? So you’ve been paying attention after all?”

    She closed the watch. A warmth pulsed in her arm, Grain circulating through the crystal embedded within her hand, and her vision flickered. There across from her, in what was once an apparently empty seat, sat Rin. She smiled, crossing one leg over the other. “When did you notice?”

    “Just now. The hand stopped.”

    She snorted. “Is that how he’s teaching it, then?”

    “Hm?”

    “Something as mechanical as clockwork. Well,” she said with a shrug, “it works, anyway. It’s just so clinical.”

    Hakuno frowned. “Shouldn’t it be?”

    “I suppose so. But the catch with such detached methods is that they simply don’t feel natural, no? Something you make yourself do, rather than something you do own your own.”

    “Is there any other way?”

    “Of course. You know, most people use something meaningful to them. Something that with just that feeling, you know?”

    “No?”

    She laughed. “Of course.”

    “I don’t get what you’re getting at.”

    “Of course you don’t. You barely remember anything, do you?”

    Hakuno shook her head, and Rin took a sip of coffee from a cup Hakuno hadn’t noticed her holding before. “Well, it’s not your fault. It just puts you in a unique position, compared to the others. Most people, when their senses or memories are altered, can at least detect on some level that something’s off. That unease just lurks too far beneath the surface for it to matter, but one can jostle it, call it forth, through emotional stimulus.”

    “The mind’s a complex thing, too complex for us to perfectly understand— and deceive. Call it instinct, if you will. The link between emotions and memory, one invoking the other, are unpredictable enough to throw a wrench into the whole affair of fabricated information. What did Nanashi say about this, again?”

    “ ‘Grounding oneself in reality.’”

    “Hmm.” Rin nodded. “Yes, I guess that’s a pretty apt way to put it, even for him. A cyberbrain hack can fake what you see, or hear, or remember. But it’s quite clumsy, when it comes to faking how you feel.”

    “Well,” she said, hopping out of her seat, “I suppose I just came by with a word of advice. Clinical observation might help you see through some illusions, but there’ll be a point where they break down.” She smiled. “But by that point, you could probably find a better anchor anyway. Not even Nanashi gets by with that sort of thing, even if he looks the type.”

    Hakuno blinked. “So what does he use?”

    Her face flickered, a mix of emotions that lurked hidden beneath the surface smile. Regret. Resentment. Ironic amusement. “That pendant of his, the one he always carries about with him. A keepsake from the first girl he’d loved.”



    They’d landed in Tehran about an hour or two later.

    It was just the six of them— her, Rin, Nanashi, Jain, Adeline, and Blackmore. Mister Velvet had stayed behind, as his job was as an instructor, while Sialim had been relocated to KRONE’s main headquarters, apparently some barge off the coast of God knows where, to provide mission control from afar, should it be needed.

    As for what they were here for, they’d been given a briefing. Nothing too urgent. Nanashi was to conduct some sort of business deal, as an intermediary between a freelancer and them. One or two others were to accompany him, for backup.

    Meanwhile, one of KRONE’s magi had gone missing here on a mission, and the rest were to investigate his disappearance. Rescue him, if he had been captured. Retire him, if he had deserted. Salvage him, if he had been killed.

    She felt nervous. This, of course, would be her first real mission for KRONE. Her memories gave her the physical skills to fight and shoot, but they wouldn’t teach her higher functions, like how to go about an investigation.

    At least, the others were there with her.

    As she exited the plane terminal, she looked up. An enormous wall loomed in the distance, like a blade had once cleaved the city across some point, one side cut off from the other. Her archives told her that beyond that wall laid a deadzone, contaminated by Grain beyond survivable conditions. Dotting the wall, she saw interlinked facilities, Grain-processing plants to power the city.

    The ride to the city was relatively uneventful, save for Jain showing her videos of cats on his phone, and Rin looking up restaurants to visit while they were stationed there. Nanashi carried a black briefcase in hand, simple and unadorned, drumming his fingers across the edge, reading a news report of recent terrorist attacks. She took out her watch again, and watched it tick.

    The time was off.

    She nearly bolted up in alarm, but Rin spoke up. “Yeah, it’ll desync like that. Gravitational time dilation, ‘cause of relativity or something. Your mind hasn’t been compromised. Sit back down.”

    She didn’t know what this relativity or time dilation was, so she still wasn’t sure if she could trust her words to be hers.

    “Oh come on, don’t glare at me like that. Fine! Your mind’s been hacked and everything’s a dream and you’re really just sleeping in a coffin out somewhere in the ruins of Tokyo. Happy now?”

    She still wasn’t sure if this was just to throw her off, or if she was telling the truth. Jain sniggered.

    With little other choice, she accepted the explanation, sitting back down. The watch ticked along.

    They exited the car to a marketplace baking in the sun, stifling heat that radiated in waves off the pavement, rippling in the air, all noise and clamor and bustle. The rest of the way, Nanashi said, they’d have to walk.

    Carts of produce mingled with biomechanical walkers. Eyes flickered over them, sparing their scarved faces and obscured eyes glances and nothing more. They sought refuge from the sun under the arches of the Grand Bazaar, flashing neon holograms and VR displays projected by lines of textiles, heaps of spices and preserved fruits. The noise of the Net buzzed with frenzied Farsi. She paused, for a moment, at what seemed to be a circular clearing joining several alleyways, columns decorated with mosaic patterns and wreaths carved in stone. Her eyes drifted over to one of the many ads adorning the walls, a moving poster about an upcoming referendum, the cold visage of the King staring back at her, championing words she couldn’t read. Rin took her by the hand and dragged her back with the group.

    The crowds thinned as they made their way, and they stopped at an alleyway, deserted save for a homeless man, slumped up against the far wall. Hakuno only just then noticed, now that they were free from the sea of bodies. Nanashi and Adeline were nowhere to be seen.

    She gave Rin a questioning look, to which she nodded in response. They’ll know where we are, was the message.

    Jain opened a backdoor, gingerly as if to test something, and nodded. They made their way inside.

    With little else she could do, she followed suit.



    “Still working for the Association?”

    “If you can really call it that, yes.”

    He found himself in a lab, standing cautiously about the entrance. Adeline waited by the door outside, a hand on her holster and her eyes on the streets, keeping watch. Against better judgment, they’d established a private two-way connection, hoping it’d be secure enough. But a workshop should have decent defenses of its own.

    He wrinkled his nose. The lab smelled of cheap cigarette smoke, and it was chilly here, unlike the rest of the city. Dimly lit by electronic equipment and cold fluorescent lights, the forms of stasis tanks and tubing lined the walls. His eyes passed over a tank, within it the form of a woman, floating listlessly and suspended by cables, her hair pale and widened eyes red and empty. A breathing apparatus masked her mouth and nose, and as he looked to the rest of the room, he saw that the other tanks were the same, housing the forms of humans, men and women, children and adults, wired and floating and suspended in time.

    On the far side of the room, besides terminals and monitoring equipment, sat a figure in a revolving chair. She stubbed out her cigarette in an all-too-full ashtray, setting her glasses down on the desk, and spun around to face him. A woman, red hair drawn into a ponytail, face drawn into a grin.

    “So what business do you have for me this time, Emiya?”




    AN: Thanks to Frosty for beta-ing and Dullahan for plot developments. I don't think I have much else to say at the moment, now.
    Last edited by Kirby; March 23rd, 2017 at 06:55 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.

  3. #23
    Eightfold Blessings of Smug Superiority Rafflesiac's Avatar
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    She laughed at this. “What is it they say again in your language? It can’t be helped.
    wow you can't just mock a man with anime like that

    And now I'm curious what kind of discussion about artisanship Touko and Emiya would have/how annoyed they'd be with the other.
    Supports:


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

  4. #24
    A mecha-loving Shotacon who plays children's card games naschyamamoto's Avatar
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    ...Clinical observation might help so see through some illusions, but there’ll be a point where they break down.” She smiled.

    A slight typo there, but nothing major. Other than that it looks pretty good! Interested to see how Touko and Emiya interact, now that the latter is a cynical Servant. I also loved the bit with the clock-therapy, as Hakuno dealt with the fact that she'd killed a person and that her senses could be artificially tampered with- both of which are pretty disturbing in their own way.
    The bit that made me squeal the most was probably the little bit about EMIYA using Real Rin's gemstone to overcome those viruses- and the way that Extra!Rin both hated and admired that fact about him.

    Anyways, keep up the good work!


    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.

  5. #25
    zz Kirby's Avatar
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    Ah, thanks.

    Also, I think one should sorta keep in mind (me, too, especially when I write him and almost forget) that at this point Emiya isn't quite in the same mindset as, say, Emiya as a HS. Basically, it took an afterlife as a CG to break his idealism, and in life he still pretty much believed them to the end.

    So here in life, he'd still be an idealist. War-weary and not as gung-ho as he would've been if he were younger, yeah, but still an idealist.
    <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.

  6. #26
    The Courier NotteBoy97's Avatar
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    So older Shirou younger EMIYA?

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    zz Kirby's Avatar
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    I'm distinguishing them by that EMIYA has already died, become a heroic spirit, and gone through CG hell, so you can't quite call him EMIYA until he dies.

    As far as "what I'm basing his personality on", though, that's pretty much it.
    <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.

  8. #28
    zz Kirby's Avatar
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    4/Para Bellum

    The missing magus was a man by the name of Kruger.

    Hakuno wasn’t sure if that was his real name, but that’s what they called him. He was a surly-looking man, with deep-set eyes and a firm jawline, and slicked black hair. Before the fall, he specialized in necromancy and the study of Phantasmal Beasts, and after it, found his calling on the ARAY project, and all she knew about that was that it had some relation to Grain research, phantasmal beasts, and modern genetics. Her files said little more about the subject.

    Only Rin, the proper magus among them, knew Kruger personally. Jain was apparently some war orphan Nanashi once picked up somewhere in Rajasthan, and thus knew nothing. Blackmore wasn’t even part of the Association before the deal his queen made, though he came from an established lineage, and so had a passing familiarity. That left Rin the expert on the situation, hence the files she had compiled for her.

    She lounged on the couch, scanning through the portfolio, supplementary information downloading into her brain from the HQ’s database, giving her all the context she needed. Psychological profiles. Histories. Assignments. And so on. Not that she, as inexperienced as she was, could really do much with this information, but it would be useful for her to have. Blackmore was in the kitchen, making tea for the four of them. Rin sat beside her watching the news. Jain was checking over the storage for their stash of equipment, performing routine maintenance when needed. They were to rest in the safe house for a few hours, and begin operations tonight.

    The safe house itself was a humble thing, sparsely decorated, set in the basement of an abandoned warehouse protected by several bounded Code Casts, a far cry from the comforts of the skyscrapers of Hangzhou. But that was to be expected, given they had fewer allies here to rely on, let alone any influential corporations. It was, at the very least, adequate.

    Blackmore set a cup of tea before her, faintly floral with a hint of citrus. She scanned it— Earl Grey— and thanked him, and he moved on.

    Hakuno looked over to Rin, who watched the screen with a troubled expression. Eyes followed hers, and she looked to the news.

    It spoke of tensions between the natives of the area and the refugees, constantly fleeing from the wars in the east. The usual story, apparently. Crimes and intimidation of one against the other, escalating actions taken in retaliation. Vigilante justice and revenge killings. Unexplained suicides and disappearances. The works.

    Even if this was “the usual” story, that didn’t make it any more reassuring. Though she wondered what this had to do with them.

    “In a sense,” Rin said, “Everything.”

    Hakuno tilted her head at that, and she continued.

    “Ever heard of a man named Twice H. Pieceman?”

    She nodded, slowly. She faintly remembered coming across that name in her archives.

    “He was the doctor who ran that facility you found me in, right?”

    Rin smiled. “Among other things. But yes, he was a doctor. Well, medical researcher more like, and at a young age, too. Cybernetics, neuroscience, and, once it started appeared in the atmosphere, Grain. Probably one of the most brilliant of his generation. How much do your archives tell you about him?”

    “Not much.”

    “Anything about him, personally?”

    “No.” Hakuno frowned, a moment of hesitation. “Did you know him, in pers—”

    “He died thirty years ago. Before I’d even joined the Clocktower.” Her mouth thinned. She continued. “Well, I’ll give you the general rundown.”

    She crossed one leg over the other, leaning back into the cushions. “He was born in the early seventies, in Southeast Asia— Cambodia, I believe? During one of those proxy wars, between America and the Soviet Union.”

    “Over Vietnam?”

    “Yes, that one. Well, he wasn’t old enough to remember the thing, and it was over by the time he was adopted— both his parents died in the war, see— but he grew up in London. Adopted by a magus of a dead lineage, for his magical potential.” She took a small jug of milk on the tray, and poured some into her tea, plopping in sugar cubes. “But his real calling, it seemed, lay in medicine and mundane research, rather than thaumaturgy. He was a genius in his craft, but more than anything…”

    Rin frowned, and Hakuno tilted her head. She looked troubled, or unsure.

    “Well?”

    “Well, let’s say he had a fascination for war.”

    “Don’t get me wrong,” Rin said. Hakuno must’ve made a face. “It’s not like he liked it. He hated war, more than anyone else. A real pacifist at heart. So rather than stay in the safety of his home, following the promising future offered to him, he traveled to war-torn lands and the hearts of conflict— Congo, Afghanistan, Bosnia, the works— operating primarily in the 90s, as an aid worker.”

    She sipped her tea. “Once the Grain Explosions started happening, to there, too. ‘Help the helpless’, something like that I’d suppose. But his interest extended beyond just the pain and suffering, supposedly. He wanted to understand these wars. He studied their histories, the roots of their strife. You could say he was a bit of a scholar on war.” Rin stared at her, intently. A serious expression. “He was the man who developed the cure to your disease, and died in the terrorist attack that turned your resting place to a ruin.”

    She listened to her speak. Rin looked troubled all the while. From what she’d been saying, he sounded wonderful. Unreal, almost. But…

    “You don’t seem to like him.”

    Rin remained silent, for a moment or two, and sighed. “Well, things changed.”

    “But he died?”

    Rin just laughed at that.

    “...Do you believe in ghosts?”

    She blinked.

    “...Bwuh?”

    Hakuno’s mouth hung open dumbly at that.

    A grim laugh. “That was a joke. Except that some people believe it.” She projected some screens and opened some files; with a flick of the wrist, they reoriented to so that Hakuno could see. “The man had a manifesto, allegedly. Discovered posthumously. Published anonymously. A series of nine documents. If its release really was something he arranged after death, or if it was simply an admirer, or imposter, or as some would like to say, his digital ghost— we don’t know.

    “Whatever you believe, something strange happened after the release of the files. Ten years ago, maybe a bit more. It’s hard to really place the start of this trend. Spontaneous violence. Outbreaks of civil wars. A slippery slope, from riots and unrest to ethnic cleansing and genocide. The motives behind each incident all differed— economic, national, ideological— and it all seemed to come out of nowhere. All, beginning as sparks lit by singular individuals. Their perpetrators were linked not by ideology, but the nature of their actions.”

    She remembered this. Nanashi once told her something like this, back when he told her about the purpose of KRONE. “...Can someone’s words alone do all this?”

    “If they can, no one believes it. The most prevalent hypothesis it’s a hidden cyberbrain virus that spread through the dissemination of the files, triggered in select individuals, but we don’t know. No one knows.” She sighed heavily, and set her now-empty cup down on the table. Blackmore poured her another, and she thanked him.

    “So that,” she said, “Is why these news reports matter to us. Are they just your good old-fashion ethnic violence, or is there something more to this?” She shook her head. “If there’s anything, I think, that could end the world, it’s this.”

    They sat in heavy silence. Behind Rin, in the storage room, she could see Jain’s face, hardened and solemn, absent of any of his usual humor or cheer. Hakuno took a sip of her tea. It was cold. A news report of a terrorist attack droned on in the background.

    “But what about it?” Hakuno spoke up.

    “What about what?”

    “The essays. What were they about?”

    Rin blinked, and laughed after a moment. “It’s a long story, I guess. A commentary on our future as a species. Why we suffer, and why we war. But I suppose that it just really comes down to a phrase, doesn’t it?

    Si Vis Pacem—”


    “—Para Bellum.

    “ ‘If you want peace, prepare for war.’ Or make war, from the looks of it.” Touko laughed, at that. “So, do I owe Mister Pieceman the pleasure of this visit?”

    “More or less.”

    She leaned back into her chair, the briefcase sitting opened on her desk. A jumble of wires and cables connected to the cyberbrain, wired up to a terminal and monitoring equipment. Code streamed down from the screens like rain down windowpanes, numbers and words that he never quite understood. She eyed over the code all the while, a casual interest.

    “So what does the Queen want now, out of an little old Sealing Designee like me?”

    He snorted. “It’s not like that term has any meaning anymore, anyway.”

    “Yeah?”

    “Apparently. You know, Rin always told me that had we been living in less turbulent times, and had thaumaturgy not dried out, I probably would’ve gotten that same honor as well.”

    “And yet you work for KRONE, now.”

    “Evidently.”

    “Never thought you’d settle down. Did you get bored of shooting child soldiers?”

    He shrugged. “It’s not like I made a hobby out of it.”

    She laughed. “Of course. Then again, I’d never expected you to work for KRONE, of all of the possible options. I’d ask you why, but you’d just say the same thing again, wouldn’t you?”

    “That our alliance would be the easiest way for me to achieve my goals, yes. We made a deal, no more, no less— an alliance of mutual benefit. We have no delusions of loyalty of indebtedness or being, say, buddies. But that’s neither here nor there.” He sighed, and looked to the screen. “This brain has information, and we’d like that information. That’s the gist of it, anyway.”

    She frowned at the screen. “It’s encrypted.”

    “The Queen seemed confident that you’d be able to find a way around it.”

    Touko nodded absently, absorbed in her work, leaving Emiya waiting by the side. The room was set up so that it had a coffee table and couch, for some bizarre reason, as if a lab needed a reception area of all the possible things. He glanced back to the door, where Adeline kept watch outside. He heard her laugh over comms.

    “Yes?”

    “It’s nothing, it’s nothing. I just never thought anyone would be so blunt about that, of all things, especially when I’m standing right here.”

    “The arrangement between the Queen and I, if I recall, was common knowledge among KRONE— at least among the magi.”

    “And the way you talk about it, you’d think you’d just turn on us any minute.”

    “It’s not like I’d have any reason to, yet—”

    “ ‘Yet’?” She laughed. “How cruel! Telling a poor girl she means nothing to you, that you’d just toss her away once you’ve had your fun with her.” A voice of mock hurt. He could tell she was enjoying herself.

    “Do I really look like that kind of scumbag?”

    “Hey, now, I’m just following the rumors. How’d it end with that poor Finnish one again, back in Lon—”

    His eyebrow must’ve twitched. “How about I buy you drinks later again, if you stop?”

    “...Sorry ‘bout that.” A brief pause, hesitation. “Though I’ll still take you up on that offer.”

    He smiled at that, though he would never admit it.

    A grim laugh snapped him back to reality. Touko was staring at the screen, a cup of coffee in one hand.“Well, that’s one way to go about it.”

    “Come again?”

    “Around the encryption. Did they explain it to you, what happened to this system?”

    Shut down completely upon death, I believe.” The implications sunk in, for a moment, even more so as the bodies of dolls floated about them. “Wait a minute—”

    Touko only grinned in response. He felt a twinge of queasiness.

    One of the stasis tanks drained of its liquid, the naked body once floating serenely now hanging limp like a marionette. Touko rose from her seat, detaching the analytic equipment from the cyberbrain and setting it back into its case, as the glass walls of the tank retracted and the cables and wires detached, the empty body slumping onto the ground. She slung the body over her shoulder, carrying the briefcase in the other hand, and motioned for him to follow.

    The room was a familiar one, the type he could find in any hospital or military base. An otherwise blank room, a jumble of machinery and cables, with some terminals and monitors set up at a desk, overseeing the whole thing through a glass wall. The wall was retracted, for the moment, and on one side sat anchors in which one could insert bodies, and on the other, slots into which one inserted cyberbrains. An installation room, generally used when cyborgs or dolls were to transfer bodies or the like, the transplantation of the brain into the body.

    “The mechanism, in short, triggers the lockdown on the absence of life signals. Can’t quite call it raising the dead, but it should work close enough. Should trick the mechanism into thinking we did so, at the very least. Then,” she said, plopping the body into the anchor, which held it up and in place, “The rest of the procedure should be a smooth one, though not that all the information can quite be salvaged. Dying tends to dump a bunch of white noise over useful data.”

    The body loaded onto the anchor, and locked into position. For a moment, he could see the seams along its skull, and the entire back of its head opened up, revealing a mishmash of mechanical and biological components within, an empty space where the brain should’ve been. The whirring robotic limbs and moving cables installed the brain into the empty skull, and cables and wiring linked themselves back up to the brain.

    The body began to jerk, spasms throughout its body. For a moment, its eyes opened, its head briefly turning to them, an empty stare.

    “—Don’t be alarmed. It’s not really alive.”

    “What the hell…?”

    “Those are just reflexes. Motor responses to sudden changes in stimuli and so on, below the level of human consciousness. Don’t worry,” she said, plopping herself down by a desk, “It’s not like it can actually see us. What we call higher thought is built on the same routines you’d find in a lizard, or worm.”

    Monitors and screens flickered into life. Information and memory fed itself through the cables, a stream of files flitting across the screen, symbols and words he didn’t understand, nothing but a pretty light show to him.

    She rose from her seat, beckoning him to follow her back to the lab. “It’ll take a while to run. I’m sure you’re not too keen on just standing around for ten or twenty minutes.”

    He sat down on the couch, and she poured him a cup of coffee, black and bitter and hot. Grain flickered through his circuit. The structural analysis told him it was safe to drink, despite the brand being the cheapest on the market. She laughed, at that.

    “I didn’t poison it.”

    “Well, you are a magus. Can’t be too careful.”

    Was.”

    He snorted. “Turned over a new leaf?”

    Another laugh. “That’s one way to put it.”

    He looked about the room, eyes lingering over the dolls in their tanks, pale hair lazily billowing about their bodies, red eyes faded and empty. Homunculi, from the looks of it. A cheap imitation of the Atlas-based model, whose blueprints fell into the hands of the public, after the Giant’s Pit dissolved ten years ago. They were made with an almost crude and inhuman quality to them, that he suspected they weren’t Touko’s own works. Lacking in her artistic flair. Likely black market fare. He felt a lump in his throat, nausea, the urge to vomit. He hated looking at them, floating about like corpses, faces too familiar. Expressions all too familiar.

    The silence was aggravating. He spoke up, a distraction. “These aren’t yours?”

    “Do they look like they are?” She grimaced. “I’d be more insulted if you thought they were mine. Unlike you, I take pride in my art.”

    “I wouldn’t call what I do art, per se. I’m honestly more surprised that you’d surround yourself with works this shoddy.”

    “No choice. Trust me, I hate it here as much as you do. Unfortunately,” she said with a shrug, “I haven’t had much time to settle down here and make my own, and I lost the rest of my lab after the raids in Prague. I need the bodies.”

    He frowned. “For what?”

    “Research.”

    “Thought you said you weren’t a magus?”

    “Different field. Sure, mana dried up from the world, but many thaumaturgical foundations and theories still hold true— there’s just nothing to power them. Same reason we have Code Casting, or why homunculi still function and live. My research, in particular, was pretty easy to adapt. Prosthetics, cybernetics, the works. There’s a market for this sort of thing, you know?” She poured herself a cup of coffee, and downed it without waiting for it to cool. “Ever heard of the ARAY Project?”

    “You mean that thing where those KRONE magi tried to splice together people and phantasmal beasts?”

    “That’s it. Though you’ve got the wrong tense; they’re still at it, and making progress. Even after the Clocktower’s fall, and the decline of magic, it’s not like the specimens people had lying around just suddenly turned to dust. Call it genetic modification with an Old-World magical flair. They even managed to rope in some Estray magi into the project. Take the properties of whatever preserved specimens they have on hand— angels, hydras, chimeras— and use them to treat and modify humans.”

    “And this has to do with your work, somehow?”

    She grinned. “But of course! Human experimentation is expensive and risky; dolls are cheap. They are, functionally, the same; except one comes without all the legal red tape.”

    “As if laws would stop them.”

    “Why break laws when it’s just more convenient not to?”

    “Pettiness?”

    “Fatal, for a magus.” She laughed. “Speaking of pettiness, how’s old Cornelius doing?”

    “Safe and sound, holed up in some dump in Siberia. I’ll tell him you called him ‘old’.”

    “Then tell him I can hear him and that dirty red nickname he thinks is so cute.” She scowled. “That’s right, I can hear it all from here just fine. And that pretty face of his is starting to wrinkle. Hope he doesn’t mind shelling out to keep his good looks now.”

    “ ‘And yet you work for KRONE’, my ass. Looks like you’re more cushy with them than I am.”

    “Because I like money, and not dying, you see. When it comes down to it, all this is just to prepare for an age where the planetary Grain levels become too saturated, inhospitable for human life. It’s inevitable, at this rate, no matter how the Harweys try.” A casual shrug.

    “The Land of Steel, they’re calling it now?”

    “Now there’s a catchy name. Makes you think back to the good old days when our biggest problem was ordinary desertification. But yes, that Land is our future. To survive, we must adapt. To adapt beyond where mere selection and drift can bring us, we must cooperate. These modifications can make the body faster or stronger or hardier, sure, but they still need to deal with the Grain. More than a better body to handle the Grain, they first need a mechanism to process it. You know the name.”

    Grain Reactors. The development produced by Rin’s team, that changed the face of the world. No longer was Grain a poison or a threat to human existence, but a resource to be harvested, to wage war over. Singlehandedly responsible for the fear of advancement, the Harwey’s tech freeze. The world of stillness that took over, until the wars returned.

    “You’re continuing her work?”

    A grim laugh. “In a sense. Me, and every other researcher in the world— those not caught by the tech freeze, anyway. There lies our future, Nanashi. You’re already starting to see it. First with the Liner Mechs, then with the Grain plants, the city-states that pop up around them, and even in us. I’m sure that girl you’ve picked up knows this well?”

    His mouth thinned, and she laughed at that, her eyes flickering over to the screen. But I’m getting a bit too chatty. I’ll reminisce about old times some other time.”

    She grinned. “Shall we pay a visit to our friend Mr. Adams?”


    Despite being a magus, Kruger didn’t live a hermit’s life.

    They knew that now, as Hakuno pored over the web of connections and acquaintances they’d pieced together from their intel. He was no social butterfly, but he had his habits. The restaurants he frequented, the markets he favored, the odd friendships and relationships he’d struck up in his time in Tehran. He had a taste for pastry shops and cheap booze bars, on a level of familiarity that they’d recognized his face when they asked.

    So she thought, as she waited with Blackmore at the entrance of a bar.

    Kruger was a regular here. It was a shabby-looking thing, crumbling stone cobbled together by wood and rust, precariously standing as if a stray breeze could send it tumbling over. The windows were shuttered, and the walls featureless, save for a flickering neon sign inviting them in, the circuitry spotty, some letters left unlit. In the faint window reflection, an unfamiliar face stared back at her. Her’s. A falsified appearance, created by Code Cast. A fake.

    They entered. A biometric scanner, paint chipping in some spots, flickered as they stepped through the threshold, their falsified identities flashed across the terminal. Frances Xavier. A faintly familiar name. Once a stranger’s, it was to be hers for a night.

    The bar’s interior betrayed its appearance, not nearly as dingy or run down as she’d expected. It was a circular room, a counter like a ring, the patrons seated on its outer edge, the bartenders serving drinks along its interior. A slowly rotating hologram projected a feed of a football stadium, live from France. They felt eyes on them, the bar neither deserted nor jam-packed, patrons scattered about here and there. Some weary-eyed locals, others stern, suited men. A murmur passed through the crowd and dissipated as quickly as it came, as they returned to muttering and drinking and cheering on the game.

    Blackmore ordered some scotch for himself, and some milk for Hakuno. She frowned. The bartender didn’t laugh, even if he looked like he wanted to. They sat themselves at the counter, side-by-side, leaving an empty seat beside him. Rin and Jain were to arrive later and monitor them.

    They were here to meet a woman.

    As far as they knew, Kruger had no lovers, no one close to his heart. Even so, he seemed well-liked by the locals, something she didn’t quite expect, going off her first impression of the man’s profile. She pored through the files in her archives, the lives and secrets of their informants. Amira Roma. A fledgeling researcher. Her field, cybernetics. Her institution, Sharif University. A local, from a Spanish father and a Persian mother. Twenty-two years old. Young. Smart. Pretty. She was smiling in the photo, a wry, lopsided thing, an expression like a shrug given a shape and form, a stray lock of jet-black hair playing about her eye. A woman with no ties to the supernatural world whatsoever. As far as she knew, they were relatives.

    Five minutes passed, and she was already bored of watching the game in wait. The establishment served cheap snacks; salty, fried affairs no doubt to get their patrons to drink more, and she ordered a plate of fries. Looking about her, wary of someone watching, she ran a simple structural analysis code.

    Blackmore laughed. “There’s no need to be so paranoid at a place like this, you know.”

    “You think so?”

    The analysis finished. Aside from the fact that these fries apparently came from the freezer aisle, he was right. They were safe.

    “I know.”

    She frowned. “ ‘Always remain vigilant’, that’s what he said. Can’t hurt to check up on your food, no?”

    He sighed. “It’s also a waste of Grain.”

    “It’s always worked for him.”

    “You could risk detection. Grain activity”

    “In a place like this?”

    He snorted. “Of course,” he said, with a shake of his head, a weary sigh. He muttered to himself. “Of all the possible instructors…” He grimaced.

    “Is something wrong?”

    “Wrong?”

    “With Nanashi.”

    His mouth thinned. “Well, I suppose not. He is a more… competent instructor than I would have expected from the likes of him. There’s certainly nothing wrong with your instruction.” So he said, but he looked irritated.

    She felt stung. “...Do you dislike him?”

    “That’s one way to put it.”

    “...But why?”

    He sat silent for moments, contenting himself with sipping his scotch.

    “I know him.” His expression darkened. “From before.”

    Hakuno stayed silent. He continued.

    “I’ve fought him in the wars. The ones we talked about before. It was around then he became active.” He took another sip.

    “You fought him?”

    “That’s right. Mostly as a part of the peacekeeping missions led by the United Nations.”

    A pause. She felt ill. “...And he was fighting guys like you?”

    “That’s right.”

    They sat there, silent. The murmurs of the bar crowds felt like radio static in her ears. Blackmore answered her question unasked.

    “Not sure if ‘terrorist’ is quite the right word, but that’s what some called him. When the fighting broke out, here and there across the globe, he’d be there. We didn’t know what he was after. If the wars followed him, or if he followed the wars; which followed what.”

    “But if you were peacekeepers, what was he doing fighting you? I mean,” she said, scrambling for words, questions with no answers brewing in her head, panic and indignation and something akin to anger. “He—”

    “We didn’t know. He’d simply be there, and what followed?” A mirthless laugh. “Well, it was something, that’s for sure. He didn’t seem to be working for anyone, because he fought soldiers on all sides, every side, regardless of their affiliation. He’d be there in the war zone, killing anyone that entered his range, until no one dared fight there again, for fear of death. Entire battalions, even Liner Mechs when those showed up. When the numbers grew too large for him to handle, he’d go into hiding and pick them off. They couldn’t understand it, how he could be doing this, given the firepower he seemed to be packing, like entire artillery units.”

    She detected movement from the entrance. Jain and Rin entered, appearances changed, quietly arguing about something. As they seated themselves on the far side of the counter, still in view, Rin slapped him upside the head.

    “They were sure it couldn’t just be a single man, that he must have had munitions or resources or allies or anything on his side that they had yet to detect. To the mundane world, he seemed like a monster, a real monster.” He downed the rest of his drink. “But to those in the know, it was clear. A runaway magus, albeit one with a talent for destruction. Called him Archer; it’s not everyday you see a man fight with a bow. He hates that name, by the way. But not even the magi knew, why another of their kind would so brazenly act out in the open like that.”

    Hakuno didn’t speak. A monster, that’s right. She thought to their conversation in the morning, of the sudden wars and violence, spread by singular agents. But he didn’t seem like the type. He was a kind person, stern at times, joking at others. Was he really a man who’d kill so indiscriminately? Was he really a man who’d stoke the fires of war? He was working for KRONE now, too, to whom the spread of the virus was a threat.

    And yet, he never said a word about his past.

    “So why did he stop?”

    “To catch a magus, send a magus. Eventually, the problem escalated to a point that the magi couldn’t ignore it. I never fought him as a magus, only a soldier. So to the rest of the world, I included, it seemed like he just disappeared one day, gone without a trace.” A bitter smile. “But given that he’s working for KRONE now, we can only guess.”

    They fell into silence. She looked about the room to distract her from her thoughts. Jain winked at her from across the room, and sniggered at her glass of milk.

    She saw Rin perk up, on the alert, and followed her gaze. Amira Roma entered the bar, accompanied by another woman.

    Blonde, haughty-looking, hair fashioned into ringlets. A face she once saw in a faded archive photo.




    AN: As usual, thanks to Frosty for beta-ing.
    <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.

  9. #29
    Eightfold Blessings of Smug Superiority Rafflesiac's Avatar
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    Hahaha, Luvia's back! There's Emiya's luck with women.

    And with people adapting Grain to use for codecasts and so on, I'm curious if Emiya can still use his reality marble. Finally, they're investigating outbreaks of war linked to Twice? I assume this doesn't have to do with him trying to use the Moon Cell to stoke war, given that this is post-Hakuno winning the Grail War.

    - - - Updated - - -

    At any rate, nice to see more of this, Kirby.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arashi_Leonhart View Post
    canon finish apo vol 3

  10. #30
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Asunder's Avatar
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    It mentioned that the magical foundations still exist and UBW is ridiculously costeffective so tracing and other small od powered magecraft should still be usable.

    edit:Wait yeah Nanashi can still do tracing, he showed it to Hakuno in the second chapter.
    Last edited by Asunder; June 10th, 2017 at 01:51 AM.
    FGO:574132069/Asunder (Support: Chibi [Level:Maxxed])

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