I guess I can get off my lazy ass and actually put this up here like everyone else so people don't have to go to stupid buggy FFN that messes with my formatting and doesn't do double exclamation points for some reason. And I can stop using the rec page for responding to comments.
...But now I get to curse my use of italics. This may take a while.
Table of Contents
Prologue, Chapter 1 (Bowman and Bow), Chapter 2 (The Addition) and Omake 1
Chapter 3 (The Peaceful Noise), Chapter 4 (Altered Life), Interlude 4-1 (Nocking the Bow)
Chapter 5 (Seven of Swords), Chapter 6 (Dead Apostle Apostle) and Omake 2
Interlude 6-1 (Disassociation), Interlude 6-2 (The Average One)
Chapter 7 (Henshin), Chapter 8 (Shores of a Distant Land) and Omake 3
Chapter 9 (Unlimited Blades, Endless Addition), Chapter 10 (Change), Interlude 10-1 (Star of Darkness) and Omake 4
Chapter 11 (Crucified), Chapter 12 (Heaven's Feeling)
Chapter 13: Hell's Desire
Chapter 14: Connection
--Chapter 14-1: Back to Back and Omake 5
--Chapter 14-2: Embracing You and Omake 6
Chapter 15: Ortensia Bloom
Interlude 15-1: The Philosopher's Stone
Chapter 16: Shooting Hundred Heads
Chapter 17: Strategy Meeting
Chapter 18: Garden of Sins
Chapter 19: Place of Victory
Chapter 20: This Body...
Chapter 21: Diablos Ex Machina
Chapter 22: Reaching Fate
She had to be strong.
Even if the anesthetic didn’t help. Even if the pain was terrible. Even if every moment felt like dying would be better.
When he cut into her body, it wasn’t a physical pain. It wasn’t like a person was stabbing into her with steel and cutting up her organs. It wasn’t like he was penetrating her from every direction and flooding her with illness.
Even though he was.
Every incision, no matter how careful and delicate, felt like it split her in two. Like her body was being bent in ways it could never achieve even if she were hit by a train. The steel slipped into her body and it took nothing from her, but left behind the sensation that it had taken everything.
He did it again, and again, and again, and again, until she was sure he had cut every inch of her skin.
But she had to be strong.
If she wasn’t strong, he would move on to the next one. She had seen it before, seen her senpai taken under his wing and never return. Sometimes, it would take weeks. Other times, a single day. Until nobody older than she was left. And then she was next.
And if she wasn’t strong, he would move on.
So she waited, soundlessly screaming, unable to escape, unwilling to escape.
She wanted to last longer...
She hoped to die faster...
The boundary was broken.
Setsuka Yuushi dropped the scalpel and glanced around. The boundary field he had placed around the facility had been breached and he could feel the magic disperse like raindrops around him. He looked to the northern wall and thought he could detect the intrusion from that direction.
Growling, the man removed the blood-stained gloves and apron he wore and went to wash his hands, considering the situation and his options. It took more than the average magus to penetrate his wards and the fact that he had not even been aware that anyone was attempting to break them in the first place had him worried. A magus killer? I haven’t offended anyone to warrant such an enemy. The Association does not observe me, of that I’m sure...nobody wants to come all the way out to this backwater. He rinsed the lab sink clean, absently willing his work station clean in preparation for the next use.
Looking back at the operating table and the tiny figure still bleeding atop it, he thought of the answer. It must be that local brat, thinking I’m intruding on her territory. He had overheard a conversation from an Edelfelt, however, that the local family’s riches were dwindling, and considering the breakthrough he was about to make, he thought he might have a chance to solve any challenge peacefully. And if not, well, she should not have intruded upon my home ground. He made sure to retrieve the scalpel, however, and placed it in the protective pocket in his shirt breast.
Exiting the lab, he had to navigate an intricate path of halls and doorways, eventually climbing up a flight of stairs and into the garage. Locking the door behind him and activating the ward over it, he wove past the parked vehicles and came out into the open world to find the sun blocked by an overcast sky. He peered into the second story window of the main house and was pleased to see no disruption in the daily classes going on in the orphanage. The new specimen is certainly interesting and shows promise, but I would hazard a guess that she is on her last twelve hours. It is good to have so many spares.
It took Yuushi a good twenty minutes to remove himself from the laboratory and circumvent the main house, doubly difficult in the dim light provided by the weather. The grove where he had built the orphanage lent the location a great deal of privacy, though it also meant that he had to be extra cautious of ambush since the intruders had penetrated the main defense. Upon reaching the border of the boundary field and looking around, Yuushi had second thoughts of his enemy. No signs of interruption via incantation, nor curse-breaking. It just looks...broken. Like a fence being pried open. He considered what could create such a disruption in his field, but came up with no answers.
The murmur of multiple voices caught Yuushi’s attention and he turned back toward the main house. He could not see through the tree line, but after reinforcing his ears, he could make out a distinctive feminine voice and the annoying chatter of excited children. “Everyone, follow me please, and keep a hand on the person in front of you!”
What is this, some kind of naïve rescue operation? Yuushi started toward the house at a good chip and wondered at the intelligence of whoever the intruder was. Perhaps I will thank you for giving me such a strategic advantage, if you are really here to save those kids.
“The look on your face tells me everything I need to know.”
Yuushi dove behind the largest tree the moment he heard the voice ahead of him, pulling the scalpel out and readying it. No attack came, however, and doubly confusing was the voice: that of a young man. Wasn’t Tohsaka a girl? He fed the necessary prana into the scalpel and readied it. “And just who am I addressing?”
He honed in on the reply and Reinforced his ears to find the exact location. Far away, wary of a line-of-sight curse no doubt. Fine with me. The words from the unknown enemy, however, took a moment to sink in. “Nothing but a mere archer, you could say.” There was mirth in the voice, like letting a person in on a joke amidst friends.
“What is it you want?” Yuushi asked.
The intruder said, “If you thought your experiments would go unnoticed, then I have to wonder at your intelligence as a magus, setting up so close to a leyline closely observed by even magi of the Association.”
“My boundary fields are second to none,” Yuushi said. He estimated the distance between them and thought of the different approaches to strike, all without sacrificing any cover. “You seem to be knowledgeable of the Association, so you ought to know my teacher was the best at barriers. Araya Souren.”
“Eh,” the voice said, and it began a slow approach. “I don’t actually know that much, and I don’t actually care one way or the other about the Association or its members.”
“Then what do you care about? Why are you here?”
“Those lives aren’t your playthings, and I’m here to save them.”
Yuushi readied the scalpel. “And I suppose nothing I could say will convince you to just go away and leave me alone?”
“Not unless you give me a magical contract stating you will cease your experiments. You might as well, anyway, because if it isn’t me, you know you’ll call the Counter Force down on you eventually.”
Not with my barriers as they are, Yuushi sighed. “I do hate bloodshed, but if that is your ultimatum...”
Though he could not make out the intruder’s location visually, he knew where the target stood. Reaching out like a conductor to an orchestra, Yuushi mimed a cut at three different tree branches. “Secare.”
He heard the scrambling of the intruder’s feet as he leapt to avoid the first falling branch. Right where I want you. The second branch started to fall, and as the intruder started forward to avoid it, Yuushi halted the motion of that branch mid-air with a bounded field and let the third drive the target right back into it at head-level. Simple as that.
The sound of the intruder striking the branch was louder than it should have been, and not accompanied by the crash of a body hitting the ground. Yuushi dared to peek out from behind his cover and finally laid his eyes on his opponent: a young man, no older than twenty, in nothing more than street clothing, still standing. The hovering branch was right against his head, though he looked completely unfazed.
I really do hate the bloody option, Yuushi thought, raising his scalpel. It would have been less troublesome to alter the target’s memories and send him back to the city in a cab. Now, he would be disposing of body parts, and not those of some nobody orphan. “Secare.”
The cut struck the boy along his left shoulder and should have bisected him at a perfect 45 degree angle. Instead, it halted mere millimeters into his body, a bit of blood the only sign that it had penetrated at all.
“Your element is centered around steel, isn’t it?” the boy said. He had a grim look on his face, one much better suited for a person three times his age in cynicism. “You use some kind of barrier extension to project that scalpel beyond the actual reach it can achieve physically.” When Yuushi took another swing, again the cut barely penetrated the boy at his ribcage, a small darkening on his white shirt signifying the blood seeping up beneath. “But when metal meets metal, the better material wins out.”
Yuushi ducked back behind the tree and prepared a longer incantation. I have no idea what you’ve done to your body, but you have no weapon. You won’t be able to cover this distance in time! Even so, he immediately activated his secondary personal barrier with the tree as a center, Reinforcing it and the air around him to intercept any elemental manipulation. If you manipulate steel, nothing you can do will pierce this barrier.
“My bone twists into madness,” the boy said, and Yuushi felt compelled to glance back out at him. Though the boy had been empty handed before, now a bow was present, and with it was a terrifying sight: a strange device that appeared like a large drill.
Gradiation Air...Projection Magic? What is he going to—
The drill narrowed into the shape of an arrow, and before Yuushi could do anything, the bow twanged and the shot flew.
And when the explosion was finished, when the sound of wood breaking apart and the not-sound of his barrier collapsing ended, when Yuushi’s body stopped grinding from the pressure and came to rest on the forest floor, the boy continued speaking.
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to bring a knife to a sword fight?”
He had stopped.
She could hardly breathe.
She could hardly breathe because it was only a matter of time and he would return with even more agony, like he delighted in the reprieve she had to endure even more.
She had to be strong, but, in reality, she was at her limit.
“Senpai, in here!”
The voice was one she had never heard before, and though it was like a thunderclap next to her overworked ears, there was something infinitely gentle about it, like the wash of the tides striking against the bay she remembered from long ago...
“Please, hurry, senpai! She’s bleeding all over and...and...”
Though it pained her to do so, her eyes so used to being set upon by needles and knives once open, she could not help but open them to seek out this intruding voice she did not recognize.
The figure over her was not a woman, like the voice should have belonged to, but a young man. A young man that looked horrified, scared, angry, sad—
And above all else, elated.
She thought, ah, if only I could have such an expression...
Escaping Fate, Prologue, End
AN: If you’re confused by the change in literary style from the prologue, I’m mimicking the format from the original visual novel. Chapters are from Shirou’s first-person perspective. Secondary characters like in the prologue are from third-person limited. I’ll attempt to maintain some of the terminology from the Mirror Moon translation of the game, but some things I just won’t be keeping, like seigi no mikata being called “superhero.”
This whole thing arose out of over-Nasuverse stimulation. Between some good fanfiction reading, attending Sakura Con 2011 and meeting a bunch of other FSN fans, the excitement of Unlimited Blade Works having come out and the approach of Witch on the Holy Night, Carnival Phantasm and Fate/Zero is overwhelming. This plot bunny started jumping around in my head without mercy. Dammit, I should be working on my original stuff, not fanfiction! Oh well.
I have not played hollow ataraxia as my Japanese is nowhere near the ability to read such a complex story, so my knowledge of Caren is fairly limited. I felt like including her, though, so, there you have it. I’m completely to blame for OOCness.
Bowman and Bow
“Caren is here to pick them up,” Tohsaka said.
Sighing, I poked my head out of the bedroom and felt my lips involuntarily purse. “Uh, could you take care of that? She really gives me the creeps, you know.”
Rin Tohsaka stared back at me, hands on her hips in that same who-do-you-think-I-am pose that generally preceded a verbal beating directed at me. “Would you man up for once and face her in earnest? She honestly is not at all bad.” The Tohsaka-smirk then followed, and though a good five meters separated us, the way she leaned in felt like she was somehow looming over me. “And just what makes you think you can get me to do all the dirty work, anyway? This was all your idea.”
When Tohsaka had returned this past weekend from her latest excursion to London, she had brought with her a rumor on “breakthrough research” that had her concerned; she had explained that such words often accompanied some form of tragedy or another, and that the source had supposedly been from a magus operating out of Japan. Further asking around had discovered this Setsuka Yuushi and his orphanage outside Fuyuki City, not terribly far from the Einzbern mansion where we currently stood. Tohsaka had looked into the orphanage, stating that mages in the past had used isolated locations to carry out experiments that would otherwise get them in trouble, and eventually found altered police records with a magus’s handprints all over it.
Ever since the Grail War’s end, the Einzberns had apparently decided to abandon their property as it was no use to them now that the Great Grail was out of their reach for good, and Illya had become the technical owner. She had shown me around the place once, but ultimately the girl had no use for it either once she had settled in with Taiga. Since Illya’s death, I had not returned to the place, though it still stood, and had eventually settled on it as a staging ground for our rescue mission since it was close to the orphanage and still maintained a boundary field.
When we had found the orphanage and the field surrounding it, the plan was simple: Tohsaka and Sakura would gather up the children and subdue any of the local workers, and I would wait for Yuushi to investigate the intrusion of his boundary field . It had taken a bit of trial and error, but I eventually found the right sword to pierce the field, and it had apparently ripped the entire thing down instead of just creating a hole. Not that I minded.
I did, however, mind dealing with that Church representative. And the constant sexual harassment. “Then…I’ll see if Sakura is willing to deal with her?”
Pushing past Tohsaka—who watched me with that annoying Cheshire cat expression—I went for the second floor landing and circled one of the back halls in an attempt to avoid the main foyer where Caren Ortensia waited to pounce like a lion on a wounded gazelle. That woman seriously made me shiver, like she had killed me in a past life or something.
Sakura was still with the girl we had found inside the laboratory and I couldn’t blame her for it. Although so small in comparison, the feeling one had upon venturing into that room and seeing the steadily bleeding form atop the table was like a vague taste of that horror flowing out of the Grail. Looking at the girl up close had been like looking at all of man’s sins, since it took only the most terrible of them and shoved them in your face.
I’m not sure how much I liked the fact that Tohsaka had seemed more horrified by it than Sakura had.
We had taken the injured girl into one of the bedrooms to recover and Sakura had not left her side the entire time. Although I had managed to keep the girl from dying and Tohsaka’s first aid had sealed the wounds, it was pretty clear that the girl’s wounds were beyond just the physical. Some of the scars suggested she had been tortured for a long enough time for some to heal and talk from some of the kids still in the orphanage made it clear they thought she had been adopted three or four weeks ago.
Finding her had been like finding a medical research cadaver still alive.
I wonder if I looked like her, once upon a time…
I’m not sure what Illya had intended for the room we were using, but it was exactly what we needed. With oak walls and a bedspread in dark blue, it had absolutely no resemblance to the laboratory we had found the girl in and would hopefully be a rest on her mind in that respect.
Not surprisingly, the girl had not said a thing since we had found her, and she was silent as I entered the room.
Sakura was at the bedside, holding the girl’s hand—possibly the only part of her left undamaged by Yuushi’s work. “Anything?”
Sakura shook her head. Now a third year in high school, she looked every bit the senior idol. It was fairly apparent now how much she resembled Tohsaka in that respect. Actually, it was even more apparent in how fierce she could look when truly mad. “I wish you had hit that man harder.”
The Church would be looking after Yuushi until a representative from the Clock Tower came to assess the case. Until then, they had restrained him with a conceptual weapon and Tohsaka had been sure to strip him of any metallurgy he might be carrying. His injuries were not bad, though, since I had purposely missed hitting him directly.
Even Sakura had seemed a little disappointed I hadn’t shot him.
But…that really wasn’t why I was here.
“Ortensia-san is here and rounding up everyone. Do you think you could help her with the head count? I’ll stay with this one until they’re ready to depart.”
Sakura looked surprised, then her head tilted. “Can’t you do that, senpai?”
“I, uh, can…” of course, Sakura had never met Caren before. Nor had Sakura seen Caren’s…oddness. “I just can’t deal with the new overseer from the Church. She treats me strangely.”
“You will stay here, then?” Sakura asked, though she was vacating her seat.
I nodded and sat where she had been.
Sakura brushed her hand along my arm, and she gave me a look that I had become quite familiar with in the last year. Though it had taken me some months to come clean with my participation in the Grail War with her and explained who Saber was, Sakura had been able to figure out everything to begin with and had realized what it really meant when I had told her and Fuji-nee that Saber had returned home. Ever since, her silent touches had always sought to reaffirm that she was in fact still here to support me, and although I never openly acknowledged them, it was not unappreciated.
They had become nearly second nature since Illya had passed on.
Actually, there was an additional sadness to it ever since. Though her relationship with Illya had not been as openly vocal and energetic as Fuji-nee’s was, Sakura had clearly come to like Illya. Her loss probably affected Sakura more than she would openly admit and I wondered if that influenced how she felt about this victim before us.
Well, it was better to think about that than the various other reasons Sakura had to feel sympathetic to such a terrible ordeal.
“Just be sure to watch carefully,” Sakura said. “She’s been staring off at nothing for a while now.”
The girl really had been a sight, more like the raw meat on a butcher’s block than a living person. Tohsaka said that Yuushi’s research had something to do with the magical circuit, meaning that what appeared physically was hardly touching the surface.
If the pain was like what I was doing when first training my magical circuit, I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to have it inflicted upon you by another. At the very least, I knew what to expect for myself.
We weren’t even sure if this girl still had the mental capacity to live, how pained she looked.
And I didn’t know to what extent my Tracing had helped. I knew what it felt like for me, but I couldn’t be sure how much my time with Saber had influenced how I associated perfection with all things related to Saber. I had the feeling of being freed from Angra Mainyu to base it on, but going from negative infinity to positive infinity in a single moment probably skews how I perceive the state of euphoria.
The girl turned her head slightly and stared at me. Despite the intensity, it was not unnerving like it probably should have been, though that may be due to the fact that she now actually looked like a girl and less like Sadako Yamamura about to crawl out of my television.
She watched me without blinking for a long while. I thought maybe she was waiting for me to pull out a scalpel and continue her torture. But then she surprised me. “Bow,” she said, her voice scratchy.
I thought about when I had first entered the lab where we found her and could not remember if I still had the Traced bow in hand at the time. It might take some explaining why some random guy with a bow was one of those responsible for rescuing her…
Or I’m an idiot.
“Your name is Yumi?” I asked.*
Her head moved faintly with a nod.
Sakura had said she had not reacted much, and in the hours while we waited for word from the Church I had not seen her do anything but lay quietly wherever we put her. I was glad to see she still had command of her mind enough to communicate, though why to me and not someone generally more approachable like Sakura confused me.
“I’m Shirou,” I said to her.
She nodded again, very slowly.
“I know it must hurt a lot, but you’ll being picked up by members of a local church in a little bit. Another short trip and you should be able to rest all you want.”
Yumi’s eyes drooped. “Another orphanage?”
I hadn’t thought about it like that, but it would essentially be the same as before for her. Just, without the torture.
“Yeah. The people at the church aren’t going to hurt you though,” I said with confidence. Caren may be odd, but she most definitely wasn’t like Kotomine. Her evil side was certainly plain to see…whenever men were around, anyway. “Everyone there is nice.”
It did make me think, though, of what that would be like. I’m not sure anyone could quite go back to their normal life after something like this. Seeing something so selfish and terrifying behind the actions of one single person…how could you trust others after that? At least, without getting to know them first.
I thought of my own rescue over ten years ago and the other orphans that had survived. Though now resting beyond the pain of Kotomine and Gilgamesh, I know that their lives would still have been a hardship had they even been given a good chance. My life…at least I was given choices. Even if they were never a choice to begin with for me.
Standing up, I said, “I’ll be right back. I need to go talk to someone.”
I guess, maybe, I liked trying to pick up strays.
The main hall foyer still looked beat up; Illya had not been inclined to fix it after the damage sustained in the battle between Berserker and Archer. It worked in our favor, though, since the other kids from Yuushi’s orphanage were less inclined to think about why they were all suddenly being disrupted of their everyday activities and now had a mysterious ruin to look around. I suppose if that magus could be thanked for anything, it was that he decided to carry out his experiments one at a time rather than all at once. Tohsaka had mentioned other magi that were prone to doing some fairly terrible things on a scale large enough that if not dealt with by the Association, it was believed the Counter Force had actually appeared to wipe them out.
Or, you know, me.
But not me. Ugh, I’m making my own head hurt.
Sakura was already grouping kids together in pairs to keep them all orderly. Tohsaka silently watched from the side, though she glanced my way when I descended the stairs and raised an eyebrow. I couldn’t actually find Caren amidst the masses—
Which should have been a warning sign to begin with.
Pulling my ear hard enough to twirl me around a hundred and eighty degrees, Caren Ortensia’s white hair and black dress flew into view. She smiled at me like she was prodding a baby to coo. “You finally show yourself, young man.”
She let go and I clutched my head. In another world, she could probably sneak up and kill me no matter what I did. “Ortensia-san, could you please not do that for a greeting? Won’t a handshake do?”
Smiling, Caren motioned up the stairs. “So, am I correct in assuming you are here to request something?”
Completely ignoring my plea. And perfectly seeing through my desires.
I really can’t stand her, even if she is cute.
Sakura and Tohsaka converged on us; Sakura looked curious, while Rin looked like she knew what was coming. I could only be glad the latter did not have her hand in her face, like it was a stupid idea.
“Yeah, the girl we found, Yumi, I’m not sure she’d readjust so well if we just sent her right back with the others. If nothing else, there’d be questions,” I said.
Tohsaka and Caren both nodded, probably because they had already come to the same conclusion. Sakura looked contemplative, and could probably see where this was going.
“So, what do you plan on doing, Shirou Emiya?” Caren sing-songed my name in a manner suspiciously similar to her predecessor. “Will the mere bowman be taking on a new bow?”
It’s like she knows how stupid I am down to how I could mix up a name, dammit. Praise be to all higher powers that Tohsaka isn’t that…well, never mind.
“Well, it would be alright for her to stay unless I hear some objections?” I looked at Sakura and Tohsaka. I didn’t quite understand how it came to be myself, but even though both still had full houses all to themselves, both pretty much lived at my place now. Sakura kept the Matou home I think for appearances—she really hated that place otherwise—and Tohsaka, when she wasn’t traveling or in London, generally stayed with us. We were adults now, and Fuji-nee had little to argue with in that case.
Plus, you know, Tohsaka…
“I couldn’t say no after seeing her like that,” Sakura said. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking about, though Illya was probably a good guess.
Tohsaka shrugged. “It really isn’t my place to say.”
“Well, you do live with us,” I told her point-blank. “Official or not, I’m not going to force you to live with a situation you don’t want.”
Tohsaka’s eyes widened and for a split second I thought I might have seen a blush, but she waved off any further reaction. “W-well, anyway, I don’t have a problem with it. Really.”
Wait, must relish in ambushing Tohsaka. They’re such rare moments.
“Then, do you think you could make the arrangements?” I asked Caren. “I’m not really sure what the legal proceeding is here.”
Caren put a hand over her mouth and shook with laughter. “You are a magus, Shirou Emiya. Legal proceedings can be overwritten, as you might have noticed.”
“Well, not that good a magus,” I said. “I certainly can’t do something so skillful.” I looked to Tohsaka again.
She stared back at me, until she realized why I was singling her out. “Oh, and I suppose I’m doing all the work again?”
“You are the one always on top,” I said absently.
Sakura immediately took a step back.
“WHAT WAS THAT?!” Tohsaka screamed, now in my face and somehow managing to transmute her teeth into a chainsaw.
“I meant on top of things, things!”
It was after dark by the time we settled in, though I had to open doors and set a fan out to chase away the humid warmth inside. Summer was in full swing and even with the sun down, the heat was still fairly oppressive.
Sakura readied the room next to hers for Yumi, while Tohsaka and I argued over who would be making dinner—really, just an extension on the previous argument about who was going to get all the documents in order. Caren had taken Yumi with the others to make sure her wounds would heal first before we would go pick her up in the morning.
“I’ll cook,” I said to Tohsaka. “You need to come up with an explanation to Fuji-nee once she returns from her sabbatical.”
“Again, why am I responsible for that?”
I grinned at her. “Nobody is nearly smart enough to handle it with the grace you do.”
“Somehow, that doesn’t make me happy when it comes from you.”
Not that it was much, but, maybe a taste of what you put me through. Devil woman.
We ate slowly, talking about what to do now that we would have an additional person in the house. Yumi was apparently fourteen years old, so she would have to be enrolled in high school pretty soon, and depending on how up to it she was, we thought we could swing it past Fuji-nee to pull strings to get her into Homuraba.
It was nice to have people in high places. Or Fuji-nee.
“We should also get this out of the way now, since it is sure to come up,” Tohsaka said after she finished her meal. “How are you going to handle being a magus with her?”
I blinked. “Uh…come again?”
Tohsaka crossed her arms. “You’re a practicing magus and a lot of your time is spent perfecting what we know of your skills so far. You forget that Illya was a magus herself, so it wasn’t necessary to hide it from her, and I think you’ve become comfortable now with the fact that Sakura is one as well.”
I glanced at Sakura, who blushed at the scrutiny. She always tried to draw attention away from that fact, but every once in a while she would make observations about how I operated my own magic that revealed how much longer she had lived with it. Even if she did not practice herself, Sakura was a magus far and away from what I could ever achieve.
“I had assumed that with how Yuushi was pulling off his experiments, we couldn’t exactly hide from Yumi what was going on. She had to have some suspicion anyway. I thought it would, you know, kind of come out naturally as she became curious.”
“Did it come naturally when your father explained it to you?” Tohsaka asked.
Well…now that she mentions it. “I guess not. He just randomly told me one day. But I didn’t know until the Grail War began that the fire was anything more than some terrible accident or natural disaster. I kind of doubt anyone could explain away what Yuushi did, even if the excuse is ‘serial killer’ or something like that.”
“So, no hiding it from her? Or do you think you’ll just tell her up front?”
Sakura raised her hand. I mean, like you might in a classroom. Probably because Tohsaka sounded like a lecturer from school when she asked questions like this. “Although I don’t think we should tell her right away and give her time to adjust, it probably would be better sooner than later. It will clear up any chances for miscommunication later on.”
Tohsaka flushed a little at that, and I smiled. While it had taken the two of them some time—though with Shinji gone and Zouken Matou nowhere to be found, there were fewer hurdles to overcome—the two of them had slowly started to repair their relationship. Every once in a while Sakura would say something innocuous like this that made Tohsaka trip up, clearly a thought shared between the two of them that neither had voiced. I’m not really sure of the specifics, but it was all the clearer why Sakura had always seemed to be a little jealous of the school’s admiration of Tohsaka.
“That sounds about right,” I said. And while I trusted Tohsaka implicitly with her observations and her skills as a magus, I think even Tohsaka felt she was a little deficient in empathizing with the average person. Sakura, on the other hand, tended to be a little more accurate in guessing one’s emotional reactions.
Of course, the only reason Tohsaka was slow on the uptake there was because I think her own emotional reactions surprised her more often than not.
“Then we’ll do it that way,” Tohsaka said, like she was passing judgment and the decision was final. I shook my head and started taking dishes into the kitchen.
If I wasn’t sure how it came to be that Tohsaka and Sakura started living with me, I’m extremely not sure how Tohsaka became the father of the household.
…Or how I had become the mother, for that matter.
Tohsaka and I went to the church in the morning; though there was a week left of summer break, Sakura had club activities at school to oversee and could not go with us.
The church was unchanged since the war, at least on the outside. After the plottings of Kotomine were revealed, the basement had been cleansed and the dying souls there were laid to rest. Although I had seen the empty room for myself, I still could not get over the sense of dread I felt when I caught sight of the top of the hill.
I think Caren had it turned into a storeroom for an herb garden she now maintained in the back. Maybe her definition of irony?
We did not have to enter the church proper, though, upon arrival; Caren waited with Yumi right out front—no doubt predicting that I would be here right on time—and she had with her a small satchel. “You should try brewing tea out of this,” Caren said, handing it to me. “It’ll help with any aches from injury.”
Though she said it clearly in reference to Yumi, I had no doubt she was jabbing at me. Well, fine. When you impale yourself from the inside out automatically when danger is about, you let me know.
“She doesn’t have anything else?” Tohsaka asked.
I looked at her funny.
“She is officially adopted and moved away from the orphanage records,” Caren said. “All of her possessions were probably destroyed then.”
I regarded Yumi carefully. It was fairly amazing that she was already moving on her own power, even if her wounds had healed. I think anybody else would be jumping at shadows and hiding in the closet after what she suffered. It was apparent, though, that the injuries were going to have long-term repercussions: I could make out a couple of scars where her neck met her collar and the very roots of her hair were starting to turn cat-whisker white. Her nervous system must still be going haywire too.
I said, “We could go shopping for her once we’ve settled in,” partially addressing the girl before me in hopes she would respond.
It was barely perceptible, but she nodded at my words.
“Well then!” Caren said, grinning. “Good luck to you. Let me know if you need…anything.” She added the last bit with a breathy tone.
I think Tohsaka’s eyebrow twitched.
As we walked back home, I considered calling a taxi or suggesting the bus, since I wasn’t sure how good a long walk would be for Yumi. But when I reached for my phone, the girl’s hand came up and took mine, like, well, a child to their parent.
I’m not sure why, but I felt the heat rise in my face.
Yumi then reached to take her hand as well.
Tohsaka stopped laughing and stared like a deer-in-headlights.
Yeah, take that.
“So, um, how do you spell your name?” Tohsaka stuttered, trying to cover up her awkward reaction. Brilliant maneuver, captain.
“’Bow’ and ‘beautiful,’” Yumi said, her voice slightly stronger than yesterday.
Tohsaka’s eyes tracked back up at me, and although her tone still had a sense of sarcasm to it, it was one of the few genuine smiles she occasionally gave me. “That’s a wonderful name.”
Escaping Fate, Bowman and Bow, End
*Yumi’s name is 弓美 which literally means “beautiful bow.” The first kanji can itself be read Yumi and is the kanji for bow. Her name is also a homonym for a variety of very fitting words regarding her place in this story. I loves me my Japanese puns.
AN: With regards to pairings, I’ll just say that this follows the Fate scenario, but in great Nasuverse tradition, there will be ways to incorporate other relationships without breaking the whole true love idea. I’m a fan of all three scenarios and heroines for extremely different reasons, so don’t be expecting any hate from this corner. I absolutely love everything in this game and every character that appeared, period.
It’s winter now.*
February, to be more specific. Two years since the Holy Grail War. We celebrated Tohsaka’s birthday a few days ago, combined with a welcome home dinner after an extended trip to London. Although she had been gone for a good four months, I was glad to see that Yumi, still so quiet, smiled when Tohsaka first came through the door.
We had adjusted to our new ward for the most part, perhaps better than could be expected. It hadn’t taken long for Yumi to recover physically and after that she had shown interest in exploring the city. Sakura took it upon herself to show the girl around after school, and each time they returned for the evening, the more Yumi appeared to relax.
And while Sakura didn’t show any outward signs of it, the cloud of sorrow that hung over her since Illya passed had begun to dissipate.
I’m not sure, though, if it would be possible to look at this girl and not think of Illya, though.
The damage to Yumi’s nervous system had been extensive. It was something Tohsaka had pointed out, as she now believed that Archer’s appearance had been due to an overworked magical circuit; Yumi’s hair had lost all pigmentation and gone stark white, while her skin had taken on a splotchy, unhealthy pallor. It was an odd similarity to Illya’s albino appearance and Archer’s severe look, and no amount of healing looked like it would fix it.
A few weeks after taking her in, the three of us sat Yumi down and explained just what had happened to her after it was apparent her hair would not be regaining its original brown color. Though we skirted the Grail War issue, we explained how the three of us were magi and that Yuushi had been one as well. We told her the general idea of what he might have been doing to her and how we never intended to do anything of the sort. Through it all, Yumi had been silent, though she had nodded when Tohsaka and Sakura explained some of their complicated history, clearly having picked up on their familial relationship despite the different names.
So we were magi, and she had been a magus’ experiment.
And the girl quietly accepted her fate.
Maybe I finally started to understand why Tohsaka was so angry when she had learned of my past. If my lack of concern over what had happened was like Yumi’s lack of concern over why she had been tortured, I got it.
I really should have shot that guy between the eyes.
Tohsaka flicked me between the eyes.
“Are you paying any attention at all?” she complained.
I blinked and shook my head. “None whatsoever. Sorry.”
We were attempting to discern how to rework some of my Traced items and see how far we could modify them; ever since I had first used Caladbolg on Yuushi, Tohsaka had been interested in seeing if it was possible to do more than break the Phantasm and overload it for additional kick. She had apparently attended some lecture on advanced Alteration theory when in London and wanted to apply the ideas to what I did.
Of course, she forgot that I was absolutely useless as a magus.
Tohsaka crossed her arms and shook her head at me. “I’m telling you, if you only concentrated more, we could have this down!”
I shook my head in return. Every once in a while, I had to agree with a certain Servant in his assessment with his Master: Tohsaka just couldn’t quite identify with a dropout type like me. “I was concentrating earlier. But nothing I did could change it. The blueprint is clear in my mind and I can’t force myself to change it in any fashion.”
“You should be trying harder!”
Every once in a while, I thought of pinching her nose when she got like this. Just to see what she would do.
Of course, I never had the courage to. Because chances were, what she would do probably included a maiming.
“Sorry,” I said. “It just doesn’t seem to be working tonight.”
Tohsaka sighed, crossed her arms, and leaned back in her seat. Her expression lost its heat, though. “You’re thinking about Saber, aren’t you?”
I blinked at her and went to shake my head, but in bringing it up, I couldn’t help but do so.
And the hope that maybe, in her dream, I had a place.
“You’re hopeless,” Tohsaka said. “Well, just…try to imagine it, anyway. You’re good at that much.”
Tohsaka gathered the sword images and blueprints she had brought from London—apparently they were documents on sword-shaped Mystic Codes—and piled them back onto her desk.
It still confused me to this day why she seemed to prefer this place to her own house. Although by square feet my house was just as large, Tohsaka’s was more to her style and already equipped with the various tools and measures for her work. Every so often, she had to bring a large bundle over to continue her work; it was often enough that I questioned why she didn’t just work out of her home to begin with.
Unlike the reasons Sakura didn’t like returning to the Matou house, I couldn’t fathom any kind of idea why Tohsaka felt better here.
“So,” Tohsaka started, and she looked askance, “is there anything I can do?”
I grinned at her.
No matter what, Tohsaka was never as ruthless as she thought. Even if they were awkward, whenever she let herself be sympathetic, it always made me smile. It was, after all, absolutely adorable.
“W-w-what are you thinking, with that kind of look?”
She was also awkward at receiving gratitude.
“Just being here is fine,” I said. Whatever her reasons for staying, I was glad to have her here.
The red that shot through her face almost managed to reach critical levels and match her ubiquitous shirt.
“Anyway, let me go practice with everything you’ve just shown me, at least. Maybe I’ll find something I just can’t do when you’re watching over my shoulder.” I climbed to my feet and made for the door.
I thought I heard her mutter “idiot” under her breath. Yet another thing to treasure.
So preferable to when she screamed it, anyway.
The cold evening air helped counter the burning sensation whenever I Traced, so I stood in the middle of the back yard to practice. I tried not to think about how another magus had done so before in a similar manner, warming up by conjuring a bow and stretching with it in the same exact spot.
Unfortunately, my bow was not yet up to the standards of whatever it was he had created. Though I had the perfect image in my mind of what he had done, the composition of the material was still off; whatever odd metal he had created both his bow and armor out of was still out of my reach. It managed the purpose I needed it for—firing off Traced weapons—though my effective range was still terrible.
I brought the Orichalcum sword to mind and reconstructed it perfectly. It was a nice addition to the lengthy catalogue of weaponry I could bring to mind and was different from most of the other pieces. Like the Azoth sword, its composition was different to the forged and folded steel of many weapons and instead was constructed to feed prana into. If I could figure out how to actually make modifications to a weapon, it was a perfect candidate to start with, since it would take much more than I could possibly inject into it to break.
My body is made of swords.
“I am the bone of my sword.”**
The blade shifted in shape, like taking the image on a computer and stretching it lengthwise. I pulled until it was the exact length of an arrow, nocked the sword, and let it fly.
It struck the tatami I had set out as a target in the same place the human neck would be.
I sighed. It was not Alteration that occurred when I manipulated the blade into an arrow shape. Alteration involved the addition of properties that an item did not already have to begin with, like adding an additional ingredient to a dish. I could not do such a skillful thing; for me, it was more like rearranging the ingredients the original had to work better for what I needed it to do.
I thought that following the process of “arrow-izing” the blade might help, but that was a bust.
Letting the bow dissipate, I considered my options. Ultimately, it wasn’t important to me to figure out ways to Alter my arsenal if I could manage to safely make Broken Phantasms. The only problem on that issue was my inadequate bow, since I didn’t particularly want to risk using most Broken Phantasms while still holding them.
Tracing Kanshou and Bakuya, I thought about practicing that instead; the twin scimitars were about the only weapons I had successfully Broken in hand without causing major bodily harm to myself in the process.
I glanced at the porch and found Yumi watching me.
While I had never hidden my magic away from her, it occurred to me that Yumi had never seen me do anything more than Reinforce some household items for practice. And to be honest, I had wondered if the sight of a sharp object suddenly appearing in my hands would be cause for the girl to be upset.
Instead, I found her looking at the blades curiously.
I couldn’t think of an appropriate response though. “What?”
“Why are you holding swords?”
Well…that would take a while to explain. But since she wasn’t upset over it, I guess it didn’t matter if I showed her a little. “It’s the only magic I’m fairly practiced at. We mentioned ‘Projection’ before, right?”
Nodding, Yumi sat at the edge of the porch and watched me intently.
“This is kind of like that, something I specialize at. I call it ‘Tracing.’ I copy swords and other weapons I’ve seen before.”
I thought about how to word my response. I didn’t like explaining things in detail because I often got confused as to where I was. I can’t imagine what other people would feel. How Tohsaka managed it was a mystery to me. “You know in manga or a sentai series, how heroes always seem to have swords? I mean, if they have any kind of weapon at all, it’s usually a sword.”
“I specialize in swords because I want to be that kind of hero. The one that saves everyone.”
Yumi’s eyes fell into her lap. She stared at her own hands, perhaps the only part of her body that had been left untouched by experimentation. No scars adorned them and they did not have the splotchy complexion the rest of her skin had. “Nobody can save everyone.”
Again, I de-Traced the weapons in my hands and sat next to her. I always felt inadequate at being able to comfort her, but the whole point of taking her in had been to give it a try. “That’s true,” I said. “I’m only human, after all.”
I thought of sitting on this porch years ago with a person just as cynical. Yet, for his cynicism, his ideal had always been such a beautiful one.
“But wouldn’t it be a good thing if someone could save everyone?” I asked.
Yumi’s hands fisted as if clutching something. She nodded.
“I think so too. So, even if it is impossible, I want to aim for that dream.” I smiled at her. “So I make swords in the hopes that one day, they will be used for that purpose.” My smile probably went a little funny then. “Even if I’m pretty terrible at it.”
Though she listened to every word, Yumi remained quiet. For a moment, I thought that I had gone too far, told her too much. There was an extreme loneliness in her body language, the way she hunched in on herself that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Sakura, when I had first met her, came close, but Sakura always had a sense that she was still trying to reach out to others in everything she did, even if she was scared. Yumi seemed to reach inward instead.
And now that Tohsaka had brought it up, I couldn’t help but think about it.
Saber reached inward as well.
I reached outward, to people like Yumi, the people I could possibly save.
“When…will you know?” Yumi asked, though her gaze remained in her lap. “If you reach it?”
I gave a helpless shrug. “I don’t know. I may never know.”
Yumi was silent after that, though the lost expression had faded. Now she just seemed confused.
Not that I blame her. My dream is a pretty foolish one, after all.
She didn’t understand.
Why pursue something impossible?
Why pursue something when you will never even know if you have achieved it?
She didn’t understand his dream at all.
She didn’t understand why, deep inside of herself, she felt comforted by those words.
She knew he had told her something important. Something so necessary that he could not exist without it. She knew, at least, for that, she would hold his goals dear.
When she had first caught a glimpse of him, when she had first looked upon her savior from the world of pain, of endless removal and addition…
He had seemed so happy.
Happy to find her. Happy to save her.
She had been happy to find relief, to find escape. But he…he had not been happy just to see that she could be relieved and escape. He was happy just to have reached her.
She thought, even then, she wanted to have that same expression.
Not one of having the results of a deed be worth it…
But to have reached the deed in the first place.
Maybe…maybe then she could understand.
Why she felt, his confusing dream, his happy expression…
Why they seemed to trod on her very soul.
I retired to bed that night tired.
Tired and alone.
It was a very different feeling to me than the others, I’m sure.
When Sakura looked lonely, it broke my heart, that she could still be so distrustful of the world that had harmed her so. Even now, she would occasionally let that sad smile appear, despite everything that had improved between her and her sister, despite everything I did to remind her that I would give my left arm to make sure no harm came to her. I would try my best to be there for her, would push past her polite denials and find something to do with her, even if it was to just watch a movie or talk about school. And it was great to feel the extra strength behind an embrace of her hands to his at those times, the only sign that she understood.
When Tohsaka looked lonely, it made me a little angry, that a part of her may still feel a little unwelcome. It was often apparent on the day before her regular excursions to London: she would look at the daily scene of dinner in the house and her eyebrows would fall in a self-deprecating way. So I always tried to remind her to bring us souvenirs from her trip, that I expected such gifts, because I looked forward to them. And it was great to see her glare and hear her complain that she was not made of money and threaten that I would get nothing.
I feel alone…because she isn’t here.
The one person that could understand.
Nothing in me can replace you, I had said.
There was no fake I could replicate to do that.
Nor was there anything real that could stand there either.
Nothing but a memory, and everything of my dream.
I slept, and I dreamed. Of my sword, the one that most certainly, was not made of me.
Escaping Fate, The Addition, End
*Be glad I didn’t start with, “It’s spring now,” people that have played Heaven’s Feel.
**For those unfamiliar with the original visual novel: Shirou and Archer will on occasion literally think of one thing but say something completely different when invoking their spells. The entire UBW aria is in fact thought one way and said another quite often, and the translations are not meant to be exactly the same. Both literally think, “Karada wa tsurugi de dekite iru” for the first line of UBW, which translates as “His body is made of swords” while at the same time saying aloud, in English, “I am the bone of my sword.” This is not absolute, though, as occasionally, they will say the Japanese line over the English…so you’ll see Shirou zig-zag about in this story.
Shirou glared at the computer. “We live in the information age, and yet still, I can’t find any signs of a suitable battle to join?”
“Shut up,” Rin said, pushing back so he stopped leaning so close over her shoulder. “I can’t concentrate with you so close.” She returned to hunching over the keyboard and leaning in to look at the screen.
After all, stupid technology would never be important enough to break out the glasses.
“Japanese Psychics in conflict with Magi of the Roman Catholic Church?” Rin asked, checking one news report.
“I think I’ve had enough fighting magic-wielding priests, thanks.”
Rin passed the mouse slowly over another. “Color gangs in Ikebukuro district of Tokyo?”
Shirou leaned in right where she had pushed him away from to begin with, but this time to clearly read the full text from the story. He sighed after a few moments. “I’m not exactly sure who I’d be saving. Though internet memes could boost my level of infamy.”
Rin scanned the article again. “What’s an internet meme?”
Impatiently, Shirou grabbed for the mouse, though Rin attempted to wrestle his hand away. “Anyway,” he said, when she had regained control, “go on.”
“Heroic Spirits fighting creatures from a place called the Crimson Realm…wait, no, that sounds like it’s made up.”
Shirou snickered. “You’re a witch, Tohsaka.”
Glare. “Your point being?”
“Well, then, mister smarty-pants, why don’t you look for something that might work? I don’t really know how to use this google-thingy anyway.” She crossed her arms and allowed Shirou to monopolize the mouse.
“Let’s see…Psychopomp swordsmen in conflict with Holy Quincy Family? They even have a picture of the latter…hey! The guy is using a bow!”
Rin squinted at the image. “I don’t know. Even in Eastern Thaumaturgical teaching, there is no kind of afterlife spirit. We return to Akasha when we die, period.” She paused, her head tilting in consideration. “But…that news report…there’s something familiar about him.”
“Must be all the crosses on his clothing. You have weird tastes, Tohsaka.”
“Says the guy drooling over the latest issue of Jump.”
Shirou glared right back at her. “They released an image of that author, Aoki Ko…I think I have a thing for blondes.”
Rin sighed. “Of course you do…”
Shirou ignored her “Though I really hate that new one by Fukuda…”
Rin flung her head back and connected with Shirou’s nose.
See if she went out of her way to learn a sophisticated modern technological device for anyone ever again. Even if he was someone special.
“Thanks, Tohsaka. I never knew you considered me special.” He grinned at her widening eyes. “Oh, no, you didn’t say anything. Just, you know, I can tell exactly what you’re thinking whenever you go tsun-tsun.”
“What the hell is that?!”
“Tsun-tsun. You do know that you’re a Grade-S Tsunde—”
And while she may not have known it, Shirou certainly did, and remembered to flee the room upon this proclamation, when the average Tsundere began the violent tear through the building.