The clicking clacking of skeletons filled his senses while the bony beasts danced around Fujimaru, and buildings shattered in the distance and cars exploded in the air like fireworks. Flashes of light randomly tore the sky at odd angles while streaks of colors zipped by faster than he could see. A crumbled building rose up from the rubble and resurrected itself like a stop motion film in reverse as King Leonidas strutted out shouting, “Let the tempering begin!”
The fiery javelin was already in the air before Fujimaru could think, and by the time thought could come his eyes were filled with nothing but fire fire fire fire-
“Guh,” gasped Ritsuka as a cataleptic shiver bolted through him, rocketing him from the depths of his nightmarish sleep. In the darkness Ritsuka was unable to comprehend where he was or why he was there for a few moments until, in that rigid attention that came from a shock of adrenaline, Ritsuka was able to place the sound of breathing near him, beyond the drawn curtains of the high school infirmary.
Having remembered the location, the circumstances quickly began to flood Ritsuka’s mind as well. He listened to the breathing of the girls that had come from Chaldea with him, and felt relieved that neither of them seemed to have been woken up by the noise he’d made. Mash especially, since she’d passed out immediately after her head hit the pillow. Everyone had had a very stressful and draining day, Ritsuka included… but it was impossible for Ritsuka to quickly fall asleep. After some restless moments Ritsuka decided he’d use the bathroom, since it was something to do.
The hallway was darker than the infirmary had been, and Ritsuka used his comm-watch as a makeshift flashlight as he made his slow progress to the toilet. The darkness was causing Ritsuka’s senses and awareness to stretch themselves to the limit, and he was able to feel a presence through his Command Seals nearby, keeping an even distance from him without betraying itself, only allowing their distance to increase on Ritsuka’s entering the men’s bathroom.
Ritsuka intentionally took far more time than he needed inside the bathroom. The unfamiliar method of securing the hakama he was wearing was one reason, but really… once Ritsuka finished up he wouldn’t have an excuse to not go back to sleep anymore. After cleaning and drying his hands, Ritsuka simply stood in place for far longer than he should have before resigning himself to leaving the dark and alien restroom he was in. Strangely enough, these unfamiliar places drenched in darkness were comforting compared to the idea of going back to sleep, where his mind would be completely honest with itself once more. Trudging slowly through the hall back to the infirmary Ritsuka had a thought.
“Come to think of it… Rider.”
Ritsuka turned towards the presence that had been shadowing him.
“It’s alright, Rider. Please come out.”
Rider’s body manifested from her spirit form at the edge of the meagre area of light that Ritsuka’s comm watch produced. It was still super cool that Servants could do that.
“I’m sorry to have disturbed you, Master.”
“No, it’s fine. Rather… would you like to talk for a while?”
Rider’s only response was to tilt her head in confusion.
* * * * *
The windows of the classroom were still intact preventing any wind, soot, or ash from entering. It was unnaturally clean considering the end of the world that was going on outside the school grounds. It also collected just enough light from all the fires outside that Ritsuka was able to turn off the screen of his comm watch to save on the battery and still be able to see the general silhouette of Rider who was seated in a student seat about a meter away from his own.
There were no book bags, pencils, notebooks, or reference books on the student desks or inside them. It felt like Ritsuka was in a classroom at his own school chatting with someone as the sun was going down… is what Ritsuka was telling himself. The self delusion wasn’t really being helped along by Rider’s silence.
“Are you uncomfortable, Rider?”
“Ah. No, Master. I’m not uncomfortable. I’m just… I’m not very good at conversation…”
“Don’t worry about it, Rider. I’m sorry for asking you to do something you’re not used to.”
“But… I’m sorry to push a subject. Rider, you said you’d tell me about yourself later, when it was safe to do so. I thought now might be a good time.”
Rider was silent for a long moment, so Ritsuka continued by asking, “Is it not a good time after all?” in order to give Rider an out if she wanted it.
“No, Master. Forgive my hesitation. I suppose… I should first tell you my True Name.”
“If you want.”
“My True Name… is Medusa.”
“M-Medusa. My name is Medusa.”
“The woman cursed by Athena, with snake legs, snake hair, snake eyes, and petrification?”
“A Monster with snakes for hair and a petrifying gaze… That isn’t all that far off…”
“I’m a big fan!”
Ritsuka instantly quieted his voice and covered his mouth, realizing that other people were asleep at the moment. Seeing that Rider – no, Medusa – did the same. Ritsuka removed his hand from his mouth and started scratching the back of his head with it.
“Well you see, Ri- no, Medusa, I picked up my love of history and mythology from my mother, who’s a researcher loosely connected to the Mage’s Association. So I heard all about great people, mystical places, and legendary events as though they were real as a kid and, well, I got interested in them. Especially the myths. Wow, so the Gorgon sisters really existed… I wonder if Heracles and the Olympian Gods were real, too… Ah, Medusa, I just realized, but… why are you human if you were a snake lady?”
“You only just realized…? Ah, no, well, this body is like the one I had before Athena’s curse… But I have no idea when I’ll turn into a monster again. Master, if that scares you, you should end our contract while you still can.”
“There’s no way I’d do that Medusa. Rather, knowing how incredible you are… I’m really just relieved.”
“Relieved… is it, Master?”
“Yeah,” said Ritsuka quietly. Medusa said nothing else. Ritsuka’s fingers twitched and his voice croaked a bit as he released what he’d been holding back the entire time since he woke up on the street to find he was in a burning world filled with monsters. “…Because I’m in complete denial.”
“I’m whisked to the past with monsters and heroes and buildings being destroyed and fire everywhere and it’s somehow the apocalypse… I can’t process it, Medusa, I can’t understand it. And every time it starts creeping up on me that I’ve nearly died a dozen times today I start to freeze up. Till now, the closest I’ve ever been to a fight was getting a rough stare from a sports member I bumped into in the hallway, and he even apologized to me afterwards! I don’t know what I’m doing, I dunno what I’m doing here, I suddenly have Servants and a mission to save humanity and I have to keep it all together because I’m a Master or something and I… I can’t even use Magecraft. …So I’m just… going along with everything people are saying and pretending this is all normal.”
Medusa suddenly started looking about her panicked, trying to figure out if she should do something for her Master who was having a nervous breakdown or get someone else who can.
“In the end, I only just want to dump all of this and go home. But I can’t. I have to see this mission through to the end if I want to escape. That’s why, it’s reassuring to have someone like you by my side.”
“Someone like me… is it? Master, I’m sorry to say this but… I’m a monster. Wouldn’t you normally feel less secure with something like me around?”
“But Medusa is a nice person, though.”
“You’re a little intense sometimes and a bit awkward, but the only times I’ve seen you angry today was when you got angry on my behalf. Oh, there was the time Archer insulted you, but I guess anyone would get angry like that…”
“So, that’s why, Medusa, I’d really appreciate it if you could be my friend.”
“Friend? But Master, I’m already your Servant.”
“Yeah, I still don’t understand the whole Servant thing. Or the Master thing either. But friendship is something I know.”
“I… don’t see how something like that could work, Master. I am your Servant. It is my duty to follow your orders and sacrifice myself for your-”
“That right there, Medusa, I don’t like it. Don’t go sacrificing yourself for my sake.”
“As friends, we would work together, not out of duty but a desire for us all to get out of this hell hole alive and safe. If I ask you to do something that you feel is unreasonable or likely to fail, for whatever reason, you tell me why so we can all come up with a better plan. I’ll watch out for you, and you’ll watch out for me. And please get along better with Olga Marie? She’s really just harmless, even if she does have that facade she’s putting up.”
“Are you… ordering me to be more familiar with you, Master?”
“I’m not giving you an order, Medusa. I’m just asking you to be my friend… because I really need one right now.”
“…Why are you asking me instead of the two who came with you?”
“There’s no way Olga Marie would let herself out of her ‘Director’ roll long enough for us to actually act friendly, and Mash… With the Demi-Servant thing she’s kind of skipped over friendship and gone straight for dependance. It feels like I’m gonna have to put a lot of work into getting her to ease up around me again. Archer would probably lecture me for asking him, and Caster has the Grail War thing going, so I don’t think he can afford to be more than just a temporary ally with us.”
“Ah, no, I wasn’t asking about those two…”
“So it’s definitely not an order, Medusa. Like I said before, if it’s something you can’t do, then it’s alright for you to say so.”
The conversation came to a halt with Ritsuka being expectant of a response and Medusa being introspective. At length, Medusa muttered, “…You’re very kind, Master. Or have I been deceived?”
“What was that last part?”
“It was nothing, Master. I… will try to be your friend. To think… I would be able to befriend a human…”
“I think it’s stranger that I can be friends with a girl straight out of legend, myself. Oh, by the way, your mask, is that for sealing in your petrifying eyes?”
“Yes, Master. The state of my summoned form is not powerful enough to control my eyes, so for safety they are currently being sealed.”
“Ah. Sorry for the strange summoning, Medusa. I guess I should have done a better job.”
“No, Master, not at all. Really, I’d say it’s already close to being a miracle that you were able to summon both Archer and myself at the same time. Really… I’m somewhat in awe.”
“Is it really that strange?”
“I… am unsure, Master. In a Holy Grail War, every Master summons a single Servant, it’s one of the rules of the game. But you are not taking part in such a war, so you are free from such constraints. I’m unsure if there is any precedence for such a position as yours, Master.”
“If we’re going to be friends, Medusa, could I ask you to call me by name? It feels a bit stiff.”
“…Then… Fujimaru-sama, then.”
“No, like I said-”
“I’m sorry Master, no, Fujimaru-sama. I don’t think I can be more intimate than this. And, I don’t mind being called by name, but please call me by my class in front of others. I would like to try and keep my True Name from them for as long as possible.”
“I… I see. Heheh…”
“So, Fujimaru-sama… what do friends do?”
Ritsuka was so taken aback by the innocent question of Medusa’s that his mind went in several directions at once, leaving him frozen in astonishment. Since Medusa just kept looking over at him earnestly, Ritsuka decided she was not joking and was completely serious. So he met her with the same kind of earnestness.
“Well, there are a lot of things that friends do. But for now, would you like to talk?”
“We have been talking, though, Fujimaru-sama. It does not seem that different from a Master and Servant conversation, however, despite the length until now.”
“No… well… Umm… Medusa, why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
“My abilities, is it, Fujimaru-sama?”
“No, I mean… Where did you grow up? Where did you live? What are some of the things you enjoyed doing?”
“Things I enjoyed…? Well… I did enjoy swimming in the Mediterranean sea off the island…”
It took some continued prodding and leading on Ritsuka’s part to get Medusa to fully go into her memories in describing the Shapeless Isle she and her sisters lived on. The blue seas that were at times as clear as glass and at times as shining as sapphires. The trees that waved in the wind. The migrating birds and the chick she’d raised and returned to health that took to the skies the following summer to join a passing flock. The taste of the sea and the world as it looked submerged in the clear water.
At length, Ritsuka found that he was beginning to fall asleep where he sat. Realizing his fatigue was catching up with him again, Medusa escorted her Master, her new friend, back to the Infirmary. She wished him a good night and returned to her guard duty, with the hint of a smile on her face as the old memories of the best times on the Shapeless Isle flowed through her mind once more.
Ritsuka fell asleep almost at once, and dreamed of a pristine island with clear skies and crystal waters that he explored at his leisure.