The girl appeared from the emptiness, more as though Ritsuka’s perception was finally able to see her than as though she’d appeared.
She had a gentle face, jaw length hair and knowing eyes. Her hair and eyes were brown, instead of the pure black that is so common in Japan, despite being Japanese. Her kimono was white with a blue obi about the waist that was the color of a pond. The girl who was probably just a little older than Ritsuka bowed elegantly and said, “Greetings, Fujimaru-san. I am sorry for this meeting, but I felt that it was necessary.”
The girl was speaking politely and elegantly. It was a strangely alien feeling, but something tickled Ritsuka’s mind.
“We’ve met before,” Ritsuka said as fact.
“Yes,” said the girl a little awkwardly.
“I… can’t remember where…”
The girl nodded slowly and said, “Thanks to Merlin, you were saved from that memory. But here, in this place, I can remind you.”
“Where are we,” asked Ritsuka. His mind had cleared enough that he was aware that he really was nowhere, and standing on nothing. It wasn’t scary, but it was just floating in endless nothing. Could floating in space feel like this?
“In the deepest part of your subconscious,” said the girl. “Perhaps a visual would be helpful.”
The girl turned and held a hand towards emptiness. There, three figures appeared. Emiya, Mash, and, “Me?”
“Yes, Fujimaru-san. At that time when the Fuyuki Singularity fell apart, the three of you were stranded outside of reality.”
The Ritsuka being shown was floating free of Emiya’s grasp, and spinning. Mash passed by him and he reached out to grab her by the arm. Upon seeing Mash’s pained expression, the Ritsuka hugged her close as though he was using his own body as a shield for the girl who’d so diligently fought on his behalf. He spun while holding her, his eyes wide open looking for something, anything he could latch onto to help in that situation.
And then his eyes opened wider than they ever should have been able to, the muscles controlling them having spasmed from seeing what lay before him.
“That was when you laid eyes on me,” said the girl.
“Who… are you,” asked Ritsuka in wonder as the three figures disappeared.
“A self-aware repository of knowledge. I suppose that is the most accurate, and safely vague way of describing myself,” said the girl.
“Do you have a name,” asked Ritsuka. Even if the one he was talking to was obviously inhuman, she was talking to him in a chosen form like one. So he’d treat her like one for the time they were here.
“Ah. Yes. I suppose it may be difficult to converse if you have nothing to call me by. In that case… I suppose ‘Shiki’ would suffice.”
“Shiki-san, then,” said Ritsuka. “Shall we sit down while we talk? I’m sure there’s more you would like to tell me and… it’s slightly distracting to just be floating like this.”
“Yes, that seems reasonable. Where would you like to sit?”
“I get to decide?”
“Of course, it’s your subconscious. I’m the guest here.”
Ritsuka thought for a moment and a favored, ‘what if’ came to mind.
“There’s a park near my house where I played a lot when I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to see it colored the way Kobayashi from the Art Club used his pastels. Is that doable?”
Shiki-san bowed politely and pastel grey for a walkway spread out beneath their feet. A brown park bench, bright green grass, yellow playsets and silver drinking fountains sprung up with trees being made from the top down. The colors were all vibrant and impossible in nature, and they were beautiful.
“I had a feeling it would turn out well,” said Ritsuka with a satisfied nod. “Can we sit on the bench, or is it too fragile?”
“Why Fujimaru-san, why on earth could we not use a bench for sitting,” said Shiki-san with a hint of amusement before taking a seat next to Ritsuka after he’d taken one himself.
“Now, Shiki-san, you said that I saw you, but… how exactly-”
“The Grail used in the Fuyuki War was made specifically to allow direct access to me. As such, you could say that it drew me and that part of reality closer to one another, to make it easier for the Grail’s creators to make that transition. Ordinarily, that would not be enough for what happened to you, Fujimaru-san. But, unlike your companions… you have eyes that see.”
Ritsuka fumbled for a second and resignedly said, “You know.”
“Yes. I am a repository of knowledge, after all. But… being in contact with your subconscious, I feel that you wish to say the words yourself.”
Ritsuka laughed and said, “It would be rather liberating if I could…”
After a long moment, Ritsuka began talking about what he could never say aloud.
“The Fujimarus have been craftsmen for generations. Low grade stuff, like making tools for divination or paper used in barrier ceremonies. Helping to pick out sites to set up shrines and the occasional temple… because we could see the natural mana accumulations in the world. So we could see what objects could be used as material for making ceremonial tools. What places carried the power to be used for ceremonies. How these could interact with each other, and if power was lost in the process. The Fujimarus have eyes that can see… but that’s all.
“The first proper magecraft user was my grandfather, who was introduced to it too late to be able to do anything but learn about the mage community. He learned there were things called Mystic Eyes, which was why he dug up our history. He was able to go back about five hundred years, and he found that the Fujimaru bloodline trait, our eyes… have never grown stronger during that time. My father’s eyes and my eyes are also weak. As my father said, the Fujimarus can work on making our eyes stronger for a thousand years more, and the most we’ll ever be able to do is see. But that’s enough to put us all in mortal danger.
“The fact that the Fujimarus are craftsmen was enough for us to learn that there are mages out there… who make tools and Mystic Codes by using humans as raw materials. Now, if any one of those mages discovered that the Fujimarus had a trait that could be used to more easily see the mana in the world… would they hesitate to kill and harvest us like poachers?”
“No, they would not,” said Shiki-san with certainty.
Ritsuka bowed his head and went back to unburdening his conscience.
“Until now, I’ve only been able to see the magical power inside people three times in my life, and only because of how dense it was inside the person themself. Two were clients of my father, and one was a stranger in town. I avoided coming anywhere close to him, thinking he might smell my fear,” joked Ritsuka lamely. “And then, suddenly, I become a Master and I’m seeing the magical power in all these Servants.”
“Fujimaru-san’s eyes have changed,” said Shiki-san. “And will remain changed for as long as you are a Master. The overlap of your natural senses and the contract you have with Servants have given you an ability you didn’t have before. You’ve used it already. You were able to tell the class of your opponent from your familiarity with others who had similar classes. And, the build up of magical power, which allowed you to defend the people who are counting on you. These will be powerful tools for you in the future.”
“But I still can’t tell anyone about them,” said Ritsuka in depressed acceptance.
“That’s not true at all.”
On having grabbed Ritsuka’s attention, Shiki-san said, “All you have to do is claim that you’ve been able to see these things since your first contract. Which is true. There is no need for you to say anything else about your eyes. I believe it would be more effective for you to be upfront about this part of your ability than to try and hide it, or people may suspect that which you truly wish to keep hidden. Humans tend to believe what they are convinced is true, and chase after that which they don’t understand.”
“I… hadn’t thought of that. I’ve been so used to keeping it hidden, I just thought… I couldn’t talk about it at all.”
“And now that you’ve thought of it here, that answer will eventually make it to your conscious mind.”
“Thanks, Shiki-san, I feel better already. Hopefully it’ll be in time to help Jeanne. Ah, but we’re talking about you. Shiki-san, what was it that happened because of my eyes?”
Shiki-san bowed her head a moment, seemingly in regret, and said, “Because of your eyes you were able to ‘come into contact’ with me. And all that entails. Typically only Mages of the highest caliber are able to bypass the Counter Force and do that. And most of them are either destroyed, lost forever, or so changed that they might as well be. Those few who are not and are able to return to reality gain something they otherwise never would have been able to possess. And often, they will be able to use a form of True Magic.”
“True… Magic,” asked Ritsuka. “It seems like you’re drawing a distinction between that and Magecraft.”
“Yes, you guessed right. The difference between True Magic and Magecraft is the same as using Magecraft, and lighting a match. The two are that far apart from one another. And Fujimaru-san is not a skilled or powerful mage. So you were completely ill suited to coming into contact with me, even if it was only at that great a distance. As a result… your mind was damaged to the extent that you almost suffered brain death.”
“That’s… unsettling,” admitted Ritsuka as he looked up at the pastel blue sky to see a passing cloud.
“And truly unfortunate, considering you are the last Master of this world, and thus it’s last hope. Merlin’s interference was timely, as he sealed off the part of your mind that was impacted by your contact with me. Your deep subconscious. Though he did it for himself and not really to help you. It just worked out that way. If it had not… you would have awoken a jibbering madman.”
“But I’m okay now, right,” asked Ritsuka carefully.
“Mostly. It seems your mind is healing around the damage. But you will never be able to consciously tap into the power that scarred you by encountering me. …Though you have already used it once.”
“When you summoned Artoria Alter.”
“How did I do that?”
Shiki-san closed her eyes in serious thought for a moment and then turned to face Ritsuka to say, “Considering your nature, it should be fine to tell you. When you summoned the three Artorias, you impetuously allowed your mind to enter the connection, the Bond, between the summoning circle and the Throne itself, the resting place of heroes. Your subconscious scarring allowed you to search out and find the specific person you were searching for, and, more than anything else, you created life from the cast off vestiges of the corruption that had once influenced Artoria. Something like that is absolutely impossible by the means of Magecraft. What you did at that time was True Magic. The creation of life. And all you used to piece together the broken parts of a one time person was the power of a Command Seal. Please be aware of it, Fujimaru-san. You have already broken the laws of reality.”
“Whoa. But… doing so… I saved Altoria, right? Here, in this place, I remember. She was going to be destroyed if I did nothing.”
“True,” said Shiki-san, nodding. “That girl would have ceased to exist if not for you, and your Origin as a Mage. And on some level, she is aware of it. I’m not sure if she’ll ever forgive you for it, though.”
“Well, it’s fine even if she doesn’t as long as things go well for her. But what’s this about an Origin?”
“Fujimaru-san’s Origin as a Mage is ‘One Who Forms Bonds.’ Under normal circumstances, it just means you have a natural affinity for getting along with others, and it makes it easier for you to make and keep familiars, form contracts with spirits, or negotiate with elementals. It’s a vague Origin that allows that which is strange or unnatural to more easily interact with you. To sense your motivations. As a Mage who is incapable of using Magecraft, it would have been useless to you. As a Master, however, a great amount of what you will be doing will depend on the relationships and trust you have with your Servants. Your Origin makes all of those actions just that little bit smoother. As I’m sure you’ve noticed by being able to tell the difference between your contracted Servants just by the feel of their connection to you. Those are the Bonds you have made.”
“So it’s an Origin that makes things easier for the Servants, then,” asked Ritsuka brightly.
Shiki-san seemed thrown off balance for a moment, and said, “Yes, but by using that ability you will be able to control them-”
“Not interested,” said Ritsuka flat out.
“I said I’m not interested in controlling the Servants. I mean, they’re Heroes, it’s in their description. Heroic Spirits. They know their business better than I do. As long as I can make it easier for them to do their job, I’ll be happy.”
Ritsuka was smiling at the thought of being able to do something worthwhile for the exploration team. Shiki-san just ended up staring at Ritsuka for a while with a look of disbelief. Eventually, Ritsuka asked, “What’s wrong, is there something on my face?”
“Huh? Oh, no, it’s just… I’ve never encountered a human who thinks like that before. It’s… surprising.”
“Is that so? Shouldn’t there be a lot of people like that, though? Oh, but the ones who chased after you are power hungry people, after all, I guess. Makes sense. Oh, by the way, Shiki-san, why did you come here to talk to me? I’m really grateful, you helped me work through some issues, but the way you reacted just now, it seems like you don’t do this often.”
“Oh? No, I don’t.”
“Then why now? Why me?”
“Because Fujimaru-san did not intend to come into contact with me. I felt a bit responsible. So, I came here to say this. Fujimaru-san, I am sorry for what happened to you… even though it seems you do not mind it.
“Not at all,” said Ritsuka happily.
Shiki-san giggled while Ritsuka laughed; then said, “Then that’s good. Well then, Fujimaru-san, I seem to have accomplished what I set out to do. I’ll definitely have to thank Alaya for allowing this. That one seems to think highly of you, and I think I understand why.”
“Hm? You’re going already?”
“Yes, I have finished my errand, so I should depart.”
“What, and leave a perfectly wonderful pastel park in a lucid dream to waste? Come on, let’s take a walk. I’ll give you a tour of my childhood if you want.”
Shiki-san showed a very gentle smile and, while standing, said, “I believe I would enjoy that very much, Fujimaru-san. Ah, but please remove the -san from my name. For some reason it bothers me.”
“Well, only if Shiki calls me by my first name as well. Such a lopsided relationship would feel weird after all.”
Shiki giggled again as the two started walking together and said, “Very well… Ritsuka. Hmm. One Who Forms Bonds, indeed. I can’t help but feel I should warn you, Ritsuka. You should be careful about how you treat those like me. Unnatural and inhuman beings. If you’re not then I can only see a troublesome future for you.”
“It should be fine as long as I’m sincere with them,” said Ritsuka frivolously.
“That sincerity is what I’m warning you about… But even if I lecture you here, you won’t remember anything when you wake up, so I may as well save my breath and enjoy a wonderfully pastel day. What will you be showing me first?”
“Hmmm. How about the ice cream man? All the kids stampeded when he came around.”
“Oh, ice cream…?”
“Hm? What’s wrong Shiki?”
“I’m sorry to say this, but… I don’t like ice cream…”
“Because it’s sweet, but also… cold. It’s… somewhat sad…”
“I see,” muttered Ritsuka and then brightly said, “Then how about an ice cream man who sells baked sweet potatoes?”
Shiki blinked in surprise and asked, “Is it really alright to change the setting like that? Something like that didn’t exist in your childhood, did it?”
“As long as Shiki has fun, it doesn’t matter what the setting is. It’s just a dream for me, but it’s something that Shiki will remember after all. May as well go all out.”
Shiki showed a mysterious smile and muttered, “You truly have a troublesome future ahead of you. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I… will look forward to the Ice Cream Man’s sweet potatoes. Please, lead on.”