Sweat covered Ritsuka’s body, and more was constantly being released even this late into the 10 minute break.
“Drink more water,” said Archer, the demon instructor, in Japanese. Whenever it was just Ritsuka, Archer, and Mash, the default spoken language had become Japanese.
After taking another drink of the room temperature water, Ritsuka asked through his weariness, “We’re not done yet?”
“Not by a long shot. Next you’ll be using this recline cycle machine.”
Archer pointed out the fitness equipment Ritsuka would be tortured on next. Ritsuka couldn’t help but groan. Archer met that inarticulate complaint with another lecture.
“It can’t be helped, Master. You’re far too out of shape for the task you’ve volunteered for. That’s why you’re going through this crash fitness course. If you keep this pace, then you’ll hopefully be up to the task once the regular staff complete their repairs.”
“I’m not that bad, Archer. I always got good marks in Physical Education, after all. Even as a Culture Club member…”
“Stop right there, Master. The requirements of living in a modern society and the requirements for surviving a Holy Grail War are far too different that they are unable to even begin to be compared. Your body is going to have to be resculpted from the ground up.”
“I wasn’t in the Art Club, though,” joked Ritsuka lamely. Archer lightly rolled his eyes. He got the joke, but it definitely wasn’t funny. In curiosity, Ritsuka asked, “Why are you having me on track, stair, and cycle machines, Archer? Shouldn’t I do some weight training as well? I mean, it’s not like this place is too busy for me to use that other equipment…”
Ritsuka looked around him at the gym that could easily house thirty people at a time, more if there were spotters and trainers. But at the moment it was just Ritsuka and Archer. It was just another stark reminder to how many people were killed by Lev Lainer’s bombing attack. Over 90% of the staff, slain in one move. Ritsuka had never met any of them, but it was still lonely and painful to see the consistent after effect of that tragedy.
Archer swiftly broke in on Ritsuka’s pensive mood.
“There is no need for you to increase your bodily strength, Master. After all, who would you be fighting with it? A human? You can leave them to Mash and I, your Servants. A Mage? You would have to use magecraft to stand a chance against them, so you should leave them to your Servants. An enemy Servant? You would be slain in an instant if you tried, so you would obviously have to depend on us Servants in that situation, too. That is why, Master, I am training you to be able to run away.”
“I understand, trust me. The innate desire to confront your enemies and not have others do the fighting for you. But Master, that is my role. Your role is to be the tactical command, to give me orders and supply me with magical power so that I can do the fighting for you against those things that you could otherwise not stand against. That is why I am training your cardio-vascular abilities so ruthlessly. We’ve already waged a running battle from one end of a city to the other, and you nearly dropped dead from exhaustion at that time. Next time, the scale may be even bigger. You have to be prepared to charge the enemy at a moments notice. To be prepared to run from the enemy at a moments notice. Or to dodge the attacks of your enemy until help can arrive. All of that requires Stamina, and that is what you are building in these exercises. That is why, Master, extra muscle will weigh you down, and that extra weight might end up killing you.”
Ritsuka looked down at his three Command Seals and dourly said, “So the only thing I can do, in the end, is wait for other people to save me…”
“You’re thinking about that woman again, Master. In the end, all I can say is that… it was an excellent end for her. It was the act of a Hero.”
“I know, Archer. She chose to save me, and I’m truly grateful to her. I also can’t mourn too much without insulting her sacrifice… but… it still feels like Medusa is there. Like I’m still connected to her.”
“Who’s there,” shouted Archer as he pulled his twin swords from nowhere. Ritsuka merely almost fell backwards over the work out bench.
“What are you talking about, Archer,” called the blindfolded woman with the long lavender hair. “It’s Rider, of course!”
As though she’d stepped out of Ritsuka’s dreams and into real life, there was Medusa on the other side of the workout room, utterly surprised by the reception she’d received and definitely confused by the hostility. Archer was visibly shocked as well, but he regained his warrior mode and demanded, “Who are you that you would wear that face? Name yourself!”
“What face? And I already named myself! Archer, what is wrong with you!?”
Archer thinks it’s a doppelganger of Rider? Well, it’s said there are always two other people with the same face as you in the world, but I think it’s a bit ridiculous to think there are copies of Medusa just wandering around.
But… at the same time… Wait, is this why I still feel like I’m connected to Medusa?
[Medusa. Is that really you?]
[Yes, of course it’s me, Fujimaru-sama. Could you please explain what’s happening?]
“Archer, please stand down. It’s the real Medusa. I just confirmed it,” said Ritsuka holding up his Command Seals. When Archer lowered his weapons, Ritsuka stepped forward as Medusa did the same to meet near the rowing machines. On getting close, Ritsuka began to tear up and then hugged Medusa around the shoulders as his ragged voice drenched in tears said, “You’re alive…”
Medusa froze up from the shock and remained as rigid as a pole until Archer could recover from his own surprise and tap Ritsuka’s shoulder enough times to bring the boy back to his senses. That didn’t work, so Archer gave Ritsuka a light smack upside the head. After having his senses forcefully returned to him, Ritsuka released Medusa and took a step back. He dropped his head in an apologetic bow and said, “I’m so sorry, Medusa! I completely overreacted. I’m sorry for grabbing you like that.”
Medusa had also taken a step back, but she’d limply brought her arms up close to her chest and had her knees bent inward like a high school girl who’d received an unwanted love confession. Seeing that her Master was not in fact sexually assaulting her, she straightened her posture and bowed just as deeply, stating, “No, Fujimaru-sama. I’m completely unworthy of such a heartfelt greeting. I’m also deeply grateful for your saving my life.”
“Wut,” asked Archer reflexively.
Ritsuka lifted his face upwards without correcting his bowing posture and asked, “What are you saying, Medusa? I wasn’t able to do a thing to help you. Didn’t you save yourself?”
Medusa also lifted her face without correcting her posture. “I could do nothing either, Fujimaru-sama. How could I have saved myself?”
“Would the two of you stand up straight, please,” asked Archer in exasperation. When they had, Archer continued on. “Medusa. We witnessed your demise, and we had no ability to prevent it or save you from it. We thought you were dead and gone. If you wouldn’t mind, could you please tell us all you know so we can get to the bottom of this mystery?”
Medusa did so while Ritsuka wiped the tears of joy from his eyes. It seemed Medusa had simply been summoned inside a dusty room and followed her connection with Ritsuka to find him while remaining intangible so as to minimize the risk of her being detected. All in all, it was a short and unremarkable story. It’s not like she was resurrected at the point of death as a Grasshopper – Human hybrid to be a bio-weapon for an evil organization.
“But, Fujimaru-sama… Where are we? This definitely isn’t Fuyuki.”
“We’re in Chaldea, the place I was dispatched from. Well, if you can call what happened being dispatched…”
“So… is it still 2004? Or is it 2017 like you claimed you were from?”
“It’s definitely 2017. If anything, I’m still doubting that I was even in 2004 in the first place,” said Ritsuka laughingly.
“Before we derail the conversation further,” insisted Archer. “Please tell us more about the chamber you rematerialized in. Was there anyone else in there?”
“No. It seemed like it had been forgotten about, there was no sense of it having been used for many weeks.”
“Master, I suggest we investigate this room immediately.”
“Well, I was planning on asking the staff about it anyway-”
“That’s not what I mean, Master. I believe we should see it with our own eyes first.”
When Ritsuka asked why, Archer explained in another of his tutorial style speeches.
“Mages prize their secrets dearly. It’s not an exaggeration to say their secrets are maintained at the cost of lives. That is why, if we have stumbled onto a secret within this Chaldea Organization, it is suitable to learn as much as we can about it before we decide to reveal our knowledge to the ones in power here. If it is harmless, no harm no foul. But if it is dangerous knowledge, it would behoove us to know so we can take preventative measures.”
“I agree with Archer, Fujimaru-sama. The things humans can do as a group are truly frightening. I recall the packs of humans that pursued my sisters and I that called themselves ‘Fan Clubs.’ Their tenacity was terrifying.”
“No, Medusa, that’s something else entirely… but if the two of you feel that strongly about it… Medusa, can you show us the way?”
“Of course, Fujimaru-sama. By the way… when did you reveal my True Name to Archer?”
“It was after your demise,” stated Archer immediately. “Master was quite depressed about it. I’m glad that it was wasted effort on his part.”
Ritsuka blushed and tried to look elsewhere. He had no idea the kind of face he should make when the person he’d mourned was told how unsightly he’d looked at the time. Medusa said, “I see. I’m sorry for worrying you, Fujimaru-sama. And Archer… what you said came perilously close to sounding like a complement. You may want to be wary of that in the future.”
“Just lead us properly, snake woman.”
And that she did, though Medusa had to stop and concentrate on directions a couple of times. In the end, the three reached a room with an electronic clearance requirement lock on it that Ritsuka definitely did not have clearance for. As Archer was getting ready to cut the door open, Ritsuka wondered aloud, “Do you think it’s like a car door? Where even if it’s locked to people on the outside it can easily be opened from within…?”
“…I’ll take a look. Wait here, Master.”
Archer disappeared into spirit form, and some seconds later, the door opened with Archer on the other side. “You’d have one heck of a career as a Phantom Thief,” remarked Ritsuka in appreciation. Somehow that remark caused Archer to begin grumbling internally.
The light switch on the wall lit the passage that was wide enough for three people to pass side by side without difficulty, though the layer of dust signified this path had not been traveled by anyone from the installation recently. The path curved and declined, such that it seemed that they were underneath the grand chamber of Chaldeas by the time the hall opened into a circular room with file boxes and file cabinets inside. Archer began a cursory examination of the boxes under their dust tarps, and found them bearing a label that was read aloud.
“Fate Summoning System, it says. Master, it seems this is where the summonings that Da Vinci person spoke about were carried out. Hmm. These paper files are all redacted, and what isn’t seems to be some high level fusion of technology and magecraft. I can’t understand it.”
“Medusa, you’re sure this room is where you appeared?”
“Yes, Fujimaru-sama. I appeared here, in the center.”
Ritsuka looked at the room and the ground. The surface was hard flooring, but there was texture under Ritsuka’s shoes he could feel when he walked. Using a handkerchief to remove the dust gave Ritsuka a clear sight of the design in the ground. After a minute of wiping away at the design, Ritsuka said, “I know this ritual formation. Or at least I recognize it. It’s the one that Mash made in Fuyuki, when I summoned the two of you. Even the emblem in the ground is the same design as Mash’s shield that we used as a catalyst.”
“Meaning the chamber here may be magically linked to our original summoning, but it doesn’t explain why Medusa was able to reappear here.”
Ritsuka held his palm to the ground and concentrated. Ritsuka had always had a sensitivity to the presence of mana, but not being a mage he’d never had a reason to develop that sensitivity. But in concentrating his attention he was able to tell, “There’s a Ley Line here, I can feel a bleed off effect leaking into the formation on it’s own.”
“Well, it would make sense for a facility that observes the timeline of a planet to be tapped into a Ley Line,” said Archer in contemplation. “I can’t help but wonder why this room is disused, though. You’re the forty eighth Master Candidate, right? So shouldn’t this have been a priority room for Chaldea if nearly 50 people needed to use it?”
“The plan was for all the Candidates to summon their Servant after reaching Fuyuki, I think,” said Ritsuka as he reviewed his memories. “It was probably a measure to prevent having to dedicate more resources to making time travel Coffins for Candidates and their Servants.”
“So their plan was to summon us, use us, and then immediately discard us afterwards,” said Medusa with disappointment and annoyance clearly evident in her voice. “Sounds exactly like what humans would do.”
“I think I can use this room,” said Ritsuka without any lead up.
“I’m sorry, Master. What was that?”
“I think I can summon another Servant here.”
“I was afraid that was what you meant. Master, I think I should caution you on this. The common thinking of ‘The more there are, the stronger the army’ does not apply to Servants. There is a finite amount of magical power the Master can provide. If the master can provide 10 units of power and has one Servant, the Servant has 10 units of strength. If that same Master has two Servants, then each Servant can only use 5 units of power. If you summon more Servants, then we will all be reduced in strength. It is counter productive. You summoned Medusa and I at the same time, so it is unavoidable that your support is split between the two of us, but I do not recommend splitting your power any further.”
“I can support at least one more Servant, though. I was able to support Caster as a Temporary Master.”
Archer scratched the back of his head and admitted, “True. But without a proper catalyst you do not know who you will be summoning. If it’s an unreasonable Servant or one that has high fuel consumption, you could have all your Od fatally drained.”
“I made a promise.”
“What? To Caster? There’s no need to summon a pain in the ass like that as a Lancer.”
“Not Caster. Saber.”
Archer flinched at that.
“As Saber, no, Artoria was dying, I promised I’d make it up to her for taking her life. ‘I will if I can,’ I said. Those words weren’t hollow. I… am going to summon Artoria.”
Archer spoke again, this time with less conviction. “You don’t have a catalyst on hand, especially one for the King of Knights. There’s no way to know that that one will be the Servant to respond to you.”
“When I used the summoning circle in Fuyuki, I prayed. I made a desperate wish to the ritual. I begged it to send someone who knew what they were doing. And you and Medusa appeared. So I think that if I wish hard enough, the ritual will respond to it.”
Ritsuka’s wistful smile that he showed over his shoulder left Archer stunned. Archer put his hands on his hips and looked down, trying to find another argument against his Master’s foolhardy action, but could not find anything else to say. Eventually, he looked over at Medusa and asked, “What do you think?”
“I support Fujimaru-sama’s decision.”
Archer would have thought the woman would be completely on the side of reason with how cold she typically presented herself, and with all the reasons Archer had thrown out. She was also the kind of woman who would be against agreeing to have her strength reduced by the addition of another permanent Servant. And she didn’t have the emotional compromises that Archer felt he’d gone through with Ritsuka’s comments. So, Archer was completely confused by her response and asked, “Why?”
“Because I cannot imagine Fujimaru-sama backing out of a promise he has made.”
Ritsuka smiled kindly at Medusa, while Archer agonized some more before finally saying, “Fine. I’ve run out of objections. Do as you please. But whatever happens, I will move to prioritize your safety, Master. If the Servant you summon is hostile to you, I will eliminate them, no matter who it is that appears.”
“Understood,” nodded Ritsuka. Then, he lifted his hand and began to pour out his magical power into the ritual circle.
“For the Elements, Silver and Iron. For the Foundation, Stone and the Arbiter of Covenants. Let no man be my Master, as we trod the path to the future. Seal the gates of the four directions. Come forth from thy jeweled pinnacle and follow the exalted road leading to the Kingdom.”
The connection to the circle was stable, and there was an excess of energy being drawn from the Chaldea ley line. The circle began to glow as each line of the diagram was filled with power.
“Fill, fill, fill, fill, fill. The five vessels are complete.”
In tune with the five repetitions of the word, the blue light grew more powerful until one could easily read from it. Ritsuka felt that he was now connected directly into the ritual from his end.
“But when each is filled, let them be destroyed. Heed my words. My will creates your body, and your blade cuts the path to my destiny. If you heed the Throne’s call and obey my will and reason, then answer me! King of Knights, Artoria!”
There was a jolt of power as the other end of the ritual, the connection from who knows where that allows the descent of Servants into the world of matter and form, met with Ritsuka with what seemed like a physical impact. Ritsuka’s words for the ritual faltered. There was an edge of understanding cutting into his mind that if he continued the ritual before the link he desired was fully formed then it would fail to produce the result he wished for, and would result in a ‘bad draw’ one would say in the online forums for the cell phone game he enjoyed.
The magical energy within Ritsuka’s body was forcefully drawn out, and it reformed into a connection that he felt he could see when he closed his eyes in agony. An agony that felt like his insides were being hollowed out, and that if his concentration wavered for a moment his heart and soul would be sucked out into the vacuum of space. But it was not just he himself that was searching.
In response to his plea, there was another force, a connection that was reaching out to him as well. It was like the one he felt when calling out to Archer, but this one seemed like it was fighting to reach him, whereas Archer felt like he was somewhat forced in Ritsuka’s direction. When the connection between the two cords that rushed towards each other from the depths of limitless nothing was made-
Ritsuka’s body shuddered violently like he’d been punched in the gut. Then again as the connection was sealed.
“Wait, the ritual is still going! Don’t interrupt him!”
Ritsuka felt the presence that connected to him and it… wasn’t the one he knew from Fuyuki. It was painfully similar but it was another person. Ritsuka needed to find the right person, or he wouldn’t be able to keep his promise!
With the second shout, Ritsuka shuddered again as another connection was made. It was an easier impact this time, as though the new connection was already closely tied to the first. But it still wasn’t the person Ritsuka was searching for.
Ritsuka’s knees quivered a little. He didn’t have much more time to sift through limitless nothing. He couldn’t play guessing games with infinity. He had to be the one to find her, then.
Ritsuka’s consciousness was already flying from him such that he was struggling to hold on. So, in desperation, he stopped trying. He allowed his consciousness to leave his body behind with the slimmest tether his inexperience could manage and allowed it to flow up the connection he’d made. Bygone knowledge and forgotten truths flashed past his awareness, none of which he looked at, none of which he even tried to glance at please no-no more truth-no more sights beyond the shattered egg as he charged up to the existence of those who’d responded to him and there… was something that was cast off. There debugged-removed-sitting in the recycle folder ready to be purged was the girl Ritsuka had encountered, a girl that was not meant to exist half corrupted-half true-remade in a form of tyranny that could never have been and being eaten away by whatever antibodies this non-existence realm used to protect itself. Time had no meaning here causality inverts reality-reality is an illusion-illusion is a saga that plays the tune of eternity but Ritsuka knew knowledge is the power one can never be free from that if he did not reach out to her now she’d be lost forever.
“ARTORIA,” shouted Ritsuka as though he was catching a drowning person’s attention while throwing a lifeline. His full force of will stretched out with all his power as the Command Seal on his hand lit up like fire it burns as it goes out-it fuels as it goes in as the power in it used Ritsuka as a ladder to reach the remnants of the girl Ritsuka had met… and completed her. The cast off fragments of data formed into a cohesive whole a true person that is not real-never was-always is-separate forevermore that reacted to his shouted call of her name. The connection was established ping goes the contract-a second summon to the when-where with the force of a battering ram breaking through the door of reality such is the necessary force required to give the girl that never-was a here-to-be-forever.
“I hereby swear that I shall be all the good in the world! That I shall defeat all evil in the world! Thou Seventh Heaven, clad in the three great sigils of power, come forth from the circle of binding, oh Guardians of Balance!”
As Ritsuka’s consciousness slammed back into his body with the completion of the ritual he realized that he was tasting copper in his mouth. His eyes were stolen of their visibility as a pillar of light, then a second, and a third reached out from the center of the summoning circle, entwined like the cords of a rope, and then pushed apart as though they all rejected one another for the sake of their own existence.
Ritsuka’s sight grew hazy and unfocused. The dazzle left his eyes and he could see three figures that each represented a different color. Blue. White. Black. And then the world tilted. There was a dull sensation of feedback as Ritsuka’s knees struck the ground and the world twisted as he flipped over to fall on his back. Ritsuka lay there in the dust, staring at the ceiling. He had just enough time before oblivion swallowed him to observe the three fuzzy faces that appeared in his vision, looking down on him.
…There really are three people in the world who have the same face…