The weapons flying past my vision move too quickly, I can’t see how they’re moving. Two spears striking each other, producing impacts so loud they sound like a blacksmith hammer striking metal. I have no idea where I am, I have no idea how I got here. I don’t even know if I’m still me, because these don’t look like my hands and I obviously don’t have control of my body.
A kick lands on my chest, throwing my up, and another kick strikes my back while I float in the air, slingshotting me into the hard packed dirt of the training yard. The result are several fractured ribs, but they’re not broken. Meaning the training can keep going if whatever me I am just focuses through the pain. Far too swiftly, before the body can begin protesting, this me picks myself up and takes a combat stance. My center of balance wavers slightly, but I rigidly reinforce myself with my willpower alone, and face the enemy who’s-
Owaaaah. She’s beautiful.
The woman holding a blood red spear has a body line that could only be called the highest level of art. Long legs, tight waste, voluptuous chest, and flawless facial features. She’s wearing a thin fabric bodysuit showing all her proportions, and showing the perfectly sculpted muscles that highlighted a powerful femininity. Like a predatory cat. The woman opened her mouth and asked in a deep and dignified voice, “Are you ready to take a break yet?”
“HA! As if I’d lag behind an old hag like you!”
Old hag? What are you even seeing Cu!? Huh? That was definitely Cu Chulainn’s voice, but why did it come out of my mouth? Oh, crap, Cu definitely made her angry. Her slightly drooping eyes have narrowed in aggression.
“Oh? Sounds like I need to teach you manners once again. I guess this will be another long lesson, brat.”
“Bring it on!”
Oh! The fight stopped being anything near equal and turned into a one sided stomping match. Every one of the beauty’s attacks exploited this body, Cu’s I suppose, weaknesses from his fatigue and pried open holes in his defenses. Slashed skin and bruises accumulated at an astounding rate. The beauty gave out some cursory words of advice once in a while, but it was mostly just venting anger on Cu who kept throwing petty insults around at random. But I can tell, he was doing it as a way of keeping his own willpower intact as a defensive instinct. Unfortunately, every comment of his made this training session harsher.
And I was feeling every single one of those body blows. Owwwwww.
After striking the ground again, for the umpteenth time, Cu rolled over and threw up. I could taste the bile and blood that surged up. It made me want to vomit again in the hopes of something less noxious coming out to kill the taste. So. This was what was meant by the term “Training so hard you vomit blood.”
“We’re done for now. Clean yourself up and rest,” said the woman with finality. Thank goodness.
“Wait,” shouted Cu. What, really, man? She’s letting us off! “I can keep going, easy! Are you really gonna run from me!?”
The beautiful woman turned back, her long dark hair swaying with the motion of her head, and she said, “I’m bored, that’s why I’m stopping. If you want to keep going, there’s a training dummy over there.”
Cu grit the teeth I’m sharing with him until the woman departed and spat out the words, “I couldn’t even get her to get serious with me, again!” Then he punched the ground before picking himself up to start working on his exercises again.
* * * * *
Ritsuka was shortly woken up by Artoria, who was granted access to Ritsuka’s room by Medusa who’d stood guard outside the entire night. It was quickly decided by Dr. Roman and Da Vinci that having female Servants staying overnight in Ritsuka’s room was a bad idea for all kinds of reasons, and decided that as Ritsuka’s temporary guardians that they would put their feet down.
Ritsuka was actually pretty glad about it. He hadn’t been so jaded by Servant lack of common sense that he was accepting to the idea of having beautiful women on call in his room all night long. And especially not giant muscular men. Daytime was fine, but there was something sacred about nighttime.
Anyway, after being told to wake up and wash his face, Ritsuka was quickly hurried to the work out room by Artoria where-
“Pedal faster! How are you supposed to improve if you’re cycling under 30 kilometers an hour!”
Artoria turned into a demon instructor wielding a bamboo sword. Where she even got a shinai, Ritsuka had no idea. For the past half hour Ritsuka had been pushed three times as hard as Emiya had ever done.
“Time,” called Artoria, letting Ritsuka know it was okay for him to fall off the exercise bike and become a breathless pile of goo on the floor. After a period of desperately trying to catch his breath, Ritsuka felt Artoria’s shinai strike him in the flank just hard enough to sting a bit and heard the words, “Okay! Rowing machine, next! Move!”
Ritsuka suffered on the rowing machine for another five minutes accompanied by roaring instructions from Artoria before Emiya entered and shouted, “What the hell, Seiba!?”
“Mmm? Is breakfast ready,” asked Artoria to Emiya’s appearance.
“Yes, but that’s not what’s important here! What are you doing to our Master, Artoria?”
“Training him to become a fine knight.”
Emiya cradled his face and asked, “Did you even look at the training regimen I wrote up?”
“Yes. I thought it was a bit naive, so I improved upon it.”
Emiya sighed and said, “Artoria. Our master has performed no physical training at any time in his life. Even amongst humans, his ratings in physical strength are completely mediocre. Training fit for a knight is just going to break his body.”
“Hmm? I thought mages were required to have fit bodies that were capable of high level hand to hand combat in this day and age.”
“Our Master is not a mage, though, Artoria. He was a civilian until a few days ago.”
Artoria’s face changed a shade towards green and asked, “So I just gave a knight’s training program… to a normal high school boy?”
At Emiya’s response, Artoria immediately knelt in front of Ritsuka and shouted, “My sincerest apologies Master! I was unaware of your lack of physical capacity! Please punish this one as you see fit!”
Ritsuka waved Artoria’s apology away, though he thought it was strange how Artoria had picked up the Japanese dogeza position, but otherwise remained on the floor unmoving while gasping desperately. It took some time for Ritsuka to catch his breath, and most of the contents of his water bottle before he was fully coherent, however. With Artoria incapable of meeting his eyes, she asked Ritsuka, “Why did you not refuse my training methods, Master? It was obviously far above the level your body was going to be able to withstand if what Emiya said was true.”
“Well, it crossed my mind,” said Ritsuka huffing out some laughter. “But you were so sure about yourself I just thought it was the next stage in my training. After all, I volunteered to help save the world, so this much effort seems realistic. Really, I’m just glad I wasn’t vomiting up blood.”
“-Is what he says, Artoria. This is the kind of guy our Master is. A child who has already decided to accept that which is unreasonable, and continue to wear a smile while he does so. Do you understand now how dangerous it is to make assumptions concerning our Master?”
“…Yes. In some ways, this is far more troubling than a master who insists on fighting on the front lines.”
Emiya’s face twitched slightly and changed topics.
“Anyway, Master. You will be resting for the rest of the day. While I assume it is true you have not vomited up blood yet, you might do so if you continue to exert yourself with your recovering body.”
“Heh. I suppose I should be glad to have a free day,” said Ritsuka wryly. But then he asked about something that had been bothering him. “Since there’s nothing else for me to do today, may I ask the two of you to explain something to me?”
The two Servants agreed, so Ritsuka asked his question.
“Why do the two of you have so much hatred for Medea?”
“May I ask where this question is coming from, Master,” asked Emiya carefully.
Ritsuka gave a nod and started on the background of his question.
“Artoria was somewhat… well, very disgusted with Gilgamesh. But when he said he would conduct himself as a guest, neither of you were against the idea. Which means, no matter how badly the two of you get along with Gilgamesh, you at least trust that it will not be a problem for him to be here. But with Medea, both of you wanted to kill her. Each of you very actively tried to swing things towards getting rid of Medea for good. She did nothing to warrant that treatment at the meeting table, so I’m asking what happened in the past that left the two of you despising her so much.”
Both Artoria and Emiya were very quiet and shared some looks at each other. Before long, they gave each other an agreeing nod. Emiya looked back at Ritsuka and said, “I’m willing to talk about it… but is it alright if we do so over breakfast? Your meals are growing cold.”
* * * * *
“Come in,” said the voice pleasantly from inside the reassigned work room. So, Ritsuka went inside to find Medea leaning up from the work table she was unpacking items onto. “Ara, Master? What brings you to my new workshop?”
“I wanted to have a little talk with you, Medea.”
“Oh? About what?”
“I spoke with Artoria and Emiya about the 5th Holy Grail War. Specifically, about their interactions with you. And I want to ask you to describe that war from your point of view as well.”
“…Artoria, Emiya, and Medusa are right outside this door, correct,” asked Medea.
“I wasn’t able to convince them to let me come to you alone. I was able to keep them from coming inside your workshop, however.”
“Ara? And why ever would you do that, Master? It’s like you are putting your life in my hands.”
To Medea’s sadistic smile, Ritsuka simply said, “Because Emiya and Artoria tend to get riled up around you, Medea. I don’t want your story to be interrupted part way through. Well, if you intend to tell me, that is.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then I’ll be disappointed,” said Ritsuka with a smile.
Medea’s smiled slipped a little, then it seemed like her cheek twitched. Finally she sighed and said, dropping all formality in her voice, “Please take a seat at the table. I’ll prepare some tea.”
After a few minutes, Medea came back with steaming tea in western style cups. With a smirk, she set one down in front of Ritsuka and said in a winning voice dripping with motive, “Now, please enjoy the tea.”
“Oh, thanks,” said Ritsuka, who took a sip. “Hmm. It’s good. I’m still not used to dark teas, though.”
Medea stood there gaping in disbelief and asked, “Are you foolish, Master!? I could have laced that with anything! You’re in my workshop, it would have been simple for me to slip something in that would have left you at my mercy!”
The door quickly opened and three stern faces looked inside. Emiya asked, “Is something wrong!?”
“Nothing at all,” replied Ritsuka with a smile and waved. “We’re fine, you can close the door again.”
The three Servants on guard outside hesitantly closed the door. Once they were alone again, Ritsuka looked over at Medea, smiled and said, “While dark tea is ideal for covering the taste of a poison or a potion, you really haven’t had time to prepare anything special like a mind control serum. It would make no sense for you to poison me to death either; especially when I’m the only person in Chaldea who actually wants you to be here. That, and I don’t think I’ve done anything yet to deserve being betrayed. I hope at least.”
Medea sighed and sank into her chair saying, “I really have no idea how to deal with all this baseless goodwill. And now that you’ve said all that I can’t just write you off as being a simpleton.” Medea broke up her thoughts with a sip of her own tea and asked, “You wanted to hear about the Fifth Holy Grail War. Where did you want me to start, Master?”
“How about with your summoning? I’d like to hear about what kind of person your Master was.”
Medea was silent for a few seconds and leaned back in her chair, saying, “Those two told you about that, then.”
“Yes. They called you a Masterkiller.”
“And you still drank my tea? Master, I can’t help but fear for your safety in the future.”
“Honestly, I’m also afraid of what my future holds.”
Medea looked at her Master with a touch of shock and surprise, looking into his eyes. Perhaps she saw the helpless resignation that Ritsuka felt constantly boiling beneath the surface, but her demeanor seemed to change a little. Medea settled down and said, “You wanted to know about the man who summoned me in that war, yes? Well, there’s not much to tell. He was a typical Mage.”
“I’m sorry, Medea, but… I don’t know what a typical mage is. Could you be more precise?”
“…He was a man whose family built a fortune out the deaths of others. Quite literally. He perfected an industrialized form of human sacrifice, turning the bodies of children into crystallized mana to sell to other mages.”
“Yes. That was pretty much my reaction as well. I could not show it of course, so I tried to enlighten the man. I showed him a way to have increased output without needing any… raw materials. And he reacted as a normal Mage would to being shown the errors within his craft.”
“Yes. Quite badly. He was a petty man who thought he could win the Holy Grail through the use of money and connections. Instead of being overjoyed to have a new and more profitable system of gaining wealth, he turned petulant and violent. So, I decided that I would be better off without him and gave him a taste of the methods that earned me that ignominious nickname, Witch of Betrayal.”
“How did you do it?”
“Well, my usual method is to cause people to destroy themselves. Allow them to be crushed by the weight of their own greed and desires. But I didn’t want to put up with him for that long, so I simply destroyed his facilities, released his raw materials, and slew all the people who worked in that place. I destroyed that which he’d built, ruined his pride, and allowed him to lament in terror before his life ended.”
“And he didn’t try to stop you? Command Spells existed in Fuyuki as well, right?”
“Ara. But that was the easiest part. My Noble Phantasm is named Rule Breaker,” gloated Medea as she materialized a wicked blade of purple in a jagged lightning design in her hand, leaning forward for the weapon to be held within easy striking distance of Ritsuka’s body. “It can nullify all forms of magecraft, including Master-Servant bonds. I only needed to use it on myself to be free of his pitiful constraints. It was quite hilarious as that pompous man stood there, ordering me to kill myself with the last of his Command Seals. Oh, you should have seen the look on his face when he realized he was doomed to death, Master.”
Medea began to laugh with an amusement that would send a chill down people’s spines, but only made Ritsuka feel sadness.
“Oh? Do I shock you Master? Are you disturbed by my true face?”
“No. I just feel bad that you had no other means of stopping that man but to go that far.”
“What you described as the man’s business was not just murder, but an atrocity against life. No law abiding nation would have allowed him to go unpunished, and such crimes are why the death penalty was established. But… as a Mage that man was not going to be able to be brought to justice for his crimes since the Mages Association prizes secrecy over everything else. Negotiation didn’t work for you, and there were no courts that could intervene. So violence was the only method remaining. I’m just sorry you were forced to perform such a bloody act to save those children.”
“That’s what you took away from my story,” asked Medea as she straightened back up, her Noble Phantasm disappearing in her surprise.
“Well, that and the fact that you seem to be intentionally trying to disgust me. Though I have no idea why.”
Medea looked down and away, but did not say anything. Ritsuka glossed over his own comment and asked, “If your Master died at your own hands, then who was the man that the other Servants encountered? It seemed he was a martial artist?”
“Ah, Souichirou-sama… Yes, I was badly wounded while escaping from Lancer, who was almost certainly invited into the lair of the man who summoned me. Just another indication of that man’s pathetic nature; inviting an enemy into your workshop. Hmph. Anyway, I was able to escape far enough from Lancer that he gave up his pursuit. But, without a supply of magical power from a Master, I was fated to disappear anyway. I did not have the energy to move, let alone to heal. And in that state… Souichirou-sama found me.
“He was a man unlike any I’d met before. He was… empty. He had no ambition. No hatred. No passion. He had nothing inside of him. But that meant that there was nothing in him that was distorted. He was a man that was incapable of falsehood. And while any good Souichirou-sama did in the world was in line with his role in society… he was always earnest in everything he did. Including being my Master, even though he was not a mage.”
“Sorry to interrupt, Medea, but how did he save you from disappearing if he wasn’t a mage? A technique like that might be helpful for someone as unreliable as me to know,” asked Ritsuka. Hearing the question, a light blush appeared on Medea’s slightly visible cheeks as she turned away with her thumb and forefinger curled around her chin.
“I think it’s perhaps a little early for you to know about that, Master,” was the only response Medea gave. Ritsuka had an instinct that it was perhaps better that he not inquire on the subject any further. Instead he asked, “And what about the Grail War itself? What happened on your end?”
Medea settled back in her chair and seemed to focus hard. Her voice also contained the strain of conscious effort as she explained, “My memories of the war seem to splinter around the time the war was officially started. I can only assume it’s a side effect of the Holy Grail system that had been set up in that town, that I would possess so many different memories overlapping and destroying each other. But I can say with certainty… that the greatest thing I remember is regret. Indeed, I feel regret over my actions in that place even now.”
Ritsuka remained silent for a time, but then asked the sorrowful Medea, “What is it that caused you so much regret?”
“My impatience. You see… I truly loved… I still love Souichirou-sama. But… because of that damned Aphrodite I am cursed in love. Being distorted by her into loving a piece of filth like Jason… I felt I had to be useful, or I would be thrown away. Which was why I was hurrying to try and produce results. I tried to steal Command Seals to implant on Souichirou-sama, so that he could be my Master in more than name only. I completely brainwashed the occupants of the temple, Souichirou-sama’s home, to turn it into a fortress for just the two of us. I liberally used magics that I had forbidden myself to use, and committed other atrocious acts… because I wanted to give something back to Souichirou-sama… even though he never wanted or needed me to do such a thing. And as a result… I went from being a woman who was blamed for other people’s misfortunes, to actively being the Witch that was creating disasters.”
“Emiya said something about mass coma incidents…”
“Yes, Master. I absorbed the life force of the people of Fuyuki remotely from my position in Ryuudou temple. While I could maintain my existence with Souichirou-sama’s help… I couldn’t fight. As Caster, I am incapable of fighting without using large quantities of magical power. The occupants of the town were a good source for me at the time. By the time the Grail War started I had the system down perfectly, and had a far greater abundance of magical power to draw upon than any of the other Servants.”
So Caster said with pride. Ritsuka had a point in that topic he wanted to explore though.
“Well, Caster, I find it interesting that you put people into a coma. How did that come about?”
“Ara, Master. Humans are so very frail, you know? Take a little bit of life force out of them and they just start toppling over. Such a result was unavoidable, really.”
“But none of them died.”
“I asked Emiya and Artoria for more information on that Soul Eating thing, and it sounded like it was expected that the act of Soul Eating resulted in the victim’s death. But when I inquired about your actions in Fuyuki more with those two, they begrudgingly admitted that none of your very overt life draining actions resulted in any deaths.”
“Oh? That? Humans can be a renewable resource. As long as they’re given time to recover, they can be drained again and again without significant complications.”
“But how many more preparations did you need to take to remotely drain people in such a way where their lives were not in danger?”
“That… It was investing in the future, Master. After all, the people of Fuyuki were my precious source of magical power. If I was going to win the Grail War I couldn’t just thoughtlessly waste my resources.”
“But there was no way the victims would recover before the Grail War ended, right? It only lasted a few weeks.”
“A good Ruler does not squander their materials, Master. How many times do I need to say that?”
“No, I believe you, Medea. But I also can’t help but wonder about your targets. Office buildings, right? Places with a lot of people but… very public places. Places where it was impossible to collect life energy without causing a big ruckus.”
“…What is it you are trying to imply, here Master,” asked Medea with menace in her voice.
“I’m just wondering why you didn’t absorb the life force of people in a hospital? After all, people are in hospitals because they are ill. People falling into comas or dying would not be out of place. No one would have been able to tell if it was your magic or nature running its course.”
“That! It’s! Short sighted, Master! Draining the life force of the people at the hospital… well, the healthier the person, the better the life force. And if I was going to do that kind of slow drain, the returns wouldn’t be nearly as high. The hospital would start losing staff as well, and as a ruler I couldn’t possibly remove people’s access to health care services. That would just be completely irresponsible.”
“I agree, Medea,” said Ritsuka in full mischievous agreement. “Besides, if the hospitals were shut down, where would all the comatose people be taken care of?”
Medea turned her head away in a huff as Ritsuka chuckled softly and swiftly apologized.
“Sorry Medea, but I think I understand you a lot better now. You’re actually far kinder than you yourself seem to think you are. I mean, you’ve killed people and done some terrible things according to your own admission… but you’re also capable of doing some very kind things. I suppose I’m saying that you’re very human.”
Medea was quiet for a moment before she flatly said, “If that’s supposed to be a complement, Master, I would say there is a lot of room for improvement.”
“I guess so, but, well, those are my honest feelings. Anyway, I’m still fine with you being here Medea. But, uh, can you do me a favor?”
“And what favor would that be, Master?”
“If I ever do anything to annoy you or make you angry, please tell me so that I have a chance to make it up to you? I really don’t want to experience the wrath of Medea.”
“Oh, never fear about that, Master. You will definitely know if I am ever angry at you,” said Medea with an inscrutable smile on her face.
“That… was more ominous than I would have liked it to be,” said Ritsuka nervously.
“Just consider it my small revenge for you making fun of me earlier. But honestly… I’m surprised with myself. I talked about so many things just now that I didn’t think I would ever share with anyone. And you didn’t even use a command seal to get me to open up, either.”
“Wait, I can do stuff like that?”
“…Yes, of course you can, Master! Honestly, who taught you about being a Master?”
“No one. I thought these seals were only used in combat.”
“…I suppose that makes sense, then. Listen carefully, Master. A Command Seal is a contract of enforced obedience with the Servant. Using a Command Spell, you can force any specific requests or demands you have onto your Servant. So, while it would have been frivolous to use a Command Spell to force me to open up about myself, you could have used one of your remaining two Comman- why do you have three!?”
“Master, is something wrong,” shouted Artoria as she slammed the door open again.
“Why does he have three Command Seals,” demanded Medea shrilly while animatedly pointing at Ritsuka’s hand; ignoring the fact that the intruders were aggressive to her personally. “He only had two yesterday!”
“They seem to grow back when I sleep,” said Ritsuka lamely. Medea had a short flip out session like all the Casters seem to do on learning about Ritsuka’s Command Seals. Was it really that odd? It just seemed natural to Ritsuka. But with the re-entry of the people in the hall, it seemed like a good opportunity. So Ritsuka asked, with a hint of nefarious intent in his voice, “Say, Medea. How would you like to play a little game?”