The maniac laughter echoed in the archery dojo as the second year student lorded his victory over his fallen prey.
“How is it, how do you like it? Not so tough now, huh, vice-president,” called the pretty boy with wavy hair at the red headed boy laying on the ground, covered in his own blood.
“Knock it off, Matou-kun,” called the girl with long dark hair decorated with ribboned twin tails on the sides. “He’s not a part of this, any more than that and you’ll kill him.”
“That’s the point, Tohsaka,” gloated Shinji as his mad smile grew wider. “He might just be a fortunate bonus compared to you and Emiya, but this is a good chance for him to understand who’s the better man, after all. A commoner piece of shit like him being picked over me for being the vice-president! Well, he won’t be around much longer…”
“Shinji…” came the voice of the beat up red headed boy. “Stop this… It’s not… too late…”
“SHUT THE HELL UP!”
Shinji’s soccer style kick to the collapsed boy’s abdomen sent him sliding half a meter on the polished dojo floor, and flopped him onto his back. The boy was definitely on the verge of death, and pale from blood loss. The two girls in the dojo, Tohsaka Rin and Emiya Sakura gasped in horror and called out the boy’s name in helpless anxiety. Unfortunately, they could not move to help him, since the other occupant of the room had rendered them both immobile with her Noble Phantasm.
“Stop it already, Matou-kun,” called Tohsaka as she tried to gain time to circulate mana to flush out the paralysis effect. “The High School is neutral ground, attacking us here is paramount to suicide! You’ll be marked as a rogue Master by the church at this rate! Turn back now and-”
“That’s exactly what I want,” said Shinji with baseless confidence. “When the church declares a hunt, the ones who will lead the charge will be your parents. The Masters of Saber and Archer. They’ll rush headlong after me, and I’ll destroy them both together. Then, I’ll be the only one with a Knight Class servant left, and the game will be all but won! And then you’ll see, Toh~sa~ka, that I’m the better mage, and not second best to you!”
“Kuh. I’d like to meet the idiot who was so stupid as to declare you as being good enough to be called second best,” said the brown haired girl venomously. “Objectively speaking, you’re about the fifteenth strongest in the city at best.”
“YOOOOOOOOUUUUUU-” shouted Shinji as he prepared to take a step forward and strike Tohsaka with the electricity that began crackling around his fingers, but then halted. “Ahh, I get it,” he said as though having a deep revelation. “You’re intentionally baiting me, rating me that low would be impossible otherwise. Oh-ho, still so tricky, Tohsaka. Well, I won’t be falling for it. Lancer-”
The pale as porcelain woman in the shadows stepped forward bearing her black scythe that had a light coating of blood on the blade. Her yellow eyes were slit like a snake’s and she seemed bored by the drama that was taking place before her.
“Finish off that dirty rag on the ground. I think he’s been tormented enough to regret lording his tournament scores over me. Then we’ll take these two girls and retreat to the ambush grounds…”
“Finally,” said the lithe woman clothed like an S&M grim reaper as she lifted her weapon to deal the final blow now that her master had given her permission to end the collapsed boy’s life.
“Senpai,” shouted the purple haired girl in powerless terror.
“Burn like the twin cities of sin, Sodom and Gomorrah!”
Two spell circles appeared, one above and the other below Lancer. A jet of flame enveloped the area like a pillar of purging flame, causing Lancer to release a short scream of pain that ended as quickly as her life. The woman’s form was instantly reduced to only a few glowing embers of gold as her form disintegrated.
“Who-” cried Shinji in surprise and terror.
“An interloper,” answered the voice from under the pale robe and cowl that hid his face. The man was standing in the open, but no one in the dojo had noticed his entrance or presence until he’d struck Lancer dead.
“Do-do-don’t get in my way,” shouted Shinji, firing a bolt of lightning that could fatally cook a regular human from the inside out in an instant. The hooded man lightly lifted his hand and caught the electricity, focused it into a ball in his hand to study it, and then cast it aside like a disappointing toy. The wavy haired brat felt his courage fail as a voice of fright escaped his chattering teeth. As the cloaked and cowled man took a step forward, Shinji felt the fear of death encroach on him. With a terrified shriek, Shinji turned and ran with his back left unprotected. The unidentified man snapped his fingers, causing a spell circle to appear where Shinji’s foot landed, instantly flash freezing his entire body. A light wave of the hand shattered Shinji’s form into a thousand pieces. And then the lifting of two fingers burnt those pieces to ash.
Emiya Sakura swallowed a scream of terror from the gore show. The boy on the floor groaned the slain child’s name in regret. And Tohsaka Rin cried out in indignation, “What the hell was that!?”
The hooded man tilted his head like he’d just been asked a question whose answer was very obvious. “As little evidence of the War must be left behind as possible. But nevermind that. The curse of Lancer’s blade should be broken with her demise.”
Light emitted from the man’s eyes as he sent mana into the bodies of Emiya and Tohsaka to purge the remaining paralysis effect from Lancer. Then he said, “You should be able to heal that boy now, if that’s the case.”
Emiya Sakura instantly bent to the young man with a call of “Senpai,” and began focusing on a healing spell. Tohsaka nearly bent over as well, but then decided to place herself between the two on the ground and the unidentified man. “You’re Caster, aren’t you,” she said in an accusatory tone. “Why would you save us?”
“The same reason a Servant does anything,” said the man. “I was ordered to by my Master. With this, the daughters of the Emiya and Tohsaka families owe my Master a debt. You can repay him by delivering these letters to your respective fathers.”
The man dropped two sealed envelopes on the ground, each addressed to one of the heads of the two families.
“What’s in them? Some kind of hex,” guessed Tohsaka, assuming that Caster would try to indirectly slay his competition and wishing to have no part in his plan.
“The only spell I have laid on this ink and paper is a seal that prevents any but the designated person from opening it. Such tricks would not work against a superior mage like Tohsaka Tokiomi, anyway. You need not fear this letter, young lady.”
After checking the progress of the healing for the boy on the ground, Tohsaka turned back to the man with the eerily emotionless voice and asked, “What’s the contents of the letters?”
“My Master knew you would ask such a question, and bade me to answer with sincerity. I cannot find words better suited to describe the message than those my Master used, however. ‘Those letters contain the most dangerous thing in the world. The truth.’ With that, I will take my leave. There is no point in my confronting the forces that will be responding to the invasion of the late Master of the Matou house…”
As Tohsaka remained on guard until the hooded man left, the boy on the ground cried out, “Wait! Caster or whoever you are! You’ve been talking a lot of crap for a while, but who are you? How did you do that; what gave you the right to do that to Shinji!”
The hooded man halted his steps in a way that instantly told Tohsaka that the situation had taken its most dangerous turn. The Servant, Caster, slowly turned back around and said, “He’s a civilian witness?”
As Caster lifted his hand to snap his fingers, Emiya Sakura instantly hugged the boy in a desperate attempt to either prevent his killing or die along with him. The movement delayed Caster’s spell just long enough for Tohsaka Rin to move between Caster and his target and state her piece. “Leave him alone, Caster. We’ll take care of him.”
“You will save him, you mean. You know that those in this world are required to purge those who stumble into it. Witnesses can not be allowed.”
“Like I said, we’ll take care of it,” insisted Tohsaka. “We’ll do it our way, there’s no need to kill him! And if you try-” Tohsaka Rin produced various gemstones and held them like throwing daggers between her knuckles. “-I’ll fight you with my life on the line.”
Caster remained motionless, calculating objectives, requirements, and orders. He found the balance of all three, and said, “It would be counterproductive to kill the messenger. I will allow you to take custody of the witness and do with him as you see fit. In exchange, your debts have grown greater. Your only way of repaying said debt is to deliver those messages. Agreed?”
Tohsaka thought for a moment before responding through grit teeth, “Agreed.”
The man turned once more and proceeded to finish his exit. His presence vanished long before he left the dojo, leaving those inside loathe to release their tension. When they did, the boy on the ground asked, “Sakura. Rin. Please explain what happened properly.”
* * * * *
The arrival and departure of a man in priest garb had delayed the explanation some, but since there was no evidence of a battle aside from some ruined floorboards, there was no need to change locations, thus lessening the strain on the body of the recently healed boy. Sakura and Rin explained the situation as well as they could without going into too many details.
“It’s all a little hard to swallow,” said the red haired boy. But as he looked over at the scorch mark where Lancer had been annihilated, he concluded with, “But I don’t have any choice but to believe it.”
The slightly dour purple haired girl said, “I’m sorry, Senpai. We’ve been lying to you all this time…”
With a shake of his head, the boy said, “You didn’t have a choice, right? I understand. It hurts that I didn’t figure it out on my own, but that’s all. Rather, it explains a lot about why you don’t like my coming over to your house, Rin. There must be a lot of things you wouldn’t have been able to explain there.”
“My father just likes hovering around us when you’re over, that’s all. It’s embarrassing when he’s like that…”
The boy showed a wry smile before going back on topic.
“With that said… there’s something I want to ask of the two of you.”
“What is it, Senpai?”
“Please teach me magic.”
The two girls released voices of surprise with Rin recovering more quickly. In an overbearing tone of voice she asked, “Did you not understand that mages live in a world where it’s normal for people to be killed? Why would you ask for such a thing? You should just be happy you can hold onto a peaceful everyday life, you numbskull!”
“Your words are as scathing as ever, huh, Rin,” said the boy feeling properly chastised. “But it’s exactly that reason I need to learn magic. If… I had known about that kind of world sooner I might have been able to do something to help you. I don’t know if I’d have been able to face off against that Lancer woman, but I could have at least helped the two of you escape. Or maybe, I would have been able to punch some sense into Shinji…”
Everyone looked at the burnt cinders on the ground. The boy continued his words after a moment of silence.
“I… don’t want to be so powerless in the future. Because I don’t want to see the people I care about get hurt. Of course, that includes Rin and Sakura.”
Both the girls blushed from that. The boy also blushed and turned away. In order to triumph over his embarrassment, he decided to do something even more embarrassing. In his cross legged sitting position, he bowed his head deeply and formally requested, “I humbly request that you teach me magic.”
The boy held his head down, not moving until he got the desired response. After a few seconds of feeling absolute agitation from the boy’s audacity, Rin looked at Sakura, who gave a nod. Releasing a sigh of resolution, Rin said, “Fine. I’ll take you as my apprentice. I suppose it’s about time I got one, anyway…”
“Thank you, Rin,” said the boy as he lifted his head.
“But from here on, stop calling it magic, it’s Magecraft, got it? If you call it magic it’ll just be an embarrassment to me as your teacher. And I’m not going to be lenient, either! If your body is incapable of performing magecraft, I’ll be having you give up because it’ll be impossible for you to become a mage if that’s the situation.”
“If that’s the case, I’ll have no choice but to give up on being a mage, but I still won’t back down from entering your world, Rin.”
“And I won’t tolerate failure! I’ll be driving you hard you know! You’ll train so hard that you’ll vomit blood, and that’s not an exaggeration!”
“I’m counting on it! If becoming a mage was easy, then everyone would be one already, wouldn’t they?”
Hearing the boy’s unwavering determination that was wholly recognizing the obstacles in his way instead of shirking back from them, Rin gave another sigh and exclaimed, “Mou. If you’re gonna be that gung ho, I don’t have any choice but to really accept you as my apprentice. Geez, why do you have to be so pig headed, Shirou-kun.”
“Well I have to be whenever you’re around, Rin. Otherwise you’d just stomp all over us to have your way.”
That comment sparked yet another verbal jousting competition between the two youths which Sakura smilingly watched over while resolutely deciding that she’d also teach Shirou in secret whenever Rin wasn’t looking.
* * * * *
“Most interesting,” said Tohsaka Tokiomi to himself as he read the message from Caster’s Master. His daughter, Rin, was carefully watching him for any signs of triggered traps from the letter or the delicately scrawled ink that was on it. There were none that she could see, but she still watched her father while pretending not to. When Tokiomi had finished reading the letter, he instantly lit it on fire with a spell to prevent anyone else from learning it’s contents.
“Thank you for bringing the letter, Rin. It was most enlightening.”
“You’re welcome, father,” said the girl, mastering her unease and curiosity. She already knew that anything her father needed to tell her, he would. Instead of saying anything else to her, Tokiomi simply walked into the basement and began selecting supplies for the coming battle.
The letter contained information, put on paper with the most gratifying lack of sincerity, emotion, or verbosity. It was like reading a missive from a master strategist, containing only polite information in its purest form to make it as easily digestible as possible. The recounting of Tokiomi’s secret deal with the Church for the Grail War and his various other plans and snares for the other Masters was a bit of a shock, but it was a very pleasant revelation to read the laid out secrets of the Einzberns. The identity and nature of their Berserker and his Noble Phantasm turned all of Tokiomi’s previously laid plans bare, but presented opportunities for new ones. The revelation of the need for a host for the Grail and that the Einberns had prepared one was startling, as Tokiomi had no idea the Einzberns had succeeded in concealing that information from him. The deep connection between the Einzberns and the Emiyas was also a surprise, but it more confirmed his suspicions than anything else. And then there was the statement at the end that forced action for everything that would come next.
The lines, “The letter delivered to Emiya Kiritsugu also contains this information in its entirety. It would be wise to prepare yourself. The next battle will be the last of the Grail War.”
Tokiomi didn’t know about whether or not the next battle would be the last, but it would be the most important. The cold war between Tohsaka and the Church against the Einzberns and Emiyas would certainly explode soon. The only question was, ‘Where?’
Despite being such a frightening man, there was no way Emiya Kiritsugu would target the home or family of the Tohsakas, because he would definitely forever ruin the relationship he’d built with Sakura if he did so. The old Kiritsugu might have done so… but not the current one. And in exchange, there was no way Tokiomi could attack the Emiya residence without alienating Rin forever. That left only two targets. Attacking the Einzbern castle, or defending at the Church. Tokiomi decided that it would be best to invite Kiritsugu to go on the offensive than to invade a location that the man had fortified. And if Kiritsugu did not attack… that was fine, too. Kiritsugu was already in the process of dying, so any delays would only give Tokiomi a greater advantage for when the confrontation did occur.
Having selected what he will be taking with him and what he will be leaving behind for the next Family Head, Tokiomi went back upstairs and said, “Rin, I will be going out for a while. Before I depart, I wish to say… You have become a fine mage, and will become a finer one still.”
Tokiomi turned and walked to the front door of the manor where the twilight coming through the windows dyed his red suit in deeper hews of color, creating a vivid scene for the stunned daughter of the Tohsaka household to remember for the rest of her life. At the front door, Tokiomi turned back towards his daughter, smiled fearlessly, and said, “We will be going now, Archer.”
A woman with silvery white hair in a ponytail wearing ancient Japanese garb and carrying a katana appeared , gave a bow and said, “Hai, Master. This one is ready.”
Tokiomi smiled again, opened and stepped through the front door, sealing it behind him.
The Servant Archer gave a polite bow to the daughter of the house, and moved to follow her Master when Rin’s voice stopped her.
The voice halted there, however. How could Rin possibly say anything that would make it seem like she was worried or doubting her father’s chances of victory? How could Rin ask the Servant to keep her father safe? Somehow sensing everything the girl wished to say, the Servant replied to those worries with, “I will definitely obtain victory for Tokiomi-sama. Rest assured, Rin-sama.”
Archer then disappeared. Rin sat down heavily on the couch with her fists balled up, with the tea growing cold on the coffee table and the rhythmic tic of the grandfather clock behind her.
* * * * *
Emiya Kiritsugu pulled out his lighter and burnt the letter to ash, broke the ash apart, and put the ash through the garbage disposal. The letter was cold, impersonal, easily readable, and contained hard information. It was not unlike a dossier on a target for assassination, but with a few flippant bits of turn of phrase. It was unsettling how anyone could obtain such detailed information, especially when Kiritsugu had been one of the people hiding it away.
But with that, everyone’s secrets were laid bare. That in itself was an advantage. Because Kiritsugu knew who needed to be eliminated with the greatest priority. Tohsaka Tokiomi and the Church’s presence in Fuyuki.
Kiritsugu gathered his equipment that he’d been keeping close at hand and spread it across the dining room table to go over the maintenance. It had been a long time since he’d been able to use two hands at once, and the process went both faster and less efficiently with the false arm he’d received from the Einzberns to increase his chances of winning the Grail War. As such, Kiritsugu was giving his full concentration to the maintenance while preparing and planning routes of attack in his head.
The coming battle would almost certainly be at the church, the enemy’s stronghold. Tokiomi was crafty and while he was willing to accept confrontation he was not the sort to seek it out. The man would go on the defense and weave new traps and strategies. So time was not on Kiritsugu’s side.
Kiritsugu’s real hand shivered and his grip slacked enough that the automatic rifle clip he was loading slipped from his grasp.
Time was not on Kiritsugu’s side in more ways than one.
The dying curse of a mage Kiritsugu had eliminated had caused Kiritsugu’s magecraft to become as dangerous to himself as to his enemies. And years of use had taken their toll on his body. If Kiritsugu had not gone into retirement when he’d lost his arm, he would probably have died years ago. As it was, despite not having used his magecraft for a long time, the damage to his body had still caught up with him. He had maybe a month left to live. If so, there was no reason to not try and grasp his dream one last time.
“I know that look,” came the voice Kiritsugu had known for over a decade. Looking up, he saw his ‘wife,’ Maiya. She had adapted to the role of a Japanese Housewife and the regular everyday housewife dress no longer looked foreign on her, though there were definitely tools of the assassin trade lurking just under the hem of her dress.
“Yes. I’ll be finishing things up soon. I know that look on your face as well.”
“Yes. I wish I could go with you.”
Weaponry was not the only thing lurking under the hem of Maiya’s dress, as one of the two legs showing out was an elaborate prosthetic crafted by the Einzberns for Maiya’s personal use. It was a good imitation of a limb, but it could not be trusted to not give out on her in the field. It was an unpredictable factor, and it could not be tolerated. As if that was not a large enough factor, the third thing under Maiya dress was the deciding variable.
“Your role is the most important, Maiya. One you’ll be undertaking six months from now.”
Maiya carefully cradled her slightly bulged stomach with a mixture of happiness and resignation.
“I wish you could be there to share it with me…”
“I wish that too, but we both know it’s impossible.”
“Yes. Even though you might be able to make a wish in the near future… I know you have something more important to you to spend it on.”
Kiritsugu looked down at his weaponry again with self-loathing. Maiya had said what she did as a form of praise and comfort, but Kiritsugu knew how wretched of a human that truth made him. To choose death and his own wish rather than trying to have the Grail heal his body for the sake of his strange family he loved with all of his heart. In the end… he was more of a Mage than he was a Father. As Kiritsugu finished his maintenance, he said, “Old Man Fuji will look after you, and I hope that you and Sakura can try to keep getting along with the Tohsakas no matter how things play out. …I don’t want to rob Sakura of any more of her happiness.”
Maiya nodded solemnly.
Kiritsugu began to repack his equipment, and donned a large coat that concealed many more weapons before he stepped into the winter cold to fight the man he’d grown close to, the true father to his adopted daughter. At the door, he was stopped by that same daughter who said, “Please let me go with you.”
“I can fight too, you know I can. I’m not afraid. After all, even I have…”
The girl looked down at her open palms, obviously seeing the phantom blood that coated them. Kiritsugu planted the palm of his hand on top of Sakura’s head and said, “You have a far more important mission, Sakura. You have to outlive me, and see the world that I will create. I know you want to try and save me… but it’s far too late. I’m just facing the result of a lifetime of bad decisions. But you, Sakura, are not one of them. I’ve left my knowledge and techniques with you, praying you never have to rely on them. And you’ll have to pass them down to your little brother or sister for their own protection.” A child that might inherit the preserved Magic Circuit that the Einzberns were safeguarding for future transplant, as per a part of the business deal Kiritsugu had made with them. “Unlike me, you should protect what you love.”
Sakura fell forward and embraced her foster father, tears falling from her eyes as she said, “I will. I’ll fight for what I love… even if I have to destroy everything else to do it… So… please…”
Kiritsugu cut off that final desperate plea with that cocky attitude men only take on when trying to look good in front of a woman.
“Come now, Sakura. Don’t go denying my chance to make a cool exit. After all… it’s every Ally of Justice’s greatest desire to go out with a bang. Now it’s time for me to go. Are you ready, Saber?”
As Sakura pulled herself away from Kiritsugu, another man appeared from a golden glow. Tall, broad shouldered, and with eyes as emotionally dead as Kiritsugu’s. The purple haired man in the purple armor nodded and said, “Of course. I assume we’ll be meeting up with our allies first?”
“Yes. We’re going to have to bring all our forces to bear this time. And if things go well, you and I both will be able to make our wishes come true.”
The purple knight gripped his fist hard as a touch of desire for his wish to come true crept into his dead fish eyes. A twisted wish that was tantamount to self destruction at the hands of the people he once valued more than himself.
At length, the two women of the Emiya household saw off the two warriors, with the purple haired knight of Brittany sneaking a glance at the married woman that was being left behind.