“Goodbye, no… See you later,” said the lonely girl as she watched her hero streak up towards the surface, to return to his own age. With a fond smile, she looked down at the Authority of the Sun she now held. Her happiness was lasting, but her insecurities were omnipresent, and she quickly found herself worrying about various things, first and foremost-
“How am I going to keep this Avatar presentable for the next five thousand yeaaaaaaaars!?!?”
Truly, the incarnation of Ereshkigal, goddess of plants, earth, death and decay… had the heart of a maiden.
“Well, try not to worry too much about it,” said the fluffy haired man as he once again casually broke into other people’s private moments.
“OWAH!? Y-You, you’re the one from that time?”
“Oh, the fact that you remember me means that child was successful,” remarked Merlin as he nodded to himself. “That will simplify things. Anyway, you’re worried about the ravages of time, correct?”
“Well don’t worry about it so much. As an incarnated Goddess you will only start to age when you choose to do so. So there’s no need to go chasing beauty solutions. It might be interesting to watch for a time, but I’d rather you not fall into the same trap a certain Bloody Baroness did.”
“Really!? Oh, but won’t my outfit get worn out? Should I work on introducing a textile industry to the Underworld then? It would give some of the Gallu spirits something to distract themselves with…”
“Um, I don’t know if I should be instructing a Goddess, but your clothes are also eternal.”
“Oh, that’s a relief,” said Ereshkigal. But a moment later her insecurities rose and she asked, “But should I really meet Ritsuka again wearing the same clothes he just saw me in? Won’t I seem like an unfashionable girl if I do that? I don’t want him to have a bad opinion of me, n-not that I care or… anything…”
Merlin gave a feeble laugh and said, “It seems like you’re going to need something to occupy your time, or some really terrible calamities will happen.”
The statement was not an exaggeration by any means. The young maiden Goddess-Avatar had sway over a great deal of the world’s systems. If she went too far off the track with these new emotions she felt, this infatuation with a human, then it could cause dire repercussions before the Age of the Gods truly came to an end.
“It can’t be helped,” muttered the legendary mage as he dug into a pocket. “Here, try planting these.”
“A bag,” asked the girl as she caught the palm sized object that was casually thrown to her.
“Inside that will be some flower seeds that you can try your hand at. I’ve found that individuals can pass a great deal of time with gardening.”
“Flower… seeds,” asked the girl carefully, handling the bag like it was a sacred treasure.
“That is a rather hardy type of flower, but even so, you’re going to have a hard time growing them in this subterranean environment. But since you now have a Sun for your realm, you might be able to eventually succeed in growing them. It’ll take a lot of trial and effort, though.”
“I-I understand! I’ll succeed! I’ll definitely succeed! I’ll finally… finally… be able to fill the Underworld with flowers…”
Merlin sighed again. The Goddess was far too prone to being carried away. Was it a part of the original entity that was unlocked by fusing with a human host form? Or was it a part of the human that was preserved by the fusion? Or maybe the two were so compatible in that particular fashion that such an earnest child was born? Well, either way… it’s not like it’ll become boring watching such a frantic person in the future.
“With this, I’ll be taking my leave,” said the Mage of Flowers as he started making his exit.
“Oh, please wait,” cried the Goddess of the Underworld like a sixteen year old child. “I haven’t been able to properly reward you yet, for this or for your help before.”
“Oh? I wasn’t doing it for a reward, so you don’t have to worry about it.”
“Then… why were you helping me,” asked Ereshkigal. She was one who had abundant Authorities. She could bestow Power, Wealth, and Status. It made no sense for the Ruler of the Underworld to not give an equivalent gift in return.
“For my own amusement, of course,” said the scummy Mage of Self-Satisfaction. “It’s very interesting, watching you and that boy.”
“You mean… we make a nice couple,” asked Ereshkigal as her cheeks turned red, and her eyes glazed over with happy daydreams.
“Well, however you want to take it,” said Merlin as he disappeared to return to his prison. The little side trip was over and he had to return before his absence weakened him too much. The girl would be fine since there were people who believed in her in the future, which would allow her to survive the changing of ages, as a form of reverse causality. The Underworld would still be there after Chaldea had completed the Restoration of Humanity. And the Queen of that Underworld would be ready for her Invitation when it was extended.
A smarmy smile spread across the mage’s lips. Those two children would be providing the voyeuristic mage quite a lot of amusement in the future as well. It had the same feeling as looking forward to the next season of a TV series.
* * * * *
Thou Seventh Heaven, clad in the three great sigils of power,
come forth from the circle of binding,
oh Guardian of Balance!
As the light in the summoning chamber died down, the blonde twin tailed girl in the questionable bone and tight fabric bodysuit appeared. She looked around her, her eyes sparkling slightly before she set Ritsuka in her sights, and changed her standing posture to seem more intimidating. Her eyes looked upwards, as though remembering something before looking at Ritsuka with eyes feigning disinterest, and said-
“Servant, Lancer-class. Ereshkigal, Mistress of the Underworld. I have come in answer to your summons. I don’t like to help a single person exclusively, but I’ll help you out since you summoned me. You should be grateful.”
Eresh’s haughty tone and upward tilted face were betrayed by the slight twitch of her mouth fighting back a smile, like she’d just successfully delivered a line she’d been practicing in the mirror. Ritsuka felt himself fighting back a relieved laugh. Eresh, however, seemed to take offense at not getting an overt response to her perfect delivery, and demanded, “Hey, why are you so quiet!?”
“Ah, sorry Ereshkigal,” said Ritsuka with a big smile on his face. “It was just an entrance that was very much like you.”
“Mu. I’ll have you know that I’m a proper goddess, you know. So treat me a little better.”
[All systems are green, Ritsuka. I’ll finish things up on my end and join up later.]
“Okay, Osahar, we’ll see you there.”
“Eh? Is something happening,” asked Eresh, slightly worried and a little excited from the voice that was heard over a loudspeaker.
“Well, you’ll see. Come on, this way.”
Ereshkigal timidly followed Ritsuka up and out of the summoning chamber, constantly looking around her curiously while pretending she wasn’t. Hesitating slightly at intersections of the halls and looking to Ritska for guidance while pretending to boldly be moving forwards. Asking questions about different objects that they passed by, excitedly learning everything she could as fast as possible in this new world she’d found herself in. Finally, the two of them came upon a large double sized door.
“Oh? Ritsuka, is this where you were leading me?”
“It sure is,” said Ritsuka while pressing his thumb against a panel. “Welcome to December 25th, 2019. Also known as…”
The doors slid open and a wild world of colors, decoration, music, dancing, ornate trees, wrapped gifts, an enormous buffet of food and drink spread itself in a dazzling light before her.
“Christmas Day,” said Ritsuka with a smile and an extended hand to lead the goddess into the party like a lady.
Ereshkigal beamed a smile, accepted the proffered hand and walked into the festivities like a noblewoman. She met the child Servants first, some being unusually precocious in a way that got Ereshkigal worried for their future and about the difficulty the white garbed mother figure would be having with them. Ereshkigal felt embarrassed showing up in her macabre clothing until a Celtic Queen admonished her to shine like the jewel she was, or it would bring shame to beauty everywhere. Ereshkigal found herself dumbfounded from meeting several people with the same face over and over again, but set the confusion aside when Ritsuka told her that she simply shouldn’t mind it too much. But Ereshkigal swore it wasn’t her imagination when she noticed that several of those girls and women eyed her oddly for the prolonged escort she was getting from Ritsuka.
The Greek Hero was having several of the humans dance to the music while lined up in a way that oddly emphasized their musculature.
One of the humans wore a strange mask and laughed oddly together with an Assassin who had razor tipped fingers.
A tall human woman was spellboundedly speaking with the Berserker vampire, each having a red liquid in their glass of differing consistencies.
A horned youth of oddly great stature had children literally playing on him, leaping from his head to the body of a bulky one eyed warrior and back again.
An oddly lanky composer played every instrument in an orchestra at once, filling the great celebration with sounds of the highest quality, creating an atmosphere of joy.
A plate of delicious food was pushed into her hands by an odd, but kind, woman in an apron that said woof a lot.
It was a whirlwind of glorious happiness all around Ereshkigal that she had never known before inside her earthen realm. And it was thanks to the boy at her side that she could experience such things. It was worth the wait to reunite with him… though if he ever asked she’d just say ‘Oh no, I wasn’t waiting for long,’ like those dating guides that fell into her realm a few decades ago suggested.
“There you are,” cried the all too familiar voice. A girl with dark hair and red eyes that shared the same face and voice as her sped towards Ereshkigal. The floating girl, Ishtar, goddess of Love and War, didn’t touch the ground as she closed in on Ereshkigal and said, “Okay, I’ll handle her from here. Shoo, you. It’s girl time from here on out.”
“Okay, I’ll leave her in your hands then, just don’t stir up any trouble this time,” said Ritsuka jokingly.
“Hey, don’t make it sound like I’m a trouble magnet,” rebutted Ishtar. Then, actually letting her feet touch the ground, Ishtar pulled on Ereshkigal’s arm and drew her away from Ritsuka’s side. Ereshkigal was hesitant to part with the boy, but more than anything she was curious about her double. After getting some distance from others, Ereshkigal voiced the concern she’d had for millennia.
“Ishtar, I’m really surprised to see you here!”
“Oh, well I got here a while before you. Sorry about that, but I figured it was safer to let things play out than try to force things this time,” admitted Ishtar with a smile and lifeless eyes that suggested that she’d stirred up some kind of trouble, exactly like Ritsuka had joked about.
“Oh, really, I’m just glad you’re alive,” said Ereshkigal. “When you disappeared so suddenly, I’d feared the worst. Not to mention the disappearance of all the other Gods as the years went on.”
“Yeah, I didn’t really have the patience for all that ‘developing civilization’ stuff, so I hitched a ride with those Chaldeans. There was something I needed to do and I needed to use them- uh, needed their help to do it… and I ended up owing them instead… BUT that’s enough about that, I’ll introduce you around.”
Over the next thirty minutes, Ereshkigal met more living people than she’d met in her entire lifetime, even discounting the Heroic Spirits. It was enormously exciting and pleasantly exhausting. And then a special performance was announced that brought applause from all the Servants and humans alike as Ritsuka himself was brought up onto the stage the lone Caster was using, and sat down at a piano. Ritsuka played a set of songs at the piano with the Caster providing musical accompaniment.
The Caster’s music was perfect, though impersonal. But Ritsuka’s music, sometimes slow and melancholic, sometimes fast and upbeat… had a certain warmth to it that was like a window into the hearts of humans. It was imperfect, and beautiful. And Ereshkigal’s eyes began to mist up from listening to it. As Ritsuka’s last song came to an end, he gave a bow to enormous applause and stepped down to be greeted by a circle of admirers headed by that shield girl who was wearing an adorable white dress.
Ereshkigal wished that she was part of that circle that was greeting Ritsuka after a job well done. But she didn’t know how to become someone like that. Even so, she was alright with watching from afar as Ritsuka wished them all well with a smile. Even just being there, one of many people crowded together and enjoying a world of vibrancy and color… was incredibly fulfilling.
She never wanted it to end.
* * * * *
“And that is why you need to end your contract with Mr. Fujimaru,” said the pale British detective the morning following the Christmas party.
With everything the British Consulting Detective had prefaced that comment with, Lady Ereshkigal had no way of refuting the man. It was as the Ruler had intended, since he’d tailored all of his convincing arguments for the day with each unique Servant he was meeting with. However, today was his first conversation with Lady Ereshkigal, so his tactics were a little bit off…
“I suppose it makes sense, that no one would want a Goddess like me around,” mumbled the girl, her demeanor literally causing a section of the room to be filled with gloomy darkness. And if Holmes was not wrong, he believed he could see a spirit of the dead giving the girl a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
“No, miss, that was not what I was suggesting at all,” corrected the investigator, for even though he could be rather blunt, he still did not like the idea of ruining a maiden’s heart.
“Thank you for allowing me to visit. Hopefully I’ll be able to see Ritsuka again one day… perhaps he’ll find his way to the underworld…? Please let him know I’ll be waiting, no matter how many more thousands of years it takes,” said the maiden who was putting on a brave face, and fighting back tears.
“Mr. Fujimaru will certainly not make you wait for that long-”
“I should immediately start preparing a cage for Ritsuka’s soul on my return! He’ll almost certainly be exhausted by his journey, and I’d hate for him to disappear!”
“Perhaps it’s a little early to be planning for Mr. Fujimaru’s demise-”
“I’ll- I’ll make it as big as a palace! That way it won’t be a bother for me to visit him! No, I’ll reside there myself, and the Gallu spirits can use it too, kind of like that ‘Hotel’ thing I’ve heard about! I’ll make it nice and fancy, and welcoming, and when Ritsuka sees it he’ll be- he’ll be- he’ll be so grateful…”
Holmes had lost his chance to derail the girl from her delusions and despair, and the man was at a loss on how to handle the girl. The last resort would be calling in Mr. Fujimaru to deal with her, as it would set back the timetable for the day. Perhaps catastrophically, but the girl was about to break down weeping. As an English Gentleman, that was not something he was well equipped to handle. Just as Holmes had made his determination to bring in Mr. Fujimaru as a cohort to bring matters to a conclusion-
“So this is where you were!”
-A trouble making Goddess made her entrance from the golden portal that appeared inside the room.
“What-!? Hey, Pale Guy! What did you do to her!?”
“Ah, no, Ishtar, he didn’t do anything! It’s just… time for me to go…”
“Hmm? Hey, Pale Guy, explain clearly before I blast you to bits! You have five seconds!”
“Wouldn’t a clear explanation take longer-”
“I understand,” shouted the Detective, surrendering logic in the face of the Goddess of Love and War and her manifested Divine Armament. How Mr. Fujimaru could handle such a woman was beyond even Holmes’ abilities to understand. And thus, he jumped into a rough explanation of circumstances to explain the young Lady Ereshkigal’s malaise, as well as approach the topic of Ishtar ending her contract and returning to the Throne as well.
“So what,” asked the dark haired goddess.
“I’m asking, ‘so what does any of those reasons have to do with us!?’ We’re real to goodness Goddesses, you know, you Pale moron!”
“Moron,” asked Holmes back in wonder. It was a comment he was not used to being used to describe him.
“If you’re not a moron, then I don’t know what a moron is! How can you ask a Goddess to go home one day after becoming Ritsuka’s Servant!? It transcends rudeness and goes straight to blasphemous! And now you want me gone as well!? Well tough noogies, you thin English jackass! Because I don’t go anywhere I don’t want to, and I’m not leaving any place I want to stay! And neither are you, Ereshkigal!”
“Ishtar,” said the blonde girl with both stars and tears in her eyes. Was that a spirit behind her giving two thumbs up?
…Holmes then realized his severe miscalculation. Lady Ishtar was a Goddess of both Love and War, so of course she would go to war at the drop of a hat for someone she cared about. And Lady Ereshkigal was obviously one of those people, though it was likely Lady Ishtar would never admit it. If Holmes had been thinking about the compound ramifications of the relationships between Servants, then he should have convinced Ishtar to release herself from her Contract with Ritsuka first, because now that she had someone she was going to be representing, or perhaps defending, there was no way the Babylonian Goddess was not going to dig in her heels.
Which left Holmes with only one option in the face of such a personality. It was one that he’d hoped not to be forced to use, but needs must…
“And so, the two of us are going to be staying by Ritsuka’s side, no matter what you say or do,” said the Goddess in challenge, as she filled her bow with power. But Holmes was already moving to intercept. Having closed the distance, his long arm was already extending out with enough speed to blur in the eyes of humans.
In the silence that followed, Lady Ishtar asked only one stunned question.
“A credit card,” was Holmes’ answer.
Ishtar hesitantly plucked the black rectangle in front of her eyes from between the Consulting Detective’s fingers to study it like a precious artifact. Holmes straightened up from his desperate lunge to be able to explain himself while the Goddess was off guard.
“Since it is impossible for the two of you to stay during the Inspection of Chaldea, and you have made it clear you have no intention of releasing your Contract with Ritsuka, I propose an alternative. Take a long holiday. Or, as the Americans would call it, an Extended Vacation. That card is cleared for a daily spending limit of five thousand English Pounds per day.”
“Five thousand,” called out Ishtar in surprise as her knees went weak. Surprise that instantly turned to greed as she said, “S-such a paltry sum is meaningless to a Goddess like myself, so increase it! Ten! No Twenty times! If I’m going on vacation, then you’ll have to treat me lavishly like the goddess I am!”
“I see, how regrettable,” said Holmes as he plucked the credit card from Ishtar’s hands. The girl feebly tried to catch it as the Detective nimbly kept it from her grasp. “Increasing the limit is, unfortunately, impossible.”
“Impossible,” asked Lady Ishtar trepidatiously.
“Yes, impossible. For the funds on this card come directly from Mr. Fujimaru’s income he’s earned over the past few years risking his life for the sake of humanity.”
Both Ladies Ishtar and Ereshkigal gasped at that revelation; the spirit also seemed to gasp with a bony hand over its mouth. It seemed that there was no longer a concept that it was cheap and frivolous money at this point. Holmes had been one of the people permitted to invest Mr. Fujimaru’s income in a way to make it untouchable for the Mages Association or the United Nations should they try to come after the young man, and the interest of those investments were paying for this charge card. It was not the entirety of Mr. Fujimaru’s interest, but these two need not know about that. It was the final measure that Holmes had in place for a personality like Lady Ishtar’s.
“I have Mr. Fujimaru’s permission to entrust this card on his behalf, however, the hard and fast limit for its use is as I said. Five thousand Pounds a day.”
“It’s… what that dweeb Ritsuka earned, huh? I guess I can make due with that much then,” said Lady Ishtar as she shrank back a little. It seems that she’s willing to be reasonable… but there was an option in this particular scenario that was too good to pass up.
“That is indeed fortuitous,” called out Holmes with a big smile on his face as he strode forwards and placed the charge card into Lady Ereshkigal’s hands.
“HEY! Why’d you give it to her!”
“I thought you were intending to take Lady Ereshkigal with you. So it should make no difference if she is the one who is entrusted with the charge card. And, if the reports I read are true, Lady Ereshkigal is less prone to losing her belongings than yourself, Lady Ishtar.”
“Don’t make it sound like I’m clumsy! It’s only happened a few times! Or more… Anyway, that’s still not a good enough reason!”
“Lady Ereshkigal is also more prone to level headed decisions rather than flights of fancy, so it is likely that she will not neglect saving enough money to have reasonable accommodations and meals every day instead of quickly hitting the daily limit in flights of fancy or bouts of gambling. Lady Ereshkigal is also more likely to be able to hold onto the card in cases of emergency, and if anything unfortunate does come about and the card is either ruined or lost, then it would not automatically be Lady Ishtar’s fault when Mr. Fujimaru asks what happened to it at a later date. Isn’t that the ideal situation for all parties involved?”
Lady Ishtar’s side ponytails were standing out straight in frustration until Holmes threw Mr. Fujimaru’s name into the mix, and it somehow defused Lady Ishtar’s emotions. It’s likely that the idea of having some assurances in place to prevent having to be embarrassed in front of her Contractor had a great effect on her mental state.
“A-are you sure you should be entrusting something so precious to me,” asked Ereshkigal hesitantly.
“Why, Lady Ereshkigal, in this matter I speak for Mr. Fujimaru at his consent. And I can think of nothing Mr. Fujimaru could agree with more than you having governance of those funds. Just make sure you are not too frugal, and have a holiday that both you and your counterpart can enjoy. For Mr. Fujimaru is a man that prizes the smiles of those he calls friends.”
“I-I understand. Thank you, I’ll do my very best!”
“No, like I said, feel free to enjoy yourself…”
“Enough prattling! C’mon, Eresh! We’re going on vacation! Get a move on before the idiot over there changes his mind”
Lady Ishtar grabbed her great golden bow and with a sweep of her hand the frame morphed into a vehicle much like a red and gold scooter. Lady Ishtar fairly manhandled her counterpart onto the back seat and jumped on herself. Lady Ereshkigal was barely able to safely store the charge card away before Lady Ishtar was revving her scooter’s engine.
“Where are we going in such a hurry,” asked Lady Ereshkigal.
“Everywhere! But first! FRANCE!”
The scooter peeled out directly into a wall, but was saved from catastrophe by the appearance of a golden portal the two young women disappeared into, accompanied by the terrified shriek of Lady Ereshkigal. As the spirit in the corner of the room disappeared while waving goodbye to the two who had just departed, Holmes allowed himself a cleansing sigh of relief. He’d come dangerously close to death a few times there, but logic was able to pull through in the end.
It was painful to have to release such loose cannons out into the world, but that in itself may become a key tool to be used in the future. For now, however, there were other Servants to convince.”
“Which is why you will need to end your contract with Mr. Fujimaru.”
Lady Ryougi had her eyes closed and seemed very peevish, but she was listening. There was no outright refutation. Agreement should come quickly.
Oh. Did Holmes blink?
“I’m afraid I will have to respectfully decline, Mr. Holmes,” said the gentle and dignified lady in a kimono that was sitting where Lady Ryougi Shiki had been just a moment before. “Before you try and continue to convince us, Mr. Holmes, I would just like to ask. Are you aware of what I truly am?”
“…I have some theories.”
The person who seemed to be another form of Lady Ryougi giggled softly and said, “For a man of your reputation, a theory may as well be conviction. Ah, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to make fun of you.”
“It is fine, Lady…?”
“Just Shiki is fine.”
“Lady Shiki. I assure you, that I take no offense.”
“Thank goodness. I know this is our first conversation, so I was hoping that I didn’t start off with a poor impression. But. I believe that you should keep your knowledge of me at the level of only being Theory. The Collective Will Of Humanity can be a bit sensitive in matters that involve me, so it’s safer that way.”
“I will take your advice to heart, Lady Shiki. Now, returning to the matter at hand, why do you refuse to end the contract you have with Mr. Fujimaru?”
“Because miracles do not happen twice.”
“…Your existence being the miracle?”
“Just so. I already told you, I’m something of a touchy subject. My ability to exist here is a special exception. I am convinced I will not get another opportunity to live like this, especially at Ritsuka’s side. However, if that was all it was, I would still be willing to end the contract. No matter how lovely the dream, it must one day come to an end.”
“And so, what is the real reason that is keeping you from ending your contract?”
“Precisely because it is unlikely for me to appear again. You feel it too, don’t you? Or in your case, surmise. …The world is still in danger, and Ritsuka is going to be at the center of that danger all over again.”
Holmes could not counter that statement.
“Why was Beast One so fixated on the year 2019? There are no records in the world to denote it as being special in any form of magecraft or prophecy. Yet it is the year that was chosen for the Incineration of humanity to begin, for the world to be reformed. What rests on the other side of that year that Beast One decided to avoid? Unless you can satisfactorily answer that question of mine, and explain how you will be safely meeting this potential threat, I will not be releasing my contract; no matter what you say. And if you push my Surface with this decision you wish made…
That one word left a deep and horrifying impression on Holmes that his very eternal existence had just been placed in mortal danger. An impression that lasted only as long as the word, but the impact lingered. In terms of enemies and allies, there was a clear category that Holmes wanted Lady Shiki to remain in.
“I’m glad you understand my viewpoint, Mr. Holmes. Now, if you will excuse me, I can only be in contact with this world for limited amounts of time. I will be leaving the rest to my Surface. If you wish to speak with me again, however, I have mostly free reign during the time my other self is asleep. Farewell, and please treat Shiki kindly.”
Did Holmes blink again?
“Sorry, what was that last part? You talked so much it put me to sleep,” said Lady Ryougi in her intentionally abrasive manner. “Well, not that it matters. I’m not gonna be ending my contract with that idiot. He’s all but useless without a Servant around, so I may as well hang out a while longer in case something happens.”
How curious. Absolutely no awareness at all. But now was not the time to study Lady Ryougi, but a modification of Holmes’ preparations would have to be made.
“I can respect that kind of dedication-”
“Wha-!? Dedication, nothing! He’s just someone who can’t be left alone or he’ll get pulled into some stupid crap! That’s all!”
“How good is your Presence Concealment?”
The color in Lady Ryougi’s cheeks receded and she narrowed her eyes at Holmes. After a moment of contemplation, she said, “Better than yours.”
“Then perhaps there is something that can be done.”