0.3 Everyone's Takumi

Eld Sleika

When he opened his eyes, he found himself being held down, staring tiredly at the water jet above him. He wasn't sure when he'd lost consciousness, nor did he particularly care – all he knew at this moment was the painful, yet all too familiar sensation trying to drive itself into him over and over until it reached its boiling point. He wasn't sure if they'd switched out, but it really didn't matter – that sensation had been at work from long before he'd passed out and was still going strong. After only three days of this same morning torture, he'd almost become used to it.

For the first two days they made sure he stayed conscious. After all, these miserable failures needed to assert their dominance somehow. But now, awake or out cold it was all the same – Takumi was just meat. Meat they could all hate and abuse to their satisfaction. For a moment he'd almost considered questioning what they'd done to him while he was out cold, but it was pointless to worry – after all, they couldn't kill him. That was the one thing that was forbidden. So, he thought, given the circumstances he was 'safe'.

There was a larger crowd today – he could only assume that the fat one, Shang, who'd claimed him on his very first day, had let everyone know that there was a Master with no Servant ripe for picking. He'd already learned to tune out the slurs and insults. But it really didn't help – he knew they were shouting them all the same. Calling him a bastard, a traitor, a slut, condemning him for his lack of skill as a magus – it all pierced his soul like a knife, and it wasn't as though he was becoming hardened. Gradually there became less and less of a soul to pierce.

Today he had a companion, however – a more typical sacrifice. A scrawny boy, even moreso than Takumi, with silver hair and a darkened gaze that had long since lost any trace of vibrancy or life. No one was paying him any mind at the moment – Takumi was the main event, after all. He was simply lying there, wide awake, merely biding his time for the cherished moment when guards came to drag everyone out of the showers – but on this floor it was a long wait indeed. For Takumi was here, and everyone in this prison was against him unconditionally.

Well, all but one, and only one person – a person whose face was the only thing Takumi had left to fixate on to maintain his sanity.

That's right – Nanami, the blind girl he'd encountered in the infirmary – the one that had instilled him with whatever traces of hope he still had within him. He'd learned her name shortly after, along with some very basic things about her. She was about four years older than he was. She loved to cook but hated cleaning. Her parents were odd but caring. When she was in school she never had too many friends. She never got into the whole social media craze, nor did she ever pay any attention to the Holy Grail War on TV and back when her eyes 'were normal', as she'd put it, she spent most of her time reading and teaching herself English. In short, she was Takumi's ideal girl in almost every respect.

He'd never given her his full name, however. He was scared to death of what would've happened if he did – that her hopeful smile would fade away forever if she knew anything more about him or his family. But of course that sentiment was founded on the flimsy assumption that she didn't know already.

He could only imagine what she'd think if she saw him like this. Would she keep her distance? Would she cling to him out of pity? Whatever the outcome he couldn't imagine it would be particularly pleasant.

Before long the promised time came. The guards broke up the crowd and pulled the weak boy to his feet. But they left Takumi right where he was – they cared nothing for what he did or where he went. Partially because they were ordered not to interfere with him, and partially because the remains of his defilement could not be displayed in the world outside – in the prison that was dominated by the system that was lifeless and orderly.

That's right – it was a completely different world in the showers. You didn't have to be some accomplished magus to fall apart in the showers, where the prisoners exerted themselves through their sexual violence. Where they coped with their eternal weakness by proving themselves physically against those that they could take down and bend over. And like a man at a sacrificial altar who one day finds himself without a hood, the weak had no chance to prepare – they were chosen swiftly and suddenly, with the blink of an eye. But chaos is not so linear in its ways – sometimes the weak would band together and bring down the strong. Sometimes the strong would fight each other until one stood on top.

But sometimes there someone that was eternally excluded from the group from the moment they appear – someone whose suffering could justify order in that terrible place. Someone who would bear the burden of all that frustration alone. Someone that would come along every once and awhile who would eventually die, but would provide a powerful enough distraction that the anarchy would never be strong enough to escape the showers. And right now, that person was Takumi.

It had been three days. Three days since he'd come to occupy his cell. And every day, the number of prisoners that would appear to violate him grew. It was a rather simple routine – he would wake up, proceed to the showers, be held down for about forty minutes, clean himself up, and proceed to the mess hall. He'd grown so numb to the feelings already – but no matter how hard they tried to tear him apart, they could not take away his Command Seals. Therefore they could not take away these last two days away from him, no matter how hard they tried.

And so after managing to fixate himself on the certainty of the symbol on his arm, he pulled himself to his feet and forced himself through his clean up routine.

And before too long he would be back in that cell, and his cycle would continue.

For a few moments his heart had seemingly stopped. His eyes glued shut and sweat creeping down his neck, he ran the sharp blade in his right hand over the palm of his left. As the drops of his blood hit the floor the magic circle beneath him began to glow. His ears start ringing and his heart starts to burn as he presses his sliced hand against the circle.

A burning sensation overtook his arm and slowly crept up to his shoulder. He wanted to cry out, but he couldn't let himself – the next few seconds were the most vital. If he screwed up here, it would all have been for nothing. He'd already decided which part of his body he'd seal the contract with – all he needed to do now was reach out.

His will hadn't been shaken. His desperation had not grown weaker. No matter how much pain he endured, he would reach this final point -

And in all of an instant the burning swells and engulfed his entire body. He could feel something tugging at his heart. Something thick like a hand. Something that was trying to tear it right out of his body. But he wasn't afraid of the feeling, at least not like he was before. All he had to do now was fight back and reel in his catch.

But suddenly, just as it had the last twenty times he'd tried it, his eyes began to move rapidly, out of his control, and for a few brief moments he saw flashes of some other place – the interior of a church. Much like the one at the top of the hill, the one his mother always told him to stay away from. A faceless priest standing over him, slowly reaching down into his chest, and before too long tugging away at his heart. And for a few moments his soul began to unravel. His senses cried out in agony, his sense of direction spiraled out of control – and he could hear the slithering of a single thick, heavy worm, echoing deep within his head.

The moment he found himself back in his cell the magic circle rebounded – he cursed out loud as the magic circle sent him flying backward into his crummy bed. He'd failed to make the contract again.

The Call Beyond, the ritual of the modern grail war, was something foul – something unclean. Exact details beyond the name itself did not often reach the ears of the public, but since he was a participating Master he was given a general rundown of how it supposedly worked. Instead of using a holy grail as a medium to maintain a Servant's corporeal form, the Master used a part of their own body, that upon the establishment of the contract would be taken by the Servant. The magic circle that the game makers had etched onto the floor of his cell handled the rest of the work on its own – there wasn't even any need for a catalyst. The Servant was predetermined – all the Master had to do was be able to stomach the summoning and be able live without the body part of their choice.

However, which body part the Master sacrificed was essential to determining the strength of the Servant that was summoned. The more essential the part, the larger the boost to that Servant's most prominent stat. On the other hand, if the part given up was relatively meaningless and therefore a symbol of the Master's cowardice, the Servant's most prominent stat would be weakened considerably. It was a test of resolve to ensure that only the most willing Masters would have a chance of making it far enough into the war to make things more interesting. Half the appeal of the war was the competitors, after all.

Takumi had tried to sacrifice one of his kidneys multiple times and followed the demonstration of the ritual precisely. He'd learned how to stomach most of the pain and could even manage to pull back somewhat towards the end – but every time that vision would take hold, and the pain became so extreme his concentration fell apart. And afterwards he could only sit there on the floor in a cold sweat.

He'd been going for about five hours straight with few to no breaks. He'd started to feel a little lightheaded from all the blood he'd lost. At this point he'd hit his limit, at least for now. It was both frightening and frustrating.

It had been four days now, with two days of almost non-stop summoning, once in the very early hours of the morning and once again at night – and Takumi still had no Servant. Tomorrow was the last day – after that, everything would be over. Whatever chance he had of surviving would be snuffed out like a candle light. And every time he failed, he came closer and closer to losing his mind – every time he experienced that delusion, he felt a little more of his sanity slip away. And with each failure, a growing feeling that he was forgetting something very important became more and more intense. He was afraid he'd actually started forgetting important things, and even more concerned that he already had – but for the moment he at least knew his parents' names and his own.

But despite this, Eld Sleika prison life for those that didn't have a flashing target on their backs was remarkably calm orderly for such a large scale prison, and to some extent Takumi managed to benefit from it. It might've had something to do with how the prisoners were more depressed than they were angry, or perhaps with how the guards didn't hesitate to kill the people involved when fights broke out, regardless of their sentence. Most of Takumi's time outside his cell was spent circling the main hallway and occasionally heading into the infirmary if he felt lightheaded due to blood loss. There was absolutely nothing the prisoners were given do to, or anything they could do beyond eating in the mess hall and watching the massive screen hanging from the ceiling whenever something of great significance happened.

It made sense for this place to work this way – after all, the two most important things to a magus, no matter how unorthodox, are power and growth. Here, where one is cut off from both, a magus simply ceases to be. But for Takumi it would take a lot less to break him – before he'd even been locked away he was at the point where he'd rather have just died than continue to struggle long after his reasons to were lost. All that had to happen was for the torment he was subjected to in the showers to continue.

It became apparent rather quickly that he had been given a particularly special treatment when he'd received his Command Seals in the first place, however – none of the other Masters had theirs exposed like his had been. He'd been put at an immediate disadvantage – even on the off chance that he successfully summoned a Servant, his element of surprise was gone completely. Very quickly word that he was a Master would get around the prison – if it already hadn't been spread to the far corners just from his first day. He had no way of gathering information discreetly, no means of deceiving other people – the only survival skills he had any real proficiency with were off limits right from the start. He was awful at thinking fast on his feet, at responding to tremendous pressure even when he had the time to think things through – getting by while being slow and methodical was not a luxury he was going to have from here on out, but was one every other Master was going to have.

At this point his only hope was that he'd summon a powerful Servant – he only knew as much about the Holy Grail War as the average couch potato, but he knew enough to know that his chances of survival against the gradually stacking odds would be substantially improved were he to obtain a Saber or a Berserker – but if he didn't, he'd have to come up with something very risky in order to even stand a chance of winning.

Eventually the sirens went off outside and the cell doors opened – it was time for the day to actually begin.

Following the standard morning ritual, the mess hall was busy as usual – though it became apparent rather quickly that things were a bit different this time, particularly when it came to the food that was being served. There wasn't any soup this time – someone had actually gone out of their way to prepare large quantities of fried meat and fish that actually tasted like regular food. It had been far too long since he'd had anything but leftover table scraps or some unsanitary soup product – shutting his eyes and relying on his taste alone, it was almost as though he was back at home.

It didn't take too much snooping around to find the source – behind the counter was the usual middle aged woman wearing a hairnet that dispensed the standard grub, but she had an assistant today – it was Nanami, who despite being a Master that should've been trying to summon a servant before the deadline was happily washing pans and dumping hot vegetable oil down the sink, rather cheerily for someone that supposedly hated cleaning.

Takumi felt like speaking to her, having been won over two days ago and too embarrassed to call out to her otherwise, and so approached the counter. The lunch lady stared him down, her eyes strangely menacing, showing neither signs of tiredness nor of boredom. Very quickly, his words were lost in his throat, leading to an awkward silence that fortunately enough ended when Nanami turned around and spotted him herself.

"Ah, Takumi-kun!" She called out with a smile. How she'd managed to spot him with no eyes was a mystery, but not one that he had the patience or the incentive to unravel. The lunch lady seemed to relax fairly quickly, moving off to the side as Nanami approached the counter.

"Ah, hey..." Takumi tried to start, but the sincerity of her smile was distracting him far too much. That and the sound of his voice in its current state was easily comparable to an unenthusiastic mouse squeak. "So you... work back here?"

"Oh, yes, I've been assisting Eileen with her workload for awhile." Her answer was simple and curt, leaving pretty much no room for Takumi to keep the conversation going.

Fortunately, despite being an awful one, Takumi knew a bit about cooking, so he was able to talk about it a little bit without feeling uncomfortable. "Oh, ok... Well, the fish is pretty good. Do they really have everything you put into it just lying around back there?"

"No, it's a little more complicated than that, but I love cooking, so it's well worth it."

"Oh, really? Well where do you -"

"You might want to hold your tongue before you learn something you'd be better off not knowin', little boy." the lunch lady Eileen suddenly spoke up – she had an accent he couldn't really identify and a very rough sounding voice overall. "The girl loves to run her mouth about things she's supposed to be keepin' to herself."

Nanami frowned. "But I don't mind if Takumi-kun knows. He's my friend."

"No, it's alright. I'm fine with not knowing. I agree, if it's that big a deal, maybe you shouldn't just talk about it to just anyone." He managed to figure out that Eileen was looking out for the girl and decided to drop the topic. Eileen's face brightened ever so slightly, having apparently sensed his intentions.

"Have you had any luck with your Servant yet?" Nanami continued in between cleaning dishes.

"Ah, no, I actually came down here 'cause I wanted to ask you about that."

"I haven't had any luck either," she began. Apparently Eileen was well aware of her status as she spoke about it openly with her nearby. "It seems to just be a test of endurance. You should really rest well in between attempts. It's not healthy to try over and over, okay?" Takumi's face darkened – he was really hoping he'd be able to get something useful out of the only other Master he was even aware of. Sensing his grief, Nanami grabbed his hand. "It'll be okay. You'll see." She smiled at him again. The amount of sincerity in her voice almost made him believe it.

"I'd hate to interrupt whatever this is supposed to be, but we're 'bout to have another round of mouths to feed." Eileen broke the silence that followed.

"O-Oh! Yes! Sorry Takumi, we can talk later, okay?" Without even waiting for a response she returned to breading and chopping up fish. "I'll be in the infirmary later. You remember where that is, right? I told the nurses to let you in."

It seems she'd managed to make a few friends in this prison already, and in good places. Presumably because not many people that still have souls would be willing to turn out a bright, yet very fragile blind girl with one of the sweetest smiles you'd ever see in their hour of need. Or in the several hundred hours that follow.

"Yeah, I'll show up, maybe."

"Wait a moment." Eileen stopped him as he was about to walk off, speaking in a low voice. "I don't know much about how you came to know the little girl, but you'd best not pry into her affairs with too much enthusiasm."

"Didn't know I came off as enthusiastic."

That lunch lady was definitely not the sort of person you'd see stuck with a job like that in the real world – in fact she came off as more of a hired killer type, which was probably about as far from typical as a food vendor could get. At least she was being protective, rather than vengeful. It would be a little harder for him to talk to Nanami during the day like this, but at least he'd made a small amount of progress in getting to know her.

As he walked away, however, he was stopped again, this time by Shang, who had apparently been watching the entire exchange.

"Oi, Taku-chan~" He said. "You were getting pretty cozy with that bitch at the counter, weren't you?"

He didn't reply, so Shang kept on going. "That's pretty dumb of you – after all, we both know I'm all you need around here. And besides, I've seen parts of you she's got no clue about."

Takumi left him with more silence, which this time was treated with a sharp punch to his face. "Hey, the fuck are you ignoring me for?" He punched him again before speaking in his pseudo-sweet voice. "Oh, Taku-chan, you don't have to be so coy. But I'd better not see you talkin' to that bitch ever again, you got it?" He leaned in before whispering the rest of his threat. "After all, it would suck if something were to happen to that girl. The other inmates seem to like her."

And just like that, what little resistance Takumi was able to put up fizzled out.

"Ahh, so that got your attention, huh? That's right, if you don't start answering my neck and call, it won't take much work to fuck her up. Let's see... She's got a great smile, doesn't she? But you know, maybe she could use a little rough around the edges. Then again, her cunt is probably the stuff of fuckin' legend -"

"Don't. I – I get it, alright?"

"Yeah, that's a good boy, Taku-chan. Say... tomorrow's your last day, right? Before you're just another loose asshole like the rest of us, right?" He mumbled to himself for a few moments and with an 'ah hah' he started rubbing Takumi's shoulders. "Why don't we celebrate after lunch? Hey, I know. How about we finally make you a woman?"

There was no way – he wasn't talking about doing something like that, was he? No, it couldn't have meant anything else. Every other meaning that threat could've had – he'd already been subject to it all.

If it was possible for his heart to sink any lower than it already had, it would have in that moment. He'd really known all along – it was only a matter of time before his grace period would have been over, and Shang was more than certain he'd never summon a Servant, so he'd put it off for as long as possible.

He would have to do it tonight. He would have to complete the Call Beyond tonight – he was certain that after tomorrow afternoon, he would no longer have the will to keep trying. From the moment he'd stepped into Eld Sleika – no, perhaps from the moment the collar had been fastened around his neck – he knew that there was a point where he was going to be broken by it. But he didn't imagine it would happen now – not this soon.

He was trying – he was trying so hard. Why wasn't it ever enough?

After declaring his intentions for tomorrow, Shang stalked off, muttering and laughing to himself. Without a doubt that threat was not hollow – and Takumi would never be brave enough to drive him off. Not on his own.

But if he couldn't summon his Servant, that was the only choice – he would have to fight back.

But he couldn't. He was too weak. He'd just end up dead. He couldn't fail. He had to summon his Servant tonight.

The Following Morning

The mess hall had the usual atmosphere, but the second he'd stepped in he almost immediately felt more eyes on him than usual. He silently walked to the counter and grabbed a plate, proceeding down the line. Nanami smiled at him when she 'saw' him, but he could only look at her sadly. She immediately realized something was wrong, but before she could call out to him about it he was already gone.

He ended up finding a seat next to that silver haired boy, who was silently eating away at his breakfast, his shoulders hunched and occasionally shivering. He seemed to be in one piece for the most part. They both sat there, eating in silence while Takumi wordlessly came to terms with what was going to happen before too long.

"Hey," He called out to the boy next to him. The boy did not seem to respond, but he kept talking anyway. "What's your name?"

"K-Kyrie." The boy managed to say with a very heavy cough.

It was an odd name for a boy, but at the moment Takumi wasn't too concerned with that sort of thing. He'd called out to him for one reason and one reason only.

"This fish is pretty good, huh?"

"Y-Yeah, I'd say so."

"After I finish eating this I'm going to attack the guard by the entrance. I'm going to hit him over and over until he kills me. Please talk me out of it."

"H-Huh?" His shaking became that much more intense, but Takumi wasn't entirely levelheaded at the moment either.

"You've been here a lot longer than I have, right? You're much stronger than me. So please – tell me. Tell me how you live like this."

"I-I'm not t-that strong. Can't you t-tell?"

"There's no way that can be true. Here I am falling apart after just five days. There can't be anyone more pitiful around here than I am right now."

"That's not r-right." The boy spoke a little more animatedly. "Just being able to sit a-around and stomach pain is nothing. It doesn't matter – if you're like m-me and can't resist. That way it's never going to end – you're just g-going to keep hurting and hurting until it kills you."

"You really believe that?"

"I know it. It's the reason I'm here, a-after all. No one should have to l-live this way, but for – but for what I d-did this is appropriate."

"Can you really say something like that so easily?"

"I-It might not make much sense, but… I've done something I c-can't forgive. So… So if it's because of that, I'm okay with always being weak."

"…Well, if you ask me, if you can admit that to yourself and come out and say it to someone else, that means you're plenty strong already."

The boy was visibly shocked to hear something so motivating. Takumi was honestly surprised he had something like that in him as well.

"…You c-can survive. I'm sure of it." Kyrie concluded, his voice a little firmer than before. "If you really… really think I'm strong, they won't be able to break you."

With that, a little color returned to Takumi's face. There was something remarkably reassuring about hearing someone say that with all their heart. The fact that a total stranger had said so was perhaps even more significant.

"…What are you in for, anyway?" Takumi asked, breaking the long silence.

"Someone important to m-me – I hurt them, and so here I am." Kyrie elaborated, though somewhat cryptically, as he finally started looking Takumi in the eyes. "W-What about you?"

"I robbed a convenience store." Takumi replied, almost with a laugh.

The moment he stepped into the showers he was already trapped. It was an irregular time for the showers to be in use, but despite that it was packed to its usual capacity. The entire congregation of men – aside from a small offshoot busy having their way with Kyrie in the corner – closed in on him with each step he took. He could only proceed forward – there was no turning back and running away, especially since the guards were just as interested in what was about to go down as the rest were.

Shang was standing there with a noticeably loose towel around his waist at the far end of the room, brandishing a thick blade. Where he'd managed to get it was hardly a secret – as long as they weren't going to kill him or prevent him from participating in the grail war, no one cared what happened to him. By the time Takumi made it to the end of the room he was forced down on his knees by the two men closest to him. The one that was up and ready to go wasted no time getting started.

Shang squatted down and brought the knife to Takumi's neck first, pressing it hard enough to draw blood. "It's a real shame, y'know. It's not like you've got any business being in a place like this with a lot like us, Taku-chan. But I guess that's just the way thing have to be."

For a moment he thought of Nanami and that look of dejection she'd given him before. Ultimately he was doing this for her. But it wasn't like it was going to achieve much in the end – Shang would probably have her brought in here and doomed to his whims before too long anyway, likely once he tired of his current hobby.

He shut his eyes. In that moment he realized the idea of resisting pain as opposed to just taking it all just wasn't going to work out for him – not here. All he really managed to do with Kyrie's words was bring himself to show up in the first place. And the dam finally burst. He longed for the normal life he'd never had – though to some extent perhaps he did have one, once, a very long time ago.

Yes, back when he was just a boy, when his parents took him to amusement parks and on vacation to some iconic place, back when he fought for his father's attention with his mother almost like they were siblings, he'd had the same wide range of emotions any child would, and the countless ambitions every child had. He wanted to be an astronaut. He wanted to be a firefighter. He wanted to be a powerful magus like his aunt Tohsaka. And once he found his talent for music, he wanted to be part of a band that played for thousands of people with a group of cute girls following them everywhere they went.

But all of that fell apart when his father died. For someone he almost never saw to change his life so irreversibly – it wasn't fair. It wasn't right. But he had to carry that weight until the day he died. And he was willing to deal with that.

But when was enough going to be enough? Never, right? That's why adults have drinking buddies, start families, and have lots of sex, right? And how was he, someone with none of those things – and about to lose his right to the third forever – supposed to put up with everything? Confide in someone else? Reach out to someone that knew virtually nothing about him, and more than likely would betray any trust he could place in them for wealth and status, like everyone else?

It was all a load of bullshit. And here he was now, almost every trace of that boy having been rinsed off and washed down an open drain in a public shower, and what little couldn't be so easily about to be carved out forever with a knife. And there was nothing he could do.

"But then again – you're talentless. Meaningless shit. Maybe you're not all that different from us after all. You've got no skill as a magus, no skill as a man – maybe it's better for you this way." Shang brought the knife lower and lower, tracing along Takumi's now quivering skin. The man behind him pulled away and instead held his shoulders in place.

"So enjoy the wonders of becoming a woman, Taku-chan." He laughed. "I hear you're supposed to get used to it after about a year or so. But first you're gonna have to find some way to last that long – hey, I know. Why don't we share a cell? It'll be all nice and easy that way, you'll see."

For a moment, the knife stopped – no one had been paying attention, but for a brief moment Kyrie was free to move as he pleased, and channeling likely what little motivation he had, he grabbed hold of the blade of the knife, disregarding how it dug into his hand. Shang cursed at him, kicking him in the gut while two other men pulled him back down, kicking him as hard as they could.

It was that moment when Kyrie had finally acted out, coupled with the very next when the knife skimmed his inner thigh, that caused something inside of Takumi to finally snap. It might've been human instinct choosing to ignore the denial that had overtaken him. It might've been the anger in his heart finally beating out the sadness. It was a moment where he felt as though he'd become literally worse than nothing – something barely even human that had nothing to lose.

In that moment he didn't really care about anything – certainly not about responsibility or consequence. In that moment, when he cared not for what became of himself, he came to a realization. If he was a worthless pile of meat with no talent, then all the vile creatures huddling around him were no better – no, in fact, they were worse. They were half eaten scraps, left out in the trash for the rodents.

But he wasn't anything exceptional. He was meat, too. But he could last longer.

That completely irrational thought was what passed through Takumi's mind as everything from the start of his right forearm to his fingertips glazed over with a metallic sheen. Shang noticed in a matter of moments, pulling the knife away.

"You want to see my magus talent? This is it right here." Takumi started talking, his voice unstable. He smiled, flexing his metallic limb as though it was perfectly normal. "Just standard reinforcement. Works on the skin and some of the bone. It takes a lot of work to change it back – I probably won't even be able to manage later without misplacing something. You could probably snap the whole thing in half if you hit it hard enough. It's completely worthless. It's got no use for anything except maybe decking someone in the face. Not that I'm great at anything like that to begin with."

The fear in Shang's eyes confirmed that what was happening now was in fact real – it wasn't because of what Takumi had cast. It wasn't because of what he was saying. It was because of whatever look he had on his face.

What came to Takumi next was a rush quite unlike anything he'd ever felt before. It was neither eager nor excited – it was aggressive, impatient, and violent. In one fast motion he drove his index and middle fingers into Shang's eye socket. The grown man cried in agony as the two men behind Takumi tried to pull him away, but as they did his fingers hooked on the inside of the socket.

"Then again, if all you can manage is violating kids and spitting on them afterward, even some third-rate ability like this should be more than enough to make you squeal like a pig."

And squeal Shang did, as Takumi dug deeper and deeper, to the point where he could easily have reached the brain – to the point where the guards had to intervene. If they'd let the situation go unmitigated any longer, Takumi would most certainly have been killed by one of the other prisoners. But even then, Takumi was eventually torn away from Shang and was flung into the ensuing riot. The fight that broke out most likely led to some fatal wounds – the prisoners knew how to use the weight of their collars to their advantage and successfully managed to take one of the guards down, but very quickly they were outnumbered by men with lethal weaponry.

It was at this point that Takumi's brain started working at its regular capacity again and panic overtook him. He'd certainly fucked this one up, hadn't he? There was no chance they'd let him walk out of this room after not only violating the most basic rule of the prison, but attacking and probably killing another prisoner. It was exactly this sort of thing they were probably waiting for so they could flash his final moments all over the news later that same day just to further drive his family's name into the ground.

As expected, two guards did come in at one point and hoisted him up, but as they did someone interrupted them.

"Wait." A voice from the entrance, dignified but perhaps a little tired at the same time. "Leave the rest of this to me. Go assist with locking this floor down."

The guards immediately dropped him and proceeded out. At this point there were only four people in this room – Takumi, that unresponsive boy with silver hair, this newcomer and Shang, who was still mumbling profanities and begging for mercy like a scared dog.

The man stepped forward – it was the bald man in the lab coat who'd interviewed him on his very first day – only now he wasn't bald. He had brown hair and similarly brown eyes. His face seemed to be hollowed out quite a bit as though he hadn't eaten anything in weeks. He was either in his mid twenties or in his late forties – the disparity in his features made it too hard to tell.

He didn't say anything for quite a long while – he simply stared at Takumi, his eyes unwavering, though dull.

"Am I going to die?" Takumi asked, the excitement of the moment finally settling.

"That's for you to decide." The man replied in Japanese, walking across the room towards Takumi and Shang, who was still bleeding helplessly on the floor. Takumi was visibly confused by what he'd said. "Ah, you think I'm going to kill you for something like this? Nah, that's not a concern."

"But I… Didn't I do something horrible, just now…?"

"To be honest, I thought you were going to have a much larger freak out than you actually did. You know, 'look out for the quiet ones' and all that. I only really had you brought here in the first place because I wanted your old man to turn over in his grave, but it looks like you're not totally helpless."

"You're… You're the warden?"

"Name's Oz. Well, not really, but that's what everyone's supposed to call me." He was very frank – his casual speech was almost soothing, in a way. "Now then – I'm no medicine man, but I'm pretty sure leaving poor fatso to bleed out on the floor like that isn't exactly healthy for the guy. So what do you want to do?"

"I don't understand –"

"His life's in your hands right now, kid. You want to kill him? Go right ahead – I won't stop you. You won't have to pay for it – especially not if you complete the ritual tonight. Honestly you might be in worse shit if you let him live at this point."

Takumi silently stared down at the glistening blade on the floor in front of him before reaching over and grabbing the hilt, then hoisting the blade above Shang. The fearful, pleading gaze in Shang's remaining eye, coupled with his frantic begging and the simple fact that he'd finally overpowered him was easily the most intoxicating feeling Takumi had ever experienced. He was being given permission to end someone else's life. He finally had a taste of the kind of power everyone who'd abused him up to this point craved. He was in love with the feeling, but also disgusted by it at the same time.

No, he couldn't bring himself to go through with this. If he killed Shang, he'd be no different from anyone else. He hated the man deeply, but killing him wasn't right – it wasn't any just way to punish a man, no matter how cruel. If everyone was just meat, Takumi would be the meat that would taste the best. The way things were now that was all he could strive for. Murder would turn him rancid almost immediately.

No, there was always a less violent way out of a situation. If there was anything useful he'd learned from his parents, that idea was certainly the most prominent.

"…Didn't you say before that when you take away someone's words, you've essentially taken away the most important part of them?"

"Wouldn't argue with that." Oz's eyes were glistening with a particularly malicious kind of curiosity as he continued to size up this unlikely magus.

"Then tell me – where do I have to stab him so he'll never speak ever again?"

It was very late at night when he regained consciousness – he was on a cot in the infirmary, apparently having been battered and bruised worse than usual. It was probably because that boy had been the star of the show today – he wasn't sure what had happened, all he could really remember was suddenly becoming very angry and getting beaten down even harder as a result. He'd probably been hit over the head at some point after that.

It wasn't a very smart move, stepping in like that, but he really couldn't help it – that boy had called him strong. Leaving him to his fate like that just wasn't right. Even if he couldn't really do anything, trying and failing was better than not trying at all.

Sitting in a chair not that far away from him was a girl he knew all too well – it was Nanami, who had fallen asleep presumably watching him rest. She was in the same disheveled state she ended up in when she was nervous – she'd known what had been happening to him in the showers for quite some time, but she always tried as hard as she could to hide her concern whenever they met up. She insisted that she'd hardened herself since her arrival here, but it was clear that she was as easily worried as she always was.

He was very tired, but he managed to crack a smile at her sleeping form. Only then he broke out into one of his usual coughs, which woke her. She seemed rather startled, but relaxed once she saw him awake – she'd probably only just nodded off.

"How are you feeling?" She asked almost immediately. "The nurse said you were really hurt."

"It comes and goes… N-Nothing out of the ordinary." His voice was soft and weak as it always was – at least that much hadn't changed.

She looked at him oddly for a few moments before coming to a realization. "Oh, how could I forget? Here, I found where they hid your headphones. You should really leave them in your cell from now on. I know it's hard, but you can definitely manage." She reached down and produced his headphones and handed them to him.

He put them on and was instantly soothed by the familiar sound of his favorite song. "Ahh, thanks, that's much better." Almost immediately his speech pattern readjusted itself – his stammer was gone and he no longer felt the usual nervous reaction that he experienced whenever he was without them. "Do you know anything about what happened?"

"In the showers, you mean? Well, no, but…" She frowned, trying to find the words to describe what she was feeling, something she'd had a lot of trouble with ever since she was young. "He was so bloody. Takumi-kun – he looked so tormented, like he'd been forced to do something terrible."

"Takumi-kun? Ah, right, isn't he that boy you like?"

"He came out by himself with you slung over his shoulder. He was here for a little while, but he had to go back to his cell to finish his ritual." He'd made an attempt at teasing her, but she'd completely ignored it in her anxiety.

"I see, so he was that Takumi." For a moment he considered telling her exactly what he'd seen, but decided against it. The last thing she needed was to lose more sleep. "To be honest I never really saw the resemblance."


"With Shirou-sensei. He's supposed to be his father, right?"

"Wait, really? I had no idea!" She said with a gasp.

"You're probably the only one that doesn't know by now," He said through a stifled laugh.

"Don't blame me, okay? I don't even live on this floor." She pouted. "But you're right, Takumi-kun is definitely different. He seems more aware of everything around him, at least."

"Have you gotten used to talking to him yet?"

"No, and I think it's starting to show. He was acting very strangely this morning."

Nanami was always incredibly formal with people she'd just met, and it was something that took her awhile to work herself out of. He wanted to tell her that it was likely due to what had nearly happened to him earlier that day, but decided against it.

"He's not the kind of person who would shun you like that. It's probably just the stress from having that mark on his arm."

"Ah, yeah, that's probably it. I should try to set breakfast aside for him tomorrow morning. Especially if he calls his Servant tonight – it'll be like a celebration then, wouldn't it?"

"That sounds like a great idea."

After that the two fell into silence. But eventually he couldn't hold back his own growing concern, so he broke the silence with a serious tone of voice.

"…So have you decided? Are you going to make your alliance with him, or are you going to take your chances with Archer's Master?"

"Never." She answered immediately, her gentle voice becoming stern as well. "I won't ally myself with someone so cruel. I can't risk forming an alliance with anyone I know I can't deal with if things go sour."

"Then are you going to try to kill her?"

"I don't have much of a chance of doing that either. The first thing we learned about vampires was that even if you spent a hundred years hunting the ones in Romania you still wouldn't be good enough to go after the queen."


"Then I have to hope that someone else gets to her before she gets to me."

He immediately regretted pressing her further – it was definitely a weakness of his. Whenever he was concerned about something, he tried to consider every possibility, including the ones that are best not thought about. His heart had been largely free of burden for most of his life, so he wasn't used to knowing when to stop talking about difficult things.

"Well, I don't really know anything about strategy. But be careful, okay?"

She smiled at him. "I'll be fine. Even if I lose my Servant I won't let myself die. I promise."

"But that shouldn't be possible, right? Isn't your Servant the strongest?"

"Right – mine is without a doubt the strongest. It'll all work out in the end."

She was clearly trying to convince him that she knew what she was doing – but he could tell that she was trying to convince herself as well. And he was powerless to reassure her in any way more than a child could – he simply didn't know how. Perhaps it was because deep down he didn't really know her any better than a child would.

He was perfectly fine rotting away in a prison like this – but he knew that Nanami both wanted and deserved better. But for the moment, the only thing that was guaranteed was that the path ahead for her was going to be bloody.

And so he concluded that maybe if someone who could understand her more than a child could – maybe if someone like Takumi was there with her, maybe things would be alright.

And he was there again, in the church, with that priest standing over him, his hand pulling at his chest. This was it – this was where he was going to fail. The mere thought infuriated him. More than anything else, in that one moment he was angry – so angry he wanted to reach up and punch the priest in the face.

And suddenly he found he could move his arms. This was new – up until this point he'd only been withstanding the pain. He hadn't tried to act against it. And so he reached out, grabbing onto the priest's hands with two arms covered in tattoos that surely were not his own. But he could feel the hand trying to tear his heart away.

He couldn't pull back. He couldn't overpower this force. So -

So he would have to stop it. He would have to stop it here. If he couldn't tug back, he just had to make it so one force couldn't go anywhere without the other. That's right – simply being able to stomach pain was not enough. In order to prove that you're truly strong, you need to be able to resist.

He memorized the structure of the priest's hand before he even had the time to blink. And then he memorized the shape of his own heart.

This was the only skill he had. It was something so useless that he'd nearly forgotten about it until that moment in the showers. It was essentially simple reinforcement that could strengthen a number of raw materials, but what he possessed on top of it was the power to temporarily encase organic material in a sheet of steel. It was such a useless ability unless you could physically grab onto someone and ensure they wouldn't struggle even for a moment – but right now, neither was a problem. And between the incident earlier and converting the steel back to organic material, he'd had more than enough practice that he could successfully carry it out even in a state like this.

In all of a moment, both the priest's hand and Takumi's heart were covered in that sheet of metal. He felt his heart failing due to the conversion, but for the moment that wasn't important – all he had to do right now was ensure that this priest could not get away.

And just like that, his consciousness returned. There was no rebound, there was no immediate feeling of failure or regret – instead, there was blood.

Blood, splattered across the room from wall to wall – he wasn't even sure whose it was. He didn't feel any different, so certainly it wasn't his. On the floor just in front of him was a crouched figure, wrapped in a black cloak, with large chains hanging around his arms and neck. His hands were bound by thorn, as were his legs, so thin it'd be hard to imagine that he could even stand.

For a few moments there was nothing but silence. Takumi simply couldn't come to terms with how he'd actually managed to complete the contract. But eventually the man spoke.

"That face of yours…!"

Without warning his face shot upward – his whole appearance was best described as tortured. His brown hair was long and mangled. His bug-eyed face was pale and depraved. The shrill jump in the sound of his voice on the word 'shop' confirmed his delirium. But from around his neck hung a Catholic Cross – Takumi assumed he was some kind of a martyr who apparently hadn't been all that satisfied with life after death.

Very suddenly, the thorns on his hands and legs burned away miraculously, and as though those chains were simply for show, the monk stood and with a howling cry charged forward. Fortunately Takumi managed to flail about to safety, managing to roll himself just enough to the side to avoid the initial charge.

The man didn't exactly stop in his tracks, though. After running straight into a wall headfirst, he turned around and came charging back without flinching for even a moment, even leaving a large dent behind him. With as much effort as he could manage, Takumi tried to grab hold of one of the chains as the monk ran past him again – he managed to grab hold, but no matter how hard he yanked he couldn't even slow him down. Instead, he was dragged along as the monk arched around again without warning, being thrown against a wall.

"It's disgusting! Don't look down on me like that, Kiritsugu!"

At this point the heavily breathing monk began to chant – he was speaking some foreign language, in all likelihood Latin. His hands began to glow with a brilliant light – before too long a great ball of light had formed in his open palms

Without warning, the ball of light was hurled in Takumi's direction – it missed his head by about an inch and a half and upon touching the wall behind him blew up in a blast of smoke and flame, leaving a gaping hole in the wall, tearing through the steel cinderblock and leaving a smoldering dent in the cell across from his.

The monk finally paused for more than an instant – he was fairly exhausted after firing off that blast, giving Takumi just enough time to clear the room, putting just enough distance between himself and the monster to think straight, even if only for a moment.

It was too late at night- he couldn't call for help, and there weren't any guards posted on this floor due to Takumi's presence – only the cameras, which at the very least should've all been fixated on what was happening. Maybe if he held out long enough someone would try to intervene.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe all the cameras would do is record his final moment and make them into a DVD extra. That was the whole point of him being here, after all.

The monk emerged from the cell and continued to chase him down. At this point Takumi had the space for it, so he managed to rise to his feet and ran with reckless abandon, uncaring for who or what he might've charged into – just as long as he could get as far away from where he was as possible. The part of Takumi that would've been concerned with violating the lights out rule, which would probably get him killed all on its own, slipped away as what little instinct he had took control, driving him further and further into the darkness of the hall, praying that before too long he'd find some kind of salvation, no matter how small.

But his efforts were largely in vain. Before too long the space he managed to put between himself and the monk managed to shrink the further along he went. The monk's charge was unrelenting, uncaring, and driven by so much anger it seemed he could go on forever. From over his shoulder came the sound of another Latin incantation, this time lighting up the floor with bright, translucent scrawl. The moment Takumi came into contact with the scrawl, his whole body sagged, his legs becoming heavy and cumbersome like lead.

Only a moment later he had been grabbed by the back of the head and thrust headfirst straight into the ground with tremendous velocity. For a moment he almost blacked out, and to a certain extent he wished he had, for the monk had not let go, and started to tighten his grip on Takumi's skull, intent on crushing it with only the force of his hand.

In the waves of pain that racked his cranium over the next few seconds he was sure his life was going to be over. He had no means of defending himself from long ranged magic. His one capability relied entirely on the assumption that he could get in close and not have to worry about the other person avoiding or blocking. He was physically weak, and only barely able to think on his feet. He had a hard time imagining a Master that could be worse at everything than he was. Getting killed by your own Servant – what a joke. There couldn't have been a worse magus for the job on the planet, he thought.

Only then did he remember that this man was in fact his Servant, and even if there was no way he could ever hope to win in a head on fight with a Servant, he had one sure way of getting out of this particular scuffle alive.

As though reading his thoughts, his hand began to sting with a burning sensation. He was about to issue his command, even though using one before the war had even started was absolutely appalling. But just as the Command Seal was about to take effect, he heard an echo –

Master, are you okay? Is everything alright?

Something snapped, but not within Takumi, but rather in the world around him. He felt a rush of vertigo, and simply put everything around him stopped. Time around him seemed to freeze, leaving him hanging there in his servant's cold, lifeless grip. Then the dimmed lights in the hallway flickered out completely, leaving them in the pitch black darkness.

Merely a moment later, he found himself standing in his cell, facing his bed, where even the blood on the walls had faded away.

"Master, are you alright?" He turned around, and sure enough the monk was standing there, Takumi reflexively tried to push him away, backing away as quickly has he could. But the monk did not attack him – he simply stared at him, confused and concerned, his eyes focused and calm with any trace of the delirium that had overtaken them mere moments ago wiped away entirely. There were no traces of chaos in the room – not even on the monk's person. He was no longer wrapped in chains, nor were his robes scratchy and worn.

But before he could reason anything any further through, he suddenly felt the urge to vomit, and proceeded to do so in his toilet bowl. He looked up at the mirror, observing his sweaty, pale face before something else dawned on him.

Since when did he have a toilet bowl or a mirror in his room?

And more importantly, what had he been doing just now, standing around in the middle of his room doing nothing?

He'd finally summoned his Servant with few complications and was about to ask them questions about their class and abilities, and suddenly felt the urge to vomit. That's all that had happened... or at least, that was all he could recall. Was there a gap somewhere in his memory?

Yes, certainly, he'd forgotten something important.

Was this a side effect of the Call Beyond he hadn't been told about?

Apparently unable to read the mood at all, his Servant started talking. "Master, if you are feeling unwell, I could attempt to heal you. I may be a bit out of practice but the holy arts most certainly are not."

He was speaking Japanese, but it was pretty apparent that he was a foreigner from the sound. He was definitely no wraith, and he was clearly not an anti-hero or some kind of Counter Guardian. It was definitely possible that he was some well known Jesuit priest or a martyr down on his luck. Though why such a spirit would've been recorded on the Throne of Heroes remained to be seen.

"Wait, no, I'm alright." He really couldn't understand it, but at the moment there was something telling him not to let his Servant anywhere near him until he was sure it was safe. But as he tried to walk back towards his bed, he collapsed.

The Servant caught him as he fell. "It's unwise to push yourself beyond your limits, Master. Please, allow me to share the Lord's light with you – it's what I'm best at."

From the Servant's hand came a soft, warm light that he pressed against Takumi's forehead. Almost immediately, the intensity of his fatigue lessened immensely. But despite that the man frowned.

"Hm… This weight – it isn't natural. No soul so young should be placed with this kind of burden." He continued.

"…I'm sorry?"

"In an age like this, where the youth are the ones that build a path to the future, where faith does not rule, but guides – whatever suffering has befallen you, it is unnatural. No, this is the work of the prince of darkness, without a doubt. This is unacceptable."

It was the strangest feeling – the resolution apparent in this man's gaze made it almost seem like he understood. Like he understood Takumi's entire life up until that point, perhaps better than he knew it himself.

"From now on, you shall know me by Caster… As I was saying a few moments ago, for this time that we are together, fear not, for with the light of the Lord and his entire host, we will reveal the path to a just end."

"Caster, huh...?"

He'd expected a knot to have formed in his stomach by now. Casters were not known for being the most successful Servants in the Holy Grail War – particularly not in the modern variant, where the status buff other anti-Caster classes could receive would be enough to make any fight entirely unwinnable. And if it came to the point where all the other masters not only knew of his status as a Master but what Servant he had summoned as well, it was curtains.

But this man was so confident and so resolute, that Takumi believed it could be reached – a 'just end'. Where he could finally put his life up until this point behind him. And on top of that, a great burden had already been lifted from him. He now possessed the ultimate power to survive in this prison. All he had to do was learn how to use it.

For the moment he wouldn't go in depth regarding his Servant's capabilities – he needed rest and he needed it desperately.

But there was something a little more pressing he felt the need to address. "Hey, Caster, you can go through walls, right?"

"I have yet to try, but I don't see why I wouldn't be able to."

"…You wanna go see if you can find a vending machine somewhere around here? I really need a soda or something."

"R-Right! Of course, right away." With that, the Servant vanished, assuming its ethereal form.

Takumi almost laughed at him on his way out – despite the elegance of that motivational speech, for a moment he had no idea what a vending machine was. For the first time in a very long time, he felt at ease. And so before his Servant even returned, he fell asleep, hopeful for what lied ahead.