This was crazy. This was bloody crazy.
Erina just couldn't stop thinking about it while nervously darting her gaze to and fro across the halls of the buildings she'd just escaped from mere hours earlier. Her teeth would be chattering if she wasn't biting down on them so hard that her jaw was constantly clenched.
Everything about the place was still the same. To the European style themes, to the university-like auditorium halls, making the place almost like a school. Oh, and did she forget to mention that all of the building's facilities combined should have never fit into the dimensions of the actual building's physical layout?
Space magic or something? Dimensional Compartmentalization?
Erina had read something similar in a manga called 'that time I accidentally got hit by Truck-kun and got isekaied to a world of magic and monsters where only I am the strongest while in the weakest class of apple peeler; a lonely attack on this new world- the rise of the unlikeliest production class…' or some arbitrarily long title like that. It was hard to recall really.
There are simply too many Isekai manga and anime out there at present with longer and longer titles to even be considered titles and not sentences anymore.
Regardless, what mattered to Erina was the context that ordinary laws and physics may no longer apply in this hidden organization. This meant that she could be killed at any moment, and she wouldn't even know how.
Erina shuddered, back straightening even as her legs carried her forward robotically. This place was more dangerous than being with inmates in a high-level security prison.
Now she is back. Back she said! That's how crazy this was!
If you know a building is full of deluded madmen with ethically low moral compasses, then who in their right mind would go straight back after fleeing that ordeal?
Oh right?! Her, her merry band of magi/not wizards, and the annoying tag-along!
-Hmm hmm hmmm ba bum bum.
"And you," Erina seethed, rounding on Rindo who was nearest to her and whispering heatedly. "Stop humming the Avengers theme."
Rindo made a face, chuckling sheepishly, and irking Erina to no end.
Did Erina mention bad teammates before? This was the bad teammate. You know, the stock character who gets offed first in a survival thriller manga to show the 'seriousness' of the situation?
"Lighten up Erina, we have the Captain with us." Rindo wrapped an arm around Erina's shoulders, squeezed, and then whispered excitedly.
Fool. Her senior was a fool!
Were you not listening at all! Captain? What captain? Why would that matter when they were basically going to meet the Captain's Captain?!
Logically speaking, there was no sense of security in this situation, and one only needed to look at how Rin and Luvia were acting to feel jittery. Their pallid complexion and darting eyes made it seem as if they were walking straight towards the gallows.
Erina bit the nail of her thumb almost like a coping mechanism.
In contrast to Erina, Rindo was basically all for the hidden aspects of the 'Marvelverse.'
Just as Erina had been looking around, so too was Rindo. The only difference from before leaving the building prior and now was that Rindo had Shirou as her backing.
No matter where they went, whenever any other magus saw Shirou, they'd tilt their head slightly even if they were prideful. Rindo wasn't naive or foolish. These other magi weren't bowing their heads to Shirou in a form of submission, but that of genuine respect. Through him and his craft, they'd be able to elevate their levels and status far from what they were destined in life. In essence, he was a new lease on everything once written in cold stone. Through his cooking, they could circumvent their inadequacies. Such a change could move even the most arrogant of magi.
Here in the institute of Voracious Gluttony, magi from all fields gathered in hopes of improving their future and research, all while scorning those that had rejected them for their lower aptitudes. Given time, and adequate food, they'd perhaps grow into Blue Bloods themselves.
Rindo spotted some maig practicing fire arts for temperature control while grilling meat, others using extensive magic diagrams, and the majority engaged in discussion.
Regardless of the diversity of magecraft seen before her, Rindo was already convinced of a theory. This place was no doubt what must have been a branch of the triumvirate who granted Doctor Strange his magic prowess!
Rindo's features sparkled with solemnity, as she continued on this line of thought.
The term 'magi' was the collective term of the group's spell users, but what if it was camouflage for the triumvirate to guard their secret magics? She'd heard something Rin mentioned in the explanation of the moonlit world about True Magic. Wasn't that the secret guarded by the triumvirate? Or maybe she was just overthinking?
In any case, it didn't change that Rindo had unsuspectingly latched herself as Shirou's second student. Therefore, in cooking here and studying their arcane arts, maybe she too could learn a thing or two about becoming a spell caster? Eishi would be so surprised when she came back as a member of the Avengers.
A hop suddenly appeared in Rindo's steps, Erina practically able to read what this loonie was thinking in the same way Rindo could read Erina's own muddled delusions about a real-life manga.
How hopeless…A lost cause.
The two inadvertently mirrored each other's thoughts.
Off to the side, Erina continued to inwardly chastise her upperclassman for the excitement in her eyes.
Excited to die?
There was a difference between manga and comics, and it was that manga could get brutal, and quickly. Look at Higurashi? Erina shuddered before focusing. In a way, she just felt scorned by her over-excited senior for not feeling the pressure, or just choosing to ignore it in her mistaken fantasies.
Erina snorted, and couldn't endure her growing anxiety anymore.
Picking up her pace, Erina moved in stride with Shirou, and subtly tugged on his sleeve in a silent gesture to ask what she should do. He was the real-life manga's Main Character, and this instance was probably the prologue to the next arc.
Think about it. It was all a shounen sequence of events.
A boss character comes and calls for the main character.
MC meets the boss= The boss is impressed by something= New arrangements are made= start of new arc= unlock new NPC= Open new route.
This is either going to be the teacher, the snobby superior who was secretly bad-ass, or a trap. Please not a trap. Erina didn't want to die yet, or at all outside of natural causes.
Of course, Erina understood that sticking with Shirou would be dangerous, but at the same time, it would also be the safest with the most opportunities. With him, she could level up and gradually adjust to the new setting in accordance to rising threat levels. It was better than being one of those easily killed off side-characters. Therefore, she held firm and kept near Shirou.
Nearby, Saber was making sure the group remained safe while trailing in the rear. Meanwhile, Rin and Luvia were having too much of a headache making up some kind of excuse to Lorelei that they didn't care that Erina had suddenly cozied up to Shirou.
Besides, it wasn't as if Rin and Luvia were receiving the warmest of welcomes.
The difference in the way the magi of the Gluttony institute's halls looked at Shirou, and the way that they looked at Rin and Luvia were like night and day. Some saw them, paused, scoffed, and then glared at them, while a few with veins popping over their faces deigned to spit in their direction.
Both Rin and Luvia had severely overcharged many of the magi present when they'd lined up in front of the food truck by Totsuki. This to satiate their monetary desires and the astronomical sum of practicing modern day jewel craft. As such, as they passed by the auditorium rooms where magi could practice the art of cooking craft, their failed attempts were all being unanimously thrown at the she-devils. Harpies both of them.
"I get the distinct feeling we're being disliked," Rin muttered irritably, brows twitching as she restrained herself from firing off a Gandr. Instead, she skirted around the magi glaring at her and the raw fish that barely missed slapping her with its tail fin.
"If you mean 'you,' and not 'we,' then I most certainly agree, Tohsaka," Luvia grimaced, ducking her head from a thrown pie. Where were they even getting those? "Surely, your personality, your poor features, and your flat chest are the cause of all this."
Rin leered, shifting inches away from a wad of burnt ground beef. "As if! It's obviously you and your drills!"
No. It's your greed. Arturia sighed from the back of the group, unsure whether she should actually intervene on Rin and Luvia's behalf or not. To begin with, the actions of the magi present were pettier in nature than malicious or murderous. They were just taking out their frustrations, or venting to be more accurate, at the result of Rin and Luvia's own prior actions.
If you dig your own grave, then unless it's life threatening, then you must deal with it yourself.
In this present era, Arturia had learned and acknowledged that a King could not shoulder everything. Instead, like Shirou, she'd just help those that she could within her means- excluding this instance. Those who hike the price of food deserve every right to be scorned when hunger was always the true enemy.
A banana peel finally found its way onto Rin's head, before a tick mark formed on her brow.
"Hold it in, Rin. Lorelei's here. You cause trouble here, then you're dead, your family's hopes are dead, and everyone's dead. Plus side, Luvia's dead. Hmmm, a point of contention-"
"Tohsaka, have you finally lost your mind!" Luvia grimaced, gracefully continuing to avoid the things thrown at her due to her athletic skill being more refined than Rin's. "If anything, it wouldn't hurt to teach these uncouth barbarians a lesson…"
"Go ahead, you have my blessings if Lorelei grows any more annoyed at delays," Rin made an inviting gesture that irked Luvia to no end.
Fortunately for the two heiresses of their respective magus families, the hurled insults and projectiles began to abate the deeper the group progressed into the institute's halls. Finally, when everyone reached the inner chamber, everyone here was on their best behaviour. The magi in the inner chamber of the institute were all increasingly subdued, likely because Lorelei was taking the accommodations of the Dean's office ahead.
"So," Rin grudgingly decided to put her differences with Luvia aside for the moment. "Got any plans?"
"Try not to offend her more than my Shero already has?" Luvia tutted, an uncharacteristic uneasiness in her demeanor.
"Dammit, Luvia be serious here," Rin stressed, finally getting the other girl to slump her shoulders and actually offer a thought out suggestion.
"Director Lorelei is the head of the Clock Tower's Aristocratic Faction, so the discovery of the effects of Shirou's cooking should have been what drew her to Japan," Luvia deduced aloud, causing Shirou to perk up. "Therefore, the best case is to make it so that you're more valuable alive than crippled or dead?"
"Are you insinuating I cook her a meal in apology?" Shirou inquired, scratching the back of his head and inwardly wondering if things could ever be that easy.
"Oooh, I can help!" Rindo volunteered while Erina held her tongue on the matter despite feeling that she could be more of a help than Rindo.
Regardless, when the door opened and a magus informed the group that Lorelei only wished to see Shirou, Erina, and Rindo, any help Rin or the others could provide was largely diminished.
"Remember, be polite, and don't forget that she's the director!" Luvia reminded in good faith.
"Shirou don't do anything stupid!" Rin was more direct.
"Shirou," Arturia called before placing a hand on his shoulder and transferring her energy into him. "Take care."
"Yeah," Shirou murmured, feeling the warmth of the sheath within him storing Arturia's energy in the case of an emergency. "I will."
Watching the interaction of the three, Rindo's eyes gleamed in a gossipy light, while Erina grew suspicious.
W-Was she in a Harem manga, and what did that mean for her?
Well, it wasn't as if he was bad looking, or treated her terribly either…
You want to live to get out of here!
Focus on that.
When Shirou first stepped foot into the Dean's Office of the Voracious Gluttony, he took keen note of the silence and the scent of applewood shampoo. It was a distinct and lingering smell that was neither too aromatic, nor too underwhelming. It was a concise smell that blended well for the woman with neatly swept hair in a bun sitting on a recliner at the far end of the room. It practically suited her.
Her gaze was sharp, her stature rather short, but stalwart in the same manner Arturia possessed when commanding others in a position of authority.
This was Lorelei Barthomeloi, leader of the Clock Tower's Aristocratic Faction, and a possessor of Blue Blood through her birthright. High cheekbones adorned her face, a prominent jawline creating a distinct slope that gave her the airs of a noble with her chin turned up.
She was wearing a tailored white coat and dress shirt which split into two long tails on the back. A red ribbon secured her collared and buttoned blouse, giving her a sort of horse-rider feel which matched with her brown riding boots and stirrups.
Presently, her gaze had assessed Shirou, Rindo, and paused on Erina before growing into a state of neutrality.
Lorelei crossed her legs one over the other, the heel of her boots bobbing as she pondered to herself in the silence. Around her, the suppressive aura of her magic energy bore down on all, the mithril gauntlet she wore on her right hand creaking as she rapped a finger over the recliner's armrest.
Wind stirred and blew in the still room; Lorelei's affinity for wind and the attribute of 'the Mighty,' coming into play in a passive state.
It's a boss character! A-A Dio Brando Class! Erina wailed inwardly, feeling her knees wobble at the recollection that she'd called such a woman's food trash. Was she stupid? Just the cold wind blowing alone felt like it could tear her into shreds!
Rindo's enthusiasm waned under the pressure, her feet subconsciously backing away to stand behind Shirou who bore the brunt of it.
Enduring the suffocating pressure, Shirou finally understood where Rin and Luvia's apprehension for Lorelei came from.
So this was Lorelei? The Queen of the Clock Tower, Hunter of Dead Apostle Ancestors?
Her presence was overwhelming to the point that Shirou felt he was dealing with a Servant rather than a human. Instinctively, he readied himself at the first signs of danger, but all at once, the pressure subsided with a snap of Lorelei's fingers.
"Well now, you must be Shirou Emiya." Lorelei uncrossed her legs and leaned forward on the recliner she was seated on. Languidly, she inspected the riding crop she held in her left hand, tracing a finger of her right hand up the base where she began to tap on it lightly. "Do you know how many times I can count the last time I had to personally travel after sending out a letter of request?"
Silence, but if anything, Shirou felt the need to respond. "I don't think that's something that I would kno-"
"None," Lorelei cut in, voice deafening with an air of finality. "None had ever dared until now."
Rindo squirmed, barely managing to suppress the impulse to call it 'burned.'
Erina elbowed Rindo on the side while Shirou, well, Shirou had quickly shut his mouth.
Shirou had noticed the way Lorelei had curled her lips, equal parts annoyed yet intrigued at the last time someone had been so bold as to refuse her summons.
Lorelei palmed her riding crop and glanced over with rolled eyes towards Shirou, having long since reached an ultimatum in the time she'd spent waiting. "Alright, here's what's going to happen," she announced. "I'll give you a choice."
"A choice?" Shirou echoed, knowing that he had no grounds to refuse or negotiate here as it stood. He only hoped that the options presented to him included something that he could accept.
"Indeed," Lorelei answered flatly before crossing her arms and sweeping her gaze away from Shirou and more towards Rindo and Erina. A gleam flickered across her sharp eyes before turning back to adress Shirou. "Either you find a way to make my wasted time up to me, or I take you back to the Tower and enlist you as my personal cook. You are then to accompany me in my endeavors and provide service when requested. Personally, I'm leaning towards the latter option, but have made concessions after realizing you found yourself a student or two with actual grit and backbone worth teaching."
He did? Right, he did say that as a cover before, didn't he?
Shirou did well not to break his expression as Lorelei nodded at Erina who inwardly felt all blood drain from her features as that particular incident was brought up again. Like Rindo, she subtly moved behind Shirou for cover.
Lorelei snorted, but grew stern again.
"So Emiya, make your choice. I was never really much of a patient person. I was always more hands on if you get what I mean." Lorelei brought everyone's attention back to the matter at hand by rapping her riding crop over her gauntlet. "If you decide on the former option, then we'll be off immediately. However, if you do choose the latter option…how are you planning to make things up to me? Do share."
"..." Shirou felt tongue-tied. He was never good with these kinds of talks and discussions which primarily fell under Rin or Saber's expertise.
He could do like Luvia suggested and cook a meal for Lorelei, but at the same time, it meant little if the action of Lorelei taking him with her guaranteed her daily meals from him. Therefore, what could he offer? His strength and versatility? Lorelei wasn't lacking in that regard at all. In fact, rather than being versatile, she took the simplest craft and elevated them to monstrous proportions so that she could blow up buildings with a simple punch.
What else could he offer her? He did have Noble Phantasms that may prove useful for her, but then came the issue of maintaining them after giving them away. They'd fade without him around to supply energy, and that would just be another incentive for Lorelei to keep him.
Shirou was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The silence stretched, Shirou's brows furrowing while Lorelei waited silently until a cough interrupted the both of them.
"If I may speak?" Erina asked, unable to hide the shaking of her knees or hands, but able to maintain an indifferent poker face.
"Oh? What courage." Colour Lorelei intrigued. For someone else to speak up to her not once, but a second time after knowing her identity; she knew that Shirou wasn't the only interesting one. She smirked. "Who am I to deny such a bold request? Do go ahead."
Erina swallowed the lump of terror forming in her throat.
What the hell was she even doing?!
"My teacher is valuable, correct?" Contrary to her thoughts, Erina's words came out eloquently due to years of ingrained social etiquette training.
Cold sweat traveled down Erina's back when Lorelei suddenly chuckled and grinned.
"For all intents and purposes, he's started a new field of study, so yes. I do believe so," Lorelie's eyes twinkled, anticipating what Erina may or may not say. As such, she'd allow Erina to continue, but she'd do well not to disappoint.
"Exactly." Erina nodded diplomatically. "In your words lady Barthomeloi, you called it a 'field of study.' What field of study should only be known by one? To begin with, do you not find it odd that my teacher would enroll in a human world culinary school? Better yet, how much of a benefit would it be for more magi like my teacher to exist, not only for yourself, but the benefit of your faction?"
"You imply he's searching for successors?" Lorelei hummed neutrally, glancing at Shirou before turning away and pondering aloud. "Are you so confident in your position? You should know the nature of magus families to covet their craft for their own?"
Here Erina managed to hold her ground using the one aspect of herself she had pride in. Her sole character ability in this real-life manga. "I have the God Tongue, and that's all I need," she declared with all the vigour of a shounen protagonist from '*unter x *unter,' to move the new mentor figure through spirit.
This was a shounen right? Please be a shounen! Erina crossed her fingers.
"Your confidence is a rare trait." Lorelei actually ended up nodding.
Yeeessss! Banzai manga! Banzaiiii!
Erina flashed a derisive sneer at the secret marvel fanatic beside her who couldn't even get a word in and gloated. Erina's point stood to reason. This was a manga world, not Marvel.
Erina's action wasn't missed by Lorelei who perceived it as a show of superiority and unwavering faith in her own ability. Lorelei could appreciate this, and it only helped that Erina's usual demeanor and presence resembled that of a member of Lorelei's aristocratic faction.
"Don't disappoint me," Lorelei ended up saying.
Erina swallowed again, turning away from Rindo and recalling that this was no place to gloat. Reassuming her previous line of thought, Erina focused. "W-Which means to say…?" she stammered out.
"I like it." Lorelei eased her pressure. "The prospect of more magi skilled in this new craft will be too much of a benefit to squander it on Emiya alone. Although it might mean a decrease in the effectiveness of the craft if too many people know it, wasn't there such a thing as specialization in cuisine?"
That…that was a very valid point.
From here, Shirou startled when he realized that Lorelei's focus had returned to him in full. Those eyes and that expression equaled that of a Servant's any day.
"Be sure to show results," Lorelei brooked no room for argument, before then huffing in amusement. "Now then, welcome aboard."
"W-Welcome aboard?" Shirou suddenly had a horrible feeling.
"Exactly." Lorelei placed her hands over her hips and nodded solemnly. "As a Lord of the Clock Tower, House Barthomeloi will sponsor this endeavor. So welcome to the Voracious Gluttony, Dean Emiya."
"Dean Emiya? Wait hold on a-"
"I have high expectations of you and what this new field will bring." Lorelei ignored Shirou's words. "Of course, we will sign an agreement denoting House Barthomeloi's right of monopoly for a fixed number of years to prevent protest from my fellow Blue Bloods. It simply wouldn't do to take what makes a certain family special, and make it mediocre by gradually elevating the magic potential of others to match it, now is it?"
Shirou shut his mouth, fully knowing that there was no getting out of this now.
Somewhere, somehow, Lord El-Melloi II, or Waver Velvet of the Clock Tower felt that some poor bloke was being roped by a capable woman into something he didn't agree with just like himself.
We salute you.
You poor, poor, bastard.
"Big brother, where are you! I've discovered some surprising intel that needs verification. We're booking a trip, by we, I mean you!"
Waver reached for another smoke with trembling fingers.
What occurred after Lorelei's declaration was like a dream to Erina. It all just practically turned into a blur at some point really. Thinking back on it, Erina could only really recall the events preceding Lorelei's dismissal of them from the office.
Rin, Luvia, and Saber were rather stunned when Shirou officially became a Dean of the Voracious Gluttony, but more than that, they were just relieved that that was all. All three had half-a-mind to bust into the room if things had gone awry, but this result was acceptable if increasingly inconvenient for Shirou.
In any case, Erina focused on the fact that she and everyone else had truly and successfully left that death-trap of a building.
They did it. They were out. They were actually all safe and sound.
Joy and a feeling of exhilaration overtook Erina. Honestly speaking, she hadn't felt such a rush of adrenaline in all her life. Was this how shonen protagonists felt after enduring their trials?
The next arc begins, Erina grows solemn at the thought, features hardening.
'Please tell me it's my training arc?'
Erina felt she needed to prepare if she wanted to live, especially when she thought Lorelei had some sort of expectations about her. Worse, if Shirou didn't actually train her and Lorelei returned to no results. If that happened, everyone would be dead. Dead.
This had to be her training arc. It had to be.
"Sooo, what's the plan from here, team?" Rindo inquired nonchalantly, her hands clasped behind her while she leaned forward over Shirou's shoulder. However, Luvia was a step ahead, and shoved her aside before she could. Rin naturally fell in stride on Shirou's left after Luvia took his right, leaving Rindo stunned.
Rindo had always been more a touchy-feely sort of friend, and this was a first for her to be so viciously blocked. Not that it mattered as she wasn't quitter. Though, she couldn't quite help feeling that they were going on a tangent here.
"Ahem," Erina cleared her throat, gathering everyone's attention. "As much as it pains me to agree, Rindo has a point. What do we plan to do from here?"
Rin furrowed her brows and shook her head helplessly. "Even if you ask that, what else can be done except accepting Lorelei's arrangement for what it is? And this means propagating the lie as Shirou's apprentices and checking if the two of you even have the aptitude to conduct magecraft."
Silence, Rindo and Erina processing what Rin had said to varying reactions.
"We're joining the team!" Rindo clung to Erina who forced her face away with her right arm.
"Get off me, Kobayashi," Erina's brow twitched, irritably, palm pressing against Rindo's cheek. "This is our training arc and I don't need an overly excitable stock character with me. I'd rather call Hisako."
Rindo snorted. "You're still hung up on that aren't you. How many times do I have to tell you? This isn't some manga, but a secret organization affiliated to dealing with the strange and ordinary."
"In a way, she's actually right, you know?" Luvia who was eavesdropping on the two and caught the tail end of the sentence muttered out. "Magi do deal a lot with the supernatural."
"See!" Rindo perked up immediately while Erina fumbled at a loss for words.
"A coincidence," Erina murmured in a daze before snapping out of it. "But it doesn't matter, I was right."
The training arc really would be beginning. In the day she'd be a Totsuki student maintaining her ranking and participating in the food battles arranged by her grandfather, but in secret, she'd be a witch like those from the 7-nin manga.
She'd be living a double life in the same way Shirou, Rin, and Luvia did.
This only left the most important question…when would training start and how?
Erina glanced towards Shirou expectantly, but the entire situation completely went over her predictions when a rumbling sounded in the air.
"Shirou, I'm hungry." Saber provided sheepishly, her cheeks tinged red while a hand drew circles over her stomach.
Erina's eye twitched.
Oh c'mon! Was that really what they were going to focus on, right now?!
"I'll make something as soon as we get back." Shirou answered.
Yes, it apparently was because hunger was the enemy.
"That's it." Erina nearly fell to the temptation of pulling her hair out. "I can't believe this! We should be deciding on a training schedule, or something if our lives depend on this! And you both!" Erina pointed at Rin and Luvia. "Why do you both look like you agree with this?!"
That's because they did.
Rin and Luvia glanced away. As far as they were concerned, Shirou's food would no longer be exclusive to them in the future, so they had to make the most of it now while they could.
Erina gnashed her teeth, no one else seemed to feel the urgency of the situation but her. "What sort of gathering is this!" she seethed indignantly.
"Rindo! I swear to God-!"
Thanks for reading!
Next update: Fate Kill
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The Lonely Peak
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