REJECTION OF REGRESSION
The debriefing went about as well as it could have. Gilgamesh had taken the news fairly well, all things considered, and as they managed to prevent any casualties, it could have been worse. But now seemed to be the time for action. Come tomorrow, they were to set out. Ritsuka and Hinako, along with their respective Servants, would head to Mount Ebih, to Ishtar's base of operations, to negotiate with her to enter an alliance with Uruk. If they were correct about Ereshkigal possessing her sister at night, they were to try and negotiate with her too.
Tiamat, Harry and Hermione, meanwhile, were originally to head to Eridu, and bring Quetzlcoatl into the fold, at least more overtly. They had contacted the Mesoamerican deity via communications mirror, and she suggested that she advance the staged attack on Uruk she had planned and stage a battle tomorrow, before continuing the negotiations in private in Uruk proper, if only to try and fool the other goddesses. Not that it mattered too much in the end, but still, Harry got the feeling Quetzlcoatl liked to put on a show.
Of course, Tiamat had been shaken by that soldier's thoughtless words, spoken in anger. It really rammed home to Harry that Tiamat was still forming a proper psyche, and it was vulnerable. It also reminded Harry of his own obsession with saving those who had already died. Was that really what it was like, on the outside, looking in, seeing how that anger affected others?
Tiamat clung to him more than usual that night. She needed the reassurance, that someone cared about her. And he was willing to provide. He had done so, ever since he reached out for her on the Reverse Side of the World.
As they lay there in bed, Tiamat morosely hummed, I am not useless, am I, Harry?
"No," Harry said gently. "I mean, look at what you did today anyway. Even driving off Gorgon was an achievement of itself. You saved many lives."
Tiamat hummed again, though this one was devoid of any words or meaning. It was just a thoughtful, if somewhat mournful, hum. Then, a silence fell between them. Harry gently wriggled around in Tiamat's grasp, until he was facing her, his emerald eyes meeting her own pink ones. It was awkward, her lying in bed with those horns, though she reshaped them a little to make it less so.
As he contemplated the utterly beautiful being looking at him, Harry was struck by the surreal nature of the situation. Here he was, in Babylonia over four thousand years into the past, sharing a bed with the goddess Babylonian tradition held was the progenitor of all life. The truth was a little more fuzzy and complicated, but she was tied to the concepts of life and genesis.
The problem is, she didn't take rejection well. And that soldier's thoughtless remarks, said in anger, had probably unearthed old traumas that were barely buried, beneath the surface. Rejection by her children once more, perhaps her greatest fear, aside from death. Not that she could die herself, but her personality, as she was in this fragment, risked being subsumed in her other part's more monstrous and wrathful psyche.
And then, Harry had an epiphany. When he encountered her, he was on the brink of insanity himself. Hell, he had been like this for some time, obsessed with correcting history, withdrawing away from his friends, withdrawing into his obsession. No, not withdrawing, he thought with a sick jolt of realisation in his mind. Regressing.
He chuckled bitterly at the sick irony of it all. No wonder he somehow came across Tiamat, aka the Beast of Regression. It was a concept he heard from others for some time, true, but it was only now, in vulnerable introspection, that he truly appreciated it. He and Tiamat were the same, trying to cling to the past, to their loved ones beyond all reason. He'd known that for a while, but now, it was hitting home with the force of a meteor hitting the ground.
Tiamat's questioning song got through to him. "Sorry, Tia…I was just realising…how alike we truly are. We have such a hard time letting go of those we loved, threatening to just…try and change things to how they were. No matter how much it fucks up anything else. I've been dragging you away from being a Beast of Calamity, but I haven't changed for the better myself. Fuck, I'm such a hypocrite. If anything, I'm the useless one, obsessed with changing time."
You're not useless, Harry, Tiamat sang softly, pressing his body to her own a little more firmly. Without you, who would have changed my song? I do not regret this path. It allowed me to walk amongst my children again. Not without fear or worry or sorrow, but…my song has more happiness within it than it has for the eternity I was sealed away. You gave me that gift, and that is one of the most precious things I have. No…you are that gift. In you, I have a lover who cares about me, a guide to help me bond with my children once more…you anchor me, the bassline to my melody. My song is no longer wholly a lament, but an ode to joy.
"…I'm glad to hear that. But…"
The ones you sing a lament for, she sang. Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Don't Call Me Nymphadora Tonks, Cedric Diggory, Fred Weasley, your parents…while I am sure they would prefer to be amongst the living…would they prefer your song to be a happy one if that wasn't possible? And if so…you are happy with me, are you not?
"…Yeah. And I don't want to give you up, or let you down…huh. Dammit, Luna…I swear, after she discovered the internet, half the stuff she sent me were Rick Rolls, or worse. Sorry…my point is…how am I going to be able to change history without leaving you behind? I wasn't going to leave the others behind, but…should I cut my losses? Break this off?"
I don't know, Tiamat sang. I know how dear this is to your song, Harry. But…neither do I want you to leave me.
"…We'll burn that bridge when we come to it, Tia," Harry said to the draconic deity. "But you're right. Padfoot, Moony, Tonks and the others…they'd want me to be happy. And I haven't been. I've been an idiot instead, haven't I?"
Tiamat's non-committal hum was damning, but her embrace was comforting. And his returned embrace was comforting to her in turn. A pair of damaged souls, comforting each other. They hadn't reached answers, but they could at least achieve comfort…
At breakfast the next morning, which Harry was preparing, he frowned as a thought occurred to him. He'd had another one of the dreams with the mysterious quartet, and something about one of them reminded him of something. "Arturia?" he asked. "Can I ask you something?"
"Certainly. What is it?" Arturia asked.
"I keep having recurring dreams…weird ones. And the thing is…one of those speaking to me said something. Something that you brought up while discussing your Grail War. Didn't you say that Kirei Kotomine told Shirou to rejoice, that his dreams would come true?" His emerald eyes met Arturia's own similar eyes. "Someone said the same thing to me in that dream."
Arturia blinked, while Hermione sat up from the table, concerned. "Harry, you've been having strange dreams? Are they like those you had from our fourth year?"
"Yes and no. It's just…weird, these people talking to me, saying some nonsense about how I should change history, about how I could become the next Crypter, whatever the hell that is."
Hinako scoffed. "And of course, you don't bother mentioning this. Not that it's much use."
"It's chilling all the same," Arturia said. "Those words were spoken by a man it was my displeasure to make his acquaintance. Kirei Kotomine."
"Who's that?" Ritsuka asked.
Medusa grimaced. "I had little contact with him, just long enough for my would-be Master to register. He was a Catholic priest in charge of a rather dismal church on the outskirts of Fuyuki, but he was also a former Executor, according to that vile thing who was grandfather to both my false and true Masters."
"Executor?" Ritsuka asked.
Hinako scoffed. "Meaning he's one of the Vatican's assassins, specialising in troublesome Dead Apostles and rogue Magi. You're such a neophyte to our world, Ritsuka, even though you did some magecraft before being recruited into Chaldea. The Burial Agency is to the Vatican what the Enforcers are to Clock Tower. I encountered their founder once, Merem Solomon, one of the Dead Apostle Ancestors, and one of the more benign ones, at least by human standards. Nice guy, actually. We had drinks while complaining about immortality."
Arturia nodded. "Kirei Kotomine was not so benign. Kiritsugu Emiya feared him above all other Masters in the Fourth Holy Grail War, according to Irisviel, as Kiritsugu could not discern his motives for participating. I only learned details later, but he became twisted and evil. He was manipulating the events of the Fifth Holy Grail War alongside the Archer form of Gilgamesh to cause an apocalypse. Those words were spoken to Shirou Emiya, as a form of twisted encouragement to become a Hero of Justice. Thankfully, he was killed by the Lancer Servant he suborned, Cú Chulainn. However, knowing him and his tenacity, I made a request to Dr Roman and Da Vinci to find any records about him. He perished in 2004, around the time that Marisbury Animusphere won this timeline's Holy Grail War. Whether Kirei Kotomine actually died in the Grail War or outside of it is unclear."
"Did he have a deep voice?" Harry asked.
"Well, that's disturbing…being contacted by someone who's supposed to be dead," Harry said. "Assuming these are more than just dreams."
"…They are." On Hinako's quiet declaration, the others looked at the vampire. "…I've been getting them myself, since the last Singularity," she admitted, resignedly.
"And you didn't think to mention this, Hinako?" Hermione asked, her tone stern.
"Yeah, mention I'm having weird dreams about voices wanting me to be a Crypter, whatever that is," Hinako said. "I may be accepted at Chaldea, but most of the staff still look at me like I'm about to snap and go on an Alucard-style walk. Besides, all they are are vague portents and tempting offers. And the thing is, I don't think it's the fake Solomon doing this. We heard him in London, and while listening to his little diatribe with the Tablet of Destiny. In fact, one of the voices sounds familiar. It sounds a little like Tamamo-no-Mae, and she wouldn't be working against us."
"Doesn't Tamamo have something like nine separate aspects?" Ritsuka asked. "I mean, we have her Berserker version as well as her Caster version. Could one of the other Tamamo Nine have some sort of malice?"
"It's possible," Hermione noted, before giving Hinako a sharp look. "Something you should have considered."
"Yes, I did. Do you know how hard it is for me to open up, Hermione? You should by now," the vampire said bitterly. "Especially when you think you're going barmy, and being given a Mephistophelean deal that sounds too good to be true."
"Don't bring up Mephistopheles, please, Hinako," Jeanne said with a shudder that was shared by many. "You may summon him here."
"…You guys have met Mephistopheles?" Harry asked.
"Long story short, Faust didn't summon a demon, but created a rather malevolent Homunculus who makes the Marauders and the Weasley Twins look like rank amateurs," Hermione said, sighing in annoyance. "And he's in Chaldea."
A collective shudder went through almost everyone present, save for Harry, Tiamat, and the Servants not summoned by Chaldea…well, Merlin shuddered too. Harry got the feeling, given Hermione's words, that this was with good reason. Probably a reason not to look forward to joining Chaldea in earnest.
"Those dreams are significant, and as a part-incubus, I should know," Merlin said, "but unfortunately, we have more immediate and pressing concerns. We have nine days left to muster up our forces, win over the other goddesses of the Three Goddess Alliance, as well as Ishtar, and stop Gorgon and Kingu. Quetzlcoatl has already pledged her support covertly, but Ereshkigal is another matter. We have that long to persuade Ereshkigal to join us. The possibility of Ishtar being possessed by her sister may help ease matters, at least in terms of communicating. Otherwise, we will have to descend into Kur, not something to relish. Going into the afterlife while still alive and trying to persuade a deity who is virtually omnipotent within its bounds is understandably undesirable…"
Later that morning, Quetzlcoatl arrived, the blonde, cheerful deity making a rather spectacular entrance by smashing through the gate to Uruk, and then playing around with the guards, knocking them out with her attacks. However, the Masters and Servants intervened, and they fought throughout Uruk, before Enkidu chained her up and brought her to the palace, supposedly as their prisoner. In reality, she was their guest.
As Enkidu let his chains dissolve into mana, Quetzlcoatl grimaced. "I know I could have broken from those chains, but even so, they are powerful against those with divinity, yes?"
"Indeed. I was created that way, Lady Quetzlcoatl."
"You don't have to call me that, Enkidu!" Quetzlcoatl pouted. "Respect is good, but I don't stand on ceremony, yes?" She turned to Gilgamesh, and gave a smile and a cheerful wave. "Buenos dias, King Gilgamesh! Sorry to cause such a ruckus, but the others might have been watching, yes?"
Gilgamesh smiled a little. "For all your showboating, you are one of the least obnoxious deities I have ever had to deal with. Indeed, you are at least pleasant and altruistic. I thank you for your assistance, both in past and in future. Now, Merlin, at least part of your plan for dealing with Gorgon hinges on Quetzlcoatl's help. Please elaborate."
"Of course, Your Majesty. As you are aware, Quetzlcoatl currently possesses the Axe of Marduk, a weapon that is potent in its ability against Tiamat…as well as those holding her authority. In addition, thanks to Chaldea and my own scrying, we have finally managed to pinpoint her location. It helps that, now that we know her true identity, we can use the distinct signatures of Medusa and her abilities to home in on Gorgon's whereabouts."
Arturia frowned, something occurring to her. "I presume you are suggesting using the Axe of Marduk to breach her base of operations. But can it be reused afterwards? I ask this because, should action against Gorgon rouse Tiamat's belligerent part, we may need to use it against her."
"Unfortunately, we have little choice," Merlin said. "And you are right, Arturia. There is a small but significant possibility that, if we kill Gorgon, the shock may rouse Tiamat's other half from the slumber I imposed on her. But Gorgon is a clear and present danger, and must be stopped. Leaving that aside, now that we know who Gorgon is, the assault team against her base must include Ana, Scáthach, and Oda Nobunaga. Harpe, the weapon Ana wields, is lethal to immortals, and the Queen of the Land of Shadows and the Demon King of the Sixth Heaven have traits that make them particularly lethal to the divine. Jack the Ripper is also effective against female enemies, so she should be included too, as could Enkidu with his chains. However, we may have to have other Servants distracting Kingu, so the assigned groups may be rearranged for now."
Harry looked over at the two younger versions of Medusa. "…Are you two all right?" he asked.
Ana scoffed quietly. "Do I look all right?" she asked. There was no real venom in her tone, just weariness. "This is probably why I was summoned by the Grail as a rogue Servant, because of Gorgon's presence."
"Laaa…" Tiamat sang in quiet agreement, going over and hugging the young Gorgon.
"Sorry, I should have asked before, but…" Harry began, but Ana and her older counterpart shook their heads.
"You had your own problems to deal with," Medusa said. "Ana and I have been speaking about it last night. Both of us share the memories we have of our later existence, when we have been utterly consumed by hatred and became the Gorgon you saw. We feel the guilt from devouring our sisters." Then, a faint smile touched the Rider Servant's lips. "To be honest, it was cathartic to watch Tiamat attack her like that. It could only be better if I learned that Shinji Matou ended up as worm food."
"…He did, after the Fifth Holy Grail War," Arturia said grimly. When Medusa shot her a look, she elaborated. "I lingered as a familiar to Rin Tohsaka. She and Shirou learned what had been done to Rin's sister, Sakura. Rin sent me there to…deal with the situation, and Shinji Matou learned firsthand that Crest Worms burrowing into him is not a good experience. It is perhaps the only time I wish Kiritsugu Emiya was still around and willing to use his methods against those vile, poor excuses for people."
Medusa, after a moment, gave Arturia a smile. "Thank you, then, Arturia. A shame I was not there to see it." She shot Medea an irritated look, which the infamous witch just took in her stride.
"You had a bad Master in that worm of a boy," Medea said. "My beloved Souichirou did not have magic circuits, but he had martial arts. A little bit of Reinforcement was all that was needed."
"Skilled as your Master and paramour was, I did not need to know what having my head twisted around nearly a full 360 degrees felt like," Medusa said in a deadpan tone.
"Enough," Gilgamesh said, his voice, while calm, having all its authority behind it. "Ritsuka Fujimaru, Hinako Akuta, you are to head to Mount Ebih starting today to bring Ishtar to our side, and perhaps Ereshkigal with her. I have made arrangements for you to bring a little…incentive for Ishtar. As for the others, we need to begin working out the details of our plan to deal with Gorgon, for once and for all…"
CHAPTER 24 ANNOTATIONS:
So, there you have it. They're making plans…and Harry has come to something of an epiphany. Or at least he's made more progress.
Now, the thing is, why did it take Harry so long to do this? Harry's key trait, aside from his morality, is his stubbornness. He's finding it harder to listen because of his obsession with changing the past, born from his guilt. While Hermione, Arturia and Quetzlcoatl made progress in getting him to rethink his plans, it was, ironically, that anonymous Babylonian mook from the previous chapter that got through to Harry that his obsession wasn't a good thing. He saw himself from the outside and didn't like what he saw. It took him seeing that to realise that he, like Tiamat, was obsessed with regression and having attachment issues, and while he hasn't let go of his obsession with changing history, it's becoming less of an obsession, at long last.
And the Foreign God has been hedging its bets with both Hinako and Harry. Lovely.
I don't know when the next chapter will be out. However, I intend for it to have Harry and Hermione talking things out, along with Tiamat and Arturia.
Review-answering time! Sultan Asil Arslan: Kaiju MILF Fight, what else? Both are mothers (no, really: Gorgon gave birth to Pegasus and Chrysaor after her head was chopped off), so Kaiju MILF does technically apply.
Jose19: While regarded as a villain in canon, she is also depicted in a somewhat sympathetic light. In the game, it is heavily implied that Ritsuka actually hears her begging her children not to leave her in a dream, and it's also stated that, initially, she was trying to hold herself back from committing genocide. The anime expands on this with the sequence where Ritsuka and Tiamat converse in a mental landscape, which, while it came out shortly after I began writing this, helped shape things. Psychoghost's A Mother's Love also helped shape this fic in many regards.
DarkFireCat5241999: I usually go with a theory in these that Magi and wizards have a rather bitter rivalry for various historical reasons, and they basically let Voldemort do his thing out of spite. If Voldemort actually attacked the Magi, THEN they would go all out against him. Voldemort was waiting until he consolidated power within the Ministry of Magic before he decided to take on Clock Tower…
Skull Flame: Oh, God, don't talk to me about Aqua, or Konosuba for that matter. Konosuba may not be the worst isekai book I have ever read (that dubious honour belongs to How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord), but frankly, I didn't bother trying to read beyond the first volume, due to Aqua and Kazuma being wholly unlikeable, to say nothing of the comedy being cringey. The best bits about that first volume were Darkness and Megumin, and even then, their foibles got old real quick…
No numbered annotations this time.