Lots of stuff has been going on around here, but I won't lie to you: I'm a lazy ass, so sorry.
Thank you for your generous reviews, they mean a lot to me and like always thank you gmsephiroth and Yuleen.
And since I always like to reply to all my reviews, at the end of the chapter is a note to the people who reviewed last chapter and did not log in or do not have an account, so check it out if you are one of those people.
WARNING: Involves established fictional characters, which may or may not fit within the reader's preconception about said characters.
DISCLAIMER: Relevant characters and source materials belong to their respective copyright owners. The author lays claim to the rest. Use for non-commercial purposes only.
Turning back the pendulum
Chapter VII – Back and beyond Camelot
-."Experiences are savings which a miser puts aside.
Wisdom is an inheritance which a wastrel cannot exhaust.".- Karl Kraus
The bright morning sun was completely out, shinning through thick clouds and making its way under Merlin's many curtains, giving the chamber a faint and mysterious illumination.
When Arturia left, Shirou and Merlin talked about a little bit of everything for about half an hour. He told the wizard, more or less, how he had gotten to this time, and went on about his few experiences so far.
As he talked, the old man seemed unable to stay in one spot for too long. He skipped between stands of books, opened a few of them or simply passed in front of Shirou, unsettling him a bit. But after a while, at some point during the talk, Merlin started a conversation the time traveler hoped he could skip.
"They told me about the encounter with the dragon." He began casually when Shirou mentioned the little problem at Cameliard.
"Dragons are dangerous magical beasts, very wise too." He continued in the same calm tone, as if he were talking about the weather. "What you did was very brave, or very foolish. It was something, prodigious, for lack of a better word." He let himself fall ungracefully on a chair near the table and motioned for him to sit as well.
Shirou remained rooted on the ground, his expression as neutral as he could make it. He didn't want to get too comfortable with this particular stranger. "I'm fine, thank you." He refused politely, looking a bit skeptical. If he had learned anything about the wizard, it was that he was very convincing and perceptive; maybe more than any other person he'd ever met.
"Well alright," Merlin said in a sing-song tone and Shirou felt his hands starting to get sweaty. "I do not know how things may have changed in your time, but here, it is not every day you see someone conjure a Reality Marble. It is a teensy weensy rare."
"A what?" Shirou blurted, narrowing his eyes.
"Do not tell me, you did not know?" Merlin asked, raising his tick eyebrows in mock surprise. "If what I heard is true, then yes, I am certain that what you did was a Reality Marble. Another world created by you, so to speak. In principle, it is something that only belongs to demons and spirits, but it is possible for an individual with high magical abilities to realize one with time."
"The question is: how could someone as young and inexperienced as you do it." He finished with a dangerous edge in his voice. The old man's eyes were practically unblinking as he waited for Shirou to say something, but the tracer only shifted his weight uncomfortably.
Just what could he say?
Well sir, at that moment adrenaline was pumping inside me so fast that I heard a voice, it told me what to do and all of the sudden I conjured a... Reality Marble. Yeah, that's what I did.
He was well aware that what he did the other day was beyond words; it was simply out of his league. If he ever has the chance to tell Tohsaka that he managed to create a 'Reality Marble', she'll probably roll on the floor laughing or call him a charlatan and smack his head, hard.
Discarding such thoughts, he responded sincerely, "Well, mister, I'm not... sure what I did."
Merlin tapped his long nose a few times and looked outside the only window he left open, clearly unsatisfied by his answer, "Hmm, that is not something you can do out of luck. Did you use an enchantment, or a chant, perhaps?"
The tracer opened his mouth on impulse, but the voice inside his head, the same one he heard that dreadful day at Cameliard, told him otherwise.
"Don't do it. Don't tell him anything." It said. Shirou closed his mouth again and he finally recognized the voice.
It was his voice. Emiya Shirou's voice.
He tilted his head and put his healthy hand on his forehead, feeling a vein pulsing painfully. One time, his friend Issei told him that when you hear your own voice on a record or on the T.V., it's hard to tell that it's really you. But man, it was so odd, if it really was his own voice, then how the heck did he know that chant? "Are you there?" He thought, feeling very stupid. And of course, the voice never answered.
Merlin chuckled, "I must say, you are very skilled at ignoring people, it amazes even me, but please, answer me. I am trying to understand everything better." He insisted, his voice full of sympathy. Shirou was having a really hard time not telling him everything right there and end up with it.
"I, I really don't know. Sorry." He lied, his voice carrying a tone that was unconvincing even to him.
Merlin's eyes twinkled for a moment and his expression became cold, "My, my. Of course you do not know." He said sharply and Shirou felt as if the room dropped a few degrees. The magus gave him one last dark look and as if nothing ever happened, he continued in a cheery tone, "Well then! Let me look at your arm! I am not a very good healer, but I have been told that in a life or death situation, I was better than nothing!"
"Is someone slipping mood modifiers in his drink?" Shirou pondered with a raised brow.
He forced a smile at Merlin's joke and blinked a few times. After a little pause, he decided not to tempt the wizard's patience more than he already has and reluctantly showed him his broken arm - which was an interesting green-purple, color - and braced himself for the worst.
Merlin grabbed his arm gently and examined it for a while, his eyebrows narrowing so much that they seemed to merge together. "It looks awful. I suppose it's better than before, Gawain's herbs must be doing their trick, but..." He lightly tapped his wand three times on his arm and whispered something too low for Shirou to hear.
At first, nothing happened, but a full minute later, Shirou started to feel as if millions of ants were crawling inside his arm. It was an extremely uncomfortable feeling, but luckily, after five minutes of this torture, his arm started to feel a lot better and the tingling sensation subsided.
Merlin let go of his arm and nodded, "How is it now?"
The teen examined it in astonishment. The sickly color was mostly gone and although there was pain still present, he had admit that he felt a lot better, so much that he could even move his arm and flex it a bit. "W-wow, it feels a lot better now, thank you very much sir." He smiled, not hiding his surprise.
"You are welcome. But still, do not strain yourself, you should be feeling less pain, but your bones are still recovering." Merlin explained, standing up and looking for something between a pile of papers and what seemed like lab equipment. He pulled out something up with an 'Aha,' and grinned at Shirou, extending a test tube with some bright lime green liquid inside; the kind of green that would normally be accompanied by a 'Warning. Do not drink' label.
"Drink this; I assure you will feel better in no time!"
Shirou took the tube and looked from it to Merlin repeatedly. "What's the worst that can happen?" He thought positively, "Growing another head, at least." Was his immediate self-reply. Frowning, he concluded that if Merlin wanted to kill him, he would have done so already. So, squeezing his eyes tightly and taking a very deep breath, he gulped the whole tube at once.
If he thought that the... the thing Lancelot gave him to get warm tasted bad, he was oh so wrong. That tasted like the most delicious brand of wine in comparison to the fluid of doom that was now running down his throat. It tasted like crap, excrement, secretion and all others synonyms of body wastes, literally.
Shirou started coughing hard, shaking his head and grabbing his throat while nausea overcame him. Merlin smirked like a little kid, "Wow, your face turned the most wonderful tone of green I have ever seen. You have officially beaten Arthur by far! But still, you should have seen that child's face!" He joked, sighing at the 'good' memory.
Shirou tried to picture a green and disgusted Arturia in his head but it was too difficult to imagine.
After the nausea was mostly gone, he coughed some more until the taste subsided a bit and his mouth opened as he tried to say something; an insult, anything he could, but no sound came out. His voice box seemed to have been broken.
"Better? Good. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to do some boring, old-man things alone. You should go and eat something." As if on cue, Shirou's stomach growled loudly.
"R-ight." Shirou managed to utter hopelessly, finding his voice again. The fact that he hadn't eaten anything but old bread the last few days was a painful reminder now. "Than-ks ag-ain." He whispered, bowing his head.
"That is quite fine, boy." Merlin lead the redhead to the door, opened it for him and when the tracer was out he added, "I do not know whether war is an interlude during peace, or peace an interlude during war*, but let us enjoy this little peaceful time while we can, shall we?" He said and Shirou nodded slowly. "Enjoy your breakfast."
- - -
At around nine in the morning, Shirou finally found the kitchen. He couldn't help but wonder if all castles were this big; he knew castles were supposed to be spacious but this one was ridiculously huge. He had gone up three set of stairs, walked through four long corridors and even went through a bridge that connected a part of the castle with another; oh, and he almost froze when he went through it.
He read in a book that at these hours, the food was taken away from the great hall. So, in order to fill his stomach, he'll have to ask a lady at the kitchen for some leftovers or something.
He looked outside a window and sighed at the impressive view. From where he stood, he could see the many houses around the castle and even what was beyond the thick stone border walls. A thin layer of snow covered what was once a vast green field and even some of the trees had a few leaves left.
He stood in front of the door, a little out of breath and getting annoyed at the whispers and funny looks people around were giving him as he went. "Damn gossipers" He thought, glaring at a guard near the door who stared at him for too long.
If he could count out something positive about the last half an hour of his life, it was that the horrendous taste of Merlin's potion was finally gone from his mouth and that his arm was recovering abnormally fast.
"Just where did these kinds of incredibly fast recovery potions go in the future?" He seriously pondered, opening the door slowly.
The kitchen turned out to be a bit different from what he'd seen in the book on castles. It was a cozy and spacious room made out of brown rocks that stood out from the walls. The ceiling had a curved form that made the room look even bigger and a lone old chandelier hung up from it. The middle of the room was occupied by a huge wooden table with lots of raw food and bread. The kitchen utensils were set at wooden stands along some other kitchen things.
A beefy middle-aged woman was humming a tune happily while she cleaned the table with a damp cloth, completely unaware of his intrusion. Shirou's cleared his throat and knocked the door and the lady looked up and immediately; her rosy cheeks went pale and her expression changed from cheerful to terrified.
"Ehm," Shirou began, a little taken aback by her sudden reaction, "Excuse me… I was wondering if there was anything I could eat ple-"
"Oi!" Someone shouted loudly from behind him and Shirou's heart almost left his body. He held his chest and turned around slowly to see who it was that yelled.
His eyes went wide and his frown disappeared completely as a familiar blond man stared back at him.
"Percival!" Shirou said with a smile.
"God's eye mate! I thought I would never see you again! And with all those comments going around and all..." The young man said rolling his eyes.
Shirou raised a brow and looked back at the still paralyzed lady, "What kind of comments?"
Percival sighed and went towards the woman. "Do not worry Rosy, he is not a bad guy. He is with me." Percival told her. She glanced at Shirou again and nodded slowly.
"You just have to go and find the oddest and most dangerous friends, don't you Perci?" She whispered, but Shirou heard her as clear as water. Percival laughed jovially and she nudged his shoulder playfully.
"Let us talk while we eat. I am starving." The blond pointed at two chairs and sat down on one. Shirou followed soon after, giving the lady a pleading look that made her smile a bit. She nodded and began serving him a plate.
A low moan threatened to escape his mouth at the sight of food. He waited eagerly until Rosy presented him and Percival with plates full of bread and fish, and a couple of jugs of ale.
"Thank you Rose." The younger man said, taking a bite from his bread.
Shirou grabbed his knife and fork, glad that he could finally use both hands and stuffed his mouth with food ungracefully, almost swallowing it.
"Wow, at least taste it." Percival told him in between laughs with a mouthful of bread. Shirou uttered something that sounded like 'Shut up, I was starving.' and swallowed down half of the jug. "And I thought I was hungry."
Shirou swallowed hard, "Is the food always this delicious?" He asked, ignoring Percival's last comment and taking a bite of some bread; not really paying attention to the taste of it and even less to what it was.
"No. You are just hungry." Percival replied shrugging and drinking from his jug. From behind him, Rosy glared at him making Shirou grin and slow down a bit.
"I always miss the breakfast. I guess you did too, eh Shin?"
Shirou nodded, "Yeah…" He looked at the blond guiltily and frowned. "Hey, actually my name is not Shin, you know. I'm Shirou. Sorry that I lied to you."
He looked up at Shirou and laughed, "I already knew that mate, no offense taken."
Shirou raised a brow and coughed. "So, what are people talking about?"
Shirou rolled his eyes, "I know. I mean, what exactly are they saying?"
"Ah," Percival cleared his throat and smiled a bit. "Well, yesterday was pretty hectic. The king and his troops finally arrived, but they brought a prisoner. Everyone was saying different things about why you were captured and well, someone actually managed to get some information about what you said at the Round Table, or so they say."
"WHAT?!" Shirou yelled, spitting bread all over Percival's face.
"Ugh, thank you, mate." The young man muttered, disgusted. He wiped his face with a damp cloth and went on, "I do not know if it is true though, you know how rumors run around this place."
No, he didn't,"But anyway, they are saying that you have some kind of mysterious power and that you defeated the dragon at Cameliard by yourself." He rolled his eyes, "I highly doubt so. The king, Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain and Sir Bors were there after all." He took a sip from his drink, "They also say that you are not from this country. And well, I... actually think you are not." He blurted the last part and stared at his plate shyly.
Shirou observed Percival with something close to shock. Almost everything he told him was true. What in the world was wrong with the privacy at his place? How much did that person actually hear? And wait a minute, did they know about the time traveling then?
"That's... a bit preposterous, don't you think?" Shirou said awkwardly, drinking down the rest of his jug to clear his dry throat.
"Of course! I mean, maybe you are a great fighter but, killing a dragon on your own? Rubbish." He snorted and waved his hand. Shirou gave him a plastic smile and continued to eat silently until his plate was completely clean, not even a single crumb left.
"Ah, that was great." The tracer sighed, relaxing a bit on his chair and rubbing his belly. "But hey, did they say anything else…?" Something like: He is a time traveler!
Percival laughed mirthfully and shook his head, "I admire your appetite and no, not that I know of."
Shirou sighed and nodded. He relaxed and fought the urge to doze off right there.
"Say," His companion began, "You are not actually from here, are you?"
The time traveler looked at Percival for a few seconds, judging his serious expression.
It was probably quite obvious. It just took some time knowing him to guess that he at the very least wasn't from this country. Percival most likely figured that out, and with the rumors going on, it must have given him more reason to believe so.
"No." Shirou said plainly, scratching the back of his head. "But I'm not some kind of spy or anything of the sort. I came here to help." He finished lamely.
Percival raised a brow, "To help?"
"It's complicated and, I can't tell you, sorry." He lowered his head and avoided looking at his friend.
"Oh, I wish you could tell me." The younger man pouted and paused, "But, if you cannot, then it is quite fine. If the king trusts you then I will too." He said solemnly. Shirou was a bit moved by his devotion.
"Besides, you do not seem bad to me. For the little time I've known you, I could almost feel that you have good intentions. You are too oblivious of your surroundings to be a bad guy." He grinned.
"Thanks, mate." Shirou joked and smirked. He felt really happy to be able to find a friend, and Percival was someone he knew he could trust for now.
They talked for a while longer about how things around the castle work, neither of them willing to stand up with their stomachs as full as they were. Shirou laughed as Percival explained to him about his life at the castle and at how Rossy seemed to know him very well, commenting now and then. It turned out that the young man came to live here after he decided to become a knight and he trained fervently under a man called Gornemant de Goort.
"I used to live in the woods with my mother and my brother." He told him, "She did not like anything that had to do with knighthood, but I convinced her to let me be one; she approved after some begging."
"How long have you been here?" Shirou asked him with interest.
"Around five years. It is my goal to be a Knight of the Round Table some day." He sighed and stared at the ceiling with a faraway look that made Shirou smile. "What about you? Do you want to become one?"
He looked at Percival a bit uneasily, "I don't know. I guess it'll be... nice?"
The blond stared at him incredulously, "Nice? It would be the greatest honor! And who knows, maybe if you defeat another dragon they will make you one." He laughed and stood up. "Come on, I will show you around. We can even spar if you feel like it."
Shirou took a look at his arm and wondered if it was too soon to hold a sword. But oh well, he could think about it later.
- - -
A few hours later, the two of them had walked around a great portion of the castle. Shirou tried to remember all the things Percival had told him about shortcuts for easier navigation and what each room and corridor was for. The task was proving to be harder than he expected as the huge castle seemed to be one of the biggest he'd ever seen. Not that he had seen a lot of castles, but he'd bet they aren't as big!
They were walking around a corner, for once not talking, when they heard some suspicious whispers.
Shirou gasped as Percival pulled him by the collar of his shirt and made a gesture for him to be silent. The tracer glared at him but didn't say a word.
"No." They heard a woman say lowly. Her voice sounded hurt and breathless.
Shirou looked at Percival for an explanation but the blond was in spy-mode now; his back against the wall and his ears hearing intently. "What are you doing?" The redhead whispered in the younger teen's ear. Percival merely scowled at him and brought a finger to his lips, making Shirou roll his eyes. "That's rude, you know." He whispered again, but the blond ignored him.
"Why not?" A male voice whispered huskily. It was very low, but Shirou knew that voice. "Is that Lancelot?" He wondered, standing next to Percival and listening.
"You know why." The female responded and the sound of steps could be heard, albeit far from them. A long and tense silence followed that and both teens gulped.
"It does not matter." Lancelot whispered a bit louder, his voice shaking slightly.
"Of course it does." Pause, "You know it does." Awkward silence, "Leave here, now." She ordered weakly.
"No." He said firmly and they heard a gasp and then silence.
Shirou took a peek and saw something that he really shouldn't have seen. Behind some old and rusty suit of armor, Lancelot and Queen Guinevere were engaged in the most passionate kiss he had ever seen. He blushed and looked away immediately, hiding behind the corner. Percival looked at him with confusion, ready to take a peek too, but the tracer grabbed his arm, pulled him away from the wall and quickly, but quietly dragged him going back the same corridor from where they came.
Once they were a safe distance away, Percival stopped and looked frantically behind them, making sure no one was around. "What is it?! Just what did you see?" He whisper-yelled. Shirou wasn't sure if yelling and whispering at the same time was possible, but Percival managed to pull it off.
"N-nothing. I just think we shouldn't be listening at other people's conversation like that, that's all." He uttered and mock glared at him. Percival raised a brow.
"Well, pardon, but I think that was Queen Guinevere… and it sounded suspicious." He crossed his arms on his chest and stared at the corridor they just took, as if expecting someone to come.
Shirou glanced outside the window and an idea occurred to him, "If it was the queen, then that gives you more reason not to eavesdrop. You are disrespecting your queen." He told Percival, acting sternly.
Percival took a step back and his eyes went wide before he looked at the ground guiltily, "Its just that, Queen Guinevere sounded like she was in trouble…"
"She wasn't." Shirou said quickly and images of what he saw replayed in his head, "Believe me, she was just fine."
Percival looked up to him and shook his head, "I should go and make sure she is fine. It is my duty as a knight to assure Her Majesty's safety." He said firmly.
Shirou sighed, "You do that. I'll look around a bit more and then wait for you at the training ground. I feel a bit rusty."
The blond smiled and nodded, "Are you certain you will not get lost without me?" He joked.
"Go away." Shirou snorted and Percival left laughing.
- - -
The training ground was a bit crowded when he arrived. A few men were cheering and throwing all kind of suggestions to a couple of fighters in the middle of a circle. Like most of the not-so-important rooms of the castle, this one was a very simple stone made square with a few weapons decorating its walls.
There were some training dummies and weapon stands at a side of the room and Shirou decided to just go and practice with one of the swords and warm up.
He took a rusty but decent looking sword from the stand and gave it a few testing swings with his much better looking right hand. He smiled widely when he felt no pain and continued swinging and thrusting mindlessly.
So entranced he was on his training that he didn't notice that the cheers increased. He didn't notice that a sepulchral silence followed soon after and he definitely didn't notice as a person approached until a sword stopped his own when he turned back and slashed.
Shirou's brown eyes widened considerably as they met Lancelot's piercing blue ones; the former looking deadly as his sword pushed Shirou's back. The tracer stood in fighting position as Lancelot gave a step back.
"Didn't see you there, Sir Lancelot." Shirou said, taking a raspy breath.
"You must be blind then, Shirou Emiya." The brunette replied grievously. "I have been here since you came, but obviously you were too deep in La-La-Land to notice me." He added and Shirou frowned slightly. "Hope you do not mind a little duel." And without waiting for his answer, he charge rapidly at him.
Shirou almost lost his balance when he blocked a very potent and well aimed attack at his neck. His sword looked insignificant beside Lancelot's shiny and fine one. He ground his teeth and used all his strength to pull back again and feeling daring, he slashed horizontally. Lancelot dodged his attack without effort and immediately countered by thrusting his sword towards Shirou's heart.
The tracer barely dodged when another attack, again aimed at his neck was sent at him. Unfortunately, he didn't come out untouched but luckily his head was still on his shoulders. He felt the familiar burning sensation on his neck and flinched. Lancelot stood back a bit and looked at him with something close to smugness shadowed by disappointment.
"I thought that after what you did, you would be able to at least defend yourself, Shirou Emiya." He said coolly. "Here I come."
Before Shirou could even think, his sword was already flying out of his hands and as if in slow motion he saw Lancelot's sword coming in a vertical slash towards his face. Self-preservation took over, and without even concentrating, Kanshou and Bakuya appeared in his hands just in time to intercept the knight's attack.
From between his swords, the redhead saw Lancelot raise an eyebrow, but the brunette didn't pull back this time.
"Very daring are you not, Shirou Emiya? And even in front of so many people." His eyes shined with what Shirou thought was glee and excitement, "But," The swords started to tremble under the pressure that their wielders were giving them, "That is not. Enough. To defeat me!" Lancelot growled and the power Shirou felt was so great that he was on his knees before he knew it.
With another swing of his sword, Lancelot made Shirou fall off balance and land on his butt. Desperate, the time traveler reached for his sword and tried to stand up as fast as he could but Lancelot's sword was already pointed just an inch away from his nose.
A burst of cheers and applauds erupted and the time traveler wondered if everybody had been holding their breaths.
Lancelot pulled his sword away and gave Shirou a little smile before extending his arm. Shirou looked a bit skeptical, but accepted it.
"You did well, you are just in need of some practice," Lancelot told him lowly after he prompted the younger man up. Shirou looked at him, smiled tiredly and let go of his hand.
"Maybe you could teach me some tricks." He said in between breaths. And to his surprise, Lancelot chuckled.
"I am far from a good teacher, but maybe you could ask Bors." He said, tilting his head over Shirou. The redhead turned around and blushed.
Bors was waving and giving them a toothy smile, but what surprised him the most was that he was not alone. Besides him was Arturia, and she was smiling a bit too.
- - -
To be continued
Notes: If you are wondering when the Saber/Shirou action will start, don't worry folks, I promise you it'll be soon.
What Merlin said at the end of his and Shirou's meeting is a famous quote by Georges Clemenceau. Heh, I love great quotes.
To Nubitox: Yeah, I'm also a sucker for that kind of set up, so you'll probably get a lot of that, lol.
To someone: Thank you, I'm doing my best.
To abc: Thanks, hope you liked this chapter.
To Wind: Thanks. I'll really, really try to update soon.
To Frank: I'm really flattered that someone who is not used to read fanfics liked mine so much. Thanks a lot and hope you like the rest of the fic.
To Anonymous: Yeah, sorry about that, updating is becoming harder than I thought.