After the long hiatus, here's a short but important vignette to help get this all back into its groove.
~Fate / inertia dawn~
/ Intermission II: Phantom-Errant \
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*ten years ago*
Less than a month following the abrupt and destructive conclusion to the fourth instance of the Heaven's Feel, Fuyuki was still reeling from the wounds of war. The fire at the climax of the conflict left in its wake an ugly, yawning hole in the middle of the city – a striking gap in a once magnificent skyline, about which a strangely sickening atmosphere lingered, a subtle malevolence that rooted itself into one's thoughts and would not let go. Everyone could feel it, the malaise and unease slowly festering in the city, but the rescue workers and those who were a part of the restoration program were worst affected of all.
"This place just creeps me out," one of the workers said, breaking the unnatural silence that marked every meal break.
"You too, Tatsuya?" his friend responded, secretly glad that someone had spoken, as the quiet had weighed heavy on him.
"So I'm not the only one weirded out by this? Good. I thought I might have been going a little crazy."
"Hardly," his friend replied, shaking his head as he looked over the unsettling backdrop for what was to become a park - not that he could imagine anyone willing going there, not even a homeless person. "Everyone here's been feeling out of it for a while – and not for the right reasons, you know?"
"Yeah, I get that," the first worker said, taking a gulp of water from his canteen, as he felt unnaturally thirsty. "I'm not saying that people don't have the right to feel bad about a disaster area where a lot of people died, hell no, but I'm serious when I say this place gives me vibes. Nasty ones."
The workers - to a one - were anxious and on edge.
If they were not obligated by duty or financial need to perform the solemn, necessary duty of cleaning up after this disaster, none of them would have even come out to the site - much less have put in so many hours. There was something wrong about this place - and it wasn't just that it was a place where hundreds had died. It felt unnatural, as if every step they took on the land was one they trod over their own graves, as if every breeze was a whisper of something older and more malignant than time itself, as if every piece of rock and rubble seemed to scream at them for intruding, scream at them to turn around and get out.
Were it up to them, they would have rather stayed far, far away. But they didn't have a choice, and so returned to work daily, to this cursed land where they were unwelcome, where they felt the only a curse awaited them as reward for their labors.
If it was but the mild discomfort of dealing with human remains, that would have been one thing - and they were no stranger to such gruesome sights - but this went far deeper than that, triggering some primitive prey instinct to flee...
"So...you think we'll ever find out what really happened here?" Tatsuya's friend asked, futilely trying to change the topic to something slightly less uncomfortable to talk about. "Somehow, I really don't think it was just a busted gas line, or whatever excuse they're giving this time."
"I doubt it," the other commented gloomily. "You know how these things go. It always takes months or years to figure out what might have happened, and by that time, it's old news. Everyone's either forgotten about it, or if they remember, don't feel like bringing it up."
"You'd think the people would want to at least honor those who were lost - something like this doesn't happen every day, man."
But the other only shrugged his shoulders and tossed aside the cigarette he was technically not supposed to be smoking while on the job. "Why bother remembering when it's so much easier to forget?"
The worker's words rang truer than he, his friend, or every mundane resident of Fuyuki City would ever know.
Only a select few individuals had had any knowledge of the true events behind the devastation of Fuyuki, or the motives that had underlain the actions in those times - and most of them were dead, inevitable casualties of the Holy Grail War. As for those who were alive, they wouldn't divulge their secrets, and thus the truth would never be known.
Not to the public at least.
Like it or not, those two who seemed like unassuming, perfectly normal construction workers were just that: inconsequential, mundane, background characters in a chapter in the on-going story of Fuyuki's secret history of death and murder.
For in that stretch of desolation, that giant scar of wasteland carved into the concrete jungle of the blighted town, their presence had no bearing on the tale to come.
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It silently glided over the crumbled rubble, weaving through burnt-out skeletons of once-grand skyscrapers, invisible to sight, intangible to the senses. Which was fortunate for the worthless characters from before, as had they been gifted enough to sense its presence they'd have surely lost their minds to fear.
Though the shade aimed to reach the heart of the ruins, mere sightseeing was by no means its ultimate goal.
Fuyuki, a backwater city in an unimportant little country, was but a brief stop on a side trip - nothing worth an excursion in and of itself. Any passing interest it had in the ritual of this place it made possible had disappeared long before even the third iteration of the game. Even the quality of the spiritual land - exceptional in a modern age – was hardly a matter of note to an ancient being whose existence had long transcended mortality.
"…" it thought empty non-thoughts as it continued to soundlessly traverse the landscape.
Though magi fought and died for its power, the relic here was just another one of the slew of "holy grails" that existed in the world, nothing he hadn't seen hundreds of times before. True, the summoning and binding of Heroic Spirits was an interesting twist, rendering this particular attempt to claim the Grail's power unusual - but hardly unique. There was, after all, a variation being prepared in the New World, and many others in Europe. But even in this eastern land, already, this ritual had been attempted four times, promising untold power to any victor - but never delivering, always ending in failure.
So it had written it off the Fuyuki ritual was a mere bagatelle, as it could only spare curiosity for truly once-in-a-lifetime events.
Anything less was an utter waste of effort.
Yet in spite of this mentality as it arrived in this part of the world, it noted the aberrant conditions surrounding the region, the unfamiliar atmosphere hanging over the city's territory like a toxic cloud, suffused with some odd energy. On closer investigation, it found that the aura of this power, faint as it was, was mingled intimately with the land, as if it had always been a part of it, always flowing through the leylines in the ground Fuyuki stood on.
That energy was not something it had been aware of previously, though the past iterations had never resulted in this level of devastation or contamination of the physical by the spiritual. Perhaps once, it might have sensed something of the sort, but never on this scale, and never for long enough that it might become aware of its...unusual properties.
Had it known of this twist perhaps it would have investigated earlier...
The presence stood at the center of the ruins, at the place where the gates of hell had opened, and the all-consuming filth of man had spilled out and purged countless souls of life and turned a city district into a sea of shadow and flame. It was easy to infer that it was originally been a key location for the ritual, although there was no way of telling if the cataclysmic release of the odd energies had damaged it beyond hope of repair. The land had a way of fixing itself, given enough time, but with this corruption - who knew?
More importantly, however, here the faint flow of power could still be felt.
"…" it looked around, taking in the silent essence of a fresh war zone.
Here there was "quiet," but not merely the absence of sound - but something which seemed to null sound.
A whisper of a sensation, barely noticeable unless one attuned with the energies of life and death were to "look" for it.
(ERROR. REBOOTING AND RECALIBRATING.)
It broke the connection as quickly as possible when it sensed something gazing back across the abyss, but wasn't fast enough to avoid the consequences.
The whisper of a feeling echoed, was amplified a thousandfold into dissonant bullhorn wails screeching for it to DIEDIEDIEGETBENT(ERROR. REBOOTING AND RECALIBRATING)DIEDIE, a thousand nails irritatingly scraping chunks from chalkboards, a thousand souls that cried out to a foul, unhearing god, the twinkling of a thousand bells, and then - silence. Silence born of white noise and destructive interference, anti-sound drowning out all that it touched.
It heard, saw, felt, and tasted this all at once - (ERROR. REBOOTING AND RECALIBRATING).
A torrid ocean of information washed over it. It overflowed from and drowned its mental faculties, as if it were a teacup trying to contain the vastness of that ocean. It seemed like every nerve in its spiritual body was being remade into flesh for the sole purpose of ripping them out once again. Every single hair on its body was remade, only to be torn out all at once. It knew what it was like to be healed, to be wounded, healed and wounded, over and over again in an endless cycle of agony.
For an instant, it remembered what it was to be vulnerable (ERROR. REBOOTING AND RECALIBRATING), to fear, to know death and pain, as if it were a physical being whose flesh was being pulled from holes bored into the body, carved into long corded strings and broiled into jerky while it was still alive.
In an attempt to better understand the flow of energy wafting around the site, it had gazed into the darkness, and the darkness had gazed back. And in that instant, it had experienced utter despair at the hands of pure, intense hostility.
(ERROR. REBOOTING AND RECALIBRATING.)
Had it been human, or even truly living, perhaps it might have given in to the calls for destruction, if only to quell the incredible wrongness that had it in its clutches - the indescribable, seeping madness that ate away at sanity and hope, rousing everything and nothing, and anything within psyche, senses, and memory all at once.
The sensation of being utterly taken aback by the unknown was decidedly unfamiliar to it, it who was already abnormal. It was a humbling and waylaying experience, humiliating and debilitating.
'Now this is certainly something...'
True as that was, the way it recovered so quickly from such a compromising violation of its existence was a little short of a miracle.
'I foster no delusions that I should try that little stunt of mine again by either going in deeper or for a longer period, as the shock was profound enough to destabilize my existential matrix. Any more direct interaction would likely lead to permanent, irreparable damage by foolishly interacting with the raw residual power of a foreign ritual,' the being admitted to itself, still shaken by the mental wounding it had received in that brief instant, 'It's very much a good thing that I picked up on what I wanted to from that alone. White noise from hell that might have been, but it was still telling enough for what I wanted to discern.'
By cross-referencing what it knew with what it just now experienced in that infinity of torment compressed into an instant, the shade could discern a fundamental truth about the ritual that had just occurred. The Grail War's current incarnation, the one so different from the feeling and concepts and finesse of those prior was similar to a virus-infected piece of hardware –– usable to various extents, and capable of functioning to carry out a primary objective, but was blatantly flawed when compared with the original set up. The energies were not as pure as they once were and were colored a warped color by the presence of something.
Yet that was still far from the whole story.
That dark presence might or might not have been present in the first incarnations, but now it had more or less fully and perfectly integrated itself into the system, twisting the system's core purpose. Yet that particular distortion was not the only one present. There was one other, one far more recent, far more...aberrant.
For this one not only twisted purpose, but the theory and foundation of the magics involved, for some unknowable purpose.
'There is a key difference here between distortions,' it noted, relishing this knowledge, 'The system already appears to be synchronizing itself to levels of acceptable consistency now that the War has ended. While it won't be as anomalous in the future as this one was, the new distortion is very much still present in the ritual. And if that is indeed the case…'
If anyone had been around to see it then – if it could be seen, period – then those theoretical onlookers would have likely died from the exposure to the sheer volume of malevolence and hunger its smile would have given off.
"…then consider me curious."
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Something is wrong with the Holy Grail. No one knows what exactly it is, or why it happened in the first place, though. All that we can figure out is that it had something to do with the Fourth War. To assume there won't be any sort of ramifications derived from this accident is incredibly foolish and naively optimistic.