Author's Note: Hey, everyone! This is my first story in the FSN fandom, so I'd like to take this time to establish some ground rules.
1) There will be spoilers for the game. So if you've only watched the anime or only read the manga, you're probably going to be spoiled to quite a bit. You have been warned.
2) I am always open to constructive criticism. If I make a genuine error, let me know so I can correct it. If you don't like a plot point or something to that effect, I will at least consider your opinion as long as you present it in a mature way; though do keep in mind that anything regarding plot and story structure, I have the final say. I will listen to your opinion, but I don't have to agree with it.
Okay, now that we've got that out of the way, on with the show!
You would be shocked how little difference there actually is between most alternate universes.
Oh, granted, there's always going to be the odd one out. Well… actually, there are an infinite number of odd ones out. You see, the nature of the multiverse is that it's not actually 'multi' so much as 'omni'. Everything that could have possibly happened has happened, and more than that, it has happened an infinite number of times across an infinite number of universes. Therefore it is impossible for any universe to truly be odd, because any given universe is nothing more or less than the sum total of an infinite number of things happening or not happening in combination, and there will be another universe where the exact opposite things happened, and between them will be universes with all of those (again, infinite) things happening in wildly different or nearly identical combinations. And each of those will have an opposite too. And then there are the ones where nothing happened, ever, and the worlds where things have stopped happening. And there are an infinite number of those as well, many of them with subtly different definitions of 'nothing' happening, and sometime the nothing from one leaks into another and becomes something there because that universe has different rules of nothing, so what doesn't exist in one universe not only exists in another, it always has existed and always will exist, while in yet another universe it will never haven't not existed.
And just think: if you were one of my apprentices, I'd be quizzing you on this later. And people wonder why they traditionally don't last long.
In any event, my point was, there are many, many alternate worlds. And many of them are strange indeed. I've seen worlds where life on Earth took vastly different paths; a landscape made up of monumental crystalline mountains constantly wreathed in emerald lightning, populated by formless energy creatures that fed on magnetic charges. I've seen worlds where humanity evolved more quickly; a race of psychics and superhumans who make our greatest achievements look as transient and meaningless as children's sandcastles... and who tear their world apart in wars the scale of which we cannot even imagine. Worlds where man never evolved at all, leaving Gaia wild, cruel, and untamed… but far more beautiful and vibrant, in her own harsh way.
I once saw a world of nothing but shrimp. I tired of that one quickly.
But a surprising number of worlds are nothing like that at all. They're just… exactly what you know. One little difference, maybe two. One person's life is changed, and that's a whole different world. Even though only a select few people are affected, it's still a world all its own.
And sometimes, that rarest of rarities… sometimes, that one little change is just the first few rocks that signal an avalanche, and by the end, the world that used to be so much like your own isn't even recognizable. They say that a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world, if it hits the air currents just right. They're not wrong. Sometimes, it doesn't even take that much.
And sometimes not.
And sometimes both. Or neither. Or all of the above, repeating infinitely in a cascade of possible and impossible actions and reactions across all of time and space.
Isn't magic fun?
-An Excerpt From the Memoirs of Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg. If you found parts of it confusing, that's probably for the best.
Events were unfolding. Just as they always had, just as they would on a thousand, thousand other worlds exactly like this one.
The false priest wiped the last flecks of dried blood from his knife in satisfaction. He had derived, he admitted, a not-inconsiderable amount of amusement from what he'd done to the Irishwoman; befriended her, earned her trust, led her in her career and built her to her greatest moment of personal triumph… and taken it all from her with a single thrust of a blade. Along with her arm, shortly afterward and with the aid of a decent bone saw. The shock and despair in her eyes had been nothing short of intoxicating.
He'd left her just barely alive. Intentionally. It was more amusing to think of her slowly wasting away in the abandoned building he'd deposited her in, far from help, agonizing over everything he'd taken from her as she died. Her life had been passionate and driven, her death should be no less intense. It was the greatest gift she could be given, and the greatest curse. He appreciated the duality of it all.
And of course, the personal amusement afforded by this action was only the tip of the iceberg. One person really wasn't enough to be more than an appetizer, but an interesting game was about to begin, and to truly exercise his interests and enjoy it to the fullest possible extent, he needed pieces on the chessboard. Now, with the harvesting of Bazett Fraga McRemitz's arm and by extension her contract and Command Seals, Kirei Kotomine had acquired a very excellent game piece indeed. The Masters were gathering, and he had unprecedented freedom to observe and manipulate to ensure the war went to his liking. Honestly, the situation was just about perfect.
In the shadows of the Church, Servant Lancer waited impatiently. He wasn't terribly happy with his new Master… the last had been a cute, spirited girl with much more likable personality, and he would have enjoyed this War quite a bit with her by his side. Just his bad luck that she was a crappy judge of character to balance out her good qualities. But he was willing, for the moment, to tolerate the annoying fake priest if it led to getting a chance to actually taste some of this legendary combat he kept hearing about.
Oh, man, that priest had better hook him up with some decent fights, or he would be so pissed.
Far beneath them both, the Golden King stretched and yawned. As so often happened these days, he was rather bored.
He wasn't terribly interested in the War, frankly… there was some value to be had from the prize, he supposed, but it wasn't as though it would be difficult to take it any time he wanted. Most likely he would simply let it all play out unless he saw something interesting to do in the meantime. Some of the other Servants might be fun, if he got too bored… not enough to actually be a threat, of course, but potentially one might emerge that would force him to exert some effort. The Lancer that Kotomine had stolen was nothing worth noticing, but maybe the others would be higher quality… another scion of the gods, perhaps, like that insane Conqueror King from the last war. Now he had been interesting! Not many men were worth fighting, but that one had been something else. But beyond the slim hope that another like him would emerge, there wasn't much else to look forward to.
He supposed that one girl, the one with the strange body and the broken eyes, could be a diversion. She was a nasty, hungry abomination, and one he'd marked as a most likely requiring extermination at some point in the future. In a rare moment of kindness, he'd told her to commit suicide; it was a practical solution, and if she really was what he thought she was, she'd probably be happier just skipping onto reincarnation early instead of completing her impending transformation. He considered hunting her down right now, just to see if she'd listened or not, and killing her with his own two hands if she'd had the temerity to assume that she had any right to ignore even his most vague of whims. But to be honest, he didn't really think it was worth the energy. And giving her power some time to mature and twist itself further would likely make it vaguely more interesting if he had to destroy her later.
… … … oh, who was he fooling? All of this was nothing but killing time until she appeared.
The silver knight who'd caught his eye like few other women could. She would appear again, he could feel it in his blood. She sought the Grail with a passion he found utterly irresistible, and if the Grail appeared, that woman would defy every law of reality, time, and space in her attempts to seize it. She would come to the Holy Grail, she would come to him, and he would be waiting for her, to complete what he'd started all those years ago. To finally break that indomitable will, to burn that passion out of her and make her his own, like she was always destined to be.
Yes, yes, that was something to hope for. That woman would be his greatest treasure yet, the crown jewel of his unmatched collection.
The last ten years of tedium would be entirely worth it for that single, perfect moment when the defiance finally left those beautiful eyes.
The Witch resisted the urge to throw her head back and laugh out loud. The raw power flooding through her was delicious, a rush like no other, and the sensations were definitely going to her head. More came in with each second, drawn from the hapless sacrifices who dwelt in the shadow of her mountain temple. More energy than a dozen Servants could ever need, enough to power her spells for a lifetime. She'd need all of it and more to deal with the foes she had to face, of course, but the fact that the power she had already amassed was not sufficient did not make it any less exhilarating to possess.
This land, at the heart of the sacred mountain, was perfect for her purposes. Only one way in or out, easily defended by the talented guard dog she had conjured. A spiritually rich land that could easily hold her territory as a Magus. The focal point of a leyline that allowed her to touch the entire city without ever leaving her room, an effectively limitless source of power. The war had not yet even begun, and with a single stroke she had claimed a great advantage by positioning her Temple in this holy land that could essentially be called the ideal base of operations.
Yes, Servant Caster thought, this Holy Grail War wasn't such a big problem, if you just took the time to think it through. And when the Holy Grail was hers…
She cast a glance at Kuzuki Souichirou, her latest Master and lover, sitting cross-legged in the corner of her chambers, his expression unreadable. She would take her time seizing the Grail, and savor her time with him. And when it was finally hers, well… she knew better than to make childish wishes. But if it was possible that this prize could truly grant her a second life… if there was even a chance, to finally have that happiness she had been so thoroughly denied during her life...
For a thing of infinite power that could grant any wish at all, surely a second lifetime to spend with this man was simple enough to give?
The magus smiled at the fruits of her labor. The chosen hour was rapidly approaching, when she would draw her card and follow in her father's esteemed footsteps. All the rituals were prepared to textbook precision, her power was at its peak, and she was deservedly confident in her abilities. Really, it could be said to be that most elusive of creatures, a Perfect Situation.
This would be her time to shine, she knew. When the final spells were cast, the ultimate swordsman would be in front of her, her shining key to victory. In one fell swoop, she would not only follow her father's path, but travel further along it than he ever had. The Tohsaka family would be the ones to finally claim the Holy Grail, and it would all begin with her flawless summoning of Servant Saber.
Poor thing. It really was a shame about that pendant, wasn't it?
You could hardly call it a person anymore.
A person didn't wither in the sunlight. A person didn't hide from the world in basement crypts like some kind of phantom haunting his own home. A person didn't decay as he walked, his body made up of stolen flesh held together around a decrepit soul by the action of worms that smelled of old blood and rotten meat.
But mostly, a 'person' was capable of holding some, meaningful connection to another. And it had been many years since Zouken Matou had done anything of the sort.
He had eyes, literal and figurative, throughout the city of Fuyuki. A poor match for his magic it might be, but he had dwelt in this land for many years and his power was not to be trifled with here, in the heart of his territory. He saw everything.
The Witch at Ryudou Temple was already at work gathering souls, and she had summoned a Servant of her own.
The false priest acting as Overseer had two Servants of his own to work with, and to make matters worse, he had nothing but contempt for Zouken, personally.
The Grail prepared by the Einzbern family was even more chaotic than usual this time around, and the Servant they had assigned to protect it was one of the top contenders in the War. Getting to it would be difficult.
In all honesty, he seriously considered just waiting for the next War. This one had come much more quickly than expected, and perhaps the next would follow suit. Each passing year made it harder to focus, but if he passed into hibernation for most of it, lasting out the years should be quite possible. Really, the situation was about as horrible as it could be for his plans.
That thing was just about perfect. The personality had some flaws to work out, but in terms of function he couldn't have asked for better.
He'd had it call up a Servant and gave control over to Shinji; he didn't expect much from the boy, but risking the material in direct combat as a Master would be a waste and Zouken hadn't yet conceived of a way to properly utilize it. But things were changing, weren't they? Subtle changes over the last few years, more pronounced over the last few days... something had changed in its existence outside the manor.
Something was giving it just a tiny hint of hope.
Zouken smiled, something black and chitinous crawling out from between his teeth before burrowing back into the wrinkled flesh of his neck. Hope was weakness he could exploit. He would begin paying more attention to the thing, observe its interactions outside his home, and determine what had happened to bring about this unforeseen change in the previously unchangeable core of the thing. A few days of observation and then, once a weakness had been determined, perhaps it could finally be made pliable and be put to real use. And if that happened, well... it might be time to get more directly involved in this Holy Grail War.
Elsewhere in the darkened manor, the 'material' sat in her room. Well, 'room' was not the best word for it. 'Cell' would have been more accurate. 'Pit' would have been even closer. This was not where she slept, after all, but where she came for training.
'Training', what a joke. 'Training' was an even worse word for what went on in this place than 'room' was to describe this dank, light-less Hell...
Worms and insects swarmed over, around, and through her prone body as she lay on the cold stone floor, staring at the ceiling in silence.
And why shouldn't she be silent? This was hardly a new experience for her. It had been years since something like this was enough to provoke a real reaction.
It had been years since anything was enough to make her cry.
Think of the people above, if you will. Consider the power gathered among them, the skill and intelligence. Enough to do some real good in this world, don't you think? A real shame it was all focused inexorably on killing one another, but that's how such things often turn out.
But more than that, think of the plans. Such big plans, every one of them. And so confident! The word 'perfect' seemed to come up a lot.
The thing about perfection, real perfection, is that it sort of speaks for itself. A truly immaculate situation would not need to be pointed out; it would be obviously perfect to anyone looking at it. The architect of a truly perfect plan would not need to reassure themselves as to its perfection, because it would be clear immediately that it could not possibly go wrong.
The main point of this lecture, really, is that one would think a group of such powerful, intelligent people would really know how to avoid making themselves look so stupid. Because every single one of those utterly perfect plans was going to fail. Some miserably, some slightly, but not one of them would be moving completely according to the planner's designs.
Because of some 'Perfect Materials' that had a little more free will than Zouken Matou expected.
Because of a ten-going-on-twenty chaotic little white-haired girl who decided she really didn't care all that much about the glory of the Einzbern family.
Why, it wouldn't be a terrible stretch to say that a few of the above would be royally screwing over each other, as well.
But mostly? The assorted plans at play here would be going very, very wrong due to the actions of a no-name, no-count, utterly talentless Magus by the name of Shirou Emiya. He had no magic worth mentioning, no combat experience of note, and no plan for or knowledge of the War he was about to enter. He did, however, have one trait that had derailed a countless number of such grand, far-reaching schemes throughout history.
You see, he really, really wanted to be a hero.