AN: This is a double release, so if you haven't checked out the previous chapter, that's the ending to the last arc. This is just a little extra.
The doll was slumped over in a way that suggested life—not some limp, muscle-less mannequin that had the outward appearance of a human and none of the physicality. There was a certain tension still residing within its limbs, in its joints, like tendons were still holding firm and muscles had yet to entirely atrophy. It was like it had at one point been alive, breathing, like any other human that found themselves in such a position. Now it was slouched as if asleep, its head lulled to the side, eyes open only fractionally to give a hint of color beneath.
Shirou stared at the creation, the part of his mind always analyzing physical structure going over every aspect: height, assumed weight, length of limbs, width of the torso, even how fine the hair was. He felt like the doll's features ought to be familiar, somehow, even though he was sure the sculpted face it wore was of someone he had never met in his life, possibly not even based on someone who existed in reality.
"What do you think of it?"
The woman stood to the other side of the display, visible through the transparency of the glass. Though he had tried to pay special attention to his surroundings, she had come up on him almost entirely by surprise—doubly creepy as there was nobody else present on this floor of the museum and the display was in the middle of a wide open room.
He peered through the glass at her, tried to make out details. Her red hair was a tone darker than that in Shirou's and for a brief moment, the young man thought her eyes had appeared bright blue before fading in obscurity as she shifted beneath the light. She watched him with some form of amusement on her lips, an artist interested to hear feedback to her work.
"I think it's beyond my ability to appreciate as art," Shirou said. "I'm not really qualified to review something like this."
"Mm, but not what I asked. What do you think of it?"
He tried to arrange words in his head. "I think it's amazing, but that there's something a little foul about it. Like it's too perfect or something." He did not voice how something about it reminded him of a particular being plated in gold that had claimed the world was his. It reeked of that kind of perfection, something that stood above the average person.
She made a faint laugh that hummed behind pursed lips. "I suppose that can be foul, in a way."
Shirou no longer made any pretense at examining the art, instead turning his attention to the woman fully. The air settled into darker places as the polite small talk—even as relevant as it was—became exhausted. He regarded her steadily, all the while measuring the distance between them, around them, so if something started up he understood the lay of the land as best as he could. Other glass displays, open displays, the walls with art hanging on them, dolls hanging from them, doorways to other areas and exits.
Though the exhibition was supposed to be non-smoking, she set a cigarette between her lips anyway. The flash of a match followed, and a faint scent of tobacco wafted through the air. "So, Shirou Emiya, are you here to kill me?"
He laughed, louder than was polite at their location. "I know the Association has you marked, Touko Aozaki, but I'm not their enforcer."
"I know." She let the cigarette hang from her mouth as she spoke. "But I have no idea why else you would have gone through such lengths to find me. Complaints about your body?"
"Nothing like that." He wanted to circle the display but thought he might provoke her if he did. "More a curiosity first and foremost." With one more glance at the lifelike puppet in the display between them, he asked, "Why let me get a hold of this? I know your reputation, know even a bit more than that, and I know how a lot of magi think. There's no way someone of your caliber would just let something like what I have sit around waiting for someone to grab it. You let me have it, or at least let the possibility that I would get it be greater than it should have been."
"Mm. Perhaps." Touko inclined her head aside and up, like she wanted to contemplate the location of the smoke alarms and the likelihood she might activate the sprinkler system.
"How would you even know about me?"
The woman's eyes fell to him though she did not move otherwise. "I had something of a side interest in the Heaven's Feel, you might say. Magi are always seeking the Root, after all, and the Third Magic is a topic that I've researched my fair share of. Which should come as no surprise with what I do."
"Materialization of the soul, the purer form of humanity at its source. The reflection it casts when placed in a material body."
"Some of us that know what to look for, we can tell when things like that are activated. Even in a marginal form. I did some digging after it ended, made some connections."
Shirou looked a little disturbed by that.
"So, to answer your question, maybe I just wanted to have a look. At what the final result would be, if that True Magic were to interact with what I made."
"I'm not sure I believe you. That sounds like a technical excuse for something baser."
This time, the woman grinned. She removed the cigarette from her lips and took a breath of untainted air. "People like you…well, there was one I knew. The two of you would get along real well."
Shirou gave a shrug. "We're both creators of imitations. I can make out fakes, you know, pretty well." A slight smile. "Even better, as of recently. Anyway, you saved my life, even if it was not intention on your part. I was wondering if there was a way I could save yours."
"Feh, that really sounds like the other guy." She shook her head. "So then, if my answer is no…I suppose that's when this turns the other way?"
"I usually don't care about Sealing Designations, really, but yours does include information about endangering more than a dozen other magi."
"Only the ones that came after me first." Though the cavalier way she said so was clearly just a side note, not meant as a statement of defense. If anything it seemed to be the thing that would provoke him more—which might have been why she said it.
"Then, I guess, if there is nothing I can do for you, what I will say is that you should run. Because if I can't help you, I can try and help the others you haven't been as nice to."
"Oh, I should run, should I?" The smile narrowed though paradoxically gave him a view of more teeth. "Only if you chase me, boy."
From the flare of her cigarette she drew a shape resembling the English letter F.
He had the flats of black-and-white scimitars out in front of his face just as fast.
Flames licked up from the weapons as they ignited—despite being made of metal—until they consumed the entire upper halves of both blades. He tossed them at angles to either side and brought out two more identical swords, hoping to catch the woman in a favorite trap, only to see her already to the doorway of the stairwell.
"Impress me more, boy, and maybe we can work things out," she said, before she took a jump over the closest railing and out of sight.
Shirou took a step after her only to belatedly realize she had left her suitcase on the ground. He made a tsk noise to himself as the latches to the suitcase came open on their own and something within made an inhuman noise somewhere between a large dog growling and an even larger insect buzzing.
The memory of one of the movies he had watched with Kohaku and Hisui came to mind as the hinges to the case moved and he was able to peer inside. "Fuck me sideways," he said.
Fate/Far Side, End