Chapter 18 - The coming storm
(Published: 01.24.13 - Beta: RavingScholar, Zaralann. Cloud Link Zero )
The forest at night was covered by a thick layer of darkness. The animals that inhabited it were completely still and silent, proof of their awareness of a predator in their midst.
Far above the ground, perched on a tree's branch much like a hawk, was a boy with his body covered by blood-red markings and with his modesty preserved only by a pair of black boxers. In the darkness it was almost impossible to see that his pupils were extremely dilated, almost to the point that it was impossible to discern the color of his eyes.
In spite of this drugged-like appearance, the boy's senses were more focused than they had ever been. He could perceive just about anything in a radius of several meters and his exposed skin registered every shift in the air, from the slightest breeze to the breath of an animal hiding from him.
Everything was silent and still, save for the constant, slightly accelerated beating of his heart. Adrenaline pumped through his veins, the anticipation of the hunt hammering at his temples and echoing in the empty pit of his stomach.
He could feel his prey, just like his prey could feel him. He could almost smell the scent of its fear, just like he could almost taste the coppery flavor of its blood. Hunger and thirst crept up his throat, twisting in his stomach and demanding satisfaction. He knew better than to comply mindlessly. He couldn't afford the slightest mistake. Between the two of them, his prey had almost all of the advantages. It knew the area better than he did; it had more experience and a more suited body. He had only his favorite weapon, firmly clutched in his hand.
Patiently he waited for his opportunity, ignoring the hunger, ignoring the thirst and ignoring the pain in his muscles. He remained completely still, waiting for his prey to make the first move and declare the chase open once more.
Time slowed down to a grinding halt. Even the wind seemed to cease all movement, burying the forest in an unbearable stillness. The wait started to grate on his nerves but still he didn't move. Hunger lashed at his stomach and thirst clawed at his throat. His back hurt and his naked feet were bleeding from the strain of the hunt.
How much time had passed? Minutes? Hours? Years? Time seemed to lose all meaning, but every second spent in wait was an endless torture. He was almost at the end of his rope, almost ready to give in and jump at his prey. His hand twitched and his muscles coiled, but when he was about to leap his prey broke out in a mad run.
Without thinking and without planning he gave chase, jumping from branch to branch. He didn't mind his hands scraping on the rough surfaces and he ignored the splinters jamming into his palms and feet. All that mattered was getting to his prey before it got away.
Fifty meters divided them. Fifty meters filled with obstacles and with an unpredictable path. He was confident in his abilities and he knew he was good…but not that good. He had to get closer if he wanted to land a killing blow.
He abandoned the trees, landing on the ground in a roll and then sprinting ahead without losing speed.
Forty meters. He accelerated even though the ground was uneven. He scraped his shoulders against the trees more than a few times, but he didn't allow that to hinder him or slow him down.
Thirty meters. His prey was in sight, almost close enough for him to get at. Just a little closer and it would be over.
Twenty-five meters. Finally lady luck smiled on him. His prey stepped into a small clearing, and even if he was still deep into the forest he now had a clean line of sight. He dropped the arrow he was holding in his left hand along with his bow, rapidly catching it with his right. With practiced ease he cocked it and drew the string as much as he could, forcing a groan out of the bow.
When he released his grip the projectile flew, hissing through the air toward its target, carrying along its master's intent to kill. Without fail it pierced through skin and bone, burying itself into the target's skull and brain.
With a strangled yelp the animal fell dead, sliding on the wet ground with the strength of its momentum. Not a moment later the boy was running toward it, fully intending to reach his prize before any of the forest's creatures could lay their claws on it.
Only when he reached it did he allow himself to fall to his knees, breathing raggedly as he tried to calm down his hammering heart. The prey, a relatively big deer, lay motionless on the ground, its lifeless eyes frozen open in death.
Still, even though he was exhausted, hungry, thirsty and bleeding from more than a few small cuts he couldn't help the feeling of primal euphoria that swelled in his chest. He could taste the sweet flavor of victory within his dry mouth, and even if he was far from being done he allowed himself to slump down onto his fallen prey. Staring up at the starless sky, Shirou recalled exactly how he came to stumble into such an unlikely situation.
Two days earlier
"I'm not sure I understand what this is all about," Shirou complained as he sat on a stool into his Workshop. He was almost completely naked save for the towel around his waist. In spite of his controlled and even tone, the severe blush on his face might have given away the depths of his embarrassment. Medea didn't seem fazed by his discomfort… or rather she seemed to be quite amused if the quirk of her lips was any indication.
"I'm not surprised that Magecraft has fallen so far since my time if you have to ask me something so simple," Medea said as she continued to draw a complex series of circles on his chest. "Then again, the information provided by the Grail should have been enough of a hint. To make it simple, Shirou, actions have power beyond the act itself."
"I'm not following," he replied, trying to pay no attention to the slender finger running on his skin.
"It's really quite simple. What is Magecraft in your own words?"
"Magecraft? Let's see," he said, licking annoyingly dry lips. "Magecraft is the discipline that permits the workings of the Inner World to shape the Outer World."
"A bit simplistic as an explanation but fundamentally correct," Medea agreed. "Magecraft is not unlike as system of levers. By turning oneself into a gear of such system, with a minimal application of energy a Magus can create a greater effect in the Outer World. Of course it's not a process without risks, as a minor miscalculation can break the Magus to pieces."
"To be a Magus is to walk with death," Shirou supplied the well-known mantra of every practitioner of Magecraft.
"Indeed. However that's beside the point now. What matters is that there is a direct connection between the Outer and the Inner world that Magi use to perform their craft. That means that if an action performed in the Inner World has an effect on the Outer, then the opposite also holds true."
"You mean that is possible to influence the Inner World just by… uh… just by living?"
"Essentially, yes. Of course it takes a monumental effort or a series of actions piled up together to get even the slightest change, unless they aren't purposely focused into a precise direction."
"Yes. Have you ever heard it said that a meal cooked with love tastes much better to the person who eats it? As absurd as it sounds there's actually a smidgen of truth in there. Actions, intents, thoughts. They all have a small amount of power, pushing at the gears of the Inner World in an almost imperceptible manner every minute of every day. On a more relevant note: when a specific weapon is repeatedly used to perform a certain act it can turn into a cursed or a blessed blade, depending on the nature of the deed."
"Gilford's scalpel," Shirou mumbled.
"Yes, my former Master's favorite tool could definitely have gained a darker spiritual component had you not disposed of it so thoroughly, or if he had been more sadistic when dealing with his test subjects."
"More sadistic than that?"
"Of course. For all his arrogance and his lack of care for human life, Vincent wasn't really a sadist. His victims were at least partially sedated when he… operated on them, while the resulting chimeras really didn't have anything of their human counterparts' mind. Make no mistake, this was not due to Vincent's desire to spare them unnecessary suffering. Just a way to prevent them from trashing around as he worked on them."
"I would rather not think about that if I could. I'm just glad that he's not going to hurt anyone anymore."
"So am I," she agreed, "but we are digressing. The point is that actions, intents and thoughts have an influence in the Inner World, very small compared to the opposite act and usually diluted because a person's actions aren't constantly focused to a determined goal. That can be, of course, corrected by taking the necessary steps."
"But… wouldn't it be simpler to affect the Inner World by performing Magecraft? I mean...why go through all the hassle of doing enormous things instead of using a spell to obtain the same result? Ouch! Are you going to hit me on the head every time I ask a question?"
"Only when it's a stupid question," Medea explained, returning to her task. "Think about it, Shirou. What is Magecraft's most blatant flaw?"
"Eeeh…," he mumbled in confusion.
"I'm going to hit you now," she threatened.
"Wait! I know! It's that a spell has to be kept powered because Gaia is constantly countering its effects."
"Precisely. That's because in the eyes of Gaia, Magecraft is essentially cheating: a violation of its rules. People aren't supposed to meddle with the world's inner workings. We should interact with the world through our actions and not through Magecraft. Only like that you can make something truly long-lasting."
"So… there's nothing worthwhile to be gained without personal efforts and sacrifices?" he smiled. "I like that."
"Precisely. Even I didn't become a Heroic Spirit because I'm a great Magus or because I cast a spell to make myself like this. I transcended mortality because my life echoed so powerfully within the Inner World that the system known as Throne of Heroes judged me worthy of joining its ranks."
"I understand. So, how exactly are we going to do this?"
"To create a Mystic Code whose properties aren't just in its enchantments but with a deeper spiritual power, we need a suitable base material. Considering that we are talking about your Codes, then it would be better if said materials had an origin strongly tied with you."
"Tied with me? I see. This is the part where the action is focused in a specific direction."
"Well, there is still hope for you yet," Medea said, ignoring the following indignant cry of protest from her pupil. "You will hunt the animal we need and you will kill it. From its corpse we'll gather the raw materials we need to get started and from that we will shape a Mystic Code that will have the very concept of Emiya Shirou grafted within, from the death of its source, to the origin of the base material. This way the tools you will create from them will work much better for you than anybody else, even to the point that they will even require you less Prana to activate any Mystery associated with them. They will become the very manifestation of your intent as an abstract concept into the reality of the Outer World."
"That… actually sounds rather cool," he pondered. "So, do I just have to go out there and kill an animal big enough?"
"Why not?" he sighed. Things were never straightforward or simple, were they?
"Because it wouldn't be nearly difficult enough for you to make a worthwhile echo in the Inner World. There are no longer Phantasmal Beasts in this era, so we cannot hunt a creature with an existence already deeply engraved within the World. Normal animals by themselves aren't a very good source of materials and they are something that most humans could kill with a minimal application of effort and ingenuity anyway. We'll have to purposely make your task a bit more difficult in order to have a greater meaning in the big scheme of things. Oh, and by a bit I mean a lot."
"Figures," he grumbled under his breath. "Just how difficult are we talking about here?"
Medea's response was a creepy smile that would have made a shark run away whimpering.
Being a Hero sure was tough!
Difficult for Medea meant that, on top of giving his blood to write the circles on his body, Shirou had to spend two days in mediation inside the forest with no food and just enough water to be functional when it came the moment of the hunt.
The pattern drawn on his body served to make him more aware of the spiritual influences that dwelled far from human settlements, which in turn made such spiritual influences more aware of him. Normally that wouldn't have been a problem, considering that the modern era was at an all time low when it came to spontaneous spiritual entities. However Fuyuki, with its exceedingly strong leylines, was an exception to that rule.
The two days he spent in the forest had been a struggle to maintain his own sense of self, a struggle that became increasingly difficult as the primal need to feed began to eat away at his concentration. He wasn't at risk of being possessed, not entirely at least, but his new receptiveness to external influences made it much more difficult to remain in control during the hunt.
The purpose of this wasn't just to make Shirou's task more difficult, but it was another step to enforce the result of his actions into the Inner World by having as witnesses entities that were naturally much closer to it than humans could ever possibly be. Granted, the primal spirits that inhabited the forest were more of a manifestation of its inhabitant's life force than a true self-aware entity. Nevertheless, they served their purpose well enough.
With no little effort he dragged the dead deer along with a handful of dirt from its dying place all the way to the clearing where he had passed the past two days. Medea wasn't there as the presence of such a high ranked entity would have chased away just about everything else.
He didn't need her to be present, anyway. She had been very thorough with her lecture, and Shirou remembered every detail with extreme clarity, the threats of prolonged pains by her hands should he screw up not affecting his memory in the slightest. Not at all.
Once he reached his destination he left the carcass a few feet away from a circle he had drawn himself and went to fetch the tools he needed for this part of the task: an old hunting knife and an equally old wooden bowl.
Both items came from an antique shop. The knife had been used for a lifetime by a hunter, obviously, and contained all the knowledge Shirou needed to peel the skin off his prey and render every part of its body for later use. The wooden bowl instead was... just a normal wooded bowl.
He'd gotten it cheap with the knife and it seemed like a good idea to have an equally old item to perform the ritual. Hey, if he had to go all 'Conan the Barbarian', then he might as well get the complete set.
Shaking his head free of strange thoughts, Shirou returned to the task at hand. Straddling the still warm carcass, he dived into the memories engraved within the blade and let his hands to the job with the expertise of accumulated years. Four minutes later he was holding in his blood stained hands the heart of his prey.
His stomach lurched, divided between hunger and disgust, but with the inherent control of a Magus and of a person who had walked amidst an ocean of corpses he held it in check. Slowly, he placed it into the wooden bowl, putting the killing arrow on top of it.
Slowly he rose to his feet and placed the bowl in the center of the circle, stepping carefully out immediately afterward. Once outside he sat on his heels and started enchanting.
"In accordance with the old ways, I invite you, Spirits of the Trees, to bear witness to this deed."
Slowly, from the trees surrounding the clearing a fine mist started to form. Shirou could almost make shapes out of it, but preferred not to.
"In accordance with the old ways, I invite you, Spirits of the Hunt, to bear witness to this death."
The mist intensified and darkened, getting almost a green tinge. Shirou didn't shiver. Not at all.
"If this sacrifice pleases you, accept my offer and bestow upon this flesh your marks, your curses and your blessings."
The mist slithered out of the woods in thin tendrils, all too reminiscent of snakes. It took Shirou a great amount of self-control not to wince when a few of those pooled around him, staring contemplatively (or perhaps hungrily) at him before finally moving inside the circle. Upon contact with those tendrils the wooden bowl ignited in a bluish flame that consumed flesh, blood, wood and metal alike. Not even ashes remained when they finished theirmeal.
Slowly the tendrils retreated from the circle and gathered around the carcass, entering the dead body from every available hole and pooling in greater measure in the cavity that once hosted the animal's heart. Again the flame burned, but the carcass wasn't consumed as the sacrificial bowl was. For well over an hour the flame continued burning, with Shirou sitting close by. The eerie fire didn't provide any warmth; instead, it actually made the clearing feel even colder than it already was.
Only when the sun started peeking over the horizon did the tendrils retire back into the shadow of the woods, slithering past Shirou and caressing his skin in the process. They didn't hurt him, but Shirou had the distinct impression they were asking for more. Perhaps he'd have to appease them again at a later time. It was always a good idea to be on the good side of transcendental entities, after all.
It took him two hours to get cleaned, dressed and to drag the carcass all the way to the road where he had parked the black van. Shirou never thought that he would one day be happy with being in possession of a stolen vehicle, but hey, life's funny like that.
He then drove all the way back to his house while avoiding major streets and unloaded his prize into the hands of a very satisfied Medea. It should have been over right then, but being a Monday morning he still had to go to school.
Being a Hero sure was tough!
Cheung Jun hissed curses in his native tongue that are better off not repeated. As instructed he was observing the Emiya boy when he left his house, following him all the way to the forest well outside the city. He had been cautious and kept his distance, trying to figure out what sort of Magecraft he was capable of. Instead, the boy made no use of any spell, simply drawing a circle that had no meaning for the Chinese Magus and that the boy made no use of.
For two days he watched him doing absolutely nothing but meditate. He was almost tempted to try his luck and kill him then, as secretly instructed by the elder Archibald, but when he had almost made up his mind the boy took his bow and arrows and left. It was useless to track him as he moved around the trees. He moved too fast for him to follow without being noticed. So he patiently waited for him to return a few hours later and perform an obscure ritual.
In hindsight, he should have expected something strange and perhaps he should have kept himself more distant, but when the shit started to hit the fan it was too late to regret his lack of foresight.
Whatever it was that the kid did, it awakened something primal within the forest, something that didn't like him being there. He was an intruder in a ritual that allowed only for the hunter and the prey to be present, and he was neither. In fact, he was sure that if he stayed just a moment longer, then he would definitely have become the latter.
Instead, he managed to escape the bloodthirsty snake-thing with a few superficial wounds and a much more wounded pride. He made a mental note to observe from a greater distance, if only to avoid being caught in whatever that the boy did. As a Magus and a mercenary he was more than ready to lose his life, but to do so by being caught in the aftereffects of a Magecraft not directed at him was simply insulting.
At least he got something out of it. The boy had a grasp of shamanic rituals the likes of which he had never seen. It definitely wasn't the repertoire of the Magus Killer, but then again the boy wasn't related by blood so he couldn't have inherited Emiya Kiritsugu's branch of Magecraft. It was closer to a type of Formalcraft that existed within the branch of Spiritual Evocation, but Jun didn't perceive any use of Prana so there had to be a different component to it.
It was probably not related to his fighting skills, but if the kid was a summoner of sorts then he represented a threat well beyond their initial estimation. Fortunately, both he and his wife had the perfect tools the deal with such things.
The next day
Shirou's shocked shout echoed in the vast expanse of his Workshop.
Vast expanse? In his Workshop? What the hell? His Workshop was (used to be) a single room of a few square meters. Just enough to put a couple of desks and a damn shelf, but now it was as wide as the entire courtyard above.
"Do you like it?" Medea asked smiling as she joined him from upstairs.
"W-w-what is this?"
"Our workshop," she replied matter-of-factly. "What does it look like?"
"Certainly you didn't expect me to do anything worthwhile in such a cramped little space, did you? Of course I had to enlarge my workspace a little more. Don't worry, I used Magecraft to shape it but it doesn't rely on Prana to stay up. It won't crumble on your head if something goes wrong."
"My head?" he asked.
"I can shift into spirit form," she pointed out smoothly, "so it's not like I would get hurt by something as mundane as a collapsing building."
"Well, that's reassuring," he said in mock relief.
"It certainly is," Medea agreed with a smile, perhaps missing but probably ignoring Shirou's sarcasm.
"Anyway, what do you plan to do with all this space now? I get that my Workshop was a bit too cramped for the two of us but isn't this going a bit overboard?"
"Your idiocy never ceases to amaze, Shirou," she answered flatly. "Aren't we supposed to craft Mystic Codes from scratch?"
"And it takes all of this space to do it?" he frowned.
"Of course. We have to tan the skin of animals and work the leather, melt and forge metals, as well as a number of other things."
"Now wait just a moment," he said holding up a hand. "All of those things require a bunch of serious equipment to be done. Do you intend to make them with Magecraft?"
"How silly. Of course not," she laughed, waving him off. "I need stable and Prana inert tools to craft proper Mystic Codes. Things made with Magecraft tend to erode faster and they would interfere with any enchantment I'm going to use on top of that."
"Where will you get them, then?" he asked, feeling a sense of dread swell inside his chest.
"Well… either we are going to steal them or we are going to buy them."
"…" Shirou replied.
"…" Medea responded. Then her mouth quirked up in that evil-creepy smile of hers and the loud smack of Shirou's hand meeting his face echoed in the soon-to-be-filled Workshop.
Being a Hero sure was tough!
… And expensive, too.
Later – After school
Shirou had the strangest impression. Maybe he was just being paranoid because Medea's behavior was making him think twice about everything he did or said, not so much because he didn't trust her but because every time they discussed something he came out feeling more and more stupid.
Not that he wanted her to change how she acted around him. Her caustic self was her honest self, after all, and even to someone as oblivious as Shirou it was clear that there was no ill-will behind it. Even her decision to enlarge the basement and the subsequent expense for crafting equipment didn't bother him, though he behaved like he did to let her have some fun.
It wasn't worse than what Taiga did at times, anyway.
Regardless, he did tend to keep his guard up around her, if only to avoid falling entirely for one of her constant surprises and coming out of their conversations feeling like an idiot for not seeing this or that coming. He had the impression that she wanted to keep him on his toes all the time, so that he could be more aware of… well, just about everything.
On that note he had the distinct impression that he was being constantly observed. While he was at home he could chalk it up to Medea, who he often found looking at him with a strange contemplative look. At school he even spotted Tohsaka staring at him from time to time, but outside of those locations he couldn't explain the feeling of being stalked.
He tried to lure out eventual stalkers by suddenly changing direction on his way home or by taking emptier roads were it was impossible to mix in the crowd. He spotted no one, but the feeling didn't subside either. Thinking about it, he had felt a similar sensation in the forest where he performed the ritual, but back then he was calling upon invisible entities so it was kind of expected.
… Wait a moment. Could it be that something had followed all the way from there? Maybe he should look for an exorcist or something. Perhaps Medea could help. Hopefully.
"The kid has sharp instincts," Jin said from the top of the roof where she was standing well out of sight.
"Definitely," Jun agreed. "I never once managed to slip close enough to deliver a killing blow without giving away my presence. At this rate we can forget taking him out from a distance. We'll have to charge in directly."
"Lord El-Melloi won't be pleased. I got the feeling he preferred to make a deal with the boy."
"He isn't our employer," Jun pointed out with a shrug. "If he decides to interfere with our new assignment, then we'll have to disable him."
"If that's what it takes," his wife agreed. "What about the woman that lives with the kid?"
"A Magus, no doubt. The boy's current teacher if her coming and going from his Workshop is any indication. If she's given the time to enchant a spell, then she's likely to be more of a threat than he is."
"We still don't know a thing about their Magecraft," Jin pointed out.
"The boy's is certainly combat oriented, but if we take out the woman first the two of us should be able to deal with whatever he could throw at us."
"Two against one in both cases, but that still leaves us exposed to an attack from behind.
"Not if we play our cards right," he explained. "We take the woman while the boy's away and then we deal with him separately
"Where and when?" she asked.
"Let us take a few more days to observe them. We can never know what could transpire without examining their everyday routine. As for the location… we'll strike where they'd expect it less, of course. Where their guard is more likely to be lessened."
"Where they are at their strongest, then."
"Indeed," he nodded, grinning in anticipation. "We'll strike the Emiya household directly."
Two days later
Medea sighed. The materials Shirou had ordered to build their new Workshop had arrived. She had to admit that he didn't hold back with the expenses, even though she dropped the news on him quite suddenly and even if he wasn't particularly well off financially.
It's not like she had a reason to complain, it was just that… well, modern building materials were a bit dull.
They sure looked nice, but they could never sustain the creation of a serious Mystic Code or, Gods forbids, an Artificial Phantasm. Not that she had even the remotest possibility of making one of the latter. In this era there just weren't the components or the opportunities for a sacrificial effort necessary to make even a low ranked one.
It put a damper on her, having to pay attention not to break her tools as he worked on something, but she would have to make do. After all, neither she nor Shirou wanted to expose themselves to the Magi community at large.
"Something on your mind?" the Magus in question asked, joining her in the examination of the recently delivered materials.
"Am I being that obvious?" she asked in return.
"You never made an effort to hide your disappointment," he explained, with a chuckle "but you aren't one to whine about small things. Let me guess: this stuff isn't to your liking."
"There's nothing wrong with them per se. It's just that if I use the spiritually influenced metals of my former Master to make or strengthen the forging tools, then we're going to lack what we need to make the actual Mystic Codes. On the other hand if we use those to forge the Codes, then we'll have to work with subpart tools. Either way, this is going to end with a half-assed result."
"That's certainly annoying after having gone through all this trouble," he agreed.
"I'm sorry," she apologized sincerely. "It seems like I made you waste a lot of time and resources for nothing."
Her apologetic tone unnerved him. In the few days after she had dropped all pretenses (or rather after he forced her to), Medea had been nothing but a confident and self assured woman, if a bit selfish. She didn't bother with asking permission when she wanted or needed something, though she never overstepped the boundaries of basic politeness. To see her apologize sincerely for something she couldn't help was bothering him also because it wasn't like she had actually forced him to buy all of those things.
"It's fine," he told her. "It's not a complete waste anyway. Even if they aren't going to be as good as they could, I'm sure they are still going to be great. It's not like there is another legendary Magus around these days, isn't it?"
"I suppose not," she replied with a smile, but then frowned again and crossed her arms over her chest. "Still, underperforming is annoying. If I'm expecting nothing but the best from my student I certainly can't do any less myself."
"Is this the fabled pride of a Heroic Spirit talking?"
"Something like that," she admitted. "If only I could get my hands on a few things…"
"Maybe… there is a way. What do you need exactly?"
Half an hour later
"I was under the impression that you were against revealing yourself to the Magi society, and I agreed with your decision," Medea said as she sipped some tea in the living room, sitting at the opposite side of Shirou at the table. The redhead Magus was holding what seemed to be a small and old address book. "What changed?"
"Nothing, really. I still don't intend to let the Clock Tower know about me yet, but I was going over dad's stuff on the war a few days ago when I accidentally stumbled on a list of his contacts. Most of them are Magi of course, the kind of people I could have used to further my education if I could have afforded the risk, but there were also a number of people who dabble in the spiritual without being Magi. I had no use for them until now but…"
"You now think they could provide us what we need?"
"It's worth a try. I've checked a few names already, but most of these people are either dead or no longer reachable at the numbers I have and I crossed those I know that can't or won't help us, like weapon dealers for instance. I narrowed the list to just one name."
She looked down at the black address book in his hands and read the name he was pointing at, written upside down from her point of view.
Ryutaro Dojima was at an impasse. His primary target was well within his reach.
The number of coincidences, connections and odd events surrounding the life of Emiya Shirou were all the clues he needed to figure out that he was Archer. Certainly they would never be considered proof by any judge, but once you had all those hints it wasn't hard to put the picture together.
Yet, for all of this clarity there were far too many things he couldn't explain or account for, the latest being his loss of memory. When he realized that something was amiss he decided to keep his distance for a while, trying to see if he was being followed or kept under control in any manner. Archer's words about a powerful organization overseeing the strange happenings in Fuyuki had struck a chord in him.
As a dedicated police officer he was more than ready to risk his life, but if what Archer said was true the danger wasn't limited to himself but would reach even his family…his daughter. He might have not been the most exemplar father around and he knew it, but he loved his Nanako very much, even if he didn't know how to show it to her.
For her sake he was willing to drop the investigation completely, but if Archer was correct and this mysterious organization of his wasn't behind all those deaths but acted to contain them and keep them secret, then the risk of something happening to Nanako was still present.
Would leaving town suffice or were there other places like Fuyuki, where strange things happened and no one seemed to notice? Without knowing what was going on, the risk was just too high. He couldn't afford to close his eyes to the truth and walk away hoping things would be fine. It wasn't in his character and he couldn't allow some misguided fear to compromise Nanako's future. Besides, if this organization had already him tagged there was no telling what they might do if he suddenly left on his own without a particular reason.
Convincing himself that nothing had happened didn't work at all; the paranoia was eating him from the inside out. He was getting jumpy to the point that even being around Adachi was becoming unnerving… well more than it already was, at any rate.
Unable to stand still and incapable of retreating, Ryutaro Dojima was left with no other option but to charge forward. If Emiya was Archer and if it were true that he didn't endorse this organization's agenda, then perhaps he would provide him the answers he sought to protect his family and himself.
At least he hoped so.
A phone rang in the old and elegant mansion. The barely audible sound of light feet approached the communication device and a slender hand reached for the receiver.
"Hello? This is the Tohno family estate. I'm Hisui. Who's speaking?"
Two weeks later
Shirou was rather surprised at his recent luck. After cross-referencing the name Tohno Makihisa with the address he found in Kiritsugu's address book, he found out that the man was actually the extremely wealthy businessman and head of the Tohno family.
It's not like it was strange that extremely wealthy men dabbled in the mystical, especially not in Japan where many such people were the heads of extremely old families with ancient roots. That reassured Shirou that this contact was a valid one and that Tohno could probably get him the things he needed. The problem was getting an appointment with the man or with someone close enough to him to consider his request.
He was quite surprised when he discovered that the phone number was actually that of the Tohno estate and not some random office. He was even more surprised when Tohno's secretary, Hisui-san, after leaving him waiting at the phone for a few minutes, actually gave him an appointment with her employer in a couple of weeks.
Either the man was more approachable than Shirou originally thought, or Kiritsugu had an interesting working relationship with him. Interesting enough that just dropping the name Emiya sufficed to get an appointment with one of Japan's wealthiest men.
With that problem out of the way, Shirou decided to pull out all the stops and present himself as his best. Cracking open more of his savings he went into town and bought the finest black Armani suit he could find, Kiritsugu style.
Shirou didn't particularly like dressing like that but it was a business meeting he was about to attend so a certain appearance was required. He luckily managed to dodge Taiga, throwing the excuse of visiting a friend – not a girlfriend, I said - in Misaki. It was a trip he could make in a few hours thanks to Japan's state of the art train line.
A bit more difficult was to sneak out was a suitcase full of money. He didn't know how much it would cost him to get the special materials Medea needed, but it was better be ready to give a conspicuous sum upfront. Kiritsugu might have a functional working relationship with Tohno, but Shirou wasn't him.
So, with everything properly set he rode the train all the way to Misaki as soon as the school day ended, changed into his suit in a clean public bathroom and then walked the rest of the way to the Tohno mansion.
Misaki was a rather nice city from what he could see. It wasn't as modern as Fuyuki and yet at the same time it didn't have the same feeling of Japanese tradition that some parts of Fuyuki had. It could have essentially been a city from a western country as far as architecture went.
However, to Shirou the difference was something else. Even though Fuyuki had an already powerful leyline, Misaki city was situated on an even stronger one. For someone like Shirou, who was extremely attuned to spiritual influences, every breath was heavier than normal. almost making him feel like he was breathing water instead of air and it gave him a discomforting feeling, though it was nothing he couldn't get used to in a matter of hours.
The road leading to the Tohno estate was uphill, and it took him a few minutes on foot to reach the top, where the ancient looking mansion stood, overlooking the city. Through the gates he could see the mansion in the distance, well beyond the huge garden (or was it a park) that stretched from the walls.
Taking a deep breath he moved his hand to the doorbell and pressed the button.
Tohno Makihisa was in his study, standing in front of the window that overlooked the property behind his mansion. He was in a relatively good mood, even if he had been experiencing an odd feeling of dread that had nothing to do with his… unusual heritage.
He wasn't all that surprised, all things considered. His actions had gained him a certain amount of hatred, even and especially from his own house. Despite what they thought, he wasn't oblivious to the movements inside his mansion. There was always someone scheming, someone plotting behind his back. It was normal for someone in his position and only by being far more cunning and far more ruthless than his competitors was he still the head of the Tohno family. He was under no delusion, however, that his final days were getting closer. Recently his blood had been acting up more than usual and even his… sacrificial lamb could only do so much to restrain it.
Yet, he didn't fear his passing. No, he actually welcomed it to a degree. For the few good things he had put into the world he had taken away many, many more. If he had to go before he could become a monster even worse than he already was, then he would be satisfied.
Still, that didn't mean he would go down easily. His blood wouldn't allow him to die without stirring chaos and madness a little more, and today's appointment was something that bothsides were looking forward to, even if just for the kick of it.
He was snapped out of his thoughts when someone knocked on the door.
"Makihisa-sama," his younger maid, Hisui, called out. "Emiya-san has arrived."
"Let him in."
As he waited inside the entrance hall, Shirou took his time to examine the mansion. The Victorian-style building certainly reflected the wealth of its owners, as if the number of maids he saw passing by wasn't enough. There was no need to reinforce his hearing to understand that quite a number of people lived in the Tohno household. It was a fairly lively place, but Shirou couldn't shrug off a certain feeling of dread.
There was something wrong about this place, something that made him want to watch his back all the time. He couldn't quite pinpoint what the source was and he had no plans to use his Tracing to figure out where it came from. Even though he doubted any of those present could detect the use of Magecraft, doing such a thing was as impolite as sneaking around and searching through other people's stuff.
Instead he simply patiently waited for the maid to return. He didn't have to wait long.
"Emiya-san, this way please."
He followed the young maid upstairs and through a number of corridors. If one though that the Emiya's household was big, then this place could be considered gigantic. Finally, they reached the door to Tohno's private study and the maid showed him inside.
Shirou slowly entered the room and his gaze immediately met his host's. Tohno Makihisa had piercing grey eyes, framed on a visage of dry features and slightly curly black air. He had an air of refinement, but also a tinge of the haunted that Shirou couldn't quite explain. It was honestly unsettling, almost like being in the presence of a big predator that contemplated his soon-to-be morsel with a measure of amusement, and it was focused entirely on his guest.
Shirou held back the impulse to shiver and stared at his host with a stony gaze of his own. After a second, Makihisa's lips quirked slightly upward in what appeared to be the ghost of a smile but it was so faint that he could be mistaken.
"Emiya-san, welcome. Please have a seat," the older man gestured to the chair in front of his desk.
"Thank you, Tohno-san," Shirou replied politely as she sat, his host doing the same as he did.
"I must admit that I was surprised to receive your call. I wasn't aware that Emiya Kiritsugu had a son of your age, and you don't really resemble your father."
"I'm adopted," Shirou clarified.
"Yes, yes. I'm aware of that," than man waved off. "I had your background checked after your call. It's not every day that the previously unknown son of a dead man asks for a meeting. Especially not a man such as your father was. No, what I was referring to was your eyes."
"Why would that be?" the redhead asked.
"I met your father just a couple of times in the past," the man recalled, "strictly for business reasons. Of course, before accepting to meet him in person I had looked into his background as well. Quite the chilly resume your father had to his name, but even knowing some of his most gruesome exploits didn't really give me an appropriate idea of who he was," he chuckled as he seemingly slipped further down in reminiscence. "I'll never forget his eyes: cold, measuring, calculating. It was as if every breath he drew was a carefully contemplated move and he eyed me the entire time as if he was trying to figure out the best way to kill me if he had to. One of the most interesting men I ever had the chance to meet. You, on the other hand, look nothing like that. Your eyes are far too warm for one raised by the Magus Killer. Why is that?"
A moment of silence fell between them, mostly due to Shirou's surprise of his host's blunt, if mostly accurate description of his father.
"The Magus Killer was a monster like few others," Shirou said contemplatively. "I can't begin to count the number of people he murdered in cold blood, nor I will attempt to. I'm glad that he's dead."
"Oh?" Makihisa quirked an eyebrow, leaning forward.
"However, the Magus Killer had no part in raising me. He died years before Emiya Kiritsugu finally passed away."
"… I see," the head of the Tohno family said after a moment, again with a barely visible smile gracing his lips. "I suppose that there is more to one person than meets the eye. A cold blooded monster can be a loving father and a loving father can be a cold blooded monster. Thank you for satisfying my curiosity, Emiya-san. Onto business, then: I understand that you were looking for certain particular goods. Do you have a list?"
"Of course," Shirou replied, fishing a piece of folded paper from one of his pockets and offering his to Tohno.
As the dark haired man studied the list with an attentive eye, the maid who had received Shirou entered with a tray and served tea for both before returning from whence she came.
"Hmm." Tohno mused. "I should be able to obtain most of these things in a few days, a week at the latest. The price, however, would be quite steep."
Without a word Shirou opened the suitcase in his lap and showed its contents, drawing an affirmative nod from his host.
"That should cover it," Tohno confirmed the unspoken question. "I should be able to thrown in some extras as well for that amount. Would that be all?"
"Yes, thank you, Tohno-san."
"It was my pleasure," the older man replied, standing up and shaking Shirou's hand for the first time. Half the money changed hands as upfront payment, swiftly secured by the same maid as before. She seemed to know exactly when she was needed without being told anything.
As he was about to leave, Tohno called him back once more.
"Emiya-san, in the off chance that I'm indisposed or unable to meet you for any reason in a week's time, then I shall leave instructions with my daughter to complete our transaction. Akiha is going to be my heir when my time comes, so she's aware of most of my businesses. In my absence, you can refer to her as you would with me."
"Thank you very much, Tohno-san. Farewell."
Without other words Shirou was led out of the mansion. From there he made his way back to the station, and shortly after he boarded the train back home.
Fuyuki city – The next day
"So, no progress whatsoever, huh?" Waver mused.
"None," Jun agreed. "The boy has been remarkably prudent all the time, and has shown decent instincts. He made no use of standard Magecraft that we could use to discern or predict his mysteries. The ritual in the forest had a spiritual component and elements of Formalcraft, but I couldn't stay around to see what the results were."
"What about the woman living with him?"
"I kept an eye on her almost all the time," Jin provided. "She spends most of the day in what we assume to be the boy's Workshop, so she's almost certainly a Magus as well. The difference in apparent age would suggest that she's probably the boy's mentor or some such."
"Odd. Mentor or not, a Magus would hardly allow another practitioner into their Workshop. Emiya is probably quite unorthodox as a Magus, but to open his sancta sanctorum to another would imply an immense degree of trust."
"They do seem to get along quite well," the woman observed, "though the Boundary Field prevented me from eavesdropping on their conversations.
"A dampening effect?" Waver asked
"Yes. I took my time to study it in detail. Its functions seem to be limited to detecting intruders and to preventing Prana and sounds from leaving the perimeter. It's well made but weak enough that even by entering one wouldn't detect it unless actively searching for it."
"A person who treasures his privacy. I don't think he would be pleased to see a group of Magi on his doorsteps."
"Have you decided on a course of action, sir?" Jun asked.
"Well, considering what we know about his activities in the mundane society, we can rule out that he would respond aggressively to our presence. I would rather not improvise a visit at his place, though. It would be better to approach him on neutral grounds, possibly a public space and organize a meeting from there."
"Is that wise, sir? As it stands we have the element of surprise on our side. Wouldn't it be better to just ambush him and get what we want?"
"That would be wise if we had any idea what his mysteries are. As you pointed, out he's too aware to just ambush and we cannot afford a confrontation of Magecraft that could give away our presence to the resident Second Owner. We have to keep the Clock Tower's eyes away from this, otherwise succeeding in retrieving the Crest would only mean losing it further down the road. We cannot afford to cause a commotion."
"As expected," Jun said after leaving the hotel room with his wife.
"Yes. Lord El-Melloi's analysis is correct, but we don't have the luxury of choice."
"We must proceed without his support, then."
"Tomorrow. After the boy leaves for work we strike his house and Workshop, eliminate his ally and secure the Crest."
"And after that…"
"… we'll put a definite end to the name of Emiya."
The next morning
"Medea, did you notice something strange lately?" Shirou asked casually during breakfast
"I had the impression of being observed all the time when I was in public for the past two weeks. I checked, but I didn't find a single trace of anyone around."
"You think you've been followed?" she asked, brows furrowed.
"Yeah. I thought that maybe it was just my imagination, but do you think that something could have followed me out of the forest? A spirit of some kind?"
"It's unlikely," she explained. "I would have detected a spiritual presence nearby even through the wards."
"Even if you have just a fraction of your standard strength?"
"All the more so. I'm far more susceptible to other spiritual influences if they are not overwhelmed by my own."
"What if it's another Servant?"
"Absolutely not. I can feel the fluctuations in the leyline's power through my link with the nexus. No other Servant has been summoned yet aside from me and another. With my current power level even a fellow Heroic Spirit would have a hard time tracking me, especially since I remain under your dampening Boundary Field most of the time. Only the Assassin Class could escape my notice at a distance where another Servant could detect me in my current condition, but if that was the case you certainly wouldn't notice it either."
"Uh-huh. What do you think it could be then?"
"I haven't the foggiest idea. Given a bit of time I could add my own defenses to yours Wards without disrupting them, but that would likely tip off any half-decent Magus to the use of Magecraft in the vicinity. I would advise against doing so unless you think you're ready to advertise your presence in town."
"I would prefer not to. Secrecy is currently our best advantage."
"I concur. Are you sure it isn't just your mind playing tricks? If it has already been over two weeks, don't you think that anyone with ill intentions would have struck by now?"
"Maybe I'm being just a little bit paranoid," he agreed. "The whole thing with Tohsaka and Yukiko's kidnapping already had me on edge and the news of the Grail War didn't help me relax either."
"You should probably get more rest," she nodded. "When the materials arrive we'll seriously start your lessons and you'll have very little time for yourself. You would do better to relax while you can."
"I guess so. But I would rather keep my guard up until I figure out for sure why I'm feeling like this. You should keep your eyes open as well."
"Watching your back is always a wise policy. I will set up a few dormant low-level countermeasures within the grounds while you're out. Just in case."
"Thanks. That's a relief."
"Think nothing of it. I'm only doing it for my sake after all."
"That's why is a relief."
Rin left for school as usual that morning, but in a better mood than she had been in the past month. The night of the summoning was a mere couple of days away and everything was as ready as it could be. The circle was drawn and triple checked, she had stored several weeks' worth of Prana into a spare jewel and her physical and mental condition was top notch.
She was still mildly worried about Caster and her new Master, but after so much time she figured that the new duo had probably decided not to harass her for the time being, though she couldn't begin to figure out why. Certainly Guilford's reasons for his roundabout way to get at her were sound, but now that the presence of a Servant in Fuyuki had been exposed there was not much reason to leave her alone. She was a mostly defenseless prime target.
She figured that perhaps they decided to let her summon her Servant since killing her before she did so would have meant that another unknown Master would have been chosen. She kept her guard up for eventual observers, but beside that police guy Adachi she was never once followed by anybody else. Certainly there was no reason to keep an eye on her all the time, but the lack of any form of suspicious behavior when there should have been at least some was its own particular brand of unsettling.
To play it safe, she isolated herself from her peers even further, planting a minor compulsion in Yukiko to go out less after school and help her family with their business. The other person she purposely dodged was her most recent friend: Emiya Shirou.
She particularly disliked pushing him away. He had been nothing but helpful and kind with her without asking so much as a thank you for his efforts. He didn't deserve that treatment, yet at the same time he did, since it was for his own sake. She didn't want to pull him into the conflict if she could help it, though she had to recognize that with his nightly activities he was at a very high risk of stumbling into the war regardless.
Damn, it all happened with the worst possible timing: the Grail, the kidnapping and their downfall. Sure, as a Magus of the Tohsaka line she basically lived in preparation for that event, but was it too much to ask for it not to infringe with her relationship?
Apparently so, she mused with a soft sigh. Too bad, she was sort of looking forward to spending some of her free time with a boy who had a mind superior to that of a poorly trained hormonal monkey. He was smarter than most people his age and somewhat cute if a little idiotic; definitely in good shape and with strong big hands that she wouldn't have disliked having on…
" …ka! Toshaka!"
"Kyaaah!" she shrieked, turning around to face the person she didn't want sneaking up on her in that precise moment. "E-E-Emiya-kun! Don't do that!"
"Uh, I'm sorry?" he half asked, giving a shrug. "I've been calling you for a while now, but you didn't even notice me. If you daydream while you walk, you're going to run into something."
"S-shut up," she snapped, more in embarrassment for being caught while she daydreamt about him than real annoyance "That's none of your business."
"Err, I guess not, but still—"
"Nevermind!" she cut him off. "Did you need something?"
"Ah, not really," he said, shaking his head with a smile. "I just saw you here on the road and wanted to say hi."
"Oh," she said, disarmed by his simple statement. "Well then, don't bother me so early in the morning for no particular reason. I have plenty of things to think about so don't waste my time."
She turned around and resumed her walk at a faster pace, eyes closed in a pained grimace as an embarrassed blush covered her face.
"I'm going to be late for school," she shouted back. Damn, she hated being like that with him of all people."
"I said I'm going to-" TONK!
Pain invaded her entire skull, reverberating with the power of a hundred hammers.
"Watch out... for the pole…" Emiya said weakly. She could almost hear the cringe in his voice even through the loud ringing in her ears.
Face burning in a mixture of shame and embarrassment, Rin moved to the side of the offending piece of public property that had surely been planted here for the specific purpose of wounding her pride and she stormed away without looking back, hoping to find a hole in the ground where she could hide until this entire event was lost to history along with her name.
Gods, she hated herself sometimes.
Shirou sighed in resignation, feeling guilty about the entire situation. Even though they were basically lying to each other for the other's sake, only he was aware of this byplay. He would rather tell her everything he knew, but for the sake of a long-term cooperation he preferred not to.
Sometimes it felt entirely too stupid, even if he rationally knew that it was better to make an alliance on even grounds rather than imposing it from a superior position. Like it or not he would have to stick with his plan and hope that gaining an ally wouldn't mean losing a friend. He honestly hoped that it wouldn't come to that.
Either way, he probably was going to be slapped for his deception. He had better be ready for it when the time came, because it was probably going to hit harder than the electric pole just did to Tohsaka's face.
"Our target in on the way to school," Jin said into her phone.
"Understood," the voice of her husband answered back. "Keep him in your line of sight. I'll call you back when I've dealt with Lord El-Melloi and we're ready to commence operations."
"Be careful, love. Lord El-Melloi might primarily be a researcher, but he's not to be underestimated."
"Don't worry. He's not going to know what hit him. Literally."
"I have a bad feeling about this, husband. We're going in with too many unknown variables."
"We have worked with less, and we have the advantage of numbers and the element of surprise. If we are fast and thorough, we'll be fine."
"I hope so. I really hope so."
"I have to go now. Lord El-Melloi will come back soon."
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
That day through classes Shirou felt more under scrutiny than ever, but no matter what he did he couldn't find the source. Was it one of his classmates? Granted, it wouldn't have been the first time someone from school stalked him, but that was because of Tohsaka. After that had been solved it no longer happened, but since he didn't really understand the other boys his age save maybe for Issei, he couldn't tell if there was something going on. His social skills sucked like that and admittedly if it was some of them following him around town he might have not noticed them, but still it didn't seem likely. This kind of focused intent was too strong for any teenager to produce.
It was like being under a surgeon's scalpel, completely void of maliciousness but equally deadly if need be. His instinct screamed at him to stay alert and be ready for anything, and he knew better than to ignore it. If someone were up to something, they wouldn't get him unprepared.
A\N: Damn it! I had to break the chapter in two again. Seriously, the fight will be next chapter. I swear.
That being said, in this chapter I've fiddled with Nasuverse's universe a little. I don't think I've violated any rule of any sort but I've rather conveyed how I think the background mechanics works.
Let me know what you think,
A\N2: I've been pointed out that Misaki city actually has a stronger leyline than Fuyuki. I've corrected that part to match this info. Thanks to all who pointed it out.