Chapter 21 – Gears of Destiny
(Published 04.10.2013: - Beta: RavingScholar)
Down in a damp and darkened basement, a creature that should have been long dead rose from a shapeless mass of worms that squirmed against each other to form a figure that was human only in appearance.
Matou Zouken barely spared a glance at the blood smeared on the floor, spilled by the unsuspecting victim who had provided with its flesh and bones the means for the decaying Magus to survive a few more years. The monster in shape of a wrinkled old man gestured to his familiars to dispose of the leftovers. After a moment of wet squirming noises, nothing was left on the floor of the catacomb-like basement.
It was done just in time, as a moment later the door at the top of the stair opened with squeaking noise worthy of a haunted mansion. Matou Sakura, formerly Tohsaka, walked down the steps with the usual dull expressionless face.
She did not need to be told what to do. With practiced ease her clothes fell on the floor, revealing the porcelain-like beauty hidden beneath. In turn, that beauty concealed the nefarious and disgusting results of the Makiri's Magecraft underneath her skin. If his desire for women hadn't died long before his humanity had, Zouken might have appreciated the beauty of his adopted niece, but his feelings for her were just of pity and pride.
Pity, for while he did not care about what happened to her so long as she served her purpose he really believed that she had a life she didn't deserve; pride, for she was the pinnacle of his Magecraft and undoubtedly the best heir he could ever hope to find. Her potential in terms of Prana capacity was staggering and her willpower all the more so. Years of abuse and torment, both within and without the Workshop, didn't manage to even so much as scratch her mental defenses. As Material and as a Magus she was perfect, flawless, and Zouken had almost completely given up the idea of breaking her.
Lately something had changed within her. The cold and emotionless doll she had made herself into in order to survive the treatment she received had begun to weaken, exposing for brief, almost nonexistent moments the person hidden behind it.
Naturally the centuries old Magus would not let such thing go unexplained and uninvestigated. He therefore sent a couple of his less noticeable familiars to monitor his most valuable possession. Imagine his surprise when he discovered that the unshakable resolve, the insurmountable barrier he had failed to break was being eroded by something as silly and common as a schoolyard crush.
Of course, he was even more surprised when he realized exactly who the object of her affection was: none other than the son of the Magus Killer, the champion of the Einzbern during the Fourth War. For months he watched over the boy, tracking his activities and his interests, suspicious that he was trying to pry the secret of his family from the unsuspecting girl.
However, after weeks of examinations he came to eliminate that possibility entirely, as the boy did not even attempt to approach the subject of Magecraft with Sakura. Perhaps he had come to the conclusion that, just like Shinji, she had no predisposition for the craft.
That specific concern aside, discovering this situation was an unexpected boon. While it was true that the boy's Magecraft was at best laughable and his reasons were absolutely not those of a Magus, he could be a valuable asset nonetheless.
For one thing, he damaged Sakura's mental fortitude just by being around her, helping Zouken to gain a foothold in her defenses that he could exploit at a later time. Most importantly, his obvious vitality and drive would ensure that the Grail would pick him as a Master when the time came, giving Zouken not only early knowledge of one of the other Masters, but also an exploitable tool thanks to his relationship with Sakura.
He was not disappointed when he later appeared to have forged an alliance with a Masterless Caster, who he knew had already been summoned thanks to his insight to the Grail System. He was also aware that there was still a long time before the Grail would reach full activation. In the meantime, he intended to strengthen his control over his tools as much as possible, starting with the closest one.
With a malicious grin that would have sent chills down the spines of even some of the most weathered Magi, Matou Zouken turned his full attention to the naked girl lying on the cold stone floor. As if responding to his intent, the worms crawled around and on her, covering every inch of visible skin and invading places that should have never been violated in such a manner.
Through the whole ordeal she didn't make so much as a noise of discomfort, and Zouken's twisted smile only grew wider.
Tohsaka Rin was growing increasingly nervous. The summoning circle was drawn perfectly; she had made it from scratch over five times until it was absolutely flawless. She triple checked it before calling it a job well done and walking out to think about something else.
Then, while she was relaxing someone used Magecraft in proximity of her house. She wasn't the best when it came to detecting shifts in the ambient Prana but the use had been so intense and sudden that even she managed to perceive it. However, in the short time it took her to reach a window and look outside the culprit had already left the scene.
Who was it? Caster's new Master, or maybe another prospective participant in the Grail War seeking an easy prey? She had no way to know, and her paranoia only grew because of that but she had to resist nine more days. Only nine more days until the alignement of the planets would put her in the most favorable conditions to summon her Servant. Nine more days until the odds were evened and she could finally sleep peacefully again.
Just nine more days.
Shirou woke up several times during the day, and every time he cracked his eyes open Medea was at his side, busy with needle-and-thread of all things. She was putting all of her focus on some black cloth he didn't recognize, but she still turned to smile at him when she noticed he was staring at her. Each and every time he fell back asleep secure that she was safe, but even in his addled state of mind his thoughts were focused on recuperating for the coming ordeals.
While Shirou slept, Medea worked relentlessly. Now that the situation had reached a temporary stagnation she could pour all of her energies in preventing such a scenario from repeating. Now that both Shirou's Prana and her link to the leyline sustained her, she had more than enough energy to act at full power. Of course there wasn't much she could do while standing vigil by his side, but with her hands free she could at least invest some of her energies in creating something for her foolish, self-sacrificing Master. The memory of him taking an injury meant for her still brought a frown to her face.
Oh, who was she kidding? The fact that he had thrown himself in harm's way for her sake sent chills down her spine that were both of dread and delight.
Finding a man who cared enough for her as to give up his own life was something she had not even dared to hope for. She would not give up on someone like that no matter what, and for that reason she would invest all of her ability to insure his continued well-being. She would show every insolent fool who dared to threaten her Shirou just why the Witch of Betrayal was never to be crossed.
The day passed rapidly as she worked on the first of many Mystic Codes she intended to develop in preparation for the war.
With great effort, Shirou stood on his feet. His stomach still burned and his back shot jolts of pain every step he took. Frankly, he would have preferred to remain in bed but this was a matter he needed to take care of immediately. He could no longer postpone it.
"Master, are you sure you should be already on your feet?" Medea asked worriedly trying to help him walk.
"Yeah," he groaned weakly. "I need the bathroom right now."
Indeed, the impelling call of nature would not be denied any longer. It might seem a ridiculous issue compared to the wound he had sustained, but the truth was that-
"Master, I could have taken care of that."
-there was no way he'd let Medea do something like that. It was embarrassing, damn it. He wasn't sure if she planned to use a simple bed pan or some complex Magecraft to solve the issue, but there was just no way he was willing to find out. He'd crawl on his damn teeth and gums before he'd allow it. Besides, it wasn't like he couldn't walk, anyway. It just hurt like hell.
"Don't call me Master," he told her bluntly, trying to change the subject but immediately realized his blunder when he saw a look of hurt flashing momentarily across her features that anyone who hadn't known her as long as he had would have missed. "I don't like the whole Master-Servant subservient relationship," he hastily clarified. "You are not a just tool to exploit."
Her hand found his arm and helped him stand straighter. "Of course not," she smiled sincerely. Silently she helped him reach his destination and he immediately closed himself inside.
A few moments later a much-relieved Shirou walked out, and with the help of Medea returned to his room. Medea brought him up to speed with regard to what happened after he had passed out the previous evening. He was glad that she managed to contain the losses and come up with a decent agreement with the Master of Rider from the fourth war. According to his father's notes the foreign Magus' name should have been Waver something, but he wasn't too sure about it. He'd have to check it out later.
The top priority now was dealing with Dojima, who said he would come back sometime that evening. That the detective had not freaked out after having been exposed to the knowledge of Magecraft was already a good thing, and the fact that he offered to help meant that Shirou had gained another ally. Dojima might not prove to be an asset as far as the Holy Grail War went, but Shirou had not given up his mission as a vigilante, only suspended it. In that regard the detective could definitely be a source of information within the police department if he truly was willing to help, which would make it easier for Shirou to slip past the eyes of the law.
Of course he had no intention of exposing Dojima to any more danger than he already was by associating with him, but there was little to no harm in having one more pair of eyes looking over the city.
As he pondered that, he let Medea change his bandages. Lost in thought as he was, it took him a moment to notice that something was odd.
Medea, who was sitting behind him as he held his arms up to facilitate the procedure, had removed the used bandages but did not seem to be moving at all. He obviously couldn't see her, and he had a hard time turning around due to his injuries. Was there something wrong? He couldn't tell, but his half-numb, half-pained back gave him an odd feeling, as if she was tracing her fingers over the length of his injury.
Medea was lost in a daze.
After removing Shirou's bandages she found herself staring at the ugly red scar on his back. In all likelihood it would never entirely fade, and for that reason he'd have to keep his back hidden at all times to avoid answering unwanted questions, yet he didn't seem to care at all.
Of course, compared to what they would have to go through in the future a few scars were truly a minor issue. Yet no matter how much she tried to put it in this perspective, she couldn't shake the knowledge that it was for her that he bore those signs on his body.
"Medea, is something wrong?" Shirou asked, snapping her out of her reverie. Fortunately for her, Shirou couldn't turn around or he would have seen the faint blush on her cheeks.
"No, everything is fine. Your wounds seem to be healing up properly and in a few days you should be back in shape, though I'm afraid you'll have to live with the scars. I'm sorry," she finished with a note of sorrow in her voice.
He snorted in amusement and immediately winced in pain. "That's fine. What are a few scars in comparison to a life?"
A life, she noted, not her life. Of course she knew from the beginning that Shirou was the kind of person that sought to help everyone, not just her. Did she have the right to be annoyed by this after taking advantage of it? Not really, because if she had to be honest with herself it was because of this reason that he wanted to save her to begin with. After all he had already given her without asking anything back, she could definitely live with not being the only person he wanted to protect.
That didn't even remotely lessen his value in her eyes. Even if there were others he cared about, he certainly was the only one for her.
Without another word she wrapped his torso in clean bandages soaked with a healing ointment of her making. She had barely finished the job before the doorbell rang, signaling the arrival of their expected guest.
"So, you're a wizard, huh?" The detective asked rhetorically as he sat in Shirou's living room at the opposite side of the table. "Gotta give you credit, kid. You were right when you told me I wouldn't believe it if you told me the truth."
"I'm the one having trouble believing, Dojima-san," he told him frankly. "You have kept your cool better than I had thought possible, considering the circumstances."
"Oh, I freaked out enough on my own for a while before last night. I guess that I was more or less ready to accept anything by that point. Not that I had considered Magic as a possibility at all."
"Few would have," Shirou replied, nodding in agreement. "I heard from Megissa you already had a run in with another Magus."
"The Tohsaka girl, yes," Dojima said with a frown of thought. "How many other mages live in this city, anyway?"
"Well," he pondered. "Besides Tohsaka, I think there are at least two more. Matou Zouken is pretty reclusive as far as I know so you don't have to worry about him, but steer clear of the priest of the Catholic Church."
"Kotomine Kirei, you mean?"
"You know him?" Shirou asked, eyebrows furrowed.
"Know of him. His name came up while I looked for suspects among the orphans of the great fire ten years ago. Speaking of which, was that incident related to mages as well?" Shirou nodded and Dojima's eyes narrowed. "All right, kid. Hit me. I want to know everything that's going on in this city."
"Are you really sure about this, Dojima-san? What you know would already warrant your elimination if other Magi found out about it. This would only expose you and your family even more," Shirou said with nothing but naked concern in his voice.
"Look, Emiya," he sighed. "I appreciate the thought, but I've thought about it long enough. I just can't turn my back when I know something is not right. You of all people should understand how I feel."
"Yeah," the redhead smiled, "Yeah, I know."
And so Shirou told him of the Holy Grail and the wars fought for its possession. He told him of Masters and Servants, of Magi and Heroic Spirits. He explained to him about the Grail malfunctions and the likelihood of a genocide should the artifact be allowed to fulfill its purpose.
Through his tale Dojima showed different kind of feelings. Disbelief at an unlimited power that could even bring the dead back to life; wonderment at the existence of such things as Heroes of legend that transcended time itself; anger at the callousness of Magi fighting a secret war over the heads of innocent and unsuspecting people; dread at the possibility of countless deaths at the hand of an evil artifact with unlimited power.
By the end of Shirou's story the dumbstruck detective was pale faced and was holding his head up with both arms propped on the table.
"And here I thought the situation couldn't get any weirder or worse. Holy Grail Wars? Heroic Spirits?" he gave a weird chuckle before his face went deadly serious. "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?" Dojima slammed a hand on the table sending a glare at Shirou. "What the hell are you thinking, fighting a war like this in the middle of a goddamn city? Do you mages have no common sense at all?"
"Why you impudent little-" Medea began to stand but was stopped by a shake of the head from Shirou.
"Dojima-san, I understand and share your feelings completely. My own reason for participating in this war is to avoid casualties. As for other Magi, the answer would be no. They have little to no common sense when it comes to advancing Magecraft. That is not to say that each and every one of them is a ruthless monster, but having casualties among bystanders it's generally accepted so long as it's kept secret and helps the advancement of Magecraft."
"I suppose that's what you meant when you said you were authorized to know about them even if you aren't part of their organization," Dojima pondered. "Considering what you told me, I don't think they'd see what you do with your abilities as something good."
"At best I would be scorned by proper Magi, at worst I'd outright hunted for jeopardizing the secret," Shirou said, shrugging. "Fortunately my own brand of Magecraft isn't all that evident to the naked eye. So long as I'm cautious in how I use it, there shouldn't be any problem for me on that front."
"So, what now?" Dojima demanded. "Do you have a plan or something?"
"There's very little we can do at this point. The actual start of the war is still a few months away, and we've already ascertained that there's no way to stop the Grail System now that it's in full motion. The best course of action would be convincing other Masters and Servants not to fight, so as to leave the Grail mostly unpowered, but the likelihood of that happening are laughably low," he finished with a grimace.
"But why?" the detective asked a bit snappishly. "I get that Magi don't really care about other people's lives, but something of these proportions should be enough to make anyone see reason."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that, Dojima-san," Shirou sighed. "Remember those serial murders shortly before the great fire ten years ago? Well, one of the Masters and later his Servant were responsible for those. I'm not privy to all the details, but as far as I know there was no real purpose to their actions except their own sick amusement. Truth is, Dojima-san, that some people don't really care how many others die, and some would even relish in senseless violence and death."
"… Shit," the detective cursed.
"Besides even if no one like that showed up in this war I have no actual proof of the Grail's malfunction beside the evident. I'm relatively sure I can convince at least Tohsaka to trust me due to our history, but there's little chance that the other participants would take my word into consideration and cease hostilities. I'm going to try nonetheless, mind you," he said in assurance, "but I'm still going to prepare for the worst case scenario."
"A full, blown-out war," Dojima grimaced.
"Yeah," Shirou agreed sourly. "I'm taking steps to limit causalities, and Megissa here will work on a way to keep the Grail isolated once it's materialized until it can be either purified and used without consequence, or destroyed safely if worst comes to worst."
"Well, it's better than doing nothing, I suppose," Dojima grudgingly admitted. "What about me then? Is there any way I can be of help?"
Shirou sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"To be honest, the matter is complicated. Having you keeping your eyes open and your ears on the ground for information is a priceless advantage, but to be honest it will hardly be of any importance in the conflict itself. I don't mean this as a slight toward you, Dojima-san," he hastily clarified seeing how the man was about to protest. "The truth is that you have already handled a fight against a Magus better than I would have expected from someone ignorant of Magecraft, but Magi hardly ever fight like that."
"What do you mean?"
"The biggest part of a battle against Magi is unraveling how their Mysteries work and counteract them at best as possible. But like it sounds, being able to do something like that takes years of studying how Magecraft actually works beneath the surface. Even I don't have that kind of preparation right now, since I'm pretty much cut off from other Magi.
"What's more, a Magus would hardly try to fight you directly. As you have no actual defense against Magecraft, they would either opt to manipulate you through hypnosis or kill you if it was too inconvenient," the redhead said with a monotone voice that belied a burning anger. "Being on the front lines would only cause you to die prematurely and with little chance of providing any help. On the other hand, if you were to keep your eye on the situation from the sidelines you could help by facilitating the evacuation of the civilians from the battlefield if I couldn't prevent the fight from spilling into a populated area."
"You're basically asking me to act as support and back up," he sighed. "I honestly don't like it. Don't get me wrong, I understand what you're saying and it makes sense to me. I just don't like having to entrust the responsibility of the front line to someone your age."
"My Master is not a child," Medea objected a bit angrily.
"I know, I know. I saw what he can do and I know that he can handle himself," he quickly offered to placate the protective Heroic Spirit. "It's just wrong that he has to do it on his own. I mean, protecting people is my job description. Delegating my duty to someone else and just standing aside to watch annoys me, no matter how tactically correct it is."
"You're a good man, Dojima-san," Shirou said smiling, happy that he found a likely minded individual.
"Hmpf," Medea huffed, crossing her arms over her chest. "You should be glad that Master is even considering to keep you in the loop. I don't really see what contribution you can actually provide."
"Don't say that, Caster," Shirou intervened. "Even if the law enforcement is easily manipulated, they still have eyes and ears. Even if they could only report rumors they are still able to keep an eye over the city for us."
"Isn't there any way to avoid being hypnotized?" Dojima asked. "I dunno, some kind of training or something?"
"Well, a strong mind can resist the compulsion to do something they find disgusting or extremely against their moral compass, but beside that I don't know of any way to prevent a non-Magus from being put under a suggestion," Shirou said contemplatively.
"Actually, Master, there is a very simple method," Medea said cheerfully. "You just have to put that person under a stronger compulsion that cannot be shattered."
"Wait, wait, wait," Dojima held up his hand. "Are you saying you'll hypnotize me against being hypnotized? I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that."
'As if you'd have a choice,' the look in Medea's narrowed eyes all but said to the disgruntled detective. It didn't go unnoticed by Shirou either, but the fact that she hadn't actually voiced that opinion meant that she was deferring that decision to him.
"It does sound a bit extreme, but ultimately it would prevent you from being manipulated from a third party," Shirou said tentatively.
"I'll have to think about it. I trust you not to abuse something like that," Dojima said looking pointedly at Shirou and Shirou alone, "but my mind is my best tool. I'm not really cool with anyone messing around in my head."
"It's understandable. The choice is ultimately yours but I suggest you accept this offer. Last night's battle was mostly unrelated to the war so we're in no actually hurry to implement this solution, but I'm asking you to keep a low profile with regard to supernatural events you might come across for the time being."
"Even I can tell I'm way over my head here," Dojima scoffed. "If I spot something unusual I'll pull back and let you know."
"Then we are in agreement," Shirou said as he offered his hand." I'm looking forward to working with you, Dojima-san."
"Cut the crap and call me Ryutaro," the detective said shaking Shirou's hand. "No need to be formal with each other if we're going to risk our lives together, Shirou."
With that partnership established they exchanged phone numbers. Afterward, Shirou spent the evening outlining the events of Guilford's manor and the battle of the previous evening. It was late into the night when Dojima finally left and Shirou returned to bed.
Much to his dismay, Shirou spent a good portion of his days after meeting Dojima lying in his bed. Even though he wasn't crippled to the point of not being able to move, Medea insisted that he let his wounds heal properly before straining himself any further. However, due to the extent of his wounds he missed the last few days of the school year. Thankfully his attendance rate and his grades were high enough to make it into the next year, but his supposed illness had caused some people curiosity because he was hardly ever sick. He managed to dodge visiting well-wishers such as Ayako and Issei by having Medea pretend that he was too tired to receive guests.
He wasn't as lucky with Taiga, of course. Five days after the last time they spoke, his surrogate sister sat in the living room with her arms crossed over her chest, glaring firmly at Shirou and Medea sitting at his side.
How was it possible that relating his secret life as a vigilante to a man he had barely gotten the chance to know was easier than telling his own surrogate family?
"I know what you've been up to," she told him bluntly. "I've known for a while."
"I guessed so," Shirou said dejectedly. "You're smarter than you usually let on."
Taiga snorted, not at all pleased with his off-handed compliment. "Well then, what do you have to say for yourself?"
"Do I have to say anything at all?" he asked honestly. It wasn't like he felt guilty about a single thing he had done, save perhaps keeping it secret from his sister and even then there were good reasons for that.
Taiga's fist hit the table causing the tea cups to clatter loudly.
"Don't be your usual idiot self, Shirou," the tiger-themed teacher raged. "This isn't a game. I let things go because you never seemed to get into anything really dangerous, but this has gone too far now. I will not stand to see you get injured over this ridiculous hobbyof yours."
"It isn't a hobby. But you're right: this isn't a game at all," he told her seriously, without stepping back from his position as he usually did when the elder woman got serious about a subject. "I won't pretend that I'm not putting myself in danger, but I'm not going to quit either."
"Shirou, this isn't a joking matter," Taiga said, anger replaced by sisterly concern. "I get that you want to help and I might even understand why you feel like you should, but it's wrong for you to put yourself at risk. There is the police for catching criminals and protecting people."
"The police can't do everything," he protested vehemently, "and I won't stand by and watch when I can actually be of help to someone. What would have happened if I hadn't helped with Yukiko? The police had no clue on her whereabouts and were treating her case as a simple runaway. What would have happened to her and all those other girls?"
"I- I get that," she stuttered, a bit mollified but still unconvinced. "I don't mean to say that your help is meaningless. It's just… Shirou, you're just fifteen. A boy your age risking his life is just wrong. It shouldn't work like that."
"A lot of things aren't as they should, Fuji-nee," he sighed, reaching for her hand which was still on the table where it had struck. "I really don't want to make you worry. It's the last thing from my mind, but I can't just ignore all the things that are wrong around me when I have the power to change them."
"No… Just no, Shirou," Taiga said, a determined glint in her eye. "I can't accept it, no matter what you say. There are many other ways to help without putting yourself at risk. You can volunteer to help the homeless or something. Please, be reasonable."
Shirou just shook his head. "It doesn't work like that. There are things only I can do, people that I must protect. I won't turn my back on them just because it's easy."
"People you must protect?" she wondered aloud and her head snapped to glare at Medea, who hadn't said a word until then. "You're talking about her aren't you? That's how it is, isn't it? It's because of her that you got hurt."
"Yes," the purple haired woman admitted. "Shirou's injuries are the result of having shielded me with his body."
"I knew it," Taiga growled standing up, to do what Shirou didn't know but he didn't let of her hand, forcing his sister to sit again or trip forward awkwardly. "Shirou, let-"
"No! Just listen to me, Taiga!" he shouted. "My wounds aren't her fault. While it's true that I took a blow meant for her, her assailants were after her only because of her association with me. I was the real target."
"That's even worse, Shirou! Don't you see? You're not putting just yourself in danger but other people as well. This is exactly why you shouldn't do things like that!"
"You're wrong again," Shirou replied, voice calmer. "I wasn't being targeted because I'm Archer. I'm being targeted because I'm Emiya."
"B-but… What?" Taiga sat back, confusion momentarily dissipating her protective rage. "Why would anyone want to harm you specifically?"
The answer to that question was a bit more complicated than Shirou liked. It sprang from Kiritsugu's secret past, of which the teacher wasn't privy. Taiga used to have a crush on Shirou's father and even if she never followed through with those feelings, it was evident that she had cared a great deal for the man. She was the only other person beside Shirou who cried at his funeral.
For that reason the redhead hated having to shatter the image she had of the deceased Emiya. However, the whole point about this discussion was about being truthful and there was just no way to avoid the topic without arousing suspicions.
"Taiga, do you know what was Kiritsugu's job before moving to Fuyuki?"
"Eh? What does it have to do with anything?" she blinked, still not following this new subject. "Well, he was always going abroad so I think he was a businessman or something. With his weak constitution he could hardly be anything else."
"Fuji-nee, I hate to break this to you, I really do," he sighed, "but before falling ill, Kiritsugu used to be a mercenary and an assassin for hire."
A moment of stunned silence passed between the two, broken after a few moments by Taiga's awkward chuckle.
"A mercenary? Eh eh eh" she actually laughed. "Come on, Shirou, of all the things you could come up with that is…" she trailed off at the stony look in Shirou's eyes. "W-wait. You're actually serious?" she asked, wide eyed.
"Yes. The people who attacked us were assassin hired by an influential family he worked against in the past. They sought to get revenge on him by killing me. Med- Megissa just got caught in the crossfire."
"But… no… Kiritsugu wouldn't..." Taiga whispered. "He was one of the gentlest persons I ever met."
"He was as gentle in his personal life as he was ruthless during a job," Shirou said, trying for wry humor but falling flat. "Don't get me wrong, he never did it for the money. He only accepted jobs where killing a target would result in saving more lives: dictators, drug cartels and other sensitive targets whose deaths would save more lives than he took. I know it doesn't justify murder and in his last years he actually regretted a lot of the things he did, but he never committed them out of personal gain or plain greed."
"That's absurd, Shirou," she shook her head in denial. "I can't believe what you're telling me. Kiri would never-"
"Do you think I'd lie to you over something like this, Taiga?" he asked seriously, even a bit angrily, staring deep into her eyes. For a moment Taiga just stared back at him, and then lowered her head in dismay.
"No, you wouldn't," she said dejectedly. "Is that why you're doing it? Because you want to imitate him? Shirou, you mustn't-"
"Kiritsugu's dream was to help everyone," he interrupted her, determined to make her see. "Somewhere along the way something happened to him, and he came to the conclusion that to save a life he had to take another. I believed his original dream was beautiful and correct so I inherited it, made it my own, but I will not follow the same path as he did. You don't have to worry about that, at least."
A long moment of silence passed. Taiga didn't say anything, unable to speak as her mind was trying to comprehend all she had been told. She didn't think Shirou could lie about something like that, but at the same time she was having a hard time associating what she knew of Kiritsugu with the things Shirou told her. Ultimately, it appeared, she pushed those concerns aside, returning to the topic of discussion that had brought up this revelation.
"Shirou, what will you do when the day comes that the only way to save someone is to kill somebody else? If you're really serious about this 'being a hero thing' you've got going here, one day you'll be forced to take a life. Even if you won't turn into a person who solves problems by killing in cold blood you-"
"That day," he licked his dry lips. This was harder than he had expected. "That day has already come and gone, Fuji-nee. I already have become a killer," Shirou confessed with sad finality, looking down at his feet. He felt no shame for killing Guilford. It had been the right call in those circumstances, but he wasn't proud of it either. It had been a dirty but necessary deed.
The only way Taiga's face could have expressed more horror would have been if she actually witnessed Shirou doing what he implied he already did. There were many emotions playing across her face: fear, disbelief and worry were the most prominent.
"N-no," she stuttered, a single tear running down her cheek. "Shirou…"
"I know you must hate me," Shirou said, looking anywhere but his sister's face. "I'd understand if you want nothing to do with me now, but you have to believe me, Taiga." His voice had risen in desperation, and he said, "I really couldn't avoi-!"
Whatever Shirou intended to say was cut short when his face was buried into his sister's bosom.
Taiga's heart lay in pieces.
Much could be said about the only daughter of the Fujimura family. She was strong headed, passionate, light hearted and dedicated. She was a person of many extremes and few middle grounds. This caused her to either be extremely liked or be considered extremely insufferable, though very few ever managed to dislike her for very long.
It wasn't all that surprising, for she was a person who genuinely cared for just about anyone and who lived with her heart on a sleeve. The emotions she showed were always as obvious as they were honest. It was therefore no wonder why she couldn't hold back the tears this latest revelation had caused.
When she first met Shirou she immediately took a shine to him. He was the little bother she never had and they shared common traits in their stubbornness and straightforwardness. For years she watched him grow into a fine young man: confident, reliable and kind. Admittedly, he needed very little help on her part. He always seemed driven by a very strong moral compass and never once gave up on something he thought right.
Needless to say she was very proud of him and while he still thought like an idiot from time to time, he was still very intelligent and responsible enough to make his own choices, so she never really stuck her nose into his private affairs. Of course she had grown increasingly worried, as her suspicions about his nighttime activities became more than just that. His latest injury was the last straw that compelled her to take action before it was too late and he got seriously hurt.
But, as it appeared, it was already too late. He had been injured not only in the body, but his soul too now was scarred by a wound that would never disappear. That knowledge hurt her to no end; a pain further enhanced by her own inability to even notice anything out of the ordinary in him.
As a teacher, as a guardian and as a sister she had failed him. To twist the knife even more he was now seriously considering the possibility that she would want to distance herself from him; that because of his choices and her shortcomings she would not want to be his onee-chan anymore. He even thought she would hate him.
She would have none of that.
"Bwaaaaa!" she cried as she crushed his head into her chest in a hug. "Shirouuu, you- you- you-" she pulled him away and looked straight into his confused eyes, "you idiooooot!"
She slapped him square on the right cheek, so hard that he almost spun on the spot even thought he was half sitting and half kneeling on the floor.
"You unbelievable," she slapped him again, "inconceivable," and again, "utter IDIOT!"
Shirou fell on his back, both cheeks alight from the abuse he had willingly taken, probably for entirely wrong reasons.
"I'm sorry, Fuji-nee," he said, tears growing as he avoided her gaze. "I never wanted to disappoint you."
"How dare you? How dare you? How dare you even insinuate that I wouldn't want to be your big sis anymore?" she raged in full tiger mode, having jumped to her feet and staring down at his charge with fiery eyes.
"…. Uh?" he mumbled incoherently. "Taiga, I killed a man."
"And I hate it! I hate it, I hate, I hate it!" she all but roared, causing the even walls to tremble. However her rage soon deflated and her shoulders slumped, "but I hate even more that you would think that just because of that I wouldn't want to be your sister anymore. I should," she hiccupped, "I should beat the stupid out of you, you idiot."
"'I'm- I'm sorry?" he said tentatively, standing up on his feet as well.
"Damn right you are," she told him, wiping away the remnants of her tears. "You're going to apologize to your onee-sama and then you're going to sit down and tell her every detail without leaving a single thing out, understood?"
"H-Hai! But I would rather prefer if we had this conversation another time… maybe?" he stumbled on his words as Taiga glared at him with murderous eyes. "Then again, maybe not."
"Good boy," she nodded in approval. "Now, tell me everything there is to know."
"Uuuhhh…" he mumbled. "I don't really know how to put it."
"Come on," she said, straightening her slightly ruffled gown and putting up a confident smile. "We've gotten this far. I don't think that anything you can tell me will surprise me anymore at this point."
"Errr. I wouldn't be so sure about that, Fuji-nee," he replied awkwardly, scratching the back of his neck while sending suspicious glances at Megissa, who hadn't said almost a word for the entire time.
N-no way. Could it be that he had…?
"Shirou," she said with a dangerous edge to her voice, "if you're about to tell me you knocked up Megissa-san, I'm going to castrate you."
"I- but- WHAT? Fuji-nee! What in the world are you saying?" Shirou spluttered, his face so red that it could have lit up the room if the lights were out. Megissa had a similar reaction on her face, though Taiga had expected the older woman to protest just as vehemently as Shirou. Hmm…
"Well, what am I supposed to believe then?" Taiga demanded, hands on her hips. "She's obviously privy to your secrets, and I really can't see what else you could be reluctant to talk about at this point. So far you've told me Kiritsugu was an assassin for hire, you're a vigilante and you've already killed a man. I don't think it can get much more outrageous than this, except for something along those lines."
"Well, when you put it like that I can see why you'd think so," he admitted sheepishly, "but it's not like that. I swear."
"Hmm, what is it then?"
Shirou sighed and rubbed his temples. Taiga was starting to get a bit scared. At this point she couldn't understand what else Shirou could be hesitant to reveal.
"I suppose there aren't many ways to go about this, so I'll say it as straight as it is. Taiga, I'm a mage," he told her in complete seriousness.
Taiga blinked and then blinked again. After Shirou's words sunk in, her left eyebrow started to twitch. Of all things, he had to say something idiotic like that while she was actually being worried?
"A mage? As in a wizard?"
"Uhm, yeah," Shirou said hesitantly, not liking his sister's eerie calm.
Slowly and with surprising outward calmness she reached with her left hand to his shirt, clutching it tightly just beneath the neck while her other hand balled up into a fist. Working her up just to make some lame joke was not something she was inclined to forgive in her current emotional state.
"Shirou," she said with false sweetness, raising her fist, "I'm going to punch you now."
"Whoa!" he waved his hands in front of his face. "I'm not kidding, Taiga! I really am a mage. Megissa as well."
"I get it. I understand," she said dejectedly, almost not hearing his next words.
"I really shouldn't have-"
Her words died in her mouth as a katana formed out of thin air right in Shirou's hand, then another identical one appeared in a similar fashion in his left. It wasn't a mere trick. The swords just weren't there one moment, and a moment later they were.
She looked from the swords to Shirou and back again. Then, recalling what he had said just moments earlier about his guest, her head snapped toward Megissa. Having noticed her stare, the other woman stood up from the table. Without so much as a word on her part her clothes morphed into a long purple robe complete with a hood that concealed her face, forming the perfect outfit for a witch from a fairytale.
"Magic?" she squeaked, returning her eyes to Shirou.
"Yeah," he agreed with a carefully measured tone. "Uhm, surprised?"
"Eh! Eh eh eh eeeeh," Taiga laughed awkwardly. Then she did the most reasonable thing she could come up with in such a situation: she passed out.
Shirou dismissed the two Monohoshizao in his hands and grabbed Taiga before she could hit the ground.
"That went exactly as I expected," he said out loud, cradling his sister and gently placing her on the floor. Granted if she hadn't been already upset by everything else she might have been more inclined to accept this latest revelation more easily, but he had already pushed her to her limits before dropping this particular bombshell.
"She'll be alright," Medea said as she joined his side. "She really cares about you. I'm sure that once she gets past the shock she'll understand the responsibilities you have chosen to bear."
"I hope so. By the way, I'm sorry about, you know, what she insinuated about us," he said with a forced grin of embarrassment. "For a teacher, her mind tends to get stuck in the proverbial gutter a bit too often."
"O-oh, that?" Medea asked strangely flustered beneath her hood. "Don't worry about it. It was a legitimate suspicion from her perspective. Even back in my time a man and a woman living under the same roof would have given the impression of being in such a relationship. I don't really mind."
She might have said so, but Shirou was fairly certain she was at least a bit upset about Taiga's words. Well, who wouldn't be in her place? Anyway it was better not to prod the subject any further and just forget about it entirely.
"Anyway, thank you for supporting me with this. I understand that secrecy is fundamental in the course of the Grail War, but I really couldn't just pretend with Taiga that everything is still normal," he said with a shake of the head. "Not with what this entire city is about to face."
"It's okay," she told him warmly with a thin smile. "I can't fault your desire to give her a choice. After all, I too wish I was given one when it counted the most."
Shirou hadn't thought of it like that, but now that she pointed it out she had been denied any semblance of choice in her lifetime. If anyone could appreciate Shirou's decision to give Taiga the option to make a conscious choice in regard of her future, it was her.
"Hm?" Taiga mumbled as she started to wake up. "Shirou? What are you doing in my room? Is breakfast ready?"
"Breakfast?" Shirou deadpanned. She hadn't hit her head, right? "Taiga it's just past dinner time and this is my living room."
"Oh, I must have dozed off then. I just had the strangest dream."
"Hmm, was it about me being a wizard vigilante?" he cringed.
"Yes, but how did you guess?" she blinked at him with eyes still a bit unfocused.
"It wasn't a dream."
"Nope," he confirmed.
Slowly she sat up and looked around, her eyes settling on the purple-clad Servant. For a long moment she just stared at her and was stared right back.
"I'm here to answer any question you need to ask, Fuji-nee," Shirou said, hoping his sister's mind hadn't truly broken.
"A wizard," she mumbled returning her eyes to him.
"A Magus," Shirou corrected unconsciously, "but yes, I am."
"Since Kiritsugu taught me, ten years ago," he answered plainly.
She snorted, actually amused.
"What? Was he a Wizard Assassin, then?"
"Magus Killer," he corrected her.
"You gotta be kidding me," she moaned, letting her head drop in her hands. "All this time; you've known for so long. Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"Magecraft is supposed to be kept secret at all costs," Medea supplied helpfully. "The Mage's Association punishes transgressors severely, even with death. Even those who have learned of its existence and their closest associates are mercilessly crushed for the sake of total concealment. By not telling you, Shirou and his father were protecting you and your family."
"I- I don't understand. Why tell me now, then? What's your involvement with this, Megissa-san? If that's even your name," Taiga finished with a suspicious glint in her eyes.
"It isn't," the Servant coolly confirmed Taiga's suspicions. "My actual name is to remain secret, though Shirou knows it. As for what changed…"
"A war between Magi will take place here in Fuyuki in a few months," Shirou continued, nodding his appreciation to Medea. "A war that could claim hundreds if not thousands of lives."
"A war?" Taiga asked disbelievingly. "That's absurd. Why would anyone fight a war in this place? What about keeping Magic secret?"
"Taiga, do you remember the fire, ten years ago? How no one never really managed to explain what caused it? How unnaturally fast it had spread, how so many people died in it?"
"Of course I do, that's when you were…no!" the teacher exclaimed wide eyed, realization sinking in. "You can't possibly mean…"
"I do," he grimly confirmed. "This war has taken place once already, at least four times now. Always here in Fuyuki."
"But… why? What's there in this city that anyone would fight to the death over?" Taiga asked in a shaking voice.
"An artifact said to be able to fulfill any single wish," Medea and Shirou looked at each other as they answered as one. "The Holy Grail."
It took but a moment before Taiga went limp again in Shirou's arms. The redhead sighed wearily. This was going to be a very long night.
It took a moment to wake Taiga again, convince her once more that no, it hadn't been all a dream and then proceed to explain all the details of the bloody conflict that was the Holy Grail War. Slowly she managed to overcome the shock of so many world-shaking revelations, though she looked to be on the verge of fainting again when Shirou explained that Megissa was essentially a ghost from an ancient time who had been summoned to fight for the Grail.
The concept of near divine beings contending for the all powerful artifact by fighting over the city filled her with dread, even more so when Shirou explained why no good thing could come out of that cup. She accepted, begrudgingly, that Shirou had a very important role to play in the coming months, and that he could not and would not shy away from this responsibility.
The discussion proceeded well into the night, as Shirou told her the tale of a man who wanted to be a hero but couldn't, a man that was ready to sacrifice everything for an impossible dream, a man that was left with nothing but ashes in his hands.
It was almost morning when Taiga finally left the Emiya household. She was wholly exhausted from the tears spilled for Kiritsugu, who had lived his final years in regret and sorrow; and for the stupid, wonderful boy who had picked up that dream from the ashes where it had fallen, fully conscious of the difficulties that lay ahead.
She was grateful that he had cared enough to reveal it all to her, but it hurt her to no end to realize that there was nothing she could do to protect him. She didn't have the ability or the power to aid him in any manner.
She would, however, support and sustain him as much as she could. It was the least she could do for her stupid little brother.
A long distance from Fuyuki City, a man was staring out of his study's window. Tohno Makihisa felt restless.
The night was silent, completely quiet, but a man like him couldn't miss the atmosphere of impending death that had filled the corridors and rooms of his mansion. Moreover, someone like him, who had brought his own fair share of deaths would not mistake that he was the recipient of this murderous intent.
Far from being particularly unsettled from this, he set himself to put his business in order. He signed the papers that were on his desk and filed them appropriately. He put his books back in their place on the library and generally straightened his workspace. Finally, with nothing else to do he sat in his chair and waited.
Idly, he opened a drawer from his desk and pulled out a wooden box. He opened it slowly and admired its content: a small, retractable fruit knife. It was fairly old and well kept; an antique that didn't have any monetary worth but held a great significance for the elder Tohno.
It was entirely inconspicuous, except for a small inscription on the bottom. If one read the kanji in a certain way it would have spelled the words 'Seven Nights'.
His thoughts went to the boy who actually owned that blade. How would he remember him after he was gone? Would the name Tohno Makihisa be associated with the father figure he tried to be, or the monster he actually was?
It was a question whose answer would forever elude him, though if his other child was anything to go by, he'd probably loathe him. As he rightly should, the man thought darkly.
Further contemplations were pushed aside as the door to his study opened with a loud clack, followed by the screeching noise typical of old metal hinges. Slowly, Makihisa put the blade back into its box and carefully into the drawer from whence it came.
Then and only then he turned to face the wholly expected visitor, staring them squarely in the eye.
"So you are my death," he said without a hint of surprise in his cool voice.
Not two minutes later Tohno Makihisa was lying in a pool of his own blood, his back resting against the wall beneath the window. As his life rapidly escaped from the gash on his chest, his last thoughts were not for his three heirs, nor for the many people he had wronged in his lifetime.
No, curiously enough his last thoughts were for another boy who had a monster for a father: a boy with eyes of gold. A bitter smirk formed on his face, for he was sure, with the clarity and foresight that often accompanied a dying man's last moments, that the son of the Magus Killer would inevitably be dragged into the swirl of madness that was his family. His only regret was being unable to witness with his own eyes the slaughter fest that would follow his demise.
Tohno Makihisa passed away with a blood-chilling grin, unbefitting a man that had just been mercilessly slaughtered.
And so, with his last breath, the gears of destiny of a boy with death-filled eyes started once more to turn in a slow, merciless spinning motion that would squeeze the blood out of anyone so unfortunate enough to be caught in it.
AN: Put it up in a rush before leaving for work. Not really much to say about this one. I might add another author note depending on the reviews later, but that's it for now. Bring all eventual bitchings to the forum (not the spoiler one)
Thanks for reading.
AN2: Edit: I wrongly assumed that Rin had vampiric ancestry because Zelretch is considered her Ancestor. That was a mistake because Zelretch's disciple was her actual ancestor. I corrected that part. Kudos to blakraven66 for pointing it out.