Chapter 24 – Isn't it sad?
(Published: 07.26.13 - Beta: RavingScholar)
Medea held back a sigh as she watched Shirou prepare his luggage. He would only be gone for a couple of days, three at the most, but she was already feeling apprehensive about it.
Sure, in all likelihood it would be an uneventful business trip, but knowing her Master's penchant for both looking for and stumbling into troubles of all sorts she couldn't help but be worried. Not to mention that she was already missing him even though he hadn't even left yet.
"Done," Shirou declared, slamming his suitcase closed. "I'm ready to go. Hey, what's the matter?"
"Nothing," she sighed. "I just have a bad feeling about this."
"Ah, come on, you're worrying over nothing," he laughed. "It's just a simple business trip with a bonus visit to a museum with a little night patrolling on the side. None of them are the most dangerous thing I've ever done. I'm going to be perfectly safe."
"Somehow I doubt it. You are far too inclined to go looking for trouble for your own good. Fortunately you have me to look out for you." She folded her arms and tilted her head up slightly. "You had better be grateful."
"I'm grateful, I'm grateful," the teenager clapped his hands together and bowed as if in front of a shrine.
"Hmm," the Heroic Spirit acquiesced with a haughty sideways glance. "Well, at least you seem to appreciate my efforts. You wouldn't have deserved my latest work if you didn't."
"Didn't I tell you that I was working on something when you decided to leave for Misaki?" Medea asked rhetorically. "I finished it just last night."
"Yeah, I remember. What is it, though?" he asked curiously. "You never told me."
"Well, I wanted it to be a surprise. Come with me and I'll show you. I promise you'll like it."
Shirou eagerly followed her to the underground Workshop. Medea had made certain not to work on this particular Mystic Code in his presence, hiding it every time he was around. It wouldn't have been as impressive if he saw it just halfway done.
The witch led him into a corner of their shared Workshop, the part where he was forbidden to tread on the pain of, well, pain and where she kept her unfinished projects. There, inside a glass case covered by a thick black cloth was her latest accomplishment.
"Well, this is it," she declared grabbing a hold of the cloth. "This is going to knock you out."
"As if," Shirou scoffed playfully. "Come on, just show me."
"Brace yourself," she replied with a smile of anticipation to his reaction. She gave a pull and the cloth fell, revealing the Mystic Code that had taken her many nights to complete.
Medea wasn't disappointed by Shirou's reaction. As the hidden treasure was revealed and its cover fell, so did Shirou's jaw. The witch had to hold back an undignified giggle at his dumbstruck expression. After a full minute, during which he didn't say anything or even move beside the minimum required breathing, Medea decided to snap him out of his funk by walking toward him and shutting his jaw closed with one finger, forcing him to look at her.
"I take it that you like it," she said coyly.
"Ah? Uh? Buh?!" Shirou spluttered unintelligently, one finger raised to point frantically at the Mystic Code.
"Yes, yes. I made it specifically for you," Medea reassured him patiently. "Now pick up your jaw and let me show you how it works."
The sun was setting over the city of Misaki. School activities had long since ended and the last students were making their way back home. At a glance there was nothing peculiar about any of them, but beneath the appearance at least one was much more than met the eyes.
Walking among the common people, not unlike a wolf hiding amongst sheep, the bespectacled girl with dark blue hair and equally blue eyes moved at a calm pace with her school bag hanging loosely at her side.
On her way she exchanged pleasantries with the few acquaintances she had, people who didn't know her and people who would soon forget her. Her presence in their lives was nothing more than a passing shadow, never meant to leave a trace.
She was used to such things. Her existence was fundamentally different from anyone and it had but a single purpose. Things like social interactions were merely a procedure that she needed to blend in better and complete her assignment, nothing more.
That didn't mean she didn't care about them. Those small everyday actions, no matter how fake, were something she enjoyed in secret, even from herself. Tiny little windows for her to stare at the things she had lost, like an inmate looking at the sky past the bars of her prison, pretending to be free like the people she saw out there.
Such thoughts didn't last. They never did. Each and every time, she quickly recalled why such things were not meant for her anymore. They had been forfeited when her life was changed against her will.
With the ease of years of practice she squashed the bitterness that rose to her throat and threatened to spill from her eyes.
The sun disappeared completely behind the horizon, casting darkness upon the city while she continued her walk to her 'home'. It was a small apartment with a single bedroom and the bare minimum necessities. Finely decorated as it was, it was nothing more than more pieces of the fake persona that others called Ciel.
She put her bag into a corner and slowly removed her school uniform, folding it neatly on a chair. Stripped down to her underwear, she walked to the closed and flung it open. The clothes kept in there, along with the tools of her trade, were the only items she had been familiar with for the previous few years.
She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror to the side of the room and she couldn't help but stare at her own reflection.
Her porcelain white skin, tinged blue by the moonlight that seeped through the windows and the curtains, was that of a beautiful young woman in her teens. Just another lie.
Her body didn't age, didn't die, frozen in time until the monster that cursed and defiled her very soul was finally destroyed for good. That was her purpose, her sole reason to exist: to put an end to Michael Roa Valdamjong…and herself.
For that reason she'd lie to everyone if she had to, even to herself and to him.
Him. She didn't want to think his name. She didn't want to think about him at all, but she couldn't avoid it. He was her target, her prime suspect but at the same time he was the one person who caused her heart to flutter and her resolve to waver. She both wanted to get close to him and run as far away as possible.
If he truly were Roa then she would have to kill him in an act of both vengeance and mercy. If he weren't, then it would only be slightly better. She was a monster not unlike the one she chased. Her soul was stained by crimes not of her choosing but that still weighed on her every day of her life. Her true self could only be disgusting and unappealing in the eyes of a normal person. She would do better to convince herself that such emotions were just a way to pretend better, to blend in better.
Yes, she could convince herself of just about anything. Though she loathed it, loathed him, Roa's knowledge of Magecraft taught her how to deny the self like only a Magus could.
She didn't care for him, she told herself. She didn't care for him, she knew without a doubt.
Lies, lies, lies! another part of her mind screamed back, shattering her carefully crafted convictions.
Outwardly she only sighed, though inwardly she winced. This was only going to make things harder on everyone, but apparently she wasn't able to lie that well. Resigned, she shook her head and returned to the closet intending to finish what she had started.
And then the mobile phone rang.
The girl's eyes immediately went to the communication device. She hadn't shared that number with anyone yet. It wasn't even known to the phone companies, to be honest. The only group of people who had access to it was the same who had provided it to her: the Burial Agency.
She picked it up, hit the answer button and put it to her ear.
"Yumi speaking," she told flatly and then simply listened to what her superiors had to say. Her eyes narrowed through the conversation. "Impossible," she told them without hesitation. "I can't split myself between two jobs and hope to make anything worthwhile out of either. I will not have Roa slip through my fingers. Send another team."
The reply she received wasn't at all pleased. Her own answer was to end the conversation and throw the device on the bed. If they weren't happy with her decision, then it wasn't her problem.
She had recently developed some doubts, that was true, but her priorities hadn't changed in the slightest. They knew it beforehand, so they would do better to deal with this other issue with other assets. It's not like they lacked the funds nor the manpower anyway. The only thing close to a spiritual possession she was interested in was Roa's. Everything else was of little to no concern.
Somebody else would take care of it.
The evening train for Misaki was almost entirely devoid of people, at least in Shirou's compartment. That was perfectly fine for the teenage Magus, who had a lot of thoughts on his mind and didn't mind being left alone with them.
Most of his attention was directed toward his right wrist, where yet another bracelet was securely fastened. Whereas the suppressor for his Command Seal appeared to be a simple leather bracelet, the new one on his right arm was an elegant if simple silver band, finely etched with a complex runic array visible in its dormant state only under the right light.
Shirou had to resist the urge to rub the Mystic Code against his face, gushing like a fetishist presented with a token of his obsession. He had to restrain himself from shouting out in excitement when Medea showed him how it worked, and it took a great amount of effort to sit through the entire explanation of the Mystic Code's features when he just wanted to try it out for hours.
Fortunately or unfortunately he had to take his train to Misaki before he could give the Mystic Code anything but a basic trial run, but what little he had seen of it made him absolutely enthusiastic. His gratitude for the Heroic Spirit who had crafted it had been so intense that it had caused her to blush. She still looked fairly embarrassed by his reaction when she reminded him of the time and sent him out on his way with a last recommendation to be as careful as possible and to call her if any trouble arose.
Not that Shirou expected that such a situation would present itself. The string of murders that had spread across Misaki was unusual, yes, but it didn't sound like the work of an actual vampire. Dead Apostles made a point to keep their workings in the shadows as much as possible in order to avoid notice by one of the many organizations that hunted the inhuman. The Clock Tower with its Enforcers and the Catholic Church with its Executors were the most powerful of such organizations across the globe, but they were hardly the only ones.
Thus it was unlikely that a Dead Apostle was actually behind this situation, unless some extenuating circumstances were involved that he couldn't imagine. What worried him more was running into the members of the aforementioned organizations, who were bound by duty to investigate every potential vampire case. Though there generally was a silent agreement of non-belligerence between those groups, none of them liked the other very much and tensions were always high whenever one or more members of different organizations met.
For a freelancer like him it was all the worse, as no one would so much as hesitate to kill him if they considered it worthwhile or necessary, especially since they wouldn't have to suffer from the reprisal from any of the other groups.
Yeah, in spite of what some other people thought about him, Emiya Shirou looked out for his own well-being. Self-sacrificing and suicidal are two different things after all, though he would be willing to admit that it was often a thin line to tread.
As he ran in his mind many different scenarios should he actually come across such people, the train pulled into Misaki. Shirou quickly retrieved his luggage and climbed down, immediately recoiling at the intense, raw Mana that saturated the atmosphere of the city.
Trying his best to ignore the suffocating feeling he took a taxi to the hotel where he had booked a room; a western style building in the middle of the city recommended by the Tohnos when he expressed his intention to visit the city for a few days. He checked in at the reception and he was showed to his room on the third floor.
The building seemed to be packed with people, hanging out in the reception area and at the annexed bar. On his way to the hotel he had also noticed very few people walking around, a reflection of the state of fear that had settled over the city.
After he emptied his suitcase and put his clothes into the closet, Shirou took a quick shower and killed some time waiting for the late hours of the evening, when even less people would be found on the streets.
"Emiya-san," the receptionist protested upon retrieving the key to Shirou's room, "I don't know if you're informed, but there's a serial killer on the loose. The authorities have highly discouraged going outside after dusk until the culprit is arrested. Especially alone."
"Thank you, but don't worry," Shirou waved off the receptionist's worries, "I can defend myself very well. I'll be perfectly safe."
"As you wish, Emiya-san," the receptionist nodded. He had done his job by warning him, but he had no duty nor right to insist, though he evidently disapproved of Shirou's choice. After all who in their right mind would go out alone at times like these?
Shirou didn't say it, of course, but if the murderer thought he would make for good prey, then it was perfectly fine with him. In fact it would be so much better if they focused on him instead of someone else, as it made other people safe and would serve to accelerate the killer's capture.
Without looking back he walked out.
The spring breeze brushed pleasantly against Ciel's skin as she hopped from roof to roof silently and unseen. The nightlife of Misaki was for all intents and purposes non-existent. The recent murder-spree had more or less scared everyone into their home after sunset, much to many business owners' dismay.
However there were always exceptions. People who worked late returning home, students who had been held at school past club hours and generally people who didn't think that being targeted by the killer could happen to them walked down the streets with different levels of cautions.
Ciel kept an eye on them from above. The Dead Apostle, like any of his kind, would hide in the shadows and let his thralls drain the blood he needed to sustain himself. The only way to find him was to kill each and every Ghoul he had created, forcing him to come out from his hole to feed and to create more undead. It wasn't an easy task for a single person, considering that the number of people who disappeared without a trace was much higher than those who had been labeled as victims of the vampire. Every night, dozens of people were returned to their final rest at her hands, turning to dust and disappearing into the night. Their loved ones would never truly know what happened to them and it was for the best. Letting them believe that those who had been turned into mindless husks were maybe still alive and well somewhere was so much more preferable.
She followed the blissfully ignorant wanderers, both for their protections and to use them as bait to draw out the thralls of the vampire.
Her Black Keys hissed silently many times that night, and no less than twenty people avoided being drained of their blood before they even noticed the presence of the Ghouls. Sadly, at least five more had been drained before she had managed to stumble upon them.
Though it pained her, her failures didn't discourage her in the slightest and she moved to another location while mouthing a silent prayer for the fallen. After a good hour of hunting, less and less people could be found on the streets. Nonetheless she continued patrolling, seeking more Ghouls to exterminate and more people to protect.
It was almost midnight when she stumbled upon a person that piqued her interest. By that hour the only people who could be still found on the streets where a few drunkards and the occasional police patrol. This person however didn't seem to belong to either of these groups.
He was a redheaded boy that could be no older than seventeen, dressed in casual clothing. He was walking slowly and seemingly without a specific destination. He might have been just taking a late night stroll, if not for the fact that it was quite stupid with a killer on the loose, and he looked like he was searching for something.
He stopped many times at random locations, looking around as if searching for something without finding it. He never stared at the ground, so he wasn't searching for some missing belonging.
Ciel decided to follow him. She might have suspected him of being the Dead Apostle, if not for the fact that she was almost certain about the current identity of Roa. It was still worth keeping an eye on him, if only just for his safety.
Silently she stalked him from the roofs. People usually don't look above unless they needed to, but Ciel kept herself strictly behind him. As time went by his behavior became even more odd. He stopped often, peering into dark alleys between buildings: a very, very dangerous activity lately.
Going so close to such dangerous places, he might have come across a Ghoul before she had time to intervene. Even though she had done a thorough job of eradicating them, one could never be completely sure.
Nothing happened and the boy continued his walk. For fifteen more minutes he kept going and she followed him unrelentingly at several dozen meters of distance, both behind him and above him. His legs carried him to the part of the city where most business administrative offices were situated. During daytime the place overflowed with people and life but at this hour it might as well have been a ghost town.
At one point he reached an intersection that connected several different parts of the city and stopped completely. He just stood there without doing anything for several minutes, but even from a distance Ciel could tell that he was rather tense.
And then, slowly, he turned around.
Though she was clad in dark robes and hiding in the shadows of a rooftop, there was no doubt in Ciel's mind that the boy with golden eyes was looking straight at her.
They both stood still, staring at each other like two wolves measuring the other. Ciel didn't know who the boy was, but just the fact that he had been able to spot her was proof enough that he was dangerous on some level. She knew as of that moment that someone else had taken an interest in the events of Misaki, though there was no hint as to which group this person belonged to.
The stalemate was broken when the boy inclined his head in acknowledgement. It was a far cry from an offering of peace but it carried the message that he held no hostility toward her. She returned the nod and with another gesture of her head she motioned from him to follow her.
Shirou took a deep breath and walked after the girl clad in the nun-like outfit. In Misaki for less than three hours and he had already stumbled across a member of one of the major powers that could have taken an interest in the events of Misaki.
For well over an hour he had felt the presence of the Executor following him around and had feigned obliviousness, hoping that he would be left alone. It hadn't worked as well as he had hoped, though that wasn't a big surprise. Anyone going around at night lately was bound to arouse suspicions even in the mundane authorities. Now that the Executor had her eyes set on him there was no slipping back into comfortable anonymity.
Well, at least he would perhaps get some answers of his own from this exchange.
Cautiously he entered an alley between two buildings that connected two major roads. It was long and narrow space. Not the best place for maneuverability if he had to fight, but hopefully it wouldn't come down to that.
"Good evening," he greeted the Executor, who was standing with her arms extended non-threateningly by her sides.
"Who are you?" the teenage girl asked without pleasantries. She didn't look older than seventeen, which meant more or less nothing when it came to certain lines of work. Age did not necessarily equal experience and dangerousness for those who meddled with the supernatural.
"Names are a bit of an inconvenience, Executor," Shirou replied warmly but firmly, clarifying his being in the loop of things. "Let us not part with them for now."
"Fine," the girl acquiesced, sounding not too pleased with his answer. "Which group do you belong to?"
"I suppose you could consider me a freelancer of sorts, though I'm fairly acquainted with the Clock Tower," Shirou partially lied. There was a certain amount of protection to be gained from the other organizations by belonging to another major power. While Shirou was technically a non-entity in the eyes of the Mage's Association there was no need to let the Executor know that.
"A Magus then," the girl concluded. Her tone didn't seem to hold the disdain many members of the Church had toward the heretics, according to Kiritsugu's experience. "Were you tasked to track and eliminate the Dead Apostle in this city?"
Shirou barely narrowed his eyes at the confirmation of the presence of a vampire in the city. The lackluster methods of the Dead Apostle had him almost convinced that it was just a mundane murderer on the loose. Now that he knew that such wasn't the case, he was sure that the actual number of victims had to be higher than what transpired from the media.
"No," he replied evenly. "My business in Misaki is purely personal and was almost entirely unrelated to the Dead Apostle."
"Almost entirely?" she further inquired. He gave a shrug.
"I was in town and decided to check out the rumors of a vampire, rooting it out if they turned out to be founded."
"If you have no official assignment I would like to ask you not to concern yourself with this matter," the girl asked politely, but firmly enough to convey the message that a negative answer would not be well received. Or accepted.
"And the reason for that would be?" Shirou asked evenly. Before challenging the Executor he wanted to know if there was a good reason behind her request.
"This Dead Apostle is immune to most methods of elimination," the Executor began stiffly. "Certain specific tools are required to dispose of it permanently. Destroying his physical body would only cause and encourage him to go into hiding again."
Shirou stiffened at the revelation. Upon becoming vampires, barring innate abilities and previous knowledge of Magecraft, Dead Apostles gained only an augmentation of their physical skill and enhanced predatory instincts. They could still be killed by mundane tools if one was fast and strong enough to overcome them. To have developed an ability that prevented death, even by feats of Magecraft, meant that this Dead Apostle was in all likelihood…
"An Ancestor?" he asked worriedly.
"Not quite, but only out of a technicality."
"Very well," Shirou agreed after a long moment of pondering. He didn't like being unable to do anything, but the truth was that all of his offensive tools were nothing but glorified mundane weapons. Excellent and versatile, no doubt, but definitely not suited to handle an opponent of this caliber. "I will not try to eliminate this Dead Apostle, but I was more concerned with the safety of the general population. I will continue patrolling and eliminating any Ghoul I come across. I will not compromise on that."
"Concern for random strangers?" the girl inclined his head in curiosity and mistrust. "That's quite unusual, especially for a Mage."
"Not everything and everyone can be classified by labels and preconceptions," the redhead shook his head. "And even if they could there would always be exceptions."
"Humph. I have no reason to refuse help that would accelerate the exposure of the Dead Apostle," the girl reasoned, seemingly not too pleased with the fact that she had to share her hunting ground because she had no valid reason not to. "But don't give me any reason to regret this choice and come after you, Magus."
"I'll strive not to," Shirou conceded. "Have a good night, Executor."
They both walked a few steps backwards before turning around and walking to opposite sides of the alley.
Well, Shirou reasoned once he was again in the open space of the main road, things were much grimmer than he had first thought. A powerful Dead Apostle on the loose was no joking matter. He had to inform Medea about it. The Heroic Spirit would not be pleased about the news one bit.
He was not looking forward to having that conversation.
The next morning
"Master, I insist you return at once," Medea pleaded over the phone. "Conclude your business with the Tohno family and come back home."
"Medea, I can't simply ignore this situation," the stubborn Magus replied. "There are too many lives at stake."
"And yours is one of them," she hissed at him. "Stop being a fool and let it go. The Church is already taking care of it."
"That's not an excuse to turn my back on the problem," Shirou protested vehemently. "Even just one more person keeping the Ghouls off the streets means less people dying. I don't have the means to engage the Dead Apostle directly so I don't plan to go anywhere near him, and I can snipe down Ghouls before they even realize my presence."
"What if the Dead Apostle makes a move against you?" Medea demanded.
"Then I'll run," he told her bluntly. "I have enough tricks up my sleeve to simultaneously distract him from me and to attract the attention of the Executor to the scene."
"You're taking too many things for granted. For all you know, the Dead Apostle could possess some advanced Thaumaturgy you won't even be able to see through. You can't account for everything, Shirou. You aren't prepared nearly well enough for this. Please, let it go," Medea pleaded, more concern in her voice than ever before.
"I can't. I really can't. I won't back down from this. I'm sorry."
"THEN WHY DID YOU EVEN BOTHER TELLING ME?" she finally snapped, shouting into the phone. The plastic receiver cracked under the pressure of her grip. "Do you enjoy me worrying for you without being able to do anything? Why?"
"Because I just didn't want to do anything behind your back, damn it!" he snapped from the other end of the line. "I wanted you to know that you can trust me to be honest with you."
"Fine! Then go get yourself killed, you idiot. See what I care!" She slammed down the receiver, cutting the communication. "You idiot," she added dejectedly, immediately regretting her outburst. She was supposed to be the mature and cool headed one, but Shirou got under her skin far too easily and she equally hated and liked it.
A moment later the phone rang again. She let it ring a couple of times, hoping that it was him so that she could reconcile despite her pride screaming against the simple thought of apologizing for being reasonable. She picked up the received gingerly.
"Emiya Household," she said into the phone.
"It's Tohsaka. Is that you, Caster?"
"Ah, ojou-san," she sighed in disappointment.
"You don't seem happy to hear from me," Tohsaka pointed out, a tad too amusedly. "Were you expecting someone else?"
Yes, but she didn't need to know it.
"What's the reason for your call, ojou-san?" she asked instead.
"I was wondering if I could drop by later today to get those books Emiya-kun mentioned the other day."
"Do you want to come over here or would you prefer to meet on neutral grounds?"
"Emiya's place is fine," the teenage Magus replied after a brief moment of consideration. "I'll come over with Saber immediately after school. Would that be fine with you?"
"I'll have them ready by that time," she replied unenthusiastically.
"Thank you. I'll see you later then."
She placed the receiver back down and waited for it to ring again. One minute became two and then three. When it was evident that Shirou wasn't about to call back she sighed heavily and went about her business, wondering how exactly had she become so weak as to have her heart swayed by the whims of a boy a third her age.
Love truly was both a blessing and a curse. Perhaps one she would do better without.
Laying down on his bed at the hotel, Shirou dropped his phone by his side.
He had almost immediately tried to call Medea back but his attempts were for naught, as the phone gave the annoying, repeating noise of the number called being already occupied with another conversation. He didn't know if Medea was actually on the phone with someone else or if his old fashioned home phone had been hanged up badly, but maybe it was for the best.
Displeased as he was with how the discussion with Medea had gone, it was still better to let her cool down a little. He could understand where the Heroic Spirit's discontent was coming from; after all, he too would be upset if he knew that someone was in danger and he could do nothing about it. However, the Heroic Spirit's concern was probably reserved for him alone, and that was exactly the reason for their differing opinions.
To be honest he felt somewhat troubled about it all. While happy that Medea was breaking out of her carefully crafted shell by caring about someone else, it bothered him to no end that she was worrying about him of all people.
He had made a clear choice in life and had no intention to go back on his promises. Perhaps Medea had a problem understanding his feelings and ideals, but he could only live by them. Apologizing for them would be the same as thinking they were wrong. He couldn't do that, but he could at least apologize for worrying her.
That was a thing for later though. He had a busy day ahead of him. He intended to spend the morning scouting the city. Ghouls were inactive during daytime but he could at least employ his sixth sense to try and locate areas where they might have been more active at night. Normally he could analyze wide areas at once, but with the Prana enriched atmosphere of Misaki dampening his senses he had to do it street by street, while keeping in mind that he had a meeting with Tohno Makihisa's successor, a woman by the name of Akiha in the late afternoon.
He had no reason not to start immediately.
There was a sense of tense awkwardness when Rin rang the doorbell beside the gate of Emiya's house
It was a rare occurrence to enter another practitioner's home, as it usually was the gateway to their Workshop. It was all the more rare in the context of the Holy Grail War, regardless of the extenuating circumstances of this installment of centuries-old conflict.
Though her sense of security was bolstered by Saber's presence, Rin didn't fear treading on these grounds at the present time because there was no reason for a betrayal. That might change later, as the conflict evolved, but the current cease-fire was enforced by reasons beyond the whims of the parties involved.
That didn't mean she wouldn't play it safe though.
"Caster is here," Saber declared a moment before the door was pulled open. When it happened, Rin found herself seeing for the first time Caster's true features.
She was, admittedly, a very attractive woman in her mid-twenties with purple hair and elfin ears. Dressed in a plain, cream colored sweater and blue skirt she might have passed for a housewife, if not for the piercing gaze that most people never managed nor needed to develop.
"Welcome, both of you," she greeted tersely. "Please come inside."
"Thank you," both Master and Servant replied, stepping inside the house after removing their shoes.
"I have prepared the tomes as per my Master's instructions," she explained as she led them through the house. "I took the liberty of highlighting some relevant paragraphs in Emiya Kiritsugu's notes on the previous conflicts. There's not much in there that we haven't discussed in our previous meeting, but perhaps with your family knowledge of the Grail System you will be able to figure out something we missed."
"I hope so," Rin replied evenly while she scanned the interior of Emiya's house. The place was a big as her mansion, though not nearly as opulent. Somehow it seemed to reflect Emiya's humble nature.
"Since you are here, would you like a cup of tea? You can begin looking over the tomes immediately and I could answer any questions you might have. While there's not much I can add about the Grail as of now, I have a better understanding of Guildford's Magecraft than anyone else."
"I'd appreciate that," she replied earnestly. Compatibility of Magecrafts aside, it wasn't everyday that one could receive teaching from a Mage of the Age of Gods. Such occasions were not to be passed without a damn good reason, all the more so when they came for free.
Caster led them to the living room and invited them to sit at the table, where the books Rin was looking for were situated. Saber entered the room immediately after the other Servant and before her Master, keeping herself between the two at all times. The blonde Servant sat beside her Master and waited while Caster entered the kitchen to put the water on the stove.
Not five minutes later they were sitting at the same table, sharing a cup of tea in an awkward silence.
"So," Rin put down her cup, "Emiya's really out of town. What's he up to at a time like this, if I might ask?"
The look in Caster's made it clear that she was debating answering a question that was by all means none of Rin's business.
"My Master," Caster replied, "has taken an interest in the events of Misaki."
"The serial killer case?" Rin asked back. "I guess that's something right up his alley, all things considered, but I thought he wanted not to attract attention to himself and to Fuyuki via his reputation as vigilante. What's he thinking at a time like this?"
"It seems that my foolish Master cannot disregard anyone's plight no matter how inconvenient or dangerous it is to himself," Caster sighed. "I tried to convince him not to involve himself with this problem but my insistence has been for naught. He went as far as asking the approval of the Executor tasked to purge the Dead Apostle."
"Are you saying that the serial killer is an actual vampire?" She asked, almost standing on feet in surprise. "Oh well, if it's so incompetent as to let even mundane authorities tag him as such it must probably be a stray fledgling of some other Dead Apostle. If Emiya-kun was able to handle a trained Magus in his own territory he shouldn't have much trouble with an inexperienced vampire if he covers his bases appropriately."
"I wish I could share your optimism," Caster scoffed, entirely unamused. "According to the Executor this vampire can't be killed by normal means, and he's equal to an Ancestor in regards to the threat he poses."
Rin eyes went wide in shock. Emiya was taking part in the Hunt of a Dead Apostle eligible to join the ranks of the Ancestors? She knew that he was good on some level when it came to fighting, but had she underestimated his ability to such a degree? Dead Apostle Ancestors were the strongest members of their kind, barring True Ancestors, and while not at the level of a Servant they were still fearsome creatures that no ordinary Magus wanted to trifle with.
"Your Master," Saber spoke for the first time, meeting the other Servant's eyes, "seems to be a valiant man. You should be proud of him."
Caster glared at her. "I have no need for you to tell me that. I'm very proud of him, I just wish he wouldn't endanger himself when I cannot help."
"I don't envy you," Rin said hiding her smirk behind her cup. "Having to put up with Emiya-kun's shenanigans must be more than you bargained with."
Caster's glare switched to the other Magus, but her rage soon deflated, replaced for a fleeing moment by the ghost of a smile, so brief that that Rin thought she had imagined it. There was a story behind that; she just knew it.
"Admittedly, I knew of Shirou's foolishness long before I forged a Contract with him. I'm afraid I have only myself to blame for my plights." Rin didn't miss the fondness in Caster's voice, as she appeared to recall events she wasn't privy to.
… How annoying.
"You don't sounds too upset about your Master's lack of common sense," she pointed out.
"I don't see how that is any of your business," Caster told her flatly, her usual cold self restored. "Now, do you need my input on anything related to Magecraft or the Grail?"
"Nothing right now," Rin replied, eyeing the stack of books and notebooks. "I'm going to go through them and get back to you in a week at the latest."
"That's fine. Shirou should be back as well by then, so we can go over whatever you found together."
"We'll take our leave then. Thank you for your hospitality."
Caster escorted them back to the main entrance and they left in the direction of Rin's place after a polite farewell.
"What was your impression of Caster, Saber?" the Magus asked as they walked at a leisure pace.
"I felt no enmity whatsoever from her, which is not unexpected at this point in time," Saber replied, her voice clinical. "She did seem honestly concerned about her Master's well being, which would be natural if we didn't already know that she doesn't require one to sustain herself. It conflicts with both our impressions of her."
"I agree. I wonder what Emiya-kun has done to gain the loyalty of that woman."
"I admit that I am curious myself," Saber replied. "I mean no offense by this, Master, but those who dabble in the Thaumaturgical arts are usually not very forthcoming with their trust, and Caster's Master seems to be a notable exception to that rule. Considering that he was even able to gain a measure of your respect, that could be part of the reason."
"Maybe. Anyway it works to our advantage. I have the impression that Caster wouldn't cross her Master and backstab us unless we openly pose a threat to them first."
"I agree," Saber nodded. "This way we can focus on figuring out the details of the present situation. I believe I can be of help with that," she said hefting the half of the books she was carrying.
"Uh. Do you have a working knowledge of Magecraft?"
"You seem to forget, Master," Saber smiled, "that my mentor was a Magus as well. I could have become a practitioner myself if the precepts of Magecraft weren't unsuited for a King. However, I still received enough tutoring over the years to understand the subject when it's being discussed."
Rin almost wanted to sigh in bliss. Having summoned the King of Knights was getting better and better with each passing day. The situation with the Grail was less than optimal, but she couldn't deny that there were perks to it, some of which she was carrying in her arms.
To think that she would be able to get her paws on some rare tomes without paying a single yen for them made having spent several weeks worrying about a loose Caster all worthwhile. She had to refrain from skipping like a child, but she allowed herself to hasten her pace a little.
Understanding her Master's eagerness, Saber silently kept up with her.
Shirou spent the entire morning studying Misaki's streets. He found, of course, not one trace of the Dead Apostle or its thralls but that was to be expected. Though not outright lethal like in the common lore, the sunlight hastened the decaying process that all undead had to counter by drinking blood. Preying during daytime was a fruitless effort and liable to make unwanted witnesses.
The morning hours went by fairly quickly and soon enough it came time for his meeting with Tohno Akiha. As such Shirou made his way up the hill that led to the wealthy family's mansion. The opulent structure was as intimidating as ever and reflected perfectly the magnitude of the Tohno's financial and business prowess.
At the gate a maid was waiting for his arrival. The girl that appeared to be around his age introduced herself as Hisui. She had a strangely emotionless look, which unsettled Shirou a little bit, and addressed him formally as Emiya-sama, which unsettled Shirou a great deal more.
Understanding the strict protocol she had to abide by in her profession he didn't try to dissuade her from using that suffix, but he at least returned the politeness by bowing just as much as her as he introduced himself. She didn't seem to pay it any notice.
"Akiha-sama will be here shortly," she said after showing him to the living room. By the looks of it, the furniture alone was worth as much as his house. As he waited, his eyes traveled through the dustless and spotless room.
The atmosphere was different from the last time he visited. The low hum of people moving around the house was now completely absent, almost like it was completely uninhabited. However, while it was much quieter, the air felt a lot heavier.
It only served to reinforce Shirou's opinion of Makihisa's death.
The sound of soft footsteps announced the arrival of his host, directing Shirou's musings to more pressing matters.
Tohno Akiha was a young girl of fifteen years with a troubled life. From her early childhood she was groomed to be a proper lady according to the very high standards of her family, and as such was used to being under pressure and having to keep up with extreme expectations.
In hindsight it served to prepare her for her current ordeal. With her father's passing and her brother not being suited for the role, it fell upon her to be the new family's head: a duty far more difficult that one could imagine, especially for a teenage girl. Handling her studies without faltering in her grades, keeping up with her social interactions and handling the family's business had put a strain on her, and she had been forced to delay and postpone many appointments and deadlines.
This meeting was one such appointment. When she was forced to plan her agenda for the several next months the name Emiya slid down several weeks as it was a business transaction of little value compared to the amounts of money the Tohno family made flow every day, as well as a completely new client. The reason it hadn't slipped further down the list of appointments was because he was one of the few that hadn't pretended to be particularly important: he had graciously agreed to postpone the agreed deadline, thus passing in front of those who hadn't and were subsequently being taught a lesson by being ignored until there was no one else.
That being said, in her mind Emiya Shirou had been just a name among many, and one she hadn't taken a particular interest until the day of their meeting approached. She would have treated it as just another minor transaction if Kohaku hadn't pointed out that he had been one client that her late father had wanted to meet in person, in his own personal study at the mansion: an honor reserved only for the most important business partners, or for those people that Tohno Makihisa deemed intriguing.
Nothing in her father's note as well as the nature of the transaction pegged him as one of the former, just as Akiha's subsequent inquiries had revealed. Emiya Shirou was essentially a nobody with a little bit of money to waste. Therefore he had to belong to the latter group.
Through her influential connections she had managed to dig up everything publicly known about him, and he proved utterly unremarkable. Seeing as nothing of that could have piqued her father's interest, she moved further up along his (adoptive) family. His deceased father had a much more substantial folder to his name, and was also far more interesting.
Emiya Kiritsugu was mentioned as being involved in at least a hundred conflicts of differing scales, spanning from eliminations of drug cartels to civil wars and that was only among the events known to the general public. His name also came up repeatedly through her father's connections with those parts of the world that normal people relegated to the imaginary, making him and by extension his son members of her sort of people.
Suddenly meeting with Emiya Shirou was no longer as much of a trivial matter as she had first thought. As she went into the room where she had made him wait, she wondered what kind of person the son of the infamous Magus Killer would turn out to be.
"Good afternoon, Emiya-san," she greeted as soon as she saw him. Though she had a few pictures of him gathered through her connections, some with him less than fully clothed courtesy of the female student body of his school, the redhead with golden eyes was both taller and sturdier than what she had expected him to be.
His height and build, combined with the immaculate Versace suit he was wearing for the occasion, made him look imposing and closer to an eighteen-year-old man than his actual age. "I'm Tohno Akiha, current head of the Tohno family. Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise, Tohno-san," Emiya replied as he bowed. "Please accept my condolences for your father's premature passing."
Well, he did sound honest enough, which was a change from the usual well-wishers. For that matter he sounded more honest in his condolences than any member of her family. Not that it took much effort.
"Thank you. Please have a seat."
They both sat on the luxurious sofas and not a moment later another maid walked in with a tray of tea for two.
"I apologize for the delay in concluding this business," she said after they finished drinking. "Father's unexpected passing has caused much turmoil in the family's business."
"I can imagine," Emiya replied sympathetically. "And there's no need to apologize. I wasn't in any rush to have those materials."
"Nevertheless, we pride ourselves on always keeping our end of a bargain. If anything, I owe you at least a discount."
"I don't really think there's a need for that," the redhead laughed, "but far be it from me to dissuade you from taking less of my money."
"Very well, then. Your purchase will be delivered here tomorrow morning. That way you can check the goods before concluding the exchange. Would that be agreeable?"
"Very much so."
"Good. On a different topic altogether I take it that your lodgings have been to your satisfaction."
"Admittedly, it's a bit different from what I'm used to," he replied as he poured himself another cup of tea. "Living in a traditional Japanese-style mansion, I'm not all that accustomed with using a bed, though I have a few for the guests."
"I see," Akiha replied evenly. "If you don't mind me asking, Emiya-san, do you know why my father agreed to receive you here at the mansion and with such a short notice?"
"Hmm," the redhead hummed as he sipped his drink. "I was surprised myself, to be honest. I believe it was because he had some curiosity about my father rather than any interest he could have had in me. I don't think I am what he thought my father's son would be."
"Be that as it may, Emiya-san, father didn't seem disappointed with what he saw in you. Not many people have been able to pique his interest."
"He was an interesting man as well," the boy said. "Even though I met him just once he had an unmistakable presence. A person like that must have made himself plenty of enemies."
"Indeed," Akiha agreed wholeheartedly.
"Though it's a tragedy," he said in a deceptively calm voice, "it's not surprising that he was killed in such a manner."
Akiha's heart froze like it had been stabbed by an icicle. Her eyes locked onto Emiya's like a heat seeking missile
"Ah," a gasp of startled realization escaped her lips. She had fallen for the oldest trick in the book. Even though it was nothing more than a panicked glance shot at her guest, she had fallen for Emiya's bluff.
"So my assumption was correct, after all," he sighed putting down his teacup and running a hand through his hair. "I was hoping to be wrong. Sorry for tricking you like that."
"How did you know?" she asked, measuring her words carefully.
"Well, as I said he struck me as the kind of person who had many enemies. Through my own connections with the underworld I knew that there was at least some possibility that it was not a case of natural death. And then…"
"Then there is this malevolent aura that shrouds this mansion. Even though there are less people, it's more intense than the first time I visited. It's as if a curse struck this place."
"I see that you live up to your father's reputation," she said in a cold tone. All pleasantness had disappeared from her voice. Akiha was gone and the head of the Tohno Conglomerate was sitting in her place. She had mistakenly allowed herself to fall for Emiya's laidback attitude, forgetting momentarily who he was. "What is it that you plan to do with this knowledge, son of the Magus Killer?"
"Do you need protection?" he asked bluntly.
"W-what?" she stuttered, caught off guard by the strange question.
"The culprits haven't been caught yet, have they?" he asked in what appeared to be genuine worry. "Is there a chance they might come after you next?"
Akiha was so outraged that she almost stood to her feet. "What makes you believe I'm not able to protect myself?"
"Your father was killed in this very house, at a time when it was full of other people; relatives of yours as far as I could gather," he explained. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it was an inside job, regardless of who actually dealt the killing blow. Unless it was you who had orchestrated Makihisa's death—and forgive me, you don't really strike me as a murdering type—I can see that not many would have been happy with the headship falling to you."
"That's none of your business," she hissed, throwing out the composure she had been taught to hold onto under all circumstances. "An outsider shouldn't stick his nose where it doesn't belong."
"I… I'm sorry," he stuttered, genuinely taken aback by her outburst. "I didn't mean to pry into your business. Forgive me. I should probably leave now."
"Yes, that would be best," she replied, managing to restrain herself again. "Kohaku will show you out. Kohaku!"
"Yes, Akiha-sama?" the maid asked, appearing a moment later. No doubt she had been listening in to their conversation.
"Please show Emiya-san to the door. This meeting is over."
"Well," Shirou winced as the iron gate closed behind him with more force than was needed. "Way to make an ass out of yourself, Emiya. It seems like I only manage to piss women off today no matter what I do. Anyway, it looks like I have to keep an eye on this place as well, after all. Damn, and I here thought that the situation in Fuyuki was messed up."
He glanced at his wristwatch and saw that it was only five in the afternoon. Well, that meant that he had enough time to go back to the hotel and change into something more suited to moving around inconspicuously and prepare for his night patrol.
As usual, there was no rest for the weary on the path to becoming a Hero of Justice.
Akiha watched from the window as Emiya left the perimeter of the mansion, disappearing behind the gate that surrounded it.
That hadn't gone well by any stretch of the imagination. Not only had she allowed herself to be taken by surprise by Emiya's ruse and sharp deduction, but she had also lashed out needlessly at a genuine offer of help.
Yes, Emiya had undoubtedly forgotten his place, but Akiha had been trained since she was a child to understand other people's intentions. There was no doubt in her mind that Emiya was sincerely offering his help. Her reaction hadn't been proper to her station as Head of the family and more importantly it hadn't been fair to Emiya. She would apologize to him the next morning and she would stress, in a more polite manner, that while his offer was appreciated, the problem of the Tohno family would be dealt with by the Tohno family itself.
"Akiha-sama," Kohaku called as she entered the room. "He's here."
And all of a sudden all thoughts of her father, all thoughts of Emiya, and all thoughts as the head of the family melted away like snow under the sun.
Nii-san was home.
The sun disappeared behind the horizon again, shrouding the city in a thick blanket of darkness. With the dwindling light the people of Misaki deserted the streets as well, leaving the city as an empty shell of its usual self. It was the perfect scenario for those who made the darkness something to be feared.
Four different individuals stepped into the night, each with a prey in mind.
A girl in priestly robes and a heart filled with hatred leapt through the sky, looking for the undying snake.
A man in a long, dark overcoat sniffed the air like a beast, searching for the princess who had woken from her slumber.
A boy with red hair and a single purpose in life walked the streets in search for people in need of salvation.
A blond girl whose appearance didn't match her age was looking for the man who had stolen a part of her.
All of them were people to be wary of. None of them would easily fall prey to the other if they were to meet. All of them were more or less aware of the dangers hidden in the shadows of Misaki.
However, there was one more person that knew nothing of all this.
Yumizuka Satsuki was for all intents and purposes a completely unremarkable girl, average in all regards. A teenager like many others, without concerns beside those of modern day teenagers: getting fairly decent grades at a school, hanging out with friends, getting her crush to notice her.
Normal things for normal girls.
Though she often fantasized of great things for herself, usually involving a certain bespectacled classmate, she never once actually thought that her life would be anything but absolutely normal. Of course she didn't; what reason did she have to believe otherwise?
Eventually she would graduate from high school, get into an average university and from there she'd land an average employment of some sort. Later she would get married, maybe even have a couple of children, and live her life until she passed away serenely in her own bed.
It was so simple, so straightforward, and she felt it so strongly that it would be absurd to believe otherwise.
Therefore, she reasoned that what was happening to her had to be impossible, just a mere nightmare. There was no way she could be there by herself, in a dark alley with the fangs of a monster buried in her throat.
As her lifeblood was drained from her body and consciousness slipped away, she could only hope to wake up soon.
She would indeed wake up again, and quite soon at that, but that didn't mean the nightmare would be over.
Isn't it sad?
AN: Whoa! It's been over two months since I last updated this story. Not cool. In my defense I've update my other FSN story twice in the mean time. For the next few months I will stick with this story and I'll try to keep a two-weeks update rate. I'm not promising anything though.