Prelude to War (III)
A magus, a nun and a detective walked into the Emiya household. It sounded like the beginning of a joke, but Emiya Shirou was not amused. Possibly because the joke was on him.
Recently, his life had begun to settle into something close to a normal routine. As normal as it could get for a Magus living with a temperamental Heroic Spirit and a novice Vampire anyway.
Yeah, something like that wasn't meant to last in the first place.
A week since his return from Misaki, Tohsaka was still giving him the stink eye over Satsuki.
Finally, after lots pleading and plenty of apologies, she had agreed to come over to discuss the War.
It was already going to be a difficult conversation with Satsuki in the general vicinity, so of course several more troublesome people were going to show up at the same time.
When it rains, they say, it pours.
When the doorbell rang, Shirou went to answer. Tohsaka was early, but not so much to be surprised about it, so he was taken completely by surprise when instead of the Second Owner, he found a white-haired woman in priestly robes at the door.
"Greetings, Emiya Shirou. I have come to- "
"Are you alright?" he rushed her, taking both of her hands in his and examining her from head to toe. "Have your wounds healed properly?"
The last time he saw her, she was a bleeding mess. Even though Ceil had assured him that she wasn't in critical conditions anymore he still worried. Caren was momentarily taken aback but she quickly smiled in a way that should have made him wary.
"My, my," she chuckled. "To think that I would give you cause to worry so much that you would completely disregard personal boundaries. Or perhaps you were this bold to begin with, Emiya-san?"
Shirou blinked, watched at her small hands firmly held into his own and then jumped several feet backwards. "I see that your tongue is as sharp as ever," he commented dryly. "I'll take it as clean bill of health. What brings you here, Ortensia-san?"
As she was about to speak, a car pulled over near the gate and police detective Ryutaro Dojima stepped out.
"Yo, Shirou," he said warmly, putting a cigarette in his mouth. "Do you have a moment to- Do I come at a bad time?"
"Ah, Dojima-san? Actually, I- "
"Emiya-kun?" the voice of the guest he was expecting came from the opposite direction. "What's a member of the Church doing here?" Rin wondered aloud, then her eyes fell on the older man who stood opposite to her. Both their eyes widened in mutual recognition.
"Tohsaka Rin," the inspector mumbled, eyes narrowing. Rin knew that that man had no business knowing her name, because she had sealed all knowledge of her from his mind herself. He should not be able to recall their previous encounter, unless a certain troublemaker hadn't undone her work. Her eyes bore a hole on the side of the head of the culprit, whose increased sweating was only further confirmation of his transgression.
"Oh, dear," Caren exclaimed. "This looks like it's going to be a very interesting meeting."
Despite his good nature, Shirou couldn't help but shoot at the smiling nun a very dirty glare. This of course made her only smile wider.
This was the scene upon which Caster stumbled, when she came to inspect what took Shirou so long. Dojima was glaring at Tohsaka, who was glaring at Shirou, who in turn was glaring at the smiling nun.
Medea sighed resignedly. This promised to be one of those days.
Ten long minutes later, the confrontation had been moved to the living room. Shirou, Medea and Satsuki sat on a side, opposite to Caren, while Tohsaka and Saber sat opposite to Dojima.
"So," Shirou said as he poured tea into six cups, "who wants to go first?"
"Emiya-kun, what's this man doing here?" Tohsaka asked, simultaneously answering Shirou question and following through with it.
"Oi, little miss. I get that you are kind of an authority in your fancy occult club, but I'm still your elder and a police officer. I would appreciate if you didn't speak of me like I were yesterday trash."
Tohsaka glared at the police detective but then she bit her tongue and regained her composure. "I apologize, Dojima-san. My grievances aren't with you but with this… fool," she gestured at Shirou, "who has no respect for any rule whatsoever."
"Heh," the policeman scoffed at her choice of words for their host. "Can't argue with that."
"Tohsaka, Dojima-san is working with me. He's my eyes and ears in the police department. He helps me coordinate and control the police response to any potential crisis and in turn I let him know where and when he should run interference for me as well as keeping his colleagues away from things they are ill-equipped to deal with."
"And I suppose that full-disclosure about the Moonlit World was a requirement for this partnership to work?" she asked sarcastically.
"Yes," Shirou replied firmly. "Secrets can be powerful weapons but they are a double-edged sword at best. The more Dojima-san knows the more he will be able to make the right call on his own, not to mention that making people act against their own will is not something I'm willing to do if there are better alternatives."
Tohsaka blinked, surprised that Shirou had put any tactical forethought about it at all. "Emiya-kun, I can appreciate the strategical value of this cooperation but it's still a blunt violation of the most basic laws of the Mage Association."
Shirou rubbed the bridge of his nose. He hadn't been looking forward to what he was about to say. He had hoped that the topic wouldn't come up for a while yet and particularly not in front of a member of the Church.
"Quite frankly, Tohsaka, I'm not affiliated with the Clock Tower in any shape or form. I abide by their rules because they are generally in everyone's best interest but I will stop doing so the moment they stop being such. The Mage Association is in the business of preserving magecraft, but mine is to preserving human lives. This much is something you have known from the beginning."
Tohsaka's glare reached impressive levels, but Shirou didn't flinch or look away, meeting her gaze steadily. Eventually, she sighed and deflated, looking away first. "I suppose I dug my own grave the moment I decided to work with you."
At her side, Saber relaxed as well. Should the situation have devolved in open hostility, she would have defended her Master as she had sworn to, but it would have not pleased her any to strike down the young man whose course of action she approved of.
"I'm glad that you came to see it my way, Tohsaka."
"I most certainly do not see it your way, Emiya. I just know how to pick my battles."
"Whatever works," the redhead shrugged. "That being said, Ortensia-san, what is that you wanted to discuss?"
The ever-smiling nun inclined her head. "Emiya-san, are you sure you want to talk about any business the Church might have with you in front of all these people?"
Shirou snorted. "I'd appreciate your concern if you hadn't been enjoying me being grilled by Tohsaka up until now. It's okay, though. Like I said, secrets are a double-edged sword at best. Whatever you wish to say, they can hear."
The nun grumbled something that sounded remarkably like "Not fun at all," and pulled a letter out of her traveling bag. She slid it over to him.
"Emiya Shirou and Yumizuka Satsuki, on behalf of the Holy Church, I hereby invite you to join the ranks of the Burial Agency."
Silence fell over the room, although all the people in it wore different expression. Satsuki and Dojima looked almost quizzical, the former glancing from the letter to Shirou as if expecting an explanation from him. Saber was the least perturbed, merely observing the exchange. Shirou himself had a contemplative expression, but looked largely unsurprised. The silence was finally broken by two voices speaking out in unison.
"No way!" Caster and Tohsaka burst out at the same time, both slamming their hands on the table. The two of them briefly glared at each other but both immediately reverted to look at the nun.
"Calm down, both of you," Shirou said placatingly, although he glanced at them both curiously. What had gotten into them? "Ortensia-san, what brought this on?"
"That's what I want to know," Tohsaka intervened. "Why would the Church want anything to do with a Magus at all? Not to mention a Dead Apostle."
"Not that it's any of your business, Miss Second Owner, but the Church has always an eye out for individuals of talent and an unaffiliated Magus with sufficient skills to go toe to toe with one of our best certainly one such people."
"I hardly fought toe to toe with anyone. She mopped the floor with me."
"You beheaded her," the nun deadpanned. "After you stabbed her heart."
"Yes, I distinctly recall it slowing her down for all of two seconds," he rebuffed.
"Had she been anyone else, you would have won."
"But she wasn't and I didn't."
"Be that as it may, you insufferable man; Ciel herself spoke highly of your skills and your character. That, along with my testimony gave the administration sufficient reason to extend you this invitation."
"It doesn't hurt that both Satsuki and I are heretics in the eye of the Church," Shirou elaborated, "so if we should ever perish in the line of duty it would wouldn't be any loss."
"That too," Caren readily agreed.
"Okay. Hold up a second," Dojima intervened. "What's this Burial Agency thing, Shirou?"
"To make it simple," the redhead explained, "it's the armed branch of the Holy Church, tasked with eradicating any and every heresy, which includes Magi like me and vampires like her."
"So, why would they want you to join? … She's a vampire?"
"Hi," Satsuki waved her hand at police officer, who slowly inched away.
"Well, of course they would want us to join them. Killing heretics is good, but heretics killing each other is better. If they send us out on a mission and we succeed, they win and if we die they still win."
"You are quite nonchalant about this, Magus," Saber observed.
"It is what it is. The Church doesn't make it a secret, so anyone who would willingly join them knows what they are getting into."
"Why would anyone want to join them then at all?" Dojima demanded to know, looking increasingly upset at the entire concept.
"You'd be surprised what kind of weirdos there are into this line of business, Dojima-san," Shirou shrugged. "Not to mention the people that have nowhere else to go," he glanced at Satsuki. "In addition, the Church has got a lot of resources, both mystical and financial so anyone in need of either of those would at least consider the possibility. There's actually plenty of benefits in working for them if you can bring yourself to do it."
"What is your answer, then, Emiya Shirou?" the nun asked placidly.
"I refuse," he replied evenly. "There's nothing I want from the Church a this junction."
Two people exhaled in relief.
"And what about you, Yumizuka Satsuki-san?"
"I don't know…"
"For the time being, Satsuki is under my tutelage," Shirou cut in. "What she decides to do once this apprenticeship is over is up to her, but right now she's here to stay."
"I see," the nun acquiesced. "Then I suppose my business here is concluded."
"Wait a moment, please," Shirou stopped her as she was about to stand up. "While I have no desire to join the Church, I'm not adverse to working with them on a case by case basis."
"What?" Tohsaka and Caster shouted making him flinch at the sheer volume of their voices.
"Just as I started to think you had developed a modicum of intelligence you decided to prove me wrong, Shirou?" the Witch of Betrayal raged, grabbing his shirt and shaking him violently, only for him to be snatched away from her by Tohsaka, who proceeded to shake him just as much.
"What the hell are you thinking Emiya? Don't we have enough things to worry about already?"
"Uooooh!" Shirou shouted as he freed himself from the grip of his abusers, rolling away ungracefully "What's gotten into you two?"
"What's gotten into us? What's gotten into you!" Tohsaka and Caster pressed on together in an impromptu alliance.
"I'm a combat-oriented Magus, alright?" he almost shouted himself. "There little I can do with my Magecraft other than fighting, and by extension there's little ways to make any progress other than getting into fights. More importantly the Church does send their people against things that are harmful to ordinary people and I think I already made my case about my goals in life, so why the hell are you two getting worked up over this?"
"That doesn't mean you have to- uh, Saber?"
The Servant of the sword had stood and grabbed her Master's wrist, shaking her head as to deter Tohsaka from pressing on further. The raven-haired Magus looked at her Servant inquisitively, but accepted her silent counsel to step back from this.
"Fine. I give up. There's no talking sense with you, Emiya."
"Be that as it may, Shirou, I still have my piece to say."
"Caster," he said squarely. "Mystic Codes need targets to be tested upon."
At that, the witch was brought up short and frowned. "Damn it, Shirou. Stop making sense."
"See what I have to deal with, Dojima-san? If I follow my guts, I'm getting my head chewed off and if I think things through, I'm still getting my head chewed off. What am I supposed to do?"
"Heh. Look kid, if life ever taught me anything is that women aren't gonna let you win just because you're right. You just do what you gotta do knowing that they are going to give you hell either way."
"I see," Shirou nodded sagely. "Thanks, Dojima-san."
"Oy, scruffy, if you keep being a bad influence on my Master I'm going to invert the way your digestive system works."
"Ah ha ha ha!" Dojima laughed, then paused. "Y-you can't actually do that."
"Try me," the Witch invited in a dark whisper.
"Caster, threatening guests is impolite," Shirou reprimanded with a tone of resignation. Why was everyone having such a hard time getting along?
"Humph," Caster scoffed, but fell silent all the same.
"Amusing as your antics are, I should take my leave now," the nun announced. "I will relay your decision to my superiors, but I don't foresee any complications."
"Thank you, Ortensia-san. Are you sure you don't want to stay for dinner?"
"I don't think my presence would be all too welcome," she said, glancing at the gathered women with an impish smile. "Somehow, I have the feeling that I'm treading upon overly-claimed territory."
"Huh? What do you mean?" Shirou asked, eyebrows furrowing.
The nun tilted her head and looked at him with the kind of expression one would make when dealing with a particularly slow child.
"My, Ciel-san was right, after all. You really are an idiot."
"You too, now? This is getting old."
Alas, Shirou's protests fell on deaf ears.
Dojima glanced between Caster, Tohsaka and Yumizuka, as well as the way the seemed to gravitate around the oblivious redhead. He came to a very important decision on the spot.
"This guy is going nowhere near my daughter."
Ryutaro Dojima may have been an ordinary human being, but his fatherly instincts were top notch.
Eventually, the unexpected guests left, leaving behind only the two Masters and their Servants. Dojima promised to drop by another time and Caren excused herself to attend her own business. Being still day, Satsuki retired to her room.
Shirou considered asking her not to mention him to the resident Church representative, Kotomine Kirei, but that would have been asking too much without any reasonable justification to offer. Sure enough, Kotomine and his father had been enemies in the previous Grail War and Kiritsugu had warned him against the priest, but ultimately it was nothing more than a personal grudge.
Sooner or later, Shirou would have to meet with the current supervisor of the Grail. If he could not ensure anonymity, he could at least pretend obliviousness in regards to the danger the priest posed. Therefore, he stayed his tongue with Caren, but mentally prepared to receive a visit from the former Master of Assassin at any point in time.
"So, Emiya-kun," Rin started, "what have you come up with to deal with the Grail?"
"I think that Caster would be more qualified to answer that question." the redhead replied.
Thus, the attention shifted to the most experienced Mags in the room, who took her most teacher-like expression and posture. Shirou almost expected glasses to appear on her face.
"So, then," she coughed in her hand to clear her throat, "the Grail, while a surprisingly intricate piece of work for this era, is essentially a huge battering ram with the purpose of breaking a hole into reality to access Akasha."
Everyone nodded, although Tohsaka frowned at having the creation of her esteemed ancestors likened to something as crude as a siege weapon, but the comparison stood, so arguing would only have her made look petulant.
"Now, since we are unable to destroy it at present, we are left with two options. Preventing it from moving at all, which can be achieved by keeping all Servants alive. Failing that, we should make it impossible to reach the gate at all."
"Easier said than done," commented Tohsaka "how do you propose we achieve that?"
"The Grail, gathers energy in a single point and then punches a hole through to Akasha," Shirou murmured. "If we were to liken it to martial arts, the best thing to do would be avoiding the punch altogether, but since we can't ask reality to dodge then we should… redirect the blow?"
"I wouldn't have put it quite like that," Caster replied, "but essentially, yes, that's what we are going to do. Redirecting the Grail's Mana somewhere else."
"It can't be that simple," Tohsaka insisted.
"It actually is. Not easy, no, but simple, very much so. I will set up seven discharge points around the city, where the energy from the active Grail will be redirected and expelled."
"Hold up," Tohsaka put up her hand. "Where would the expelled energy go? It won't just dissipate. Even Magecraft is still subjected to conservation of energy, otherwise it'd be Sorcery."
"Indeed. Even I can't make it disappear," Caster readily agreed. "It would saturate the surrounding area until the Grail is stopped completely."
"So, it's only a stop-gap measure and if we take too long in shutting down the Grail- "
"-then Mana would keep accumulating around the discharge points until…" Shirou continued and let it drop. Mana would do like all other types of energy did. It would generate heat. Huge amounts of it as well. Enough for things to spontaneously burst in flames, like it had happened ten years ago.
"Is this the best we can manage?" Shirou asked after a moment of pregnant silence.
Caster nodded. "With seven points of discharge, unless all seven Servants are killed at the same time, the worst-case scenario should be avoided."
"There is a fallacy in this plan," the theretofore silent Saber intervened.
"That being?" Caster asked.
"This contingency hinges on us failing to convince the other competitors that the Grail is tainted or them not caring it about it either way. If that is the case, they would certainly attempt to destroy these fail safes."
"... I had not considered that," Caster admitted.
"Can't we just conceal them?" Shirou asked.
"A source of Mana that big? Not likely," Tohsaka replied in a huff.
"What if we activate them afterward then?" Shirou pressed on. "Instead of having them running from the start we could turn them on as needed."
"That would be like asking the besiegers to kindly stop ramming the gate 'till you're done fixing it," Tohsaka sighed. "How likely is that to work?"
"That is not... unfeasible," Caster murmured.
"What? How do you think to… Command Seals!" the younger Magus concluded.
"Hoh! I see you catch on quickly, ojou-chan."
"Great. Mind filling me in?" Shirou asked, being the less experienced Magus in the room.
"It wouldn't be possible to invert the flow of Mana once the Grail has started channeling it. The power is too strong. It's the same as trying to make a river to flow backwards. You could force it with enough power, but if we had as much power as the Grail all our problems would already be solved."
"However" Caster continued. "the Grail has conveniently issued each Master with three authority tokens."
"Aren't those supposed to work only on one's own Servant though?"
"They are still extension of the Grail, fractions of its own power capable of bending reality even if only just temporarily and with an access into the main piece itself. It won't give us enough access to make it act against its own functions, but it would be enough for us to stall it and activate the discharge point."
"Okay," Shirou nodded. "If anyone can do it, that's you Caster. I'll put my faith you."
"A-as you should," the Witch nodded stiffly, but the faintest blush was spreading across her cheeks.
"As nice as it is," Tohsaka pressed on sounding annoyed, "it would be better if the ritual to activate the safety measure included the procedure to change the Command Seal into a geas for the Grail as well. We should consider the worst-case scenario in which you aren't around to make last minute adjustment."
The Witch narrowed her eyes at the Magus to what could have easily been misconstrued as a threat.
"Of course," she eventually replied. "We should take all possible precautions."
"Speaking of which," Shirou cut in hastily to defuse the situation, wondering why these two were like oil and water except when they teamed up against him, "Tohsaka, would you mind giving me some of your blood?"
"… what," the female Magus blinked. "Kindly keep your pet vampire fed on you own, Emiya-kun."
"It's not that," he grumbled, rubbing his eyes. "It's for a Mystic Code, you know."
"Shirou!" Caster protested. "I object."
"Hold up, what? This is the second time today you brought up Mystic Codes, Emiya-kun."
"Just one moment Tohsaka," he held up his hand. "Caster, I understand this is a matter of pride as a Magus for you, but maximizing our allies' chances of survival is the same as increasing our chances to win. Plus, I need projects to work on."
"… fine," she relented with a huff. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but you were easier to deal with when you were being stupid all the time."
"Thank you, Caster," he bowed his head at his Servant and then turned to the other Magus. "Tohsaka, simply put, Caster has an EX attribute in Item Creation. I have an affinity of sorts for the craft as well so I'm currently apprenticing under her."
There was a pause.
"You are apprenticing… under a Magus from the Age of Gods… to make Mystic Codes," Tohsaka replied very slowly, shoulders slumping inch by inch with every word.
"Yes. That's what I said."
"While I'm here trying to dismantle the Grail that my family spent generations trying to obtain, huh."
"I… guess. Sorry about that, Tohsaka."
The mild glare she shot him said wonders about what he could do with his sympathy.
"Never mind. It's not your fault and I can't hold you responsible for trying to make the best out of a given situation. You can be rash but most of the things you do are tactically sound. They just get on my nerves."
"Please, don't say things that might encourage him," Caster sighed, looking just as worn out as Tohsaka.
"Why must you get along only to gang up on me?" he finally asked aloud.
Both female Magi gave him a glare. It was obvious after all. He was the reason for both their headaches.
Saber watched Caster's Master with an appraising look. This earnest young man was the child of Kiritsugu? She couldn't even begin to fathom how that could be. Just how much had her former Master changed in the years between the previous war?
If she'd had to be on it, Saber wouldn't have thought that such a grim man could have changed enough to leave a son, foster or otherwise, with such an honest heart.
Of course, hadn't it been for Rin's retelling of his valiant exploits she would have thought it a clever ruse to lull them in a sense of false security and no alliance could have been made.
In any event, with the fulfillment of her wish on in her current reach, Saber found herself intrigued by his character. Something about him was eerily familiar, but she could not put her finger on it.
Nevertheless, if it was anything important, it would eventually reveal itself in time.
For the time being, she would be her Master's support in these uncertain times. Particularly since she was going to be working closely with Caster to prepare the failsafe for the Grail.
Even though the horizon was still peaceful the drums of war were gradually getting closer.
Eventually the day ended. Tohsaka and Saber left before dinner time in a better mood than they had arrived. Tohsaka was still evidently miffed with him at some level, but at this point Shirou was convinced that it was more out of stubbornness and wounded pride more than anything else. With the better part of the day gone, Shirou still had a few things to see to.
Soon the sun would set and with the coming of the evening he had things he needed to do with Satsuki. If she was to be involved with the Church, the least he could do was giving her the means to protect herself. He looked at his empty hand and balled them into fists.
He needed to become stronger. Both him and the people around him and if they couldn't he'd make them.
Fuyuki city – Hilltop
The church stood alone, overlooking the city from the tranquility of the hills.
Caren's footstep slowly took her to the oak doors in front of the building. Even from a long distance away, she could hear the music of the pipe organ being carried by the wind and down the steep slope to the city.
She pushed the door open and stepped inside, closing it behind her.
It was mostly dark and completely empty. It had to be expected after all. It wasn't time for mass and chances were that even then there wouldn't be too many people. Japan was far away from the heart of the Holy Church and there were few believers.
Still, the pipe organ played its music for the glory of God, whether there were mortal ears to listen to it.
Caren waited for the pianist to be finished, until the echo of the last note had lost itself in the sky at dusk.
Only then, did the pianist rise from his seat to greet the visitor that he had undoubtedly heard coming in.
The man turned and froze at the sight of her, almost as if he knew her and didn't expect her to appear before his eyes.
"Greetings, father," she curtsied.
Thus, Kotomine Kirei met his daughter for the first time in many long years.
AN: Guess who's not dead?
I can't believe it's been almost a year. I can only say that I've been extremely busy. However, I'm back. I will not make promises on regular updates, but I should have put things in order in real life for a while. By the way, the next chapter will start having some brief timeskips here and there to speed things along.
Anyway, read and review.
Beta: Obiki Doragon