Prelude to War (V)
"Alright everyone, starting today we're going to have a transfer student," Fujimura Taiga declared and immediately the class broke into whispers.
"Another transfer student?"
"When the term has already started?"
It couldn't be helped as it was very unusual. If someone changed school they would normally do it before it term started. Moreover, it was the second transfer student in a couple of weeks. Fuyuki was a moderately big city, but for a single school to get two of them at the same time was very strange.
"Let's hope she's as pretty as Dulac-san," the male portion of the class hoped.
"Let's hope she's not as pretty as Dulac-san," the female portion prayed instead.
When the brown-haired girl walked in, the female students cheered inwardly. She was what only a plain beauty.
Shirou could understand where they were coming from. Heroic Spirits didn't do things by halves so of course they would skew everyone's standard.
Satsuki was pretty in his opinion, but she certainly didn't have any of Caster's or Saber's supernatural charisma.
Speaking of the Witch, Shirou's heart still skipped a beat when he thought about what happened that morning. Waking with Medea in his arms had been... exciting in more than one way.
It wasn't like he had forgotten even for a minute how pretty she was, but he had done his level best not to think about it. All his efforts flew out of the window when he woke with her body pressed against his and the scent of her hair filling his nostrils. If he had not been so freaked out he didn't know what he would have done.
Fortunately, when she woke up, she apologized for sleepwalking into his room and left without saying anything about Satsuki being in a similar position.
Satsuki was average in most departments and it was better this way. The whole point of having her attending school was to give her a sense of normalcy. It was fortunate that the conditions of her vampirization were so favorable, all things considered.
Because she had gone from human to Dead Apostle in the span of minutes instead of years, the decay rate of her body was extremely low. So low, in fact, that direct exposition to sunlight ranked only as uncomfortable instead of outright harmful. It would cause her to want to feed everyday instead of twice a week, but it was deemed a price worth paying.
"I'm Yumizuka Satsuki," she bowed to the class. "Please let's get along."
Still, the guys wouldn't complain. A plain beauty was better than no beauty at all. Besides, even though just about everyone bar Issei had a crush on Tohsaka or Saber if not both, they pretty much knew their chances with them were nil. Not because they were absolutely certain they'd be turned down, but because they hardly had the courage to approach them in the first place.
It was daunting enough to strike up a conversation with one of them and now that they were basically joined at the hips, the combined challenge had become an insurmountable wall.
In comparison, someone like Satsuki was seen as pretty and harmless. They weren't wrong, but they were exactly right either.
Tohsaka and Saber may casually destroy their pride, possibly without even noticing, but neither one of them had the inclination to eat them.
Of course, Shirou wasn't worried that Satsuki would kill them, but unlike the other two she did at least have the impulse to do so.
It was ironic, really.
She took a seat in front of Shirou, acknowledging him with a nod. From that point onward, the lessons went on normally.
During lunch break, as expected, Satsuki was swarmed by her classmates, all eager to get to know the newcomer and her circumstances.
Satsuki wasn't exactly a socialite, but she tried her best to keep up with the sudden rush of attention. Everything was going just fine.
Then, of course, Shinji happened.
"So, you are the new girl, aren't you? Not bad, not bad. I'm Matou Shinji. If you are looking for a good time, look no further."
Such an overt statement was too much for someone like Satsuki to handle, so she decided to seek refuge, right behind the back of Emiya Shirou, where she could peer at the purple-haired boy (creep) from the safety of her stronghold.
Shirou sighed inwardly. He knew this closeness between them wouldn't go unnoticed to the school's gossip-mongers. If there had been a chance that it could, Shinji just about stepped on it.
"Oi, Emiya, you sure work fast" he said, eyebrow twitching. "I underestimated you."
"No, you're jumping to the wrong conclusion right off the bat, Shinji," he said, holding up his hand.
"Shirou, do you know him?" she asked and the boy cringed. To call him by his name without honorifics... it would only reinforce the idea that they were close.
"What the hell, Emiya. You are supposed to clear this stuff with me first."
"No, even putting the initial misunderstanding aside for a moment, I'm quite sure there was never such an agreement between us."
"Listen to me. If you let yourself get tangled by things that may or may not have been said you'll never amount to anything in life, Emiya."
"That's surprisingly profound," Shirou agreed. "It has nothing to do with this though."
"Don't you understand I'm worrying about you? My friend is being led astray."
"Yeah... by you," Shirou shook his head.
"Stop being such an annoying bastard already," Shinji demanded, finally dropping all pretenses. "You're getting in my way."
"You get in your way all on your own," Tohsaka whispered as she came up from behind Shinji with Saber in tow.
"T-T-Tohsaka!" Shinji scrambled out of her way holding his crotch defensively.
"Hm? What is it, Matou-kun?" Tohsaka tilted her head, regarding him with a smile. To anyone else, it would have been an angelic expression. To Shinji, it meant something else entirely.
"B-Because we're friends, I'll let you off the hook this time, Emiya," Shinji conceded gracefully. "You better be grateful."
"Thanks Shinji," Shirou nodded. "You're a real pal."
With his pride seemingly preserved, the young Matou disappeared in the crowd.
That was one problem solved, but now there were two greater attention grabbers than before.
"Tohsaka-san. Dulac-san," he greeted formally.
"Emiya-kun. Satsuki-san," the other Magus acknowledged. Her eyes lingered a little longer on the vampire, who shrank further behind Shirou's back.
The Master and Servant duo proceeded past them without further words, taking with them a solid portion of the attention that Shirou and Satsuki were receiving.
"Did she just help us?" Satsuki wondered.
"Tohsaka-san is a good person," Shirou explained once again. "It's just that the situation is less than optimal for her right now."
"I'm sorry," she mumbled.
"It's not your fault. Come on, now. Lunch break is almost over."
The vampire nodded and followed after him.
"Emiya," Mitsuzuri greeted with none of her usual cheer. It looked like she was still upset about him dropping out of the club. "What brings you by?"
"Just showing Yumizuka-san here around the school," he replied gesturing at the girl with him. He would have shown her around the school anyway, but Satsuki had wanted to see the archery club in particular.
"Oh? That's the new transfer student I've been hearing about? Welcome to the archery club, Yumizuka-san. Were you thinking about joining?"
"Ah. Maybe?" she replied awkwardly. "Mostly, I just wanted to know my way around."
"And of course, Emiya jumped to the opportunity of helping out the new girl."
There was an underlying tone of deprecation in her voice.
It seemed to Shirou that his reputation had suffered even more than he initially thought from Megissa's prank. Though it was strange how Mitsuzuri seemed to most upset about it. Shirou would have believed that she'd knew him well enough to know better, but it seemed that it wasn't the case.
There weren't precisely friends, in fact they had been closer to being rivals, but she knew him better than anyone else in the club bar Shinji. Therefore, he found it odd that she seemed to resent him the most. Maybe she wasn't still over the fact that he never gave her another opportunity to win against him before quitting the club.
Naturally, all of this went above Satsuki's head, since she wasn't privy about the details and she just nodded sincerely to Mitsuzuri's ironic statement.
"Yes. Shirou has been very good to me."
"... Shirou, is it?" the current captain of the club asked, arching an eyebrow at him. "Honestly Emiya. I would have never pegged you for a womanizer, but I suppose that was expected since you hang around Matou so much."
"Excuse me?" Shirou blinked.
"Shirou? A womanizer?" Satsuki asked, frowning.
"Yes. He looks like a nice guy, but he's secretly been living with a foreign older woman for a while now."
"Foreign older woman?" Satsuki frowned. There was only one woman that fit that description. "Do you mean Megissa-san?"
"You know her?" Mitsuzuri asked, surprise etched across her face.
"Of course, I do," she nodded. "We live together, after all."
There was a pause.
"You live together? You mean with Emiya?"
Satsuki nodded. "Yeah. I'm staying at his place while I'm in Fuyuki."
Mitsuzuri blinked rapidly several times, while Yumizuka stared at her seemingly not understanding what she was shocked about.
Eventually Mitsuzuri's eyes settled on Emiya, almost challenging him to justify himself.
"Satsuki-san has some family circumstances and had to move to Fuyuki with a short notice. I had the place to spare and offered to let her stay."
"You know, some people will start to wonder about your motives if you keep taking in random women."
Shirou shrugged. "People will think whatever they like better. That's just human nature. Worrying about it would be just a waste of time and energy."
"You have changed, Emiya," Mitsuzuri decided after a moment of silence. "And I'm not talking about this penchant you have for helping people."
"How so?" he asked, frowning curiously.
"You know the face you make when you're about to shoot an arrow? You are making it now. You are making it all the time, lately. It's as if you are expecting something to happen anytime now."
Shirou sighed. Was he that transparent? "I just have a lot on my mind right now."
"Something to do with your dad's inheritance? Ah, I see, you must have met Yumizuka-san when you were in Misaki dealing with that right?"
"Correct on both accounts," he nodded. However loosely, the baggage that came with being a Magus was indeed Kiritsugu's legacy.
"Yeah, I guess you are like that, after all. Taking upon yourself additional burdens even when your hands are already full. At this rate, your hair is going to turn white before you are an old man."
Shirou smiled wryly. "At least being the club captain isn't one of them any longer."
Mitsuzuri gave him a mild glare in response. "Yes, because you dropped that one on me, you jerk."
"Sorry about that, Mitsuzuri. I'll make it up to you some day."
The brunette shook her head.
"Nah, it's fine. Having the authority to put Shinji in place is a good tradeoff for the additional responsibilities," she grinned.
Shirou chuckled. "I suppose every job has its perks. I have to go now. Thanks for the chat Mitsuzuri and good luck with the club."
"Don't be a stranger Emiya. Nice meeting you too Yumizuka-san. Drop by anytime if you are ever interested in the club."
"I'll do that," the vampire replied cheerfully. "Thanks."
"Alright, that covers most of the school grounds," Shirou said once they had distanced themselves enough from the archery club building. "We should head back home now before we're late. It's my turn to cook today and I'd rather not have Taiga get even more hungry or there won't be anything left to eat for the rest of us."
They left the school grounds chatting amiably about everyday events like ordinary teens.
Neither one of them noticed the purple haired girl looking at them from afar with a sad expression on her face and her fist grasping her skirt as if to restrain herself. Behind her, her shadow stretched and wavered, but finally stood still and unmoving.
Once they disappeared from view she released a sigh and went her own way.
Her place wasn't beside him. It never was and never would be.
No matter how much she wished it could.
Later that evening
After dinner was done and Taiga returned home, Satsuki went to the dojo to practice the basic moves Shirou had taught her, while the teen Magus went into his Workshop accompanied by Caster.
After going over the theory in the previous days, they were finally going to put things into practice.
"Alright, Shirou. Do you remember everything we covered?" the Heroic Spirit asked of her Master.
"Yeah," the redhead nodded. "Everything was perfectly clear. Whether or not I can pull it off remains to be seen."
"I'm confident in your ability and my teaching methods. Here's the template sword."
She handed him a dagger he had forged a few days prior. It was a very basic item, though extremely well done. It was a single piece made entirely of iron, even the quillon and the grip. It wasn't made to ever be actually used, in fact it would be later melted again to be reused in forging other objects, but it had been enchanted by Medea to be unnaturally sharp as it was being forged by Shirou and it had retained that characteristic even once the flow of Mana had been cut.
The theory was straightforward enough. Gaia countered all active Magecraft but it didn't undo the effects they wrought unless they resulted in paradoxes. Destruction caused by Magecraft would not be deleted and for the same reason things created through (but not by) Magecraft would not be eroded.
This was the basis of Crystallization of Mysteries that was the foundation of creating Mystic Codes.
Of course, it wasn't that simple. In order to apply a Mystery to would-be code, one needed to be able to perform it first and given that Magi were extremely stingy with sharing them, the Mystic Codes available were very few and by extension they were extremely valuable, even the weakest ones.
Furthermore, in order to create a permanent Mystic Code, as opposed to a temporary one such as a Reinforced object, spiritually infused materials were required, as it was that aspect that was made to take the shape of the Mystery applied to the final product.
All in all, it meant that true Mystic Codes were extremely few and very sought after.
However, that was of marginal importance to the two Magi working underneath the Emiya residence. What they were trying to achieve was something different.
Medea observed as Shirou moved the next iron ingot toward the forge and started working it. The young Magus was sweating profusely from the heat and the effort, but there was no hesitation or sign of discomfort in his eyes.
Over the course of a few hours, he relentlessly hammered the iron into the shape of a longsword.
"It's time," she said into his ears. "Do it now."
Shirou looked at her sideways and nodded.
"Trace on!" he intoned. His Circuits came to life and he started pouring a small amount of Prana into the sword with a steady flow.
Now there was a direct connection between the sword and himself. Nevertheless, that was only the tip of the iceberg. The sword alone was largely unimportant. It was merely the final recipient. What mattered in this process was Shirou himself.
The materials had been gathered by Emiya Shirou. They had been purified by Emiya Shirou. They had been worked into a blade by Emiya Shirou.
The same held true for the dagger than was the recipient of the Mystery cast by Medea. Through Shirou, their history was nearly identical, therefore the longsword would be a valid recipient to that spell as much has the dagger had been. Yet, in this instance Medea would not participate. Shirou already knew the Mystery she had used inside out even though he could not cast it himself.
Fortunately, he didn't need to.
His objective was to isolate the record of that Mystery from the history of the dagger and inject it inside the new sword being created. It wasn't just something anyone could do.
It was the result of the variant of Structural Grasping and Projection unique to Shirou known as Tracing. Whereas another Magus could only replicate the most obvious features of an object, Shirou could learn and faithfully Project everything about an object with greater ease the closer said items were to the concept of Sword.
"It's done," he said as he kept working on the still incomplete weapon.
Medea regard the unfinished object with a critical eye. This was even better than she had believed. He had been successful at the very first attempt. That was not something common when it came to Magecraft. In her lifetime, even Medea herself hadn't been above trial and error, but Shirou had pulled it off flawlessly the first time around.
Granted, part of it was due to her tutelage but most of it was a testament to his supreme affinity for swords.
"Well done, Shirou," she complimented. The fact that he had been successful on the first try didn't mean it had been an easy task. If anything, this result was the culmination of a decade of struggles by a man who had been given a single drop of potential and had honed it to the absolute limit. That stubbornness alone was a worthy of praise.
Some would look down on this ability, decrying him as a thief or a counterfeiter, but not Medea. She knew better than anyone else what it meant struggling against the impossible.
The rest of the forging process was relatively simple and some hours later the longsword was ready for a trial run. Since this weapon too was going to be melted back for reuse, it had a fairly simple design. However, even lacking in style its ability was not to be underestimated.
In the part of the Workshop made specifically to try Mystic Codes three steel plates, each several inches thick, were layered upon each other and strengthened through basic Reinforcement.
Shirou approached them and lifted the blade above his head, holding it in position for a moment before swinging it down in a precise arc.
The blade passed through the plates almost effortlessly, neatly severing them in half. They fell to the floor with loud clangs that echoed through the nearly empty space of the Workshop.
Shirou lifted the sword and examined its edge with a critical eye.
"Incredible," he commented. "Even knowing how sharp it is, seeing it in action is a different thing."
"That's the difference between true experience and mere knowledge," Medea replied. "Magi in this era have become so absorbed with hoarding the latter that they forgot the importance of chasing the former. Always remember that Outer and Inner Workings are connected. Merely learning without putting into practice yield only half results at best."
He nodded at her. He could definitely get behind that creed.
"I don't understand, though. Strictly speaking, the resistance of those plates should have been higher than cutting ability of this sword. Even with the difference between Mysteries applied, iron is very soft when compared to an alloy like steel. At very least, the sword should have been dented or even deformed."
"You are failing to consider a number of factors, but the most glaring is that you are ignoring the restrictions placed on the sword."
"Restrictions?" he asked, glancing at the blade in his hand.
"Think about it. Metal is harder than wood, but a saw made to cut the former isn't suited to work on the latter. Even if they were made out of the same materials and with the same processes the fact that they sacrificed their ability to cut certain things makes them better at cutting others."
"That makes sense, I guess," he nodded.
"It should. Especially to you."
"Why to me in particular?" he tilted his head.
"You are a living example of what being subjected to an extreme restriction is like. Your matching Element and Origin prevent you from ever being adequate at any Magecraft based on other attributes, but in return for it your potential in the field of blades is unmatched, to the point where you can assimilate the skill of their wielders with just a glance and without using Magecraft at all."
"So, it's about specialization," he concluded.
"Exactly," she nodded. "Whether they are things or people, restricting their potential to fewer fields of application increases the level they can reach in those they have picked."
"So...it wouldn't be possible to make a sword that can cut through anything, right?"
Medea made a mildly exasperated face. Count of Shirou to think about such ridiculous things.
"You don't realize, do you? We already have something like that."
"...ah? Since when?" he asked wide-eyed- glancing around the Workshop trying to find such an incredible object.
Medea giggled at his antics. "It's you, Shirou."
"What?" he almost shouted.
"It's not possible to create a single sword like that. The very concept of specialization goes against it. Even using divine materials, superlative Magecraft and exceptional forging methods, a blade that divides its potential among infinite fields of applications would end up being unable to cut anything at all. It would take infinite power like that provided by a fully manifested Grail to could circumvent it, but you don't need to because you are able to replicate every sword you see. Rather than needing infinite power you can bring to bear an unlimited array of blades."
"... I see," he replied, pondering her words. They made a lot of sense, particularly in light of his recent realizations about his talent. She probably didn't realize the true extent of her estimation and to be entirely honest her words itched at the back of his mind, as if there was an important aspect he was missing about them.
… …. … _statics
He clutched his forehead to quell the sudden stab of pain that went through it.
"Shirou, is everything alright?" she asked, suddenly standing mere inches away from him.
In such close proximity, Shirou was forcefully reminded of how beautiful she was. The exquisite traits of her face, usually fixed in a stern expression, were softened by concern. This close to him, her scent was intoxicating and her full lips looked soft enough for him to eat.
He caught himself before he could do anything stupid and coughed into his fist to clear his throat.
"Yes, I'm fine. I was just thinking about the possibilities. I suppose the best course of action in light of this would be creating as many different Mystic Codes as possible."
"Exactly. And because you can simply Project them as needed we can recycle the majority of them to make new ones, which makes the need for additional materials almost non-existent."
"Good. I didn't like the idea of going back to Misaki anytime soon. That being said, how are Tohsaka's and Satsuki's Mystic Codes coming along?"
"I'm putting the finishing touches. You've made a decent work with the materials and the design, though I have to wonder if you are perhaps a fetishist, Shirou."
He gave her a deadpan look and crossed his arms. "Did you know a better design that would grant full-body protection, freedom of motion and wouldn't look completely out of place in the modern urban environment?"
"Oh. So, you were just being practical and it had nothing to do with your personal preferences?"
"Exactly," he nodded firmly.
"Hmm," Medea replied with a mischievous smile. "Since I know how serious you are about protecting people, I'll believe you. Though I wonder if Rin and Satsuki will be of the same advice when they try it on."
"Tohsaka will complain on a principle," Shirou shrugged, "That's her way of showing appreciation. When she actually dislikes something she just ignores it. Trust me, I've seen it happen around school."
"Yes, I can see how that would fit her character," Medea agreed amusedly, "and Satsuki is basically hanging to your every word. I suppose she would just do anything you ask of her."
"That's not fair on her and you know it," he chided. "She's lost and scared with every reason to be."
"And of course, you're a valiant hero would never take advantage of such a defenseless little creature, would you?" she cooed as she fixed his shirt in motherly manner.
Shirou became flustered at the contact but didn't reject her touch.
"You just enjoy having fun at my expenses," he mumbled.
"Why, yes. It is my favorite pastime," she answered cheerfully. "It's nice of you to notice."
Shirou shook his head. "I will never win against you."
"Hm. If you are persistent enough you might end up being on top one day."
There was a moment of silence during which they both realized what she had just said. They stepped back from each other and laughed embarrassedly.
"Yes, well. I suppose it's time to call it a day and get some sleep," Shirou decided. "I'm taking a shower and going straight to bed."
"I'll stay here a little while longer if you don't mind," she answered. "There's a few things I want to look over."
"Sure, sure. I'll see you in the morning then. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Shirou," she replied and waited until he was out of the Workshop before letting out a long sigh and burying her face in her hands. "What the hell is wrong with me?"
The answer was simple enough even to herself. She was at ease around him in a way she hadn't been with anyone else since time immemorial. She was originally a playful person, a princess that everyone loved because of her personality but her circumstances had forced her to become the Witch of Betrayal that everyone hated.
Now, fragments of her personality that she had thought dead and buried started to emerge once more, sneaking up on her unpredictably, making her do and say things she'd rather keep to herself, even though it was extremely liberating to just let them come forth unbidden.
She didn't know how long she could hold herself before she did something she couldn't take back.
The worst thing of it though, was that she wasn't sure whether or not she'd come to regret it.
Darkness, pitch black. runic circle, carved in stone.
A marked hand, extended forward.
Ancient words, spoke aloud.
Surging power, blinding light.
A supernatural vision appeared when it faded. Beautiful and terrible at the same time.
"In response to your summons, Servant Rider comes forth. I ask of you, are you my Master?"
The girl lowered her hand and her gaze without answering. At her side, a young man with a leering smile stepped forward.
"I am your Master," he declared boldly, "Let's get along, Rider."
Thus, the grip of fate tightened around the world a little bit more.
AN: Whelp! Another chapter in less than a month. What witchcraft is this?
Jokes aside, I'm on a roll these days. I gotta ride the wave while it's still there, am I right?
That said, Rider finally joins the fray and soon things will start to get more complicated.
As usual, many thanks to all of those who have taken the time to leave a review and even more to those who decided to help me out by making a pledge on my P atreon account (p atreon [dotCOM] / neoalfa).
Let's not forget about my faithful beta Obiki Doragon. I couldn't do this without his help.
That's it folks. See you in about a month.