All's well that ends well, as the Bard once remarked. The next steps were simplicity incarnate. The geis worried me for a while, but it wore off. Just as well, since we revealed the existence of Sekirei to the Clock Tower. They didn't accept our new feathered friends at first, but soon the Sekirei Rights Movement took off, and...
...I jest, of course.
No, as titillating as a nonhuman rights movement would have been (for the mentally impaired), I'm afraid that our own path was rather more complicated. Which was just as well. Human rights are bad enough.
Nor did Miya's geis "wear off".
And "all" most assuredly did not "end well".
The cover-up took quite a while, for one thing. Ardendolff and Skeares did their work, as one would have expected of two former Enforcers. Kiritsugu's associates performed just as admirably - particularly the Irish assassin with a collage for a name (or, as my father preferred to refer to her behind her back, "that Fenian woman"). Memory spells and the Jinki's ability to deactivate Sekirei did most of the work.
Speaking of memory manipulation, we located Chairman Minaka. Once Karasuba's quasi-magecraft had dissipated, we discovered to our dismay that the bats remained firmly lodged in the belfry.
Minaka seemed rather less ominous in person: a short man in a white cape and bushy white hair. Nimble, though. He'd leaped up from a computer game to greet us, babbling about how wonderful it would be to start a new Sekirei Plan with wizards instead. And something about the visual novel rights.
My father smiled, patted him on the shoulder, and led him to one of MBI's soundproofed rooms. The Chairman emerged far more cooperative.
If Japan's disclosure system mirrored its American counterpart, then I suspect we broke several securities laws when we began secretly acquiring MBI. This didn't stop us. After all, we had the money, we had the power, and we had the connections, too.
The firm of Roberts & DeLacey handled the legal niceties. In this, they merely replicated what they'd done for centuries - ever since the first Archibald magus (a ne'er-do-well younger son, if memory served) had returned from Clive's service as a newly-minted nabob. He'd arrived with a great deal of money that he'd wanted to invest in land. Preferably out-of-the-way land to store the...unusual set of artifacts he'd gathered on the subcontinent. Roberts & DeLacey had obliged. As far as our current predicament was concerned, the firm had opened its first Japanese office a quarter century ago. Just in time for Heaven's Feel.
While the lawyers covered up our transactions through legal routes, Skeares and Ardendolff pursued illegal ones. Many bribes, threats, and memory tamperings undoubtedly followed.
In these endeavors, forcibly recruiting Minaka had its advantages. He'd already managed to conceal the Sekirei Plan to an incredible extent. (Alien technology did part of the work, apparently). MBI's tendrils also controlled half the Japanese bureaucracy. Now they danced for us, and dutifully covered up the mess. Kochou was an asset in this regard, too.
The Clock Tower proved more difficult.
Even with our precautions, some enterprising Enforcer would have found out eventually if we'd just left it at that. The Archibalds hadn't risen to the apex of the Clock Tower's social structure without learning how to hide a few skeletons, and hide them we did...but my father still paid for those favors. Several prominent families received far more than they should have in exchange for turning a blind eye to the MBI debacle. (You'll see the import of this presently).
Even so, the Clock Tower would find out eventually. I just hoped that "eventually" would last a few years before the geis killed me.
We discovered Karasuba's batteries.
At least fifteen Sekirei were held in MBI's basement, all unwinged. Most - but not all - were females. They stared with glassy eyes that bespoke severe drugging. But most of them did not stare at us. They simply looked into space, or followed nonexistent movements with their eyes. A few drooled. They were not clothed, and most were in restraints. Their prana signatures and bodies bore the marks of amateurish attempts at tantric magecraft.
My father remarked upon the ingenuity of Karasuba's scheme. His hmm sounded almost appreciative when he inspected her notes. For a human, Karasuba's rapid development would have been impossible. But Sekirei could already manipulate prana like few other creatures could.
Benitsubasa and I were rather less amused by Karasuba's "ingenuity", by the way. We deactivated her victims quickly.
Minato and his sister seemed to have fared rather better.
I'd last left them during our fight with the Ashikabis. The Disciplinary Squad had not been fools, for all their brutality. The Sahashi siblings' mother was relatively important in the scheme of things; she'd been Minaka's right hand, and perhaps MBI's only sane upper-tier manager. Karasuba's blend of threats and hypnosis might have malfunctioned if Mrs. (?) Sahashi had discovered her children's deaths. Far better to use them as hostages once their Sekirei had been safely terminated.
They were mostly unharmed. Minato had suffered some head injuries and broken bones, but MBI's medical technology had healed the damage.
We wiped their memories like everyone else. Though I confess to a sliver of regret that I would never be able to reminisce with the younger, insane one.
The Sekirei survived as a species. Barely.
Aside from Benitsubasa and the specimens we'd already killed, the deactivated Sekirei were placed back into suspended animation. Their survival would cause me no end of trouble later on.
On the bright side, it kept them concealed. Which, in turn, kept me alive. My father's acquiescence probably owed something to this fact. We relocated the Sekirei to MBI's subterranean vaults, where bounded fields, magic circuits, wraiths, curses, spatial distortions, and a host of other thaumaturgical precautions guarded them.
At last, I prepared to leave Japan. Benitsubasa would accompany me.
My father was furious, but he was nothing if not a man of his word. A magus, and a nobleman. He'd promised not to kill her, and so she'd survive. Q.E.D. (I also owed him a prana research paper, for what it was worth.) Benitsubasa, for her part, had the good sense not to display open affection for me in the meantime.
Mind you, our relations were hardly sunshine and roses through that period.
I'd pondered my relationship with Benitsubasa for a few days after we'd kissed. Finally, I came to the conclusion that her life with me - much as I might have wanted it - could only end in tragedy.
In the best case scenario, Benitsubasa would live out her life as an alien mistress, hidden on the Archibald estate from the rest of the magus community. A dirty secret. It wasn't as if we could have children, either, since we'd both agreed that producing a child handicapped with instincts for instant, unconditional love would be a very bad idea. Such a child would also produce innumerable other complications for both of us, ranging from dangerous to cataclysmic.
...I doubted that even this "best case scenario" would materialize, though.
Benitsubasa and I argued several times in the week before we departed.
I pointed out that I didn't have long to live anyway, since the geis's death curse still hung over my head. My father's cover-up wouldn't be perfect. And with me dead, my father would have no reason to shelter Benitsubasa from the Clock Tower (he'd promised to abstain from killing her; not to protect her).
Not to mention the risk of discovery that Benitsubasawould face even if I survived...
...I didn't want to watch another attempted dissection of my Sekirei. Ever.
I tried to prevail upon her to leave me, if only to protect her from the twin perils of Clock Tower researchers and my own likelihood of dropping dead. She didn't budge. I also tried ordering her to give me up, but that fell just as flat without the Sekirei Crest to enforce it.
The dispute culminated in a rather vicious scene where we both said things we regretted. Especially on my part. In the end, my attempts to play the magus foundered. Benitsubasa didn't believe for a moment that I'd "only saved her out of academic curiosity". Nor did my professed "shame" that I'd failed to dissect her convince either of us.
But my comments hurt her nonetheless. Deeply, I think. I suspect that my (misguided) intention to protect her had been the only thing that stopped a permanent rift from forming. I ultimately gave up.
…Though not before I received a slap that I richly deserved. She apologized. I rubbed my cheek and did the same. We both accepted. I found to my eternal relief that this was enough.
It took another month of work before we found ourselves sitting on a plane out of Japan, headed for England.
Sunlight ran up the length of the wing, forcing me to squint at the glare. Iced tea swished in a plastic cup. The stewardess's cart squeaked down the aisle, accompanied by her saccharine-sweet do-you-want-fish-or-pasta-sir? The air conditioning hissed.
I'd already given up my battle with the seat-back; my attempts to lean back far enough to sleep had failed miserably. And my "pillow" - as the flight attendant had optimistically called the thing - was little more than a lump of cotton fluff wrapped in gauze. Someone snored.
Benitsubasa sat beside me, and smiled. Which somehow made my wakefulness worthwhile.
We touched down in civilization again during the late evening. As Benitsubasa and I danced a sort of two-person scotch reel in the airport lobby (hang propriety; I deserved a break), I vowed never to set foot in that ghastly, hieroglyph-scribbling, rice-eating, cartoon-worshipping country again.
Alas, I would be sorely disappointed in the months to come.
But for now, we arrived safely at the Archibald estate.
The manor house was the product of many hands: bricks baked from local clay, dressed stone from an abandoned monastery nearby, a tin roof, and a central portion with so many windows that the walls seemed to glitter.
It was not until I stepped through the bounded field that I felt the tension dissipate from my shoulders. I inhaled that wonderful, familiarly-unfamiliar scent of home you never notice until a long absence. The place smelled of wood paneling, book bindings, pennyroyal, and red mint.
My father had chosen to remain in Japan for a few more days, and my mother hadn't yet arrived from America. (To my relief, given my recent activities). With the Lord and Lady of the house thus occupied, I did what any self-respecting magus would do for an attractive guest: I gave Benitsubasa a tour.
John Dee had built manor's main building (and guarded it with bounded fields) when the Archibalds were still a collection of country gentry. Even this did not quite plumb the depths of the site's history. Dee had built it on the ruins of a monastery, which in turn had played host to a swine cult during pre-Roman times. The main building's galleries, great chamber, and dining parlor bore the marks of Alberti's influence. The windows still had lattices. In the old days, servants would have removed the window glass when it wasn't in use.
Canny old Silas Archibald - the second magus of the line - had added a wing with the treasures he'd looted from Tipu Sultan, complete with marble floors and a collection of (also looted) Greek art that would have made the Elgins blush.
Yet the truly impressive portions of the manor had been built in the middle of the 19th century, when the Archibalds had come into their own as magi. The Gothic wing had taken shape during that time: a product of the English branch's superior magecraft combined with money from the American branch's Lowell mill investments.
Stained glass windows changed colors as one walked. Portraits hung under them. They depicted the successive heads of the Archibald family, dressed in everything from stockings, periwigs, and smallswords to Victorian suits. (Along with a portrait of Henry Cabot Lodge. Nobody knew where it had come from, but we kept it just in case).
Latin inscriptions appeared under the portraits, drawn from each ancestor's writings in life. They were long excerpts, and I found that, as I read, the writers' sentiments and mindsets gradually merged with my own. Soul fragments had inhered in the ink. It was an intoxicating pastime, touching the past like that. And dangerous. I pulled away.
Benitsubasa and I passed under a stone arch. Perhaps "arch" was a bit generous. It resembled nothing so much as a cave entrance; a hole that lead to the lair of some Anchorite hermit. The interior was rather different.
When Benitsubasa gasped, I tried to stop myself from grinning like a schoolboy. I failed.
It was an underground cathedral. Spatial distortions had worked wonders for its builders: its vaulted ceiling was far higher than Beauvais or Salisbury - so high, in fact, that one could scarcely see it through the thaumaturgically-crafted clouds that hovered below. Our breaths condensed somewhere beyond this cloud cover, waiting to rain down again. A private weather system.
Despite its clouds and its location underground, though, the design shared its mundane cousins' most salient characteristic: light. The sun's rays streamed in through stained glass windows, collected from thaumaturgically-woven nets aboveground. Thin columns gave the building a bright, airy atmosphere. The traditional flying buttresses were more decorative than anything, placed there so that the piers could accommodate statues or pinnacles. Magecraft did the heavy lifting.
A fountain flowed in midair, supported on a pedestal of wind. The water ran down invisible conic walls, so that the entire thing looked like a transparent volcano. Golden statues of nymphs danced to the sound of panpipes. They were life-sized, and their metal chitons billowed so convincingly that they almost seemed diaphanous.
"Well," I said. "Shall we eat?"
All in all, the manor was a curious monument to a family that had cut itself off from Anglo-American civilization centuries before. We were not English aristocrats. Not really. Nor were we members of the Eastern Establishment, if such a thing still existed. Even a century ago, the average Oxbridge gentleman or Boston Brahmin would have thought there was something decidedly odd about the Archibalds. Habit and habitus alike had crystalized among us in different ways. Different customs had emerged.
We were more like a lost medieval tribe that the Enlightenment had passed by. A tribe that absorbed luxury goods from the cultures around it, yes, but only like some deranged cargo cult. Our artifacts were little points of contact, relics of moments when our artistic tastes had coincided with the rest of humanity's. Each time, we'd parted ways again: they to their own cultural evolution, and we to ours. Taking our "prizes" with us.
Everything about the Archibald estate was so very backward-looking. Self-referential. An incestuous sort of house, in a way. But it was mine nonetheless.
I lead Benitsubasa to the great hall. Our footsteps' clops echoed and re-echoed through marble hallways. When we turned a corner, Turkish carpets muffled the sound. Servants made themselves properly scarce. Invisible, as servants should be.
Figures in the coffered ceiling's plaster work watched us enter, just as they'd watched eight generations of Archibalds before me. I'd played under them as a boy. And so, probably, had my father.
They'd been made sometime during the Napoleonic wars - inspired, perhaps, by the success of that ghastly Ossian forgery. Their creator must have used Hiberno-Norse carvings as a model, since their gaping mouths, wide eyes, and frizzy facial hair reminded me of longship prows. Yet someone had sculpted Classical elements into their designs. Muscled torsos, delicate ringlets in their hair, and all that. The overall effect was ugly, awkward...and unique to the Archibald estate. I felt my breath catch for the briefest of moments at the familiarity.
"So this is home, huh?"
I sat down at the high table. My fingers closed around the armrests' wooden claws. When I leaned back, the chair creaked.
"Yes," I said. "This is home."
"Well, at least I married into money."
I smiled and snapped my fingers. Household staff - some spirits, some poorer magi - flowed into the room like a servile tidal wave.
Ordinarily, supper was a ritual at House Archibald. Our hall had not been built for private meals. That night, though, I felt rather too tired and hungry, and the hall was close at hand. The staff would just have to improvise.
Yeomen of the Ewery and Pantry bowed as they entered. The Chief Usher - a leering, fiendish-looking spirit named Grey Tam - kissed his hand and touched the center of the table. His subordinates dutifully arranged the white damask cloth and silver salt cellars. Bread and cutlery followed. The latter consisted of a dizzying array of specialized forks, knives, and spoons. In lieu of glasses, the servants presented each of us with millennia-old kylikes. More of Silas Archibald's looted treasures.
Benitsubasa placed a napkin on her lap. The Chief Usher a-chem'd, ignoring Benitsubasa's baffled expression when he replaced the napkin on her arm and secured it with a pin. Another custom we'd appropriated from the now-absent Dr. Dee.
I dipped my hands in a golden basin. The water was cool, but not cold. Benitsubasa did the same. Rather hesitantly, I thought; she looked around as if expecting someone to jump out and correct her. We dried our hands on linen towels.
The servants departed for the moment.
If you've never seen a Japanese-educated killing machine trying to puzzle out which spoon is designed for soup, then I heartily recommend the experience. Primarily because it gives one the opportunity to softly take her hand and place it on the appropriate piece of cutlery.
Several courses followed. Most dishes were meats of some sort - beef, veal, duck, peacock, badger, crane, and dove - all cooked with fruit to give them a sweeter edge. The eel and porpoise were particularly well prepared, I thought.
And of course, wine. Just enough to loosen my body's residual areas of stiffness.
Benitsubasa tried a chocolate drink before I could warn her. She grimaced at the bitter taste. I offered her a piece of gingerbread instead, flavored with almond milk and cinnamon. She tasted it, and nodded approvingly. To my surprise, she also found our clove- and sandalwood-flavored sweets to her liking.
It was not until midnight that we finished, leaving our broken meats to the servants. They looked decidedly unhappy that we hadn't decided to play cards for the evening (thereby robbing them of their playing box bonus).
I walked (newly-acquired limp and all) with Benitsubasa to my quarters. While I trusted my father's word, I was not enough of a fool to keep Benitsubasa around the house without protection. My workshop had its own bounded field. It adjoined my bedroom.
My room, incidentally, was exactly as I had left it.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather's teak chest sat at the far end, crammed with a decade of my experiments. Its golden lock was still in place. A game of Tamerlane's chess waited half-finished on a wooden chessboard inlaid with silver. Bits of topaz glittered in the elephants' eyes and the viziers' cloaks. Sometime soon, I'd have to teach Benitsubasa the variant. As my father had often remarked, chess de la dama is a game best left for children and wage workers. Any game worth its salt should last more than a few hours.
Benitsubasa glanced at the bed, a columned monstrosity modeled on the Bed of Ware (scaled down, naturally). Her eyes traced the velvet curtains and embroidered pillow-beres. A smile crept across her face.
"So, Meri..." she said.
Her lilt did not escape my notice, though I hadn't yet divined its significance.
"Your parents are out," she said.
"Er, yes. As I mentioned earlier, they shouldn't be back for a few-"
"And you promised your dad - and I quote - 'a publishable paper' about nonhuman prana manipulation."
"Ah, yes," I said. "I'd almost forgotten about that. I suspect that it will take some of the sting out of my ultimatum if I can show my father the practical benefits from our - Oh... I see what you're getting at."
She took my hand, pulling me gently toward the bed as she removed her hair clips. Pink hair billowed down. Her tongue traced the edges of her mouth. I noticed once again how very fetching those large eyes and delicate cheekbones looked. Not to mention those long, toned legs in nylon stockings, disappearing as they did into her short skirt-
"Er - ah, ahem."
Benitubasa lay back on my bed, smirking as she undid the buttons of her blouse one...by...one...
I confess that I didn't obtain many research notes during that first...prana ritual.
Indeed, as I recall, I stammered and blushed more in the first few minutes than I had when I'd read transcriptions of Pompeii's graffiti as a boy. Benitsubasa was tolerant, though. And incredibly patient. She only laughed at me a little.
The experiment ended satisfactorily for both of us, by the way. We decided to replicate our results as frequently as possible. Not that it's anyone else's business.
Yet all idylls must come to an end, and the months that followed the Sekirei Plan were no exception.
As time passed, servants started bustling through the halls. They often trundled strange and wonderful items up from the family vaults. Deliveries began arriving in greater numbers than usual, and always in grey crates. My father did not emerge from his workshop for days. When he did, dark rings were clearly in evidence under his eyes.
I heard him talking with Clock Tower colleagues through various thaumaturgical communication devices. Their conversations grew louder as time passed. Finally, they became shouting matches.
One evening, he came to dinner with mercury stains on his coat. It was an act that would have been unthinkable a month before. The wrinkles on his face - barely noticeable when he'd rescued me from Shin Tokyo - had deepened. Or so it seemed to me, anyway.
Yet for the longest time, I didn't notice.
My prana research paper remained at the forefront of my mind, you see - and not just because of my rather enjoyable research sessions with Benitsubasa. For all the desperation of my "research proposal" to my father, I'd actually been correct. Tantric rituals with Sekirei did hold the key to several breakthroughs. If one could harness that inhuman efficiency for regular magecraft...
So I wrote. And wrote. To my (slight) surprise, Benitsubasa proved as capable a research assistant as she'd been a warrior. Far from being a passive test subject, she hit upon a few interesting points that I'd ignored. With only a few months' exposure to magecraft, at that. The final product owed a debt to her suggestions.
And then, my father collapsed.
I've remarked on a few occasions that my mother was not an entirely cold woman. Sola-Ui Nuada-Re Sophia-Ri, First Lady El-Melloi, could not suppress a gasp when my father slumped from the table, dragging the tablecloth and several articles of fine silver crashing down with him. Nor did she stand on ceremony. She rushed to him.
I was right behind her. Until, that is, she jabbed a finger in my direction.
"You will stay out of this, Meriwether. You've done enough."
Mother rummaged through my father's coat. Her hands stopped suddenly, pulling out a knobbed, brass cylinder with pyrite settings. I recognized it. It was a thought accelerator. My grandfather on my father's side had invented it to facilitate short bursts of mental effort. It was not designed for constant strain.
My mother, as astute readers have doubtless already guessed, hadn't been pleased by my recent activities. True: she didn't know all of the details. (My father had, "refrained from explaining to your mother the myriad ways in which you have shamed the family", as he'd put it). She knew enough, though.
That didn't entirely explain her words.
"What's going on, Mother?"
She told me. I felt sickened afterwards.
Kiritsugu had made a wise choice during the Fourth War. The corruption in the Vessel – Kiritsugu's wife – had become obvious toward the end. Or at least obvious enough, to signal that something was very wrong. He'd gone to my father. While Lord El-Melloi might have hated the Japanese hit man with every fibre of his being, he'd also been the War's only Euryphis lecturer.
His Servant had died already. Kiritsugu's offer had therefore given him a second chance at glory: not as a combatant, but as the man who'd saved the world from a cursed wish-granting device. He'd seized that lifeline with both hands. The two of them had demolished the System after a variety of rather unpleasant incidents, including opposition from a "priest" (I use the term loosely) named Kirei Kotomine. Or Kotomine Kirei. However that works.
This much, I knew already.
What I didn't know was the sheer volume of political wrangling that had followed. Once again, Kiritsugu's good judgment had shone through. Even the Einzberns, his nominal patrons, never would have taken a hired hit man's word about the ritual's corruption. But my father? A spiritual summoning expert? Famed Euryphis lecturer? Head of one of the Clock Tower's most powerful families? Now that was quite a different matter.
Even for those who believed him, my father's actions had left a rather important question: what to do with Heaven's Feel. Many wanted to repair the wish-granting device and try again. Others wanted to destroy it, arguing that the corruption ran too deep. My father fell into the latter group. Ultimately, the contending parties had reached a compromise: the System would be dismantled, but not so thoroughly as to make reassembly impossible. The compromise had pleased no one.
It was largely my father's influence that had ensured the System remained dismantled for the last quarter-century. He'd opposed ever-more-frantic calls for "repair and renewal". Matters had nearly broken out into armed conflict at one point, but the possibility of eventual political victory (and the new Heaven's Feel that it would inevitably bring) had been just enough to stave off catastrophe.
...Until I'd been geis'd during a foolhardy supernatural tournament.
My father's cover-up had required political favors. Many political favors. I just hadn't realized which favors it had compelled him to call in.
They'd demanded to revive the War.
The Einzberns had been particularly vocal. With my father blackmailed into silence, even the Tohsaka heiress - a loud, pigtailed girl who dressed like a Parisian prostitute - had publicly expressed "skepticism about Lord El-Melloi's dubious conclusions". Admittedly she hadn't known about the blackmail scheme.
I suppose Tohsaka Rin had reason to crow. If Heaven's Feel revived, she would have had a very good chance of winning it. She still had a relic from the Golden King, after all. The same Servant who could have carried her father to victory if not for Kirei.
I'd only met Miss Tohsaka once, by the way. She'd struck me as a prodigy with more intelligence than judgment. But then, considering her mentor, I suppose that came with the territory. (I concede that I'm hardly an unbiased observer. My father had rubbed Miss Tohsaka the wrong way in one of his classes, and she'd repaid the favor).
In any event, my summer vacation had removed the keystone from the opposition to a new War. Heaven's Feel had gathered too much momentum now. It would proceed.
It was a week away, in fact.
And the others...? I'd heard rumors that the Edelfelt family had followed the Einzberns' example and hired an assassin. As for the Einzberns themselves, I doubted they'd trust Kiritsugu again. But the Magus Killer would probably come regardless, even though he hadn't been particularly healthy of late. The Matou would send somebody or other. Probably not a photographer this time.
...Which explained my father's efforts to reconstruct his Hydragyrum, along with the rest of his thaumaturgical armory. Before he'd dropped from exhaustion, he'd managed to replicate years of work in a few months.
My father was carried to his room to recover.
I did not sleep that night.
Instead, I put in a call to Ilya, and we worked out an arrangement. She had the same problem, it seemed.
I found myself waiting at the threshold after midnight.
My hands were numb. Puffs of breath condensed into fog. Like our ancestors before us, the current crop of Archibalds relied on fireplaces. I found my gaze fixating on one of the floor's tiles before I shook my head. Sand from sleep irritated my eyes. I blinked, and rubbed them.
So quiet, too.
An invisibility field sheltered me from our servants. Around me were stacked the lightest and most portable items from Father's arsenal. The new Volumen Hydragyrum carried most of them. I prepared a note:
To His Father Kayneth Archibald, First Lord El-Melloi, KG, D.D., Ph.D., L.L.M. (Tax), Senior Euryphis Lecturer and Head of the Spiritual Invocation Division, Clock Tower, London; Special Consultant to the Hellsing Organization (ret.); Fellow of the Royal Society; Meriwether Archibald, Unworthy El-Melloi Heir Apparent, Sends Greetings With Filial Contrition:
Herodotus opined sons must bury their fathers in peace, while fathers must bury their sons in war. And so, I am afraid, it must be with us. War has come. It is my turn to do the family's dying.
It is therefore with the greatest regret that I must disappoint you once again. In light of your recent condition - not to mention the undeniable fact that this catastrophe was my fault - I have taken it upon myself to fight in your stead. I hope that you will forward the remaining equipment to Fuyuki when I arrive.
If nothing else, I am far more expendable than you are. Miya's death curse has seen to that. Just as importantly, though, we shall need all of your influence at the Clock Tower if the new Vessel turns out to be as cursed as the old one. It must be destroyed permanently. This would prove difficult if you were killed.
I will also add in passing that the Archibald family shouldn't risk its Thaumaturgical Crest in a game like this. Still...let's hope that I come back with my shield rather than upon it, as the Ancients would say.
I remain your loyal son (though I concede that it may be difficult to notice at times like this),
Meriwether Archibald, El-Melloi Heir Apparent.
I didn't include the obvious: that my father had almost died for my mistake once, and I had no desire to let it happen now.
My father's Servant-summoning artifacts hung in a velvet satchel on my back. Both of them.
The first had come from my father's display case. It was an ancient mantle; a trophy (of sorts) from the Fourth War. The second souvenir was of more recent vintage. My father had acquired it during a Euryphis consulting assignment. It was an enormous pistol. The long, blocky barrel bore the inscription ".454 Cassul" in cursive script.
I would decide which artifact use when I got there, but I didn't want to take the risk that my father would somehow summon a Servant first. That only solved half of my problem, though. My father's half.
What to do about Benitsubasa? I couldn't leave her here. Obviously not. Nor could I ask her to risk her life for my family's sake.
"Meri? What's going on?"
Benitsubasa had spoken in a whisper. She tiptoed down the stairs. Her bare feet made the gentlest pat-pat as they touched stone, like a cat's tread. A black nightgown trailed behind her. It swished against the steps.
With another sigh, I dispelled the invisibility field.
"You knew where to look for me," I said.
"Yeah, I figured you'd try something like this," she said.
"I don't suppose I can convince you not to follow-"
"At least consider it."
Benitsubasa crossed her arms, and made a show of inspecting my piles of baggage.
"I've considered," she said. "Probably better than you have, judging from your half-assed packing job. See, I figure that if your 'repaired' wish-granting thingy's still corrupted, most of the world's gonna die anyway."
"And if it works, then I'd prefer to use it to get rid of Miya's geis. Rather than...oh, I dunno...letting your xeno-hating, insane father get a wish instead."
"Again, conceded. But the geis you mentioned makes me expendable, whereas-"
"No," she said. "You're not."
I scowled, but knew better to press further. Benitsubasa hopped onto the Volumen Hydragyrum and smirked. Black lace billowed around her as she sat.
"...Soooo. When do we leave for Fuyuki, Oh-Ashikabi-Mastermind-Of-Mine?" she said.
"As soon as you put on something less...indecent."
She raised an eyebrow.
"'Indecent'? Meri, we've already had sex. Repeatedly. For months."
"I note that we're not having sex right now."
"Keep this up, and 'right now' might last a lot longer than you think."
"As I recall, only one of us comes from a species with an overactive libido."
She rolled her eyes and reached behind the tapestry. A suitcase emerged. Fully packed. I couldn't stop my eyes from widening when I realized that Benitsubasa had known I was planning to leave before I'd decided to do so.
"You're the biggest freaking prude I've ever met," she said.
"Perhaps you would have preferred someone like Minato? I'm sure I could find a few harem-mates for you somewhere..."
Benitsubasa snorted in a rather unladylike fashion.
"Yeah, good luck with that. Most girls prefer guys from this century. Or, you know. Sane ones. Still...point."
Benitsubasa slipped into her fighting gi. It was the first time she'd worn it since we'd left Shin Tokyo. Her pink gloves followed. Velcro fastenings crackled.
I motioned to the Volumen Hydragyrum. It bowed with a slorping sound as its instinctive deference to those of El-Melloi blood activated. Silvery tentacles coiled around the doorknob. It turned with a click.
"Besides..." I said. "It isn't as if I hold myself to a different standard. You don't see me prancing about in a speedo, do you?"
"...And the world breathes a sigh of relief."
The Volumen Hydragyrum distorted into a narrow column, clearing the path for us. The world's most dangerous usher. Our bags bumped as they remained attached to its elongated surface. Rather like a Christmas tree, in fact, except with artifacts of doom instead of ornaments.
"Well?" I said. "Shall we?"
Benitsubasa punched a gloved fist into her palm with a loud pop. Slowly - ever so slowly - a toothy grin appeared. It was the same grin I'd seen when Benitsubasa had driven her knee into Mitsuho's face.
"Oh, yes," she said.
And with that, we began our journey toward the Fifth War.
A/N: First off, thank you. Reader comments have been very helpful when writing and improving this story.
I decided not to tempt fate (no pun intended) by writing a lemon toward the end. My attempts at warm and fluffy moments are bad enough. I shudder to think what Meriwether's first-person description of a sex scene would sound like.
(Though others are free to write one if they're so inclined...)
A cliffhanger ending, I know. But I figure that a magus's life in the Nasuverse is a bit like that - one adventure (or experiment) after another, with only a little breathing room in between. There's a reason that magi need to remind themselves that they walk with death.
I'd be willing to write a sequel if enough people want one. Not sure if a sequel would be better or worse, but it would certainly take into account any critiques I receive on the first installment of Postnuptial Disagreements. It would also include a lot more of the FSN canon cast (plus several from F/Z and perhaps Tsukihime), so there's that as well.
On another note, Postnup has been a fairly successful proof-of-concept when it comes to writing a story quickly. If a sequel does appear, it'll probably update frequently as well. Maybe not quite at Postnup's pace, but close.
For the next week or two, though, I'll probably cut back. Maybe outline a couple stories in other fandoms, write a few drabbles, and type a bit of original fiction. That kind of thing.
As for other story possibilities (if I don't write about Postnup's Heaven's Feel, which is probably what I'll end up doing):
A post-4th War Waver Velvet murder mystery set in the Clock Tower has been bouncing around my head recently. (Along with a strange idea about a buddy-cop-ish vampire hunting story with Abel Nightroad and Alexander Anderson as his loony partner, but I sincerely doubt I'll write that). Heck, maybe I could expand The Hill of Ethnographic Footnotes if people REALLY wanted me to.
And of course, I'll be here to answer any questions, take suggestions, etc.
Thanks for reading.