SAEGUSA YUKIKA AND THE WITCH
A Fate/Stay Night fanfiction story by Daneel Rush
It was not the kind of evening in which you would expect something unnatural to happen.
It was just another cool spring night, and a considerate breeze from the sea carried a faint and pleasant smell of salt and vastness. Emiya Shirou could hear the cries of the seagulls, albeit only in his head. In his right hand he carried a simple plastic bag with a bottle of rice wine; a gift from the Master at the bar, Copenhagen. It was not his sort of thing, but he guessed that tactless tiger would be happy.
It was not even six months since those terrible two weeks of supernatural warfare. The Holy Grail War was over, and life went on. Emiya Shirou was not one to dwell on things much, but the memories of those battles and the lessons from those days had become precious building blocks towards the realization of his dream. Even if that beautiful, pitiful king was no longer by his side, he could still walk the path she showed him.
But he was no hero. He was but a simple high school student, fresh into his third and last year.
"Before thinking of saving people, I guess I should worry about my grades a little…" He said to himself with some mirth, which was promptly dispelled by the odd sight some twenty meters ahead.
It was a girl. This was not, however, the healthy interest of a young male for the opposite gender. This was a girl he recognized, albeit vaguely. Not one of his classmates, but the manager of the track team: Saegusa Yukika. Short hair. A small body that at first glance makes people fear a strong breeze could blow her away. Shoulder-length hair, closer to the color of caramel than to chocolate, and identically-colored irises. A gentle, helpful person, as far as he knew. Someone he could get along with, he guessed.
But Emiya Shirou's thoughts on Saegusa are not of relevance. It was her attitude, her pace, the subtle gesture that betrayed her emotions which caught the boy's attention. Even from a distance, he could tell she was bothered by something. The way she constantly looked over her shoulder and her unusually rapid pace…was she being followed?
Not even for a moment did Emiya Shirou stop to think about what people would think should they see him stalking a girl his age. It helped that he could see no other people on the residential street, as was normal for that time of the evening in that part of the city. He had a dire hunch, and he went with it.
For once, it proved to be a good thing.
His body froze for a moment when the second person dashed into his field of view. At the same time, Saegusa released a shrilly gasp and forced her legs to run. Feeble hands squeezed a schoolbag against her chest—she was still clad in the Homurahara uniform.
Shirou threw away all further instances of thought. That man, whoever he was, would catch her; this was the unavoidable truth. His legs were longer, his sprint was wider, his pace was ridiculous.
"Oi!" He futilely called out as he dashed after the other man. Expectedly ignored, Shirou wasted no more of his breaths and hurried after his schoolmate and the dangerous chaser.
The man caught up to Saegusa first, however, reaching for the neck of her uniform and pulling her back towards him. The girl shrieked and reflexively swung her plain schoolbag in the general direction of his head, but the man was utterly unfazed by the impact. His right hand seized her right wrist and pulled it behind her back, making her gasp out at the sudden pull on her muscles. Her voice, however, was choked out by his left hand when it closed around her windpipe and began to squeeze.
"Saegu—!" Shirou yelled in alarm just before he caught up. Without hesitation, he reached for the man's right shoulder and forcefully turned him around. Saegusa was in danger; this man was definitely trying to kill her!
Emiya Shirou did not hesitate. He had learned the lesson on the consequences of hesitation in critical moments.
The red-haired young man winced when his right fist met the man's face. The human skull is hard, but this particular man felt like a big block of concrete! Regardless, the blow pushed the stranger away from Saegusa, who promptly fell on her knees coughing and gasping for air with desperation.
"A foreigner…?" Shirou muttered upon catching a better look of the random attacker. This was most definitely not a person of Japanese descent. Before him, separated only by Saegusa Yukika's kneeled form, there was a strange man in a business suit. His black hair reminded him of his deceased "friend", Matou Shinji. And his small, grey eyes…could not be natural.
But there would be time to think afterwards. The man unhesitatingly lunged at Shirou; a simple, straight-forward tackle completely lacking in form.
Shirou rooted himself to the spot and took the bigger man straight on.
"E-Emiya—" Saegusa's attempt at calling for him ending up with pained coughs. Her voice remained hollow and raspy, and it hurt to breathe.
Shirou roared a battle cry. He had been tackled, and it had taken everything he had to not end up prone on the hard concrete under his feet. However, he was still standing, and the lunging enemy had exposed his back to him!
The young magus' right elbow descended; a castigating hammer striking the stranger's left side, avoiding the natural barrier that was the ribcage to strike at the soft tissue and organs at the midsection. To any person, such a blow would be a critical hit.
Shirou stumbled backwards, and the broken fragments of two teeth slipped out of his mouth, followed by a disgusting trail of drool and blood.
The man stood upright after having struck with the crown of his head, either unfeeling or uncaring of the damage he had received. Closing the distance to Shirou in a single, long step, he planted a terrible fist on the boy's solar plexus. Shirou's whole body shuddered; his bones vibrated under the unnatural force of the blow.
Beyond the terrible pain, a thought resounded clear in Emiya Shirou's mind.
He groaned when his back struck the hard street; his skin scratched and ripped open by the irregular surface. He had been blown several meters by the superhuman blow. The man approached slowly. His steps were suddenly awkward; strangely stiff.
"This man…" Shirou spoke quietly. Even if he had wanted to, it would have been difficult for him to speak louder. Everything hurt, he knew several ribs were broken and he feared for his lungs. "This man is…!"
Regardless of the stiffness of his steps, the strange, inexpressive man with the glazed grey eyes walked towards Shirou with the clear intent of resuming his aggressions. So the boy took a deep breath.
"Owaaaaaaaaah!" Shirou yelled as he jumped to his feet, even if it felt like his lungs were about to explode. This was no ordinary assailant; if he did not fight, he would meet death in this place!
Emiya Shirou refused to die.
It had been a rather hectic evening for Saegusa Yukika, and it was followed by a hectic morning the day after. What with taking Shirou to a hospital and then repeating the story again and again to policemen, teachers and family, the girl had every reason to be exhausted.
It was hard to understand. The man had simply run away after trading a few more blows with Emiya Shirou, leaving the boy with several broken bones, including his right arm. He would be bed-locked for several days, and wearing a cast for considerably longer. Last she knew he was still trying to convince Fujimura-sensei to at least let him go back home. It was a request she could understand.
Regardless, Emiya Shirou had saved her life. She could not help her heart beating a little faster at the thought.
Emiya Shirou. A good person. She had known this for some time—the boy had a reputation in the school, after all—, but it was the very first time she could confirm it at such a personal level.
As expected of one of the few persons Tohsaka-san willingly engaged in conversation with.
Yukika only made it to school after lunch break. This meant, obviously, that she would be assaulted by her two best friends right after the final bell.
A wealthy girl hiding a nice body behind an aloof, 'cool'-type character: Himuro Kane.
The (self-appointed) "Black Panther of Homura", Makidera Kaede.
"Kane-chan, Kaede-chan," she greeted with a slightly stiff tone. She had to make a decision quickly: did she really want to share the events of last night with her friends?
In her hesitation, she did not catch the other two girls exchanging knowing looks.
"Sooooo…" Kaede began, leaning over Yukika's desk to draw closer to the seated girl. "…did it hurt?"
"Wha-wha—what kind of wicked assumption are you making!" Yukika burst into a high-pitched frenzy, as she was prone to do whenever Makidera Kaede opened her mouth.
"Weeeeell~" The dark-skinned girl looked away; her mirthful eyes the image of amusement. "I happened to call you last night and your mom told me you were not there yet…and now you pop up only after lunch break?"
"Suspicious," Himuro stated, her glasses glinting unexplainably.
"Bweh! No! No! I was just!" Yukika stammered, her arms flapping wildly while her cheeks took a charming pinkish tone. "I had to look after Emiya-kun, and then…then…!"
The unfinished sentence lingered in the air for a moment. The flushed girl bashfully glanced at her friends, who in their unlimited cruelty responded with grins full of wickedness.
Himuro solemnly looked at the sky beyond the classroom's windows.
"Truly, our Yukika has grown up before we noticed. Right, Mother?"
"Papa!" Yukika shrieked while flinching away from her light-haired friend.
Kaede mock-sobbed in agreement.
"As her father, I'm glad my daughter is showing such ambition, but…but…!"
"You're not father-like at all!"
"Oooh, but really…" Kaede continued, quickly shedding the 'father' persona. "Really, to go after Emiya of all people…" She smoothed a non-existent goatee. "You're overestimating your abilities, grasshopper."
"You're a terrible sensei as well!"
"Uh, umm…excuse me…?"
Kaede gasped in excitement.
"Suddenly, a dramatic development!"
"Oooh…" Himuro uttered lamely.
Under the doorframe stood a second-year student, Matou Sakura.
"So that's what happened…"
It was just the two of them, Yukika and Sakura. The younger carried a bag with ingredients for dinner—she had confessed she often helped at the Emiya residence with cooking and other house chores. With Shirou incapacitated, it appeared he would have to rely on Sakura a little bit more.
The purple-haired girl seemed strangely excited about that unforeseen consequence of Emiya Shirou's convalescence.
It was a bit hard for the older girl, as a woman. For many reasons. So she did her very best to ignore the younger girl's splendid development and focused on the real issue at hand.
"I thought I would faint when I received the news from Fujimura-sensei," Sakura confessed. "But, are you really unhurt, Saegusa-senpai?"
"Ah! Um, um!" Yukika waved her arms erratically, further deepening the chasm between herself and the overly glamorous Matou—a highly subjective description, naturally. "I'm fine, really! Emiya-kun…thanks to Emiya-kun…"
"Um…" Sakura smiled gently, but even the likes of Saegusa Yukika could tell there was pain in those half-lidded eyes. She was reminded of a soldier's wife, waiting for news from the battlefront. "Senpai…is that kind of person…"
Noticing Sakura's eyes drifting somewhere else, Yukika followed the other girl's gaze…and wondered how she did not notice that herself.
The person standing between two shops stood bizarrely in contrast with the world around her. It was not just the fact she was clearly a foreigner. It was not just the humbling flawlessness of her doll-like body.
Matou Sakura had never seen so many frills in her life.
The girl's dress was a gradient of tones of purple, darker at the top and almost white at the bottom end. Same with the headdress that adorned her head. Sakura had heard of the 'Victorian' faction popular in a certain part of Tokyo, but this was the first time she saw it in person. Surrounded by an audience of mostly mesmerized children, the girl was in the middle of a performance, waist-length bluish-black hair swaying as she directed her "actors".
The two high school girls wordlessly approached the girl and her marionettes. A hero clad in silver armor fought a strange, black, bipedal wolf beast. The girl manipulated her marionettes with artful dexterity, crafting an elegant choreography of combat that elicited "oooh's" and "aaah's" from the delighted audience.
Sakura found herself inexplicably drawn to the dolls' appearance. They were very well-made, so she could not understand why their faces were so strange unless their maker had crafted in such a way purposely. Both hero and monster lacked eyes; their empty sockets bizarrely asymmetrical. Also, their lips were sewn together.
They stayed after the performance was over. The young artist was praised with bouts of clapping and cheer, which she welcomed with an elegant bow before reaching for her marionettes to store them in the suitcase behind her. As the crowd dispersed, Sakura and Yukika stood there, unmoving, yet unsure of what to do next.
Sakura could not say it: this girl was a magus.
Yukika could not say it: the performance was a slightly exaggerated portrayal of last evening's fight between Shirou and that stranger.
"You will excuse me, but I am done for today," the girl spoke in flawless Japanese; her back still turned to the two girls. "And I do not give private performances."
The words brought Sakura out of her introspection. She had spent the last minute or so pondering her options. Tohsaka Rin was not in Fuyuki—if she had to guess, Sakura would say the Land Owner was making arrangements for her eventual admission to the Clock Tower. This meant that the Matou was the one remaining magus family in Fuyuki, not counting Emiya Shirou. The thought of informing her grandfather crossed her mind for second but, really, interaction with Matou Zouken was always preferably something done as a last resort.
"Ah, I, I'm terribly sorry for staring," Sakura finally said before offering an apologetic bow to the girl's back.
"Do not worry. I shall take it as a compliment."
Glancing over the foreigner's shoulder, Sakura and Yukika could clearly see the case was stuffed with nothing but marionettes.
"Umm…how…how long have you been in Fuyuki, umm…?"
"Not that long," the girl responded, disappointing Sakura with the lack of a name. "If everything works out, I won't stay long either."
The suitcase was locked with two simultaneous clicks. The girl in the overly elaborate dress finally stood to face the two high-schoolers. Sakura noted that she was short, very much so. Probably even shorter than that Saber. She looked like a grade-schooler, but she would be hard pressed to believe this girl was really that young.
Yukika asked the really important question.
The girl smiled, and Sakura decided she did not like that smile. It made her think of her sister, but it carried a dark undertone Sakura did not want to connect to her sister at all.
The puppeteer's response was succinct.
"I am a Witch."
The following morning, the Archery Club Captain, Mitsuzuri Ayako, did not show up at school.
Her body was never found.
Her own inaction bothered her.
While she busied herself purchasing groceries for her senpai's kitchen, Matou Sakura mentally scolded herself for her lack of decisiveness.
There was a magus in Fuyuki while the one responsible for the safety of the land and the secrecy of Magecraft was away. Sakura knew she had to confront that girl with the marionettes at some point and in some manner, but the fact remained that she was not a trained magus, or even the kind of person that would willingly step into magical combat. Senpai was the hero. Senpai was the one who carelessly walked into other people's battles, with no consideration for his own safety or the feelings of those who would be hurt after losing him.
Sakura was…not unlike the dolls of that Witch. She was a tool; nothing but an ornament in the villain's lair. Nothing remotely close to a heroine.
Saegusa-senpai had told her about the marionettes' choreography, and that was the lead connecting the Witch to the attack on her sister's classmate and her beloved senpai.
Matou Sakura was not a fighter, but…but, senpai was hurt. She could not ignore that; she did not want to.
Someone that should not be there.
However, Sakura's eyes could not fool her. The person who had just crossed the street ahead of her and disappeared behind the corner was unmistakably…
Tohsaka Rin was not in Fuyuki City. This was the absolute truth.
But…what if she had returned? Sakura was not informed of her trip—she would have never known if senpai had not told her. In fact, that bothered her considerably more than she felt it should have. In any case, she had no knowledge of the actual duration of Tohsaka Rin's absence.
She hesitated for a moment. Thoughts of the Witch filled Sakura's mind.
Gripping her schoolbag and the bag of groceries so tight that it hurt, Matou Sakura gathered her resolution and nodded to herself. She moved forward and turned around the corner.
Fifteen or so meters in front of her, the figure of Tohsaka Rin looked from side to side, like a tourist trying to find her way. Sakura watched the twin-tailed young woman's back and cautiously stepped forward. In her mind, she wondered why her sister was wearing her school uniform.
Sakura ended up following the other girl for almost ten minutes, as "Rin" took an awkwardly convoluted route to the park at the end of the marketplace. As usual, it was deserted—most children preferred the nearby arcade to the old, rickety games in that place.
"Nee-san," Sakura called out, but the dark-haired girl did not stop walking, instead crossing the park with firm steps and stepping into the dense lines of trees beyond. Sakura's overly cautious mind blared alarms. Placing a hand on her plentiful chest, Sakura took a deep breath and gathered a bit of courage.
"Senpai…" she whispered, as if hoping the sole invocation of that title would fill her with mental fortitude.
She took a step forward, and never looked back.
That was the last day anybody saw Matou Sakura. Her disappearance caused a lot of grievances to a certain amount of people, for one reason or another—Matou Zouken was not pleased.
Saegusa Yukika hummed a certain tune in the solitude of her bedroom. It was not a particularly interesting piece, just something her ears caught on the way back home.
Her schedule…has become a bit hectic as of late, but she was not bothered. Between her duties as a student, her responsibilities as club manager and her self-appointed position of caretaker of one Emiya Shirou, saegusa Yukika had built for herself a rather busy life.
But, well, with Matou Sakura suddenly missing, somebody had to look after Emiya-kun. That tiger woman could not be trusted with a pencil.
Tohsaka-san…she had been devastated. Sakura's disappearance had struck her particularly hard. She had tried to conceal it, but Yukika knew better. She had watched Tohsaka-san since the very day they met, after all. The relationship between Tohsaka Rin and Matou Sakura was not something that could be concealed from Saegusa Yukika.
Her fingers delicately caressed soft black hair.
Saegusa Yukika's one and only Magecraft. It was rather bothersome, acquiring the necessary magic circuits to give her dolls a human appearance and the semblance of a soul, but it was still her precious, most valuable treasure.
She would take care of them now. Tohsaka-san had lost her close friend and her sister. To Emiya-kun, every loss was heavy and significant. But all wounds healed with time, even the wounds of the heart. They only needed proper nursing.
And Saegusa Yukika had always been told she was good at taking care of others.
Giggling to herself, she placed the black-haired doll in the elaborate dress on her desk, next to the purple-haired doll in the school uniform and the male doll in the business suit.
Empty, uneven eye-sockets know nothing, show nothing.