Author Notes: Well, the best laid plans sometimes hit a few roadblocks. I've been very, very busy, and haven't had time recently to work on a long project a la Postnuptial Disagreements. Sorry about that.
(Though I'll have more time after the next couple weeks).
In the meantime, I wrote a few snippets during my commute and posted them on BL, where they recommended that I put them up on as well. If this project continues, I'll definitely post newer snippets here as well.
Vestigial Mercies: 1
I was born in an inferno.
Others might object to this accounting, since I was five or six years old at the time.
But that fire was like a mother to me. My first memories preserve her caress at my birth. I found it painful at the time. The fire that charred the building's other occupants suckled me on their smoke. Even then, I drank suffering. When I tried to stand, my new provider draped me in robes of magefire and mud.
But if the inferno was my mother, the man who pulled me from her embrace was my father. He was tall. A torn trench coat hung from his shoulders. His hair might have always been messy, but I guess the smoke hadn't helped. His pupils were wide and black, like a snake's. Yet tears dripped from them.
He was crying when he pulled me out. Crying and smiling all at once. I looked down. A spot on the man's coat glistened, and the effect renewed itself every few seconds. He was bleeding, I realized. Dying.
"I saved you," the man kept saying.
If only he'd known what a worthless prize he'd pulled from the fire. I wondered about that. Still do. It would have been glorious to see the look on his face if I'd told him. He was so very close to breaking; a nudge would have done the trick. But I was in pain, and I could only whimper. This was probably best for both of us.
The man survived just long enough to drag me to the Kotomine Church, where my other Father received me. I use "Father" in both senses, by the way. I became a member of his flock. I'm also his adopted son.
My rescuer died shortly thereafter.
None of my metaphorical parents were very long-lived, I'm afraid. My adopted one lasted a little longer.
He did his best with me, anyway. Risei Kotomine was too kind for his own good, as Heaven's Feel referees go. Guilt probably played a role. He chose not to turn out the thing that he'd given his name to, even after he'd realized what I was. If he'd killed me then, as he should have —
That 'if' again.
But he didn't. He taught me instead. And I learned. The Saints came first, before Father recognized my corruption. I remember sitting awake at night, thinking about Thomas Becket in his hair-shirt. I would turn the image over in my mind, again and again. I imagined the lice and fleas in the shirt biting him. Stinging. Drinking blood.
I pictured the way they must have tortured a man in his fifties, his body already sagging and dissipated from a life of debauchery before his consecration. The catching breaths in the night as he felt the insects nip him. He must have wanted to rip the accursed thing off so very badly. Above all, I reflected that it had proved a meaningless sacrifice, in the end. Henry's knights had splattered Thomas across Canterbury Cathedral. Had the lice still nipped him as he'd watched his blood flow onto the floor? Too late now. It's all gone.
But Father gave me Saint Ignatius as well, and Ignatius gave me his exercises. These, too, I would turn over again and again in my mind.
The first annotation is that by the name of Spiritual Exercises is understood any method of examining one's own conscience; also of meditating, contemplating, praying mentally and vocally, and, finally, of performing any other spiritual operations . . .
Ignatius's lessons didn't calm, but they quieted. I found that they were enough for the moment.
But Father also needed a combatant for the next War, which was on its way much sooner than expected.
Father's associates showed me the Black Keys. Their lessons were a little more practical, and would serve me well enough when Heaven's Feel arrived. Executors make good teachers.
At last, the old man died.
As he lay in that candlelit cellar, in that moth-eaten bed, he asked me whether I had come to know peace. His eyes held such hope. And what was I supposed to say to him?
. . . For as to walk, to travel, and to run are bodily exercises, so also to prepare and dispose the soul to remove all ill-ordered affectations . . .
I could foresee his pained expression if I'd told the truth. A delectable torment. How is a dying father supposed to react when his son tells him that he would have preferred to kill him personally? How I ached to find out.
I lied, in the end. I was supposed to lie. The lesser of two evils.
I dislike lying.
Heaven's Feel came a year later, when I was seventeen.
I opened the door, still slightly out of breath. My skin still tingled from the Tohsaka bounded field. Remnants of its magical energy stuck to my circuits like little electrically charged barbs. They'd fizzle out after a while.
The house echoed. She'd ordered the servants to leave days ago. The place smelled of ancient wood infused with incense. It was evening, and the candles flickered, painting the walls with shadows. Crystals on the mantelpiece glittered every time the flames wavered. A jewel-encrusted statue of a mockingbird watched me through opal eyes, heavy with prana. All very atmospheric.
Down the hall, a grandfather clock chimed. Ten minutes late.
The stairs creaked. A vision of annoyance in a miniskirt, stockings, and pigtails glared down at me. Rin Tohsaka gripped the banister.
"Well?" she said.
"I'm late," I said.
"Yes. Yes, you are. And it's 'Miss Tohsaka' to you, apprentice."
Rin's lips pursed. A curious shade of pink tinged her cheeks.
"I…R-Rin will suffice during Heaven's Feel! As long as you remember who's in charge."
I fought down a smirk. Rin was always delightfully easy to annoy; so much so that I partly blame her for what happened in the end. It's always the little pleasures that trip you up. A stammer instead of a scream of pain. A fist clenched against the hem of a dress.
Rin was a friend, of sorts. Albeit a slightly abusive and domineering one. She wrinkled her nose.
And direct. I forgot direct.
"Just finished baji," I said. "You wouldn't have wanted me to make you wait even longer, would you?"
"Bajiquan? But when I invited you to…um…t-to train with me, you said—"
I shrugged, and took an orange from the bowl on the table. It rocked back and forth in my palm. With a slight inclination of my wrist, I let it roll down the back of my forearm.
"The mood took me," I said. "Baji this month…next month, who knows?"
She huffed, and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Not only a fake priest, but a dilettante," she said. "First it's Black Keys, and then healing spells, and then gemcraft, reinforcement, exorcisms, bajiqu—"
I held up a finger.
"Fake priest-in-training," I said. "I haven't taken a vow of celibacy yet."
"I…Don't talk about such things! And put that orange back. It's expensive."
I rolled the orange back up my sleeve, and let it drop into the bowl with a plunk.
"Besides," I said, "I wouldn't want to encourage the heiress of the Tohsaka family to do something as unladylike as brawling with me. I still hope to preside at your wedding someday. Even if I am a fake priest."
I've occasionally wondered whether Rin wore long-sleeved red shirts to make her blushing appear look less radiant by comparison. Not that it worked very well.
"Y-You…!" she said. "Why did your father give me such a perverted apprentice?"
"Now, now, Rin," I said. "Marriage is a sacred institution."
"You always talk about it with that creepy smirk of yours!"
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"And there it is again," she said. "I swear, why I put up with you is beyond me."
"Truly, you have the patience of a saint."
And what a saint she would have made. Like Simeon Stylites, maybe. I could imagine Rin living out her life on top of a pillar, her skin cracked and sunburned from the desert heat. Hundreds of genuflections would waste her frame away until it became skeletal; an emaciated vessel for her soul. Ulcers and sores would wrack her mortified body. And how her joints would scream when she tied herself to a stake, to stand upright during Lent.
Rin's pride would keep her there long, long after she realized she'd made a mistake. Her beauty would have already faded by then. When she realized how she'd wasted her life, what a fall would come…
I dug a thumbnail into the middle finger of my left hand. Deeply. It was an old standby. After my index finger had gone numb years ago, I'd just moved over a digit. I hadn't healed either of them.
The daydream dispersed. My pulse slowed. I felt my stomach churn slightly at the memory.
"Hey. You're spacing out again, Kirei."
"Er…who are you summoning, again?" I said.
Rin's eyes drifted to a red linen cloth on the dining room table. She lifted it and revealed a snakeskin. I recognized the artifact from the Tohsaka family vault; Rin's father had used it during the Fourth War. Not that it had helped him much against the Magus Killer.
Ah, Rin. Traditional as always. How long will you walk in your dead father's footsteps, I wonder…?
"What about you?" she said. "Which Heroic Spirit are you summoning?
"It's a surprise," I said.
"It's - wait, what? This isn't a birthday present, you idiot!"
I sighed and leaned back in a chair, crossing my legs in the process. The cushions yielded obligingly.
I spread my arms.
"Rejoice, Rin!" I said. "My Servant will be your eyes and ears. And together, you and I are going to win this War."
Rin just rolled her eyes.