Disclaimer: Don't own anything Type-Moon or Nasuverse related.
A/N: Wanted to get this out a lot sooner, but real life has been hectic lately. Finals coming up soon. Plus, it's one thing to have everything mapped out in front of you but another to actually write it. Adding the meat and making it work can be a challenge sometimes. Hope you all enjoy.
What to Value
"I'm Sola-Ui Nuada-Re Sophia-Ri, and I'm here to relinquish my rights as a Master."
Risei stared at the woman slowly trying to register what it was she just said to him. He gazed at her, analyzing the woman's face. She wasn't really giving up her position as a Master in the War, was she? She wasn't forfeiting the chance to compete for the ultimate prize, was she? However, after he had finished reading her expression, Risei had no doubt that she was being completely serious.
"…How fortunate for Tokiomi-kun." Risei thought to himself as his gaze moved over to the large Servant standing beside the woman.
For whatever reason, the Tohsaka head hadn't been chosen to take part in the War when it should've been his right as a descendant of one of the creators of the Holy Grail War. The Einzbern and Matou had been chosen to compete, but the Tohsaka family had seemingly been excluded. Not that it had stopped Tokiomi, who decided to stay and participate even without a Servant. The man had taught Risei's son and was Kirei's guiding hand for the majority of the War thus far. It would remain that way, at least until Tokiomi found a suitable Servant for himself. One that he would steal from another Master when the opportunity arose.
Well, it seemed that they would be saved the trouble. There was no need to confront another Master if this one was willing to give up her Servant and position in the War. Tokiomi would be more than happy to take her place.
"I see. Are you certain of this? Do you really want to relinquish your rights as a Master?" Risei asked. It wasn't as though he was trying to convince her to change her mind, but as the impartial moderator of the Holy Grail War, he had to compose himself accordingly and there were procedures to follow.
If only for the sake of maintaining appearances.
"I do." Sola-Ui answered.
"May I ask why?" Risei inquired, honestly curious as to why the woman would give up her spot when the War had only just begun. "Did you not join with the intention of winning? What made you give up?"
Risei was mildly surprised when he received a dry chuckle in response to that.
"It's not that I'm giving up. I'm just not willing to take the place of someone who died trying to win." Sola-Ui replied. "It wasn't my choice to become a Master."
"…So then you inherited the Command Seal from another Master who was eliminated before his Servant was." Risei said, basing his conclusion on the woman's words. "That's quite peculiar."
Risei glanced down at the woman's hand that bore the Command Seals, or rather, the single Command Seal for the Servant that stood next to her. It was his understanding that should a Master with spare Command Seals be killed before their Servant was eliminated, those Seals should've gone to the one chosen to supervise the War as the impartial moderator, and if not, be inherited by another the Grail deemed worthy to be a Master. Risei knew the girl had magical talent, and if not for her presence he wondered if that remaining sigil might have gone to Tokiomi. Of course that was the question of "what if"? Now it was a question of "why not" Tokiomi and this woman instead?
"Ah, I was already… involved with this Servant's former Master. I was a proxy of sorts." Sola-Ui explained, somewhat confessing to the loophole Kayneth had exploited. Though she made sure to keep her tone and expression flat to show she hadn't been rattled by the old priest's perceptiveness. "If I'm to subject myself to some form of punishment I'd like to be made aware of the rule I've broken in this game. Even if there's some sort of penalty for inheriting Command Seals, I've no intention of participating any further so I'd like to ask for some leniency."
Sola-Ui blinked when the old priest let out an amused chuckle.
"You haven't broken any roles, madam. Forgive me if I sounded accusing." Risei assured her, his kind smile calming Sola-Ui's nerves somewhat. "Even though I am the supervisor of this War, I admit there are several nuances of this tournament that even I'm unaware of."
"Is that so…" Sola-Ui muttered. Yet another reason to get out while she still could.
Risei himself acknowledged the oddity as an unforeseen circumstance. In a tournament like this, he should have expected a few peculiarities to arise. This woman inheriting a Command Seal due to her supposed association with another Master was one of them. There were many other questions he wanted to ask, but he didn't want to delay her any longer lest she might suddenly decide to change her mind.
After all, this was an opportunity. This woman wanted to withdraw from the War, leaving her Servant without a Master. A Servant Tokiomi could take as his own and enter in the War.
"Well, I won't ask any more. You came here to withdraw from the War and it isn't my place to convince you otherwise." Risei smiled, holding his hands out. "Now, if you'll lend me your hand-"
Sola-Ui gasped as Rider, who had been silent and unmoving until this point, suddenly reached out and snatched her wrist as she was raising her arm up. The large man gave a brief nod to Risei whose eyebrows rose in surprise at the Servant's gesture.
"Sola-san, come with me. I'd like to talk to you for a moment."
Though the woman tried to protest, she could do nothing to stop Rider from dragging her up the aisle towards the row of seats in the back. The Servant gestured for her to take a seat once they had reached the last row. The woman glared at the ancient king before wresting her arm out of his grasp and sat down on one of the seats, doing her best to control her temper as the crossed her legs and folded her hands in her lap. Rider didn't claim a seat for himself. Instead he chose to sit himself down right on the aisle next to her with his legs crossed. He bowed his head, humming to himself as if he was meditating. Sola-Ui watched him cautiously from the corner of her eye. Finally, the man turned his head towards her to stare at her with solemn eyes.
"Are you really ready to give up this opportunity?" Rider asked.
Sola-Ui stared at him for several beats before huffing a frustrated sigh.
"I'm not having this argument."
"It's not my intention to argue with you. I want to help you make a decision, however you must understand what you are giving up before deciding to go through with this."
Sola-Ui rolled her eyes at that. Words like "opportunity" and phrases like "giving up" just made her decision sound like… well, she didn't like the way Rider was putting it. She had thought she made her choice clear back in the hotel room, but Rider just had to have something to say. Sola-Ui found herself both annoyed and amused when she realized that she could understand Kayneth's irritation with Rider now.
"I'm not changing my mind." Sola-Ui said before Rider could continue.
"So you say."
"I mean it." Sola-Ui said, glaring at the Servant who calmly stared at her. "I don't care what you say or what you think I'm giving up. There's no way I'm going to participate in this War."
"…Then help me understand your reasons for withdrawing." Rider said, amending his statement from before. "I don't understand why you have such a strong desire to abandon this conquest."
"I'm not abandoning anything. I didn't start this conquest. Kayneth did. I was just dragged along to use for his convenience." Sola-Ui said dryly. "And you want a reason? Look at where my fiancé ended up. My biggest reason for withdrawing is that I don't want to die."
"Yes, you've already told me that. But that's no reason to give up!" Rider insisted, smiling as he pounded his chest with one fist. "That is part of the thrill! In anything you do there is risk, but to gamble your life in a conquest always reaps the greatest rewards!"
"Rider, you…" Sola-Ui stopped and held a hand to her forehead, taking a deep breath as she tried to figure out how she could explain herself to the Servant. "I have no desire for the Grail whatsoever. I'll admit, the chance to have a wish granted and anything I wish at that… as a magus I can see the benefits and I know why Kayneth was so eager to take part in this contest. It's good bait."
Rider chuckled at the way she put it, and Sola-Ui felt her lips twitch upward just a little. She leaned back in her seat, momentarily thinking about what she would do if she could wish on the Grail. Abstract as it sounded, to have anything she desired within her reach…
…Sola-Ui shook her head, stopping the thought before it began.
"But it's not good enough for me." Sola-Ui continued. "Even if the Holy Grail was capable of granting my deepest desires, I have no intention of putting my life at risk trying to attain it."
"That is… extremely disappointing."
Again, Sola-Ui found herself irked by both the Servant's words and tone. It was as if he was trying to provoke her. The woman took another calming breath before glaring at the King of Conquerors.
"I don't hold as much interest in conquest and battle as you, nor will I gamble my life for such a vague prize." Sola-Ui said. "It's common sense. I don't see what's so disappointing about it."
"It's not that. What I am disappointed about is the fact you claim that there is nothing you'd risk your life for." Rider said, frowning at the woman. "You're more ignorant than I thought. Sola-san, the world is a big place. The sheer vastness of this earth never ceases to amaze me. Are you saying there is not one thing in it that you would risk your life for to attain?"
Sola-Ui kept her composure, even as she grew indignant at the Servant's words that made her feel like a child. She'd seen plenty of the world, though compared to the King of Conquers she doubted her experiences up until now could come close to measuring up with his own. Anything she did would be insignificant, but she was moderately happy with her life. She'd had all the necessities of living growing up and her family had been prestigious and wealthy enough so that she could live in luxury. She'd separated herself from the dull-witted and lower-class, growing into a refined, beautiful woman. She wasn't the heir to her family so she didn't have a Magic Crest, but even still she was an acceptable magus and skilled at what she did know. Thinking about it, she never really ever wanted anything before. Anything that was needed was provided. Such an easy life was her life.
"…That's exactly what I'm saying." Sola-Ui said. "I have no desire to risk my life in this game."
"So then why were you even here in the first place?" Rider asked suddenly.
"What do mean? I already told you," Sola-Ui said, annoyance with the Servant growing. "Kayneth was the one who brought me with him. He was the one who wanted to enter, and I was to serve as a prana source for the Servant he summoned. You."
"And there it is!" Rider declared.
"Wha…" Sola-Ui looked at the Servant as if he was crazy. "What are you talking about?"
"Is that all you are, Sola-san? A tool for others to use? An accessory to carry around? Have you no individuality? Why else would you have no will or desire for yourself?"
Sola-Ui recoiled as if she had been struck. To be insulted in such a way…! "H-How dare you! I am not…!"
"Aren't you?" Rider cut her off. "Seeing as you are so intent on abandoning the War, didn't you make a case of it before joining my former Master? Didn't you have a choice in the matter?"
Sola-Ui's lips thinned into a straight line as she looked down at her lap, unable to retort at the moment. Of course she'd been against coming along, but what could she say? Her family had already insisted that she cater to Lord El-Melloi's needs and do as he and his family wished. It was her duty as his fiancé.
"…It wasn't my choice." Sola-Ui said. "My family told me to-"
"So it was your family's choice then? Why not yours? Why obey when you have no desire to do so? My point still stands." Rider said. "Are you not your own person?"
Sola-Ui stared at Rider, eyes wide.
"I'm curious. How did you feel about my former Master? Your fiancé?" Rider asked. "I couldn't help but notice that you did not shed one tear over his passing. You did not act as a lover would, nor as a companion should. Why?"
Sola-Ui slowly turned away from the Servant. After a minute, she gave a resigned sigh.
"…My family decided that I was to wed Kayneth after they decided that the family crest would go to my older brother. It was a strategic marriage that would raise my family's status and ensure my brother received our crest." Sola-Ui explained. "Our family isn't that prestigious, and my brother is only an average magus even with the crest, so there was lots of pressure for me to marry him."
"So even that wasn't your choice." Rider said solemnly. "You did not love him."
"No… no I didn't." Sola-Ui admitted to Rider's statement. "But that doesn't matter. The affairs of magus aren't something you'd understand. It has nothing to do with what I want, but how to benefit my family and better the Art…
"But what do you want?" Rider implored. "Sola-san, what do you desire for yourself? Are you truly satisfied?"
Sola-Ui was silent. She had no desires with noting, she'd lived comfortably enough… but was she really satisfied. Until now, she never thought to question that. She just played the role she was given, doing as her family bade her to do and following after those that needed her.
"You say that I don't choose for myself, but what would you call this?" Sola-Ui asked. "You keep trying to coerce me into joining you-"
"Do not misunderstand me, Sola-san. I am not ordering you. I'm asking. There is a difference." Rider smiled. "I recognize your hesitance and fear for battle. You have no experience and that frightens you. But as I said, while there is risk, there is much to gain. I'm asking you to join me so that you can experience for yourself the fruits of battle, though if you should order a retreat, I will follow that. This is a request I am making, and you have the right to deny it."
Rider placed a large hand on the woman's shoulder, and Sola-Ui found herself captured by a strong, wise pair of eyes.
"You've already been drawn into this conflict, even if it wasn't necessarily your own decision. Why not see it through to the end so that you may find something that you, not your fiancé and not your family, but you yourself can strive to conquer and obtain?"
Sola-Ui stared at the Servant for several moments before staring down at her hands. She found herself staring at the red mark on her hand.
"…Why are you so set on having me as your Master?" Sola-Ui asked. "I'm not a soldier. I'm no one of great importance and my abilities as a magus can't compare to the elite… so why are you being so insistent on this?"
"Hm… I suppose you are correct. You would think so long as I have a source of prana to draw from, I'd be fine with anyone." Rider admitted. "However, what you said bothered me."
"Huh?" Sola-Ui frowned, confused at his words. "What did I say that bothered you…?"
"Everything. Your quick decision to give up the Command Seal, your claim that you desire nothing out of conquest and have nothing to gain from it, how not one decision you've made sounds like it has been your own… it is entirely unsatisfying." Rider grinned at Sola-Ui. "It may be selfish, even childish of me, but I'd like the chance to educate you. To take you into the midst of battle and show you what it is like to fight and conquer all those met on the field of battle. I know that you will learn much. If you quit now, you'd never know what you've given up. You may even find something worth risking your life for. Something that will bring you true satisfaction. You will learn the difference between living in comfort, and living in satisfaction. These are all possibilities that you could be forfeiting. If you join me and decide to quit after tasting battle… then it will be an informed decision, and I will respect it."
Sola-Ui hands tightened as she stared down at the Command Seal. What was this feeling in her chest? Her heart was beating so frantically and she had to fight to keep herself from shaking. The volume of Rider's words, and the way in which he explained things to her offered a new perspective she'd never explored. She may have been comfortable before, but was she really satisfied? Had she been happy? What if she really was giving up something valuable? At first, she thought the reason she'd received the Command Seal was because she'd been Kayneth's proxy due to the loophole they'd exploited but… was that really the case? The Grail was supposed to be a machine that granted a person's deepest desires… did she truly desire something like what Rider was describing?
She was astonished by these thoughts running through her head. She told herself that it was Rider's charisma at work. This was just last minute nerves. Hesitation. Where was her resolve from before? She wanted nothing more than to leave this War behind and go home…!
"What do you say, Sola-san? It is your choice."
Sola-Ui stilled at that.
Silently, Sola-Ui got to her feet. Rider stood with her. Just as silently, she moved past him and Rider did not call after her. She approached the old priest and stood in front of him.
"Are you ready? Do you still wish to relinquish your rights as a Master?" Risei asked solemnly.
The woman took a deep breath.
Risei nodded and extended his hand. "Your hand then, please."
Sola-Ui didn't move.
A few seconds went by in silence. Risei frowned slightly as he stared at the woman.
Sola-Ui raised her hand a little before stopping as one thought echoed in her mind.
…What did she want?
What did she want?
…That was a question she couldn't stand. Something she needed an answer to.
Her shoulders dropped, and Sola-Ui withdrew her hand.
"I-I changed my mind." Sola-Ui said, cheeks coloring in embarrassment.
Risei's eyebrows shot up in surprise, but the man quickly composed himself and pulled a smile back on his face. "Are you sure? If you don't want to compete I'd understand. The half-hearted shouldn't need to risk their lives in the Holy Grail War…"
Sola-Ui stared at the Command Seal on her hand. Her eyes traced the intricate mark. The woman sighed and nodded to herself, facing the priest and looking him dead in the eye.
It was her choice.
It was her choice.
That was the important thing. No one else made it for her. She'd made her choice.
"No, I've decided. I want to see more of this War." Sola Ui said. "I'm sorry for wasting your time today."
Risei stared at her for a moment before smiling. He reached forward and took her hand.
"Excuse me! I said that I-"
"God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
Sola-Ui hissed as she felt a stinging sensation on the back of her hand. She pulled away sharply and glanced down at her hand, eyes widening at what she found. She turned towards the priest with an incredulous look, flashing her hand to him.
A total of three Command Seals were now marked on her hand.
"You've voluntarily chosen to take part in a War that may cost you your life. You are a Master now, and as a reward for the courage in choosing this path, I've restored two Command Seals that the previous Master of Rider used up." Risei explained before Sola-Ui could speak. "I don't think it would be fair for you to be at a disadvantage when I assume it wasn't your choice to use the first two Commands."
The woman floundered for a moment, thinking of what to say before accepting the boon for what it was and bowed her head gratefully toward the priest. "Thank you."
"Of course. I wish you luck in your campaign, Sola-san."
"We'll see how long it lasts." Sola-Ui said dryly. "I might be back sooner than you think if I come to my senses and decide to forfeit again."
"Until such a time comes then, if at all." Risei smiled, bowing lightly towards the woman.
Sola-Ui quickly returned the bow before turning her back toward the priest and returning to Rider. She gave him a wry smile as she showed him her hand. The Servant gave her a broad smile in return when he saw the two red marks that had joined the first one. He followed after her as they left the church.
"Don't you feel encouraged?" Rider asked once they were outside, grin stretching from ear to ear. "Now we can start fresh. When night falls, we'll hunt. We'll dive into the thick of battle and indulge ourselves in this conquest. I'm excited for what's to come. Don't you feel the same, Sola-san?"
Sola-Ui glanced up at the Servant before looking at the three red sigils on the back of her hand. She smiled slightly, shook her head and started walking.
"We'll see. I just hope you remember that if I decide that I want out, you accept it." Sola-Ui said. "You've already given me your word that you'll protect me. Can I trust you on that?"
"If you're not confident with just my word, you could reinforce your words." Rider suggested, pointing to her hand.
Sola-Ui stared at him before giving him a slight smile. "I've no reason to distrust you. I don't think anyone as bullheaded as you is capable of lying anyway, and someone as earnest and stubborn will keep his word to an extent."
"I'm not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult." Rider said, though he was grinning.
"It wasn't meant to be either one. I was just making a statement based on what I've seen from you so far." Sola-Ui replied cheekily. She promptly turned on her heel and headed back towards the church.
"Sola-san? Why are you returning to the church?!" Rider exclaimed. "You can't have changed your mind so soon!"
"Calm down, Rider." Sola-Ui said dryly. "I just remembered that I should let the priest know that I'll be delivering something to him later today."
"What would that be?"
"We can't very well leave my fiancé's corpse rotting on the bed back at the hotel for the entire War, can we?" Sola-Ui stated as though it were obvious. "I'd prefer not to explain why I'm keeping a dead body in the bedroom should one of the maids or servicemen happen upon it."
The Matou household was a dark, terrible place to live. Most everyone in the family could attest to that. The old patriarch who ruled within the manor's walls could sweeten his words and warm his voice if need be, which was surprising given his constitution and appearance in general, but anyone who lived within the house could attest that Matou Zouken was just as ugly on the inside as he was on the outside.
Those who lived under the Matou's roof had all suffered in some way. The newly adopted Sakura had already experienced the horror of Matou magecraft first hand, and the girl had no hope of ever escaping. Kariya had escaped once, abandoning the path of the magus and leaving behind his brother to take up the task even if the man was ill-suited for it and had no wish to become the head. However, in the year since Kariya's return, the man had been reintroduced to the suffering that accompanied being one of the family and had been condemned to die in order to attempt to free the girl who had been adopted. Honestly, Byakuya Matou was probably the most fortunate given that the worm who tormented his relatives for his own gain had ignored him in favor of other projects. Though that had been a different sort of suffering, as Byakuya was still kept as more of an errand boy for Zouken who couldn't go out into the light. The man was just a mask Zouken used to maintain appearances, and while he was more comfortable in the cage than the other occupants, Byakuya had already been broken under such authority and had turned to the bottle in an attempt to drown his fear and loathing. That's to say nothing of his wife, who had been pitched into the manor's darkest and deepest room, the same room Sakura frequently visited, as punishment for producing a son who was incapable of carrying on the family's magic. The exact details regarding what she went through are better left unsaid. All one needs to know is that she never came out of the room again. She simply disappeared.
There was only one Matou who was dense to the corruption and darkness. He was unaware of the atrocities that took place within the walls of his home. Really, his obliviousness is a thing of wonder, and one might question the boy's intellect if he hadn't paid any attention to the creeping shadows and foreboding atmosphere of the house. But his ignorance is justified somewhat as he has two good reasons for his lack of awareness to his family's situation.
The first reason is that, like his father Byakuya, he is unfit to be heir to the Matou family and thus completely ignored by the worm. After all, what use has he for a tool that serves no purpose? There is no need to enlighten the boy and teach him the family business when he won't ever be able to understand and utilize it. He offers no benefit to the Matou, so Zouken is fine to let him do as he pleases and allows him to live in ignorance until he finds use for the boy.
The second reason is that he is a child. He is young and is incapable of analyzing the sheer wrongness that encompasses the household. Not only that, but after recently stumbling across an unlocked door that led to one of the many libraries in the mansion, the boy found his thoughts consumed by what he found in the room and thinks of nothing else. Can one blame him? Children often do latch onto whatever they find interesting and it is hard to tear their attention away and get them to notice anything else once they do.
Shinji Matou is only aware of one detail concerning his family, and that is that apparently he is descended from a long line of magus capable of performing magecraft.
Or so he thinks. The poor child isn't aware of his lack of talent and that the road of a magus will only lead to suffering and disappointment for him, but no one tells him that. There's only one thing that Shinji wants to do now, one thing that has consumed his mind.
He wants to be a magus.
Shinji walked through the hallways of the Matou manor with an excited smile on his face, holding a large leather book close to his chest. It was one of the half dozen or so books he'd pilfered from the small library he'd discovered a month or so ago. Said room had already been locked up once again, preventing him from getting at new books, but he didn't worry too much about that. He was too excited from reading the few entries he'd already gone over, and was satisfied with what he had.
A magus! Who would've thought he was descended from a line of people capable of casting spells and performing acts that you only read about in fiction. The entries were too detailed and too thorough in description and explanation to be fabricated. He refused to believe otherwise. It was amazing! And his father and grandfather hadn't told him…
"…It's probably because I'm too young." Shinji rationalized. "I'll start learning and training once I get older. They probably think I wouldn't be able to understand all of it."
While he was confident that he could grasp the concepts if someone guided him through it, he had to admit that most of what he read he barely understood. At least the magical bits. The history regarding the family he'd understood well enough, as some of the books had been logs about the Matou family line and where they started before coming to Fuyuki.
It was a good thing he'd stumbled across the books before leaving. His father had signed him for some boarding school out of the country. Shinji didn't know why and had been indignant to learn of his father's plans to send him away, having been told only a couple days in advance and about two weeks after his grand discovery about his family's true lineage. So, on the day he was supposed to leave on his trip, Shinji had spent the day at the park. He'd missed a cab, missed a flight, and thus stayed home. His father had been angry and his grandfather, who had actually been the one who told his father to sign him up, was cross but Shinji withered their frustrations for the sake of better things.
"I don't have time to waste studying stuff that doesn't matter." Shinji said to himself as he walked. "I should get a head start and study magic!"
He knew his priorities.
Shinji paused as he caught sight of a small figure trotting down the hallway. The boy slowed down but kept walking, coming to a stop in front of the girl as they reached the doorway to the girl's bedroom at the same time. She turned towards him and Shinji hid the book behind his back.
"Hey…" Shinji greeted, narrowing his eyes at the girl who gave him a blank stare in return.
Honestly, when his father suddenly brought her home one day and told Shinji he was going to have a younger sibling, a sister, he'd actually been a little excited. When he first saw her, he thought she was cute, and little shy with the way she hid behind his father's leg. However, before he could even introduce himself his grandfather had taken her away. He still had a vague image of when he first saw her, but that had been almost completely overwritten with his impression of her now.
"Ah, speak up a little, will you?" Shinji demanded, glaring at the girl. "I can't hear you if you mumble all the time."
Sakura's head drooped slightly, something flickering in her eyes before they were fixed on the ground. "I'm sorry…"
Shinji continued to glare at her. She was so weird.
"Mm…? What's that you're hiding behind your back?" Sakura asked, some curiosity in her tone.
"None of your business!" Shinji snapped, flicking her forehead when she tried to look around him. The girl stepped back, bowing her head again.
For a second Shinji thought about telling her what he had discovered, but quickly decided against it. Technically his adopted sister wasn't a real Matou and not privy to the family's secrets like he was. Maybe once his father and grandfather got around to telling him a little more then he'd share something with her. After all, he was the heir of the family. He had to be responsible with his knowledge. He couldn't just share it with a newcomer before he gained a better understanding for the craft.
"What about you?" Shinji asked, a little curious himself. "What have you been doing?"
Shinji frowned when the girl's head bowed even lower, bangs falling over her eyes though he could still see the dull irises that gazed into nothing.
"Grandfather just wanted to talk with me for a little while." Sakura said quietly. "It wasn't anything important…"
Shinji didn't really know how to respond to her words or her tone.
"I'm going to rest for a little while." Sakura said, opening her door and stepping inside. She paused before closing the door, leaving just a crack of space to look through before quietly shutting it.
God, she was creepy.
Despite that, Shinji did have some affection for his new little sister. He just wasn't sure how to show it. He'd been polite and friendly in the beginning, or at least he thought so, but eventually started picking on and teasing her in order to get a reaction from her. She was just so unresponsive to everything that the young boy was at a loss at how he should treat her. He was confused, and took it out on the newcomer. Her lack appreciation for his initial hospitality annoyed him.
Perhaps it was also slight envy towards the girl that he acted out against her. After all, ever since he could speak words and understand them both his father and grandfather had told him that he was forbidden from entering certain rooms within the Matou home, and such rooms often remained locked. The room he'd pilfered the books from had been one of those rooms. Shinji didn't particularly mind it, as there were far too many rooms in the house to keep track of and most of them were empty bedrooms or storage space. At least he assumed. However, in spite of his abiding by this single rule for years, Sakura had been allowed in some of the rooms he was barred from. He didn't understand why. Why was she allowed when he wasn't? Not only that, but his grandfather seemed to spend more time and talk with her a lot more than he ever did with him. It wasn't fair.
Oh, if only he knew.
Shinji pushed those thoughts and his growing frustration with them aside as he quickly entered his room and deposited the book under the bed where it joined the others he had devoted himself to studying over the past few weeks. Checking to make sure they were all still there and well hidden, Shinji left his room and walked down the hallway towards the stairs. The kitchen was his destination as he had neglected eating in favor of other things.
Still, he knew he'd be able to focus better if he had some food in his belly.
"Ah, thank you…"
Kariya gave his thanks to his Servant as Berserker handed him a full glass of water. Kariya gingerly held it up to his lips before gulping the drink down. He relaxed as he finished drinking, only realizing how thirsty he had been after downing the water and grateful his thirst had been quenched. Berserker watched his Master, though his mind was mostly on what Kariya had just finished telling him.
After carrying his Master out of the hell he'd found him in and grabbing a change of clothes for the withered man, Berserker and Kariya had made their way to the kitchen so that Kariya could get something to drink and so they could speak of what had gone on within the pit of worms Berserker had rescued him from. It had taken some time, but Kariya was somewhat satisfied that Berserker had finally gotten a grasp on the true state of things.
"So those… worms belong to that old demon and he put those worms inside you." Berserker said, reciting what Kariya had told him and what he understood.
"You only agreed because these worms are supposed to make you powerful enough to be a Master, otherwise you wouldn't be able to participate." Berserker continued. "And you only took part and summoned me because you wanted to help Sakura-chan."
"Yes." Kariya nodded.
"And those worms… Sakura-chan has them too, doesn't she?"
Kariya drew in a shaky breath, trying to contain his sorrow and anger.
Kariya watched as his Servant's fingers curled on top of the table, fists clenching as anger. The expression from the night he and the Servant stumbled upon Caster made a return as Berserker spoke in a low growling tone.
"I'll kill him." Berserker whispered. "I'll kill that demon. Rescue Sakura-chan. Kill him…"
"If only it were that easy…" Kariya muttered.
"Well, why isn't it?" Berserker demanded. "That girl…! Sakura can't… she can't smile here! And you let this happen?!"
"I joined this war to STOP this from happening! So I could try and rescue her!" Kariya shouted, though his tone was hoarse. "Don't you think I would've rescued her by now if I could have?!"
Kariya and Berserker glared at each other, tempers close to boiling over. Kariya could feel the worms getting agitated once more and he could have sworn Berserker's skin was coloring again.
"…So why not?" Berserker asked through clenched teeth. "What's stopping you from taking Sakura-chan and leaving this place?"
"Haven't you been listening to me?" Kariya asked, frustration mounting due to his Servant's inability to understand the critical detail that had chained Sakura to the Matou. "Those worms belong to Zouken! Those worms are inside her! So long as they remain, she'll never be free! My old man will never let her go, not when he can use her to keep his blasted magecraft from dying out…!"
Kariya choked and let out a couple wracking coughs. He took a deep breath and calmed himself down, wiping some blood from the corner of his lips before speaking more softly.
"So unless I can get him what he wants, unless I do what I promised and get the Grail for him… he won't expel the worms from Sakura's body. He's the only one who can do it." Kariya said. "It's the only way she'll ever be free… so that's why I have to win. It's the only way… the only way I can…!"
Kariya went into a fit of coughs again, groaning miserably when they stopped and massaged his chest to try and alleviate the pain that assailed him. He glanced up at Berserker, who stared at him with an impassive look on his face.
"…So killing him is out of the question?" Berserker asked.
"As much as I'd like it… his body isn't human. It's composed of those Crest Worms he's got crawling all over the place. As long as even one of those things exists he lives. And even if I found some way to get rid of them all I wonder if he'd die even then…" Kariya muttered. He shook his head, clenched his fists and held onto his resolve, his one desperate hope. "No. Getting the Grail is my only option, the only thing I can bet on to win back her happiness…"
The two lapsed into silence.
"I'll help you."
Kariya blinked when he heard the words, turning his head up towards Berserker.
"Children should be happy. They're happiest when they can smile. Sakura-chan can't smile here. She can't be happy here." Berserker said with a voice that was heavy with insistence.
Berserker suddenly turned his face away, though Kariya could've sworn that he'd seen the Servant's cheeks flush a little.
"I… I've been acting like a brat sometimes too. I didn't think your condition was that bad, or didn't realize what was going on, or about Sakura-chan's situation." Berserker said, crossing his arms across his chest and pouting like a child as he turned back to glare at his Master. "You've gotta tell me these things beforehand! I didn't know, and you've gotta… just keep me in the loop from now on, 'kay? We both wanna help Sakura-chan, so we've gotta communicate! Stay golden! Work together!"
Kariya chose not to point out that he'd tried to explain to his Servant several times about the severity of his condition and that Berserker was hopelessly dense to not notice it. Instead, he let the Servant speak.
Berserker's expression turned serious again. "Master, we will rescue Sakura. We'll get her away from that demon so she can smile again. Count on it!"
Kariya felt something inside him swell with warmth when he heard Berserker's words, spoken was such confidence that it almost made it sound like a predetermined fact. Kariya didn't know what to say. That the Servant was willing to fight with him, to fight for Sakura, and to hear someone else promise to follow through with what he promised Sakura…
Kariya's shoulders shook as he bowed his head towards his Servant.
"Thank you…" Kariya whispered, voice cracking. "Thank you so much, Berserker…"
"You've been thanking me a lot lately. It's starting to get old." Berserker complained, though the Servant still looked pleased despite his words. His expression sobered up. "Still, we gotta be careful if you're gonna last for the entire War. Don't let the worms get the better of you, 'cause if you go down I do too."
"I… I should be able to last until the end of the month if I don't exert myself too much."
Though even that seemed like a stretch now. Zouken may have restored his prana, but he could still felt weary and dried out. It had cost him too much to eliminate those monsters last night, and he could only get weaker from her on out. There would no second chances if he slipped up. Even now, he could feel the worms inside him continuing to feed. They'd keep feeding until there was nothing left, but as long as he could control them and kept his cool he could at least limit their feeding to small nibbles instead of launching them into a feeding frenzy.
It would kill him, and his death would mean Sakura would remain trapped within this hell.
He wouldn't let that happen.
"And neither will Berserker." Kariya thought with a smile.
"What a messed up family. I'm surprised you didn't take her away the second she was born." Berserker said.
"Huh?" Kariya frowned, puzzled by his Servant's words.
"Sakura-chan. She's your daughter, isn't she?"
Kariya actually pinked a little at that. He had only told Berserker of Sakura's sufferings and what Zouken put her through, not about how she came to be part of the Matou and who her true family was.
"Ah, no. S-She's not mine. She's adopted." Kariya explained. "Sakura-chan is the daughter of a close childhood friend of mine. I'm more of an uncle to her. A friend of the family."
"Oh." Berserker pursed his lips, a little surprised by that before grinning broadly. "Well, it's still pretty golden of you to fight for her. But why isn't she with her real family? Why's she here?"
Kariya's eyes narrowed as he thought of the bastard who gave Sakura up and condemned her to the horrors she'd suffered through for the past year.
Kariya blinked and slowly turned his head, confused when he heard a child call his name. He came across a small figure standing underneath the kitchen doorframe. The boy had wavy blue hair that could compared to seaweed and blue eyes that were surprised and inquisitive. There was a pause as the man and child stared at each other, unmoving. Berserker looked from one to the other, clearly interested in the boy's sudden appearance and Kariya's reaction to his presence.
Kariya Matou struggled for a few seconds before he remembered the child's face and the name that came with it.
The boy frowned, eyes narrowing as he nodded in response. "That's my name. Or did you forget?"
"Of course not. How could I?" Kariya muttered.
He was a little ashamed that he hadn't been quicker to greet Shinji and that his tone was a little unfitting. After all, Shinji was his nephew and had been living in this house longer than Kariya had. Even so, Kariya could count the number of times he'd seen the boy during the past year of his training on one hand. He hadn't really talked much with his brother's son, having spent most of his time with Sakura, training in the pit, or recovering from a training session in one of the spare room Zouken tossed him in whenever his body reached its limits.
"So how are… things?" Kariya ventured.
"…Fine. Are you here visiting again or something?" Shinji asked.
Ah, that's right. Shinji didn't know that Kariya had been receiving training for the past year. Due to their infrequency in seeing each other, Shinji assumed that he was just dropping in for a quick visit. Still, the boy looked a little different than Kariya remembered. He'd gotten a bit taller, and he could see a lot of resemblance to Byakuya looking at him.
"Who's he?" Shinji asked, quirking an eyebrow when he noticed the stranger sitting across from his uncle.
"Oh. This is… a friend of mine." Kariya said. He gestured to Berserker then to Shinji. "Ah, this is my nephew, Shinji."
Kariya watched as Berserker promptly pushed himself to his feet, quickly striding over to Shinji and crouching down so he was at eye level with the boy.
"How ya doin'?" Berserker grinned. "Whatcha doing here?"
"This is my home. And this is the kitchen." Shinji said, explaining as though it were obvious. "I came down to get something to eat."
"Ah, I see. Come to think of it, I'm pretty starved myself." Berserker said. He turned towards his Master. "Mind if I get a bite for myself."
Kariya nodded. "Help yourself to whatever's in the fridge."
Shinji quickly moved around Berserker. The Servant's expression morphed the moment the boy's back was to him, with Kariya noticing the change immediately. Berserker stared at Kariya, expression solemn before he gestured slightly to Shinji.
Berserker beamed when Kariya shook his head.
Kariya sighed as his eyes moved over to Shinji again. There were many other things the boy didn't know. As far as Kariya knew, the boy was completely unaware of the atrocities being committed within his home. Zouken kept the door closed to Shinji when it came to knowledge of magecraft due to the boy's lack of magical talent. Kariya was relieved at that, happy that Shinji didn't have to suffer the same way Sakura did.
"Although, if Shinji had even a little talent, Sakura might not…"
Kariya's expression twisted and he shook his head at the thought, horrified that he'd even thought of such a thing. He'd never wish such a thing on his brother's child. He wouldn't wish any of this on any child. Rather, he wished Byakuya had the courage to abandon the Matou as he had tried to do. He wished that his brother had the sense to get his wife and son away from the old worm who used people as he wanted and disposed of those useless to him.
Kariya's shoulder's sank at that depressing thought. The face of his brother's deceased wife flashed in his mind's eye. He'd only met her twice. Once at his brother's wedding and once more when Shinji was born. It was only after a couple weeks once he began his training to become a Master that he'd even asked his brother about her.
The increase in number of bottles littered around the living room and the muttered curses directed at himself and Zouken had been answer enough to that question.
"You look terrible."
Kariya chuckled a little at Shinji's blunt observation. He pulled up the hood of his jacket in an attempt to hide his face. "Sorry. Staring at a face like mine must ruin your appetite."
"What happened to you…?" Shinji asked, some curiosity in his tone as he bit into a sandwich. His uncle seemed to get worse and worse every time he saw him.
"Several things. I just… had a few accidents." Kariya said, smiling what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "It's nothing you need to worry about, Shinji."
"…Tell me. Are and Sakura getting along?" Kariya asked suddenly.
Such a thing had honestly never occurred to him before. For the past year he'd been completely focused on Sakura and training so he could become a Master in time for the Holy Grail War. He'd scarcely seen his brother and even less of Shinji. As the boy was close in age with Sakura, and as she was now his younger sibling, maybe Shinji had been a bright spot for Sakura. After all, without Rin Sakura was sure to be lonely.
He blinked a little when he saw Shinji frown in distaste.
"…I guess. I don't know." Shinji muttered uncomfortably. "She's so quiet and doesn't respond to anything I do. She's weird and creepy."
Kariya felt a spike of anger at that, but quickly calmed down. "It's… I suppose she seems a little closed off. It's just she's gone through a lot and she might not be used to this house yet."
Not that Kariya ever expected her to be.
"She's been here long enough." Shinji argued. His frown grew a little deeper. "Grandfather spends a lot of time with her. You too, whenever you visit. You hardly ever talk to me."
The first part of that brought the anger back, but the end of Shinji's sentence smothered the anger with surprise. Kariya stared at the child.
Of course. Perhaps ignorance was another form of isolation within a house of magus, though as far as Kariya was concerned it was certainly more preferable than learning the dark secrets of the Matou and suffering because of it. Given Byakuya's disposition, he probably didn't spend a whole lot of time with Shinji, and as his uncle he probably should've…
"You got anything to do later, Shinji-kun?"
Both Kariya and Shinji turned towards Berserker, who was busy licking something off of his fingers as he shut the refrigerator door behind him. The Servant grinned as he gestured to what was around him.
"This place is so quiet and dreary. Can't have any fun around here." Berserker smiled. "Why not come out and spend the day with us? I made a promise with some kids yesterday to play with them at the park and if you want to join in I think we'd have more fun."
"Aren't you a little old to play at the park?" Shinji asked, arching an eyebrow at the Servant.
"You're never too old to play!" Berserker boasted with a large grin. "Well? What do you say?"
Shinji was taken aback by the sudden offer. He huffed and turned his head away. "I-I don't know. I mean, I've got other stuff that needs to be done."
After all, he still wanted to get finished reading those books. But reading got boring after a while, and going to play at the park did sound fun. His father rarely took him out anymore and spent most of his time drinking…
As Shinji debated with himself, Berserker shot a meaningful glance towards Kariya. The man stared at his Servant for several moments before a slight smile rose onto his face.
"Why don't you come with us, Shinji?"
Shinji's head snapped to his uncle.
"You look like you could use some sun. I don't mind taking you out if you want." Kariya offered with a smile.
"…What about Sakura?" Shinji asked. "Aren't you going to visit her?"
Kariya opened his mouth to answer before thinking better of it. He closed his mouth and softly shook his head. "No, it's fine. She's… I… it'll be better if she doesn't see me right now."
Shinji was confused as he observed the expression on his uncle's face. He looked so tired and sad…
"So is that a yes, or…?"
Shinji shook his head, trying to keep a straight face though his lips still twitched in excitement.
"Yeah, I don't mind going to the park with you guys."
"Golden!" Berserker smiled brightly. Kariya gingerly got out of his seat and all of them headed towards the doors to the manor.
"By the way, what's your name?" Shinji asked the stranger who his uncle seemed to be acquainted with.
"My name?" Berserker asked.
Kariya peered at the Servant in the corner of his eye, the sudden question that he'd never thought to ask also piquing his curiosity. Berserker smiled at Shinji as he proudly stuck out his chest.
"Kintaro!" Berserker proclaimed. "My name is Kintaro!
Master: Kariya Matou
True Name: Kintaro (Wise Up!)
Alignment: Chaos Neutral
Noble Phantasm: ?
Madness: E / Doesn't receive the benefits of the ability that the class is known for. However, if enough damage is dealt, or if Berserker becomes excited/enraged in battle, the rank will exponentially increase. The rank will decrease once again if Berserker is calmed down or if the engagement ends. His skin turns red when the ability is active.
Divinity: D / Divine Spirit aptitude that comes from origins as a thunder deity's son. Because his mother was a man-eating mountain witch, the rank is low. It will rarely activate as resistance in regards to the attack of Heroic Spirits that possess thunder deity-lineage roots and legends.
Golden Axe: ? / Its name and specific abilities are currently unknown. It generates electric attacks from the cartridges attached to its back.
Golden Spark: C / An Anti-Army Noble Phantasm usage in which a flash of lightning is released from Berserker's golden axe and mows down the surrounding enemies. It activates by using at least 3 of the 15 loaded cartridges. Can use less cartridges, but normal attacks are charged with electrical bursts (Equivalent to Prana Burst: Lightning - Rank C) and is more powerful the more cartridges used. Cartridges can be restored with prana or by other means. (Wise Up!)
A/N: For those of you who still didn't know who he was, you've finally got a concrete name. Identity revealed.
As I wanted to update this sooner, more also should have been added but this was getting too long. Decided to cut it off here. So, next chapter will definitely focus on the remaining teams, mostly Kirei and Team Saber with Team Archer appearing if I can fit it. However, after the next chapter we'll definitely get onto the third night.
As always, I earnestly hope you enjoyed the chapter and apologize that it took as long as it did to get out. I've got the next list of events outlined, and hopefully it won't take to long to get write it up. No promises though, as I'm quite busy and real life takes priority. I'll fix any mistakes later. Any feedback is appreciated and I wish you all happy days.