alternate title: PLOT TWIST: Ryuunosuke thinks 'this isn't cool.'
I'm so sorry that this took so long. People who follow me on tumblr can attest that I have had it mostly done for months and it's more of a matter of me not thinking it was up to par with my writing standards. Oh well, I've given up obsessing over that, I feel like you guys would rather see something than nothing at all, right? Thank you SO MUCH for all the faves and comments/encouragement I've received since the last chapter though, as well as people expressing hope that I didn't quit. I'll try to be less hard on myself in the future.
In this chapter we meet…a weird Arthurian Gary Stu. WHO COULD THIS BE? oh also everyone's having a collective mental breakdown, you know, typical Fate stuff.
"Why don't you go outside, Mordred? It's warm out today, the snow is thawing."
Of all the occupants of the Pendragon house, Bevidere was the one Mordred hated the least. It wasn't saying much, Bevidere was a bit stern, but usually reasonable, nor did he seem to address her with the same condescending tone the others usually reserved. He also tended to be more lax than Gawain, and didn't have the big head either, so Mordred found herself reserving the least amount of contempt for him. He always had a cigarette hanging from his lips, but it was never lit- he'd just chew it compulsively and smile peacefully at the others, the perfect gentleman, the straight man, Arturia's voice of reason.
Though it pained her to take anyone's advice, she would occasionally listen to Bedivere. It was pretty nice outside, after all, not quite as chilly as it had been, and she found herself wandering the grounds aimlessly, wondering to herself how fast Bedivere would catch her if she just bolted. She'd heard he specialized in tranquilizers, she didn't really fancy finding out firsthand, but he didn't yell for her when she moved out of his eyesight, which was nice, not being treated like a toy dog for once.
To the front of the manor was the path that led into the city. They were on the outskirts, blanketed by a small forest with a creek cutting through it that wound around the side of the house; if you followed it you'd eventually hit the highway, she'd heard Caradoc say offhandedly. At the foot of the stream there was a blob of white- a boy's figure, basking in the sunlight and holding a book in front of his nose, unaware as she made her way towards him.
So he was back, was he?
Gail Corbens, somewhere around 12 years old, was still too young to be knighted, and spent most of his time living with his biological aunt, usually only coming over for his mage training. Ironically, he was older than Mordred, who was five, but her body had aged rapidly due to the fact that she was a prototype vessel born of solely Arthur's genetics, and her mind had followed suit due to the intensive training she was given, educated under the correct assumption that the war would start prematurely, and that she may need to be a functional human being. Gail himself looked the part of a proper Holy Grail container, probably because he was biologically related to the root on his mother's side. Honestly, these assholes wouldn't tell her much about the war or bloodlines or anything, but she knew enough that she understood that this little bastard was the same thing as her; he just wasn't going to perish.
"What are you reading, Corbens?" she asked coldly, grabbing the book from his hands before he could protest. She gazed down at him hatefully and he stared back with an innocent expression until she flipped it open to a random page, prepared to mock him, then gritting her teeth upon the realization-
It was blank.
"What the hell?" she expressed, flipping through page after page of his book, shutting it and looking at the cover- blank. Absolutely nothing in it.
"It's a history book," Gail said softly, holding his hand up so she'd return it to him. She tossed it in the mud instead, and he looked at it with an eerie sadness as she turned away, prepared to leave him. Fucking weird little shit.
"Did you know you're supposed to be a boy, Mordred?" he said quietly. She stopped in her tracks, body becoming tense. "And Arthur too."
Twisting around, she grabbed him by the collar, hoisting him up to her level. He was tall for his age, already taller than her, with large gray eyes, and thick, snow-colored hair that fell in waves just past his chin. His appearance and expression were almost creepy in their Anglicism, a creature completely unaware of wrongdoing or grudges, and she felt an irrational hatred for him, moreso than anyone else in this fucking house but Arturia.
"How can you read that book?" she hissed. "How can you see past the curse?"
"I've been practicing Magecraft a lot lately," Gail whispered, still not upset by her manhandling him. "You used to look like a boy to me, but not lately. Why is that?"
"Do the others know?!"
"Do the others know you have enough fucking Magical Circuits to bypass a curse that big?"
"I tried to ask uncle Gawain last week but he didn't understand me. So I asked about your names. He said the house is based on the Arthurian legend, right? But you can't read books about them, otherwise you'd have an unfair advantage and know the future. He doesn't know about it, but I can still read them, because I'm not a knight, right? It's really simple. I think once you become a true knight, you forget everything the books say, and can't fight it anymore."
"What does the book say?!" she growled, letting him down once more. He eyed the mud-splattered object forlornly and opened his mouth, moving his lips as though he was telling her something, but no sound came out.
"Hey you little creep, I asked you a question!"
"I just told you, though, what it said. But I don't think you can hear me, because of the curse."
"Fucking fine, then. How do you break the curse?"
"It doesn't say. They weren't under a curse, just you. It's not exactly the same as the book says, because History is never all the way right, right? I think…the only way to break it is to leave, isn't it? You can only change the outcome if you're not a knight, or if you turn your back. I'm not a knight so I know everything that happens. You can probably find out too, if you leave. But I don't think you should do that, Mordred."
"Why not?!" she hissed.
Once again his words were blanked out, Mordred balling her fists in rage.
"Did you see yourself in the book?"
"Me? I can't be sure, really. But my mother's family was the original prototype for your Grail Vessel, before they made you. But she didn't die the way you usually do. She killed herself."
"I know that, freak, that's why you're here."
What an irritating brat. She knew if she socked him in the face Gawain would be pissed- if he was even coming home. The sudden thought of him and Arturia dying was kinda nice, wasn't it? Gail continued to look at her, unblinking, until she focused on him again.
"So are you in the book or not?" she asked him impatiently, wondering if he was completely useless or could actually help her.
"Yes. But if I tell you that name I might be forced to take it, right? I can't help you if I don't remember anything."
Fed up, Mordred punched him in the eye, knocking him to the ground. He stared at her, rubbed his cheek indolently, looking confused but not really upset.
"What's wrong with you?! Hit me back!" she demanded, as he got up and brushed himself off, picking his book out of the mud and wiping it on his now dirtied pants.
"Why would I do that?" he said softly.
"Aren't you angry? Don't you hate me?"
"Not really," Gail responded. "But it's ok if you are. You can hit me again, if that makes you feel better," he offered gently.
She did, right in the nose, then in the stomach, then his mouth, the sound of fist meeting flesh ringing in her ears. Blood trickled from his nostril and dripped onto the white dress-shirt he wore, and he took the abuse without so much as a whimper, only looking up at her when she was finished and managing a small
"Did that help?"
"No," she said, tearing away from the awkward kid and back towards the house, feeling his gaze boring into her.
The sensation of waking up blind must be an awful feeling. Although Gilles required glasses for his own vision impairment, it was nothing close to the feeling of a world suddenly swallowed by darkness, perhaps wondering if you're still asleep.
Assassin hadn't fainted per-say, as it was unlikely that a Servant could faint or sleep in the manner of a human. However, he'd lost function for a brief minute, and when he came to his senses and started pawing at his face in disbelief, it was obvious that something was wrong. It wasn't clear what until he went so far as to touch his eyes directly without flinching. That was when he lost his nerve.
"I'm blind?!" he cried in panic, and Gilles peered closer at him- his gaze was unfocused and he didn't seem able to blink- he was more than just blind, he's suffered some form of nerve damage.
"This…this isn't cool! I can't see blood anymore! What if this is permanent?! How am I supposed to have fun if I can't even see what I'm doing?!"
Gilles watched him silently, unsure of how to respond to this. In the time since the illness had visibly taken hold of his Servant, his skin had started to grow strange bumps in places, most notably on his forehead and around his eyes, as though the arteries were popping out of his skin. The Master reached forward gently to touch beneath Assassin's eye, to feel the oddly engorged veins. Because of Ryunosuke's class, blindness didn't impair his senses too badly- he could still function well enough without sight to know Gilles was reaching for him, so he sat still for a moment, looking through him with those dead eyes.
When his emaciated finger brushed against one of the lines curiously, Gilles felt something squirm at his touch. He jerked his hand away in horror- there was definitely something under his Servant's skin. Ryunosuke yelped, grabbed his temple with one hand, his skin convulsing like a maggot-ridden cadaver and blood leaking from the veins like a punctured hose. It even built up in his foggy eyes and spilled over, putrid tears runnng across his cheeks as he shook his head wildly.
"What's happening?!" he wailed.
"Calm down, Assassin, calm down! I think…I think it gets worse when you're excited!"
Assassin forced himself to take short, gasping breaths, even though physically it did nothing for him. Eventually he calmed down, pulled his hand away from his face and tried to push himself off the floor, into a standing position again. His balance was a complete wreck and he collapsed immediately, Gilles catching him once more. His hands were sticky from blood, and left a red smear on the Master's arm, which Gilles looked at curiously, feeling uneasy.
"I've read about corruption magic before. He's using you as a host, which is why you can't recover prana."
"Cool…but gross…" Assassin groaned. He did seem genuinely interested in the corruption process, but the fact that he couldn't even see what he looked like right now was obviously a major damper in his enthusiasm. "So I'm pretty much screwed? He's just going to drain me until I die?"
"Possibly," Gilles muttered sadly. "There's still a chance that purification magic can reverse this, but I'm not practiced in it."
Ryunosuke didn't give two shits about magecraft, he'd made this clear several times, and Gilles himself had only started due to curiosity, so they were in a really bad jam right now. Helping both of them to their feet, he walked over to their water supply; five gallon-jugs from the nearest grocery, uncorked and spilled some across his bad arm, watching Assassin's watered-down blood run across his skin and wincing as the icy liquid seeped through his bandages.
"This really sucks," Assassin complained, trying to get used to his shattered center of gravity by walking carefully between the pews. He flickered a few times, almost fell flat on his face, then took a seat on a scorched bench and gazed blankly in the general direction of the stained glass.
Gilles started lifting the moldy carpeting and searching for hidden compartments, brooded when he found nothing, not even in the back of his head that could help. All he could remember was one of the last things Jeanne had said-
"Do not mistake purity for the same thing as goodness."
"Hmm?" Assassin said groggily, tilting his head and looking back at him with a forced smile.
"That's what she told me. A person can have the best of intentions and still do terrible things, can be the most gracious being on earth and still capable of the greatest cruelty. Someone who is truly good isn't necessarily pure- more likely they have suffered numerable indignities that enlightened them to goodness. Purity is cruel. It's a natural state, not a gained one. So long as you don't see what you're doing as wrong, you can still be a pure being, even if it hurts those around you. It's rare that purity and goodness should overlap, because unlike kindness, purity's easily corrupted, and not easily regained."
"I'm afraid that's a bit too abstract for me," Ryunosuke complained. "Are you saying I was a pure being?"
"You certainly aren't a good one."
"Ha! I'm glad you can still joke, Gilles, I was concerned you might be upset! So Berserker could corrupt me because I was pure, huh?"
"No, you're looking too much into it. I was saying more along the lines of…well…it's depressing...but that it's far easier to dirty something than to clean it. So even with the right application…that kind of magic might not be strong enough to reverse this."
"Where did you learn all this stuff, Gilles? Can't the person who taught you this help us?"
"She's dead, I already told you that."
"The woman who owned this church? Sort-of your modern-day Joan of Arc, right?"
'I…I suppose you could call her that."
"So she knew magecraft?"
"Yes. She was talented in the healing sort. She always…told me I had a great deal of potential, but she urged me not to pursue it. 'The Magus world is corrupt, it turns good men evil.'"
"So that's what you meant by forward-thinking. She didn't like the politics of the Magus system."
He nodded, then realized Assassin couldn't even see it, but he'd sensed the movement, the message got through to him, and he sighed audibly.
"I don't want to die like this, Gilles. I wanted to see everything in vivid detail, just like last time. Am I even worthy to call myself your Servant? What's left for me? I lost you your hand, you can't even make me kill myself. What if he has me kill you?"
"I'm not afraid of death," Gilles murmured. "I was going to die anyway, wasn't I? You saved me. And intentionally or not, reminded me of things I'd forgotten. So thank you."
They didn't make the trip in a day. After all, traveling an entire country's distance and then some would be arduous enough, they'd left at sunset and settled somewhere nice in Southern France, probably giving their opponents a fair warning that they were headed in their direction. Lancer wasn't about to give Gil any points for decency, it was completely a matter of laziness and, as he put it, 'wanting to instill a sense of foreboding' in their enemies, so what was the rush?
Babili wasn't paranoid either, so he let Tokiomi wander as he had before, thinking idly about Saber- Kirei, he reminded himself, was he already forgetting their human past? It wasn't satisfying, being a Servant, this finicky immortality, no goal in life but the Holy Grail that Gil wouldn't even strive for, wondering what this world even was, if Aoi was ok, if she'd married someone else and had kids, Aoi, Aoi in a world where he never existed, was she happier that way? He'd never have considered that before, he couldn't consider it before. She'd always seemed happy, gentle and assuring, never questioned anything, he'd never questioned anything; that way of life had seemed as natural as breathing, and look where he'd ended up.
Eventually the pointlessness of wandering the city as a man with no ties weighed too heavily and he returned to Babili, lounging on his bed and watching the news.
"Depressing as usual, Tohsaka?"
No response. A small buzzing sound alerted him to Gil's phone ringing, he picked it up and tossed it at his Master, internally hoping it would hit him, but of course the man caught it one-handed and Cheshire-grinned as he glimpsed the caller ID.
He flipped his phone open and leaned back into his nest of pillows, turning the volume on the TV all the way down.
"Zayda!" he said enthusiastically, never losing his smile. "...Saber? You're alive, then! Fantastic! I imagine Zayda wants my head for deserting you?"
After a moment, he shot Tokiomi a look and put the phone on speaker, perhaps to rub salt in the wound that was Kirei's survival.
"She's near catatonic. She hasn't spoken for two days," the unmistakable voice said calmly.
Tokiomi watched Gil suck in air between his teeth. Kirei couldn't see the'guilty' expression the man was forcing right now, as though he was torn between concerned and laughing, but he doubted it would have mattered to him anyway. It was disgusting. Not feeling responsible was one thing, finding it amusing was another thing entirely.
"So who were the Servants?" his Master said dismissively, pushing the topic away from Zayda. Tokiomi wasn't sure why this was bothering him so much. That's the risk one took upon becoming a Magus, though he inferred from what little he knew of Zayda that she probably never had a choice in the matter. Either way, she knew what she was getting herself into. If she didn't like that way of life she should have just left, right? Left and never looked back. Good riddance. This shouldn't be upsetting at all.
"Caster is Kayneth Archibald, a rather skilled Magus whose fighting prowess is unfortunately tempered by his bitterness. Rider is Waver Velvet, a child that grew up to surpass his teacher. His phantasm is responsible for my Master's current state, and he can also pass Servant status to humans, which recreates legendary abilities. He's going to be a thorn in my side."
Tokiomi watched the sadistic intrigue creep across his Master's face, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. This wasn't good. Not at all.
"So what does that mean for us?" Babili said casually, not letting on how fascinated he was with Rider's power.
"It doesn't mean anything for us, Babili, as you so kindly pointed out earlier- we are no longer aligned."
Gil gave a huge, fake sigh, audible enough that Kirei would have heard it through the receiver. "Then what was the point in calling me and telling me all this?"
"I'm, perhaps more, forgiving than my Master, which is why I'm willing to give you a second chance."
"That would benefit you quite a bit, wouldn't it, with you Master shut down like that," Gil said carelessly. "But what does it do for me?"
"I have my theories about the Servant you're tracking. But honestly, I'll let you see for yourself. If I spoil the surprise then I won't have anything to fall back on later, when you're begging for my help."
"Oh? That's awfully cocky of you, Saber."
"I have reasons to be confident, as I'm sure you personally understand."
Gil's smile tightened a bit. He obviously hated being compared to anyone else, even if he had taken interest in Kirei. After a bit of a pause, Gil stewing over this statement, Kotomine decided to cut it short.
"Well in the meantime, I'll be protecting myself. Give me a call when you're done, and tell Kariya I said hello."
"Hmm I'm beginning to see why you dislike the man, Lancer, he's quite a sneaky little bastard. But as of right now…"
Tokiomi's mind blocked out Gil's careless speech, hateful thoughts clawing away at everything. What's the point? What am I fighting for? I'm helpless no matter how much power I have…if I can't even understand why I've been summoned, why these events are repeating themselves, indentured to this man I despise. This world…none of the principles I fought for apply…no organization, no goal but selfishness…this world can't be worth anything. Is any of this even real?
"I hate when you get that look on your face."
Good riddance, I hate you too, you arrogant bastard-
"Let's go find your friend."
"I told you, none of these people were my friends-"
"At least not during the war, you said. Saber mentioned that name for your sake, what meaning would it have to me? This isn't the first time he's said it either. Kariya…Matou was it? Who is this man?"
"Kotomine seems to think he possesses some threat to you."
"Prove it, then. Give me the fight I've been longing for."
Why? What's the use in fighting if you can't even die with dignity?
"Kariya outlived you, Lancer, it seems rather imprudent of you to look down on him."
How. There was no way he could have survived that. He had nobody to help him- no friends, no family that would care for him, his participation in the war itself had been a joke. His existence was painful and lonely, a being begging to be stamped out of existence.
No amount of glory is worth being miserable, right? I guess I can't really understand you, sorry, Tohsaka.
He hadn't been miserable, though. He hadn't. That was just life as he'd accepted it, in all its unfairness and unjustness, he hadn't made it that way, so he'd refused to claim responsibility. Enjoying what existed, seeking to expand upon it, never bothering with those lesser emotions that tempered the rest of humanity, it was the Magus way of life. It was the way Gil Babili was now.
Nothing's more agonizing than self-awareness.
Alex Macedonia stood shirtless in front of the hotel room's bathroom mirror, flexing his arms and trying to look intimidating. The muscle rippling beneeth his skin satisfied him for only a moment, before the sound of a teacup shifting in the next room brought him back to the cold hard reality that he was in over his head, he'd had no idea what he was getting himself into when he joined this war, and he was frustrated.
'El-Melloi?" he questioned, loud voice reverberating across the room, causing a stillness to overtake the area.
'The first one," a somewhat vain voice replied carelessly, the clinking of his cup against his saucer scrapping once more. Alex watched his own hairy eyebrows fall into a look of dejectedness and apprehension. He tried to force himself to look feirce again, but wound up with a hesitantly constipated expression and gave up, shuffling idly into the next room.
I'm nearly 300 lbs of muscle and probably 3 lbs of it is brain at most.
I'm nobody. A King? What kind of King feels this helpless? What kind of King can't even control one Servant, let alone keep him happy?
He was out, now, with Diarmuid, if it was just him and Caster. Rider and Diarmuid got along swimmingly,which was a bit of a blow to Alex, despite his best intentions. After all, Diarmuid was one of those men that just didn't exist in this day and age, he was unnaturally well-meaning despite his occasional arrogance, and he was an excellent mage, something that Rider would naturally admire.
Alex wanted to punch himself for being jealous, because envy was just proof that Diarmuid had things worth coveting, and Alexander...he had nothing. He was classless, untrained, abrasive, and ill fit for this war, just as Waver had warned him the first day they met.
Waver Velvet El-Melloi.
There was a complicated guy. For every 3 lbs of Alex's brawn, Rider must have all that muscle stored in his brain. His main hobby seemed to be brooding, and after the disastrous battle with Saber, he'd only gotten worse, mostly because watching that assassin woman have a mental breakdown and sob like a child had really hit home just how fucked up this war was.
Don't leave me Waver!
I know you.
"Is there a way we can save her?" Diarmuid had asked him later, when Alex visited his bedside. Physically he had recovered entirely, exhaustion aside- Caster's healing phantasm was truly one of a kind, but doing something like that again would undoubtedly be reckless. He'd sacrificed a rather large portion of his body to restore O'Dyna's, but just how much remained yet to be seen...well it would be unwise for them to disclose that to team Rider anyway, even if they were temporary allies.
"We'll think of something. She can't hide Saber very well when she's under that much stress, right? But is it really our job to save a girl who got in over her head?"
"I suppose not," the Irishman had said hesitantly. "Honestly, it's not worth pitying a Magus, but Rider's phantasm would be traumatic for anyone, wouldn't it? Besides, she's going to lose eventually anyway. Perhaps it would be better that someone kind does it, someone that would at least spare her life, if she even chooses to live."
True. And...well, even if he didn't verbalize how he was feeling, that was what Waver wanted, wasn't it? He felt responsible for what he'd done to that woman, because it had been entirely unnecessary.
If anything, it was Alex's fault.
"Of course she wants to live! Who wants to die?!" he said loudly, shocking the bedridden Diarmuid.
"You're a pretty simple guy, Alex. And I...I don't mean that as an insult. I admire that about you. It takes a certain kind of person to shrug off the kind of things we've seen...and it's only going to get worse."
In the current time, Caster levitated his tea idly, pouring himself another cup and looking pointedly at Alex, who tried to harden his gaze.
"You look pretty down today, Macedonia. Tired of letting your Servant walk all over you?"
"Tired of being a bitter snob?" he shot back, sitting roughly in a chair across from Archibald, the wood creaking under his massive frame.
"I have every right to be bitter. You on the other hand...ha. Well, perhaps in my timeline you were the type of man I would have envied! Your current state, though...you're just pathetic. Of course, I don't really blame you. 'King of Conquerors'...in this age, no matter what you have, riches, property; nothing is truly yours."
"Relationships," Alex grumbled under his breath.
"The admiration of others, genuine feelings and emotions...those can't be bought. That's why you're angry. You're the type of man who doesn't know how to earn the respect of anyone without money. You're right. I'm an idiot who doesn't know what he's doing. I'm also a moron that thinks that in the long run, the relationships you form with people are more meaningful than material possessions, and this is why I'm over my head in this stupid war. But my unhappiness is temporary. I'll push past it and find a way to prove myself and find what I'm looking for. I don't need your validation or anyone else's for that," he muttered.
"I had a student like you once," Caster said casually, looking at him coldly from across the table. "I rather disliked him. His attitude won out over mine in the end, though. Funny how that works."
France wasn't that exciting to Kiritsugu, who had been to pretty much every country at some point in his human life. Likewise, Arturia wasn't easily impressed by the scenery or people she met- she was quite comically interested in food, however, and ate a surprising amount for someone her size. So did Gawain, for that matter, but he was indiscriminate in what he devoured, Arturia was incredibly picky and walked out of three restaurants before she found one that suited her. Kiritsugu Emiya dedicated his time to watching her when she thought he was otherwise preoccupied, mostly because he had spent their previous war ignoring her adamantly, and also because she'd been acting strangely since he told his story, and he was trying to digest her motives.
Gawain, prick that he was, had justified issues under everything. Kiritsugu had researched Arthur's life and legend before he'd summoned Saber, so he knew the basic premise of the rest of their stories. What he hadn't expected was for the current reality to parallel history in such a complex manner.
On one hand, it was different. Truthfully, a modern Arthurian story couldn't be identical to the real, just as history hadn't been accurate in identifying Arturia's gender. They were also under a curse and couldn't head warnings of 'fate' which explained why nobody had seen any of it coming. There were a few fundamental differences, though, that had changed the outcome slightly when the events of five years prior happened.
One: the Arthurian curse obviously did not apply to other legends. Whether or not they too were under separate curses was yet to be seen, but due to not being tied to the Pendragon's complicated history, they would be able to impact the outcome of the story as it unfolded, and cause deviations in the fate of the house.
Two: That also meant that anyone outside the legend could predict the family's future, and manipulate these events in their favor. However, from the sound of it, nobody in the previous war had figured it out. More than likely, they thought that the Pendragon's names were codewords, as they were searching for a Holy Grail like the knights of history. To assume they were real legends would be laughable in the face of reality, even one as twisted as this. The other reason nobody had figured it out was because their previous participant, Lancelot, had summoned an overpowered Servant that made the war unfairly skewed in their favor. She had put an incredible strain on him mentally, however, which caused him to terminate himself and the Grail's human vessel before it could manifest, which was why this war had started early- the majority of the required mana was already there from last time.
Three: the only way for someone under the Arthurian curse to change the events or read their fate was to betray the house.
This last fact led into some dangerous territory, in light of Gawain's story. In fact, it was Gawain's story that had enlightened Kiritsugu to these theories, because the story deviated from Arthurian history the moment Lancelot had betrayed them.
"He killed himself, and took her down with him."
Certainly not, if legend was to be believed. But dissolving into insanity, the parallels with Irisviel and Guinevere?
There was a dull ache in Kiritsugu's chest, a surge of complicated emotions clawing at him. Scuffling in the hotel's hallway and the fumbling of a key in the lock alerted him to what his thoughts had distracted him from- familiar mana.
Gawain, obviously inebriated, entered their room abruptly, arm wrapped around the waist of a giggling woman who seemed equally drunk. The hand that clutched her waist bore part of the command spell that determined his own fate. He gave Kiritsugu a pointed look, and the Archer class Servant stood, glancing behind him as he exited.
Emiya thought back to Arturia's face, the complex and downtrodden guilt she'd expressed after he told his tale.
He'd only seen Saber behave that way once, and it was minutes before she died- after she killed Berserker.
If Berserker had been Lancelot, then there was quite a big chance that he was still alive, and the Master of Matou Kariya.
Which didn't really solve any mysteries, because Kiritsugu knew next to nothing about Matou. He was good at hiding, and his brother despised him. He'd been a huge wildcard in the fifth war of Fuyiki and somehow made it to the end without Kiritsugu glimpsing him even once. He didn't know what his personality was like, his reasons for fighting, or what kind of Phantasm he'd possess as a Servant.
All he knew was that he'd aligned himself with Kotomine Kirei, and was ultimately betrayed. Ticking it off in his head, he knew that Caster was Archibald, and Rider was Waver Velvet. The Servant they would fight tomorrow was likely an injured Assassin, which was why his mana had somehow become detectable. Their classes also reflected their abilities in life- Archibald, the talented Mage with an ultimately fragile human body- Caster was quite fitting for him. And Velvet, who had been young and impressionable, must have idolized Rider and sought to emulate him in his adulthood. Uryuu, the killer, had been given the class most adept at killing humans covertly. That left the final three classes as Lancer, Berserker, and Saber.
Realizing he could hear Gawain's love connection making noise, that he hadn't moved since he shut the door, Kiritsugu headed down the hall, wondering if any of this was worth telling his Master. He'd sworn honesty to her but obviously honesty did not extend to his personal thoughts- he didn't have to tell Arturia anything until she ordered him to, and even then, as an Archer, he could resist in spite of the pain.
Was it worth troubling her? Did it matter if he furthered or hindered her agenda? After all, he'd given up on the concept of heroism, and she clung to it like a lifeboat. The thought that the Holy Grail might be corrupted in this universe was a miserable one, for her and for him. The idea that her dream was already tarnished, that his second chance at creating an ideal world- (no, no, you've given that up, he reminded himself), rather, that his ultimate fate was to fuel a tainted vessel, it wasn't pleasant in the slightest.
But in the meantime, it didn't hurt to try. Giving up now meant failure no matter what; seeing it through to the end…
Even if the chance of success was slim…
The plan made sense in some complicated manner that Kariya didn't want to think too hard about. Berserker prana was extremely difficult to conceal, he knew that from experience, as in Fuyuki city's war, other Servants often sensed Lancelot's killing intent before he even showed himself. Kariya didn't necessarily ooze hatred and anger like Lancelot had, but he did ooze some pretty nasty prana, which was unpleasant to think about, the Matou bloodline being like the stench of homelessness in a way, it would never wash off.
Lance had figured out how to use this to their advantage, of course. The swarm ability Kariya possessed was called Gunpatsusemi, and would allow him to break his body into numerous beetles without breaking a sweat. They were fairly weak- dangerous enough to kill the average human and even threaten a mage in higher numbers, but far more importantly, they shared a consciousness, and split his mana into their individual bodies, so he could simultaneously be all over the city as a scout, and lead their pursuers into various traps.
Funnily enough, Kariya felt pretty confident this time around. Lance may not have been adept as a Magus, but he was extremely smart, and Kariya couldn't imagine anyone in the war was more genre-savvy than him. Whatever had happened in the previous war, and Kariya imagined it wasn't pleasant- it had given him the same cold mentality that had propelled Saber's Master to the end. Saber's Master and...
It had been a while since Kariya thought about Kotomine. It made him feel dizzy and nauseous and uncertain on so many levels because he still couldn't remember some of the things that had happened. Fortunately he was split into inhuman bodies right now- they could not express fear or unhappiness, they couldn't shiver or feel regret, they could only watch and wait and think quietly to themselves.
Saber- Arturia, is here.
The childkiller is here.
Lancelot is here.
I exist, these people exist. Who else is here?
Don't. Don't think about it.
What is this place?
Thinking too hard is dangerous.
What's real? What if this is all in my head after all?
Stop thinking that way.
Don't you want to let go? Don't you want to escape these feelings? It hurts, doesn't it? You see how much pain Lance is in, too. Wouldn't you say he was better off not feeling anything at all? That could be you, you know. Berserker. This class was given to you for a reason. You don't have to think like this.
That awful hissing voice. Was it his own consciousness, or did the thought belong to someone else?
I want to feel, he told himself firmly. Even if it hurts. I want to be human.
Dirty little cockroach. Who says you deserve those things? Don't get confident, someone will stomp you under his foot.
In thirty different locations, Kariya rubbed his wings together in an attempt to distract himself. Perhaps the Gunpatsusemi phantasm was putting a strain on him mentally. He'd have to tell Lance later that it wasn't good to be split up for this long.
He felt the bludgeon of uselessness pounding at him again, the knowledge that he was nothing without Lance, even in his own life, Lancelot had been the strong one, he couldn't carry his weight, that was why he'd died-
That's right, I'm dead.
How stupid of you, to try to defy fate.
Too late, too late to change anything, you only made things worse.
Someone entering one of his locations. Which one?
"I don't see a Servant. What a waste of time."
No no no.
That dull, blank gaze.
I hate you.
I hate you.
Trap. The trap.
His wings vibrated rapidly as he took off across the room, his tiny weight shift triggering the setup to an explosion that would wipe out the entire room- what used to be the vault in a derelict bank.
Resigned. Tohsaka didn't care. He sensed it and did nothing- Gilgamesh made the saving movement, vanished into a portal of golden light at the last minute. Kariya, incinerated, was gone from this location.
A few moments later, he was discovered again- the portal opened and Gilgamesh reemerged, followed by Tokiomi, whose eyes immediately flickered to his second location.
"On that tree."
Not all of the locations were suicide traps, but none of them could kill Gilgamesh. Lance hadn't predicted a teleportation ability- Kariya was pretty sure that was damn freaky for a Mage, even in this world. He'd been singed the first time around- the edges of his flashy coat were blackened and his expression was livid, which couldn't be good at all. They were all different, but if he went to each location with the mentality that he could redirect or escape an attack without blinking...and Kariya wasn't sure how frequently or far the ability worked, for that matter.
Everything that man said, every word out of that polished mouth of his, the grace with which he composed himself, disgusting, disgusting, but he was undoubtedly strong, he didn't look concerned at all.
"Obviously he can't speak in this form."
"Oh, is it obvious? You're a pest, Lancer, so I'd hoped you could speak to them too."
Laughter. That man's voice.
I hate you too. I hate you all!
The next trap was a tripwire that would have wound around the golden bastard and probably sliced him to bits, if he hadn't aptly retreated into his glittering wormhole. Lance was not a merciful person when it came to war. Neither was Gilgamesh, who was now sitting on a branch next to Kariya, and crushed him with the hilt of the sword he'd just unsheathed.
True, he could take a gamble on how much prana this bastard had, and hope the constant use of his ability would weigh on him before the loss of bodies weighed on Kariya.
But then Tokiomi...
Tokiomi that bastard, he'd think of Kariya as an underhanded coward, he wouldn't get to fight him fairly, this was terrible, this was so terrible, why did it have to be him of all people?
"We could always bypass the Servant and go straight for the Master." Gilgamesh said carelessly, as they reached his third location. "If this is all he has...I have better weapons back home I could have brought along, if this was the kind of fight I'd be getting. I'm not some sociopath child that gets his thrills by tearing the wings off of bugs, that's more of Kotomine's thing isn't it?"
Straight to Lance? But how...how?
Berserker, what's going on?
Lance. Oh shit, Lance. How could he possibly explain this? This man didn't know what Gilgamesh was capeable of. He didn't know how heartless Tokiomi was. He didn't know anything.
If he made the wrong choice and lost Lance because of it...
You're the last chance I have at protecting someone. If I'm a coward and leave you to fend for yourself...how can I live with that?
I'm coming to you now.
A large number of his bodies were already hovering above the town, the guards at the trap locations joining them quickly. Gilgamesh and Tohsaka stepped into the sunlight, the former shielding his eyes and looking up at the mass of insects above him.
Kariya fled, regrouping himself in the tomb where his Master sat, resting his chin on his gloved hands and staring at him with a troubled expression.
"Why would you risk this, Berserker? What are you thinking?!"
"There's...I...I don't know how to explain...the situation...the guy we're up against...I...i know him...I know...well I know -of- the Master, he- I'm..."
Lance stood suddenly, grabbed his shoulders roughly and shook him. It honestly didn't hurt- bigger or not, he was a human, Kariya was something simultaneously stronger and weaker than that.
"If you can't learn to approach these situations rationally, how are we supposed to succeed?! How do you even expect to survive-"
"You're driving me insane. Don't you get it? Watching you is painful for me. You'll ruin everything I worked for," he whispered bitterly.
The room became still, Kariya's now human body shaking. It stung. It stung so bad. His hands twitched, teeth gritted, angry roaring in the back of his head.
Shut up. Shut up shut up shut up
Don't hurt him, he's your friend. That's not what you want.
You don't know.
You don't know what I've been through.
"I am the alienated, the ridiculed, the despised. No need to praise my name. No need to envy my body."
You… you are the sacrifice!
"Well look who it is," the callous voice of their opponent cut, his glittering portal fading as he stepped forward with his Servant- with Tokiomi, the blurry red the room had threatened to become snapping back into painful sharpness.
The tomb. Closed in, booby-trapped for at least 50 feet- Gilgamesh had bypassed it all and tracked their mana here. Kariya realized his outstretched hand was reaching for Lance, tense with rage, he withdrew it in horror.
He'd almost killed his Master.
Surely….surely Lance would have stopped him, right?!
No reassurance from Lance; his melancholy gaze skimmed over Kariya, focused on Gilgamesh. Kariya wasn't sure where to look- a glance in the wrong direction and he might lose himself again; he found himself focusing on the catlike eyes of the other human, who slicked his hair back as he and Lance composed themselves.
"I thought for sure you'd offed yourself the last time around," the golden-haired man said, his finger instinctively rubbing the hilt of one of the blades he had sheathed in the harness he wore.
The look in Gilgamesh's eyes was strange- that evil, hungry look, one of recognition, like he wanted to erase the existence of everything he saw, hateful to the point of amusement, even, and it was focused on Lance with laser precision.
"Scum like you doesn't even know how to stay dead? Allow me to fix that for you."