Chapter 20 - The Beginning of Everyday
April 18th, Morning, Dojima Household
Dinner last night was tense to say the least. His uncle didn't say anything, but Shirou had the sinking suspicion that the incident at the station still shook him up. Dojima spent just as much time glancing back to Nanako as he did eating his food and staring at Shirou. The red-haired magus figured that if she wasn't in the room at the time, he would have had another stern discussion with him about Taiga's concerns.
I can't back out of this now though. Amagi-san's still in danger. But it's not like I'm breaking any of her promises, and I am hanging out more at Junes lately.
As Shirou finished straightening out his uniform and checking his bandages again, his cellphone started to ring. Thinking it to be Fuji-nee or one of his friends, he flipped it open on reflex and answered. "Hello?"
"Good morning. This is Margaret."
Whatever drowsiness was still in Shirou was sapped away by his caller's voice. "How did you get my number?" he asked, more bewildered than paranoid.
"Forgive me, but there was something important I forgot to mention during your last visit. You expressed discomfort at being pulled from your dreams before, so I thought contacting you by phone would be more appropriate."
He wanted to say he was surprised, but at this point he really wasn't. Igor and Margaret had already proved to be enigmas from the moment he met them, and if they could talk to him in his sleep, then using conventional means (no matter how taboo it was to other magi) wasn't that far off either. Conceding that fact to his unanswered question, he sat on the couch to relax himself. "What is it then?"
"I understand that you are using your power to help others. My master informed you that defeat in battle isn't your only concern, but I feel you were misinterpreting his words on one detail."
Shirou blinked. "Are you saying I shouldn't save Amagi-san?" The very idea was foreign to him, yet his father had stressed the fatalist nature of magic and advised against helping others. Mostly due to the fact that "saving someone means not saving everyone else," whatever that meant. If he had even a little power to save lives or make a difference (and he knew for sure that he did now, if Yosuke and Satonaka were proof enough), why shouldn't he use it?
"Far from it," said Margaret, dispelling his doubts on the matter. "It is indeed a noble goal and my master and I fully support it. However, we cannot help you to the full extent of your power if you just throw yourself into one battle after another. You need to balance the time devoted to your goals and time with in your social life."
"Again with the Social Links?" Shirou asked, suddenly irritated as he caught on her meaning. "I don't time for that! We don't have time for that! A girl is trapped in another world with a serial killer probably in waiting for the next news story to follow-up! And you're telling me I should work on my social life?!"
"I understand you're pressed for time," she reasoned. "But the power of one's heart can only go so far unless you master your virtues: the courage to face challenges in life, the knowledge of your limitations, the diligence to push forward, learning to understand others and the ability to freely express yourself. You may harness one or two of these virtues through independent work and studying, but only through interacting with others can you truly learn and appreciate their meaning. At least consider time off from fighting for your own sake: even Allies of Justice need to rest."
He bristled with a blush at her last comment: he could've sworn she had a teasing tone there too. He had no reason to distrust Margaret or her master other than the fact that he was really opposed to their ideas. He also didn't know for sure if they could give him more power, but they were the only likely source of help in this otherwise fool's errand of a murder case.
Shirou wanted to admit he wouldn't use Social Links and fight on his own terms, but he made a conscious decision accepting Yosuke's help and the position of team leader. Even Satonaka, when he just talked to her and offered a clean slate, had counted.
Shirou didn't notice her mannerisms at first, but just as Yosuke Hanamura reminded him of Shinji Matou, Chie Satonaka reminded him of Taiga Fujimura. Or at least, how a high-school aged Fuji-nee acted when Kiritsugu was still around. Not that she acted any less of a teen in her late twenties. The energy was there, as was the violent protective nature that would befall their loved ones. There was also the fierce appetite (or at least an allusion to it according to Yosuke), athletic form and even the short brown hair and brown eyes. She'd probably be a monster in kendo too if she were ever taught that. Hell, she might even be a relative, lost or distant, to the Fujimuras too.
Having been silent in thought from his side of the conversation, Margaret spoke up again, breaking his train of thought. "Do you understand, Shirou Emiya?"
He did, but he didn't like it. He might have had his reservations, but Margaret and Igor had come to him in earnest goodwill to help when they could have just otherwise left him to stagger about on his own, with an advanced warning no less. The fact that they could be the murderers he was looking for never crossed his mind; Igor and Margaret deserved the benefit of the doubt, and he saw no reason to stop using Social Links other than personal reservations. "All right, I'll try."
"That's all we can ask for," Margaret said in earnest. "Now, if you'll excuse me-"
"Wait a minute," Shirou spoke quickly, hoping she didn't hang up as he had no immediate way to contact her back. "There's something I wanted to ask you, since you're on the line."
"My master is more suited to whatever questions you may have, but I'll answer to the best of my ability."
"Fair enough. I was fighting Satonaka's Shadow when my second Persona, Pixie, was talking to me. She said something about a-…" He paused as he recalled the words, even though they still perplexed him. "…-'golden sheath' inside my body."
"'Golden sheath'?" the apprentice repeated. "You have no idea what that pertains to?"
"It was the first I've ever heard of it," Shirou shrugged. "Figment of imagination or not, Pixie's a fey and recognized whatever was inside me as something important."
Her end of the line was briefly silent. "I'll need to consult with my master on this, but it may take time. Admittedly, this isn't within our field of understanding."
"I just thought I'd ask. You two are the only magi I know for miles willing to help." His father had made it clear to keep his magecraft a secret; not just from his family and friends, but from the second owner of Fuyuki, who was more or less the magi representative keeping the status quo in check. He honestly didn't expect to run into magi or a murder mystery in his uncle and cousin's hometown, but was thankful of not going in totally blind.
That is, until Margaret dropped a bombshell. "When did either my master or I admit to being magi?"
He opened his mouth to answer, almost ready to accuse or question, but closed it as he realized that they never did allude to the fact. Not that they tried deceiving him either. The master and apprentice just offered assistance on a silver platter and he believed they were similar to magi when all evidence pointed otherwise. He flushed in embarrassment, partly in his failure to think of a response and partly to the false observation he'd made. His silence was more of an answer than a fumbled one.
"Let this be a lesson to you on regards of searching for truth," the attendant spoke neutrally with only the faintest hint of annoyance. "Do not make assumptions on matters you think you know without consulting all known facts."
"I'm sorry, but I haven't had a magecraft teacher in years, so I couldn't even tell with my third-rate training. I don't know where else to get my facts."
"The library's always an option," she offered before cutting the line. "Good day."
After School, Yasogami Front Gate
After the call, Shirou had a light breakfast with Nanako before leaving. On the floodplain path, he heard a couple of students on the walk over that the sports clubs were accepting applicants tomorrow. The girl that mentioned this was more talkative than her friend, and went off on a tangent between considering basketball or football to studying for midterms to finally a rumor about the town shrine being haunted. And Margaret says I need to concern myself with this?
By the school gates, everyone was talking about the missing Yukiko Amagi, whether it was about the murder case or seeing her on the Midnight Channel last weekend. A disheartened student was talking to his friends that he tried watching the channel last night but couldn't see anything, only to be teased and reminded that it wasn't raining.
That whole day, everyone hushed up and avoided Chie whenever she walked by. Considering what happened yesterday, Shirou and Yosuke were worried that she was ready to snap at someone like she did the cop, but she just acted like her usual self, insisting to the gossipers that asked her (and possibly herself) that Yukiko would be back before anyone knew it.
Meeting with the group just outside the school after the final bell, Shirou had to be the one that told her it couldn't be today.
"And why the hell not?!" she cried, breaking her façade at his denial. "Is this one of those sexist comments again?!"
Yosuke was equally livid. "If it is, I swear Shirou, I'm gonna smack your head again and I won't be gentle."
"It's not that," he groaned, not wanting to remember what happened at Daidara's. "I have work today and we still haven't recovered fully from the last fight. I'd rather get another day's rest before going back in again"
While Yosuke rubbed his chest guiltily where he had been stabbed and electrocuted, Chie huffed indignantly and childishly. "Look, you can afford to miss a few work days. You were both fine the day after fighting Hanamura's Shadow, and I'm as fit as ever and running at 100%! Really, nothing's wrong!"
"You almost dozed off during Morooka's lecture and had to ask me who Francis Bacon was when he called on you."
Chie bristled and flushed at the comeback. Yosuke just grinned. "I'm surprised you even slept through that. Guess even guys with food names can't interest you into studying."
"Sh-shut up! You're one to talk! You're even worse than me in class, staring off into space with your headphones on-"
"I'll share study notes with you two later," Shirou quickly interjected. "But Yosuke was right; we only have one shot at saving Amagi-san, so let's go in when we're certain and fully rested. For that reason, I suggest we take the day off and go back tomorrow or the next day."
His classmates exchanged glances. "Well, you're the leader," the other male student shrugged.
"Tomorrow," Chie insisted. "We're going tomorrow."
Satisfied, the trio walked towards the gate, before being intercepted by a loud "Head's up!"
Shirou saw it coming in an instant. A monochrome ball with hexagonal spots shot from behind, spinning so fast as a black-and-white blur. Judging by the trajectory it was about to pelt Chie in the back of the head. Acting without thinking, he moved behind her and swung his arm down hard like it was a hammer. He intercepted the round bullet and watched as it ricocheted to the ground and bounced away.
Caught unaware, Chie ducked and yelped "Aaaah!" thinking she was being attacked instead of protected.
Yosuke watched the whole thing play out beside him, particularly how red Shirou's hand turned after punching an association football, and how he just ignored it like it was nothing. In hindsight, he was probably resistant to pain after turning his body into a furnace for years on end. The more Yosuke played over the event, the more he felt awe and jealousy at his friend. How does he make it look so easy?
The threat averted, Shirou quickly knelt to his panicked classmate to help her back up, despite the blushing shyness on her part. Yosuke deftly and discreetly looked back to the school, spotting two students running towards them. One had dark blue hair and wore the school uniform traditionally, who looked otherwise ordinary aside from his lengthy limbs. The other had brown hair, brown eyes, and a blue gym uniform with the letters "Y H" on either side of the zipper line. He was much more easily distinguished with his choice of clothes and the small bandage over the bridge of his nose.
"A bit late in the warning, Daisuke," Yosuke smirked, picking up the ball and throwing it to them.
"Sorry," the brown-haired student smiled as he caught it. "Kou here gets just as excited in football as he does basketball."
"I was just trying to get you to go all out for once," the dark-haired student, Kou, quipped. "Since you were so eager to get started on soccer. Or whatever the Americans call it over there-" His bitter mood morphed into shock as he recognized the girl he had almost struck. "Oh crap! Chie-chan!?"
Helped up by Shirou's hand, Chie glanced over to the other student with blinking eyes. "Oh, Ichijo-kun, didn't see you there."
Kou stared at her with concern and fear, almost hesitant to reach over and apologize at the risk of being too forward. As it was, he eventually noticed the person who was holding her up; a student that he didn't recognize before. "Huh? Who are you?"
"Allow me to do the honors," Yosuke grinned, waving his hands out to the side like a show magician. "Shirou Emiya, meet Kou Ichijo and Daisuke Nagise, second year captains and star players of the basketball and American soccer teams respectively."
"Yo," the soccer player waved.
"N-nice to meet you," Ichijo nodded, staring at Shirou's hands on Chie's arm.
Without skipping a beat, Yosuke twirled and pointed dramatically to the red-head, while his other arm was open to them and inviting. "Kou and Daisuke, meet Shirou Emiya, second year transfer student all the way from Fuyuki City!"
"Likewise," Shirou nodded, following Ichijo's comment.
"That was some killer form you got there," Nagase grinned. "You play a sport before, like baseball?"
"I just train a lot," he vaguely answered. "Though I was on the archery team last year at Homurahara Academy."
This surprised everyone, including his friends who never heard him speak much of his home city. The soccer captain stroked his chin in contemplation.
"Archery, huh? Well, we don't have any bows and targets, but if you slack on your training, your metabolism rate will drop." Nagase's smirk turned feral, reminding Yosuke of a similar event last year, right down to the glint in his eye. "So join my club! With your archery hands and posture and my soccer speed and stamina, you'd be an unstoppable athlete!"
Ichijo's expression blanked and he whipped towards his friend in an incredulous rage. "Wa-wait a minute! Our basketball team is very low on numbers! And he'd get the same possible workout if he's dribbling a ball around the court! If anything Emiya should join the basketball team!"
"And I say it should be soccer!" Nagase quipped back.
Yosuke blinked as the two continued to bicker. "Whoa. Serious déjà vu here."
"This has happened before?" Shirou asked.
"Yeah, when they were trying to recruit me," Yosuke nodded. Then he angrily turned to Chie. "Of course, they were offering to help regulate my body heat as a means to avoid freezing myself after a certain somebody watched me slip and fall on my butt last Valentine's Day!"
Chie feigned innocence the only way she knew how: whistling, despite how annoyed or confused her teammates looked. Kou stopped arguing with Daisuke in a sudden epiphany, largely due to the words "Valentine's Day", and despite the fact the holiday was nearly a year away.
"Right, Chie-chan," he whispered to himself, and turned with a smile, having been trying to figure out a lead-in to talk to her since last year. He saw what was most obvious and went with it. "Say, where's Amagi-san?"
He would have kicked himself if he could, seeing Chie's animated face suddenly turn sober. Yosuke and Emiya looked tense as well. "She's just… on an extended break from work. She'll be back soon."
"Really?" Nagase blinked. "I could've sworn I heard rumors that she ran away as a princess and thinks the killer to be her prince charming or some-"
"Yukiko isn't like that, dammit!" Chie bellowed.
"Okay, okay!" Nagase relented. "It's just a rumor I heard, geez…"
Honestly, Kou was surprised himself; Chie had reacted pretty violently to Daisuke, and Yosuke and Emiya had the workings of a frown themselves. He didn't know what to think about Emiya since he just met him, but his old classmates, particularly Chie, took him by surprise. How much had they changed since last year?
"Okay, I believe you," Kou interjected. "It's just I was worried, you know? You're almost never without Amagi-san and imagining her gone…" What he had meant was imagining Yukiko Amagi gone would break Chie Satonaka's spirit, and the cute tomboy he had gained feeling for would be gone. Unfortunately, the context had an entirely different meaning, due to increasing rumors and old habits.
Chie's eyes hardened again as she made her own conclusion. "Well I'll be sure to wait patiently for entry #38 of 'The Princess Amagi Challenge'."
"What?" Kou blinked, before realizing his blunder. "Wait, NO! No, Chie-chan, it's not-!"
"See you guys tomorrow," she said bluntly as she turned and left school grounds with a little stomp in her step.
Kou could only stare wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the departing girl, with only the company of not-so sympathetic guys staring back at him. Eventually he slapped his face with the palm of his hand, wanting to hide his shame. "God damn it."
Yosuke couldn't help but to make a jab. "Was that what basketball players would call a 'flop' or a 'prayer'?"
Shirou's frown grew. "Yosuke-"
"Just asking," his friend quickly shrugged.
"He's kinda right, you know," said Nagase. "You messed up big time."
Kou removed his hand to glare at the soccer player. "Shut up! You could have helped me out there, Daisuke!"
"You're on your own with girls, man," his friend frowned.
"Ichijo?" Calling his family name was the red-haired teen, who stepped up to him tentatively. "Satonaka is just very stressed and worried about her friend. She has other… priorities at the moment and will likely be focused on them for the next few weeks."
"Besides," Yosuke added. "I think the last thing Satonaka needs is a boyfriend."
Kou's reaction was understandable; a blush of having been so exposed through his blunder. Shirou, however, just turned back to his friend with innocent confusion. "Boyfriend?"
Yosuke's confusion was mirrored. "Wh-are you serious?! Kou just went out of his way to talk to her and would've probably in some roundabout way asked to hang out until Amagi-san came back! It was so frigging obvious!"
"It was?" both Kou and Shirou asked; the former in a defeated tone, the latter in a perplexed one.
The headphone-wearing student could only gawk and blink incredulously at his friend's cluelessness until it hit him; the guy was oblivious to the opposite sex. Like, shonen hero level. Suddenly the phone number exchange at Junes made a lot more sense. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the cruel irony so he did the next best thing. "Idiot," he groaned after palming his face.
Shirou's confusion, however, was short-lived to the situation regarding Satonaka. "Listen," he tried again with Ichijo. "I know for a fact that Amagi-san will be all right. Call it a hunch. When that does happen, I'm sure Satonaka will feel better, and I can put in a good word for you to her."
The other male students were surprised by this, but none more so than Kou. "Y-you really mean that?"
The red-haired teen nodded. "You care about Satonaka a lot, so I figure she deserves to know that and it was just a misunderstanding. It's the least I can do."
Kou's mood brightened considerably. He'd had some doubts about Emiya, but just like Yosuke, he was no less a helpful, swell guy. "Thanks, Emiya!" he smiled and shook his hand enthusiastically. "I don't how to repay you! Well, except maybe a guaranteed spot in the basketball team, whaddya say?"
"Didn't you just say you were low on members?" Daisuke said, but was ignored.
Shirou recalled that Mitsuzuri encouraged him to join a team at Yasogami so he wouldn't "waste potential", and that Margaret encouraged him to do more outside of fighting. But he couldn't handle the commitment of a sports team. That would mean more time making arrangements to their schedule and less time solving the case. However, if their schedule was doable alongside going to Junes and MOEL… "What times do you meet?"
"Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday," Kou smiled. "Starting tomorrow, and not on rainy days or finals week."
"Same goes for soccer too," Daisuke offered.
…no way it was going to happen then. "Sorry, wouldn't have the time," Shirou answered honestly.
"That's a shame," Daisuke frowned. "Still, the offer's open year 'round if you change your mind."
"I'll consider it," Shirou answered as he waved bye and left the gate. Yosuke followed him, but had been staring at him with a flat gaze ever since his offer to Kou.
The odd thing was that he could almost tell that Yosuke was… disappointed in him, for some reason.
"FYI, he's disappointed in you."
"What?" Shirou blurted out; he hadn't expected to hear Pixie's voice again so soon.
"You sure were nice to Kou, back there," Yosuke said, assuming the question was directed to him. His tone betrayed not for or against the notion, though, just an observation.
"Well, he left a bad impression," Shirou shrugged, ignoring Pixie for now. "I'm sure he means well, and would make a nice boyfriend for Satonaka."
"Kou's a great guy, don't get me wrong. But if they were gonna date, he would have acted on it last year."
"Like you and Konishi-senpai?" Shirou quipped before he could stop himself.
Pixie's observation rang true at Yosuke's pained flinch, but he recovered. "Point taken. But shouldn't you consider other people's feelings before making promises like that?"
The magus raised an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"
His friend then smacked his head dramatically. "Riiiiight, oblivious to the nth degree, completely forgot about that!" The mock humor was completely gone as quickly as it came, and Yosuke was now staring hard at Shirou with a hint of anger. "Look, I don't have the time or patience to fully go over the Birds and the Bees with you today, so I'll keep this short: you obviously have Kou's best interests at heart, but after that little stunt, I'm starting to wonder if you even care about Satonaka."
"Of course I care!" he snapped, glad that there was no one else around. "I saved her! We saved her! We're fighting the Shadows to save Amagi-san as well and prevent anyone else from ending up like Yamano-san and Konishi-senpai! How can you even accuse me of that?!"
But Yosuke wasn't moved; he just shook his head with a bored, dull glare. "You really don't get it, do you?" He was starting to feel sorry for Satonaka right now. "Forget it. We'll continue this another time."
The magus could only stare dumbly as his friend stormed off, wondering what he had done to upset him.
"Well, that could have gone better."
"Be quiet," Shirou snapped to the fey inside his head. He knew he was right anyway. Satonaka wanted to have care and affection from others, and her Shadow lashed out to the (seemingly) only two people that do. If Ichijo could prove that fact otherwise, it would be all the better for her esteem.
Besides, she deserves better.
MOEL Gas Station
"Don't stand too close to this truck, now," Nami smiled. "Or else you'll get run over."
Shirou, filling up the parked truck with gas, stopped and looked up when Nami spoke. Looking around, he saw his on-break colleague talking to a young, black haired girl wearing a pink sweater standing on the sidewalk just parallel to the gas station, staring at the parked truck. Nami himself was close to the building, claiming to be not a morning or sunny person. He joked about the sun being harmful ("The light! IT BURNS!"), before laughing it off and continuing work. Apparently he favoured rain and foggy weather over sunshine, but Shirou never got around to asking why yet.
"I've decided," the girl said simply. "That I won't go home until the third truck enters and leaves this gas station."
Despite himself, Shirou was surprised and concerned. "Why won't you go home?" he asked.
"Because I decided that," she answered stoically. "I won't go home until the third truck enters and leaves." She turned her gaze to the truck in question. "Trucks don't come around often either."
It made the magus uncomfortable to hear her passive refusal, but Nami pressed the issue at hand. "You're free to stay here, but only as close as the sidewalk. Like I said, you wouldn't want to get run over by this truck here."
The spacey girl turned blankly to each attendant and the pick-up truck in question. After a moment of contemplation, she walked away and sat by the sidewalk facing the road.
It was at this point that a boy wearing a green sweater was walking down the street from the direction of the shrine. In his hand were a few bags from the Shiroku Store, and he muttered under his breath along the lines of "stupid sister" and "no money". Just was he was walking by the gas station, he noticed the girl sitting in front of it and stopped.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm waiting for three trucks to enter and leave MOEL," she said. "I've decided that I won't go home until then."
The boy looked confused. "Why three trucks?"
"Because I decided that," she said, before mumbling softly to herself, "I won't go back."
Shirou was growing more concerned about the girl's situation, but didn't know even how to begin to help her through this problem. Was it something serious?
The boy looked at both ends of the street, seeing the usual lack of traffic. He then looked at his bag, face scrunched in internal thought. "Can I wait with you?"
The girl turned to him in surprise. Shirou and Nami also raised their eyebrows at his offer, though the children didn't notice. "Why?"
"You look lonely," the boy explained, sitting beside her. "I got nothing better to do than run errands for my sister, and I can't even get paid for work yet. So, I'll keep you company."
"Trucks don't often come by," the girl said. "The next two might take a while."
"I don't mind," the boy said, and the two of them stared ahead in silence. The boy broke it quickly enough with a smile to the girl. "By the way, my name's Hiraku. What's your name?"
Shirou allowed himself a smile at the scene. It was nice to know he wasn't the only one who would help others, even in small gestures.
"Ah, kids," Nami grinned whimsically. "So young and idealistic in believing the whole world is ahead of them with their simple choices. It's cute in a way… but also sad."
"What do you mean?" asked Shirou, eyes torn away from Hiraku and Haruka.
"The human life is so fleeting that there can only be so many people to know and interact with within a lifetime. Yet so many of them constantly wish to know more, want more material things, and compare themselves to others just for self-validation. Children are innocent to this, but they almost always grow up as blind as their parents or suppressed by the masses of popular opinion."
"You don't know that," the magus argued. He honestly couldn't picture Nanako growing to be as jaded as Nami insisted, even if she was forced to mature.
The gas attendant turned to him with a sad, knowing smile. "I've been around for a long time, Shirou-chan. I've seen a lot of kids grow bitter at adolescence when they realize this one truth: that the world is unforgiving."
"Surely there're some of them that don't follow that norm, and stay hopeful?"
"Granted," he admitted. "But that would be a minority, and even then they would relapse sooner or later."
"Maybe they just need to hope again. More Allies of Justice… or heroes."
Nami chuckled at Shirou's weak proclamation. The tone was more amused than mocking, but his laugh did little to alleviate his colleague's blush. "Again you admit that. You still seem to cling to that childish naivety, but you sound so serious-"
"That's because I am," Shirou cut in, in spite of himself. Just because he didn't admit his dream enough didn't make his goal less desirable. He would always work to being the hero his father wanted to be but couldn't.
The proclamation gave the attendant surprise. "So you truly mean to save the world? It is a big place you know; much larger than humble Inaba. What makes you think you, a single person, can handle the responsibility of all the lives around you, good or bad?"
Shirou frowned, unintentionally thinking back to a bad memory of a burning Fuyuki City, followed by the night Kiritsugu died. "I was told that to save one person means to not save another. That just never sat right with me, and I want to prove that theory wrong by saving people without compromises."
Nami sighed. "Such a naïve reason for a naïve wish," he lamented. "Still, perhaps I can be a bit hopeful of the world too if our serial murderer is caught by the end of the year."
"I'll hold you to that," Shirou smiled, discreetly admitting he'll find the killer. He considered the matter closed as he walked over to the next car that pulled in, but Nami, after a fleeting moment of thought, stopped him.
"Say, Shirou-chan?" he called out. "Have you ever heard of a talking board?"
Shirou blinked, not expecting such a question. "It's claimed to be a divination tool, right?" he asked cautiously. While Igor wasn't a magus, Tarot cards were just as supernatural to be used by magi for mediums and mystic codes.
"Yeah," Nami confirmed. "They used to sell a few of those at the toy store here; before Junes anyway. Kids liked playing with them thinking they could communicate with spirits, because it requires such a deft touch and, once again, a little belief."
"Well, I don't have one if that's what you're asking," Shirou said.
"No, I wasn't. I was actually leading up to a new rumor I heard about the Midnight Channel." Shirou's eyes widened under the brim of his MOEL cap, but he politely kept quiet to let Nami finish.
"See, people have said they saw some of the girls on the Midnight Channel before they went missing; Saki Konishi and Yukiko Amagi specifically. Doesn't make much sense that we would see their shadow, however unclear it is, and not the real thing, right? But considering that the channel works under already supernatural circumstances, why can't it be that the channel is just a giant talking board, and everyone that watches it is spiritually aligning it to ask 'Who is my soul mate'?"
Shirou knew this was important; Nami had been the first one to tell him about the Midnight Channel, and seemed knowledgeable enough about the rumor mill to know when to keep his ear to the ground. But as much as this sounded like a revelation to the case- "I'm not sure if I'm following you," he honestly stated.
Nami sighed before speaking again. "Well, how a talking board works is when two or more people put their hands on a planchette, move it around in circles and then ask a yes or no question. If this doesn't work, they circle around again to warm it up. The planchette moves over the yes or no or even the letters to answer the question given. For the latter, the letters spell out a name or word. There're a lot of rumors, even outside of Inaba, that claim that talking boards are cursed with spirits, but I firmly believe that the subconscious is involved.
"Say you want to ask the board 'Who loves me?' You might think of the girl you want to love you and your fingers subtly move the planchette towards the letters to spell her name. This might not even be because of your crush on her, but because you hear her name and you want to know her better. The same principle applies for the Midnight Channel. People want to know their soul mate and are all subconsciously thinking to Mayumi Yamano, Saki Konishi, or Yukiko Amagi. And because so many people have their subconscious towards the same person at the time of each showing, the picture gets clearer as they all edge to the same image. You follow me now?"
Dumbly, Shirou nodded. The way Nami explained it made so much sense. Never mind how he heard such a rumor, but the fact that the criminal magus would make a universal channel that allowed anyone who watches it make their own image a reality was simply mind-boggling. Then again, I can't be sure if there really is a magus involved.
The duo continued working in silence after the discussion, until Shirou had to leave. The magus would continue rolling Nami's theory in his mind until he had to go to bed.
April 19th, After School, Yukiko's Castle, First Floor
"2days teh day 2 save yukiko. c u junes aftr skool."
That was the text that Chie sent to both boys of the group. For Shirou, he couldn't begin to read what she said, but Yosuke translated for him. Whether she wanted to remind them or stress the fact of going to the Castle again, the group was in consensus to jump in, but not before passing by a friendly Daisuke and awkward Kou about sports clubs starting today.
A quick regroup at the food court, trek to the big TV and a one-sided happy reunion with Teddie later, the group made it back to the castle for round two.
"Not that I don't think we should hurry on to find Yukiko as soon as possible," Chie began as they reached the front garden. "But I still don't know how to summon my Persona."
"Me neither," Yosuke grimaced. "I mean, what happened with your Shadow? I think that was a one-time thing. I'm surprised Jiraiya didn't fizzle out when I got zapped like that, because if he did, I don't think I could have summoned him again."
"And that's why Shirou-sensei is a natural fighter!" Teddie beamed, ignoring cross looks from the others. "Mind sharing your fruits of knowledge, Shirou-sensei?"
The magus shrugged. "I just… knew I guess. But I suppose I had the benefit of knowing Structural Analysis and using it to understand the layout of my body from time to time."
At the other's confused blinks, Shirou explained further. "Structural Analysis is a spell that allows me to understand an object in detail. Composition, structure, condition, even the history of the object is scanned to the smallest detail. Or at least it can be, depending on how well versed the magi in question is. Though until recently, it was the only spell I could do on a regular basis and couldn't do much else with it."
"That sounds pretty handy, actually," Yosuke smirked. It would be like having a scouter to read power levels off the scale… or possibly a way to know any girl's measurements.
"What about the other thing you did?" Teddie asked. "The 'reinforcement', was it?"
Shirou nodded. "It works exactly as expected in the name. Through prana, I can harness any sort of aspect of the material as needed to make it stronger, harder, and even without changing its form. But there's still a limit to how much change an already established object can take."
"So, it's like trying to add ice into the drink without having it spill over the cup?" Yosuke offered.
"Something like that."
Chie knew this was distracting further from the original intent of the discussion (finding out how to summon Personas) but she was just as interested as the others in what their leader can do. "Anything else?"
Shirou shook his head. "No, that's about it."
The others were shocked and surprised. "Seriously?" asked Yosuke. "I would have expected something more from magi, like… fireballs or lightning or even disintegration beams."
"I told you, I'm a third-rate magus," he stressed. "In theory I know only one other skill, and that's only because it's a higher form of Reinforcement. Not only have I failed to get it right, but it's actually kind of useless."
Teddie tilted his head/body to one side and scratched the other side of his face in confusion. "Useless?"
"Projection magecraft is where the caster uses their prana to create an image and give it shape and form. It's simple in concept, but the created objects are usually hollow compared to the original thing. The image also tends to break down, though a more creative and clearer design by the caster means it'll last longer.
"Magi actually find this technique impractical. Unless they need an item for immediate use like ritual offerings, it's better in the long run to create the item through natural means. An object created from thin air is going to fade away as soon as you make it. It's one of the reasons why magi sometimes call it 'Gradation Air'."
Teddie, for some reason, looked horrified at the end of his explanation. Chie and Yosuke exchanged disbelieving gazes at their own silent questions. Then, Chie blinked and removed her glasses.
"Wait a minute," she said, holding them out in front of her. "When Teddie made these glasses the other day… didn't you say 'Projection magecraft'?"
Shirou had nearly forgotten about them, so he was just as surprised as Yosuke as she came to that conclusion. "I'm… not sure," he admitted. "It has similarities to the craft, but that would mean Teddie's-"
"I knew it," the bear spoke; his voice sounded more depressed then yesterday. "I really am useless."
"What?" Yosuke gawked. "Teddie, no, no one said that!"
"Shirou-sensei just did," he weakly argued, trotting away a few steps. "I don't know who I am, I can't fight, and what I have is useless. What good is making stuff if they just go 'poof' later? My nose is nowhere near as good as his Structure scanning, and I can't even make reinforced stuff! What good is a bear like me here?"
Chie, sensing a breakdown coming, knelt down with Teddie to calm him down. Shirou just watched the scene unfold, wondering where it went wrong. Surprisingly to the red-head, he felt the familiar sensation of a palm smack at the backside of his head. And Yosuke, once again, had a sour expression on his face. "Why do I get the feeling this is going to be a thing?"
"Only if you continue acting like a dope," his friend whispered back.
"How was I supposed to know Teddie would get his feelings hurt when I was criticizing my skill set?" Shirou retorted, rubbing the back of his head.
"It doesn't matter whether you're self-depreciative or obliviously insensitive!" Yosuke snapped back with an accusing finger. "You're our leader now, dammit! And a leader is supposed to inspire confidence, not undermine it!"
The magus flinched. A leader was to inspire confidence? He never had to do so before, let alone learned how. But everyone would be looking up to help not just in helping others but setting an example. Do allies of justice even need to learn this?
"Cheer up, Teddie," Chie cooed the bear. "Emiya-kun didn't mean it. He was just being stupid."
The bear sniffed and turned to her. "R-really?"
"Really. I mean, I don't know anything about magecraft other than what he's told us, but your glasses are great! We were stumbling around like idiots the first time over before you showed up, and now our heads don't feel like they're splitting open because of the fog."
"Your nose is pretty helpful too," Yosuke added. "You led us to Saki-senpai's place and this castle where Amagi was. We'd probably never have a snowball's chance in hell finding Amagi-san, let alone saving her, if we didn't run into you."
The mascot bear beamed a little more from the praise. Shirou decided if there was a time to add and make amends, it was now. "Teddie, I'm sorry for what I said. But it's true that Projection magecraft is seen as pretty useless."
"Shirou!" Yosuke scolded, as Chie glared and Teddie frowned.
"On the contrary," he quickly added. "What you do is vastly superior."
Startled, confused blinks were his response. Shirou smiled and fiddled with the side of his fog glasses. "Any other projection attempt would have broken down by now, but these have stayed stable for over two days now, even when outside of the confines of your world. I'm not sure whether nor not your other creations did indeed go poof, but I think these glasses are a testament to how vital they are to the murder case.
"You may not have the same powers as us, or are able to fight, but that doesn't make you any less valuable. Please don't think otherwise."
Chie gave a small smile. "Emiya-kun…"
"Now that's more like it," Yosuke grinned.
Teddie simply bawled up in tears. He had been crushed to hear of his skills seemingly brushed aside as useless, but his own sensei was convincing him otherwise, and Yosuke and Chie-chan were just as supportive. It was so good to have friends, to have people to trust. It took all his willpower to not jump from his seat and tackle him to with a body hug. "S-shirou-sensei! Everyone…!"
"In fact," said Shirou with a growing smile. "I think because of you, I have an idea how to explain summoning our Personas."
"Whoa, seriously?" asked Yosuke.
"I haven't perfected Projection myself, but I've been teaching myself how through a step-by-step process. I believe only the first three are necessary for this."
Hardly containing their excitement, Chie and Yosuke gathered around in a circle in front of their leader, who first instructed them to keep calm and close their eyes. "Now, the first step: Judging the concept of creation. You both saw your Personas and the cards they came from. Imagine again in your mind's eye what they look like."
Yosuke and Chie did so.
"The second step: Hypothesize the basic structure. They represent your bodies, even as an external spirit, and should feel just like yourselves."
"Can you make that sound more sensible to us non-magi guys?" Yosuke quipped with a peeking eye.
"Shut up, Hanamura," Chie quipped back, trying hard to focus on Shirou's voice.
"Now the third step: duplicating the material, or in this case, grabbing it from within. Because once the image of your Persona is there, it answers the call. And once it does…"
The Izanagi card fluttered before him, emitting a soft blue light as it spun. No sooner had that happened, two other cards appeared before his classmates.
"You did it!" Teddie cheered.
"Wow," Chie breathed, cupping the card in her hands again. It was only a day ago, but the light and warmth of her Persona was just as welcoming… and it was still a surprise to her that it came from something so dark and repulsive inside her. I have to make sure I never lose this glow…
Yosuke was in awe of his summoning as well, but a thought struck him and he started looking over his hands and body in worry. "This isn't a dream, is it? I haven't passed out turning part furnace, right?"
"You're fine, Yosuke," Shirou grinned. "Now, who's ready to save Amagi-san?"
Yukiko's Castle, Fifth Floor
Shirou should have gotten used to the unexpected surprises since his visit to Inaba. The murder cases, the on-and-off dreams, the Midnight Channel, the Yasogami teaching staff, Teddie, and killer Shadows from suppressed selves. There was also Igor and Margaret, but that was before the latter dismissed the magi claim.
And the Personas were just another thing entirely. He resolved to do as much research on the matter as soon as possible after Yukiko was rescued. Not because of his classmates having Shadows representing caricatures of their flaws. Not because of his Wild Card ability having two or more Personas at once. It's not even because each Persona he's seen is as colorful and different like from the ball-monster collecting franchise.
No, the reason being, after Shadow Yukiko left them a giant chevalier-styled Shadow to distract them, and that he somehow succeeded in grasping the Persona card light in its remains… that he is seriously questioning what constitutes as a Persona.
The new Persona, a red armored knight holding his lance in the air and mounted on a large brown steed, bellowed a cry as he was made visible to everyone. "Hear my name! For I am Eligor of King Solomon's Ars Goetia! I bid you greetings, summoner! To whom does this Duke of Hell owe his service?"
Shirou could only blink dumbly at the towering knight and ask the most sensible question at the moment. "…what?"
A/N: Yep, its a new cover. Part of it comes from the pixiv dot net artist "月魅草＠('A`)" which according to Google translates to "Mon attractive grass ('A`)". Don't worry, I got permission from him/her to use this picture, asked by a fellow fan of this story no less. I just had to edit out the left half because, while seeing the Fate/Extra protagonists posing in Gekkoukan High uniforms with SERAPH bangles instead of SEES ones, it wasn't relevant to this crossover. Technically, neither was Avenger who is also here. At least, not yet, until I got a brainstorm...
Anyway, this chapter is relatively short and not as actiony as fighting Shadow Chie. I actually wanted to throw in the Avenger Knight sub-boss but decided to cut it out because of time and space of this chapter. This one is more suited as being light and short anyway, reflecting on how Shirou has to plan out the rest of his days in Inaba. Fighting will be next time, where the team finally finds Yukiko at the top of the castle, and with her Shadow Yukiko. See you all then.