Disclaimer: Sekirei and all associated characters and symbols are the exclusive property of Sakurako Gokurakuin and her associates. Fate/stay night and all associated characters and symbols are the exclusive property of Type-Moon and its associates. The story "In Flight" is written by Gabriel Blessing. No financial gain is intended or made by this story.
"What?" I asked, feeling my heart rate spike. I had to be hearing her wrong.
"Yukari was attacked," Takami repeated. "She was going back to her apartment to change and grab a shower. I sent her home in a company car since Shiina was undergoing one last check up and she didn't want to be late. When she didn't come down after a half hour, her driver went to check on her."
"Is she okay?"
Takami hesitated. "She was hurt pretty badly, Shirou. There's a good chance she'll end up in a coma."
My hand went automatically to my chest; Avalon would be able to save my sister, especially if Saber stayed by her. But I had to get it to her without getting caught. "Where is she? I want to see her."
"So do I, but she's in surgery right now. Don't worry — MBI has the best medical teams in the world, so she's in good hands." Dammit. If she was in an MBI facility it'd be even harder to heal her with Avalon. "We can't do anything for Yukari right now, but you can come look at the scene."
"Why me?" I asked. "MBI has a private defense force, don't they?"
"We'll talk about that in person," Takami replied. "Yukari had her Jinki with her. It's missing."
I paused, thinking back over the conversation I had half overheard with Miya, slowly realizing what it had meant. "Takami…" I paused for a moment, not wanting to ask, but pressed on anyway. "Did you check with Miya to make sure I couldn't have been the one to attack Yukari?"
"I didn't want to, Shirou. I didn't want to, but I had to know." Takami's voice was cool, but there was a slight tremor hidden in it. "I don't know which side of you to believe in sometimes — the one who dotes on his sister or the one whose file I found. I didn't think you had, but I had to be sure." Her tone turned fierce. "Believe me, if it had been you, I'd take care of you myself."
My breath caught a bit. Takami sounded deadly serious, but I shouldn't have been afraid of her. I had my magecraft, and I had my Sekirei, not to mention Rin and Saber, the latter having explicitly promised to protect me. Yet I couldn't help the feeling that if Takami thought I'd attempted to murder my sister she would've used all of the forces she could muster, and would invent some if necessary, to bring me to justice. The sheer power of her conviction was enough to make me pause.
It was strange that at moments like this I could find things in common with my mother.
"I understand. I probably would've done the same thing," I admitted. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
After hanging up I glanced around, trying to decide who to take with me. Akitsu, of course, was already nearby. Luckily, Kazehana was in the living room as well. "Matsu, let the others know what happened," I said aloud, knowing that she'd get the message through her cameras. "Miya, I'm sorry, but—"
"I will finish lunch, Emiya-san," Miya said gently. "Go."
I didn't need to be told twice. I motioned for Kazehana to follow as I quickly left the room, managing to evade the other residents of Izumo House. As we traveled over the city by rooftop, I quickly filled Kazehana and Akitsu in.
"Maybe we should have brought some of the others with us," Kazehana said, a slight frown on her face. "For someone to attack an Ashikabi, in her own home, no less…"
"Means they're not playing by the rules," I agreed. Akitsu didn't say anything, but her grip around my waist tightened.
We didn't speak any further until we arrived at the building where my sister had taken up residence after leaving Izumo House. I'd never been here, but Yukari had forwarded me her address after she'd moved, so I knew which room was hers. I quickly climbed the stairs, heading down the hall. I was surprised by the lack of MBI soldiers. In fact, I didn't notice any presence from MBI at all. I opened the door, noting the lock was damaged, as if it had been kicked open. Akitsu stayed close, ready to attack if necessary. Kazehana stood off a bit in the hallway, so she'd also have a clear shot.
"Shirou. Good, you made it."
I blinked. My mother was alone in the room, which seemed all but untouched except for some blood not far from the door. I swallowed, looking down at it, then returned my attention to my mother. "Takami. Where's everyone else?"
Takami looked uncomfortable. "You aren't here officially, so I don't have anyone from MBI here. You aren't exactly the company's favorite person right now. We already had a team go over the scene, but I thought you might be able to give me a different perspective." She paused, biting her lip, before she admitted with a sigh, "There's also some internal friction within MBI right now, so I'd appreciate anything you can tell me. I don't think they'd hold anything back, but…"
"You shouldn't be here alone," I protested, even while part of me wondered exactly what type of conflict was happening inside MBI. Was it between the executives or the people on the ground? While I knew that both civilians and members of MBI's private army had died in various Sekirei conflicts, I hadn't considered trouble coming from that angle.
"Everything we found indicates a Sekirei was responsible, and I can take care of them." Takami lightly tapped her leg with a long silver cylinder. I blinked, looking at it. "We would be poor scientists if we didn't know how to contain our experiments."
Not what I expected from Takami, but true nonetheless. MBI probably hadn't known what they were getting into when they started working on the Sekirei. Having precautions to subdue them by force would only be natural. "Still, it's dangerous to take on a Sekirei by yourself."
"I'm sure you would know all about that," my mother said dryly. "Haibane isn't far out. I thought about bringing Karasuba, but after seeing how things went the last time you met, I thought she'd distract you too much."
I nodded, then turned my focus on the room. I really didn't notice anything in particular other than the small amount of blood and the broken door. Most of my abilities lay in detecting magecraft-based attacks, not deciphering mundane assault. Still, if this had been done by a Sekirei…
I moved over to the door, trying to block what I was doing with my body. Akitsu moved between me and my mother, giving me the coverage I needed. I took a deep breath, focusing as hard as I could. There was only a very faint scent, rapidly fading even now — I was surprised I could detect it at all — of wood. Fresh wood, as if I'd walked into a lumber shop.
I left the door and walked around the room, looking for clues. There were manga scattered here or there, a blanket thrown haphazardly over the couch — the apartment was Western style — and a glass with water in it on an end table. Nothing looked particularly out of place. I turned to Takami. "I'm sorry. I don't think I can really tell you anything you probably don't already know."
Takami gave me a sharp look. "Anything will help, Shirou. Even just a guess."
"It looks to me like Yukari came home, but someone came in after her and attacked her from behind." I hesitated. "Maybe with a staff?" That was the only thing I could think of that would have a wood scent attached to it, if I discounted control over trees, but that was Kuu's ability. So far I hadn't met any Sekirei who duplicated another's capabilities.
Takami nodded."That's what MBI's team found as well. I'll check the records we have on the Sekirei and see if there are any that could have done this."
"Have the doctors said anything?" I asked.
"I was told she won't be having any visitors until tomorrow," Takami said. "MBI has a number of experimental medicines they'll be trying if she doesn't regain consciousness naturally."
"I… might be able to help her," I offered.
She eyed me cautiously. "If you explained what you did with the Jinki, I'd be more than happy to use one of those still in MBI's possession."
I forced myself not to wince. While my story had kept me from coming under scrutiny, it didn't help me now that Yukari needed help. I shook my head. "I can't, but if you let her come to Izumo House—"
"That's out of the question, Shirou." Takami shot me a sharp look, clearly not pleased that I wouldn't reveal my secrets. I couldn't exactly explain that I'd just come up with the excuse to cover up the existence of magecraft. "Yukari will stay in the hospital."
An MBI hospital, which meant the rooms would be under observation. I thought quickly, a plan forming in my mind. "Can I visit?"
"Of course. I'll call you once I know the details." Takami turned and headed towards the door, and Akitsu and I followed. Kazehana, who had decided to keep watch outside the apartment, fell into step with us as we moved down the hall. Part of my mind was making arrangements to help Yukari, but the rest of me was going over the scene again in my head. If I'd kept Yukari close to me I would've been able to protect her — but I really hadn't expected any trouble. With Higa out of the picture, the only other real contender for power within the Sekirei Plan besides myself was Mikogami, but he clearly wanted to play by the rules, and could've easily taken Yukari out yesterday during the match if he'd had it in for her.
So who had attacked Yukari?
Matsu closed the door to her room firmly, turning to face her fellow Sekirei. Shirou had come home half an hour ago, sharing what he had learned from his mother and his plan for helping Yukari. Saber had immediately taken him out to the yard to train. From what Matsu had seen that was probably the best thing she could've done. It was obvious that Shirou was having trouble focusing on anything, and hopefully expending his energy would give him a clearer head. Rin had settled out in the yard with them, a notebook in her hands, keeping an eye on the pair.
With the humans in the house thus occupied, Matsu had rounded up Shirou's other Sekirei and had convened their first Sekirei meeting. Having all seven of them crowded in her room made things tight, but this shouldn't take very long. "Okay. Matsu thought we needed to have a meeting to talk about how we're going to help Shirou-tan, because he's very bad at asking for it."
"Good idea," Homura agreed. "What did you have in mind?"
"The most important thing we have to do is protect Shirou-san!" Musubi said fiercely. "If someone is attacking Ashikabi, we need to be extra careful."
"You're right, Musubi," Tsukiumi agreed.
"Shirou-tan is stronger than Yukari-tan," Matsu reminded them, "but still. Akitsu-tan will do her best, Matsu is sure." The ice Sekirei nodded. It wasn't really a new assignment, but it did make Matsu think of something she needed to discuss with her, though it'd be better to do so alone. "Matsu will be working on research and on getting cover identities established for us, in case Shirou-tan decides we have to run."
"No matter who attacked Yukari, I think it's important we continue practicing," Homura said firmly. "We'll need to be ready and able to fight them in case they decide to come after Shirou."
"Shirou said that Avalon will work better with Saber's presence, though," Tsukiumi pointed out. "We should not remove her from that role unless there is dire need."
"We can run the practice ourselves," suggested Kazehana. "Homura and I could each direct a side."
"That's a good idea," Matsu agreed. "We don't know if this was caused by an enemy magus. If they know Yukari-tan is Shirou-tan's sister…"
"They could have done this to get to him," Kazehana concluded. "It's a stupid idea, but not impossible." Matsu nodded in agreement. She had a feeling Shirou's reaction to such a thing would be swift, brutal, and probably fatal for the instigator.
Tsukiumi shifted in her seat. "I shall take charge of the household," she announced.
Matsu blinked in surprise, but then smiled. That would be a good role for Tsukiumi. She had seemed off balance since Rin and Saber's arrival, but maybe she was finally finding her own place. Miya mostly ran things in Izumo House, but one way or another, it wasn't likely they were going to stay here forever. "We'll depend on Tsukiumi-tan, then."
"Um…" Musubi crossed her arms, thinking hard. "I know! Musubi will handle the errands!"
"You do always win the shopping races," Kazehana said with a smile.
"Kuu wants to help too!" the youngest Sekirei announced, waving her hands enthusiastically.
Matsu glanced around at the others in the room, but they seemed as stumped as she was. "Maybe Kuu-tan can draw pictures for Yukari-tan?"
"Kuu wants to help for real." She crossed her arms, pouting.
"I'm sure we'll think of something," Kazehana said, trying to soothe her. "Maybe in the kitchen?"
Tsukiumi looked uncertain, but nodded anyway. "And it is far past time that we have a meal." They'd delayed things to allow for Yukari and Shiina's arrival, and then Shirou had left to investigate the scene of the attack. It was getting into early evening by now, far past lunch time.
"Kuu will help!" Kuu stood and grabbed Tsukiumi's hand.
"Musubi will too!" the fighter said, smiling brightly. "I'll get the dishes for the table."
Matsu watched the trio file out, then caught Kazehana's and Homura's glances, nodding at Akitsu. Kazehana's brows furrowed briefly before her eyes lit up in comprehension. Homura still looked confused, but settled back into her seat instead of following Tsukiumi downstairs. "Akitsu-tan needs to be very careful with Shirou-tan," Matsu said.
Akitsu tilted her head in confusion. "Ah?"
"Because of what Odell did to him, we can't always trust his judgment," Kazehana elaborated. "You're with him the most, so you're the one who can best tell what's driving him."
"But that means Akitsu-tan can't always do everything Shirou-tan says just because he's our Ashikabi," Matsu warned.
"Like leaving him. Don't ever leave him undefended, even if he tells you to," Homura added, probably recalling the fight they'd been in when Tsukiumi had been winged.
Akitsu frowned a little, thinking.
"It probably won't be a problem, but you need to be ready for it," Matsu coaxed her. Akitsu's obedience to Shirou had always been strong, first as a way to show she belonged to him, and later in gratitude for her winging. That didn't mean, however, that there weren't times it could be dangerous to their Ashikabi. Matsu herself had gone against Shirou's wishes, and while she regretted some of the side effects of her actions, she wasn't sorry she'd done it. Shirou might've thought he'd been helping them by keeping secrets, but the truth was he'd only been hurting them by keeping them at arm's length.
Nodding slightly to herself, Akitsu finally responded. "I will watch Ashikabi-sama," she said, and nothing more.
Matsu sighed. They'd have to hope it was enough. She rose. "Let's go downstairs and help with dinner."
"And head to bed early," Homura added. "I have the feeling tomorrow's gonna be a busy day."
Silvia Odell walked quickly down the streets of Shin Tokyo, her face an expressionless mask despite her emotions. The last two weeks had been extremely frustrating. She'd never expected the Tohsaka girl to win custody of Emiya's Sealing Designation. She was an Asian child with few connections in the Clock Tower, but somehow she had managed it, and now she and her strange familiar were searching for Odell's project. For all she knew they might have already made contact with him.
Separating Emiya from their influence had been critical for him to develop properly. How incredibly frustrating it had been to see him willing to throw people away one week, then stubbornly refusing to do so the next. It had been blatantly clear that their connection drew Emiya back into a more empathetic, human viewpoint, the last thing she wanted.
Odell hadn't caused Emiya's Sealing Designation, but she had been able to use it to her advantage. The Enforcers were almost completely ignored by the upper echelons of the Clock Tower. They took on some of the most difficult jobs the Association had to offer and were shown little thanks for it. Odell had made a point of cultivating relationships with as many of them as she could, making them feel valued, that their skills were appreciated, that they mattered. As a result, when her masterpiece was Sealed, she'd sent out a few careful messages to be passed from friend to friend among the Enforcers and their support networks. It was simple enough. She'd reward anyone who brought her observations on Emiya or worked to keep the Association from discovering his location.
The bribe had worked out wonderfully; Odell had had Emiya's location five months after he'd left the Clock Tower, and none of their elite had had a clue. She'd planned to let him stay in Shin Tokyo for a year or two, letting the Association's interest in him die down and her implanted suggestions mature, before carefully directing him towards some trouble so she could evaluate his progress.
Except the damned Tohsaka girl had somehow managed to pull off the impossible.
Odell wasn't a fool. Tohsaka was a prodigy from a strong family line. She had survived the Holy Grail War, something that had killed many magi far surpassing her in age and experience. In addition, she also had that humanoid familiar, the exact nature of which was unknown to Odell. Due to the name she supposed it could have been Tohsaka's Servant, but she wasn't sure that was even possible without the ritual providing support.
Odell, on the other hand, had little knowledge of combat-oriented magecraft. Within a person's mind she was almost invincible, but in the physical world it was another matter entirely. She had spent nearly fifty years perfecting her art, but she had never bothered to learn to defend herself beyond wards and traps. She simply wasn't made for direct combat, but had never let that trouble her. She had plenty of allies to handle such things for her, and when that wasn't an option, she could always hire a freelancer. She certainly had enough money.
But Emiya had had to hide in Asia, of all places. While it made perfect sense, considering his background, she didn't have much of a network there, and unfortunately the price the Einzberns still had on Emiya's head had made it harder to make good use of the connections she did have. Odell might've been wealthy, but she couldn't pay more than the Einzberns.
Still, she hadn't been completely broadsided. Once she'd gotten evidence that Emiya was in Shin Tokyo she had begun looking for possible allies to influence. She had only nailed down the address a month or so ago of the most promising option.
The Nakamura family was a moderately powerful family of Eastern magi. Their focus had been mostly on the nature of spirits, unsurprising considering they were related to some lineages of onmyoudou practitioners. However, three generations ago a Western magus had married into the family, beginning an exchange of cultural viewpoints.
Odell had first heard of them when Otoya Nakamura, the previous family head, had published a paper theorizing that all minds were connected to Akasha and that one could mentally travel there with sufficient discipline, as reaching Akasha was a form of enlightenment. Odell hadn't cared much about the theory itself — searching for Akasha was a waste of time, in her opinion — but she always made a point of keeping track of other magi in her field.
Nakamura had managed to fry his brain trying to prove his theory, leaving his son Tsuyoshi to be the new head of the family. And, luckily enough, he lived in Shin Tokyo. Odell was fairly certain she'd be able to tempt him to helping her by offering to teach him a few techniques. It was a ridiculous situation to even consider giving away her mysteries, but Emiya was more important. She would not have her greatest work ruined.
Assuming Nakamura worked with both his family's traditional focus and the mental disciplines that had captivated his father, he might very well have defenses that would work against Tohsaka's familiar as well.
Odell hated that she had been reduced to approaching Nakamura like this, but she didn't have a lot of options. If she managed to get hold of Emiya she could activate the failsafe she'd planted in his mind, but that would require close contact — and likely permanently damage, if not outright destroy, his ability to work independently. She hadn't spent so much time cultivating him to be forced to lead him around like a mindless attack dog.
Finally reaching the Nakamura house, Odell quickly knocked on the door. A slender young woman opened it, scrutinizing her sharply. Odell returned the favor, looking her over. She appeared to be in her late teens, with blond hair so pale it was almost white. Her blue eyes narrowed. "May I inquire as to the reason for your visit, madam?"
"I corresponded with Mr. Nakamura's father," Odell said briskly. "I have some research that might interest him."
For a moment, Odell was worried that the girl was going to shut the door in her face. "Follow me," she finally said, her voice cool.
A few minutes later Odell saw Nakamura for the first time. He was young, perhaps in his early twenties. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, like most of the Asians she had seen, not showing his Western heritage at all. Another girl was kneeling on the floor in front of him, brown hair pooled around her bowed head as she wailed something in the local vernacular. Nakamura gestured at the young woman who had answered the door, and she nodded and gently took hold of the distraught brunette's shoulder, helping her up and leading her from the room.
"Why are you here?" Nakamura asked in passable English.
Odell hid her irritation at his brusqueness. "I believe we can help each other," she said simply. "I am aware of your father's research and have a great deal of experience in the field. I find myself in need of an ally to recover a piece of my research. If you are willing to help me, I will teach you several of my techniques."
Nakamura raised an eyebrow, clearly interested. "Who has taken your research?"
"Have you heard of a magus called Shirou Emiya?" Odell asked. She doubted he would have, considering he didn't have direct connection to the Association, but it didn't hurt to ask.
"Yes. He has been active in a local situation currently unfolding." Nakamura tilted his head to the side. "He has stolen your research?"
"No. He is the product of my research," Odell clarified. So, not even a year and Emiya had already made a name for himself here? It was unexpected, to say the least, but…
"Hmm. You should use more caution in your work, then; the fool used magecraft on camera." Nakamura's voice was disapproving. "Even if it was only reinforcement, it was still stupid of him to do so."
What? Odell frowned. "What could possibly have driven him to that?"
Nakamura paused, deep in thought. "You are clearly unaware of the situation here. Let me offer a different exchange. I will help you recapture him if you in turn help me contain two of his familiars. They have abilities I believe will be beneficial for furthering my father's research."
"Familiars?" Odell asked, her eyes narrowing. Emiya had not had any familiars in London. The last thing he needed was more objects to distract him from his true purpose.
Nakamura gave her a slight smile. "Let me tell you of the Sekirei," he said, and summarized the details of the Sekirei Plan and a little of what he knew of the Sekirei's nature. Odell had to fight to keep a frown off of her face as she listened. Emiya had gotten not one or two Sekirei, but seven. As she carefully persuaded Nakamura to share much more information than he'd intended, she grew even more concerned about the nature of the Sekirei bond. Odell had no idea how their psychic bonds would affect him; her work was too delicate to allow outside forces to interfere, especially since she hadn't had a chance to reinforce it recently.
"Once Emiya revealed himself I had Wakumi investigate him. His imprudence aside, he has gathered many powerful players to him. He has connections to the upper echelons of MBI as well, not to mention a dangerous reputation. I had intended to sit out the Plan, even if his Sekirei interested me, but recent events have made that impossible," Nakamura finished. "If we are to attack Emiya, however, we'll need more power than what I have."
"I would prefer not to bring another magus into this," Odell said. She knew she had something to leverage Nakamura, but she couldn't guarantee that would be the case for others.
Nakamura nodded. "Of course. There are not many magi in Tokyo right now, but I would not want to share the Sekirei with them."
Odell tensed, glancing to Nakamura's side. The young woman who had answered the door had simply appeared, as if from thin air. To Odell's now-focused senses, she didn't seem like a magus. In fact, her aura seemed to be somehow colored by Nakamura's power — perhaps one of these Sekirei familiars herself.
"Yes, Wakumi?" Nakamura turned to the blonde.
"I think I might know something that could work." Wakumi began to speak, explaining her plan, and Odell let herself smile slightly. Yes, this would work quite well indeed.
Tsukiumi glared at her hands in frustration. She must have seen Shirou make onigiri at least a dozen times since they had been married, but the rice refused to take the proper shape.
"Here." Tsukiumi started as Miya appeared beside her, washing her hands with salt water. "That will help it not stick to your skin."
"Thank you," Tsukiumi said, feeling her cheeks burn in shame. She tried again, finding the rice slightly more cooperative.
"Your efforts are better than mine. If I recall correctly, I managed to burn the rice for my first set of onigiri." Tsukiumi looked at Miya in surprise, and the landlady smiled. "I had quite a bit to learn when I first married."
Tsukiumi couldn't believe that. Miya was always calm, always in control. She was the picture of a perfect wife. There was no way she could ever have been as awkward and uncertain as Tsukiumi felt.
Once Tsukiumi had only worried about being the strongest. She had wanted to win the Sekirei Plan without an Ashikabi just to prove she could. Now she wasn't exactly sure what she wanted. While she had never intended to wed, Shirou had impressed her with both his bravery and his sincerity. Finding out she had to share her husband had not been pleasant, but with time, she had managed to accept the others, even if she still made token protests.
Rin and Saber's arrival had upset the balance of their relationships. At first Tsukiumi had been outraged that they would deny her the title of wife when she and Shirou had chosen each other freely. But as she watched them, Tsukiumi slowly realized how Rin and Saber were partners for Shirou. Rin helped out in the kitchen without protest from him. Saber worked with him to strengthen not only his skills, but those of Tsukiumi and her fellow Sekirei. All three exchanged thoughts and ideas effortlessly. It was obvious how they flowed together, working seamlessly toward their mutual goals.
Tsukiumi wanted that. She wanted to have a place — to have something she could do to help Shirou as they did. While she didn't doubt her own natural strength, Kazehana and Homura had taken the positions of battle leaders in their practice. Tsukiumi knew she could fight well, but she wasn't sure she wanted to command the others. Akitsu clearly had no desire to share her position as Shirou's bodyguard, and Matsu was Shirou's research assistant. Musubi didn't seem to care about her place, as long as she could love Shirou.
Tsukiumi, however, had floundered for a few days, trying to figure out what she could offer to Shirou. It was only after watching Miya in the kitchen making breakfast one day that she realized it. Miya was everything Tsukiumi wanted to be. She was beautiful, strong, a perfect wife. She could cook, clean, and manage a household with ease. It had been Miya who'd inspired Tsukiumi to ask Rin to teach her how to cook, so that she might be able to fill some of those roles for Shirou. (She had nearly died in embarrassment when her Ashikabi had offered to teach her. A husband did not teach his wife how to complete her duties.)
"Now, when you're making a hole in the onigiri, be careful not to push too far. Yes, just like that." Miya smiled as Tsukiumi followed her instructions. "Go ahead and fill it."
"Can Kuu help too?"
Tsukiumi looked down at the younger Sekirei, feeling a stab of pity. Like herself, Kusano wanted to help Shirou, but no one knew how to let her do so. It was difficult, since she was so young.
"Of course you can," Miya said. She fetched a stepstool so Kuu could reach the counter more easily. The young girl struggled even more with shaping the rice than Tsukiumi had, but she didn't give up.
"Landlady-san, I was wondering. We were all talking about ways to help Shirou yesterday—"
"Kuu wants to help Oniichan too!" Kuu said fiercely, clutching the rice in her hands and ruining her work.
"Do you have any ideas?" Tsukiumi asked as she carefully covered the fillings in the onigiri she was working on.
"Hmmm, something special for Kuu-chan…" Miya looked thoughtful for a few moments, effortlessly making an onigiri of her own. "Yes, I believe I do. You know, we go through a lot of food. I've thought about raising Emiya-san's rent to cover it, but I think you can help, Kuu-chan." Kuu's eyes lit up. "I was thinking we could start a garden for fresh vegetables and maybe some fruit as well. Do you think you could take care of it?"
Kuu nodded enthusiastically. "Kuu will make the best vegetables ever!"
"Then we'll get some plants later today while the others are practicing," Miya said, smiling.
Tsukiumi felt herself smile as well. It was a good job for Kuu, not makeshift work, but something that really mattered. She wrapped the onigiri in nori and placed it on a plate. It didn't look nearly as neat as the ones Shirou had made, but she would only get better with practice.
I didn't sleep well Tuesday night, leaving me feeling run down Wednesday morning. I awoke alone, both Tsukiumi and Musubi, who'd decided to share their nights this week, having already left. I headed downstairs, trying to remember who was supposed to be making breakfast this morning, then blinked as I entered the kitchen, surprised to see Tsukiumi and Kuu with Miya. Our landlady had started breakfast, but Tsukiumi and Kuu were working on a row of onigiri. "Uh — what's going on?"
"Good morning, Oniichan!" said Kuu, smiling.
"Shirou!" Tsukiumi jumped a bit, surprised by my presence. She flushed. "We are making lunch."
"That's really not necessary," I told her.
"This way you can stay at the hospital without having to get food," Tsukiumi said sternly, looking away as she finished another rice ball. "We are also going to bring some with us so we can practice longer."
I frowned. "Saber is going to need to conserve her prana to heal Yukari. I don't think it's a good idea for her to practice with you today."
"Homura and Kazehana are going to direct the matches," Tsukiumi explained. "I believe they spoke to Saber about strategies last night."
"I… guess that'll work." I hadn't expected my flock to train on their own, but I wouldn't stop them. "If you really want to."
"Since Yukari was attacked, it is important that we be ready to help you," Tsukiumi said firmly.
"Tohsaka-san has agreed to cook dinner until Sahashi-san is released from the hospital. I will cover breakfast and lunch. Tsukiumi-chan and Kuu-chan will be helping us," Miya added.
"I'm not going to stop cooking," I said, somewhat defensively.
"Once Sahashi-san is better we'll go back to our regular rotation. Tsukiumi-chan pointed out that you will be very limited when it comes to time until then, however, and suggested you focus on your job when you are not at the hospital," Miya explained.
I had mixed feelings about that. I didn't like being denied my time in the kitchen, but until Yukari was released, I would need to spend as much time as I could at the hospital. While it was true that it was Saber who'd be supplying Avalon with power, I couldn't leave her there by herself. Having my girlfriend staying with my sister without me would raise all sorts of flags. Saber barely knew Yukari, which meant I needed to be there. In addition, it would free up time for me to investigate Yukari's attackers, if we managed to figure out a lead.
I decided to just be grateful and hope Yukari was healed quickly. "At least let me help right now, until breakfast starts," I said, moving next to Tsukiumi, who blushed slightly and made a face, but didn't say anything to dismiss me. I helped finish up the onigiri while Kuu talked about the garden she was planning to make with Miya's help. I encouraged her as much as I could. It was a good idea; not only would it give us fresh vegetables, but it would help keep Kuu busy, especially for the next few days. I didn't know how much time or energy Saber would have to work with her on swordwork.
After breakfast we left Miya and Izumo House behind, heading across the city to the address Takami had sent me that morning. Nearby I noticed Matsu becoming more and more tense as we finally saw the building. I caught her hand, squeezing it.
"Sorry, Shirou-tan," she apologized. "Matsu is just a little nervous."
I knew she had to be. MBI had never made a move to try and capture her again after she had sought sanctuary with Miya, but Matsu had been hunted. She would never forget that feeling. Still, she had agreed to come with me, into a company facility, to help me heal my sister. "I'm relying on you."
Matsu straightened, squaring her shoulders as we reached the doors. "Matsu won't let you down, Shirou-tan."
I dropped her hand as we entered the building, and I quickly spotted Takami, just inside the double glass doors. She looked over the group following me with concern. "Shirou, we don't have enough room for them all to stay."
"Most of us won't be here long," Homura promised. "Shirou, Saber, and Akitsu will be here the longest."
Takami's eyes flickered over the group, noting who was here — and more importantly, who wasn't. I spoke before she could ask. "Rin had work this morning. She offered to take off, but she just recently got her job." I cracked a brief smile. "Someone has to make money."
Takami's face softened a bit. "You know that if that's a problem I'll help, Shirou."
"I know." But I didn't want to depend on Takami. She might have been my mother, but I had been working to pay for my own expenses for a long time. "We're okay," I assured her. "Let's go see Yukari."
We headed down the hall and squeezed into Yukari's room. She lay pale and unmoving, a shadow of her usual energetic self, attached to various machines, her head carefully bandaged. Shiina sat in a chair next to the bed, holding his Ashikabi's hand. He looked up as we entered, depression obvious in his eyes. "Aniki. I— I couldn't protect her."
I headed to stand by his side. "Shiina — it wasn't your fault. You weren't there." I remembered those times I had failed myself, both real and from Odell's training, feeling that helplessness wash through me again. I took a deep breath, and with hard-won practice, pushed the feeling away. "She'll be all right."
Shiina looked at me, no hope in his eyes. "They don't think she's going to wake up, Aniki."
"She will," I promised. I glanced over at Homura. "Take him to get some food?"
"I can't leave her!" Shiina protested.
"The rest of us won't leave until you get back," I said reassuringly. "We'll all be here to protect Yukari." Akitsu shifted next to me, carrying my wrapped projected weapons. The movement caught Shiina's attention. He stared at the two packages for a moment before understanding dawned in his eyes.
"You won't do anyone any good if you faint from lack of food," Takami interjected, exasperation in her tone. Clearly she'd been trying to get Shiina to take a break for a while.
"Homura?" I asked.
Homura nodded and tugged Shiina from his chair, ushering him out of the room. As soon as he left, my flock bustled with activity. Tsukiumi placed the flowers Kuu had grown on a table while both Kuu and Musubi placed cards they'd made on the windowsill. Matsu took one of the other chairs in the room, the others settling around her. I noticed Matsu directing them with a few subtle hand gestures, making sure that they blocked her from the cameras she'd seen as we'd entered the room. Perfect.
Takami and I headed outside, as the sheer number of people made it impractical for us all to remain in Yukari's room. She explained a bit more about Yukari's prognosis. She had suffered a compound fracture of the skull; while the doctors weren't sure yet, they suspected there would be brain damage. At the moment, they hadn't yet been able to wake her. I told Takami I would let her know when I left the hospital, and promised to watch over Yukari while she took care of other things.
The relief on Takami's face was all I needed to see to know I had made the right decision. Clearly she was feeling torn between her job and her duties as a mother. Still, she had resources I didn't have. I didn't doubt that Takami was doing everything in her power to track down Yukari's attackers. For now, I could sit by my sister's side while Takami did the legwork.
Ten minutes after Takami left, Matsu nodded at me. She had successfully broken into the system and looped the cameras. I immediately removed Avalon from myself, trying to ignore the feeling of emptiness left behind in its absence, and pressed the legendary sheath against Yukari's chest. It sank into her, vanishing without a trace. I quickly resumed my former position, and Matsu's fingers flew across her tablet before she sat back, giving me a subtle nod. The loop had been disconnected.
"I hope Yukari-san will be better soon," Musubi said, beginning to pace in frustration. I could sympathize. I never did well when I was forced into situations where I couldn't do anything either.
"Though I do not know when, I am certain that all will be well," Saber murmured. I relaxed slightly at that. Saber knew Avalon better than even I did. Without cutting off all the other possible sources of power, I couldn't accurately tell if it was working, but Saber had had extensive practice with my own injuries. If she said it would happen, it would.
It took another twenty minutes for Shiina to return, after which all of my Sekirei except Akitsu headed back to Izumo House. I tried to keep my eyes open, but to be honest, this was even worse than when I had healed Chiho using Avalon. At least then I had needed to power it; here I was only sitting, keeping an eye on Saber and generally watching out for trouble. After last night, I was having a hard time staying awake. Shiina had already fallen asleep, lured into unconsciousness by a full stomach. I yawned.
"Rest, Shirou," Saber said softly. "Akitsu and I will keep watch for a time. Should anything happen, we will wake you."
I wanted to protest, but they both looked far more awake than I. I wouldn't be worth anything if I made mistakes while I was tired. I shifted on the hard hospital chair, gave up trying to get comfortable, and bowed my head, allowing myself to drift off.
I wasn't sure how long I had been asleep when the sound of Saber's voice woke me. I raised my head, blinking. "Takami? Did you find anything?"
"Yes." Takami moved closer to me and hand over her phone. "We managed to capture this shot from a security camera in the area around Yukari's apartment. The quality isn't very good, but it was enough to give us a place to start."
I looked at the phone's picture. The quality was pretty bad, but it was clear enough to make out a young woman with shoulder length brown hair, carrying a staff. I couldn't make out many more details. "I'll have to see if I can figure out what Sekirei she is—"
"No need." Takami gave me a briefly amused look, somehow managing to make me feel stupid. Of course MBI had their own database. "She's number sixty-eight, Kishie."
"Weapon user, obviously. Who's her Ashikabi?" I asked, running the name through my mind. It didn't ring any bells.
Takami's lips thinned. "That's where things get interesting. According to our records, Kishie was terminated around the beginning of the second phase. She never managed to find an Ashikabi."
That got everyone's attention, not just mine. Beside me, Akitsu shifted to face Takami. Saber looked concerned, leaning forward slightly. Even Shiina, who had woken before me, briefly turned his attention to my mother.
"Someone managed to revive a Sekirei?" I asked, frowning. That was a possibility that hadn't even crossed my mind, though with the different levels of termination, it might be possible for those who hadn't undergone a level five…
"No. From what I've been able to tell, her termination was faked." Takami looked frustrated.
"That— MBI has to have firewalls," I said flatly. I may not have known much about technology before coming to Shin Tokyo, but Matsu had been very thorough in her lessons. "That doesn't make sense."
"You're right. It's practically impossible to alter the Sekirei files from the outside the system." Takami retrieved her phone and returned it to her pocket. "Techs are working on it now, but looking at her file, it seems that someone inside the company altered the records and backdated them. Things were busy enough at that time that no one noticed."
"If one termination was faked…" I trailed off. I'd been depending on Matsu's information for a while. While I had considered that MBI might've planted or withheld some things, I had never doubted the termination list before. Suddenly I had dozens more possible enemies in my lap.
"Then there could have been more as well," Takami confirmed. "I'm going to have to check each file myself." She sighed.
My eyes narrowed. "Takami, what's the real opinion in MBI about what's going on?" She'd mentioned trouble within the company yesterday, but if someone was attacking Ashikabi, hiding Sekirei's existence, or targeting the Jinki, it was more serious than I'd realized.
Takami sighed again, glancing away. "The Plan has never been very popular with most of the people involved, but Minaka gave enough of a financial incentive to keep them quiet. It's become even less liked as it's been put into action, however," she said very softly. "There are people in my own department who've spoken out against it."
Takami was responsible for the collection of terminated Sekirei, so her department would be the one most likely to have the means to fake a termination easily. Not to mention they were the ones who'd adjusted the Sekirei in the first place. I wasn't sure how most of them felt towards the Sekirei, but I imagined they could very easily feel that their work was being wasted since the Sekirei were slowly being destroyed. And if any of them felt affection towards their charges, it was even more likely that they might try to hide some of them.
"What about the tracking chip on her?" I asked.
Takami raised an eyebrow. "I certainly couldn't tell you company secrets," she said dryly, "but I'd imagine MBI might have a policy that data collection would cease when a Sekirei was indicated to be terminated. That being said, it is quite possible that MBI would be able to reactivate data collection and use it to track down someone not playing by the rules."
Plausible deniability. "Well, if the company needs any help from an unaffiliated party…" I trailed off. Since they had the Discipline Squad it was unlikely they'd need me, but Kishie had hurt my sister. If I had the chance, I was going to be the one taking care of her.
"I'll keep it in mind." Takami stood. "I'll let you know if I find out anything else."
I nodded absentmindedly as she left. A rogue Sekirei, possibly in league with people inside MBI, working towards some unknown purpose. I didn't know what they were up to, but I fully intended to find out.
On Thursday Saber, Akitsu, and I returned to the hospital. I was pleased to note that Yukari's color was already looking better. Takami stopped by to fill me in on her progress, commenting that the doctors were shocked by the rapidity of her recovery. The look she gave me made it clear she knew I'd done something, but thankfully she didn't press me on the matter.
We left the hospital in the afternoon, which gave Saber and me the chance to supervise my flock's training, even if Saber sat out so she could conserve prana. I continued to be impressed by everyone's efforts. Kazehana, Tsukiumi, and Homura had managed to perfect the timing of various combination attacks in a little less than a week. Akitsu had missed sessions because she refused to leave my side, but she was able to partner with Tsukiumi eight times out of ten, though she had more trouble with Kazehana and Homura. Musubi's ability to evade attacks had increased dramatically as well.
Still, even with their improvements, my flock came home sore and tired, with more than a few bumps, bruises, and cuts. What awaited us made me blink in surprise. "Kuu… are you wearing a lab coat?"
Kuu struck a pose, a plastic stethoscope around her neck. "Nurse Kuu will patch everyone up!" she declared. "Sit down."
My eyes tracked Rin as Kuu fussed over Musubi, who willing put her arms out for bandaids. "Your idea?"
"Matsu mentioned that Kuu had been feeling left out, so I thought she might like to work on cleanup." Rin shrugged, her eyes taking on a bit of a faraway look, the one that meant she was pondering something. "I've been trying to see if she can actually use her powers to heal, but I haven't had any success yet."
"Rin, her power is over plants," I pointed out.
"Is it?" Rin asked. "I'm not so sure that's all there is to it. Shiina's supposed to be her opposite, and I'd have to call his ability a more general 'decay.' To me, that means Kuu might be able to grow other organic things, which could give her the ability to heal things like broken bones. I haven't figured it out one way or another yet." Her gaze went back to Kuu, who was fussing with a bandage. The fond look on her face made me smile. It seemed Kuu had managed to worm her way into Rin's heart.
"Where'd you get the lab coat, anyway?" I asked.
"It was in a corner of my closet. Someone left it there." Rin brushed a piece of hair behind her ear. "Are you busy right now?"
"Not unless I'm helping with dinner. Why?"
"We've been here long enough that I'll need to check in," Rin said. "I thought you might want to be there."
"Yeah." I hesitated. "Do you think we're going to have a problem?"
"Hmm, possibly," she said, her voice neutral. "I think I might be able to get some interesting information one way or another, though. Matsu already asked to sit in."
"Matsu has set things up in her room," the hacker put in, heading towards us from the kitchen. "Rin-tan already prepped dinner. We'll just need to heat it up."
We headed upstairs. Homura, Akitsu, and Kazehana decided to follow us as well, once they were cleared by 'Nurse Kuu.' Thankfully Musubi was enjoying humoring Kuu as her patient, keeping them both busy. I wouldn't want either of them sitting in on this conversation. Tsukiumi had hesitated, but finally decided to stay downstairs to take care of the dishes, only asking that she be informed of what was discussed.
Once in her room, Matsu fussed with a speaker before handing Rin a headset. "We'll be able to hear both ends of the conversation, but the mike is keyed to Rin-tan. It should help with background noise. Just in case, though, no one should talk."
"Especially anyone he could recognize," Rin added, giving me a sharp look. "Even if you hear things you don't like."
"I trust you," I said, settling down. Rin dialed her phone, the ringtone echoing in the quiet room.
"Lord El-Melloi II," Rin greeted formally. "I promised to check in with you."
"Miss Tohsaka. It is good to hear from you." Lord El-Melloi II was Rin's sponsor at the Clock Tower. He had once been known as Waver Velvet, and was the only Master still living who had participated in the fourth Holy Grail War. There had been some tension between the pair when they'd first met — apparently El-Melloi II was an avid player of Japanese video games and had hoped they'd connect over that, but Rin had of course never touched one and wasn't the least bit interested — but their relationship had mellowed out a bit as time had gone on. I'd never had much direct contact with him myself, though he and Saber had developed a habit of occasionally meeting for a glass of wine. "Have you found Emiya yet?"
"We ran into a bit of a situation in Shin Tokyo," Rin said, neatly sidestepping the question. "We're going to have to stay here for a bit before looking elsewhere."
El-Melloi II was silent for a moment, then chuckled. "You found a Sekirei, didn't you?"
Everyone in the room froze. I felt my heart begin to race. This was my worst fear. "Sekirei?" Rin asked, affecting surprise. "I don't know what you're—"
"Please, Rin. Even the distance between Japan and Europe wouldn't stop us from noticing the kind of power that was thrown around there a few years ago. Exploding battleships tend to be conspicuous." The voice on the other end of the line was amused. I raised my eyebrows, surprised by the warmth in his tone. I knew El-Melloi II and Rin had become a bit better acquainted before I'd left London, but it seemed like they might've actually become friends in my absence — somewhat surprising, considering their prickly personalities.
"Well, if you know about them, why aren't they all in Clock Tower custody? For that matter, why had I never heard of them before?" Rin asked, crossing her arms and leaning back in her chair, her expression grumpy.
"Sekirei were studied extensively several centuries ago when they were first discovered. There are a few books about them in our libraries here, but most don't bother with them. The topic is considered of little interest nowadays," El-Melloi II said. "The emergence of this most recent group is classified as a need-to-know subject. As far as why they're not Clock Tower projects… well, there's the official reason and the unofficial one, naturally."
Rin's answer was prompt. "I want both, of course."
"Hmm. At least since we're using a phone I can be pretty sure no one is listening in on this conversation," El-Melloi II said dryly, and I smiled a bit. Even now, the magi at the Clock Tower tended to prefer more old-fashioned forms of communication. "Officially, the Sekirei were deemed not worth the effort it would take to capture them. The records we have indicate that they have excellent powers of their own, but sustainability is an issue. Second and third generations showed only a fraction of their progenitor's power no matter who the parents were. Some increase in psychic abilities was noted, but no positive correlation to circuit quality or quantity."
I was a bit surprised about that, but then again, the people who'd been writing these reports had probably been traditional magi, meaning that they'd had proper circuits that hadn't gone through the 'abuse,' as Rin said, that mine had.
"I'm still having a hard time understanding why magi wouldn't want to investigate them, though," Rin said. "If nothing else, they make good bodyguards."
"And here we come to the unofficial reason. Back when it was first discovered that Sekirei had reappeared, a team went to try to retrieve them. It was an unmitigated disaster."
I sat up, looking interested. Yes, I suspected the original Discipline Squad would've been dangerous opponents, considering they'd included Miya, Karasuba, and Kazehana. Still, I knew full well that the Association would have sent an experienced team to capture them. One did not mess around lightly with alien forces.
Rin raised her eyebrows. "They were defeated?"
"Yes. More importantly, though, use of magecraft was caught on film. The cleanup operation was a bloody nightmare." El-Melloi II's voice was grim. "I'm not sure you're aware of how vast MBI's reach is. Even when they weren't as powerful as they are now, they had access to technology that baffled our cover-up teams. In a way, it served as a wakeup call to the Association. They've had a team of quality hackers on board since then, but even then those hackers were barely able to enter the system, and they've been unsuccessful getting through the protections MBI's developed since. It was decided that leaving the Sekirei in MBI's hands would carry less risk of detection than attempting to recover them."
"Hmm." Rin tapped a finger against a nearby table. "So there've been no other attempts by magi to get their hands on a Sekirei?"
"I heard a rumor that there was one family that hired someone to kidnap a few, but it didn't pan out." There came a sigh, and the sound of someone shifting in a chair. "Be careful, Rin. If they catch you using magecraft, we may not be able to do anything for you."
"I will," Rin promised. "It's just taking me a little time to convince them that allowing me to leave with my Sekirei would be a good idea. I'll make sure no one notices anything they shouldn't."
"Cameras are fairly easy to hide these days," El-Melloi II warned.
Rin glanced at Matsu. "Well, my Sekirei's abilities happen to lie in that area, so I'm sure she'll help me out with that." The hacker hid a smile. Apparently the idea of being Rin's Sekirei was amusing to her.
"Good. Oh, one more thing — I've been asked to pass on several offers to you—"
Rin made a face, but kept her obvious distaste out of her voice. "I won't be making any decisions until I've retrieved my research subject, naturally. Children aren't a priority at the moment."
"I told them you'd say as much." El-Melloi II was clearly amused. "Good luck, Rin."
"What was he talking about, Rin?" I asked a second after she disconnected the call.
"Once you were gone, I started getting more marriage offers," Rin said nonchalantly, ducking her head while she removed the headset. "Some of them have been pushier about it than others."
Something stirred, hot and unpleasant, in my chest. "Marriage offers," I echoed.
Rin kept her voice even. "We've talked about the heir thing before—"
"Your future children aren't a bargaining chip!" I growled.
"I had to at least make a show of considering their offers!" she retorted. "I couldn't seem too attached to you, or they wouldn't have given me control over your Sealing Designation."
"But your children? Rin, that's too—"
She glared fiercely at me. "Don't you dare say something like that's too much or you aren't worth it. You are worth it, and dammit, I'm going to make you realize that even if it takes till we're old and gray!" Reddening, Rin glanced away, crossing her arms. Saber laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Besides, t-there's only one person I'd be interested in having children with," she muttered.
"Rin…" I swallowed hard, fighting down a blush myself. We'd discussed the topic in the abstract, specifically the fact that Rin planned on having a child sooner or later, but the emphasis had always been on later. I knew I was hardly the best candidate, considering I was essentially a first-generation magus, but that hadn't mattered to her.
"Rin-tan…" Matsu whispered. "That's so romantic!" She beamed. I glanced around the room, surprised to see soft smiles on Kazehana's and Akitsu's faces as well.
Homura, on the other hand, looked uncomfortable. "Can we talk instead about the fact that magi apparently know about us?"
"And that they've tried to get involved before," Kazehana added, her expression serious. "I'm sure we would have noticed, if it was anything like when Izumo House was attacked..."
Matsu was frowning thoughtfully. "There was an incident Karasuba and Mutsu-tan took care of that Matsu remembers the scientists being very interested in," she said slowly, "but they stopped talking about it around the same time the recorded footage of it disappeared." She smiled crookedly. "Matsu thought someone might have cracked the system and erased it, so Matsu made sure to work hard on strengthening encryption and firewalls after that."
"And so they haven't tried anything since." Rin shook her head. "Well. As far as the Association knowing about Sekirei, Homura, I would've been surprised if they hadn't already, since Matsu said seven other Sekirei ships landed here in the past. They probably think MBI's only using you as research subjects or maybe a defense group." She sighed. "Thankfully the Association doesn't pay a lot of attention to Japan. They clearly don't know that MBI's holding a battle royal. If they realized how many people have been witnesses…"
"It'd be a different story," I finished. Takami said that MBI spent a lot of time and money managing who knew about the Sekirei Plan. Thinking about it, I couldn't imagine how they managed to keep it controlled, knowing what I did now about cell phones and the internet.
"Maybe they say they're making a movie?" Matsu suggested.
"It's not really important what their cover story is," I told her, and turned to Rin. "If they think you have a Sekirei—"
"Matsu, you don't mind, do you?" Rin asked. "I pretty much figured we'd need an excuse to stay in Shin Tokyo."
"Not at all, Rin-tan." Matsu smirked. "Matsu will make sure her 'Ashikabi' learns all about hidden cameras and mics."
Rin made a face. "In any case, there was no way they weren't going to find out about the Sekirei eventually, one way or another. It's a lot safer if they think I have a Sekirei as opposed to you. The odds of them thinking I'm just using them as research are pretty high. Better to have the cover story planned." I nodded.
"If we Sekirei are classified as a need-to-know subject, why does he know about it?" Kazehana asked.
"El-Melloi II is better with technology than a number of people in the Tower," I put in. Of course, most of his experience came from video games, but that wasn't the point.
"And he's low enough on the totem pole that he would get stuck dealing with a topic no one else would want," Rin added, leaning back in her chair. "Besides, I wouldn't be surprised if the Association had something going on here after all."
"What do you mean?" I asked sharply.
"Matsu, how large was MBI back when the first attack happened?"
"A few dozen people or so. Minaka, Takami, and Takehito were the ones doing most of the work," Matsu answered.
"They couldn't get into the computer files, so they probably had to get a hold of the workers, make them erase them, and then modify their memory afterwards," Rin summarized. "If they got their hands on Minaka, altering a few key pieces of his memory wouldn't be that difficult."
Silence reigned for a moment. "Rin, are you suggesting that the Magus Association is the cause of the Sekirei Plan?" Saber asked.
"I thought you just said that they couldn't know about what's going on!" said Homura.
"Not the specific idea, no," Rin admitted, "but we do know there are some people in the Tower who hate and/or distrust anything nonhuman. If they couldn't do it themselves, they could plant the seeds to have MBI do it for them. A conflict of interest between his natural ideas and a planted suggestion makes a lot more sense than spending tons of money on adjusting them just to kill them." She folded her arms.
The idea had merit, in a way. Magi often used others to fight their battles for them — familiars, most commonly — and tended to plan long term. Still, I wasn't sold. "What about the Jinki?" I asked. "I think they're trying to decide proper owners for them."
"Owners who have helped their Sekirei kill a bunch of other Sekirei to get them," Rin pointed out. "Not exactly someone I'd want in charge of a bunch of devices that can cause mass genocide. It's just a theory. It doesn't matter, one way or another. We still have to deal with the fallout."
"How easy is mind alteration?" Matsu asked. "The way Rin-tan talked about it with Shirou-tan, Matsu thought it was more difficult."
"Magi use it pretty frequently to hide magecraft, but it's more effective on non-magi," I explained. "I'm just not very good at it."
"Shirou's specialized, but that's not all bad." Rin smiled at me.
"So, to summarize." Homura tapped off her fingers. "The Mage's Association knows about the existence of Sekirei, but they aren't spreading that information around, meaning magi aren't likely to get involved in the Sekirei Plan. One of them thinks Rin has a Sekirei of her own and will try and cover for her so she can stay in Shin Tokyo longer. The Mage's Association may or may not have encouraged Minaka to kill off the Sekirei to save them the trouble."
"Sounds about right," Matsu said.
Kazehana frowned. "The more I find out about magi, the less I like."
"None of this, however, is helping us find Yukari's attackers," Saber interjected. "Shirou, shall we patrol?"
"If you have the energy for it." It was a long shot, but it would be better than just sitting around and doing nothing. "Matsu, could you keep an eye on the satellites?" I asked.
"Matsu will call Shirou-tan if she spots number sixty-seven," the hacker promised. "Matsu will send pictures to everyone's phones now." Her hands flew over the keyboard.
Homura stood. "I'll go get the others. We can search a wider area that way."
"Okay," I said. "Let's go hunting."
Waver apparently goes through quite a personality change after the fourth Holy Grail War. We hope how we wrote him here isn't too OOC for him. Our interpretation of his character is that even if he's gruff on the outside he's got a good heart hidden underneath and has worked hard with Rin to reunite her with Shirou.
MBI is an interesting company to consider. According to the Sekirei manga, they literally control the world in multiple fields, including economics, technology, and medical advancements. In the manga they show that they have nets to capture the Sekirei. We are expanding on that and assuming they have other implements as well, because only relying on nets for beings with the types of powers the Sekirei has seems foolish (and you don't generally get to be a world superpower by being incompetent).
As for the Mage's Association, we have a very hard time believing that with seven other ships (we know there were at least two that had survivors) they wouldn't have found out about the Sekirei, or at least that some magi would find out and that information might be later collected in someone's library. In the flashback to the past, the Sekirei are shown to reach out to humans in a positive, supportive manner (very unlike aliens as presented in Nasuverse). Add in the idea that the Ashikabi characteristic may be linked to magecraft potential (considering how IF describes the winging process), it seems fairly likely there would have been magus-Sekirei pairs before.
We also find it hard to believe that the Association wouldn't have heard about the battle for Kamikura Island, at least a bit. Destroying battleships with a single blow tends to be fairly noticeable, and there would likely be chatter about it in various military organizations. In fact, it might be to MBI's benefit for them to brag about their success to deter others. It wouldn't be impossible for Enforcers to have connections to other military groups and hear about it. Or some local magi might have noticed it. It seems unlikely the Tohsaka are the only Asian family that has connections to the Association.
However, the level of technology MBI has really does pose a huge threat to magecraft secrecy. It seems impossible that they wouldn't have cameras everywhere and backups of all their data. We know they have smart phones and satellites. The ability to take a picture or video and instantly post it to the internet — and once it's on there, forget trying to get it off — makes not getting caught really important. So we chose to have the Association know about the Sekirei but mostly ignoring them as they are not of significant value compared to the risk of discovery. (Mind, if they were aware of what was really going on that would be a different story, but Odell has been paying good money to keep news in Shirou's area quiet.)
Quick note about Mutsu and Karasuba defeating the magi: Since it was shortly after they were awakened, they really didn't know the capabilities of humans, even magi, and so they eventually passed it off as some form of technology. They figured it was a force from a rival company and since a second direct attempt was never made, they never figured out otherwise.
We're sure a lot of people have different interpretations on how the Association would react to the Sekirei, but this is how we chose to go with it.
A couple things about Steadfast outside the plot: Firstly, it's now September, which is a fairly busy month for us. As we're sure you've noticed, updates are likely to be more spaced out. Secondly, a few people asked us how long Steadfast was going to be. Our original estimation was between twelve and eighteen chapters, but since we've been writing longer chapters than we anticipated we think we'll probably be finished after about ten to twelve chapters, give or take.
EDIT: Thanks to GlaringEyes for pointing out a glaring error on our parts. Kishie was meant to be no. 68, not the scrapped number 67.
UPDATE (12/6/13): We apologize for the delay in further chapters, but we've been working on the endgame for Steadfast and want to have everything ready to post in quick succession. Unfortunately, there are a number of life factors that have limited our writing time, among them wedding planning, vacations, and family illness. We're not abandoning this fic, though, and hope to be able to update it by the end of January. Thank you for your patience, and have a good holiday!