Eye of the Sword – Her Song (part 2)

To Sakura, school was just another set of rules to play by, just another role she had to fulfill or risk making Zouken upset. Her brother might have been the more openly violent and unstable one in the family but it was the grandfather who truly deserved to be feared.

Luckily for her, whatever Zouken’s plans for her were, they didn’t include Sakura being an honor roll student which meant the girl was mostly left to her own devices. Before meeting Shirou this meant going through each of the days automatically, albeit politely before returning home, the place she outwardly didn’t care for and hated deep inside.

Now that the younger Emiya and Taiga-onee-san had wormed their way into her life, things changed, if only slightly. She was somewhat warmer to other pupils, especially those at the archer’s club. This drove Shinji nuts, of course, as both the captain and Shirou left him in the dust when it came to aim and technique but it wasn’t like he could do anything to her that would hurt her heart. Her brother was far too impulsive and stupid for that.

Thus her days passed: smiling at Shirou in the halls, quietly going through the lessons, enjoying archery, studying just enough not to stand out in any way and spending as much time as possible at the Emiya household.

If there was one person who she didn’t know how to feel about in the school, it was her former sister, Rin Tohsaka. Thankfully, they met only when they couldn’t avoid each other, as their shared past and current situation was a can of worms neither of them wanted to approach, not to mention open.

That was why Sakura was pretty much stupefied when Tohsaka approached her between classrooms during a recess and asked, no, demanded to immediately talk to her on the roof. Rin was trying to be her normal composed self but circles under her eyes and a loose ribbon on the right side of her head betrayed her. Something was very, very wrong, yet Sakura had no reason to refuse, even if something tiny inside whimpered to do just that.

They stood still on the roof for about a minute with Rin rolling on the balls of her feet while the younger girl waited quietly. Eventually Tohsaka inhaled deeply and blurted out:

“You need to stop going to Emiya’s house! Those people are crazy, it isn’t safe!”

Sakura was silent for a long while but when she finally looked up, both her eyes and soul were frozen solid:

“I don’t see how where I go is any business of yours, Tohsaka-senpai.”

“But, but I can’t let you…”

“As I said, it’s none of your business. My family is okay with me being friends with Emiya-kun, I am okay with being friends with him and that’s that.”

Even as the normally timid girl cut off her former sister with complete confidence she wondered just why exactly Zouken didn’t have anything against her associating with Shirou. The old man normally did anything to make her life miserable and she didn’t believe him for a moment when he spoke of necessity and continuing the family legacy. That man cared only about himself and his worms which was almost the same.

“But he’s an enemy Magus!”

Tohsaka jabbed a finger at her sister.

“They will steal your secrets! They can hurt you!”

Again Sakura went quiet but when she spoke this time her tone was warm and almost condescending:

“Tohsaka-senpai, what do you know about my family’s Mysteries?”

“Not much… I know you use insects…”

“We are also hosts to some creatures we use. Do you know what it’s like to become one without being a true Makiri at the age I did?”

Tohsaka went pale and stepped back in horror.

“Of course you don’t, but I see that you can imagine. Emiya-kun, Kiritsugu-san, Gladstone-san… they’ve never hurt me. They’ve never asked anything about Matou Mysteries and never mentioned Mysteries at all.”

So quietly that Tohsaka was barely able to hear it, she added:

“And this is why I would tell them if they did…”

“You know Kiritsugu is dead, right?”

Sakura just shrugged:

“He was a kind man. Wise. A little scary.”

Tohsaka slumped with a sight for a moment before perking up again with her ultimate argument:

“Shirou’s room is full of knives, blades! Axes, spears… Why are you laughing?! This isn’t funny!”

Sakura could no longer contain herself: she bent half-over, her laughter brought her to tears. This episode of slight hysteria lasted nearly a minute before she straightened out, jutted out her jaw stubbornly and spoke:

“I. Don’t. Care. Not everyone has pretty jewels as the basis for their Mysteries, Tohsaka-senpai.”

The bell rang.

“The recess is over. If you will excuse me.”

After Sakura slammed the door to the roof she started shaking. After years and years of not talking to each other beyond saying a simple hello she and Rin had a row and, shockingly, she was the more aggressive one in it. In fact, she was pretty sure she instigated it. The world had gone crazy.

Later that day she was forced to reconsider: it was not the world that was insane, it was her. That was the only explanation why she was thinking she could see Tohsaka fifteen steps behind her as Sakura walked toward the Emiya household as she did nearly every day.

To test the complexity of the hallucination she stopped. Not-Rin stopped too. She started walking and her silent shadow started walking too. Tentative, Sakura reached inside herself, tugging at a few Circuits and agitating the crest worms a little. A cursory probe revealed that the being behind her was either the real Rin Tohsaka or somebody very, very good at masquerading at her. She calmly noted to herself that if the second option had been true, she would probably have already been dead.

“This is ridiculous… Tohsaka-senpai! Would you like walk together?”

After hesitating for a moment Rin caught up with a couple dozen fast steps.

“I thought your house was in a different direction.”

Of course, she didn’t ‘think’, she remembered her former home’s location perfectly. But the temptation to jab at her former sister after the annoyance she caused today was too much.

Rin flinched, sighed and looked away.

“Yes. I just remembered I need to talk to Emiya about something.”

Sakura looked at the other girl from the corner of her eye in disbelief:

“And you aren’t going with me to make sure Emiya-senpai doesn’t eat me or cut me with those knives you saw in his room?”

Both her voice and face were the perfect picture of innocence.

“No! Of course not! I just have some more questions for him and Dietrich. I mean, I can’t rely on the fake priest all the time… He isn’t even a real practitioner!”

Sakura actually giggled at that before catching herself.

“Do you know that Taiga-senpai will be there?”

“Who?”

This will be fun, Sakura thought. It was moments like those that made her feel like a person, not like a doll simply existing through unimaginable humiliation, abuse and torture in order to fulfill some yet unknown ambition of an incredibly egotistical ancient Magus. She was almost grateful to Tohsaka for her meddling.

###

Shirou found that something was different about that particular morning. Something in the air, perhaps? He didn’t think it was Prana as much as a fleeting feeling, impossible to grasp at, yet always there. Overall, it added to the chore that middle-school was: some subjects and teachers were all right but what was up with asking him about some or other noble killing a bunch of people to help another bunch of people ages ago? He could recite the facts well enough but what good were opinions about the past? It happened. Draw conclusions. Move on.

Sadly, his outlook wasn’t appreciated by the history teacher and his recent very much opinion-less essay earned the boy a rare C-, which he brought home. It didn’t really matter, as he, Dietrich and formerly Kiritsugu simply didn’t care. Still, it was unnerving how inefficient school education was, what with all the other children getting constantly distracted and the teacher having to make an effort to maintain their attention. Why couldn’t everybody just focus, finish all the lessons in half the time they normally took and then do something productive?

To be brief, school was mostly frustrating, the few bright spots being helping around it and talking to Issei Ryuudou – his best friend, who was almost as disciplined and Shirou and tended to ask the same questions about education.

But this part of the day was nothing new and even the bad mark he received did nothing to alleviate the sense of foreboding.

Shirou finally understood what his premonition was about when he got home and entered the living room. In the kitchen oil sizzled happily and Sakura hummed quietly; the air smelled of fried chicken. That was normal. What wasn’t was the company present in the living room itself.

Gladstone sat in a corner, a mischievous smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eyes as he beamed at the boy:

“Welcome home, Shirou.”

“Thank you…”

This was when Taiga Fujimura jumped up from her spot at the table and shouted at him at the top of her considerable lungs:

“SHIROU, WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT STARTING A HAREM?!”

“Erm… Nothing?”

“Right, I didn’t. Because I didn’t think my cute little brother would ever stoop so low. HAREMS ARE BAD, SHIROU! STOP MAKING YOUNG, BEAUTIFUL, CLUELESS GIRLS FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU!!!”

That was when the final occupant of the room tried to speak up. By the betraying quaver in her voice anyone could tell this was not the first time Tohsaka tried to stop Fujimura’s train of thought. Unfortunately, it was far too much like trying to stall a literal train with her meager body.

“I am not in love with…”

“No, no, of course you aren’t, you poor girl… SHIROU!!!”

Shirou sighed and rubbed his eyes in frustration before walking up to Rin:

“Good evening, Tohsaka-san. Can I get you anything?”

“Um…”

Tohsaka looked completely lost at this point, blinking and looking at each person in turn. Of them all only Sakura and Dietrich seemed completely unperturbed by the situation, the former obviously enjoying her former sister pretty much replaying her own reaction at entering the Emiya household for the first time.

“Right. Water it is then.”

“Dietrich! Shirou… he is ignoring me! My little brother is ignoring me!”

“No one is ignoring you, Fujimura-san.”

Dietrich turned to Shirou and Tohsaka:

“Some idiot new underling gifted her a cake.”

The boy groaned. Taiga was like a four-year-old on speed most of the time and giving her anything with a high quantity of sugar in it was tantamount to adding stimulants and sleep-deprivation to the mix. All restraints were snapped and all bets were off.

As he set a glass of water on the table in front of Tohsaka, he called out to Sakura:

“Sakura. Please, a lot of meat for Fujimura-sensei. With a lot of fat.”

Their only hope was to make the tiger sleepy.

Later that day Fujimura was happily snoozing somewhere in the house after being tucked in by Dietrich. The rest of them were still in the living room, finishing up the brick chicken with fries Sakura had provided.

“This is good, Sakura.”

“Senpai is still better,” the girl pouted.

Tohsaka was looking between them with a degree of fascination normally associated with seeing an extinct animal. She mumbled something under her breath before looking up resolutely.

“What’s up with the knives?”

Dietrich laughed:

“Sneaking around a boy’s bedroom? How unbecoming of you, Tohsaka-chan.”

Gladstone’s teasing smile, Sakura’s smirk, Shirou’s frank surprise – they all made Rin’s face go red like a tomato.

“Anyway, you kids talk it out. I have some chores in the city.”

As Gladstone activated some additional Bounded fields around the house to keep unwanted guests out and left and Shirou was left inside with the three women. Thankfully, Taiga was taking her catnap deep enough in the house to not hear anything.

Emiya looked at Sakura for a couple seconds until the girl smiled fondly:

“I know you are a Magus, senpai. But why knives?”

At this moment Tohsaka suddenly jumped up remembering something and pointed an accusatory finger at Shirou:

“I am so not in love with you!”

At the dumbfounded expressions from both the boy and her sister the girl somehow managed to go even redder and quickly sat back down.

For his continued sanity Shirou decided to completely ignore both Taiga’s comments and Tohsaka’s outburst. Girls were weird.

“I sort of specialize in blades? Like, blades-based Mysteries?”

Tohsaka cocked her head, colour slowly returning to normal.

“So, like Projection?”

Shirou nodded.

“I wish I had knives…”

Sakura sounded genuinely sad and Shirou didn’t have a clue why. Still, while he himself loved blades, he didn’t see how his affinity could be comforting to most Magi.

“Your family has bugs and stuff, right? I don’t see how that’s worse than blades…”

Sakura slumped looking to be on the verge of tears and Tohsaka looked between the two of them unsure what to do. Shirou decided it was some time for extreme persuasion tactics.

Quickly summoning a scalpel, the boy made a quick incision on his left arm then dismissed the blade with the same speed he called it. Now that got a reaction:

“Senpai! Why did you do that?! We need water, a bandage, you will bleed out!”

Tohsaka looked simply resigned:

“You are a nuts, Shirou. Did you write all those notes on blades to remember how to open yourself up or something?”

Unlike overreacting Sakura Tohsaka seemed to notice that the clean cut on the upper side of the boy’s forearm was shallow and didn’t bleed much.

Shirou just shook his head:

“No, just look.”

He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply and focused on the pain.

Trace, on. My body is made of blades.

He was too busy opening half of his Circuits, creating a Bounded Field inside his own body all the while trying not to pay attention to the sharp burning pain the protesting Emiya Crest gave off to see the results himself. But the girl’s reactions were telling:

“By the Root!..”

“That. What is that, senpai?”

Shirou opened his eyes and saw metal grinding inside the wound as he expected. Honestly, he had no idea how that particular Mystery worked: It came naturally to him and it looked like the muscles turned into a jaggy mess of small blades scratching on each other while the bones turned to metal but he was more than sketchy on fairly important details like whether it worked on internal organs and what happened to blood vessels and the like. For now, both the boy and Dietrich deemed the practice to be unsafe if he kept the Field up for more than five seconds. Proper study was postponed until Saber was summoned and brought full-on Avalon regeneration with him.

He dispelled the Mystery and looked dispassionately at the scratches the blades added to the cut.

“What it sounds like. I can sort of turn my body into blades? Stuff on the inside, not skin…”

Tohsaka’s eyes turned calculating while Sakura continued to look concerned. Finally, curiosity squashed the remnants of worry in the elder sister:

“That shouldn’t be possible without some serious damage. Have you ever tried to find your birth parents? Maybe it’s a family ability?”

Shirou wasn’t about to spill his beans about being an Incarnation and thankfully Sakura intervened:

“Stop interrogating him, Tohsaka-senpai. Senpai, you could simply tell us.”

The girl had got a bandage from somewhere in the kitchen and was now wrapping Shirou’s forearm all the while glaring at Rin who was quite puzzled at her usage of ‘us’.

“What? He will heal. You will simply heal, right?”

“Yes, five to six hours for a shallow cut.”

“Five to six… You will walk half a day with your arm sliced half-open?”

“It’s no big deal. I have a writing assignment from Dietrich and they take forever; right arm is enough.”

If ever there was an ‘I told you so’ expression, Sakura was wearing one now and Tohsaka felt appropriately chastised. She shook her head and muttered under her breath:

“You will kill yourself before you hurt anybody else…”

Shirou heard though and seemed quite offended:

“Hey, it’s a Projected knife! It’s super, ideally clean and I don’t need my arm for the rest of the day. How else do you think I could show you I can have blades under my skin?”

Judging by the looks he got from the girls, he had a point. In a really screwed-up I-don’t-ever-want-to-consider-it kind of way. It was Sakura who intervened:

“No, it is not okay, Shirou-kun. You have to take better care of yourself. Doesn’t Dietrich tell you?”

“He is kind of the one who came up with the procedure? I mean, there aren’t even scars and I need to see how the Mystery is working…”

Rin noticed that as the boy kept speaking, her sister seemed to grow more and more agitated. Sakura spoke to Shirou with such caring, worry and kindness that one would need to be an imbecile not to put to and two together, even without the harem comments and weird looks, courtesy of Taiga Fujimura and Dietrich Gladstone. An imbecile or the very oblivious and disturbed boy Sakura had an obvious crush on.

Scratch that, Rin was lying to herself and it wouldn’t do. Tohsaka read her share of mushy romance novels, to her eternal shame, and she thought she knew what a crush was supposed to be like. Sakura had known Emiya for years by then and it was only around him that she acted normal. ‘Madly in love’ seemed to be the more appropriate expression.

Despite or perhaps because of the seriousness of the situation it took her a supreme effort of will not to facepalm at that very moment. Hard.

As Sakura cooed over Shirou’s wound Tohsaka understood that she wouldn’t be able to rip away her sister, whom she hadn’t had any kind of relationship for years, from the boy she did have a relationship with and deeply cared about to boot.

But Shirou was broken to the point of being outright suicidal at times. In a rational, infuriating kind of way, and this wasn’t something she wanted her little sister be around. Apparently neither Gladstone nor the old Matou gave a crap so it was up to her to ensure Sakura’s safety, no matter how uncomfortable interacting with her was.

That day Rin Tohsaka decided she would befriend Shirou Emiya for her sister but she couldn’t completely silence the little voice in the back of her head that insisted she was doing it for her own sake too. Obviously, the voice spoke about the elder German Magus giving her a pointer or two to remedy the gaps in education the fake priest and her books created. It couldn’t be anything else.

###

Shirou knew there was quite a bit wrong with him as a person but now he had to add his propensity for getting weird friends to the list. His best friend would almost surely become a temple monk after finishing school which was strange enough but one guy could be a simple coincidence. Taiga was sort of a crazy, shinai-wielding elder sister type but not including her on the list would have been unfair. Gladstone had never filled his father’s shoes completely, apparently satisfied with the image of a kind of a quirky, often scattered mentor and older friend, so he had to be counted too.

At least, he had previously been able to think of Sakura’s behavior as pretty normal for a girl, apart from the fact that she spent most of her free time at his house for some reason. And was a Magus with bugs inside her body, which he supposed was kind of weird but at least the bugs were alive and didn’t cut flesh like blades did. She wasn’t very comfortable talking about her family’s practices but apparently there were around a few dozen worms that worked as extra Circuits, which to Shirou beat having a Magic Crest by far. He still had to endure the constant pain of rejection combined with regeneration.

But the school idol, model student and revered beauty, whom every student in the age frame where it wouldn’t be weird worshipped, had managed to top the list. Apparently, he was nuts but sort of okay and needed her wisdom in return for which she would kindly accept the modest offerings of food and being included in non-specialized lessons which Gladstone would provide. On the day she and Sakura first visited him together Rin offered that ridiculous deal, promptly accepted it by herself and left the house while Shirou had barely enough time to blink. From that point she started showing up at his place two or three time a week. ‘Showing up’ being the appropriate expression as Tohsaka never walked with Emiya and Matou form school, instead she pretended to go home and then doubled back. This happened on seemingly random days and introduced seemingly random delays to her arrival which as a cook Shirou found extremely annoying. He hated heating up food and thus had to brush up on salads and various cold dishes just for Tohsaka’s sake. If Rin appreciated all that work, she never showed it.

When he heard of their arrangement, Dietrich agreed to everything suspiciously quickly. As if he had been expecting or, worse yet, hoping for two extra students sneaking into his classes. Although it might have simply been the chance to take a look at the techniques the two longest-running families in the region used when performing Mysteries.

Because Sakura immediately started to furiously alternate between blanching and blushing whenever Matou’s methods came up, Gladstone started with the Tohsaka family.

“So. I never brought this up with Shirou before but since we will be working together from time to time I thought we should cover the basics of your specialties. You can correct me if I’m wrong at any time, Tohsaka-chan. Now, the Tohsaka brand of Mysteries is similar to the one employed by the European family Edelfelts.”

“Gems, right?”

“Right, Shirou, glad you’ve been doing your reading. So, imagine a Mystic Code. The whole Mystery woven into an object, ready to be actualized. Is it clear in your minds? Good, now forget the Mystic Code: it has nothing to do with how Gems are used! At all. Gems are actually crappy Mystic Code material by themselves: they are small, hard and it’s far too difficult to cover them in runes or some other material for making the Mystery work. But you know what they are great for?”

“Storing Prana.”

“Of course you know that, Tohsaka-chan. I was expecting Shirou-kun or Sakura-chan to answer.”

Among Gladstone’s pupils only Tohsaka was called by her family name.

“Still, correct. When you craft a Mystic Code you can embed gems in it and use them to store energy. Tohsaka family’s Circuits are famously suited for the task of charging gems so they can go one step further: they can forgo the whole Code thing, simply pump the gem full of Prana and then fuel any Mystery they like with it. Lets you bring a lot of firepower if you have the time to prepare, but the gems take long to charge and almost always shatter on use.”

Tohsaka murmured something suspiciously like ‘bills, pain, bills’ under her breath.

“They need a lot money but if a Tohsaka or Edelfelt have a satchel of gems with enough power it’s nearly impossible for them to bottom out during a ritual or a fight.”

Shirou looked at Sakura:

“And Matou?”

“Mmhmmm… Insect control and additional Circuits through implanting very minor Beasts inside them. Although, I must say, Zouken isn’t very careful with the training in your case, Sakura-chan – we’ll speak more after the lesson.”

After they were done, Tohsaka went on to cook supper (apparently, she got into her head that she wouldn’t be one-upped by some crazy third-rate Magus in anything) while Shirou and Sakura stayed.

Dietrich looked serious:

“Now, I waited to speak to you after I was completely sure, Sakura-chan, and this concerns Shirou too as he knows about the general issue. But it’s important that you don’t tell Zouken about this if he doesn’t ask you directly. How well can you act?”

The girl responded with a smile, carefree and bright:

“I don’t know what you are talking about, Gladstone-sensei.”

“I thought so.”

Shirou just blinked and looked at each of them in turn, hoping for an explanation:

“I assume you know what a Holy Grail is?”

“Yes. The wish-granting miracle created by the three founding families.”

Her answer sounded suspiciously rehearsed.

“Good, Sakura-chan. But we have also discovered that it’s corrupted beyond any hope of repair or, indeed, reasonably safe use. Remember Kiritsugu’s illness? The cause was a very small part of the Grail’s essence he acquired during the last War. Back when he was alive we upgraded the Bounded Fields around the house in order to monitor the progress of his sickness and soften severe episodes… after he was gone I didn’t bother to remove the improvements. I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while, Sakura-chan. You have the same type of curse contained within you, only more concentrated. And I have every reason to believe Zouken had something to do with it.”

The revelation shook Shirou: losing his father was bad enough but giving Sakura up to that same sickness… That line of thought cut abruptly when the boy remembered that his friend didn’t show any of the symptoms: all the physical problems she had came from the Matou implants, which the girl reluctantly confessed some time after starting to take lessons with him and Tohsaka.

Strangely passive and cold, Sakura submitted herself for an examination by Dietrich and the elder Magus had a diagnosis in minutes: Matou seemed to have shards within her that contained the curse unless they were disturbed. That, according to their teacher, prevented the Grail shards from sending her entire system into shock and he supposed the implants (they had all silently agreed not to call them what they really were – crest worms) probably helped.

Sakura didn’t seem bothered by another set of foreign objects inside her that were messing her up in addition to what came with being a Matou and this kept even Shirou awake long after everyone had left. Really, he couldn’t be a judge on what was ‘normal’ behavior for a human being but he was quite sure that continuing to laughб and smile, and chide him for every small thing five minutes after discovering she had a potentially lethal and pretty much irremovable curse inside her… that didn’t seem normal at all.

Dietrich wasn’t much help beyond grimacing and telling him crest worms weren’t enough to stabilize Sakura with Grail shards inside her and Zouken must have come up with something else. Something suitably horrible for the old worm.

He would probably need to go to Tohsaka for advice about Sakura and even he knew what a swell idea that was. Still, there was no other way except for tailing the girl all day and Shirou didn’t think he was stalker material.

###

Early next morning Shirou stood inside his Reality Marble. The boy was quite aware he wasn’t there in body but the place was so real to him that it didn’t take him and Gladstone to come up with a meditation-based technique that made it seem like he was inside his own private world.

The dimension still wasn’t completely stable but it was quite different from the fog-filled mess it had been. Long silvery-green grass went up to his ankles as Shirou surveyed his domain from the top of the hill he always begun his journey on. There were no blades there: just the grass, Avalon lying on top of the hill and the red-white light pouring from above. There was also no sun: its place was taken by a colossal forge suspended infinitely high above him. Hundreds, maybe thousands of anvils circled the forge, impossibly small compared to it. He had found before that he could make new blades using the monstrosity in the sky if he concentrated hard enough: Flames would surge bright for a second and a blank would be produced to be hammered into a blade on one of the anvils in one swift strike of an ethereal hammer. The blade than shot down from the sky and embedded itself somewhere but always a fair distance from the hill.

Frankly, he thought the blades made that way inside his mind were low quality and took far too much concentration. Other aspects of his Reality Marble were more interesting to him.

His world was broken. In four cardinal directions originating from the hill deep bottomless canyons split the endless plain as far as he could see. The quarters were unclear, hazy from the top of his world but as soon as he walked down onto any of them, things changed. Even the sky became different.

Two of them were relatively boring: filled with the fog Shirou had found on his first mental visit here. He supposed they hadn’t had a chance to form properly yet. Even the ground under his feet didn’t seem able to decide whether it wanted to be hard or soft, covered in pebbles or giving extra spring to his step. One of those quarters was completely empty –  in the other there were the more noble blades the boy had seen in his short life.

The most formed of the quarters was a kingdom of snow. All the ground was covered in it and there were dunes made of the stuff. Bright stars and a full moon were the only objects in the sky, the forge invisible from this position. Without a cloud in sight and the air crystal clear, that quarter looked like the Snow Queen’s kingdom from an old fairytale: majestic, beautiful, glittering quietly in the night.

Strangely enough, that was also the place where the blades with the most tragic and disturbed histories ended up. Kiritsugu once took him to an exhibition of medieval torture equipment (certainly not because his father wanted to: Shirou begged for days to see cool, weird knives, spikes and other tools maid to deliver pain and suffering) and all of that stuff ended up strewn haphazardly all over a corner of a frozen lake somewhere there.

Strangely enough, he didn’t feel cold at all as he traversed snow and ice, jumped over small cracks, and looked up huge glaciers which looked really out of place as his inner world was mostly made up of plains, if you didn’t count the hill in the middle and the canyons.

The fourth quarter had begun forming not too long before and by that day it had already quite solidified with nary a wisp of fog in sight. It was a land of constant breeze; distant sky was covered in dark clouds contorting in what could only be described as a maelstrom of the elements. Lightning lit up the dark every few seconds and thunder rolled across the plains. The other side of the sky was dominated by a perpetually setting glaringly orange sun that bathed the entire land in shades of red. This was not a quiet place: ground was littered with jagged stones and Shirou had to be cautious when walking. The bigger boulders were large enough for a grown man to hide behind and had all manner of shapes but none of them smooth.

The weapons plunged into the earth had stories, ambitions and characters of their own. Many of traditional Japanese blades that he saw during exhibitions found their way here, and some Mystic Codes too. Mostly those that were not used for outright murder or a noble purpose but instead served to as complements to personal beliefs of their wielders, supporting and urging them on.

It was here that the only Noble Phantasm in Shirou’s collection resided (besides Avalon, of course). He was supposed to pick up some more soon but Dietrich had been adamant the boy master at least two or three weapons in his arsenal before he moved on to increasing the quantity of blades available to him.

Kaze no Nagare they were called, or the Flow of Wind in English. A fairly obscure dual katana Phantasm owned by a minor family of Magi that hired Dietrich to make a case that could seal its abilities. Despite being swords they were really a C-rank defensive Noble Phantasm.

The thing about Phantasm ranks is that they are used to valuate a weapon’s usefulness under normal circumstances and have to take into account its limitations. What was C-rank to anyone else had the potential of being somewhere around A- or B+ category for Shirou.

The swords’ purpose was simple: they were created for deflecting arrows fired at the wielder. A simple enough ability but it was the way this was accomplished that was truly fascinating: the Mystery was time-based, increasing the speed with which the blades moved depending on the number of bladed objects around the wielder.

When Shirou held them in his hands in that world of his and started warming up with a few simple sword forms, they already moved a bit faster than they should have but their true power didn’t show itself until he summoned additional swords and plunged them deep into the short blood-red grass the area he used for training was covered with.

There was a reason Kaze no Nagare’s rank wasn’t higher: the blades didn’t accelerate the wielder. The body’s own limitations remained and as the swords went faster and faster at the slightest nudge, the heavy katanas risked breaking bones in the swordsman’s arms. When there were a lot of other bladed weapons nearby, one could use the Phantasm adequately only with considerable Reinforcement and even then the swordsman’s reaction time wasn’t augmented in any way. Overall, it was a moderately useful Noble Phantasm that provided a reasonable edge over a couple opponents in a swordfight. Its Aria-activated ability made the swords knock out any and all projectiles fired toward its owner for a few seconds but this invariably resulted in broken wrists and torn ligaments.

Shirou had pretty much mastered Reinforcing his own body, he had the experience of the previous wielders to draw on and he had his father’s Circuits to accelerate along with the blades.

The boy exulted in the feeling of incredible speed as he spun and weaved between imaginary opponents in his mind. Here, there were few limitations and soon the last Circuits would be integrated and he would be able to try that exercise in reality.

Shirou trained in dual wielding with some of the best masters Dietrich could persuade or coerce into teaching the boy who, admittedly, either weren’t all that good or weren’t quite right in the head. As was his habit, the boy didn’t think much of himself but his betters and peers recognized just how easy it was for the boy to see the sword not as a separate object but as an extension of himself. And if an experienced swordsman had been able to see the student at that point they would have realized that with a blade with a rich history and a temper the boy himself could completely vanish, given enough time. There was only wind, form, sword, and the burning in his arms as both he and the Noble Phantasm moved with speed far beyond one that was possible for ordinary humans, with a singular purpose.

To let the blade express itself perfectly through him.

Chapter end notes

This chapter turned out to be mostly about building character relationships. Action and exposition come easier to me but hey, easy doesn’t mean right. The next one will be about Shirou starting to visit Clocktower and kick some ass and we’ll also be touching on Rin and Sakura’s improved training. I think the story is about three chapters away from the start of the Grail War itself.

Also, Kaze no Nagare is a Noble Phantasm that I made up. I needed something completely tailored for Shirou in order to make him surviving the beginning of the War believable (I am not giving him Rho Aias) and wasn’t able to find something suitable that he or Dietrich could get their hands on so Kaze no Nagare was born.

A small summary on Shirou’s abilities at the beginning of the next chapter for the people interested in such a thing.

Circuits. According to the wiki, in the original novel Shirou has 27 Circuits each running 10 units of Prana and they are closed at the beginning (he opens up the entire thing when fighting Gilgamesh, if I recall correctly: before that it’s just a bare minimum of Circuits) and using them at full capacity causes him severe pain as a result of a screwed up training regimen and neglect. In this fic he still has 27 Circuits but each is running 25 units by now and all are opened, so his reserves at the start of the conflict will be far larger than the ones Shirou had at the end of Unlimited Bladeworks route in the original.

Knowledge. Shirou is getting Clocktower-level theoretical education in this story, courtesy of Dietrich and some access to resources in London in the future. As some of you may have noticed, Dietrich is pretty much an exposition machine: I will add a bit to his character but he is here mostly for world building and will not be assisting Shirou directly during the Holy Grail War in order to avoid deus ex machina.

Magecraft. Shirou is mathematically inclined and very focused in this story. He still cannot use Elemental spells properly but everything else is possible for him, especially with his reserves. His primary focus at the start of the War will be Formalcraft and Runes.

Crest. Answering a question from a guest: Shirou will have twice as many Circuits in his Crest as Kiritsugu at the end of Fate/Zero and Avalon to help heal the damage. You’ll have to wait and see how he will use them for time-based Mysteries.

Reality Marble. Right now Shirou can train there through a meditation-based technique but not much more. In the future I hope to make it a significant plot device as well an ace with restrictions attached.

Projection, Reinforcement, etc. More power and some more restrictions. Wait and see.

Replies to some of the reviews:

BBWulf:

Oh, Shinji is the disgusting, abusive, self-absorbed prick with a severe inferiority complex that we all love to hate (and want to kill). That is, his character is canon.

Dragonjek:

Most of the tense switching was due to me confusing Present Perfect with Past Perfect in the Prologue. I have also combed through the entire story and switched everything I found to past tense. Thank you for pointing this out.

And a heartfelt thank you to everyone taking the time to write a review. I appreciate the feedback a lot.

Stay shiny.

P.S. This chapter has not been beta’ed (like all the others so far) as I think my number of typos and grammar and punctuation mistakes isn’t significant enough to take away from the reading experience. If you can see a lot of typos and mistakes here and would like to be a beta or simply help me fix them this one time, please send a PM.

Также в разделе:

Eye of the Sword – First Day, Second Night (part 2)
Eye of the Sword – First Day, Second Night (part 1)
Eye of the Sword – Falling Headfirst into Place (part 1)

Опубликовано: 30.03.2016

Комментарии (0)


(c) Александр Кирко, 2016