First day, second night

Everybody thinks they are special and yet none of them really are – this was a truth that Zouken Matou came to realize far too late. Back when he had been a bona fide Russian Magus bearing the family name of Makiri he had been just like everybody else: thinking he was destined for great things and that the universe somehow owed him because of his talent for Magecraft and many accomplishments in the field of Familiar-related Mysteries. That… didn't turn out very well.

It took him a while but Zouken was finally able to grasp the reason why people couldn't simply accept they were very much like the insects he had grown so accustomed to: they thought suffering had meaning. Oh, it was perfectly ordinary for a person to regard all the happiness and everything good in their lives as simply 'good luck', yet they would think that because their piece-of-shit family had abused them or something inane like that they deserved to be treated differently. Turned cripple because of a mugging gone wrong? Now I get to lecture you for hours on personal safety. Had my parents die in front of me? Now I get to blabber all day about turning the world into a better place. Got raped that one time in high-school by a bunch of doped-up delinquents? Well, walk on eggshells around me for the rest of my natural life!

It sickened him. Weakness asking for pity in the name of fairness. Meaningless, stupid ideals born by a society interested only in the survival of the species, not personal accomplishment or giving one's life some sort of value.

Zouken Matou believed in sacrifice, he believed in paying the price that was asked and letting others try to thwart his plans as they pleased. They would die, of course, but they had the freedom to make that choice. It wasn't like he had changed his very essence, filled the city with his familiars and developed and imperfect reincarnation ritual to purchase a winery and die in peace somewhere; he had worked hard to get where he was and he sure as hell wasn't going to waste it.

So where had he gone wrong?

"You have miscalculated, Grandfather."

Again he tried to send the order to stop her heart to the worm winding around it and again nothing happened. Again he tried to flee his petrified body and again the purple-haired witch simply grinned at him. Those unnatural, slitted eyes. Who would have thought his timid granddaughter could summon the Gorgon and gain complete control over her this soon.

When Sakura had suggested a team-up with Tohsaka he thought it was a splendid idea. Indeed, joining forces with her sister only to betray her later all for the affections of a teenage boy – how devious! And how easy to control.

So he didn't object when Rin came to their house to strategize and left the two girls alone. So far, everything was going according to plan and that why he hesitated when he opened the door to the room where the girls were and met purple, slitted, inhuman eyes.

In his long life he had never seen such pure, inhuman hatred.

"Scum."

The voice dripped venom and its owner, normally emotionless Rider, was seething. It took him a moment to recompose himself and send the impulse to incapacitate his granddaughter but Zouken still thought the situation could still be salvaged, even as he felt his limbs turning to stone.

"Stop. Or your Master dies."

He was rather pleased with how in control he sounded, at least right up to the point when something whistled past Sakura and his connection with the familiar inside her broke. That made him pause and ultimately sealed his fate. There was more whistling as a red shadow pirouetted around him too fast for human eye to see.

And when his soul tried to leave his body he found he had no connection to his familiars, even the ones in the cellar of his own Workshop.

The shadow stopped in its movement and turned into a tall tan man with white hair. Some might have been puzzled to guess at his identity but Zouken had seen far too many others start as children, grow up, age and die – it wasn't difficult for him to guess that it was Emiya Shirou who had stopped the Mystery.

"How?.."

"Oh? I am not about to reveal the trick to you, old worm. You might just wriggle out of it. So puzzle it out in hell."

Sakura, the frightened little girl he had picked up from Tokiomi Tohsaka was now walking toward him with a pen knife in hand. She stopped in front of him: his granddaughter wasn't the tallest of women but age and overuse of Mysteries had bent him and she was the taller one. While most of his brain was grasping for an escape, he registered just how uncomfortable Sakura's expression made him: it wasn't her normal polite mask, neither it was the doll-like façade she adapted during her training sessions. No, it was something much worse: manic glee was shining in her eyes.

"Hello, Grandfather."

She smiled the sweetest smile, the same one she gave Shinji while she was cradling his paralyzed body in her arms.

"Sakura, let's just get this over with and go."

"No, no, no!" – she sounded hysterical for a moment. – "I need this, sister."

Her voice changed back into a calm, promising whisper. Meduza stood right next to her Master, carefully maintaining eye contact with Zouken. By now he was mostly helpless and the Other Shirou kept counteracting his attempts to contact his familiars with some kind of projectiles.

"You defiled me, Grandfather. You took a little girl who wanted nothing more than to be with her family and you raped her until she became what you could consider your heritage. Oh yes, I know how the warms are technically what you really are! What was the point of attaining immortality if all you ended up being able to preserve was… this!"

And then she plunged the knife into his left eyeball to the hilt. Suddenly, most of his childhood memories became lost to him.

"But you made a mistake, grandfather. You let me befriend my sister and Shirou, you let me have friends. And we? We have figured it out."

Her manic grin grew wider:

"You still need a body to function; your soul cannot simply perform the Mysteries by itself; you use the rudimentary Circuits in the worms, don't you? And what you do to keep yourself alive… you are a parasite. An exceptional parasite but that still leaves you vulnerable. You need a host and while it is alive you can't leave while most of your body is stone and half your brain is mush."

She stepped back, leaving the blade sticking out of the only part of his skull that wasn't petrified.

"Rin!"

"Yes?"

He couldn't see them – his good eye was a pebble. The sounds began fading too.

"Have Archer make sure there is the barest amount of him alive. Me and Rider have hunting to do."

The last coherent thought his brain could produce was:

Idiot girls. Sooner or later I will die. You will miss a worm somewhere and the instincts I've build into them will take over. They will feed, they will multiply and then… I will come back.

The last thing he could perceive was Archer's voice:

"Did you know there are Mystic Codes specifically designed for torture? To keep nearly dead on the brink for months? All I need to do is show them to the kid and by the time you expire, old man, there will be nowhere to run. Sweet dreams, worm. May you never find peace."

###

It was not a good day to be Emiya Shirou. Few days were, actually, but this one was quickly turning out to be one of the worst ones of his life.

Absolute cacophony of sounds permeated the air as Saber did her best to hold her ground against the behemoth's attack.

"#$@@%!!!!"

Berserker roared and swung both of his monstrous blades down missing Saber by mere inches. She nicked in the right shoulder before ground exploded and the ensuing shockwave threw her back some ten feet.

"What's wrong, brother? Didn't Kiritsugu teach you any of his tricks?"

"Not really. He was more of 'what to avoid' kind of teacher. Admittedly, Berserker was on the list: apparently the previous one could turn anything he touched into his Noble Phantasm weapon."

He was stalling and they both knew it. The only reason Hercules wasn't attacking him right now was probably because Ilya felt perfectly confident in her overwhelming advantage. To be perfectly honest, he couldn't fault her for that: this kind of Berserker was way beyond what he had allowed for when preparing for the War.

He sighed. There was only one way out of this.

Shirou spread his hands and turned them palms up, as if in prayer. Illya watched him with curiosity.

"I am the blade of my sword."

It was his very own personal mantra.

"Kaze no Nagare."

Space flexed and distorted as Kaze no Nagare was pulled out from his Reality Marble: like Avalon the Tracing of his favorite weapon looked somewhat different from other swords he had at his disposal. Less like construction and more like teleportation.

A familiar sense of calm purpose settled over him as he took a hold of his blades. The desire to defend.

That was the limitation of the swords: they couldn't be used for direct attack. Still, he didn't see any other way he could get out of this without straight up killing his sister.

The boy's eyes settled on Saber:

"You will get out of this alive. This I swear."

He had thought nothing could surprise the stoic knight. He was wrong because Arturia looked like he had confessed to being Morgan le Fay in disguise.

"Enough! Berserker, finish them."

"#$#@(%$@!!!"

Just as the giant leapt in to the fray again, Saber already moving to intercept him, Shirou was finishing his incantation:

"Steel, my destiny. Fire, my fate."

The Servants clashed again, Saber, for all her monstrous strength, got knocked back several yards by the most powerful hero in recorded history after just a couple of swings from him.

"Rain of healing!"

Illya actually paused at his declaration and laughed:

"What, you are going to kill me with cuddles?"

All his Circuits flared to life and each of them produced a blade. Of the twenty-seven knifes only one looked like it was a proper weapon: the other twenty-six were akin to something a child pretending to be a blacksmith would make. Crude, ugly, brittle.

And all of them smelled strongly of Mana and were flying toward her sister.

Berserker moved, getting another minor wound from Saber in the process and positioned himself between the two Masters. Blades impacted his skin and projections shattered, leaving no mark. But Shirou was already moving and shouting.

"Saber, take the right!"

More blades appeared as he weaved in the general direction of the enemy. Admittedly, his aim was shit whenhe was moving almost faster than the knives themselves but it didn't matter: his only purpose was to keep Berserker in place.

Each Traced weapon made Kaze no Nagare accelerate him even further: at those speeds his biggest concern was running into a blade as his reactions weren't used to a battle between Servants.

And then there was also the constraint the katanas imposed: he couldn't attack with them, only defend. So right now he was trying to make his sister retreat to keep Saber safe – it was the only thing that made him able to use the Phantasm at all.

"Gut her."

Which was why he was caught completely flat-footed when Ilya ordered her Servant to disregard her safety and move against Arturia. The knight herself was moving way too fast and operating on the assumption that Berserker would be standing his ground. Saber was moments away from being cut in two.

He completely disregarded the silver half-translucent shield-like contract covering Illya against which his knives scattered like grain. It was irrelevant.

Instead he summoned more blades, poured more into his Reinforcement and, finally, called upon his Magic Crest. Sharp burning pain flared between his shoulder blades and red started encroaching on his vision but this too was irrelevant.

What was relevant was the fact he was able to move faster than Saber for just a fraction of a second. Enough to push her out of the way anyway.

Time stopped. Berserker froze and he would have liked to think that the giant was confused by the male human that had somehow appeared in front of him.

Kaze no Nagare shattered in his arms as did all the blades that had still been flying through the air. One had found its way past Ilya's protective lattice and cut her cheek. The girl absent-mindedly reached for the wound while continuing to stare at her brother. At her dear nearly departed brother who was now lying on the ground clutching a huge gash in his side. Blood and what looked like intestine pushing past his weak fingers.

"Shirou, get a hold of yourself!"

Saber had seemingly forgotten the battle. In her defense, everybody else seemed to have forgotten it too.

Ilya's fingers came back from her face clean. There was no blood.

"Why? How?"

She didn't exactly regain her faculties but at least seemed to be capable of semi-coherent speech. Struggling to breathe, Shirou exhaled:

"Healing blades. Rain of healing."

"Why."

"Overloads the nerves. Can't kill."

It had been a decent plan but he had underestimated his sister's determination.

"Look, kill me or don't but I need to get home and recover. Saber."

Without a word, Arturia picked up her Master who whimpered quietly at every movement and started walking toward Shirou's house, leaving a trail of blood. After a few steps Shirou managed to summon the one decent knife among the many he had sent flying at Illya minutes before and stabbed himself.

"Berserker, we are going home before I put something sharp in my brain to escape the madness. But next time we meet…"

She then discovered that her brother's head was lolling from side to side like a ragdoll's. He had lost consciousness.

"Tsk… Boring. Let's see if we can find something to entertain us with, Berserker."

###

It had been a good night, Tohsaka figured as she and Sakura headed toward Shirou's house. They had managed to neutralize Zouken which was no small feat even considering the element of surprise and the fact that the old Magus had apparently never gone up against a Servant.

Still, with the most immediate threat taken care of and her sister's safety somewhat assured they could now proceed to subverting or wiping out the opposition. She still had her doubts but tonight had shown her just what several Masters could accomplish when they worked together. Tohsaka estimated they needed to knock out two Servants to be able to completely dominate the field of battle and then nothing would prevent them from finally taking care of the Grail once and for all, one way or another. Unless the Burial Agency, Magicians or Dead Apostle Ancestors got involved of course. Which was why speed was crucial and there was room for foolishness.

They were going to rest at Shirou's place for a few hours and then go to school because it was unlikely they would get attacked there during the day, sleep some more (her reputation would certainly take a hit for dozing off in class, the Tohsaka heir silently lamented) and then perform their little blitzkrieg the next night.

That train of thought tried to grind to a halt, didn't quite manage it, and shattered into tiny little pieces when she noticed the small puddle of blood at the front gate. It took the two sisters maybe ten seconds to follow the trail to Emiya's workshop but those seconds must have been the longest, most excruciating of her life. And they only stretched on when she finally got inside.

Shirou lay on his back, a huge gash in his side. The lonely lightbulb in the shed made his skin look unnaturally pale with deep shadows around his eyes. The only indication that the boy was still alive was the barely visible rising of his chest and blood slowly dripping onto the floor, soaking what little remained of his shirt. Nearby a prim blond tiny thing of a woman sat Japanese-style with a focused expression.

"Tohsaka Rin and Matou Sakura, I presume. I am Saber."

Tohsaka was about to explode when the blond added:

"He will be fine. His recovery speed is astonishing, really."

"Recovery speed… Saber-senpai, he was worse?"

It would be troubling how quickly her sister could change gears from obviously sadistic and domineering to timid and unsure. Would be, had her not-really-boyfriend been okay and not doing his best to leave a body-sized bloody imprint on the floor.

"The blade cut through all the muscle and skin and nicked the organs. He would be dead without Avalon."

Sakura gasped and Tohsaka walked toward Shirou on wooden legs. He looked so fragile, so vulnerable and yet there was something peaceful about his expression despite all the obvious pain.

She had half a mind to scream at him. She might have very well done that had he been in a better condition and not had a potentially murderous legendary figure at his side.

It spoke volumes about her state of shock that she had managed to ignore the identity and gender of Shirou's summon up to that point. It spoke volumes about her concentration that she ignored the issue outright.

"Does anyone know anything that can heal him?"

"You mentioned something about healing with gems…"

"The stone was spent on the summoning, Sakura! With what I have on me I would be able to seal maybe a couple more centimeters."

"I understand your distress but Shirou will recover in a few more hours if he keeps going like this. There is no cause for alarm."

She simply glared at Saber and reached to Archer with her mind.

"For the record, Master, I completely agree with Saber. Let the boy learn."

Even after establishing that their world was quite different from his own past it was still clear that Archer harbored quite a bit of resentment toward her friend. Tohsaka didn't give a fuck.

"I don't need your opinion! Just help him."

Archer sighed and materialized. Shirou opened his eyes and started screaming.

End of chapter notes

And we're off! The Holy Grail War has started and this means that we are finally moving past setup and getting to the meat of the story. Let me know what you think of it in the reviews! I really appreciate the feedback and barring some stuff fundamental to the plot am not above tweaking things so that readers can appreciate my writing more.

You might have noticed by now that, although I like writing from different characters' perspectives, they are all protagonists. Zouken appears to be an exception but he really isn't: it's just that Sakura's plotline looked better from his viewpoint. As much as I would like to write a chapter about Gilgamesh going to Monaco and living the good life for a couple years between the Wars, I can't. That secret will stay between me and him.

Anyway, I am firmly back at home now and nobody in my immediate vicinity needs my help with something major so I should be able to post more regularly. Ideally, once every two weeks, pessimistically, once a month.

Stay shiny.

Также в разделе:

Eye of the Sword – First Day, Second Night (part 1)
Eye of the Sword – Falling Headfirst into Place (part 1)
Eye of the Sword – A Father's Responsibility


Опубликовано: 19.07.2016

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(c) Александр Кирко, 2016