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Archive for July 30, 2016

Tiger & Might – Chapter 3

Tiger & Might – Chapter 3: Keep it Going

******

“Izuku-kun, your grades are slipping,” Mister Kaburagi said from his perch on the rooftop of a two-story building. It was a month into their training at this point. After weeks spent going through different stamina-building and strength-building exercises, the veteran hero brought him here and told him his objective was to reach the top.

Given his advanced age, Mister Kaburagi had used his grappling-hook wrist-watch to get that high. But Izuku didn’t have that luxury. He had to use his own two hands and feet.

“Ah, I’ve been busy trying to work on reorganizing my notes on heroes and villains,” he said. The notebooks he had complied didn’t have a specific order to them so he had to transfer the information he had on them onto individual sheets and place them in expanding file folders. He had roughly six of them at the moment, with the majority being dedicated to heroes and only one being dedicated to villains. Between that, spending his nights doing research, and waking early to get in an early morning workout, his grades may have slipped a few points.

“That may be the case, but you still need to keep your grades up,” Mister Kaburagi said. “As things stand, if you get into the Hero Courses without a Quirk at U.A. you’ll be setting a precedence for those who come after you. Everything you do will reflect on that, so you need to set high standards and live up to them.”

“Okay,” Izuku said, thoughts briefly contemplating his time-table. He would have to squeeze in the time spent studying somehow.

“And don’t try and rush climbing up here,” the veteran hero added. “You’ve already tried four times and you’re getting tired and sore with every failure. Take a moment to assess the situation and consider your body’s current condition before trying again.”

Izuku did that while wiping the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his track-suit. Standing at two-stories high, the brick-laden structure had a sign on the outside that marked it as once being a corner-store that had fallen into ruin. It was rectangular lengthwise, with eight windows divided into two rows and four columns, with a decorative band made of stone between them above the doorway. The upper windows had decorative hoods on top, feeding into water tables that were maybe two inches outwards, and the sills were inwards rather than outwards by three or so inches.

His body was sore somewhat from failed attempts, a few falls that he rolled out of safely, but his muscles still ached. It would limit the movement he could make and how long they would last under stress to only seconds at best before they gave out. Taking all that into consideration, he took a deep breath and just visualized how he could go through with climbing it safely.

It played out in front of his eyes like a simulation, each attempt and failure taking into account his limitations. The revelation made him grimace as he looked down to his fingers, where some of the flesh had been scraped against the concrete and brick. They tightened into a fist. As things stood, he wouldn’t be able to climb the building no matter how hard he tried. He was too tired and his body needed to rest.

“I won’t be able to scale it before it gets dark,” he admitted. “The muscles in my hands are too worn out to support my own weight.”

Mister Kaburagi looked up to the sky for a moment in thought before leaping over the edge. The line attached to his wire went taut and then gradually lowered him until he touched down. He then pressed a button on the watch and the line detached from the building and retracted into itself.

“That’s a good call,” he said. “In your current state, there was only one way you would have made it.”

Izuku frowned. He’d spent minutes just now going over every conceivable way he could climb the building with his own two and hands and feet. “How?”

The older man grinned slightly. “By using the fire escape on the back of the building, of course. I didn’t restrict you to climbing just the front, now did I? I only said your objective was to get to the top and you jumped straight into it the first way you saw that you could.”

Izuku’s shoulders went slack at that. He should’ve checked the rear of the building as well. “That… was a mistake on my part.”

“You weren’t wrong in how you approached it,” he assured him. “Had your body been at its strongest and you had more experience in climbing, you would have gotten up there in seconds at best. It is experience through failure and success alike that builds on the foundation and keeps pushing you into going higher and higher. Take into account your mistakes and the obstacles you faced for the next time, and you’ll become a better hero for it.”

Izuku thought about what experience he gained through this failure in particular. He supposed the points where his body was the sorest were the ones that needed the most improvement. And he learned how to assess his condition, so that was a positive as well.

Mister Kaburagi stretched his aged arms and sighed. “For now, let’s call it a day. I have to leave for one of my granddaughters’ performances in a few hours or my daughter will be upset.”

******

Karina sighed as she stood outside the Todoroki Manor, a traditional Japanese structure that stood separate from the surrounding buildings. It was a magnificent place in the grand scheme of things. At one point she thought it was perfect for raising her grandchildren, only for her to realize too late that this beautiful place was owned by a man whose ambition cast a shadow over everything around it.

She strode forward towards the entrance and knocked on the door. It opened seconds later to reveal her eldest granddaughter, Fuyumi. She was a diligent girl who loved music as much as Karina, a contrast to how her mother was at that age.

Fuyumi was dressed to attend the performance as well, her white hair with streaks of black in a short ponytail while wearing a white dress-shirt and black pants. However, Karina noticed the concern in her eyes behind her glasses and the way her lips were turned up slightly in worry. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s Shouto. Dad just finished training with him in the Training Hall before he left a few minutes ago, but—” Her words fell on deaf ears since Karina had already stepped inside and left her heels by the door, heading down the hallway to the Training Hall. Fuyumi followed after her.

The moment she opened the door, a wind bellowed out from the room that was covered in ice. Shouto was on the ground, back against the wall to remain upright, panting and shivering. The stubborn boy wasn’t using the other-half of his power, and unlike her or her other grandchildren, his resistance to the cold was weaker because he had his pyrokinetic ability to compensate and warm him up.

Karina stepped foot on the ice that crackled under her weight, only for her youngest grandson to scream in panicked alarm and then raise his hand while he shone with a thin cerulean glow. The luminescent glow of her powers as a NEXT kicked in and she met his wedge of ice with a bulwark that caused them both to shatter with a surprising amount of force. The crashing of ice and resulting spray of frost left her staggering back a few steps as she used her arms to prevent any stray fragments from hitting her or Fuyumi, who let out a short cry of surprise.

When it settled, Shouto was struggling to his feet and had returned to his senses. Recognition and regret quickly covered his trembling face as he belatedly took notice of who it was he attacked. “Gr-Grandmother, I—”

“Warm yourself up this instant,” she ordered as she walked in the room towards him. “Honestly, it’s one thing to spite your fool of a father, but to leave yourself in a condition where you can’t even recognize us is simply shameful.”

He looked away and released a haze of heat from the pores on the left side of his body, warming the air around him. The shivering stopped as the ice around him began to run, pooling on the floor around him as he rose to his feet and formally bowed to apologize. “I’m sorry. I thought you were him.”

“I figured as much.” She huffed as she looked around the room. The ice was thick and layered. “How long have you been in here training?”

He looked up towards the clock on the wall to see where the hands were frozen in place.  “About six hours.”

“Six hours is too long for a boy of your age to be training without rest.” Her tone grew softer as she brought her hands to his head and brushed his hair out of his eyes so that she could look into them. “You know you don’t have to try and be a hero if you don’t want to. You and Fuyumi can come live with me if you want. I don’t care what those lawyers say.”

Shouto looked down as he slowly shook his head. “I don’t want to cause you anymore trouble. Besides, I need to be stronger to become a hero like All Might and you were. I’ll do it with just the power that I inherited from you, without using the power I got from him.”

Her lips pursed. She… well, she wasn’t proud of her early work as a hero. Who would be when one of the things they were famous for was ‘Cutie Escape?’ Back then she felt like glorified model, wearing that revealing outfit when everyone else was bulletproof in some aspect. Thank goodness heroes these days had more practical outfits and the sponsor companies had less of a say in what they wore.

“That’s fine, but don’t put yourself in that sort of condition again,” she told him. “…You’re as stubborn as your mother was around that age.”

Her daughter had been rebellious when she was younger, likely because Karina hadn’t been there as much as she should have. Her career as a respectable pianist and musician left her traveling a lot after her old home fell. Perhaps if she had been around more, her daughter would have had better taste in men?

Then again, Todoroki had even her fooled when they first met. He seemed like a respectable sort of man back when she was introduced to him, but either he changed over the years or he had always been the sort who coveted glory above all else and hid it well. By the time Karina understood everything, it was too late.

She huffed as she made her decision. “You’re coming with Fuyumi and me to my star pupil’s performance and then dinner afterwards. The more time you two spend away from here and your father, the better it will be.”

******

Kotetsu sighed as he stepped out of the passenger’s seat of his daughter’s car, having ridden in it with his daughter to the performance hall. The formal clothes he wore felt tight on his aged body as he stretched out his arms and legs to remove the stiffness. He would have preferred more casual clothes, but Kaede had insisted that he wear it because she wanted the family to fully support Tomoe while her father was away.

Kaede herself stepped out of the door on the opposite side and compulsively ran her hands along her clothes to make sure they were neat before looking at the performance hall. A small smile came across her face, no doubt feeling a sense of pride that one of her children had reached a point where they could stand on a stage and perform for others with pride. It probably reminded her of the time that she herself had been an ice skater, doing the same thing.

Further down the parking lot, two small figures were darting around in a circle while a larger one waved.  Kotetsu had to strain his eyes to make out the details at that distance while Kaede waved towards them and then started walking forward. Once close he could identify that it was his grandson and the twins.

“Mother, you made it,” Masahiro said as they approached, trying futilely to rein in his kids. He was the oldest of Kaede’s children, the firstborn. He then turned to Kotetsu. “Grandfather, it’s been a while. I’m glad to see you’re in good health.”

“There’s no need to worry about me, boy. I’ve got another decade or two in me,” Kotetsu said before one of the twins, Minoru, darted for him and then touched his hand. A second later, the child was covered in a thin shroud of cerulean as he activated Hundred Power.

“That’s not fair!” Minori, the other twin, said as he came to a stop in front of his brother. “We said no powers!”

“Nu-uh!”

“Yes, we did—”

Before they could argue further, Kaede cleared her throat. They turned to see that she was standing there with an annoyed expression and was tapping her foot on the ground. They knew what that meant, having been watched by her enough to know when she was reaching her limit.

“Turn it off,” she said firmly. Minoru immediately stopped shining, signaling he had deactivated his power. Kaede huffed. “I told you two that you should be on your best behavior when we go out, didn’t I?”

“Yes, Grandma,” they said in unison as they settled in for another lecture.

“And what did I tell you about playing with your Great-Grandpa’s powers?”

“Not to because we don’t want to hurt someone by accident.”

Masahiro looked somewhat relieved as he stood next to Kotetsu and watched Kaede continue her lecture to them. “They are quite a handful sometimes. It’s amazing how easily she can reel them in.”

“They’re young and full of energy,” Kotetsu said with a smile. They had no idea how lucky they were to be born in this age compared to when he was a child their age and with his power. Things were nowhere near as peaceful as they were now and, with a majority of the new generation having Quirks or being descended from NEXTs, they rarely got more than a passing glance. “Actually, they remind me of your youngest sister when she was that age actually.”

“Kasumi is like that every time we see her.” Masahiro sighed, massaging his forehead at the thought. “I swear, when she comes over the lawn ends up being torn apart as they play heroes and villains. Doesn’t she know how embarrassing it is to ask our neighbor if I can borrow his Quirk to fix it?”

“You’ve got it tough.” He couldn’t help but chuckle a bit. All of Kaede’s children had inherited her power, but raising them had been a different affair compared to her.

Tomoe was always reserved and often stayed under her mother’s shadow, so she rarely used her power and chose to be an aspiring pianist and student under Karina’s tutelage. Masahiro had been the more troublesome as a boy and got into scraps, but he settled into running a bar like his other Granduncle and had gotten married. Their twins were young and playful with a deviation of their father’s Power Copy ability, allowing Minori to copy Emitter-class powers while Minoru could use Transformation-class powers.

Kasumi was the only one who used her powers to the fullest extent to become a hero and she had been the most… enthusiastic, though for different reasons than Kotetsu. Of course, no sooner than he thought that did the sound of a motorcycle engine reached their collective ears. Kaede stopped her lecture and turned towards the source as the sleek, black bike slowed to a stop and parked opposite of Masahiro.  Pulling off the helmet, Kasumi hung it on the handle as she hopped off the bike.

“Auntie Kasumi!” cried the twins in glee as they ran towards her.

She crouched and gave them a hug. “How are my favorite little troublemakers?”

“Fine,” Minori said. “When will you come visit us again?”

“Did you beat up some new villains?” Minoru asked instead. “Did you get some new powers?”

“Yeah, I got to beat down this guy who could turn himself into stone. It was awesome, but my overseer got mad about the property damage. I’ll tell you more later on when I visit this weekend, I promise.” She rose to her full height and then turned to her mother. “Mom, how’ve you been holding up since I moved out?”

“Just fine.” Kaede held a hand to her cheek and sighed as she looked over her daughter. Kasumi’s hair was done in a ponytail and she wore leather pants with a matching jacket.  “Couldn’t you dress in something more appropriate?”

“I’m not the one of the stage tonight,” Kasumi said, before turning to Kotetsu. “I see she pulled you out of your cave, Gramps. How’ve you been?”

“Good, good,” he said, giving her a hug. “And how’s things for you?”

She grinned. “I’m getting there. Just keep listening out, one of these days Myriad’s going to be a big-name hero.”

Kaede pressed her lips thin but didn’t say anything, having made her peace with the girl’s decision. It had taken a lot of convincing from Kasumi, Kotetsu, and even Karina to get her to agree to let Kasumi follow her own path and attend the hero course of the school closest to where they lived. Now she had graduated and moved out to a location where she could begin working under a more established hero.

“That’s good,” Kotetsu said, moving his head close to her ear to whisper to her. “I may have something to talk to you about later on. Best if your mother doesn’t hear. I don’t want her to worry over me.

Kasumi gave a brief nod before pulling away and then going with them as they walked into the building and towards their seats, where they found Karina and two of her grandchildren. Kasumi grew excited when she saw Fuyumi. “Fuyu!”

“Kasumi, you came too!” Fuyumi stood up in time for Kasumi to give her a hug, with Shouto leaning back to not be caught between them while looking nonplussed. The two had been playmates when they were younger, with Karina bringing Fuyumi along to watch her lessons with Tomoe. Though that was mostly Kasumi dragging her around to go play and get into trouble, they were the oldest of friends and it had been Kasumi who gave her the name she used as a hero and her primary power.

When Kasumi finally broke the hug, she turned to Shouto. “And if it isn’t her little brother. What have you been up to kid?”

“Just training,” he said, turning his head away from her. From a glance, it was clear he wasn’t sure on how to handle Kasumi from the few times that he’d seen them together. But he probably didn’t appreciate being called a kid.

“I brought Shouto-kun because he needs a break,” Karina said. “He was working really hard training to be a hero and needed a night out.”

Kotetsu caught the underlying message. “You’re not working too hard, are you? A boy your age should be enjoying himself.”

“It’s fine,” Shouto said. “I want to carry on Grandmother’s legacy as a hero, so it’s merely another step toward doing that.”

Hearing that, Kotetsu smiled slightly. “There are a lot of ambitious youngsters these days.”

“I could give him some tips,” Kasumi offered, leaning uncomfortably close to him. “I’ll even give them to you for free since you’re Fuyu’s little brother. What do you want to know first?”

“Kasumi, give the boy breathing room,” Kaede said as she took a seat next to the twins, with Masahiro on the end. That way they could keep them both in check and they couldn’t borrow any of the others powers to play around with.

She thrust her lips out in a pout at her mother and then settled down in her seat next to Fuyumi, who she turned her attention towards until the lights dimmed. Tomoe came out along with the other performers for the customary introduction. She would have the fourth performance of the evening, so Kotetsu settled in for a long night while surrounded by his family as silence enveloped the room…

 [-CHAPTER 3 END-]


Calling Card (Psyren x FSN -Nasuverse): Arc 1 – Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Six Months Ago

I stare up at the fluorescent lights and count ceiling tiles of the hospital room to pass the time.

Being stuck here alone is a quiet sort of Hell. But I can’t leave the hospital until they finish monitoring me for any changes in my body after having the albino brat’s heart shoved into me. The memory of the pain that followed makes me clench my bed-sheet and grit my teeth.

My head turns to the tray by my bedside. On it are two slices of apples cut into rabbit-shapes, with one on its side and the other with a tooth-pick in it. Leftovers from when Sakura was here.

The ears are perfectly shaped, like something out of a magazine. She even coated the flesh with a light and sweet glaze that I liked when I was a child. She put a lot of work into them, overstepping her bounds as someone who was sold to the Matou family.

I still remember the day I was told her family sold her to mine, when I came back from my study abroad after the last Holy Grail War. The thought of an outsider in my household, in my world, made me sick. But a part of me felt bad for the girl, having been sold into being a possession of our family by her own. Then again, I expected as much.

I learned early on that there were two types of people in this world: those that were special and those that weren’t. The former stood on top, sacrificing and using those that stood on the bottom to move up in the world. Then you cut them out when they were no longer useful. Zouken taught me that at an early age, which was what happened to my mother.

Yet, I pitied Sakura.

She was supposed to be special, but was then cast out to become something less. The little girl with dull purple eyes and never smiled was meant to be a tool, but that was just so pathetic that I couldn’t stand it.  So, as the heir to the family, I decided to take pity on her and treat her like my sister.

She would never be as special as me, who was to be the heir. But she would be better than everyone else outside of the family. As long as she was loyal, I would never sacrifice her like my grandfather and father did my mother.

Then the truth came out.

Sakura was there to be the true heir, not a failure like me. She knew the entire time and just humored me, laughing behind my back every time I said I would be the heir. I showed her mercy and kindness, treating her like a person rather than the tool to carry on the bloodline she was, and my reward for it was to be mocked.

She deserved to be slapped. To be beaten. To be reminded of her place. So I paid her back for every laugh and taking what was rightfully mine.

And she never fought back. She never claimed it was her right to be the heiress. She just sat there and took it.

At first I thought it was because she knew that she deserved it. The abuse was her atonement for mocking me. If that was the case, maybe I would have forgiven her as long as she served me sincerely. But then Zouken kindly informed me of what it really was:

Pity.

She pitied me. Someone who was sold off by her own family because I wasn’t good enough pitied me. I was so pathetic that someone who lost everything from her old life and was then given away like a tool pitied me.

Things were a blur for a moment after that. I remember yelling, hitting, exposing her pale skin and feeling lust overtake me. A fleeting thought occurred, telling me that if she was mine to use as I pleased then why not do so in every aspect? Then I felt euphoria, an immense satisfaction flooding me to my core as I experienced the pleasure of being a man for the first time.

She didn’t complain. Zouken didn’t chastise me for it. Of course they didn’t. I hadn’t done anything wrong by the standards of the world we lived in. So our roles were set and life continued.

Then Emiya came into the picture.

He was an idiot. He constantly did things that other people didn’t want to, like he was a natural-born servant and enjoyed it. But he was useful, an honest idiot that I felt like I could tolerate compared to other people.

Someone who could never attain happiness outside of helping others was someone would always be willing to do what I ask without question. Someone who wouldn’t usurp me like Sakura did. Someone I could see as a friend and wouldn’t sacrifice like Sakura, before the truth.

Then he turned against me because of Sakura. He couldn’t understand that Sakura was supposed to be mine, a tool to be used in exchange for taking everything away from me as heir to the Matou line. He chose her over me and the thought of those two together filled me with a black flame inside my chest as I watched them.

Then came the Holy Grail War, a chance to prove myself to Zouken as the one who should have been the rightful heir to the family. Sakura not wanting to fight was so pathetic that he surely had to acknowledge me. Plus, if I won, I could have used it to fix my defective body and become a true magus.

That’s all I wanted in the end. To have been a true part of the world I was born into. Like my father, my grandfather, my sister, and… and my friend.

I couldn’t see the strings being pulled behind the curtain because I wanted to be special. And I got played for it… suffered for it…

I shudder as the sensation of worms crawling through my body and bloating my flesh from the grail came to mind. Was that what Sakura felt everyday for the sake of being a magus? If the stupid girl had said something, I would’ve….

No, it wouldn’t have changed anything.

I had lost my ability to feel sympathy for those I saw beneath me a long time ago. It was only because I had been placed into her shoes that I could understand everything she felt, after I regained my sanity. A moment of empathy towards someone who’d experienced years of a similar Hell silently with no one to save her.

Sakura treats me with sympathy after my ordeal, understanding the pain I’ve been through. She could have mocked me or thrown it in my face after everything I’d done to her. But she simply stayed by my side and cared for me.

Like a sister should.

That moment also made me truly realize why Sakura clung to Emiya despite the abuse I put her through for it. Having been stuck in a position where death would have been preferable, I too wanted someone to desperately save me. And though it was Tohsaka who pulled me from the prison that my flesh had become, she’d made it clear that she’d done it for him. Despite the number of times I’d tried to kill him after he sided against me, he still extended his hand by proxy to save me.

Like a friend should.

The only question now was what I should do when I get out of here. How do I face them? What should I aspire to become after losing my chance at being truly special, only to find that it wasn’t worth it in the end?

Knock. Knock. Knock.

The knocking at the door turned my attention away from the ceiling tiles to the door. Through the slit that serves as a window, I can make out a familiar bed of brown hair and matching eyes. It was Ayako.

Once she notices me staring, she opens the door and enters of her own accord. She’s wearing a pink wind-breaker and a pair of jeans, rather than her uniform.

I sit up and turn so that my feet find the floor. “What are you doing here?”

“Sakura mentioned you were in the Hospital, so I thought I would drop in and check on my Vice-Captain.”

“Didn’t you say you were going to expel me from the club?” I distinctly remember that argument before I sent Rider after her. In hindsight, it… may have been going a bit overboard.

A slight pout forms on her face. “Well, you were starting to get out of hand. I had members on the verge of quitting because you were in a bad mood and decided to take it out on them. Unlike last year, we’ve got a shot at the Autumn Tournament and I want us to come home as the champions.”

After the summer of the first year we didn’t have Emiya anymore in the club, after I made a comment on his burn mark. Did she blame me for that too? “If you really want to win then why are you talking to me? You know where Emiya lives.”

She just stares at me for a moment, her lips pursed. Then she steps forward and gets in my face, looking me in the eyes. “Having Emiya back would make it easier, but I want you back in the club more than anything.”

“…Come again?”

“In truth, I’ve been doing some thinking about reorganizing the club since we’ve been doing pretty badly lately. I want your help to whip them into shape by the time I have to step down from the role of Captain and help your sister take the reins. I get the feeling that she’d be a good Captain, but right now she’s the type that stands back and quietly nods rather that assert herself, so it’ll take some time.”

She doesn’t sound like she’s joking. But it doesn’t make sense. “Why me?”

“Because we’re a lot alike, so I feel like I can understand you.” Her eyes look towards the ceiling. “You and I don’t like to lose, but Emiya was always better both of us. I admired and was jealous of him for that, yet he quit so easily that it was hard to believe it really even matter to him. How can someone like that drive others into giving it their all?”

“And you think I can?”

“Yeah, I do. As long as you keep your behavior in check, I think that you’re the only person I can trust to be my Vice-Captain. What do you say?”

I know the Archery Club means a lot to her, so hearing how earnest her words are only serves to make me feel uncomfortable. Of all the people she could place her trust in, I am the last one person she should. Not after everything I’d done to her.

Guilt rears its ugly head for the first time in a long time. “You shouldn’t forgive or trust me so easily. After all, I was the one behind what happened to the students and school. And with you in Shinto—”

Ayako’s response is immediate. She slugs me on the shoulder. The hit isn’t hard enough to do any real damage, but it does draw my attention to her face. She looks upset.

“Jokes like that are in bad taste, Shinji.” She crosses her arms. “You’re a jerk occasionally, but even you aren’t that much of an ass. I mean, could you imagine Emiya or your sister standing by you all the time if that was the case? They must see something good in you, right?”

… No, I am that horrible. Both of Emiya and Sakura know that. Even I’m not sure why they act so cordial to me, but they’ll never forget what I’ve done. Ayako’s so painfully ignorant that it hurts… but I prefer the way she thinks of me, a jerk with a softer side rather than a monster that reveled in whatever power he got.

I want her to be right. I want a second chance to start over, to live a normal life without the desire to be out of the ordinary pushing me to become a monster. A second chance to be the sort of person she thinks I can be, and someone who can face Emiya and Sakura without seeing everything I’ve done written over their faces, even if unsaid by them.

If this was the first step to doing that, then I’d do it. “Fine, I’ll straighten up and help if you really need it.”

Ayako smiles as the golden sunlight pours into the room, becoming a radiant scene that burns itself into my memories. “Looking forward to working with you then, Vice-Captain.”

******

My eyes snap open to find fluorescent lights hanging on the ceiling above. For a moment, I believe I’m back in the hospital room and the last few months have been a dream. That the future I’d seen was nothing more than a nightmare.

“So you’ve awoken then?”

Then I hear a familiar voice and turn my head towards the source. The Student President is sitting down in a chair a few feet ahead of the infirmary bed. His eyes are fixed on a book of some kind.

I sit up and become aware that I’m wearing my club uniform. But there are no signs of rips and tears. I lift my arms to see they’re still in one piece.

He glances up at me. “Mitsuzuri informed me about your abrupt trip to the future and the injuries you sustained. You’re fortunate that I arrived before someone noticed the wounds.”

I hold my head as the visions of that terrible future come flooding back. “So it was real after all?”

“Of course it was.” He closes the book and adjusts his glasses. “You pried where you shouldn’t and were brought into the fold as a result. Whatever your reasons for doing so, you involved yourself in this and the consequences of that are you have seen the future and are now responsible for changing it.”

I want to deny his words about prying, but a brief image flashes in my head at the thought. It’s the memory of that hospital visit from Ayako. The smile she wore when I accepted her terms. It’s stupid that such a simple request and smile moved me enough to make an effort to help her. But I was desperate for a new path to take and she offered me the way.

If Sakura was the hand that supported me, and Shirou was the hand that saved me, then Ayako was the hand meant to guide me towards a second chance—my redemption. So did that mean that this too was a part of what it meant for me to have a second chance? Was it worth it if I got hurt or killed in the process?

… No, it’s not my job to try to sort out that mess that could be set decades into the future for all I knew. I only got involved for one reason and one reason alone, and that wasn’t it. “Where is she? She was with you, wasn’t she?”

“I’ve already treated Mitsuzuri’s injuries and left her behind with Gotou. He had answered his phone while on the way to school and passed out on a sidewalk, so someone called an ambulance and they rushed him to the Hospital. After I had treated him, she remained behind to inform him of the circumstances of his current situation when he wakes.”

He frowns slightly as he looks down at me from over the rim of his glasses. “For the record, I didn’t appreciate your efforts to turn Emiya against me with baseless accusations. Please refrain from doing so again. I have enough on my hands as it is.”

Ah, he must be talking about what I told Emiya this morning. “You shouldn’t have made yourself so suspicious, Mr. President. Besides, you were with her.”

“Regardless, you had no evidence to support that theory. It was fortunate that I managed to cover it up on my way here by saying that she came over to the temple to spar with me this morning and suffered a minor injury that left her unable to attend.”

It would pass somewhat as an excuse. Ayako was the type of person who was into those sorts of things. Being a member of the family that ran the temple, it was natural that he would know some kind of martial arts to go with his attitude as well. In addition, she was also the festival committee chief for the upcoming cultural festival, meaning it wouldn’t be strange for the two to discuss matters in private.

He rises from his chair. “I’m sending word to your sister to escort you home now and informing her that within a few hours you will experience a fever and severe nosebleed that will leave you bedridden for the rest of the day. Don’t mention anything you’ve learned or gone through to her or you’ll risk her getting others involved in this as well. You’ve seen for yourself how unforgiving that world is.”

I don’t need him telling me that. Ayako mentioned that even knowing about what I do can draw Nemesis Q’s attention. Not to mention the bird-thing tried to kill me once before when I tried showing her the card. She’s been through enough as is and I’m not in a hurry to die.

Though I didn’t like what he said before all of that.  “What do you mean I’ll be bedridden for the rest of the day?”

The Student President elaborates. “Upon returning to the past, all those that survive the first round undergo a transitional phase as a result of being exposed to that environment as far as we can tell. The body feels as though its melting on the inside as the change happens. Then, when the symptoms pass in the morning, you wake to find that you can perceive the world differently—to know that you have been changed in some aspect from the people around you.”

I think on it as he makes his way to the exit. It must be the abilities that Ayako used in the future. For a moment, my heart quavers at the thought of possessing that sort of power. Then I remember how the last time I yearned for it had earned me a visit to Hell every time I dreamed.

The only reason I didn’t this time is probably because of the displacement of my soul.

As he stops at the door, the Student President gives me a final glance. “When you wake up in the morning, come to the base of the mountain. Mitsuzuri and I will meet you there. Once you and Gotou have arrived, I’ll take you both to meet the other veterans in Fuyuki and they’ll inform you of everything and begin your training. Make sure your schedule for the day is clear.”

Nothing left to say, he leaves the room and gently shuts the door behind him.

I lie back down and just think on everything I just got myself into. It’s ludicrous to think that any sort of power that I can wield would be enough to change a future that has already come to pass. The abnormal sky and condition of the land and those Taboo creatures—how did something like that come to pass by the moonlit world of magi and monsters? Weren’t there safeguards in place to avoid things like that from happening?

Or were they the ones responsible for that future?

The door slides open and the thoughts fade as Sakura steps into the room while dressed in her school uniform. In her hands are my clothes and belongings. She looks slightly relieved as she comes over to my bedside.

“Nii-san, how are you feeling?”

“As best I can be for now.” I sit up and take the clothes. “You talked to the Student President, didn’t you?”

She nods her head. “He said that you would need to rest back at home for the rest of the day and we have permission to leave early. Though, Senpai suggested we should head back to the hospital so they can give you a thorough examination.”

I shake my head. No more hospitals. If I have to stare up at one more tiled ceiling I’ll start pulling out my own hair. “After the symptoms pass, I’ll be fine.”

“But—”

“No, Sakura.” My tone is firmer this time to get the point across. “Emiya doesn’t have a say in this. I said I’ll be fine, so drop it. Understand?”

“…Yes, Nii-san.” Her eyes lower slightly, leaving her hair shadowing them from view. Without another word, she turns around so that I can change my clothes.

The feeling of kicking a puppy returns with a vengeance. I wish I could just explain that I can’t get them involved for both my sake and hers. That I would like nothing more than to push this onto Emiya since this is his sort of thing. But I can’t as things stand.

I sigh deeply and then look up to the clock again. “Sakura, you haven’t eaten Lunch, have you?”

“Not yet,” she replies softly.

“Then let’s go find a place in Miyama to eat.” I’ve got my wallet on me so it shouldn’t be a problem to treat her. “It’ll be my way of apologizing for getting blood on your uniform since I’m going to be busy tomorrow, so I won’t accept you trying to take a pass on it.”

She looks slight confused given my abrupt change in demeanor, but knows better than to refuse and nods.

We leave the school grounds minutes later and make our way to the district. The cool autumn breeze briefly blows past us along the way. The lack of biting chill and aftertaste of metal were something I couldn’t help but notice. The warmth of the afternoon sun caressing my skin felt almost foreign. And the people ignorantly walking along the side of the road and going about their day without any worries of what the future holds for them….

I do my best to ignore them all as we find a place to dine in peace.