My breath fogs over with every step I take.
The sun had barely risen when I set out from home around three hours ago. Since then I’ve been walking through the forest, down a specific route that I know that will lead me to the castle. But there’s still an hour or so before I reach it on foot.
I hate that the castle is such a long walk away. But the boundary field was taken down shortly before the albino brat and her servants were killed, so other than the distance there shouldn’t be any complications reaching the place. And, if by chance someone put it back up, I can counteract the Mental Interference to avoid it with my PSI and will know for a fact that someone is there.
I am armed with a knife in case the Homunculi are there and pick a fight with me. But I’ll leave if it comes down to a fight. There’s no point in risking my life when we have the Veterans to do the heavy lifting. Better to point them in this direction and have them clean house while I go over the place with a fine-tooth comb afterwards.
I’ll be happy if I find anything that’ll bring us another step closer to freedom. At least some of the rooms should still be intact as long as whatever fight the Servants had stayed centered within the hall. There might be a basement or archive or storage facility somewhere that’s designed to last through the Holy Grail War—
My blood vessels swell, writhing as hot mire flows through them from the second heart wedged in my stomach. It hurts.
—I freeze in place, clutching my stomach as something breaks through and pushes aside my organs. But there’s nothing when I pull my hands away. Nothing more than phantom pain that’s akin to muscle memory, stemming from that moment of betrayal.
I’m not surprised. The path I’m walking is the same one that I took when I was leaving here the last time. Familiar locations link to memories so much easier than distant places, so that was inevitable. It’ll probably get as bad as it did when I first visited the mountain, if not worse, but this time I’m ready for it.
Exhaling, I tap into the wellspring of energy within me and formulate it into the Trance-energy. Then I program and layer it to my mind. I have to be careful since if I damage my own brain then there’s no coming back.
A broken arm or leg can heal with time.
A damaged brain not so much.
Once I’m done, I keep walking forward as the minutes continue to pass. It’s not much further now, but the occasional breeze whips through the twisted copse of trees and assaults my face every time. It’s not as cold as it would be during the winter, or in that ruined future. But the leaves blotting out the morning sun makes the air even more frigid than when in the city proper.
If I had more time I would have come later. But I need every minute I can get to visit the priest and see if he has any information I can use as well. Better to do that later than be stuck here until nightfall and trying to worm my way through the dark until—
My flesh grows painfully until everything is stretched to the breaking point, nerves alight with fire that eats away my sanity. It stretches with fat that rots into mud until the flesh tears and spews it out. It hurts. It hurts. Please, help me.
—I stumble to my knees. The phantom pain takes the place of the footsteps and blood from the last time in marking my path. I can feel that I’m close to the spot now where that happened now.
I can still feel the Trance energy saturating my brain. The rules I programmed in haven’t been broken, so it just hasn’t triggered yet. Since I can’t make the rules laxer due to the risk involved, I’ll have to put up with the occasional hallucination until it gets to the point where it goes off.
I really hate that I have to come out here at all, but I can’t get the others involved carelessly to do it for me. The others… well, most of them aren’t stupid. If I bring up this place to them without a decent excuse, they’ll see cracks in what I’ve told them so far. And if they somehow find out about everything I’ve done, they’ll cast me aside and leave me to die.
That is, if they didn’t kill me themselves.
I can’t say it’d be unwarranted. After all, I was more than willing to have Rider to melt them all down for the sake of giving her a little more power, so she wouldn’t be so useless to me. It didn’t matter whether it was every person in the school or every person in the city, I’d have sacrificed them all if it meant I would obtain the grail.
Their value as people didn’t matter if I got what I wanted in the end. Even now I’m not that different. I’m moving them around like chess pieces on a board to keep them alive. Not so much for their own sakes, but because they’re useful in keeping me alive and I don’t want to see Ayako looking so pathetic again.
Emiya is a fool who’d save someone even if they tried to kill him and everyone he knew. Sakura is soft enough that she’ll forgive someone who deprived her of things she’ll never get back. And Ayako will shed tears at the thought of someone who’d wronged her dying in front of her.
If I had been like them, I wouldn’t have survived to this point.
Not living with the Old Worm.
I catch my breath, get to my feet, and continue to walk while lost in my own thoughts about the future. We don’t know when we’ll be called back. We don’t know what we’ll find there. And I still don’t have a concrete way of dealing with the body-jacker—just a theory.
I’ve worked out that they managed to infiltrate my central nervous system, using it to both control my body and access my mind. That explains why my PSI fried them in trying to remove it. I can’t help but think it’s similar to a wire that acts as an artificial nerve, similar to how the worms inside of Sakura turn into nerves when not in use.
The question was how do I stop it from happening a second time—
—I fall and hit the ground, but I don’t know why. Did I trip over something or stumble? There’s a gap in my memories, like I was thinking about something only…
No. No, I know these symptoms. I can’t feel any Trance energy in my mind but, considering I’m close to the Einzbern’s place, it’s likely the result of the PSI I probably had layered on my mind. I must’ve had a panic attack and it went off like depth-charge, clearing out my working memory and suppressing whatever triggered it.
It’s… crude. A rudimentary form of memory manipulation at best. Definitely not feasible in the long-run, but I can’t refine the process further since I don’t know the extent of what I’m capable of and don’t want to risk long-term memory damage to myself. I just don’t have enough control as of yet to even try something like that.
I’ll have to practice on other people first. The Student President will likely run his mouth off about it if he finds out, so I’ll have to keep quiet on that. It’s probably for the best since I can’t let them know that memory manipulation is a thing, given that most of them are under it to some extent.
I’m not sure which method was used by the Church since I’m not aware of their Foundation. It was probably just the standard ‘dumping the memories in the part of their minds they’ll never find’ for the students, given the number of people who had been affected by Rider. But I know they had to deprogram the monks since they were under a compulsion that would trigger if questioned on Caster’s identity.
Then again, maybe I should find some way to break it to them as a failsafe? Like if their powers end up stirring their memories by some chance, given how much unventured territory we’re in. They might remember something they shouldn’t and make things difficult for me, so I should have something I can tell them to save face.
Ugh, more things to think about before the next trip.
I shake my head and continue walking until the castle comes into view. Or what’s left of it. I knew the place had a decent amount of damage beforehand, but now it was a mass of weather-worn and charred slag. For the stone foundation itself to have melted meant it couldn’t have been a normal fire. But it didn’t spread very far, otherwise the entire forest would have went up in flames.
It’s probably safe to assume that no one has visited the place in the last few months. If the other homunculi had been here, they would have either restored the place to perfection or destroyed it so thoroughly that nothing remained. The latter would have also been more likely if it had been raided by the Church or the Association.
The castle itself should still have protections to protect the valuables inside from this kind of damage. So, in theory, there should still be something here I can use. The problem is that I can’t get through all of this on my own with the stonework collapsed, let alone factoring in the structural damage from the fire and weather.
I’ll need one of the others who can lift the rubble. And I can’t bring one of them this far out without explaining myself. There’s nothing I can do here right now.
Hopefully the priest will be more helpful in giving me the information I need.
Otherwise this whole day will be a waste.
I take a Taxi from the civilized part of Fuyuki to Shinto to save on time and to give my aching legs a moment to rest.
It isn’t a short trip on its own, maybe an hour or so. But it feels longer due to how crowded the roads across from the Big Bridge became on the weekend. Since the train station makes it a good central hub shops naturally line the area and bring enough traffic that walking might have been faster.
The crowds become less of an issue once we leave the Station Front and take a turn into the suburban area. Fewer buildings surround us and more greenery takes their place since it costs more to build a foundation for houses on the steep incline of a hillside. And since less people are around it becomes quiet enough that I almost drift off looking at the ocean once we were high enough. Thankfully, I manage to stay awake until we reach the church that resides at the top of the hill.
In hindsight, its far more grandiose than it needs to be. The flat, sculpted lands didn’t suit the suburbs leading up to it and I can’t imagine that many sheep flock to the place during service hours. Then again, the gaudiness is something I can see the Tohsaka’s relishing enough that they’d foot the bill for it. That might even be why they had the Kotomine family in their pocket until the last war, when the damn priest decided he wanted the grail.
I can’t be sure if that relationship is still being upheld now that the old priest is running the place. The Holy Church is supposed to oppose Magi on principle as a balancing act, with the two keeping one another in check. His help in expediting things might have been due to the fact that they were trying to smooth things over, but he seems reasonable enough that I feel like I’ll walk out of here with some answers.
I don’t intend to be here long, so I instruct the driver to wait before I walk towards the doors and the sound of pipe organs reaches my ears. It’s a foreign sound I haven’t heard in ten years, when I spent my time overseas during the last war. I don’t recall an organ being here the last time I came, but I shouldn’t be surprised that this church would have one.
The melody drowns out the creaking of the hinges and reverberates down into my bones the moment I open the door. The church itself is devoid of life, with no congregation to hear the hymn. Despite that the white-haired woman in a nun’s outfit continues to play a tribute to her god as the light from the brass that makes up the organ’s pipes gleam brightly.
I take a seat at one of the pews that allows me to get a better look at the nun from the side rather than interrupt her practice. She seems foreign but some of her features are native, so it’s likely she’s of mixed heritage, giving her something of an exotic appeal if not for the bandages I can spy. Her hair has more of a grey tint to it as well compared to the homunculi, almost like ash instead of snow.
Her slender fingers move with grace over the keys, despite her eyes being closed as she listens to her own hymn. I’m not familiar with the composition, but everything sounds like its flowing smoothly. As far as I can tell not a single key is out of place by the time her playing comes to an end.
“Thank you for being patient,” she says as she rises from her playing bench slowly, bringing down the wooden cover over the keys to signify that her practice is done. She then turns to me and opens her eyes, revealing them to be a dull golden color. “Matou Shinji, I presume?”
“You know who I am?”
“Yes. Father Dilo had saw fit to inform me of the members of the Tohsaka and Matou households before he departed. I have already introduced myself to the Second Owner as is custom, but I did intend to introduce myself to your household as well once I finished settling in.”
“Ah. I wasn’t aware that Father Dilo had left recently.”
“A man of his capabilities has duties to fulfill elsewhere and this house of worship is relatively small, so a replacement was chosen,” she answers while walking towards me. “I am Caren Hortensia, and for the time being I have been entrusted with overseeing this church in a similar capacity as he did. If there is something you require of him then you may ask me in his stead.”
I wanted to speak to the Father since he had been handling everything else. Substituting someone else in at the last-minute means that there might be things that he didn’t tell her. Then again, I do find that women tend to be easier to speak with.
Even if she is an agent of the Church. “Well, I had a question related to the matter of the Grail War and I was hoping that he could help me with clarifying a few things. Since the former priest was the mediator and his father before him was the prior one, the Church itself should have answers I wanted.”
“Perhaps your arrival here was not merely by chance after all then. I had questions for you as well that I intended to ask at a later date regarding the last Holy Grail War. If we could share information, then I believe both of our questions could be resolved.”
I sit upright. “If it’s something I can answer then I will.”
“As you may know, the nature of the Holy Grail itself has become something of a concern in light of the previous two incidents. To that end, we seek to question the head of the three families involved about the grail itself.”
“If that’s the case, then the information I can offer is limited,” I tell her. “I may be the head of our household, but my Grandfather is the only one in Fuyuki who would have an understanding of that since he’d been around from the beginning. And he was killed by the previous priest who was stationed here.”
The Nun clasps her hands together as if in prayer. “You have my sincerest apology on behalf of the Church for that transgression.”
“The fact that the previous priest may have exorcised him in an attempt to claim the grail doesn’t change the fact that it needed to be done. Grandfather was a monster who preyed on humans in a manner that was no different than a vampire. And besides, Father Dilo expedited the transferring of all of his possessions and the other paperwork we needed to continue living as we do, so his actions don’t reflect upon the Church in itself to me.”
Well, to be more accurate, I had him killed with Gilgamesh because he’d pissed me off for the last time. The fact that I did something good for the world is just a by-product. Not that much different from getting involved with Ayako’s mess.
“Be that as it may, upon learning of his involvement in the Fourth Holy Grail War from the Second Owner and an investigation of the incident caused by the grail’s manifestation at that point in time, we believe that something else may have been at work. Are you aware of what demonic possession is?”
Demons—creations born from the 6th Imaginary Factor that possess men and destroy their minds in the process over time. Considering what happened to me, it was one of the first things that I had checked by the doctor affiliated with the Mage’s Association. “The doctor ruled that there was no spiritual entity within me.”
“I have no doubt that may be the case. After all, normally demons possess those who would be considered virtuous. The actions that were on record from your participation would not coincide with such a trait.”
My lips pull back in a frown. The Nun’s words themselves aren’t said in a biting tone, but it feels like she’s accusing me of being a monster. No different than the Old Worm. I have to make an effort to keep my temper in check.
“If you’re referring to my actions in regards to the school and other incidents with Rider, I explained that I wouldn’t have done those things had Grandfather not threaten myself or my sister. It should be clear that if I didn’t prove useful to him, he would have killed me as readily as he did my parents. I’ve kept my hands clean since he’s been gone, and if your agent had eliminated him sooner a lot of innocent people could’ve been saved over the years.”
Her expression doesn’t change much, but she knows I’m right. I wasn’t a saint during the war, but the majority of my victims have at least recovered. The people the Old Worm preyed on are still reported as being missing and would never be found. The last priest knew that and still let him go free for at least a decade.
For a member raised in their house, with power granted by their god to act as an instrument in their stead, to neglect their duties and leave him unpunished… well, that makes them and their god accomplices, doesn’t it?
“Humans are not infallible,” she answers. “They face temptation from the demons as well as the vices around them, and sometimes they succumb to them. They strike at the hearts of even the most virtuous humans after all, and in the wake of possession a human’s morals is often the first thing to go before their minds.”
Her response is decidedly that of a person desperate to defend the fallacies within their faith. The next thing she’ll say is that the priest himself was possessed or something to explain away his acts. A nice little story about a virtuous priest being corrupted as an excuse for their incompetence in keeping him in check.
“In any case, regarding my question about demonic possession. While the Association may have ruled you were not possessed, our own investigation has led us to believe that you may have been in the proximity of a demon.”
“On what basis?”
“Your body changed into something that was quite distant from the human form, which indicates the presence of a strong demon within a host. In normal cases, the human body undergoing such a violent transformation would die after their minds were destroyed and the demon would fail to manifest. Such tends to be the fate of most demons and their hosts.”
My body aches. I don’t want to remember. If I remember the hallucinations will return. But I know she’s right. The normal mind can’t cope with such a thing and remain sane, and so it struggles to forget. “Maybe, but I’m alive.”
The Nun looks as if she wants to say that’s obvious but she refrains. “Indeed, your survival would have been unlikely if you had been personally possessed. But the signs of a powerful demon are evident since they can even affect the surrounding land and the spirits of the people around them when they manifest. Father Dilo investigated both the actions of the previous agent and the site of the previous grail’s manifestation, the latter of which has been found to be steeped in the presence of evil and grudges. Between your own case and these ones, there has been one factor linking all of them together.”
It clicks in my mind almost instantly. “You think the Einzbern have been using a demon to power the grail, don’t you?”
The entire reason for the Holy Grail War was for the winner to have a wish granted. The grail was meant to be a device to do so through Wishcraft, which basically amounted to using enough magical energy to force whatever change you could. But, looking back, is such a thing really possible?
Magical energy can be used as fuel to power something, but to grant any wish without a consequence is a stretch. It has to be formulated through a system or foundation to be useful after all. On top of that the war itself never truly finished since its creation, so no one had their wish granted to test if it really did work, but in the conclusion of the last two wars the grail itself did manifest to an extent and something bad happened.
Demons born from the 6th Imaginary Factor existed for the sake of realizing the wishes of those that called them forth in a distorted manner. So, if they managed to bind a powerful one into the grail, then they’d have their wish-granting device. One that would make every wish end in the worst possible outcome if there were no failsafe systems in place—provided it wasn’t designed to end that way.
The Nun nods her head. “It is only a theory at this point. But since the only common factor between that land and the spiritual damage you undertook was the presence of a homunculus, we believe that there’s a chance that a demon exists within the core of the grail.”
“And you think homunculi are likely meant to be used as a medium to materialize the demon itself while using the accumulated magical energy, in order to realize whatever wish is involved. But the only ones who would know for sure are the ones who provided the grail in the first place.”
A bitter laugh escapes my mouth. The war itself was rigged from the start because the core was the homunculi themselves. And since they kept getting themselves killed every war, no one could use it the damn thing properly. Even if I had won the war, I wouldn’t have gotten anything to balance out the Hell I’m going through now…
I’m going to kill them all if I get the chance.
Slowly and painfully.
“Naturally, we would prefer to hear an answer from the Einzbern family themselves,” the Nun says with a slight frown when my laughs peter out. “But they have always been notoriously difficult to contact, and our attempts to inquire into the nature of such a possibility have received no answer. In fact, since the end of the war it has been as if they have disappeared off the face of the earth itself. To that end, we also would like your assistance in the matter.”
“How so?” I ask, presuming that by ‘inquire’ she meant killing every last one of them. No doubt the thought of something called the ‘Holy Grail’ being a vessel for a demon must’ve really stung their pride. The fact that one of their own covered that fact up probably didn’t help, so they’d want the ones who provided the grail itself. “I don’t know where they could have gone.”
“We believe that Zouken Matou might have some documentation of the Einzbern and some introspective on the nature of the Grail since he was the sole remaining person from the War’s creation. Since you have expressed the intention of no longer practicing magecraft, the Church would like to procure the Matou Library’s contents as part of the investigation. Of course, we are prepared to compensate you appropriately for them.”
She was asking for me to give up the entirety of the Matou Library. Everything related to our craft since our family’s founding. To ask such a thing of a normal magus family would be unthinkable, since it meant giving up everything their family sacrificed towards reaching the Root. It would be tantamount to a declaration of war.
But after everything Sakura and I went through because of it, it’s likely that whatever profile of us they’d composed stated we would be open to the suggestion. “Compensated how exactly?”
She quotes a very nice sum of money to be paid upfront. The only reason I don’t tell her to have a truck come to the house within the hour to take the entire collection is because I need them now for the other Drifters. Since our powers straddle the line between magecraft and psychics, to sell them off now when that could be the very thing between life and death would be foolhardy.
After all, I can’t spend the money if I’m dead. “The offer is more than generous. And, to be honest, if the Church wanted to destroy the particular branch of magecraft that Grandfather pioneered entirely, I would be willing to give you his research without complaint. But he collected many different notes on many different forms of magecraft, and even if I can’t practice and have no desire to, they still have some value to others. That being said, I would be willing to part with all the information on the Holy Grail War and Einzbern for free if you can assist me in another way.”
She regards me with curiosity. “If it is within my power, I shall offer it.”
“The damage that the grail did to me was something that the mages said they can’t fix. But, if it really was the result of being in proximity to a demon, can the Church fix it?”
“It is unfortunate, but to reverse what has already transpired is beyond the ability of exorcists who serve in His name.”
In other words, until I die and my soul passes through the Akasha, the spiritual damage will remain. Of course, I knew that. I just saw another potential avenue that could present a solution to my problem and felt obligated to ask.
That was all.
I notice her pitying me and it fills me with disdain, but I don’t let it show as I move the conversation along. “Then, if you’d be willing to keep me informed on the situation with the Einzbern and the grail, I’ll be willing to give them to you instead. If I’m going to be tormented every night and die because of this, I want to make sure that it won’t be in vain. Closure will bring me more peace than money will at this point.”
Besides, if the Church wants that information badly enough, they will take it without regard for our lives. Sakura is largely untrained and I don’t have access to any powers as far as they are concerned. We might be defenseless but we’re still heretics in their eyes and they can justify killing us rather easily. If I offer the information for the sake of seeing justice done, then that was a different story.
Vengeance is a part of human nature, and emotion can rule out logic. It won’t cost them anything and I’ll be shortening their time spent researching by sorting out what they needed. That way they stood to benefit without giving us more trouble in the short-term and I can stay on top of the situation.
“I shall need to speak with my superiors on the matter of divulging that sort of information,” the Nun answers. “If they agree, then whatever information they see fit to send me will be forwarded to you and a specialist will be sent to take possession of the materials. Even if you are willing to part with them, there is a chance that there has been magecraft cast upon them to prevent outsiders from handling it.”
“That will be fine. But if you could keep the Second Owner unaware of that fact, I’d appreciate it as well. I don’t want her to think that the Matou are involved when I’m basically doing this to get some form of closure given my condition.”
“The Church are independent of the Tohsaka and will show them no preferential treatment. What is disclosed between us will remain as such. You have my word on that.”
I don’t believe her. Not entirely. But even if she tells Tohsaka, she’ll only receive information that I’m acting out of vengeance and directing it towards the third family because they did this to me. It’s still information that I controlled the flow of.
“In anticipation that they do agree to my terms, I’ll give you my contact information and begin sorting through everything. Whether the offer is rejected or accepted, even if it’s the middle of the night, call me when you get a response. I’ll answer right away.”
I give her my cell phone number before I leave out with my thoughts running over the situation with the new pieces on my board. The Church would be more pawns that I can play, keeping my important pieces safe by letting them deal with the Einzbern family. If the future has been changed because of it by our next trip, then we’ve done our part to Nemesis Q. If not…
Well, none of us died. And we’ll know they’re more dangerous than we gave them credit for in this time period. So that’s progress on our end either way.
Maybe this day wasn’t a complete waste after all.
Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated:
A Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic
Summary: Cissnei wanted to save Zack that night, only to find that it was too late. Though she couldn’t bring him back to life, she could keep his legacy alive. That was why she refused to abandon Cloud on his journey, despite going against her former friends and colleagues.
A Naruto Fanfic
Summary: A/U: Leaves spiral in the soft eddy as Naruto meets Karin in the Forest of Death. From that moment on, the two bearing the Clan name carried with them the fate of the Uzumaki and would be forever entwined.
A Pokemon Fanfic
Summary: Time travel, based on the Anime. So, the world ended. That’s bad news. Who best to get to fix it? Well, there is this guy with a track record in world saving… Not entirely serious. T rating may be overdoing it.
A Pokemon Fanfic
A Pokemon Fanfic
A FSN/ Demon Souls Fanfic
Summary: There is never only one change. There are always many changes. Because one thing will change another. It will affect something more. Ripples through time. Irrelevant to some, disastrous to others. There can never be only one change Emiya Shirou. There will always be consequences.
A Fate Kaleid AU Fanfic
Summary: A Prisma Illya spin-off centered around Shirou Emiya receiving the Archer Class-card, only it syncs him up with the EMIYA Alter spirit.
Intrepid: 18-05 Sophia
A Worm Fanfiction
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A Worm Fanfiction
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A RWBY Fanfiction
Summary: When Jaune’s forged transcripts were rebuffed, his only option was to return home in disgrace or forge a new life in Vale. Opening a diner was an impetuous decision, being good at it a stroke of luck. Becoming the favourite haunt for students, teachers and criminals alike…? That was neither, but it sure did keep things interesting. Wasn’t the civilian life supposed to be easier?
A Fire Emblem Awakening Fanficion
Summary: In one world, Robin died abandoned by those she thought friends, with the sword of her lover driven into her chest. In another world, a young man with no memories of his past was trusted to guide Ylisse in war. Given a new chance, the broken queen will make sure this young tactician survived, no matter the cost.
A Fire Emblem Awakening x Fire Emblem Fates Crossover Fanfiction
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A FSN Fanfic
Summary: “With swords that aren’t yours, with skills that aren’t yours, for dreams that aren’t yours. Your entire existence is a lie!” – “Then I’ll show you that even fake dreams can become reality.” A different choice, a different path, a different FATE. Shirou/Multi
A Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia Fanfic
Summary: Shanoa emerged from Dracula’s castle a free, yet broken, woman. She returned to Wygol village and the aid of a friend long determined to release her from Ecclesia’s lasting grip, but a dark reminder seared into the warrior’s flesh calls the ire of a vengeful force.
A Young Justice Fanfic
Summary: An SI with an Orange Ring ends up in the Young Justice Universe and seeks to advance humanity through advance technology and magic.