Nemesis Q’s appearance didn’t startle me.
I simply exercised the natural precaution of getting out of the way the moment it appeared, in the event one of the others decided to attack the administrator of this death game. It was justified given how emotional some of them were prone to being. The fact that I just so happened to not take notice of the pebble-sized piece of rubble on the dust-laden floor and ended up falling back into Saegusa was just unfortunate.
It serves to break everyone else out of their shock.
Himuro places herself between it and Saegusa. Her crystals that make up her Burst are already forming. She probably knows attacking it would be fruitless, but a token show of defiance is better than standing there slack-jawed.
Makidera springs forward and closes the distance. With “token” being a word missing from her vocabulary, she simply goes in to kick the one who pulled them into this.
I can attest from a botched sparring session that the snap of her leg can topple a tree while under Rise, so she doesn’t lack the strength to defend herself if she runs across trouble in this trip.
But this is Nemesis Q.
And before it, all PSI is meaningless.
Her entire limb sinks through Nemesis Q without any sign of connecting. There is no sign of displacement via some form of spatial manipulation like with the Student President’s ability. No signs of it simply shrugging off the hit due to immense strength.
Her leg just passes through it and out the other side. She might have braced her leg expecting the impact, but the follow-through leaves her nearly tripping over herself if not for her reflexes kicking in. She manages to jump back in several feet and put up her guard in anticipation of a reprisal…
Nemesis Q merely stands there as its head quirks slowly back and forth with no indication that it noticed she had attempted to break it in half. Left. Right. Up. Behind. The motions remind me of a clockwork bird observing its surroundings with…mechanical… precision…
I can practically hallucinate the sound of gears turning until it clicks in my mind. The only times I’ve seen Nemesis Q has been under three very specific circumstances: when I received my card the first time, when we receive our orders in the future, and when we attempt to break the terms of the contract.
Time and again it has shown itself to be too uncanny for it to be human. No fear of an attack from legs that can shatter centuries-old trees. No sadistic pleasure from forcing the role of soldiers in its war upon us. No consideration or compassion for those under its banner. No sympathy for those who yearn to be free.
But… when you consider that it might be a constructed entity then things make a lot more sense.
Nemesis Q is a tool meant to carry out a specific purpose. It exists to carry out that directive with the necessary resources and is optimized to do so. Its human-like form is simply to interact with other humans—an avatar to carry out its functions.
Then there’s the fact the others have mentioned that only those with cards can see Nemesis Q. The same as how we have a limited form of Clairvoyance to perceive PSI-based abilities. That means that it is most likely some kind of PSI construct as well—Burst or Trance or something in-between.
But if I take into account that a creator of a construct must have the knowledge or ability to bestow the same upon their creation, it brings to mind two questions:
Who could create something capable of shifting souls through time and modifying them to enable the use of psychic abilities?
And why go about things in such a roundabout way to do it if they have that much power?
“This thing is so creepy,” Makidera states after a few more seconds of the construct just standing there craning its head around in angles that were impossible for anything living. The apparent lack of consequences to her actions causes her to lower her guard and relax her stance.
Then she looks back at me and scowls. “Get off of her already!”
The reprimand makes me aware of Saegusa’s tiny body beneath me. The same realization dawns on her as I look down and see her face flushing red. I get back on my feet before things get awkward and give her a moment to rise as well before asking. “Why didn’t you say something?”
She fidgets in place sheepishly while avoiding my eyes “You had that look on your face you get when you start thinking about something deeply. I figured it might be important and I wasn’t hurt or anything, so I didn’t want to interrupt you…”
Makidera scolds her for that line of thinking. “You have to speak up or guys like that will take advantage of you. He can wrack his brain just fine standing up.”
“Enough,” I say before she goes further, in recognition of the known fact it might have been the influence of her powers again. I should probably snap back at the insinuation about my character, but this isn’t the time for that.
That can wait until we’re back where we belong. “Gotou, did you send word to Mitsuzuri?”
His silence to this point ends as he relays her message. “She said not to bother Nemesis Q if isn’t doing anything, and not to leave the building or broadcast with Telepathy. It seems like there’s a lot of Taboo scouting for something or someone, including one that can sense Trance waves, and she doesn’t want to do anything to give us away too soon.”
“Did she spot any other humans? Drifters?”
He takes a moment to relay that question and gives a shake of the head. “Nothing.”
If there’s no one screaming for their lives, then chances are it’s not a recruitment mission to bolster our numbers. Then that makes it a kill mission or some other objective. Considering those dolls and abominations running around searching for something, it might be we’re expected to run some kind of interference or beat them to whatever it is they’re after.
I only have a moment to ruminate on it before Nemesis Q suddenly becomes active. Its clockwork motions give way to defying gravity as it flies into the middle of the room. Then it snaps its fingers and my consciousness is ripped from my body once more.
There’s some disorientation as I suddenly find myself in a room somewhere on the first floor of a building that has a massive hole in the wall, courtesy of a rusted car that crashed through it maybe decades ago. Glancing around the room reveals nothing of importance, but it becomes clear that the location itself is meaningless a moment later. That’s when the stalwart silence becomes broken by soft panting that draws my attention back to the unintended entrance.
A slender figure presses against the gap between the hole and the car. White fabric tears as a figure slips into the dark confines of the room, the slight scrape of metal from the barrel of a gun that looks nearly unblemished pinging against the surface. Obscuring the faint rays of the already dim light that barely offer visibility, it takes a moment before I can get a clear view of who it is.
The first thought that crosses my mind when I see her face is that of a lone flower amidst the ruins of steel, battered by the harsh winds.
It’s probably because of the hair that I take an interest in her. The shade immediately reminds me of Sakura and so I can’t help but fixate on how familiar the sight of it is. The unkempt and ragged appearance, clinging to her sweat-slicked face that was flush from exertion as she struggled for breath…
The visage churns within me an unsightly feeling that’s akin to a coal tar mired in lust, steaming with a sinister hatred and desire. To pluck that lone flower that survived the end of the world and defile it. To leave it forever stained black as it wilts.
And it unsettles me.
The lust I can understand to an extent, even though I haven’t had much of a sex drive since the nightmares began. The hair color and the exhausted state naturally associate themselves with moments of joy and exhilaration that dominating a woman in a bedroom provides in my mind. That’s why I can probably rationalize it as being an acquired taste due to my time with Sakura and Rider.
The hatred is a different story.
I hate her in ways I’ve never hated someone before without any reason. Just seeing her wells up in me the desire to do horrific things to her and revel in it. It takes active effort to not picture stripping her of the white clothes that the Homunculi usually wear and violating her just because it’d be one of the cruelest things I can think of to do.
And I don’t know why that is since I’ve never seen her before.
Emotional attachments are a combination of experience and associations. The stronger the emotion, the stronger the association. The memories of victims and victimizers that haunt my nightmares, and the enjoyment derived from their pain and suffering, are something I can vaguely understand at this point due to how they associate themselves with some meaningful experience.
But she has nothing to rationalize why I hate her to this extent.
If she’s someone who escaped the enemy and has useful information, then she’s a valuable asset that needs to be secured. If she’s associated with the Homunculi and needs to be killed, then her death becomes a means to an end. Unless her name happens to be Einzbern due to the whole rigging the Grail War and demon thing…
But until I know why Nemesis Q brought me to her there should be nothing but cold indifference. So why do I feel such irrational hatred towards her? And why does it feel so right?
I just don’t know why…
At least not until she speaks.
“—ey’ll be here soon, Ries. Then it’ll be over.”
The irrationality becomes clear the instant I hear her soft, broken voice.
It’s almost like a revelation that expels all doubts when I realize that there’s one specific time that irrationality is expected. And it’s the very same logic I imagine drives Emiya to be such a fool, pursuing the ambition that he does. That being… well…
You don’t need a reason to do what you believe is right.
I feel my lips stretching apart into something wicked as I see the one who violated my mind and body for the first time and drink in every detail of her appearance. Even if I didn’t know it consciously at a glance, I must’ve known it was her on some level. Therefore, the hatred I feel is completely natural because my intention is exactly what I promised to do.
I’m going to kill her.
“Drifters—” Nemesis Q speaks as it hovers over her and looks towards me. “—behold she who holds the key to change the future. Receive the knowledge of the Day of Rebirth and ferry it to the past. Thus, breaking the chains binding the future in place.”
I lock eyes with the construct if it has any beneath that mask it bears. I already guessed its intention when I realized it was Atlasia, so I can only assume the stare is meant to be a warning. Is it telling me that my vengeance will not come to pass?
Or perhaps it’s a silent warning to prioritize getting the knowledge before I kill her? It is not human and if we change the future nothing that happens here will matter because. So why should it care if I kill her so long as the mission is completed?
I don’t have an answer as we’re transported back to our simulacrum bodies and—
—I extend the seconds out for as long as possible to come up with a plan before the others start speaking. I have to get on top of this and come up with a method to accomplish everything at once. There are three objectives to start with:
Find Her. Receive Her Knowledge. Kill Her.
Finding her needs to be the priority for obvious reasons. That means I need to do so before both the Homunculi and the others. The rest of the group won’t just stand back and let me kill her, so it has to be me alone who finds her first if I want to get my revenge without them knowing.
The expedient thing to do will be to split up the group to search for her. But there is no way Ayako is going to let any of us wander around alone when we’ve got inexperienced people in the group, so I’ll have to suggest pairs. If I stress the urgency of the situation and make it seem reasonable enough, she shouldn’t have any logical complaints.
Not when Nemesis Q practically dangled the chance to end things once and for all like bait on a hook.
I take a moment to figure out how to divide the group up before moving onto the next issue.
I’ll assume based on her tampering with my head that she has enhanced mental capabilities on par with an eidetic memory. If the Day of Rebirth is truly the point of no return then she probably has every piece of information retained with absolute certainty and clarity. I can rip it out of her mind with the Mind Jack, but if she specializes in Mental Interference she’ll likely have some kind of safeguard.
I’ll have to think of some way around that.
Killing her will also be an issue. I’ll need to find a way to make it look like one of the abominations or homunculi did it, so that none of the others suspect me. I can justify it if necessary by revealing the fact that she had been the one who took over my body and claim self-defense, but considering how creative I intend to be with the right amount of time…
I really would prefer not to deal with the looks that Ayako and Saegusa would give me in the aftermath.
But at least finding her will probably be the simplest part.
I’ve already thought of how to do that.
I just need to put it into action—
—and quickly spool out a Mind Jack that flies straight into Gotou’s head. He winces as it goes in roughly, but I can feel the connection to the Mind Jack that Ayako made. I float my thoughts straight through it to her. ‘Mitsuzuri, we need to split up. Tell me everything you’ve seen so far so I can come up with a plan.’
‘How did you—’
‘Using Gotou’s mind as a router since you’re still too afraid to tether your mind to mine directly. Normally, I wouldn’t go through the effort of doing things this roundabout, but it’s the best compromise I can make given we’re pressed for time.’
‘Shinji, it wasn’t like that.’
‘Maybe not intentionally, but right now isn’t the time to get into that. Just send the information so I can focus on having things planned while you listen through him. That way we can move out by the time you get back, because if Nemesis Q spoke true this is the one chance we’ll have to finally be done with all of this.’
I picture the first time I saw her in this terrible future as I gnaw at the hidden hope buried in her chest to be free of all of this. The hope that she’ll never have to see any other people she knows dying here. The guilt she has for looking into my head and getting a hint of just what lays there and how it put up a wall between us. I use it as a weapon to manipulate her emotions and put pressure on her to get my way.
It’s necessary. I’m doing this for her sake as well. I’ll succeed in getting the information and killing Atlasia, so we can change the future and be done with Nemesis Q’s game.
So that she can just go back to living her life and leave all of this behind, I’ll stomp on whatever buttons of hers I have to.
‘…Fine. There’s some chalk in my bag. Take it and use it to map things out on the floor. I’ll be back in five minutes.’
Her mental voice carries a hint of weakness before the information comes rushing in. The working memory of what she’s seen to this point flows into my mind and reveals the number of the Taboo and Homunculi. I can make out it’s a net being closed in from the composition and formation of their search parties.
They’ve been working from the outside inwards, using Hounds to sniff her out and the Catchers to capture her or anyone else they find. They’re actively destroying the areas they’ve been through so she can’t double back and hide. Time isn’t on our side after all.
I take special note of the creatures in the air that I’ve never seen before. They float in the air via what I’m assuming to be Telekinesis with their bat-like wing membranes outstretched, the combination of which reminds me of a satellite dish hanging low to the surface of the earth. I can only assume these are the ones that can track Trance waves if not in a self-contained system like the Mind Jack.
Then I set to work with outlining the terrain and begin briefing the others once I have enough information. Since Ayako’s still connected to Gotou’s mind but doesn’t object, I take the silence from him as her consent with the plan. I just about finish up explaining things to the three girls right as she returns to our temporary hideout. “—which is why we’ll be moving in pairs of two, with one experienced member going with one inexperienced. The moment any of us find the target, we’ll converge and retrieve them to accomplish the mission.”
The three of them take a moment to process the information. For once, even Makidera’s expression carries the weight of seriousness as she seems to be taking into consideration just how high the stakes are. This is their ticket out of this after all.
Himuro adjusts her glasses before giving me a firm look. “What criteria will determine who we will be partnered with?”
“Capability. You will be going with Gotou to shore up his lack of aptitude in Trance. You have a ranged Burst as well, based on what you demonstrated early. I’m sure you can deal with things like the Hounds and anything he can’t from a distance, right?”
She closes her eyes and nods. “It’ll be done.”
Truthfully, I don’t think he’s gotten over his aversion to killing the Homunculi. He might have, but if he hasn’t we don’t have time to work him into it. That is why I’ll leave that to Himuro.
If she’s true to the words that she uttered that night at the School Gate, she’ll do what needs to be done. If not, he’ll kill them to protect her. And if he doesn’t and she isn’t capable, they’ll die.
It’d be a loss that we could do without. It’d hit both Ayako and Saegusa hard. But I’ve given them every advantage I can, so it’ll be their fault alone if it happens.
I turn to Makidera next. “You’re with me. Just kick what I tell you to and I’ll handle everything else. You can do that much without the others holding your hands, right?”
She scowls and looks like she’s going to say something. But Himuro taps her on the shoulder and shakes her head before she can get a word out. The message carries and she just huffs in silent anger.
“Saegusa, you’ll be with Mitsuzuri. She has no weaknesses and is the most experienced among us, capable of killing anything she can see at any range and protecting you if need be. That will free you up to where you can fulfill the role of being at the center of our wired network.”
I draw six circles on the floor in two pairs of three and tap on the bottom-center circle to indicate her. I run a line between the bottom-center circle to the bottom-left and bottom-right for her connection to the other Trance users. Then I run a line between the Trance-users to the Rise-users.
“You will be connected to myself, Himuro, and Mitsuzuri. Then Himuro and I will run our Mind Jacks to our partners. That way we can remain in communication with each other without risking being overheard and without them expending unnecessary energy trying to do something that doesn’t suit them.”
Saegusa brings her hand to her chin in thought before she asks an innocent question. “Wouldn’t it be better if I ran my own lines to the other two as well? That way we’d all be connected.”
I shake my head. “You’d need to be able to process multiple trains of thought with perfect clarity while remaining aware of your surroundings. Even I can’t handle that kind of parallel processing with so many people—it’s a limitation of the mind. But this formation should work out best for everyone.”
It shores up the weaknesses of our Rise-users by giving them support. It places the center of our network with our best line of defense. And it gets everyone else who could interfere out of my way.
We’ll all get what we want by the time this is over if everything goes well.
“If there are no more questions, let’s get started…”