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Calling Card (Psyren x FSN -Nasuverse): Arc 3 – Chapter 12

Chapter 12

The first thing I notice when I arrive to the future isn’t the chill of the air or the taste on my tongue as it passes by. It isn’t the view of the land from atop the building I’m on.  It’s not even the screams that I can hear in the distance before they’re snuffed out.

The first thing I notice is the difference within me—the power that thrums beneath my skin.

I feel invigorated and alert, every cell in my body carrying a charge of some kind. I feel like I can run a mile without ever getting tired. I feel like I can do anything—an unparalleled adrenaline rush.

“That feeling will pass once your bodies get used to it,” Ayako says without looking at us. Instead, her eyes are further ahead and down below. She’s scanning the surroundings and planning what step to take next. “But right now we don’t have time to waste. Put on your coats, grab your weapons, and leave your bags there.”

…I close my eyes and tighten my fists to squash the excitement beneath my skin and do as she says. The coat feels a bit big, but it stops the cold from biting at my torso through my other clothes. Armed and dressed, I walk over to the edge of the building and stand next to her while Gai does the same.

We’re in a city, or what was once a city. There are various buildings that have been weathered to the point they could no longer stand. Rust ate away at the steel and stone looked like it was eroded. It was a dead city for certain, a rusted skeleton of what it used to be sometime in the past. Yet there was life below, unfolding chaos as distant dots moved on the ground and in the air flying around.

The need to see and hear further makes my brain tremble slightly and my senses abruptly sharpen. Screams of terror, buzzing of wings, lumbering steps, resounding howls, the taste of metal in the air, the distant figures becoming detailed—it call comes so easily that the sudden change overwhelms me utterly.

I screw my eyes shut, clamp my ears closed, and hold my breath while willing the changes to go away. The tingling in my brain stops after a moment. Everything goes back to normal as I feel a hand on my shoulders.

It’s Ayako. “Ease into it next time. If you don’t set a limit then it’ll go for the peak of what you’re capable of before you’re used to it.”

“Got it.” I stand, rubbing my eyes. “I heard human screams, so I guess it’s a recruiting mission.”

“With Catchers, Hounds, Carriers and Crystal Wasps lurking around,” Ayako adds. “They’re carting people off in pods. Those that get too far from the recruitment zone or too close to a tower will be killed by Nemesis Q since they haven’t got a means of defending themselves until they’ve awakened like you two. That means we need to get over there and save who we can.”

Gai looks down. “It’s a long way to the bottom. You’d think it could have dropped us down close to the street.”

The distance means nothing to Ayako as she jumps. Not down, but across into the distance by at least two blocks. She lands on a rooftop without too much trouble and looks back our way.

Gai whistles, impressed, and stares at her in the distance with his eyes squinted. “Think she expects to make that jump?”

I couldn’t help but scoff at the suggestion. I knew I couldn’t make that jump. So I turn around and look to see if there’s a better way down.

That’s when the air around us wavers and congeals into a pair of giant hands like she showed us in the past, only more solid. They grab us. It’s not tight enough to crush us, but it’s a firm grip that leaves me feeling constricted as they lift us through the air. Like that, we’re literally carried for several blocks as she keeps making vast bounds until a scream is close enough to be heard unassisted.

The source is a girl who looks around our age, in the midst of a group of six Hounds and four Catchers. She’s dressed in a school uniform I don’t recognize, screaming her lungs out as a Catcher holds her over one of the pods with tears in her eyes. She isn’t moving or flailing about, so I’m guessing she got caught by the paralyzing scream. It drops her into a larger pod than the one we saw being carried during the last trip, where pained sounds could be heard from other voices within as she lands, and backs away after it closes the top.

Something descends from the sky. It’s as large as a bus, pale white skin with a helmet-shaped shell where its head should be. It lowers itself to the top of the pod, wraps its lower appendages around the container, and then begins to rise into the air with it.

That’s when Ayako stops holding back. As the hands lower us to the ground, she hops off the top of the building she’s perched on and then kicks off the side of it. She disappears from my view at that moment—

KKSHHHH!!

—and then an inhuman shriek bellows from the creature as it collapses over the pod. There’s a gash across its core, courtesy of Ayako. Not only did she deliver a killing blow to it in passing, but she’s also standing in front of one of the Catchers with her naginata punching through its chest and out of the back.

She pulls it out of the side hard enough that the top-half of the Catcher is ripped off in the process and sent askew. Then she aims her crossbow gauntlet towards the Hounds and opens fires. By the time we touch the ground, she’s killed half of the Hounds and the rest of the Taboo have realized they’re under attack.

A surviving Hound howls loud enough to reverberate throughout the area before its life is snuffed out by one of her crossbow bolts, cutting short the signal that still likely reached the other Taboo nearby and called for them to attack us. At the same time, one of the Catchers leaps through the air towards her unprotected back with the same speed that the last one possessed when it floored Gai our first trip.

Before we could shout a warning, she spins around and thrusts the naginata to intercept it mid-fall. Not only did she pierce through its core, but she managed to then pin it to the ground with preternatural strength. Then she used the shaft as a pole to spin around and then deliver a kick to the second one that tried to do the same, sending it crashing through the wall of the half-collapsed building next to us.

“I think she’s got this,” Gai says from next to me. His arms hang to his side with his weapons limply between his fingers.

I can’t help but nod. We really aren’t needed here. Let her handle the fighting while we kick back. As long as we make sure she doesn’t wear herself out too fast and end up like the last time, I think we’ve got this handled…

CRASH!! Of course, then the wall behind us explodes in a spray of stone chunks and dust.

We both turn at the sound to find that the Catcher she launched through the building just punched through the wall behind us. Its arms violently swing back and forth to clear away the stone dust, and it turns towards us. Then it roars and its thick legs began to tense like springs being coiled.

“Aw crrrraaaaaaappppp—” Gai’s words are drawn out as my brain quivers under my PSI-induced Tachy Psyche effect. Time slows to a crawl for me as the Catcher lunges for us, slowly drifting through the air towards us with its arms outstretched to grab us. I use the elongated time to consider my options and then channel that energy to my arms and legs, hastening time as I grab him and then dive out of the way. “—ooph!”

We escape death as it spears through the open space and crashes behind where we were, leading into a roll that carries it further out. I have no doubts now. That would have killed both of us if we were tackled at that speed without being empowered by Rise.

I hurry and get onto my feet and pull out my tanto while Gai hops up and gets into a fighting stance. The Catcher digs its limbs into the concrete with ease to slow itself and then throws itself at us again. Gai intercepts its tackle his body this time and he ends up sliding back from the momentum before he brings his fist down with a battle-cry on its unprotected head.

I don’t know if that thing’s skull is as durable as a human’s. But I do know that its head is half-gone from the blow as it falls to the ground. And it still wasn’t dead.

Even with half its head turned to pulp, the Catcher grasps Gai’s leg from its fallen posture and then rises, overturning him at the ankle like a hanged-man. Then it chambers its arm and swings down in act of revenge.

The only reason he doesn’t have his head crushed by the impact with the ground is that he instinctively guards with his arm before it’s too late. And the only reason his arm isn’t broken into pieces is because his Rise is still in effect. But there was no telling if he could maintain it under pressure.

I lengthen my perception of time to get out of the way as it prepares to try smashing his head into the building this time. Even if he could survive it, we can’t risk him losing any more brain cells since he’s the muscle. I decide on my course of action and, if there was a dial to turn up how super-human I was, then I visualize going from a ‘1’ to ‘5’, sink that power into my arms and legs, and bring the tanto’s blade down.

The first strike cuts through its wiry arm and liberates the idiot before his date with the wall. Then I bring it around again. My blade flows in an arc and cuts through the core this time, with enough force in my arms to tear out a deep gash from which vapor seeped out.

Its life spills out from the core like the sands of a broken hourglass. Perhaps because it’s bigger than a Hound it doesn’t stop functioning as quickly. But it’s dying and it knows it. So with whatever time it has, it makes a final and futile attempt to kill me by bringing its claws around.

My perception of time lengthens for a third time and I see the claws coming for my head, intent on tearing it off my shoulders. I lean forward to get out of the way and thrust the point of the blade into the gash I made to ensure the kill. It goes silent as I pull the blade free and let it finish falling forward, hitting the ground again.

I kick it with my foot just to make sure it’s dead this time. There’s no movement and the body is turning into ashes. It’s dead. I don’t even get the chance to breathe out a sigh of relief when a muffled explosion goes off above our heads and ashes fall like snow. Something had been there—keyword being had.

Ayako stands next to the pod, surrounded by dead Taboo that have begun turning to ashes, lowering her gauntlet after that last shot. “If a Crystal Wasp manages to tag you with one of its projectile needles, you’ll begin to crystallize unless you have some kind of Burst to protect you or have a strong enough Rise to avoid the needle piercing your skin. You’re especially vulnerable to that Shinji, so don’t forget to look up next time.”

She then goes from chiding me to leaping to the top of the pod. She inspects the bulb at the top and then lays a hand on it. It promptly explodes. “That should stop whatever signals it’s putting out to alert the Carriers for a pick-up, so the people inside should be okay right now.”

Gai cracks his knuckles as he approaches and eyes the pod, sizing it up. “I think I can open it up easy enough.”

I shoot the suggestion down before it can gain any traction by pointing out the obvious. “If we have to babysit a bunch of people in the middle of a warzone it’ll slow us down. If they’re safe in there, we can just shove the container as a whole somewhere else and come back for it later.”

Ayako consents, albeit hesitantly. “…We’ll just move them out of sight and then come back for them later. Right now we need to prioritize the people still active and being hunted down.”

[-Break-]

We changed up our dynamics after that first scuffle once we had the basics down. That must’ve been at least an hour or two ago. And in these two hours, I had come further than I had back in our time period in the development of my power.

“We’re close to another group!” Ayako yells from further ahead. She’s faster than us by the sheer virtue of her body being well-trained, even when she conserves her power to avoid running dry. It was under Ayako’s guidance we followed the closest scream in this ruined landscape to attempt to save whoever we could.

Once we see a number of Crystal Wasps heading towards a certain direction, a switch of some kind flips in Ayako’s head mid-step. The moment her foot touches the ground, she’s gone. Muted explosions follow as Taboo start dying and Ayako blitzes forward to deal with any flying Taboo to stop the pod there from being carted off and get rid of the most troubling Taboo.

Those Crystal Wasps were the biggest threats out of all the Taboo we’ve encountered so far, even if they were the easiest to get around. They didn’t have eyes, making it easy to avoid them by standing still, but they can track vibrations in the air and were drawn to the screams. And with a lot of people screaming, they were drawn like moths to a flame.

Taking even a scrape of their stingers means losing a limb at least. And if it hit some place that couldn’t be cut off, it was a death sentence. Some sort of crystalline material forms from the wound and encroaches on the rest of the body, transfiguring flesh into crystal—as demonstrated on one businessman who didn’t stop screaming as he fled from the sight of us fighting, unsure of what was happening and forced to make a judgment call—the wrong one, needless to say.

However, they didn’t seem to have the same impact on the other Taboo. If anything, they seemed to avoid targeting people that were too close to them. Did their cores vibrate at a frequency that stopped them or emit some kind of signal?

Ayako didn’t have an answer for me when I asked. There just wasn’t enough research into it because we couldn’t take these things into the past with us and find someone capable of doing so. But she did agree that it was likely the same way the Carriers managed to find the pods despite lacking eyes because of the bulbs at the top.

As Ayako deals with them, Gai uses his Rise to surpass human limits and leaps into the fray with his fist chambered. The first blow manages to make impact and utterly shatters the body of the Catcher, breaking open the flesh to reveal crystalline-like bones while the core is broken in three large pieces.

I remain careful as I approach due to my limitations. I don’t have the desire to put myself on the line, but I do wish to test the limits of what I’m capable of. Even if I can use Strength-Rise in bursts, that’s still enough.

The assault continues from there. As white bolts leave explosions through the air and inhuman flesh breaks open against iron-backed fists, my cold steel cleaves obsidian cores. In less than a minute the group of Taboo was slain, broken bodies turning to ashes to be scattered by the cold breeze that tasted of metal.

“This is a lot easier than I expected,” I say as I inspect the weapon I borrowed. The blade’s chipped at certain points already. “Though I’m not sure this thing will last too long. I expected it to last longer.”

“They’re easy to kill because they’re not Soldiers,” Ayako says as she destroys the signaling bulb on top of the pod and rests her naginata on her shoulder. “These things aren’t meant to deal with Psychicers and they’re really only a threat if you let your guard down or you’ve exhausted yourself. Likewise, most of the weapons we get our hands on aren’t meant to be used by people as strong as us when we push past normal human limits.”

Gai follows my example checks his as well. I can’t tell how he knows but he frowns as he drops his arms and looks at the pod. “They probably won’t last long enough to save too many people.”

I shrug. “We wouldn’t be able to anyway. There are simply too many people being dropped in all over the city. And there are too many Taboo for us get to them all in time.”

So far we only managed to save a measly two more pods worth of people and five stragglers who were lucky enough to survive while being unlucky enough to see the people around them die. Realistically speaking, most of the people here were screwed. It’s a fact, unfair as it was.

But because he didn’t accept that as a fact, Gai suggests the worst thing he possibly could. “What if we split up? Mitsuzuri can get to the high-ground and use that to spot distant people and snipe Taboo, while we cover the ground and go in for the rescue.”

I am not splitting up here of all places, so I start listing off all the reasons it’s a bad idea. “We wouldn’t be able to remain in contact efficiently. Telepathy degrades over distances and there’s a delay. Plus, your Trance still sucks on sending out thoughts. Not to mention if she’s also shooting off her Burst, she’ll run out of energy quicker and it’ll possibly end up like last time.”

Ayako looks down at the ground as she listens. Then her head shoots up as if inspiration has struck her. “Shinji, what about that thing Issei said you were working on in our time? Couldn’t that work?”

Damn. I was hoping they wouldn’t remember that. “I haven’t tested it here, but I did manage to work out the basics.”

“But if it does work, can you link us together?”

Theoretically,” I admit. “I haven’t tested it on another Psychicer yet and I’d have to link them to me, but if you do the same thing you normally do to send out your thoughts through it and send them to me it might be possible.”

“Then let’s do it. There’s no better place than this time period and I don’t hear or see anything that could threaten us.”

Okay, I didn’t want to do this. But if I’m going to stop this from happening, I’m going to have to play my hand. “I originally developed it to read minds and yours would be an open book to me. Are you really comfortable with me have that sort of power over you?”

Having someone who can read your mind and ferret your innermost secrets is terrifying. I’d kill to hide all the things I’ve done to this point—to her, to Sakura, and to Emiya. I’m willing to die before I speak of them, so it should give me an out and stop the idiot’s suggestion from gaining further ground…

“I trust you not to do that.”

Then she says seven words that takes the fight out of me… mostly because I’m staring at her with the same ‘are you an idiot’ look I give Emiya on occasion. “You’re serious?”

She smiles wryly, as though to reassure me. “I’ll admit the old you might take advantage of that sort of thing, but not in this sort of situation. And if it can help us save even a few more people, it’d be worth it.”

…Damn, when she says it like that it reminds me of that visit in the hospital. “Tch.

“And she could probably make you suffer for it,” the idiot ‘helpfully’ chimes in.

I glare at him. “I’ll do it already, so don’t say things that don’t need to be said while I concentrate. It’s hard enough with all the distant screaming.”

He mimes zipping his lips and then keeps them shut. Good. Here we go then.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I visualize the cord to contain the thoughts, the connection to isolate them from the atmosphere. The image is clear in my mind. Good.

Exhale. Now for the tip, the connecting point—a jack to plug into their minds and link it to mine. The image takes shape in my head. Good.

Inhale. The origin point from where it stems. It has to be my own mind, the base of my skull at the brain stem. The image is perfect. Good.

Exhale. Last are the rules of how it works and why. I shouldn’t need to micromanage everything if I’m going to be doing this while playing search and rescue.

Inhale. Rule #1: Trance energy and effort is needed to pass through it for sending thoughts. That way there are no mind-reading accidents.

Exhale. Rule #2: They’ll be able to send their thoughts to me and receive thoughts I willingly send. But they won’t be able to pull at thoughts from me. I refuse to budge on that.

Inhale. Rule #3: The cord extends based on the distance. Trance shouldn’t encounter any interference from physical objects, so that should prevent it from needing to be excessively long and save me from expending excess energy.

Exhale. Three iron-clad rules are set into place and woven into the creation process as I will the constructs into existence. The energy permeating me is roused, heating up, boiling in my brain as the power tries to meet the criteria I set. I feel something emerging from the base of my skull, a strange sensation like thread being pulled from a spool slowly.

I open my eyes and look over my shoulders. Two argent, phantasmal cords with jacks on their end hang in the air behind me. I will them to move, putting effort and energy into them. They do as commanded. “Okay, I think I got it. You ready?”

Rather than saying anything, Ayako turns her back to me. Then unzips her shirt just enough so she can lower the collar and expose the nape of her neck. Her skin is somewhat glistening with sweat from the exertion to this point.

I focus on that spot and visualize a jack moving slowly towards it carefully, inching closer and closer. The tip meets her skin and I hesitate for a moment. Then I swallow and thrust it in slowly.

She tenses up as it sinks in and she rubs the spot tenderly with her fingers. The digits go through the cord and jack as if it wasn’t even there.

I feel the connection between us. Her mind and mine are connected now. I send a test message. ‘Does it hurt?

She holds her head and leans forward, wincing. “Go a bit easier there. If felt like you were yelling inside my skull.”

Damn, did I put too much energy into it that time? I carefully wrap my thoughts up in as gentle a tone as I can, using as little energy as I can. ‘Sorry! I was nervous and overshot. Does it hurt where we’re connected?

It does just feel a little strange, but that’s probably just because it’s our first time doing this. ’ She turns her head and nods. ‘I’ll get used to it.

I breathe easier at that and relax. I didn’t want to hurt her, so I feel a little more confident about going on when she puts it that way. ‘Try moving a little to make sure it doesn’t come out.

She moves forward a few steps. Then she jumps up and down a bit. ‘No problems so far.

Try jumping up on top of a building as fast as you can.

She looks up at the nearest building, a husk of what should have been an office from the design. In a blink she disappears. ‘Can you still hear me?

Yeah, and I can still feel us connected. ’ The cord is extending on its own like it should, more thread unraveling from the spool of energy within me. ‘I think it’ll do.

Good job for your first PSI creation. ’ Ayako messages before she lands in front of me. It’s then I take notice of the narrow view of her pink undershirt with a rather childish-looking teddy bear design, contrasting the fact that her bra’s outline could be faintly seen due to the sweat clinging to it.

I turn away and carefully word my next message. ‘You can zip your shirt up now. Your collar won’t get in the way.

Ayako looks down and notices the view she’s giving me. She zips up and then crosses her arms as she glares at me. ‘Really, Shinji?  

Okay, I see what she meant by yelling. I suck in a sharp breath and hold my hands up to pacify her before she explodes in volume or worse. ‘I didn’t tell you to zip it down. I was just pointing it out.

This jacket holds insulation really well and using Rise heats up the body a lot, so I can overheat if I wear a thicker shirt. I keep those in the backpack until I need them.

I’m not judging. ’ I honestly didn’t expect pink tone or the teddy bear design from her though. ‘You don’t have be so defensive.

“Um—” The third voice reminds us that Gai is still here. “—is it my turn now?”

…Right, I forgot about him. Since it seems to be working, and this is his fault to begin with, I don’t need to go so slow or be so gentle. So I just have the jack thrust into the base of his skull all at once.

“Ow!” He swats at the spot where the jack connected like an insect bit him there. “That stung.”

I float a thought his way to test the connection. ‘The first time is the most painful. You’ll get used to it; just try not to use too much energy when you send your thoughts. It’ll be like screaming inside my head otherwise.

Got it. ’ He looks out towards the distance. ‘Should we get started then, huh?

His words shatter the little bubble we had lost ourselves in at that moment, sobering us up to the situation at hand once more. We had tested the Mind Jacks for a reason and they worked, so there were no more delays. Back to search and rescue it was then.

 

 


Calling Card (Psyren x FSN -Nasuverse): Arc 1 – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The moment I touch it and feel the glossy texture covering the surface, I can’t deny it’s real. The dream had been real. That… white-thing and its words were real. What did I get myself into?

I pick up the card and turn it over, expecting to see the same number as before. Instead, there’s a list of rules to follow:

1.) Those that possess this card and traverse time are known as “Drifters”.

2.) Those that still have a value on their card are known as “Active Drifters”. It is best for Active Drifters to keep their cards on them at all times.

3.) Active Drifters are required to respond in a set amount of time if they hear the ringing in their heads. The intensity determines the urgency, and failure to respond in time will lead to death.

4.) Active Drifters that die in the future have their bodies die in the present.

5.) Drifters that attempt to speak of matters directly related to their mission to non-Drifters will be judged by Nemesis Q to deem if they are allowed to. Any further attempt after the initial warning will be considered a violation and lead to instant death.

6.) Drifters are still bound by the rules, even if their value is used up.

7.) Rules may be changed over the course of time.

Who came up with these rules? How is it even possible to travel through time?

Damn it, I need to get this to Emiya. But if it was a violation of the rules then would I really die? Maybe I can just slip it into his bag at school? Before I can think on it further, a soft rapping noise comes from the door.

A softer voice follows. “Nii-san, are you awake?”

“Yeah.” I put the card under my pillow as Sakura takes that as a cue to stick her head inside of the room. I see she’s dressed to go to Emiya’s place already. “You’re heading to that idiot’s place this morning?”

She nods. Good. Then I can give her the card to hand to that idiot and have her tell him to look it over carefully.

I reach under the pillow to pull out the card. But the moment the words begin to come out of my mouth, my mind and body freezes in terror. The thing-in-white is standing there now, right in front of my eyes, like a semi-transparent ghost.

“Nii-san?” Sakura’s head tilts as she looks at me. “Are you okay?”

It’s standing right in front of her, yet she doesn’t notice it. Can she not see it?

The white-thing raises a finger. It waves it back and forth. Then the barbed wires around my brain and heart shift, digging the points that had settled into place deeper into them.

Nnnghhh!” I release the card to hold my hands over my head and heart, fingers digging into them as though to pull out the wires. They’re hurting me in warning, telling me that death is the result of what I plan on doing.

Sakura enters the room and stops by my side at the sight of my pained face as they tighten further. “Nii-san, are you okay?”

I lie to her. “…I’m fine. It’s just heartburn from the restaurant.”

The white-thing lowers its finger. The pain stops. Then it vanishes, its message delivered well-enough.

I breathe easier once it disappears. But my fear remains. How did it get into my room? Didn’t the Old Worm have some protections into place around the manor?

Sakura reaches out and touches my head, feeling the sweat that dotted it from the fear.

I brush her hand away. I couldn’t be sure if it judged giving her the card, speaking to her about the card, or having her deliver the card was a violation, but it’s safe to say that those options are off the table. She’s useless to me here. “I’m fine. Just leave me alone and go to that idiot’s place.”

Sakura looks like she wants to say something again, but falters when our eyes meet. She merely nods silently and then walks out of the room. The door closes softly behind her.

The hurt look on her face at the end makes my stomach churn, like I’ve kicked a puppy. But I have to be careful, even if it means not putting up with her misplaced gratitude. I can’t go into this blindly. I don’t want to die for someone else’s sake like this after everything—especially not because I decided to try and help someone else for once.

…I need to find Ayako. She has to be a Drifter since she has a card as well. She’s the only person I can be certain has one, so I need to find her and have her explain everything to me.

******

Ayako isn’t on the school grounds by the time the morning session of the Archery Club is about to end. Not only that, but the Student President isn’t here either. The card feels heavy in my pocket when I think on how the connection couldn’t be more blatant.

Then Ayako’s brother forcefully opens the door to the Club Captain’s room. He’s still in his school clothes, so I assume he just arrived. Without any preamble, he marches over, grabs me by my lapels, and shoves me into a wall.

The impact causes several of the pictures and certificates to fall to the ground as he yells, “Where’s my sister!”

“That’s what I want to know!”I try to push him, but apparently monstrous strength runs in their family. “What are you blaming me for!?”

“She didn’t say a word when we went home last night because of whatever you said to her. Then she was gone by the time I woke up. What did you tell her?”

“Nothing that would have done that,” I tell him. “Now let me go!”

He doesn’t. Instead, he pushes me against the wall even harder and the back of my head feels the sting of it. That’s when a firm hand grasps his right wrist and pulls it away from me.

It’s Emiya. He’s standing there in his school uniform, with Sakura in the doorway. He must’ve been coming to see her (or she told him about this morning) when the commotion caught his ears, and now he’s playing the hero always. Not that I’m complaining this time.

“That’s enough,” he says. “Picking a fight based on assumptions doesn’t solve anything.”

Ayako’s brother lets me go in order to pull himself free of Emiya. He doesn’t get free even with both hands. Not until Emiya willingly loosens his grip of steel.

Then Sakura steps just past the frame of the door. She still has that look on her face from this morning, but this time it’s directed towards him. He looks away from her and then storms out of the range itself.

I rub the back of my head. “Honestly, he just comes in and blames me for it without any proof….”

Shinji.” I turn my attention towards Emiya when I hear the undertone of sharpness in his voice. The last time I heard it was months ago, but I remember it as clearly as I do the piercing look he’s giving me now. “Do you know what’s happened to her?”

I catch the underlying inquiry. He’s not asking ‘Do you know what’s happened?’ but ‘Did you do something to her?’ instead. I should’ve expected that much.

My teeth grit as fire rises in my chest. “I don’t! The talk I had with her was about her slacking off in getting Sakura into shape to take over the club. She said that she was going to talk about it with Fujimura today before she ran out. That’s all!”

His eyes make it clear that he doubts me, despite being someone who usually believes whatever he’s told. He remembers what happens with Rider and the lie I told him back then about Ayako. But he doesn’t say anything with Sakura there. He still believes that she’s not involved in this side of the world.

I temper the fire inside my chest, speaking softer this time.  “It’s the truth… I wouldn’t do anything to her after she visited me in the hospital. I’ve been different since then. You’ve seen that much, haven’t you?”

I can tell he wants to believe it when his expression softens slightly. But doubt is still there. The past doesn’t go away. Whether or not he’s forgiven me for what I did back then, he hasn’t forgotten it.

He puts his hands into his pockets. “Just to be safe, I’ll ask Fuji-nee if she’s heard from her, or if her parents have called in her absence. If she has gone missing, we should start looking into it. Keep an ear out in case you hear something.”

I struggle not to pull out the card in my pocket and hand it over as he turns to leave. This is the perfect chance, but I remember the pain and warning a few hours ago. I can’t tell him about the card, the white-thing, or the message I heard….

But, if I recall what the rules on the card were, then I might be able to give him something else to work with. “Try asking the Student President.”

He turns back to me at that.

“The Student President might know something,” I explain, crossing my arms. “He’s been hanging out with her in their free time from what I’ve learned, which is a bit off since he shies away from women. I was going to ask him if he knew why she was so tired all the time myself today, but he hasn’t shown himself. When you consider he’s normally one of the first ones through the gate in the morning, and the fact that they’re both missing at the same time….”

Emiya regards me for a moment. Then he nods in silent agreement before heading back out of the range. He’d look into that much.

That left me alone with Sakura like this morning. Only this time the white-thing doesn’t appear to finish what it started. It looks like my guess is on the money. It’ll only appear when directly related to the matter of the cards and the future.

I notice Sakura staring at me for a moment. Did she doubt me too now? It wouldn’t surprise me. She’s been the main victim when I was at my absolute worst. There’d be something wrong with her if she didn’t have doubts.

“I’m trying to be different, Sakura,” I tell her. “I won’t go back to how I was. Not to you or him or Ayako. I promise.”

Her eyes soften, and a small smile forms across her face. “I know, Nii-san.”

That’s when my head starts ringing.

No. Ringing is too soft a word. It’s more like a piercing shriek that drags the tip of a dagger across my brain.

The point digs into the brain matter, radiating pain instead of blood. It takes away my breath, takes away the ground, and leaves me staggering as the world tilts beneath me.

Sakura reaches over to catch me. “Nii-san!?”

I break her hold on me and lean against the wall. At least I think it’s the wall—no, I’ve slid down the wall. I’m on the floor, barely upright with my back against the vertical surface as Sakura looks down at me.

My eyes catch crimson staining her outfit where my head had been briefly. I reach up to feel something wet coming down from my nose. Blood stains my fingers when I pull back.

The sound intensifies again. A cry feels like it escapes my mouth. Sakura’s mouth moves as well, but no words can be heard over the noise.

I can’t think straight like this. It feels like if the pain gets any worse my brain will explode too. I need make the call or else I’ll die, but I can’t with Sakura here.

I feel my mouth move and hope that I’ve told her to go get the nurse. She looks uncertain for a moment. Then she gathers herself and runs out the club room to do so. Good. That buys me a few minutes.

I pull out my phone. The number is still saved in the Contact’s list, so I have to assume that’s the one to call. Before my brain splits open from the pain, I press the Call button when the Psyren number is highlighted.

The white-thing abruptly appears in front of me. It leans down like a bird scouring the ground for a worm, peering at my downed form with its head craned. Almost like it’s judging me. Its head nods and it reaches down and digs its talons into my brain—into my soul.

Then it pulls.

The ringing stops. My head clears. My eyes stare up at the ashen, cloud-covered sky.

So this is the future.