Life was miserable. It had gone straight to hell since that disaster of a Grail War. He’d never have another chance to prove himself ever again. And worse yet, it had never even been possible in the first place!
Not that Shinji cared anymore. It was much easier to just trudge through life without any expectations.
The problem was that he’d been set up! Played by his grandfather, by that phony priest, even that bastard of a Servant!
And the worst? The ultimate sleight against him? When Gilgamesh had stuck that…thing into him, the person who had saved him was Tohsaka! The girl who had repeatedly made a fool of him had actually risked her life to save his.
What kind of idiot does that?
He still couldn’t figure it out.
Even after that ordeal ended, it was Sakura who had stayed at his bedside in the hospital to help him recover. After everything he’d done to her.
Who were these people? What kind of idiots didn’t hold onto grudges against a person who had clearly had it coming? He wasn’t stupid; he knew he was asking for it at the time! He thought he was going to win! There weren’t going to be any consequences for his actions, no matter who got hurt! But of course things went sideways. Nothing in his goddamn life worked out in his favor!
And then the whole thing came to an end in the worst possible way, the Grail proven to be something out of Lovecraft, most certainly incapable of granting wishes. Probably. He wouldn’t know. He was very busy dying at the time. Now, of course, he just had a crapton of nightmares in which he relived the event over and over again almost every other night.
And of course, everyone treated him as though he was some sort of victim. He was sick of it! Sick of being powerless, sick of being a Matou, and most of all, sick of being pitied by everyone!
After getting out of the hospital, he made a silent promise to himself never to so much as look at magic again.
Right. How many hours would it be until that promise was broken into a million pieces.
Sakura’s school life was… questionably better ever since the Holy Grail war. Shinji wasn’t as mean as he used to be, and she was trying to show more confidence in social situations. As a rule though, one thing did bother her terribly. Scratch that; there weren’t actually any words in any language she was familiar with that could accurately describe just how much it irked her.
Specifically, it was her former sister’s relationship with Shirou Emiya. Granted, Shirou was opening up a tiny bit more, which was a plus, but now she had to deal with the threat of Tohsaka occasionally coming over for dinner in the evenings. This normally would happen in the evening on days the Archery Club was meeting up after school, but Sakura still came over after that, which resulted in an extremely awkward situation in which they would both do their best to pretend the other wasn’t there. When they did speak, they would avoid the subject begging to be addressed, and in fact, limited their interaction to small talk. Something about Rin’s temperament seemed…off…however. Like something was bothering her. Sakura couldn’t imagine what could possibly be upsetting her though, with her perfect life, and her perfect army of admirers, and her perfect boyfriend-her-sister-had-been-trying-to-impress-ever-since-she-met-him! What had Rin ever done that was so special?! Other than live in her parasite-free home with a family that loved her? No… she knew it wasn’t fair to say that, but arrgghh! It was so, so frustrating!
Every time she slipped into this train of thought, she ended up feeling incredibly lonely. A longing for the boy she loved, and a hollowness that only her older sister could fill. Yet, neither of those people could do anything for her anymore. She would leave shortly after her mood soured, not wanting Shirou to see a side of her that he wouldn’t like. She continued going over to his house, and she continued smiling, but it never felt quite right anymore.
It wasn’t fair.
The thought that Rin might have been a tiny bit ashamed by the prospect of facing her never even crossed her mind.
That year, in an uncharacteristic storm of initiative, Shinji decided to make sure that his post-secondary education started as soon as possible after high school ended, though it had still been another full year away.
Emiya had actually congratulated him for planning his future in advance, but was promptly told off by Tohsaka. Much to Shinji’s irritation, she never called him by his name anymore. First or last. Instead, she had taken to calling him ‘the weasel,’ even in front of teachers, which, if he was being honest with himself, would have been gut bustingly hilarious if she had been referring to anyone else! But nope, she was a huge bitch as per the usual.
And he hadn’t missed the fact that she was spending no small amount of time with Emiya. Of course, everyone had noticed that; she was the school idol after all. The fact that she was unofficially going out with Homurahara Academy’s fake janitor was beyond the pale in the student body’s collective opinion, causing most of the school to look upon her relationship and the object of her fancy, either in awe or jealousy. However, despite the habit she had recently developed of grabbing Emiya out of his seat every other day at lunch break and taking him up to the roof, she was very adamant in completely denying they were in a relationship. This went on, right up until their year’s last day, at which point she spilled, as though it were some big secret. She almost certainly knew it wasn’t, and was just going public with it to be obnoxious.
This did give him an opportunity to see the look of complete loathing on the student council president’s face though. It was hysterical to look at. He’d suspected that Ryuudo batted for the other team and had a thing for Emiya for a while now. Funny or not, it was still old news.
As he looked over university options, he began to take a liking to computers. He already liked video games and this was a natural step up from that, though it would involve a fair bit of work. Also, he wanted to take something at the very opposite end of the gap between mystical and mundane, even if only to spite magecraft. So once he passed his tests, he applied for courses in computer science and webpage development. Things that would make mages want to stay as far away from him as possible. Possibly even make a few particularly technologically inept run away screaming in terror.
That was probably wishful thinking, but whatever the case, a lot of mages didn’t even know how to use computers in the first place!
Unfortunately, it was too much to hope for that school would end uneventfully. Though he hadn’t realized it at the time, he probably had been too obvious about how much he wanted to distance himself from magecraft, because early on that year, his grandfather called him to the worm pit. When he reached the lower landing, the ancient wormridden freak was waiting for him. He said only three words:
“Please, step inside.”
Shinji was suspicious, but he was sure that his grandfather was still able to use him, so why would he do anything to cause him harm? On the one hand, after everything Zouken had said about him, this was more than a little strange. On the other hand, he was already down in the pit, it wasn’t like he could run away at that point.
He knew it was stupid. He knew it was reckless. But he found he couldn’t ignore the opportunity to become a mage. He had to take it. It was a calculated risk. And he was getting good at math, so—
He calculated wrong, and he quickly realized this after reaching the bottom. He most certainly wasn’t being implanted with crest worms. He was just being offered up as a snack for the decrepit old freak’s pets. In retrospect, it seemed terribly predictable.
No matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t actually capable of dislodging the crest worms. Thousands, possibly millions of razor sharp teeth had started chewing on him. Everywhere. He didn’t remember screaming, but he probably had been making a lot of noise, because the next thing he knew, he was back in the hospital, with Sakura once again sitting at his bedside.
“What were you thinking!” she demanded, “Of course grandfather would let you into the pit! He couldn’t use you anymore, so it’s just expected that he’d just eat you for your mana!”
“How was I supposed to know he’d—”
“Because you’ve watched what he’s done to me!”
“Shut the hell up! How was I supposed to know that he’d throw me away on a whim? He never throws away a pawn!”
“But you aren’t his pawn anymore! You haven’t been his pawn in years! All you are to him now is dead weight! You should have known better than to go down there in the first place!”
“Where the hell could I go instead? He’s fricking everywhere in this goddamn city!”
“Anywhere! Are you trying to get yourself killed! Next time I should just leave you to whatever fate has in store for you! I’m in trouble now anyway.”
He had never actually seen Sakura get angry before. She always backed down. She never stood up for herself, so what the hell was this?
“Dead weight am I?” he snarled. Pushing himself upright and nearly getting off the hospital bed. “I’ll show you who’s—” he got cut off as a strangled gasp worked its way out of his throat. He looked down to see that most of his body was covered in bandages. Putting pressure on anything hurt like hell.
“I… gah! What… what the hell is this?!”
“Well, unless you’re me, getting eaten by grandfather’s worms kills you.”
“First that fucking Grail War, now this.”
The room fell silent.
“Just… don’t scare me like that,” she said, her voice monotone. She stood up and walked out of the room leaving him by himself.
And for the first time, Shinji didn’t feel like she pitied him. But what he thought she felt really didn’t make him feel better. It was over a month before he actually asked her why she’d rescued him.
A few days after he got out of the hospital again, they were back to their high school routine. She had just gone back to her usual pathetically timid self for the most part, but considering Ayako was training her to be the next captain of the Archery Club, she was actually growing bolder. And not insignificantly. She was talking to other people without nearly as much difficulty as she had the year before. In a weird and kind of unpleasant sort of way, he was actually kind of proud of her. Suffice to say that after getting out of the hospital, he wasn’t physically abusing her anymore, though he still occasionally smacked her if she did something incredibly stupid, like suggesting he join her for breakfast at Emiya’s house during one of her uncommon (and somewhat disturbing) upbeat moments, but if anything, he had actually gotten a fair bit tamer since the Grail War. He decided it probably made sense considering that Sakura was the only one to visit him more than once while he was in the hospital, but it was still an unexpected change in his personality, and that bothered him. One day, without actually thinking about it, he just asked why she’d bothered to pull him out of the pit.
“You’re my big brother.”
She didn’t say anything else. Neither did he. How the hell was he even supposed to respond to that? And after he had made a point of making life miserable for her? This girl was insane!
At least his grandfather wasn’t actively trying to kill him. Hoo-fuckin’-rah. Apparently, Zouken was still interested in keeping up appearances. He was even still head of the parent-teacher association. Shinji and Sakura were always quietly horrified each time there was a PTA meeting. It’s not even that he did anything unseemly there; in fact, according to Miss Fujimura, aside from the weird smell, he seemed like the perfect grandparent. Which somehow only made the whole affair that much creepier.
Shinji’s recovery was timely enough that he was able to catch up with the rest of his class before exams started. By the time his year graduated, he was ready to start looking for ways to advance his new mage-repellent lifestyle. And for a change, things appeared to be working out for him. It seemed like his luck was finally beginning to turn.
The day that Tohsaka left Japan with Emiya was positively traumatic for his sister. She had known it was coming. She knew that her genius sister was going to London to study magecraft at the Clock Tower, or whatever it was called. She had put up a brave face for them the day before the two mages left, but the minute the plane left the ground, Sakura’s mood plunged below sea level. Every day it was either, “Why does she always, always get everything?!” or, “Why did Senpai have to go with her?!” or some other rhetorical question that frequently started with ‘why.’
Tohsaka’s departure also meant that as the only person with any direct connection to the Tohsaka family left in Fuyuki, Rin had thrust the role of Second Owner upon her sister, who couldn’t protect the city from so much as a flea because using magecraft would cause her pain the likes of which Tohsaka probably couldn’t even imagine.
Sakura bemoaned her woes to him constantly when he was around. It was almost intolerable—no, scratch that—it was well past intolerable! She grew more high strung than a tenement clothesline.
Eventually though, Sakura began to notice that something about the way she was acting wasn’t quite right, to say the least, and without even talking to Shinji about it, she had gone to a pharmacy and had decided to try getting a prescription for anti-anxiety medication.
It was behind the counter, so she had to meet with with the pharmacist, however, and that led to its own issues. She had to get a doctor’s note if she was going to be prescribed anything, but she had never seen a doctor in her life! After another day of searching for someone, she made an appointment to meet with with a psychologist yet another day later. The whole affair was proving to be quite stressful in its own right.
The meeting lasted a little over an hour, and after an unsteady conversation which Sakura was terrified would delve into dangerous territory, the woman told her that she had no psychological disorders as far as she could tell from just one session, but was unquestionably under an inordinate amount of stress. When Sakura asked if there was anything she could take to help with that, the doctor said that the most helpful thing to do would be to have a few more sessions to talk about her problems, but the suggestion was politely declined. Unless the woman was secretly a very atypical mage who was in the business of helping other mages, there weren’t very many problems she could talk about. Though the psychiatrist was disappointed, she nevertheless prescribed Sakura with something she couldn’t pronounce, and sent her on her way. But she had been courteous enough about it, and certainly was careful about choosing the medication she was putting her on.
When she returned to the drug store that afternoon, she was met by the same pharmacist as before and was politely given a container of surprisingly expensive tablets. There were very, very few good things about the Matou family, the last of them having died over ten years ago, but at least the family fortune could do her some good once in a while.
The instructions on the bottle said the pills were to be taken once every morning. She was disappointed that nothing changed. Although after a week, Shinji stopped nagging her to stop whining about how much her life sucked.
The new school term started, and as Sakura began her final year of high school, Shinji started his technologically oriented university courses.
He discovered early on that Ayako was going to the same school as him, but only for one class, and it wasn’t one she shared with him, though it was in the same building. For the most part, she was going to a college two cities over in Mifune on a sports scholarship. Strangely enough, she was taking courses in the fields of business and management. Seemed out of character for her, but why bother asking, right? He didn’t want her to talk his ear off. That said, it couldn’t always be avoided. And mistakes happened.
“Why exactly are you still living here though?” he asked once, “Wouldn’t it be, I dunno, a lot more convenient to stay in Mifune if you’re going to university there?”
“In case you’ve forgotten, I’ve also got a class here. Besides, I’m sure not paying for student housing. Not everyone’s from an extravagantly wealthy family like you are, Matou.”
His only response to that was a roll of his eyes and a shrug, which she summarily ignored.
“Come to think of it,” she remembered, “I thought you couldn’t stand Fuyuki. I mean, every time I saw you before high school ended, you always seemed really uncomfortable.”
“You are so far off the mark there, that it’d be hilarious if it weren’t just as annoying,” and one hell of a relief. “But believe me, if I could ditch this craphouse of a city, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
“Huh… I see. So I take it you’re sticking around for the long haul?”
“Yes, sad to say.”
“In that case, if you aren’t too busy, I just bought a new game system. Nothing new, but the price was unbeatable—”
“Mitsuzuri suddenly realized she had betrayed her real reason for being stingy in regards to student housing,” Shinji sneered as he narrated his fictitious take on her statement, “and she—”
“Oh, shut up, you moron,” she rolled her eyes. “So, you in?”
“You really don’t let anything get to you, do you?”
“You have no idea,” she smirked back at him with the kind of cockiness that he wished he still had.
“Sure, why not. I’m bored of reading through manuals anyway.”
Ayako’s face brightened.
“Well, that’s a surprise. Thanks for the assist.”
“I’m agreeing to play video games with you. It’s not like I’m doing anything.”
“Trust me, you really are.”
“Why do I suddenly feel like I’m about to start a losing streak with a ratio of a hundred percent?” he grumbled.
Zouken had seemed somewhat disdainful toward the laptop computer Shinji had bought for his university career. No surprise there, but as far as he was concerned, his grandfather could have whatever opinion he wanted about technology as long as old freak wasn’t setting the worms on him again. Though it was for that exact reason that he was worried by his grandfather’s refusal to let him live in student housing. Even more worrying was that everything he owned was bought with money from the Matou coffers. And that included his tuition. The only thing it would take for all of that to go away was a whim on the part of his grandfather.
He stopped using his computer at home. Not coincidentally, he started seeing Ayako around a fair bit more.
As the year progressed, Shinji decided that things were far too good to be true, if he was being honest with himself. He wasn’t afraid for his life, Sakura’s demeanour was (gradually) improving, and not only did he enjoy the majority of his courses, but he was coming to realize that he was actually good at this programming stuff. Ugh, he was probably going to have to thank Ayako for pushing him to keep up with his work in high school whenever he started losing his momentum. That wouldn’t be fun. But the courses were, meaning that he could now
- a. Not work hard,
- b. Get good grades anyway, and
- c. Wait for the goddamn penny to drop, as he knew it would. This couldn’t possibly last. It was way too good to be happening for him, of all people.
Well, he supposed that he was working hard in a sense, but he was enjoying himself for the most part. Did he really have to think of it as work?
Maybe if he did, he could throw Murphy’s Laws of Causality off by a bit. But it wasn’t likely.
But the year trudged by, and still nothing happened to him. No being devoured by worms, no looming threat of death, no gigantic eldritch horrors using him as a host—and he was still having nightmares about that—just daily life. Almost like he were the kind of normal person who didn’t live in the House of Perpetual Worm Horrors.
It was around this time that Sakura began receiving letters from her sister. They had been sent to Fuyuki using Miss Fujimura as a proxy. Rin’s excuse was that all her previous letters had been returned to her. He had to admit, that bitch had thought this through. After all, if the letters had been sent to their house, they would likely have either been destroyed immediately upon arrival, or worse, there would have been some sort of punishment for both him and his sister.
He had expected Sakura to be happy to hear from her sister, but it turned out he was wrong about that too.
“Why now?” she asked, waving the thickly filled envelope at Shinji. “Why didn’t she ever try speak with me when she was still here?”
Shinji wasn’t the type to be sympathetic, and his only response was a sighed, “Take a guess.”
She had to admit that she could easily guess what the problem had been, and it was lurking in their basement as well as everywhere she went. She nodded, but it looked like the thought only made her feel worse.
Now, Shinji wasn’t sympathetic, but he also happened to remember a rather unpleasant conversation he’d had with Tohsaka before the Grail War. This stray thought led him to an idea.
“I’m sure you remember Tohsaka dropped by the Archery dojo quite a bit. I mean, she tried to hide from everyone, but she still was watching someone practice. She wasn’t watching me, because she hates my guts—her loss—and she hung around after Emiya quit the club too,” he paused, giving her some time to process this information, hoping she could see where he was going with this and that he wouldn’t have to spell it out. “So what do you think she was doing wasting her afternoons watching a bunch of kids shooting targets over and over again?”
“Why are you asking me?” she asked sullenly, “You sound like you already know.”
He heaved out another sigh. So she was going to make him spell it out for her.
“Look, I can’t say anything for sure, but she was probably watching you.”
“If she was, then why didn’t she ever say anything?”
“You were told that you weren’t allowed to think of her as your sister in the first place, right? So maybe she was too. In her own way, her creepy little spying act might have been her way of looking out for you. And for the record, I once noticed her following me home one evening. Well, actually I saw someone in a long red jacket, they were too far away to make out, but it could have been her.
The corner of his mouth twisted upward into a sneer.
“Maybe she was just scared of what you’d think of her, or didn’t know what she would say. If your reaction just now is anything to go off of, she might have been right.”
“But really, what would she have said? ‘Hi, Sakura it’s me, Rin, your estranged sister who hasn’t bothered to talk to you in god knows how many years, just thought I’d drop by to say hello.’ “ He continued snickering. “It’s funny because I can imagine her saying that, if only sarcastically.”
Sakura just huffed at his remark and tossed the letter onto a sideboard.
“W-Well if she really was scared that’s just fine with me, because she should have been.”
She folded her arms, looking away from the letter.
If Tohsaka had expected to get a reply, Sakura was determined not to give one.
A week went by…
Sakura didn’t spare a moment’s attention to the envelope in the living room.
The fourth week came and went.
They were approaching the ends of their respective academic terms. He was putting the finishing touches on a simple program he would be presenting, along with a short paper, as his culminating assignment for the year, and Sakura was studying for her upcoming final exams. Unlike him however, she hadn’t applied to a university.
A fifth week passed. Sakura spent it in her room, working diligently. Dust began to appear on the envelope, and still, she ignored the letter.
But then a second letter arrived… Like the first, she didn’t open it either. But the subsequent week, yet another letter showed up. What in the world was all this? Tohsaka wrote a letter, didn’t bother to say anything else for a month and a half, not even to ask whether the first letter arrived, and suddenly she was sending them once a week?
Nothing arrived the week after that. But it still, it begged the question; if mail wasn’t getting any results, why didn’t Tohsaka just call her sister over the phone?
Despite getting good enough grades to get into a decent school, Sakura still hadn’t chosen any path in life, much to her teachers’ anxiety. It was the last week of testing when Miss Fujimura caught Sakura as she was leaving her English exam.
She had gotten another letter from Tohsaka.
…she really needed to refill her prescription…
Unfortunately, after Sakura graduated, things finally went south again, and the World returned to its normal routine of throwing shit at his life. And boy did it throw shit. Things around the Matou house began to get rather strange.
Specifically, it appeared almost as though something was haunting them. Household objects would move of their own accord. Their prized possessions would vanish for hours, days even, and reappear later. Worse was when things disappeared for minutes or even seconds at a time. As such instances began to take place more often, Shinji and Sakura both began to call their sanity into question.
More unpleasantly, blood would occasionally leak from the walls, or pool on the floor, and then vanish when they blinked. Of course, that could just be crest worms exploding behind the paneling, but why would that be happening in the first place? And how was it disappearing? More troubling was was when they would turn on a faucet and get blood instead of water. Sakura screamed whenever that happened, during the first month, and he couldn’t blame her. He’d gotten blood from the showerhead himself, and if anyone didn’t consider that nightmare fuel, they were either psychotic, or disaffected as… well… a mage. Shit.
The first month of Summer crawled by, with no word from Tohsaka. July came to an end and it seemed that Tohsaka had finally given up on sending letters.
Shinji and Sakura started accompanying each other around the mansion just to make sure that one or the other of them would notice when an object moved or went missing. They weren’t having much luck.
The poltergeisting eventually came to a head, though it was less ‘eventual,’ and more ‘by the end of the month.’ And it peaked, at violent attacks against the house’s non-magus occupant. It was almost as though the house itself was actively trying to kill Shinji. One day, furniture would fall on him. The next, he’d find himself trapped inside a room by a bounded field, while heavy objects started falling off their shelves. Getting through the day alive began to feel like a chore, and he couldn’t even do a damn thing about it.
It wasn’t like he could go anywhere else. Nobody wanted him around for very long. Their loss of course, but he still needed to find a way to stay out of the house for as long as he possibly could. He couldn’t really stay with Mitsuzuri, either. She may have had more patience for him than most, but that also meant it would be a crying shame if he ruined that relationship. And heaven forbid she should ever find out about what he had Rider do to her.
He couldn’t try to sleep in the streets. The one time he slept in an alleyway, he woke up covered with worms. Yes, they were indeed of the crest variety. Fortunately there weren’t too many, so he managed to dislodge them all, but it was a clear message: No matter where he went, he couldn’t escape the Matou house.
Just under a month into his second year at university, Shinji had actually begun volunteering at Homurahara on days he didn’t have classes to help Taiga coach the Archery Club. The hyperactive tiger had admittedly taken a lot of convincing, since he had always been decidedly against helping others free of charge. It helped that Sakura vouched for him, having been captain of the Archery Club the previous year. This of course didn’t actually hold any weight, but Sakura was a long-time friend at this point so eventually she allowed it. Though she wasn’t all too thrilled that he was always complaining that he couldn’t stand half of the students in the club.
He came to really appreciate Miss Fujimura’s leniency in allowing him to practice his shooting. He wasn’t so naïve as to think that he would last much longer if his concentration wasn’t up to snuff.
He did all his studying and assignments at the campus library, and would avoid going home for as long as he possibly could. Ayako would occasionally find him there at particularly late hours, half-asleep at his laptop, trying to finish one more line despite not being able to focus long enough to remember what he was typing. She generally urged him to go home at this point.
Nothing seemed to help. Eventually, he had to leave whatever venue he was haunting. In the case of the library, he still had to go home eventually, whether it was at Ayako’s behest, or just because the library was closing up for the night. And so he still needed to watch out for bookshelves falling on him.
Tohsaka’s fifth letter arrived at the end of the month.
As the incidents in their house grew more and more frequent, Sakura asked her grandfather what they should do about them. Zouken had merely given a short cackle and said, “Heh! Then he should sit still and die, instead of allowing this so-called ghost of yours to keep putting dents in the walls.”
She should have guessed that he would answer in such a way. She couldn’t say she understood her grandfather (nor did she want to), but if there was anything she could count on from him, it was inhuman cruelty.
The attacks were happening once a week at this point.
Her monthly routine was jostled a few days later when the pharmacist at the drugstore got replaced. The new hire was only conspicuous because of her reddish hair, but aside from that, she wasn’t really that different from the previous employee. She found that she missed the old one. They had a rapport. But the new pharmacist was nice enough. She supposed she’d just have to get used to her.
The month after that, the sixth letter came, and maybe it was just the meds influencing her behavior, but Sakura finally found herself too curious to resist. She didn’t open the one she had just received, opting to pick one up at random.
She figured out later that it was the fourth one based on the dates written in the top left corner of the stationary. They were written in black ink, [and there were a few sections that were crossed out but still somewhat legible.]
I know I’ve said this in each one of my previous letters, but I understand if you don’t want to write back. I really meant it when I said I wanted to make up for never having been there, and I’ll do whatever it takes… I think the staff might be trying to stop me from doing that. I never don’t have an urgent project that needs my attention these days. The workload here is insane, and it doesn’t help that Luvia’s still going after Emiya. That stupid cow just doesn’t give up! I mean, seriously, who does she think she is?
A bit of reference, since I keep mentioning her, Luvia owns our apartment building, and lives on the floor above ours. Apparently she and Emiya got lost together and at some point she offered to give us an apartment in exchange for him doing a few chores. Of course we accepted, the apartment was great, it’s close to the Clock Tower, and there was no way we’d get a better deal. But it turns out that she wanted to hire him on as a butler. Which I’ll admit he’s probably fabulous at, but he’s my butler, not hers! And not once has she ever pronounced his name correctly. She says ‘shero,’ like some sort of idiot. Stupid fancy stuck-up princess. I mean, you’ve never met anyone like her.
Okay, I’m going to change the subject because if I don’t Shirou says he won’t make breakfast tomorrow. Which is vital because I’m like a sloth in the morning. Thank heaven for caffeine.
Sorry, I’m really just talking about myself.
Is everything okay back in Fuyuki? Shinji isn’t bothering you too much, right?
I know I’ve said this twice already, but if there’s anything strange going on, if there’s anything I can do to help you, I’ll do it, even if it means hopping on a plane back to Fuyuki.
Anyway, I hope all is well.
Hoping to hear from you,
Sakura wasn’t impressed, slapping the letter back down on the table and stalking off. But Rin must have done something right, because the following day, Sakura started writing a response, sitting at the mostly unused vanity in her room
Shinji, curious as to what she was doing, got off the side of her bed and looked over her shoulder. He realized that he didn’t have a snappy response on hand, so he just shrugged, went, “huh,” and sat back down against the side of her bed where it met the wall on both sides.
She paid him no mind.
Thank you for writing. Things are about what you’d expect. Not great, but I can’t complain either.
Shinji hasn’t had much time to pick on me. The house has been trying to kill him for some reason, and nobody wants to put him up for any period of time, so it’s up to me to keep him safe.
So, I guess I can complain after all. Even though Shinji never hits me anymore, the house is just coming to life and doing it anyway.
Speaking of being alive, Zouken is extremely old. He’s definitely not actually anyone’s grandfather. Maybe a great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather, but there is no reason he should be alive right now. And there is nothing great about him. If you ever saw him, you’d understand. He looks like a corpse, and his eyes are scary. I don’t know why your father trusted him, because one look in his eyes is enough to see there’s something wrong with him. But you probably already know all that.
Given the choice between you and this Luvia girl having Senpai, I would prefer it if he stayed with you. So, show this other girl (she scratched the word ‘bitch’ off the page until the paper there was almost transparent.) who’s in charge.
(Seriously though, she had no idea how she had even worked up the nerve to write it in the first place.)
Please don’t give me details on your relationship though.
It’s funny you should mention that he wakes you up in the morning, because I sometimes woke him up during high-school.
Okay, I’ll admit that was meant to be another passive-aggressive jab, but I still have to wonder, how did he manage to sleep on a concrete floor? Having fallen asleep in a few uncomfortable places myself, I’ll admit I’m not in the best position to judge, but on the few occasions he wasn’t awake when I got there, he was rarely in his room. I’d always find him sprawled out in the storage shed. Have you gotten any insight into that?
You can’t get up in the morning? That’s strange. You always seemed to lead a perfect life. It seems strange to think that you would have any flaws. Kind of like you’re lying . But just in case you’re not, I’ve been getting up before sunrise for years.
The next letter arrived the very next week. It carried with it some unpleasant news. Somehow though, she couldn’t bring herself to care.
I’m sorry to have upset you.
I’ll admit I probably deserve any and all criticism you have for me. If railing on me makes you feel better, I won’t complain. I don’t have the right. And if Emiya wasn’t sitting here breathing down my neck, there is no way I would ever have admitted that.
Life was far from perfect, and it was selfish of me to let you think so. It wasn’t fair for me to make you feel jealous, especially considering that I barely know anything about your situation.
Father died not too long after you were taken away, and shortly after that, Mother suffered some sort of head injury, and… you don’t even want to know. It was almost terrifying to listen to her. She thought that you and Father were still around, and was always talking to these phantoms.
After she died, that freaky priest became my guardian. You know the creepy man who runs the church in New City? Him. He used to be Father’s apprentice. He’s dead now.
I wish it had been messier.
I’m torn between feeling glad you thought I lived a perfect life, and feeling guilty for not being honest with you. The whole thing was an act. I’m something of a pleasure-seeker, and I get a sense of satisfaction from making people envy me. That was the reason I came to school. It was all a game to me. Except in your case and eventually Emiya’s. I only got perfect grades, joined the student council, and made myself look perfect because I wanted everyone to think I was the blessed heir to the Tohsaka family, when in fact I was just a jaded orphan, with an absent and ultimately sociopathic guardian. He tried to kill me in the Holy Grail War.
Shinji has a rape-dance by the way. Not entirely unrelated.
The student council president was really the only normal person who saw through my ruse, even partially. He was pretty sharp for a regular human.
Oh, also, Shirou’s told me once or twice that I have a short temper, that I hold really long grudges, and that I’m overconfident because of my natural talent. But I don’t believe any of that…
I really wish I had done more. I’m probably going to regret it for the rest of my life, and it kind of serves me right.
Emiya’s telling me that isn’t true, but he has a thing for always seeing the best in people he likes. Which is really dumb, and he has to stop. He has to start seeing the world in more than just black and white.
That’s one of my projects here actually; Shirou-Rehab. He was in a big disaster as a child, and since he survived, it’s like he believes his life doesn’t belong to him. So yeah, he’s crazy. And if he weren’t sitting right next to me breathing down my neck, I wouldn’t have felt the need to write that.
By the way, if everything sucks, go find a puppy. They can solve all your problems for hours. Which is a proven fact: Even Shirou isn’t immune.
Wishing you a reversal of fortune,
P.S. Shirou slept on concrete?!? Well, this explains a lot. Like why he says that our hardwood floor is comfortable. And yes, he has actually said that. There’s even a sofa right next to him, but NOPE, he wants the floor.
So, Rin wasn’t perfect after all. What a pleasant surprise. And she was an arrogant, temperamental liar. Wait, no! These were bad thoughts!
She wished she could get rid of the part of her that insisted that her parents got their just deserts for abandoning her to Zouken Matou. She knew it wasn’t fair, but she just…
She turned sideways in her chair, and looked at Shinji, sitting on the other side of the room reading some sort of tech magazine.
“You have a ‘rape dance?’ ” she asked, staring at him through half-lidded eyes.
“WHAT THE CRUNCHY FUCK?!”
Sakura hadn’t realized his voice could reach that pitch.
“Oh, so you were just doing that thing where you start dancing around and giggling when you think you’re about to win?”
“I don’t do that!”
“Except you do.”
“Shut your mouth, you brainless little shit!” he screamed, throwing his magazine at her. It fell short by a long shot and flapped pathetically to the ground. “Oh come on…” he grumbled.
Shut down, she turned back to Rin’s letter.
This time, Sakura wrote back immediately.
I’m sorry about your parents. I didn’t know. (She resisted the urge to write ‘But your father got what he deserved,’ as well as ‘and yes, it does serve you right.’)
I don’t know who the priest you’re talking about is.
Senpai’s still sleeping on the floor?! Why!? And I didn’t know he was caught up in a disaster. So you’re trying to make him realize that he can still live his life for himself, or something? (“Why can’t I be the one doing that?!” she sulked.)
Animals don’t tend to like me. (She nearly wrote something about the crest worms, but stopped herself well before she thought about putting pen to paper.)
Do you think that Senpai might be able to write me once in a while too?
She soon found herself looking forward to her weekly correspondence with Rin. If nothing else, it was a good way to vent her frustrations, and sometimes she even thought that she might be warming up to her sister, although she smothered these thoughts whenever they arose: She didn’t know how she should feel about all this yet, and more importantly she was definitely still jealous of her sister’s relationship with Shirou.
Of course, there was also one recurring theme in Rin’s letters that bothered her even more than that: Now there was another girl trying to steal him? When would it end?! Naturally, that just meant war! Though she would not support Rin’s relationship with Shirou, and vowed she never would, she would do everything she could to support Rin’s efforts to chase Luvia off their turf. They had Shirou first, so hands off! And when Rin came back to Fuyuki, she could keep trying to win over Shirou again. She hoped that time didn’t come soon. She had no idea how she would act toward her sister and…her sister’s boyfriend. Darn it!
In any case she would sooner have Shirou close to the family than see him going out with some stranger. Hopefully, Shirou wouldn’t be interested in Luvia’s advances.
Evidently, Rin had passed along the message for Shirou to write as well. Eventually, she stopped making subtle jabs at Rin (for the most part) and they settled into polite conversation.
Zouken hadn’t shown any sign of having noticed the letters, or if he had, he wasn’t doing anything about it. She hoped to keep it that way.
The poltergeisting attacks were getting worse, and creepier to boot. Shinji had told her that he had felt like fingers were closing around his throat the moment before she had come inside the other day. And she actually saw a knife detach itself from the rack in the kitchen and hurl itself at him. As for her, she found that sometimes after going to sleep in her bed, a fairly new development in itself, she would wake up in the middle of the night being dragged out from under the covers, and down the halls before being thrown into the worm pit. She had avoided going in for as long as she possibly could, but once a week, she found herself grabbed by… something, and thrown from the second floor landing into the nightmarish cellar. There were patches of extremely humid, yet cold air seemingly scattered throughout the house, but they never stayed in the same place. Not as disturbing as blood from the walls and the taps, but still disconcerting.
They both needed a solution to this.
Sakura was on her way home from sending one of her letters when she nearly collapsed. Fortunately she was close enough to the Matou house that she was able to stave off the effects of whatever she had come down with long enough to get inside. She felt feverish and staggered her way to a bathroom to find a thermometer, thanking her lucky stars that it hadn’t vanished on her like so many other things. She stopped thanking them when she saw her temperature.
Shinji came home to hear the moaning coming from her room.
“Can you cut that out, I still need to do some reading and—whoa,” he cut himself off as he saw the state she was in. She had the comforter on half-covering her, and she was laying with an arm and a leg hanging off the side of her bed.
“Uh, not to sound concerned or anything, but are you going to be okay?”
She whined unintelligibly in response.
“Okay, that’s a no,” he said, taking a look at her face. “Shit! You’re white as a corpse!”
“…I know…” she gurgled. She actually didn’t, but she kind of figured.
Shinji checked the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and checked to see if there was anything to relieve fever symptoms, and of course finding nothing because it was intended that Sakura be in near-constant pain her entire life, so of course they wouldn’t have any pain relief medicine. There was also the small detail that she also had incredibly high pain tolerance after being tortured for so long, so if she was actually suffering from something as comparatively tame as a fever, then it had to be extremely bad. Sure he didn’t exactly like his sister, but he didn’t exactly want her to die either.
“Hold on, I’ll go back out and see if there’s anywhere still open that sells stuff for fevers. If you think you’re dying, don’t. I’m not dealing with that. Besides, Tohsaka would flay me alive if I let anything happen to you.”
“Mhm…” she answered with complete apathy. She felt like death warmed up with a side of bubonic plague. Not that she knew how that felt, but nevertheless.
When Shinji came back, the first thing he did was check on her, which Sakura appreciated, if she was being honest, but he had left the medicine he bought in the front hall. When he left to go get them, he returned a minute later and was forced to say:
“So, not too long ago, you’d have thought I was lying, but as you’ve probably guessed from my tone, the meds I got you just disappeared.”
She believed him completely, and tried to say so, but she barely managed a whimper. Then she retched.
With what felt like superhuman effort, she jumped out of bed, staggered to the bathroom and threw up more than she thought could possibly have been in her stomach and groaned in total misery… until she noticed what she had heaved into the toilet.
Despite all the pain she was in, she laughed. She laughed gleefully, hysterically, even. She laughed like a completely and total maniac.
She looked at the contents of the toilet one more time just to be sure she had really seen what she hoped she did. They were still there.
A lot of them.
That explained all the pain she was in, and all of a sudden she thought she might have suddenly gotten really into masochism. It didn’t matter how much pain she was in, because if she was expelling crest worms, she was beyond ecstatic.
“Okay,” Shinji leered at her, “so you’ve either gone completely insane, or—okay, that is disgusting but not the disgusting I was expecting.”
She managed one last giggle and then rasped out three words:
“Get the bleach.”
Whether she was hoping to poison them if they weren’t already dead or just wanted to erase any trace of them having been there, he didn’t really care. He fetched it for her anyway.
“Don’t get used to me helping you out. The moment you can stand up straight again, you’re doing everything on your own again.”
She was already feeling better. Better than she had in years in fact. She still felt like she was going to be sick, but for some reason, that just wasn't bothering her anymore. She was actually finding it kind of nice. And then she grimaced as she realized she was thinking like a creepy masochist.
That aside, she still asked Rin if she had any recommendations in the vein of exorcising mischievous, or malicious spirits.
Hope all is well. Living situation improving any? The weasel isn’t being a total prick to you is he? Because I can curse him through the next letter if you want. Please tell me to curse him. I can make him perceive directions as colors.
Did my suggestions work, by the way? The priests at Ryuudou temple may not be aware of magecraft, but their practices are based on Mysteries.
Sorry to make this letter so short, but I won’t have time to write very much for the next week. I kind of accidentally overthrew Shirou’s non-paranoid magus after-school-club and now we’re actually doing something that could actually be considered important.
I’ll be in contact again before the end of the month.
More and more often, the house would try to attack him. Almost three times a week now.
Curiously enough, these dangerous episodes would never occur while Sakura was nearby.
But that too would pass.
Over the course of a year of correspondence, Sakura had stopped calling her sister by her last name. It wasn’t much, but it was progress. She was surprisingly glad that she and her sister were getting along. She still wanted her Shirou back though.
Wait, what was she thinking? Shirou didn’t belong to anyone! He was his own person!
Wasn’t he? Bad Sakura! Bad!
Thank you for the stationary. In response to your question, Shinji and I are getting along better than we ever have, (He’s also very perturbed that you’re still calling him a weasel she added to the margin) although that may be entirely due to the fact that the house stops trying to kill him when I’m around.
Yes, we are still having that problem. And no, sutras, crosses, and your various other exorcism suggestions did not work. And if I go back to Ryuudou temple to ask for their help again, they’re all definitely going to think I’m crazy.
All this being the case, this may sound strange, but if I were to attempt to start learning Magecraft, what would be a good place to begin?
Sakura had just dropped her latest letter off at the post office and picked up her refilled prescription—She was still nervous, but her separation irritability was gone according to Shinji. She had also been more assertive lately, and she was less nervous than ever. These pills were really working wonders!… and yes, she decided, she definitely needed to stop taking them before she let herself develop an addiction…
She had come home late in the afternoon and was getting an early start on dinner when she noticed…something…in the kitchen with her and Shinji. As the vicinity around Sakura seemed to be a ‘safe zone’ of sorts, Shinji had taken to following her around wherever she went as long as he was in the house. Right now he was sitting at the table playing a video game.
And then something was standing next to her. She couldn’t see anything, but one of those frigid, humid patches they would find around the house was now just to her left. Not one of the humid spots, she abruptly realized. The humid spot. She suddenly had the feeling that she and her brother were in terrible, terrible danger. She pretended not to notice. As long as the…whatever it was…thought she was unaware, she had a better chance of turning the tables.
She could feel it there, watching them, examining them like a snake examines its prey. And something about it felt familiar. Almost like…
Sakura knew at that moment that this invisible thing was what had been haunting them, and attempting to kill the non-magus contaminating the house. And the very next second, she felt her knife ripped from her hand and screamed for Shinji to move as the kitchen utensil embedded itself in the wall just above his head.
The ‘ghost’ materialized, finally revealing itself.
It was a woman who looked to be in her late twenties to mid thirties, wearing a dominatrix’s corset beneath an armored vest and waist-cape, both gold-coated, that reached down to her ankles. Her feathery black sleeves contrasted her hands, which were delicate, but somehow gave the impression that they would have the same impact as a tiger’s paws coming down. Yes, something about this woman was decidedly cat-like, yet her eyes had something almost reptilian about them. Her cape, offset by silvery blue hair, was black on the outside, and maroon inside, with a high collar that almost screamed ‘Look at me! I’m a vampire!’
That is, until she shot them a savage grin, and then it was her fangs that screamed ‘Look at me! I’m a vampire!’
Their mad dash to the door was punctuated by large red icicles embedding themselves in the walls and the door, one of them breaking the locking mechanism. Shinji, kneeling on the floor to grab his shoes nearly lost his lunch from sheer fright. Except the door was already unlocked. Apparently he’d neglected to lock the door when he came home the previous evening, and his laziness had just saved his life. Sakura threw the door open and the two of them ran for three blocks, turning a corner at every opportunity before even putting their shoes on.
“Was that a frigging Servant?” he spat.
“I-I think so,” Sakura panted.
Shinji twitched. He sat down on the sidewalk and backed up against a wall.
“How the fuck am I supposed to— I can’t— What the fuck kind of bullshit is this?!” he howled. Sakura had to admit that listening to him yell was a bit less scary when she was standing over him.
“I’m dead. Done for. This is the motherfucking end!” he said, muttering incoherently for the better part of five minutes.
And that was when Sakura said the most exciting thing he’d heard since high school ended four years prior:
“I think that I know where Senpai keeps his spare key.”
Zouken Matou wasn’t suffering Shinji’s presence anymore. He’d had enough of that worthless little creature. It was bad enough that it was adopting a lifestyle that was decidedly anti-magus, but he wasn’t even actively tormenting Sakura anymore. He conceded that this was likely the natural result of the orders he’d given Assassin, however. In a way, it made the game more interesting, but on the other hand, it infuriated him when his pawns didn’t behave as they were directed.
The boy should have been dead more than a hundred times over by now. He was surprised that Sakura was actually protecting him, but no matter, it just meant he had another way to break her when the time came. Her little façade, the kind, loving creature she pretended to be, would be her undoing. He summoned his Assassin to his side.
He saw what was coming. It would be a Holy Grail War unlike any other he had witnessed. Already his familiars had noticed one powerful and unfamiliar magus lurking about the city, but more importantly, two months ago, he felt the Fuyuki Grail go from almost empty to overflowing with mana to such an extent that it could prove to be dangerous if left unchecked.
Unfortunately, Sakura’s body seemed to have been developing a suspicious ‘immunity’ to his crest worms, expelling more and more on a monthly basis. Complicating things even further, the last few times that Sakura had been in the worm pit, which was becoming increasingly difficult for him as of late, he’d discovered that the Black Grail seemed to be losing its functionality. In fact, if the trend continued, he doubted that it could even hold a single Servant anymore within so much as a year. He could not determine why that would be. Unless…
Could that medication she started taking after the Emiya boy left, the pills intended to help with her anxiety, be having a negative effect on his crest worms? Why? How was that even possible? Anxiety pills were meant to affect the brain, not the body, and furthermore, they were supernatural creatures! They could not possibly be poisoned by human medicines! This could be greatly problematic. If his calculations were correct, of course, his Grail would be vastly inferior to what was going to manifest anyway. Such thoughts failed to put his mind at ease. He didn’t need her to be a Grail after all, just a vessel. So much time and effort, wasted!
Summoning Assassin had been a carefully arranged preemptive strike against his rebellious ‘grandchildren,’ who would no doubt attempt to stand against him in the foreseeable future. But Assassin should have been able to acquire Sakura and end the irrelevant one. It very much irked him that Sakura was not in custody, and the boy was still alive. Something was very… off about this Servant, and if this trend continued, he’d have to… discipline her.
An ugly thought suddenly came to mind: Was his strategy really planned so carefully? He scowled. Was his soul so rotten that his mind was deteriorating as well?
No. That was nonsense. He was above such a pathetic, mundane death. He would never die. He was Zouken Makiri. He had conquered death many times already. The thought that he might actually perish was the notion of an imbecile!
“Find them,” he growled, “but do not strike until I give the order. You may show yourself to them, but never speak.”
“I gladly obey, Master,” she astralized and set off to find her Master’s errant grandchildren.
He turned back to his thoughts. Worse yet, Sakura was writing letters to someone. He had no way of knowing who it was. He was glad to have heard that the Tohsaka heir was rejected, but was she really? Who else would waste their time communicating with a broken doll like her? Unless…
That illegitimate scion of Emiya, perhaps? He had never met the adopted son of the Mage Killer, not in person, but he had listened to a great deal of his interactions with his puppet, and he knew the boy had a bleeding heart. He would be easy to manipulate.
But that still left the problem of not knowing what Sakura was saying to her so-called friend. Had she been using a telephone, or even talking to herself as she had done so often while writing papers for school, he would at least have one side of the conversation, and could determine the other side from that, but she did no such thing anymore. For now, he would need to assume that the Emiya boy or if he wasn’t lucky, the Tohsaka heir, would eventually know everything.
Hold a moment.
Didn’t he already know precisely whom she was writing to?
He was certain he had heard a conversation months earlier. Blast! He couldn’t recall what was said. This was irritating beyond measure. It shouldn’t even have been happening!
Unable to do anything about it in the moment however, he returned to his previous line of thought.
Would the Emiya boy still feel for her if he knew what she really was? Would he still care if he were aware that she was a worm-ridden creature with a soul rotted from the inside out? No. Everyone had their limit. Even that boy. Of that he was certain.
As for the girl, the despair she would know when she learned the condition of Sakura’s heart would be most satisfying, but after that, it was still possible that he would find himself at a disadvantage.
And that simply wouldn’t do at all.
But there was still one other thing that would make Sakura supremely useful.
Though the crest worms in her body seemed to be dying en mass, there were still more than enough to make her a time bomb, if not thoroughly prevent her from using magecraft. As long as she was a walking hive of crest worms, he could make her devour the mana of anyone around her. He wasn’t so naïve as to expect he could best Tohsaka’s daughter. To her credit, she was a genius, but as long as she was connected to the Emiya boy, Sakura would follow the two of them like a duckling. If they participated in the coming War, then he could still drain the both of them to withered husks simply by agitating her crest worms…
Yes. This was acceptable.
Shinji, on his part, was shocked to discover that Sakura had gone back to their house the following morning and packed up a suitcase of essentials for the both of them. The heroic spirit clearly was only interested in killing Shinji, or at the very least, hadn’t been instructed to kill anyone else.
While on her errand, her initial interaction with the Servant was limited to when she passed her, fully visible, in the front hallway. The woman grinned at her in a way comparable to the way one looks at a tray of expensive hors-d’oeuvres. She didn’t try to talk to the creature. Vampires were bad; that was a rule! No matter what the Americans were saying.
She really hoped she didn’t have a crest worm vomiting incident while she was here. She was having them almost once a month now like a damn second menstrual cycle.
She was on her way out and about to go back downstairs when she noticed the door to the worm pit was open. Wide open.
It was never just left open. This could only mean that Grandfather wanted her to hear or see something. Suffice to say, the smart thing to do, she knew, was to keep walking and ignore him. But her curiosity got the better of her. Leaving her suitcase at the front door, she hurried back upstairs and sallied up to the doorway.
“█████████████████...that she is necessary as a vessel. I would like an explanation as to why you did not use your Noble Phantasm to immobilize them. I was quite clear when I gave the instruction that the boy was to die.”
“Because, Master, you had previously instructed that I was to frighten them as well. I was to teach them to fear your domain, show them who is truly in control, no matter how far they run, and cause them to question their sanity, if at all possible. In short, to toy with them.”
“And how does that answer my question?”
“For the simple reason that the game has not yet come to an end,” she answered, the sneer in her voice just as much as it must have been on her face. “I’m sure you understand this sentiment, Master.”
“Yes, yes, I understand it perfectly. And I also believe that should satisfy our curious little eavesdropper presently. And you may take her now.”
Sakura practically suffered a panic induced arrhythmia, but she forced herself to move. In an impossible feat of speed brought on by terror, Sakura was at the front door in three seconds, outside in five, and around the corner in fifteen.
She was astonished that she even managed to escape with no more than a few…
The Servant had struck her, she was absolutely sure of it. Her whole body stung from where the Servant’s nails had raked along her back, but pain was nothing new to her. She didn’t know why that one cut was making her whole body seize up the way it was, but she powered her way through it, and the pain was lessening the further away she got.
She probably looked strange enough, with a mark on her back as though she’d had a near miss with a lion, but she considered herself lucky that the worst she got out of the encounter was a scratch. She probably should have abandoned the suitcase, but that would have rendered the whole ordeal pointless.
She didn’t stop until she was halfway across the city, nearly collapsing on the sidewalk as she did so.
Shinji actually wasn’t aware that she had gone anywhere until she made an unusual request from the front hall.
“Shinji, could you take a look at my back for a second?”
He was confused, but figured it wouldn’t take him very long to take care of this. He found her standing in front of the front door with her shirt off, facing away from him.
He looked at her back. Everything seemed fine.
“Sorry, what exactly am I supposed to be looking for?”
“Um… Claw marks? I think?”
“What? From a cat?”
“Maybe from a lion?”
A supremely irritated grimace worked its way onto Shinji’s face.
“There’s nothing on your back, and you’re certifiably insane.”
“Huh? But I… she… I got hit. I’m sure I got hit.”
That was when Shinji noticed the suitcase.
“Sakura, where did you go?” he snarled.
“Back home. I went to get some of our stuff. Just some essentials. And some of your things. You left your—”
“You brainless human dumpster fire!”
“Eep! Why are you yelling?” she whimpered, retreating a few steps.
“For nearly getting yourself killed, that’s what!”
Sakura didn’t answer and just examined the back of her shirt, which was, unsurprisingly, completely undamaged.
“I don’t get it. She definitely hit me, I’m sure of it.”
“You really are insane,” Shinji grumbled. He went back to the living room and continued writing down code that he really only hoped would work without being able to test it. Sakura followed him inside once she had put her shirt back on, pulling the suitcase behind her. She stopped next to the table and unzipped the front pocket, removing his laptop and placing it beside him.
“Oh.” He looked away. After a few awkward moments of silence, he managed to say, “Thank you.”
She had already left the room though.
Back at the Matou residence, Sakura’s attacker still stood in the doorway, pondering why her noble phantasm had failed to prevent the girl’s escape.
“How curious,” she mused, frowning. She would pass it off as a fluke. If it happened a second time, then she would report it to her Master. Her work done for the moment, she vanished into spirit form.
But she had already stood there for an hour; just staring off in the direction her Master’s granddaughter had gone in perplexity.
The worms gnashed their teeth. The Makiri had meant what he said: He most certainly did understand perfectly. He understood that his Servant was more interested in playing her little games than carrying out her orders, and couldn’t even tell she was behaving inappropriately.
He had chosen this particular assassin for her viciousness. She was among the most hideously murderous women in European history. He hadn’t expected her to have little-to-no self-awareness.
Sakura was very uncomfortable starting out at the Emiya house. Technically, they were breaking and entering. It was a crime.
She probably should have mentioned where they had taken up residence in one of her letters.
And that vampire Servant. That was probably something important too.
I’m afraid that there’s no ‘good’ place to start so to speak. Magecraft is passed down through families, and the families are expected to teach their children.
I don’t understand. Are you saying that you never were taught any magecraft? None at all? Wasn’t that the entire reason that father did what he did?! This is going to make him turn in his grave. Of course, if this is in fact the case, I guess it probably serves him right for being… well… incredibly careless.
If I were to make a suggestion, I would need to know more about your family’s form of magecraft first.
Luvia is still insisting on coming on to Shirou even with me around. I’m pretty sure that she’s just doing this to piss me off now. I apologize for having to cut this letter short, but I have to go plot a homicide.
Sakura was tickled a bit by her sister’s hyperbole—at least, she hoped it was hyperbole—but she had other things on her mind by the time this letter came.
I’m pretty sure that the Matous specialize in absorption and commanding familiars. I think.
I think grandfather plans on using me for something too, he sounds like he wants me close by. He said something about me being necessary as a vessel. What does that mean?
This one must have caught Rin’s attention because the next letter arrived in just four days.
Necessary as a vessel?! Sakura, I don’t mean to alarm you, but that could mean a number of different things, none of them good. Best case scenario, it means he’s planning to use you as a container for magical energy, but doing that will destroy your psyche, leaving you a hollow shell. A worse scenario would be that he’s insinuating that he’s going to take over your body.
That said, the moment he lays a single finger on you is the moment that gruesome death becomes unavoidable for him! I will personally vaporize him if he even tries anything!
Now itching to kill the bastard,
Sakura actually giggled at that signage.
She also remembered that she had to refill her prescription, so she headed out after she finished reading it.
Sakura’s pharmacist watched her warily as the girl left the drugstore. This girl was almost certainly a participant. Her insufferably anonymous informant had said so, and she was the Makiri’s granddaughter. It made sense. The girl might have been adopted, but it was obvious why that had been the case. She could sense a great deal of magical potential in her even if it was suppressed. And her informant hadn’t betrayed her yet, so she wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, just because it was pointing a gun at her… no, that didn’t work, she was just ruining the aphorism.
The real question was this though: Why was the spiked medication she was giving that girl making her stronger? Or at least appear so.
It really didn’t make sense. The etchings she had placed on those tablets were specifically designed to damage magic crests. It wasn’t like she was going to get sick and die from it, she had been careful to make these things non-lethal, but she seemed to grow increasingly chipper with every visit. She really should at least have been a little off balance.
It would have been so much easier to just kill her. She honestly couldn’t fathom why she hadn’t just opened with that. She wouldn’t have to go through all this trouble.
The redhead leaned back in her chair. She was going soft, and she knew it. But she couldn’t deny something anymore. She was getting old, even if her body didn’t reflect it. And she was so, so tired of being in constant conflict with one person or another. So she had promised herself that this would be it. The last one. She was going to win this, and make sure she wouldn’t have to bother with anyone else ever again. There were a very select few who she’d still drop in on. Clandestinely of course. Life was boring if she didn’t have someone to mess with.
But there was one person that she just couldn’t be bothered with anymore. She was so, so tired of fighting her… she still couldn’t stand her but… oh why bother… why was she even trying to justify it to herself? She was even contradicting herself.
She got up and headed back to her hotel room, releasing the other employees from the mass hypnosis she’d inflicted on them as she walked out the back door.
She still had no idea how this worked though. She’d done her homework. This Grail still had fifty-five years left before it should have been able to function again. The fact that she could feel its power without even trying to focus on it was proof enough that suspicious forces were at work. She probably shouldn’t be trusting anonymous letters either, especially considering that they were almost certainly from a mage, the only other possibility being a member of the Holy Church and they had their own share of problems, but if a Holy Grail War was going to take place here, then this was the fasted way to accomplish her goal.
And to be fair, it was virtually zero risk for a massive reward.
And so the two Matou siblings had lived at the Emiya residence for just over a year.
They began receiving visits from Ms. Fujimura as well now that someone was cooking in the Emiya house again. She didn’t have any idea how Taiga had found out, but on the other hand, she was the person getting all of Sakura’s mail, so it’s not like they had any right to complain.
Nevertheless, it was absolutely shocking that she had started coming over every morning now. Shinji was positively appalled.
And then Sakura told him that this was normal, and he had to resist the urge to slam his head into the table.
The first disappearance was reported the same afternoon as the next letter’s arrival. Sakura hadn’t thought much of it, but then another person vanished two weeks later, and only three days after that, the headless body of a third person was found in a refrigerated storage locker.
The stress wasn’t too much for her to handle, Shinji knew that, but he could also see that Sakura seemed concerned about the city. ‘Seemed’ being the keyword. He had long since come to the conclusion that trying to understand his sister was like trying to solve a puzzle missing half the pieces.
She had never exactly been happy about having the role of a guardian thrust upon her, but she had to do something. Whatever was going on in her mind, she decided she would need to disclose the events unfolding in and around her life to Tohsaka. So she did the only thing that she knew could help:
She sent another letter.
I’m very sorry to bother you, as I’m sure your work at the Clock Tower is very important. I only wanted to let you know that strange things are happening in Fuyuki. There have been a string of disappearances over the past several days, and one person was actually found beheaded.
By the time you receive this, the killer will have been at large for several days already. I don’t actually consider this to be a dangerous situation, but I did feel you deserved to know. I know that it’s supposed to take sixty years before the Grail can manifest again, but I just have a nagging feeling that these incidents have something to do with the Holy Grail. More than a feeling actually.
Also I think that my grandfather may have summoned a Servant.
She’s some sort of vampire, and it looks like she was the ghost that was trying to kill Shinji for so long. I don’t think she’s behind the murders though. I feel like she would be the type to be showier, if her creepy fashion sense is anything to go by. Anyway, these disappearances remind me too much of what happened during the last War. Everything’s fine for now though, so don’t worry about anything.
Please give Senpai my best.
Your loving sister,
“Okay, there are so many problems with this letter that it’s making me nauseous,” Shinji groaned, leering over her shoulder. “So, let me get this straight. People are disappearing, grandfather somehow managed to pull a Servant out of his ass, said Servant is trying to kidnap you, and kill me and you haven’t even made the first part clear, so therefore we don’t need help?”
Sakura turned around, looking at him uncertainly.
“What the crap is wrong with you?! I’ll be honest, on the one hand, I’d sooner get punched in the head than accept Rin Tohsaka’s charity, but on the other hand, I don’t want to fucking die! Are you really this stupid? Is half of your brain just missing?”
“Shinji, I didn’t—”
He let himself flop over onto the table. “Oh, forget it… I don’t give a crap, just send it, she’ll work it out for herself. Also, what the hell is with this, ‘your loving sister’ bullshit? It’s kind of ridiculous.”
Sakura sighed. She had been hoping to avoid putting herself on the spot like this. She did want to see Shirou, but at the same time, exchanging letters with Rin was different than actually seeing her in person.
It couldn’t be helped. She added a postscript.
P.S. Actually, we may need just a little bit of help. Please come quick.
She also scratched out the word ‘loving.’
So, that was that. And now Emiya was back and asking them to 'officially' return his house. Fat chance. He wasn’t going back to the Matou mansion.
Tohsaka’s death threats and promises of torture and mutilation weren’t having much of an impact on him either. Fear was a strong counter even to the best motivators.
“Are you even listening to me?” the woman in question leered down at him.
“Yes. You’re picking up a few things at your house,” he grumbled his disinterest, “and if you find that I’ve touched any of the crap you’ve left here, you’ll turn my head into a topographical map of Scotland, that the gist of it?”
“Well, as long as you heard my warning,” she said, turning away with a smirk.
This was not going to work out well for him. Shinji could tell.
Sakura was in one of the guest rooms, looking through the various belongings she brought back from her house. There wasn’t very much to go through. Most of what they had now was either Shirou’s property, or new. Or Shinji’s. He had a bunch of things in the room he was staying in. Somehow an envelope found its way into her hand. It was unopened, and looked a little more manhandled than some of the others. A quick look at the date confirmed her suspicion.
It was the first. She still hadn’t opened it. There were several reasons for this, none of them important anymore now that Rin was here. Which just meant that she had no excuses anymore.
She opened the letter.
Well, I accidentally let it slip that we were sisters the other day, so naturally Shirou won’t stop badgering me about calling you. I’m not going to do that, and it’s not like I owe you any explanations for why that is, but here we are.
“Thank you, Senpai.”)
I’ll apologize for one thing, and one thing only. I’m sorry I didn’t make more of an effort to talk to you before I left. But really, what was I supposed to do? Go over to another magus’ house and say ‘Hi, Sakura it’s me, Rin, your estranged sister who hasn’t bothered to talk to you in fifteen years, just thought I’d drop by to say hello.’
(A memory from more than a year earlier jolted to the surface of her mind, and Sakura went into such a fit of giggling that she had to catch herself on the side of her bed to avoid falling over. As a rule, her brother never understood other people, but he hit the nail on the head just because he was being a sarcastic prick. He had definitely said… well, she didn’t remember perfectly, but what he said was almost the same. She was sure of it. What were the chances?
Wait… She had been counting the years too? Why would she be counting the years? She wasn’t being subjected to continuous torture, so what reason could she possibly…?
“So, you aren’t as prickly as you want everyone to think you are, huh, big sister?” she smirked, the corners of her mouth twitching with the faintest hint of mischief. She’d file this information away for later. She turned back to the letter.)
If we’re going to do this, I may as well try to get to know you better. Didn’t really pick up on much from our godawful smalltalk. So, how have you been, (Three entire lines had been scratched out here to the point of complete illegibility) since everything happened?
I mean, I’m sure you know what father was aiming for when he gave you to that decrepit old creature by now, but that doesn’t mean it was right.
They weren’t completely terrible to you, were they? You’d have told me if something was wrong, right?
The truth is that I have actually missed you. It would have been nice to not always be alone in that big empty house. I’m also sure you probably aren’t too thrilled that I’m writing you now instead of just talking to you when I had the chance. I told Shirou this was a stupid idea. (Written in the margin here was No surprise. Most of his ideas are stupid. He occasionally (very occasionally) seems like a clever boy, but more often than not he says and does the dumbest things. It’s almost enough to make me pull my hair out sometimes.) But he’s also threatening to stop cooking breakfast for me for a week if I don’t send this, which is mostly fine, I’m a good cook myself, but still…
Look, write back if you want. Or don’t. It really doesn’t matter to me, (“Suuuuure it doesn’t, big sister. You can tell yourself that if it helps you sleep at night.”) but I’ll probably be writing again anyways, so you don’t have to do anything, I guess.
The whole thing was a bit rough around the edges, but what wasn’t when it came to Rin?
She knew it wasn’t particularly relevant anymore considering the progress they had made over the past few years of written correspondence, but she left it open on her bedside table.
She really wanted things to change. But if that was the case, she had to take the stage. If people looked at her long enough, they would hate what they saw. She knew that. But what if letting people see the worst of herself was the only way to fix things?
Without any plan, she would only end up doing something reckless. But she couldn’t bear to make a choice now.
She got off her bed and steadied herself, slid the door to her room open. She put on the mask. That perfect, disarming smile that said, ‘everything is fine.’
And suddenly she knew how to find her answers. The possibilities still frightened her. After all, nothing was fine. Nothing would ever be okay as long as she lived. Not as long as Zouken Matou was still wriggling around Fuyuki. She couldn’t ever hope to defy her grandfather. But if this truly was a Holy Grail War, then her sister and her Senpai would both be fighting. And if they did, Grandfather would destroy them. She could take their place… but she wasn’t ready to die, and she still had a few options available to her. All that remained was to pick one.
And she certainly had an idea of where to start.