Chapter 1: If we could not have a happy ending
Humidity made the evening summer air so thick it felt as though it could be parted and moved aside with human hands. Moisture pooled around his neck and dripped down his back and chest as sweat. His whole body felt sticky and confined.
“Hot...” the dark-haired man groaned.
His bedclothes moved. “Watanuki!”
“Maru, Moro,” the man, Watanuki groaned. “Get off me, please.”
“We need sake!” both girls chirped together.
“Maybe after our latest job,” Watanuki yawned as he dragged himself out of the soaked bedclothes, rolling up and dumping the linen on the ground. “Come on, let's hang this up first.”
“Yay!” the twins assisted in pulling the pile through the labyrinthe hallways of the Shop and towards the clothesline, already prepared in a specific beam of sunlight... with a body face-down and bleeding.
“Watanuki, he's here!” the black rabbit manju better known as Mokona Modoki chirped as it bounced around the body carefully armoured in some light plates similar to leather tights. From his middle protruded a long red spear, and from one hand dangled the remains of a yellowed spear.
Watanuki did not panic when faced with this bizarre occurrence. “Maru, Moro, some help here. It looks like we've delayed the washerwoman long enough.”
“Yes!” the twins carried the injured and unconscious man as Watanuki unpinned the clothesline that hung over the small stream that was trailing under it for some unknown reason.
As Watanuki and Mokona went back into the house and the screens were slid shut, the stream faded away, as if just a dream...
Do all of you really want... to win that badly? You all want the Grail so much? Even... willing to trample on my only true wish... Do none of you feel any shame at all?! Unforgivable... I'll never forgive any of you for this! All of you monsters who'd disregard a knight's honour for personal gain... Let my blood stain that dream! Let the Grail be Cursed! Let the wish it grants bring disaster! When you fall into the frying pits of hell... Remember the rage of Diarmuid!!
“There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” the masculine voice murmured. "If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is't to leave betimes, let be1. Oh. You're awake.”
A faint, sweet smell tickled his nose as consciousness drifted close. Surprisingly, there was no pain now...
He sat up. The room was traditionally Japanese, his brain supplied. Minimalist furnishings, the most elaborate being the circular redwood double doors with an elaborate flower pattern set in mother-of-pearl he was currently facing. He shifted around; the motif seemed to be transience; butterflies and smoky swirls abounded, as well as the sweetish smells of faint opiates or tobacco of a sort, yet he ignored all of that to face him.
There was a man sitting on the chaise lounge. He wore an elaborate kimono that was perhaps a size too large for him. It was slipping a bit off his frame to reveal perfect shoulders, a delicate neck and a small peak at a pale chest. One of his legs was propped up on a mahogany coffee table in front of him, the slit of the kimono revealing skin clean up to his thigh. He was lazily smoking from a long pipe in one of his slender hands, a smile on his lips. Slender fingers juggled the small bowl on its reddish stem. The man was achingly beautiful, perhaps built along more feminine lines than he himself, but still a carefully cultivated beauty.
“W- Where...” he shook his head. “I... I died.”
“So you did,” answered the man. “Death is but a mere spectrum of existences. Even till now you are a mere shadow of the existence placed with the Throne of Heroes. It was a matter of waylaying the washerwoman.”
He looked down, past the cotton sheets that covered him to the two spears. “Gae Dearg... and Gae Buidhe... and my swords. They're intact.”
“The fixing of your blades was covered in the cost paid,” was his reply. “This is a shop that grants wishes, and I am the keeper of this Shop. You may address me as Watanuki Kimihiro, former Servant Lancer.”
The man quickly sat up. “Then... Heaven's Feel-”
“That would depend.” Watanuki shrugged. “The wish paid by your saviour covered the maintenance of your blades, information up to and including the Fifth Holy Grail War, and the aftermath of what happened after.” He took another drag from his pipe, completely at ease. “That it would mean having to waylay you from the cursed Grail is... well, a bonus.”
The smoke blown out drew a Celtic knot of ethereal smoke as a pair of twins, one with blue and one with brown hair, dragged a mirror out of the side room, large enough to span a man's width and height. Lines were inscribed in its dark-wood frame, the patterns unreadable at a single glance.
“We should start at the beginning,” Watanuki's Celtic knot of smoke drifted across the smooth surface, the metal rippling as the fumes touched the reflection, distorting to the memorable scene of his death. The shop's newest entrant could only watched as his former Master and Master's fiancée were horribly gunned down.
“Lord Kayneth Archibald El-Melloi, and his fiancée Sola-Ui Nuada-Re Sophia-Ri, were killed in the immediate conclusion following your death by your own unwitting hand,” Watanuki commentated. “The rest of the War can be summarised in deaths, and more deaths, and ultimately the truth behind the Holy Grail. A corrupted thing that is too good to be true, and yet... humans are the strangest creatures.”
Perhaps the Lancer should not be too happy about the ultimate series of events, but there was some vindication at seeing them get their comeuppance. “I do not know if to be satisfied or to be vindicated.”
Watanuki nodded. “Saber, forced to destroy the Grail by her own hand... so ended the Fourth Heaven's Feel. We move forward ten years later, to the unexpected Fifth and last Heaven's Feel.”
“The last?” the first knight of the Fianna echoed as the images flashed across the mirror.
“The assorted plans at play here would be going very, very wrong due to the actions of a no-name, no-count, utterly talentless Magus by the name of Emiya Shirou.” Watanuki idly commented. “He had no magic worth mentioning, no combat experience of note, and no plan foror knowledge of the war he was about to enter. He did, however, have one trait that had derailed a countless number of such grand, far-reaching schemes throughout history. You see, he really, really wanted to be a hero.”
It was like watching a natural disaster, seeing powerful, beautiful, determined and relentless Saber be paired to this man. The bright-faced warrior nearly laughed at the series of events unfolding of the Fifth Heaven's Feel; Irisviel's daughter, the student of Kiritsugu, Archer, the Tohsaka, Matou and Einzbern families, Kotomine...
He frowned as the Lancer of the Fifth War was forced to commit suicide in the mirror. “The Hound of Ulster... I supposed this is the shared luck of our ancestry at work2.”
Watanuki merely gave an enigmatic smile as events continued to unfold, the true nature of the Grail, the horror that had taken untold lives, and finally the end... the Grail destroyed.
The silence was only broken as the twins set out a few cups and a bottle, each pouring out four shares.
“These two are Maru and Moro,” Watanuki indicated the twins as a black rabbit and a small, slender fox-like creatures bounced onto his couch. “Mokona is the black manju, and the pipe-fox spirit is named Mugetsu.”
“Felicitations, servitor of the Inari,” the first spear of the Fianna nodded towards the creature. “And, shopkeeper, why am I here?”
“To show you,” Watanuki nodded. “The truth, and nothing more. That your revenge is gotten, son of Donn.”
He knows. Words and names contained power. The son of Donn closed his eyes. “So I would have had nothing more than what I began with...”
One long hand beckoned him forward. "Come closer, let's get a good look at you."
His feet obliged all on their own, even though he did not tell himself to do so. He gritted his teeth in frustration. “What do you intend with me, shop-keeper?”
“Hmm...” the man smiled, as if he'd just sipped a fine cup of alcohol. “You tell me, then. What would you have? Though you fear not death itself, but rather its ability... in the end, I did not drag you here. Only those with wishes may come to this store, and have their wishes granted at an equivalent price. And you... I may have set the line to waylay you, son of Donn, grandson of Duibhne, but it was the strongest impulse of the spirit that led you here. Though you are but a shadow of thyself, what is it you wish for?”
“To serve a worthy master,” was the immediate, unhesitating answer. “What manner of fair folk are you, to have waylaid the washerwoman of the ford, to have snatched me from death?”
“I? Merely a humble shopkeeper,” was the reply. “As far as I know... you have two options. One is that you may return to the Throne of Heroes as a completed existence, and nothing more. Possibly, you may forget that we ever had this conversation.”
The warrior gripped his spears. “And the other?”
“You may contract the services of our shop,” Watanuki offered, as if it were a consideration that had only just occurred to him. “By relating your story, and your wish, we will do out utmost best to fulfil that wish where possible. Though, frankly, your luck is terrible, and I do not guarantee that the tragedy that so ruled your life will not repeat.”
“Yet you do not ask what I want to know.”
“I already know that much.” Watanuki archly replied. “Your fate was what brought you here. You came because of a wish. You stayed because there are things you want to know. That which you wish to know the most is already clear. Hence, in order to give the correct result, only the end result will be told. Only the result you seek. No more, no less. And in exchange, I will give you the price. Should you wish to serve a master, your fate is no longer something to be determined by thyself, but by thy master. That is the price of your wish.”
The former Lancer stiffened. “I do not find it wise to bargain with the Tuatha De Danann.”
“I am as human as you are.”
“That is not very human.”
“It is enough. I am someone who will carry out my job, for otherwise it is pointless.” Watanuki spread his arms. “Well, grandson of Duibhne, first knight of the Fianna?”
The other held himself back from simply striking the man who had been talking in circles. “How am I still material?”
“The shop has been supplying your power since you were swept here.” Watanuki amusedly replied. “What are you thinking of, really? Given the few options of your life currently, and you focus on something completely unrelated.”
“M- My apologies. I was merely curious... assuming that I were to avow myself to a new lord, I... was just thinking.”
“Self-preservation,” Watanuki nodded. “Well, it costs nothing to give you some time. Food?”
Lancer blinked, as he realised that in the short span of their discussion the low table had a meal laid out. A bowl of milk, a saucer of honey, a loaf of wheat bread already sliced, and an assortment of snacks with the tea. Maru, Moro, Mokona and Mugetsu had already set their own places as well as two more, and they were now glaring at Watanuki as if he stood between them and the manna of heaven.
One more pair of eyes joined them as Lancer realised that they were now glaring at him. He took a place. The glares immediately gave way to smiles.
Watanuki sighed. “Begin.”
The bread was crisply baked, the honey sweet and the milk coldly refreshing. Even if the meal itself was simple, there was some taste that he appreciated in seeing the three strange beings fight for the food. “They...”
“Maru and Moro?” Watanuki guessed. “You are right. They are... soulless. Their only purpose is to hold the shop. And Mokona... well, Mokona is Mokona.”
The former Servant decided to take that at face value. There was no other way to define it otherwise. “And Inari's servitor?”
“Mugetsu... is what you would call my familiar, I suppose,” Watanuki shrugged. “What do you know of them?”
“They are tricksters,” the knight conceded halfway through his own offering of bread. “The code of chivalry does not match well with that of tricksters, but I suppose that foxes are something else entirely. Shape-changers, possession, illusion, the foxes of the East have powerful legends behind them.”
“Perhaps more than that,” Watanuki added, accepting Mugetsu nuzzling his arm as he offered a piece of honey-drenched buttered bread. “If I recall, your history involves the beings known as the fair folk. In the East, I could probably tell you that foxes are regarded by us the same way you regarded the good folk, that is, with caution.”
“I will take that under assessment,” the spearman demurred. “This is very good bread. I can see why you offer it to the servitor.”
“I baked the bread. Mugetsu will eat almost anything I cook for him.” Watanuki's eyes glimmered with pride.
“My compliments to the chef, then.”
Both girls giggled. “Watanuki, another!”
“Enough,” Watanuki admonished. “You'll spoil your dinner. And we still have a customer, remember?”
“Customer!” both chorused dutifully.
“Watanuki is mean!” Mokona yelled, and got smacked by the pipe-fox for his trouble.
All too soon, the loaf had been reduced to empty air, the saucer cleaned out, and the jug of milk stood empty.
“Very well,” Watanuki offered once the meal was concluded and the table in the process of clearing, offering a towel to the former Servant. “Now that we have shared a meal, and conversation, I suppose it time to conclude our business.”
“It would be a miracle to take up arms once more,” the man nodded, now seated on both knees in seiza. His green armour was not even stained. “I am afraid. That this is a dream, and I would return unknowing to the Throne of Heroes once more. But... that is it. I am a black knight, a master-less knight, and I have no way to repay you.”
“I can think of one.” Watanuki suggested.
“What is it?”
“Work for me.”
Watanuki's feet hit the ground as the Japanese man strolled to the nearest screens, sliding them open to show a garden that the knight of Fianna supposed would have been beautiful in the absence of the green mist shrouding it. “I cannot leave the shop. Maru and Moro have to remain to keep the shop existing, and hence they cannot leave either. Mokona cannot interact with humans, and thus there is that problem. I have agents, free peoples that run errands, provide food, not to mention the myriad of customers I receive through the gates of this shop that straddles many worlds.”
As he spoke, the mist seemed to advance, encroaching further towards Watanuki. “That is not to mention, my complete inability to fight. I require eyes, arms, legs, a sword.”
The first knight of Fianna considered. “Then I think I see your predicament.”
Watanuki smiled. “Be my eyes, my sword, my light, my way out, until you have worked off the debt incurred from your wish. Until that time, I will be your master, and you my knight. Your self placed under me, while our fates lie in your hand. For my fate, the fate of this shop, Maru, Moro, Mokona, Mugetsu, they depend on me, no, on us.”
The knight of Fianna studied him. “I have nowhere else to go.”
“The Throne of Heroes will accept you.”
“I... I wish to achieve something more. More than just stealing the beloveds of my lords... I wish for service.” He moved, one knee touching the tatami. “I, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, son of Donn, first Knight of the Fianna that served Fionn mac Cumhail in the Clann Baíscne3. I acknowledge you, Lord Watanuki Kimihiro, as my true and only master beginning from the moment of oath. On my honour, I will serve you until such a time when my service is deemed unnecessary. Ere I to be released from my service to Watanuki Kimihiro, I shall have the freedom, time and resources to decide my next step.”
There was a moment of silence. “You give a lot of things, son of Donn.”
“Because I am needed, and you will give it.”
“You ask for many things too. But that is fine. One needs to protect oneself from masters, after all.” There was an air of solemnity as Watanuki raised both hands, his actions slow, measured and intended to buy time. “I, Watanuki Kimihiro, do accept Diarmuid, son of Donn, grandson of Duibhne, first Knight of the Fianna of Fionn mac Cumhail. On my word, on my power, I do indeed promise to fulfil the role of master to Diarmuid Ua Duibhne to the best of my ability, including all obligations of care where needed. By obligation, while Diarmuid Ua Duibhne is placed within my service he may expect no harm that will come of my vengeance or as a result of my hand, whether active or whether my hand is stayed in ignorance. Here is my oath. Now,” Watanuki remained placid as hands emerged from the mist. “Do you job.”
The red spear, Gae Dearg, pierced through swiftly and quickly, scarlet blood spattering the ground for a moment before the wail pierced through the air. The injured woman screamed as she staggered back, her form shattering into a multitude of colours.
The mist swept back, and by some accident or plumbing error, there was now a river running under the clothesline still stretched. There stood a squat, hunched figure in green. Her hands were submerged in the river, gripping onto some sort of cloth she periodically pulled out to re-dunk.
“Washerwoman,” the former Lancer bowed.
“Looks like I win.” Watanuki nodded politely towards the washerwoman.
The old washer stared balefully at the knight, then at the master. “You're sure, aren't you? More trouble than he's worth, that boy.”
“I have every faith that Diarmuid will be able to execute my orders to satisfaction,” Watanuki answered. “It is a matter of time.”
The old woman snorted. “Be careful when you send him or your soul out then. Too many times, and you'll drift off with the tides, shopkeeper.”
“Good advice, and that my washing has been cared for,” Watanuki politely replied. “Fare thee well, washerwoman of the ford4.”
“Good tidings,” the former Servant added. “I hope, that the banshee5 is alright.”
The washerwoman snorted, disappearing back into the mist. “She'll learn, the brat. You care about yourself more, Diarmuid, son of Donn. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, that.”
With the spirit gone, Lancer, or Diarmuid, simply bowed his head in the coming tides.
“Shall we, then?” Watanuki turned back to look at the inside of the house. “There is work to be done.”
2Luck of the Irish, anyone?
3The Other Wiki says that the Fianna the stories of the Fenian Cycle, set around the time of Cormac mac Art (father of Gráinne), depict the Fianna as a single standing army in the service of the High King, although it contains two rival factions, the Clann Baíscne of Leinster, led by Fionn mac Cumhail (the slightly too-jealous king who ultimately caused Diarmuid to die), and the Clann Morna of Connacht, led by Goll mac Morna, and lives apart from society, surviving by hunting.
4'Bean nighe', or the Washerwoman of the Ford. A type of Irish faerie.
5Again, see Irish faeries.
Chapter 2: Lancer Vs Lancer
What it Says on the Tin
In a sense, Servants are dreams. They are copies made from the true forms of the heroic spirits, which are enshrined in the Throne of Heroes. Once these copies have fulfilled their function, they vanish, and all they learned and experience is lost, as though it never happened at all. The nature of the heroic spirit remains unchanged, no matter what its copies may do. It is therefore this nature that makes you a perfect guardian, because no matter what, there is a core of you that is unchanging...
“Gae Dearg!” he roared, the red blade slicing through delicate throat muscle. The man gasped, clutching at the sodden throat, and keeled over, sword dropping to embed into the ground.
Behind Diarmuid, sigils and charms floated around Watanuki, a magic circle glimmering in the earth beneath bare feet as Watanuki continued to chant in a strange, fluid tongue. The trees surrounding the clearing rustled, creatures baring tooth and claw at the pair. One leapt towards the circle.
“No!” Gae Dearg made short work of it, Gae Buidhe handling the other jumper on record time. At the same time, the circle gave a final, dying burst of light, shattering as glitter shone over the forest in a violet iridescence.
“Very good, Diarmuid,” Watanuki held out a hand, Diarmuid quickly taking it as the seer collapsed, gasping. “Now, take us back. Back to the shop...”
“Very well, my lord.”
His golden eyes closed, before they opened again to regard the plain ceiling of the room, again sparsely furnished by Japanese aesthetics. He quickly sat up, spying Watanuki's slight form beginning to stir.
“Again, it appears that we have found our own way back once more,” Watanuki mopped the sweat off his brow.
“Wa-ta-nu-ki!” Maru and Moro complained, hounding the two men. “We have a customer!”
“Customer!” Mokona helpfully echoed.
“Is that so...” Watanuki nodded. “Diarmuid, come with me. We must have a look at this job.” the last word was murmured with a caress.
The customer was awaiting them when they entered the room. With a Victorian dress of light blue edged with a mass of white frills and a looped skirt, she looked like a child's doll come to life due to her porcelain-white skin. There was no semblance of life in her eyes when she regarded the two men taking their places, eyes full of sadness like a doll or a corpse.
“What's wrong? You look sad.” Watanuki mused. “Welcome, honoured Master and customer.”
“I am Alice,” the girl stoically answered. “Are you the shopkeeper?”
“I am.” Watanuki held up the teapot. “Would you like a cup? The biscuits are delicious.”
The girl gave a small smile. “Thank you very much.”
“Of course.” Watanuki set out the steaming cup, a plate of biscuits and a warm gaze. Waiting, waiting. “You know the purpose of this shop. Therefore, you have a wish?”
“Caster said that you could help us.”
Diarmuid twitched slightly at this news.
“And what may I help you with?” Watanuki gave an enigmatic smile.
“Caster has no form.” Alice answered. “I cannot see her. I wish that Caster would have a form.”
“And what is Caster's name?”
Alice looked discomfited. “Well... Nursery Rhyme.”
Watanuki nodded, smiling. “A wonderful name, Nursery Rhyme:
A nursery rhyme is a children's refrain,
Tom Thumb's charming picture book,
The first glimpse of Mother Goose's awakening,
The sorrowful me to the lonely you,
Your final wish, let's make it true.
In short, a crystallisation of old stories. And you would give it form.”
There was an awkward pause. A strong wind paused by, sending a tree falling down. Thunder and lightning cracked through the skies. It began raining.
Still, no response... Watanuki blew another plume of smoke. “There will be a price for it. For every wish I grant there must be a price paid of equal value. In this case, you will see Nursery Rhyme, but you will not see her true form. That is the price.”
“I accept.” Alice immediately answered.
“Then, think,” Watanuki smiled. “Nursery Rhyme is not a hero in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a general term for any picture book that has managed to manifest itself into a corporeal existence. The genre itself, deeply loved by the children of England, came into being as a reaction to the half-voiced dreams of the young and eventually emerged as a Servant who came a champion of the innocent. It formed the basis for one of the most beloved of children's tales... in that case, then it should take the form of that it embodies, right?”
Alice eyes widened as shadows gathered beside her, the mirrored Alice draped in black and purple instead. “We thank you for this form, shopkeeper.” Caster spoke, rising. “Alice.”
“Very well, Caster.” Alice nodded, getting up as well. “Thank you, Shop-keeper. We'll come again for tea.”
“Beyond beyond the rainbow plains,
Black and white squares, the King of Games
Run, run, the maze of mirrors,
Farewell, oh pitiable rabbit...”
“Diarmuid, I need you to do something.”
“What is it?”
“Oh, it's a very simple delivery, you see...”
Diarmuid flipped over, the parcel tucked under one arm as the red lance buried itself in the cement previously beneath his feet. “It is an unbelievable honour to face the Child of Light.”
“Oh, you can tell all of that from a single lance?” the blue-haired man mockingly said. “It'll be fun to fight you.”
“I am fortunate, that my master has allowed thus.” The parcel was relegated down to a corner. “I carry a present and a message from my master to Master and Servant Lancer of this war.”
“And do you think you can just deliver it and expect to run?” the lance was dug out.
“Of course not.” Diarmuid hefted both of his spears. “To do so would be unbecoming, Hound of Chulainn.”
“Woohoo, now don't die on me!” Lancer grinned, before it faded. “But... I don't know your name, and you know mine.”
“I would be honoured, but I cannot tell you,” Diarmuid easily replied. “So my master says. You would merely have to guess.”
“Gee, a guy who uses two lances,” Lancer dead-panned, hefting his spear.
There was an exchange of smirks, before red clashed against red and the two moved. There was no way a kata might have been involved; both Servants moved too fast for that to happen.
“Charm magic?” the blue spearman of the wind picked up. “Lucky for Magic Resistance.”
“You need not concern yourself with it.” Diarmuid automatically replied as he used the wrapped yellow lance to block Gae Bolg. “For one thing, it entirely does not affect someone of your status.”
“Okay, now I'm interested. Too bad it's over.” Lancer jeered as he jumped back, spear in hand. “Gae... Bolg!”
There was no way to dodge the spear of death, and in any case both were Lancers and therefore prone to speedy attacks. Diarmuid planted himself, dropping the yellow spear to take Gae Dearg with both hands and clap the spear down, pinning a crater of concrete between the spear about to move for his heart to the red spear of exorcism he held. Fine control gotten, he kicked the yellow spear up to do a one-armed throw at the dumbstruck Hound of Ulster.
The other Lancer of the Fifth Holy Grail War rolled, one hand scratched. Then Diarmuid had to jump back, summoning the yellow spear to show Gae Buidhe in all its glory.
Lancer glanced at his bleeding hand. “A red spear that can nullify prana... a yellow spear that inflicts unhealing wounds. And a beauty spot with a curse that attracts all women... kinsman.”
“So we are, Son of Light.”
“Nice, Loyal Knight of the Fianna,” Cu Chulainn remarked as he summoned his spear back. “How did you reverse the Gae Bolg? No, don't tell me. It's the spear.”
“It's the spear,” Diarmuid confirmed. “But it does not matter, does it?”
“You're right. No, it doesn't.” Lancer confirmed. “A war can't have two Lancers.”
“You assume that I am a part of this war.”
“I was, once. My Master bade me to commit suicide.”
Cu Chulainn winced. “That sucks.”
“I supposed it is the luck of the Irish we share.”
“Yeah, that- hang on.” The Hound of Ulster stopped. “If you committed suicide, then... how are you here?”
“The circumstances are forbidden to be revealed.”
“Right...” the other Irishman drawled. “Doesn't matter. Now that we know who's who, let's finish this!”
“A honourable Duel between fellow Irishmen would be my pleasure.”
Truth to be told, Lancer felt conflicted. If this was the desire to tell someone of their fate should he know it, it was uncomfortable. That at the three different fates that the last war could lead to, the Hound would die, and die in battle he would. Then again... it was their shared luck. They could not control it as they would control fate. And so, perhaps it would be better that he never knew.
So the sun rose on the last few moments, before the shop would leave, and both Lancers were exhausted to the point of unleashing the full power of their Noble Phantasms, and Diarmuid never said a word.
Cu Chulainn swore a blue streak in Gaelic that frankly stunned Diarmuid. Then again, Cu Chulainn probably cursed his divine father on a regular basis. “Shit, the fake priest is calling. Damn, I wish Bazett was here, she'll love you. Next time, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne. Your heart. Stab.”
“Next time, Setenta, Cu Chulainn.” Diarmuid grinned. “Who knows what the future holds. We have extraordinarily bad luck.”
Lancer narrowed his eyes, groaning at the blood spattered from his throat. “Damn, annoying. So what's the message?”
“To the fake priest?” Diarmuid smirked. “Only darkness awaits you. To you? The Morrigan still holds her grudge.”
Cu Chulainn scowled. “Damned bitch. So I'll die, huh?”
“Do as you wish.” Diarmuid murmured. “The package is mapo tofu, by the way.”
“Huh?” Cu Chulainn scowled as first spear of the Fianna jumped to the skies, scowling, already aware of the grudge held. “Must suck, to be him... I'll die, huh?”
Teeth were bared. “Right then. I'll make sure the fake priest goes first.”
Chapter 3: The Kindly Ones
Avenger. Fate/hollow ataraxia
Skidding on the roof of the building, Diarmuid frowned at the long lines carved amongst the solid stone slabs that covered its face. The lines were nearly indistinguishable from the smooth polished black stone, the degree of which could only be the masterful architecture of the modern age.
“Ogham.” he relayed. “Fearn, Nin, Uath... I confess my surprise that there is someone in this modern world capable of using the Ogham. Even the Hound of Ulster resorted to the Runic system.”
“Do hurry, Diarmuid.” Watanuki's voice drifted from the amulet gifted to him this morning. “It is a protection array, is it not?”
“Isolation, protection, indeed,” Diarmuid answered, watching the sun set. “Do you think it possible that the temporal loop has to do with the Ogham array?”
“Mmm, no.” Watanuki declared. “For one thing, the scale and the degree of accuracy is not possible without permission from the owner. Which means that this was an outside contractor. And I believe I have an idea of whom.”
“Darkness approaches, master.”
“Save the formality, Diarmuid. I am standing at the nearest park.”
“What?” Diarmuid leapt down, spreading out in a skydiving X as the floors passed him before gathering his legs to propel him towards the nearest building, then jumping from either side in a fairly controlled descent.
True to word, the seer was waiting. Dressed in a fairly elaborate ensemble of black edged in silver, the butterflies that edged the hems stood out as a sign of wealth, and yet the dark-haired seer went unnoticed. Watanuki did not look up from where he was studying the group of children kicking a black-and-white ball about.
“Master, I thought...” Diarmuid's brow furrowed.
“I am dream-walking,” Watanuki raised a hand that passed through the nearest bush. “Those who do not see the otherworld cannot touch me, and I am vulnerable to the spirits in this state. Likewise, my body is vulnerable within the shop. Yet, there are some things I must take this ghost-form to do so, and yet I cannot communicate unless needed.”
“I see,” Diarmuid relaxed. “I will protect you, mas- Kimihiro-sama.”
“Just Kimihiro...” Watanuki absently murmured. “Kimihiro... I haven't been called that in a long time.” Raising a hand, Watanuki motioned as the ball bounced slightly to touch his leg.
“I'll get it!” A small boy ran up to them, his blond hair jutted in spikes and his red eyes gleaming. “Hey, mister?”
Watanuki glanced at him with a small smile. “Who would expect the King of Heroes to take such a form?”
The boy bit his bottom lip, his scarlet eyes growing hard as he studied the former Lancer and the seer. “Master and Servant?”
“Not participants,” Watanuki tapped two fingers against the back of his other hand. “But parties interested in why the flow of time has become cyclic.”
“Yeah, I know,” the boy Gilgamesh scoffed. “Who knows, in a city like this any and all events are possible. The city of Winter's wood... just like how you got that Servant who's supposed to be dead over there to work for you, eh?”
“Archer?” Diarmuid exclaimed. “You're... reduced. And...”
“You can say it,” Gilgamesh waved.
“More... polite.” Diarmuid admitted.
“I know,” the child Gilgamesh nodded solemnly. “I can't imagine how did I grow up to be a jerk.”
“And yet you know that this cannot last,” Watanuki gently suggested. “You are waiting.”
“I am.” Gilgamesh nodded. “You're the wish shop-keeper, right?”
Watanuki smiled, and it was a grim smile. “You have a wish that no one can fulfil for you. You gather treasures because that is the only thing you have that will help you. And yet the one treasure you truly wished for cannot be reclaimed, because it is no longer here. Only a distant memory remains, and beyond that... who knows.”
“I knew it,” the Golden King scoffed. “You can't help me.”
“I will not, King of Heroes,” Watanuki shook his head as he rose to go.
“I have nothing I want from you.”
“Everyone has a wish. If one says that they desire nothing, it only means that they do not know their own heart.” Watanuki's reply was soft. “You have everything, but you will be nothing. And that is why you are not satisfied. That is why I cannot help. You must do something, first, for others, before you can embark.”
The child-form of Gilgamesh, first of the epic heroes of the Age of Gods, sneered, though his scarlet eyes never left the departing Master and Servant.
It was after going to the mall to talk to a woman, visiting a female student with a rather odd taste and a strange aura followed by an unusually beautiful Servant – thankfully who had listened to them – and then running towards the front portal of the Ryuudouji Temple to converse with a samurai – which was fun to battle, Diarmuid could admit, if only because of the godly swordsmanship of the portal's guardian – that the pair finally ran into another pair.
“Oh my,” Watanuki conversationally murmured as the red-haired be-suited woman confronted them, her Servant hanging behind.
“Who are you?” the woman demanded. “I am Bazett Fraga McRemitz of the Mage's Association. By the rules of the Fifth Holy Grail War, let us duel honourably.”
Watanuki peered at her. “And you have given me your name. I suppose this duel's conclusion is a foregone subject. After all... if you give someone your name, they can control your life.”
“That's...” Bazett took a deep breath. “Avenger!”
Diarmuid used one of his wrapped swords to block the other's daggers. “Unusually faint energy. Basic form.”
A single move of the yellow lance and Avenger was knocked back. “Verg Avesta!”
Diarmuid examined his leg, which had begun to smart. “Damage transfer of a sort.”
“Diarmuid, stand down,” Watanuki instructed. “Avenger himself is a Heroic Spirit born into existence according to people’s wishes. Other Heroic Spirits are recognized as true heroes, but Avenger represents the belief that heroes are lies and fabrications. In short...”
“Avenger?” Diarmuid mouthed. “I did not know that there was an eighth Servant class.”
“To figure out the mystery would be the key to the loop,” Watanuki answered. “For one thing, both Master and Servant are responsible for it.”
“H- How do you know that?” Bazett demanded. “Avenger-!”
“What, so he knows, big deal,” Avenger scoffed. “We can kill him, right?”
“I will not allow you to harm my master,” Diarmuid stood up to shield Watanuki.
“For one thing, the Avenger class did not exist, did it?” Watanuki archly continued. “Another thing, what is the function of this temporal loop? Surely to contain something. Yet, for a war that was already over, to repeat itself once more... do you understand my meaning, Servant Avenger?”
“To... live...” Avenger defended.
“Avenger, what are you doing?” Bazett demanded as the Servant dropped both daggers. “If you do that-!”
“I can't sense any intent to fight,” Avenger summarily informed her. “We wouldn't last.”
“A battle that depends on two people,” Watanuki noted.
“From the damage transfer... I suppose that Avenger's Noble Phantasm depends upon our injuring him, and then transferring of his pain to us,” Diarmuid observed. “But it does not seem like a very useful strategy, not against Lancer and Saber class Servants. Even Assassins would be able to finish him off at the level of skill I detected. In short, I can only conclude that his Noble Phantasm is modelled to revive him automatically, and that the true offensive power rests with the Master.”
Bazett backed slightly, readying a dagger in her glove. “Want to try me?”
Diarmuid's gold eyes scanned her, and the female magus shifted uncomfortably until Diarmuid opened his mouth once more. “Ansuz, Kenaz, Sowilo... the Runic Magecraft system has been employed. I can only conclude that there is some form of reinforcement present in your armour, yet it would not be enough to handle a Servant. On the other hand, against an ability like Avenger's, a Servant would indeed need to focus upon him and move for the kill quickly. From the observations of Kimihiro-sama, I can only conclude that it must be the Master using the dagger to catch the enemy Servant unaware as they are focused on Avenger in some manner.”
Complete silence resulted.
“We are not here to participate in the Holy Grail War, Diarmuid,” Watanuki admonished as he raised a hand. “But, Avenger, and Master of Avenger. A word of advice. You cannot continue in this time, not forever. It is only by accepting the bitter truths that rules your lives that you must escape this loop, Avenger. After all, the wish made upon the Grail has already been fulfilled.”
Avenger's stilled form did not budge even at his Master's yell of anger as the pair left.
Diarmuid finally spoke up. “Master, I realise that perhaps we should not have taken them on, and yet... how did you know?”
“I observe.” Watanuki paused. “Would you like to hear the story of an Avenger?”
“You mean that soul behind?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not.”
“I would be delighted to anyway.”
Watanuki took a deep breath as they continued walking. In that midsummer night, the story was told with a flair that enchanted.
“Initially, Avenger would have been Angra Mainyu, the god of darkness of Zoroastrian myth. In actuality, it is a curse that had put all of the evils in the world on one person, that who became Angra Mainyu.”
Watanuki sighed. “In reality, he who would have been Angra Mainyu could be no more than an ordinary villager. By being a human freed from the confines of Order by having his name expelled from the Avesta, The Universal Revelation of Inscribed Creation, his fate was decided. One day, this ordinary person had been randomly chosen as the source of all evil in the world by his village. The villagers believed that from the moment humans are born, there was evil in them. Since it was impossible to be freed from malice just through clean, righteous living, the only way to realize the true goodness of human beings was to force all the evils of the world onto one person and blame him as the true source of any human evil. By the simple, child-like theory of embodying evil, the rest of the people could not be evil, so they thought, and therefore they would sacrifice evil.
“So they continuously tortured him until he went insane. They captured him, beat him, carved every word that cursed mankind onto his body, forced every sin imaginable upon him, took out bits and pieces of him slowly, defiled his mind with absolute evil, and held him responsible for all of it in the world. They would not allow him to die until he succumbed to old age. He had a curse put on him as a result, one made of the great evil that he was to represent.
Which was eerier, the fact that such a thing happened, or that Watanuki was able to calmly relate such a story, Diarmuid was undecided.
“He was shocked at first at the senselessness of it all.” Watanuki continued. “That ordinary person himself only felt anger and hatred towards the world and the people that mercilessly executed him. Eventually, he started wondering who it was he should hate. His forced sacrifice eased the confused minds of his people, which despite being unintentional, qualified him to become a Heroic Spirit.
“After the first few years, the hate became a natural function for him rather than an emotion; hate was the state he was always in, so it was only natural for him to continue hating everything for no rhyme or reason. By that time, he had forgiven and tolerated humanity for whatever sins they may cause, while hating them. The imbalances were evened out by his hatred, so the people could be absolved of all guilt and live freely. But this kind of forgiveness, was also the same type that validates any evils that humans may perform, and so the cycle continued. Yet as the time passed by and he saw many rises and fall of generations, he realized that while he still hated humans for what they did, he still loved the world. Over the generations, expanding, declining, people changed and yet, people reviled him, people feared him, people scorned him, and yet they revered him as the sign of their salvation. But he could do nothing but hate, since that was the only thing he could communicate to the world. In the end, he accepted his role for humanity, even if it meant to be the blame for their wrongdoings.”
If Diarmuid were to maybe squint, and perhaps imagine the sea mists that drifted in on the Emerald Isle, perhaps, Watanuki's words would have been all the more chilling in that it ran counter to every belief he ever knew:
“A helpless sacrifice – an ordinary person without any special talent – that transformed into exactly what they wanted, that was determined to be and came to represent all evils of the world. And thus, hated by everyone and losing his self, a hero was born.”
Chapter 4: The Undiscovered Country
“My wish...” the woman said finally. She finished her cup of tea, choking lightly, and Watanuki poured her another one. “I suppose... I have one. I would…well, I suppose I would like to meet my future husband.”
“Your future husband?”
“Yes,” she fervently nodded. “Or... even know who he might be. It's…” She sighed. “It's difficult, just waiting. I've…admired... some men before, but I think... it would be nice to know who is meant for me.”
“Ah,” Watanuki said. “But you know that being hurt, loving others and letting them hurt you is also an important part of human interaction. Destiny isn't just a single answer. However painful some of those relationships may be, ultimately they would affect your life.”
“Please,” the woman stubbornly insisted, which nearly devolved into a fit. “Please try. I... don't have any more time...”
Watanuki nodded. “Very well.”
Watanuki looked at her and saw. The scarlet thread of inevitability, weaved around her finger. Thousands and thousands of interlaced layers, age, work, tears, and tangled within the skeins of life...
“I...” Watanuki looked away. “...I am sorry. I am so sorry.”
The woman's face crumpled.
“I need you to go on a date.”
The cup thudded against the table, but Diarmuid was too absorbed by the sudden request. “Excuse me?”
Watanuki sighed. “I just received a client who wishes to experience... well, a romance, if not love. She would love to go on a date for the first time in her life. Since obviously I am out of the question, you are the only one I can trust to fulfil this.”
Diarmuid immediately sat up. “M- Master...”
“Well, it was just an option,” Watanuki lightly replied, though his expression remained heavy as he looked at Diarmuid, and then made a very obvious comparative look at himself. Diarmuid's jaw began to develop a tick at the familiar look.
The son of Donn, grandson of Duibhne, was the strongest and the most beautiful warrior of the Fianna. Not only was he famous for his great abilities in battles as he once destroyed seven hundred soldiers single-handedly but he also gained inarguable popularity among the opposite sex. With a tall height and a body that could be argued as the epitome of physique, being neither too slender nor too bulky, women gasped in awe no matter the age the man appeared. This would therefore lead to many men silently comparing Diarmuid's physique with their own body, which in this case was not only paler than perhaps a vampire's complexion could be imagined to be but also drowning in voluminous robes of silk.
“But... why?” Diarmuid finally deigned to ask.
“Our shop specialises in the granting of wishes, and the woman is willing to pay the price I request.” Watanuki gave an elegant shrug, those his expression hidden behind his spectacles remained pensive. “And... we do not have time.”
The woman, named Anise, had gasped as soon as she laid eyes on Diarmuid, but otherwise she showed no other sign those afflicted with the curse of Diarmuid's love spot usually exhibited – see feverish, highly attracted and obsession, and refer to The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne for one particular case that became the entire summation of the legend of Diarmuid Ua Duibhne – and was actually quite rational.
Diarmuid tugged at the collar of his shirt. His dark green armour had been changed for this occasion, and he now wore a modern white shirt and faded jeans, an admittedly novel experience. With his collar buttons open, and a pair of sunglasses to block the love spot – which he mentally kicked himself several times over for a very large blind spot in common sense, but then sunglasses did not exist in Ireland for a very long time anyway – he looked like some male model than a Heroic Spirit from the Fenian Cycle.
The three Ms – Maru, Moro and Mokona – had heckled before Watanuki let him loose with Artemis, more demurely dressed in clothings Diarmuid thought were more suited to an invalid in the modern sense and dark hair piled up. At least it was not red hair; despite his luck with red-heads Diarmuid did not think he could deal with tempers like his own countrymen at the moment1.
“Thank you for agreeing to this,” Anise smiled, a demurely brilliant expression on a pale, sickly face.
“It was nothing,” the first knight of the Fianna resolved. Watanuki had laid out the mission quite clearly; he would treat it as an escort mission. And as a knight, of course he would escort the lady where needed.
“Diarmuid-san, was it?” She bit her bottom lip, probably a nervous habit. “Please, are you troubled?”
“Not at all,” Diarmuid replied. “To escort is a knight's duty.”
She laughed, a sound of relief. “I am sorry for the great trouble I have caused for the shopkeeper and you. I... I don't know where to go.”
Neither did he, but he kept his thoughts well to himself as he pulled out a bag Watanuki had loaned to him for this express purpose. Rifling through it, he found two stubs of paper that he distantly recognised as slips of paper that granted entrance to a picture show, or 'movie'. While the Holy Grail had provided ample knowledge, context, as well as the ability to speak English and Japanese on top of Gaelic, experience was one thing he did not know.
Her eyes scanned the paper. “Sadako? Do you like horror films, Diarmuid-san?”
The knight actually paused before answering. “I am afraid... that my experience is rather limited in this... endeavour.”
“I've never watched it,” Artemis sounded fascinated. “The doctors seem to believe that being shut into a large, dusty room with the air-conditioning on all the time is a recipe for asthma to act up.”
“Well...” the warrior considered the pros and cons of actually reaching for a new experience. If he was going to do this... “Shall we, then?”
Having been Assured that everything on the big screen was falsified, Diarmuid could finally stop the impulse to smash the screen and focus, and determine that whatever it was, the fact that humanity could falsify such realistic scenes purely for the sake of entertainment was definitely an advancement credited to the modern world. While magic had been waning since, the fact that there was... choice...!
“Yes, it's overwhelming, isn't it?” Anise seemed understanding when she was faced with the array of restaurants within the largest mall in the Fuyuki City limits.
The wielder of the twin spears dumbly nodded. There was a difference in knowing, if rather distantly, about the wide variety of choice available, and then seeing it for himself. Where the Fianna hunted their own food and keep in his own time, the choices available could make his head spin. Kayneth and he had never actually interacted on such an informal basis, as it were; the late former Master probably did not believe in interacting with an essentially immortal Servant that did not require sleep, food or most bodily needs.
In a way, such a transcendent existence was an insulation in and of itself; he had not suffered the drawbacks of life, but neither had he experienced life in the modern world. Not having enough time to just stop... had been something he never had had enough time for.
The truth of the matter, was that Diarmuid was beginning to experience something he had almost entirely forgotten could actually live within his heart. His unusual circumstances aside, there was something hopeful beginning to form. The gradual understanding of just what kind of person his Master was brought with it a slow and cautious hope: that this just might work.
Anise began coughing. “I... my...”
Recalling the instructions of his employer, Diarmuid fished out a Ventolin dispenser, slightly at a loss until Anise took it and puffed some into her mouth, breathing in as much as she could while wiping her mouth with a tissue. As she packed the two away with a dewy-eyed alacrity, the knight then understood. The thick coats, the caution advised, the bag...
“Shall we?” Diarmuid offered one arm to her, the other behind his back in the form of a gentleman. Anise considered in slight surprise for a moment, but smiled and took his hand.
“T- Thank you,” Anise fidgeted as they left the establishment and began a slow, measured walk back to the shop. “For today. I've never... really stepped out and enjoyed the world.”
“Ah, it is an honour to escort a lovely lady,” Diarmuid gave a small smile in return as they continued a small, measured walk-and-talk. “Please... you made a wish, did you?”
“I wished to see my future husband,” Anise's eyes were at half-mast, lost in remembrance. “I wanted... to know if there was someone waiting for me. That's what I asked the shopkeeper for. He said... he apologised.” She gave a bitter laugh. “I'm alone most of the time. Who would want a sickly dependent?”
“That can't be true, Anise-sama,” Diarmuid addressed the woman, the client, for the first time. “You are intelligent and soft-spoken.”
“I have nothing else to do but read,” Anise shook her head, before shivering as a chilling wind blew past. “Have you ever cursed fate, Diarmuid-san?”
“Things happen,” the knight chose his words carefully. “Sometimes for a reason, sometimes not. In the end, does our ultimate fate truly matter as long as we live by our ideals?”
“You are very deferential, Diarmuid-san,” Anise said chidingly, but she smiled. It was tinged with sadness as the shop and its high walls loomed. “Oh...”
“Anise-sama? Anise-sama!” Diarmuid shouted as the woman suddenly crumpled, holding on to her. A quick burst of speed, and the former Lancer was already in the compound.
As usual, Watanuki stood waiting. “Come, place her on the futon.”
Maru and Moro solemnly held up the necessary blankets and handled the woman gently, though halfway through her eyes slid open, blinking faintly.
“Oh.” she sighed. “I...”
“I hope you enjoyed your date,” Watanuki commented, in a voice that could be meant to be a teasing lilt.
“Yes, shopkeeper,” Anise answered, smiling. “Now I know better what you are capable of accomplishing. Which is to say, nearly everything, short of cheating death itself.”
“I'll do even that if I have to. I am not averse to a challenge.”
“That does not mean you will win," she told him kindly. “I am as mortal as my father and my brother, after all.”
“How can you be so stoical about all of this?” Diarmuid offered quietly.
“I gather I was not so stoical before.”
“You were... not very outgoing,” he said gently. “Neither was I, on hindsight. Our exchange of opinions regarding the horror stories of the modern world has yet to be completed, Anise-sama.”
“Mmm,” Watanuki offered. “The price is the remaining time you have left out of the hospital. In one hour, the paramedics will come, and they will take you back. It is unlikely that you will leave... alive, that is.”
“I have faced death before,” she reflected weakly. “I have learned to manage it. I cannot help but think the undiscovered country would be worth seeing. D... Diarmuid-san... Shopkeeper... thank you.”
“Sleep well,” Watanuki offered. “Diarmuid, come with me. We should let our client rest.”
Silently, the former Servant Lancer walked out behind the master of the shop, before going to the common room usually reserved for receiving visitors. There was a moment of silence as Watanuki laid out sake and cups, and poured a generous measure.
“She was dying.” Watanuki murmured, breaking the silence.
“I realised,” Diarmuid nodded stiffly. “A romance?”
“A passion serves nothing but pain,” Watanuki offered. “But a romance can last forever. I think, for a woman who was always sick, who had never truly gone out into the world, this one day of freedom could be laid up in lavender and enjoyed for a very long time. So...”
Diarmuid accepted the offered cup. “To charity.”
“Charity,” Watanuki solemnly echoed, both of them drinking in a room where the moonlight spilled in and the magic of exchange echoed in the air, finalising the sacrifice made for just one chance to live.
1There is a stereotype regarding red-heads; any red-heads who read this could probably relate. And of course, one of the countries with the highest percentage of red-heads is the Emerald Isle. Odds should be good that Sola-Ui and Gráinne had some relation. Also, the Irish-descended Bazett Fraga McRemitz is also red-headed. See a pattern here? Not to say that Diarmuid is stereotyping, but considering his background, perhaps a trace of superstition remained. Why not?
Chapter 5: The path which changes with the sun
Sorry it took so long to write the next chapter, but I was kind of stuck doing two things: 1. look up Monstropedia for which monster I want them to handle, and 2. the general direction of the fic itself. I'm thinking of this as a multi-crossover for the moment, though exactly what this means for the presence of Diarmuid I still haven't established.
Yes, there is a To Aru reference, although frankly notarikon has been around far longer.
In many ways, Japan and Ireland had similar cultural views that had developed from relative geographical isolation. Though the history of both island countries had vastly different points, there was one common relation that struck out to Diarmuid; how frighteningly similar the stories of the Youkai of Japanese legends compared to the stories of the Tuatha de Danann and the AosSí. The Beltaine was approaching, and with it the long apprehension of his time.
“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Watanuki mused. “Perhaps they are one and the same, or perhaps they are dissimilar, but belonging to the same family nonetheless. The modern world does not remember them.”
Diarmuid nodded. “Perhaps it is just as well. The Tuatha de Danann were driven underground by the Milesians long before ere the era of Cúchulainn. Still, there are none who observe the old rites?”
“Japan has a set of very different rites,” Watanuki pointed out. “There are always believers, just as there is always magic, but magic, the wonder has faded somewhat. The fear of the old ones has been passed down in stories, but slowly these are forgotten. But they remain, you understand?”
“Perhaps,” Diarmuid stared out as the rosy finger of dawn traced the skies with a bare tint. “My... foster-father... I think I remember him.”
“Aengus Og, said to have been able to repair broken bodies,” Watanuki reflected, reaching a hand out for a nearby seagull. The fowl squawked as it slipped on empty air. “No good. I cannot feel it.”
Diarmuid closed his eyes, slowly breathing the salty air. “You might not wish to. It is... changed.” Sea air, tainted with the hint of industrialisation, huge metal behemoths that churned out goods that would have taken scores of men to provide, and with minimal variation of quality at that.
“Even though it might not be pure, it is free,” Watanuki chided, closing his eyes, the dream-form still present even though Diarmuid could feel it fade somewhat. “Do you miss it? Your old life?”
Diarmuid looked from Watanuki, towards the gleaming sun peeking over the horizon, and he appreciated that Japan was called the Land of the Rising Sun for the first time since his impromptu summoning. “I miss things that cannot be returned. Therefore I must enjoy what I have left, and this opportunity. I am alive, and for that I can think of no other pleasure.”
Once upon a time, I cursed those who would insult the pride of a knight. Now I understand what drove them; that powerful impulse of the spirit. I think... it is a poem, I think.
Although the purpose of the wish shop was to grant wishes, Diarmuid soon realised that it was not as simple as perhaps a djinn or genie might provide. For one thing, the wish shop was by nature between; straddling several dimensions and businesses and time periods and spectra of civilisations. One day a group of dark-suited businessmen might come, another day some unusual specimen of being Diarmuid was hard-pressed to identify, and once upon a time even the Washerwoman of the Ford had come for tea.
Still, the primary method that the shop functioned by was as an intermediary, most of the time. Whether as a suggestion of a course of action, or a few whispered words in the correct direction, or maybe even a magical item where needed, wishes were dispensed with the utmost care and professionalism. The shop itself took its business to the owners; Diarmuid effectively became the arms and legs where needed, and occasionally the muscle as well. The fact that his master was vastly different from the others Diarmuid had served had not been lost on the former Lancer. Yet, there was always one important thing; very few customers visited the shop a second time.
Except for a few familiar faces, that Diarmuid could probably count on one hand. The infamous Doumeki Shizuka, the dream-buyer, the Zashiki Warashi – which he decided was a form of brownie – and in one case a Jorogumo that reminded him too much of the bean sidhe of his own homeland. And the fortune-teller, Kohane-sama, of course.
Then there was Diana Hunter, because there were no words to describe the woman, and the huge glossaries in the shop had similarly failed to provide anything to describe her.
“Diana-san,” Watanuki had greeted cheerfully. “How is your daughter?”
“Teething,” Diana dismissed. Diarmuid had been afraid that the cursed mark might make its appearance once more, but Diana had proven immune to that charm magic, at least. Not to mention a proficient mage of her own. “You called me. I came. Then?”
“Excellent,” Watanuki considered her. “I require you to run interference while Diarmuid delivers a... package. It is necessary.”
Diana's eyes narrowed. “What package?”
Watanuki's smile broadened.
“It would require me to pay a price to know, right?”
“Okay, where, then?”
“That I may answer,” Watanuki took a long drag from his pipe. “New York City. Avengers. Simply put, I require you to take control of Mjollnir and wreck something for the few moments needed for Diarmuid to deliver something to Bleecker Street.”
“Remember when I first said no?” Diana's voice prattled through the piece Diarmuid had been given. “Next time, upgrade to stars, no. T-T-T-R!”
Apparently, her method of disrupting magical artefacts consisted of yelling letters of the alphabet at it. It was odd, but it worked. Diarmuid reflected that he would never understand magic, not for a very long time.
“C-F-A! L-L-T-B! C-R-B-B-L-L-P!”
Something crunched behind the speakers. It sounded painful.
Still rushing, Diarmuid scaled the nearest fire escape, shocking a few slovenly dressed hoodlums as he quickly ran up and made for Bleecker Street over, jumping to land and jump off a street-light in the next second to land on the doorstep of number sixteen. Hand poised, Diarmuid reached for the knocker-
-and the door opened. “You must be from the shop of wishes.” Polite interest, nothing more.
Diarmuid nodded. “Delivery for Doctor Stephen Strange.”
“The price,” the manservant nodded as he handed over a sleek box, which Diarmuid took as he handed over the brown-paper package. “And send our thanks to the shopkeeper for such prompt service.”
“No, it is fate,” Diarmuid bowed, and leapt up to the streetlights once more for the shop. “Master, I have delivered the package.”
Watanuki's breath sounded pleased. “Excellent work, Diarmuid. Diana, you may let go now.”
“Slave-driver Watanuki, next time you try taking control of a magical artefact of the Norse gods by notarikon!” Diana cursed. “U-T-S!”
An explosion sounded, something resembling blunt impact as lightning crackled overhead.
Diarmuid looked up, and then, very slowly, reached for his phone. “Are you sure that Diana-sama is alright?”
Chapter 6: Oh Captain, My Captain
Captain America is an artist. The Leanansidhe collects artists. Do the math.
Setting up to cross with Dresden Files soon enough; don't know when, but soon.
References to certain DF Kink Meme fills abound :D
Steven Grant Rogers found himself oddly fearing for his life, and it wasn't even from a super-villain.
The woman, Lea Ann Shea, was tall, inhumanely beautiful and slender. Reddish hair curled down past her hips in a riotous cascade, complementing her flawless skin, high cheekbones, and lush, full, blood-red lips. Her face was ageless, and her golden eyes had vertical slits instead of pupils, like a cat. Her gown was a flowing affair of deep green. She was intelligent, beautiful, and had been after him all evening.
Steve was scared. As in, some long-forgotten instinct made running away from the highly beautiful woman paramount to his continued survival.
“You certainly are tenacious, Captain.” She was here again, considering him as some collector might look at the height and build of a prize pony. Or a show dog. It was really off-putting. “Buried in the heart of winter and yet you live.”
Steve backed slightly at the mention of his time under ice. “Erm... thank you, Ma'am?”
“Oh, so precious,” she laughed, a chorus of bells a shade out of tune. Long fingers ending in nails painted carmine reached out for him. Steve swallowed, backing slightly as her claws brushed aside the lapels of his jacket, retreating as they approached his dogtags. The silence after the chorus in the parties was palpable, and for once he actually missed Tony.
“Ma'am... I really don't think we should do this.”
“Come,” she breathed, and it did distracting things to the front of the dress. It was almost unearthly, that magical air. “Spend a night with me. Is that not fair?”
The lines of her face was beautiful, a work of art by itself. If anything else, Steve could appreciate aesthetics. “Erm... I... don't mean that, ma'am, but, erm...”
“You are denying yourself,” she gazed at him, her expression palpably hungry. “Come, Captain.”
“Steve, please.” She reached a hand towards his shoulder, tracing one large bicep. “My, how strong you are.”
“Serum,” he automatically replied. “I was... very sickly as a child.”
“Mmm, I know,” she murmured. “Once upon a time, there was a little boy. His mother was a nurse, and his father hardly worth mentioning. Slowly, one by one, the boy was left to fend for himself, alone in the world save for the companions he made, save for the fragile bonds of friends.”
Steve swallowed. It sounded too close to his own story.
“The boy's art was fascinating, untainted by loss,” the woman continued. “And yet the boy remained strong in heart if not in body, willing to fight back. Willing to retaliate tooth and nail for what he thought right. Intelligent, too, and ruthless when needed, but also merciful.”
Lea Ann Shee. Mrs Barnes had talked about fairy stories, the fair folk, and the grisly origins behind them. Bucky's grandmother used to leave out little saucers of milk when she could. For luck, so she said. Mrs. Barnes had always known when the cops were going to be cracking down on the speak-easies, as if she had access to information no one else had, and acted accordingly. There were some ironclad truths to follow then, and one was that you jolly well did what Mrs Barnes told you or the place was burnt down. And not by the Mob, either.
“The Leanhaun Shee seeks the love of mortals.” the woman froze at his words. “If they refuse, she must be their slave; if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding another to take their place. The fairy lives on their life, and they waste away. Death is no escape from her. She is the Gaelic muse, for she gives inspiration to those she persecutes. The Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth – this malignant phantom.”
“Yeats,” a slow smile formed on shapely lips. “He was affiliated with the Seelie, but he wasn't far off.”
Steve did one of the most sensible things he had ever done. He ran like hell.
In the distance, came the notes of a hunting horn, dark and clear-and the baying of hounds. It was a haunting, musical baying, ghostly and permeating like the night mist. Steve's boots still thudded on the road as he took it straight up Fifth Avenue towards Stark Tower, which not only held a lot of security in the form of Iron Man, but more importantly held plenty of cold iron. Mrs Barnes had left out dishes of cold milk for a reason, but Steve really doubted that any fairy would even approach a place with so much metal – and with a great probability of the metal being cold iron – as the general vicinity of Tony Stark.
“I have never met a man who obeyed his instincts more,” came the sudden comment from the shadows, and Steve jerked his head back, barely panting.
From the shadows erupted a slender dark-haired man, peering at him with orange eyes. His attire, a form of light leather armour, seemed to blend into the shadows. Steve noted the presence of two long wrapped bundles slung casually over one shoulder. “Come if you wish to evade her.”
“The... the Lea-”
“Speak of such creatures and very often they can appear.”
His lips clamped shut immediately.
“Very good.” the man peered at him. There was none of the supernatural presence that had accompanied the woman, the faerie, but a supreme confidence even after dusk. A confidence that could only have come from knowledge of things that lay in darkness. “Follow me. My master sent me to escort you.”
“I... I need to contact someone,” he spluttered as they walked in the opposite direction of the Stark Tower. “Anyone- my-”
“You can wait lest she catches up to you,” the man peered at him. “Well, she didn't get close enough to draw blood, at any rate.”
“Blood?” Steve shrugged. “Why?”
“She can track you anywhere with blood. Or hair. Or nail clippings. The shop is warded. The tower is not. For all its human security, it will not stop the Sidhe or the lesser powers of Fae.”
Faced with little choice, Steve just fell in step behind the orange-eyed man. “And you're...?”
“You may call me... Dermot.” the man considered. “I am told that it is the diminutive of my original name in these times.”
Steve could feel his eyebrows climb. “Steve Rogers.”
“If you give a wizard your name from your own lips, they could control your life.”
Captain America tensed. “You mean-”
“I have no magical power, perhaps that is fortunate for you,” the man, Dermot, stopped before a low-roofed house. Crescents on the roof gleamed gold in the faint street-lights. “My master has it. He has already heard of you, the man out of time.”
Steve's feet carried him into the shop, leaving his boots at the entrance, past a panelled hallway and into a small waiting room where a pale-skinned, dark-haired man awaited him.
“Excellent, Diarmuid,” the man nodded towards the servant, Dermot. “Good evening, Captain.”
“...Evening,” Steve decided. Manners always had a place, and so far no monsters were about to eat his face or control his mind. Plus, they helped him escape from an evil faerie, which was another plus point.
“It appears that my servant's errand in another world had brought the Leanansidhe into this one,” the man mused. “She has taken a shine to you, as you could probably guess. Did you make an agreement with her?”
“Oh, er...” Steve swallowed. “I ran away before I could answer.”
“Very good,” Watanuki observed. “Binding one of Faerie, especially one as powerful as the Leanansidhe, causes them to hate you. And faeries tend to have extremely long memories.”
“So... what do I do now?” Steve asked.
The man's smile widened. “Would you care for a drink? I'm told that it is very soothing.”
While SHIELD was scrambling to locate a missing Captain America, the man himself strolled into the penthouse apartment of one Tony Stark.
“Hi, Tony!” Steve called cheerily, cheeks rosy-red as he waltzed in and then immediately fell flat onto the nearest couch.
All the remaining Avengers, and Phil Coulson, stared at him with what could charitably be called a WTF expression. Well, Steve was gloriously drunk, after all.
Coulson was the first to recover. “Captain Rogers?”
"Steeeeeve." Steve Rogers slurred happily. “CaptainRogers makes it sound like I'm in trouble…”
“You were absent without official leave.” Coulson felt compelled to point out.
Steve waved a hand negligently, and nearly knocked over a dumbstruck Tony. “Pssssh. What are they going to do? Ground me? I'm a, a, a grown man. Fury ain't my mother.”
Coulson nodded gravely. “Be that as it may, would you sign these, please?"
Captain America, even if he was wearing loose fitting jeans, flannel, and was drunk as a skunk, smiled and lit up the room. He took the marker and very carefully, very seriously signed his name on a mint condition comic book, fingers lingering wistfully on the cartoon caricatures. “Buck, if only you could see how right the grand dame was...”
Clint let loose a long whistle as Steve's face fell forward. “Waiter, I'll have what he's having.”
In another world, in a shop protected by a barrier, a bean nighe and a shopkeeper and his servant got riotously drunk as well, and the party continued well until dawn.
Chapter 7: Between Fate and Destiny; the Geas holds
Code Geass. After Euphemia died.
“Diarmuid. Prepare the silver and gold tea service today.”
Diarmuid paused. “We're expecting a very important guest?”
“Oh, yes,” Watanuki negligently answered. “Royalty, even. Of course, all are equal before the wish shop's aegis, but it never hurt to treat royalty nicely.”
So the polished silver was set out, the gold-rimmed saucers to match, and the best teaspoons and the Earl Grey properly steeped as their newest guest was brought in.
Her hair was long and bubblegum-pink, part of it tied up in a bun while allowing the rest to cascade down her back like a bridal veil. The dress she wore was off-white and covered her arms while reaching to floor-length, pinched together with a lace belt. It would have been judged to be the height of accoutrement expense were it not for the blood spilled down the front.
“This is... the shop of wishes?” she asked.
“Euphemia li Britannia, formerly the Third Princess of the Holy Empire of Britannia in your world,” Watanuki greeted. “Maru, Moro, the tea.”
“Watanuki, serve the tea!” Mokona complained.
She giggled as she was led to kneel, and shared the excellent brew as Diarmuid knelt with his head down by one side. Watanuki had attempted to remove the habit, but in almost all knightly respects the first spearman of the Fianna held firm.
“Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, my knight, my arms and legs, and my chief warden,” Watanuki introduced the shy princess, blowing another Gordian knot of smoke ringlets.
“So... you are the shopkeeper?” the princess pronounced. “And please, call me Euphy.”
“Very well, Euphy-san,” Watanuki nodded. “I cannot revive the dead, though.”
“I wouldn't ask you for that,” Euphy nodded. “So... I am worried. About my family... about Lelouch. He didn't mean it!”
“It was fate,” Watanuki nodded. “A twist of fate by the Geass he took that is the curse of every wish.”
“I- Is there a way to mitigate that?” Euphy asked. “I... I miss Lelouch. I don't want Sister or Schneizel-niisama to chase after Lelouch.”
“How would I answer it?” Watanuki murmured as he received the empty teacup from Euphy. “Even I do not know. Hmm... your leaves read rather tragically. Birds flying... good news. Cat... a deceitful friend or relative. Kite... wishes coming true. And the raven... the herald of death. The sanctuary you created was for nothing, and in fact would worsen everything due to the mischief of fate.”
Euphy nodded. “I... I think I understand. But... please. This is a shop of wishes, is that so?”
“For us to grant a wish, we must have something of value,” Watanuki answered. “The price of value here... would be nothing.”
“Nothing?” she echoed.
“Even in the history of your world, Shakespeare once said: There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow,” the masculine voice murmured. “If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is't to leave betimes, let be. Yours is a turning point set in the tapestry of destiny.”
“So we cannot change the fate set out?” Euphy questioned.
“You misunderstood me,” Watanuki clarified. “'Fate' is simply an event that is outside your control. The word 'destiny' is used in a different context, used in the same sense as 'destination'.”
“The singularity of your world is the amalgamation of many choices. Lelouch vi Britannia chose to take the Geass, the power of kings. He chooses to crack the world down in his own fashion, by destroying the Britannia that discarded he and his sister. At the same time, Kururugi Suzaku chose to kill his father, and so spare Japan the loss of its population and save many lives, and chooses to enter the Britannian system to enforce change within. You chose to make him your knight, you chose to create the SAZ of your world – a moot point – and you chose to invite Zero, who was a mask of your half-brother. Lelouch vi Britannia would choose to first use his power on you to sabotage your project, but then decided otherwise, and here is the trick of fate that would haunt him and all subsequent missions of the Black Knights. Beyond that, every single one of the people known to each individual I have mentioned have made choices that impacted the life of those involved. Together, all of you have determined this reality.” He spread slender hands. “Who am I to unmake such a thing?In the end, two souls will set out to fulfil their destiny, and the important thing is that they choose to do so. And in doing so, in creating a fate with their own hands, they will be heroes.”
The image was clear now, the hated tyrant of the world, the Emperor Lelouch vi Britannia, struck down at the cusp of victory by the symbol of justice, Zero, before the world. Kururugi Suzaku, bound to a geas that was mortal and at the same time immortal.
A requiem for the world of war.
“Is there no other way?” Euphy quietly asked.
“You have exited stage left with the choir invisible,” Watanuki sadly answered. “Do not worry. History is written by the winners, and the two of them would have long earned their places in history. They have attained an immortality and power beyond any Geass. And... in their hearts, someday. They find peace.”
“Peace...” Euphy closed her eyes. “I think... you're right. I can only watch over them now, right?”
“The dead and the living, will meet only at zero,” Watanuki smirked. “Above the cage of eternity, the demonic dragon arises... that's right. So, Your Highness... it's time to begin on the next step.”
“I'll see myself out. Thank you, shop-keeper,” she bowed deeply, before walking out.
“Kimihiro-sama... how would a tyrant qualify as a hero?” Diarmuid considered.
“Why would a man who would martyr himself for his ideals not be one? With his death, all the atrocities of the world that he committed have a purpose, a cautionary tale to future generations. He destroyed his own world, and recreated it with his hands. Is that not a noble pursuit?”
“I see your point, Kimihiro-sama.” Diarmuid nodded. “His story sounds familiar.”
Watanuki reclined in his couch as Maru and Moro packed away the tea service. “In that respect, at least, I believe him and Angra Mainyu to be alike. Both of them came to represent the evil of their world, and ultimately died as a sacrifice for it.”
He coughed, his face twisted. “Humans are, indeed, the strangest creatures. All the more that we live.”
Chapter 8: The Ghost in the Machine
Dr Roger Dunstan comes to the Wish Shop to find 97 souls.
Watanuki frowned as he faced the man opposite him. “So... how may I be of assistance to a man who is not only a genius, but also capable of feats that may seem like magic?”
The old man laughed, his shaggy ponytail shaken out. “So I am talking to the shopkeeper. Very well... even in this thirtieth century, what I wish for is to leave a last curse on the planet. I will solve the most prevalent question... which is stronger, good or evil?”
“Indeed, that seems like a rather complex question,” Watanuki mused. “You are aware that there is a price to be had?”
“I am willing to pay,” the man answered. “Even my life.”
“Your life cannot be taken as payment,” Watanuki replied. “But... should you find the answer which you seek, you merely need tell me. That will be the payment.”
“Agreed,” the man nodded. “I suppose that you wish to know what shall be the parameters of the experiment? Well... my curse shall take the place of the Three Jewels of the Throne. My puppet will have a heart where the spirit of good or evil lies. They shall hold superior strength which manifests their will. And they shall be mirrors that reflect more than their human creators. They are the living encased in a machine.”
“It would be easier to study humans,” Watanuki suggested.
“Bah!” the man shook his head. “Humans are conflicted creatures. They do not have the absolute will needed in my creations. So, I will create two creatures, ultimate good and ultimate evil, and have them fight! But, the scientist in me is not satisfied with only one sample. I must have more than one, all at the same time so that there will be no experimental error. Then, and only then, will I be able to rest knowing the answer to the question I seek.”
“The mess would be much like the Night Parade of a Hundred Demons,” Watanuki suggested. “If I may... if you have already created the 'ultimate good', and the 'ultimate evil', then what happens to all the graduations?”
“Yes! That is the problem!” the man shouted. “I have created 'ultimate good', 'ultimate evil' and the 'middle path'. Finding three souls by itself is difficult enough for a genius such as I, but ninety-seven more is beyond me!”
“So you have come to our store for ninety-seven souls, each of a different graduation of evil.” Watanuki clarified, raising a hand. “Diarmuid.”
The doors slid open. “Master.”
“Bring the big ceramic box, the one with the talismans... ah,” Watanuki nodded as the former Lancer brought open a big box. “Ninety-seven spheres. I wish you all the luck with your experiment.”
Bowing, Dr Roger Dunstan left the shop, with his long-haired servant in tow.
A moment of silence passed. “Master... are you sure that trading those souls were absolutely necessary?”
“Of course, Diarmuid,” Watanuki softly answered as thumps sounded outside, and the sound of chattering laughter rang out. “Say, do you know of a karakuri?”
“I do not.”
“A karakuri is basically a doll with a mechanism to let it move,” Watanuki explained softly. “A tease, a trick, an automaton. The fallacy of using a soul to power a karakuri is very complicated; even if the soul is human, can the vessel be quantified as human? Even as sentient beings, do they have the necessary experience that allows them to understand human morality? And yet despite all, he continues on this road that would endanger all time-lines and worlds.”
“No matter who wins, it is possible that all would die,” Diarmuid caught on. “So... that is Dr Dunstan's research?”
“What defines good, what defines evil... and which is the more powerful when it revives,” Watanuki clarified. “Well, compared to a wish shop, I think the doctor's determination, at the very least, is admirable. If only he could see the fallacy of his own argument. After all, if one side can already see the fallacy of the other, then what's the point?”