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winter nights, ashes of roses

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There was a thump thump thump inside of him that he didn’t know existed before, before the accidental summoning. It started like a small storm, incinerating his veins and for a second—for an infinite, electrifying moment—Ritsuka Fujimaru forgot his pain and he could feel everything in the universe, everything that was, is, and everything that will be.

The summoning circle activated. If he knew more about magecraft, if his father taught him more before he passed away, Ritsuka would have known that a path was forming from the Spirit world, the three-forked path that connected the Throne of Heroes and the human world.

Help me,” he said, desperately, to no one, not knowing anything, a boy caught in the midst of a brewing storm, his nerves and Magical Circuits on fire—

And a Servant answered his call.

“Are you my Master?” He immediately demanded, a knight in shining silver-white-blue armour, mounted on a magnificent white stallion. His question was part threat, part inquiry, and Ritsuka, Circuits still on fire, doesn’t know what to say.

The helmeted knight lowered his glass-like lance.

“Answer me,” he said, his voice as clear and commanding as day despite the alien-like helmet, and it reminded Ritsuka of a rushing river, of thunderstorm looming in the horizon. “Answer me, or I will kill you, unknown mage.”

“W-wait,” Ritsuka said, finally finding the words that doesn’t immediately die in the cavity of his mouth, “please. Listen to me.”

There was half of a silence that felt like it stretches onto eternity, half a silence where Ritsuka could again hear the thump thump thump of his heart, still a chamber desperate for survival.

The knight lowered his lance a little.

“By my code of honour, I am bound to,” he said, dryly, “I am listening. I will give you ten seconds starting from now.”

“I don’t- I don’t know what happened,” Ritsuka said, and everything sounds jumbled, the words racing together to get out of his mouth, to get out, and he briefly despised himself for that. He knew he sounded pathetic. Hell, he knew he looked pathetic, down on the floor of the unused storage, clutching his wound. But the knight was listening—although Ritsuka knew he was on borrowed time once more, for the third time this week—his stance regal, and…and he couldn’t help wondering, for a moment, what was underneath the helmet. If there was a human being there, or at least a human-like being.

“Is that all?” The knight responded, coldly. He lowered his spear again, and this time it began to shine with a luminosity that lightens up the dark storage-room—

“No! Wait! Stop! Please, I beg you,” Ritsuka exclaimed, trying to move away from the knight. His father had mentioned once about summoning circles, though he hurried away from it. This is the first time Ritsuka saw it for real. “I really don’t know anything. I was attacked earlier—“

“By a Servant?” He cuts Ritsuka off, flatly. It bothers Ritsuka, a little. It was as if there was only a shred of humanity left in him. Whatever he is underneath the helmet, he was surely not human.

“I- I don’t know. I-“

“Quiet,” the knight shushed him, harshly. His spear stopped glowing, and he raised it. “An enemy is approaching,” he stated, “whether you are my Master or not, I am bound by the code of chivalry to protect you. Stand back. Lock yourself in this place, I do not care.”

“But-“ Ritsuka still tried to explain, but the knight had readied himself, and shuts him off with what he imagined was a cold look.

“We will resolve the question later. Right now, your safety is paramount.”

Before he could say anything more or even open his mouth, the knight had galloped out of the storage, destroying the door along the way.

“So you have no concept of what being a Master is,” his rescuer said, after the surprisingly short battle—Ritsuka made him stop with what is called a ‘Command Seal’, apparently—scepticism written all over his words, and, he imagined, his expression too, since he hasn’t taken off his helmet, although he did dismounted (and his lance disappeared).

“No,” Ritsuka told him, honestly. “I don’t know what a Servant is, either. My father…my father never told me.”

“Then your father was an incompetent fool, and a terrible mage at that,” he said, blatantly. Ritsuka felt anger rising in him—how dare a stranger insult the memory of his dead father—but held himself back. “Have you no knowledge of the Holy Grail War, either?”

“The Holy Grail- what?” He said, emphasising all his confusion into one word. “Though, that aside, I still don’t know who you are yet…”

A long silence occurred, which Ritsuka supposed was natural for the knight. He doesn’t seem to be the type who talks a lot.

Then, surprisingly, he took off his helmet, sighing deeply in the process.

“Lancer-class Servant, at your disposal,” he said, still in the same dry, uninterested tone, his eyes the sharpest shade of green, piercing into Ritsuka’s. His hair was as gold as the wheat fields that Ritsuka heard in the stories. Something about him was oddly familiar, just like something about him was deeply alien and strange. “Let’s see…I can’t give you my True Name because a stronger Master or another Servant might ferret it off your mind. Would that be alright with you, Master?”

Master. The title sounded so strange that Ritsuka couldn’t help but cringe a little at the sound of it. But, knowing Lancer was observing him, he quickly straightened up himself.

“Lancer,” he said, offering his hand with a little smile, “it was nice to meet you.”

Oddly, he seemed surprised by the move. He stared at it for a long while, looking human for the first time that night.

“You were supposed to take it,” Ritsuka told him, amiably. “Are you not used to handshakes?”

“N- no, of course not,” Lancer said, gripping his hand. His was a firm grip, and Ritsuka could guess that his hand was full of calluses, even gloved as it was. “I was just taken aback, that is all.”

“I hope we can get along,” Ritsuka continued, shaking his hand.

“…yes. I hope we can work together,” he said, in return, after a moment of silence.

Ritsuka fancies that he saw the ghost of a smile, but that could just be the moonlight playing tricks.