Chapter 1: 0. Incineration
Fire. Fire was a god. Sometimes she felt like she’d been born in fire. Had her hair always been this orange? She couldn’t remember. Neither could anybody else.
Fire wasn’t the kind of god to love, though. Fire was a monster, and the more one fed him, the bigger he grew. The more he took. For little Ritsuka, eventually he took everything she had and she got sent to a group home for orphans.
That burned down, too.
No, it wasn’t her. She had a strict rule against feeding fires.
But she didn’t put them out, either.
Another boy at that group home worshipped fire, but he thought it needed him. He thought he was bringing life. Except one night the fire outgrew him and his worship vanished just like that. He ran, rousing the house, leaving her alone on the edge of the flames when the firefighters finally arrived.
The next group home was for the guilty instead of the innocent. Ritsuka did her best, but eventually it was just too much for her. That was one of the few times she broke the rule about feeding fires. Everyone else had gone to the summer festival fireworks. She just… put something in the oven and turned it on.
And then she ran, and ran, and ran. All the way to Antarctica, in the end. Not a lot of fires there, she figured.
Except here she was again, staring at an inferno from only a few feet away. A man with fire-touched hair said sadly beside her, “No survivors in there. I’ll go—”
She tuned him out. Nothing survived fire. Nothing that mattered, anyhow. Not family, not friends, not hope. This fire, born of an explosion, was a big one. There weren’t a lot of places to run, either. Chaldea was on a mountain covered in ice at the very bottom of the world. They say hope burns brightest in the dark, and in the bombed and powerless research station, Ritsuka Fujimaru saw it was true.
Hypnotized by her past and her future merging into one, Ritsuka wandered into the burning room. It was quieter than the first fire, the one that had taken her family. The flames had their own song, but nobody was screaming this time.
“Hello?” said somebody, in a wavering, pained voice from near Ritsuka’s feet. Under a broken piece of machinery lay the strange girl Ritsuka had met before. Mash, her name had been. She’d said Ritsuka was the only person in Chaldea who didn’t make her feel threatened. Now rippling pools of her blood reflected the growing fire.
Mash’s hand moved weakly, and without thinking about why, Ritsuka stooped down to touch her palm to palm.
For as long as she could remember, Ritsuka had been afraid. Fire was about the only thing Ritsuka didn’t hide from, and that was because there was no point. Fire ate everything. Her normal fear had simply vanished when she saw the Control Room fire on the monitor due to how overwhelming it was. But now, tears rolling down her cheeks as Mash weakly held her hand, all the terror came rolling back. She didn’t want to die, and she didn’t want this strange girl to die.
Her tears were cool compared to the air around her. The terrible smell of burnt wire and electronic smoke choked her. She smelled earth, too, and ice, as ridiculous as that was. But the worst scent was this girl’s blood. Ritsuka had fallen to her knees in a puddle leaking from the girl’s side.
Somewhere a computer was talking, counting down. It seemed like a voice in a dream, one that couldn’t possibly exist, except as a cruel joke.
“Possibly—” said Mash. A light flashed around them. And when Ritsuka woke up again, the whole world had burned.
The way the concept had been initially explained to her, Ritsuka had imagined Servants to be like genies. Powerful magical entities dependent on her as an anchor to the world, who could do miraculous things. Phantasmal purveyors of special effects. One of them had even possessed her companion Mash, healing her and giving her a power-up in exchange for completing a mission
That initial explanation hadn’t really mentioned they usually had bodies of their own, let alone bodies capable of the smugly sardonic expression on the man in blue. He walked ahead of them, leading the way through a burned out urban wasteland to his ‘hideout’. He had a staff and called himself Caster, but he moved like a tiger and looked at Ritsuka like she was lunch.
“And here we are!” The man in blue waved his staff before leading them through a hole in one wall of a partially-standing building that didn’t look like it was about to collapse. “We’ll at least be out of sight in here, while we take care of some necessary business.”
He and the Director began to wrangle about something, but Ritsuka couldn’t pay attention. While the walls of the hideout obstructed the view of the many fires consuming the remains of the city, it did nothing to block the smell or the haze of smoke. Her mind didn’t work right around fires. On the one hand, she didn’t feel frightened around fire the way she did so much of the time. On the other hand, she didn’t feel much of anything else, either. Sometimes her body even did things while her mind was far away, devoured by the flames.
“Senpai,” said Mash, kneeling down beside her, looking at her with that strange sidelong look she had. She was an odd girl, the oddest person Ritsuka had met during her trip or after her arrival at Chaldea. She talked about life like she was documenting something that had happened to someone else.
Ritsuka hugged her knees, looking back at Mash. The other girl said, “Stay strong, senpai. I can fight these battles, but I require your presence to do so. Without you, my Master, I would simply fade away.”
“Master…” Ritsuka muttered, looking down at her hand, the hand she’d pressed to Mash’s in the burning control room. A convoluted shape had been branded into her skin, palm and top. She didn’t remember the pain, but it must have been there.
“In return for your strength as an anchor, I will protect you,” said Mash, in a voice that sounded like she was promising food to a stray cat, and might have been her attempt to sound encouraging.
“Fine!” said the Director, abruptly ending whatever she’d been discussing with the blue-robed Caster Servant. “There she is. Do what you have to.”
The Caster’s garnet gaze moved across Mash to settle on Ritsuka. Her shoulders hunched under the scrutiny. Lunchtime.
“Oy, missy,” he said. “Ready to contract with me as your temporary Servant?”
“You’d better be,” snapped the Director. “Although I don’t expect much out of the likes of you.”
What the Director said made more sense to Ritsuka than what the Caster had said. She hadn’t come to Antarctica to be a Master. She’d called the recruitment number on the poster because Antarctica had sounded like a nice place to vanish. She had no talent and no training, despite the smiling lies told by the recruitment officer after waving an electronic wand over her.
Not that it usually bothered her very much. There were usually much more concrete things to be afraid of. No need to waste time over abstract concepts of social skills obligation.
But now, here she was, with a big foreigner looking down at her like he’d just entered a host club for the first time. He wanted her to be his Master, just like she’d somehow become Mash’s Master.
“I don’t know how to do that,” she said quietly, lifting her gaze to his face. It was long and thin, with a pointy chin that made her think of arrowheads. “It just happened with Mash.”
“Aw, well, there’s a few ways,” said Caster with an easy grin. “But the easiest and fastest way I know is with a little kiss.”
Mash tilted her head again. “A kiss? But I received no kiss from Senpai.” She frowned, as if this bothered her.
“Well, you might go and remedy that before I take my turn,” encouraged Caster. “Wouldn’t want you to miss out.”
The Director gave a dramatic sigh, crossed her arms and looked away. “Just get it over with, already.”
“You just gotta lean over and give the lass a wet one,” said Caster, as if the Director hadn’t spoken.
“A wet one,” said Mash thoughtfully. “Yes, I see. The exchange of fluids would facilitate a magic connection.” She rose up on her knees, eyeing Ritsuka.
“Of course, it’d help a tad if the lass uncurled from being a pillbug.” The Caster crouched down near Ritsuka. “What’s amiss? Feeling shy?”
Ritsuka looked down. “I’m afraid of fire.” It wasn’t true, not the way she was afraid of: men, hospitals, courtrooms, windowless rooms, the police, sleeping too long, big dogs, loud noises, strange girls who stared at her, and cruel words. But she’d found it to be a helpful lie, anyhow. At least until they found her standing and watching one, and blamed her instead.
She wondered how she was responsible for this burning city.
Caster said, “Well, a good kiss’ll take you right away from that. Why not let the other missy start?”
The smell of charred meat, tantalizing and horrible, wafted through the broken parts of the walls. It didn’t linger, overwhelmed quickly by the scent of burning architecture, but it cleared Ritsuka’s mind of the other fears that had managed to creep in.
She sat up straight and then moved to her knees. Mash scooted closer to her. “I don’t want to make any mistakes, senpai. Since I’ve never been a Servant before—”
Mash shrugged and Ritsuka shrugged back. Then Mash laced her fingers through Ritsuka’s own and pressed their lips together.
It was a soft, almost sisterly kiss, but once again holding hands with Mash had an unexpected effect on Ritsuka, sweeping away the fire’s dominion over her mind and bringing back her visceral awareness of everything else: Mash’s soft, cool hand against her hot, sweaty one. Mash’s dry, gentle lips held to her own. The roughness of the splintered, pitted floor under Ritsuka’s knees. The Director’s sigh. Ritsuka’s fear of both the Director and the tall man in blue surfaced, too.
The Caster said, “Aw, and that’s very sweet. Feel free to stop there and let me have my turn, but that’s not going to get any additional magic connections firing. I mean, you’ve got plenty already—”
Mash’s tongue licked across Ritsuka’s lips and she obediently opened them, her fingers tightening against Mash’s. For a few heartbeats, wet tongue touched wet tongue. Then Mash pulled her head back, looking puzzled. “I thought I felt something odd, senpai?”
Ritsuka had also thought this, her first voluntary kiss, had felt strange, almost uncomfortable. But she didn’t want it to end, because after that it meant that man, that Servant, would expect her to contract with him and if she didn’t do it, the Director would punish her.
So she leaned forward, kissing Mash again. The contact was warm and physical and real, genuine in a way that Mash’s words and behaviors sometimes lacked. It was also awkward and strange and felt like they were trying out something they’d both read in a manual and weren’t quite getting right. Ritsuka wasn’t really sure if teeth were supposed to be involved. It seemed unlikely but what did one do with them? Pictures were unclear.
“Oho, yes, well done, missies!” laughed the Caster. “My turn now, I think.”
Mash squeezed Ritsuka’s hand. “Thank you, senpai,” she said softly as she pulled away. “I’m sorry. I really just wanted to see what it was like. You shouldn’t let me take energy you’ll need for other Servants. What we already have between us is plenty for a Servant like me.”
Ritsuka bit her lip and looked down, letting Mash take her hand away. Even without Mash’s touch, she was still feeling again: fear, mostly, but also a warmth toward the other girl. “Thank you, Mash. I’m… I’m not threatened by you, either. It was nice.” She hoped by repeating the other girl’s own words back to her, from a conversation before the explosion at Chaldea, she could explain why she was grateful for the kiss.
Then the Caster was looming over her. He held out a hand with a cocky grin. “Up with you, missy. For the real deal, we’ll do this my way, if you please.”
Ritsuka pushed herself to her feet without Caster’s aid. He noticed, but he didn’t get angry like she’d half-expected. “Not just fire that frightens you, eh? I’d thought we might step away a bit, but this is fine if you’re happier with your friends about.”
Shrugging, Ritsuka repeated the Director’s words. “Just get it over with.”
“Aye, there’s some immortal words for a hero to take to his heart, if ever I’ve heard any. Look up, lass.” Long fingers ran along her jaw, giving the slightest upward push.
She raised her eyes. He still loomed over her, but at least his faint smile didn’t look cruel. “Y’know, don’t you, that contracting with a Masterless Servant will make them your protectors? Y’empower them and tie them to the world, but they’re gone lickety-split without you.”
Ritsuka couldn’t make sense of this. She’d never had anything like a protector. Even the people designated as her guardians hadn’t protected her. And the blue-haired Caster had a scent of his own very different from the fire: a musk that hit her deep in the back of her nose and made her want to push her face against him. It made it hard to think.
He chuckled when she didn’t answer and, leaving the one hand on her face, put his other hand lightly on her shoulder. That was all the warning she got before he was kissing her. Despite his hands, his mouth wasn’t gentle. He didn’t knock on the outskirts and wait to be invited in. He invaded, parting her lips with one stroke and moving to plunder what lay within.
And whatever hadn’t been quite right about kissing Mash was remedied with him. Experience, presumably. He clearly knew what he was doing. And with a rapidness that should have frightened her (but didn’t), a new kind of fire swept through Ritsuka: both hungry and consuming, but not painful.
Was this what it felt like to be fire? she wondered dreamily, as the Caster’s probing tongue and soft lips held her captive. She didn’t want to flee. She didn’t even want to stop. For the first time, she didn’t feel afraid or emptied by flames. All she wanted was for this Caster to keep kissing her.
When the Director finally said, “Oh my god, you’ve been doing that long enough! Stop right now! We have to solve this Singularity!” the Caster didn’t stop, and Ritsuka realized the Director’s ability to punish her was… limited by having this tall man as her protector. Here, anyhow, in Singularity F. F for fire. F for freedom.
She put her hands on his chest, touching the skin under his collarbone, and he nipped at her mouth, showing her just how teeth could be used.
“Come on!” screeched the Director. “Stop already, please! I think I hear monsters outside!”
The Caster’s mouth separated from Ritsuka’s just enough for him to murmur, “What d’you think, Master? She’s getting a mite heated under the collar.”
Ritsuka wanted to kiss him some more, but beyond the walls of the shelter came the familiar growl of the monsters of Singularity F, while beside her was the clank of Mash deploying her shield.
“All right,” Ritsuka whispered. “Go and defeat them. Come back after.”
He kissed her one more time, and stepped away. With a rakish kind of bow to Ritsuka, he said to Mash, “Let’s do this outside, yeah?”
“Yes,” said Mash. She and Caster walked outside to face the monsters, and, leaving the Director alone in the building, Ritsuka followed her two Servants to their battle.
Thank you for reading this far. This will be irregularly updated, possibly no more than once a month (unless I get seized by a muse or a screaming mob of fans.) As mentioned in the tags, this isn't meant to be a close retelling of the FGO Singularities, instead highlighting important character moments. It might also be presented in non-chronological order, in an attempt to manage the muse.
How this came to be: This is what happened when I tried to write my next 10k Worlds installment and my version of Ritsuka went really, really off book and into a dark mirror universe. As such it's going to focus more on intimate, complex and sometimes very dubious relationships between the characters. You may also see some non-canon versions of Servants, or some Servants with darker personalities than you expect.
Chapter 3: 2. A Flame in the Night pt 1
Olga Marie Animusphere, hereditary Director of Chaldea, sat on one side of a crumbling, burnt wall. On the other side, two Servants and the only Chaldean Master arranged certain unpleasant affairs. The Director didn’t want to be there. She certainly didn’t want to be listening. But blocking them out meant blocking out the sound of any monsters sneaking up on them, which would at the very least be fatal for her. And Olga Marie Animusphere intended on living, thank you very much.
The Caster’s low voice easily penetrated the distressed barrier as he said, “Now, since you’re so fond of the lass, Master, here’s how we’re going to do this. Mash is going to follow my instructions as I talk her through the basics. I know you’re new to this and the last thing I want to do is hurt you. Relaxing helps, but we’re not exactly in congenial circumstances right now. Still, I think between Mash and myself we can make sure you’re all right.”
The Director hunched forward, her gaze roving around the urban wasteland as Caster’s amused chuckle grated against her ears. She felt positive nothing nearly so complicated was required just for Ritsuka to replenish Caster’s stock of magical energy. Why did he have to take both of them away, leaving the Director all alone?
After a brief silence—apparently neither Mash nor Ritsuka had any intelligible opinion on Caster’s ridiculous plan—he began speaking again. “Now, Mash’ll stay on this side of you and I’ll be back here, Master. We’ll be doing our best to stay dressed, so if yon Director gives us a warning, we’ll be able to move quickly.”
The Director ground her teeth. How dare he speak of her as if she couldn’t hear everything he said? He could have at least spoken to her rather than about her.
“Let’s start with Mash giving you another kiss, if that’s all right with you, Master.”
Shaking her head, the Director jumped to her feet. She’d watched the first kiss impatiently, both worried and upset about her own inability to perform as a Master and what that meant about her presence in Singularity F. The kiss had been… sweet: two girls who had no idea what they were doing, learning about each other under that blue-haired bastard’s laughing eye. Sweet, in a way that only made Olga Marie hurt inside. Now, although the wall broke line of sight and absorbed the smallest sounds, the vision once again played in her mind’s eye.
“Ah, yeah, you’re both enjoying that,” said Caster. “So much I’m almost jealous.”
Ritsuka said, “Mmf,” and then, with tragic eagerness, “Caster, I can kiss you—”
“And leave out your friend? My way’s better for everyone, lass. I’ll help out from back here when the time comes.”
Unexpected tears pricked Olga Marie’s eyes. She almost wished she didn’t have the responsibility she did. If only her father hadn’t died in such a way. If only Lev were around. If only even one of the other Masters had survived, and they hadn’t met this blue asshole—
“Now you put your hands here, Mash darling. See? Nice and soft, aren’t they. And look how she likes it.”
“Senpai?” asked Mash anxiously. “Do you?”
In a breathy voice, Ritsuka said, “Y-yes. It’s fine.”
“Kiss her again,” encouraged Caster.
Olga Marie slid down the wall again, frantically scanning the wasteland for anything to save her from this incredibly unpleasant situation. Skeletons. Blackened Servants. Lev. Anything.
From the other side of the wall, somebody gasped and then moaned.
Mash had improved at kissing just from her single previous attempt, and between her soft mouth against Ritsuka’s own and Caster’s lips against her shoulder, Ritsuka felt well-distracted from the distant, always-burning fires. And then Caster had unbuckled her uniform front, pulling the top half open so Mash could cup Ritsuka’s breasts. That moved the whole affair to another level. Ritsuka could still smell the smoke, but it mingled with Mash’s hair and Caster’s musk. Was it the hot breeze on her cheek, or a man’s breath? Mash’s hands were so warm, but it was a good warmth, a gentle warmth that would never hurt her.
Somehow this had started with Caster needing a mana transfer so he could use his Noble Phantasm against the blackened Saber guarding the treasure at the heart of the Singularity. The Director had declared they had to recover it, and Caster had smiled his quiet little smile…
…and now Ritsuka stood here, kissing Mash as the Shielder fondled her, with the Caster behind her, his hands on her hips and his breath lightly stirring her hair. The Director was somewhere nearby, supposedly keeping watch while they attended to this ‘oh yes, very necessary’ ritual (according to Caster). The Director was always angry at Ritsuka, which frightened her, but she’d recognized the stricken look in the other girl’s eyes at Caster’s proposal. And yet the Director hadn’t exactly complained, and Ritsuka knew far better than to presume uninvited.
“Ah, girls, you’re indulging yourselves now,” came Caster’s voice in her ear, as the endless hot breeze briefly died away. “But best we keep moving along. This isn’t just fun and games. Mash, I’d like you to move down a little. Put your mouth where your hands are, put your hands where mine are.”
Obediently, Mash broke away from Ritsuka’s lips and began to trail little kisses down one of Ritsuka’s breasts. The odor of smoke intensified, but Mash’s mouth moved so delicately that the smoke seemed like an abstract warning written in chalk rather than the usual neon letters in the sky. Then Mash reached the soft skin at the tip of her breast.
“Oh!” said Ritsuka, and bit her lip as she caught a slight sound from the other side of the wall nearby. But Mash’s lips closed over her nipple, and she forgot all about where the Director might be as sensation bolted through her body. When at the same time Caster began to kiss her neck, her knees trembled and Ritsuka could only be relieved that she was supported between two other bodies. This is an important ritual, she thought dazedly. But they’re making me feel so good.
Mash’s fingers tightened against Ritsuka’s hips as she concentrated on her assigned task with increasing fervor. But her kohai’s mouth remained gentle even as her tongue moved more rapidly. Caster leaned over Ritsuka’s shoulder, watching Mash’s work. “Yeah, there you go, girl. Make her forget about everything but you.”
Where they stood in a seared, blackened city, that wasn’t going to be happening. Those cinders got everywhere. However, when Caster unexpectedly put his hands under Ritsuka’s skirt and slid her tights partway down her thighs, she momentarily forgot the fires in the face of an instinctive reaction to a potential closer threat.
“Caster—?” she began in a near panic, and Mash looked up sharply.
“Has to happen, Master, unless you want me damaging your clothing instead. As pleasant as it can be, we’ve got an agenda here if we want to win.”
“Oh… oh yes. I was just taken by surprise,” said Ritsuka in a small voice. “You didn’t warn me.”
Caster was quiet a moment, and Mash’s arms slid around Ritsuka’s waist protectively as she stared over Ritsuka’s shoulder at the man.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said finally, and the playful edge had vanished from his voice. “Got caught up in the moment. Forgot I’m supposed to be the guide for two in this delightful little arrangement.” He stood again. When Ritsuka looked up at his tall form, he stroked his fingers along her jaw. “Have I ruined it all?”
Taking a deep, steadying breath, Ritsuka glanced at Mash, who met her gaze gravely. “Not ruined… But I liked the talking. It helps me… jump less.”
Mash squeezed her around the waist again before returning to kissing her way down Ritsuka’s other breast.
“Well then, in the spirit of fair warning, if we have what they call an emergent situation, I might be cutting through your tights so you can run. So let’s keep moving briskly along and we’ll avoid that contingency, eh?”
Yet despite his words, he simply returned to kissing her neck, giving Ritsuka a chance to once again try to relax in the arms of her lovers. As Caster kissed the tension from her shoulders and Mash grew bold in her attentions to Ritsuka’s chest, Ritsuka’s breath started becoming ragged, little sounds escaping her throat.
“There we are. Next step. I’ll take over up here, Mash.” Caster’s hands, rougher and larger than Mash’s, moved across Ritsuka’s breasts, entirely containing them. “Master, take hold of your skirt and pull it out of Mash’s way. Mash, you’re moving on down again.”
One of Caster’s hands drifted down under Ritsuka’s crumpled skirt and stroked the recently exposed skin just above her core. As Ritsuka shuddered at the surging of her internal fire, he said, “You’ll put your mouth here, lass. Explore a little. Use your tongue. I’ll keep things warm above, and once she’s ready, we’ll move onto the main event.”
Mash knelt in front of Ritsuka, but looked up at her, her pale hair falling across one eye as she searched Ritsuka’s face. “Are you all right with this, senpai? If you prefer, I can leave you and Caster alone. I’m sure he doesn’t really need me for this.” She spoke with without jealousy or insecurity, as if she was simply stating facts.
Ritsuka thought of the fires and put her fingers through Mash’s hair, revealing her hidden eye briefly. “Do… do you want to go? Are you uncomfortable?”
“No, senpai. I’m enjoying myself very much.” Again that calm statement of fact, and Ritsuka hoped it was more true than her previous ‘fact,’ which was missing some important details.
“I’m all right too,” Ritsuka whispered. “You… you being here makes me feel safer.”
Mash searched her face one more time, before nodding once and hiding her face against Ritsuka’s pelvis.
“Good lass,” said Caster conversationally, as Mash’s tongue flicked out against the outer folds enclosing Ritsuka’s core. “Use your fingers, too, as needed.” His own fingers moved across Ritsuka’s nipples, stroking softly in a way that made the almost ticklish feeling of Mash’s initial contact not just bearable but exciting. She swallowed a daydream about being someplace less on fire and focused on that excitement, letting it pulse through her.
Caster pressed his mouth against Ritsuka’s neck again before saying, “I’m doing my very best to be as gentle as the lass, Master, but you’ve already seen that I’m usually a tad more fierce in my loving.”
Ritsuka drew in a breath to respond, and then another breath, sharply, as Mash’s tongue delved a little deeper into shielded softness. A third gasp, and she managed, “A little of your teeth is okay. “
The Director’s voice, oddly thick and low, drifted around the wall, “Oh, please hurry…”
Caster paused a moment, his head tilting as he listened. But when the Director said no more, he simply returned to kissing Ritsuka’s neck and shoulders, this time adding the occasional sharp delight of a nip. Mash slid her hands from Ritsuka’s hips to her backside, leaning into her task, the pressure of her fingers itself seeming to reach Ritsuka’s core. Every swipe of Mash’s tongue left lines of pleasure behind, each one chaining to the next.
Ritsuka realized she’d had both hands in Mash’s hair, her own head flung back against Caster’s chest, with her breath coming in short pants as her hips twitched. Caster had one arm around her waist, stabilizing her, while he’d continued to fondle her beasts and nibble on her ear.
“Keep up the work, Mash,” he whispered. “Steady and regular, that’ll get her there. Master, I’m moving a hand down there too, to get a lay of the landscape. Don’t be afraid to tell me if it gets a little uncomfortable.”
“Mmm,” managed Ritsuka, who was having momentary trouble imagining anything short of a real fire being uncomfortable, what with Caster’s arms around her and Mash’s mouth where it was, even when Caster moved his hand away from her breast.
A moment later his fingers, warm and wet, moved toward Mash’s tongue from behind, sending an almost nervous thrill skittering across Ritsuka’s skin. She bit her lip, anxious not to send the wrong signals to her companions, but suddenly nearly every bit of her attention had been commanded by Caster. Even the threat of the distant fires faded as one of Caster’s fingers inched its way inside her.
“Stellar work, Mash. Don’t get distracted by me, stay focused on our sweet, soft Master. Tastes good, I bet. Later, in safer places… well, later. And you’ll be getting your own refresh this way, don’t forget that. She’s so strong in her way, our Master. And how’s that, Master? Any pain?”
Ritsuka shook her head frantically. Although his finger felt strange and new, it didn’t feel bad at all. It almost felt good, especially when he pulled it out and pushed it in again. When he did that a second time, in conjunction with the rhythm of Mash’s tongue, Ritsuka groaned.
“Almost there,” breathed Caster, and pushed two fingers in, applying pressure to the inner walls of Ritsuka’s passage. Two strokes in and out and Ritsuka found herself wriggling urgently, only the arm around her waist and Mash supporting one of her knees keeping her upright. She didn’t even remember when Mash had done that, but the two Servants now almost entirely supported her weight.
“All right, nice and slick you are, Master. Mash, here we go,” said Caster. “Keep doing your best.” Something larger and hotter than two fingers pressed against the entrance to Ritsuka’s core and then slowly, slowly pushed its way inside. When it finally stopped moving, Caster gave a long, controlled exhale, as if a challenging task had been completed.
“In a minute or so,” he began, his voice hoarser than usual. Then he stopped, biting Ritsuka’s shoulder as Mash swiped broadly with her tongue before he managed to continue. “In a minute, soon as I’ve got myself together, I’m going to move, lasses. Might be a bit vigorous, but I think it’ll be okay.” He added in a barely audible mutter, “Ah, Master, you’re so tight…”
He remained very still for a moment made long and increasingly intense by Mash’s mouth. Ritsuka started to feel like she was drifting apart and coming back together again, especially once Caster absently moved his now free hand back to her breast. He only held it, but somehow it provided just enough sensation to take Ritsuka to the very edge of reason.
“Now,” said Caster softly, and began to move.
It had to be almost over, right? Olga Marie once again cowered against the wall, scanning their surroundings. She had her hands over her ears now, but only loosely. No sound was blocked but she still felt a little like she was hiding under her covers, shielded by more than a stupid wall against the increasingly loud moans coming from the other side. She knew each of their sounds too well now: Caster’s little huffs of exertion and Ritsuka’s higher pitched yelps, while Mash was responsible for most of the wet noises.
And here was Olga Marie, hidden away: alone, irrelevant, forgotten. They had to save everybody and what did Olga Marie matter against that? Not one bit. Her father had made that very clear. She understood. She did her best to live up to his dream. But did reality have to rub it in so much? She knew she was a disappointment: a failed daughter, a failed Master, a failed Director. A bomb had gone off in Chaldea Command! She couldn’t fail much worse than that.
The sounds from beyond the wall became even more fevered, and then Caster gave a louder huff and Ritsuka’s yelps quietened. Were they finally done? Or had something interrupted them again? That Ritsuka was so delicate. She needed to toughen up—
“She’s whimpering…” came Ritsuka’s soft voice.
Olga Marie realized with horror that it was her. She had her fist pushed against her mouth to muffle herself, but she’d still been whining like an abandoned dog.
Quickly, she tried to pull herself together, but before she managed it, Ritsuka appeared around the side of the wall. She looked like a wreck: her hair wild, her uniform partially unbuttoned and her skirt rumpled—and she clearly didn’t care as she rushed over to Olga Marie.
“I’m fine!” snapped the Director as Ritsuka knelt down in front of her. “You—”
Ritsuka looked at her earnestly, those big eyes that had always seemed so empty to Olga Marie suddenly swimming with emotion. “Thank you so much for keeping watch.”
The Director stiffened and tried to push herself to her feet, but her cramped legs betrayed her. “It’s about time—”
Caster, having come around from the other side of the wall, put his hand on Olga Marie’s head. “Good job, lass. We couldn’t have done it without you.”
The Director’s face tightened further and she glared up at the infuriating, awful man. She opened her mouth to tell all of them off… and then, completely inexplicably, Olga Marie burst into tears.
The blackened Saber form of King Arthur faded away, but Caster remained. “I’ve still got some energy left,” he said with a smile and a shrug. “I guess what we did bound me to you a little more closely than before.”
“Whatever,” snapped the Director. “How did that Saber know the name Grand Order anyhow? Well, that doesn’t matter for now. Let’s call this mission complete and grab that crystal—”
A cold but familiar voice said, “Well, I didn’t expect you’d get this far. Beyond my plan’s expectations and my own tolerance. Master Candidate #48, I made quite a mistake in believing you nothing more than filler content.”
Olga Marie stared at the materializing figure first in shock and then in growing delight. Lev! Lev could explain what was going on to her, the same way he’d explained why her father hadn’t loved her, and what she had to achieve as a Director. Once again, her vision blurred with shameful tears as Lev greeted her companions. He didn’t sound glad to see them, which she couldn’t really blame him for. They were such a rash and reckless lot.
“Senpai, that man is dangerous. He isn’t the Lev from Chaldea,” said Mash calmly.
“What?” said Olga Marie. “Of course he is. Lev!” She started to scramble to him when a strong arm caught her around the waist.
“Hold up, Director-lass,” said Caster in a quiet voice. Frantically she tried to escape so she could run to Lev, clawing and kicking in vain.
“Hello, Olga,” said Lev. “Having a rough time of it?” He smiled.
“Yes, yes, that’s right, Lev! The command room blew up, this city is awful, and I can’t return to Chaldea! Let me go, you oaf, that’s Lev, he’s my teacher, I wouldn’t be here now without him!”
Lev laughed. “That’s certainly true. I set the bomb right under your feet, Olga. And now here you are, a ghost in the system.”
Olga Marie went limp in Caster’s arms, staring at her beloved mentor. He didn’t joke like that. His jokes, when he made them, were usually funny. “What?”
“Your body is dead, Olga. You’ll never go back to Chaldea, never go back to your life. Not that anybody will… but you, annoying child, died there. You’ve nothing left.” He gave her a happy smile.
“No, that can’t be true!” cried Olga Marie, but even as she said it, she understood him. She never could have Rayshifted when alive. It was just one of her many failures. The only way she could be here now was if her body had been destroyed. And without a body, there was no way home again.
She wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t.
“Can we kill him?” Ritsuka asked Mash quietly.
“Evaluating…” responded Mash.
Lev — or what looked like Lev — waved a hand and a burning red image of Chaldeas appeared between them. “Look at what your incompetent Directorship has accomplished, Olga. Be proud. Your brief life has ended at the same time as human history.”
“That’s not real!” She kicked again at Caster, wanting nothing more than to dash to that fake Lev so she could slap that smirk off his face. But Caster’s implacable hold didn’t weaken and she was forced to hang helplessly in his arms as Lev spoke.
“Oh, but it is. I’ve connected up dimensions with this Holy Grail. A fascinating invention… grants wishes, you know. Well, some wishes. Here, it’s granting mine. Now, don’t you want to come home, Olga?” sneered Lev. “Come touch your precious Chaldeas.”
Something pulled on Olga’s body, like the earth pulled her back when she jumped. But Caster held her tight and after a moment the pull weakened.
“Well, no matter,” said the Lev figure, dismissing her utterly from his attention, exactly as the old Lev had done when she disappointed him. That, more than anything, proved to her he was the same person. She slumped, darkness creeping over her vision.
“Come on, stay with us, Director-lass,” murmured Caster. He shifted his grip on her, picking up her legs and cradling her to his chest. “I think we’re about done here, and then maybe…”
Lev was saying something to Ritsuka and Romani but it hardly mattered. She, Olga Marie Animusphere, had broken everything by trusting Lev. And now he was some kind of monster? Ugh. Maybe it really would have been better if she’d never been born.
“Aw, sniffles?” said Caster. “Come on, girl. The gloating bastard’s gone.”
“What does it matter?” snapped Olga Marie. “Don’t you know what that burning red Chaldeas means? Everything else is gone too!”
“Yeah, he went on about that for a while,” said Caster dryly. “But your base is still around. Gonna give up on that?”
“I’m dead! Even if you escape, I’m dead!”
Caster put her on her feet and patted her head again. “You’re still standing here. Oy, girls! Did you get that crystal?”
Ritsuka ran over, holding something that managed to shine darkly. “Here it is!”
The ground shook underfoot. Olga Marie looked around wildly. “Is the cavern collapsing?”
“Yes,” said Mash matter-of-factly. “We have approximately two minutes to restore you before we must withdraw.”
“Hah! Just go, then! Don’t get buried for me!” Olga Marie crossed her arms and looked away from all of them.
“Director,” said Ritsuka urgently. “Lev said the crystal was a wish-granting device.”
Olga Marie shook her head. “And you believed him?” She was trying so hard to be brave. Why wouldn’t they let her? Why were they pushing her?
“Hey, Director-lass,” said Caster, pushing more. “Do you want to be dead?”
“No!” wailed Olga Marie helplessly. “I want to live! I want to matter!”
Ritsuka shoved the shining thing into Olga Marie’s arms. “Then make a wish.”
The crystalline shape made Olga Marie tingle all over. She stared down at it, and saw the darkness within the light. It looked up at her, and then through her, at the burning city and the incinerated future.
Hah! said a dark voice in her mind. You really want to live, lady? Even now?
“Yes!” said Olga Marie. “Please?”
Right, said the dark voice, and stepped within her. Black pain flashed through her, the feeling of a thousand shards of molten metal stabbing through her body. Red voices howled through her mind and that dark personality from the crystal laughed and laughed until the finally the Rayshift came and she lost consciousness.
Later, when she woke up in the Chaldea infirmary, which was protected by a magnetic field from an incinerated world, she had strange tattoos all over her body. But she did wake up. That was the important thing. Olga Marie Animusphere woke up.
Chapter 4: 3. A Sigh on Damp Skin pt. 1
Though the rest of the world had burned, they told her Chaldea was yet safe. But what kind of a haven could it be for Ritsuka when soon they would send her out again? She wouldn’t go alone, but her allies were each double-edged blades, as interested in tasting her tender skin as they were in the enemies.
She had a room of her own, though, and Mash and Olga Marie had promised to kill any Servant who violated its sanctity without her consent. It let her sleep a little more deeply than before. Deep enough and long enough to dream.
Hands, so many hands, all over her body; they pulled her through clouds the color of sunburn, closer and closer to a throbbing core. It fluttered in time with her breath, pacing her pulse, and each peak made the sweat of anticipation bead on her skin. Then the hands touching her everywhere pulled her through the core and she and it were one, floating on a sunless sea, where the only sound was the lapping of waves and her own gasping breaths.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Ka-chan.” It was a smooth, low voice, pleasant to hear. It came from the ocean that held her, and it touched her in all the places the water didn’t.
Then, all at once, she heard the words as well as the voice and she flailed her way to consciousness. Or—
Shh, shh, my pet. It’s always hardest the first time.
Twin lines, cool and electric, traced themselves over her hot skin, mounting peaks to slide into a sheltered valley. In response, fire swept over the land.
And Ritsuka knew herself. She was not awake, nor was she asleep. She was dreaming, and in her dream, she stood in a throne room both vast and close. High walls reached into darkness, draped with billowing silks that shone with their own ghostly light and moved as if caught in a rising storm. A smiling man stood before her, and beyond him rose a throne on a mirrored dais, tall, dark and empty, with wisteria growing around it.
Tall birdcages stood on either side of the dais, but only one was occupied, containing a blond woman with dead eyes, a golden crown and a veil across her features. She sat quietly on her heels, while at its base lounged another woman, younger but almost identical. She was barely dressed in red, with a spiked collar. She had manacles and broken chains at her wrists and ankles, and her green eyes burned as she stared at Ritsuka.
“Ka-chan,” came that smooth, pleasant voice again. She heard both a play on her name and child of fire, and shuddered.
“Ka-chan, look at me,” he said, and her unwilling gaze was dragged to the man in front of her. His hair and skin shone like moonlight and his dark eyes were as fathomless as the sunless sea. He wore clothing the color of night, and smiled gently. “Yes, here I am. But you must be careful where your eyes wander, darling daughter of disaster. There is so much you’re not yet ready for.”
Ritsuka stared at him, her skin prickling. His face was smooth and his features fine, but the way he looked at her made the hungry stares of her Servants seem innocent. His shadowed violet gaze seemed like a sheer curtain drawn across obscenities she couldn’t even imagine. Unconsciously, she took a step backward.
A cacophony washed over her: the clash of weapons, the screams of horses, and the sobs of the dying. A wind lifted her hair and she shuddered as she realized the space behind her was far more expansive than seemed possible. Dread crept over her, and the sure knowledge that something terrible was back there. It seemed very likely that if she took even one more step back, she’d tumble over a precipice into hell itself.
The man’s eyes crinkled as he smiled again. “Don’t look,” he said softly.
It was too much. She glanced over her shoulder, and saw the impossible battlefield that the throne room became. Women wailed beside dying men and were spit upon the lances of other men. Horses shrieked and fell, crushing riders so that mount and knight screamed in unbroken agony. Fires surged, belching curses into the sky, while those warriors who yet lived fought on, covered with the blood of the fallen.
The horror overwhelmed Ritsuka and she cried out as she turned away rapidly, her shoulders hunched and her head down as she put her arms over her head. Then she was being pulled against a warm chest, muscular arms slipping around her comfortingly. Tears sprang to her eyes in rejection of what she’d seen, of everything she’d seen since that terrible day the world burned.
“Shh, shh,” whispered the man. “This is why I had to do what I did, you know. Shh, sweet Ka-chan.” He pressed his face into her hair as he murmured soothing nothings, his arms tight around her as she wept. Then his mouth was beside her eye, his tongue flicking over her tears, trailing down her cheek. When he reached her lips, he began to kiss her as if it was the most natural thing in the world. His lips were soft and his tongue delicate as he traced her mouth.
When he effortlessly pushed past her lips, she could feel it as a shock all through her body, as if he’d reached inside her deepest self and split her apart. Ritsuka’s eyes widened and her tears dried. His mouth felt so good against hers, and once again the fire of desire raced through her, filling the canyon he’d made with an inferno.
But she wasn’t deployed now; she wasn’t on a mission; this wasn’t for a contract; she was sleeping; she was supposed to be safe—
His arms around her were so very strong. She couldn’t escape. All she could do was submit.
All you want to do is submit, whispered that voice in her soul.
“Hurry and kill him!” hissed an older woman’s voice. “Hurry, hurry!”
The younger woman said, sounding bored, “Be quiet, mother, or I’ll hurt you again.”
Ritsuka’s chest tightened as the man’s teasing tongue made something twist inside her. Dreams of rusty blades against her skin, and how good they’d feel, flashed through her mind. He bit her lip gently and she stiffened at the jolt of pleasure that sheeted through her.
Then he sighed and said, “Ah, Ka-chan, Ka-chan, I’ve waited so long for you.” He lifted his head and smiled at her again. When she gave an instinctive, frightened shove against his chest, he took his arms from her and said, “Don’t turn around again, okay? That banquet isn’t meant for you.”
“Who… who are you?” stammered Ritsuka, clutching her chest as the canyon he’d opened closed again, leaving her feeling a little closer to whole.
“Ah, what a terrible question, Ka-chan. You know the only answer that will matter to you is the one you find yourself. But come with me, and I’ll show you my land.”
He held out a hand to her in a courtly way, and when she didn’t accept it, he smiled again. Then her hand was in his, and he drew her after him to the throne on its mirrored dais. She stared at the reflective surface and balked at the base. “That’s not solid. I’ll fall in.”
“Some do, some do. But not you. Not today. Come, meet another of my pets.” The man pulled her up the five steps of the dais and although her feet splashed through the quicksilver surface, she didn’t sink.
Her host walked her past the throne, which had a wooden crown with twelve gems tossed carelessly on the seat. Behind the throne was a corridor with the same quicksilver floor and blank wooden walls. At the end of the corridor rose a staircase in a tower, with another cage at its base. This one spanned a whole wall, but all Ritsuka could see within were play structures and the skeletons of mid-sized animals mixed in with bedding material that looked like golden hair.
“Come out, come out, little one,” called the man. “Come meet the mistress of calamity. I’ve told you all about her, haven’t I?”
A tiny white creature, no bigger than a kitten, poked its head out from the ribcage of a dog. Then it scampered up one of the play structures and emerged from a tunnel at Ritsuka’s eye level. After inspecting her, it said, “Fou?”
“Yes, really, you scamp,” said the man. “You may pet him, Ka-chan. He’d like that very much.”
Hesitantly, Ritsuka reached two fingers through a wire mesh that didn’t seem small enough to contain the small creature. The fur atop his head was warm and silky, and stroking him momentarily made Ritsuka feel somehow more human, like she shared something with all those people in the incinerated world who went through life distracted and unafraid.
Then the creature reached up with teensy tiny paws, took her finger between them, and bit down hard.
Once again, she cried out, the sharp pain freezing her up. But her host put his hand on her lower back and the sensation of razor teeth embedded in her finger transformed into something… good. So good. So hot. Her entire body throbbed with need. The scent of lilac and lotus enfolded her as her host said, “Thank you, Cath Palug.”
The creature chirped rapidly as it released her finger from its jaws, but Ritsuka, dazed by the rush of pain and lust, only had eyes for her host. She reached up to him, pressing her bleeding finger against his mouth. When he looked down at her with enigmatic eyes and licked at her finger, she swayed and whined in the back of her throat at how good it felt.
His hand tightened at her back as he licked her finger again and then sucked at it, making her groan. Then he pulled her hand away, lacing her fingers within his. “Come along, little phoenix of desire. Up the stairs.”
Ritsuka gasped as he pulled her after him again, trying to get control over herself. What had happened? He’d touched her and the pain had become… madness.
Her finger no longer hurt. There was no longer any sign it had ever been hurt, and when she tried to remember the pain, she could only remember it as a dry, rational fact. The animal had bitten her, and being bitten like that hurt. Therefore, she had been in pain.
But all she could recall was the pleasure of the penetration of the creature’s teeth slicing through her skin and pushing inside her.
The stairs followed the wall of the tower, and her host walked steadily up them, her hand in his. Ritsuka felt no fatigue from their steady climb, but the higher they got, the more her normal doubt and fear reasserted itself. At last, her head was clear enough that she balked, pulling her hand free as she stopped.
“Please tell me what’s going on?” she asked softly.
He looked back at her and smiled again. “You’re dreaming. You know you are.” When she didn’t move, he sighed, pushing a strand of her hair away from her face. “You’re destined to give your body to a thousand spirits, but your dreams, sweet Ka-chan… those are mine.”
Ritsuka blinked, fear and shameful excitement both making her stomach clench. “A thousand spirits…?”
Her host rolled his eyes humorously. “Give or take a few. Destiny counts poorly, you know.” He tilted his head and stroked her face, and his fingers were cool and pleasant despite her fear.
Then she was holding his hand again as they walked up the stairs, higher and higher, until at last they came to a door. A simple door, with no lock and the most basic of handles. At his nod, she opened it.
Beyond was a round room, with eight windows in the curving wall, and a bed in the center. The bed was simple, as the door had been simple: a mattress on a heavy wooden frame, with a violet blanket over pillows. That was all.
It was just a bed.
“This is your land?” Ritsuka asked uncertainly.
“This is your room,” her host corrected. “My land lies beyond the tower.”
“Why… why do I have a room here?” It was a terrifying proposition. This place made Chaldea seem friendly and comforting.
“You know why.” He raised her hand to his mouth and kissed her knuckles lingeringly. When she opened her eyes again, she stood next to the bed, her hand still at his lips.
Her breath came hard and fast, and she pulled her hand away from him once more. “No.” She looked around frantically. The door had closed, and the ground glimpsed beyond the windows seemed very far away.
“You’re afraid, Ka-chan, but you don’t need to be,” her host said in amusement. “I like you far too much to use you up so quickly. I have so much I need you for.”
“You’re a liar,” she muttered. “A thousand spirits… Heroic Spirits?” She thought of the hungry eyes back at Chaldea and shuddered. “You’re a liar.”
His soft gaze sharpened. “You’ve already let the Sage of the Forest come inside you. And for what?”
Somehow she was in his arms and he was kissing her neck. Her nipples, painfully hard, brushed against his chest and she moaned.
“Because you enjoyed it, Ka-chan.” He kissed her ear. “You let him lie to you. You let him use you. Because you wanted to be violated. Stretched. Filled. I promise you, you’ll enjoy what I do to you, too.”
And, oh god, she did. Every flick of his tongue, every movement of his hands, the way his body pressed against hers and his mouth moved against her skin. His breath in her hair as he whispered her name.
Then he pulled away and they stood beside the bed still. She swayed, but caught herself with a stumble.
“Do you have a name for me yet?” he asked her, with his smile only at the corners of his eyes.
Her dream whispered to her, and she repeated the words numbly, staring at the floor instead of him. “Merlin Alter.”
He laughed long and loud, and when he stopped. “Alter. I like that. I can be that for you, Ka-chan. Now, go to the window, and look, and see where you are.”
Slowly, but under her own will and her own power, Ritsuka turned to the brightest window and went to see a twilight land, where something dark flew against the sun.
He walked out on the battlefield at Camlann, and the battle ended, and with it human independence. There was never another war. Throughout the land, people lead quiet lives. He walks through the dreams of his subjects and the evil he carries with him makes even the most innocent of dreams into nightmares. He makes both pleasure and pain a terror because they court his attention. He can so easily turn one to another. Or he can pass on by. Even if your leg is caught in a bear trap on a winter’s day, pray he passes by. That which his attention falls on is never the same again. They’re lost in dreams, or they’re dead, called away, or broken. Sometimes nobles scheme, and armies are raised. He allows this. But no battle has ever been fought to completion, and no army has ever returned home.
Ritsuka woke up in her own bed at Chaldea, to a tiny tongue licking her face. “What…?” she said groggily.
“Good morning, Senpai,” said Mash cheerfully. “We have a new friend today, and it seems like he likes you very much!”
Ritsuka focused, pushing away the tiny tongue. Two teensy-tiny paws caught her finger, and licked more.
She stared down at Fou, horror prickling down her spine. “How… what? What is this? How did he get here?”
“I don’t know,” said Mash happily. “We found him this morning in the halls. Da Vinci says I should take care of him until we figure out why he’s here. Since he likes you too, won’t you help me, senpai?”
Ritsuka glanced up into her kohai’s eyes, shining as they’d never shone before, and then down at the kitten-sized creature sitting in the palm of her hand. He looked up at her with eyes that seemed to know everything, every secret she had, every dream she escaped.
“Fou? Fou.” He jumped onto her shoulder, curling his fluffy tail around her neck.
“Senpai?” said Mash, worry darkening her voice.
And she knew: all she could do was submit.
Olga Marie stood naked in front of the mirror in her room, her arms crossed tightly over her chest and her eyes closed.
Come on, Marie, said the voice in Olga Marie’s soul. It’s my body too, now. I deserve to see it properly. I mean, I only just saved your life and all.
“I know,” whispered Olga Marie. “Just… give me a minute.”
I don’t know what you’re so scared of. I already know how nice it feels.
“That, damn you!” she snapped. The voice in her soul only snickered in response. Then something shifted in her sense of bodily awareness and her hands against her breasts flexed under someone else’s control. She felt like she was touching somebody’s breasts, and somebody was touching hers, a deeply disorienting experience that her savior had already tormented her with more than a few times since returning to Chaldea.
Desperate to distract him before he went exploring more again, she opened her eyes, meeting her own ember gaze. As soon as she did she started helplessly trying to finger comb her tangled mane of ashen hair, which she hadn’t properly fixed since the explosion. It hadn’t seemed to matter while she was confined to her bed, but Doctor Romani had told her she could get up today and he’d be coming by to see her soon. She had to take a shower—
Just a minute, princess… I’m still looking. That really is a fine pair of tits you have. And those hips. He seized control of one of Olga Marie’s hands and moved it down to her backside, sliding her palm against her sensitive skin in a way that made her hiss and close her eyes. She’d never realized how soft her skin was, and how perfectly her backside curved into her smooth hand. Unconsciously, her other hand moved to her breast, curving under it as her thumb stroked her hardening peak. Faint blue glyphs began to appear all over her skin, like somebody had decided to torment her by scribbling all over her with a ultraviolet marker.
Woohoo, now that is hot! crowed the voice. Olga Marie realized what she’d once again started doing, flushed from her hairline down to her ribcage and ignored his murmurs to flee to her bathroom.
She kept strict control of herself in the shower, only lingering despite herself over soaping her breasts and her shoulders. Getting clean. Getting herself together. Though everything had gone horribly wrong, she was still Olga Marie Animusphere and Chaldea was her responsibility. No matter what, no matter what, no matter what, she had to fix this. Not that she could. How could she? Everything was already gone—
Marie, said the voice in her soul, calm against her growing panic as she huddled in the bathroom under a stream of hot water, her fingers clenched in her dripping hair.
“My name is Olga Marie, damn you!” she snapped fretfully. Only her loved ones had the right to nickname her. Only her loved ones—
Lev Lainur called you Olga. Fuck him.
--and who did she have like that? Who had ever loved her?
“I depended on him… I should have known better. I should have known better. I should have known! I should have known he was just using me!” Olga Marie pounded the floor so hard her fists hurt and then stopped, her arms wrapping around herself as tears and snot mingled with the shower water running down her face.
She rocked back into the corner of the cubicle as she sobbed, her hands holding her shoulder and hip.”I should have known. I wanted so much to matter to somebody. He made me think I could.” A thought struck her and she snorted with a choking, toxic laughter. “And I did, didn’t I? My incompetence burned the world.” She itched to claw her face, rend her hair, but her hands didn’t move.
“Stop it, let me go! Why did you save me? Why are you doing this to me? Haven’t I done enough?”
You wanted to live, said the voice in her soul, amused. I granted your wish.
She realized in indignation that her savior was laughing at her distress. “Well, wasn’t that stupid of you? Who would save the life of somebody responsible for destroying the world?”
Call me Avenger. And you would, princess. You know you would. Her hands released her and stretched out, her fingers wiggling. Yeah, that asshole made a mistake blaming you. All the evils of the world? They’re mine. And now you and I are one.
Her hands wrapped around her body again. And if you think I’m letting a body this hot die just because you’re in a bad mood, you’re nuts. She rose to her feet. Come on, let’s go back to bed and I’ll distract you some more until you feel better.
A fresh panic surged through Olga Marie, a mundane one that completely replaced the existential one. “No! No, Doctor Romani is coming, I have to get ready!” She rinsed herself off once more, scrambled out of the shower, and set about finding clothes and putting her hair in order.
She was just finishing her side-braid when Romani knocked and then partially opened her door. “Director? How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine!” she said quickly, her fingers tangling as she screwed up twisting the hair tie and the entire braid unraveled. The hair tie spanged across the room and Romani bent to pick it up as he stepped within. He had a faint smile as he handed it to her.
“You look great, especially for somebody, well—you can’t imagine how happy I am to see you moving around again. I want to check a few things before I officially sign your bill of health. After that…” he hesitated. “After that we have something we should talk about.”
Dread curled in Olga Marie’s stomach, but she sat primly on the bed as he took a seat in her desk chair. “Of course. We have so much to talk about. So much to do! We have to—”
Romani picked up her wrist so he could check her pulse, and she forgot what she was saying at the warmth of his touch. She sat quietly as he evaluated her vitals, her mind fizzing gently. Each time she had a thought, his fingers moved: from her wrist to her chin as he checked her eyes, from her chin to her shoulder as he listened to her lungs. He never did anything that deviated from a comfortable bedside manner… so why was Avenger laughing his ass off inside her head?
Humans are pretty much shit at hiding things from me. Dirty, guilty things, anyhow. He cackled some more. He’s being such a good guy now, but later he’s going to think about you while he—
Olga Marie coughed violently, bringing her hands up to her ears, and Doctor Romani jumped, sitting back. “Are you all right? Everything looks good—”
“I’m fine!” she declared again. “I’m fine!” She couldn’t help giving the doctor a searching look, though. He was such a lazy, annoying, moralizing common kind of man. Not like…
She swallowed the lump rising in her throat and gave the doctor her most imperious stare. “Do I have my doctor’s permission to return to my duties?” Once, she wouldn’t even have asked, because who could tell an Animisphere their responsibility but an Animusphere? But now, after the worst had happened, she was desperately afraid of inventing a new low.
Romani sat back in his chair, putting his hand behind his head and laughing in that easy, unaffected way he had. “Well, that’s what we have to talk about. Do you know why you survived the explosion, Director?”
“I didn’t,” said Olga Marie reluctantly. “I was…” she trailed off suddenly, thinking of what had happened from Romani’s perspective. “Oh. Did you see my… my body?”
His mouth twisted in a pained expression. “I identified your remains. And when the Rayshift back to Chaldea took hold, they disappeared from where they’d been stored and reappeared inside one of the Rayshift Coffins, where you started… reconstituting yourself into a living body again. Subsequent scans showed us that like Mash, you too have been melded with a Heroic Spirit.”
Once again, Avenger started laughing in her head. “What?” she demanded angrily.
Romani frowned. “You don’t know about this? I’d hoped—”
“Oh, I do,” said Olga Marie tightly. “He’s laughing like a baboon right now. I have no idea why.”
The doctor’s eyebrows drew together. “Ah. He? Ah…”
“Yes, he. Very definitely a he,” said Olga Marie. “So much of a he that he—” She turned scarlet as she realized she’d been about to confess what Avenger had been doing to her every time she’d woken up the past two days. “He says he’s Avenger. If Mash is Shielder, I suppose that means I’m Avenger now.” She sighed. “I suppose that’s all you can do once the world is ashes. Avenge it. I’m going to murder that asshole Lev.”
“Uh,” said Romani, blinking. “You’re…” He laughed again, but this time it was nervous.
…really hot, suggested Avenger, and Olga Marie made fists with her hands.
“Spit it out, doctor! I don’t have all day.”
“You’re sharper,” said Romani simply. “Avenger suits you.”
“Oh,” she said, and started fiddling with her braid while looking at the doctor’s hands. Then she put her hands properly in her lap and said, “Idiot! Of course it does, or I wouldn’t be one!”
He chuckled. “There’s the Olga Marie I remember. All right, if you understand what you are, I hope you’ll understand what I’ve done.”
“What?” she asked suspiciously.
Meeting her gaze steadily, he said, “You’re still dead, Olga Marie. At least as far as the records are concerned. There’s nobody to look at them now, but eventually there will be. I don’t want to record you as alive until you’ve had time to think about what the consequences of that will be.” He paused just long enough for her to remember Mash’s condition when she’d arrived. And Mash’s incarnation as a demi-Servant had been started under controlled circumstances. She hadn’t bonded with a wild spirit encountered in a Singularity. “You aren’t what you were. You may never be that again. If the Mage’s Association has their say, you definitely won’t.”
“Those people,” Marie said broodingly, but Romani held up a hand.
“I’m not done. The records can be sorted out later. What you need to think about now is whether Olga Marie Animusphere is still the Director of Chaldea.”
“What?” she demanded, bristling. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Romani didn’t answer, his eyes intent on her face.
“I’m still me, Doctor Annoying,” she said, but she could hear her own uncertainty.
“Do you want to be?”
The words hit her like a bolt of lightning, so quick and hard they took her breath away. Did she want to be? How could she be anything else? She was Olga Marie Animusphere, and all this mess was her fault.
Once again the horror and the panic rose up, sweeping over her. She was a failure. She’d disappointed everybody and now there was nobody left to disappoint. Even people with no right to be disappointed in her thought she was the worst, the most useless, the most incompetent—
Avenger stood up. “I’ll think about it, Doctor. But for now, I’d like to get a bit more rest. I’ll see you this evening.”
Roman looked up at her, his eyes narrowing. Then he too stood up. “All for the best. You’ve got a lot to recover from. Rebuilding your body like that…. amazing.” He shook his head and went to the door and then looked back at her. “You’ll be all right alone? Mash and Ritsuka are eager to visit you.”
Avenger grinned as Olga Marie rocked back and forth inside her head, trying to scream herself out of sobbing and back into control. “I’ll be just fine. I know exactly how to take care of myself.”
After another hesitation, Romani gave a quick nod and departed. Avenger’s grin immediately vanished.
The human mind was enormously flexible. Avenger knew that from experience. It could process and accept anything eventually. Marie would come to accept the truth of her new position, along with her new powers. Her guardian spirit just had to keep her sane until that marvelous brain of her finished getting her there.
She sighed as she started undressing again. “Come on, princess. Back to bed we go. We have a lot more interesting things to do than panic about the fuckheads who betrayed you.”
No, said Olga Marie faintly, a blush turned into a word.
Avenger unbuttoned the blouse, admiring herself in the mirror as she did. “It’s your body. If you want me to stop, all you have to do is stop. Just like in the shower.” Avenger paused, cocking an internal ear, and heard only Marie’s little sigh, as he’d heard it so many times over the past two days.
Grinning again, he admired the view in the mirror one last time before turning to tuck himself and his princess back into bed, where he’d distract her—and himself—for just as long as she needed.
At least one more chapter coming in short order. Stay tuned, kids...
Chapter 6: 5. A Flame in the Night pt 2.5
I meant for the next thing I posted to be a chapter about Karna and Ka-chan. But instead, immediately after posting the previous chapter, I started noodling at this—which is clearly the smuttier second half of the previous chapter. Enjoy.
Olga Marie lay in her bed, staring at the darkened ceiling, and let Avenger move her hands over her body. It was strange and disorienting at first, like looking through two different telescopes at once. As a result, the sensations completely dominated her attention, making it very hard for her to think about anything else. That, he said, was the point. It took a lot of focus and effort to really tear herself to shreds. While Avenger couldn’t control her thoughts, he could certainly distract them. She couldn’t even fight back.
Keep telling yourself that, princess. Meanwhile, close your eyes , Avenger whispered to her. Sighing, she obeyed, slipping very quickly into a trance state only slightly removed from dreaming. In this state her sensory input did split, into what he felt and what she felt. The hands that massaged her breasts were soft, thin, feminine hands, but at least they weren’t her hands making her feel so breathless and excited.
For Olga Marie’s sense of decency and self-respect, this was both better and worse. On the one hand, it didn’t feel like she was doing this to herself, while the world lay shattered beyond her door. But on the other hand, it meant she was allowing somebody else to touch her like this, over and over and over, while the world lay shattered beyond her door.
The trance wasn’t as bad as it could get, either. Sometimes she slipped even further into a dream state and then he was more than a pair of feminine hands. He was present with her, straddling her hips, rubbing his palms over her nipples, grinning like a shark as he played with her. She hated it when that happened, and yet somehow it seemed to happen more and more.
Even now she could feel what she knew rationally to be her own hands roughening and growing into his. Then he was there , his weight on her pelvis. When something warm and wet closed over one of her nipples, her back arched and she swallowed a lewd sound. This was a dream, just a dream, inflicted on her by the wicked spirit possessing her. It wasn’t real. She’d wake herself up and get out of bed and go do something—
Nah, not yet, whispered Avenger, which he did very well given that his dream self had her breast in his mouth. She squirmed, rubbing her thighs together under his weight, and tried to move her arms to push him away. But her hands wouldn’t move. Somehow he’d pinned them down, and the enforced helplessness only made her squirm more at the intensity of the pleasure being inflicted on her.
She wanted… she wanted, oh she wanted … she wanted him to touch her more . She wanted him to rub her between her legs. She wanted this creature’s wicked mouth all over her, leaving wet trails behind. But she wanted to be a good girl , too, the sort who was petted and praised and celebrated. And here he was, making her into a bad one. It was terrifying and delicious and degenerate. She whined in the back of her throat despite her best intentions.
You’re so fucking hot , Avenger told her. Why weren’t you surrounded by people trying to get into your pants?
“Far… far too busy for that nonsense,” Olga Marie mumbled, and then gave a keening squeal as something sharp pinched her nipple. The humiliation of her sound made her skin prickle hotly, and she hunched her shoulders as if to escape it.
In response, he ran his finger tips up her arms, leaving shivers in place of the prickles. Then he dug his fingers into her long hair fanned out around her head, stroking through it with his nails. She shook her head fretfully and he caught her head, held it still so he could kiss each of her eyelids gently.
Gotta say, I’m really enjoying saving you . Good call, me, he told her. His fingers caressed around her ears and then he was licking her lobe as his hands continued down her body, between her breasts and over her stomach.
She wriggled in uncontrollable anticipation, well-spiced with shame and guilt. As his fingers slid between her folds and stroked the core of her heat, excitement transmuted into a silver pleasure that tolled through her like a bell. Once again her spine arched, but she bared her teeth, refusing to let him hear how good it felt.
His wet tongue at her ear was replaced by his teeth and then he snickered. Whatever keeps you going, Marie. But believe me, I know how good this feels.
He moved his fingers in slow circles, indirectly pressing against her clit, and his mouth moved back to her breast again. For what seemed like a long time, he held her there, nearly mindlessly riding the steady ripples of pleasure he elicited.
Ahh, you’re falling asleep for real , he said eventually. Time to make sure it’s a good one.
Alarm chased away sleepy bliss and once again Olga Marie wriggled, trying to escape what came next. It was useless, as it was always useless. He’d have his way with her and leave her too spent to focus on other forms of self-abuse. But at least it was all a dream. It wasn’t real. He was real, no doubt about that, but he didn’t have a body, this wasn’t happening. It was all a dream.
“This is all a dream,” she announced, as calm as ice.
I’ve been thinking about getting us some toys, he said as his bare feet pushed Olga Marie’s ankles apart. You looked at a catalog once, yeah?
The ice shattered. Olga Marie almost wailed in rage and embarrassment, and then found her hands long enough to pound hard at the tattooed chest above her instead. “Human history has been incinerated , you monster !”
Grinning down at her, Avenger lowered himself until his weight pressed her into the bed and something hard nudged between her legs. In her ear he whispered, So you’re saying we can probably find a toy somewhere in Chaldea. Something missing its previous owner.
Olga Marie howled as she remembered the flash of light from Lev’s bomb, and the faces of all her associates around her. Twenty-seven people had been crowded into the command chamber to witness history. It had been Olga Marie’s most hopeful moment, when she let herself momentarily think that she wasn’t the world’s biggest screw-up.
And Lev Lainur had destroyed it.
Avenger captured her scream in his mouth as he kissed her, keeping anybody else from hearing, worrying, wasting their time . The kiss wasn’t real, she knew it wasn’t real, but her rage and shame and hurt for herself; her fury and grief for her companions; her hatred for Lev, so violent her body shook… Those were real. Those burned inside her constantly, and she screamed.
As her scream faded, he lifted his mouth, letting her drag in a great gasping breath. As she did, terrifying words rose in her throat: words from a world where you could scream like that and nothing would change. She would gabble about just how awful she was, how weak, how shallow! Because, honest truth? Out of everything Lev hurt, the hurt that drove her the most was to her pride . What drove her forward now, in the wake of cataclysm? Not grief, not justice, not duty, not even hope—
Vengeance, he whispered and thrust his hardness within her.
It slicked in, seeming to fill her, eclipsing her self-hatred and pushing her bad thoughts momentarily off the stage, with a tickle inside her like the thrill of a roller coaster going down.
Yeah , he said, moving a little as if settling in. And yet he was already so deep inside her that Olga Marie felt like every twitch of his hips was wired directly to her spine. She gritted her teeth, impatient for this ridiculous dream to be over.
There we go, he whispered and found just the right place, the place that made Olga Marie bite her lip bloody at the spike of pleasure hammered into her mind.
How’s that for real?
Slowly, he began to move his hips, setting up a delicate, pleasant friction between the two of them. It played against her rising grief and hurt and rage, melody to harmony, creating the song of her Servant self. His hot body moved against hers, and against the potent knife of her self-recriminations. The surge of pleasure rippling through her frame was a star against the darkness of shame. She needed them both, especially now. It was the distance between the two that gave a Servant power.
I really like this part, he said. Where I screw you—
“Nail,” said Olga Marie dreamily. “You’re nailing me.” Her eyes opened and she stared up into his smile. “I really am a worthless failure, though.”
Totally, he said agreeably, and began to kiss her again, in a much nicer way than before. She was. She was totally worthless. An utter failure. She accepted it. But his kiss felt so good. Not like drive her crazy good, but like hot chocolate on a cold day good. Like the sort of good even a worthless person could enjoy, if someone was kind.
That was his kiss alone. But his hips changed everything. If his kiss was the violin trembling in her ear, the way he fucked her was the pounding pulse of an entire heavy metal band. Together, they swept her away, beyond sight or reason. She lay in the farthest reaches of a field of pleasure, basking for what seemed like ages, and yet—and yet—
so shameful , Olga Marie whispered to herself, after what happened
She tumbled beyond the edge of bliss with a scream that should have changed worlds, a scream her lover swallowed once again.
After which she instantly fell asleep, into that deep sleep where the filing’s done, memories are digested and pain is allowed to fade. Meanwhile, he was left to wait, bound by her healing sleep to silence, immobility and boredom, with nothing but his own cold memories to occupy him.
Chapter 7: 6. The Valley of Shadows pt 2
The fascinating ecology of Chaldea started when Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, was caught sneaking into Ritsuka Fujimaru’s bedroom in the middle of the night. The Avenger demi-Servant Olga Marie arrived first, followed by the Shielder Mash, and then, well, Blackbeard was no longer a problem.
After, as the chaos settled, Leonardo da Vinci knelt next to the pool of blue fluid that was all that remained of the pirate. Frowning, she tasted it before saying, “This is a valuable resource. Nobody touch it until I can put something together to collect it.”
Romani and da Vinci called it recycling (but everybody else called it burning) and da Vinci explained it very simply: The magical resource used to summon Servants, saint quartz, was both rare and indivisible. Breaking a saint quartz just meant the magic escaped, leaving some useless shards of stone.
But when a Servant shattered, a fraction of the magic used to maintain them condensed into that blue liquid, which they collected into mana prisms. It turned out to be a very valuable resource for operating Chaldea and providing mission support. And so, brightly, da Vinci issued the instruction:
“If we get any other useless Servants, make sure to recycle them, too!”
That led to other discoveries. For example, when one Servant recycled another, they got a tiny potential power boost in the form of quantum particles. These accumulated around a Servant, and could eventually be catalyzed into a permanent upgrade to their power level. This they called ascension.
It turned out quantum particles could be accumulated in a number of ways. It happened naturally on missions. Summoning rituals released a concentrated burst, too. Yes, there were plenty of quantum particles to be acquired. The trick, it turned out, was turning that potential power into a real upgrade. The more powerful a Servant was, the harder it was to find a catalyst that worked.
Da Vinci worked on it in her spare time, but she pointed out every time somebody asked that she didn’t really have very much of that, even taking into account never sleeping. If only there was another way, she complained, all the way into the early days of the Orleans Singularity.
It took quite a while before she admitted that, actually, there was.
Like all the Servants, Karna, Hero of Charity, had watched his Master closely since he was summoned. He knew her favorite foods. He knew the songs she hummed when she forgot she was being observed. He knew how little sleep she got, and how fast she could run a mile. And he knew how she reacted when Servants tried to touch her. He’d watched as she sat, paralyzed, as Fionn slid his arm around her waist. The foolish Irish king had ignored Mash’s warning and Olga Marie hadn’t been there.
When Mash had kicked Fionn away, Karna had been there with his spear, and Beowulf and Stheno and Cú Lancer. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” Cú Lancer had said, as the blue-gold fluid remains of Fionn pooled around their feet. “You’ve got plenty of Lancers.”
As the mana prism wetvac trundled out from the wall, she’d lowered shocked eyes to her plate, hunching her shoulders in a way that told everybody she wasn’t any happier about her lunch being spoiled by violence. The Servants watching took note, and later executions happened when she wasn’t around.
She shone like a glass bird with a plasma core: afraid of fire but already beyond it. Though she was fragile, she was capable of anchoring uncounted Servants. Anybody who threatened to shatter the bird had to be crushed, for the good of humanity.
And now, for the good of humanity, da Vinci wanted him to risk doing that himself.
Ritsuka sat in her bedroom, looking at the Servant kneeling before her. She and Mash and Olga Marie had been playing with some nail polish Marie had liberated from somewhere when Karna had knocked. He’d warned her he’d be coming by to speak to her, which is one reason she had her friends there. But she’d been so caught up in the moment she’d actually forgot his planned visit. Now, still giddy and breathless with laughter, she curled her fingers in her lap as he spoke with his usual blunt, uncomfortable straightforwardness.
“There’s something we’ve been keeping from you, Master, and it’s time you knew.” His calm gaze didn’t even flicker as he said, “There is a sex rite between Master and Servant that can be used in place of physical artifacts to catalyze Servant ascension.”
Ritsuka stiffened, her eyes searching his expressionless face and then turning toward Olga Marie. The Avenger demi-Servant laughed that edged laugh she had sometimes. “Mr. Charity never lies.”
“That makes sense,” said Mash thoughtfully, looking at her violet fingernails. “That explains a few things. But how did you find out about it?”
This too Karna answered smoothly. “It’s installed knowledge, although I understand that Servants summoned in the beginning were imbued with the knowledge a little before Orleans.”
“Why… why are you telling me?” Ritsuka stared hard at the Servant who had never looked at her like she was meat, but who had always scared her for an entirely different reason. Child of the Sun.
“I’ve absorbed all the quantum particles I can for now, and da Vinci tells me the physical catalysts I need have yet to be pinpointed.” He met her gaze steadily. “She also tells me future battles are likely to be far more challenging than what we faced in Orleans.”
“Oh,” she said nervously. “You want to…”
“I want you to understand the choices.” He rose gracefully to his feet. “I believe you’ll want some time to think about this.”
Ritsuka did, she really did. She wanted all the time in the world to think about it, or rather not think about it, to pretend he’d never come to her room, that she’d never summoned him, that the world hadn’t been burned.
But it had.
And she had Mash and Olga Marie anyhow: friends she could laugh with. If she wanted to keep them, she couldn’t allow herself time. She’d only find a way to run away.
“Wait! Wait… I want to… talk about it with you more.” She swallowed her fear and glanced at Mash.
As usual, Mash understood her intentions perfectly. “Would you like me to stay, senpai?”
Ritsuka shook her head. “I don’t want to do that to you. I… I can handle this by myself. I might have to someday. So I should.”
Olga Marie gathered up the nail polish set. “Hrmph. I’m certainly not staying if Mash isn’t. It’s not like a goody-two-shoes like Karna is going to actually do anything wrong.” Then, looking at Ritsuka from the side of her eye, she added, “But if he does, don’t forget your Command spells, idiot. We can be here instantly.”
Karna remained standing as the two young women filed past him out of the Master’s bedroom, meeting both Mash’s cold gaze and Olga Marie’s burning one. They were both weak Servants compared to him, but Ritsuka knew they’d both fight to the death for her if she needed it.
She wouldn’t need it, though. Not against Karna. If he wanted to hurt her, he was far too powerful to stop.
As the door closed behind her friends, Ritsuka’s eyes stayed fixed on her bare knees, toying with the hem of her shorts. After a moment, Karna said, “Master?”
Clearing her throat, without looking up, she said, “How does the rite work?”
He paused before answering, as if gathering his thoughts. “Imagine that each of us have a circuit that can be closed by having sex, but only with our Master. Simply closing the circuit might condense a few quantum particles into a temporary boost in power, but for anything permanent, it must be mutually pleasurable. At least, that is the theory as I understand it.” He spoke calmly, as he always did. He might have been discussing the weather, or his last duel.
She glanced up and then down again. “In our first Singularity, where Olga Marie… well, anyhow, in Fuyuki, Cú Chulainn, the Caster, he… he told me about a ritual too. And we did it.”
She shook her head in frustration, remembering her nervous pleasure at the time, and her shame later, after Merlin Alter had told her what Cú had later confirmed to be the truth: that he hadn’t quite needed the mana transfer nearly as much as he’d let her believe.
“I do believe Marie that you’re telling the truth. I do.” She glanced up at him, anxious that he didn’t feel like his honesty was being impugned. He looked back at her, his gaze calm, and she looked down, flustered at even having this very private conversation with him.
Almost mumbling to herself, she said, “He at least tried to make it nice for me. He told me everything he was going to do and that helped a lot.” She swallowed. “So please… tell me what you’d do?”
He moved, kneeling down directly in front of her. “What do you want me to do?”
The question almost sent her into a panic. “I don’t know! Don’t… don’t hurt me. Don’t lie to me.” Don’t burn me.
Moving slowly, he put his hands on her knees. His hands were warm and dry, and the lightest and gentlest of touches. “I’m bad with words, Master. Lying to you would be beyond my abilities.”
Even on his knees before her, their eyes were almost level until he sat back on his heels, his thumbs sliding over her knees before his fingers glided down the back of her calves. “I think I would start by touching you gently, as if you were an unbroken horse.” He lowered his head, concentrating on her feet as he cupped her heels in his palms. “I would hope you could grow more comfortable with me, comfortable enough to stroke my hair.”
Hesitantly, she touched his white hair, running her fingers through fluffy softness that had reminded her of clouds of ash but was in truth far more beautiful. His head moved under her hand, like a cat leaning into scratching, but he kept his eyes down, his fingers moving lightly over her feet and ankles.
“Like this?” she asked.
He looked up at her so that her hand trailed along the side of his face. Her fingers brushed over his cheekbone, down to the corner of his mouth and along his throat to his necklace before he said, “Yes, like that.”
Ritsuka froze, afraid of doing the wrong thing by lifting her hand away, and even more afraid of touching him further. But all he did was lower his head again, lifting one of her feet. Furtively, Ritsuka put her hand back on his hair again, once more stroking him like a cat.
After a moment of simply holding her foot, he began to rub his strong fingers along the edges of her sole and around her heel. She felt the massage not just along the muscles of her foot but in her calf and knee: a delicious loosening as his fingers lifted away both tension and the first layer of her fear.
“What… what is this?” she asked breathlessly.
He moved his hands to her other foot and once again each stroke of his fingers spiraled up her leg to her knee, and then further. She could feel her shoulders loosening, too.
“Nothing very much,” he said softly. “It helps me as I think on what I would do. I really am not good with words.” He glanced up. “Would you like me to stop?”
“Oh,” she said. “You… you can keep thinking. I don’t mind.”
He tilted his head against her hand again. “Are you sure you won’t touch me more, Master? I don’t mind that either.” With a half-smile, he said, “I’ve heard my body can put people off.”
Ritsuka took the implied invitation to look over him, from the spiked collar around his neck to the gems embedded in his chest and the skin-like black and gold bodysuit he wore. Very gently, she pressed her finger into one of the spikes on his collar, and then yanked her hand away as it bit into her skin like tiny fangs.
“Why do you wear that?” she asked in a tiny voice.
Karna raised a hand to the collar. “I suppose it symbolizes my connection to my father.” As he touched it, it fuzzed into gold light and vanished. “It comes off.”
“You don’t actually know?”
Karna gave her a wry smile as he returned to rubbing her foot. “I didn’t design this version of my father’s armor. I personally suspect da Vinci of modifying our patterns in the system, but I don’t really know why any of us look the way we do.”
“Oh,” said Ritsuka, and her fingers drifted down his chest, just a little, to where the bodysuit began. She touched the thin, oddly hard fabric and once again pulled away, her face flushing. “Still thinking?”
When he didn’t answer, she added, “I thought you’d know exactly what to do. Haven’t you…” She trailed off, pressing her hands against hot cheeks, thinking about how he’d never looked at her like most of the others did.
He glanced up at her again with a little smile. “I have. But this isn’t the same. My brides weren’t terrified.”
The casual observation instantly made Ritsuka shut down. She pulled her feet away from him, up into the chair, and huddled around her knees, all her fears of men, closed rooms, lies, danger, pain, trusting, flaring up again. Karna straightened his spine, his hands resting curled on his legs, watching her with an alien calm.
She peeped at him over her arms as her fear scritched across her skin, twisting in her spine, underscoring everything bad. He was overwhelmingly powerful, capable of sudden and shocking violence. She was alone with him. He could simply take whatever he wanted. She couldn’t fight. She couldn’t hide. Even if she got away from him, where could she go? Chaldea was full of entities just like him, and somehow they were all anchored to her. It meant they could find her anywhere. It meant she could never escape.
She’d practically been carried through the Orleans Singularity by them: by Cú Caster, who hadn’t touched her again after she’d confronted him, and by his grinning Lancer twin; by vicious Beowulf and poisonous Stheno; by Jeanne d’Arc and Georgios, and, eventually, by Karna. They needed her physical body’s proximity to fight at their best, and her soul as their anchor to the world. It didn’t matter if she was afraid, or mad, or shattered. In the end, only Mash and Olga Marie cared about that.
And Jeanne… Jeanne had been very kind. Within the Singularity, only Jeanne, and later her altered twin, had required a temporary contract. That hadn’t been so bad. Neither of them had wanted anything more from her than a kiss. She missed them now that they’d returned to the Throne of Heroes.
But after every draining fight, the others looked at her she was theirs. She hadn’t seen what had happened to the dragon girl Servant who tried to climb naked into her bedroll, but she still knew. Her Servants were killers, each and every one. And the thing about killers was that it only took one wrong move to make them kill her, too.
This was the daily refrain of her ordinary fears, the fears that faded down almost to silence when she exchanged smiles with Mash while Olga Marie complained about something trivial. It wasn’t like her fear of fire. She associated Karna with fire, but he was the child of the sun.
As her fears simmered down from their sudden boil, Ritsuka distantly remembered that the sun could be so comfortable. A killer, yes, but there had been summer days at her first group home when the sun had come out and they’d gone to the beach or the pool, or once, the zoo. Although she couldn’t remember details, the feeling of that day was the same way she felt when she giggled at Mash, or stroked a dozing Olga Marie’s hair.
Karna was nothing like that. Her skin prickled with a constant sense of danger around him. Her stomach would hurt when she realized he’d been staring at her. She’d had to frame this as talking even to begin, and she’d only been able to do that while empowered by laughing with her friends only minutes before. That sense of empowerment had faded fast, and now here she was, alone.
He watched her silently, as still as a statue. The only way she could tell he was breathing was from the glints in his gem changing as his chest rose and fell. She wondered how long he’d sit there, being patient with her fears. A while, perhaps. She remembered his patience from Orleans. But eventually, his patience with her would run out.
Ritsuka lifted her head, watching his quiet form. It occurred to her that she could try being brave, now, before he lost that patience. Olga Marie had been brave, back in Fuyuki, and she was absolutely fearless now. She wanted to be more like Olga Marie.
Slowly, she unfolded, putting her legs back on the floor again. “You were telling me what you’d do in this rite.”
Moving slowly, he once again put his hands on her legs, this time sliding his hands from her calves to her knees. “I’d do whatever was necessary to close the circuit.”
His hands curved over her knees, hotter than before, and continued up her legs, his thumbs stroking her inner thighs in a way that sent shivers down her spine. When the tips of his fingers disappeared under her shorts, he stopped, but leaned forward, until he was close to her ear. “I’d watch you. What made you flinch. How you breathed.” He slid his fingers over her shorts and further up her thighs. “When I saw you treating this like a battle—” His nose in her hair, he inhaled her scent. “—I’d win.”
A shudder rippled down Ritsuka’s body, all the way to her toes, followed by a second one that clenched her thighs as Karna shifted away from her ear. His eyes, previously so calm, seemed to glow. The alien calm had vanished; this was Karna ready to kill, the child of the sun as warrior, not saint.
His mouth closed over hers for the barest instant, not a kiss so much as a statement of intent. Then, his eyes burning, he said, “Put your hands on me.”
Nervousness and the tension in her thighs made Ritsuka obedient. She put both her hands on his shoulders, pressing her fingers into lines of overheated corded muscle. He smiled as he lowered his head. Guessing at what he wanted, she ran one hand around his neck and up through his hair again. In her heightened state of nerves, the silky strands were almost unbearably soft.
Then her hand tightened into a fist as his hands ran up her stomach and he unbuttoned her shorts. ”I’d take off your clothes.”
Ritsuka’s fingers tightened more in his hair and his breath hissed as he tilted his head back. She brushed her fingers across his exposed throat and then down his chest to the red gem embedded there. Its heat pulsed against her palm,
Karna dug his hands into her hips, lifting her from the chair as he flowed to his feet. Her grip on his hair tightened as she almost overbalanced and in response his arms crushed her against him. His body felt absolutely feverish. Then he was lowering her to the bed, his burning gaze inescapable. Ritsuka didn’t dare let go of his hair. He tugged off her shorts, leaving her in her panties.
Quietly, she said, “This really will work?” Even what Cú Caster had done had worked, even if he’d admitted when pressed that he wouldn’t have seduced a male Master the same way.
Karna put his hands on either side of her. “If it doesn’t work, I’ll be putting your war on hold until I hunt down whoever put this knowledge into our heads to cut them into pieces.”
She ran the fingers not entangled in his hair over his face, her heart pounding and her stomach churning. She was being brave. Everything would hurt in the end, because that’s what always happened. But she wanted to live; she wanted Mash to live, and she wanted a world for them to live in. The world after incineration was a world for killers, but even then, living was better than dying.
He caught her fingers in his hot mouth for a moment and then surged forward to kiss her again, his mouth hard and precise against hers, his breath as hot as smoke but far less choking. He pushed her thighs apart so he knelt between them, pulling her once more against his overheated body. It felt good, but that very overheating stopped her from losing herself to the arousal he sent curling through her. The more he touched her, the hotter he got, and she couldn’t help the fear that awakening his power would leave her nothing but ashes.
But that wouldn’t make sense, would it?
It was not a thought to give her courage, but she couldn’t think about why. Karna’s hands on her thighs squeezed as his thumbs stroked her panty-covered core. His mouth burned her, but it was a terrifyingly addictive fire. He was going to push her down and take her, take everything he wanted from her, and she was going to let him.
Panic squeezed her heart briefly, mingling darkly with the flame of pleasure he’d kindled. She shook her head and pushed on his chest. He broke away, his eyes blazing with a feral hunger she recognized from other Servants, like he wanted to devour her down to her bones, like there would be nothing of her left when he’d taken what he wanted.
Panting more with fear than desire, Ritsuka shook her head again and then pulled her top off. Once again, he looked at her like he was evaluating her weaknesses watching her breathe and her burst of courage fled. She went from reaching around her back to unfasten her bra to curling around herself again.
But what patience he’d had before had vanished like mist in the sun. He forcibly stopped her from bringing her legs to her chest, instead shifting so he could pin her lower body against the bed with his. Then he dragged her arms away from her chest, holding them to her sides. “I won’t let you run away.”
“Please,” she whispered, both afraid and aching for him to do more. Her chest rose and fell with her gasping breaths, and his gaze lowered. Then, releasing her wrists, he reached behind her back to complete the unfastening she’d started. After he tugged her bra away, he caught her hands before she could cover herself again, leaving her breasts bare and exposed to his gaze.
He looked for so long that she started struggling against him, remembering how he watched her in Orleans, knowing he’d be looking at her again in the future and remembering what he saw now. It was intensely humiliating. She’d never be able to bear it.
He released her wrists again only to cup her breasts in both hands. Almost instantly, her sense of humiliation vanished as his thumbs stroked her nipples. Her back arched and her head tilted back as she gasped in pleasure.
“Ah,” he said softly. “That’s what you like.” Then he put that kiln of a mouth against her breast, exactly as she’d wanted to ask him to do before she’d lost to the fear. As he suckled she felt like he was pouring heat into her, stoking an inferno. He pushed her back to the mattress and she put her hands in his hair again distractedly.
Then he was removing her panties, and his fingers, far hotter than her flesh, pressed against her core. It was a soft pleasure compared to his mouth on her breasts, and she moved her hips fitfully.
He pulled away from her entirely and for a moment she was freezing. Her eyes flickered open and she saw him kneeling down, naked, on the bed. His body was lean and wiry, with ropey muscle on a narrow frame, with skin almost as white as his hair. Only his teal eyes and the crimson gem in his chest had color, and the gem blazed so brightly that the whole room was tinted in its light.
Her eyes skidded over his full erection and then backtracked as she stared at the size. Its length was proportional to his height, but it was far thicker than she’d expected. She twisted her fingers in the sheets, remembering Fuyuki, and how Cú Caster had taken her from behind. She’d never seen—
Karna bent over her, kissing her again as his hands roved over her body. He allowed her no time for thinking, for fanning her fears, only for feeling. Once again, his heat poured into her via his mouth and hands, until she was flushed and squirming against the leg between her thighs.
At that point, he straightened, lifting her hips until only her shoulders remained on the bed while staring down into her eyes. “This is what I’d do to complete the rite,” he said softly, and jammed his girth into her. She covered her mouth, her eyes widening at both the stinging and the hot fullness. But even before the stinging had faded, Karna had begun to move against her, grinding her core against his pelvis in a slow growing explosion of sweetness.
He watched her, too, his eyes on her body as she shivered and trembled under his control. Her breasts spilled sideways, bouncing with his thrusts. It felt so good, and yet the way he’d stared! He’d always be seeing her like this now, under her clothes. It was exciting and terrifying and she wanted to cover herself again.
Instead, stuttering a little, she said, “Karna… Karna, don’t tell anyone? Don’t tell them what I’m like?”
He adjusted her legs so he could support her weight with a single arm—that Servant strength at work— and reached down to caress her breast. “I won’t.”
She closed her eyes as his hips and fingers moved, finally letting what he wanted to do to her happen. The pleasure swept her away, crackling through her body like lightning and leaving her blind to the world. He moved harder against her, shoving himself deeper, faster, rougher. Sunlight surrounded her, and he groaned before slowly lowering her to the bed.
Ritsuka opened her eyes. Karna knelt between her legs, breathing hard, a wild expression on his face. His hair had turned completely crimson.
“Did it work? Your hair…” she asked, and she wasn’t sure if she wanted the rite to be real or not.
The wild-eyed expression faded and he pulled a strand of his hair so he could see it, in a surprisingly adorable movement. As she watched, the red faded back to white again, and he smiled at her. “Yes, it did. All available quantum particles have been catalyzed into my main body.”
“Oh,” said Ritsuka. “That’s… good.” And she meant it. She really did.
But she couldn’t help remembering what Merlin Alter had said, when she’d first met him before Orleans, about how she’d give her body to a thousand Servants. Dread tickled under the languor. Karna had said they’d learned of the rite then, too.
She sighed and rolled on her side.
“I won’t betray your privacy, Master,” said Karna, moving so he could gently stroke her back.
Ka-chan. Merlin Alter smiled in Ritsuka’s head.
“Thank you, Karna.” But she knew: he wouldn’t have to.