Author's notes: Response to Fate of the Unknown, on , challenge chapter 117: Fate: Past Awry
Credits to mirrormoon's translation of the original Visual Novel. Some sections taken verbatim from the Day 1 of the Prologue and from the Last Episode.
Also thanks to SwordofallCreation and Universe Creator for initially posting the challnge and offering their help with working out the trickier bits of the beginning and ending of this. Now I just need to sort out the middle.
I promise not to abandon any fic I am currently working on. Should I take a break, It will be labeled on Hiatus, in summary and on my profile.
Warnings for future canon-typical violence, nightmares, and no good decisions in ethical dilemmas. Also for future rape, graphic.
Disclaimer: I do not own any portion of the Fate Franchise, nor do I receive any financial gain from it. This is for my enjoyment and my readers'.
Now, On to the story!
P.S. Due to multiple complaints about my opening info dump in the prologue on Throne Mechanics, I have removed the wholesale section, and will repost a bit of my head-canon at the beginning of each chapter, since I have no desire to turn anyone off with 'dry academic text'.
P.P.S. I have no idea why everyone thinks I am male. I am a girl, people.
EDIT 8/22/2015 - Universe Creator is officially a co-author for this work.
Prologue: On the Nature of the Throne of Heroes
There are many speculations about the Root of Akasha and its various sections. The accuracy of such speculations is, of course, limited; how can a human mind begin to comprehend an infinite repository of knowledge, only a miniscule part of which is human in nature?
The Throne of Heroes is, of course, one of the larger parts of the section of human knowledge, as well as one of the better known and understood subsections. (Or so those who know of Akasha claim. Those who have actual contact with the Root to say for sure are few and far between, and not inclined to speak.)
What is known is that Heroes are removed from the Cycle of Reincarnation, glorified by their legends, and take their place on the Throne, enshrined by human memory.
The truth is nothing so idealized. Or lengthy, even. To be a resident of the Throne, one must somehow qualify as a Hero, or an Anti-Hero.
But surely, you may argue, shouldn't an emergency medic qualify as a hero? Shouldn't a firefighter who lost his life getting people out qualify? Why do they not end up on the Throne?
The answer is rather simple.
To qualify as a Resident of the Throne, a prospective Hero (or Anti-Hero) must be synonymous with another word. He or she must be a Meddler.
- From the thesis notes of an unidentified Clock Tower student
In all the aspects of the Kaleidoscope, there have been but two instances of Alaya failing to keep her promised Counter Guardian once a contract has been established.
The first is due to said prospective Counter Guardian accidentally ascending to the Throne as a Meddler in his own right, entwined so closely with his lover Janet/Margaret that they share a room even in the afterlife. This is Tam Lin, who told his lover how to free him before the contract might be fulfilled, their legend immortalized in the Border Ballad that bears his name.
The second instance is due to the Contract requiring the prospective candidate to gain the reward herself, with Alaya merely opening the chance for her to do so. This candidate was known in life as the male King Arthur, King of Knights, despite being born a woman.
Arthuria or Altria or whatever name she was born and baptised under, this Heroic Meddler answered to 'Arthur' for her entire adolescent and adult life. She lived as a man, married as a man, ruled as a man, gathered a host of Heroes behind her as a man, united and protected her country as a man.
And in the end, it all fell apart.
Her 'wife' and their mutual best friend were discovered comforting each other, the stress of the masquerade too much for them. Though the king had blessed the affair by silence, now that it was public 'he' was forced to condemn his queen to death for treason. The Round Table cracked over the decision, Lancelot choosing to rescue the Queen from their mutual folly and accept exile for it, leaving his King alone. Many knights died as a result of his decision, including Gawain, who had often served as his King's double in public and believed in Arthur as the perfect King.
The only one remaining who knew the secret she lived with daily was her foster brother Sir Kay. Merlin was gone. Ector was dead. Mordred had left, and Morgan had discovered the truth on her own and would use it against the Crown if she could. And as much as Kay tried, his struggles to hold the kingdom together did not leave much time to spend with his foster sibling that was not in the public eye.
That was the first betrayal, to lose the remains of the support network that saw her as human.
News came of a border skirmish, and Arthur led out her knights to deal with the foe. Exhausted, she retired to a nearby abbey after the victory, collapsing with her sword in one hand, and her scabbard in the other. When she awakened, her scabbard was gone, and she was told that her sister Morgan had come and visited while she slept, and gone away with the scabbard under her cloak. Though the King pursued her, Morgan threw the scabbard away into the river, and it was carried swiftly downstream and could not be retrieved.
That was the second betrayal, to lose the protection that kept her as she was on the day she drew the sword from the stone, healed and unable to age. The loss of the Fae-given protection restricted her options in battle and left her doubting her own decisions.
And when she returned to the capital, she found the land in civil uproar. Mordred had reappeared, claimed the birthright of heir to the throne, and further destabilized the already shaken country, backed by Morgan and the knights loyal to her.
That was the third betrayal, to entrust her country to another and find her judgment to be lacking.
The king had no choice but to take the knights still weary from the border skirmish and ride to meet 'his' 'son' in battle.
The night before the battle, Arthur dreamed of Gawain. Truest in service in life, and even so after death, Gawain warned Arthur, "Do not fight tomorrow, or else your fate is death, along with most of the men on both sides, even if you win. Delay with an offer of treaty for a month, and Lancelot will come to your aid."
Arthur took the advice, offering Mordred the rule of Kent and Cornwall for now, and the rest of England after Arthur's death. Mordred agreed to meet on Camlann to sign the treaty. For a moment, it seemed all might be well, with both sides bearing arms, and both warned to draw only if the other side did so first.
Alas for a treacherous adder, biting through the mail at a nameless knight's heel. Alas for the knight's reflex, drawing his sword and cutting the serpent in two. Alas for the flash of steel that spurred both sides into a battle that neither desired.
At the end of the day, Mordred lay dead, pierced by Arthur's blessed spear, along with all his knights. Sir Lucan, the last to die, fell to his gut wound. Only Sir Bedivere stood without a mortal wound.
How, wondered 'Arthur,' could I have failed so badly?
The answer was obvious: she had usurped another's role. The prophecy had spoken of a son and not a daughter, after all.
If she had found the Holy Grail, Lancelot would surely not have lost his son Galahad.
If she had found the Grail, surely her country could have been saved.
But she had not, and she was not worthy of it.
So she made an offer to the world.
"I will swear my sword to you after I die. But , in exchange, you must allow me to obtain and use the Holy Grail before I die. So that I may fulfill my final duty as the King of Britain, and find a worthier replacement who can do a better job than my attempt, by returning to the scene of Caliburn in the Stone. I will only serve you once your half of the contract has been fulfilled."
Who could resist such a Bargain? A meddler, who was already a Meddler under her own power, yet was willing to submit to the World for the creation of another Meddler to take her place?
*So be it. I will stop time for you, and you will be summoned onto many battlefields for the Grail. But should you lose, you may not repeat the same battle. I will return you to this place after each battle. Should you lose, and wish to continue, you may keep the memories of the loss. Should you lose, and not wish to continue, you may end the contract, unfulfilled on both our ends, at any time. Either way, you will not repeat a battlefield. And in the end, when you have won, and used the Grail, you will serve me with your sword. Regardless of what has happened, you will not forget the bargain, or the circumstances that led you to make it. You will serve me eventually.*
"I understand. I accept."
Alaya should have known it was too good to be true.
She cannot count the number of repetitions that King Arthur has managed, as Saber of the Holy Grail War of Fuyuki and otherwise.
She has come so close, so many times, particularly in the Wars. But something has interfered at the last minute. Or there has been a betrayal. Or the Grail was corrupt from the start.
The truth of the matter is, Alaya has been cheating a little.
Should Saber lose, and not wish to continue, Alaya has kept those memories from returning to the King, letting them continue as a separate existence. Preserving the chance of an intact Contract with a Meddler who changed fate with nothing but her own will and the wills of those who gathered behind her.
But it is becoming increasingly clear that pursuit of the Grail is a human wish, a human quest. And though She is the Will of All Humanity, their incarnated determination to survive, endure, and change, in the end Alaya is no more human than Gaia, and does not truly understand humans.
King Arthur does not understand human feelings.
One of the Knights of the Round Table said that, shortly before leaving Camelot.
Perhaps that is the problem?
Tapping metaphorical fingers on Her desk, Alaya considers.
It is very rare for Her to assign long-term, non-combat missions to Her Counter Guardians. So rare, in fact, that it usually only occurs if Her contractor bargained for compensation to take place after death, and was smart about it. Often, it involves the prospective CG wishing to undo a mistake made in life, or a situation they did not know of in time to fix; should they know that attempts at time-travel will only result in new facets of the Kaleidoscope, they may bargain for multiple attempts to enter the worlds similar to their own at a certain point and so make changes for the alternates of those they cared for in life.
The other main reason for such a mission is to avoid an important Meddler or Placeholder dying before their time. Not everyone is Hercules, able to strangle snake assassins in the crib, so this is actually a reasonable safeguard.
In either case, standard procedure takes a rare exception: the Counter Guardians are able to refuse the mission if they can give a provable reason, and they may also choose the format of their experiences, either in the usual after-action reports of a copy, or as actual memories that can be retained.
Alaya feels obliged, after hearing multiple rants from multiple Guardians on basic human rights, to offer them such.
Because long-term, non-combat missions differ in two other aspects.
First, the Guardian activated for such a mission must retain free will and a mind of one's own for success to occur, because it is the Guardian who is making the calls on the ground.
Second, the usual 'kill all witnesses' policy is not necessarily in effect. That would be rather counterproductive.
This isn't precisely either of those situations.
Alaya gazes at Camlann, at the grass stained red with blood. Rather like another Counter Guardian of Hers, unusual in the selflessness of his compensation and in his belief in the understanding of the deal he'd made – an understanding he'd quickly grown disillusioned of. The nature of his Reality Marble, allowing him to copy what he saw, reinforces his memories alongside the traditional after-action reports.
She's not afraid to admit the normal methods are not working. A new situation requires a new protocol, which requires testing.
Mentally, She adjusts missions for the Wrought-Iron Hero from 'Automatic Acceptance' to 'Manual Review', then rises from Her chair and walks down the hall.
Clang, a beautiful sound.
—That light. Only that sound is something I'll never forget all my life.
No, the sound before me is heavier than steel.
The sound of the bell that announces the commencement of battle.
The armor she is wearing is not beautiful at all and as unrefined as the cold night.
The beautiful sound from her flawless armor accompanies her figure.
The sound wasn't beautiful at all.
It was actually the sound of steel.
It's just that the knight is beautiful enough to turn it into a charming sound like a bell.
"—I ask of you. Are you my Master?"
She asks in a voice that lights up the darkness.
That voice is still clear.
"I, Servant Saber, have come forth in response to your summons. From this time forward, my sword shall be with you and your fate shall be with me. Now, our contract is complete."
That image in his memory did not erode over time; even now it is still deeply etched into his heart.
Yes, the contract has been completed.
The moonlight illuminated the darkness.
When she chose me as her Master…
That knight's figure appeared in the shed as if to reclaim silence.
I'm sure I swore to help her too.
As he thought to himself, that familiar name slipped out of his mouth.
Time has stopped.
The scene lasts less than a second.
I'm sure I'll remember this scene vividly even when I've gone to hell.
He still cannot forget that blue light.
That blond hair bathed in the moonlight had texture as fine as grained gold.
EMIYA comes back to himself with a pounding headache that signals updates to his Marble. Once, he would have mourned the hangover-worthy symptoms that didn't even come with getting blackout drunk beforehand to compensate for the pain afterwards.
Wait. That's not the forge-hammers of his Marble. That's the pounding of the door.
Blinking, he sits up slowly from his bunk, noting the red mantle and tail hung on the foot of the bed as usual. That's the uniform of a Hero, of Ciel's sometimes-partner against the Dead Apostles, of Tohsaka Rin's Servant. He won't dirty it with Cleaning. (Not unless he's on his regular rotation of the Seven, a.k.a. Guarding Gaia's Pet Hound Primate Murder, in which case he needs the protection anyway and doesn't mind, not against something that exists merely to slaughter humans, and if he restrains it well enough, there are no witnesses for him or anyone else to worry about, and why is he even bothering to justify this?)
*I Know You Can Hear Me, Wrought-Iron Heroic Spirit.*
Oh, lovely. His own personal slave driver, the one he was fool enough to willingly let collar him.
Automatically, despite his wish to rebel, he moves towards the door. His breastplate and boots, removed for bed, rematerialize on his body as he walks toward the door.
It opens at his touch. She enters.
Physically describing the Will of All Humanity is impossible. The most he'd ever manage, if someone were to ask, would be "androgynous female." Beyond that, he's somewhat aware from a few conversations post-Primate Murder rotations that She never appears the same way to anyone at a time. Some see Her clad in the bodies of those the viewer knew in life, which Alaya switches between depending on the situation. Others see a person so forgettable and nondescript that they cannot describe Her unless staring at Her directly.
EMIYA tilts his head to gaze into her eyes. She's smaller than him, as are most women and many men now. But like that distant dream of a star that he cannot forget even in hell, her presence fills the room, like carbon monoxide – subtle enough to be difficult to notice, but inevitably fatal in a sealed room in large enough quantities.
But as a Heroic Spirit, a Force of Nothing, he has no need to breath.
"A personal visit, Alaya? Has something happened to the army of secretaries?"
His voice is mocking as ever, saying trivial things to her that mean nothing at all, his face as blank as his sword. The only hint of his true attitude toward Her is smoldering in the embers lurking behind steel eyes.
He knows better than to waste words on rants of anger. Alaya may know every human emotion and concept that ever was and ever will be, but She does not comprehend what she knows, not truly. Impersonal and professional, with hints of lazy curiosity and impatience by rare turns, is the closest imitation to humanity that Alaya can make, even while She wears a human body.
Gods, he despises Her. The only person he despises more is himself for being too foolish to not see Her for what she was and care in time.
Alaya does not respond, waving him over to the chair next to the endless shelf of disorganized records. A second chair has appeared beside it, and She seats herself in it without asking for an invitation.
He realizes he is not feeling the pressure to sit, to imitate Her. He does so anyway. If She's given him temporary freedom in a hope that he'll make tea, too bad. He doesn't consider invaders to be guests. He only makes tea for himself and Rin. There are a couple others he would make tea for if asked, but generally, they don't, because he's usually not their ally, or even if he is, it's someone else's kitchen.
*You continue to return to the Grail Wars when summoned,* Alaya notes abruptly.
He raises an eyebrow. "Don't we all, if we receive the call?" Though he's carefully neutral, he's also mildly confused. Alaya's been aware since the few timelines he's managed not to get sliced open by Saber that his goal is a paradox. Up until now, he thought She was indulging him or did not care, believing his efforts will never amount to anything.
Is this merely a conversational lead-in, or has something changed? If there was a mission for him to clean up from one of the many Wars where Sakura has become the Dark Grail, he'd have been shuttled out automatically. Why is Alaya here in person?
*You've yet to make it to the end of a single War as yourself. The times you donate your arm to the eventual pseudo-victor do not count.*
He decides not to let on that he doesn't entirely know what She speaks of. Up until approximately 'last year' on Throne time, he'd have given a great deal to know why he ever makes that decision in the first place, but unfortunately he only ever gets a fragmented report back from a fragmented copy. Presumably it's to leave Rin a guard after he takes a mortal blow, but he isn't certain. He only has a slight clue now because Rin managed, in a timeline where she survived the war, to become Zeltrech's student, cross a few worlds over, and get the information to another summoned version of him, encoded into a sword that he could copy. But even with some idea of the events post his death, impersonal reports don't leave reasoning for him to piece apart…
*What would you wish for, if you won, and your objective had been made unachievable earlier?*
He senses a trap.
"Let's see… World Peace?" More likely, the Servant copy wishing would ask for his Origin on the Throne to be summoned to blend with himself and then spend a lifetime as Rin's familiar and bodyguard willingly. It would be terrifying in some respects, but it would be a nice vacation from hell with a temporary boss who wouldn't abuse his powers on anyone but the Dead, enemies who attacked her, and threats to her city. That was, of course, most likely if Emiya Shirou had already died at the hands of someone else, such as Illya or Caster, before he could make a move.
*Is that so? And here I thought it would be for your sister to return to life and to live a full lifespan.*
The chair arm creaks under his hand. Damn Her. She always pokes at Illya. She's the first person he knew he needed to save, yet found himself unable to despite months of research with Rin's help. In the end, all he could do was take her wishes for her burial arrangements and see them carried out exactly, Issei guiding him the whole way through so he didn't break down and mess it up. And then go out into the world and be a hero for everyone else, trying to make up for the blood she'd coughed up that he couldn't wash away.
He really wishes someone had suggested medical school to him earlier in life. Maybe he could have become a scalpel rather than a sword. But a blade's nature made it impossible to do anything but cut, and a sword's nature was limited to cutting others down. Anything else was a pretty lie, and he's never liked liars, particularly not himself.
*Or perhaps you'd wish the best for that girl you can never strike down. Arturia, wasn't it?*
Among the few mercies he's realized on the Throne (at least once his first, unanticipated summons to the Grail Wars occurred and brought his earliest memories to the foreground) is the fact that Saber's contract with the World had yet to be fulfilled, on either end. He's 'lived' here long enough to become aware that, at this point, it's becoming a bit of a joke to those aware of the fiasco it's become. He's lived here, through depression and disillusionment with his ideals, with only two hopes to sustain him: the wish to erase his own existence, and the joy that Saber, at least, is not experiencing the Special Hell alongside him.
*Always waiting on the hill, among the corpses of her knights. Her 'son's' blood drying on her spear, her own drying on Mordred's blade. Copper and crimson and black, Mordred's colors, staining the landscape in death. Her own blue and white and silver, invisible everywhere except on her person. Unable to breath anything but her own blood.*
Alaya cocks Her head. The smile's almost coy, but the flash of teeth ruins it. He forces himself to breath evenly.
*She leaves it to fight for the Grail, and returns to the hill without it. Even I am beginning to have trouble keeping track of the number of times she's repeated this scenario, without consulting the Records.*
Something curdles in his gut, like molten mercury. She's manipulating him and he knows it, but this is Saber, this is Arturia. That is all too often all that matters.
*You have a long term assignment, EMIYA. So assume you're taking a break from the Wars and their wishes for a while now.*
He cannot have heard that right.
But Alaya is pushing a file across the table.
*Your assignment is simple, if you choose to take it. For the equivalent of the next two weeks, you are to re-familiarize yourself with the Arthurian legends and the actual Records of events; you will have access to the main library for such.* A silver-black ring is placed next to the file; it's the equivalent of a master key for accessing the sections not already keyed into his identity, he realizes without being told. *At that point, I will transfer you to Britain, within a few miles of Caliburn, a month before Arthuria draws Caliburn. You will be appropriately clothed and provided with some money, and the usual translation protocols will be active, so no issues there. You will remain there until you have averted Britain's destruction. You have carte blanche as far as your methods go, but you must ensure that Britain's destruction is averted, secure Arturia Pendragon's path and place on the Throne of Heroes, hand a Grail to Arturia Pendragon, and have her wish upon it.*
Alaya leans back in Her chair, catching his eyes.
*Do we have a deal?*
There is a moment of silence, broken only by the bellows and hammers that never cease.
Then a crash resounds, as he stands, his chair overturned.
"Exactly how foolish and selfish do you think I am, Alaya?" The growl is worthy of the Hound of Ulster himself, a small part of his mind notes with satisfaction. "You're asking me to work around the loophole in Your contract, because even though You're ultimately outside time, You can apparently still get impatient. You're asking me to help condemn someone else to this special hell I already live in?" Unable to get further words out, he makes an aborted gesture that, if completed, would doubtless demonstrate precisely what he thinks Alaya should do with this deal of Hers.
"Why would You even assign this to me in the first place?!"
Alaya does not flinch at his volume, nor at the sudden blaze of the forge fires and the blast of smoke that wafts straight into Her 'eyes.' As if he needed more proof of her inhumanity.
"You just want to see me knowingly, willingly, fail to save someone—" He chokes off the 'someone I care for' before it comes out. He refuses to give her any more ammunition.
Alaya just stares at him. *And here I thought you'd be glad!*
"Glad?!" He reins in his temper before he overturns the table as well, but it's a near thing.
*Well, yes. It's not often I offer 'vacations' to my Counter Guardian with the love of their life.*
That one does make him flinch. If anyone else accessed his personal Record and used that phrase, he'd be certain they meant Luvia. Blonde and plum-eyed, with a rather obnoxious laugh but an undeniable lust for life that had drawn him in like the proverbial moth. She'd been the kick-ass princess to his adventuring hedge-knight, the first serious relationship he'd had that lasted long enough for all the mistakes to be made. She'd helped him keep the secret of the Reality Marble he hadn't even realized he was manifesting, working with Rin (the one time they ever willingly shut up and worked together without fighting) to help him gain the control to keep him from cutting himself and his bedmate apart in his sleep, as the swords sprouted under his skin with his nightmares. She'd pushed him into taking a break from magic and apprenticing with a traditional blacksmith to gain a better understanding of forging without illusions.
She'd been the one to diagnose him more thoroughly than Rin's short declaration of 'distortion,' during one of their many fights, telling him he was addicted to helping people, and his chosen family was only enabling the problem. If he'd accepted she might have a point and gotten help, maybe he wouldn't be here now. Instead he'd stormed off in anger at the perceived insult, chasing after rumors of a nuclear plant behaving oddly, and made a contract with Alaya when he found himself faced with a meltdown and realized he'd bitten off more than he could chew alone.
When she left him, the last words had been the hardest.
She'd asked if he loved her.
He'd protested that he did.
She shook her head, and told him that while he was physically faithful, he'd entered this relationship in love with someone else, and he was still in love with someone else.
He'd thought she meant Rin, at first, as unbelievable as that had sounded at the time.
Then he slept in his cold bed, alone in the apartment in a way that he hadn't been conscious of since his snow fairy left the ghost of her memory presence in the Emiya compound. And when he dreamed of the past, his partner was warm and blond and small and fair and dressed in blue and white, not with dark hair and dressed in red, and for a moment all was well. Until he noticed that she had green eyes, not plum.
The worst bit was when his execution came, and he had to watch Rin alone in the crowd. He'd refused to let her break him out. No one was above the law. Not him, and not her. She needed to concentrate on Fuyuki; the unexpected earthquake had ruined the leylines, and the consequences were still reverberating through her connections in the Clock Tower.
"I repeat, exactly how much of a fool do you think I still am? I know your contract with prospective CG Pendragon. It requires her winning the Grail on her own and wishing on it. What the hell does putting me in the past do to make that come true? Or are you planning on having me play the king in her place and draw the sword?" He tugs at his hair.
Alaya shakes Her head in what may be approximate to amusement.
*Your assignment is only to avert Britain's destruction and ensure Arturia Pendragon becomes a Hero, placing the Grail in her hands so she may wish upon it. I care not what changes you make. I care not how you use my charity. I only wish the time loop and the contract that has brought so many troubling regrets to all sides to be completed and filed away.* She gestures to the files still on the desk in front of them.
*Of course, if you don't think you can do it… I can always give it to someone else. I'm sure that CG DE SADE would have no problems completing it.*
She isn't bluffing. The Marquis De Sade is regularly called upon in his CG duties for combat matters, but he is one of the few permanently taken off Primate Murder Rotations, simply because no one willingly works with him if warned ahead of time. If anything, history has blunted the edge of the man in person.
Set that loose in England? In Camelot's reach? And give the man carte blanche so long as the goals were accomplished? Not if Saber were his worst enemy.
EMIYA places his hand on the file, blocking Her from retrieving it. Not that She can't simply dematerialize it back into Her 'hands' if She's of a mind to. "You still haven't said why you're giving it to me in the first place, Alaya."
*A great many of your questions would be answered if you just read the file, EMIYA. Shall I take it that you're interested after all?*
"I'll read it. But I want you to answer that question first. Why me? Why go to all this extra effort in the first place? It's one contract."
Alaya looks very patiently at him. It vaguely stirs memories of various people trying to get a point across to him when he was being stubborn about accepting it. He refuses to blink, to back down, to submit in any form. He will have his answers about this.
*Because it is Arturia Pendragon who I am contracting with. A Meddler in her own power, and willing to accept my aid as well? So much is possible with her that requires doing, particularly as humans find new ways to accidentally extinguish their species. And because you are the tool I have that knows her best, CG EMIYA, and so the most likely to succeed.*
Alaya 'stands' from the table, and moves toward the exit. *Take your time reading. I'll return for your answer in an hour.*
The door swings shut behind her.
EMIYA collapses back in his chair.
Saber… What the hell do I do now?
He doesn't know how. He's done the impossible before, despite his non-existent Luck Rating, but that wasn't against enemies like Alaya herself.
But it doesn't matter. There is no way he is going to let Arturia Pendragon become a fellow Dog of Alaya. Not while he has a shred of influence in the matter.
Even if it damns him even further than he is now.