Chapter 39: What Miyu Has Cast Away
"I will use this child. The journey is over. In this land of Fuyuki, humanity will be saved."
Cradled in someone's arms, I peer through the slits of my eyes and was greeted with the cold night. A car, a crater and ruined shrine overlooked by the night sky with only the stars for illumination. My feet did not touch the ground; someone was cradling me, but that person wasn't my mother. In the edge of my vision was a tuft of red hair. In front of me was a pile of rocks arranged into a tower. All around me was the smell of smoke. I realize this was the place I was born. This was the place where I didn't die. Not to a malevolent fire, but an encroaching shadow.
I shut my eyes tight, but the smell remains.
"...nothing more than the means to save everything."
I open my eyes once again and find comfort in the familiar tatami mat floor that surrounded me. I was home again and there was no other way to describe this place. The same table, the same walls, but there were too many things missing; too many people missing. In my hands was a handball someone had made for me. The temari was coarser than the ones I was used to, but even if the craftsmanship was clumsy, no expense was spared on the material. I realize now that this was the birthday present I received on my first sixth birthday. Back then, I didn't know birthdays were something to be celebrated. Unlike the other handballs I played with that my mother used to make, within the folds of embroidered silk contained a wish not for me. Within the folds of silk was the faint scent of smoke from the man who had always shut himself inside and who never comes to eat with us. A man I could hardly call a "father". When he gave this to me...
"Have you ever regretted being born?"
I refused to open my eyes as I tried desperately to deny the sun. I had shut myself in my room and refused to move even though I was awake, but I could not fall asleep again no matter how hard I tried. I didn't want to think. I didn't want to think about anything, but Saber was still by my side as a testament to the reality I was living in. It wasn't fair to Saber. She knew I was awake and she didn't need dominion over the winds to read my respiration rate.
In Saber's hands was a bowl of congee meant for me courtesy of Sakura. Everyone probably knew that I wasn't really sleeping. I did not want to meet Saber's gaze. I did not want to meet Sakura's gaze. I didn't have the courage to do either. From my personal assessment, my personality was the worst.
I let the time pass.
Saber wasn't in the room anymore. Through the walls I could still hear Saber's voice.
"It will only cause more trouble if you leave my Master's side when she needs it most."
"You know Saber, I think you believe I'm more important to Miyu than I actually am."
Sakura's words dig at my heart. I had told Illya that Sakura was my friend, but she does not think of our relation in the same way. I had thought I had no more tears left to shed, but it seems I was more hopeless than I thought. I wasn't worth it. I wasn't worth it.
"Too many people don't know their own value," Saber says.
Shirou was the worst offender. He never thought about his own desires. He was quite simply my older brother. He protected me from everything up until now in order to fulfill that role even if we weren't related by blood, but...
"If I could have just one wish, I want Shirou and I to be true brother and sister…. such a thing could never happen right?"
I made a wish like that. That was why we shared the same eyes. With those same eyes, in front of the Holy Grail, he gave up everything for my sake because...
An older brother protects his younger sister.
In order to fulfill the role I wished for him to have, he forsook everything; the world and even himself. The words that saved me now condemn me. I burn the last pair of amber eyes I had seen into my memory; the Shirou who was unable to become my brother.
I once knew what I wanted and I had received it, but I cannot give back what I have already taken. I know the price that was paid for my small wishes. There were many others who wished to be saved and there was me who didn't save them. The only wishes of others I have ever granted were always ultimately for my sake alone. It only made sense that a world where I could be happy was a world where I was never born in the first place.
I lose my sense of time as I tried my hardest to clear my mind. Even if my head was completely blank, I could not empty my heart as my eyes continue to leak.
My eyes widen as something wet and unseen brushes against my cheeks. Scanning the room, there was a basin of hot water beside me that wasn't there before, but the towel that accompanied it was dry. Long strands were brushing against my cheek.
I could feel her breath but her eyes hidden from view. She does not speak, but it becomes apparent that she was watching me all this time. Sakura's order to protect me still remains. Even if I give up on myself, there are still people who continue to watch over me because that's the sort of world Shirou wished for me.
Saber enters the room as I continue to feign sleep. Soft strands of silk caresses my ears.
"I was making sure that the magical energy your Master was leaking out wasn't going to waste," Rider explains to Saber. Feeling my face, I realize it wasn't tears or water.
"I do not know what relation you have with your Master or why she isn't supplying you properly, but she's the one that needs your protection, not mine." Saber says.
Sakura wasn't in the house...
"I wish to... I wish to protect Sakura. That was why I answered the call...but I cannot," was Rider's answer that painfully resonates in my heart.
"What of the Grail?" Saber asks.
"And what of the Grail?" were the words Rider reflects back without wavering befitting of a righteous hero, but from the cards; Rider wasn't such a thing.
"In life, I couldn't save anything; not even myself. Sakura is following that same path," Medusa confesses.
Saber could not challenge those words of the gorgon. Nothing came out of the holy king's mouth in retort.
With the power of the Holy Grail, even the past can be taken back, but Rider did not need such a thing. It was not the Grail's call she answered, but Sakura's and Sakura's alone.
If this world was truly kind, then such a person could not be a monster.
I did not know much at all about Sakura's situation; I was always too focused on my own. I took her for granted just like everyone else in my life that I have met. My personality was truly the worst, but self derision will not change anything.
I try to open my eyes, but Rider was simply too dazzling to look at. Rider was a genuine hero.
"I'm sorry. I...," was the apology I couldn't help but mumble, but I could no longer to pretend to be asleep.
I force myself up to look at Rider as my eyes burned, but she doesn't look back and neither does Saber. Neither expected me to be of any use.
Tall and beautiful, the monster of the Shapeless Isle who killed many heroes; she killed and killed and killed because there was something she wanted to protect. The world around her tainted her in every way, but her kind heart remained. She was kinder than anyone which made her viler than anyone. Her past was heavy, but she deemed someone else's future to be heavier. She was the same as Shirou. She was the same as Sakura. I know people like that deserve to have their wishes granted.
I turn my gaze to the basin of hot water Rider had left for me. I scoop up the hot water in my hands.
I had told Illya that Sakura was my friend, but I knew for a fact we weren't moving in the same direction. Sakura never considered me an equal the same way Shirou doesn't. We weren't friends, but family and an ill gotten one from the Holy Grail. Even so, the warmth Sakura showed me...
"Before I knew it, I was wishing for your happiness like a mother would," was compassion that further condemned me because I could not give her something of equal value.
At the bottom of my heart when my mother disappeared, I must have wished for it; a family even if I was too young to understand what "family" was at that time. I don't deserve a family. I don't need a family. My eyes were...
Red orbs stare back at me from the water's reflection. I don't need wishes for myself.
I never knew what I wanted to become. I never thought of myself as someone amazing. I never wished for myself to be happy, but it was something others had wished for me. For me to be happy I needed to become someone worthy of those wishes and that's why I had to move forward as long as I was still alive. If this kind world is in danger, then I will save it. If I really had the power to grant any wish...
I wash my face. Standing up with my shoulder straight, I make my resolve clear because I can't win against my own will.
"Your wish will be granted. So tell me what you wish of me."
The burden did not disappear with those words, it only became heavier, but it would be the end of me if I couldn't say them.
"...," Rider was speechless.
I couldn't read Rider's expression, but Saber wore a complicated one. Despite being the paragon of altruism and self sacrifice, the once future king had her own wish for the Grail. Saber doesn't mince words.
"There is no such thing as a painless battle. That is something you must have learned over this past week. Granting one wish means leaving another unfulfilled; granting Rider's wish means denying Sakura's. Is this what you wish for?" Saber asks of me.
Saber doesn't coddle me. We have moved past that point now. Saber was still standing beside me at the moment because there was a wish she had for the Grail and I was a formidable battery. Our relationship was nothing more than that and that's why I shouldn't misunderstand.
"My wish does not matter. I can't forget what was lost, but I cannot throw away the things I was given. I know that even in front of a Holy Grail, there are some people who can give up their own small wish for others. I can do the same."
I have long cast away my small wishes because there are those worthier than I to have their wishes granted. If I truly was a Holy Grail, then there is no reason for me not to grant them. That is the only pillar left supporting me.
I take inventory of the power I had at my disposal; the 7 class cards; Saber, Archer, Lancer, Rider, Caster, Berserker and Assassin. I couldn't read Saber's expression. It seemed like she wanted to stop me, but she must have cast those thoughts away because ultimately, I was a tool to fulfill her wishes and I couldn't do so if I spent all my time sleeping.
"Sakura wouldn't say anything to me, but she carries a card not unlike yours," Saber tells me.
I turn to Rider, but she doesn't respond. She turns her head away as if she made a mistake.
"If your wish is to be granted, you must divulge what you know to my Master," Saber says to Rider.
Despite wearing a mask, Rider's hesitation is plain to see even to me.
"Sakura has ordered me to protect her and...," Rider explains, but Saber leaves her not a path to escape.
"You must know by now that my Master is terrible at acting. You wanted her to listen. You wanted her to help you. You cannot take back your actions," was the accusation Saber makes.
"As if your intentions are to anyone's benefit but yourself," Rider strikes back.
I make my way to the dresser and put on my brown bear hoodie. I holster the cards onto the strap on my thigh that was hidden beneath my skirt. I tie my hair up into a simple pony tail. Towards the hallway, I reach for my running shoes.
Rider materializes in front of me blocking the entrance. I make my way to the veranda instead. I draw her card and begin to invoke the mystery that will give me her power.
Rider grabs my arm before I could finish. Saber levels her sword at Rider.
Rider knows she cannot best Saber. Rider knows that she cannot stop us if we have the will. She has nothing to threaten me with to stop. For her to follow Sakura's order, she has to follow me.
"Sakura has a card very much like the cards you use, but I cannot imagine you besting her even if you used all 7," was a piece of information I couldn't quite process.
"What class?" Saber asks.
"Even if Sakura is stronger than me, it doesn't mean I can't help her."
"Even if she cherishes you, it does not mean that you are allies," Rider lays bare to the meaning of her previous statement.
"That's all the more reason to tell us anything you know," Saber says.
"Has that ever stopped you before?" Rider says.
"I must admit you're a truer hero than I, so I know what you cannot do," Saber says without mercy.
Rider pauses for a moment with an unreadable expression.
"Archer," Rider relents.
"Encrusted in gold?" Saber reasons.
"So you already know the hero sealed in that card?" Rider ascertains.
"Shirou warned us of Gilgamesh and we met him in the Church's basement. He was a Servant left over from the last Holy Grail War that I couldn't best," as Saber recounts our latest misadventure.
"Then...," Rider begins to say.
I draw Shirou's card.
Last night, in front of Gilgamesh, we were utterly helpless. Gilgamesh commanded an endless arsenal, but Archer could produce a mirror image that matched it. Gilgamesh's treasures were irreplaceable, but Archer's fakes were utterly disposable. Against near peer forces in a battle of attrition, material is the deciding factor and the wellspring of magical energy humming within me is restless. If my heart was the same as Shirou's, Gilgamesh could be beaten, but I wasn't Shirou.
"The cards are leftovers of a Grail War Shirou had won, so Gilgamesh isn't absolute," were words I say to pump myself up, but they were words Rider didn't have the context to understand and words that brought no confidence to Saber.
"I do not know what Grail War you speak of, but he didn't put up much of a fight against my Master," was Rider's doubt.
"There is no way he would turn his blade against her," I say.
I try to imagine them fighting in the kitchen with knives in hand, but I couldn't. It was too surreal for me.
"That card isn't Sakura's only power and from what I understand, her element isn't something typical magi study," as Rider directs her gaze at an unseen familiar hidden in the smallest of shadows. Shadows cast by things existing perpendicular to the axis of observable reality. Sakura cannot be fathomed through real numbers alone, but I have seen those shadows before.
"They are the natural enemies of beings like us," as Rider tries to scare us from leaving.
"If she truly is that formidable as you say, then there is no reason to fear our enemies," says Saber.
The image of Sakura grieving at her own powerlessness when Shirou was taken is still etched in my mind. Rider's words did not align with the world I knew, but what did I truly know of the world?
"Sakura may have Miyu's interests at heart, but that doesn't mean they are on the same side." Rider is the warning she reiterates.
"If Sakura was someone who wasn't worth saving, you would have given up on her by now and you must believe that Miyu is the last person she would ever harm," Saber argues.
Rider was not convinced and I myself was uncertain, but that did not matter. My personal feelings won't change what I must do. Kiritsugu always went on trips alone, but one day he did not return. Shirou was always going off by his lonesome at night and I trusted him to return as he did every night except for one. Sakura technically lived in a different house, so there was less of an excuse to worry, but...
One night can mean the world. Nothing else matters except for that one fact.
I step up onto the veranda. I note the night sky above us. It was very much the world I lived in where everything was hidden. I was always kept away from the ugliness of the world by kind people, but that sort of person wasn't who I wanted to be. I know first hand what it is like to be left alone. Giving up on someone else is the worst thing someone can do. If someone is in trouble, then it is only normal to save them. I cannot win against my own will. I realize now, that the type of person I wanted to be...
We cut through the night sky like shooting stars.
I couldn't fathom the mechanism by which a horse could fly with the wings of a bird. The wings the Pegasus had could not logically support its weight not unlike a chicken, but it was supporting both me and Saber. With chains at the ready, Rider was tailing close behind. If the red Archer's identity was who I thought it was, then there was no reason for me to be afraid of flying.
Across the bridge, there was the giant Berserker and in his hands was Sakura. Despite all of Rider's bluster, Sakura was in trouble. In the world below through my enhanced eyes, she was reaching out for a card on the pavement while gasping for breath; my mind races.
Jumping off our stead, we descend the world below.
Saber hits the ground while I disappear into the night.
"Berserker," Saber calls out as she draws her unseen blade drawing his attention while Rider circles the sky like a hawk trying to keep up with me.
Behind Berserker was Illya focused on the card on the floor in familiar robes. Unseen and unheard, I cross the distance in an instant as I scoop the card up before she could. My presence was concealed, but my actions were reckless.
"Installieren: Assassin," she calls out.
The robes she wore melts away into an unfamiliar kimono and in her hands was a sword that was at least 16 centimetres longer than she was tall. Her eyes were trained on me with an expression I never seen her make before with powers I have never seen before. Was this a Class Card?
She wasn't the same person, but neither was I. I was supposed to be hidden, but her eyes shone through. She disappears from my sight, but not my senses. Use everything. Focus, technique and bodily control. I contort my body to receive her over eager attack.
Gamakuza-style: Darkness Liner.
Receive and redirect, my assailant shoots past me hitting the pavement, but she manages to break her fall. Blood drips from my arm as the cut makes it to the bone. The card I had seized was now on the floor stained with my poisoned blood. Even if Gilgamesh's card is safe from prying hands, I needed to overturn the situation quickly. The difference in reach was too significant.
The wound on my arm disappears as if it was never there as I parry her strike before making my own as I press forward with mana beneath my feet. Threads laid on the ground would have cut apart an ordinary person, but I had Saber's power within me.
Though Illya was wielding power a foreign power, she manages to redirect my blows as steel meets steel. Even with the card, I could not match Saber's speed even if I sharpened my mind to the limit. I could not pierce Illya's defences, but the reverse wasn't true. Illya's blade was closing fast and I did not have enough time to bring my sword to meet hers. Use everything.
Jaw breaker.Strike Air.
My free palm impacts her chin as I blow her away with a counter and a current, carrying Gilgamesh's card away into the river below. Her familiars give chase, but I blast them away. I wasn't able to knock her out in one blow, but that was the testament to the heroes we were drawing from. If the hero she drew is a local, then I can't continue to use local techniques. I'll be killed for certain if I use the same technique twice. I re-ready my holy blade as she prepares to thrust.
Her blow glances off my gauntlet and so I know my imitation of Saber cannot match the real thing. I don't have much of a choice but to soak up the attacks from Illya's bird familiars that continue to sting my back. Saber's natural magic resistance and the warmth in my heart that was constantly healing my body was the reason I wasn't dead. I wasn't Saber, but that was alright because Illya was the same. Saber was holding off Berserker and I couldn't ask for more.
Illya does not lose her footing even as she's pushed back. Her blade is always ready to receive and I could not underestimate the stray shots from her familiars nor Berserker who was being held off by Saber.
Our dance of blades stops suddenly.
"You're a lot more barbaric than the knight you pretend to be," Illya speaks with a tone that wasn't hers.
Even with the cards, there was a limit of what we could draw from them without casting ourselves away. We both had to make up for the parts that weren't there.
"You're fully committed to killing met this time aren't you?" she teases.
If possible, I don't want anyone to die. If possible, I wished for everyone to be saved.
My heart stops, the night grows darker, but it was not the darkness of the sky. My opponent dawns the pink dress once again with wand in hand, but her attention was not on me as she takes aim at Berserker?
The wave of blinding arcane light illuminates the darkness and crashes harmlessly against Berserker's large chiselled frame like the water of a garden hose against a car washing off a mud like substance that emitted no light. My heart jumps, but it was then I realize that Sakura was nowhere in sight.
Even so, an unsettling feeling washes over me.
Something quickly approaches from behind me. I turned around to see Saber's face for a mere moment before being launched into the sky with a gust of wind. Blood was quickly pooling to the top of my head. From the inverted world, Saber was still fighting.
The night bites at Saber's ankles as if it was a living thing; the encroaching shadows that took my...
Though the wind was under Saber's command, the sky was Illyasviel's domain and her birds woven from thread the denizens. The birds of thread break my fall as they latch around me sealing my movements. If I broke free, I would only be claimed by the shadows below. The shadows crawling on the ground could not reach the threads in the sky. With a wave of Illya's wand, a pure stream of magical light disperses the unnatural night.
Before Illyasviel could turn her attention to me, the threads are cut and I'm whisked away. I turn my head and I realize it was Rider carrying me away once again on top of a white winged horse. My left hand itches, but I knew it couldn't be poison.
I scan the area below from horseback trying to make sense of what was happening in the span of a few seconds. I scan the ground and realize the streets all around us were empty. It was so dark; I couldn't even make out the road markings. I look upwards and see Illya, the ruler of the sky brandishing her prismatic wand once again before her guardian touches the ground. The shadows recede back to their source against the might of the second pink sun and Heracles begins his charge. Though a mad warrior, he was no beast and he moved with a hunter's finesse. Turning on a dime and tearing up the asphalt, his feet alone surpassed any modern land vehicle.
Red arrows rain down.
Berserker weaves through the living shadows, batting away those he could not dodge with pure strength. Those he failed to strike are struck down from above by Archer's arrows or his Master's fire. Heracles raises his stone hewn sword ready to brew a storm as he reaches his destination.
His target was an unconscious Sakura who was being dragged away by shadowy hands. The hairs on my neck stand up. My next actions were pure instinct.
"Saber," I call out.
"By my Command Seal, block that blow!"
Before Sakura was made one with the pavement, Saber intercepts the blow, shattering Berserker's weapon into dust. With her unsheathed Holy Blade above her, she brings it down against her opponent.
"By my Command Seal, return to my side!" Illya invokes.
The pillar of light cuts the night in twain. Brighter the light, harsher the shadows and what was hidden by the night was now plain to see; crude imitations of pedestrians with no substance dotted the world below. The hunched figures retreat from the light except for the one that was hidden in Saber's shadow; Sakura. Her hands wrap around Saber desperately and I wasn't sure what to make of the scene straight out of one of those thin books. I snap out of my thoughts as pink stars dot the night sky. Illya prepares another salvo from the skies as Saber prepares herself. The sky above us explodes in pink, gold and red.
"By my Command Seal, return Sakura to my side."