Natsumi breathed in deep, a smile spreading across her face as she went shooting up through the clouds, twisting her hands slightly so that the force from the flames that were being expelled from her hands caused her to spiral through the air.
After so many days, Reborn had finally said her stamina was up to actively using her flames for an extended period of time, and she was given the green light to take her first flight.
Natsumi had been apprehensive at first, but once she got up into the air, the exhilaration and freedom of flight was like nothing she had ever experienced before in her life. The wind whistled in her ears as the landscape stretched out underneath her, the entire city that she had grown up in seeming small and fragile from so high up.
Flight felt so natural, as if she had been doing it all her life. It felt as if the sky itself was embracing her, welcoming her, as if she had been a child coming home for the first time in ages.
After zigzagging through the air for a bit, Natsumi leaned forward, directing her body towards the ground. She shot off a burst of flames, rocketing her downwards as she aimed herself for the small patch of ground that was the middle school, as the building appeared to quickly grow bigger and bigger as she approached.
With less than a hundred feet till she reached the ground, Natsumi did a flip in the air, and started to release a wide spray of bright orange flames, rapidly slowing her down until she gently touched down on the ground, her arms out at her sides.
Natsumi gave a relaxed sigh as she stopped the spinning top inside of her mind, causing her Dying Will Flames to slowly die down.
"Wow, that was amazing!" Kyoko cheered, clapping her hands.
"Natsumi-chan was just like a real superhero with how cool she looked at that landing." Haru gushed as the pair welcomed their friend back.
"Thanks." Natsumi said, a bit embarrassed. "How about you two, how has your training been… coming…"
She looked at the lightbulb in Haru's hands, noticing that it wasn't glowing anymore and that there was a large burnt spot on the inside of the glass.
"Um, Haru might have burnt it out again." Haru admitted weakly.
Their specialized training had started that morning, and Haru's had revolved around creating an electric current in order to power a lightbulb, without frying it. The activity was supposed to help her learn control while maintaining active flames, but all she ended up doing was getting distracted, either causing the light to go out as she got bored, or having her emotions jump from seeing something she liked, causing her to unleash too strong a charge.
"It's just the first day. I'm sure that you will get the hang of it soon." Kyoko said, reassuring the girl with her usual kindness.
"That's right. And isn't the challenge part of the fun?" Natsumi said, joining in.
The challenge is part of the fun? Just a month before, such words would have never occurred to Natsumi, who had always been trapped in her defeatist mindset.
As soon as she hit the slightest stumbling block, she would have simply given up.
It was because of Shirou, Fuji-nee and Kyoko's constant encouragement, and some therapy from Aunt Iris, that she had managed to change into someone who was willing to give it her all. Now, she looked in the mirror and could hardly even recognize herself. How could this person who was able to smile really be her?
Not only that, her skin had become more healthy, and she had hit a sudden growth spurt, as well as adding a little meat and muscle to her once bony body. She felt like a completely different person, a person capable of being happy with themselves.
"You don't need to worry! Haru wasn't born a quitter!" Haru said cheerfully, a surge of sparks coming from the already dead lightbulb as she pumped herself up.
Kyoko and Natsumi giggled as Haru panicked over the mess she was making, before dropping the lightbulb to the ground and letting it burst into pieces.
"How about you Kyoko-chan, how has the training been going?" Natsumi asked.
"See for yourself." Kyoko said as she held up a blank piece of white cloth. She took a deep breath and concentrated, causing the dark indigo mist to leak out of her ring. The mist slowly spread onto the cloth, soaking into it before the cloth started to change from white to an uneven coloring of pink, the colors shifting as the unstable illusion moved about. "Tada~!" The girl said proudly. It was supposed to be a single solid shade, but Kyoko was proud of it nonetheless.
"Wow, way to go!" Haru said, clapping her hands.
"After this is done, you're going to be great at parties." Natsumi laughed. "I imagine it would be a fun thing to have for you as a ballerina, making your costume change colors with every step."
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to trying that out, once I get a little better at it." Kyoko admitted, the colors fading as she got distracted.
Over the last few weeks, Natsumi had gotten to know the girls a lot better.
She discovered that Haru was involved in gymnastics, and that Kyoko was practicing to be a ballerina. She'd even had the opportunity to go to one of Kyoko's performances. She only had a bit part in it, but she was still been beautiful in her outfit.
Natsumi felt as if they had all grown closer, each one of them sharing their personal likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams.
Kyoko wanted to become a policewoman. Taiga, a detective. Illya had wanted to become a costume designer or a writer. Haru wanted to marry a kind man and be a housewife with a lot of children of her own. Ryohei wanted to oneday open up a chain of gyms all across the world to teach boxing. Bianchi wanted to one day become Reborn's bride. Even Natsumi shared her embarrassing dream of becoming a landscape designer, planting beautiful fields of flowers for everyone to see.
It had seemed sad when it had come to Shirou's turn to share only for him to shrug his shoulders and say he never really thought about what he wanted to do with this second life of his. He simply didn't want to do the same things he did in his previous one.
After a bit of pestering from Taiga, Shirou simply said that he wouldn't mind doing anything, so long as he didn't have to travel often to do it. He wanted to stay close to home, and always be there for the people who he cared about.
It had been a nice sentiment, and Natsumi found herself wanting to say the same. That all of them could remain close in the future. Even once they had all grown up.
As she talked with the others about their training, she glanced to the side and spotted Bianchi standing by the gym door, watching Shirou giving sword fighting lessons to Taiga with a forlorn expression on her face.
"Are you okay, Bianchi-nee-san?" Natsumi asked the older girl.
Bianchi turned to her and gave her gentle smile. "I'm alright." She said, before turning her head away. "...Hayato didn't show up again today." The boy had thrown more than his fair share of spats about training with his sister, and had attempted to avoid the training all together, so him not showing up was not that surprising. It had happened several times before already.
"That guy! How does he expect to get any better if he keeps skipping out on his training!" Haru fummed, mad for Bianchi's sake. Bianchi had earned herself recognition as the mature, if quirky, older sister by all of the other girls, who all adored her. Because of this, Haru was often mad at Gokudera for how he treats his older sister.
"I'm sure something just came up. Maybe he needed to make an emergency grocery run?" Kyoko said, making excuses for the guy.
"Hayato was always extremely talented. Whether it was academics, athletics or art, he had always succeeded almost effortlessly, ever since he was a child. He has always considered himself to be ahead of his peers." Bianchi said, as if she was the boy's mother. "That is why I am worried about him. Because he's never learned how to fail."
It was true, Gokudera had easily been the best in their class, in terms of both grades and physical strength, with the exception of the baseball nut Yamamoto, and he had always done it without having seemed to put in any effort at all. To go from that to being the only one not able to light his ring must have been a shock to him.
She felt a little sorry for him.
Gokudera had started out as Natsumi's obsessed and extremely dangerous stalker, a status he had maintained for the first few weeks at the very least, even as Shirou and Reborn showed just how relatively small and harmless he was in comparison. His behavior, his personality, the way he never listened to anything she said and constantly butted in on her life, the way he acted out with extreme violence towards random strangers in the street who so much as brushed up against him without apologizing. Natsumi had been frightened of him.
But somewhere down the line, he had changed from being labeled a dangerous stalker, to Bianchi's troublesome little brother. Natsumi had observed the genuine love that the older sister had for him and it made her start to feel more sympathetic towards the boy, for the sake of his sister. She would see Bianchi making honest attempts to reach out to her brother and would cheer her on in her heart and felt sad when Gokudera inevitably pushed her away.
"If you'd like, we could go and check on him with you. Make sure he's okay." Natsumi suggested.
"I'm glad to hear you are taking your duties as a boss seriously." Reborn said, teasing Natsumi, who replied only with a pout.
She was in no way Gokudera's boss. She was just trying to be supportive of Bianchi.
"Well, it is starting to get late, so we can go ahead and call it a day if you'd like." Reborn said, turning his head towards Shirou and Taiga. "Hey you two, it is time to stop playing around. We're heading home."
"But… But I still haven't gotten… A hit yet." Taiga objected as she panted. She was completely covered in sweat, while Shirou appeared to be perfectly fine.
"There is always tomorrow." Shirou said with a playful grin that made the girl fum. The Sun Flames specialized in speed and could be easily replenished. So in a match of endurance, Shirou had a distinct advantage. Not that he needed one.
"Alright then, let us go and pay our local bomberman a visit." Reborn said, hopping up into Bianchi's arms, resting his head on her breasts.
Hey, don't judge, he had really short legs. Walking distances was a chore.
"Hayato. Hayato, are you in there?" Bianchi said as she knocked on the door, only to get no reply.
Wondering if the boy was ignoring his sister, Natsumi tried calling out herself. "Gokudera-san!? We've come to check up on you! Can you answer the door!?"
Seconds passed and there was no response from inside. "Maybe he's out." Haru said.
"Honestly, that boy." Bianchi said, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a rice ball. Removing the chain on her right hand, she channeled some of her flames into the rice ball before wrapping it around the doorknob.
The girls all gave a squeak as the section of the door started to dissolve as the poison cooking ate through both wood and metal. Shirou grunted and started to fan in front of his face, as if to dispel an unpleasant odor.
"Um… Sorry for the intrusion." Natsumi said awkwardly as Bianchi continued her breaking and entering, without a single care. No, it wasn't without care. While her expression and body language was as usual, Natsumi could feel a sense of urgency from the young woman.
Gokudera wasn't there.
The apartment wasn't that big, but it wasn't one of the micro apartments either. It had a single fair sized room that could comfortably fit a bed, desk and kitchen, with a bathroom and closet in the back. There was also a large stack of boxes containing several tons of dynamite that took up half the room.
...WHERE THE HELL DID HE GET IT ALL FROM!? THERE MUST HAVE BEEN ENOUGH TO BLOW UP HALF THE HOUSES IN THE DISTRICT!
"I can't find his scent. He hasn't been here for a while." Shirou said, sniffing the air.
"You really are a bloodhound, aren't you." Taiga joked as she looked around the room.
"The bed is made, but there is a large mess of paper scattered around the desk. Making the bed but leaving your workplace a mess? Seems like odd priorities." Shirou said, walking over and touching the bed frame. He must have been doing some magic, because he nodded his head a few seconds later. "He didn't sleep in this bed last night, so he's likely been gone since yesterday."
"Maybe he's at the library again?" Natsumi suggested.
"But the library closes after 8. He couldn't stay there overnight." Haru points out.
"He could if he threatened the librarian with dynamite again." Taiga huffed.
"Yeah, that sounds like him." Natsumi said with a sigh. "Maybe we should swing by the library on the way home, see if he's there."
"...Yes." Bianchi said, her calm voice barely showing her mounting concern.
They were starting to prepare to leave when Reborn's voice stopped them. "His lockbox is empty." Reborn said, as he pulled out a combination lockbox from underneath Gokudera's bed. The little hitman somehow knew not only its location but the combination to open it, though Natsumi hardly felt surprised by that. "This isn't good." His squeaky voice sounded more serious than usual.
"Why, what did he keep in his lockbox?" Kyoko asked with a tilt of the head.
"...Fake IDs and travel forms. Things necessary to leave the country at a moment's notice." Reborn replied before taking out his cell phone and starting to walk out. "You kids should head home. I need to make some calls."
"Hayato." Bianchi said, biting her lip in worry.
"Gokudera-kun has been taken back to Italy. According to the tracker Bianchi and I installed in his teeth, he arrived in the homeland three hours ago." Reborn reported after the non-civilian group had convened at the Emiya's place, after Shirou had served lunch and Illya had gone to watch her cartoons.
"He… Left?" Natsumi said, surprised.
She hadn't ever really wanted Gokudera around, but for him to just leave without saying a word to anyone was surprising. He'd always given the impression that not even the likes of Reborn and Shirou could force him to leave, so long as he was still breathing.
"He didn't leave. He was taken." Reborn replied, stressing the word 'taken'. "His current location is the headquarters of the CEDEF. The Vongola Alliance's Independent Intelligence Unit."
"...Independent or 'independent'." Shirou asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Exactly." Reborn replied with a nod. CEDEF was independent of the Vongola Famiglia, but only in principle. Even if they can act outside of the Vongola's interests, their leaders were appointed by the Vongola head.
"Gokudera was kidnapped by the Vongola Alliance? Why?" Natsumi asked. Even if she hated the Vongola, they wanted her as their heir. Why would they kidnap the people around her.
"Hold on, you say he was taken, but how? No one from the Alliance can travel here with the ban in place and there wasn't any sign of a struggle or breaking and entering… until we got there." Taiga interjected.
"Just because he went on his own power, doesn't mean he went of his own free will." Reborn countered.
"Are you suggesting he was hypnotized?" Shirou said with a frown. "True hypnotism requires a means of transporting your own magical energy into the target. It isn't something that can be achieved over the phone… At least, not by anyone in this timeline and Gokudera didn't have any landline phones at his place."
"That isn't an issue, if the hypnotism was already in place." Kiritsugu said, his arms crossed as Reborn lowered his head. "How long?"
"No idea. I wasn't ever even sure if he was." Reborn replied. The Emiyas couldn't even tell if he was lying or not.
"Sorry, I'm lost. What are you talking about?" Natsumi asked.
"Gokudera was a sleeper agent." Leysritt said.
"Huh!?" "No way!" Natsumi and Taiga shouted.
"Looks like it. Which means that he's probably telling the heads back in Italy everything he knows about what is going on around here." Sella said with a troubled sigh.
"We… no use crying over spilt milk." Shirou said, leaning back in his seat. "Regardless of what they learn, our position won't have changed too much with them. They can't interfere with Natsumi without retaliation."
"...You have absolutely no self awareness, do you?" Reborn said, staring at the boy.
Shirou's existence was the biggest secret that they had. One that would make the scene very complicated if it leaked.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Kiritsugu asked Reborn.
"Because I wasn't sure, and because he is Bianchi's brother." Reborn said. In other words, he didn't know what they would do if they knew. If they would help or if they would off the troublesome boy.
"I don't understand. Reborn, didn't you say that the Geass Contract would stop Gokudera from talking about things? So they won't be able to get any information out of him anyways." Natsumi said.
"...You… You made him sign a Geass?" Shirou's jaw dropped. "Please tell me you left an escape clause in it. Something to let him get out if the information is pried out of him."
"That would defeat the entire point of the Geass." Reborn replied. "I didn't think that they would go this far."
"After everything they did to Natsumi, you thought that they wouldn't go this far!?" Shirou shouted, slamming his fist against the table. Even if he didn't like Gokudera, he knew what kind of damage a Geass can do to a man.
"I didn't think they would touch my lover's younger brother." Reborn said, rephrasing his earlier statement, his eyes hidden by the rim of his hat.
It was true. Most people would rather do anything it took to avoid getting on Reborn's bad side, and he had a long history with Timoteo. He didn't think the man would do this.
Perhaps Timoteo didn't believe that there was any real connection between Reborn and Bianchi. That it was just a fancy of Reborn's.
Reborn could feel Bianchi's arms trembling as she lifted him up and placed him on the table before standing up and starting to walk from the room. "Where are you going?"
Bianchi stopped in the doorway before replying. "...I'm going to save my little brother."
"Bianchi… You know I can't help you. I signed a Geass to not take action against other members of the Vongola Alliance." Reborn said. "It will be too late by the time you get there."
"...I know my love, but I have to do this. Even if it is hopeless, I have to try." Bianchi said.
"Hold on a second!" Shirou said, getting up from his seat. "I'm going with you."
The people all around him looked in shock. "Shirou…" Kiritsugu said with a stern look.
"Like Reborn said, it is probably already too late to stop the questioning, and I'm pretty sure I am the only one here who has a shot of undoing the damage caused by a Geass Contract."
"You can?" Reborn said, not sure what he was more surprised about, Shirou offering to go on a suicide mission for Gokudera, or that he believed he had a means to repair the damage done to a soul by the notorious Geass Contracts.
Even the strongest Sky Flames can only soothe the damage, but not fix it. And only the strongest of souls, such as Reborn's, can properly recover. So how could Shirou fix it?
"...In theory. I've never actually had to before. But the longer the damage has been in place, the less likely it is that I can reverse it. So I can't wait here. Besides, Bianchi could probably use my help." Shirou replied.
"Thank you." Bianchi said, tears coming to her eyes.
"Well, if Shirou and Bianchi-chan are going… then so will I!" Irisviel declared cheerfully.
""No you don't."" Leysritt and Sella said together, grabbing Irisviel's shoulders and forcing her back down into her seat.
"If anyone with Emiya or Einzbern blood attacks a member of the Vongola Alliance unprovoked then our contract will become voided. If that happens we'll be sunk." Sella said.
"Unlike with Natsumi, that Smokin' Bomb brat isn't our charge. If we go there, we're the aggressors." Leysritt pressed.
"But… But… I want to help too!" Irisviel cried, struggling against the pair. "Kiri, tell them."
"...Our hands are tied." Kiritsugu said, clearly unhappy with it.
"But…" Irisviel's bottom lip began to tremble.
"Don't worry mom. This isn't anything I haven't done before." Shirou said, trying to comfort her, though as he said it, he got this far off look in his eyes. "We should get going. Every moment wasted could cost us dearly."
"I have a private jet on standby at the airport. We can use that." Reborn said, hoping down from the table.
"I thought you said you couldn't help." Shirou said with a look.
"I can't help you fight directly, but I can get you there… and I need to have a talk with Timoteo." Reborn replied. "Unless you have anything you need to get, we'll leave immediately."
"I have a few tools in my workshop. It will only take a second." Shirou said.
"We'll give you a lift to the airport." Kiritsugu said calmly. "That's the least we can do."
They all started to get prepared when something happened that none of them expected.
"W...Wait!" Natsumi said, getting their attention. The girl bit her lip as all eyes fell on her. Natsumi's heart was pounding hard. She barely understood what was going on, but she knew that Gokudera was in danger, and that Bianchi and Shirou were about to walk into danger as well. She… she wanted to… She wanted to. "I'm… I want to help too. I'm going with you."
"Absolutely not." Shirou said flatly.
I've had this for a while, but the second half of the chapter just never felt right. It's awkward and I don't like it.
There is something that I constantly see in Fate crossover and something that I myself am guilty of using that I don't actually see as being true. The claim that in a world with an over abundance of mana, Shirou's Magecraft would be stronger.
The question is, why would that be true? His Magecraft uses Od, not Mana, so the limiting factor is not the Mana in the air, but how fast the body can turn it into Od. And the limit of how fast he can absorb it was always limited by how poisonous Mana is to the human body, not the amount around him. So more Mana does not really mean more power. So it wouldn't give him more raw power to work with.
If Shirou used a type of Magecraft that actually made use of Mana, then maybe, but his brand of Magecraft wouldn't be helped. In fact, it would probably even make his Magecraft weaker.
Whenever we take about the 'Will of Gaia' we don't really think about what it is.
Gaia is the personification of the natural flow of free magical energy (Mana) that is created by all the living creatures in the world.
In other words, Gaia IS mana. The Will of Gaia is a fancy way of saying the corrective force exerted by Mana whenever a spell displaces the Mana to go against the natural flow, just like water pressure is the force exerted by water whenever water is displaced.
So when you increase the amount of Mana, wouldn't the effect get stronger, not weaker? Meaning that Shirou's Traces should be harder to preform.
So if you drop your Shirou into a world with more Mana, don't feel obligated to make him suddenly lose all the restricts created by a limited magic energy pool and the flaws of Tracing. Do it if you want, but it isn't necessarily logical.
PS. This story isn't a high Mana scenario. The World Tree that original gave the world Mana might as well be dead. It only exists enough to justify Flames existing.