(A/N) Been a minute! Shoutout to everyone on discord for voting for this story and shoutout to everyone on pa treon for voting for the illustration (though I'm mildly surprised that y'all didn't have me draw that other thing but eh, what do I know). As always, you can check out the illustration on my server or on the Spacebattles version of the story.
Big thumbs up to Ajpa!
"Hehehe… so it was just that, huh?"
Taiga squeezed into the space between Sella and me. With how she was sheepishly rubbing the back of her head and laughing along, it would be difficult for one to imagine that she was instants away from inciting disaster.
My smile was shaky, but I was sure that it was at least passable by Taiga-fooling standards. My head swivelled to her robotically.
"That's right! It was just that," I answered, perhaps unnecessarily. I threw an arm over Leysritt's shoulder knowing that it would be highly unlikely that she'd react in any capacity. "Tohsaka's… uncle is here to visit on a business trip, and it just so happens that he's… a family friend on… the other side of the family."
"Gosh, you sure do have a lot of family friends, huh?"
"Anyway," she continued, then narrowed her eyes at Lord El-Melloi. The man seemed pretty capable of keeping his cool, but my heart was hammering in my chest. "Do I know you from somewhere? You seem awfully familiar."
El-Melloi's flat expression morphed into a confused one. I was a little worried.
When confusion morphed into surprise, I became very worried.
"…You must be mistaking me for someone else."
That didn't sound convincing at all!
"Ah! My bad, then."
She dropped her hand on my shoulder. I nearly jumped.
"Gramps wanted to speak with ya, by the way. I came by to pick you up. The timing's kind of unfortunate, though. Sorry about that."
Raiga? What would he–
"That will have to wait," Barthomeloi announced cooly. "We're quite busy at the moment. Please return at a later juncture. A few months, maybe."
Why so long!?
"I'll go. Old Man Raiga isn't someone who takes no for an answer. I'll try to be back as soon as possible."
Taiga skipped on ahead. Right before she left the room, she spun around and waved.
"Sorry we couldn't stay any longer! I'll be waiting outside."
You should at least be sure that I'm following you before you go off and do stuff like that, Fuji-nee.
"Sorry," was all that I could say to the people at the table.
"It can't be helped," El-Melloi said with closed eyes. "That woman isn't involved with the Mage's Association, right? If it's only this much that we have to deal with, then it's fine."
My eyes tracked everyone's reactions. Sella and Leysritt didn't seem too bothered either way. Rin was upset, but she hadn't stopped being upset since what Taiga had said earlier. Barthomeloi seemed… impatient? Something like that.
"Right. I'll try to be quick."
"Keep in mind–"
El-Melloi spoke again. I paused with one foot already out the door.
"–that time is of the essence, Emiya."
I looked back at him and nodded.
That's right. We were working against the clock, weren't we?
There was a powerful dead apostle nearby, and the closer that it got to Fuyuki, the sooner that Lorelei would try to get herself killed by throwing herself at it. If that wasn't enough, there was also the matter of the Fraga family to consider. If El-Melloi could figure out where Barthomeloi was going so easily, then there was a non-zero chance that someone would be sent after her while she was here.
"I won't be long," I announced.
"We'll be here, awaiting your return," the man responded. "That is–if that's all right."
No matter what, I'd make sure to cut things short with Raiga. He was the type to be able to read the room, so as long as he understood that whatever I was busy with was important, there wouldn't be any issues with asking him to postpone his plans.
I frowned as Raiga's smile only grew wider.
This scene was a familiar one to me. We were kneeling across from each other in a large, empty room with his most trusted subordinates standing near the walls. Fuji-nee wasn't here, but that had more to do with her being "easily bored to sleep by a bunch of frumpy old men" than anything like her not being allowed to be present.
Whenever he called me over to talk, this was how it went down– unless we were meeting under circumstances that would require us to be elsewhere. Usually, however, I at least knew what it was that he was calling me over for. He was like a grandfather to me, but it wasn't like we'd ever spoken to each other in this particular room for the sake of idle chitchat.
"Clean out yer' ears, boy. I said I'm going to a sumo match and I need someone to accompany me."
…Was this old bastard being for real right now?
I bowed as deeply as I could. My forehead was nearly touching the floor.
"Sorry. I can't. I'm dealing with an incredibly pressing matter right now, so–"
"That can wait. The competitors aren't half bad this time, you know. Plus, I've got a lot of money on the fat one. I like my chances, actually."
Fat one? Fat one!?
I was really happy that my head was pressed to the ground. I didn't know what face I was making, and I certainly didn't want Raiga to see it on me.
"Hm? What's wrong, kid? Not up to it?"
No. Of course I wasn't up to it!
I could just come out and say that right now, though. Frustrated as I was, I feared that I might have come out with a few unwanted extra bits.
Instead, I kept my mouth shut.
"Ah… what a shame. A frail, old man like me isn't worth your time. Is that right? And after all I've done for you…"
All he's done for–
"I used to babysit the two of you all the time when you were brats," he reminisced. "Don't you remember? Sakura-chan and I would go to the candy shop while you were at school, and she would make sure to bring a little baggie back with her to share with you. Oh, how cute the two of you were back then. Time sure does fly right past you in the blink of an eye, doesn't it? Surely, I didn't do you any favours with the expectation that they would be returned, but…"
I gnashed my teeth together. Was he actually trying to guilt-trip me right now?
If I thought that something was amiss before, I was sure of it now.
He was pretty understanding, usually. If it was just about us going to sumo together, then me telling him that I had something important to deal with would have been enough for him to reschedule our outing.
What was he up to?
His smile unflinching, he got up and walked past me. The other members of the Fujimura group were hot on his heels.
I was expected to follow.
With a sigh, I pulled out my crappy era-appropriate flip phone and glared at it.
I dialled the house and placed the thing to my ear.
"…Mm. Sorry. Feel free to tell Tohsaka and El-Melloi that they can head on home. I'm not getting out of this one."
I instantly pulled my ear away from the device to spare it the pain of Sella shrieking into the speaker. I hung up and tossed it back into my pocket.
Yeah, I know. My bad. Trust me. I knew the severity of our current predicament perfectly well.
And yet, there wasn't really anything I could do, was there? My hands were tied. Sure, I could try ditching Raiga, but that would cause more problems for me than a wasted evening.
If Fujimura Raiga wasn't taking no for an answer, then nothing in this world could get him to change his mind.
Someone was following us.
It was an observation that had been nagging at me for the past while now. Ever since Raiga and I left the car and continued on foot, I could feel a set of eyes leering at us.
We were vulnerable right now – or at least, more vulnerable than we'd normally be. Raiga didn't bring any of his guys with us, and he seemed pretty insistent on making nearly half the trip on foot. The man wasn't out of shape for his age or anything, but he was still an old, wrinkly sack of bones that couldn't move like he used to. Our mobility was limited.
As was usually the case for outings like these, he forced me into a much more traditional outfit: a simple grey kimono that didn't stand out enough to overshadow his own but was still classy enough that he wouldn't be embarrassed to have me walking next to him. It made us stick out like sore thumbs on a busy street like this one.
"My, some yakitori would go well right about now, wouldn't you say? Let's stop by a food stand."
I nodded along, not really paying attention to his small talk.
The stalker was getting closer. I was becoming more and more sure that their intentions weren't anything good. Were they after Raiga? This probably wasn't all too uncommon since he was a yakuza boss and all that.
"Hey, let's take a shortcut," I suggested.
I placed a hand on the man's shoulder and directed him through the throng of people. Tailing someone closely without being seen was definitely a skill, but with only this much, I knew how to lose them.
There were fewer people down the alley where this particular yakitori stand was, but that was fine. A normal person wouldn't have been able to follow us here.
My nose tingled.
The stalker found us again.
Or rather, they never lost us in the first place. It was true that a single person would have difficulty keeping us in sight when I made sure to maneuver us in a way to make ourselves scarce, but such limitations did not apply to larger operations– or magi.
I could feel it. The magical energy.
More likely than not, it wasn't Raiga that I should have been worrying about. If, as we feared, the Fraga had managed to locate Lorelei, then finding info on those close to her wouldn't be too much of a stretch. I was one such person.
We reached the food stand. Raiga approached the vendor, and for a moment, his attention was completely diverted.
There were no onlookers.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
There were footsteps behind me.
Too quiet for a normal person to hear.
The air pressure behind me changed. I spun around and clasped my hand around an arm holding some sort of small crystal shard. What it was for, I did not know, but I wasn't willing to find out.
They tried to move. I closed the gap between us as much as possible so as to reduce their mobility; my other hand grabbed their spare arm before anything could be done with it.
The attacker was a young woman. She glared at me just as any assassin whose assassination attempt was foiled should glare at the one responsible for the aforementioned foiling.
Some part of me could help but find her features familiar, though the feeling of familiarity wasn't pronounced enough for me to dwell on it for too long. She probably fit any shut-in's mental image of a foreigner: voluminous blond hair, princess-like blue dress and all. Honestly, it wasn't at all that fitting a profile for someone trying to remain inconspicuous.
"Here we are– hm?"
Both the attacker and I froze. Raiga had turned back to me with a few skewers in hand, and he was met with the sight of me holding some strange woman tightly against my body.
"Who's this? Yer' girlfriend?"
Huh? There was no way that Raiga was this thick.
We both froze. Antagonism aside, we were in the same boat right now.
I had to think very carefully about what I was about to say. Raiga wasn't someone who needed protecting, but a magus had just tried to assault me: probably kill me. What she was after, I didn't know, but I just wanted to get this seemingly-unnecessary outing over with so that I could go back to helping Barthomeloi. Raiga finding out that a magical killer lady just tried to off me while he wasn't paying attention was not conducive to me getting away from him with reasonable haste.
"O-ohoho! Indeed I am!" the woman claimed awkwardly in what was surprisingly passable Japanese.
…Wait, what did she just say?
As discreetly as I could, I glared at her hotly. With matching discretion, she shot me a look that was equal parts mortified and desperate.
She must have had her own reasons. Unfortunately, my reasons made it so that I couldn't just come out and deny it. Not that Raiga would believe–
"Oh? That's nice. How serendipitous for you to have run into each other like this. Why don't you join us?"
Why the hell are you pretending that you're actually buying this nonsense!?
I looked over at her. I could practically see the moment when her stomach dropped.
Well? Are you happy? What a mess this was. Remember this awful scenario that you've birthed and repent accordingly.
"I-I couldn't possibly impose!" she said, trying to snake her way out of this. Fat chance that I'd let that happen, though. Now that I'd gotten her here, there'd be no way that I'd let her walk away. We'd be having words after Raiga was done messing with me and left us to our own devices.
I smiled brightly and put a bit of distance between us. My hands were planted on her shoulders as I made sure to stand in front of her squarely.
"Don't be silly! We'd love to have you," I proclaimed with a wide smile, my eyes gleaming with schadenfreude.
Hm? Vindictive? Who, me?
If looks could kill, I'd be six feet under right now. Unfortunately for her, the stuff that could actually kill had been obsolesced.
In her moment of surprise, she barely noticed me locking my arm with hers. Taking advantage of her catatonia, I pulled her along and followed Raiga to the venue.
It wasn't an incredibly large space, all things considered, but it was certainly full of life. The raised, circular arena was still empty, and yet the bustling crowd around it was already cheering loudly. Raiga had a private booth, thankfully, so we didn't have to make like packed sardines with little more than a cushion as a seat like everyone else.
As an added benefit, there was no way for the blonde killer magus lady to run away inconspicuously.
Her seat was sandwiched between mine and Raiga's. She refused to look up from her feet, and her shoulders were scrunched so high that I really thought that her head would pop right off. Of course, I was the only one who noticed any of this since Raiga was busy talking with some other probably-rich old man in the seat on the other side of him.
Before I could fill the silence –preferably in a way that would allow me to embarrass this woman further– Raiga finally turned back to ask her a question.
"So, little lady, ya got a name?"
Her head shot up. I could see the cogs in her head turning. She opened her mouth a few times to answer, but nothing seemed to come out. She was doing a great impression of a nutcracker doll.
"You all right there, girlie? No need to be nervous. I don't bite."
She was probably trying to come up with a name. Something simple enough to remember but not so simple that we'd be able to tell that it's fake.
"Lu-ahem. My name is Luviagelita Edelfelt."
…She wasn't any good at this, was she?
"Luvia," Raiga decided. "Do ya mind if I call you Luvia?"
A shake of the head from the young woman was permission enough.
"Right, then. How'd you two meet? I never pegged the kid as the romantic sort."
Again, she struggled to come up with an answer.
I wanted to sigh.
One of two things was true. Either Raiga seriously thought that I was dating some random foreigner lady that I just so happened to bump into, or he knew that something was up and was playing dumb for whatever reason.
Regardless, I had to play along either way. If Raiga didn't know that she was someone dangerous then I'd rather that didn't change, and if he did know then I'd have to take a hint and follow his whims if I didn't want to get an ear-full later.
How awful. My options were to either upset Raiga or to upset Lorelei. How was this fair? The very least that he could have done was wait until this whole Apostle thing blew over. The only bright spot was that I'd preemptively caught a magus that may or may not have been a potential instigator in this whole debacle.
Yeah, for all the effort I was being forced to expend, there was no way in hell that I was gonna let her scamper off after this.
"We met for the first time during my freshman year of high school," my tale started with my most charming smile set in place. "She's not from around here, but her parents own a second home nearby; it was by chance that we ran into each other while she was in Fuyuki for vacation. Our first few meetings were nothing more than passing glances, but I was so captivated by her that I couldn't help but want to get to know her better.'
With every word, the girl's face turned a different shade of red. Terrible, wasn't it? Mortifying, wasn't it? Made you want to crawl into a hole and die, didn't it? Unfortunately, I wasn't done.
"At the time, however, she had other priorities. I tried my best to get in her good graces, but she explained to me that no matter what I did, it would be for nothing. I wormed my way into her heart just as she wormed her way into mine, and yet, she was already promised to another man."
"For a while, I thought that there was nothing that I could do. Fortunately for me, the stars aligned when I went to England over the break: I'd found her again. Of course, there was still the matter of her fiancé, and after meeting him in person, I knew that he wasn't the right man to make her happy. I had to win her affections and prove my worth to her."
She covered her mouth with a gloved hand.
"Win my affections–"
"Her parents didn't appreciate my advances, so I was left with no choice but to confront them. I declared my love for her then and there and made sure that no one could doubt my intentions."
Both hands rose to cover her glowing face, though her eyes were quite clearly peering through her fingers.
"In the end, it was her fiancé who acknowledged our love for each other first. He gave us his blessing and removed himself from the picture. At that point, there was nothing else that her parents could do to keep us apart. We've been inseparable since."
"I had to come back to Fuyuki, of course, but the distance between us was but temporary. We made a promise to see each other as soon as we could. You can imagine my surprise when she decided to show up without letting me know in advance. I was happy, though."
The magus was too stunned to speak. The corny B-movie plot that I'd improvised did well enough to bury any chances of her getting the benefit of the doubt with Raiga through a dignified appearance. That I was getting dragged down with her was an unfortunate consequence, but it was a blow to my image that I was willing to take.
"Good on the two of you, then. I didn't think you had it in ya, kid."
It was then that the cheers of the crowd had managed to suddenly grow louder. The show was about to start.
Once the gyoji and the two first wrestlers approached the dohyo, the chatter lowered to a more respectable level. While the competitors were cleansing their mouths as per ritual, I took note of their physiques.
So this is what the old coot meant by "the fat one".
I couldn't deny that the larger of the rikishi was without a doubt massive. Over three hundred kilos easy. I hadn't been strung along like this in a few years, so I'd fallen out of touch with the fan favourites of the modern scene. I was far from a sumo expert, and even I knew that betting money on him wouldn't be money wasted.
The venue was quiet. The wrestlers faced each other.
The sound of the first strike resonated, and a victor was decided in seconds. The crowd cheered.
Raiga leaned and smiled at the magus.
"So? What did you think?"
If I wasn't already positive that something was up, then now I was. Raiga didn't ask plus-ones about the actual matches without an ulterior motive. He knew that aside from him, no one that he brought along gave a crap– myself included. If he was taking someone to sumo, then he had other business to conduct.
The discomfort the magus was experiencing following the question was expected. Raiga knew what he was doing.
"Size advantages aside, the larger man was… much more skilled."
Raiga's grin threatened to split his face.
"Hoh? Notice that, did you?"
The magus nodded cautiously.
"The disparity in their skill was evident," she said. "Footwork, their center of balance... for how short the bout was, I could still tell that it was excellent. The superior wrestler won today."
The yakuza slapped her on the back and laughed.
"I see, I see! You're knowledgeable, young lady."
"Ah, no. Wrestling is popular in my family, so…"
I watched the exchange impassively.
What's this? They were acting like they were getting along swimmingly, weren't they?
Hey, magus lady. You know that you're still in neck-deep shit, right? You didn't forget that you aren't here for sumo, right?
When we left the venue, I was unable to drop my tired frown. Raiga and the magus lady had spent the rest of the evening bonding over sumo.
That never happened! No one bonded with gramps over sumo! Ever!
One match after the other, they grew more and more comfortable with each other. Tonight's event had quite a lineup, so there was no shortage of time shared. It was a bit unnerving, actually.
At a certain point, I was sure that this magus was either the best or worst assassin in existence. The reason for my worry was that I couldn't really say for sure which one of the two it was.
This all led to now, where the magus and Old Man Fujimura were giggling amongst each other like a pair of schoolgirls in front of the Toyota Century waiting to pick us up. I was almost positive that the driver was just as thrown off as I was.
"Not bad, was it, girlie?"
"Not at all, Mister Fujimura. Not bad at all. There is quite a talent pool here in Japan. Sumo is far removed from what I'm used to, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't able to enjoy it for what it was."
"I hope you didn't mind the religious customs," he put forward. "the match rituals are ingrained both in the culture of sumo and Japan as a whole. I don't think foreigners appreciate such tightly woven connections between a sport, state and spirituality. Am I right about that?"
"I can appreciate it," she answered. "A competitor's beliefs should not be disrespected, and if anything, I found it fascinating."
"Ah… That's good to hear."
Enough of this.
I cleared my throat. The pair looked back at me.
"Hey, old man. Do you mind giving us a ride back to my place? I've gotta make up for the work I missed out on today."
The magus caught on to how I mentioned "us". She froze up for a moment before trying to laugh it off.
"Oh, no, that won't be necessary. I'll be more than fine getting back on my own."
As if I'd let that happen.
I placed a hand on her shoulder, leaned forward and grinned.
"Come on, now. That would be rude of us."
"That's right," agreed Raiga. "I insist."
The man got in first. While he was looking away, the magus gave me the nastiest snarl that I'd seen directed at me since at least the other day when Sella found out that I got sent home early and I didn't tell her.
Once the car took off, her fate was sealed. She didn't have anywhere to run, and with how close we were seated, there was no chance of her pulling a fast one on me. She was forced to keep up a smile while we drove her straight toward the den of her supposed enemy.
A smirk that was partly satisfied, partly mocking threatened to crawl onto my face, but it was in poor taste to kick someone while they were down. I tried to force it away.
A dainty boot-covered foot grinding painfully into mine informed me that I was unsuccessful.
We were dropped off right at the gates of the Emiya household. Acting every bit the happy couple that Raiga expected us to be, we waved at the car with pep as it drove away.
This whole ordeal was strange in many ways that I prayed I never had to revisit.
Only once it was assuredly out of sight did either of us make our move.
The magus pushed off of me with surprising force, putting a respectable distance between us in an instant. She faced me and fell into some sort of martial arts stance. More strange crystals were taken out from somewhere and they hummed with barely-contained magical energy.
"Sorry," she droned, not sounding very sorry. "I'll try to make this quick, Emiya."
…Or so she thought.
I didn't even have to lift a finger. In the blink of an eye, a figure appeared behind the magus and held her in place with a bear hug.
The woman's eyes widened instantly.
The white-haired woman didn't budge an inch despite her captive's best efforts to escape. The best that the woman could manage was to ruffle the homunculus' pyjama top a little.
Leysritt shot me a look that was possibly sleepier than my own.
"No problem," she dismissed quickly.
A loud noise came from the house, followed by a strong gust of wind. The enemy magus turned her head away for a moment to avoid the uncomfortable feeling it created but quickly looked back to see what had been the cause.
Damn it. I had asked her to be more gentle with the house.
The magus looked about as horrified as she should be. Lorelei stomped towards us with her sleeping mask pushed up to her forehead. Were it anyone else, I'd take a moment to question if her frilly white nightgown was weather-appropriate considering the chilly night breeze.
Of course, she totally ignored the dangerous blond-haired sumo woman.
"I hope you have a great explanation for your absence, Emiya."
Hah… Between the magus, who we had just captured, and me, who had hung up on Sella and pushed aside Barthomeloi's daily itinerary in its entirety, there was a good chance that I was the one who'd be coming out of this worse for wear.