I'm not really sure how to start this one. I guess I'll just say Hi and leave it at that. It's been almost a year since the last chapter of this story and almost half a year since I've posted ANYTHING FanFiction related. While I apologize for the massive delay, there was really nothing I could do about it.

First of all, I aced my finals and earned my MBBS, which was a huge relief and validated the last 5 years of study. Now I'm doing my Internship to seal the deal and move on to the next phase of my education, and let me tell you- medical internships are HELL. I got posted in General Surgery first, and that's basically the equivalent of throwing a penguin into an active volcano. 7-9 every day, even Sundays/National Holidays, and that's when I don't have the freaking night shift (which means I have to work for almost 30 hours straight with maybe an hour long nap if I'm lucky in an old surgical ward that I'm 90% sure is haunted). And this is completely disregarding the fact that I don't get paid and everyone's an asshole, from the doctors who never show up till the worst possible to the patients who blame us for the government not approving their medical insurance.

On the flip side, while I was going insane, FGO JP was similarly going insane with all the lore bombs of LB7 and this whole Ordeal Call stuff. It made me think hard about the direction this story was going to go in plot-wise, though I ultimately decided to stick with what I had in mind right now. If some kind of contradictory canon detail comes up, then I'll cross that bridge when the time comes.

...That's basically it. I've got nothing more to really say. I hope I can increase my update speed in the future, but I make no promises. My new schedule doesn't leave much time for any activity that isn't eating, sleeping, bathroom or work.

To finish things off, I'd like to profusely thank my patrons; Tom K., Superpengy, CaptainGIGN, Q-Dog-97, Dakota A., and Chris D. for continuing to support me all this time in spite of everything. If any of you guys also want to support me, please check out my page in the place of patrons. It'd mean the world to me.

P.S. - A couple people insisted I use "Senpai" instead of "Sempai" like I did in the last Chapter, so I changed it this time around. Also, when it comes to questions like "is X going to live or is Y going to die", just keep in mind that I'm not going to kill off anyone who doesn't deserve it, like a certain asshat I'm looking forward to demolishing in LB6 right about now.

Anyways, please enjoy this long overdue Chapter.

Chapter 2 - Finis Chaldea, Part 1

I'm ashamed to say that I spent a large portion of my childhood wishing that I was special.

Insecurity was my middle name growing up, largely due to the fact that I had nothing going for me in either the looks department or the talent sector. Sure, I was a pretty cute baby, and had actually blasted past my developmental milestones at a rather quick pace in my infant years, but that head start I'd gotten over my peers had quickly fizzled away into nothing by the time I was five years old. From then onwards, as I struggled to attain the average baseline, my classmates were constantly blasting past me in almost every conceivable field. It didn't help that my neighborhood and school had a crop of unusually talented kids in the same year as me, which only served to highlight my own deficiencies- especially to myself.

And that was where it all started. My journey down the road of pre-teen angst and idiocy, paved through the whispers of none other than my own mind. Self-doubt is an insidious thing, almost just as much a poison as an overblown ego, and can lead to you transforming into someone that you eventually won't even recognize. I know this from firsthand experience. At the start, my insecurities acted like a motivator, compelling me to put in exorbitant amounts of (wasted) effort into almost everything I did. But that didn't last very long. Before I knew it, I had grown lazy and despondent, demoralized by my repeated failures to break past my limits. I became paranoid, constantly wondering if the people around me were mocking me and thinking that every conversation I overheard was some kind of personal attack about my lack of ability. My cowardice, a trait that had been with me from the very beginning, was amplified by this mania and led to me becoming a loner unable to make friends because I'd convinced myself that the only reason why anyone would approach me was to laugh at me for being so bad at everything.

In other words, I was a mess of a human being, and it didn't take long for me to slip into my imagination in a bid to escape the nigh-hellish reality I'd sculpted with my own two hands. I dreamed of having superpowers, of being better than everyone who had showed me up throughout the course of my entire life and receiving the validation I craved so much. I dreamed of being like the Heroes I looked up to so much, venerated and remembered long beyond the span of their physical lives. I dreamed of being everything I wasn't in reality, and slowly began to slip into the realm of delusions.

… Until a chance encounter with an old man changed my life, and made me open my eyes to reality once again. Now, years later, I've grown up from the person I used to be into someone I can at least be satisfied with, even as a real-life mob character. But I never allowed myself to forget the past, to forget the hole I'd nearly dug myself into, because there was nothing more shameful than making the same mistake twice. And now, faced with my current situation, those embarrassing memories rose to the forefront of my mind as I let out a bitter laugh. After getting my head out of my ass and finally accepting that I didn't need to be special in order to live my life comfortably, I end up unlocking an actual reality-warping superpower. Irony at its finest, really.

Although it would be wrong to say that embarrassment was the only thing I was feeling. A bunch of different emotions were welling within me right alongside it, such as glee and excitement. As much as the nature of the Game seemed to be a direct jab at me, I still couldn't help but appreciate it for what it was- an actual supernatural ability that was mine to use. Just like what I'd dreamed of as a kid, even if it was significantly more useless than the powers I had cooked up in my imagination back then.

Like seriously, novelty of being an actual [Gamer] aside, what could I even do with the iteration I'd been saddled with? Sure, there was the obvious 'pick up chicks', but... as surprising as it may sound coming from someone who was apparently enough of an Eroge enthusiast that his real life actually turned into one, I wasn't really interested in that. Don't get me wrong, I was most definitely a healthy teenage boy with all that it entailed, but in my case common sense and ambition overpowered the horny. Which was exactly why the Game wasn't really worth much to me. Dating Sim powers, while probably useful for getting hitched in the future, would do absolutely nothing to help me with my ultimate goal of becoming an architect. I did feel a faint sense of unease though... because while it may have been stupid of me to try and apply Comic Book Logic to reality, I firmly believed that powers were usually given to be used. You've never read a [Gamer] Fanfic where the MC just settles down and runs a coffee shop without getting involved in the conflicts of the world he's in, have you? It just didn't happen, because when it came to superhuman abilities, conflict was the name of the game. Which begged the question; considering the circumstances under which I unlocked my powers, what exactly was going to come my way? I didn't fail to notice the fact that my Dating Sim abilities only showed themselves when I was carted off to the other side of the planet by the mysterious organization that had almost quite literally picked me off the street, instead of the first day of high school or something equally mundane.

A mysterious organization that I was still trying and failing to understand. On paper, Chaldea didn't seem like much more than your average global research organization. I wouldn't have accepted the job offer if they weren't legit, after all. Although what my job was even supposed to be was just as much of an unknown. According to the guy they sent to recruit me, Harry Anderson, my role in the organization was to take part in research expeditions they were conducting with the permission and support of the UN. The reason they had apparently chosen me out of all of my supremely more talented peers was because of my DNA, apparently, my genetic stability was in the top one percent of the Human species, which was surprising but somewhat believable considering both sides of my family had zero history of genetic defects or diseases, not even simple and benign ones like warts or moles. At the time, I'd taken this reasoning at face value, but now that I really thought about it, what kind of research expedition would have its members selected on the basis of genetic stability? The only thing I could think of was that maybe the location of the expedition had high amounts of natural radiation, and genetic stability was thus being considered over expertise due to the large amount of famous scientists already part of the organization. But that theory didn't seem to hold much ground after the Training Simulation, which was fun but also utterly bizarre.

At first, I thought that maybe the original Training Simulation was supposed to be something else entirely and that the Game had just hijacked it. It certainly wasn't beyond the realm of possibility for something that could stop time with more ease than a certain Stand-wielding vampire. However, that was when I remembered what the announcement system of the VR headset had told me once the simulation was over. It had called me a 'Master Candidate', and had referred to the Simulation as the 'Master Training Program'. Arturia had called me a Master, as in someone who commanded a Servant. That couldn't have been a coincidence. I didn't get the feeling that the recruiter was lying to me back then, but at the same time I wasn't foolish enough to believe that he was telling me everything. After all, despite being a global organization that was backed by most of the world powers, there was hardly anything known about Chaldea except that they existed and that their selection process was extremely strict. A group that secretive was never going to tell me more than the bare minimum before I got to their base in the first place.

But how did research expeditions tie in to something that quite literally seemed like something straight out of a videogame? It just didn't make any sense no matter which angle I took a look at it from, and after a few minutes of intense but fruitless thinking, I had to dismiss that train of thought with a sigh.

'Okay, Ritsuka, just chill out. You're not smart enough to figure this out with so little to go off of anyways.' And that was the honest truth.

I wasn't freaking Sherlock Holmes, I was just a teenager who was clearly in over his head something fierce. The best course of action here was rather obvious; ask someone to clarify what the hell was going on. In significantly more polite terms, because in no uncertain terms, I was in Chaldea's house now. Fortunately, that 'someone' I was looking for appeared to be right in front of me, even if she seemed to be a little... odd. Strike that, very odd. I'd been in some painfully awkward conversations of my own, but someone saying that they might not be "worthy" of having others know their name right off the bat really took the cake. If it weren't for the fact that it was extremely obvious which Dialogue Option the Game was pushing me to select, I might have actually been stumped on how to proceed because I wasn't mentally or socially equipped to deal with people who were actually worse than me in the speech department.

A - [I see. Please get out of my way then. I need to find the person in charge.]

B - [You're the most beautiful girl I've ever met! Why wouldn't you be important enough for me to know your name?! Please forgive this ignorant peasant!]

C - [Well, you're the first person I've met at Chaldea, so I'd say that's important enough for me!]

As mentioned earlier, there was no contest. If I chose Option A, I'd be too guilty to move on with my day for snapping at someone who clearly had self-esteem issues for no reason whatsoever, and if I chose Option B I'd never be able to look her in the eyes ever again. Common sense also dictated that I take the milder and more good-natured choice when dealing with someone I'd be working with in the future, at least judging by the similarities in our after taking a deep breath and reaffirming the fact that there was nothing more I could really think about without going around in circles, I tapped on the floating panel with a mild sense of trepidation for what was coming up next. And sure enough, I could do little more than mentally grimace as my body was once again jacked by a mysterious force, extending a hand outward while my lips curved into an uncharacteristically bright grin and my eyes closed.

"Well, you're the first person I've met at Chaldea, so I'd say that's important enough for me!" Someone up there was clearly busting a gut at my expense.

'Kill me. NOW.' What I'd expected to be a mild, if slightly cheery, dialogue had turned into the kind of cheese you'd expect from a bad Anime. Hell, I could almost feel the sparkles that were coming off of my face at that moment, and it took almost everything I had to maintain my posture and avoid sagging from the humiliation of it all when the Game's grip over my body faded. If there was a definite drawback to my Dating Sim powers, then this, as well as how uncontrollable the power actually was, had to be it. I literally didn't have a choice when the Dialogue Options showed up, because the rules that were shown to me in the Training Simulation still applied here- I couldn't leave the general area when time was stopped until I chose one of the panels presented to me, and there was no way to bypass this phenomenon. While I found that more than a little annoying, it was infinitely better than having a timed Dialogue Section like some Dating Sims. With this configuration, I at least had time to contemplate my admittedly limited options.

If only my Dialogues didn't have a tendency to be absolutely cringe-worthy on the best of days. Even innocuous ones like Option C just now clearly couldn't be trusted, because even if the actual lines weren't that bad, the Game would just crank up the embarrassment factor through body language. The worst part had to be that it didn't even seem to be trying to intentionally get me, because looking back, it was always this way with Eroge. The dialogues that the protagonists would use in-game weren't exactly the type of thing you would say in a typical conversation, even in comparison to mainstream anime. A whimper almost escaped me at the thought of what lay in my future if I couldn't find a way to deactivate or subvert my own power somehow. Perhaps the only reason I managed to keep it together without even letting a fragment of my true emotion escape was because my attention was quickly drawn to the girl I'd spoken to, slightly fearful that she might just straight up bolt like a frightened animal at the... exuberance in my words.

But as they say, truth could sometimes be stranger than fiction.

I stared in poorly concealed amazement as she blushed and stuttered, trying to get words out of her mouth and failing for a few seconds before she stared at my outstretched hand, suddenly realized that she was unintentionally being rude by leaving me hanging (even though I'd only kept my hand there because I felt like I'd gone too far to back out, not because I actually wanted her to respond), before she jerked her own trembling appendage towards my own and shook my hand with... a surprising degree of strength, in complete contrast to her demeanor. After we separated, she seemed to have found her voice, even though it was barely above a whisper.

"I-It's just...I'm afraid I don't leave a good first impression...Ahem. My name is Mash Kyrielight. I-I'm a Master Candidate assigned to Team A. It's nice to meet you, Senpai." Though there was still a bit of stuttering, I couldn't help but notice that she didn't seem to be as nervous as before, even if that wasn't really saying much.

Perhaps my over-the-top introduction had actually helped? I was experienced in conversations with fictional people, not real folks, so I couldn't actually say.

[Mash Kyrielight's Bond has reached Level 1!
Mash Route has been Unlocked!]

...Well, I guess that more or less confirmed it. Unlike with Arturia in the Training Simulation though, the Notification was followed by a strange sensation that made the tips of my fingers tingle. It felt like there was a faint wisp of warm energy that had sprung into existence at that very moment, connecting myself to Mash. Was this what it was like to unlock a Social Link in 'Persona'? Because this felt oddly similar to a real-life rendition of that game mechanic. Even after the feeling passed, I was still aware of its presence somewhere in the back of my mind, like a sixth sense I didn't know that I had. It felt... good, actually, and reassuring in a way that I couldn't describe. Although it didn't distract me from what I had picked up on from her words. She'd called herself a Master Candidate as well, which meant she definitely knew what Chaldea was all about and what was even going on.


There was just one odd thing though- why on Earth was she calling me Senpai when we just met? She appeared to both be older than me and was clearly an employee of Chaldea who had joined before me, so I didn't really understand on what criteria she'd stuck me with that title for. Speaking of which, why was a European-looking girl like her calling me with a Japanese honorific? Not that I was complaining mind you, probably due to my bias that it was coming from a cute girl, but it just seemed a little out of left field.

"My name is Ritsuka Fujimaru." I replied, trying to think of a way to get the information I wanted from Mash without being too obvious or overbearing. "I'm also a Master Candidate, but I'm new here and I'm not really sure what team I'm a part of..."

I didn't mention that I wasn't even sure what a Master Candidate even was, of course. There was literally no advantage to sinking my reputation with Mash and appearing like an ignoramus, even if I personally felt that it wasn't my fault. Thankfully, she didn't question it at all, only nodding with an expression of sudden realization.

"So that's why you were sleeping on the floor, Senpai." She said, sounding like she had found the answer to one of life's greatest mysteries. "You must have just finished your Training. Using the Simulator for the first time may lead to loss of consciousness at any time within the following six hours, but there shouldn't be any other problems after that. Still, Senpai, if you're feeling unwell, you should visit Dr. Roman later."

Ah. Honestly, I'd completely forgotten that I'd even collapsed in the first place due to all the other more pressing matters on my mind. Good to know that there wasn't anything medically wrong with me, though I did in fact make a note to visit this 'Dr. Roman', were weird names just the norm here or something, later on. Just in case. I opened my mouth to try and convey my gratitude to Mash for the info, even if I hadn't really been looking for that tidbit in particular, but that plan flew out the window when a small mass nuzzled my left leg and let off a soft series of mewls.

"Fou! Kyuuu! Kyao!"

Blinking, I turned my gaze downward, and suddenly remembered the existence of the strange white creature from earlier, which had until that point been content to watch the two of us attempt to string together a passable conversation. Kind of odd for an animal, but I had no idea what the hell the little white critter even was, so perhaps high intelligence was a staple of its species or something.

"... I completely forgot. I still haven't introduced you yet, have I, Fou?" Mash said suddenly, gesturing towards the now-named Fou. "This squirrel-like creature is Fou. He's a Privileged Lifeform allowed to freely walk around Chaldea."

Privileged Lifeform? Was that just a fancy way of saying that it was the organization's mascot? I wasn't really sure how rich bigwigs thought, so it was all up to speculation. However, I did understand animals, being the proud owner of a Shiba Inu named Old Yeller, my dad having named it that to troll my mom, and before she could do anything about it the dog refused to answer to anything else, and having done numerous pet-sitting stints around my neighborhood for pocket money. Using that experience, I gently picked Fou up off the ground and held him against my chest, gently stroking his fur. I couldn't help but genuinely smile as my troubles seemed to vanish thanks to the therapeutic effects of floof.

"Nice to meet you, Fou." As far as animals went, he was seriously friendly.

"Kyuu! Fou Fou!" It responded, leaning into my touch eagerly.

And adorable, to boot. Thanks to that, he was instantly bumped up to S-Rank on my Pet Tier List. Old Yeller still had the advantage thanks to emotional investment, however.

"Fou led me here, and that's how I ran into you, Senpai." said Mash, with an odd inflection in her tone, though I couldn't see the expression on her face thanks to having my attention totally grabbed by Mr. Privileged Lifeform.

"Fou. Mmkyu, Fou!" He mewled, nuzzling me one last time before shaking himself free of my admittedly loose grip and zipping down the hall with grace.

"Does he do that normally?" I asked Mash, still looking at where he had buggered off to.

"Yes, he does that sometimes, just walks around." She replied, looking in the same direction.

"Do you know what he actually is, or where he came from? I've never seen anything like him before..." My theory that the recruiter hadn't been lying about Chaldea conducting research expeditions seemed more and more likely now, because it was entirely possible Fou was some sort of exotic animal species that had been discovered by Chaldea at some point.

I knew a lot about fauna, but I'd never heard of a beast like him before, not even amongst the ranks of Cryptids.

"No. Normally he doesn't go near anyone aside from me, but he seems to like you a lot, Senpai!" Mash clapped her hands together and smiled slightly, and I had to remind myself not to stare at my abnormally cute colleague and come off as a total creep. "Congratulations! Now you shall be the second caretaker of Fou in Chaldea."

I couldn't help but snicker at the way she said that, though I did have a very important question to ask in relation to it.

"Can I... take pictures of Fou the next time he comes around? Or is there like a no-photo policy in Chaldea?" Mom needed to know about the existence of such an adorable beast, and although I did sign NDAs about not revealing top secret information from Chaldea, I wasn't sure that their mascot counted as such.

Even if I couldn't, I still wanted to capture a few images of Fou for posterity. Mash tapped a finger against her chin, seriously contemplating my question before speaking.

"Senpai... while I wouldn't suggest taking pictures in Chaldea, for Fou it should be fine. There aren't any rules regarding him in general, so..." She looked like she was about to say something more, but visibly hesitated, wringing her hands together in what I was quickly recognizing as a pretty prominent nervous tic. After a few seconds though, she seemed to work up the courage on her own and produced her smartphone, flushing slightly. "I-I have some pictures of him, if you want to see them."

Now, I've never exactly been the most tactful of individuals, but even someone like me was able to see the gesture for what it was; a silent offer of friendship, pushed forward by someone who clearly wasn't used to taking the initiative or performing any kind of social interaction in general. And it was because of that understanding that a new sensation overpowered the confusion and exasperation warring for control in the back of my mind, sympathy. While I hadn't picked up on it earlier because I'd been so absorbed in my own thoughts, Mash kind of reminded me of... me, from back then. Someone who looked like they were going to collapse in on themselves, who seemed to have given up on forming connections with others, except somehow even more awkward than I had used to be to the point where it was pretty damn off-putting.

"Maybe I'm not important enough for you to know my name?"

Damn it all. I had my own problems to worry about right now, I couldn't spend my time and brain cells on someone else's baggage just because it hit a little too close to home. We'd literally just met minutes ago. But still...

"I'd love to. By the way, are you the one who gave him his ribbon?" A part of me couldn't just leave her like that, and I had learned to trust my instincts a long time ago.

[Mash Kyrielight's Bond has reached Level 2!]

Da Vinci didn't think there would come a time in her life where she'd actually wish for the [Presence Concealment] Skill that went hand in hand with the Assassin Class, but here she was. The genius couldn't help but pat herself on the back for her previous decision to shift her attention from the copious, boring piles of paperwork that weren't even strictly necessary in order to look into the new subject that had caught her interest, because it was already proving to be fruitful.

On her way to the Simulation Room, she had been monitoring Ritsuka and Mash through Chaldea's Surveillance Network in order to closely observe their interaction, and she'd gotten quite a laugh out of it. Even if she was glad deep down that Mash had finally found the opportunity to have a semi-normal conversation with another human being. While she couldn't claim to have been as directly involved in her care as Romani was, the man seeing Mash as something close to his own daughter, the artificial human was one of the few people in the entirety of Chaldea that she was fond of. Most of Chaldea's staff were boring, either being the office worker type who looked perpetually dead on their feet and seemed to have no interest in anything other than their next paycheck or being the classic Magus package of arrogant and condescending to a stifling degree.

And that wasn't even taking into account the divide that existed between her and practically everyone else in lieu of her being a Heroic Spirit, especially one as famous as Leonardo Da Vinci. Romani, Mash, and Pepe when he wasn't off doing God knows what were perhaps the only people who actually deigned to talk to her without being forced to by their work, as even Olga only showed up just to dump more work on her before disappearing in moments. It was no way to treat a genius, that was for sure, but Da Vinci didn't really mind as she was given a good Workshop and better funding. A little social isolation was a small price to pay for that, considering she wasn't really what most people would call 'personable' even in her own time. There were some sacrifices that geniuses had to make, and social competence was unfortunately the most common one of them. Most geniuses throughout history kind of had a reputation of that as well, so it wasn't something unique to her. It didn't really bother her, the same way it hadn't bothered her similarly inclined peers.

However, the same couldn't be said for Mash, who was neither mature nor a genius despite also being a social pariah of similar nature. She was a fascinating child, whose origin made her as alien to the rest of Chaldea as she was, if not more. It was hard for a Magus to treat someone as a human when they had once been a test subject, and that was if they actually put in the effort to change their views. News flash; they didn't even bother. It was only Romani's insistence that didn't see her 'recycled' for spare parts, which was a disgusting notion to even consider, or put in a glorified cage for 'studying'. Even if Chaldea was technically working for the benefit of the Human Order, the hard truth was that very few of the Magi under the banner actually acted like it.

And that wasn't even taking into account what that bastard Beryl had done. Meanwhile on the flip side, the mundane employees were freaked out by her nature, silently likening Mash to a more mild version of Frankenstein. As such, shunned by both sides, Mash was practically alone, with only Romani and Pepe for any sort of positive human contact. Da Vinci herself hadn't interacted too much with the girl, though that was mainly because all the work that was dumped on her rarely gave her the free time or agency to do so. The poor girl bore all the scorn silently and without resentment, which made the situation even more tragic than it already was. She had such an affable personality, but no one around her would give her a chance because of their preconceived notions.

Which was why Da Vinci had been eager to see her interaction with Ritsuka Fujimaru. Disregarding his Master and Rayshift Affinities, he was someone who was not only in her age group, a rarity in its own right, but also someone who lacked knowledge of mystical side of the world, and hadn't been in Chaldea long enough to be infected by the opinions of his non-magical seniors. According to his file, he was about as average as average could possibly be in every parameter but the ones that had made him a Master Candidate, which in a sense also made him an oddity amongst the superhuman talents of Chaldea. Theoretically speaking, if there was anyone who Mash could positively interact with and actually befriend as a peer, it was him- especially in this time and place.

Of course, she knew better than anyone that theories didn't always translate properly into reality. His file mentioned nothing of his personality, after all, and he could have easily been a cruel or manipulative person who had flown under the radar thanks to his clean record. There were plenty of sociopaths who could blend in perfectly with the rest of society just because they hadn't committed any crimes, or gotten caught doing them. That was why Da Vinci had chosen to violate Mash's privacy like this; in case things turned sour, she would be in a position to intervene and remove Ritsuka from the girl's vicinity. As much as she found him interesting, if he was bad for Mash then Da Vinci wouldn't hesitate to prevent them from interacting.

Fortunately, it seemed that the day would have pleasant surprises for everyone, because the conversation Da Vinci had silently borne witness to had been the most adorable thing she'd seen in a while. Mash, already a wallflower by nature, was completely thrown off by the fact that someone was treating her like a normal girl while Ritsuka had obviously noticed her... oddities in the social sphere and wasn't quite sure how to interact with her because of it. Both sides came together to produce a series of dialogue that seemed like something straight out of the teen dramas that were so popular amongst the modern youth, though it was clear to Da Vinci that in spite of their awkwardness they had formed a burgeoning bond. Mash would never have taken the initiative otherwise, and he would never have accepted it. And it was all thanks to Fou, who had brought them together by being cute. She would be sure to do something nice for the little critter the next time she saw him, although when that would be was up in the air considering he avoided everyone but Mash- and now Ritsuka.

It was another interesting tidbit to add to the mental file that she was forming on their latest Master Candidate 'Carries the Fou Seal of Approval'.

Confident that nothing untoward could really happen from that point onwards, Da Vinci had shut off the feed to her tablet once they had started to look at pictures of Fou on Mash's phone, instead opening up Chaldea's Central Management System and assigning herself as the one in charge of teaching Ritsuka the basics of his work. Originally, it would've been Romani who would've taken this responsibility thanks to everyone else being busy with the last minute preparations for the Grand Order, but Da Vinci had come too far to miss the opportunity to meet this boy in person. He ironically had the potential to be one of the most interesting people around, and she wasn't about to leave someone like that alone without getting his measure. Quirking her lips at the thought and sending a message to the good doctor that she would be taking over for him and that he could just relax and eat sweets in his room, the Caster finally raised her head as she entered the hallway in which the two teenagers were still talking.

Then she caught sight of Ritsuka Fujimaru in the flesh for the first time, and stopped dead in her tracks, nearly dropping her tablet in shock.

"Beautiful." She was so taken by surprise, which was more than a little rare for someone like the legendary Leonardo Da Vinci, that she wasn't even aware that the word had left her lips in a quiet whisper.

She could scarcely even breathe. When was the last time she had felt this way? Ah, that's right, when she had first encountered the beauty whose shape she had now taken for her own. Blue eyes no less perfect than the ones she now possessed, hair as black as the night, and a perfectly proportioned face and body that lacked any visible imperfections. Perhaps his... charm couldn't be perceived by the average person, but her eyes could catch it all perfectly. She could see the fact that his skin was completely uniform in its tone and healthy to an insane degree, with neither a wart or mole in sight and only one step short of outright glowing; something that her intuition told her would hold true even for the parts of his body that she couldn't currently see. The cherry on top was the fact that, just like Lisa del Giocondo so long ago, his beauty was completely natural.

He was neither a Servant, who tended to be more attractive than they actually were in life thanks to the influences of their legends and physiological composition, nor a Magus who had the benefit of a targeted and cultivated bloodline as well as the benefits of the mystical. Nope, he was the kind of natural beauty who was born once a generation, if not even rarer- which was the kind she loved the most, the ideal she'd chased all her life. In her opinion, this was the type of aesthetic that humans were meant to have. If she were to compare him to Lisa, Da Vinci would say that he would fall short, but not by too much. Perhaps it was because Lisa had been a fully grown, mature woman while Ritsuka was just a boy in his early teens. Give it a few years and Da Vinci didn't doubt that he would match up to his... predecessor, in a manner of speaking.

'Now I'm really in the mood to paint something.' Leo mused to herself, recomposing her expression and walking up to the two teenagers. 'So how should I get my latest muse into my Workshop?'

It took a few minutes, but both of us slowly got more comfortable with each other as our conversation continued. I once read a long time back in a book on how to make friends, yeah that's pathetic, I know, but I was desperate, that a common topic to talk about was the best way to make new friends. Whether that was being assigned to do similar tasks or merely sharing a hobby, there was a trait ingrained deep in our monkey brains that gave us that 'apes together strong' feeling when we had something in common with another of our kind, especially if we were passionate about something.

And for the first time, I actually got that feeling. Mash was a just as sweet a person as her appearance would suggest, which was a total breath of fresh air in comparison to the usual roster of borderline-delinquents I had to deal with on a daily basis, and once you got past that initial awkwardness she was a surprisingly enthusiastic conversation partner. In fact, my own stress levels were decreasing a bit thanks to how much I was genuinely enjoying comparing pictures with her and exchanging both camera tips and pet grooming techniques. Despite having been a pet owner for longer than her, Mash's knowledge of the latter topic far outstripped mine to the point where I couldn't even hide how impressed I was because it must have taken a huge amount of dedicated research and practical application to get to the point where she was at. There was also something awfully cathartic about just taking a few minutes to not worry about existential problems, the nature of your mysterious job or the reality-bending Dating Sim powers that now considered your noggin home and talking about cute animals in good company.

Of course, I couldn't escape thinking about it forever, and as such I wasn't surprised when reality decided to re-assert itself. However, I was surprised when that re-assertion took the form of someone who we had failed to notice walking towards us and clamping a hand down on each of our shoulders, scaring the living daylights out of us.

"Hello, Mash! It's simply wonderful to see you making a new friend!" Mash let out a small squeak of surprise and flailed backwards, before losing her balance and taking a tumble, her phone barely avoiding a collision with the hard floors of the facility.

However, since we had been so close together when the interloper had appeared, I also got knocked down as a result of her surprising strength and barely avoided smacking my head against the floor.

"Ah, S-Senpai!" Unfortunately, while I had avoided smacking my head on the floor, that was because my head had instead landed on Mash's lap, and my blue eyes were now staring into her lavender ones as her face slowly turned a shade of red that would make tomato farmers jealous.

It took me a precious second to process what was happening, because it was so absurd that I couldn't believe it. Seriously, what was this? A freaking Eroge?


Wait a minute.

That thought along with the knowledge of everything that had gone down today so far basically kick-started my brain and musculoskeletal system, and in the span of a split second I rolled out of my self-proclaimed Kouhai's lap and onto the floor that I'd wanted to avoid. Wincing a bit and trying to ignore my own reddening face, I scrambled to my feet and held out a hand to Mash, who was still frozen on the floor with an atomic blush.

"S-sorry about that." Damn it, now I was stuttering too.

Where the hell was the Game's body-jacking Dialogue feature when you needed it! Honestly, it really said something about how absurd things had gotten in such a short timeframe that I was missing being controlled like a human puppet by an unseen extradimensional power that may or may not have possessed actual sentience in order to avoid an exceptionally awkward social situation. But that did raise an alarming question; Was I becoming dependent on the Game? That didn't bode well, because I didn't want to end up as one of those Gamers who lived and breathed for their next Quest and didn't have a life or personality outside of grinding. I had to control the Game, and not the other way around. Perhaps I was just being paranoid, but this was the kind of thing that one should be paranoid about in the first place. I had a good amount of personality defects on my plate already, thank you very much.

"I-it's fine, Senpai." Mash replied, taking my hand and allowing me to pull her to her feet.

I still didn't know why she was calling me that, and I had completely forgotten to ask her when we were talking about Fou because I'm an idiot.

"Oops, sorry! I didn't mean to startle the two of you like that, you know?" Said a pleasant voice filled with mirth and the tinge of an Italian accent, reminding Mash and I of the reason we'd fallen over in the first place.

As one, we both turned back towards the interloper and our eyes widened in surprise, probably for completely different reasons. Hell, even as time froze and the Dialogue Options appeared, conveniently to my side this time so my line of vision wasn't broken and thus showing that this thing definitely had a sense of humor, I couldn't help but stare with a hanging jaw, my brain undergoing another soft reboot. The person who had appeared here was amongst the epitome of human beauty in my humble opinion, with only Arturia being anywhere near the same league. If the teenager who had called herself my 'Servant' in the Simulation looked like she had walked out of a fairytale, then this woman, she literally couldn't be called anything else considering her... bulk, was a piece of art come to life like a real-life Galatea or something.

I literally couldn't tear my eyes away from her for a full ten minutes, and not for the first time was idly grateful that the Game stopped time for Dialogue Options because otherwise I'd have committed one of the worst faux pas of my life. I'd like to think that I wasn't as bad as my peers in this regard, considering the abnormally large amount of degeneracy people these days seemed to have, but I was still a teenage boy in the throes of puberty, and there were certain things I just couldn't avoid. In my defense, I don't think it's fair to judge me for my self control slipping a bit when faced with a woman who could make the current Miss Universe look like a beaver with giardiasis.

I did eventually get my head back in the game, after an embarrassing amount of time that no one would ever know had passed, and glanced at the Dialogue Options that had faithfully waited by my side like Old Yeller always did so it didn't get in the way of my shameless ogling.

"Ugh... just... never mind." The sooner I sped away from this situation and deleted all memory of it, the sooner I would recover some peace of mind.

A - [I didn't know, considering you kind of snuck up on us, Miss..?]

B - [Wow, you're so beautiful! You look just like the Mona Lisa!]

C - [Um, I was the one not paying attention, so it's okay Ma'am.]

Wait a second, she did kind of look like the Mona Lisa, or more accurately- Lisa del Giocondo, the woman who was featured in it. Except heavily beautified, like one of those historical figures that got the manga/anime treatment. She also sounded Italian too... maybe she was a descendant of the Giocondo Family? It was a plausible theory, that's for sure, but a small part of me disagreed with that assessment. There was just something too.. too much about this lady, in a similar vein to Arturia. They just had a different feeling about them compared to ordinary people. I hadn't noticed it earlier because I was all loopy from the whole Simulation thing, but getting the same sensation so soon after the last time had helped me lock onto it more clearly.

That was now two things that this new person eerily had in common with Arturia, and I couldn't help but think that it wasn't a coincidence. Slowly, as I spent some more time thinking about it, an idea was beginning to form in my mind, one so insane that I couldn't help but initially dismiss it before remembering that nothing in the past bundle of hours had really adhered to conventional logic or common sense. I bit my lip as I considered my next action. It was a definite jump in logic, but considering all the hints that had been dropped throughout my time here, I was about as confident in my hypothesis as one could hope to be in a situation like this.

After giving A and B a cursory glance, I tapped Option C and prepared to take a leap of faith.

"Um, I was the one not paying attention, so it's okay Ma'am." I said, commandeered by the Game, but unlike before I didn't stop talking once it let go of me.

Instead, I took a deep breath and soldiered on, voicing what had to be the most insane theory I'd ever cooked up.

"By the way, t-this might kind of be a weird thing to ask, but are you... Leonardo Da Vinci?" If the way the woman suddenly grinned and the way Mash gasped in shock hadn't been telling enough that I was spot on, the sudden Message that popped up in my vision definitely sealed the deal.

[Leonardo Da Vinci's Bond has reached Level 1!
Da Vinci Route has been Unlocked!
Due to your actions, a Limited-Time Quest has been Unlocked!]

...I really should've looked a little deeper into Chaldea before signing the contract.

And that's a wrap! This is more of an intermediary Chapter, probably the last one before Singularity F if Chapter 3 works out the way I intend it to. But it still has a couple of set-ups for more things down the line.

One thing I'd like to mention straight away is the way the Stats work. On the scale of 1-10, 5 is Peak Human Standard for any of the attributes. From 6-10 is the realm of the supernatural. That's why Da Vinci has this kind of reaction towards him. Considering that they never mentioned anything being special about Lisa del Giocondo in the Nasuverse, I came up with this idea for Da Vinci's view on human beauty. It was kind of funny to write, especially because of the shenanigans I have planned in the future for these two. Also, I couldn't help but think of that Killmonger scene when I wrote this part.

Mash is fun to write, as always.

Of course, who can forget the star of the show- Ritsuka himself. I've expanded more on his character this time, and have given a bit of explanation for why he behaves the way he does. A disclaimer; there is nothing supernatural about his background. No eldritch sister, no meeting Zelretch, or anything like that. The old man referenced here is the one who taught canon Ritsuka about the meaning of life when they were young. I've taken traits from the canon Ritsuka and given my own spin on them to create the history of Grand Eroge's Ritsuka.

It's true that I didn't really get to showcase the Game very much in this Chapter either, but that's because Ritsuka himself has been hopping from one scene to another without any time for himself. Perhaps a perfect Gamer would have just completely explored the System during one of the time stops, but that was intentionally why I didn't have Ritsuka do that. He ISN'T a perfect person or a perfect Gamer. He's an ordinary person trying to come to grips with a reality that's been turned on its head.

Anyways, that's all I have to say. I once again hope you guys enjoyed the Chapter, and look forward to the next one. Please PM me or leave a Review with your feedback if you can. There's also been a lot of formatting errors going on recently with FFN, so point out any of those to me and I'll fix them when I can.

Have a nice day everyone.

Spatialphoenix here, burning to ashes.