Prologue I - Irisviel


Irisviel von Einzbern waited patiently while across the table from her, Iris Potter took slow, steady breaths.

The two of them sat in a small study of the house that the Einzberns had gifted to Shirou. While the look of the building fit right in with the London suburb it was situated in, the contents of the house definitely didn't fit at all. Especially as you went into the basement, the second basement, or the third basement. The tool shed in the back was also not at all what it seemed.

However, the two of them didn't need any of the large spaces or esoteric tools that could be found in the more secretive parts of the house. They were there for Iris to practice Occlumency using a game that the Einzberns used for teaching their children the mental arts.

The game was relatively simple. Iris would deal three cards from a Tarot deck out in front of herself, face down. She would then lift each one in turn and try to memorize what each one was and in what order they were laid out. When she was ready, she would signal Irisviel to flip a nearby hourglass, and the game would begin.

From that point on, Irisviel had until the sand in the hourglass ran out to try and figure out what the cards were by reading Iris's mind.

Iris wasn't allowed to cover her eyes or do anything to interfere with Irisviel casting Legilimency on her.

At first, the hourglass had only held thirty seconds worth of sand. Irisviel was limited to only using wand-cast Legilimency, essentially announcing her attack. And, finally, Irisviel hadn't been allowed to talk.

Irisviel had expected that they would stay at that level of difficulty for quite a while. The early stages of Occlumency were not easy to grasp, especially for someone of Iris's age. Clearing your mind and calming your emotions wasn't something that pubescent children were particularly known for.

However, Shirou had unknowingly set the groundwork already by teaching Iris to meditate. It wasn't exactly the type of meditation typical to Occlumency users, but it was an excellent starting point that allowed Iris to make measured progress through their numerous practice sessions.

For this session, the two of them were well past the beginning stages of this game. The handicaps that Iris had been granted were reduced or stripped away entirely. Now, the timer was filled with five minutes worth of sand, wandless Legilimency was allowed, and Irisviel was allowed to speak. The difficulty had skyrocketed.

What Iris had been surprised to learn was that the real handicap had been Irisviel holding back on talking.

A monkey with a wand could try and get information with brute force Legilimency.

A true artist of the field got what they wanted with mind games, both figurative and literal.

"I'm ready," Iris said, looking up to match gazes with Irisviel.

With a sweet smile on her lip, Irisviel flipped the hourglass over and immediately went on the attack with an aggressive compliment. "You've gotten much better at memorizing the cards."

"Thank you," Iris replied curtly. Her eyes were locked on Irisviel's face as she forced herself not to glance down at the cards or mentally review them. She'd learned to be careful around leading statements in their little exercises. She'd lost enough times to Irisviel getting her to think about her cards that she was wary of that line of attack.

And because Iris was wary, Irisviel wasn't going to take that approach this time.

Placing her elbows on the table, Irisviel leaned in and rested her head in her hands. "How is training going?"

She couldn't stop herself from smiling slightly at the sudden look of confusion that appeared on Iris's face. The young girl was a fierce one and almost always wore a focused or calm expression around her, so Irisviel enjoyed seeing other sides of her from time to time. Right now, she was clearly trying to figure out what the trap in Irisviel's question was.

Unfortunately for the almost thirteen-year-old girl, she didn't have the experience in psychology needed to see the layers of traps Irisviel was laying before her.

To put it simply, Irisviel was aiming for mental associations rather than the cards themselves. For example, Iris tended to associate anything from the Swords suit with Shirou, for obvious reasons. So, if Irisviel put forth the right prompt, and pushed at her mind at the right time, she could test that association.

It wouldn't be enough to get the specific card, but it was an easy way to reduce the range of possibilities by sixty-four of seventy-eight cards. Not a bad deal when Irisviel had so much time to play with.

"I know Kerry has been doing most of your physical training lately. I hope you still have time to practice with Shirou from time to time." The bait was laid and Irisviel watched as Iris's gaze shifted, the gears in her mind turning, for the dual purposes of spotting the trap as well as responding to the question.

It was at that moment that Irisviel silently struck.

Her mind was cast forward with a silent 'Legilimens' and she fell into the chaotic, churning thoughts of Iris's mind.

She had kept her touch featherlight, but Iris's mind still snapped closed a moment after her invasion.

An excellent result, with excellent response time for a beginner. But not enough to completely deter Irisviel, who had managed to glean what she wanted before being shut out.

"It seems we have a card of the 'Swords' suit," Irisviel noted casually.

Iris's eyes narrowed, and even without entering her mind, Irisviel could see her thoughts start to churn again. This time she was trying to figure out how her teacher had managed to gather that information. She had a good knack for piecing things together based on very little information. It normally allowed her to correct her issues quickly and avoid making the same mistakes over and over.

If this had been normal combat, it would probably be a good, practical thing to do. Keep your distance and figure out the opponent's tricks so that you didn't fall for them again. However, it wasn't exactly the best thing to be doing when someone might just ram into that busy mind of yours and take advantage of the restructuring happening.

"Legilimens." Irisviel used her wand and the incantation to bring out the full power of the spell so she could unleash it like a battering ram against Iris's mind.

Iris's introspection proved to be not only a weak point but a treasure trove of information for Irisviel to pillage.

"First is the Eight of Swords, second is Death, and… hmmm… the third one is another card from the Major Arcana." Irisviel tapped her chin as she recited the information she had learned.

Across the table, Iris glowered, upset at losing that clash so badly. But she still flipped over two of the cards, revealing that Irisviel had been correct.

"The Eight of Swords: Self-imposed restrictions, self-limiting beliefs. Death: Stopping, ending, or finishing, and usually associated with new beginnings or new perspectives. If this were a reading, I'd say that the cards are telling you that you are restricting yourself in some way and need to stop, but I'm not sure how the last card would modify it, so…."

"Should I treat this as studying for fortune-telling class as well?" Iris asked sarcastically. "I think I have enough to keep my mind occupied without also trying to figure out what the cards are trying to tell me."

"Not right now," Irisviel reassured her. "That's a higher level of practice than you're ready for right now."

Iris didn't look particularly reassured at the prospect of this training becoming even harder. Still, it wasn't something that she needed to deal with right now, so she just rolled her eyes and moved on.

"I'm restricting myself and need to stop, huh?" Iris glanced down at the unrevealed card in front of her before glancing back up to meet Irisviel's gaze. "Mind if I try something outside of what you taught?"

Irisviel thought for a moment, then nodded. "At the moment, I don't think you're good enough at Occlumency to be a danger to yourself, and if anything goes wrong, I'm here to intervene. That said, please don't experiment too much without someone around to supervise."

Iris nodded at the conditions before closing her eyes in concentration.

"Before you get too far," Irisviel spoke up, "what exactly are you planning to try?"

Across the table, Iris opened her eyes. As she did, Irisviel was struck by a sudden sense of vertigo. Something in the room had changed, and it was seriously throwing her off.

She glanced around, trying to pin down the source of her feeling, and only finally realized what was wrong when she looked at Iris to see if the younger girl had felt something as well.

Iris was staring across the table with a look of concentration on her face and her mind completely inaccessible to Irisviel.

More than just inaccessible, it was as if Iris's mind was gone completely. To a mind-reader, she more closely resembled a life-like statue, rather than a real person.

"What did you do?" Irisviel asked in a slight panic. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Iris responded, a little taken aback at Irisviel's sudden concern. "But I'd rather not tell you what I did until I'm sure I've won." She glanced down at the hourglass.

Irisviel internally debated surrendering immediately. Iris's defense was like nothing she had ever seen, and she was worried about what it might be doing to the young girl's mind. However, Iris seemed to be fine, and the defense seemed very effective. This would be a good chance to see just how effective it was.

Her own mind made up, she took a minute to try piercing whatever protection Iris had placed over her mind, but eventually had to give up. Despite Iris sitting right in front of her and making direct eye contact, she couldn't even find a place to start trying to break into her mind. Wandless, wanded, vocalizing the spell. Nothing worked, and not in the sense of it running into some kind of barrier. It was as if there was simply nothing for the spell to take effect on.

"I give up," she said, putting her wand down and raising her hands.

Iris raised an eyebrow. "Shirou, Kiritsugu, and you have all taught me not to assume a fight is over until I'm certain it's over. As far as I know, there's no rule allowing you to forfeit. The game only ends when the timer runs out."

"That's fair." Irisviel chuckled as her own lessons were turned against her. She then picked up her wand and waved it over the hourglass, causing the sand in the top section to drain into the bottom almost instantly. "How about now?"

"… That works." Iris stared at the hourglass for a moment, surprised at her sudden victory.

"So." Irisviel leaned forward. "How are you doing that?"

Iris smiled, the reality of her come-from-behind victory sinking in.

"Right," she said. "I'm using the Cloak to hide my mind."

"The Cloak? I didn't know it could do something like that."

Which wasn't surprising. Even with the Einzberns' resources, practically nothing could be found out about the Deathly Hallows. Numerous similar items had been lost to history, but few were considered to be part of a set, and none quite matched up with the descriptions of the three Hallows. Then again, the Cloak was rarely in the form of a cloak anymore, perhaps the other items were equally mutable.

"Me neither." Iris shrugged. "I've known how to hide individual things for a while now. Only sound, or only smell, that kind of thing. Hiding my mind didn't occur to me before. I didn't think that the Cloak could help me here. After all, the rules said that I couldn't do anything to prevent you from making eye contact, so making myself invisible wouldn't have worked.

"However—" Iris smiled sheepishly. "—I got a bit of a hint." She pointed down at the first card in front of her. "The Eight of Swords: Self-imposed restrictions, self-limiting beliefs," she parroted Irisviel's words back. Her finger moved onto the second card. "Death: Stopping, ending, or finishing, and usually associated with new beginnings or new perspectives." She flipped over the final card. "And the Moon. I know this one. Illusion, deception, and concealment." Iris wavered for a moment before she carried on. "When you mentioned treating it as a reading and not knowing how the final card would modify the others, it hit me. Death isn't there just to tell me to stop limiting myself, it's also there because I should conceal myself with Death, or the Cloak of Death, you know."

"Well done." Irisviel applauded softly. "A well-interpreted divination leading to a well-executed victory." She let Iris bask in the compliment for a short time before bringing up something she felt was rather important. "Now, would you mind dropping that defense? I would like to make sure that it hasn't had any negative side effects."

Iris frowned at the prospect of having her mind examined. "The Cloak has never had any negative effects on me before," she argued.

"I see. However, as the one responsible for your training, I would just like to double-check."

"Fine." Iris rolled her eyes at the excessive caution but stopped concealing herself.

"Thank you. I won't probe too much." Raising her wand, Irisviel cast, "Legilimens."

As she entered Iris's mind, Irisviel felt Iris's more conventional mental defenses rising to stop her before they were forcefully aborted.

Keeping to her word, she didn't probe deeply, instead using the skill to determine the general state of Iris's mind and comparing it to how it had looked during previous examinations.

"Nothing seems wrong or changed," Irisviel stated, drawing herself out of Iris's mind. "You are free to use that method as a defense against Legilimency. Though please stop and consult with me if you feel something wrong when using it." She smiled as Iris nodded through her instructions. "And, I believe that is the end of our lesson for the night." She paused as she considered how to break the news. "And Iris, we will have future practice sessions with and without the Cloak. I'd like you to learn this skill without relying on the Cloak too much."

Iris's only reply was a put-upon sigh and a nod.

Irisviel supposed it made sense. Kiritsugu was also limiting her use of the Cloak in his lessons, for similar reasons.

"It might seem useless now that you know the Cloak can just hide you from mental intrusion–" Irisviel smiled reassuringly. "–but I assure you, there is a lot more to Occlumency than just defending against Legilimency. It's a good skill to have for any situation that calls for a clear mind or strong visualization. For example: Apparition, Legilimency, or–more relevant to your coming year–crystal ball divination." The first and third points seemed to catch Iris's attention. She wasn't interested in Legilimency, probably because she still only saw it as mind reading, without understanding all the nuances around it. "In addition, if you ever lend your cloak to Shirou or anyone else, it would be good to have Occlumency to fall back on."

Iris let out another sigh and rested her head in her hands. "Okay okay, I'll keep working on it." She pouted at Irisviel. "I wasn't expecting to have to work so much during my summer vacation though."

"You never complain about Kerry making you work too much." Irisviel pouted right back.

"Kiritsugu just has me fight things. That's hardly work."

Irisviel held back a sigh of her own at that. Iris was clearly disposed towards physically active pursuits that let her be aggressive. When you practiced Occlumency, you remained mostly unmoving and were defensive the whole time. It wasn't surprising that she didn't find it to be very exciting.

Once again, Irisviel couldn't help but inwardly sulk at how the teaching arrangements had come out. It was unfair that Kerry got to be the preferred teacher just because he was better at the fighty stuff while she was better at mind magic.

Iris already favored Kerry, just for being an Emiya. Now he got to be the cool teacher that taught Iris how to turn animated suits of armor into metal scraps while Irisviel was forced to be the lame teacher who made her sit still and stare at things for an hour.

"I think you'll appreciate the results, Iris." Not letting her sullen thoughts show on her face, Irisviel could only blandly reassure Iris that the outcome would be worth the work. "Now, I'm all done, but we have a few minutes before you need to head to Kerry's lesson. I wanted to ask how your new clothes are working out." Dragging the conversation into a new direction, Irisviel managed to spend the few remaining minutes they had chatting with Iris.

While she would take any topic of conversation, she put extra effort into teaching Iris about the basics of fashion. She was such a cute girl, it was a waste to just let her go through life without at least knowing that there were different clothing options out there.

This was doubly true since her primary role model in life, Shirou, had–from what Irisviel understood–bought a dozen sets of similar or identical clothes and simply cycled through them. It looked like he never changed clothes, and he didn't even seem to care.

It was the most utilitarian approach to clothing that Irisviel had ever heard of, and she was adamant about making sure that Iris didn't follow that example.

On top of it being an important topic, it was a topic that Iris was willing to engage with her in. It was a marked improvement over the silent treatment she had been given during the Christmas holidays, so Irisviel internally cheered at every word that left the girl's mouth.

Unfortunately, it was only a few minutes long, so they quickly ran out of time and Iris had to go on to her combat training with Kerry.

"Do you mind if I watch your training tonight?" Irisviel asked as she stood from the desk, Iris mirroring her on the other side. "I believe Illya will be teaming up with you for whatever Kerry has planned." And Irisviel was going to get PICTURES! Her daughter and her daughter's friend teaming up against whatever horrible danger Kerry pitted them against! That was definitely worth a page or two in the album Irisviel had been putting together recently.

Iris paused and a look of uncertainty crossed her face. Eventually, she shrugged off whatever had been bugging her and replied with an uncertain "Sure".

Giggling with glee, Irisviel opened the door and let a once-more uncertain Iris pass through ahead of her.

As she watched Iris walk down the hallway in front of her, the smile on her face fell away and she shook her head. That trick with the Cloak had been scary in more ways than one.

Yes, it had been concerning to have Iris's mind simply disappear like that. Irisiviel also didn't have any idea as to how she would go about breaking through it. Not that Irisviel could complain, since her being unable to break through meant that others would be similarly stymied.

At this point, she probably should have come to expect that kind of shock from Iris. Kerry had told her of all the things the Cloak could do in normal magical combat, it shouldn't have been surprising that it had applications outside of that. And Iris herself seemed to always be good for a surprise or two, Cloak or no Cloak. Put the two of them together and soon enough you would have an absolute monster on your hands.