A.N. (8/16/23) - Third chapter this week, and that's mostly cause I'm in that kind of mood.
Atlas (28) - Nameless Girl
Once upon a time, there stood a lonely tower that sheltered a lonely girl named Pandora.
Locked away by her cruel father, Pandora was a girl who desired but one thing... freedom.
She lived in a time when kings and their kingdoms were plentiful, when men and women were capable of greatness, and magic was a gift from the Gods that all could wield.
And yet, there she sat within her tower.
Until one day, a legendary hero came to brave the challenges within the tower's walls.
The people of the lands knew him as ∎∎∎∎.
Unlike those who had come before, this warrior was not driven by the prize of the young maiden's hand. He fought only for righteousness, and his pure heart and courageous soul prevailed.
They escaped the wretched fortress, and yet something bound them together.
∎∎∎∎ had been ready to give his life for justice countless times, but now saw a woman worth saving it for. And Pandora, to her surprise, found her freedom not in the outside world she had yearned for, but in the eyes of the man that had saved her.
"So, where should we go now?"
"Wherever you'd like."
The two fell deeply in love, planned adventures around the world, and lived happily ever after.
Or at least that's what should have been.
—Code: Pandōrae: All-Gifts, In-progress.
—Distortion Value: EX.
—Observed Time Period: ■■■■■■■
—∎∎∎∎ Program activated. Begin identifying targets.
—Full process, clear. Remnant—
It took Rin a moment to find her words. "We're inside… Pandora's Box?"
"Correct," Pandora replied. "This world, Remnant, is not merely a record or even a Singularity split off from other timelines. It is now its own self-sustaining world all thanks to the power of the pithos that my father created. Not even the famed Atlas superweapon, Logos ReAct, is capable of matching the feat of an item created by the Olympian gods. Remnant is a perfectly simulated world that encompasses countless possibilities, failed and realized."
Rin had her suspicions, but to hear confirmation from the other woman was still a shock. What did that mean for her? To learn that this world was a product of a relic from the Age of Gods, something that went even beyond a regular Noble Phantasm. It was difficult to wrap her mind around such a large concept, even when she was presented with the reality of the situation.
"And you're the real Pandora?"
"Not quite. The 'real' Pandora is still in our world, most likely within the confines of the Ainsworth household. What I am is the accumulated records of her rotted soul that have been removed and discarded into this world." She gestured to herself. "That is why I am inhabiting this body, as I have no form of my own. I won't go into details on how that happened, but my host and I have come to an agreement on how our goals align."
"Why did you pick her?"
"Gillian came to me. Or rather, she was the first compatible host that I came across when I was in desperate need of one. Due to somebody attacking my Spirit Origin, I was forced to recover for several months while trying to hide from my pursuers."
She was talking about Tyrian. Marcus Black's recollection had warned her about Tyrian going after Emilia and similar girls like her. Putting that into context, Rin supposed that meant Salem and her forces were hunting down other versions of Pandora.
"And you worked with Merlot before…"
"He was an interesting subject. I shared with him some notes on what little magecraft I learned under the Ainsworths, and to my surprise he learned quite a bit from what little he received. To think that science could advance that much through a single man. Were he a magus, I suspect that he might have been considered on par with even the geniuses of the Atlas Institute."
So the whole Argus incident was partially her doing as well. A chill went down Rin's spine as she finally realized that Pandora had been acting in the shadows this entire time with none the wiser. Even now, Pandora was only here because she for some reason decided to reveal herself.
Rin shrugged, and one of her arms dropped to the floor. "So we're here because of the Fourth Holy Grail War?"
"Incorrect. Only you are here because of the war, something that I'm not entirely sure as to how or why. The iteration known as Emilia Ainsworth only came to this world a few years ago, so I am unaware of the war's conclusion. Because Emilia was attacked and injured before she could fully stabilize her existence, her memories are corrupted. But she, and I, still recall when we first met years ago."
"Do you not remember?" Pandora tilted her head. "I suppose Emilia may not have been the only one to have lost her memories. The fact that you have survived at all speaks more to your luck than not. Either way, it was only a chance encounter. Your father, Tokiomi Tohsaka, came to visit one day with you years before the war began. It was something to do with requesting our family to take in your sister, although I later heard that your father decided to make a deal with the Makiri family instead."
Could she be telling the truth? All this time, Rin had wondered about the origins of her new identity, but she always concluded that she only possessed the 'body' of Rin Tohsaka. Her magecraft skills and abilities were only due to the brain storing the memories and her crest storing the knowledge. Even then, she had no memories of living a life in Fuyuki or anything similar. Was that due to whatever caused the end of the Holy Grail War? Did she gain Rin's body because of that incident?
"You were a young child at the time," Pandora spoke with nostalgia. "I was in charge of hosting you along with my younger brother, Julian. Both of you had just recently started your magecraft education and were sharing your excitement with one another."
She had no idea what Pandora was talking about, but a faint memory suddenly rose to mind. A boy wearing glasses stared excitedly at her, hand held outstretched for a handshake. As quickly as the memory came, it faded away a second later.
But that wasn't her memories.
"I don't…" Rin winced and held the side of her head. "I can't remember anything…"
"A pity, but not surprising. Either way, you are one of the few people in this world to know the truth. Remnant is nothing more than a creation of the gods intended to act as a backup for the prevention of humanity reaching its ruin. But because the box is still closed, the functions of the pithos are failing. Creatures like the Grimm are growing in numbers while the future of this world is headed toward destruction. Unless something is done, this world will eventually be covered in darkness."
Because Pandora's Box was never opened in their world.
It was a legend that did not exist in Rin's world, although she knew how the story went. Pandora was given a box by the gods and instructed never to open it under any circumstances. But due to her curiosity, she opened it and allowed all the world's evils to escape the box. Those evils covered the land and humanity came to know of disease, famine, and strife. Shutting the lid in a panic, Pandora was only able to contain Elpis (hope) within it. Due to that, humanity was somehow saved from being completely eradicated.
Even in her previous life, Rin always found the story confusing and too open to interpretation. How exactly was humanity saved from containing hope of all things? But that was the nature of most stories from mythology.
Except the story was more significant than that. Due to containing hope, it made Pandora's Box a perfect wish-granting device even greater than a regular Holy Grail. But because it was never opened, that same device was corrupted by the ever-growing mud filling the world.
"So then your goal is to…?"
"My mission is to open the pithos and remove all of this world's evils. The Ainsworths have a plan on how to deal with it on the other side, but we still do not have a method of opening the box. In order to do so, we need something to act as a lesser grail to ask a wish upon the pithos that will give us a method."
"Remove this world's evils… do you mean the Grimm?"
"Not just the Grimm, but the failed possibilities that have manifested as black mud. Without the intervention of the gods, this world has allowed the mud to propagate with no control. Maybe a hundred or a thousand years down the line, there will be no future for Remnant and its people. And as for our world, our ruin is already approaching. Both of our world's futures are headed toward destruction. The only solution is to choose one of them to save in order to allow the people of both worlds to survive."
And Pandora had all but admitted that the Ainsworths have chosen Remnant as the better world.
"Are you seriously telling me that you're trying to save the planet?"
"I'm trying to save humanity," Pandora corrected. "And I suppose faunuskind as well. Even if that means collaborating with people like Jax and Gillian, the end justifies the means. Staging a terrorist attack and killing the CEO of a large company, those are small sacrifices when the fate of the world is at stake."
"And this?" Rin gestured around them. "What do you need the Winter Maiden's power for?"
She smiled. "We don't. Not her power, at least."
"So you're after…"
"The Relic of Creation," Pandora confirmed. "I've walked this world for thousands of years, so I know of their existence. I know of the group tasked with protecting it, and I'm aware of your little alliance with Ironwood. With the power of the Relic, we can use it as a catalyst to act as a type of Lesser Grail. After all, it is already a limited kind of wish-granting device. Once we acquire it, we can restart the Holy Grail War and attempt the ritual again."
"It won't work," Rin replied. "Remnant is incapable of maintaining the existence of Servants."
"Yes, I'm aware of the limitations of Ghost Liners. However, you forget that the Ainsworth do not practice the summoning of them. Only the utilization of their abilities."
The Class Cards.
Even if Servants couldn't materialize, there was no need to do so when only the power of Heroic Spirits was needed. As far as the ritual was confirmed, it did not matter either way.
"The Holy Grail War is a magical ritual in which seven magi utilize the power of Heroic Spirits to fight for the Holy Grail. But for the past several wars, all of them have failed because we have not been able to access the power of the pithos. With a Relic, we can finally allow the ritual to properly proceed for the first time."
"So that's what this is about. You want to pour all your efforts to reenact a failed ritual that you have no idea works all in the hope that you can wish for a method to escape the pithos?"
"It will work," Pandora insisted. "One thousand years of Ainsworth research and study. Can you not comprehend that denying our actions means going against humanity? Out of everyone on this planet, only you know the severity of my words. The Crown works in my interests due to my efforts of appeasing their leaders. They do not understand our goal except as a distant problem that will occur after their passing. But you're different. As another being trapped inside the pithos, you can work with me to remake the Holy Grail ritual and find a way for us to return home."
Her words were convincing. It was clear that Pandora had planned her speech out well in advance. Most likely, she had prepared for the scenario where the two would meet and was hoping to convert Rin over to their side since long ago. And for a moment, Rin was tempted to believe her. After all, almost everything she said was true.
Rin laughed. "You're good, I'll admit that. However, there's one thing that you seem to have forgotten."
"I can't believe you missed such an important detail, but did you forget that I have a mystic eye of sympathy? Just because I covered it up, doesn't mean that I never stopped using it." Rin tapped the area where her illusion hid the eyepatch. "That's why I know for certain… you're an incredible actress."
The woman snarled.
It was too late. The gems that Rin secretly dropped earlier rolled to each corner of the room and lit up. Gillian was immediately targeted by the same spell that trapped Winter and Clover, fetters wrapping around her body in an instant.
"You idiot!" The woman struggled against her bindings. "I never told a single lie. If you continue with this foolish act, you'll doom us all!"
"That might be the case. But even so, I can't trust you."
Because there was something that she did not know about Rin. Although most of what she said was true, that did not mean that she did not lie. It only meant that she omitted the truth.
"Good thing you love to monologue so much. I doubt you even realized that Fria has long since escaped during all the chaos."
Gillian turned her head toward the direction of the ice wall. Even though she couldn't see clearly through it, she must have believed Rin's words for she glared at the girl a second later.
"A simple sound-proofing bounded field. Just enough to hide the fact that Fria busted out of the walls only a minute ago. The fact that Winter led you here means that she'll no doubt avoid any of the usual hideouts. Not even I might be able to locate her after this."
Of course, that was a problem in itself. After all, Fria using this much power at once would only drive her closer to the end of her lifespan. But if that meant leaving her out of the hands of the Crown, then that was a risk worth taking.
"And you're wrong about something else. You lied several times during your speech, even if you controlled your emotions well. My mystic eye might not have caught it, but I can tell for certain." Rin drew out her collapsible broom and allowed it to expand to its full length while staring down at Gillian. "You may not need the power of the Winter Maiden, but that doesn't mean you don't want it either."
Taking several steps to where the ice wall remained, Rin pressed a palm against it and smirked. "Face it, you've lost the Winter Maiden. Without her, forget about gaining access to the Relic. I suppose this means that your plans for restarting the ritual are no more."
"Don't think this is over! You've made an enemy of the Ainsworth family, Rin Tohsaka!"
"That's obvious. After all, we were always meant to be enemies."
With those last words, Rin mounted her broom and shot straight up through the hole in the ceiling.
Think I said this a couple of times already, but I have no plans of involving Servants or any Holy Grail Wars for as long as possible. While I'll incorporate Nasuverse elements, I do not want to write about a Remnant Holy Grail War unless I'm convinced that I can do so entertainingly and interestingly. As things are now, I'd rather wait until Rin returns to Earth and start a proper war then.
Until then, Rin will be dealing with mostly issues related to magi since not many fanfics deal with those often. Pandora doesn't exactly fit the mold, but her relations to the Ainsworths make her a suitable villain for this story arc.