Escaping Fate, Prologue

She had to be strong.

Even if the anesthetic didn't help. Even if the pain was terrible. Even if every moment felt like dying would be better.

When he cut into her body, it wasn't a physical pain. It wasn't like a person was stabbing into her with steel and cutting up her organs. It wasn't like he was penetrating her from every direction and flooding her with illness.

Even though he was.

Every incision, no matter how careful and delicate, felt like it split her in two. Like her body was being bent in ways it could never achieve even if she were hit by a train. The steel slipped into her body and it took nothing from her, but left behind the sensation that it had taken everything.

He did it again, and again, and again, and again, until she was sure he had cut every inch of her skin.

But she had to be strong.

If she wasn't strong, he would move on to the next one. She had seen it before, seen her senpai taken under his wing and never return. Sometimes, it would take weeks. Other times, a single day. Until nobody older than she was left. And then she was next.

And if she wasn't strong, he would move on.

So she waited, soundlessly screaming, unable to escape, unwilling to escape.

She wanted to last longer…

She hoped to die faster…

The boundary was broken.

Setsuka Yuushi dropped the scalpel and glanced around. The bounded field he had placed around the facility had been breached and he could feel the magic disperse like raindrops around him. He looked to the northern wall and thought he could detect the intrusion from that direction.

Growling, the man removed the blood-stained gloves and apron he wore and went to wash his hands, considering the situation and his options. It took more than the average magus to penetrate his wards and the fact that he had not even been aware that anyone was attempting to break them in the first place had him worried. A magus killer? I haven't offended anyone to warrant such an enemy. The Association does not observe me, of that I'm sure…nobody wants to come all the way out to this backwater. He rinsed the lab sink clean, absently willing his work station clean in preparation for the next use.

Looking back at the operating table and the tiny figure still bleeding atop it, he thought of the answer. It must be that local brat, thinking I'm intruding on her territory. He had overheard a conversation from an Edelfelt, however, that the local family's riches were dwindling, and considering the breakthrough he was about to make, he thought he might have a chance to solve any challenge peacefully. And if not, well, she should not have intruded upon my home ground. He made sure to retrieve the scalpel, however, and placed it in the protective pocket in his shirt breast.

Exiting the lab, he had to navigate an intricate path of halls and doorways, eventually climbing up a flight of stairs and into the garage. Locking the door behind him and activating the ward over it, he wove past the parked vehicles and came out into the open world to find the sun blocked by an overcast sky. He peered into the second story window of the main house and was pleased to see no disruption in the daily classes going on in the orphanage. The new specimen is certainly interesting and shows promise, but I would hazard a guess that she is on her last twelve hours. It is good to have so many spares.

It took Yuushi a good twenty minutes to remove himself from the laboratory and circumvent the main house, doubly difficult in the dim light provided by the weather. The grove where he had built the orphanage lent the location a great deal of privacy, though it also meant that he had to be extra cautious of ambush since the intruders had penetrated the main defense. Upon reaching the border of the boundary field and looking around, Yuushi had second thoughts of his enemy. No signs of interruption via incantation, nor curse-breaking. It just looks…broken. Like a fence being pried open. He considered what could create such a disruption in his field, but came up with no answers.

The murmur of multiple voices caught Yuushi's attention and he turned back toward the main house. He could not see through the tree line, but after reinforcing his ears, he could make out a distinctive feminine voice and the annoying chatter of excited children. "Everyone, follow me please, and keep a hand on the person in front of your!"

What is this, some kind of naïve rescue operation? Yuushi started toward the house at a good chip and wondered at the intelligence of whoever the intruder was. Perhaps I will thank you for giving me such a strategic advantage, if you are really here to save those kids.

"The look on your face tells me everything I need to know."

Yuushi dove behind the largest tree the moment he heard the voice ahead of him, pulling the scalpel out and readying it. No attack came, however, and doubly confusing was the voice: that of a young man. Wasn't Tohsaka a girl? He fed the necessary prana into the scalpel and readied it. "And just who am I addressing?"

He honed in on the reply and Reinforced his ears to find the exact location. Far away, wary of a line-of-sight curse no doubt. Fine with me. The words from the unknown enemy, however, took a moment to sink in. "Nothing but a mere archer, you could say." There was mirth in the voice, like letting a person in on a joke amidst friends.

"What is it you want?" Yuushi asked.

The intruder said, "If you thought your experiments would go unnoticed, then I have to wonder at your intelligence as a magus, setting up so close to a leyline closely observed by even magi of the Association."

"My boundary fields are second to none," Yuushi said. He estimated the distance between them and thought of the different approaches to strike, all without sacrificing any cover. "You seem to be knowledgeable of the Association, so you ought to know my teacher was the best at barriers. Araya Souren."

"Eh," the voice said, and it began a slow approach. "I don't actually know that much, and I don't actually care one way or the other about the Association or its members."

"Then what do you care about? Why are you here?"

"Those lives aren't your playthings, and I'm here to save them."

Yuushi readied the scalpel. "And I suppose nothing I could say will convince you to just go away and leave me alone?"

"Not unless you give me a magical contract stating you will cease your experiments. You might as well, anyway, because if it isn't me, you know you'll call the Counter Force down on you eventually."

Not with my barriers as they are, Yuushi sighed. "I do hate bloodshed, but if that is your ultimatum…"

Though he could not make out the intruder's location visually, he knew where the target stood. Reaching out like a conductor to an orchestra, Yuushi mimed a cut at three different tree branches. "Secare."

He heard the scrambling of the intruder's feet as he leapt to avoid the first falling branch. Right where I want you. The second branch started to fall, and as the intruder started forward to avoid it, Yuushi halted the motion of that branch mid-air with a bounded field and let the third drive the target right back into it at head-level. Simple as that.

The sound of the intruder striking the branch was louder than it should have been, and not accompanied by the crash of a body hitting the ground. Yuushi dared to peek out from behind his cover and finally laid his eyes on his opponent: a young man, no older than twenty, in nothing more than street clothing, still standing. The hovering branch was right against his head, though he looked completely unfazed.

I really do hate the bloody option, Yuushi thought, raising his scalpel. It would have been less troublesome to alter the target's memories and send him back to the city in a cab. Now, he would be disposing of body parts, and not those of some nobody orphan. "Secare."

The cut struck the boy along his left shoulder and should have bisected him at a perfect 45 degree angle. Instead, it halted mere millimeters into his body, a bit of blood the only sign that it had penetrated at all.

"Your element is centered around steel, isn't it?" the boy said. He had a grim look on his face, one much better suited for a person three times his age in cynicism. "You use some kind of barrier extension to project that scalpel beyond the actual reach it can achieve physically." When Yuushi took another swing, again the cut barely penetrated the boy at his ribcage, a small darkening on his white shirt signifying the blood seeping up beneath. "But when metal meets metal, the better material wins out."

Yuushi ducked back behind the tree and prepared a longer incantation. I have no idea what you've done to your body, but you have no weapon. You won't be able to cover this distance in time! Even so, he immediately activated his secondary personal barrier with the tree as a center, Reinforcing it and the air around him to intercept any elemental manipulation. If you manipulate steel, nothing you can do will pierce this barrier.

"My bone twists into madness," the boy said, and Yuushi felt compelled to glance back out at him. Though the boy had been empty handed before, now a bow was present, and with it was a terrifying sight: a strange device that appeared like a large drill.

Gradiation Air…Projection Magic? What is he going to—


The drill narrowed into the shape of an arrow, and before Yuushi could do anything, the bow twanged and the shot flew.

And when the explosion was finished, when the sound of wood breaking apart and the not-sound of his barrier collapsing ended, when Yuushi's body stopped grinding from the pressure and came to rest on the forest floor, the boy continued speaking.

"Didn't anyone ever tell you not to bring a knife to a sword fight?"

He had stopped.

She could hardly breathe.

She could hardly breathe because it was only a matter of time and he would return with even more agony, like he delighted in the reprieve she had to endure even more.

She had to be strong, but, in reality, she was at her limit.

"Senpai, in here!"

The voice was one she had never heard before, and though it was like a thunderclap next to her overworked ears, there was something infinitely gentle about it, like the wash of the tides striking against the bay she remembered from long ago…

"Please, hurry, senpai! She's bleeding all over and…and…"

Though it pained her to do so, her eyes so used to being set upon by needles and knives once open, she could not help but open them to seek out this intruding voice she did not recognize.

The figure over her was not a woman, like the voice should have belonged to, but a young man. A young man that looked horrified, scared, angry, sad—

And above all else, elated.

She thought, ah, if only I could have such an expression

Escaping Fate, Prologue, End