Fate/Zero:Act 1 Part 4
Matō Kariya’s mental strength had, in conclusion, withstood the bitter pain, but his physical body had reached its limit.
Within three months all his hair had turned white. His skin was covered with emerging lesions interspersed with regions devoid of the rosy color of living flesh, turning instead into a sepulchral shade of earthen grey. The poison named prana that circulated in his veins can be seen to expand beneath his semi-transparent flesh, as if his torso was harboring a crawling mess of inky black cracks.
Like so, his body collapsed at a rate faster than he had ever imagined. The impact was particularly heavy on the left side of his body and its nerves, so much so that at one stage his left wrist and ankle were completely paralyzed. A temporary rehabilitation program got them back to work, but the left hand still reacted slower than the right, and a quicker stride would result in a dragging left feet.
Palpitations due to his irregular pulse have become regulars for him. Solid food can also not be taken in; intravenous glucose injections were used as its substitute.
According to the theories of modern medicine, it is a matter of amazement that a creature in his state still continued to live and function. Although Kariya can still stand and walk it was, with a tint of irony, a gift granted to him by the prana that he, as a magus, bought with his life.
The crest worms that have been invading Kariya’s flesh have already grown into a form that can imitate the function of Magic Circuits. In order to maintain the life of their decaying possessor they are now desperately acting out their role.
If it is simply a matter of the amount of Magic Circuits, then Kariya have already possessed the prana needed for qualifying as a magus. It appears that his progress was even faster than what Matō Zōken had expected. In the end, the three scars of the Command Seals had blatantly shown up on Kariya’s right hand. The Holy Grail also seems to have accepted him as the representative of the Matō family.
Based on Zōken’s estimations, Kariya has about a month left to live. For Kariya, it seems that this amount of time is enough.
The Heaven’s Feel has entered into its countdown stage. If all seven Servants are summoned the war may even begin tomorrow. The duration of the war, according to past experiences, should be about two weeks. Sometime before Kariya’s death.
Yet, if Kariya activates his Magic Circuits, it means he will be inciting the crest worms. Indeed, then the burden placed on his body would be far greater than that of the other magi.
The worst case scenario would be that, before the war has ended, the crest worms have already devoured their host.
Kariya does not only have to fight against the other six Masters. It could be said that his greatest enemy are the creatures hosted within him.
That night, as Kariya approached the basement of the Matō residence to face the final test, he accidentally met Sakura in the corridor.
The frightened expression that emerged on Sakura’s face when she first saw him slightly pricked Kariya’s chest.
At this stage of affairs, although there is nothing to be done, Kariya was still pained to know that he was now an object of Sakura’s fear.
‘Oh, Sakura-chan – were you scared?”
“… Um. Your face, what happened?”
“Ah. It’s just a little problem.”
The sight of his left eye has been completely eradicated yesterday. Like the nebulous eyeball that had undergone necrosis, the surrounding muscles also have fallen into paralysis. The eyelid and brow cannot be moved, neither; maybe the left side of his face was already showing signs of lifelessness, turning rigid as a fake mask. His reflection in the mirror frightens even him, let alone Sakura.
“Just a bit more, then I might be defeated by the ‘worms’ within me. Uncle is not as enduring as Sakura-chan.”
A bitter smile was intended, but looked like a more gruesome feature was formed. Sakura became more scared and even curled her body up.
“– Uncle Kariya, you are like a different person now.”
“Ha ha, maybe that is the case.”
With a dry laugh as pretense the matter was vaguely passed over.
– I can say the same about you, Sakura.
Yes, Kariya comment wearily in his heart.
The Sakura that is now named Matō has also changed into a girl completely different from the Sakura that Kariya knew.
A gaze as hollow and dim as that of a doll. The various emotions behind those pair of eyes were never seen by him in this whole year. The innocent face of the girl that followed her elder sister Rin and played carelessly like a puppy had long ago disappeared.
This is understandable. Just consider the cruel training that Sakura undertook this year in order to become the successor of the thaumaturgy of the Matōs.
Sakura’s body does indeed have fitting potentials to become a magus. On this matter she was far better than Kariya and his elder brother Byakuya. Yet, it was inevitably a potential more appropriate for a magus of the Tōsaka brand of thaumaturgy, with fundamental differences to the thaumaturgy of the Matō.
Acclimatization was needed in order to allow Sakura’s body to adapt to the thaumaturgy of the Matō. The treatments of this so called acclimatization are the tortures that occurred in the underground worm storage of the Matō residence every day and night in the name of "education."
Children’s minds are immature.
They do not possess a firm resolve and the strength to turn their misery to anger. Confronted with a cruel fate, they were not provided with the choice of having a strong will. Moreover, as they have not lived through and comprehended life, ideals such as honor and hope are yet to be completely nurtured in them.
Therefore in moments of despair children are more prone than adults to seal away their own mind, lock up their own heart.
Because they have not tasted the joy of life they can afford to discard. Because they have not understood the meaning of future they can sink into despair.
Kariya was forced to witness, with his own eyes, how in the duration of a year a girl had gradually shut out her heart due to the torments imposed upon her.
He had suffered from the piercing pain of the parasite worms eroding away his body, and suffered from the worse and overwhelming guilt that sought to devour his soul.
Undoubtedly he was one of the reasons that resulted in Sakura’s anguish. Kariya cursed Matō Zōken, cursed Tōsaka Tokiomi, and in the same time placed this curse upon himself.
The only consolation was that – the Sakura that has turned as introverted as a doll was only carefree when with Kariya, and even occasionally uttering words of innocence when they met. Whether it was a relationship shared by those who endure the same pain, or a friendship forged while she was still called Tōsaka Sakura, this girl continued to regard him as different compared to her ‘tutors,' Zōken and Byakuya.
“I don’t need to go to the worm storage room today. Grandfather said that’s because something more important is going to happen there.”
“Ah, I know. That’s why uncle is taking your place to go to the worm storage.”
Sakura tilted her head as if she was spying on Kariya when she heard his answer.
“Uncle Kariya, are you leaving for somewhere far away?”
With a child’s distinctively sharp intuition Sakura seemed to have detected Kariya’s fate. But he did not want to worry the young Sakura too much.
“Uncle’s going to be busy with important business for a while, so I won’t have much time to talk to Sakura-chan like this.”
“Is that so…”
Sakura moved her sight away from Kariya and it immediately reverted back to a meaningless gaze, a gaze that was focused on some distant object that only she could see. Hurt at seeing Sakura like this, Kariya attempted to start another topic.
“Say, Sakura-chan, shall we play together again when uncle’s work is finished? Together with your mother and big sister.”
"Mother, big sister..."
Sakura said dejectedly after a pause.
“...I don’t have people that I can call by those names anymore. Grandfather told me that I should treat them as no longer existing.”
“I see…” A reply with an indecisive voice.
Kariya knelt down in front of Sakura, and with his still mobile right hand held her shoulders softly in an embrace. With her head buried in his chest Sakura can no longer see Kariya’s face. He would therefore not be afraid of her seeing his crying countenance.
“Then, let’s bring Aoi-san and Rin-chan from the Tōsaka family, and go somewhere far far away with just the four of us; like how we used to. What do you say about that?”
“– Can we see those people again?”
A weak voiced sounded within the enclosure of his wrist. Kariya tightened the hand that held Sakura and nodded.
“Of course we can see them again. I promise you.”
Nothing else can be promised.
If it is possible, then other words can be used for another promise. If he could, Kariya longed to tell Sakura right now that she only has to endure a few more days before he delivers her from Matō Zōken’s deadly grasp.
But that is not permitted.
As the only way she knew how to protect herself, Sakura had tried hard to paralyze her mind through despair and resignation. In order to counter the unbearable pain, the hapless girl can only destroy the sense of self that is still able to feel.
How can you say cruel words such as ‘you should keep hoping’ and ‘you should look after yourself’ to a child like this? These lines that confer temporary solace can only save the speaker. Giving her hope means to take away the armor named ‘despair’ that was cast upon her soul. If that is to happen, Sakura’s young and tender mind would collapse within a night.
Although they both lived in the Matō residence Kariya had never claimed to be Sakura’s ‘savior.' He can only protect her by standing beside her, as an adult that is also been ‘bullied’ by Zōken and as powerless as Sakura.
“– Goodbye then. Uncle’s gotta go now.”
Kariya released Sakura, hoping that his tears have dried up. Sakura looked up solemnly at the decaying left side of Kariya’s face.
“…Mm, bye, uncle Kariya.”
Words of farewell seemed appropriate for this situation. She had accurately felt this even though she was only a child.
Kariya prayed piously in his heart as he watched Sakura’s retreating spiritless figure – please do not let it be too late.
Kariya no longer cared about anything concerning himself. His life was already given to Aoi and Sakura, the pair of mother and daughter. If he had anything of his own that might be ‘too late,' it is the possibility that he might be dead before he had taken the Grail.
The delay that he was truly worried in his heart was about Sakura. If Kariya can successfully gain the Holy Grail and deliver Sakura back to her mother, can the girl who had sealed herself up tightly with despair one day break apart her solid shell and once again enter the world outside?
The heartaches that Sakura endured this year would undoubtedly follow her throughout her life, but he hoped it would gradually heal as time went on. He hoped that her heart was not given torments that equated to a deadly blow.
All that is left for him to do is to pray. The one that can heal the wounds in this girl’s heart is not Kariya. There is not much time left for him; he is unable to take up that job.
That is a job for those whom, in the future, are guaranteed of their lives.
Kariya turned around and slowly, but resolutely, took a step on the staircase leading towards the worm storage room underground.
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