1 year ago
He immediately recognized the woman he was looking for.
In the early holiday afternoon, children can be seen playing on the lawn, bathed in the peaceful sunlight of the early autumn, with their parents watching over them, smiling. The plaza around the fountain of the park was overcrowded with the townspeople who brought their family for relaxation.
Even in such a crowd, he didn't lose his track.
No matter how crowded, no matter how far, he was certain he could find her effortlessly. Even though he didn't know if he could even meet her once a month, even though she already had a partner.
Only when he walked up to her did the woman in the shades of the trees notice his arrival.
"— Hey, long time no see."
"Oh — Kariya-kun."
Showing a modest, courteous smile, she lifted her eyes from the book she was reading.
Worn out — Seeing her like that, Kariya felt seized with a helpless anxiety. Something seemed to be tormenting her.
He immediately wanted to ask about the cause of that trouble, to exert himself to find a solution to this 'something' — but Kariya couldn't bring it up even if driven with that impulse. He wasn't so close that he could devote such an unreserved kindness; that wasn't his place.
"It's been 3 months. This trip has been pretty long this time."
"Ah... Eh, yes."
In his sweet dreams, her smile surely appears. But he doesn't have the courage to face her when he is really in front of her. It has been so for the past 8 years, and Kariya will probably never be able to face that smile forever after.
Because she makes him so nervous, he never knows what to talk about after greeting each other, and a subtle blank appears. That too happens everytime.
To break the awkward silence, Kariya looked for the one he can easily talk to.
— There. Playing in the middle of the other kids on the grass, the twin pony tails happily dancing about. Though very young, the girl already showed signs of the beautiful face she has inherited from her mother.
Kariya called, waving a hand. As soon as she noticed, the girl he called Rin rushed toward him with a bright smile.
"Welcome back, uncle Kariya! Did you bring me another present?"
"Now Rin, watch your manners..."
The young girl seems to be oblivious to the voice of her embarrassed mother. Rin's eyes shine with expectation, and Kariya, responding with the same smile, holds out one of the two presents he carries behind his back.
An elaborate brooch made of glass beads of various sizes captures the heart of the girl at the first glance. Though it might seem a bit much for a girl her age, Kariya is well aware that Rin has precocious tastes.
"Uncle, thank you as always. I will take care of it."
"Ha ha, if you like it, uncle is happy too."
Gently stroking Rin's head, Kariya looks for the intended recipient of the other present he brought.
For some reason, she is nowhere to be found in the park..
"Say, so where's Sakura-chan?"
Hearing Kariya's question, Rin’s smile immediately vanished.
Her face looked as if she had stopped thinking at all, the face of a resigned child forced to mindlessly accept reality.
"Sakura, she’s...already gone."
With a blank look, Rin gave a monotonous reply. Then, as if avoiding Kariya's question, she ran back to the kids she was playing with earlier.
Bewildered by Rin's incomprehensible words, Kariya looked at Rin's mother questioningly with sudden realization. She turned her eyes away to an empty spot with a gloomy look.
"What’s that mean...?"
"Sakura is neither my daughter nor Rin's sister anymore."
Her tone was dry, but more courageous than her daughter Rin's.
'That child, has gone to the Matō family."
Ma - tō —
The name, sounding deeply familiar yet abominable, violently ripped out Kariya’s heart.
"That can't... What the hell does it mean, Aoi-san!?"
"You shouldn't even need to ask, right? Especially you, Kariya-kun."
Crushing Kariya's heart, Rin's mother — Tōsaka Aoi gave a harsh, cold-hearted reply, never looking at him, as if indifferent.
"Of course you of all people should know why the Matōs needed a child with magi ancestry to succeed them, don’t you?"
"How...could you...accept that?"
"That is what he decided. This is the decision of the head of the Tōsaka family, acceding to a request from the old sworn friends, the Matōs. ... My opinion doesn’t matter."
For that reason, mother and child, older sister and younger sister, were separated.
Of course she wouldn’t agree. But both Aoi and even the young Rin knew well why they cannot but accept it. That is because this is what it means to live as a magus. Kariya knew that cruel fate all too well.
"... Are you fine with it?"
Aoi replies with a feeble, bitter smile to Kariya's rock hard voice.
"I was prepared for something like that when I decided to marry into the Tōsaka family, when I decided to become the wife of a magus. When you enter the bloodline of a magus, it is a mistake to seek for the normal happiness of a family."
And, facing Kariya who tried to speak again, the magus' wife gently, but clearly, stopped him —
"This is a matter between the Tōsakas and the Matōs. This is of no concern to you, who turned your back to the world of the magi."
She finished with a slight nod.
With this, Kariya couldn’t move anymore. As if he had turned into one of the trees in the park, his chest felt tight from weakness and helplessness.
Since long ago when she was a girl, then when she became a wife, and even after she had two children, Aoi's attitude toward Kariya had never changed. Three years older than him, friends since infancy, she had always attended to Kariya, kindly and without constraint, like a real sister to a brother.
This was the first time that she so clearly pointed out their respective position.
"If you are ever able to see Sakura, please treat her kindly. She has always been fond of you, Kariya-kun."
With Aoi watching over her, Rin was playing brightly, full of energy, as if to chase her grief away.
As if Rin's very behavior was the reply that pushed back the speechless Kariya beside her, Tōsaka Aoi showed him only the profile of a peaceful mother in the holidays.
But Kariya still didn't miss it. There was no way he could miss it.
The firm, serene Tōsaka Aoi who accepted her fate.
She couldn’t even completely conceal the tears gathering at the corner of her eyes.
Kariya hastened through the scenery of the hometown he thought he would never see again.
Every time he came back to the city of Fuyuki, he would never cross the bridge to Miyama.
That must have been 10 years. Unlike the Shinto area where business went on everyday, nothing had changed in this neighborhood where time seemed to have stopped.
Quiet streets filled with memories, but not a single pleasant one would come back if he stopped to have a look. Ignoring such a worthless nostalgia, Kariya thought about his dialogue with Aoi an hour ago.
"... Are you fine with it?"
The thoughtless reprieve Aoi threw at him while turning her eyes away. He hadn't used such a sharp tone in several years.
Don't raise your eyes, don't be a bother... That's how he had lived. Anger, hatred, Kariya had left it all in the desolate streets of Miyama. After throwing away his hometown, Kariya had never made a fuss over anything. Even the foulest, ugliest matters were nothing compared to what he had hated in this land.
That's why — yeah. It must have been 8 years since his voice last held such feelings.
That time, wasn't it with the same woman Kariya had used the same tone, the same words?
"Are you fine with it?" — He had shot the same question that time. Turning toward his senior childhood friend the night before she received the name of Tōsaka.
He never forgot. The expression she had at that time.
She had given a small nod, as if she was sorry, as if apologizing, yet still blushing with shyness. Kariya had been defeated by the quiet smile.
"... I was prepared... It is a mistake to seek for the normal happiness of a family..."
Such words were but a lie.
That day, 8 years ago, when she was proposed to by the young magus, her smile definitely showed her faith in happiness.
And so, Kariya fully accepted his defeat because he trusted that smile.
Maybe, the man who was marrying Aoi, that man was the only one who could make her happy.
But that was a mistake.
More than anyone else, Kariya should have realized that it was a fatal mistake.
Because he had fully realized how despicable magecraft was, hadn't Kariya rejected his fate and left his family?
Nevertheless, he could forgive that.
Even with him who had turned his back in fear, well aware of how abominable magecraft was... His most important woman had surrendered, of all people, to the man who was the most alike a magus.
What now burns in Kariya's chest is, regret.
Not once, but twice, had he chosen the wrong words.
He shouldn't have asked, "are you fine with it?", but instead he should have concluded, "you must not do that".
And 8 years ago, if he had restrained Aoi — maybe there could have been a future different from today. If she hadn't bound herself to Tōsaka that day, she would have been out of the cursed doom of a magus, and she could have led a normal life.
And today, this early afternoon in the park, if he had reacted differently to the decision between the Tōsakas and the Matōs, — maybe it would have shocked her. She could have rejected the nonsense of an outsider.
But even so, she couldn't blame only herself like that. She didn't have to completely suppress her tears.
Kariya absolutely could not forgive this. He who repeated the fault twice. For his punishment, he returned to the place of the days he had left behind.
Certainly, there was, there, a way to atonement. The world he had once turned his back to. The fate he had poorly escaped.
But now, he could confront that.
If he thought of the only one woman in the world he didn't want to grieve for —
Under the sky where the twilight was nearing, he stopped in front of a towering, luxuriant western-styled house.
From a warp of 10 years, Matō Kariya stood before the gate of his home again.
Starting at the front door, the small but risky dispute soon carried out inside the Matō residence where Kariya settled down on a sofa of the drawing room.
"I thought I told you never to show your face in front of me again."
Sitting facing Kariya, the small, old man who spat the detestable words is Matō Zōken, head of the family. He was so withered that his bald head and limbs looked like he was mummified, yet the light deep in his eyes filled his spirit; both his appearance and personality made him an uncommon, mysterious person.
To tell the truth, even Kariya couldn't determine the exact age of the old man. The aberrant entry in the family register said he was the father of Kariya and his brother. But even at his great-grandfather, his ancestor at the third generation, there were records of the old man named Zōken in the family tree. There was no way to figure out for how many generations this man came to reign over the Matō family.
Speaking of repulsive deeds, he was a magus who could be called immortal, stretching and stretching his age. A person at the root of the Matō bloodline with little direct connection with Kariya. He was a genuine specter surviving in the current era.
"I got wind of something inexcusable. About how the Matō house is carrying out some outrageous disgrace."
Kariya had manifold admitted that the magus he was now facing was powerful with an unequaled cruelty. A man who was the personification of everything Kariya had come to hate, despise, scorn throughout his existence. Even if that man were to kill him, Kariya would definitely, severely hate him until the end. With the confrontation 10 years ago, Kariya had faced that strong spirit and escaped the Matōs, managing to earn his freedom.
"I heard that you took in the second daughter of the Tōsakas. Do you want to preserve the Matō lineage of magi that much?"
Zōken scowled at the provoking tone of Kariya's cross-examination.
"Do you want to talk about it? Nothing else? Just who do you think is responsible for the downfall of the Matōs?
In the end, the son this Byakuya finally got turned up to be void of Magic Circuits. The pure-blooded Matō line has collapsed with this generation. But, more than your big brother Byakuya, you are the one who has realized the basis of a magus, Kariya. If you had obediently received your inheritance and accessed the secrets of the Matōs, we wouldn't be pressed by the circumstances. And this is all yours..."
But Kariya, with a snort, deflected the threatening attitude of the old man who was heating up with foam on his mouth.
"Stop your comedy, vampire. What's with the fuss over having the Matō line persist? Don't make me laugh. There's nothing wrong for you even if no new Matō generation is produced. The discussion is over since you yourself will continue living for two hundred years or a thousand years, eh?"
As Kariya guessed right, Zōken gave a leery smile, as if the anger up to now was a lie. That was the smile of a monster that doesn't even consider human emotions as splinters.
"As usual, you are a loveless fellow. You speak and behave frankly."
"Whatever, that's how you trained me. I'm not one to beat around the bush."
A wet sound came out of the depth of the old man's throat, as if he was pleasantly laughing.
"That's right. I might probably outlive the likes of you and Byakuya's son in a distant future.
But even then, it is only a question of how long I can preserve this body from its daily rotting. Even if a Matō heir is unneeded, a Matō magus is required. To gain the Grail, that is."
"... So in the end, that's what your goal is?"
That went well with Kariya's guess. It was immortality that this old magus was firmly chasing after.
The wishing-machine called the "Grail" could fulfill it once completed... What was choking this monster that wouldn't die after centuries was the hope placed in this miracle.
"The return of the 60-year-cycle is for the next year. But for the fourth Holy Grail War, the fourth Heaven's Feel, there will be no player from the Matōs.
Byakuya doesn’t have the prana level for a Servant. He really doesn't even have the Command Seals.
But even if we must desist for this battle, there is a chance for the next one in 60 years. There is no doubt that an excellent user can be born from the daughter of the Tōsaka. I have high expectations for this as a good vessel."
The face of Tōsaka Sakura popped out behind Kariya's eyelids.
A late bloomer always behind her sister Rin, a frail-looking girl.
A child way too young to bear the cruel fate of a magus.
Swallowing his seething rage, Kariya feigns a calm attitude.
Right here and now, he is here to negotiate with Zōken. There is nothing to gain from being emotional.
"— If that's what it's about, if you want the Grail, then there's no need for Tōsaka Sakura, right?"
Zōken's eyes narrow down, suspicious of the hidden meaning in Kariya's words.
"You, what trick do you have in mind?"
"A deal, Matō Zōken. I’ll bring the Matō name to the next Heaven's Feel. In exchange, you'll release Tōsaka Sakura."
Taken aback only for the time of one breath, Zōken then sniggered scornfully.
"Kha, don't be stupid. A failure who never studied anything would be the Master of a Servant in one year?"
"You have the secret for making that possible, don't you. With your worm-using skills you're so proud of, old man."
Kariya jumps straight to the point, staring in the eyes of the old magus head-on.
"Plant your "Crest worms" in me. You can do that, in the flesh and blood of the filthy Matōs. The compatibility should be far better than with the daughter of another house."
Zōken's face changes back from that of a human to that of a magus, all expression vanishing.
"Kariya — Do you want to die?"
"Don't tell me you're worried? 'Father'."
Zōken seemed to realize Kariya was serious. Coldly, the magus evaluated Kariya, gazing at him, then took a deep breath.
"I must say I had wished more of you than of Byakuya. After expanding your Magic Circuits with the Crest worms, if we can train you thoroughly for one year, maybe the Grail will end up selecting you.
... Even then, I cannot understand. Why would you go so far for one little girl?"
"Just let the Matō tenacity be taken care of by the hands of the Matōs. Don't involve unrelated outsiders."
"Again with your admirable dedication."
As if he was enjoying this, Zōken showed a complacent smile, full of his evil disposition.
"But, Kariya, if your purpose is to not have anybody involved, aren't you a little late?
Do you know how many days it has been since the daughter of Tōsaka came to our family?"
Despair, rushing in, crushed Kariya's chest.
"Old man, you mean —"
"There were terrible cries for the first three days, but by the fourth day, she was silent. Today, she was thrown at dawn in the worm storage to test how well she would last, but, ho ho, she endured it for half a day and is still breathing. What do you know, the Tōsaka material isn't defective."
Kariya's shoulders shivered with a murderous intent beyond hatred.
He wanted to seize this evil magus by the neck, strangle him with all his strength, and break it off, right this instant —
— That was the impulse that was raging mad inside Kariya.
But, Kariya accepted it. Even though he was getting thin to the point of withering, Zōken was a magus. Kariya couldn't even try to kill him off right here. He didn't even have a fragment of the power required for that.
To save Sakura, there was no other way than negotiating.
Seeing through the conflict inside Kariya, Zōken let out a satisfied, gloomy chuckle.
"So, what will you do? The little girl is already broken, filled by the worms from head to toes.
But if you still think you want to save her, well, I won’t think about it twice."
"... No objection. Let’s just do it."
Kariya replied with a chilling voice. Of course he had no other choice.
"Excellent, excellent. Well, we can still train you as much as possible. But, know that I will go on with Sakura's training as long as you don't show any results."
Cackling, the good humor of the old magus was making a fool of Kariya and his rage and despair.
"Rather than reinstating a failure who had already betrayed us, the success rate of getting a child from this is far higher. I favor getting the best out of each opportunity one at a time. I am giving up on the Heaven's Feel this time, since I already considered it a lost battle.
But, if in one in a million chance, you could get the Grail — I agree. If that happens, naturally I won't have any business with the daughter of Tōsaka. I would be finished with the one thing I am training her for."
"... You’re not double-dealing, are you? Matō Zōken."
"Kariya, if you think you need to be five-faced to speak to me, try enduring the Crest worms first.
Yes, try to be the nursery for the worms for a week first. If you haven't died of insanity by then, I will take it you are indeed serious."
Leaning on his cane, straightening his back with difficulty, Zōken turned toward Kariya with an alien smile that fully showed his wickedness.
"Then, Let’s begin the preparations without delay. We will finish the treatment immediately. If you want to reconsider, do it now."
Simply nodding silently, Kariya threw away his last hesitation.
He will be Zōken's puppet once he lets the worms inside his body. With that, there will be no way to rebel against the old magus. If he can even get qualified as a magus, Kariya and his Matō blood will definitely receive the Command Seals.
Heaven's Feel. The only chance of salvation for Tōsaka Sakura. The choice he would never be able to reach with this flesh and blood.
Kariya may lose his life in exchange. Even if he wasn't shot down by the other Masters, Kariya's flesh would be devoured by the worms by bringing up the Crest worms for a time as short as a year, and his life expectancy would not be longer than only a few years.
But that doesn't matter.
Kariya's decision was too slow. Aoi's child would have lived peacefully with her mother if he had had the same determination 10 years ago. The fate he had refused had been passed around, and had fallen onto a blameless girl.
There is no redemption for that. If there was a path to atonement, it would be none other than to give back a normal life to the girl.
In addition, if he had to completely wipe out the remaining six Masters to reach the Grail...
Amongst those who brought tragedy to the girl named Sakura, there was at least one person he could bring a requiem to.
As the head of one of the 3 families of the beginning, there is no doubt he would bear the Command Seals.
Different from his sense of crime toward Aoi, and from his hatred toward Zōken, there was a dwelling hatred that had pilled up until this day.
A dark feeling of vengeance had quietly started to burn in the depth of Matō Kariya's heart like a banked fire.
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