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Aozaki and Tohsaka - The Serpent's Feathers

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Jaenera Targaryen, Jan 18, 2020.

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  1. Threadmarks: Prologue
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2018
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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Prologue

    Six years ago

    The door to the back of the restaurant slammed open with a loud crash, as the metal-framed door was swung around to strike hard against the concrete wall. Loud and angry yelling in Chinese could be heard following a portly man in a cook’s uniform, his apron stained and dirty from spills and the like in the kitchen, but he tuned them out. Sweating and grunting, the man heaved two bulging garbage bags down the alley, and briefly setting them down, opened the dumpster before tossing them inside.

    Pausing to wipe at his face with a damp towel, the man closed the dumpster before walking back up the alley, and opening the restaurant door, went back inside. For several minutes, the alley remained empty, the only sounds to be heard the dull roaring of the restaurant kitchen’s exhaust fans, and those of vehicles passing by along the street beyond.

    Then there was the pitter patter of feet on roof tiles and railings, moments before a small figure fell in a crouch on a fire escape landing of the adjacent building. Metal clanged as the child ran down the fire escape’s zigzagging steps, all the way to the raised ladder at the bottom. Not bothering to unlatch and lower the ladder, the child just slid down along the rails, before once again falling to the ground in a couch.

    Taking wary looks around her, the little beggar girl narrowed her eyes at the security camera watching the back of the restaurant. Knowing she didn’t have much time, she dashed to the dumpster, and opening it leapt inside with practiced skill. Tearing the recently-deposited garbage bag open, the girl quickly rummaged through the dirty plastic and Styrofoam, pushing aside the empty jars while taking care of the jagged edges of opened cans, before looking for anything edible among the food waste.

    A grin exposed stained and crooked teeth as the girl found partly-eaten bao, and stuffed one then two and then three in her jacket’s pockets. Then she heard the restaurant door banging open, and simultaneously stuffed a fourth bao into her mouth while leaping up and out the dumpster.

    “Stop, thief!” a security guard shouted in Japanese.

    The girl ignored the man, instead dashing down the alley towards the street. The guard gave chase, but then a second guard appeared around the corner to cut the girl off.

    Or so they thought. Dropping down to the ground, the girl skid past the second guard’s legs, and then jumping off in a crude likeness of a professional runner, ran down the street. More shouts came from behind her, along with the sound of pounding boots as the guards gave chase, but the girl still just ignored them. Weaving through and around the crowd filling the street, the girl turned a corner, ran across a lane, and then around another corner into an alley.

    Briefly pausing to look around with an air of familiarity, the girl then ran towards and pressed herself into a niche in the wall. Taking a bite of the bao in her mouth, she quickly chewed and swallowed, before taking a deep breath.

    Calming her thoughts and ever so slightly, her pounding heart, the girl focused on imagining a sensation of biting cold, as though of ice creeping over and around her before turning into a solid shell. Conversely, burning pain like hot metal getting drawn over her skin stabbed across her body, and she took another deep breath as she heard cautious footsteps entering the alley.

    “There you are!” the guard said as he stepped in front of the girl’s niche, and grabbed her by the collar.

    The girl just glared at him, the burning pain peaking even as her mind imagined the ice covering her shattering into shards. “Go away.” She said.

    The guard and his fellow blinked, shuddering as though struck, and then dumbly nodding, let the girl go before clumsily walked away. The girl stayed standing until they were out of earshot, and then she collapsed onto her knees. She heaved deep breaths, the burning pain fading away only to be replaced by numbness that had the girl rubbing at her arms to get the feeling back.

    Slowly but surely though, she recovered, and then pulling out bao from her pockets, began stuffing her mouth. Finishing her impromptu meal, the girl dusted her hands clean, and then getting up, dusted her clothes as well.

    It didn’t really do much good, but she still had to keep as clean as she could.

    Then dashing over to the alley entrance, the girl turned the corner…

    …only to be grabbed by the scruff of her neck.

    “AAA-!” the girl yelled in surprise as she was lifted into the air, and turned to face a pretty redheaded woman looking curiously at her.

    “Why hello there.” She said with a smile. “Aren’t you an interesting one?”

    The girl scowled, again imagining biting cold, but the woman noticed. “None of that now.” She chided, jabbing the fingers of her free hand into the girl’s body. The girl gasped in shock and surprise, feeling her body go numb and her limbs fall limp and lifeless.

    “You can use magic?” she asked loudly.

    That caused the woman to scowl at her. “Not so loud, please.” She said, waving her free hand through the air. “But yes, I can. And so can you.”

    The girl scowled and clammed up. The woman just smiled wider at that. “Now, now,” she said. “I just want to talk, and know how someone as interesting as you ended up a little beggar on the street.”

    “…just a girl, nobody important or interesting.”

    The woman laughed. “I’m sure.” She said. “By the way, my name’s Touko Aozaki. And you are?”

    “…Sakura…” the short and unwilling reply came.

    “Sakura…?” Touko prompted.

    “…just Sakura.” The girl unhappily insisted.

    Touko rolled her eyes. “Oh fine.” She said. “Now, come along. I have so many things to ask and look into about you. If you behave and do as I say, I’ll even feed you. How’s that sound?”

    “…I’m not a cat!” Sakura protested angrily.

    Touko laughed again. “Well, you’re certainly acting like one.” She said with an amused tone. “Don’t worry though, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve dealt with a grumpy kitty.”

    Sakura looked confused at that, but Touko didn’t elaborate. Instead, she just tucked Sakura under an arm, and walked away with the equally-confused and resigned girl without a care.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    The present day – Veracruz, Mexico

    A pretty blonde intern walked down the museum hallway, carrying a newly-arrived package to the curator’s office. Along the way, she passed one of the custodial staff, the man diligently mopping at the floor, though he paused to tip his hat her way as she passed.

    The intern nodded in turn, superficially noticing the man return to work as she walked away. Arriving at the curator’s office, she knocked a few times.

    “Come in.” a muffled voice said through the door.

    Carefully tucking the package under an arm, the intern opened the door with her free hand, and then stepped inside while shifting the package to both hands once more. “Good evening, doctor.” She greeted.

    “Good evening, Miss Campos.” The curator, Doctor Alfredo Escribano returned the greeting, before his eyes fell on what the intern was carrying. “A package…? And at this time?”

    “Yes,” Silvana Campos – the intern – said with a nod. “It was a premium delivery service from…”

    The intern paused to check the sticker on the package. “…Sergio Cabal.” She said.

    “Ah, Sergio!” the curator said, clapping his hands in delight. “Yes, I know him! Hmm…I didn’t know he was going to send a package though. Now, what could it be, I wonder.”

    Gesturing for the intern to come closer, the curator took a letter opener from a drawer, while the intern put the package on his desk. Using the letter opener to open the package, the curator then sifted through the Styrofoam balls filling the box, and then pulled out a case made from lacquered wood with a cover made from crystal glass.

    The curator’s eyes widened as he took in what was inside, a medallion of some kind, gold with a curiously-carved jewel inlaid on top, of Mayan origin clearly but of an aesthetic he’d never seen before. He considered if it might be a forgery of some kind, but surely his friend would know better…wouldn’t he?

    The curator frowned thoughtfully while setting the case on the desk, before beginning to sift through the box for anything else his friend might have sent that could help shed light on this artifact. “Thank you, Miss Campos.” He said, while beginning to sit down and turning on his desk lamp.

    “Of course, doctor.” The intern said with a nod.

    Turning, she walked out of the office, and closed the door behind her. The curator meanwhile took a magnifying glass from his desk, and used it to try and get a closer look at the design on the medallion, before muffled noises briefly came through the door.

    The curator tuned it out, thinking it was just the custodial staff being a little too clumsy in their duties. Then the door opened, and a man wearing the custodial staff’s uniform entered. “Yes, what…” the curator began, lowering the magnifying glass, annoyed at the interruption.

    The sentence remained unfinished though, as an Azoth Dagger was thrown through the air, and punched into the man’s neck. Gurgling as blood jetted out in sprays of crimson, the curator staggered and fell off his chair, the man’s death rattle banging against the floor as Benedek Zobor walked over, and took the medallion from the desk.

    Then walking around said desk, he sank down, and pulled his Azoth Dagger from the dead curator’s neck. Whistling cheerfully to himself, Zobor cleaned his Azoth Dagger while stepping out of the room, around the intern’s corpse, and then down the hallway.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    The following day – Misaki Town, Japan

    “SAKURA!”

    The shout echoed through the house, and startled a young woman lying on her back while working on the plumbing of the kitchen sink. Then there was dull clang of a forehead striking metal, followed by feminine grumbling, before Sakura Tohsaka was crawling out from under the sink and getting to her feet.

    Rubbing at her forehead, Sakura put the wrench on the kitchen table, before heading over to her master’s workshop. “Yes, master?” She asked as she arrived.

    Touko looked curiously at her apprentice’s disheveled appearance, and the reddened bump on her forehead. “Hit yourself?” she asked.

    “Yes.”

    Touko shrugged. “Sorry about that, just put some ice on it later.” She said. “Anyway, I just received a message from an old friend…well, not really, more an acquaintance…no, that’s…not right…let’s just say he’s someone who owes me big.”

    “And?”

    “He wants us to go and meet him at…Antigua, in Guatemala.” Touko said. “Apparently, he’s found something that could be of some interest to me.”

    “…Guatemala…Central America…” Sakura mused aloud before she made the connection. “The Mayans?”

    “Yes, the Mayans.” Touko said with mild applause. “As you well know, the Spanish Conquistadores’…zeal, left much to be desired in archaeological terms. In their desire for wealth and glory, to say nothing of their blind obedience to the priests of the Church, so many treasures and historical artifacts, both mystic and otherwise, were lost. And much of what was not lost is sealed away, mostly in the vaults of the Vatican.”

    “I’m sure the Clock Tower wasn’t too happy about that.” Sakura cheerfully said.

    Touko snorted. “Of course not,” she said. “But they eventually found a compromise, or rather the Association did. Some of the more…dangerous, artifacts were transferred to Atlas. While not to the Clock Tower’s liking, it was enough to save face for the Association as a whole.”

    “…no offense, master,” Sakura chimed in after a few moments. “But can you really take your…business associate, at his word? This might just be a wild goose chase.”

    “It could be.” Touko agreed, all the while examining the colored photos she’d printed from the e-mail she’d just received. “But it also might not be. And if it isn’t…well, this just might be the biggest find of the century. And while I’m not against sharing…”

    Touko trailed off, her eyes narrowed with ambition. “…I’d like to get dibs at whatever find this is.” She said. “It’s about time I started looking into South America’s contributions to Human development and history. And this Mayan lead just might be a good start.”

    Sakura stayed silent, but after a few moments, Touko glanced in her direction. “Finish with the sink,” she said. “And then start packing. I’ll make the travel arrangements myself.”

    Sakura gave a polite bow. “As you say, master.” She said, before turning away to finish her chores.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    If you’re expecting Rin or Shirou, then go away. They won’t be appearing in this story. It’s just Touko, Sakura, and a bunch of OCs. Luvia might make an appearance, but that’s very unlikely, and even then only in passing.

    And no, this isn’t part of the Alea Iacta Est timeline, though it’s a similar premise.
     
    ArsMagna1337 likes this.
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 1
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2018
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    Likes Received:
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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 1
    “I certainly hope you brought clothes appropriate for the tropics, Sakura.” Touko remarked as Sakura collected their luggage from customs. All around them, the arrivals terminal of La Aurora International Airport bustled with people, ranging from tourists to aircrew and airport staff. “I know it’s a bit late to mention this, but I’d expect you to plan ahead.”

    “It’s cold on a plane.” Sakura protested, before giving her master a small smile. “But yes, I made sure to pack tropical clothes for both of us.”

    “Good,” Touko said, giving an approving nod before turning away with an imperious wave, her apprentice trailing after her with their luggage. “In your case at least, that bomber jacket and long-sleeved turtleneck you wear all the time is practically asking for a heat stroke.”

    Sakura shrugged. “I’ll get changed once we get to the hotel.” She said.

    Touko hummed, and gestured for Sakura to keep following. Sakura obeyed, following her master across the terminal and out the exit. Making their way through the crowd of families, valets, and the like waiting for other arrivals, the two magi proceeded to the taxi stand, taking their place in a short line. There were plenty of taxis available, allowing the line to move along at a steady pace, and within a few minutes both Touko and Sakura were getting into a taxi while the driver loaded their luggage into the back.

    Buenas tardes, señoras.” The man greeted them before switching to accented English. “Where to?”

    “Imperial Hotel in Antigua, thank you.” Touko said while settling into her seat, the driver doing likewise behind the wheel.

    Sí, señora.

    Sakura settled back with arms crossed over her chest, while Touko pulled out her phone. The driver had been about to turn on the radio, but thought better of it as Touko made a call. Several moments later and she was answered, Touko entering into a conversation in a European language Sakura didn’t recognize but was probably Hungarian, given who she was probably conversing with.

    Not that she should be expected to, as while her master had made sure Sakura could understand and speak English (with as small an accent as possible), she hadn’t taught or had Sakura learn any other foreign language. It definitely wasn’t French though, or German, or even Russian. Even if Sakura’s experience with those languages were limited to watching films on television, it was enough that she could tell the difference between them.

    She still couldn’t understand them though, much less speak them.

    The conversation lasted several minutes, and ended with Touko disgruntled but satisfied. “I’m guessing that was Mister Zobor, master?” Sakura asked as Touko put away her phone.

    “Hmm…yes, that was Benedek.” Touko said with a nod.

    “…I’m also guessing that was Hungarian.” Sakura remarked.

    “No, that was German.” Touko said with a smirk, the smirk widening as Sakura’s mouth fell open in surprise. “Let me guess, you thought that just because you watched a few movies set in World War II, you thought you could tell German by ear even if you couldn’t understand it, didn’t you?”

    “…yes.” Sakura grumpily admitted.

    Touko gave a barking laugh. “Kid, it’s not going to be that easy.” She said.

    Sakura muttered something under her breath, but said nothing more for a few moments. “So what’s the deal with Mister Zobor?” she finally asked.

    “He’ll be meeting us tomorrow, at a café in the Corte de los Esclavos.” Touko said. “I’d prefer to meet tonight, so we can get down to business right away, but I suppose I can work with this. At the very least, we can have some few hours of rest and relaxation before getting back to work. It was a long flight, business class or not.”

    Sakura nodded in agreement, before her expression turned cautious. “What is it?” Touko asked. “Say what you want to say, Sakura.”

    “It might be too late to be asking this,” Sakura began. “But can we really trust Mister Zobor, master?”

    “Hell no,” Touko said with a snort and a disparaging smile. “But we can trust his sense of self-preservation. And he knows better than to double-cross me. He knows that if he ever did, death would be the best thing he could look forward to.”

    Sakura winced as her master’s smile turned cruel and bloodthirsty. “Yeah…” she said, remembering the few times she’d seen her master at her worst and inwardly shuddering at the memories. She didn’t think Human beings could even scream like that…or could survive for so long literally without their skin (among other things). “…I…I’ll take your word for it, master.”

    Touko’s smile lightened. “Relax, kid.” She said. “Just keep your head down, follow my lead, and everything will be alright. Or if nothing else, just use your head.”

    “I’ll keep that in mind, master.”

    “That’s a good girl.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “Sakura, you go on ahead to our suite, and start unpacking.” Touko said after she finished checking in and making the security deposit. “I’ll join you later.”

    “And just where will you be until then, master?” Sakura asked with mixed curiosity and suspicion.

    Touko briefly glanced at the bar in the hotel foyer, before looking back at her apprentice. “I’m going to get a drink.” She cheerfully said, before smoothing her coat and making to leave.

    “…I want a drink too…” Sakura muttered, as she moved to accompany the bellhop who’d be taking their luggage upstairs.

    “Still four years more before you can drink, Sakura.” Touko said over a shoulder. And then pausing in thought, walked over to put an arm around her apprentice’s shoulder. “Tell you what, since you’ve been such a good girl lately, I don’t see any reason why you should just stay in the suite until I come back.”

    “I’m always a good girl.” Sakura said with a roll of her eyes.

    “Maybe,” Touko said with a shrug. “But anyway, you have your keycard, right?”

    Sakura responded by gesturing with it, and Touko nodded. “Good…” she said, patting Sakura on a shoulder before stepping away. “Just unpack and put away our things, and then feel free to go ahead of me to the hotel restaurant and buffet. It’s part of our accommodation package, so go wild.”

    Sakura didn’t say anything, but the slow smile that spread over her face was answer enough. Touko grinned and patted Sakura’s shoulder again. “Off you go then, kid.” She said. “Though, stay in the hotel, no matter what!”

    “I can take care of myself, master.” Sakura shot back as Touko strolled off across the foyer towards the bar.

    “This isn’t Japan, Sakura.” Touko seriously said over a shoulder. “The streets here are different from the ones you grew up in.”

    “…fair enough…” Sakura conceded, before rejoining the bellhop at the elevators.

    “Your mother, miss?” the man curiously asked in accented English. “Or a relative? I apologize if I’m prying though.”

    “Hmm…no, no…” Sakura said, also switching to English, having conversed with her master in Japanese. “That was my guardian, we’re not related.”

    “Ah…that explains the lack of resemblance…and again, my apologies. I might have gone too far.”

    Sakura hummed and shrugged, and just followed the bellhop into the elevator as its doors opened.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “Are you drunk?” Sakura asked over an hour later, as she spotted her master walking over to join her at a table for two in the restaurant.

    Touko snorted. “Me? Get drunk?” she asked. “Kid, you underestimate me.”

    “Sorry, master.” Sakura apologized first before explaining herself. “But you did spend over an hour at the bar.”

    Touko nodded. “Yeah, I can see why you thought I might be drunk.” She said. “Shame this place is no smoking, though.”

    Gesturing for a waiter, Touko ordered a mug of black coffee, and then turned back to her apprentice as the man hurried off. Eyeing her briefly, Touko noted that Sakura had discarded – probably back at their suite – her usual bomber jacket, though she still wore her usual long-sleeved turtleneck shirt over a pair of jeans.

    Then again, the hotel was cold, if not as much as a passenger plane’s cabin could get. “…steak, huh?” Touko observed, eyeing Sakura’s meal. “Medium well too, from the look of things. I’m guessing that’s not your first choice from the buffet.”

    “Of course not,” Sakura said, slicing into the meat and causing red to ooze out and mix with brown sauce against the white china of her plate. “They have a selection of European sausages, so I started out with those, along with some green vegetables.”

    Touko nodded in approval. “And then?” she asked.

    Sakura blushed and looked disinclined to answer. “Sakura…” Touko said semi-sternly.

    “…there’s a Japanese section here.” Sakura admitted. “They have ebi tempura…lots of ebi tempura…”

    Touko sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Really, Sakura?” she asked in mild exasperation.

    “It’s not like I get to eat ebi tempura on a regular basis anyway, even back home.” Sakura said defensively, and forking a slice of steak into her mouth.

    “Well, at least you avoided any rice.” Touko said with another sigh.

    Sakura rolled her eyes. “I avoided any and all carbs.” She said, before jerking her thumb to a part of the buffet. Touko followed it with her eyes, and spotted breads of all kinds available for selection. “They’d fill me up, and I wouldn’t get to enjoy the buffet as much as I’d want.”

    “…good thinking on that note…” Touko softly said. “…though you should probably have some carbs before you go for dessert. The local cornbread should be good…having travelled all the way around the world, I’d say it’s a waste to not at least try that, especially if you tried other breads like French or whatnot.”

    “…the Chinese section’s fried rice smells very good though…” Sakura mumbled, and Touko rolled her eyes.

    “All the way around the world, Sakura.” She repeated herself. “And you’re going for Chinese? We could have that – or ebi tempura for that matter – any time back home.”

    Sakura grumbled under her breath, but didn’t bother arguing. “Anyway,” Touko continued. “What else did you have so far?”

    “The native roast pork is good, with a sweet and sour sauce.” Sakura said. “They also have native roast poultry, seasoned with native herbs and spices, very good. And the steak they have, it’s very good. The meat is soft and not at all chewy, simply seasoned with…um, I think it’s just salt and pepper, but the ‘less is more’ approach works very well with it. It’s my second slice.”

    Touko smirked. “Going for a third slice?” she asked teasingly.

    Sakura blushed again, and silently returned to her meal. The conversation stilled as the waiter returned with Touko’s coffee, the older woman giving her thanks as the man served it. Taking a drink, she looked on as Sakura sliced and forked her steak into her mouth, and then took another drink.

    “Anything else you’d like to recommend?” she asked lightly.

    Sakura swallowed and took a drink of cold water before answering. “There’s an Italian section over there.” She said with a gesture from her finger. “They have several kinds of pizzas, along with cold cuts and several kinds of cheeses.”

    “Cold cuts, huh?” Touko echoed. “There’s an idea.”

    “They also have a halal section,” Sakura added. “For Muslim guests, I think. They have a roast goat there, along with all kinds of vegetable and other dishes.”

    “Did you give it a try?” Touko asked curiously.

    “It’s not bad.” Sakura answered noncommittally. Touko nodded, guessing the rest which her apprentice had politely declined to say.

    It’s not bad, but not to my taste.

    At least she’d given it a try, though. And her opinion wasn’t completely negative either, when all was said and done.

    Touko took another drink, and savoring the bitterness of black coffee, sat back to take a look around the restaurant. It was full, most tables occupied by families or cliques of guests, though there were still plenty of single or double diners like herself and Sakura. The hotel staff stood out among the guests – though not in a negative way – in their formal Hispanic attire, going to and fro attending to business.

    The chefs were in their typical uniforms and caps, though. No surprises there.

    Touko nodded, and finished her coffee before washing her mouth with a single drink of cold water. “Going somewhere?” Sakura asked as her master got to her feet. Touko looked at her with an unimpressed expression and a raised eyebrow.

    “I’m going to see if their Italian is as good as you say it is.” She said, and then walked off. Sakura looked after her for a while, and then shrugging, finished off her steak. Wiping at her hands and mouth with her table napkin while a waiter took away her dirty plate, the young magus didn’t bother to wait for her master before going off for another slice of steak, and maybe some vegetables this time too.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “Corte de los Esclavos,” Touko said in Japanese with mild distaste. “What a charming name.”

    Master and apprentice struggled through the crowds of tourists and locals filling the square, the morning Sun hot and bright overhead even at half past ten in the morning. There weren’t any cars here, but there were a number of bikes and motorbikes, and even a few trikes. Stalls and kiosks of all kinds with signs in Spanish or English (and sometimes both) lined much of the square’s surroundings, competing with storefronts both domestic and international.

    For instance, there were a number of local cafes and restaurants, modestly standing out with their conservative facades and Spanish names, and in stark contrast to the modern styles of the likes of McDonalds, Starbucks, and more. The same went for the people in the square, the locals blending into each other with their native appearances and complete comfort in the heat, while the tourists stood out in their various nationalities and struggles with the local temperature.

    Touko and Sakura were no exception, though magi being magi, they coped with the heat better than most. Their Oriental looks made them stand out, though, and they were dressed like most tourists. Touko had discarded her usual coat, and now wore a plain, short-sleeved, button-down shirt of white over light brown pants. As for Sakura, she comfortably coped in a white tank top under an unbuttoned, short-sleeved shirt of dark green, worn over her another pair of jeans.

    “Court of the Slaves…yeah, really charming…” the apprentice chimed her agreement with her master.

    “How’d you know?” Touko asked.

    Sakura pointed at a museum on the far side of the square, the name of the place printed on a large billboard above the entrance in both English and Spanish. “Huh…very observant…” Touko said with veiled approval.

    “I’m guessing this place used to be a slave market in centuries past.” Sakura remarked.

    “A logical, and undoubtedly correct assumption.” Touko said, before gesturing for Sakura to follow. “This way.”

    “After you, master.” Sakura said, falling into step behind Touko.

    Pushing their way through the crowds, and waving off local vendors showing off their wares, master and apprentice made their way to one of the local cafes. A uniformed doorman showed them in with a smile and a polite nod, and then Touko was leading the way to a table where a Caucasian man was enjoying coffee and local pastries.

    “Benedek,” Touko said without preamble as they approached. “It’s been a while.”

    “Likewise, Touko.” The Hungarian magus replied. Sakura took a moment to look him over, Benedek Zobor a tall European male with dark, thinning hair cut close to his scalp, and who sported a neatly-trimmed mustache above his mouth. Like her master, the man wore a plan, short-sleeved, button-down shirt of white, though over a pair of shorts as opposed to pants.

    Then the magus was turning to her, and blinked in incomprehension. “And this is?” he asked.

    “My apprentice,” Touko said with a gesture to Sakura, who gave a polite bow. “Sakura Tohsaka…Sakura, this is Benedek Zobor, a colleague and business associate of mine, though I’m sure you already know that.”

    “Yes, master…pleased to meet you, Mister Zobor.”

    “Please,” Benedek said while offering his hand to Sakura, who shook it firmly. “Call me Benedek.”

    “Alright…Benedek.”

    The man smiled, and then gestured for them to sit. A gesture had a waiter coming over, and after several moments perusing a menu, Touko – Sakura couldn’t read Spanish – ordered coffee and local pastries for herself and her apprentice.

    “So,” Touko said. “How have you been, Benedek?”

    “As well as can be expected.” Benedek said with a sigh. “Though I suppose it’s better than your situation.”

    “Hmm…perhaps…though last I hear you had to leave Egypt in a hurry.”

    The man’s eyes twitched and his facial muscles tightened, though he said nothing. Touko raised her hands in apology though. “That said,” she said. “We aren’t here to trade insults, much less rub salt into each other’s wounds. Shall we get down to business?”

    “…yes, we should.” Benedek agreed. “Though I suggest we wait until your drinks and pastries arrive. They’re quite good, you know.”

    The man took a drink of his own coffee at that, as though to drive home the statement. Touko just smiled in amusement, and then Benedek was turning to Sakura. “So tell me, child.” He said. “What has your master been teaching you?”

    “…the basics, mostly.” Sakura cautiously answered. “She’s also supervising my…experiments, into my higher-level abilities. I’m not sure if she’s just flattering me, but she says I should be able to flatten any Flame that’s stupid enough to cross me.”

    Touko snorted. “It’s not flattery.” She said. “Even if it’s only been…what, five? Six years? My apprentice should be more than capable of taking on a mere Flame. I daresay you’re comparable to a Count, or even a Cause.”

    Sakura shrugged and said nothing. “Higher-level abilities, though?” Benedek asked curiously. “That’s a rather interesting choice of words.”

    “I’m sure it is.” Touko said, and left it at that.

    Benedek shrugged, knowing better than to pry past that point. Maybe if it was another magus, he might have, but against Touko Aozaki? Against someone like her, it was best to be prudent, even if it concerned her apprentice, and not Touko herself.

    Or even more so, as for childless or heirless magi, apprentices were like their own children. Until they had an heir or heiress of their own, their apprentices were their legacy. And if there was anything the typically-greedy magi valued more than themselves, it was their – or their families’ – legacy.

    And ultimately, whether or not Touko fitted into that category was immaterial. Given how (in)famous she was, it was simply…unwise, to push the boundaries with her.

    Sorry to keep you waiting.” A neatly-dressed waitress said in Spanish as she arrived with a tray. “Your orders are here.

    Two mugs of coffee on saucers were placed before Touko and Sakura, along with a plate each of corn pastry. “Thank you.” Touko said in Spanish with a polite smile and nod. The waitress nodded back with a smile, and then returned to the counter.

    Sakura added cream and sugar to her coffee, but Touko just took it black. “To your health.” She said, toasting Benedek.

    “And to yours.” He said, returning the toast before asking for a refill. The waitress nodded before taking his empty mug, and returned after several moments with a fresh mug of coffee. Benedek added cream, and taking a sip, nodded before replacing the mug on its saucer. “Now then, shall we get down to business?”

    “Very well…” Touko said, and placing a hand on the table, erected a bounded field around them to keep people from listening in. “Now, start talking.”

    Instead of speaking, Benedek just reached down to get his bag, and then pulled out a geis scroll. “First things first,” he said, unrolling the scroll and pushing it across the table for Touko to peruse. “If anything comes of this venture, I want to guarantee my share of the profit, sixty-forty.”

    Touko silently regarded the scroll for a few minutes, and then smiled as she found it lacking any traps or onerous conditions. She also noted the blank spaces on the scroll where the split percentages should be listed down with amused approval, indicating they were up for discussion. “…seventy-thirty…my way.” She countered.

    Benedek inclined his head, and without complaint used a fountain pen to fill in the percentages. Then replacing that with a different pen, cut his thumb and filled in his signature, binding him to an agreement that included not turning or raising a hand against his partner until their venture was complete, and they had left the country.

    Then he offered the pen to Touko, who did likewise, and binding her to the same conditions. All on pain of the destruction of their magic circuits, which considering their connection to a magus’ nervous system, would either kill them at the same time, or leave them paraplegics or vegetables.

    “So what’s this about?” Touko asked.

    Benedek smiled, putting away the scroll before pulling out a case of lacquered wood with a cover of crystal glass. “This is…?” Touko breathed as it was pushed across the table, the Grand Magus narrowing her eyes at the jewel-inlaid gold medallion.

    “I’m not quite sure what it is,” Benedek admitted. “But from what I gathered from the archaeologists who found this at a dig in Teotihuacan, this might be the key to one of the biggest finds in history.”

    “Oh? Do tell.”

    Benedek sat back and clasped his hands in front of him. “…it was about a month ago, maybe two.” He said. “Well, I heard about it a month ago, but they found that long before.”

    “Where?” Touko asked.

    “Teotihuacan,” Benedek said, before smiling at the look of incomprehension on Sakura’s face. “It’s a ruined city in Mexico, predating both the Aztecs and the Mayans. Its name literally means ‘The Place of the Gods’. Who built it, gods or men or something else, is unknown, whether to our kind or modern scientists. However, all the Mesoamerican civilizations that came after and found and witnessed the ruins held them in great regard, so much so that they never dared attempt to settle or rebuild the ruins, seeing it as blasphemous to what – in their belief – must have been the gods’ residence on Earth before the making of Man.”

    “And?” Touko said, tapping her fingers against the table. “What next?”

    “Apparently, using some kind of…modern, invention the archaeologists were able to find a ruined structure not far from the Temple of the Feathered Serpent.” Benedek explained. “No one had noticed it before because the site was buried in sand and dirt and overgrown with greenery. On excavation…well, it wasn’t exactly a temple, and more a small…shrine, made in memory of and in the hope of the return of the Feathered Serpent.”

    “Feathered Serpent…an ancient god of the Mesoamericans?” Sakura asked.

    “Yes,” Touko said with a nod. “He’s also known as Quetzalcoatl, the name literally meaning ‘Feathered Serpent’. It’s not entirely clear if he was a god from the start, or a king who was deified after his death, but what is clear is that he alone among the Mesoamerican deities did not demand Human sacrifices in his honor, and indeed, spoke out and sought to end such a practice.”

    “This eventually led to a war in which Quetzalcoatl was defeated, and forced to flee into exile to the east, across the sea.” Benedek said. “Proponents of the theory that Quetzalcoatl was just a deified king argue that this is a…dramatization, of a war between a reformist political faction led by the king against the priestly class, and one which ended in the latter’s victory. But given what we know about the World…”

    “…there likely was a war between the gods, between Quetzalcoatl and his allies and followers, against the other gods, led by the war god Tezcatlipoca.” Touko said with a nod.

    “Indeed,” Benedek said. “Legend also claims that Quetzalcoatl made a prophecy prior to his departure, that he would one day return and finish what he started. He even gave a date for it…a date which…unfortunately, was set in the same year as the Spanish Conquistadores’ arrival in Central America.”

    “…yeah, I know this part.” Sakura said with a nod. “The Aztecs equated Cortez and his men as Quetzalcoatl and his followers returned, delaying and botching their response and starting a chain of events that would only end in the destruction of the Aztec Empire, and the slavery of their people.”

    “Quite,” Touko said before taking a drink of her coffee. “Or more likely, as the Age of Gods was already long past by then, Quetzalcoatl simply could not return as he had once promised.”

    Benedek nodded. “In any case,” he said. “The shrine I mentioned from earlier had its interior decorated with map-like murals of a large kingdom in ancient Central America, including representations of cities, towns, forts and the like. In hindsight, I suspect those murals in fact depict the Realm of Quetzalcoatl prior to his war with the other gods, the land wherein his dreams and ideals had become reality.”

    “And which his worshippers after his defeat longed for an eventual restoration of.” Touko hypothesized with narrowed eyes. Those same eyes then fell on the medallion in its case. “What’s this then?”

    “Apparently, it was found on a plinth in the middle of the shrine.” Benedek explained. “Unlike the murals on the walls, the friezes on the floor indicated it was supposed to be a marker of some kind, to a place of importance to the Feathered Serpent, which he visited just before his departure.”

    “Hmm…I wonder…” Touko said, opening the case and taking the medallion from inside. Hefting it for a few moments, she held it closer and narrowed her eyes again at the detail on the gem inlaid into the medallion. “…I’m going to need a closer look, but from what you’ve told me…a marker…this could be a map of some kind…”

    “…an interesting hypothesis…” Benedek agreed.

    Touko looked at him suspiciously. “Though that does beg the question: why?” she asked. “This could be – in your own words, no less – the biggest find of the century, magical or otherwise. Why involve me in this, when you would surely know it would only cut into your gains, one way or another?”

    “Because you’re the best damn magus-archaeologist that I know.” Benedek said. “No one else outside the Department of Archaeology would be qualified to crack this case, even more so as we’ll be heading to what could be an ancient battlefield or something dating back to the Age of Gods. And if I involve those people, I’d get even less – if anything at all – than I would by working with you.”

    “…guess that rules out involving Estray.” Sakura cheerfully remarked. “I mean, they’re supposed to be the experts on anything involving the Age of Gods, right? Only…”

    “Yeah,” Touko said with a roll of her eyes. “They’re a bunch of silly old men and women so far up their own asses that the Clock Tower’s Aristocratic Faction might as well be hippies holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’ by comparison.”

    Sakura raised an eyebrow at her master’s scorn, while Benedek snorted with amusement. “Touko, I’ve missed you.” He said.

    “Humph…I suppose that answers my question.” Touko said. “Though I do have another question: how’d you even hear about this?”

    Benedek tutted and waved his finger at that. “Now, now,” he said. “We all have our sources and contacts, including ones we prefer to keep anonymous. Whether out of a desire for exclusivity, or as part of a business relationship, don’t we now?”

    “…fair enough…” Touko conceded, before again hefting the medallion in her hands. “…a marker, eh? To what? What is this place that’s so important to the Feathered Serpent, that even after his defeat merited a shrine being raised in Teotihuacan of all places?”

    “I wouldn’t know.” Benedek said with a nod. “My sources tell me though, that the archaeologists theorized it could be a religious site or temple of some kind.”

    “Hmm…they might be on to something there.” Touko admitted.

    “Well,” Sakura chimed in while beginning to dig into her pastry. “We won’t find out by sitting here, won’t we? We’ll have to go and see if we’re going to.”

    “Indeed, Sakura, indeed.” Touko agreed, tossing the medallion into the air and catching it several times. Each and every time, as the medallion rose and fell, it caught the light of the Sun, and causing it to shine as though through blood.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    Welcome to Guatemala, Touko and Sakura.

    And yeah, poor Quetzalcoatl. If only he’d won the war, the history of Central America wouldn’t have been associated with stereotypes of screaming warrior-fanatics constantly on the hunt for prisoners to drag to their altars and have their hearts cut out. Or virgin young women getting flayed alive only for their skin to be used as cloaks by some old and sinister priest.

    Long story short, if Quetzalcoatl had won, there’d have been no rivers of blood or piles of skulls and other such things in Central America. At least until Cortez and his men arrived, that is.
     
    Akuma-Heika likes this.
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 2
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 2

    Shards of glass went flying across the café as the large windows of its façade shattered inwards. Shouts and screams of alarm erupted from patrons and staff alike, most people inside diving for cover to avoid getting cut by the sharp glass. The three magi were no exception, Benedek simultaneously tipping the table over while diving behind it, Touko and Sakura fast behind him.

    Not so fast as to not notice what it was which broke the glass in the first place, though. “…a Goshawk?” Benedek breathed in surprise, watching as the brown and black-feathered raptor circled around the café interior. And then giving a cry, it beat its pinions, turning to fly back outside through the shattered windows.

    A shout from Touko had the Hungarian magus jolting back into reality. “Sakura…!” the Grand Magus barked in Japanese. “It has the medallion!”

    “Already on it!” Sakura shouted, blue lines fading into her skin as she finished reinforcing her body and clothes alike. Simultaneously, she dashed out of cover and across the café at superhuman speeds, and leapt out the windows in pursuit.

    As before, the square was packed to the gills with people, but that was nothing Sakura couldn’t handle. She grew up in Osaka, after all. And while Osaka wasn’t Tokyo, that didn’t mean it couldn’t compete with the latter when it came to making sardines in a tin can feel like they were in the Taj Mahal.

    Antigua at its worst was light going for Sakura, especially with reinforcement boosting her physical attributes to superhuman levels. Whether it was the strength to push aside or through the throngs, the dexterity to slip between the gaps in the crowd, and the agility to keep up witht the Goshawk above, she was like a blur through the square.

    A pair of men on a motorcycle skidded to a halt as what seemed to them like a girl deftly sidestepped and ran past.

    A street vendor was left gaping as that same girl leapt up and over his rolling kiosk.

    A pudgy policeman was left scrambling for his peaked cap as something knocked it off his head in passing.

    Strange…” Sakura thought, her eyes on the Goshawk, trusting in her instincts and other senses to get through the crowd. “That bird…no…that familiar, should be able to fly higher…but why isn’t it? Is the medallion too heavy? It’s partly made from gold, yes, but still…

    Letting the thought trail off, Sakura narrowed her eyes, and briefly casting her gaze around the square, abruptly changed course. Jumping onto a stall and boosting off its roof’s frame, Sakura jumped onto a crumbling statue of a lion and again boosted off its head. The statue’s head broke apart under her Nikes, but it served its purpose, boosting Sakura further as she pounced on and kicked off, higher and further, from one of the stone pillars along the side of the square. The stone cracked and shattered under her feet, but she was able to get close and high enough to the Goshawk, just in time to barely catch it before it could fly by.

    Not enough to grab the bird or the medallion, but enough to knock the latter out of the former’s claws.

    Gold and ruby flashed as it fell through the air, thankfully bouncing off and breaking its fall against people as opposed to the ground. The latter could have shattered the jewel, or deformed the medallion, or worse, both. Though it still fell to the ground, it did so at a more sedate speed, not enough to truly damage it.

    Sakura though spun as she fell through the air, landing prone and on all fours to break the force of impact, and then springing back, into a crouch and up to her feet. Shouts of alarm erupted from the locals, along with curious looks and exclamations from the tourists, no doubt wondering if she was an acrobat or something.

    A flicker of motion on the edges of her vision caught Sakura’s attention…

    …and then her eyes were going wide, as a number of men dressed in nondescript clothes began pulling guns – submachine guns from the look of things – from bags and suitcases. Raising them into the air, they began firing in bursts, and throwing the crowd into a panic.

    Then they advanced, spreading out while continuing to spray bursts into the air, locals and tourists alike giving way. Several moments later, and they lowered their guns in Sakura’s general direction, and fired.

    Cursing, Sakura dove for cover behind an inscription-covered slab of masonry, huddling down behind it as slugs chewed away at its front. More bullets flew through the air around and above her, the gunmen apparently content to pin her in place.

    Or did they?

    Cursing some more, Sakura unsealed one of her contracted spirits, and looking through its eyes, saw the gunmen arrayed around her position in a semicircle. Surprisingly, they were content to just pin her down, and it didn’t take long to find out why.

    The Goshawk from before was there, standing on the ground with its beak pressed lightly against the medallion, eyes glowing with magical power.

    Not for long!” Sakura thought. A mental command had the spirit striking down on the Goshawk, which narrowly escaped, flapping away while scrambling across the ground before beating its pinions and flying high into the sky.

    For good measure, Sakura had the spirit grab the medallion and drag it safely inside Imaginary Numbers Space.

    Then the wailing sounds of police sirens were echoing through the square, coming closer with every second. Shouting in Spanish, the gunmen turned and ran, Sakura sending her contracted spirit to inform her master of the situation moments before she carefully stepped out and around the stone monument she’d been hiding behind.

    Less than a minute later, and police cars were rolling into the square. Uniformed men poured out, shouting and barking in Spanish as they fanned out around the square.

    Sakura moved slowly and deliberately, keeping her hands away from herself as she crossed the ground. It seemed to work, the policemen wary but not hostile at her appearance, no doubt thinking she was just some tourist caught in the middle of some kind of gang fight and forced to hide until things settled down.

    Shaking her head at the queries sent her way, she threw a hopeful look at her master as the older woman approached from the far side of the square. Catching her angle, some of the newly-arrived policemen moved to intercept Touko and Benedek.

    …well, they can speak Spanish.” Sakura thought as she trailed along towards her master, the policemen keeping wary eyes on her all the way. “Let them handle this…somehow.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “So let me get this straight,” the police sergeant speaking to Touko said. “You were having coffee when a bird of all things flew through the window – and breaking it in the process, you say – and grabbed one of your jewels…”

    Touko nodded. “A family jewel, actually…” she smoothly lied, the policeman carrying on without skipping a beat.

    “…before flying back out the window,” he said. “At which point your…ward, here…”

    The man paused and nodded at Sakura who just shrugged in response, before continuing. “…chased after it to get the jewel back.” He said.

    “Yes, that’s pretty much what happened.” Touko cheerfully said with another nod.

    “And while chasing the bird across the square,” the unimpressed policeman continued. “Gunmen popped out and started shooting, and only stopped when they heard us coming.”

    “Yes, that also happened.”

    “…any particular reason why they would start shooting at your ward, and all for a jewel?” the policeman demanded.

    Touko briefly fidgeted before sighing, and reaching up, removed her glasses seemingly in weariness. Her irises briefly glowed blue though, and the policemen and other witnesses around felt themselves jolt as though current ran through their bodies.

    “No, I don’t.” Touko firmly said, before smiling. “I think the detective over there has an idea though.”

    More an idea she planted into his head, along with a compulsion on others to put their faith in it, but they didn’t need to know that. “Detective Manzanedo…” the police sergeant said with a salute as the older man approached.

    “Easy, sergeant.” Detective Armando Manzanedo said, before nodding at Touko and company. “As absurd as their story sounds, I believe it. If nothing else, if they were…suspects, trying to excuse themselves out of trouble, this has to be the most ridiculous alibi anyone could ever come up with.”

    “But…?” the sergeant prompted.

    The detective shrugged. “Like I said,” he began. “It’s too ridiculous to be an alibi. And all the other witnesses we’ve spoken with, whether the other patrons at the café, the café staff, and the people here in the square, everything they told us supports these people’s claim.”

    “I see.” The sergeant said with a nod, and the detective nodded as well.

    “We may be looking at a new tactic by the local syndicate or gangs.” He said. “It seems really…outlandish, even by their standards, but given their…machismo, tendencies…yes, that could be it.”

    “Sir?”

    The detective looked at the sergeant grimly. “The local syndicate or gangs may have started using trained birds to filch valuables from tourist or locals,” he said. “And posted men nearby in case the owners get too…clingy.”

    “…depending on how old and well-made the señorita’s jewelry was,” the sergeant said just as grimly. “It could have fetched a fine price.”

    “That it could.” The detective agreed, before turning back to Touko and company. “May I ask where this jewel is now?”

    Touko and Benedek glanced at Sakura, who shook her head with a look of dismay on her face. Benedek’s face tightened, while Touko’s eyes narrowed as she set her jaw. “…my sympathies, señorita.” The detective said.

    Touko grunted but said nothing. As for the detective, he pulled out a notepad, and spent the next couple of minutes jotting down notes. “I assume you and yours are tourists, señorita?” he finally asked.

    “Not quite…” Touko said. “My ward and other companion are, but I’m also here on business.”

    “Oh?”

    Touko gestured at the bag she was carrying on a sling around her shoulders. “If I may?” she asked.

    “Please,”

    Touko opened it, and reaching inside pulled out a neatly-folded sheaf of papers. She handed them to the detective, before again removing her glasses on the pretext of wiping her face with a kerchief. At the same time, her eyes again glowed.

    “…I see.” The detective said, perusing the papers that were actually a memorandum of agreement with Touko and Sakura’s stay at the Imperial Hotel, but which he thought to be something else.

    Mystic Eyes…such useful things.

    “You are an archaeologist, here to examine Mayan ruins and other remains, and to meet with our country’s experts.” The detective said with a nod, before returning the papers to Touko. Jotting down more notes, he looked back to her after a moment. “Just for reference’s sake, in case we need to ask you some more questions, may I ask where you are currently staying at?”

    “At the Imperial Hotel, in this same city, of couse.”

    “Ah, I see…yes, I know the place.”

    The man nodded while jotting down some more notes, and then nodding in satisfaction, capped his pen before putting it and his notepad away. “Well then,” he said, extending a hand which Touko took and shook. “I have no further questions at this time, and you may go.”

    “Sir,” the police sergeant said. “If these people, or at least the señorita is here on official business, given her involvement in this…new, modus operandi by the local gangs or syndicate, maybe we should have her speak with the lieutenant or even the captain? I mean…yes, it may just be the antiquities office, but still: official business. This could get really troublesome if the higher-ups start stirring things up.”

    “…you have a point, sergeant.” The detective agreed after a moment and a nod. “But if it comes to that, I’ll deal with our superiors. I see no reason for the señorita and her companions to be inconvenienced even further.”

    “I…yes, sir.”

    “Actually,” Touko said while making a show of checking her wristwatch. “I wouldn’t mind a quick talk with the police captain. Both as a show of cooperation, and in the hope that this would simplify things further down the line.”

    The magus smiled at them, her eyes again flashing, while both Benedek and Sakura shared confused glances with each other. Touko ignored them, and just gestured for them to follow as the policemen escorted them to a waiting police car.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “I see…I understand…yes, of course…I’ll take care it. Thank you, thank you…”

    The police captain returned the phone handset back into its cradle, his conversation with the Guatemalan antiquities office done. At least, he thought he’d had a conversation. In reality, he’d basically been talking to himself, the whole conversation only existing in his head.

    In front of his desk, the intrepid trio of magi sat, Touko cleaning her glasses with a soft cloth, blue light dancing in her irises.

    “Very well, Señorita Aozaki,” the police captain began with a cough. “Following my conversation with my colleagues in the antiquities office, your arrangement with them will continue despite your regrettable, but unintended, involvement in this affair. On behalf of the force, and of the Guatemalan nation and people, I apologize that your visit to our country was marred by such an incident.”

    “The fault lies with the criminals, captain.” Touko graciously said. “There is no need to apologize, but even so, thank you.”

    The police captain nodded and sat back. “Rest assured,” he said. “There should be no further need for your studies – or your companions’ vacation – to be interrupted further by involvement in this matter. You and yours will be listed as anonymous witnesses, and there will be no need for you to remain, whether as suspects or as witnesses to be named for testimony in court.”

    “Thank you, captain.”

    The man nodded again before getting to his feet, and the three magi also got to their feet. Extended a hand, Touko took and shook it. “If there is nothing more,” she said. “Then we will take our leave.”

    The police captain nodded. “Go with God, señorita.” He said.

    “Thank you.” Touko said, before leading the way out of the office and thence the police station. Benedek and Sakura stayed quiet until they were out on the street once more, and walking away from the police station.

    “Well, I’m impressed.” Benedek remarked in English. “I shouldn’t be, because it’s you, but I am.”

    Touko gave a smug sound of satisfaction, before her eyes slid towards her apprentice’s direction. “What about you, Sakura?” she asked, also speaking in English. “Nothing to say?”

    “…one of the first lessons you taught, master.” Sakura replied. “Cover all angles, right?”

    “Precisely.”

    Benedek nodded in agreement. “If it was just the detectives and officers on the site made to make our…involvement, in the incident, ‘go away’,” he said. “Their higher-ups still might go digging deeper later on, and cause trouble of one kind or another at the same time.”

    “But now that the higher-ups have been made to look the other way,” Sakura said. “Or rather, to cover up our involvement, there should no problems from there in the future. That said…”

    Sakura paused, her eyes narrowed. “I don’t think gangs or the local gangsters are the ones behind the attack, master.” She said.

    “I’d be disappointed if you did.” Touko remarked. “But not here. Later, in the hotel.”

    “Yes, master.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    In a villa located in the Guatemalan countryside, a tall woman strode down a marbled hallway, flowering vines creeping up in verdant spirals around the evenly-spaced pillars. The woman cut a striking figure with her sharp, aristocratic features, her dark hair tied back into a bun at the back of her head. An intimidating air of all business hung around her, leading servants to step aside and bow deeply as she passed.

    Exiting the villa, Lady Isabelle Iceheart strode down a paved causeway over a large pond on which floated a number of lily pads, its banks lined with flowering bushes. Making her way to a stone pavilion, she bowed to her superior, Lord Wilhelm Carter.

    “You have acquired what you were supposed to, I take it?” Lord Carter began without preamble. The balding, corpulent man sat at a table heaving with a feast, ranging from salads and fresh fruits, to steaming soups and breads, as well as roasts of various kinds.

    “In a way, yes.” Lady Iceheart replied.

    Lord Carter paused eating, and then lowered the leg of poultry he’d been devouring to his plate with deceptive gentleness. “Explain.” He said, before taking his table napkin and dabbing at his mouth.

    “While I was unable to acquire the medallion,” Lady Iceheart said. “I was able to acquire a full impression of it.”

    “…I hope for your sake it will be enough to find the Armory.” Lord Carter coldly said, before he tugged at his handlebar moustache in thought. “It’s not like you to fail, Isabelle. What happened?”

    “Zobor has made contact with one of his…allies, I suppose.” Lady Iceheart replied, and Lord Carter scoffed.

    “And who is this fearsome one that would foil you so, my dear?” he challenged.

    “Grand Magus Aozaki and one other magus who may be her apprentice.”

    Lord Carter blinked and then burst out laughing. “I see, I see, I see!” he said, clapping his hands slowly as simmering anger turned to delight. “It seems I’ve been most uncharitable, Isabelle. Truly, you were outclassed, and your partial success potentially a miracle in itself. Hmm…Grand Magus Aozaki…a worthy opponent indeed…”

    Lady Iceheart bowed in acknowledgement, while Lord Carter took a silver bell and rang for a servant. “Set a place for Lady Iceheart.” He commanded, and with a bow the servant hurried to obey. Barely a minute later, and Lord Carter gestured for Lady Iceheart to sit, and was pouring her a glass of wine.

    “Now then, Isabelle,” Lord Carter grandly prompted as she took her seat. “Tell me what happened.”

    “Yes, my lord.” Lady Iceheart said with a nod. “As you know, we had already determined the general area of Benedek Zobor’s hideout within Antigua by this morning. We had expected him to lie low, as he usually does, until he can arrange an auction for his wares, and as such we had ample time to pinpoint his precise location and extract from him your prize.”

    Lord Carter hummed in acknowledgement. “Instead,” he began. “He took us all by surprise by leaving his hideout this morning, and proceeding to an unexpected rendezvous.”

    “As you say, my lord.” Lady Iceheart confirmed. “We shadowed him in the hope of an opportunity to take advantage of, only to be once again caught by surprise by his rendezvous.”

    “Grand Magus Aozaki…” Lord Carter said while swirling the wine in his glass, his voice filled with grudging respect. “…truly a diamond in the rough that one, who despite being born of a no-name lineage and from a backwater of no real import, was able to achieve the rank of Grand at the age of twenty, and soon after a sealing designation…a designation that has only earned the Association corpses for all the trouble taken to enforce it…”

    Trailing off with a chuckle, Lord Carter raised his glass in a silent salute. “And?” he prompted after a sip. “I assume you would have known a direct confrontation with such an august personage would be nothing less than suicide, one way or another. And yet you took action against her…why?”

    “I am your servant, my lord.” Lady Iceheart said with a bow. “You commanded myself to acquire your prize, and therefore I did what I thought best to fulfil your command.”

    “Indeed…” Lord Carter said with a nod. “And what did you do, Isabelle?”

    “As you said, a direct confrontation would have been suicidal.” Lady Iceheart said. “So I simply had my familiar break through the windows of the café the rendezvous was taking place in, and take the medallion while it was out of its case and in the open.”

    “…but you failed.”

    “Ultimately, yes.” Lady Iceheart said with a sigh. The silence persisted for a long moment, and then Lord Carter made a silent prompt with a tilt of his head. Lady Iceheart took a sip of her wine before continuing. “Even without its protective case, the medallion was heavy, between the size of the jewel and the gold it was made from. This kept my familiar from flying high with it, while the…fragility, of the medallion kept it from holding the medallion as well as it could.”

    “Hmm…understandable…” Lord Carter conceded. “No point in getting the medallion if it was damaged by your familiar’s talons along the way, given how soft gold and how brittle gems can be.”

    “As you say, my lord.”

    “And?”

    “The one I assume to be Grand Magus Aozaki’s apprentice gave chase.” Lady Iceheart continued. “Most likely a combination of reinforcement, along with some experience in navigating crowded places, allowed her to keep up. She may even have training or experience – or both, even – in parkour from what I can see.”

    “What leads you to say that?” Lord Carter asked.

    “The way she eventually knocked the medallion out of my familiar’s talons.” Lady Iceheart replied. “She used a stall, then a lion’s statue, and then a pillar to position herself and jump high enough to do so. Admittedly a gamble on her part, as if not for the medallion’s fall being broken by bouncing off the bodies of the crowd below, it’d have been dashed against the ground…”

    “…but a gamble that paid off for her.” Lord Carter said with a nod. “But yes…I can see how you came to the hypothesis you did.”

    Lady Iceheart bowed. “And?” Lord Carter prompted again. “What then?”

    “…I had my men – all incognito, of course – provide a distraction by having them fire their guns into the air.” Lady Iceheart said. “Once they were close enough, they pinned the apprentice behind cover while I – through my familiar – used structural analysis to obtain the impression of the medallion. I barely had the time to do so, but I succeeded.”

    “…I assume the apprentice counterattacked then?” Lord Carter asked. “I would expect nothing less from a Grand Magus’ apprentice.”

    “She used a spirit to bypass my men.” Lady Iceheart said. “My familiar barely avoided its clutches, and could do nothing to keep it from…well, I may be wrong, but it looked as though the apprentice – through the spirit – hid away the medallion by means of spatial manipulation.”

    “…interesting…very interesting…” Lord Carter mused aloud. “…was that ability of the spirit? Or was it the apprentice’s, remotely actualized through the spirit?”

    “…your pardon…” Lady Iceheart said with a bow. “…but I lack the wisdom and knowledge to assume on this matter.”

    “No matter,” Lord Carter dismissively said. “What happened next?”

    “I had completed my impression of the medallion.” Lady Iceheart answered. “There was no further reason to stay, so I had my familiar, and my men, retreat. I know not what happened to Benedek Zobor or Grand Magus Aozaki in the aftermath, much less to the latter’s apprentice. I know that the police were closing in, but that is all.”

    “…again, no matter…” Lord Carter dismissively said. “…for now, you have done as best you could given the circumstances. We will see if the impression you obtained is enough…later. If not, then we must find another way to obtain the location of the Armory, one way or another.”

    “Yes, my lord.” Lady Iceheart said with a bow.

    Lord Carter nodded with a satisfied nod. “But that is for later.” He said, before grandly gesturing at the table between them. “For now, I would have you join me for lunch.”

    “Yes, my lord. And thank you.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Reality rippled as Sakura reached into Imaginary Numbers Space, and pulled out the medallion. Then holding it out, allowed her master to take it from her hand, all the while Benedek looked on with wide eyes.

    “Spatial manipulation?” he asked. “At your age? You’re either gifted, your master taught you really well, or both.”

    Sakura shrugged. “I’d say it’s the second,” she said. “But my master would say it’s the third.”

    “That’s because it’s the truth, that’s why.” Touko said with a shrug of her own.

    “…just where did you find such a gifted apprentice, Touko?” Benedek asked. “It can’t have been the Clock Tower, you haven’t been there – I think – for over a decade, nor could you have just run into her and picked her up along the way. Did you owe one of your fellow Japanese magi a favor, and had to take their heiress as an apprentice to pay it back, or something?”

    Sakura snorted and actually laughed at that, while Touko rolled her eyes. “Sakura, go make tea or something.” She said.

    “Yes, master.” Sakura said, before strolling away deeper into their suite, to obey her master’s instructions. Meanwhile, Touko sat down on the couch and held up the medallion to study it.

    “…believe it or not,” she eventually said, while still studying the medallion with her eyes. “I all but literally did run into her on the street, and took her in as an apprentice shortly after.”

    “Seriously?”

    Touko lowered the medallion and looked at Benedek in the eyes. “Seriously.” She said.

    “…that seems very charitable…and no offense, most unlike you.” Benedek observed, and Touko snorted.

    “Charitable?” she echoed. “Hardly; I barely knew her when I took her in, but in that time I could already see she had a lot of potential. Not as much as me, of course, but far from average potential…so very far…”

    “And?” Benedek prompted, and Touko smirked.

    “A master without an apprentice is a master of nothing.” She said, and Benedek laughed.

    “So I see…” he said. “…yes, that is much more like you.”

    Touko shrugged while glancing down at the medallion in her hands. “She fit the qualitative requirement,” she said. “And while she’s not without her flaws as a person or an apprentice, I haven’t had cause to regret taking her in.”

    “So I see.”

    Touko hummed, while rubbing the medallion with her thumb. After several moments, she nodded. “I think I have some idea what this is, and how to use it. I just need a closer look first to confirm it, and then…”

    Touko trailed off, while placing the medallion on the coffee table and getting to her feet. “Going somewhere?” Benedek asked, following Touko with his eyes.

    “Like I said, I need to confirm.” Touko said over a shoulder. “And to do that, I need a magnifying glass. Wait a bit, I’ll be back in no time.”

    “Noted.” Benedek said, before glancing back at the medallion, sitting innocently on the coffee table. With nothing else to do but wait, the Hungarian magus sighed, and then sat back in his seat.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    Sorry for the long wait, but real life obligations take priority over writing. I hope you enjoyed the update regardless, though.
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 3
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

    Joined:
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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 3

    “Hey, where’d master go?”

    Sakura returned from the suite’s small kitchen, bringing a tea set with her on a silver tray. Benedek glanced her way as the younger magus approached and placed the tea set on the coffee table. “Want a cup?” she asked.

    “…yes…just tea will do.” Benedek said after a moment.

    Sakura poured the man a cup of tea, and placing it on a saucer placed it closer to him. “…Touko went to get a magnifying glass.” Benedek said while picking up the teacup and taking a sip. “Normally, I’m sure she’d have you get it, but seeing as you were busy with making tea, she went to get it herself.”

    Benedek paused to take another drink of his tea, and then acknowledged Sakura with a nod and a smile. “This tea is very good.” He said.

    Sakura smiled slightly and gave a low scoff. “More like the hotel’s got good tea.” She said. “I just used what they stocked the suite with.”

    “I see…but even with something good to start with, if you don’t know how to do it right, the end result won’t come out as well as it should.”

    “Well, what can I say?” Sakura asked with a shrug. “Master likes her tea, and as her apprentice, it’s kind of expected I make her life easier – among other things – in return for her making me all I can be. Or something like that…”

    Sakura trailed off, and then shrugged again after another moment. “…she did have to teach me how to make tea right…or at least the way she likes it…” she said, even as Touko walked back in, carrying a magnifying glass with her.

    “It’s the former.” She said firmly. “Though it’s nothing personal, considering your background. Sakura, you know how I like my tea.”

    “On it, master.”

    Benedek raised an eyebrow, but neither Touko nor Sakura elaborated further. Touko sat back down again, and picking up the medallion, studied it intently through a magnifying glass (and no doubt, her eyes were reinforced too). As for Sakura, she poured her master a cup of tea, stirring in milk and honey before placing it on a saucer nearby.

    Touko gave no indication of noticing, but Sakura didn’t seem to mind. Instead, she poured herself a cup of tea, and then added milk before sitting down herself and taking a drink, not even bothering to place it on a saucer beforehand. Or for that matter, even putting up a front of proper modesty, instead slouching languidly in her seat while holding her teacup with a hand.

    The minutes ticked by, Sakura and Benedek enjoying their tea as Touko studied the medallion. Finally, after several minutes of close study, Touko nodded in satisfaction before placing the medallion and magnifying glass on a table.

    “As I thought,” she said, while picking up her teacup and taking a drink. “It’s a map.”

    “A map to where?” Benedek asked.

    “A treasure map?” Sakura chimed in curiously.

    “No idea…” Touko answered before taking another drink. “…and maybe…”

    Pausing, Touko replaced her teacup on its saucer, and then held out a hand expectantly towards Benedek. The man stared blankly at her. “What?” he asked.

    “I need your Azoth Dagger.” Touko said, hand still outstretched.

    “No.” Benedek flat out refused. “Get your own, or find another knife or dagger. Seriously, Touko? You don’t just ask another magus to lend you their Azoth Dagger or its equivalent.”

    Touko rolled her eyes with an exasperated shake of her head, and lowered her hand. “Sakura,” she said. “You have a Swiss Army Knife, right? Let me borrow it.”

    “Okay.”

    The apprentice reached into Imaginary Numbers Space again, and pulling out a folded Swiss Army Knife, handed it to her master. Touko took it, and briefly examining it, unfolded the knife. And then picking up the medallion, began firmly if carefully prying at the ruby set into the gold. That caused both Benedek and Sakura to stir in alarm.

    “H-h-hey, master…” the latter said.

    “Touko, what…?” the former asked at the same time.

    “The medallion’s made in two pieces.” Touko answered, still prying away at the medallion. “Two pieces that make up one map, and possibly a description of what the destination is. Except it needs to be put together in the right way to make sense, and – I suspect – needs to be seen in a certain way too.”

    Sakura hummed and nodded in understanding, while Benedek looked conflicted. “…I suppose you’re the expert here,” he said uncertainly. “But…”

    The man broke off as the ruby popped off, Touko catching it with a hand and placing it on the table. Folding and handing the Swiss Army Knife back to its owner (who promptly returned it to Imaginary Numbers Space), Touko picked up the medallion and jewel one by one, and examined them again for a few minutes. Then she nodded in satisfaction before turning to her apprentice.

    “Sakura,” she said while handing her the medallion. “Get some charcoal and paper, and start sketching the pattern on this side of the medallion. It needs to be as big as that wall over there, so make sure to properly scale it up. Afterwards, set up the projector, and such that the beam goes through this jewel.”

    At that, Touko picked up the ruby, and waved it in the air a couple of times before setting it back down. “Huh…” Benedek said. “So that’s what you meant by putting them together and then seeing them in the right way.”

    “Pretty much.” Touko said with a nod.

    “And what will you be doing in the meantime, master?” Sakura asked as she finished her tea.

    “Someone needs to prepare something to hold the jewel in place and in the right way.” Touko said with a shrug. “You making that sketch and setting up the projector should give me ample time to do that.”

    “Oh I see…well then…”

    Touko nodded as Sakura set down her empty teacup, and taking the medallion, made to leave. “Oh, and be careful when you’re taking out the projector.” Touko warned. “It’s that time of the month, and Urashima’s getting all touchy, as usual.”

    “Got it, master.”

    “Urashima?” Benedek asked curiously.

    “None of your concern.” Touko said before also finishing her tea. Then picking up the jewel, got up to leave.

    “So…what am I supposed to do while you two are busy?” Benedek asked, following Touko with his eyes as she walked off.

    Touko paused and glanced at him. “I don’t know.” She said with a shrug. “Watch TV? The hotel has satellite with over two hundred channels, if I remember right.”

    Touko shrugged again, and then walked off. Staring after her for a few moments, Benedek sighed before taking the remote from under the coffee table and turning on the television.

    Typical Touko…
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    In a darkened room inside a villa in the Guatemalan countryside, Lord Carter and Lady Iceheart stood opposite from each other. Between them, hanging in the air was a glowing red hologram of the impression of the medallion that Lady Iceheart’s familiar had taken. Lord Carter pulled thoughtfully at his moustache while taking it in, and nodding, gestured with a hand.

    “Separate the patterns of the ruby and the medallion into two holograms.” He said.

    Lady Iceheart obliged, and Lord Carter nodded again. “Now,” he said. “Superimpose the patterns of the ruby, as though it were being projected by the Sun through said jewel.”

    His command was obeyed, and Lord Carter smiled in satisfaction. “Ah…” he said, while clapping his hands together. “Yes…very well done, Isabelle. Even if you failed to acquire the medallion itself, you managed to get what we need to find the Armory regardless.”

    Lady Iceheart bowed as Lord Carter stepped around the hologram, again pulling thoughtfully at his moustache. “Pull up a separate hologram,” he said. “This one of the region’s map.”

    A moment later, and another hologram was projected next to the previous one. “That is the Yucatan, I believe.” Lady Iceheart said.

    “So it would seem.” Lord Carter agreed. “I am unsurprised, however, as the Yucatan was the heart of the Classical Maya civilization. Hmm…I wonder…”

    “My lord…?”

    “Archaeologists both mundane and otherwise have never been able to understand just how the Classical Maya fell.” Lord Carter said. “Of course plenty of theories have been put out, but none of them are…satisfactory.”

    “You believe the Feathered Serpent’s defeat and exile were the cause of the Classical Maya’s fall?”

    “…I have no proof beyond the circumstantial,” Lord Carter admitted after a moment. “But I do think it is a serious possibility. The Feathered Serpent after all, was the god of wisdom and knowledge, essentially the ‘father’ of civilization itself, at least in the Americas. But note how despite still being worshiped as a god, all the post-Classic Mayan civilization also regarded the Feathered Serpent as a prophesied savior to come or return. In contrast, the Classical Maya regarded him as a god that was, alongside the Flayed Lord and the One that Lies on the Land.”

    Lord Carter paused, and then turning away from the holograms, faced Lady Iceheart. “And more to the point,” he continued. “All the Mesoamerican civilizations that followed the Classical Maya were, for all their great works of architecture and empire building, far more brutal, bloodier, and indeed, arguably less civilized than their predecessors.”

    “…certainly,” Lady Iceheart conceded after a moment. “It can circumstantially be seen as a consequence of the Feathered Serpent’s defeat and exile by the Smoking Mirror.”

    “A god of war, second only to the Left-Handed Hummingbird.” Lord Carter said with a nod, before turning back to the holograms. “And war was quite common in the centuries that followed the fall of the Classical Maya, leading to the rise and fall of countless empires.”

    “As you say, my lord.”

    Lord Carter hummed while studying the holograms for the next several minutes. “Isabelle,” he said. “Bring up our Mayan translator. These pictograms here…are they a guide, a warning, or something else? We need to know, if we are to plot our future course of action properly.”

    “Yes, my lord.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “That’s the Yucatan.” Benedek observed.

    “Yes,” Touko agreed. “No surprise there, that region was the center of the Classical Maya civilization. The time setting would be just about right too, based on what you’ve told me about what the map leads to.”

    “…oh?” Benedek remarked with dawning comprehension. “You’re thinking Quetzalcoatl’s defeat and exile were the cause of the Classical Maya’s fall, aren’t you?”

    Touko smiled and held up a finger. “Hold that thought,” she said. “It’s only a hypothesis now, as I have no proof beyond the circumstantial. Specifically, that a medallion points to Quetzalcoatl’s last stop before his exile being in the capital region of the Classical Maya.”

    “Which,” Benedek said with a series of nods. “Could indicate that the region was neither as desolate or deserted as it is now or during the Maya collapse.”

    “That…and Teotihuacan – where the medallion was found – predates even the Classical Maya.” Touko said with a shrug. “I’ll have to study the hypothesis further in depth and at length become coming to any conclusions.”

    “Fair enough…” Benedek conceded. “…so…off to Mexico, then?”

    “I am aware.” Touko said with a sigh. “Looks like we’ll be staying in Guatemala shorter than I thought.”

    “Should I start packing?” Sakura asked.

    “No,” Touko said with a shake of her head. “We need to plan things out carefully, especially since it seems as though other magi are after the same thing we are.”

    “…sounds like the usual, master.” Sakura pointed out after a moment.

    There was a moment of profound silence, and then Touko burst out laughing. “True,” she admitted with a shrug. “But even so, let’s not get careless.”

    “Yes, master.”

    “So what do we do now?” Benedek asked.

    “Any bright ideas, Benedek?” Touko challenged.

    The Hungarian magus smiled with amusement. “I asked you first.” He said, and Touko laughed again.

    “Alright,” she said, before pointing at the projection. “See those pictograms? We’ll need to find a way to decipher them. They could be a warning, instructions and guidelines, maybe even something purely-academic like prayers or benedictions…but just in case there’s something important about them, we need to know.”

    Touko paused and shook her head, crossing her arms over her chest as she did so. “You never know what might be lying in wait in places we’re heading to.” She said grimly. “Plenty of stories – and hard fact – about foolhardy archaeologists and treasure hunters both magi and otherwise, who got a sticky end because they just blindly walked into the traps and whatnot lying in wait for them. And I don’t intend for any of us to go down the same way.”

    “True…”

    Touko smiled. “Your turn,” she said. “Any bright ideas?”

    “This map is old.” Benedek said at once. “Now, I know enough about the Mayans that they weren’t nearly as primitive as the Spaniards thought they were centuries ago, or for that matter, how those silly old men in the Clock Tower and castles and villas of Europe and other places still do…”

    “What’s your point, Benedek?” Touko interrupted.

    “The map is relatively-accurate,” he said. “But not for us. We need to find a way to…translate it, to a modern format, something we can easily use. I’m not saying we should ignore it once we have the translations, both a modern version of the map and what those pictograms mean, but…it would be prudent to have a…second opinion of sorts.”

    “Hmm…” Touko hummed before nodding in agreement. “…good point…”

    Benedek grinned, but Touko just gave him a chiding look. “Now then,” she said. “The question becomes how we get what we need to move on to the next leg of our journey.”

    Silence fell over the three magi, which lasted for several minutes as they all thought on how and where they could get what they need. “I’ve got an idea.” Sakura said.

    “Oh?” Touko remarked. “Let’s hear it then.”

    “From what I know,” Sakura said. “Mayan culture, while heavily-changed over the centuries, survived the Spanish conquest up to a point. In the countryside at least, while Human sacrifices are no longer made, animal sacrifices and offerings of fruit, corn, and other products of their harvests are still made by the modern Maya.”

    “And?” Touko prompted.

    “Maybe they can help us here?” Sakura asked. “I mean…the modern Maya live on both sides of the figurative line. They could read those pictograms for us, and maybe show us a way to see the map in a modern way too.”

    Touko nodded her head in approval, and gave her apprentice mild applause. “Not bad,” she said. “But it won’t work. Good try, though.”

    “Master?”

    “You’re correct in that Mayan culture survived the Spanish conquest…but like you said, it’s only up to a point.” Touko explained. “The modern Maya no longer possess the ability to read the pictograms of their ancestors, and indeed, much of what they know of the legends, myths, and beliefs of their ancestors are passed down through oral tradition.”

    “Oh…I see what you mean.”

    Touko smiled reassuringly. “Don’t let it get to you.” She said. “Like I said, it was a good try. You just didn’t have the whole picture, that’s all.”

    Sakura gave a curt nod of acknowledgement. “It’s not all bad, though.” Touko mused after a moment. “The modern Maya might be a bust when it comes to the pictograms, but they just might be able to help us read this map easier…”

    “…no, I don’t think that idea’s going to work…” Benedek murmured.

    “…and why not?” Touko asked.

    “…well, it’s less that it might not work,” Benedek hurriedly explained. “As much as they might not cooperate with us. Remember that the modern Maya venerate their ancestors, and still worship their old gods up to a point.”

    “And?”

    “Would they cooperate with us to…desecrate – from their point of view – their ancestors’ legacy and trespass on one of the gods’ holy place? And not just any god, but their savior deity?”

    “They could be made to cooperate.” Touko harshly said.

    “They can…but unless you’re planning to completely rewrite their minds, we might end up having to keep them under mental interference the whole time.” Benedek said. “You and I both know that’s only going to end with us either leaving a trail of corpses behind us, or a bunch of drooling, brainless idiots.”

    Touko raised an eyebrow, arms crossed over her chest again as she leaned closer to her colleague. “And that matters why, again?” she challenged.

    “It’ll attract too much attention, one way or another.” Benedek responded.

    Touko frowned, keeping her eyes on Benedek, who met her gaze evenly. But after several long moments, Touko sighed, and gave way. “Fair enough…” she conceded.

    “…knowing you,” Benedek said in a conciliatory tone after a moment. “You’ve probably thought up another plan already.”

    “…I have.” Touko admitted. “It’s a simple plan, so it has less chances of going wrong at any point.”

    “But…?” Benedek prompted.

    “…it might have…drawbacks to it…” Touko reluctantly admitted.

    “…what do you have in mind, Touko?” Benedek said with a sigh.

    Touko shrugged. “The Guatemalan antiquities office should have what we need.” She said. “Whether it’s translating those pictograms, and converting the map to a modern format.”

    “They should.” Benedek agreed.

    “But you can see the potential drawbacks, yes?” Touko asked.

    “I do.” Benedek admitted.

    “What drawbacks?” Sakura asked.

    “Involving the government means getting tangled up inside the bureaucracy.” Touko explained. “And while there are…ways, to cut through the red tape, whether by bribery or magic or other means, using those tends to leave breadcrumbs behind, which will be noticed by someone sooner or later. It’s likely too they’ll follow the breadcrumbs, and potentially cause trouble for us further down the line. And trouble no matter what isn’t really something anyone likes to deal with.”

    Sakura blinked. “But,” she said. “Didn’t we already get involved with the government? Kind of, I mean…the police and the incident in the square earlier…oh…”

    Touko nodded and smiled with approval. “Very good,” she said. “You get the difference, don’t you?”

    “Yeah, I do.” Sakura said. “Since we became anonymous witnesses, we managed to get out before getting too tangled up, but in a way that keeps us from getting drawn back in later.”

    “Yup,” Touko agreed with another nod. “But this situation is different, as we can’t really be anonymous if we’re going to be getting the government’s help, no matter how small or discreet, on getting what we’re after.”

    “Not to mention,” Benedek chimed in. “We might be drawing the attention of other magi this way. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are magi in a number of places in the government, whether as a way to keep an eye out for anything that could risk the Masquerade…”

    “…or in the case of the antiquities office,” Sakura concluded with a nod of her own. “Also trying to unlock the secrets the Mayans and others left behind. Yeah, I get what you mean.”

    “We’re already facing at least one other magus also after the same thing we are.” Touko said. “I’d really rather not make their numbers multiply. It’d be very troublesome if they did.”

    “Hmm…” Benedek hummed before giving a smile. “Then I guess it’s a good thing I’ve got an alternative, don’t I?”

    Eyes turned to the man, and then Touko raised an eyebrow before giving a cautious smile. “That depends,” she said. “On how good your alternative is.”

    “I know an information broker in Mexico City…”

    “Do you have any idea how expensive an information broker is?” Touko interrupted. “Also, what’s stopping him – or her – from selling the information that we visited and made use of their services? Or for that matter, what we used their services for?”

    Benedek made a tutting sound, a finger waving in the air chidingly. “Now, now,” he said. “You know me better than that, Touko. Yes, those are valid points, but nothing we can’t resolve cleanly.”

    “Oh really?” Touko skeptically asked.

    Benedek nodded. “Yes,” he said. “In reverse order, I’ve been dealing with this information broker for a long time now. I wouldn’t say we’re friends, but I wouldn’t say we’re just acquaintance either.”

    “Then what are you?” Sakura cheekily asked.

    “Respected business associates,” Benedek primly said. “And who owe favors to each other. Considering our potential prize…I think I can afford to burn a few or more owed favors in exchange for keeping this…business of ours, assuming we get involved with him, secret for a while. Long enough to get the job done, one way or another, at any rate.”

    “Humph…” Touko snorted. “And the cost? Can you make that go away too?”

    “Now that’s asking a bit much, don’t you think Touko?” Benedek asked, holding his hands together. “People have to eat too, after all. So…what say you we split the cost fifty-fifty, hmm?”

    “Seventy-thirty…my way.”

    Benedek frowned. “Sixty-forty,” he said. “And you pay the sixty per cent. Don’t forget, I’m burning favors and obligations owed to keep this secret.”

    “Assuming we go with your plan.” Touko shot back.

    “Yes,” Benedek said with a nod. “But it’d be less troublesome than getting involved with the government could potentially be. After all, even if my associate advertises information on your activities, given the nature of things, it’ll only really cause ripples in the Moonlit World.”

    “So he’s a magus too?” Touko asked sharply.

    “No.”

    “Spell-caster, then?”

    “I don’t think so.”

    “And yet he knows about the Moonlit World?” Touko snapped. “Can you even hear what you’re saying?”

    “It wouldn’t be the first time some select ordinary Humans would know about our and our world’s existence.” Benedek retorted. “And you know as well as I do that the circles people like him belong in are a grey zone when it comes to the Masquerade.”

    “A grey zone that could easily be turned to ash if it becomes too…inconvenient, to keep looking away from for the powers of our world.” Touko warned.

    Benedek shrugged. “True,” he said. “But that is his problem, not mine. We might respect each other, but he’s not the only – nor the most important – information broker I’ve had dealings with.”

    Touko narrowed her eyes, and then snorted after a few moments. “And?” she asked. “Apart from your associate knowing better than to leak information about us and our business here and now outside of the Moonlit World and the grey areas at its edges, what else can you say for him?”

    Benedek shrugged. “You’re a high value figure.” He said. “And I’m a long-time associate. Information on us won’t come cheap.”

    “Assuming they don’t just force it out of him.”

    “Assuming he’s defenseless in the first place.”

    Touko’s lip thinned, but she said nothing for several long moments. And then…

    “Sakura, more tea.”

    Sakura got to her feet. “Right away, master.” She said, taking the tea set and walking away to get a fresh one.

    Benedek waited until the apprentice was out of earshot, and then he sat back in his seat. “So,” he said. “What’s the decision, Touko?”

    “…I’ll think about it.” Touko said after a moment.

    “Well, don’t take too long, otherwise that other magus we encountered today might beat us to our prize.” Benedek said. “No point coming this far, and planning so much, only to lose it all in the end because we couldn’t agree on what to do next.”

    Touko was silent, and stayed silent even as Sakura returned several minutes later and poured tea for everybody. Picking up her teacup, the Grand Magus let the fumes of the hot drink calm her down, and she took a deep drink to further soothe her nerves.

    “Benedek…” she said. “…get in touch with your broker. See if he can help us here.”

    Benedek grinned, only for Touko to cut off his witty remark with a sharp glare before he could even begin to say it. “I’m taking quite the risk here, Benedek.” She warned. “Just make sure to remember: if this all blows up in our faces because we got involved with your friend, there’s no place in the world you can hide in that I can’t drag you out of.”

    Benedek met Touko’s eyes, only to flinch away the inhuman menace in them. “Understood, Touko.” He said.

    “Good…very good…just so long as you understand.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    The names Lord Carter mentions are the literal English translations of the names of the Mesoamerican gods. The Feathered Serpent is Quetzalcoatl, though I’m sure you don’t really need me to tell you that. The Flayed Lord is Xipe Totec. The One that Lies on the Land is Tlaloc. The Smoking Mirror is Tezcatlipoca, and the Left-Handed Hummingbird is Huitzilopochtli.
     
  5. Threadmarks: Chapter 4
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2018
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    Likes Received:
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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 4
    Benedek returned from his phone call to find Touko sitting by herself in the suite’s living room. The Grand Magus’ apprentice was nowhere to be seen or heard, and said Grand Magus was silently buried in her thoughts, blue eyes unfocused and distant. And then she blinked, and Touko was back in the present, eyes turning to Benedek.

    “Where’s your apprentice?” he asked.

    “I sent her down to have lunch ahead of us.” Touko replied. “No doubt she’s already pigging out in the hotel restaurant’s buffet, not that that’s any surprise. She’s always done that wherever and whenever we could eat all we could.”

    Benedek raised an eyebrow, and then made his way over to sit across the coffee table from Touko. “That’s…a strange quirk.” He finally remarked.

    Touko shrugged. “There are stranger and worse idiosyncrasies to have.” She said. “Again, it’s not surprising she has that kind of quirk. She might have moved up in the world, but growing up not knowing if she could have more than one meal – if even one at all – a day had left a mark on that girl.”

    “…what?”

    Touko smirked, and briefly closing her eyes, shook her head. “No,” she said. “I’ve said too much. And? How’d your phone call go? What’d your associate say?”

    “Andrade will be sending an agent to meet us tomorrow.” Benedek answered. “As a show of trust, he allowed me to set the place. There’s a park not far from here, where we could set up in advance, just in case.”

    “And?” Touko prompted.

    “The agent will be providing us the price for Andrade’s services.” Benedek continued. “We’ll need to provide them a copy of the map, to be converted to a modern format, and with it the Mayan pictograms to be translated.”

    “How long will it take?”

    “At least a day.” Benedek said. “Once it’s done, the agent will meet us at the same place, to give us the reformatted map and the translations, as well as to receive their payment.”

    “Payment for services rendered…” Touko said softly, before her eyes narrowed. “And for keeping this business of ours secret.”

    “Yes.” Benedek said simply.

    Touko silently sat back in her seat, fingers tapping on an armrest. “Is that all?” she asked.

    “…I dropped your name.” Benedek said, and quickly raising his hands in a placating fashion. “Just…just to impress on him who he’d be dealing with if he ever stabbed us in the back. You are quite famous, after all. Not just in the Moonlit World, but also in the criminal underworld.”

    “Hmm…I wonder why…” Touko murmured self-mockingly.

    Benedek stayed silent, but after a few moments, Touko turned back to him. “Any hint on how much he’d be asking from us?” she asked.

    “He said he’d check in with his sources for an exact amount,” Benedek said. “But he also said it’d cost us at least one hundred thousand American dollars.”

    Touko smiled and shook her head. “Expensive…” she said. “But then again payment is only due for good service. And if nothing else, people’s sense of self-preservation is quite reliable. As you say, I’ve got quite the reputation. Enough that someone with at least a couple of brain cells to rub together should be hesitant to even think of seeing if reality matches the claim.”

    Benedek stayed silent, and then Touko leaned forward. “Alright then,” she said. “After lunch show us this park we’ll be meeting at tomorrow. Sakura and I will handle setting it up, while you go start getting us everything else we’ll need.”

    “Such as?”

    “Transportation from here to the Yucatan, for starters. Touko said with a roll of her eyes. “Then transportation for when we get there, and remember that the Yucatan is quite a rural area. We’re almost certain to go off-road, and even if we aren’t, the roads aren’t likely to be in the best condition. We’ll also need supplies, and equipment for when we can’t count on modern infrastructure and the like. Don’t worry about archaeological tools and specialist equipment, or even manpower for things like digging. Sakura and I already have the former, while the latter…well, I am a puppeteer.”

    Benedek nodded, not even bothering to take down notes when as a magus, he already had an eidetic memory. “Is that all?” he asked.

    “Guides who know the land the way we don’t and can’t.” Touko added. “And seeing as the magi behind this morning’s stunt had gunmen of their own, it might be wise if we could get some hired guns of our own.”

    “That’s going to be expensive.” Benedek warned. “And it might take a while, if only to make the men we get are…reliable. I wouldn’t want to be guarded by a bunch with ties to any one of the cartels or gangs around here, would you?”

    “No, I wouldn’t.” Touko said with a nod. “I’ll leave that to you.”

    Benedek sighed and nodded. “Leave it to me then.” He said.

    Touko nodded, and then got to her feet. “Come on then,” she said. “Let’s get something to eat first before getting to work.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Sakura gestured with a hand, reality rippling as her master’s puppets disappeared into pockets crafted into and from Imaginary Numbers Space, anchored into an area defined by a bounded field. Said bounded field was merely the first, a means by which environmental prana could be harnessed more easily and at greater amounts by friendly practitioners within, and to more readily anchor their mysteries within.

    These included not just pockets for Touko’s puppets or Sakura’s own bound and contracted spirits until they were called on to fight, but also additional bounded fields. There was one which boosted the physical attributes of friendly practitioners by a number of points, one which kept the bounded fields from passive detection by other practitioners without, no less than six bounded fields to keep ordinary people from noticing what was happening within, as well as three to detect intent of all kinds and two to protect against active detection from other practitioners without.

    Then there were the combat fields, including a number which manipulated the local gravity field for various effects. These ranged from simply holding an enemy or enemies in place, to throwing them around or even crushing them as one could crush an egg in one’s hand. There were fields which targeted an enemy’s mind in various ways, from manipulating their perceptions to crushing it under the weight of their own fears and flaws. And then there were the elemental bounded fields, set by Touko herself and featuring creatively-brutal applications of the fire element.

    Not for her simply setting an enemy on fire or blowing them apart. Oh no…

    …one bounded field would set them on fire on the inside…

    …another simply blew apart the lungs, leaving the rest of the body and organs intact…

    …one set fire to the genitalia…

    …another melted the eyes…

    …you get the idea.

    “I’m all done over here, master.” Sakura said, while walking over and sitting on a bench.

    “Very good, Sakura.” Touko said, while fine-tuning the configuration of bounded fields and how they interacted and meshed with each other, sharing their strengths and covering for each other’s weaknesses. Strength in unity and diversity in equal measure alike. “I’m just about done here, already.”

    Sakura hummed cheerfully to herself as she relaxed on the bench, and looking around the park. There weren’t that many people right now, which was a good thing, considering what they were doing. Those that were here when they started though…

    …mystic eyes were such useful things.

    “And done!” Touko said, jolting Sakura back to reality.

    “Now what, master?” Sakura asked.

    Touko sighed and walked over to sit next to her apprentice. “Let’s rest a bit, shall we?” she asked.

    Sakura nodded, and continued to hum from where she was sitting. Her soft humming faded into the background of Touko’s consciousness, along with the rustling of nearby leaves on the breeze, the twittering of the birds, and the sounds of the city around them. It was a strangely relaxing thing, enough that the Grand Magus allowed her thoughts to carry her away in countless, half-remembered directions of whimsy and arbitrariness.

    And then Sakura spoke, her voice jolting Touko back into reality.

    “Ever been to the Americas before, master?” she asked.

    “Yes…” Touko admitted. “But nowhere in Central or South America. I went to the USA, to Washington D.C., to be specific.”

    Sakura regarded her master quizzically. “Business?” she asked laconically.

    “Not completely, no.” Touko said with a shake of her head. “Yes, the reason I went there was due to an official, if private, arrangement with the Smithsonian, but once that was over and done, I took the time to take a tour of the region. Washington D.C., New York, Richmond, New England…it was an enjoyable four or five months going around.”

    Sakura nodded with a small smile, before tilting her head. “What was the arrangement with the Smithsonian that made you go to America in the first place, though?” she asked.

    Touko snorted, and smiling at her apprentice, lifted up a hand to grab her by the top of the head, and affectionately dragged it around. “I said it was private, didn’t I?” she chided. “Ah well…you’re my apprentice, so I’m sure you understand it’s private with you too, right?”

    “Yup.”

    “Good…it was an exchange of exhibits.” Touko explained. “I gave them the body of a Buddhist monk from the sixteenth century, who had apparently died and then mummified in a meditative pose. In return, I got the frozen corpse of a Neanderthal.”

    “…considering your avenue of research master, that was a scam.”

    “Oh, you noticed.”

    Master and apprentice shared a laugh as the former playfully dragged the latter’s head around again. And then sighing, Touko relaxed, leaning back and bracing herself against the backless bench with her hands. “Come to think of it,” she remarked. “This is the first time you’ve been to the Americas, isn’t it?”

    “First time I’ve been outside of Asia, actually.” Sakura said, and Touko looked at her curiously.

    “Really?” she asked, and Sakura gave her a look.

    “Yes, master.” She said. “We’ve been to China before, and India. I was eleven…and thirteen…respectively, if I remember right.”

    Touko took a few moments to think it through. “Huh…” she said while scratching her head. “That is true…”

    Sakura rolled her eyes. “Of course it’s true…” she said. “The trip to India was only last year! Remember? It’s the one where we ended up getting chased by an angry mob not once, but twice! Thank the gods they didn’t catch us they’d have strung us up if they had.”

    “…eh, I’d fry their brains before they had the chance if it came to that…” Touko dismissively said, before shrugging and smiling at Sakura. “But yeah…now that I think about it, it really is the first time you’ve been out of Asia, isn’t it?”

    Sakura nodded, and Touko tilted her head. “I’m pretty sure I’ve asked you this before,” she said. “But you don’t mind, do you? Going around all over the place like this?”

    “No, I don’t mind.” Sakura said with a shake of her head. “I mean…it’s not like we don’t go home regularly, so being able to see different places like this, experience different cultures…oh, and enjoy wonderful food I wouldn’t be able to back home…”

    Sakura broke off with a grin as Touko burst out laughing, the older woman shaking her head with amusement. “…I might want to settle down eventually…” she continued after a few moments. “But right now…I’m just fine tagging along with you, master.”

    “Hmm…and learning everything I know along the way too…” Touko quipped.

    “Well, I am your apprentice.” Sakura replied with a shrug. And then a mischievous light came to her eyes, and with a cough, deepened her voice. “Two there must always be, no more, no less, a master and an apprentice. One to embody power, and the other to crave it.”

    Touko looked at her curiously. “What was that?” she asked.

    “Rule of Two,” Sakura said with another shrug, speaking normally now. “A guiding principle of the Sith Order, from one of the fiction books Mikiya-nii owns.”

    “Huh…that was…surprisingly deep, insightful, and able to…speak to me, in a way I didn’t expect a fictional work to…”

    Sakura raised an eyebrow, and then snickering, shook her head. “Don’t worry, master.” She said. “I won’t stab you in the back.”

    Touko looked at her curiously. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

    “Well…you see the Sith Order…mastership among them isn’t granted, it’s taken. When the apprentice learns everything the master has to offer, stolen all their secrets, and surpassed them in every way, the master becomes redundant. The apprentice then kills them, and becoming the master in turn, takes on a new apprentice, thus continuing the Rule of Two.”

    “…that is…interesting…”

    Sakura glanced at her master, mouth open in shock. Touko chuckled at her apprentice’s expression, and patted her on the head affectionately. “Don’t worry, kid.” She said. “I trust you. Both to watch my back, and to be the best you can be. So when the time comes, and I have nothing left to teach you, I’ll be proud to give you your own Azoth Dagger, and address you as ‘apprentice’ for the last time.”

    Sakura smiled back, and nodded. “I’ll be looking forward to it, master.” She said, and Touko nodded back.

    “As will I, apprentice.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “How’s it going?”

    “Arranging transportation when we don’t have a fixed date for when we go to and into the Yucatan isn’t easy, you know?” Benedek crossly asked back. “The best I can do is find – but not book – a flight to the nearest airport, and then find a train that’ll take us as close as possible to the Yucatan.”

    “And then?” Touko asked while sitting down across the table from Benedek. Gesturing for a waiter, she ordered herself coffee, and looking around, confirmed Sakura at the buffet’s grill, looking on as the chef prepared her a steak.

    “Hopefully, we can get some guides there before heading into the countryside.” Benedek said with hands held up in a ‘what can you do’ pose. “That said, there’s a rental service available in the that town, so we can get trucks and jeeps and whatnot for when we go into the Yucatan.”

    Touko nodded in approval. “What about supplies though?” she asked.

    “We can get them wholesale here, and just fly and ship them with us.” Benedek replied. “The escorts though are proving as difficult as I told you. I’m looking further afield, and calling up my contacts, so it’s not like I’m not doing anything, but it’s going to take more time before anything real shows up.”

    “I see.” Touko said with a nod. “Oh well…we still have a little time left, so do what you can.”

    “Hmm…”

    Silence persisted between them, the sounds of the restaurant filling the air, and then the waiter arrived, bringing Touko her coffee. Nodding her thanks, Touko took a drink, and then resumed the conversation. “I don’t have many contacts in this part of the world,” she said. “But I’ll see what I can do on my end to speed things up on that angle.”

    “It’d be much appreciated.” Benedek said with a nod.

    “Very good, then.” Touko said, taking another drink. And then getting to her feet, she smiled down at Benedek, whose plate already had food on it: vegetables cooked in light sauce, roast meat, and bread. “Now if you don’t mind, I’ll go and get some dinner for myself.”

    Benedek waved her off before returning to his meal, and Touko strolled off. She nodded once at her apprentice, gently shaking her head at the steak, roasts, and green vegetables on Sakura’s plate, and chuckling at the way her apprentice’s cheeks pinked ever so slightly at the sight.

    Typical…

    …now then…

    …what should I have for starters?

    Hmm…cold meats are always an option…or fresh vegetables…

    …though I could also go straight to the real deal like Sakura has…

    …hmm…what to do…
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “So where is this person?” Touko impatiently said, spent cigarette butts lying all over the ground between her feet. It was almost eleven, and it was starting to get hot as the Sun climbed up towards the zenith.

    The few other people in the park gave them a wide berth, thanks to the bounded fields surrounding them. Touko sat on the bench, Sakura lazily paced nearby (or so it seemed – her mind was linked to numerous spirits flying around the park both outside and inside the bounded fields), while Benedek stood nearby, also smoking, though not to the same extent as Touko was.

    “Patience, Touko.” He chided while blowing out a stream of smoke. “They said they’d be here between ten-thirty and eleven. That’s a full thirty minutes, and it’s not over yet.”

    Touko growled impatiently, and took a calming drag from her cigarette. “Master,” Sakura chimed in a moment later. “Someone matching Benedek’s description of the broker’s agent has entered the park. They’re headed for us.”

    “See?” Benedek cheerfully said. “They’re here.”

    Touko took another calming drag, and then throwing down the cigarette, put it out under her boot. She stayed seated though, even as the agent came closer, and then entering the bounded fields, made a beeline for them.

    “Mister Zobor?” the brunette woman in business attire began as she stepped up. “Miss Aozaki? I am Fatima Sanchez, here on behalf of our mutual associate to receive the materials to be processed, and to deliver the terms and conditions of service.”

    “…so?” Touko asked. “How much will it cost? Both getting what we need, and your employer to keep his mouth shut about for a time?”

    “Mister Andrade will need to ask for a payment of no less than three hundred thousand American dollars for services to be rendered.” Fatima replied. “This will cover the service fees of all those involved, operational costs, and…miscellaneous sums, such as those needed to keep the transaction…below notice.”

    Fatima opened her bag then, and pulling out a sheet of paper, handed it to Benedek. Benedek took a look, and then handed it in turn to Touko. Touko studied it for several moments, noting it as a breakdown of costs and the like, and then narrowed her eyes. “This doesn’t include withholding information on our…business transaction, from the market, does it?” she asked. “This is just getting us what we need, and discreetly at that.”

    “That is correct, Miss Aozaki.” Fatima said with a nod. “You ask for two transactions. The three hundred thousand I mentioned is only for the first. The second will require separate payment.”

    “How much?”

    “You are a very high-profile individual, Miss Aozaki.” Fatima replied. “There are many who would be interested in your person and activities. The same would go – if to a lesser extent – for Mister Zobor.”

    “How much?” Touko repeated, in a tone that brooked no disobedience.

    “One million American dollars,” Fatima said, and then held up a hand to forestall any reaction. “However, Mister Andrade is prepared to waive this fee, in exchange for a…mutual, concession.”

    Touko looked expectantly at Benedek, who sighed. “What does he want?” he said. “Or rather, which favors and obligations owed does he want written off in exchange for waiving the fee?”

    Fatima opened her bag again, and pulled out a sealed envelope. “None of them,” she said. “He merely asks that unless you are killed on this expedition, then within the next three months, you are to deliver these documents to the Suchanek and Associates Law Offices in Prague.”

    The blood drained from Benedek’s face, and then he clenched his hands into fists. “You’re not serious, are you?” he snarled. “He’s asking me to go…go back to Central Europe…that’s…”

    “My employer mentioned you would say that.” Fatima interrupted. “He then said to tell you that he’s not asking you to return to Hungary, just to visit the Czech Republic. And you would not need to stay long, or to even show your face. So long as these documents are delivered to a ranking member of Suchanek and Associates, then it will be worth one million American dollars, and your present business being off-market for a whole year.”

    Touko snorted, and fishing out her cigarette box, pulled out a stick with her teeth. “Seems like a good deal to me, Benedek.” She said, before lighting the stick and taking a drag. “Sure, you’d be taking quite the risk, but I’m sure you can find a way around it. It’d be like Istanbul all over again.”

    “…you talk as though Istanbul was a walk in the park.” Benedek breathed, visibly trembling with sweat beading on his forehead.

    “If you are unwilling to accept this condition,” Fatima said. “Then you must pay either the required fee, or risk relevant information being placed on the market.”

    “Just take it, Benedek.” Touko said while blowing a stream of smoke. “Besides, it’s not like you don’t want to go because of the danger involved. I know you, Benedek. You’d laugh and just leave a trail of blood and corpses behind you. No…the reason you don’t want to go to Central Europe, is because you…”

    “SHUT. UP.” Benedek growled, each word spoken calmly and slowly, the rage behind them cold and unyielding.

    Sakura glanced his way in surprise, and then warily at her master. Touko though, just took another drag, and flicked ashes off her cigarette while blowing out smoke. “To be honest,” she began after a few moments. “I don’t really understand what the problem is. You’ve always had the answer to her questions. Just tell them straight to her face. Or kill her, if it comes to that Problem solved.”

    Benedek scoffed. “How could you possibly understand?” he sneered.

    “You’re right.” Touko admitted. “I don’t.”

    Benedek sneered wordlessly, and then turning, snatched the envelope away. “I’ll take care of it.” He snapped. “Three months, right?”

    “Unless you are killed on this expedition, then yes, you have three months to fulfil this task.” Fatima said with a nod.

    Benedek briefly studied the paper slip pasted in front of the envelope, with all the relevant information for the postal services. Then turning it, he regarded the heraldic sigil stamped into the wax sealing the envelope, before lowering it and giving Fatima a curt nod.

    Touko blew out a stream of smoke. “Cash or check?” she asked.

    “Cash is preferred, unless you have…physical collateral, such as jewels.” Fatima answered.

    “Hmm…then cash it’ll be.” Touko said.

    Fatima nodded, and then pulled out the papers to be signed to formalize their transaction. Touko took them, briefly using her mystic eyes to study the papers for any traps literally laid therein, and then repeatedly read the contract’s contents before finally placing her signature.

    “We will contact you once your goods are ready, and the exchange of goods and payment will be made in this same place afterwards.” Fatima said, taking her copy back, while Sakura put away Touko’s. Then she was handing Fatima a copy of the map, complete with the pictograms to be translated. Fatima studied it briefly, and then put it away. “Well then, if there is nothing else…?”

    Touko nodded, and then with a curt bow, Fatima turned and left. The three magi followed her with their eyes, and then with a sniff, Benedek turned and stormed off. Sakura looked in his direction until he was out of sight, and then turned to her master.

    “…I’ll tell you someday.” Touko said. “But suffice to say…people can be so stupid, and I’m not just referring to our angry colleague who left to cool off just now.”

    “I see.”

    Touko glanced at her apprentice, and then chuckled as she took one last drag before tossing the cigarette to the ground and putting it out with her boot. “Though,” she said. “Some would say I’m not one to talk, considering…well, let’s not ruin the mood even further, shall we?”

    “Yes, master.” Sakura agreed, suspecting that her master had been referring to herself before ending the tangent. And from a certain point of view, it was correct. How many people had died for simply daring to say two words in combination? It was such a small thing, incredibly petty and even stupid to hold a grudge for, no matter how…degrading, those two words used together to refer to a certain person was.

    Dirty Red

    Touko got to her feet, patting stray ashes off her clothes. “Now then,” she said. “We’ll leave the fields up, for when we get our stuff back. In the meantime, let’s go get some cash, Sakura.”

    “Yes, master.” Sakura said, and followed in her master’s wake.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    Some bonding between Sakura and Touko, plus some hints on their…colleague’s, past. I’ll keep it secret for now, but let’s just say that magi – or rather nobles – can just be so stupidly evil. Or rather, as my other OC in another story once said, stupid magi and their stupid pride.

    Though admittedly, it’s not just magi who’d be so stupidly prideful in that same situation. Again, nobles
     
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 5
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2018
    Messages:
    49
    Likes Received:
    102
    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 5

    A series of knocks on the suite’s door had Sakura rising to her feet, only to freeze mid-step as Touko raised a single finger. Without taking her eyes off her laptop’s screen, the Grand Magus gestured with her fingers, and then nodded at the response from the bounded fields she’d set up around their suite. Gesturing at her apprentice once more, Touko subsequently ignored Sakura marching off towards the door.

    Arriving at the door, Sakura withdrew the bolt and unlocked the doorknob before opening the door, exposing the grim-faced Benedek. Sakura stepped aside without a word, holding the door open wider to allow him to enter, which he did in silence. Sakura closed the door behind him, locking the doorknob and pushing the bolt into place before hurrying after the Hungarian magus into the suite’s living room.

    “Have you calmed down yet?” Touko asked.

    Benedek just grunted as he sat down opposite from Touko, across the coffee table. “Sakura, tea.” Touko laconically said.

    “Right away, master.” Sakura said, before hurrying off once more.

    “…I’ll have my share of payment for the broker’s services ready by tomorrow afternoon.” Touko said after several moments. “One hundred and eighty thousand American dollars, in unmarked hundred dollar bills.”

    Taking her eyes off her laptop’s screen, Touko sat back and evenly regarded her colleague. “Even if the broker’s agent hasn’t contacted us back yet,” she continued. “It’d be nice if you could have your share of the payment ready by then.”

    “…one hundred and twenty thousand American dollars…in unmarked hundred dollar bills…” Benedek murmured, before narrowing his eyes at Touko. “Where’d you get that much money?”

    Touko raised an eyebrow. “Are you seriously asking me that question?” she asked.

    “…let me rephrase it,” Benedek corrected momentarily, realizing just how stupid the question was in hindsight. Touko might not have a palace or a fleet of gold-plated cars, and she might have been – more or less – disowned by the rest of her family, but that didn’t mean she was destitute. Maybe she might have been strapped for cash at the start, after the rest of the Aozaki had turned their backs on her, and the Clock Tower had greedily placed her under sealing designation, but in the years since, she’d amassed quite the fortune.

    Its sources varied, ranging from entirely legitimate investments in manufacturing, real estate, shipbuilding, finance, and even tourism, to the not-so legitimate. While she might not trade in drugs, flesh, or death, Touko’s fingers reached delicately into the underworld, particularly in the illicit and not-so illicit trade in antiquities, curiosities, artifacts cultural, artistic, and mystical, and many more regulated – both in the normal and supernatural worlds – wares.

    “How’d you get the banks to give you the money in cash?” Benedek finally asked.

    Touko smiled a chilling smile. “I’m a magus.” She simply said, and it was answer enough.

    Benedek nodded slowly in understanding. “I see your point.” He said, before sitting back and relaxing. Touko’s smile warmed ever so slightly, and crossing her arms over her chest, sighed and similarly sat back, her body relaxing into the upholstery.

    The silence hung with only the barest hint of tension, and then minutes later Sakura was coming back, bringing a tea set with her on a silver tray. Placing it on the coffee table, Sakura poured tea for her master and her colleague, and then pouring herself a cup, sat down next to her master.

    “…I’ll get in touch with my bankers once tea is done.” Benedek said while replacing his half-finished teacup on its saucer. “I assume you’ve eaten already?”

    “Yes,” Touko said with a nod. “And I could ask you the same thing.”

    “Hmm…” Benedek hummed in confirmation, and giving a nod with it. “…once the money’s been arranged, I’ll see about getting us those escorts we might need.”

    “About that…here…” Touko said, leaning forward to take a piece of paper folded next to her laptop, which she slid across the coffee table. “What few contacts I have in this part of the world…that might help you get us the muscle we need for when our…rivals, in this race face us again.”

    “…much appreciated…” Benedek said, taking the paper and unfolding it. Regarding the information inside for a moment, he folded the paper again before sliding it into a pocket, and then picking up his teacup once more, toasted Touko once before taking a drink.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “Master,” Sakura began once Benedek had left, about fifteen minutes later. “Is it really necessary to have gunmen escorting us around the Yucatan or wherever else we might end up going to on this trip? I mean…yeah, our rivals have gunmen escorting them too, but so did some of the enemies we faced over the past few years, and we dealt with them just fine on our own, didn’t we?”

    “That we did.” Touko agreed after taking a drink of her tea. “And we also did just fine between my puppets and your spirits.”

    “But…?”

    “Consider it a precaution.” Touko said, glancing at her apprentice.

    “A precaution?” Sakura echoed, and Touko nodded.

    “Yes.” She said. “We’re in the western hemisphere now. Whoever our rivals here are, there’s a chance that they’ll be on a completely different league compared to any magi you’ve faced with me before. And in my experience, it’s best to keep as much of our mysteries in the dark for as long as possible against that lot.”

    “…I see what you mean.” Sakura said with a nod. “We’ll have our escorts deal with our rivals’ escorts, and hold our mysteries back for when we actually face our rivals themselves.”

    “Precisely.” Touko said with a nod, before smiling. “Of course, if they join in then we’ll have to join in too, but then they’d be showing their mysteries as they use them against us, just like we’ll use our mysteries against them. Not necessarily the best outcome, but it comes out as even so it’s…acceptable, I suppose.”

    “I see.” Sakura said with a nod.

    “Good,” Touko said, before holding out her teacup for a refill. Sakura obliged, and after several moments, handed her master a fresh cup of tea. Touko gave a satisfied sound at the soothing fumes, and took a drink. “Speaking of which…depending on how good our enemy is, I expect you to just hang back and watch yourself, while Benedek and me deal with them, alright?”

    “I know, I’m not stupid.” Sakura said.

    “I certainly hope not, I taught you better than that.” Touko said while taking another drink. “If our rivals brought an apprentice with them though, then feel free to go wild.”

    Sakura gave a small smile. “Confident in my abilities, aren’t we master?” she asked.

    “Of course,” Touko said with a smile. “You’re my apprentice.”

    Sakura briefly closed her eyes. “We’ll see.” She finally said. “At the very least, I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, master.”

    Touko nodded in approval. “Good,” she said. “That’s the right attitude to have. You know how magi fight. The one who comes out at the end of it all alive and well is the winner.”

    Sakura nodded in agreement.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Benedek neither reappeared nor made contact for the rest of the day, or during the evening. Touko and Sakura spent that time on their own affairs, bunkered down behind the bounded fields of their suite. It was not until the morning of the following day that Benedek made contact, through a phone call with Touko.

    “…I see…this evening…where…alright, we’ll be there…thank you.”

    Touko put the phone down as the call came to an end. “I’m guessing Benedek managed to find us some escorts then, master?” Sakura asked.

    “That he did.” Touko confirmed. “Though it remains to be seen whether they’ll agree to sign on with us.”

    “…so we’ll be discussing terms and conditions this evening?”

    “Hmm…”

    “…master?”

    “Yes?”

    Sakura briefly hesitated, and then pressed on. “I know we agreed on the need to have escorts last night,” she said. “But…what if we haven’t found any willing to sign on by the time the reformatted map and the translated pictograms come back? I mean…we are kind of on a clock, aren’t we?”

    Touko held back on replying to light a cigarette first, and taking a drag blew out a stream of blue smoke. “What do you think?” she asked.

    “…we’ll have to manage on our own?” Sakura answered with a question.

    Touko took another drag and blew out another stream of smoke. “It’s not ideal.” She said. “But like you said, we’re on a clock. There’s no point in taking our sweet time to assemble escorts, only for our rivals to have run off with the prize by the time we get there.”

    “As you say, master.”

    Touko nodded and took another drag. Sakura looked on for a few more moments, and then spoke up again. “So…” she began. “If things work out tonight, who and how many are we going to be working with?”

    “They call themselves the Devil Dogs.” Touko answered. “They’re a mixed bunch, mostly Argentinian, but their members are from all over the place in South America. As for how many…Benedek didn’t give exact numbers, but he said they were about as big as a platoon, plus a few extra.”

    “…a platoon…?” Sakura echoed.

    “Yup.” Touko said while taking another drag.

    “…should I have our sources have a quick look into them?” Sakura asked after a moment.

    Touko nodded. “You do that.” She said, and with a nod of her own, Sakura walked off.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    The bankers took a polite step back after opening the heavy, metal-bound suitcases sitting on the table. The four of them – two bankers, Touko, and Sakura – were standing in the vault itself, the walls lined with safe deposit boxes, the floor and ceilings starkly-painted concrete, electric lights glinting harshly off their surfaces.

    A table was sitting in the middle of the vault, and it was there that the bankers had placed the suitcases carrying the money. Two hundred thousand American dollars, in unmarked hundred dollar bills. They only needed one hundred and eighty thousand, actually, but Touko had decided to round it up and have some extra cash on hand.

    As the bankers quietly looked on, Touko and Sakura counted the money, pulling out stacks of hundred dollar bills bound with paper and piling them like bricks on the table. “One hundred thousand over here, master.” Sakura said as she finished.

    “And one hundred thousand over here.” Touko said with a nod. “Good…let’s put them all back inside for now. We’ll take the twenty thousand extra later.”

    “Yes, master.”

    Touko and Sakura neatly returned the money inside the suitcases, and then closing them, locked them tight. “If that will be all…?” Touko asked, and the bankers quickly showed them out of the vault.

    Making their way back out through the bank, escorted by bankers and screened by security, Touko and Sakura ignored the curious gazes of the bank’s other customers, which persisted as they stepped through the doors and towards a waiting taxi. “…Imperial Hotel, and make it quick.” Touko said in Spanish as the door was closed.

    The driver responded in kind, and the taxi drove off. Sakura spent a few minutes looking out the window, regarding the surrounding city in the muggy afternoon, before turning to her master.

    “Now what, master?” she asked in Japanese.

    “Now we wait.” Touko said in kind. “We’ll be meeting with the Devil Dogs’ commander and a few others from their platoon this evening, remember?”

    “I do.” Sakura said with a nod.

    “…if you want, you can have a snack in the hotel restaurant when we get back.” Touko remarked after a moment.

    Sakura grinned, and Touko rolled her eyes, before smiling at her apprentice. “After we finish everything else we need to do.” She said. “We have to take the twenty thousand extra off first, for one thing.”

    “Okay…that’s no problem, master.”

    “Good.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Antigua’s high-end districts gleamed in the depths of night, electric lights shining bright through windows and across the streets. Crowds thronged the streets, whether well-to-do Guatemalans or tourists, and even those less fortunate locals with the money here and now to have the briefest taste of the good life.

    In a function room in one of the high-end buildings that towered over the districts, the Devil Dogs’ commanding officer was seated along with several of his subordinates around a table. Cigarette smoke hung heavy around them, spent butts piled heavily on a pair of ashtrays, laughter and harsh voices filling the air.

    Benedek stood nearby, arms crossed over his chest, waiting for Touko and Sakura to arrive.

    “…so when exactly are the rest of our employers going to get here?” one of the Devil Dogs asked, as he crushed a spent cigarette into an ashtray. “The night’s getting deeper, and we’re not getting any younger.”

    “Amen to that.” Another Devil Dog agreed. “Time’s a wasting, and we’re just pissing it away here and now.”

    “Come on Andres, Ronaldo…” Captain Alba Ruiz, the Devil Dog’s commanding officer said while blowing out a stream of smoke. “You’ve been in this business for as long as I have. You know the drill: shut up and wait.”

    Another Devil Dog snorted, and then gave a barking laugh. “Isn’t that the truth?” he asked, as laughter rippled around them.

    “…fair enough.” Sergeant Ronaldo Rivera agreed as he lit another cigarette. Taking a drag, he blew out a stream of smoke before continuing. “It’s not like we know who we’ll be shooting in this job anyway.”

    “If we sign up for it.” Sergeant Cipriano Ibanez pointed out, and a chorus of agreement went up around the gathering. And then a new – for the Devil Dogs at least – voice joined in on the conversation.

    “In that sense,” the new – feminine – voice remarked. “We are all on the same boat.”

    “Who’s that?” Alba snapped, looking around along with his subordinates…

    …and then they were shouting in alarm and backing away, those closest to the shadows against the wall all but jumping out of their seats as the darkness rippled and deepened, before a redheaded woman emerged, followed by a younger brunette. They just literally walked out of the shadows, which stayed on the wall despite the ones casting it having fled, at least until both women had finished walking out.

    Despite knowing they’d be working with magi on this contract, two of the mercenaries crossed themselves as the shadows faded.

    Dios mio…I’ve worked with magi plenty of times before…” Alba said with a shake of his head. “…but this is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone actually walk out of a shadow…”

    “There are magi, and then there are magi.” Touko said with a shrug. “Allow me to make introductions: I am Touko Aozaki, and this is my apprentice, Sakura Tohsaka.”

    “Captain Alba Ruiz at your service, Miss Aozaki…” Alba returned the greeting with a tip of his sombrero. “…or is it missus?”

    “Miss will do.” Touko said while taking a seat, Benedek doing likewise next to her. Sakura stayed standing behind her master, and after a couple of moments, Alba was sitting down at the table opposite from Touko.

    Like Sakura, his subordinates stayed standing behind their commanding officer.

    “Now then,” Touko began. “What do you know of what this job will be asking from you?”

    Alba shrugged. “Mostly protection detail,” he said. “Though seeing as you’re magi, I'm sure you’re more than capable of pulling your own weight if it comes to it. And in my experience, working for magi means…we’ll be muscle, so you can hold back until your spells can make the most difference.”

    “Hmm…is that all?”

    “We know we’ll be going up against other magi.” Alba said with a tilt of his head. “And that they have men working for them too. Your friend next to you didn’t say this, but again in my experience, that means we’ll be dealing with those men while you deal with their employers.”

    “And you’ve got nothing against that?” Touko challenged.

    Alba looked surprised. “Why would we?” he asked back.

    “They’re mercenaries like you.” Touko responded, and Alba laughed.

    “That’s a trick question right?” he asked, and Touko smiled lightly.

    “Perhaps…” she admitted, and Alba snorted and shook his head.

    “We might be soldiers of fortune, but we’re still soldiers, Miss Aozaki.” He said. “It’s just a job, we’re just being doing what we’re paid to do. There’s nothing personal to it all.”

    “Is that right?” Touko challenged.

    “Yeah…” Alba said with a nod.

    “…did Benedek tell you nothing more?” Touko asked after a moment.

    “Well, he said we’ll be going into the countryside to the north, in Mexico’s Yucatan…” Alba said before pausing to look at Touko in the eyes. “Now, I’m not stupid, Miss Aozaki. And I’ve worked with magi before. I might not be one of you, or able to use any of your fancy abilities, but I know how you people think. You’re after something in those pyramids the Mayans left behind. In short: you’re on a treasure hunt.”

    “I prefer to call it an archaeological expedition.” Touko primly said, though amusement was dancing in her eyes. Alba saw it, and burst out laughing.

    “Sure…call it whatever you want…” he said while shaking his head back and forth. “…but if there’s a profit to be had, I want a cut.”

    Touko narrowed her eyes, but Alba met them evenly. After a few moments, Benedek gave a cough to draw attention to him.

    “Whether or not there will be profit to be had will depend on what we find.” He said. “Also, and once again depending on what we find, it will be worth more than our lives to allow you and your men to possess…mystical, artifacts. Even if you mean to sell them off in the end…”

    “…yeah, yeah, I know.” Alba interrupted with a nod and a wave. “The powers-that-be in Europe will have our heads on spikes if word gets out…but they don’t have to…and our financial arrangement can always be extended to your honored selves being the ones to handle any…sales, and transactions of…goods, recovered…”

    Alba trailed off meaningfully and with a smile, leading Touko to snort after a few moments. “You’re not afraid of dying, are you, Captain Alba?” she asked.

    “I’m a soldier.” Alba replied with a shrug. “Been one since I was kid, in fact. Whether its quick and painless or slow and painful – or any variation of those – I’ve long since stopped caring…”

    Alba trailed off, his face briefly going slack as his eyes turned dull and distant, as though seeing and hearing something or someone only he could. And then he blinked, and he was focused once more. “…I’ve stopped caring about a lot of things.” He said. “Including what might happen to me or others or whatnot…it’s the only way to stay sane in this profession…”

    Touko snorted, and then grinning, pulled out her cigarette pack to offer the captain a stick. “…what an interesting thing to say…” she remarked.

    “Hmm…” Alba hummed as he took a stick, and popping it in his mouth, allowed Touko to light it before puffing a couple of times. “…good stuff…a bit mild compared to what I’m used to, but still quite good for all that…”

    Touko shrugged and put away her cigarette pack. “A shame you can’t use magic.” She said. “You’d have made a fine magus.”

    “Really?”

    “Hmm…what you said just now…it’s something a magus would say…”

    “Words are just words…”

    “…true…” Touko agreed, before tilting her head. “…except I can see from your body language, and your eyes especially, that you don’t need to prove anything you’ve said. It’s already been proven.”

    Alba puffed and grinned, before taking a drag and then blowing out a stream of smoke. Sitting back, he regarded the three magi before him. “…the two of you…” he finally said with a nod at Benedek and Touko. “…you’ve got a good air around you…”

    “…you really think so?” Benedek remarked.

    “Yeah…I think so…” Alba said with a nod, but refused to elaborate further. The Hungarian magus just huffed though.

    “…we all have our own stories to tell, captain.” He said while closing his eyes and leaning back with a slight air of weariness and danger in equal measure.

    “…hmm…” Alba hummed. “…and what kind of stories are those, I wonder?”

    Benedek’s eyes opened, his irises cold and hard as ice. “The kind of stories that made us who we are today.” He said. “Men – or in Touko’s case, women – who would do anything and everything to get what they need or want to get, while not going insane or worse along the way.”

    “Hmm…” Alba hummed, his expression one of wistful understanding, before his eyes slid towards Touko. “And you, Miss Touko?”

    “I’m a magus.” She simply said, and Alba chuckled.

    “That you are…” he agreed, before looking at Sakura with a measuring look on his face. “…your apprentice still seems a bit soft around the edges though…”

    Sakura frowned at that, but Alba just laughed. “She’s my apprentice.” Touko said while sitting back. “And that is answer enough.”

    “…in other words, let her grow up at her own pace…”

    Touko was silent, while Alba took a long drag before breathing out a cloud of smoke. “…not too long, I hope.” He said. “She might not last long sticking with you if she doesn’t grow quickly enough…”

    Sakura’s eyes narrowed, but Alba just ignored her. “…that’s my business, and not yours.” Touko finally said. “And going back to the topic at hand…fine, if there’s profit to be had, you’ll get a cut. But under no circumstances will you be allowed to handle mystical artifacts. Gold and jewels, whether worked or not, even priceless scrolls dating back to gods know when…fine, you can have those and sell them off or something…but anything that has magical power? No way, and this is nonnegotiable.”

    Alba nodded repeatedly. “We can accept that arrangement.” He said. “Percentages would be nice, though.”

    “Ten per cent of any profit to be divided between all of you.” Touko began, only for Alba to sit up and give her a glare.

    “Now that’s just insulting.” he said. “I mean…it being divided between us all is reasonable, I suppose, but ten per cent? Fifty per cent…”

    “Who’s insulting now?” Touko interrupted. “Twenty per cent…”

    “Forty per cent…”

    “…thirty per cent…”

    “…twenty-five…”

    “…deal.” Alba said, and then drew back slightly as he realized what happened. Behind him, snickers went up from his men. “Damn it…I should have seen that coming, mama used to haggle the same way in the fish market back when I was kid.”

    Touko smirked, before Alba gave her an even look. “Aside from our cut,” he said. “What’s the basic package? Especially since the cut is conditional on this treasure hunt profiting in the first place.”

    “The standard professional fee for the group as a whole.” Benedek cut in, lifting a suitcase of his own and placing it on the table. “One hundred thousand American dollars, in unmarked hundred dollar bills.”

    Pausing, he glanced expectantly at Touko. “Then seventy hundred and fifty dollars every day until contract termination. Similarly, housing, board, transportation, and medical fees will be on the house until contract termination.”

    Touko glanced at Benedek, and then narrowing her eyes, nodded curtly before turning back to Alba. “Will that be enough?” she asked.

    The man leaned back in his seat, puffing at his cigarette. After several moments, he glanced back at his subordinates. “What do you think, boys?” he asked. “Is the offer good?”

    The men looked at and exchanged words between each other, then largely agreed, but for a scarred and grizzled veteran. “If we die,” he said. “Payment will continue to named beneficiaries until contract termination of the group as a whole. I’ve got grandchildren to look after.”

    Alba chuckled and nodded. “True enough…” he said, before turning back to the magi. “…so how about it?”

    “It’s not unreasonable.” Touko agreed, and Benedek nodded.

    “Call your lawyers.” He said. “Let’s sign this contract and get this over and done with tonight.”

    “Wonderful…” Alba agreed, clapping his hands and getting to his feet. Putting out his cigarette in a nearby ashtray, he looked behind him only to see one of his men already on the phone and getting in touch with their lawyers, even as Benedek was walking off to do the same. “…so, I’m guessing that we wait over dinner?”

    “That’s why we had a buffet prepared.” Touko said, also getting on her feet. “Sakura…?”

    “Yes, master.” Sakura said, as she stepped around, and towards the buffet table. Alba turned to his men and gestured.

    “Come on, boys.” He said. “Let’s have some chow to pass the time until we can sign this contract.”

    A chorus of assent went up, and the Devil Dogs moved towards the buffet table. Alba glanced at Touko, who regarded him evenly. And then giving a courtly bow, Alba theatrically gestured towards the table.

    “After you, boss lady.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    No, there is no relation between Alba Ruiz and Cornelius Alba. Considering the bad blood between them, if there had been a relation, Captain Alba would have been killed in an instant, if only to spite Cornelius.
     
  7. Threadmarks: Chapter 6
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

    Joined:
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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 6

    Turn back, you who would follow the footsteps of the Feathered Serpent, turn away from the rising Sun. Return to your homes, to your wives and children. Feast, drink, and be merry. Live…die…and be born again. Not for you is the way of exile, in the lands beyond the sea, under the shadow of the Feathered Serpent’s wings, and the vengeful reflection of the Smoking Mirror.

    Keep on this way, then prepare to be tested. Follow the Feathered Serpent’s footsteps, to the Mirror of the Sun, and behold and be judged by the reflection therein. Know, that should you fail, only madness and death await you. Succeed, and continue on your path, towards the last haven of the Feathered Serpent.

    The warning is given. The choice is yours. Turn back while you still can.

    Touko lowered the translation, and rubbed her eyes. “Well,” she began. “That was an interesting read.”

    “So we’re looking for something called the Mirror of the Sun.” Sakura remarked. “How…fitting…considering how important the Sun was in Mesoamerican civilizations. Ironic too, considering we’re Japanese. Land of the Rising Sun, and all that…”

    Touko hummed in agreement. “…I assume the Mirror of the Sun is an artifact of some kind.” she said after a moment. “Perhaps even a divine one…we’ll have to be careful. While the gods have long since lost their Authority over the World, and reduced to the level of mere Elementals and Nature Spirits, divine mysteries are still potent things. Very rare in the Age of Man to be sure, but that only makes them more profound. Estray’s influence and the potency of runes – depending on the practitioner’s skill, of course – proves that much.”

    “Not that Elementals and Nature Spirits aren’t powerful in their own right.” Sakura quipped before grinning. “They have Marble Phantasm. Damn…if I could bind one of those…oh yeah…it’d be like having a God Mode cheat, only in real life.”

    Touko gave her apprentice an even look, but Sakura just kept on grinning. After a moment, Touko sighed and shrugged. She could understand the feeling, having once had an Elemental as a familiar herself, at least until her thrice-damned whore of a sister had crippled it and left it nearly worthless to Touko.

    “Yes, well,” she said with a cough. “Going back to the subject at hand…based on the translations, it seems like the Mirror of the Sun functions on a Delphic basis.”

    “Master?” Sakura asked.

    Touko waved the translation in the air. “It says here that when we find the Mirror of the Sun, we should look into and be tested by our reflection in the mirror. It’ll only show us the way to…the ‘last haven of the Feathered Serpent’, whatever that means, if we pass the test.”

    “That sounds rather…ominous.” Sakura said. “Shouldn’t we find some way around it?”

    Touko looked at Sakura curiously. “Why?” she asked back.

    “Master?”

    Touko smiled. “Didn’t you hear what I said?” she asked. “The Mirror of the Sun seems to operate on a Delphic basis. Not the oracular aspect of Delphi, true, but rather the…inscription, placed at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo: Know Thyself. Dangerous, true, but since when did danger deter magi such as ourselves? The…wisdom, that could come from looking into the mirror, and from learning, confronting, and overcoming our inner demons, would be an invaluable prize. Even if there is nothing at the last haven, just that wisdom alone would make this whole expedition worth it.”

    Sakura stared at her master, mouth slightly ajar. Touko noticed, and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of looking into a mirror, Sakura.” She chided.

    “It’s not that.” Sakura said. “It’s just that…I’m not looking forward to finding something that could drive me mad. Or all of us, even.”

    “Hmm…” Touko hummed in thought. “It doesn’t say that all of us have to look into the mirror. One of us would do…though in my experience, artifacts like these tend to have a way to keep people like us from getting around it.”

    “That’s not very reassuring, master.”

    Touko smirked. “Maybe,” she conceded. “But if so, just remember that I have every confidence in you, Sakura. I’m sure that no matter what form the darkness in your heart takes, you can face and overcome it with little difficulty.”

    “…darkness in my heart?” Sakura echoed incredulously. “Master, we’re not anime characters. That said, thanks for the vote of confidence…I think.”

    Touko shrugged. “Regardless,” she said. “It’s completely sincere. Just remember that you are who and what you choose to be.”

    “I’ll keep that in mind…should I start packing?”

    “Yes, you should.” Touko said with a nod. “We’ll be leaving once Benedek finalizes our travel arrangements. Then it’s off to Mexico!”

    “…Mayan pyramids, mad artifacts of dead gods, and hopefully gold and jewels in the end, here we come…” Sakura dully said, and ignoring her master’s disappointed look at her mood-killing vibe, walked off to start packing.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Several days later

    “Ow! Damn mosquitos!”

    Sakura grumbled as she swatted at yet another mosquito, sitting in an up-armored jeep in the middle of a convoy rolling its way along a dirt road leading into the depths of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. At the lead of the convoy was an open-topped jeep, also up-armored and sporting an M2 Browning with a gunner’s shield at its back, manned by a Devil Dog on the lookout for bandits or whatnot that might try and jump the convoy at any time.

    The rest of the convoy was composed of 4-ton trucks, apart from the command jeep where the magi and Captain Alba were sitting at. Supplies and Devil Dogs alike sat inside the trucks, jostling and bouncing as their vehicles struggled with the rough and uneven ground.

    “We’ll need to find some place to safely camp at tonight.” Touko remarked, and ignoring her apprentice’s grumbling at the mosquitos coming and going through the jeep’s open windows. “The weather report says there’s going to be a good chance for a rainstorm tonight in this region. I’d really rather not get washed away by a flash flood.”

    “Amen to that.” Alba agreed from the front seat, while Benedek opened a map where he was sitting next to Touko. “And depending on how bad it gets, it’d be hell getting back on the move tomorrow, what with the mud and all.”

    “Don’t you have off-road tracks for that?” Benedek asked while studying the map.

    “We do.” Alba admitted. “But even then it’s still a pain in the ass to move. Off-road tracks just let you move in mud they still can’t let you move as you normally could.”

    “Huh…”

    Alba shrugged. “Look on the bright side.” He said. “At least we can move. Without off-road tracks, we wouldn’t be able to move at all.”

    “It’s better than nothing.” Sakura agreed with a nod, and then hissing, swatted at another mosquito on her neck.

    “That it is…we’ve lost too much time already.” Touko agreed, before giving her apprentice the stink-eye. “Sakura, did you even use repellent lotion like I told you to?”

    “…of course I did!” Sakura said, before swatting at another mosquito.

    Alba gave a barking laugh. “Sorry, little lady.” He said. “But the mosquitos out here are a completely different breed compared to the ones in the city, or places where tourists usually go. Repellent lotion will only keep most of them off you, but the toughest ones will always get through.”

    Sakura swatted at another mosquito, before muttering a series of curses in a thick, Kansai dialect that had Touko rolling her eyes. “Cursing and swearing won’t help.” She said.

    “It makes me feel better.” Sakura retorted, before swatting at another mosquito. “Hey, how come you’re not being bothered by mosquitos?”

    Touko gave Sakura a look. “Puppet body, remember?” she answered.

    “Oh right…wait, what?”

    Touko sighed and rolled her eyes. “Mosquitos are primitive things.” She said. “They have no minds to speak of, just pure animal instinct driving them. Get it yet?”

    “…um…I think so…?”

    “Really? Then explain.”

    Sakura made an uncomfortable sound, and then swatted at another mosquito. “Um…” she began. “I’m guessing they sense something…off, about you, and stay away…”

    “…you could sound more professional, but the general idea is correct.” Touko said with a nod.

    “…should you really be talking about things like that in public?” Benedek asked, still studying the map.

    “It’s not the first time the captain and his men have worked with magi.” Touko responded.

    “Definitely not,” Alba agreed. “Though I’ve since learned that no matter how interesting the conversation sounds, it’s better not to know. Besides, whatever that puppet body stuff is, eh…I’ve seen weirder things…maybe…”

    “Oh?” Touko asked, sounding amused. “Do tell.”

    “Crazy son of a bitch had a metal dick.”

    “…what?”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “Here.”

    Sakura looked up from where she was reading a book, and to her half-naked master holding out a vial of violet fluid. “Drink it up, Sakura.” Touko said.

    “Um…okay…” Sakura said while taking the vial. Briefly hesitating, she glanced curiously at her master who just looked impassively at her. Shrugging, Sakura took a breath and then drank the vial in one go. Her eyes went wide before she gagged, and held the empty vial away with a disgusted look on her face. “That was horrible! Master, what was that?”

    “Just something to make sure you don’t catch anything from all those mosquito bites you were getting the whole day.” Touko said while taking the vial away. Walking to a nearby portable desk, Touko set the vial down while looking out the window of the enclosed pavilion set up for the two of them, and at the surrounding camp.

    With the heavy sheets of rain and gusting winds blowing all around, she could barely see. Reinforcement would help, but Touko didn’t bother just so she could look out the window.

    “…thank you very much…” she heard Sakura murmur behind her, and with a smile, Touko turned to regard her.

    “You’re welcome.” She said. “Just looking out for you, kid. You’re my apprentice, after all. I wouldn’t you to come down with something nasty like Malaria, or Dengue Fever, or Yellow Fever, or even something nastier like Ebola.”

    “…isn’t Ebola only in Africa?”

    “You want to take a chance on that?”

    “…guess I don’t.”

    Touko chuckled and then stretched her limbs overhead. “Here’s to hoping the weather clears by tomorrow.” Sakura said. “Even with off-road tracks, if the rain doesn’t let up, we’re not going anywhere.”

    “And we shouldn’t.” Touko agreed. “There’s a reason we set up camp on top of a hill. This place’s ravines and hilly contours means the lowlands are all but literal funnels for when heavy rains come. I wouldn’t be surprised if we looked down the hillside and found a flash flood roaring past under the hill.”

    “…if I remember right, wasn’t that how the ancient Mayans thrived here despite poor aquifers and no large rivers?” Sakura asked.

    “Yes,” Touko said with a nod. “Since the natural aquifers were insufficient, they dug bigger and deeper ones into the ground, and lined them with stone to keep the water from seeping out. Then they built canals and aqueducts with a degree of complexity that would have the Romans green with envy, to bring the water from their reservoirs to their towns and cities.”

    Sakura smiled. “Not bad for a bunch of savages, as the Europeans called them.” She said.

    “Indeed.” Touko agreed, before briefly glancing out the window. “That said, I wouldn’t worry. Rainstorms of this kind and in places like this tend to come and go fast but heavy. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the rain let up even before the Sun rises tomorrow morning.”

    Sakura nodded. “Though,” she said. “With the bounded fields we set up – what with any sentries barely able to see in this weather – I don’t think we need to wake any of the men up to stand watch, do we?”

    “No, we don’t.” Touko agreed. “Not tonight, at least.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Touko said, the weather cleared even before the Sun came up. When it did, it sent its rays streaming through clear blue skies, faintly streaked with white from clouds high up in the atmosphere.

    Thin streams of smoke went up from the field kitchen, as the Devil Dogs prepared breakfast. It was simple and filling, freshly-baked bread with eggs and canned meat, washed down with water and coffee.

    At the head table, Benedek spread out a map before his fellow magi, and the Devil Dogs’ captain. “We should be passing through a village later today.” He said, and indicating it with his finger. “Depending on how bad the road’s gotten from last night’s rain, that might be a good place to stop at so we can clean the tracks.”

    “That’s not a bad idea.” Alba agreed. “Does this village have a name?”

    “If it does, it doesn’t say so on the map.”

    “…unsurprising,” Alba said after a moment and a drink of coffee. “Places like that tend to be nowhere as far as the people who write these maps go.”

    The man paused to take another drink, and then turned to Touko. “So,” he said. “What exactly are we looking for? Or where exactly are we going? So far, all you’ve done is point in what you say is the right direction, but some details would be nice now.”

    “Whatever happened to better off not knowing?” Touko asked.

    “The mystical stuff, sure, it’s definitely better not to know.” Alba said. “But I’m also sure the mystical stuff is surrounded by a whole bunch of non-mystical stuff. And even just a bit of the mystical stuff would be nice to know just so we don’t get unpleasantly surprised if something goes off.”

    “…in other words,” Sakura said as she swallowed a mouthful of bread. “So you’ll know whether to run or shoot in case something like a pillar of fire shoots up into the sky, a monster crawls out of a crack in the ground, or a dragon or something like that swoops down from the clouds…right?”

    “Eh…sure, let’s go with that.” Alba said.

    Touko looked thoughtful, and nodded a few times after several moments. “Fair enough,” she said. “We’re looking for something called the Mirror of the Sun. I won’t say what it does, but it probably isn’t outdoors. It was something very important, after all, and ritual significance would dictate it occupy a place of suitable dignity.”

    “Such as?” Alba pressed.

    “A pyramid, probably.” Benedek said. “And one that’s likely to stand at the heart of a ruined city.”

    Touko pulled out the reformatted map, and spread it out next to the modern map. Using a grease pen, she marked it out, and then gestured for Alba to look. “What we’re looking for is probably around here, along this route.” She said, indicating with her fingers. “Don’t worry, we won’t send you or your men to look once we’re in the general area. We’ll take care of that ourselves.”

    “Just watch the camp so we have someplace to operate from safely, huh?” Alba muttered. “Huh…well, I guess you told us that – kind of – before we signed our contract.”

    “If it’s off-road…” Benedek said, only for Touko to cut in.

    “It will be off-road, from the look of things.” She said.

    “…then we’ll only ask for an escort detail to get us close.” Benedek continued. “But not so close that you get to look into the mirror.”

    “…something tells me looking into the mirror is the kind of stuff I’d rather not do, or even know why.” Alba said with a tip of his sombrero. “Okay…I can live with that. Better not to know, after all. And then what?”

    “The mirror’s not what we’re after.” Touko said. “Not really…it just shows us our final destination…at least the final one before we go home.”

    “And that is?”

    “For convenience’s sake, let’s call it the Serpent’s Haven.” Touko said. “Captain, you know your native legends, right?”

    “Kind of…Argentina’s way to the south…”

    “Ever heard of Quetzalcoatl…?” Sakura asked. “The Feathered Serpent who once tried to end the practice of Human sacrifice and was exiled by the other gods for it?”

    “…who hasn’t?” Alba asked figuratively. “In the Americas, at least. Quetzalcoatl is probably one of our most cherished legends, if a bit stained because the Spaniards trumpeted themselves as Quetzalcoatl to conquer us centuries ago.”

    “Well, the Serpent’s Haven is supposedly the last place he visited before leaving across the sea.” Touko said. “At least, according to our sources.”

    “And those sources are?”

    “A dig in Teotihuacan,” Benedek answered. “A small shrine plus a medallion with a map and inscription pointing to the mirror, and referencing the Serpent’s Haven.”

    Alba whistled. “And what do you expect to find there?” he asked.

    “Without going into the details?” Touko asked back. “Something worth all the time and effort put into this.”

    “And that would be…?” Alba prompted with an asking gesture of his hands.

    “Mystical stuff.” Touko firmly said.

    “…okay, fair enough…” Alba said with a sigh.

    “I don’t know.” Sakura said after a moment. “Even if there weren't any divine or whatnot artifacts there, just gold and jewels and other kinds of treasure would make this whole trip worth it.”

    “…I suppose just plain old treasure wouldn’t be that bad a find…” Benedek agreed.

    “…at the very least getting back all the money spent so far would be a good thing to a point…” Touko conceded.

    “…and we get a cut…twenty-five per cent…” Alba said with a nod. “Yeah, no argument there. Treasure is a good enough find.”

    Touko coughed. “Let’s not start counting our profits just yet.” She firmly said. “We still don’t know where the Serpent’s Haven is, and we won’t find it until we reach and pass the tests of the Mirror of the Sun.”

    Sakura nodded in agreement, while Alba shrugged and took a drink of his coffee. Benedek meanwhile was comparing the maps, and drawing lines and making calculations in his head. “Depending on how hard the rains have been,” he said. “We should get to the Mirror of the Sun – or where it’s supposed to be – by the morning of the day after tomorrow at the latest.”

    Nodding to himself, he picked up the grease pencil Touko used earlier, and drew lines and made notes on the maps.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “Well, isn’t that a cheery place?” Sakura dryly remarked as their muddy and unhappy convoy got their first sight of the village about an hour past noon. As expected, even with off-road tracks the thick and clinging mud had badly slowed them down, and even worse were those times when a track had snapped and held up the entire convoy until they could be replaced. A hellish task, with the Devil Dog’s boots sliding and struggling to get a grip in the mud.

    In the end, Touko had been forced to use her fire magic and Benedek his water and ice magic to speed things up. Questions had been asked why they couldn’t just dry the entire road to which a dry answer had been given.

    That would take a lot out of us, so much so if our rivals attacked us, we might only slow them down at best, and you’d be all dead meat afterwards.

    “Hold up for a bit.” Alba ordered into his radio, and the convoy ground to a halt. Men jumped down, G3 Battle Rifles slung around their shoulders, spreading out to guarding positions.

    Alba opened the roof of the jeep they were in, and hoisting himself up, took a look around with his binoculars. Meanwhile, Touko reinforced her eyes, and looking through the window found herself agreeing with her apprentice. Despite knowing the poor and primitive conditions of the countryside in this region of the world, the village below really was quite a miserable sight.

    That said…

    “…rather uncharitable of you, isn’t it Sakura?” Touko remarked. “Pretty sure you have an even more cheerful background compared to the people down there.”

    Sakura opened her mouth to protest…

    …and then closed it. Her master was right. The people down their might only live in mud huts and probably went around in coarsely-woven clothes, but at least they had homes of their own. They didn’t have to depend on secondhand stores or even to steal from garbage to find clothes that could fit, or even to eat for that matter.

    The fields of young maize on one side of the village proved that much.

    “…sorry, master.” Sakura said, genuinely shamefaced and regretful. “The…frustration from the day so far must be getting to me. I’m not someone to talk about living a miserable life, in hindsight. I just got lucky, after all.”

    “Hmm…that you did…” Touko said, placing a hand on Sakura’s shoulder and squeezing reassuringly. “…and it’s good you realize that.”

    “Hmm…” Sakura hummed wordlessly, while Touko squeezed her shoulder again. Benedek stayed silent, just looking on as master and apprentice shared a moment.

    “…something’s not right, here.” Alba said as he clambered back down.

    “What do you mean?” Benedek asked.

    “I don’t see anything wrong, but something about the place down there rubs me the wrong way.” Alba replied. “I…it’s hard to explain.”

    “Explain as best you can then.” Touko said.

    Alba gave her a dirty look. “…think of it as a sixth sense, something that keeps you alive on the bloodiest, dirtiest battlefields,” he said. “And which is telling me right now that something is off about that village down there.”

    Touko immediately turned to Sakura. “Sakura,” she said. “Send out your spirits, and have them take a look around.”

    “Right away, master.” Sakura said, before getting out of the jeep and walking a short distance away. Portals into Imaginary Numbers Space opened, through which bound spirits emerged and ghosted away into the distance. After several minutes, Sakura turned and walked back to the jeep and leaned through the open window.

    “The villagers are all hiding in their granaries.” She said grimly. “I had my spirits look around why, and believe it or not, there’s bandits or something like them hiding in the woods around the village.”

    “Bandits?” Touko echoed incredulously, and Alba groaned.

    “Figures…” he muttered.

    “Should I have my spirits deal with them?” Sakura asked.

    “No.” Touko said with a shake of her head. “There’s a possibility that this was set up by our rivals to delay or even stop us for good. If so, they might be watching, and let’s not give them clues to what any of us can do.”

    “If they are, then they know at least one of us can use bounded spirits.” Benedek pointed out.

    “They would already have known that much from the incident back in Guatemala.” Touko responded. “Let’s not give them any more beyond what they already know.”

    “Hmm…point…”

    “What do those bandits look like?” Alba asked.

    “Like bandits…” Sakura said with a shrug. “I mean…they don’t have armor or camouflage like you guys do, and they don’t look like foreigners either. They look mean though.”

    “Probably not mercenaries then…maybe really bandits…” Alba muttered.

    “Any sign of battle damage in the village?” Benedek asked.

    “None that I can see.” Sakura said.

    “I get the feeling the village is bait, for anyone who comes along.” Alba muttered.

    “But if so, then why didn’t the bandits attack our rivals when they passed through?” Touko pointed out. “They’re using the same map as we are, they should have drawn the bandits’ attention like we would.”

    “Unless the bandits only recently set up shop around the village.” Benedek pointed out.

    “Or our rivals bought them off or something.” Sakura chimed in.

    “Or like boss lady here said,” Alba remarked. “Our rivals pointed the bandits in our direction and route to cover their asses. That, or we’re actually in the lead.”

    Touko nodded slowly in agreement. “All valid lines of argument.” She said.

    “So…?” Alba asked after a few moments. “What do we do, boss lady?”

    “…just in case this is a setup,” Touko said after a moment. “Let’s not use any more magic beyond what we need to. Going around isn’t an option, it’d take too long and I’d rather not assume we’re in the lead.”

    “So we spring the trap and gut these bandits along the way.” Alba said with a sigh before grinning. “Oh well, I guess that’s what we’re paid to do. Little lady, how many bandits are there?”

    “About half as many Devil Dogs.” Sakura replied, before preempting the next question. “As for weapons, they carry guns like the ones Russians use in movies.”

    “Huh…AK-47s or AKMs then…unsurprising, those weapons are as cheap as dirt and about as plentiful too.” Alba muttered. “Any machine guns?”

    “I think I saw a couple, but they look different from yours.” Sakura said. “No RPGs, but they have those guns that look like a tube set up pointing into the sky.”

    “Mortars?” Alba said with wide eyes. “How the fuck did bandits get their hands on mortars?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Right…sorry…”

    “So what’s the plan, captain?” Touko asked.

    Alba cursed and grabbed his radio. “All squad leaders get over here.” He barked. “We’ve got hostiles in the village, and we need to come up with a plan to root them out. Now move!”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    Of course it isn’t nearly as simple as following a map that leads straight to ‘X marks the spot’. Or Tezcatlipoca – or even Quetzalcoatl herself for that matter (not that they know Quetzalcoatl is a she and not a he) – would allow Quetzalcoatl’s followers a chance to follow her footsteps without proving themselves first.

    And even then, the path to the Mirror of the Sun isn’t as straightforward as it ought to be. Bad roads, bad weather, local wildlife (mosquitos are living things too), and of course, bandits (if they really are just bandits) can get in the way.
     
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 7
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

    Joined:
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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 7

    “…you know we don’t really need to hide what mysteries we can use. Or to be more specific, what mysteries you can use, Touko.”

    Eyes turned to Benedek, who was looking intently at Touko. The Grand Magus returned his look evenly. “What do you mean by that, Benedek?” she asked.

    Benedek rolled his eyes. “Let’s be real, Touko.” He said. “There isn’t any magus of note who hasn’t heard of you, or at least some of what you’re capable of. Or for that matter, why you were forced to leave the Clock Tower in the first place. And more to the point, if the worry is our rivals learning what we’re capable of and developing counters to them, well…that’s no worry at all when it comes to you.”

    “He’s got a point there, master.” Sakura agreed with a slow nod. “Your sealing designation is because the Clock Tower can’t figure out your masterpiece without your explicit input at every point. In fact, no matter how many Enforcers or freelancers they send against you, all they keep getting back are corpses, with what tidbits and observations their familiars and whatnot send back still not nearly enough to figure out your masterpiece, or counter them for that matter.”

    “There’s also an opportunity there.” Benedek said with nods of his own. “A demonstration of how you’re so easily able to slaughter the College of Law’s best and brightest and with it full justification for your…infamous, reputation…might just serve to…restrain, our rivals. Make them second-guess themselves, and their chances, as it were.”

    “…I don’t know what favors either or both of you are fishing for,” Touko dryly said after a few moments. “But flattery will get you nowhere.”

    Benedek rolled his eyes. “It’s not flattery if it’s true.” He countered, and Sakura nodded.

    “Yeah, what he said.” She agreed.

    Touko rolled her eyes in her turn. “Maybe…” she conceded. “Though I do see some of your points…”

    “…does that mean you’re going to be helping us out, boss lady?” Alba asked, having spent the past several moments listening to the magi convincing their leader to use her magic to help them out.

    “…up to a point.” Touko said with her arms crossed over her chest. “I’d rather not use too much of my prana reserves just in case something needs to be dealt with – our rivals aside – at our destination. One or the other…and in my experience, there will likely be something that needs dealing with…”

    The Grand Magus trailed off, before narrowing her eyes at the map Sakura had sketched out on paper with pencil and a charcoal stick. Information on the area had been fed to her by her bound spirits, and that information had been used to draw up the map.

    Reaching forwards, Touko tapped the location of the bandits’ mortar battery with her fingers. “This is the problem, right?” she asked.

    Alba nodded. “Yup.” he said. “I don’t know where those bandits got those mortars from, but they picked a good spot for them…”

    “…someone might have pointed them in the right direction…” Benedek muttered at that, but Alba continued without reacting.

    “…no way we can reach them on foot without getting torn apart by the bandits around that position,” he said. “Or getting cut off and shot from behind. And with the ground being in the state that it is, no way we can run the gauntlet with our vehicles. Hell, even if the ground could let us run it, we’d still have bombs raining down on us all the while. We’d take a lot of losses.”

    “But if we don’t silence that battery,” Touko said. “Then either the bandits bomb us to hell, or shoot us up from both sides.”

    “Or both, even.” Alba said with a nod.

    Touko stroked her chin. “The shooters closing in from the sides can be dealt with using mental interference…” she murmured. “…even without having to use my eyes…but that still leaves the battery…”

    “…if you’re thinking of having mind-controlled shooters take out the battery for us,” Benedek said. “It’s not going to work. The battery and its defenders would just mow them down.”

    “They’d shoot their own?” Sakura asked in shock.

    “They might not.” Benedek admitted. “But if they’re working for or are under the influence of our rivals, they just might. Also, we’ll have to take that into consideration: if they’re already under the influence of another magus or magi, we might not be able to take control or mentally-neutralize them without using your eyes.”

    “Also…I’m not too sure how many other people are in the know about your eyes, master,” Sakura chimed in. “But if our rivals are among those, they might have something planned in case you use them.”

    Touko snorted, and then adjusted her glasses. “Even if they do,” she said. “They assume much if they think my eyes are just your typical, A-rank Mystic Eyes of Enchantment.”

    Sakura and Benedek looked questioningly at Touko, but the Grand Magus did not elaborate. “Still,” she said. “I see your point. Also, I’d like to keep my eyes in reserve…hmm…”

    Touko stroked her chin again, and then nodded while tapping at the village’s representation on the map. “Captain,” she began. “If we can keep those mortars from affecting the battle, can your men deal with the bandits on the ground?”

    Alba looked taken aback. “Boss lady,” he began. “You’ve got your money’s worth.”

    “…and yet you can’t deal with those mortars on your own…” Touko dryly shot back.

    Alba fidgeted. “…we could…” he said. “…if we’d been expecting to run into enemies with artillery on this job. We were expecting a gunfight, more than one in fact, maybe even needing to use – or face – rockets up close, but never artillery. If we did, we’d have brought our own.”

    “…are you trying to get me to pay you extra?” Touko incredulously asked.

    “No, I’m just saying it’s unfair to point out we’re not equipped to deal with those mortars quickly.” Alba crossly said. “We could deal with them without your magic, it’s just that it’ll take time, time you and yours say we don’t have. Not unless you want to risk your rivals reaching your prize first, that is.”

    “…fair enough.” Touko conceded. “But back to my question: you and your men can take the bandits on the ground easily so long as the mortars aren’t in play, one way or the other?”

    Alba gave Touko a look. “Of course we can.” He said.

    “Good,” Touko said with a nod. “Then leave the mortars to me…and Sakura.”

    “Wait, what?” Sakura asked, looking and sounding surprised.

    Touko smiled at her. “Considering how rare your Sorcery Trait is,” she said. “Even if the enemy is watching, I doubt they could counter it. Well, maybe if it was me, but then again, what are the chances of that?”

    “Sorcery Trait, eh?” Benedek asked, looking at Sakura appraisingly.

    Sakura looked at him unhappily, before glaring at her master. “Now, now,” Touko said, again focused on the map. “Listen up, because this is what we’re going to do…”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Less than an hour later, and the Devil Dogs’ convoy was rolling into the village, half-congealed mud giving way under their tracks. Making their way into the simple square at its heart, the convoy came to a halt, Devil Dogs jumping out of their trucks and moving up protectively on all sides.

    Despite common tactical sense dictating they should immediately take up positions in the empty buildings all around, the magi had argued against it.

    Let the bandits make the first move.

    Let them think we know nothing about their ambush.

    In other words, let us spring their trap, and then punch them in the face as they pounce.

    It was a riskier way of springing a trap than what Alba would have preferred, but he obeyed his orders. As he heard the distant rumble of mortars firing, the captain glanced at the puppet sitting on top of the jeep’s roof, essentially a Human skull with a metal mask bolted to its front, and with a nest of long, writhing, metallic tentacles sprouting from beneath.

    Let’s hope this…thing, is as useful as boss lady says it is.” Alba thought to himself.

    Words and other sounds of alarm drew the captain’s attention away, to his men to the front, and then up at the sky. Dark specks could be seen against the sky, arcing up and then down towards them, slowly growing in size as they fell. Devil Dogs murmured in alarm, backing away and looking uncertainly at each other.

    Come on…come on…” Alba thought, gritting his teeth as he glanced at the puppet. “…why isn’t it doing anything?

    As though triggered by the thought, the puppet’s eyes flashed with red light, which quickly faded into the darkness of its empty eye sockets. And then rising into the air, it pointed several tentacles up at the sky, aiming with millimeter-precision, and then fired.

    Glowing blue beams lanced up into the sky, explosions erupting across the skyline as most of the incoming mortar bombs were shot down. Those that weren’t plowed through the clouds of smoke and shrapnel, and then exploded moments later, more smoke and shrapnel shrouding what lay below.

    Then they blew away, on the breeze that blew above the canopy of the surrounding jungle, exposing a shimmering dome around the convoy. Devil Dogs cheered at the artillery barrage being foiled, and Alba slumped slightly in relief before glancing at the puppet, its eyes glowing blue from the effort of generating a barrier around them.

    Boss lady pulled through, after all.

    Right…now it’s our turn to show what we’ve got.

    “What the hell are you doing?” Alba shouted. “Intercept positions, now!”

    The Devil Dogs immediately broke into two, left and right. Safeties came off and rounds were chambered as the Devil Dogs readied to bring their G3 Battle Rifles to bear, while machine-gunners hurried into suitable buildings, setting up their MG 3s to provide supporting fire.

    “Here they come!” the warning came through the encoded line, even as more mortar bombs exploded against the barrier. In the distance, to the left and right of the village, mean-looking men in ragged clothing were pouring out of the jungles, spreading and moving quickly from cover to cover.

    Their features marked them as locals, but they had not the look or movements of inexperienced men. The Devil Dogs didn’t bother to waste their time on figuring that out, at least, not right now.

    As a massive explosion erupted in the distance, the magi making their move, the barrier went down. Explosions went up along the front lines as the bandits used grenades to clear the way, and then moved forward.

    “Weapons free.” Alba snapped into the encoded line, and the Devil Dogs opened fire.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Bombs! We need more bombs so we can…break, whatever that shell of theirs is!” the bandits manning the mortars shouted in Spanish at their fellows. “Hurry and get them over here!

    One of the other bandits cursed angrily as he rushed to the ammo dump, and pulling off the torn and matted camo netting, pulled out a battered, metal-framed case. Prying it open, he inspected the mortar bombs inside, and then rushed back to the battery.

    In his haste though, he didn’t notice how the nearby shadows darkened behind him, or how silhouetted figures appeared in the shadows, looking out over the battery and the emplaced machine guns protecting it. Then one of the figures crouched down, and reaching out from the shadows with a hand, placed it against the ground.

    Muddy soil hissed as it dried unnaturally quick, clumping together before cracking as all the moisture was broken down at the molecular level. A faintly-sickening smell filled the area, while all the bandits suddenly felt dizzy, both a side-effect of the surrounding air being saturated with hydrogen and oxygen respectively.

    Unnoticed, the hand withdrew into the shadows, and then there was a snapping sound, like someone snapping their fingers, a spark flying out of the shadows into the open…

    …the resulting explosion visibly displaced the surrounding air and shook the earth, the fireball itself leveling several meters of ground. Trees and other plants were reduced to charred mulch, Human beings to bloody, half-cooked chunks of meat, and their weapons and other equipment reduced to bits and pieces.

    Debris rained down for a couple of minutes, but as they slackened, a trio of magi emerged from the shadows. “Well, that went well.” Touko cheerfully said. Then her expression darkened, and struggled to scrape the greasy remains of a bandit off the bottom of her boot.

    “Yes, it did.” Benedek agreed, before smiling with an impressed air. “Even more so, as it was all done with just the basics.”

    “Basics kill.” Touko absent-mindedly said, still scraping her boot against a rock. Benedek’s smile widened, and then he turned to where Sakura was walking to a raised point, and reinforcing her eyes, looked down at the battlefield below.

    “How’s it looking, Sakura?” Benedek asked.

    “The Devil Dogs are kicking ass.” Sakura said. “From what I can see, they’re pinning the bandits down from the front, and then cutting them down from the sides.”

    “Oh?”

    Sounding and looking curious, Benedek walked up to the younger woman, and similarly reinforcing his eyes, looked down on the battlefield. After a moment, he nodded in agreement. “Yes…the Devil Dogs really are kicking ass, as you put it.” He said, before giving a short laugh. “Care for a history lesson, child?”

    “Not a child…” Sakura said with a scowl. “…but okay.”

    Benedek smiled at Sakura briefly before returning his gaze to the battlefield below. “See what they’re doing?” he asked, while pointing down. “Each squad breaks into teams of four. One team stays back, around a machine gun, and pins the enemy down from the front. Meanwhile, the other two teams go around, and hit the enemy from the left and right.”

    “Yes, I can see.” Sakura said with a nod. “What’s historical about that?”

    “That’s the classic fire and movement infantry tactic.” Benedek said. “Essentially a modern application of the time-tested double-envelopment tactic, and scaled down to the level of squads and individual soldiers. It was first used in the second world war by the German army, and it was so effective the rest of their enemies quickly adopted the tactic themselves.”

    “And used it against the Germans.” Sakura said. “Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.”

    “Maybe,” Benedek conceded with a shrug. “But you know the old saying about flattery and compliments.”

    “…maybe…” Sakura conceded in turn.

    “…even if the Germans shot themselves in the foot by pioneering the same tactics to be used against them by their enemies,” Touko began while walking up to also look down the battlefield below. “At least it wasn’t deliberate…or as stupid as the Japanese at the time were.”

    “Master?” Sakura asked curiously.

    “Whether it was banzai charging right into the teeth of enemy machine guns,” Touko contemptuously said. “Or picking a fight with the United States…the Empire of Japan got what it deserved.”

    Sakura shrugged. “Well, if you put it that way…” she said before trailing off. They might be Japanese themselves, but that didn’t really disprove anything her master had said.

    “The Germans might have shot themselves in the foot…but the Japanese shot themselves in the head.” Benedek quipped, and Touko nodded.

    “That we did.” She agreed, before narrowing her eyes. The battle below was drawing to a close, the bandits breaking and running back into the jungles, leaving the village’s outskirts littered with corpses, spent casings, and pools of blood. “Enough with the history lessons, come on, let’s get back.”

    Benedek and Sakura grunted their acknowledgement, and reopening the passageway through Imaginary Numbers Space, the latter led the way back to the convoy.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    The village bustled with life, the villagers having come out of hiding and welcomed the Devil Dogs and the magi for driving the bandits away. Those of the Devil Dogs on kitchen duty now worked with the villagers to prepare a late lunch, supplementing rations with local corn and meats, while other Devil Dogs worked to burn the corpses of the dead bandits in great pyres.

    Others cleaned and replaced off-road tracks, or helped the villagers repair what damage was done to the village during the battle. They might be leaving soon after lunch, but they might as well help out in what little ways they could until then.

    “How are you holding up there, kid?” Touko asked as she walked by her apprentice.

    “I’m doing just fine, master.” Sakura said. The younger woman was sitting on a rough stool, a first aid kit sitting open next to her. In front of her was a boy from the village, holding out an arm with a bloody and dirty scrape.

    Sakura had used hydrogen peroxide to clean it first, then disinfected it with iodine tincture. By the time her master had walked up, she was already wrapping gauze around the boy’s arm, nor was he her first patient.

    “Good, good,” Touko said with a nod. “I just checked in with the weather bureau over satellite, there should be clear skies tonight and tomorrow. If we’re lucky and make good time, we might just arrive at our destination tomorrow.”

    “The Mirror of the Sun, huh?” Sakura said as she used medical tape to fasten the gauze in place. Then smiling at the boy, she patted him on the head and sent him off. “Wonder how welcoming these people would be if they found out why we’re here in the first place.”

    “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” Touko said with a shrug.

    “Hmm…”

    Touko glanced at her wristwatch, and was about to speak up, before shouts could be heard from where lunch had been prepared. “Come on, Sakura.” She said. “Let’s have some lunch…though, you might want to wash your hands first.”

    “Will do, master.” Sakura said, already packing up her first aid kit.

    Touko hummed, and with a wave of a hand, went on ahead.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “…the weather might be clear tonight, and tomorrow morning,” Benedek argued over the lunch table. “But I don’t think we should give up the advantage of the high ground tonight. Or for that matter, be any less wary come tomorrow. On the contrary, we should be even more cautious.”

    “You really think our rivals could be that much of a threat, huh?” Touko asked, before holding up a hand with a smile. “Don’t answer, that was a rhetorical question. They’re magi, of course they’re a serious threat.”

    “It’s not just them,” Benedek continued. “There’s also those bandits. Whether it’s the survivors, or more gangs of those lowlifes prowling these jungles, they might go after us for revenge. And who knows whether or not the Mirror of the Sun doesn’t have some secret guardians we might need to be on guard against.”

    “Not too sure about the latter,” Touko said with a frown. “But I see your point about the former. Alright, we’ll keep our guard up tonight…though about being cautious…”

    “Cautious, but active…” Benedek said. “Sorry for not making that clear. We should send familiars to scout out ahead of us, and to guard our flanks. And watch our backs too, of course.”

    “Prudent…” Touko remarked with a nod. “Alright, we’ll do as you say.”

    Benedek nodded his thanks at being listened to, while Touko turned to her apprentice. “Were you listening, Sakura?” she asked.

    “Yes.”

    “Good,” Touko said with a nod. “Then you know what you have to do tomorrow.”

    “On top of sending out spirits to find the exact – more or less – location of the Mirror of the Sun,” Sakura said while slicing into a serving of pork on her plate. “I’ll need to send out spirits to keep an eye on all sides. Got it, master.”

    “…no, I’ll take care of looking for the Mirror of the Sun.” Touko said after a moment’s thought. “Your bound spirits, or ordinary familiars from any of us, might not work well if they do stumble on the Mirror of the Sun or its surroundings. My puppets would be better suited for that role by comparison.”

    Sakura briefly thought it over, and then nodded in agreement. “Point taken, master.” She said. “Your puppets’ better build would be better in case there’s some kind of defense around the Mirror of the Sun or wherever it is.”

    “Hmm…there just might be…it is probably a divine artifact, after all.”

    “Then we’d best be careful…though, you already mentioned that before.”

    Touko smiled and nodded. “Yes, I did.” She said. “Good to see you were listening, Sakura.”

    Sakura just looked smug at that.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Engines rumbled to life as the convoy prepared to move out, Devil Dogs securing portable field equipment and crates of supplies inside their trucks. Recovered weapons and ammunition from dead bandits were also loaded aboard, rather than being left behind to lie around.

    The villagers came out to see the Devil Dogs and the magi off, Sakura waving a goodbye to the children she’d patched up earlier, before getting aboard the command jeep. “Rather popular with the children, aren’t you little lady?” Alba quipped.

    Sakura shrugged. “You make it sound like it’s a bad thing.” She said.

    “Hmm…guess it doesn’t have to be…” the captain said with a shrug of his own.

    Sakura sat back in silence, while the captain checked in on over the radio with his subordinates. Benedek and Touko were silent themselves, and in the silence, Sakura let herself sink into her memories, from years ago in distant Osaka.

    “Give us food please.” Sakura said, pain as though every inch of her was on fire filling her body with every word.

    The clerk’s eyes went blank, and he swayed unsteadily on his feet behind the counter. “S-sure…” he tonelessly stammered out. “…j-just…get w-w-whatever you w-w-want…”

    The four children, not a single one of them even ten-years-old, ran into the convenience store. It was almost midnight, so it was empty but for the clerk on duty. Rushing past the shelves, the children grabbed anything and everything they could fit into their pockets, such as biscuits, bread, sandwiches, rice balls, chocolates and candy. Then grabbing bottles of water from a refrigerator, they ran back out, the clerk collapsing as they left, blood pouring from the unconscious man’s nose.

    The children ignored him, if they even noticed. They just ran, across the empty parking lot, and into an alley, vanishing into the comforting shadows of the city’s back-alleys and side-streets. Once safely hidden in an out-of-the-way corner, the children sat down, and emptying their pockets, began stuffing themselves.

    Then Sakura coughed, and spat out blood. More blood ran out of her nose, and wiping it away, she pinched it until it stopped bleeding.

    “Sorry, Sakura.” The eldest and thus the leader of the children said. “I know it hurts you to use magic, but they cleaned out the dumpsters so…”

    “It’s okay.” Sakura said, washing down her bloody mouth with some water. “We’re all hungry, and we can’t get food any other way so…”

    The girl shrugged, and then grabbing a rice ball, tore away the wrapping before biting down. The other children looked at each other, and then shrugging, continued to eat.

    Sakura blinked as the jeep began to move, the jostling of the vehicle as it rolled along the uneven surface of the dirt road jolting her out of her memories. And then remembering what she had lost herself in, smiled and shrugged to herself.

    Whatever happened to that guy, I wonder?” she asked herself, thinking of the clerk she’d hypnotized to rob that store with her friends all those years ago.

    “What’s with the smile?” Alba asked curiously.

    “Hmm…? Oh…nothing…just thinking…that’s all…” Sakura replied while closing her eyes.

    “About what?”

    Sakura opened her eyes, and smiled wider at him. “Well,” she said. “Thinking on it by just a bit…I’ve always had a way to get along with other kids, that’s all.”

    “Really?”

    “Uh-huh.”

    “…uh…okay…I guess…?”

    Sakura snorted, and then shrugged.

    Well…it was more misery loves company, but he – or anyone else – doesn’t need to know that.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    Now then, I dare to ask: would you judge a homeless girl and her friends abusing magic to rob a convenience store for food?
     
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 8
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

    Joined:
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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 8

    Master, I’ve found something.

    Touko turned away from where she’d been watching the Devil Dogs clear a deadfall from the road ahead, and walked to where her apprentice was at. Rather than reply telepathically, the Grand Magus instead opted to wait until she could address Sakura verbally.

    Sakura would be found at the command vehicle, poring over a map of the surrounding area. “What is it?” Touko asked.

    “Hmm…? Oh, right…” Sakura said before putting down the map and coughing. “One of the spirits I have watching our sides found a plane wreck nearby. Almost completely overgrown by the jungle too, if not for two reasons, I’d never have found it.”

    “…a plane wreck?” Touko echoed.

    “Yes, master.”

    Touko pinched the bridge of her nose. “Sakura, we’re at most a day away from the Mirror of the Sun.” she testily began. “And at the very least, we’ll reach it this afternoon or evening. So why on Earth should we be interested in a plane wreck?”

    “…well, that’s one of the reasons how my spirits found it.” Sakura said with a shrug. “There’s a magical signature coming from the wreck. Not entirely sure what, but I thought that was curious – or suspicious – enough to come to you.”

    “…good thinking.” Touko conceded after a moment. “And the other reason?”

    Sakura shrugged again. “Spirits aren’t limited by the five senses.” She said. “Or the laws of physics for that matter, though that’s…academic, I guess, compared to the other reason?”

    “…it is.” Touko said with a nod. Then crossing her arms, she hummed in thought while tapping her chin. “It could be a trap, with the magical signature being bait.”

    “…it could be,” Sakura admitted. “But it could also not be. From what my spirits tell me, it’s old. Really old, at least fifty years-old, maybe even older. And from what I can see through them, despite the overgrowth it looks like a biplane of some kind.”

    Touko hummed in thought once more, then glanced back to where the Devil Dogs were still trying to clear the road. “Either us or our rivals may not be the first expedition to look for the Mirror of the Sun.” she finally said. “It’s not impossible, or even improbable for that matter, that other magi-archaeologists or even just treasure hunting spell-casters may have looked into this region before.”

    “Even without the map, master?” Sakura asked.

    Touko shrugged. “Yes.” She said. “There’s nothing that says the map is the only record of the Mirror of the Sun, or the Serpent’s Haven for that matter. Or if it’s even the only map to exist. Though that does bring up the disturbing possibility that we might find only long-looted ruins by the time we get there…”

    Sakura looked sick as Touko’s face turned grim. “That’s…something I really hope won’t be what we find.” Sakura said. Touko just grunted in agreement before kicking out at the ground to vent. “Maybe…maybe they were just flying around in search of something interesting? Maybe they didn’t know about the Mirror of the Sun or the Serpent’s Haven, and were just looking for…ruins, that haven’t been found yet? I mean, the jungle here is pretty thick, and the countryside is big. Plenty of things could be hidden in all this green.”

    “…possible…” Touko agreed, and Sakura nodded. Touko then looked back at her. “Show me. No, not on the map, mentally.”

    Sakura shared her impressions from her spirits to her master through their telepathic link, and Touko nodded. “I’ll have my puppets check it out.” She said. “We’ll need to be sure it isn’t a trap, or even if it is genuine, there aren’t any unpleasant surprises lying in wait for us.”

    “And once it is?” Sakura asked.

    Touko shrugged. “I think it warrants a look.” She said. “At the very least, I want to know where that magical signature is coming from. There might even be something worth salvaging from the wreck.”

    “A mystic code or two, maybe?” Sakura asked. “Or a magus or spell-caster’s corpse?”

    “…the former is more likely.” Touko said after a moment. “The latter is almost certainly rotted-away, if not savaged by scavengers. It’d be a miracle if there was anything left.”

    “I see.”

    Touko nodded, and then walking off, prepared to unseal one of her puppets. She had something in mind for them to do.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “I’m not really sure what you expect me to say, there’s not much left.”

    Touko’s puppets had confirmed what Sakura’s spirits had reported back, and that the wreck really was what it seemed to be. A plane which had crashed decades ago, and which the jungle had since grown over. There were no traps around it, especially since it seemed the pilot and passenger – and thus anyone who could set any traps after the crash – had been killed on impact with the ground.

    The puppets had also confirmed the magical signature Sakura’s spirits had picked up, and determined its source within the wreckage. Once all that had been known, Touko had roped Benedek in, and had Sakura open a passageway through Imaginary Numbers Space.

    “You’re the expert here on stuff like this.” Touko retorted, and Benedek glared.

    “Touko, that wreck is at least twenty years-old.” He snapped. “Between the impact damage from the crash and decades’ worth of water damage and the jungle’s growth, I’d need to bring this thing to a machine shop just to figure out the details.”

    “…then give me what you’ve got.” Touko ground out.

    Benedek rolled his eyes, and muttering in exasperation, walked closer to the wreck. Holding out his hands, he began chanting an aria in Hungarian, and the plants growing over and through the wreckage began to shudder and shake.

    “Impressive…” Touko murmured.

    “Master…is he…” Sakura hesitantly said, walking closer to Touko. “…is he using water magic to control the water inside the plants’ cells?”

    “Yes, he is.” Touko said, before clapping Sakura reassuringly on a shoulder. “Don’t worry. It’s not nearly as easy as it looks. It takes a lot of control and focus, and add in a magus’ innate magical resistance thanks to their magic circuits, well…I’m sure you can figure out the rest.”

    “Leaving himself open if he tries to use that against another magus, huh?” Sakura ventured.

    “Pretty much.” Touko said with a nod.

    The shaking of the plants continued for several more moments, and then they began to pull away, tearing and snapping, uprooting and wrenching themselves. The undergrowth and deposited earth of decades heaved and spilled from the movement of the plants, and once Benedek was done, the wreck was exposed, if only largely.

    Wiping at his forehead with a kerchief, Benedek approached the wreck, Touko and Sakura trailing after him. Crouching down, the Hungarian magus tapped and pried at the engine and its cowling, while Touko and Sakura focused on the two skeletons in their seats.

    “…broken neck from the look of things.” Touko said after a few moments. “This guy was killed on impact. How about yours, Sakura?”

    “I’m not sure.” Sakura replied. “This guy’s neck doesn’t look broken, but his arms are. I…I’m not sure what to make of that…”

    “Let me have a look.” Touko said, moving to the other skeleton. Sakura gave way, and let her master study the skeleton in peace, poking and prodding and muttering spells for the next few minutes. “…huh…now that’s just cruel, really.”

    “Master?” Sakura asked.

    Touko turned back to her. “This guy survived the crash,” she said. “But it still broke his arms. He couldn’t get out of the cockpit, not without being able to remove the straps holding him in place.”

    “Oh gods…he starved to death, didn’t he?”

    “Probably…” Touko grimly said, before giving the skeleton a veiled look of pity.

    “Found something…” Benedek said. “…not sure how useful it’s going to be, though.”

    “Oh?” Touko asked, before she and Sakura walked over.

    “Yeah…from this inscription over here…” Benedek said while pointing to a stamped panel on the inside of the engine compartment. “…this plane was made in 1934 in the city of Troy, Ohio, USA.”

    “Huh…that makes this wreck at least sixty years-old.” Touko remarked. “Almost seventy, in fact.”

    “Assuming it crashed in the same year, of course.” Benedek said.

    Touko nodded, and then Benedek turned back to the engine. Ignoring the other magus, Touko walked back to the skeletons, Sakura trailing after her. Placing a hand against the rib cage, Touko murmured a word, and then shook her head.

    “…what a waste…”

    “Master?”

    “This guy had a crest once.” Touko said, rummaging inside the cockpit and then pulling out a dirty and rusting Azoth Dagger. “It’s gone now, though. All rotted away with the rest of his body.”

    Sakura made a face, even as Touko went to check the rest of the wreck. Behind them, Benedek had left the engine and moved on to the pilot, and muttered Hungarian curses under his breath as he found all the pilot’s maps, charts, and his logbook all rotted away by the crash.

    It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but even if it wasn’t, it was still disappointing and frustrating in equal measure.

    “Aha!” Touko cheered, as she pulled a sealed chest from the wreckage. It was dirty and battered, but secure still for all that.

    “What’s that?” Benedek asked, walking over.

    “The source of the magical signature that drew us here.” Touko said with a nod, before turning to her apprentice. “Sakura, check if there’s anything else of value. If there isn’t, let’s get back to the convoy.”

    “Yes, master.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    The Moon shone down with wan and silvery light, casting long shadows across the jungle at night. Devil Dogs on lookout kept a wary eye around the camp, once again located on top of a hill.

    Despite the hope of finding and reaching the Mirror of the Sun within the day, the poor condition of the road they had to travel on had forced them to come to a halt just short of their destination. But it wasn’t all bad. They might not have been able to reach the Mirror of the Sun today, but they knew where it was now, thanks to those of Touko’s puppets scouting ahead.

    “…we’ll leave before sunrise tomorrow.” Touko said as she spooned chili beans in meat sauce into her mouth. “We’ll go on foot, accompanied by an escort detail of Devil Dogs, spirits, familiars, and puppets.”

    “How far is it exactly again?” Alba asked while gnawing at a chunk of bread.

    “About ten kilometers north-north-west of here, give or take.” Touko said with a shrug.

    “Huh…not too far all things considered,” Alba said. “But it’ll be rough going over the hills, add in the jungle.”

    Touko shrugged. “Maybe,” she admitted. “But it can’t be helped.”

    Alba nodded. “Fair enough,” he said. “I’ll stay here and make sure you’ve got someplace to fall back to, and so we’ll be ready for the final push when you come back.”

    Touko nodded, and then tilted her head. “Got any ideas for who to command our escort detail?” she asked.

    “…I’m thinking Sergeant Nores will do just fine.” Alba said after a few moments’ thought. “Pardon the hyperbole, but he’s a veteran of a hundred battles. Solid and prudent, he uses what he has well.”

    “I’ll defer to your judgment then.” Touko said, and Alba nodded his acknowledgement.

    “On another note,” Sakura began as the conversation trailed off. “What’d you find inside that chest, master?”

    “Passport and travel documents, for starters.” Touko replied. “Apparently, our dead magus from the 1930s was Theodore Reilly, and an archaeologist from New York. He seems to have made his trip in 1938, or at least he left America and arrived here in Mexico in 1938.”

    “What was he here for?” Sakura asked.

    Touko shrugged. “Not a clue.” She said. “His journal is encoded in some kind of personal code, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though the cipher is in the chest.”

    The Grand Magus paused, and then shrugged again before giving a smile. “I don’t know if he was a good magus,” she said. “But he was thorough in keeping his secrets, at least in written form.”

    “Can you crack the code?” Benedek curiously asked.

    “Give me time,” Touko replied. “And I’m sure I can. It’s not as though there aren’t any clues, as there are roughly-sketched maps inside the journal, with simple annotations in them. Assuming they’re not encoded either, that could be a good place to start.”

    There were nods all around, and then Touko took a drink before continuing. “Aside from those,” she said. “There were vials of elixirs and potions of some kind, along with a basic field alchemy kit.”

    “That doesn’t seem enough to generate the magical signature we picked up.” Sakura said with a frown.

    “No, it isn’t.” Touko agreed before giving her apprentice a smile. “But you see, it was the chest we were picking up.”

    “It was enchanted?” Sakura asked.

    “Oh yes, and very well at that.” Touko said with a nod. “I’m still taking the mysteries apart, but they seem to be meant to keep anything put inside as safe as possible. No moisture or spores or whatnot have been able to get inside over the decades thanks to those mysteries, and the temperature’s been kept at an even level too. I’m still not sure if it’s true stasis though, so I’m keeping the elixirs and potions back until I’m sure they’re completely safe to use. You can have the alchemy kit though, just let me do a few more checks.”

    Sakura nodded. “Got it, master.” She said. “And thanks.”

    “No problem.”

    “So…all that effort…” Benedek began. “…was for nothing?”

    “…it’s ancillary to our expedition, but I wouldn’t call it for nothing.” Touko replied. “Look, if you want a share in whatever’s in that journal, all you have to do is ask.”

    “Then I’m asking…so long as the dangerous – of the mystical kind – stuff is left out.” Alba asked with a grin. Benedek shot him a look, then sighed before turning back.

    “I’m asking now then.” He said.

    Touko rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she said. “After dinner then, and I’ll show you what little I’ve managed to crack so far.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “What about that Azoth Dagger, master?” Sakura asked as she and Touko prepared for bed a couple of hours later. “You didn’t tell them about that.”

    “The captain doesn’t need to know about it, or anything that might come of it.” Touko replied dismissively. “He’d even admit it himself, if asked.”

    “Hmm…point…and Benedek?”

    Touko smiled and shrugged. “We’re magi.” She said as though it was answer enough. And it was, causing Sakura to shrug herself.

    “…okay…and…can I ask about it?”

    “You just did.”

    Sakura pouted, and Touko laughed. “Most of the Azoth Dagger is too corroded for anything useful to be found from it,” she said. “But the jewel at the pommel just needs to be cleaned. That said, getting any information from it will take time. Time we don’t have right now, and which can wait until we get back to one of our workshops.”

    “Right, master. Sorry I can’t help directly there.”

    Touko shrugged. “Can’t be helped, right?” she asked. “Without any elemental affinities of your own, you can’t use jewel magecraft.”

    Sakura made a frustrated sound at that. “Yeah, I know.” She said.

    “Well, look on the bright side.” Touko remarked, while regarding herself in a mirror and brushing her hair. “You’ve got the incredibly-rare Imaginary Numbers. Wind might be a rare element, and having affinities for all five elements rarer, but that Sorcery Trait of yours is even rarer still. And in some ways, more useful.”

    “Spiritual invocation…”

    “Not talking about spiritual invocation.” Touko interrupted while still brushing her hair, looking at Sakura by her reflection on the mirror. “Spatial manipulation: you know as well as I do that for most magi, spatial manipulation is something that can only be done by means of High Thaumaturgy. And most magi can barely manage that, and only in groups, that is rituals, and needing at least one crest to get a decent chance of success.”

    Touko paused, and then laughed before winking at her apprentice. “Unless they’re geniuses like me.” She said. “Or old bloodlines like those which make up the Aristocratic Faction. Or like you, with something that makes the usual rules not apply.”

    “Well, if you put it that way…”

    “See, Sakura?” Touko pointed out. “Even if not being able to use elemental magecraft can be frustrating sometimes, it’s just a trade-off, and which might actually be in your favor depending on the situation.”

    “True enough, master.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A slapping sound echoed in the pre-dawn darkness, as Sakura swatted at a mosquito on her neck. “Remind me again why we have to head out before the Sun rises?” she asked.

    “Symbolism, for one.” Touko replied. “You know how important the Sun is in Mesoamerican myth and legend. And this artifact we’re going to is called the Mirror of the Sun. You do the rest.”

    “…fine.”

    There was another slapping sound as Sakura swatted at another mosquito, but for the most part, the magi and their escorts proceeded through the jungle in relative silence. Following a winding route along the jagged ridgeline of the hills, the party made their way through and between the trees, brushing past bushes and shrubs in their way.

    Spirits ghosted in silence ahead and to the flanks, serving as scouts to warn of enemies lying in wait, and to frighten off predators such as jaguars and snakes. As the minutes and then the hours ticked by, the sky above began to lighten, midnight blue giving way to rose and pearl, and casting the surrounding jungle with eerie light.

    Birds could be heard twittering to themselves, their sounds merging with the background hum of insects in the jungle. And then…

    …gunfire.

    The party went to ground as one, the Devil Dogs bringing up their rifles and turning off their safeties. “Sakura…?” Touko asked.

    “Hang on…one of my spirits is already taking a look.” Sakura replied.

    For the next few minutes, the party stayed where they were, and then Sakura blinked. “Over here.” She said, moving quickly but quietly forward and past. “We should be able to see what’s going on from…there.”

    Touko nodded at Sergeant Ramon Nores, who commanded the twelve Devil Dogs escorting them. The man nodded, and gesturing sharply at his men, followed the younger woman’s lead. Moving quickly and quietly from cover to cover, they made their way to high ground, from where they peered down onto a running gun battle below.

    “…those look like the bandits we were fighting a couple of days ago.” One of the Devil Dogs remarked.

    “Either them, or they just look it.” Nores replied, looking through a pair of binoculars. “I’m sure to people who don’t really know us, we look the same as any other mercenaries out there.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Who are they shooting at, though?” Nores mused.

    The magi used reinforcement on their eyes, and spotted a party of about the same size as theirs, gunmen dressed in fatigues and body armor struggling to fend off the bandits all around them. They weren’t having much success, though. Not only were they outnumbered, they were outgunned, having to make do with measly MP5 submachine guns while the bandits had AKMs.

    An explosion went up, causing the gunmen to get down. Correction: the bandits didn’t just have AKMs either, they also had RPGs.

    “Where the hell did those bandits get bazookas from?” Sakura breathed.

    The older magi and the Devil Dogs gave a collective snort. “Kid,” Nores began. “You’ll find that so long as a Russian weapon is man-portable, it’s as easy to get and as common as dirt.”

    “…are they any good?” Sakura asked.

    “If you’re asking if they can kill, then yes.” Nores replied. “They’re not nearly as reliable or as accurate as American or German weapons, though.”

    “Ah…so…their selling point is their cheapness?”

    “Pretty much.”

    Sakura nodded, and then turned back to the battle. “I’m not sure if that woman down there is a magus,” Touko murmured after a moment. “Or if they’re headed to or from the Mirror of the Sun even, but there’s an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up.”

    Eyes turned to her, and she looked at them evenly. “We’re in bandit country, it looks like.” Touko said. “Only that woman and her thugs down there are drawing the bandits’ attention to them and away from us. That leaves us a clear path to the Mirror of the Sun, and I for one would not waste it.”

    “Hmm…the next question will be if it’ll stay clear on the way back.” Nores said.

    “If it isn’t,” Touko said. “Then we’ll just to shoot our way out, don’t we?”

    “…well, that’s what you’re paying us to do.”

    Touko smirked, and with one last look at the battle below, gestured with her head. “Come on, let’s go.” She said.

    Nods went up all around, and then they were creeping back the way they came. Returning to where they diverged from their original course, they only managed to proceed for a few minutes before Sakura blinked.

    “Hold up.” She said.

    “What’s wrong, Sakura?” Touko asked.

    “Bandits ahead of us.” Sakura replied. “About twelve according to my spirits. They’ve got a machine gun with them, and they’re waiting for us.”

    Alarmed noises went up from the Devil Dogs, but Sakura looked unconcerned. “I’ll take care of them.” She said. “It’ll only take a few minutes.”

    “Might as well,” Touko said with a nod. “We’re running out of time, especially if that woman and her thugs back there is our rival – or one of them – in this expedition, and who might already have been tested by the Mirror of the Sun.”

    “True,” Benedek chimed in. “And besides, we’ve been using magic more and more recently. They might already have seen enough to figure out what you’re capable of, and how. No point in holding back at this point.”

    “Assuming they’re watching, of course.” Sakura said. “And even if they have been and know what and how, if master’s not exaggerating how rare what I can do is, there’s little they can do about it.”

    Touko and Benedek nodded, while Sakura closed her eyes. And then she blinked, and nodded. “Now we wait.” She said.

    They waited, the minutes ticking by one after the other, and then shouts of alarm could be heard from ahead, followed finally by wild gunshots. They lasted for only a moment or two, and then silence returned.

    “Let’s go.” Sakura said, and the party resumed moving. Several minutes later and they passed by where the bandits had planned to ambush them. Instead, there was no one there. Devil Dogs and magi alike move through the area grim-faced and resolute, ignoring the corpses lying across the ground, looking for all the world as though they’d simply fallen dead on the spot.

    Fallen dead out of fear, that is, what with their faces frozen with shock and surprise at the moment of their deaths.

    Clambering up a hillside, the party came to a halt on top of the hill, and took in the sight that awaited them. There, rising out of the sea of green that was the jungle, was the broken ruins of an ancient city. And at its very heart, a great pyramid rose step-by-step into the sky, and as the Sun rose in full above the horizon, all the magi present felt something great and powerful awake in the distance.

    “Did you feel that?” Touko asked.

    “I felt something.” Sakura said.

    “So did I.” Benedek said.

    Touko nodded. “As I thought,” she said. “What we’re looking for is over there. Under or atop the pyramid, we’ll find out when we get there, but there’s no doubt about it anymore. The Mirror of the Sun is there.”

    Then Touko paused, and narrowed her eyes. “Let’s go.” She said.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    Up next, the trials of the Sun.
     
  10. Threadmarks: Chapter 9
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

    Joined:
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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 9

    The crossing of the surrounding jungle was made without incident. Neither bandits nor predators crossed the party’s path, only rough ground and wild jungle obstructing their course. The rustling of plant life from their passing and of birds twittering and crying above mingled into a backdrop of natural sound to their journey, and in what seemed like no time at all, they reached the broken gates of the ruined city they had earlier witnessed in the sunrise.

    The doors were long gone, no doubt having been made of wood and rotted away millennia ago soon after the city had been abandoned to the jungle. The walls to either side were tumbled down and broken, only mossy stones and an overgrown base running into the distance to vanish into the depths of jungle hinting at what once was.

    The posts of the gate still stood tall and strong, though. They were cracked and pitted, strung with creeping vines and covered in moss and lichen, but they still stood for all that. The vibrant colors of the statuary were gone, but the sculptured forms of warriors as though standing on guard and shouting about the coming of visitors were still visible through the marks of time and the elements.

    “Eagle Warriors…?” Benedek ventured at the sight. “Or Jaguar Knights?”

    “Neither,” Touko firmly said. “Both of those divinely-ordained orders were of the Aztec warrior caste. These ruins though, are of the Maya, if not of the mysterious civilization which built Teotihuacan.”

    “Hmm…they look similar though.”

    “Similar…” Touko said. “…but not the same…come on. Let’s keep moving.”

    Benedek grunted his agreement, and then the party passed through the gates and entered the city’s remains. Immediately, the difference with the jungle outside became apparent, starkly so.

    In place of rough and muddy ground, the way from the gates and across the city was paved with stone flags. They were cracked and pitted, covered with moss and lichen, and here and there grass poked through between the flags or bulging roots heaved up or broke through the stone entirely, but it was quite the change from the outside.

    Stone pillars stood at regular intervals along either side, faded hieroglyphs barely visible on their sides. Here and there pillars lay fallen on the ground, a few in one piece, others reduced to broken fragments. Most stood enduring and proud though, testaments to the forgotten achievements of the ancients.

    “Huh…” Sakura murmured in realization as they proceeded along the road.

    “What is it, Sakura?” Touko asked her apprentice.

    “I just noticed that these pillars only line this road.” Sakura said. “The roads branching out from this one don’t have pillars at their side.”

    “They’re probably markers, then.” Touko said with a nod. “Something to highlight the importance of this road…and probably a few others. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were three others apart from this one, branching out in the four cardinal directions from the pyramid at the heart of the city.”

    “I see.”

    Touko nodded at her apprentice’s remark, and they continued in silence. The ruined city was quiet, but for the gentle if not mournful murmur of the wind blowing through the ruins. Broken and empty homes could be seen as far as the eye could reach, not a single one having a roof, and all sporting at least one tumbled down wall, exposing their desolate insides.

    It was a sad sight, even – or especially – for an archaeologist like Touko. Even if it amounted to little more than fragmentary materials and semi-substantiated speculation, she knew a little of the glory that once was.

    Long ago, this place had been home to tens if not hundreds of thousands of people. It had had been filled with life, rich and vibrant, artists and sages recording and passing on the legacy of centuries if not millennia, warriors practicing the arts of war and battle learned from wise and skilled masters, priests and mages studying the mysteries passed down from the gods themselves, and ordinary men, women, and children, living their lives in peace and prosperity.

    When did it end?

    How did it end?

    Was it quick and brutal, a civilization that was old when Greece was young vanishing in the blink of an eye?

    Or was it slow and cruel, a civilization rivaling glorious Babylonia and cruel Assyria crumbling and rotting away from the wearing of time?

    So many questions, but so little answers. Only the warm and moist wind from over the jungle canopy was left, mournfully blowing through empty houses which had been home to families, down crumbling streets and desolate squares once filled with throngs of people.

    It was as though the wind remembered, and mourned what now only belonged to the past, lost in the sands of time.

    If so…

    …if the wind truly did mourn the passing of this civilization…

    …how tragically fitting it would be…

    …for Quetzalcoatl had been the god of the wind…

    …just as he had been the father of civilization.

    The hours passed. The Sun rose higher into the sky, climbing to its zenith at noon. The wind slackened and died, and the distant sounds of the jungle faded away into nothing.

    There was only silence, but for the crunching of their boots against the stone, until at last the party stood before the pyramid at the heart of the city. Silence…an ominous silence…as though everything around them waited with baited breath, for a judge to measure the scales and pass judgment on those which stood before him.

    “Sergeant,” Touko said, her voice soft. “You and your men stay here. Only me, Sakura, and Benedek will go inside.”

    Nores nodded before looking into the pitch darkness at the heart of the pyramid, through the doorway at its base. “…I’d rather you didn’t, lady.” He said after a long moment. “Some things are better left forgotten…but that’s just my personal opinion.”

    “…and your professional opinion?” Touko asked after another moment.

    The old and grizzled mercenary met her eyes. “Well,” he said. “You have to do what you have to do, otherwise all this effort would have been for nothing.”

    “Hmm…so I – we – do.”

    “God go with you, lady.” Nores said while checking his G3 Battle Rifle. “We’ll stay here and watch your back.”

    “Thanks, sergeant.” Touko said with a nod, before taking a deep breath, and taking the first step towards the pyramid’s heart. “For all the good it’ll do…”

    Nores looked on in silence, as the three magi followed their leader into the darkness.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Sound gently echoed as the three magi entered and pressed forward into the antechamber that led into the depths of the pyramid. It was cool and moist inside, in contrast to the heat and humidity outside. As their eyes adjusted, they took in the stone-lined architecture of the pyramid’s interior, and noted the surprisingly well-preserved frescoes and murals which could be seen even through the marks of time and the elements.

    “Huh…” Sakura observed, as her eyes trailed over the walls. “…these paintings and carvings…I think they’re of the city around us.”

    “Yes…I think so too…” Touko agreed, her eyes on the ceiling, depicting the Sun cresting over the pyramid as though at noon.

    “…hmm…I’m not sure if I should mention this…but…look at the floor…” Benedek said.

    Curious, the two other magi did as asked…

    …and then promptly did a double-take. There, in the middle of the floor, was a mural of a mirror, above which towered a pale-skinned figure in black armor with blue contours and ornamentation in gold and red.

    “Tezcatlipoca…” Touko murmured, though she trailed off at the ominous sight of three figures depicted as though staring into the mirror, under the baleful gaze and covetous reach of the Smoking Mirror.

    Then as if triggered by the thought, the pyramid around them heaved, throwing all three magi from their feet. Then with a groan of burdened stone, a door slammed down behind them, cutting them off from the light of the Sun and the safety of the outside.

    Stone gave way, and both Touko and Sakura shouted in alarm as they fell and slid down ramps opening down and below them, which then heaved shut. “…Touko…Sakura…!” Benedek shouted into the darkness. “…damn it!”

    There was fumbling and rustling…

    …and then light, as Benedek pulled out and lit an electric torch. Flashing it around him, he saw no sign of either of his companions, while behind him a solid slab of stone blocked the entrance, an ominous mural of what seemed to be a dragon of some kind glaring at him in warning.

    …I could probably blow through the door if need be…” Benedek thought to himself. “…but as tempting to do just that is…I might just bring the whole pyramid down if I did. Or even if I did get out…Touko might see it as leaving her to die…only she won’t…and she’d be pissed…very pissed…best not to risk it either way…

    Sighing to himself, Benedek turned, and spotting the corridor at the far end of the antechamber, only briefly hesitated before heading just that way.

    This might just be part of the trials of the Mirror of the Sun, if not its beginning.

    If so…if either of those two make it through their trials…then we’d meet at the mirror…

    …well…Touko would no doubt pass her trials…

    …as for that that kid…and myself…God help us…
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Grunts and shouts of pain erupted and echoed through the dark, and then Sakura was tumbling – rolling – out of a ramp which had lowered itself open in the ceiling. Then a cry of pain and the sound of a Human body falling hard on the stone floor filled the darkness, followed by stone heaving as the ramp lifted itself shut.

    Silence…

    …silence in the dark…

    …and then coughing and groaning, along with the rustling of cloth, as Sakura rolled herself into a crouching position, heaving as she caught her breath.

    And then she blinked, as pale and eerie light pushed the darkness back ever so slightly. Witch light…corpse light…

    …yes, that’s what it was, and it set Sakura’s nerves on edge.

    Then she was gagging, as a foul stench filled the air. “Good gods…” she thought, as she brought up a hand to her nose, and struggled to keep from vomiting then and there. “…it’s like…blood…piss…and shit…all mixed and rotting together…

    Struggling to her feet, Sakura began to stagger away, head turning to and fro as she tried to find a way out and to rejoin her fellow magi. Then something wet and heavy fell on her shoulder, and Sakura growled low in her throat.

    That better not be what I think it is.

    Frustration at what she thought was shit falling from the ceiling turned to confusion and apprehension as…whatever, was on her shoulder began to move, wriggling and squirming. Sakura turned her head…

    …and yelled loudly in disgust, springing away while swiping it off her shoulder. It fell against the ground with a wet slap, hissing angrily and in pain. Despite the poor light, it…or what it looked like, was disgustingly clear. It was a…worm, as long as her hand and way thicker than any of her fingers, looking disturbing like a man’s genitals with fangs opening up at its head.

    Snarling, Sakura reinforced her body before reaching into Imaginary Numbers Space, and pulling out a pocket crossbow, took aim and loosed a bolt. Made from manganese steel and augmented by magical means, the bolt struck with the force of a .50 round, pulverizing both the worm and the stone underneath it.

    “Aww, now that was mean.” An eerily-familiar voice said with marked disappointment from behind Sakura. “You didn’t need to do that. Momo just wanted to say hello and get to know you, you know?”

    Sakura whirled, her crossbow already reloading. Between an ancient Chinese design provided by her master, modern materials, and magical augmentation, Sakura’s crossbow functioned like a semi-auto, while having the power of a heavy machine gun with every shot. Of course, it came with a price, that of horrendous recoil that not only made it impossible to aim much less loose a bolt without reinforcement, but would shatter her arm if she tried.

    Nor did she only have one: even as she turned, she reached into Imaginary Numbers Space with her free hand, and pulling out another pocket crossbow, aimed it into the darkness as well. Reinforcement was such a wonderful thing. Not only did it let her use such powerful, custom mystic codes, it let her dual-wield with lethal accuracy.

    “Who’s there?” Sakura demanded, eyes narrowed and face set with determination. “Show yourself!”

    Laughter echoed in the shadow, and Sakura faltered ever so slightly. Something…something was familiar about that laugh…

    …and it sent shivers up her spine.

    Then there was the sound of footsteps on stone, bare feet against aged and crumbling rock, a pale-skinned figure stepping naked into the light. Sakura’s eyes widened, her mouth opening wordlessly in a gasp of shock and horror, as she recognized the woman standing in front of her.

    How could she not?

    She saw that face every time she looked in the mirror.

    “Don’t you recognize me?” the violet-haired and violet-eyed reflection of herself, covered and dripping with pale and translucent slime that caked into its hair, asked in a sing-song voice. “I’m you…what you’re supposed to be…your destiny…”

    Sakura mouthed the word ‘destiny’ in horror…

    …and then blue eyes narrowed and her mouth slammed shut in gritted fury as she raised her crossbows again…

    …but before she could loose her bolts, her twisted and corrupted reflection held out its hand, its face twisted with a grotesque smile. The darkness and the witch light trembled, and then paper-like strips of material shadow edged in ugly red light struck at the speed of thought.

    Wrapping around Sakura’s wrists, they pulled her arms firmly away, and causing her shots to go wide. She cried out in pain, as…something…burned at her skin, through her flesh…and into her very bones as the shadow lifted her into the air. Then she cried out again, as more shadows bound her ankles together…

    …and then she gagged and choked, as a shadow wrapped around her neck. Laughter echoed in the dark yet again.

    “Aww, are you in pain?” Sakura’s reflection asked, and the shadows tightened, causing Sakura to gag and for the burning of her bones, skin, and flesh to grow even further. “You’ll get used to it. Yes, that’s what it means to be the inheritor of the Makiri worm and shadow mysteries. Power and knowledge your family could never dream of…you just have to live with endless torture…forever…”

    The reflection tilted its head. “Isn’t it wonderful?” it asked. “I think it’s a great deal, don’t you? Your father certainly seemed to think so…and so does grandfather…and my – our – father thought so too…and brother…”

    “…shut…up…” Sakura growled out, her body shaking in rage and agony as she fought the burning curse blazing through her body. Magic circuits glowed bright and hot across her body, their fire another dose of pain as though bathing in molten metal, but it was a clean and familiar pain, a reassuring one even, and something that anchored her and allowed her to bring her thoughts into order, and to think things through rationally.

    …a curse…and some kind of mystery rooted in a concept I can’t quite figure out…but…they’re all…

    …yes!

    Imaginary Numbers…they’re connected to each other through Imaginary Numbers! How and why I don’t know…but if I can just…disrupt…reverse the polarity…then…!

    Sakura’s magic circuits flared bright…

    …and then the shadows dissolved, turning into smoke that quickly faded away. Landing on her feet, Sakura took aim at her stunned and shocked reflection, and loosed her bolts.

    They punched into its chest, causing the reflection to go flying and land in a sprawl on the ground. “I don’t have a father, or a grandfather, or a brother, or whatever twisted family exists in the fantasies you’ve cooked up in your illusionary head.” Sakura spat. “And I sure as hell don’t have a destiny…at least, a destiny I don’t choose and make for myself!”

    In the distance, the reflection pushed itself off the ground, and then pulling out the bolts clambered to its feet before staring at Sakura with an air of weary resignation. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this.” It said with a sigh. “I guess we really are the kind that needs the lesson to be beaten into us.”

    Sakura scoffed, before returning her crossbows into Imaginary Numbers Space. “And what lesson is that?” she asked, as she pulled out a full-sized crossbow.

    The reflection tilted its head. “You cannot escape your destiny,” it answered. “Sakura Matou.”

    Sakura was silent…

    …and in one smooth motion, took aim, and loosed a volley of bolts.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    The sound of boots against stone echoed in the dark corridor, the torch’s light swinging slowly to and fro as Benedek regularly swept it back and forth to illuminate his way. There were no more frescoes or murals on the floor or ceiling, though there still were on the walls. Nothing particularly ominous, just depictions of plants – flowering shrubs or bushes from the look of things – in ceramic pots spaced with regular intervals.

    A T-junction loomed ahead, and Benedek came to a halt. He swung his torch around, trying to find any sign to indicate where he should go, but there was nothing. Only more murals of plants, not just potted ones this time, but a towering fruit tree of some kind at the junction itself.

    Childish laughter tinkled in the dark, and Benedek whirled to his left, shining his torch down the corridor. He briefly caught the flash of white cloth as something – someone – small and diminutive turned and fled down the corridor.

    “Wait, you!” Benedek shouted, running down the corridor and drawing his Azoth Dagger with his free hand. Magic circuits came to life…

    …and then he staggered, bumping into and nearly falling over a desk. Built high, wide, and strong, the hardwood furniture bearing the ornamentation and scrollwork of a master craftsman’s work.

    Benedek gaped, looking and staggering around himself in surprise and shock. He knew this place.

    Whether it was the desk and chair…

    A young boy sat with his father, poring over centuries-old texts and scrolls.

    …the paintings, portraits, and pictures on the wall, the oldest oils from the Enlightenment if not earlier, mingling with watercolors from the 19th Century, and black-and-whites and colored pictures from the 20th Century…

    The boy huddled in a corner, hearing the angry shouts of a woman in the distance, the placating words of a man, and his name, spoken over and over again.

    …even the thick carpet, made by Persian weavers in the Middle Ages…

    …blood soaked deep into the carpet, seeping through and staining the marble beneath from the corpse lying lifeless on the ground. The door banged open, allowing an elderly woman in a rich gown of violet brocade and black lace to enter. She saw her husband lie dead on the ground, and a young man standing over him.

    She screamed in rage and loss, and leapt forward with a poniard in hand, raised to strike at her husband’s murderer.

    Benedek looked at himself, gaping further at the frock coat and tailored trousers he wore, rich and serviceable brown trimmed in gold, with a white cravat pinned at his collar by a silver and diamond brooch. And then he heard.

    “Benedek, where are you?” a woman called through an open window, a gentle spring breeze blowing through and carrying with it the faint smell of flowers in spring.

    He knew that voice.

    “Gretchen…” Benedek murmured, walking slowly and numbly towards the window.

    She sat there, under a trellis of white-finished wood, trailing with carefully-pruned vines blooming with blushing flowers, tending to a tea set even as a pair of children played with the flowers around the trellis. They saw him then, and waved happily at him.

    “Daddy! Daddy!” they shouted, even as the woman turned and gave him a smile.

    Benedek smiled back, stepping away from the window, towards the door and across the house to the garden, to join his family…

    …and then he blinked, reaching down to his waist, and the heavy weight there. Slowly, his hand wrapped around the leather-bound hilt, and pulled it from its sheath.

    Twelve-inches of steel, forged not in an industrial steel mill but in a blacksmith’s shop, magic woven into the metal from the moment work began. Benedek stared at himself, reflected in the metal of the blade, and took in the soaring eagle that formed the crossguard, and the sharply-cut opal at the pommel.

    Benedek stared coldly at his stepmother as she screamed and ran at him as he stood over his father’s corpse. And then raising a hand, unleashed his magic without mercy.

    “What a waste…” Benedek murmured while closing his eyes, and gripping his Azoth Dagger tightly stabbed down hard.

    Pain erupted and blood spilled down to the ground below, and then Benedek opened his eyes. He stood in the middle of a circular room, his torch lying abandoned and broken on the ground next to his feet.

    Stone heaved and the entrance behind him closed shut, a mural of a warrior brandishing an obsidian-bladed spear visible on the stone. Around him, the walls of the room showed jaguars pacing as though circling their prey, and then stone heaved once more, an exit opening on the far side of the room.

    Sniffing at the sight, Benedek pulled his Azoth Dagger out of his left hand with a hiss of pain. Then hurrying forward and through the exit, he pulled his kerchief out and began wrapping it around his hand.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Monster…!

    Abomination…!

    You’re not welcome here!

    You’re no Human!

    Touko sighed at the voices whispering in the dark around and about her. “Just because my body isn’t Human anymore, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped being Human.” She remarked. Strangely enough, the half-hearted self-justification triggered a moment of self-reflection on the Grand Magus’ part. “…I think.”

    Today is your reckoning.

    Touko groaned. “…this is going to suck I can already tell.” She lamented.

    Let us show you what you will become.

    “Is this really necessary?”

    We will show you.

    “I don’t think…”

    And you will die.

    “That’s…”

    Touko reeled then, at the sheer power filling the room. Her magic circuits burned hot and bright, her body gasping and staggering as micro-seizures erupted in a symptomatic response to her mysteries struggling to stay real in the face of a greater mystery around her. At the same time, the demon bound within her raged and strained at its bonds as they buckled from without.

    And then she saw and heard.

    Leading an army to attack the Clock Tower. A throne under a burning sky. Hurting Alice and Sakura. Dueling Aoko. Losing the duel, and being burned and dismembered as the Fifth cast her out. Alice and Sakura dead. A ghastly king seated on the throne. Entire worlds reduced to ash. Humanity wiped out across time and space.

    You are the greatest magus to ever walk the worlds, beyond the predictions of all but myself.

    So be honored, and bear witness, as all becomes one.

    She saw herself then, and not herself, seated on a throne under a sky lit with the fires of Humanity’s funeral pyre.

    “What the hell?”

    See what you will become?

    See why you must die?

    Touko narrowed her eyes, and then fed prana into them. Irises glowed as both of her two sets of Mystic Eyes of Enchantment came to life, and the voices screamed as Touko bound them under a virtually-infinite set of bindings.

    “I’ve got no idea what’s going through your heads,” Touko said. “Assuming you’ve got a head or more, that is. And I certainly don’t have any idea where and how I’ll get or do anything you’ve shown me.”

    Touko paused and tilted her head. “That said,” she continued. “While I wouldn’t care if someone burned that cesspool called the Clock Tower down, I’ve got better things to do than be the one to do that. Alice and Sakura…okay, that one is…troubling, but if they ever stab me in the back…well, they know what’s coming to them. As for the rest…”

    Touko paused and sniffed, before glaring defiantly into the dark. “I’ve got no time to play with your fantasies or whatnot, Tezcatlipoca.” She spat, and the air trembled as the lingering emanations of a dead god recoiled in shock and rage. “I’ve got other and better things to do, so release me already!”

    A hiss like that of an enraged snake filled the dark, followed by a looming and overwhelming sense of danger. Touko grit her teeth, ready to face the coming wrath…

    …and was nearly bowled over as a powerful wind blew cold across the room. Angry, ghostly shouting could be heard as though from an infinite distance, the roaring of a god denied…

    …and then laughter. Golden, shimmering laughter, sweet and warm like the summer, moments before a door opened on the far side of the room. Ghostly fingers pressed down on a shoulder, and Touko turned her head sharply, noticing ever so briefly that she wondered if it was just her imagination, a scantily-clad blonde woman with eyes the color of the jungle, smiling reassuringly and encouragingly at her.

    And then Touko stood alone in a room with murals of the Tzitzimitl feasting on the blood and flesh of fallen warriors. Sniffing at the farce of a trial she’d been forced to face, Touko strode towards and through the exit, which slammed shut behind her, the image of Tezcatlipoca upon it shattered as though struck by a powerful blow.

    At the sight, a woman’s laugh echoed ever so briefly in the empty room, and then was gone.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    Tzitzimitl, star goddesses considered to be…evil, by the Mesoamericans. Strangely enough, they’re also fertility goddesses, and are prayed to by women for protection during childbirth.

    So, what’d you think about the Trials of the Sun? Or Quetzalcoatl’s little cameo? Personally, I haven’t had this much fun writing since Ayame’s Phantasmogoria.
     
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 10
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2018
    Messages:
    49
    Likes Received:
    102
    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 10

    “Omnidirectional Warp!”

    Sakura shouted the aria even as she pulled the trigger, and loosed a trio of bolts from her crossbow. Like the bolts for her pocket crossbow, the bolts for her full-sized crossbow were made from manganese steel and magically-augmented, but with a key difference: they had tungsten cores and tips. Together with the increased power that came with a bigger crossbow, each bolt struck with the force of an armor-piercing, 20 mm cannon round.

    Flying through the air in a blur, the three bolts met the chittering mass of writhing, chitin-plated forms that boiled out of the shadows and which protectively placed themselves between Sakura and her reflection. Flesh and chitin were reduced to mulch as the bolt simply blew through the mass, and reduced the reflection’s torso into a mangled mess of ruined flesh and shattered bone.

    At the same time, more of the worms boiled out of the shadows, heaving like a hideous parody of an ocean swell towards Sakura. Their chittering built to a crescendo, their sinuous forms oozing slime as though in anticipation of forcing themselves into the young woman’s orifices. That, and fangs were bared, as most simply sought to tear into her flesh, by far the simplest and easiest way to enter and nest in her body.

    Then they crossed an unmarked boundary around Sakura…

    …and were promptly torn apart by her auto-defense mystery, omnidirectional warp.

    An application of the spatial manipulation properties of Imaginary Numbers, it functioned by folding anything that entered a set boundary into Imaginary Numbers Space. But this was no static storage – or imprisonment – within that separate dimension of reality. Nor was it a safe and near-instantaneous transit between two points in space-time through circumvention of the intervening distance.

    In omnidirectional warp, the spatial parameters were deliberately left undefined, essentially dumping anything folded through Imaginary Numbers Space into a quantum singularity. From there, they would be recycled and ejected back into the greater source of the World, that is the ambient field of mana naturally-generated by the environment.

    Such was the fate of the worms that tried to swarm Sakura, dozens and then hundreds of the writhing, lowly familiars visibly being torn apart before the resulting remains faded into the infinite depths of Imaginary Numbers Space. All in fractions of seconds to boot…

    …while Sakura reoriented herself, and flipping a switch, reset her crossbow from three-round bursts to full-auto.

    “Get away from me!” she shouted even as she pulled the trigger.

    Bolt after bolt launched from her crossbow, the sound of its mechanisms in operation a series of sharp and staccato notes. Roaring wordlessly, Sakura turned full-circle while keeping up the barrage, the cannon-like rounds of her crossbow blowing visible holes into the swarm and sending mulched remains splattering in great sheets across the floor and ceiling.

    And then with a wordless shout, Sakura’s reflection leapt out of the shadows, hand held out as though to grab. Witch light visibly shimmered around the hand, and Sakura drew a sharp breath in as she pivoted out of the way, wary of what would happen should her reflection make contact.

    Evading with barely inches to spare, Sakura brought her crossbow up, even as her reflection turned and raised an arm. Then bolts all but blew the reflection apart, and sent its remains flying away from Sakura.

    A sharp and final note rang in the dark, and Sakura hissed in dismay. That could only mean one thing.

    Snarling, Sakura ejected the spent ammunition drum, the empty container falling into Imaginary Numbers Space even as Sakura pulled out a fresh one, and loaded it into place. Metal rang sharply as it slid home, and then once more as a bolt was loaded into place.

    Sakura raised the crossbow to aim…

    …and then a glowing bolt blew a hole through her right shoulder, flesh melting and bone rotting on impact. Her eyes widened…

    …and then she screamed in agony, her right arm falling limp and her crossbow dropping to the ground with a clatter, the mystic code too heavy to carry with one hand, reinforcement or not. Still screaming, Sakura grabbed her ruined shoulder…

    …as another bolt narrowly missed perforating her skull, and instead burned a gash across her left temple. Even then, it was enough to compromise her sight, and send her tumbling to the ground.

    “That was just a taste, Sakura!” Sakura’s reflection spat, rising to its full height even as its flesh flowed like wax to recover from the damage inflicted by Sakura’s crossbow. “Put the toy down, take your clothes off, and lie down! Playtime’s over, and…!”

    Snarling once more, Sakura pulled out a pocket crossbow with her functioning hand, and loosed after a moment to aim. The explosive bolt blew a hole at least six-inches across through the reflection’s torso, and floored it with a shout of pain.

    Sakura took advantage of that to get up, heaving shallow breaths and struggling to keep steady on her feet. Her right arm hung limp and useless to her side, while her left eye was closed, that side of her face and head slick with blood.

    Despite that, she kept her right eye on her reflection, face set resolutely as the reflection pulled itself together.

    “…why?”

    Sakura blinked, or tried to, holding back a wince as the compromised muscles on the left side of her face protested painfully. “W-what?” she stammered.

    “Why?” the reflection repeated, staying on all fours on the ground. “Why are you still on your feet? Why are you still fighting? Why are you so strong?”

    Sakura’s mouth opened wordlessly in confusion, even as her reflection raised its face, violet eyes filled with hate, anger, and – surprisingly – envy meeting a blue eye firm with resolve.

    “WHY HAVEN’T YOU GIVEN UP?” the reflection screamed as it launched itself at Sakura once more. “WHY…?”

    Sakura raised another pocket crossbow, this one loaded with anti-spirit rounds. A bolt buried itself in the reflection’s left shoulder, and it screamed in agony as blue-white lightning exploded over its body from the bolt. Sakura loosed again, and two more bolts buried themselves into the reflection’s left hip and right lung respectively.

    The screaming rose to a crescendo, all but drowning out the sharp crackling of displaced air from the lightning, and then both died down, the reflection slumping weakly to the ground. “…why…?” it whispered.

    Sakura lowered her crossbow, the resolute set of her face softening with understanding and pity. “…if you’re really me…” she said with a shake of her head. “…then you know I never give up. But then again, you’re not me, are you? Not really…”

    Sakura paused to briefly look away. “…you gave up.” She finally said while turning back to her reflection. “That’s why you asked that question…all of them…everything you just asked me, it all comes back to that. Or am I wrong?”

    There was no answer, and Sakura closed her eyes while shaking her head. “If you want an answer,” she began while reopening her eyes. “You only had to try.”

    The reflection lifted its head, face twisted with rage. “You think it’s that easy?” she roared.

    Sakura tilted her head. “I never said it was easy.” She said.

    The reflection grit its teeth, black and poisoned blood oozing from its wounds and mouth, and dripping down from its nose. Sakura stared for a long moment, and then slowly approached. She and her reflection kept their eyes on each other’s own, until they were in front of each other.

    And then raising her crossbow, Sakura reversed it, and offered it to her reflection.

    In a heartbeat, the reflection grabbed the mystic code and pointed it up at Sakura. Sakura just stared down, impassive and unmoved, and then the reflection began to laugh. It was equally shrill and soft, not entirely sane and in no way innocent, and then it shook its head.

    “You’re a damn fool, Sakura Tohsaka.” It mockingly said, before lifting and pointing the crossbow at its own head. And then it pulled the trigger, the reflection’s body jerking as its head was blown apart.

    Then it fell against the ground, the crossbow clattering against the stone floor as it did. The remaining worms’ chittering faded into disappointed silence, and then Sakura snorted.

    “Maybe I am,” she admitted. “But it’s better than the alternative.”

    For a long moment, her reflection’s corpse lay in a growing pool of its own blood…

    …and then as though a condition were met, it vanished, along with the witch light and the remains of the worms and all the filth inside the room. Instead, Sakura stood alone in a stone room with walls lined with obsidian mirrors, before stone heaved and an exit was revealed on the far side of the room.

    Returning her weapons to Imaginary Numbers Space, Sakura winced as she clutched at her ruined shoulder, before running through the exit and down the passageway beyond. Again, stone heaved and the door slid shut, Tezcatlipoca’s image leering triumphantly in the dark.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “Argh! That’s bright!”

    Touko hissed as she stepped through the exit, emerging from a portal built into the side of the pyramid and onto one of its stepped levels. Moments after passing through, stone heaved and sealed the exit behind her. Still blinking at the bright Sun outside – it seemed to be just around noon, give or take an hour or so – Touko silently regarded the seamless but time-pitted stone behind her for several moments, before sighing and looking around.

    Now that her eyes had adjusted to the sunlight, it seemed that she’d emerged about a third of the way up the pyramid, and not far from one of the stairways carved into its sides towards the summit. Walking along the level’s edge towards the stairs, it took only a couple of minutes to reach them.

    Stepping around the gnarled image of Tlaloc, Touko nearly slipped on the stairs, built steep if wide, and like the pyramid or indeed, the rest of the city, worn and battered by millennia of desolation under the onslaught of the elements. Looking up the stairs towards the summit above, Touko sighed.

    This is going to take a while.” She thought. A moment later and she found herself regarding the dead-eyed gaze of Tlaloc, the god’s image flanking the stairway on either side each and every time it passed one level to the next. “Tlaloc…unsurprising he’s here…but not really the most…encouraging, of any of the Mesoamerican gods…

    Sighing once more, Touko began to climb. As expected, it was long and tiresome, taking the better part of another hour by the time she reached the summit. A canopy of what looked like obsidian in a stone frame held up by four pillars stood at the summit, the pillars carved like dragons wound protectively around the stone with their heads protectively glaring outwards in four different directions.

    It also seemed that at some point in the past, sculptures of jaguars guarded the canopy’s base, though all were gone now. The only indication they were even there was the shattered remains of one of them, standing opposite from the side Touko had come up on.

    The Grand Magus blinked as motion from below drew her away from her examination of the broken jaguar sculpture…

    …and then with a yell of alarm, she was clambering down another stairway, risking sliding down and breaking herself against the stone, to where her apprentice was lying unconscious on the stairs, blood pooling around her and dripping down the steps.

    “Oh fucking hell no…” Touko said with a shake of her head. “…no, no, no, no…damn it, girl, this is no place for you to die at…”

    Gathering Sakura into her arms, Touko reinforced her body as she heaved her up, wincing as she spotted the ruined and infected remains of the younger woman’s right shoulder. “Hang in there, Sakura.” She whispered urgently. “Do you hear me, girl? Hang in there!”

    There was movement above, followed by a voice. “Hello, my friends…what the…? Touko!” Benedek shouted from above.

    “Benedek, get down here!” Touko shouted. “Help me with Sakura!”

    Without further words, Benedek was rushing down the stairway, and together with Touko lifted the unconscious Sakura up to the summit.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “How bad is it?” Benedek asked.

    “Bad,” Touko hissed, busy setting a splint for Sakura’s arm, her ruined shoulder already bound with a thick bandage to stop the bleeding and slow the infection. The same went for her head wound. “I’m going to have to completely rebuild her shoulder when we get back to camp. I’ll also have to do something about that head wound, otherwise it’s going to scar.”

    “What could have caused that degree of injury?” Benedek wondered. “Booby traps inside the pyramid? Her trial?”

    “We’ll find out once she wakes up.” Touko said. “Though she probably passed her trial, otherwise she wouldn’t be here.”

    “Fair enough.” Benedek conceded, before turning away to regard the pyramid’s summit. He’d already seen most of it earlier, when he first climbed up and before he’d gone to help Touko and Sakura, but he hadn’t really taken in the details.

    Now, as he looked up at the obsidian canopy and how it focused the light down on the carving below…

    …no…not mere carvings…

    …it was a map.

    And somehow, he just knew where they were supposed to go.

    “Hey…?” he began.

    “What?” Touko snapped, still fussing over her apprentice.

    “Come take a look at this for a moment…” Benedek said, waving Touko over.

    Grumbling and heaving an unhappy sigh, Touko did just that. “This better be…oh.” Touko began only to trail off, her irritation torpedoed by realization. “…I…huh…”

    “…seems like passing our trials also planted the knowledge we needed – how to get to the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent at Rising Sun Point – directly into our heads.” Benedek observed. And then catching himself, blinked and narrowed his eyes. “And what it’s actually called.”

    “So it would seem.” Touko agreed with a nod. “Though, not what we can expect over there.”

    Benedek hummed in agreement, and then Touko was going back to Sakura. “So what now?” he asked, following her with his eyes.

    “I need to finish patching up Sakura, and then we’ll head back to camp.” Touko replied.

    Benedek hummed again, and looked on in silence as Touko continued to fuss over her apprentice. After a few minutes though, said apprentice began to stir, feverishly swaying back and forth, and fluttering her eyes open.

    And then throwing them wide, she pulled a pocket crossbow out of seemingly nowhere with her free hand…

    …only for Touko to grab her by the wrist and point the crossbow to empty air. “Easy, Sakura!” she barked. “It’s only us.”

    “Master…?”

    “Yeah…it’s me…”

    Sakura relaxed, breathing heavily as she slumped against the pillar Touko had laid her on. “I…I’m not doing so good…” she groaned.

    “Yeah…no kidding…” Touko said with a sigh, before gathering the younger woman into her arms again. “Come on kid, let’s get out of here. We have what we want, and we can talk later, once we’re somewhere safe.”

    “Hmm…”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “So what’s the story? How’d you get this bad?”

    Sakura and Touko were sitting in their pavilion hours later, the journey back from the Pyramid of the Mirror of the Sun thankfully quick and without trouble. Now, master and apprentice were seated next to each other, Sakura stripped down to her waist to allow Touko to work on her shoulder.

    Touko had her sleeves rolled up, her hands covered by surgical gloves and her face masked. Having cleaned Sakura’s shoulder and cut out dead and rotting flesh, to say nothing of shattered and broken bone, the Grand Magus could begin the task of literally rebuilding the ruined shoulder.

    Sakura shrugged…

    …or at least she tried to, what with the right side of her body numb and effectively-paralyzed thanks to the effects of anesthetic. “The illusions conjured by the mysteries in that temple were nasty, master.” She said. “I…I’m not sure how realistic what…what they showed me was, but its attacks were…powerful…”

    “…you used your omnidirectional warp, didn’t you?” Touko asked after a moment.

    “Yes.”

    “…very nasty indeed…” Touko agreed.

    And why shouldn’t she? Between Sakura’s forty A-rank magic circuits, plus the sheer rarity – and thus profoundness of the resulting mysteries – of her Sorcery Trait, for an offensive mystery to break through her omnidirectional warp would require a rank of at least A.

    The same went for familiars, and spirits…

    …Imaginary Numbers were especially effective against spirits. Sakura and her mysteries didn’t have enough accumulated weight to affect Heroic, Divine, and Nature Spirits, but common spirits would be completely helpless against her. The same went for Animal and Guardian Spirits with less than five hundred years of accumulated weight, to say nothing of mere apparitions and wraiths.

    “…we might think of Estray’s people as silly old men and women with their heads stuck up their own asses,” Touko continued. “And rightly so…but thing is, they’re not completely wrong either.”

    “The best lies have a touch of truth at their heart, huh?” Sakura asked.

    “…not completely appropriate,” Touko said after a moment. “But not completely incorrect either. The Age of Man and its works both mundane and supernatural aren’t completely worthless despite what Estray might think…but while the gods are dead and gone, the mysteries they crafted and which Estray trumpet are indeed powerful and profound.”

    Sakura said nothing, merely nodding in agreement. She knew and understood that much.

    Touko continued working in silence for several more minutes, and after finishing the bone work, began to do the same for the flesh around. “What’d you see anyway?” she asked.

    Sakura did not answer for a very long time, so much so that Touko thought and accepted that she wouldn’t. She was prepared to let it go, master or not, privacy was still a thing, and facing one’s own inner demons was understandably in that area.

    But then Sakura answered.

    “I saw myself.” She said softly.

    “…talk about facing one’s inner demons.” Touko murmured, and Sakura nodded.

    “…I saw myself as a lab rat, and deluded into thinking that was all I was ever born to be.” She softly continued.

    “A lab rat?” Touko echoed. “Really?”

    “Why else would its hair and irises have been violet?” Sakura asked back. “Only alchemy could have done such a thing…and to such an extent…what a nightmare that would be…”

    Touko briefly looked away, humming in thought, and nodded in agreement. “Is that all?” she asked while resuming work.

    “…master, do you know of any…magical construct or whatnot, that looks like a…well, a worm, that looks like a man’s dick, with fangs at its head?”

    Touko froze, and looked at Sakura incredulously. “Are you seriously asking me that question?” she asked in a disbelieving tone.

    “…yes.”

    “That sounds a lot like crest worms to me.” Touko said with an expression of mixed disgust and disbelief. “Disgusting things…who would use them in this day and age? Talk about barbaric.”

    “I…do I want to know?”

    “From what I know they’re parasites.” Touko said while continuing to work on Sakura’s shoulder. “They nest in their host, feeding on blood and flesh in men, but driving up a woman’s sexual frustration to force her into having sexual relations to produce prana for them to feed on. Male hosts die in a matter of months to a year or two as their bodies are torn apart from the inside out. Female hosts go mad one way or another in about the same time.”

    “…why on Earth would anyone let those things nest in them?” Sakura asked, disgusted.

    “Crest worms have the ability to widen magic circuits, allowing for more power and quality.” Touko replied. “You know how magi are. Some greedy – or desperate – morons would think the risk worth it.”

    “…guess I can’t argue with you there.”

    “That,” Touko continued after a moment. “And they’re technically a Phantasmal Species…though I personally disagree with that assessment.”

    “Seriously?” Sakura asked, her turn to be incredulous this time.

    “About what?” Touko asked back.

    “They’re a Phantasmal Species.” Sakura said. “Those things were going down the drain into Imaginary Numbers Space like there was no tomorrow.”

    “And that’s why I disagree with them being considered one.” Touko said. “Even if they can’t normally exist as per the rules of physics, they shouldn't qualify to be considered a Phantasmal Species, even of just Monstrous Rank. Care to guess why?”

    “…the appearance of a Phantasmal Species is supposed to be comparable to True Magic.” Sakura said with a nod after a moment.

    “Precisely,” Touko said with a nod. “Even your basic familiar made from a dead animal has a higher quality than a single fucking crest worm.”

    “…even used in swarms,” Sakura remarked after a moment. “It’s still like multiplying something against zero. The answer still comes out as zero.”

    “And that doesn’t factor in how suicidal the other side-effects of using them are.” Touko said with a nod.

    Sakura nodded as well, and then master and apprentice settled into silence as Touko continued to mold and knit Sakura’s flesh back together. After nearly half an hour, Touko finished, and moved onto the gash along the side of Sakura’s head.

    “…I’m guessing your…reflection, was using crest worms?” Touko asked as she cleaned the gash. “I can’t think of any other reason why you’d be asking about them otherwise.”

    “Yup.”

    “Huh…guessing you weren’t found by me then in that kind of scenario…and probably by some third-rate hack or whatnot instead.”

    Sakura snorted and then laughed. “Guess I got lucky then.” She said. “Really lucky.”

    Touko snorted in her turn. “Nothing wrong with being lucky.” She said. “Some people would downplay it, or even dismiss it entirely, but me? That’s just sour grapes, nothing more and nothing less. Hell, we lionize geniuses and prodigies, but the only reason they’re geniuses and prodigies in the first place is that they were lucky to be born with such talent. The same goes for all those snobby aristocrats with their heads up their asses, whether magi or not. How many of them earned their money with their own hands? Their status in society? How many of them only got it because they were born with the right names at the right time?”

    Snorting again, Touko shook her head. “Never be ashamed about getting lucky.” She said. “There’s no reason to be.”

    Sakura nodded in understanding, and again silence fell, as Touko worked on Sakura’s head wound.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “So we now know where the final destination is.” Alba said.

    “Yes.” Touko said with a nod.

    They were standing around a map table in the command tent, coffee available to one side. The magi had freshened up, changed clothes, and in Sakura’s case, sported a sling to hold her right arm in place for the night.

    It should be back to normal by tomorrow, though it’ll probably be stiff come morning.

    Oh, and drink these. Something to replenish lost blood, and to keep off any potential infection.

    “Where exactly?” Alba asked.

    The three magi pointed as one to a point on the map. “Rising Sun Point, that’s what the Mayan name for it more or less means in English.” Touko said. “The Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent is there, at least the last one she personally graced with her presence.”

    “Her?” Alba echoed.

    “Yeah,” Sakura said with a nod. “Turns out everyone whether magi or not have been…misinformed, the whole time. Quetzalcoatl wasn’t a god but a goddess.”

    “I suspect the Aztecs or even the post-Classic Maya were too.” Touko said.

    “And you know this…how?” Alba asked.

    “Passing the trials of the Mirror of the Sun planted information in our heads.” Benedek explained. “It’s…subconscious, really…it told us where the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent was, and in hindsight, corrected some misconceptions about the Feathered Serpent as well.”

    “Huh…well, I guess I won’t pry there…so what’s the plan, boss lady?”

    Touko glanced at the captain evenly, and then nodded. “…we get a good night’s rest,” she said. “And then we head out at dawn.”

    “…alright then.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    A couple more weaknesses of Sakura’s omnidirectional warp I couldn’t properly insert into the chapter: it doesn’t affect Humans unless they let it. Not without Angra Mainyu’s curse (this is also why she can’t affect higher-level spirits like Dark Sakura can i.e. Heroic/Divine/Nature Spirits). And without Matou absorption magecraft, Sakura can’t absorb the resulting prana when something is sucked into the quantum singularity that comes from Imaginary Numbers Space having undefined parameters.
     
  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 11
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 11
    “There it is: The Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent.”

    The magi and their Devil Dog escorts made good time during the day as they made their way from the Pyramid of the Mirror of the Sun towards the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. The Sun shone bright and hot, drying the roads enough to allow the convoy to speed along despite the rough ground, no deadfalls and other such impediments slowing them down along the way.

    Eager to keep up the pace, the convoy took their lunch on the move, and as the Sun began to set, setting the sky ablaze with gold and orange, they looked out from a ridgeline onto their final destination in the distance. The Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent was built atop a hill, a steep stairway carved into the hillside leading from a ceremonial archway before the pyramid’s base down to overgrown ruins below, which must have been a fair-sized city in times past.

    As they set their eyes on the pyramid, the three magi felt a strange sense of fulfilment fall over them, and apprehensive anticipation as well. They had reached their goal, and yet…

    …would it really be as easy as simply entering the pyramid and claiming their prize? Would there even still be a prize to claim? Was there even a prize in the first place?

    As the Sun set and darkness fell over the lowlands, the convoy rumbled to a halt in the middle of a square in the ruins. They were less extensive than initially thought, less a city and more a small town, probably meant service the needs of the priests, warriors, and their families who had once tended and guarded the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent.

    Devil Dogs bustled across the ruins, setting up camp and basic fortifications, while the magi looked up at the pyramid looming above, barely visible in the light of the setting Sun. In a few minutes, that too was gone and leaving the pyramid a dark shadow against the starry skies, a sickly-thin Moon unable to cast enough light to illuminate the pyramid.

    “Come on,” Touko said with a jerk of her head. “Let’s go, enough gawking…we’ll do more than enough of that when we climb those stairs tomorrow.”

    Sakura and Benedek grunted in acknowledgement as they followed Touko to the command tent. “So,” Alba began. “We’re almost at the end of our journey, aren’t we?”

    “Not quite,” Touko disagreed. “We’ve almost reached our – prospected – prize, but the journey’s not over until we get back to where we started.”

    Alba shrugged and nodded in agreement, before turning his attention back to the maps spread on the table. “…expecting trouble?” Benedek asked as they approached and noticed what it was.

    “Yes.” Alba admitted without hesitation. “Whether it’s bandits, mercenaries working for other people, and – hopefully not but you never know – government troops, I want us ready for if they come to make trouble.”

    The magi nodded in agreement, all the while studying the map in silence. “That should cover the direct route towards the stairs leading up to the pyramid.” Touko said with a nod a few moments later. “Though you’d be vulnerable if our rivals attack while we’re gone…nothing a few puppets left behind won’t solve…”

    Touko trailed off, studying the map of the surrounding area with a tilted head, before running her fingers over the hill’s icon. “But,” she said. “There’s more than one way to reach the pyramid.”

    “You mean…climb the hillsides?” Sakura asked. “That’s…from what I saw earlier, they were very steep.”

    “And?” Touko asked back. “Would that be enough to stop magi?”

    “…no, it wouldn’t.” Sakura admitted with a slow nod. “Should I send spirits to keep an eye out and take action if it comes to that?”

    Touko thought it over for several moments, and then shook her head. “No,” she said. “Let them climb up the hillsides if that’s what they want.”

    “Master?”

    Touko ignored her apprentice for the moment. “Most likely,” she said. “If our rivals arrive before we finish, they’ll launch a two-pronged attack. One will be from the front, with their own mercenaries, to draw attention there.”

    “Basically, a distraction.” Alba remarked, and Touko nodded.

    “Yes,” she said. “While the mercenaries draw all attention their way, our rival magi will either try to slip through the gaps in or around your lines, and taking advantage of the battle’s confusion, reach the stairway.”

    Touko then paused, and turned to Sakura. “Leave spirits to guard the bottom of the stairway, and to support the puppets I’ll be leaving behind.” She said.

    “But not the hillsides?” Sakura asked.

    Touko smirked. “If they’re crazy enough to try scaling the hillsides,” she said. “And are either or both skilled and lucky enough to succeed, then we might as well grace them with a battle between magi. It might also be of…ritual, significance.”

    “…the battle, and the ones who die in it…sacrifices to Quetzalcoatl?” Sakura breathed.

    Touko shrugged. “Quetzalcoatl was only against Human sacrifices.” She said. “She still demanded sacrifices from her followers, specifically that of hummingbirds and butterflies.”

    Sakura’s eyes were wide. “Butterflies…?” she echoed.

    “Yes, butterflies.”

    “I…huh…you learn something new every day.”

    Touko nodded. “That you do.” She agreed. “And more to the point, animal sacrifices and opposition to Human sacrifices aside, she wasn't against getting her - or her followers’ - hands dirty to achieve her ends. At the end of the day, she was still a Mesoamerican Divine Spirit, and everything that entails. If nothing else, we prove our strength, in more ways than one. That should satisfy ritual requirements as inferred from the general themes of the Mesoamerican mythos.”

    Alba coughed. “So,” he began. “Basically, we keep their hired guns off your backs, while you back us up with those…puppets, and spirits of yours, in case they try to use magic on us. Unless they find another way to go up the hill, in which case, we basically just make sure you have a way to get back to civilization.”

    “Either way, that’s the job we’re paying you to do.” Touko cheekily replied. “And as you’ve noticed, it’s not like we’re leaving you out on your own either.”

    “Point…on both counts.” Alba said, while pulling a cigarette from a pack. Putting it in his mouth, he lit it before taking a drag and then nodded while blowing out a stream of smoke. “Alright then, boss lady. Just leave it to us.”

    “That I will.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “So…what do you expect we’ll find, master?”

    Touko glanced at her apprentice, who was preparing for bed in their shared pavilion. “Not a clue,” she admitted. “Though I’m hoping after the Mirror of the Sun, we won’t have to face anymore so-called trials.”

    Sakura winced at the phantom pain lancing through her shoulder. “Yeah, no argument there.” She muttered, before raising her voice. “But…?”

    Touko shrugged. “The trials at the Mirror of the Sun seem to have been under Tezcatlipoca’s authority.” She said. “Or the echoes of his authority, given the ending of the Age of Gods and all.”

    Sakura nodded in understanding. “So…we still might end up having to face Quetzalcoatl’s trials?” she asked.

    “We just might, so don’t let your guard down.” Touko said, before thoughtfully tilting her head to one side. “And even if there aren’t any trials, whatever Quetzalcoatl left behind before she left is certain to have protections on and around it.”

    “Oh great, booby traps…really wonderful…”

    Touko smiled indulgently at her apprentice’s grumbling. “Well, no one said this was going to be easy.” She pointed out. “And it’s unreasonable to assume that Quetzalcoatl would have left the treasures she couldn’t bring with her unprotected, not with the bad blood between her and the other gods at the time.”

    “Point…” Sakura admitted.

    “Then again,” Touko mused aloud. “Somehow…I just get the feeling…that Quetzalcoatl wouldn’t have minded mortals getting their hands on her treasures…so long as they were worthy of it, that is.”

    “…which brings the argument full-circle,” Sakura said with a sigh, before letting herself fall backwards and into her camp bed. “If the mortals who get her treasures have to be worthy…”

    “…then there will be trials ahead of us at the pyramid.” Touko concluded with a nod. “Oh well…if that’s the case, we just have to shoulder on, don’t we?”

    “Can’t be helped…” Sakura said with another sigh. “…unless we turn back now…”

    “Hmm…but you don’t want that, do you?” Touko knowingly asked.

    “I’m not a quitter, master.” Sakura said.

    “Good,” Touko said with a nod. “Because I’m not either.”

    Silence fell between master and apprentice, Sakura lying on her bed with her arms folded behind her head, Touko seated a few feet away on a camp chair, reading a book on Mesoamerican culture. After several moments though, Touko glanced towards her apprentice at the sound of sheets rustling, and smiled softly at Sakura curling up while rolling on her side to sleep.

    “Sleep well, kid.” She said.

    “Hmm…you too, master.” Sakura softly returned.

    “…just rest easy.” Touko said after a moment. “We managed to get through Tezcatlipoca’s trials. And compared to Quetzalcoatl, he’s a mean piece of work. So we should all do just fine.”

    Sakura just hummed in acknowledgement, and after a couple of minutes her breathing evened out, the younger woman slipping into slumber. Touko read on for another half hour before she set her book aside, a marker left to mark the place she stopped reading at. Then slipping into her own camp bed, Touko gestured once to turn the lamp off, and rolling onto her side, closed her eyes to sleep as well.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    The Sun shone hot and bright amidst the clear blue sky come the following day. If one were superstitious, and considering the importance of the Sun in the Mesoamerican – and even Japanese, considering two of the magi present were Japanese – mythos, it could be seen as an auspicious sign.

    It was as though the gaze of the solar deities were upon them, and perhaps even blessing them with the light to see their journey through.

    The three magi were halfway up the stairs when the rumble of explosions echoed through the air. Halting their climb, the three magi turned around, looking down the hillside and over the jungles beyond.

    Clouds of smoke had risen above and drifted with the breeze over the canopy, and as they kept watching, more explosions erupted across the jungle.

    “Looks like they’ve set off the minefields.” Benedek remarked.

    “So it would seem.” Touko agreed.

    Then the rapid, staccato bursts of gunfire could be heard through the air, moments before a bright red beam seemed to lance down from a point above the ruins. A high-pitched keening rang through the air over the distance, the magi looking as the beam cut a long swath across the jungle.

    And again…and again…and again…

    “There goes your puppet, master.” Sakura remarked.

    “What about your spirits?” Touko asked. “Has anything or anyone tried to slip through or go around yet?”

    “None so far.”

    “I see.”

    Touko nodded, and spared the battle a final glance before turning back up towards the pyramid. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get a move on.”

    Sakura and Benedek didn’t say anything and just followed Touko up the stairs. Behind and below, the sounds of battle continued, but the magi shut them out while continuing to climb the stairs towards the pyramid.

    It took another hour to reach the summit, where stood a ceremonial arch before a paved path that led to the pyramid’s base. The arch may have had gates in times past, but they were gone now, no doubt having been made of wood and long since rotted away.

    Stone sculptures of jaguars stood guard before the arch’s pillars, and hieroglyphs had been carved on the pillars and arch alike, while a dragon’s head snarled in warning at the arch’s pinnacle. The magi paid it no mind, and proceeded down the path, past more sculptures this time of dragons on plinths, hieroglyphs carved on the latter.

    “Quetzalcoatl?” Sakura asked while regarding the stone dragons. “Or her divine servants?”

    “Probably the latter,” Touko said. “These dragons have no feathers, while Quetzalcoatl’s draconic form should have feathers. Feathered Serpent, remember?”

    “Right, right…still, I knew she was the Mesoamerican equivalent to Jesus Christ, but…to actually have dragons as her servants?” Sakura breathed. “Quetzalcoatl must have really been a big deal.”

    “Considering worship of her was a constant over thousands of years of Mesoamerican civilization,” Touko said. “Even long after her exile and the ending of the Age of Gods…I am not surprised.”

    “…hmm…” Benedek hummed in thought. “…if so powerful then, how could she have been defeated?”

    “All the other gods ganged up on her.” Touko said with a glance at her colleague. “Even for someone like her, that must have been too much to handle on her own.”

    “Hmm…makes sense…”

    Reaching the end of the path, the magi passed through another arch, this time set against a high stone wall. The wall’s façade was bare of ornamentation, though once again jaguars guarded the arch’s pillars, which were inscribed with yet more hieroglyphs and again featuring a snarling dragon’s head at its peak.

    Passing through the arch, they found themselves in a long, rectangular court, pillared galleries running to the left and right, with the stone doors of the pyramid sealed shut at the far end. A towering statue of a coiled serpent rested in the middle of the square, massive wings as though of an eagle folded over its back, stone head looking at the archway as though in thought.

    Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent of myth and legend, no doubt, and in her draconic form to boot.

    And there, standing before the sealed doors on the far side of the square, were a pair of figures. They stayed silent and still, waiting for the newcomers to close the distance. Touko and Benedek narrowed their eyes as they approached, while Sakura just looked wary.

    “Greetings, Grand Magus Aozaki.” The corpulent man wearing a pith helmet over stereotypical safari wear said with a theatrical bow. “It is an unexpected pleasure to meet you, an honor even.”

    “It seems you have us at a disadvantage.” Touko replied.

    “Ah, my apologies!” the magus said with a nod. “I am Wilhelm, the Third Lord Carter. This is my apprentice, the Lady Isabelle Iceheart.”

    “Well, you know who I am.” Touko said with a nod of her own. “Though I wonder if you know my associates.”

    “Your apprentice is not known to me,” Lord Carter said with a measuring glance at Sakura. “But your associate…I am aware of Benedek Zobor, turncoat and murderer of his own family.”

    Sakura glanced sharply at Benedek, who looked unaffected. “They turned on me first, my lord.” He said. “I merely defended myself, and took compensation for their treachery.”

    “Humph,” Lord Carter snorted. “And you call yourself a magus? To sacrifice everything, even your own life and happiness, for the sake of your family, is an honor, obligation, and privilege all at the same time.”

    “So my brother said.” Benedek snapped. “About five minutes before I tore out a carotid artery. He couldn’t say much after that, though I’m not surprised. He bled out in less than a minute.”

    “…you truly have no shame, do you?” Lord Carter rhetorically asked with evident disgust. “And you, Grand Magus Aozaki…why do you lower yourself and your apprentice, and shame your families by consorting with such a…disgrace?”

    “…excuse me?” Touko asked with a dangerous tone.

    Sakura just sighed. “Here we go again…” she muttered, before raising her voice. “Master doesn’t like her family being brought up, but as for me…”

    Sakura paused and shrugged. “…don’t have a family.” She said.

    “Hmm…” Lord Carter hummed in thought. “I find it hard to believe a Grand Magus would take a no-name as her apprentice.”

    “That is none of your concern.” Touko snapped. “Who I keep company and cooperate with in pursuit of my goals is my business, and mine alone. And with your apprentice having previously tried to kill Sakura in Antigua on top of your…prying, I am losing patience with your interference. I suggest you leave while I still have patience to spare.”

    “No…I do not think I will leave.” Lord Carter said with a slow shake of his head. “We stand before one of the greatest remaining caches of relics and artifacts dating back to the Age of Gods. I cannot hardly turn back now, not when I am but a few steps away from taking them into my hands. How could I call myself a magus if I did so? Surely you would do the same in my place.”

    “Then you will die.” Touko said matter-of-fact.

    “…must I?” Lord Carter asked after a moment. “Surely we can come to an arrangement, Grand Magus Aozaki?”

    “I think not.” Touko said, drawing herself up and causing an alarmed Sakura and Benedek to slowly walk away. “Perhaps if it was just your apprentice trying to kill my apprentice, I could have let it go, and come to an arrangement with you. But you…you dare bring up my so-called family? I will kill you and enter the pyramid over your corpse if you do not leave…right now!”

    Lord Carter’s face was like stone, and he met Touko’s gaze evenly. After a moment, he turned away in shame. “What a waste…” he said, while pulling out a mystic code, a hexagonal rod of clear crystal. “…to think that someone like you would be born with the talent of a Grand Magus…truly…it is such a waste…”

    Touko cracked her neck, and gestured for Lord Carter with her fingers. “Bring it.” She said.

    Lord Carter raised his mystic code. “Lateral growth.” He said.

    In an instant, laterally-inclined nodes sprouted from the side of the crystal facing Touko, and launched out in the form of needle-like rods. They shot through the air in Touko’s direction, as though to impale her body.

    In the blink of an eye, Touko raised a hand, and snapped her fingers. Small explosions erupted in the air, as the crystals flying towards her were blown apart. “Impressive…your reaction speed is most impressive…” Lord Carter mused. “…most likely the result of reinforcement, but considering your background, self-made modifications to your body could also be a factor.”

    This is the part I hate about magi duels.” Touko thought as she blew up a second wave of crystals headed her way. “It’s not like fighting at all. We take turns taking potshots or defending against each other, and use the time between turns to dissect each other’s mysteries.

    “How are you able to grow the crystal without any external material input?” she asked aloud.

    “Wouldn’t you care to know?” Lord Caster asked back with a smug smile, and launched another volley.

    “I wonder…a living crystal…?” Touko mused while snapping her fingers to intercept. “If so…where did you get it from?”

    Lord Carter continued to smile, but said nothing. “No matter,” Touko said. “I’m sure I can figure that out, and how that crystal of yours functions, once I take it off your corpse after this battle.”

    “Hmm…we shall see.”

    Touko narrowed her eyes, and rather than intercept, dodged the next volley instead. “My turn.” She said, snapping her fingers in Lord Carter’s direction.

    The resulting explosive plume of fire visibly displaced the surrounding air, and causing a bloom of heat across the whole court. Stone flags and walls hissed and cracked, weeds poking through between the former turning into ash on the wind.

    “Taking things up a notch, aren’t you, Grand Magus?” Lord Carter asked grimly, as the flames died and showed him unhurt, surrounded by a shimmering globe of magic. “And how very interesting…your control of the fire element isn’t simply a matter of using prana as a fuel to generate flames or explosions …you’re actually manipulating your target and the environment’s molecules. Or am I wrong?”

    Touko’s answer was another snap of her fingers, and another explosive blast of fire.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Benedek held out a hand, manipulating the moisture into the air to form several razor-edged shards of ice. They hung in the air for a moment, and then lanced out at blinding speed along a general vector but at subtly-different angles and speeds from each other.

    The Goshawk familiar dove and banked wildly, dodging and flying around each and every one of the projectiles. They had been fired to take into account a bird’s natural command of the air, and its expected ability to alter its flight path at its leisure to avoid incoming projectiles.

    Even then, it wasn’t enough.

    The Goshawk just flew clean past them all, and cried out in triumph.

    Only…

    …none of them were expected to hit at all.

    They were meant to let Benedek get the range in. And now that he had…

    …he gestured once more…

    …and the Goshawk fell from the sky, encased in ice. It struck and rolled against the ground with a series of thuds, and then was still.

    “Do you really think you can take me on?” Benedek asked Lady Iceheart. He gestured, and ice crystals formed and began to spread over the woman’s clothes and body. It was slow compared to what happened to the bird, no doubt due to the female magus’ magic resistance, but they formed, spread, and merged together into a thickening prison of ice regardless.

    And then with a defiant shout, Lady Iceheart poured prana through her circuits, and shattered the ice over her. “It’s not going to be that easy, murderer.” She spat.

    Benedek held out his Azoth Dagger, and the opal at the pommel flashed before ice encased the blade and extended outwards, forming a saber. Then holding the weapon point upwards with his right hand, Benedek made a x-shaped flourish as a salute, before finishing with the weapon held in a relaxed, one-handed low guard.

    Lady Iceheart growled low in her throat, and drawing her own saber, held it in a two-handed middle guard.

    “Sabers are supposed to be one-handed weapons, you know.” Benedek remarked with an air of disappointment.

    Lady Iceheart narrowed her eyes at the remark…

    …and then lunged forward while switching to a one-handed grip, and delivered a series of slashes that Benedek effortlessly parried. Then riposting, Benedek counterattacked, delivering a trio of cuts at Lady Iceheart’s torso.

    Lady Iceheart parried them all, only to fall for a feint and only clumsily-succeed in parrying a thrust aimed at her face. Turning the blow aside, she counterattacked, only for Benedek to cleanly back away, head tilted questioningly.

    “You bear the title of ‘lady’ so proudly,” he observed. “And yet this murderer you cross blades with isn’t even being breaking a sweat.”

    Lady Iceheart growled while backing away in her turn, as Benedek unhurriedly advanced on her. She kept her sword held out in a middle guard, this time one-handed, before once again switching to a two-handed grip.

    Then she lunged, Benedek dodging the thrust aimed at his chest, before swinging at her neck. Lady Iceheart parried, steel grinding against ice, the woman’s face twisting in discomfort at the awkward angle she’d parried with.

    “Is that the best you can do?” Benedek mocked.

    Snarling at the mockery, Lady Iceheart ground her blade free and pressed the offensive, swinging at Benedek’s torso. He parried but she pressed the offensive again, cutting at his leg only for Benedek to parry again. A third cut aimed at his head was dodged, leaving her open for a swing to the chest that she avoided only by the narrowest of margins.

    Smiling coolly, Benedek advanced and took the offensive. A thrust towards Lady Iceheart’s chest was parried…then a swing at her head was parried…then a feint to the right left her open, allowing Benedek to cut into her arm, followed by a swing to cut into her thigh.

    Lady Iceheart fell to the ground with a cry, Benedek flourishing a salute before raising his saber to deliver the coup de grace.

    Ice cracked and shattered, and with a cry Lady Iceheart’s familiar broke free of its prison and threw itself against Benedek. Benedek carved it in half and backed away with an annoyed look on his face, while Lady Iceheart healed her wounds before grabbing her weapon and rising to her feet once more.

    “You should have gone for my head.” Lady Iceheart spat.

    “Apologies then,” Benedek returned with a sigh. “I was merely being courteous.”

    Lady Iceheart snarled, letting her one-handed grip on her saber shift while drawing a parrying dagger with her off hand. “Dual-wielding now?” Benedek remarked with an air of curiosity. “Very well…show me what you’ve got.”

    Lady Iceheart yelled while charging forward. Benedek went with the flow, blocking and turning swing after swing, Lady Iceheart focusing her attacks against his center of mass. And then as her offensive was spent, Benedek counterattacked, throwing his first swing against her torso.

    She parried with her dagger, but Benedek pressed the offensive, aiming his swings against her lower body, before shifting towards her head. Lady Iceheart parried them all, but the last swing knocked the dagger out of her hand, and forced her to back away, desperately and clumsily parrying a pair of swings aimed at her torso.

    Benedek held his ground, looking on as Lady Iceheart again shifted to a two-handed grip, saber held overhead in a high guard. And then lunging forward she attacked again and again, swinging at Benedek’s head, torso, and legs at random to throw him off. Benedek parried each and every strike, and then backed away as Lady Iceheart’s offensive spent itself.

    Lady Iceheart returned to her starting stance, breathing heavily but struggling to bring it back under control. As her breathing evened out, Benedek lunged to attack, focusing his swings against her center of mass, forcing her back with fast and powerful one-handed strikes, and then backing away as his offensive spent itself.

    His opponent refused to give him a reprieve, immediately counterattacking and again repeating her pattern of randomly-aimed swings. Benedek parried them all, and then counterattacked as soon as Lady Iceheart’s offensive spent itself.

    Two swings to the legs…then one at the head…another to the legs…and a feint to draw her in with a thrust to his chest…

    …and then sidestepping and swinging down, chopped Lady Iceheart’s right arm clean off above the elbow. Her scream of pain was cut short as Benedek sharply gestured with his off hand, and sent a shard of ice about eight inches long through her chest.

    The momentum carried her all the way across the court, and nailed her against the wall. Lady Iceheart gasped and gurgled, blood and bile bubbling from her mouth as her hands weakly scrabbled over the shard of frozen liquid going through her body.

    Ignoring the sight, Benedek dispelled his blade, the ice sublimating back into water vapor and leaving only the Azoth Dagger in his hand, the metal blade frosted over from the residual cold. Then glancing to where Lady Iceheart was nailed dead against the wall, Benedek tilted his head before giving a quip.

    “Hang around for as long as you want.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    We’re getting close to the end. Yes, I’m actually going to finish one of my stories. Amazing, isn’t it?

    Two, maybe three more chapters to go…that said, it wouldn’t do for our heroes to reach Quetzalcoatl’s hoard without some hindrances along the way. Heh…hoard…Quetzalcoatl has a hoard. I mean, yeah, she’s a dragon goddess so it fits, but still…she has a hoard…that cracks me up for some reason.
     
  13. Threadmarks: Chapter 12
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Chapter 12

    Sakura looked on from a safe distance as the other magi battled it out. While she’d initially kept an eye out for any opportunities to join in on the fighting, it quickly became clear that there was no need and thus no reason for her to. Both her master and Benedek had things fully covered on both their ends.

    More than that, even: her master was clearly not taking her fight seriously, though she wasn’t quite toying with Lord Carter either. Benedek was toying with Lady Iceheart, though.

    It certainly put into perspective just how much she still had to learn, and how she still had a long way to go before she could stand on her own as a magus. Especially when from the look of things, the best she could do against Lord Carter was stalemate him. And even then she’d struggle to keep from getting killed.

    Against Lady Iceheart it’d be a fairer fight, but only if she stayed out of melee range. Lady Iceheart might struggle against Benedek – no surprise that he was a master swordsman, after the revelation he was a fallen noble – but from the look of things she knew more and had greater experience fighting up close and personal than Sakura did.

    Well…with a sword or any proper weapon, more like. With surprise on her side, and a chair or a broken bottle on hand, Sakura just might be able to take Lady Iceheart on in hand-to-hand combat.

    That said, it would still be prudent and for the better to keep her distance, and to just bombard Lady Iceheart with crossbow bolts. Assuming they ever fought, of course…and that Lady Iceheart would survive this battle with Benedek.

    Sakura blinked as her reinforced ears heard boots striking the pavement hard and fast behind. With her spirits telling her that the Devil Dogs were all still tied down fighting the battle in the lowlands, that could only mean one thing.

    Pulling out a pocket crossbow from out of Imaginary Numbers Space, Sakura turned and held her weapon at the ready. She didn’t have to wait long. Six men in dark fatigues rushed in through the archway from both sides, MP5 submachine guns held low. As they spotted her, they raised their guns…

    …but with reinforcement, Sakura was faster.

    Stepping sideways at a light trot to avoid presenting the gunmen with a stationary target, Sakura loosed bolt after bolt from her crossbow, and aiming for the gunmen’s center of mass. The ballistic plates nestled inside the outer layers of the gunmen’s fatigues could easily block handgun rounds and even rifle rounds except at close range, but unfortunately for them, the bolts from Sakura’s pocket crossbows were comparable to heavy machine gun rounds.

    Men cried out as bolts ripped through cloth and metal and perforated their chests, lacerating their organs and inflicting shock and internal injuries. Three men went down dead in a second, and a fourth fell screaming while clutching at his gut. The remaining two split up while firing wildly, forcing Sakura to fall back, leapfrogging back and up, taking cover behind Quetzalcoatl’s wings.

    Focusing on the gunman further away, Sakura leaned out of cover for a split-second, took another split-second to aim, and loosed. Then she was falling back into cover, bullets striking the ancient stonework behind her. The gunfire slackened by half, the man she’d shot at having fallen dead, then another gun joined in.

    Probably that man who got shot in the gut earlier.” Sakura thought, and then blinked as the gunfire slackened. “Is he…?

    Sakura’s instincts were proven right when one of the two remaining gunmen tried to flank her…

    …only to get a bolt through a knee for his trouble. The man fell screaming, while Sakura ran out from behind Quetzalcoatl’s sculpture.

    The gunman with the belly wound had dragged himself away a short distance, leaving a smear of blood on the stone below and behind him. He’d only just finished reloading his sidearm, and aimed it at Sakura even as she aimed her crossbow at him. Then they fired at the same time.

    The bullet narrowly missed, only punching a hole through Sakura’s jacket as it flapped around her with her movements. Sakura also missed, though in her case, instead of finishing the man off, it buried itself into the stone floor.

    Through the man’s genitals, that is. Sakura winced in sympathy as the man howled and thrashed in agony, dropping his weapon and trying to pull the bolt free. She finished him off with a shot to the head, and then turned to the last gunman.

    She was moving to take a shot when a blast of fire erupted across the court, and reduced the last gunman to a charred smear on the ground.

    “Not bad, kid. Not bad at all.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Lady Iceheart’s death had Lord Carter growling in anger, and forced him to split his fire between Touko and Benedek. This made dodging or intercepting his attacks easier, something Touko took advantage of as she noticed her apprentice make short work – for the most part – of Lord Carter’s gunmen.

    Those that managed to make it to the temple grounds, at least.

    Time to finish this.

    Stepping around a volley of crystals and letting them fly past her, Touko smoothly slipped her glasses off, and fed prana through the magic circuits inside her eyes. Not just the ones she was born with – arguable considering her puppet body – but also the ones she had implanted to mirror her mystic eyes with.

    This caused her irises to glow a bright blue, and caused Lord Carter’s body to freeze mid-motion as she bound his physical functions in place. Then she extended her reach further, bypassing his mental faculties while accessing his nervous system, and through it, his magic circuits.

    You think you can bind me that easily!” the man’s thoughts echoed angrily through their newly-opened link. A thought later had his circuits flooding with prana, disrupting Touko’s attempts to puppet them, but that wasn’t enough to break it.

    It took but another thought, and Touko had adapted, once again moving to take control of Lord Carter’s magic circuits, but Lord Carter had clearly predicted this, as he now flooded his crest with prana. This proved more effective than just his own inborn circuits, and the man smiled as he broke Touko’s bindings, his mind’s eyes perceiving it as a shadowy spider’s web wound around and over him.

    In a single thought-second, they tore and blew away as though on a powerful wind…

    …and then they were there.

    WHAT?

    Lord Carter once again flooded his circuits and crest alike, and broke the bindings once more. And yet the bindings remained, no matter how many times he broke/blew/tore/ripped/sheared them away.

    WHAT IS THIS?











    Did you think it’d be that easy to break my eyes’ hold?

    Lord Carter gave a mental gasp of shock and disbelief as Touko completely circumvented his crest and magic circuits’ protection by shutting down his peripheral nervous system. In an instant he felt numb and cold, unable to feel his body in its entirety, his protective spells failing as his magic circuits closed as though by default without any direction from his brain.

    How could there be? With his peripheral nervous system offline, there was no way for Lord Carter’s mind to get its directives across his body and to his magic circuits.

    It wasn’t just his magic circuits though. Muscles relaxed in the absence of direction, causing Lord Carter to begin crumpling to the ground.

    He never reached it though. Instead, as his eyes locked with Touko’s in resigned acceptance of defeat and impending death, he saw her gesture in his direction, and snap her fingers once.

    The fireball blew the flesh clean off Lord Carter’s bones, his skeleton silhouetted amidst the flames, the firelight casting his skull’s grin in ghastly colors. And then they too were gone, reduced to crumbling ash in the wind.

    “…game over.” Touko quipped, before turning away from the blackened ground, and to where her apprentice was mopping up.

    One gunman was lying on the ground, dragging himself away and leaving a smear of blood behind him from his ruined knee. Touko snapped her fingers, and similarly finished him off like she did his employer.

    Then she was smiling, as she spotted her apprentice, crossbow in hand. “Not bad, kid.” Touko said. “Not bad at all.”

    Sakura hurried over while putting her crossbow away, back into Imaginary Numbers Space. “Master,” she began. “Are you alright?”

    “Naturally,” Touko replied casually. “Not one scratch…you?”

    Sakura sighed, and holding her jacket open wide, looked glumly at the bullet hole on one side. “…I really liked this jacket.” She mournfully said.

    Touko rolled her eyes. “You talk as though you don’t have eight more like it.” She said, and Sakura’s cheeks turned pink. “And besides, better a bullet hole there than through your body. I mean…I can repair you easily, but it’d be tricky to do that without having to go back down.”

    “…fair enough, master.”

    Touko nodded, and looked at Benedek as he approached. “How you doing?” she asked.

    “…the same as you two from the look of things.” He cheerfully replied. Then he looked to where the pyramid’s doors were still sealed. “So…now what?”

    Touko also looked to the pyramid’s doors, and pressed her lips together in thought. “…we might have to blast our way through…” she mused aloud. “…or we might not…”

    “Oh?”

    “…just a feeling…” Touko said with a slow nod. “…let’s get the bodies of the dead out of here, first, then we go back to the doors.”

    “We’re burying them?” Sakura asked.

    “…actually, I was thinking of just tossing them down the steps or over the cliffs,” Touko said with a small, amused smile. “But now that you’ve brought it up…find an out-of-the-way corner outside of this court, and start digging, Sakura.”

    Sakura’s mouth fell open, but Touko was unmoved, and after a moment, Sakura sighed and nodded before turning and walking away.

    “…I’m guessing that leaves me to gather the corpses.” Benedek said after a moment. “Joy…gathering and dragging corpses away…wonderful…”

    “Stop griping and just do it.” Touko said with a sigh. “Oh, and be sure to clean up the blood afterwards.”

    “And what will you be doing?” Benedek asked crossly.

    Touko raised an eyebrow. “Who else is going to repair battle damage to this place?” she challenged.

    “…point.”

    “There you go.”

    “Yeah, yeah…”

    Scratching at his head while turning away, Benedek sighed before drawing himself up. Then taking in all the dead bodies lying across the court, he sighed again before walking off to begin the grisly task of gathering the dead for burial.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “Any reason why you insist on going the extra mile for these guys?” Benedek asked as he and Sakura lifted a dead man by his limbs, and carrying him over to the grave Sakura had dug along the hillside, placed him inside. “I mean these guys were trying to kill us not even an hour ago. We might as well just pile them up before burying them.”

    “They were only doing their jobs.” Sakura said with a shrug. Kneeling down, she removed the bolt that had killed the man, and neatly folded his hands over his chest. Then reaching out, she closed the man’s half-lidded, but lifeless eyes. “There was nothing personal with them trying to kill us. Besides, dignity’s only a luxury in life. Or it should be. Death’s different from life, after all. It doesn’t care whether you’re rich or poor, good or bad, noble or common-born and whatever else. Everyone dies sooner or later, and one way or another turns back into the dirt we’re all made from.”

    Benedek gave Sakura a curious look, but she said nothing while placing the man’s weapons at his feet. Then getting up, she walked to where Benedek had placed the corpses after taking them out of the Court of the Feathered Serpent, and took a dead man by his arms. She glanced at Benedek.

    “Help, please?” she asked.

    Benedek walked over, and taking the dead man by the legs, helped carry him to the mass grave, and placed him next to his comrade. Then he looked on as Sakura once again removed the weapon which had killed him, and neatly arranging his limbs, placed his weapons at his feet.

    “So what’s your story?” Benedek asked, as he and Sakura walked back to the other corpses.

    “My story?” she asked.

    “Yeah, your story.” Benedek said, as they lifted another dead man. “You don’t have to give me the details, just the bare bones of it. Like how that Lord Carter gave the bare bones of mine.”

    “Hmm…fair enough…” Sakura conceded, though she stayed quiet until the dead man was also placed in the grave and with suitable dignity once more. “…I’m an orphan, from Osaka in Japan. Master ran into me, and after I captured her interest, might as well have pulled me from the gutter.”

    “Orphan, eh?” Benedek softly echoed. “The gutter, though?”

    “…an oversimplification, to be honest.” Sakura said with a sigh. “Like I said earlier, I didn’t and still don’t have a family. Grew up on the street, where I had to look out for myself, though I did have a few friends to hang around with and help each other out while growing up.”

    “I see.” Benedek said with a nod, as they lifted another dead man. “So…those friends gave you your name?”

    “…no, I’ve always been Sakura Tohsaka as far as I can remember.” Sakura said with a sigh. “I…I don’t remember them…no faces or names…but I…I did have parents once.”

    Sakura paused, and then snorted. “Of course I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have been born at all.” She retorted with dark humor. Benedek chuckled and shook his head, before placing the dead man in his grave. Again, Sakura silently arranged the man’s body and weapons, and then both were heading back for another dead man.

    “My guess is,” Sakura continued with a sigh. “They or at least my mother was a beggar who died on the street, though thankfully only after I could begin fending for himself.”

    “…not really sure that’s something to be thankful for…” Benedek muttered.

    “The alternative is that they abandoned me to fend for myself on the streets.” Sakura said. “So for their sakes, I hope they just died. It’s better that way.”

    “…yeah, I suppose it is.” Benedek admitted with a sigh. “Parents abandoning their own children…that happens…people like them…this world…they’re all messed up.”

    “No arguments there.” Sakura agreed, as they lifted the last of the dead men. “But, that’s why I know better than most – and should know better than most – that life isn’t fair. You don’t, and most likely, never will get what you deserve. Not unless you make sure that you do, and then some even then.”

    “Hmm…wise words…”

    Sakura shrugged, and then they placed the dead man at the end of the row, next to his comrades. Sakura again arranged his body and weapons, and climbing out of the grave, spent a few moments giving silent respect to the dead. Benedek stood next to her, softly praying in Latin, and then raising a hand, made the Sign of the Cross.

    Sakura nodded, and walking over to the big pile of dirt nearby, took a shovel and began to throw dirt over the dead, to finally bury them. Benedek watched for a few moments, and then stepped closer.

    “Hey,” he began. “Do you have another shovel I could use?”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “What took you two so long?” Touko crossly asked, sitting languidly on Quetzalcoatl’s coils while studying the crystal she’d looted off Lord Carter’s remains. She’d taken the trouble to give him a quick and clean death, to say nothing of adjusting her fire elemental magecraft so it’d only burn him and not his mystic code, so she didn’t want to hear any moralizing about how looting was bad or whatnot.

    “Your apprentice insisted on giving them a proper burial.” Benedek replied. “Or as proper as one can get in a place like this.”

    “I see.” Touko said, tossing her prize into the air a few times before sliding it into a pocket. Then stretching out her long and flexible legs, she leaped off Quetzalcoatl’s sculpture and onto her legs, before stretching her arms overhead. “Come on, let’s get going. The doors are open.”

    Sakura and Benedek glanced sharply towards the doors…

    …and just as Touko said, they were open.

    There was nothing to see through them except darkness, and yet…

    …the magi felt no apprehension, or anxiety, or anything of that sort as they stared into the darkness, and thought of what might be inside. There was only calm assurance…or was it reassurance?

    From where it came, they did not know, only that the doors were genuinely open in invitation. Neither Benedek nor Sakura had long to ponder though, as Touko took the lead and strode towards the doors past them. Falling into step behind her, the three magi crossed the court and approached the doors, and noted empty, time-worn plinths standing beside them.

    At one point it seemed, statues of guardians had stood there. Jaguars, maybe? Dragons? Humans?

    They were gone now, though. Lost to time and the elements…

    As they passed through the doors, Sakura warily looked around, and once over a shoulder, as though in concern that the doors would close behind them, and trapping them inside the pyramid. They did not, and indeed, a touch of amusement echoed through the ether, so…imperceptible, that Sakura or the other magi present each thought they had imagined it, and so did not bring it up.

    With the doors open behind them, sunlight shone wanly into the long corridor, illuminating the murals along the walls. They depicted a festival in full swing, Humans and animals rejoicing and cavorting along the banks of a river amidst a paradisiacal landscape. Dragons danced in the skies above, attended to by great flocks of birds, even as schools of fish swam in the waters below.

    More murals marked the ceiling, showing the Sun unobstructed by clouds at periodic intervals, together with the wall murals no doubt symbolizing day after day of peace and prosperity. At length, they reached the end of the corridor, a T-junction leading to the left and right.

    Facing the corridor from the T-junction’s wall was the mural of a woman, with surprisingly fair skin and golden hair spilling down over her shoulders. Her thighs and midriff were bared, while her skirt and top were of red cloth edged in gold. A sash of blue was tied around her waist, while her wrists sported golden bands decorated with crimson feathers, more of the same sprouting from the golden headdress she wore, and around her silvered boots.

    The woman’s arms were spread wide as though in welcome, a gentle smile marking her face. To either side, dragons knelt with heads bowed in submission to the woman, and that more than anything else told them who the woman was.

    “That’s Quetzalcoatl.” Sakura said with equal parts conviction and confusion. “Why is she blonde?”

    “…well, the legends did claim she was fair-skinned, and I can see that here.” Benedek said. “I…guess…being blonde goes with…being fair-skinned…?”

    “…let’s not…jump to conclusions…” Touko said with a cough. “…she wouldn’t be the only ‘white’ deity the Mesoamericans had. Xipe Totec was also fair-skinned, after all.”

    Again, there were that all but imperceptible sense, this time of mild offense, as though Quetzalcoatl – who else could it be – was unhappy at being lumped in with Xipe Totec. Understandable, really: at least Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca only demanded hearts be carved out and burned as their sacrifices. Xipe Totec demanded a young man or woman’s flayed skin as his sacrifice.

    Not for naught was he known as the Flayed Lord.

    “So…which way?” Sakura asked.

    “Either, I think.” Touko said, before turning to the right, Quetzalcoatl’s amusement faintly echoing in the dark. “This way.”

    “Why not left?” Sakura asked.

    “Huitzilopochtli was associated with the left.” Touko replied before shrugging. “Might as well go with the flow.”

    “…Left-Handed Hummingbird, remember?” Benedek asked.

    “Oh right…” Sakura muttered.

    Again, silence fell as the magi proceeded down the right-hand corridor, Touko lighting a small ball of fire in one hand to light their way. At length, the corridor turned sharply to the left, to an archway cut into the rock and leading to a landing with a stairway leading down into darkness.

    “Careful now.” Touko said, looking around with reinforced eyes, and narrowing them at glinting in the distance from her firelight. “Let’s not have any accidents.”

    Benedek and Sakura sounded their acknowledgement, and after several more moments, Touko walked over to the landing’s corner, and moved an obsidian mirror with a golden frame into position. Dirt crumbled out of the hinges, and the metal whined in protest, but it held, catching the light coming down from cunningly carved passageways in the pyramid’s roof and projected it to another mirror on the far side of the landing.

    It was out of position, and Touko made to move to fix that, but Sakura was ahead of her. Moving the second mirror into position, it caught the light from the first mirror, and reflected it to other mirrors across the vast underground chamber, and illuminating the entire space with reflected sunlight.

    Then the mouths of the magi fell open. Even cynical and jaded Touko Aozaki, one-time heiress to the Aozaki lineage of magi and the Fifth True Magic, who had earned the rank of Grand Magus and the esteemed title and color of ‘Dirty’ Red at the age of twenty, who had done the impossible and revived the long-decayed art of magical puppetry, who had and still defied the best and brightest of her fellow magi’s attempt to take her into custody, could only gape at the sight that met them.

    Everywhere they could see, as far as their eyes could reach even with reinforcement, there was only gold. Pure gold, grimy and dusty after thousands of years without the touch of Human hands, but gold still for all that.

    Most were in great pyramidal stacks of gold ingot, but there were also litters, chariots even, of gilded wood, and chests as well, filled to brimming with gems both cut and uncut, much of the former worked into jewelry of stunning – if not inhuman or even divine – craftsmanship. There were ceremonial weapons worked from gilded wood with polished obsidian blades, sculptures, statues, and figurines made from gilded wood or pure gold through and through.

    “…I can see gold.” Benedek breathed.

    “So can I.” Sakura agreed.

    “Gold…so much gold…” Touko whispered.

    Mouths working wordlessly, they descended down the steps, and stepped onto a path flanked by stack after stack of gold ingots. It led to the distance, to another pyramid, on top of which was a throne.

    The magi proceeded down the path, and saw more and more of the Feathered Serpent’s treasures. Golden drinking vessels, cups, plates, dining and cooking implements, tools and furniture even. There were paintings and pottery, and shelves filled to brimming with scrolls on which was recorded the divine wisdom of the Feathered Serpent.

    There was just so much here, and it boggled to think that this might only be what Quetzalcoatl did not deem important enough to take with her into exile. What greater treasures could she have had, now lost in the years of the Age of Gods, save for herself, beyond Humanity’s reach, in the Reverse Side of the World?

    Finally, they reached the pyramid’s base, Touko motioning for Benedek and Sakura to stop, before ascending by herself. At the summit though, she found not a throne, but a rack of golden metal, on which was hung the ceremonial panoply of the Feathered Serpent in Human form.

    It was as her murals depicted her with, a feathered headdress and wristbands of gold, and a gold-edged top and skirt of red cloth. What the murals had depicted as boots were anything but, silvered knee guards with elaborate engravings and trimmed with more feathers, and a pair of a sandals. There was a shield as well, with elaborate engraving and inlaying of gold and enamel, depicting Quetzalcoatl in a stylized, geometric form, and a macuahuitl from gilded wood, inlaid with jade, enamel, and semi-precious stones, the edges bristling with polished and razor-sharp obsidian.

    Power emanated from the whole ensemble, and Touko did not doubt this was what the Feathered Serpent had worn in her great war against the other gods, fighting to free from Mankind from the chains of slavery and bloody sacrifices.

    Fire blazed across the heavens, the dead remains of a broken planet piercing the skies of the world to punch deep into its watery surface.

    Quetzalcoatl stood atop a pyramid, a procession of priests ascending its steps to kneel before her. Holding out their hands, they receive from her a scroll, bearing knowledge with which to clear the jungles, to till the land, and to grind maize and distill wine.

    Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl roared their war cries as they crossed macuahuitl amidst a raging storm, the force of their strikes shattering the very earth beneath their feet.

    Touko closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. It was…so very tempting…to take it. There was just so much she could learn from it, so much power to gain.

    And in the end, that was what being a magus really meant. It wasn’t pursuing the Root. It wasn’t even honoring your family and its legacy. Those were just words, with which to pretty up the truth or to blind the eyes of those who didn’t have the stomach to accept it.

    To be a magus was to know more.

    It was to hold as much of the power behind the World in one’s hands, and to reach for more.

    To go as far and as high as you coud, without fear of falling or caring for those you step on along the way.

    But…

    …despite all that…

    …maybe…

    …some things…

    …were just meant to be forgotten.

    Touko reached out with a hand, and silently fingered the tassels of Quetzalcoatl’s top. And then sighing, made to turn away.

    As she did so, a gentle breeze blew around her, and she felt something drop gently on her head. Reaching up, Touko blinked as she felt incredible power in her hands, and looking at what she held, gasped as she saw a single crimson feather.

    For your trouble,” A voice said behind her, and Touko turned, eyes going wide at the ghostly figure of Quetzalcoatl leaning with arms crossed against the rack bearing her panoply. “And as a reward for passing the test.

    Touko didn’t know what to say, and rising to her full height, Quetzalcoatl swept out her arms with a smile. “Take as much as you want.” She said. “It’s not like it’ll have much use here aside from gathering dust anyway. You and yours will need it more than I would.

    Then Quetzalcoatl smiled wider, and turning away with a nod, vanished. Touko let out a breath, wondering if it was just her imagination…

    …then dismissed the thought, what with the feather still in her hands.

    She was able to reach out from the Age of Gods for just a moment.

    Is it because we’re in her temple?

    Possibly…probably…but this feather…

    …how is it able to stay on this side of the World?

    …so many questions…so many answers…so much to learn…

    Those thoughts and others more like it filled Touko’s mind, Quetzalcoatl’s gift hidden in her pocket as she descended to the ground and rejoined her fellow magi. “What was up there?” Benedek asked curiously.

    “Hmm…? Oh…nothing we should bother ourselves with.” Touko replied with a shrug. “There’s no need to be too greedy, after all.”

    “Oh really?” Benedek asked with an eyebrow raised, only to wince as Touko slapped him on an arm.

    “Yeah…” she said, before gesturing around them. “We’ve got more than enough treasure to go around down here. Sakura…?”

    “Yes, master?”

    “Get to work.”

    Sakura grinned, looking around at all the gold with the expression of a child in a toy store. “Right away!” she yelled.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A/N

    Yes, Sakura was lying to Benedek, at least in part. For like all good lies, there is a grain of truth at the heart of the lie. She really was found by Touko in Osaka, and all but literally pulled from the gutter. Everything else though…

    …the really ironic part is that the lie paints Tokiomi and Aoi in a much better light compared to the truth. Better they died leaving Sakura to fend for herself, or simply abandoned her on the street, unlike what really happened: they sold her to a vampire as a sex slave and guinea pig, all so her children would get slaughtered like pigs by Rin’s children, thus ensuring Tohsaka’s place in history.

    Only one more chapter left: the epilogue. For a preview…tell me, who is famous in Type-Moon for going ‘ohohoho’?
     
  14. Threadmarks: Epilogue
    Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

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    Disclaimer: I do not own the Fate franchise it belongs to Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon.

    Aozaki and Tohsaka – The Serpent’s Feathers

    Epilogue

    The Sun shone wanly through afternoon skies, partly-obscured by clouds high above but still enough to set the ice-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains ablaze. Golden light streamed down the mountainsides and over the hills and lowlands below, the road a winding streak of black around the hills and across the lowlands.

    Dust plumed lightly behind a Firebird Trans Am, sunlight glinting off its crimson finish as the driver sped along the road at over a hundred kilometers an hour. It was foolhardy and practically asking for something to go wrong, suicidal even over shorter stretches of road and countryside, but the road and countryside in this part of Argentina wasn’t that limited.

    And besides, Captain Alba Ruiz of the Devil Dogs was long used to staring at death in the face in his line of work. If he was going to die, then he might as well die as he had lived. Staring at death in the face, instead of just letting it come and take him away at unawares.

    As the golden afternoon light streamed out across the land as far as he could see, Alba found his mind going back to that day three months ago, on their return to civilization after an expedition into the untamed wilderness of the Yucatan in Mexico.

    The journey back to civilization wasn’t quick, but it had been thankfully free of complications.

    After a week’s travel time, the Devil Dogs and their magi employers were in Mexico City, and a day later were gathered in a warehouse that the latter had rented out. And apparently, they’d set it up so they would neither get interrupted, or spied on while they concluded their arrangement once and for all.

    “So,” Touko began with a smile, and sitting on a crate. “Now that we’re all here, I’d say it’s about time we get down to the part we’re all waiting for: getting our share of the treasure. Or am I wrong?”

    “No, you got it right!” one of the younger Devil Dogs shouted, and laughter burst out. Touko shrugged, and hopped off her crate with a smile.

    “Our arrangement was for twenty-five per cent.” She said. “Twenty-five per cent divided between all of you…and I’m sure some of you are probably wondering then how much you’ll get if that’s the case…but you know what? There’s no need to worry, because there’s plenty to go around. Sakura…?”

    “Yes, master.” Sakura said, stepping forward. And then holding out her hands, expanded her shadow until the whole floor was pitch-black with it. Then she gestured with a hand, as though motioning for something to rise, and more than one thing rose.

    Shadowy pyramids rose up out of the ground, swirling and shifting but slowly and surely settling down into solidity. Then Sakura gestured with both her hands, as though for something to settle down, and then her shadows broke, vanishing and returning to normal.

    Old Sergeant Nores slowly got to his feet, transfixed by the promised prize delivered. Alba felt his lit cigarette fall from his mouth, falling into his lap and beginning to burn through his fatigues’ trousers, but couldn’t bring himself to care.

    Jaws fell open one after another among the Devil Dogs. More than a few began pawing and slapping at each other just to make sure they weren’t dreaming.

    “…we’re rich…WE’RE RICH…WE’RE RICH…WE’RE FILTHY FUCKING RICH!” the younger Devil Dog from before started yelling while repeatedly pumping his fists in the air.

    Alba grinned at the memory at the big pile of gold he’d gotten, and pulled a cigarette from its pack with his teeth. Putting the pack away and taking his lighter, Alba lit the cigarette and gave a couple of puffs.

    Definitely one of the best jobs I’ve ever taken.” He thought before putting the pedal to the metal. “Why can’t more jobs be like that one?
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Whoa, I’m not braggin’ on myself, baby

    But I’m the one who loves you

    And there’s no one else! No one else!

    Benedek scooped up his cocktail from the bar with a grateful nod at the bartender, and leaving a neatly-folded fifty-dollar bill as a tip on the countertop. Slipping into and through the casino’s crowd, Benedek took measured sips of his cocktail while making his way to the roulette table in a relaxed fashion.

    He’d only just arrived when a sharply-dressed woman stepped up next to him. “Mister Benedek Zobor,” she purred in German. “You are a difficult man to find.”

    “Dangerous, too.” He returned in kind. “And you have me at a disadvantage, Miss…?”

    “Elsa,” the woman said, holding out her hand and letting Zobor give it a courteous kiss. “Elsa Grunewald…I am here as an agent for Frau Gretchen…”

    “I have absolutely no intention of dealing with that whore or her bastard.” Benedek interrupted, before pulling out ten gaming chips, each representing ten thousand dollars, and stacked then neatly on the designated spot on the table. That had the other players and their hangers-on making appreciative noises and remarks.

    “One hundred thousand on black…” the dealer said with professional stoicism, before prompting for any new bets.

    “It would be unwise, Herr Benedek, to so casually discard what I and through me, Frau Gretchen, has to say without hearing it first.” Elsa said. “Dangerous, even…”

    Elsa trailed off as Benedek shot her a look. “…tell you what,” he finally said with an even tone of voice. “Why don’t we let chance decide the matter?”

    “Chance, Mein Herr?”

    “Yes…” Benedek drawled, before lifting a set of gaming chips he’d slipped from Elsa’s lady bag. Her eyes went wide as he slowly – languidly – moved it through the air past her eyes, and then set them on the table. “I win, and you fuck off. You win, and I’ll hear you out. No promises though.”

    “…very well then.”

    Benedek smiled. “Now, that’s more like it.” He said, and turned back to the table even as the dealer spun the wheel and dropped the ball to bounce around along the wheel as it spun.

    Elsa was silent, but also turned to look at the wheel as it slowed and the ball bounced back and forth. Benedek took a drink from his cocktail, narrowing his eyes as the ball bounced along, black, red, black, red, black…

    Let me tell you that you’re gonna miss my lovin’

    Yes you will, baby (you’re gonna miss my lovin’)

    When I’m long gone

    Benedek took another drink while Elsa took a long and leisurely drag on her cigarette. “Another round, Mein Herr?” she purred.

    The Hungarian magus glanced at her, and then smiled lightly while giving a subtle tilt of his glass in a toast to her. “…I don’t see why not.” he said. “This is a casino, after all. Same terms?”

    “But of course, Mein Herr.” Elsa said, returning his smile, and Benedek smiled wider.

    I know, I know, I know that you are gonna miss
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Luviagelita Edelfelt, also known as ‘Luvia’ to those close to her, sat languidly in her Rolls-Royce’s passenger seat as it turned a corner and entered the rotunda of the Lawrence family’s mansion in the English countryside. Nor were they the only ones there, more Rolls-Royces, Aston-Martins, Lamborghinis, Mercedes, BMWs, and other established and respectable European autos in somber black were lined up to the front and back, waiting for their turn to drop their passengers off.

    Golden light streamed through the windows of the mansion ahead of them, whether it was the ground or upper floors, the main building, or the wings stretching out to either side. More lights illuminated the sculpture standing in the fountain on the island in the middle of the rotunda, a nymph carved in the Classical style though Luvia didn’t recognize the artist.

    The minutes ticked by as auto after auto dropped off their passengers before driving off, and then it was Luvia’s turn. Men in red frock coats and white trousers opened the door, and Luvia was stepping out, and taking the scene in with a single glance. Guests thronged the front porch and the foyer beyond, chatting with friends, family, and acquaintances before moving on into the interior, dressed in proper and elegant wear. Frock coats and fitted trousers for men, and dresses with crinoline skirts for women.

    A bit too formal for Luvia’s taste, but if that was what the host demanded…

    …well, then she supposed she had to oblige. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and all that.

    At least she could choose the color, that is her favored royal blue with white lace trim and embroidery. Climbing up the steps at a slow and even pace, Luvia presented her invitation to another attendant, and was bowed into the interior.

    Unfurling her fan to mask the lower half of her face, Luvia passed through the foyer and entered the grand hall. There were unsurprisingly more people here, guests gathered in cliques or wandering around, while others held court in second floor balconies. Staff went to and fro, serving drinks, while other made sure there was always enough finger food at a long table laid out along one wall.

    Music played gently in the background, providing a soothing undertone to the chatter caused as countless conversations and voices merged into one. “Hmm…George Frederick Handel…” Luvia identified the piece being played at the moment. “...Water Music Suite No. 1 in F Major…

    Nodding in approval, Luvia took a glass of white wine from a passing server, and took a sip to moisten her lips. Then once again masking her face behind a fan, walked off to sightsee. If nothing else, that should pass the time.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Sakura walked out of the country hotel she and her master were staying at, wearing a heavy greatcoat belted around the waist. She waited at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the foyer for several minutes, then was taking a step back as a silver Skyline GT-R was driving up to the foyer.

    “Good evening, ma’am.” The valet greeted her as he stepped out of the car. Stepping around, he bowed while handing her the keys, Sakura giving him a polite bow back.

    “Thank you, sir.” She said, stepping around the car and getting into the driver’s seat, the valet holding the door open for her and then closing it once she was inside. Not even bothering to put on her seatbelt, Sakura put the Skyline into gear and drove off.

    Once she was on the main road, Sakura turned on the car’s CD player, sliding in a disk and turning the volume to maximum.

    UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ UNTZ

    Smirking in anticipation, Sakura opened the windows before flipping the safeties and turning the valves on her nitro tanks. At the same time, her thoughts went back to three months ago, to a conversation with her master.

    “Take a look at this, kid.” Touko said, while waving a folded piece of stiff paper in the air.

    Sakura walked over, putting down the half-finished arm Touko had had her working on as she approached. Taking the offered piece of paper, Sakura raised an eyebrow at the gaudy decoration on the paper, and reading it, raised her eyebrows even higher at the content.

    “Your sealing designation has been revoked?” she asked.

    “Looks like it.” Touko said while taking a drag on a cigarette. “Officially it’s because of a misunderstanding, the result of a bureaucratic error resulting in an erroneous imposition and enforcement of a sealing designation.”

    “…smells like bullshit to me, master.” Sakura dryly remarked, and Touko burst out laughing.

    “I know, right?” she asked with a grin. “No way a simple ‘bureaucratic error’ could have gone uncorrected for so long, especially with all the corpses that piled up as a result.”

    “You think it’s a trap, then?” Sakura asked.

    Touko took another drag, and then blew out a stream of smoke. “…I’ll have to check to be really sure.” She said. “But if it isn’t…hmm…well, this is just a theory for now, but I’m guessing the powers that be got tired of trying to hog my mysteries all for themselves, only to get corpses for their trouble.”

    “In short,” Sakura began in a sing-song voice. “They want you back so they can at least benefit and learn by affiliation. They can’t do that with corpses.”

    “Pretty much…” Touko said with a snicker. “…anyway…like I said, I need to check first…but if we do go back, there’s that invitation to consider.”

    “Will we attend, master?” Sakura asked.

    Touko puffed on her cigarette for several moments in thought. “…if it’s genuine, then we should.” She finally said, before her expression turned evil. “But on our terms.”

    Sakura raised an eyebrow, but Touko did not elaborate.

    On our terms, right, master?” Sakura thought in the present, while flipping the safety for the nitro boosters. “This is gonna be fun!

    Then she pressed the trigger, blue flames erupting from her exhausts as her gauges redlined and her Skyline accelerated to over three hundred kilometers per hour in a few seconds. And as the g-force pressed her back into her seat, Sakura could only smile wider.

    Give a bunch of inbred snobs with too much money a giant middle finger? Let’s do this, master!
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    …hmm…Water Music Suite in F Major: IV Minuet…” Luvia mused while walking along a painting gallery. “…it seems Lord Lawrence or his wife have a fondness for Handel. I don’t mind, it might be old-fashioned, but it’s still in good taste for all that.

    At that thought, Luvia came to a halt before a gigantic, floor-to-ceiling portrait of a bearded man in a 17th Century Royal Navy uniform. Luvia silently regarded the portrait and its subject, noting with certainty its Baroque origins given the larger-than-life proportions, the focus on contrast between light and darkness, while retaining the importance of proportion and dimension inherited from the Renaissance.

    “Well now, isn’t this a surprise?” a cultured voice came from behind her, and causing Luvia to turn in masked surprise. “I would not dare to think the Edelfelt heiress would be so shy as to hide away in a corner, so you must have an eye for paintings, would you not, my lady?”

    “…I would not call myself an expert,” Luvia modestly answered. “But I would daresay I am educated in recognizing the established arts.”

    “Ah…” the young man in a green frock coat and matching trousers said, walking closer and regarding the portrait himself. “Hmm…Baroque…William Dobson’s, I believe.”

    “So it would seem, my lord.” Luvia said. “Pardon me, but it seems that you have the advantage of me, Lord…?”

    “Ah…apologies…” the young man said with a bow. Then placing a hand theatrically over his chest, gave another, more courtly bow. “I have the honor, my lady, of being Alexander Corey Lawrence, second son to my esteemed parents, the Lord and Lady Lawrence.”

    “I see…if so, then I am thankful to be received at your home.” Luvia said with a curtsy. “It has been nothing but an enjoyable experience thus far.”

    “I am glad to hear it, my lady.” Alexander began. Luvia made to speak, only to break off as her ears caught wind of something. And apparently, so did her host.

    “I say…” he began with a frown. “What is that obnoxious noise?”

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    Glancing at each other, the two magus-aristocrats hurried out of the gallery and towards the front of the mansion. Nor were they the only ones, guests and staff alike moving to the foyer in confusion, all the while the obnoxious staccato beating grew louder and louder.

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    Luvia blinked, as she heard something else join in on the beating. A loud roaring…like…

    “…that’s an auto engine…” she remarked.

    “Yes, I think so too.” Alexander agreed.

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    “Over there!” the shout went up, and eyes turned to the distance, at the sight of what were clearly an auto’s lights zooming up the winding road at breakneck speeds. And as it got closer, the beating continued to grow louder.

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    Sakura grit her teeth as she stepped down on the clutch, switching to a lower gear before stepping on the brakes hard while turning the wheel as far as it could go, drifting on inertia around the sharp corner of the country road. Wheels protested sharply with the sound of screeching rubber, and then Sakura was turning the other way, shifting to high gear and stepping down on the accelerator before losing any more speed.

    Three months…three fucking months’ worth of practice…” she internally raged. “…and I still need to use reinforcement to get this right…

    Drifting around another corner, Sakura stepped down hard on the accelerator, running down the last stretch of road at over two hundred kilometers per hour, and then smirked as she spotted household staff trying to wave her off. Ignoring them, Sakura just drove straight ahead before banking hard, causing the overdressed fops to scatter as she drifted around the corner and through the gates, before going around the rotunda with a loud roar from her six-cylinder, Eurobeat pumping out in full surround sound through her windows.

    Then switching gears to reverse, Sakura neatly backed up and parked at the bottom of the steps, before turning off the CD player.

    More household staff were rushing down the steps even as Sakura came out of her Skyline. Reaching into a pocket, she pulled out her master’s invitation, and practically tossed it into the face of the closest staff member she could find. That brought them up to a halt, followed by Sakura dropping her keys into the hands of a second staff member.

    Then she pulled out a phone, and pressing quick dial, made a call.

    “Bring her in.”
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    Rotors rumbled through the air as a Sikorsky S-92 rumbled through the night sky over the English countryside. In her seat, Touko sat languidly while nursing a cigarette stick, and raised it to her lips to take a drag as one of the crew received a call.

    “Miss Aozaki,” the woman said. “We’re about to make our final approach.”

    “Good…it’s time to make an impression.” Touko said, putting out the cigarette and fixing her posture. “Take us in.”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    The helicopter turned sharply, making directly for the landing site, an island of light in the distance that grew brighter and bigger the closer they got. Touko looked at it through the windows as the helicopter circled above the mansion after several minutes of flight, and then smiled as she saw her apprentice waiting next to her Skyline in front of the mansion.

    Then the helicopter was hovering, before slowly descending to land firmly but gently on the ground. Locks clicked before the door was thrown open, Touko emerging to walk imposingly across the open ground from the helicopter to the mansion.

    “Master…” Sakura said with a curt nod as Touko approached.

    “…apprentice…” Touko said with a curt nod of her own, and smirking as Sakura discarded her greatcoat to expose the sleeveless and low-cut dress of pearl white she was wearing beneath. In complete defiance of the host’s dress code, but what did it matter?

    The apprentice followed the master’s example, and as far as Touko was concerned, the dress code was offensively misogynist, stupidly old-fashioned, and just plain stuffy to the point of being boring. And modesty was just so dull.

    Hence her own royal blue dress, not merely sleeveless and low-cut, but also off-the-shoulders, the skirt cut in an angle that all but completely exposed her left leg in its entirety. Touko smirked as she saw eyes drawn to her and Sakura as they ascended the steps, silently laughing at the equally-appalled, outraged, fascinated, admiring, and even aroused expressions all around.

    Then she was before the door, before their hosts. Touko’s smirk widened, one hand resting on a hip, before she said one word.

    “Greetings.”

    Aozaki and Tohsaka: The Serpent’s Feathers

    Fin
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    A/N

    And that’s a wrap!

    Looks like master and apprentice made quite the intro, eh? The apprentice driving up in a Skyline GT-R with Eurobeat pumping away in the background, before the master arrives via a helicopter. Talk about a giant middle finger to a bunch of inbred aristocrats who think modern technology and innovations to be toys and crutches at best.

    Gee, I wonder how Miss Ohohoho will make of her cousin given her arrival next to the infamous Touko Aozaki.
     
    QafianSage likes this.
  15. QafianSage

    QafianSage Ascending Ape

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    If I may, that was a rather nice little story. And, apart from anything else, the ending was a treat.
     
    Jaenera Targaryen likes this.
  16. Jaenera Targaryen

    Jaenera Targaryen Making the rounds.

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    Hmm...I was going to leave it at this, what with the seeming lack of interest, but seeing as you seem to at least have some interest, I'll cross-post the (ongoing) sequel's existing chapters here later.
     
    Quiet Echo likes this.
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