The King and Her Queen

Chapter 15:  Reunion


Rin trembled in fear as she watched another thirteen girls enter the portal.  A woman stood next to the man who was chanting.  His little girls were chanting as well.  She checked her crystal dispenser and was dismayed to find that it was three-quarters empty.  But she had no choice.  She put two more crystals into the barrier.  For now, she would wait for an opportunity to use the other crystals on the man and woman before she destroyed herself. 

"I'm so sorry, Arturia...  My only hope is that I'll be with you when I die..."

The wind whipped around the cavern in great gusts.  In fact, it was so strong that one of the little girls tumbled over.  Rin thought that it was strange that the man did not bother to control the spell.  However, the girls were probably expendable. 

The man lost his balance.  The woman steadied him and began to chant as well.   Meanwhile, one more girl tumbled and hit another girl next to her.  Rin began to wonder what ritual they were chanting.  She pricked up her ears and tried to listen.

The wind seemed to be whispering. 

"sssssssssss........"

Just then the lightning around the throne intensified, and Rin backed away from the crackling arcs.  The new girls floated in between the previous girls and joined the chanting.  They lifted their palms toward the throne.

"................kkkaaaahhhhh..........."

Streams of mana floated from the girls' palms.  The wind increased in intensity and threw some of the girls against each other.

"...................................leeeeeeEEEEE............"

Rin's eyes grew wide with surprise as the whisper of the wind grew to a recognizable voice.  She glanced at the throne with her magesight and blinked from the brightness of the mana gathered on the back of the throne.

".....................................................BUUUUUUURRRRRR!!!"

[Author's note:  Recommended background music:  Unmei no yoru, Fate/stay Night Animation Original Soundtrack]

Bright light erupted from the back of throne.  As if on cue, the girls released the gathered mana from their palms toward the throne.  The light and the mana collided which such force that the resulting shockwave tossed Rin about like a ship in a storm.

Rin scrambled to keep upright and turned toward the throne.  A rift had opened on its back.  A bright blade burst forth from the rift and carved out chunks off the back to widen it.  The girls fired fireballs at the blade.  With quick, deft strokes, the blade deflected the fireballs. 

The armored gauntlet that held the sword emerged from the rift.  As the owner of that gauntlet stepped out of the rift, the girls sent another volley of fireballs and lightning.  Each strike was deflected with expert ease and some were even reflected toward a group of girls who became injured from the counterattack.

Rin almost broke into tears with relief as she recognized that familiar armor.  As she flew toward the throne, a golden head turned in her direction.  An armored hand left the hilt of the sword and unhooked a golden scabbard.  The scabbard floated in the air and expelled streams of light which surrounded the throne and Rin.

Green eyes looked at her with concern.  "Daijoubu desu ka?"

Rin's jaw dropped at her question.  When she recovered from her surprise, she answered back in japanese.  "I'm fine..."

Meanwhile, fire and lightning raged just outside the streams of light.  Arturia held out her hand.  Rin offered her right which also gripped her staff.  She looked at her left arm critically and guided Rin to the seat of the throne. 

"You lie just as bad as Bedivere.  Let's fix it before it gets worse."

She pulled her into a kiss.  Rin felt a surge of mana flow from her mouth and towards her arm.  She let go of her staff and used her right hand to fine-tune the flow of mana to heal her arm.  She should be feeling pain with the accelerated healing, but instead she felt like she was drinking refreshing spring water. 

When they were done, Rin examined her arm and was satisfied with the results.  Meanwhile, Arturia turned away from her and peered at the army of little girls around them. 

"What kind of mage would use children to fight?"  she muttered with disgust.

"They're not children.  They're puppets controlled by that man and woman.  Don't worry about destroying them.  They have no soul."

"Well, that's good to know."  Arturia's lips widened to a predatory grin.  "Shall I take care of them now?"

"Wait a sec...  I have to mask Excalibur's mana.  I don't know if it'll work though."  Rin took one of the crystals from her dispenser, but Arturia put Excalibur back into Avalon. 

Arturia clutched the air as if she were holding a sword.  A tremendous pressure built up around her hands.  "Will this be easier to mask?"

Rin smiled at her idea.  "Yes..."  She sent the crystal into the pressurized air.  It dissipated into tiny sparks.

She stepped in front of Rin and knelt.  "Climb on my back.  It's easier for Avalon to maintain a barrier around us if we're closer."

"Won't I interfere with your fighting?"

Arturia's eyes shone with confidence.  "No."  She eyed Rin's floating shield.  "Will your shield become solid against a physical attack?"

"Yes."  Rin picked up her staff, climbed on and wrapped her legs around Arturia. 

"Good.  Move the shield where I tell you to.  Is Levitiam still active?"

"Yes."

Arturia's hand grasped the hilt of Excalibur.  "When Avalon releases the barrier, I will begin my attack.  And on my signal, close the gate."  She perched on the top of the left armrest and launched herself at the nearest group of girls.  The streams of light faded and she swung her sword in a wide arc. 

Arms flailing, the girls tumbled across the dimensionless space.  Droplets of blood and torn clothing trailed in their wake.  Rin felt sickened by the sight.  Why did they have to make them so lifelike?  She was shaken from her thoughts by Arturia's voice. 

"Left."

As soon as she directed her shield to their left, Arturia stomped on it and used its blocking power to launch them toward another set of girls.  She slashed across like she was swatting flies off a meal.  The girls smashed into each other and tumbled head over heels.  To normal sight, the sword would be invisible.  But to Rin's magesight, it appeared as a swirling mass of yellow mana.  Each attack from the sword created a pressurized shockwave.

Rin chanced a glance at the first set of girls that she attacked.  Some had regained their balance and were flying toward them with hands gesturing attack spells.  The rest of their companions were either floating motionlessly or still tumbling about, arms and feet waving in the air.

"Behind."

The shield moved behind them and Arturia stomped on it once more.  She swung her sword.  Rin noticed that Arturia used a weaker wide area attack instead of concentrated single attacks.  Since the attack was weaker, it did not overwhelm the mana mask.  She also noticed that most of her strikes moved the girls away from the portal. 

"Left."

The shield went to the left.  Instead of stomping on it at once, Arturia slashed from behind it.  The first slash collided with the spells of the flying girls while the shield moved about to deflect stray spells.  The second and third slash disrupted their flying and sent them reeling.  Then Arturia turned around and slashed across before stomping on the shield. 

"Right."

Rin was beginning to see a pattern.  Arturia was trying to keep the girls off balance to prevent them from casting spells.  Since there were no solid objects in this dimensionless space, it was difficult for the girls, or rather, their master to restore their balance. 

"Behind."

They were getting closer to the portal.  Rin saw that the man and the woman were slowly backing away.  Arturia slashed another set of girls.  She held Avalon before them.

"Right."

With a powerful leap, they hurtled across the portal.  Arturia landed on her feet with the grace of a cat and assumed a defensive stance before the man and woman.

"Now!"

"Sendeschluss!" yelled Rin with her staff aloft.

The edges of the portal crumbled into itself.  Pieces of loose gravel rose from the cavern floor and sped towards it.  Streams of light erupted from Avalon and enveloped them.  Meanwhile, the man and the woman clung to the walls.  The woman lost her grip and was sucked towards the portal.  Her hands raked across the cavern floor desperately.  Her ankles passed through.  Arturia twisted to the side and tried to push through Avalon's barrier.  Her hand made it through and tried to grab the woman.  But the woman looked up at her with hatred and unbelievably, let go.  She hurtled into the portal which collapsed after she passed through.

Arturia bowed her head and clenched her hand.  Being trapped in that space was not a fate she would wish on anyone.

Sensing Arturia's distress, Rin hugged her reassuringly.  "It's not your fault... she went willingly.  Don't worry about it.  Besides... her pride wouldn't allow it."  She got off Arturia's back and dispelled Levitiam.  "Let me handle this guy..."  Rin aimed her staff at him and prepared to fire as soon as Avalon released its barrier. 

"Gandr!"

Black energy shot out from the orb on her staff and struck the man in the chest.  He collapsed into a heap against the wall.  Rin quickly walked toward him and put her hand on his head.  She changed his memory to remove her and Arturia and replaced them with the woman.  She made it appear that he had to fight the woman in the cavern and the woman's doppelganger who arrived after him.  She allowed him victory over the women, but at the great sacrifice of his girls.  When she was done, she checked the cavern for mana signatures from her and Arturia and manipulated them to look like the woman's mana.

Rin dispelled the shield.  "I'm done.  Let's go."

The barriers and detectors were still circumvented and they quickly made their way back to the lowest levels of the caverns.  Finally, they arrived at the underground pool which was fed by waters from the lake.  A sudden thought occurred to Rin.

"Do you still have the suit?"

Arturia shook her head.  "No..."  She rubbed her chin thoughtfully.  "Does yours still work?"

Rin pulled her goggles down and inhaled through the nosepiece.  "Yes."

"Then we can share."  As Rin stood there puzzled, Arturia waded into the pool.  Her armor and clothes dissolved as the cold dark waters rose around her.  Rin waded in after a few moments.

"Wait... what do you mean by sharing?"

Arturia's eyebrows rose.  "Surely, you don't expect me to swim without any air?"

Understanding slowly crept into Rin's mind and she blushed with embarrassment.  "Oh..."

"Since it will be dark and murky, you'll have to guide me until we get to clearer water.  Shall we go?"

Rin swept the cavern with her eyes to detect any pursuers.  Finding none, she replied, "Yeah, let's get out of this place."

They dove into the cold, dark waters.  Rin turned on the light of her goggles to illuminate their path while Arturia swam underneath her.  Rin slipped her hands under her arms and nudged her forward.  Arturia's legs paddled with powerful strokes to propel them forward and Rin felt herself tugged along.  She paddled along to help.  After thirty feet or so, Arturia flipped towards her and her hands felt around for her neck.  Her hands cupped around her face and Arturia's face rose to meet hers.

Rin leaned forward and enveloped Arturia's lips.  She expelled any water in her mouth before parting her lips.  Then she inhaled fresh air from the nosepiece and transferred it to Arturia.  Arturia broke away when she had enough.  She flipped over again to resume swimming. 

They repeated the exchange every thirty feet.  Eventually, they exited the tunnel and swam upward.  Slowly, they rose from the lake's depths and broke through the surface.  Arturia took in great gulps of air. 

"Are you all right?"

"Y--yes..."  Arturia's teeth chattered as she replied.

Rin paled as she realized that Arturia was suffering from hypothermia.  She reached out and held Arturia's hand.  "Let's swim to shore... it's not that far.  Go to the closest secluded area.  Don't wait for me."

Arturia nodded and she dove in to swim to shore.  Rin followed as best as she could, hoping that Arturia's swimming lessons would help her keep up.   She reached the shore about two minutes after her.  Arturia was huddled within a grove of bushes, her arms wrapped around herself.

Rin ran to her and pushed her goggles up.  She reached into her pack and pulled out a thermal insulating cloak.  She wrapped it around Arturia before unzipping the front of her suit.  She pulled her arms out of it and slipped under the cloak to hug Arturia from behind.  She winced as her skin came in contact with Arturia's and she suppressed the urge to move away.  Her arms and hands tried to cover as much skin as possible. 

She felt something warm trickle near her cheek.  Her head twisted to see what it was and she was horrified to see blood trickling from Arturia's ear.  She moved her head to look at Arturia's other ear.  It was bleeding as well.

Rin cursed herself.  They were over 200 feet underwater.  Without the suit, Arturia was exposed to cold and pressure.  As soon as they were safe, she would treat her ears.

"Rin... don't worry about me..."  whispered Arturia through chattering teeth.  "We should get away... before they find us..."

"I can't... I'm sorry... Let me worry about you.  Just for five minutes..."

"All right..."

Rin periodically checked the area and her watch.  When the time was up, she moved away from Arturia.  She reached into her bag and took out two sets of clothing which consisted of a lightweight one-piece dress and sandals.  She handed one set to Arturia. 

"Here... wear this."

Arturia took the dress and slipped it on.  Meanwhile Rin slipped out of the suit and tossed it into her pack.  She put her dress on and then her sandals.  After she finished dressing, she put the cloak around Arturia's shoulders.

"We have to hike about a mile or two before we get to a main road where we can catch a bus.  Are you ready?"

"Yes.  Let's go."

They hiked through the overgrown brush.  By the time they reached a bus stop, the sun was setting.  They waited at the bus stop and tried to keep out of sight from the other waiting passengers.  Rin shivered a bit from the drop of temperature.  She felt the cloak over her shoulders and glanced at Arturia.

"It's big enough to share."  Arturia's hand slipped on top of hers. 

Rin smiled and relished the warmth of Arturia's hand.  Eventually, the bus came and they boarded it.  They tried to sit as far back as possible to avoid the stares of other passengers. 

When the bus arrived in the city, they got off the first stop and hailed a cab.  Rin told the driver to take them to their hotel in German.  After arriving at their hotel, they went to their room to change and pack.  Rin hoped that they could take the last flight out. 

They checked out and took a taxi at the airport.  To her great relief, there were still some seats in first class.  She exchanged their vouchers and paid the upgrades in cash. 

While waiting for boarding, Rin took Arturia to the women's restroom to treat her ears.  To her great surprise, they were already healed.  Arturia noticed the look on her face and smiled reassuringly.

"Avalon healed it while you were getting tickets."

"Thank God... I was so worried."

"I apologize for worrying you.  Since we were so close to the mansion, I asked it not to heal them."

"I see..."

They returned to the waiting area and boarded when called.  The stewardess offered them some drinks and Arturia asked for wine.  After they received their wine, Rin lifted her glass.

"To a safe trip back..."

Arturia clicked her glass against Rin's and they drank in unison.  Then she lifted her glass. 

"To us..."

Rin blushed and smiled sweetly.  "To us..."  She drank to the toast and felt that the wine tasted better than before.

After takeoff, they were served dinner before the captain turned off the cabin lights.  Rin raised the armrest between them and pushed it into its recessed area.  She snuggled as close to Arturia as possible.  Arturia pulled her blanket over them, shielding them from curious eyes.  Rin's heart beat excitedly as she inched toward her face.  They shared several good night kisses, each one tasting sweeter than the one before.  Then they reclined together in their stuffed leather seats to fall asleep in each other's arms.

They hopped from flight to flight and flew for hours at a time.  Their stopovers were as brief as possible.  However, upon arriving in Australia in the evening, they had to book a hotel room since the next flight out was early morning.  As they lay in bed, Rin took the opportunity to ask Arturia about what happened in the Throne of Heroes.

"It's better if I show you."  Arturia took her hand and placed it on her forehead.

Rin understood and chanted a mind read spell.  When the spell activated, she allowed herself to see Arturia's memories as if they were her own.


--------------------------------


Bright light flooded her eyes.  When her eyes finally adjusted, Arturia saw a golden hall filled with large, faceted crystals.  She looked at the nearest one.

"Someone's inside!"

Her palm tingled.  She must hurry.  Her eyes scanned the hall.  If her hunch was right, there should be a crystal with her other self.  She tried to look for the rift behind her but she could not discern where it was.  She would have to trust that it was there somehow.  To mark its place, she took her pocketknife and laid it on the floor.  It would have to do.

Trusting her instincts, she ran from row to row until she found her crystal.  Pleased with her efforts, she cocked her fist and hit the crystal with all her might.

But the impact did not come.  Instead, she found herself standing on a blood-soaked plain.  Bodies of British warriors and horses were scattered across the plain as far as she could see.  The air was polluted by the stench of rotting bodies and the smoke rising from the burning pyres of corpses blotted out the sun.  She trembled when she recognized it.

"My dream!"

Even so, her dream was nothing compared to this.  Here, everything assaulted her senses with alarming clarity:  the foul air that choked her lungs, the dreadful landscape before her eyes, the frigid wind that chilled her core, and especially, the shrill keening of bagpipes that tortured her ears like a banshee singing praises for the slaughter of so many lives.

It hurt her so much.  This was the perfect nightmare for her.  She closed her eyes and covered her ears to keep it out.  Bile rose to her throat and she fought the urge to throw up.

"This... this was meant for me to see... to hear... to feel..."

Then she realized.  "I saw it through her eyes!"

Her palm tingled again and she drew strength from it.  Steeling her heart, she hurried across the plain and did her best to ignore the carnage around her.  Then she saw her:  a bloodstained figure leaning on her sword atop a pile of dead knights.  When she approached her at the base of the pile, the figure turned in her direction.  Her forlorn gaze shifted to surprise for a moment before returning to its previous state.

"This place is not for ye, Mordred.  Go back to whence ye came."

Now she understood.  There was no one to judge her, so she judged herself.  This place was specifically crafted to remind her of her every failure, true and imagined.  She also realized that her other self did not know why they were divided.  For now, she would play along.

"I will not."

It was odd to see herself scowling.  A moment passed before she spoke.  "Why art ye here?  Have ye come to judge me?"

"Nay."  She reminded herself that this place was not real before stepping on the bodies of knights to climb up to her.  "Instead, I bring judgment from on high."

Her eyebrows arched.  She did not say anything and seemed to be waiting for an explanation. 

When Arturia reached the top, she reached into her suit and unclasped Father Benedict's wooden cross.  She held it before her.  "Here is yer judgment... and absolution."

Hope kindled in those desolate eyes and an armored hand left the hilt of Excalibur to reach for the cross.  But the hand hesitated. 

"Nay... I am not worthy..."  Her hand fell.

Arturia caught the hand and pressed the cross into the gauntlet.  "Ye deem yerself so because ye know not the truth.  God is kind.  He hast forgiven me.  Ye art forgiven as well."

"How do ye know this?"

"Do ye wish to know?"

Her other self nodded grimly. 

She reached out, placed one hand on each side of her head and willed her memories to flow from her mind into hers.  She showed her everything that had transpired since Camlann.  When she was done, she held her gauntlets between her hands. 

"So ye see, God hast forgiven ye...  she hast forgiven ye."

Tears were flowing from her eyes.  "Tis enough to know forgiveness." She whispered between sobs.  "But should I really be allowed to leave?  E'en after all that I wrought, ye wouldst risk making the same mistakes and tempt fate once more?"

"Yea.  Weigh not the battle so heavily, for e'en after yer passing, yer rule was still revered throughout the land.  And worry not about tempting fate for ye will not face it alone.  She hast promised to be by yer side.  She will catch ye if ye fall.  So come.  End this dream, for the future holds a far better one."

"Ye art such an idealistic, romantic fool."  She wiped her tears with the back of her gauntlet.

"Yea.  Verily."  Suddenly, her palm flared.  The pit of her stomach sank with dread.  "Quickly now, I have a promise to keep."  She tightened her hand around her gauntlet. 

"Promises should be kept."  She pulled her close and kissed her.

Images rushed through Arturia's mind.  She felt herself reeling among the multitude of old and new memories.  Everything swirled around her and she toppled over in her confusion.  Her lungs were emptied of air as she hit the ground.  After catching her breath, she looked around.  Instead of the plain, she was standing in front of the pedestal that held her crystal.  She carefully got up to avoid the crystal shards and to test her limbs.  When nothing seemed to be broken, she exhaled with relief.

Her eyes widened in alarm.  She was wearing her armor.  Frantically, she scanned her memories and was relieved that she remembered Rin and their current mission.  Spurred by the thought of Rin, she turned and ran the way she came. 

As she ran, lightning struck from above several times.  Thankfully, it did not strike her.  She continued to run.  When she rounded a corner, she stopped abruptly.

"Caster..."  She drew Excalibur.

Caster stood in front of a crystal which was tinted with a dark streak.  For a moment, Arturia thought that she was freed, but the crystal revealed that another Caster was inside it.  She could only guess that a part of Caster was released from the crystal.

Arturia charged and asked Avalon for protection.  Meanwhile, Caster raised her palms and cast spells in rapid succession.  She evaded and blocked while Avalon deflected the rest.  With an upward slice, she cut off Caster's hands.  Then she reversed the blade's momentum and chopped off her head as she ran by.

She did not run very far before she encountered her next opponent.  Assassin shifted into his trademark stance.  Arturia continued to run and parried his attacks.  Side-stepping at the last instant, she dodged and countered.  He crumpled behind her. 

As she continued to run, she heard heavy steps to her left.  A quick glance revealed her opponent and she ran even faster.  She had no time to deal with Berserker now and hoped that she could outrun him.  As she ran, she heard the clash of steel but she did not look back.

"Only a little more..."

This time, she had to stop in her tracks.  Standing before her with an arrogant sneer on his face and her pocketknife in his hands, was Gilgamesh.

"You've come back to me."

"You wish."  She charged. 

They clashed mightily and exchanged powerful blows.  She did not have time for this.  She leapt back at the first opportunity and prepared to unleash Excalibur.  Gilgamesh sensed her intention and smirked while he raised his dark blade.

"Excalibur!!!"

"Enûma Elish!!!"

As soon as Excalibur unleashed its attack, she charged, hoping to catch Gilgamesh off-guard.  The attacks cancelled each other out and she struck.  He blocked at the last moment and she growled in frustration.  His eyes leered at her as their swords locked in battle.

"Gáe Bolg!!!"

Blood spurted from his mouth and his grip relaxed.  Quickly, she broke the lock and beheaded him.  His body shuddered and slipped off a crimson spear.  A bloodied Lancer stood behind him.

"Go raibh maith agat."  said Arturia gratefully while greeting him with the traditional Erisch warrior salute.  Despite his assistance, she maintained a defensive distance just in case.

"Such a horrible accent..."  His gaelic brogue was derisive and taunting.  He thrust his spear into the body repeatedly.  "I didn't do it for you.  Something's urging me to fight you.  He just got in the way." 

The body began to dissolve into mist.  As his face scowled in disappointment, he yanked his spear out.  His spear sprang toward her, but he hastily lowered it.  His muscles bunched up as he gripped it tightly. 

Defiance burned in his eyes and he spoke through gritted teeth.  "Nobody... tells me what to do.  Besides, if I hit you once, it's over.  I prefer challengers who are much more difficult to kill."  Then he sprinted off in the direction of the battle raging several rows behind her.

Despite his bravado, she understood his intentions and ignored his insult.  She concentrated on looking for the rift.  She raised her hand and swept it across the empty air in hope that the glyphs would react.  Apprehension rose within her for every second that she failed to sense anything. 

Finally, in an act of desperation, she unleashed Excalibur.  This time, her prayers were answered when a glowing rift appeared.  With eager strokes, she widened it.  As she began to step out, she sensed several projectiles and blocked them.  She continued to block and to counter as she stepped through the rift.  She sensed a movement to her right and turned to see Rin floating nearby. 


--------------------------------


Rin ended the spell and wiped the tears from her cheeks.  Arturia drew her close. 

"Hush... we're together now."

Rin cried some more, finally releasing the anxiety in her heart.  "I was so scared... I thought I lost you." 

Arturia tried to be strong and calm, but as Rin's hot tears seeped into her clothes, she could sense her fear and pain.   She understood what it meant for it mirrored her own fears as well.  Tears welled in her eyes and she held her tightly.  They wept together, taking comfort and relief in each other's presence.  Eventually, Rin calmed down and fell asleep.  Arturia relaxed and simply enjoyed this moment of peace.

Morning came and they headed out to catch the next flight.  The days flew by as they serenely enjoyed each other's company.  Finally, they boarded the plane that would take them home.  At this point, only the excitement of their pending return repelled the weariness in their muscles.

Their plane landed in due time and they followed Marlen's directions to the Aerie.  After arriving at the train station, they hailed a cab and told the driver to take them to the designated rental car office in the valley. 

When they arrived at the office, the driver handed Arturia their luggage while Rin wearily stepped out of the cab.  After paying the driver, they dragged their luggage toward the office.  For the last part of the trip, they had to drive to the tunnel that would give them access to the Aerie. 

Around the world in eight days had taken its toll.  Rin's internal clock was so confused.  But she was determined to end their journey as soon as possible so she gathered her determination and trudged toward the office.  As they crossed the parking lot, they passed by a classic BMW convertible with yellow and silver trim.

"Hey girls... do you need a ride?"

Their heads turned in unison at the speaker.  A woman in her late fifties with gray hair and horned rimmed sunglasses sat in the driver's seat of the Beemer.  Her multi-ringed fingers tapped the leather wrapped steering wheel.  Several gaudy necklaces adorned her neck.  She leered at them, tilting her head down to peer at them over her sunglasses.

"I'll make it worth your while..."  Her tone was suggestive in a way that was meant to entice.

Rin was appalled by her behavior at first, but when she noticed the color of her eyes, she changed her mind.  Just to make sure, she opened her magesight which confirmed the presence of mana on various objects on the car and on the woman.

"Do you like what you see?  If you come with me, I can show you more... much more..."

"She's... such a flirt..."  Rin concluded in her mind.  And, she had another conclusion to confirm. 

"We would be delighted to accept your generous offer, Lady Emrys."

"Oh please, dearie... call me Eileen.  YOU look like you're about to collapse.  Have a seat, dearie, and let your sweetheart put the bags away."  She reached over and opened the front passenger door.  Then she folded the passenger seat so that they could get into the back.  The trunk popped open. 

Rin obeyed dumbly and sat in the backseat.  She thought that the backseat was cramped, but it felt unusually spacious.  Arturia put the bags in the trunk and hopped into the car next to her.  When the passenger door closed, the car roared out of the parking lot, leaving the scent of burnt rubber in its wake.

They sped through the back streets of the town.  Rin was fairly certain that they were over the speed limit.  Through the rear view mirror, she could see Eileen's wide grin, like that of a child playing with its toy.  Soon, they left the outskirts of town and sped toward the mountain.

She noticed Eileen shift gears.  Suddenly, she realized that she was actually driving.  A drop of sweat rolled down her temple. 

"Um... Mrs. Eileen..."

"Eileen."

"Eileen... you don't have to rush.  I'm not that tired."

Eileen laughed.  "I don't mind.  Besides... doesn't it feel good to feel the wind in your hair?  Doesn't it feel like flying?"

Rin's hair whipped around her in all directions.  "At the moment... not really."

"Tut... tut... we can't have that..."

With a snap of her fingers, Rin's hair moved away from her face and waved like a flag behind her.

"How about you, your Highness?"

"No, thank you."

"As you wish..."  Eileen shifted into a higher gear and revved the engine.  The car sprang forward.

Rin gripped the edge of her seat.  As if sensing her fear, Arturia's arm went around her, pulling her close.  When she met Arturia's eyes, her apprehension slowly abated.

However, her apprehension returned once more when Eileen began to navigate the winding road around the mountain without slowing down.  Her eyes followed the long drop to the valley below.  They rounded another bend and appeared to be driving straight into the mountainside.

Rin's magesight opened and revealed an illusion.  She squeezed Arturia's tense hand. 

"It's the tunnel."

They passed safely through the illusion and into a dimly lit tunnel.  The car screeched to a halt at the end of the tunnel and drove onto a platform which ascended into the garage.  Eileen parked the car.

"Here we are."  announced Eileen.  She popped the trunk.

When they retrieved their luggage, Rin glanced at the license plate.  It read, 'MYW1NG5'.  She chuckled and followed Eileen to the rose garden.  There, they found Marlen sitting on a large woman's lap.  Instead of her goth outfit, she wore a colorful dress which made her look like a doll.  An elderly woman sat across from them and was packaging sachets of dried rose petals.    She rose when Eileen entered.

"Welcome back, dahling... How was your drive?"

"Great as always."  She kissed her on both cheeks and then passionately on her lips.

Marlen cleared her throat.  "Arturia, Rin, let me formally introduce my mothers, Eileen and Michelle.  And this is my wife, Nell."

Rin was surprised enough to meet her mothers, but was even more surprised to know that she had a wife.  One glance at Arturia showed her that she too, was equally surprised.  She regained her composure and replied.

"I am pleased to meet all of you." 

"And I as well."

"Rin, you need to rest.  My mothers will bring you to your room."

Rin paled.  With a sinking feeling, she knew that she was going to be escorted to the east wing.  Michelle grabbed the handle of her luggage.

"Come along, ma cherie... a lovely girl such as yourself needs her beauty sleep."  Her lilting accent seemed almost musical.

"You say that, but you rarely sleep at all."  said Eileen playfully as she hooked her arm with Rin.

"That's because a certain someone keeps me awake."  Michelle winked back.

As the mothers led her out of the rose garden, Rin could already tell that these two were dangerous in ways she dared not imagine.  She hoped that Marlen would not keep her in the east wing for too long.

"Arturia, please come over here.  I want to check that you are complete."

Arturia obeyed.  Marlen put her hand over her chest.

"Please don't resist." 

Arturia relaxed and Marlen pulled Avalon out.  Arturia staggered back.  Marlen clucked her tongue.  A chair moved behind her.

"Just as I thought.  You've been using Avalon to stay awake.  Have a seat, guv.  I won't take long."

Arturia sat down gratefully.  "I wanted to make sure that we were safe.  I didn't want to be caught off-guard."

The chair moved again to bring her closer to Marlen.  Marlen's hands hovered over her body starting from her head and down to her feet.  The chair rose to allow Marlen easy access.

"Physical check's okay.  Now for the hard part - your mental state."

Marlen started asking questions about her reign as King Arthur.  Then she followed up with questions about her experiences as a servant.  Arturia answered them as seriously as she could.

Marlen nodded her head with satisfaction.  "Good... good...  So, what is Bedivere to you?"

Arturia's stoic face fell.  She quickly answered, "A friend, a comrade in arms, a confidant..."

"Is that all?"  Marlen's eyes seemed to bore into her.

"Yes..."  Although she had been intimate with Bedivere, she could not love her the way that Bedivere wanted to be loved.

"And Shiro?  What about him?  How do you feel about him?"

Arturia's eyes widened in alarm.  Did Marlen know what happened between her and Shiro? 

"Shiro... is a friend."  she managed to say.

"That's all?"

"I've said that he is."  Arturia repeated with a note of irritation in her voice.

"And Rin?  How do you feel about Rin?"

"I love her.  I will marry her when she is ready." answered Arturia resolutely.

"Oh..."  Marlen smiled.  "Congratulations!  I look forward to the wedding.  I apologize for my last two questions.  As her master, I am concerned for her well-being.  I want to know what you're going to do about Shiro."

"What do you know about me and Shiro?" asked Arturia defensively.

"Merlyn made a copy of Shiro's memories.  As Rin's new master, I was compelled to listen to Merlyn's instructions.  Unfortunately, she included his memories."  Marlen paused to observe her.  "You seemed a bit disturbed when I asked about Shiro.  Do you want to talk about it?  Sometimes talking helps put your thoughts in order."

When Arturia did not answer at once, Marlen probed her with more questions.  "You're wondering what it was that you felt with him, aren't you?  You're not even sure why you told him that you loved him, don't you?"

Arturia glared at Marlen.  "Please stay out of my mind!"  Then she simmered down and she sighed.  "Yes... I have thought of that, ever since Rin and I escaped."  Her eyes traced the outline of pebbles on the ground.

"I was touched that Shiro cared about me, even though the ways in which he did so were outrageous and ridiculous.  But when he wanted to kiss me, I objected.   And when he did kiss me, I felt like pushing him away... but I didn't."

"Why didn't you?"

"I'm not sure... perhaps, I felt something for him.  But... during that time, I felt surges of emotion, even when I was alone.  Sometimes my heart ached so much that it almost made me want to cry.  And there were times when I suddenly felt so lonely without apparent cause."  She paused as she remembered Shiro's kiss.  "But I do know for certain... that Shiro's kiss felt different from Rin's..."  Her hand covered her mouth and she blushed as she recalled her first kiss with Rin.

But can a kiss determine what is true and what is not?  She did not want to betray Rin, but how did she feel about those moments with Shiro?  Desperately, she looked at Marlen and Nell for an answer.  As a couple, they contrasted in many ways:  tall and short, plump and thin, large and small.  How can two people who seemed so different fall in love?  "How... how did you know that your love was meant to be?"

Marlen interlaced her fingers with Nell.  "We just knew.  From the moment we met, our hearts were drawn to each other.  Unlike a lot of things in this world, there is no concrete method to verify that your love is true.  And, there's no need to explain why you would love someone over another.  When you do, you just do.  Of course, this is just our opinion.  Other people may tell you otherwise."

Her eyes softened.  "Perhaps, your heart had already decided for you.  Perhaps, if you listen closely, it will guide you."

Arturia closed her eyes.  Where did her heart lead her?  Then she realized where she was.  Against all odds, her heart led her to this place and this time.

Arturia sighed with relief.  Marlen's words set her mind at ease.  "Now, I think I understand.  I've been thinking about it too much, and got caught up in my thoughts that I couldn't step back to see it from another point of view.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I apologize for my earlier outburst."

"Don't worry about it.  I purposely asked Nell to be here, so I can assess your state of mind without casting a spell.  I should be the one apologizing."  She smiled slyly.  "I'd be careful, if I were you, about what you're thinking of while in Nell's presence.  She can read minds."

Arturia stared unbelievingly at Nell.  "Really?"

"Yes."  Marlen glanced at her watch.  "I've kept you long enough.  We'll talk more later.  You should get some rest.  Allow me to keep Avalon until you've rested.  It's too happy to have you back and way too eager to help you in anyway it thinks it could."

Arturia laughed.  "Yes...  its mana was a bit overwhelming sometimes."  She rose slowly, steadying herself with the armrest.  Her eyes landed on Avalon.  It was good to have it back.  She remembered how angry she was when she found out that Avalon was stolen.  Merlyn tried to console her by saying, "Fret not.  One way or another, it will find its way back to you.  It wants to be found."

Marlen's voice jolted her out of her reverie.  "Too tired?  I can float you to your room."

Arturia grabbed the handle of her luggage.  "No, thank you.  I'll walk there."

"Okay.  Sleep tight, and don't let the bed bugs bite."  When Arturia's face melted with disgust, Marlen quickly added, "I'm just kidding!  The Aerie is bug free!"

Arturia chuckled and walked towards the door with her luggage rolling behind her.  As she exited the rose garden, she heard Marlen speak.

"What?  You want to do it again?  Oh... you have something new for me to try?  It's in our room?  Okay, let me talk to Rin first, and then we can try it."

As she walked to her room, Arturia wondered what Marlen was talking about.  But her thoughts wandered away when she saw her bed.  She tossed herself onto it and quickly fell asleep.


---------------------------------


"Show me your amulet."

Rin took out her amulet from under her nightgown.  Marlen tugged it off and deposited it in a small wooden box.  Her hands wove around the box and it disappeared.

With her magesight, Rin saw five or six seals created in rapid succession before the box disappeared.  Although she was amazed by Marlen's skill, she was even more curious why she sealed the amulet away.

"Master, am I released from my apprenticeship?"

"Hell, no.  The Emrys have done too much for you, and honor demands that you return it with service.  For now, I'm just giving you, and me as well, a breather."

"I'm honored that you think I could be of service to your House.  But... why is it inconvenient for you if I wore the amulet?"

Marlen's face darkened.  "It's Merlyn.  As your new master, I am bound by honor to follow her instructions.  But her bloody instructions told me to keep you away from Arturia."

"What?  But why?"

"My thoughts exactly.  Why should she care about what you do with Arturia?  Just to get a second opinion, I showed them to Mum, and even she thought she'd gone barmy.  Then I checked Airianne's diary and found out that she was really gutted when Arturia left.  Figure that." 

Marlen threw up her hands.  "What am I supposed to do when she bullocks up her instructions like that?  That amulet forms a link between master and apprentice.  Through it, I can check up on you anytime I want.  And even worse, use it to punish you with the strength of a geas.  So, here's the deal.  Don't let me catch you snoggin' or whatever, even if Arturia started it.  I don't need to know, I don't want know and don't force me to punish you.  After you wake up, I'll give you some potions to make and then, it's free reading anywhere you want.  As always, I suggest that you study away from any distractions.  Of course, I'll leave it to you to decide where."  A corner of Marlen's mouth tugged into a lopsided grin.

Rin noted the hint.  "Yes, Master.  And thank you."

"Don't mention it.  Really."  Marlen walked to the door.  "Sleep well." 

"Um, Master..."

"Yes?"

"Nice dress."

Marlen blushed.  "Er... thanks..." 

Rin held back her snicker while Marlen quickly shut the door.  And then, she laughed into her hand.  It was so silly to see Marlen wearing something other than her goth outfit.  After she giggled her fill, her hand went to her chest where the amulet used to be.  She did feel lighter, as if a burden was lifted. 

She sighed anyway.  The bed was too big and too empty.  Even though it was a poor substitute for Arturia, she embraced a nearby pillow and pretended to hold her in her arms.  Underneath her dark eyelids, she imagined her smiling face and earnest emerald green eyes.  She held that image and hoped to see her in her dreams as she drifted off to sleep.


--------------------------------


Arturia opened her eyes to see the familiar canopy of her bed.  She yawned and stretched.  She rose quickly and slumped back on the bed again, feeling lightheaded.  Her eyes filled with stars.  As she rubbed her eyes, the curtains of her bed parted.

"Good morning, sleeping beauty!"

Arturia broke into a wide grin.  "Rin!"  She tried to get up again, and the room swam around her.  She tried to fight it and held her head between her hands.  But Rin's hands pushed her back onto the bed.

"Take it easy... you were asleep for three days."

"Three?!"

"Yes..."  Rin took the other pillow and slipped it under Arturia's pillow.  "If you do it gradually, you won't feel as lightheaded.  Anyway, I'll be right back."

Rin quickly exited and left Arturia with just the ticking of the bedside clock for company.  Arturia's eyes wandered around the room.  The furniture was essentially the same, except for some modern conveniences like a hair dryer and a plasma TV on the wall.  The desk, however, was piled with yellowed and wrinkled scrolls and dusty books.  Was Rin watching over her while she slept?  The idea warmed her heart.

Her eyes spotted a vase of flowers on the bedside table and recognized them as Lily of the valley.  She smiled broadly.  "The return to happiness... tis truly fitting..."

Just then, her body reminded her that three days was a long time to be asleep.  Reluctantly, she got up slowly and used the wall to support herself as she made her way to the privy.  After she refreshed herself, she went back to lie down on the bed.

A few minutes later, Rin walked in with a small cart of food.  The scent tickled her nose and her mouth watered.  But first, she needed something else.  As Rin wheeled the cart next to the bed, she sat up and held out her hands.  Rin looked at her quizzically. 

"Doesn't sleeping beauty get a kiss when she wakes up?"  complained Arturia.

Rin went to her immediately.  "Oh!  I'm so sorry!  I've been a bad prince!"  She enfolded Arturia in her arms and kissed her.

Arturia kissed back, devouring the taste of Rin's lips.  She leaned back to bring Rin on top of her.  Her body welcomed Rin's weight, an affirmation of how much it missed her presence.  Her hand went behind her head and she deepened the kisses as much as she dared.

After a few minutes, Rin whispered between kisses, "Aren't you hungry?"

"Very... can't you tell?"

Rin's heart leapt at her answer and she renewed her kisses with more passion.   They would have continued all day but a growling sound rumbled under her.

Rin giggled while Arturia looked away in embarrassment.  She kissed her cheek.  "Since I've fed your heart, let me feed your stomach."  She began to pull away but Arturia held her fast.

"I can live on you, Rin..."  Arturia's lips found their way to the nape of her neck and began to nibble lightly on her skin.

Rin gasped at the sensation.  A thrill went up her spine and she broke out in goosebumps.  She moaned as her tongue caressed her skin across her collarbone.  Arturia's hands wandered about, trying to find entry into her robe.

Once again, Arturia's stomach grumbled.  Rin took the opportunity to whisper in her ear.

"I cooked something for you."

Arturia stopped.  "You did?"  Her eyes targeted the cart. 

"It's crepe, a French dish for breakfast.  Michelle taught me."  Her face warmed.  "Since... since I'll be your wife... I should learn how to cook better food."

Arturia's eyes shone brightly.  "In that case, it is my duty to consume your cooking."

"Here... let me prop you up."  She helped Arturia sit up against the headboard.  Then she got the bed tray from the cart and put it over Arturia's lap.  She moved a plate of crepe, a fork and a teacup to the tray.  She sat next to Arturia and broke off a piece of crepe with the fork.

"Say 'aaahhh'."

Arturia complied and she gently guided the crepe into her mouth.  She watched with bated breath as she chewed.

"Delicious!  The texture of the dough is soft and springy and the strawberries have absorbed the flavor of the sauce.  I taste a hint of orange and wine."

Rin grinned in triumph.  Many strawberries and ingredients were sacrificed to the compost heap to create this palatable dish.  "I'm glad you like it."  She daubed another piece with some whipped cream.  "Try it with cream."

Arturia chomped on the offered piece.  "Mmmmm... the cream adds a nice blend to the sauce.  Can you add some more?"

"Of course."  Rin applied a generous amount and Arturia wolfed it down.

About half the crepe was finished when Arturia took the fork away from her. 

"Allow me..."  She offered a piece of crepe with whipped cream in front of her mouth.

Rin opened her mouth and engulfed the offering.  She was still chewing when Arturia put her hand on her shoulder and pulled her closer.  She leaned toward her and licked a spot of whipped cream from the side of her mouth.

"There are no napkins." explained Arturia with a sly grin on her face.

They had kissed before, and yet this unexpected action made her heart race.  Rin's face warmed and she could not think of a witty comeback.  Arturia offered another piece, and she nibbled it off the fork.

Eventually, the crepe, muffins and tea were consumed.  Arturia moved the tray to the bedside table.  Her hands reached for Rin.

"Now, I'm ready for dessert."

Arturia pushed her onto the bed and captured her lips.  Rin's lips tasted of strawberry and cream, and she devoured every bit of it.  Just then, something fluttered near her ear and pecked her on the head.

"Cu-ckoo...  Cu-ckoo..."

Rin caught the bird and pressed its head.  Marlen's voice came through its beak.  "Rin, I need some help with a ritual.  Come over to the north hall.  And, if Arturia's awake, tell her to talk to my mothers."

With a sigh of regret, Rin put the bird down.  "I'm sorry... I have to go."

Arturia reluctantly got off her.  "That's quite all right."  With a gleam in her eye, she added, "I can always save dessert for later."

Rin blushed and wondered what she had in mind.  She stood up and straightened her wrinkled robe.  "By the way, I have to go to Japan as soon as possible.  Would you like to come?"

"Do I!  Of course!  When?"

"As soon as you're able to."  She walked to the door.  "I'll see you at dinner."

"All right."  Arturia waved her farewell.  Then she tried to stand up and was happy that the lightheadedness was gone.  She went to the dresser to change before meeting Marlen's mothers.


---------------------------------


As Rin looked at the starry sky from the airplane window, she wondered if an unlucky star was shining over her head.  Meanwhile, Arturia laughed in the background.

"Did she really?"

"Why, yes, dearie!  Wasn't she just the cutest thing?"

"Vraiment!  I think I have a picture somewhere...  Oui, here it is!"

"That's Marlen?  Rin, come see!"

Rin forced a smile.  "What is it?"  She saw a picture of Marlen buck naked with only flowers to clothe her.  Her forced smile became genuine.  Marlen really was cute.  She was probably two or three years old in the picture.  Then a thought crossed her mind and she asked a question that nagged her ever since she returned.

"What happened?"

Eileen's face fell as if she understood the real question behind those two words.  "Oh, dearie!  I truly don't know!  We tried to raise her to be a happy, fun-loving child, and yet, she turned out so serious!  So morose and quiet...  She kept to herself all through her teenage years."

"Oui... That's when she started wearing black.  We thought it was typical for young people to express themselves, but we worried anyway.  At least, she didn't hang out with the Witches of Westmick, or any coven by that matter."

"Thank the great light that she met Nell!  That kind soul put color in her dark and moody personality."

A drop of sweat trickled down Rin's forehead.  She chanced a glance at the other passengers in first class and was relieved to see them sedately unconcerned over their boisterous conversation.  Eileen's spell was working well.  Nevertheless, Rin sighed and hoped that the plane would get to Japan as soon as possible.


----------------------------------


Perhaps, they passed by a lucky star and the rest of the trip went by without incident.  As they drove up to the house, Rin felt nostalgic at the sight.  After parking, the chauffeur opened the passenger door to let them out.  Rin went out first and swept her hand before her.

"Welcome to my home!  It's not as grand as the Aerie, so I hope you'll find it comfortable."

"I'm surprised!  I would've thought that your house would be traditional Japanese."  remarked Eileen.

"Please give Takeo-san your luggage and follow me.  I'll show you to your rooms."

Rin selected a nice airy bedroom with lots of windows for Eileen and Michelle.  They went to the bed immediately.

"Mmm... soft and bouncy."

"Oui... and satin sheets!" exclaimed Michelle who peeked under the covers.  She glanced at Eileen and leered seductively.

A drop of sweat trickled down Rin's forehead.  "I'm glad you like it."  She turned to Arturia.  "I'll show you to your room."

Arturia's brows knitted.  "Why?"

It took a moment before the reason behind Arturia's question hit her.  She paled and swallowed nervously.  "Well... I want you to be comfortable..."

"Is your bed too small?"

Rin glanced at the servants who were bringing in the luggage and refreshments.  She grabbed Arturia's hand.  "Just follow me."

She led Arturia to a room next to hers and closed the door.  She could not meet Arturia's eyes.  "This... will be your room.  Mine is just next door."

Arturia was silent.  When she spoke, she heard the pain in her voice.  "Are you... ashamed of me?"

A dagger through the heart would have been more merciful.  She embraced Arturia tightly.  "No... but... I... I want to break the news to everyone slowly..."  Arturia did not hug back and Rin could sense her tense muscles.

Arturia could not fathom why she had a separate room.  As far as she could tell, Rin wanted to keep her a secret.  In the back of her mind, a sliver of doubt began to form.

"I'm sorry... please... please understand." begged Rin with a quavering voice.

Her muscles relaxed and she hugged her back.  For now, she would be patient.  "I still don't understand, but I'll follow your lead."  she said softly.

Rin hugged her tighter.  "Thanks."

They held each other for a while before Rin spoke.  "I want to take a bath.  How about you?"

"A fine idea!  Lead the way."

Rin fetched some bathrobes and towels.  Along the way, Eileen and Michelle joined them.  As they entered the bath, Rin presented it proudly.

"It's not as big as the Aerie's, but the water's great."

"Ah!  How nice!  It's just like a... hmm... what was the word, dahling?"

"Onsen, I believe."

"Oui!  I haven't been in one for a long time."  Michelle put their clothes down on a bench and began to change.  Eileen helpfully assisted her. 

Rin and Arturia glanced at each other with knowing smiles.  Undressing was something they did very well.  After Rin put her bundle down, they began to do so.

They scrubbed and rinsed themselves before soaking in the hot mineral water.  Then a thought occurred to Rin.  Michelle's statement spurred her curiosity.

"Michelle, did you visit Japan before?"

"Oui... just for a short time to see your birth."  Just then, Eileen elbowed Michelle in the ribs.  Michelle let out a surprised yelp.  "But dahling... there's no need to hide it anymore..."

"My... birth?"

Eileen sighed.  "I suppose..."  She drew a deep breath.  "We just wanted to make sure everything's on track.  Over the centuries, the Emrys worked toward one goal:  the retrieval of King Arthur.  So we have to make sure that everything is happening as expected.  That's why Michelle went to Japan to see your birth."

Rin and Arturia stared at them in astonishment.  Of course, it made sense now.  Merlyn knew the future through her memories and Shiro's.  Her eyes grew wide when she realized the implications.

"Then... during my research... all those times when I reached a dead end..."

Eileen nodded.  "Nell is one of the senior archivists of the Academy libraries.  She made sure that you found what you'd need."  Then she winked.   "Discreetly, of course."

"Wow... I have to thank her..."

Eileen laughed.  "Oh, about that... I have a few ideas about souvenirs that she would appreciate."

They talked and soaked for about ten minutes before Michelle gestured towards Arturia.

"Ma cherie, whatever is that on your hand?"

Arturia held out her palms.  "It is my bond with Rin."  she said with a proud smile. 

Eileen waded over and examined one of her hands.  She reached over and touched Rin's wrist.

"May I?"

Rin nodded and let her examine her palm.  Eileen laughed softly.  "I see... so that's what happened."  She winked at them.  "I bet you have a lot of fun in bed."

They both looked away, embarrassed.

"No... don't tell me you haven't yet!" exclaimed Eileen with surprise when she saw their reaction.

Michelle blinked several times and looked down.  "They haven't!"

Eileen splashed water at her and she shied away.  "Stop using that!"  She sighed.  "You know how it is, when you're young and in love.  These things take time."

A slow languid grin which bordered on seductive formed on Michelle's face.  "Pardon, but I don't recall YOU taking your time."

"That's because YOU didn't give me any peace."

Rin took this chance to make an exit.  She leapt out of the onsen.  "I just remembered that I need to make a call..."  She strode over to her bundle to fetch her bathrobe. 

"I'll go with you."  Arturia got out as well.

Eileen's eyebrows arched.  "But Rin's just going to make a call..."

"It's a mutual friend.  We talk by speakerphone."  Rin said quickly while belting her robe.  She walked to the door and waited for Arturia.  She waved before exiting.  "I'll see you later!  Please enjoy the bath!"

"Cheerio!"  waved Eileen and Michelle.

As they quickly walked down the hall, Arturia asked, "Who do you have to call?"

Rin whispered hurriedly.  "No one... I just wanted to get out of there."

They reached Rin's room and Rin opened the door.  A tray with some pastries and green tea was on the kotatsu.  She beckoned Arturia in and closed the door behind her.  She picked out a strawberry scone and offered it to Arturia.  "Have some."

Arturia's mouth watered as she accepted the scone.  She sat down at the kotatsu.  Her heart warmed with nostalgia as she remembered the first time she sat in one at Shiro's house.  Meanwhile, Rin played some Jpop on the stereo system.

Rin sat next to her and picked up a fork.  She sliced off a piece of the scone and offered it to her.  Arturia smiled and she ate the piece off the fork.  As they fed each other, the notes of a familiar song floated in the air.

"Isn't this...?"

"Yes, it is." confirmed Rin.

She did not understand it before.  But now she did and she realized why the song tugged at her heart when she first heard it. 


[Author's note:  recommended background music:  Let me be with you by Shela, from the Album Cherry Blossom]


   That day, we believed in the same future.
   Without knowledge, before we realized
   Our failing hearts
   were already bound together.
   I want to walk through the changing seasons with you.
   Let me be with you.
   Whenever we understand each other,
   I can become honest when I'm with you.
   You make me love you.
   Let me be with you.

   On the long sleepless nights,
   You kissed me many times, didn't you?
   It was then that I finally knew
   True happiness
   The rain turns into a rainbow;
   So that it will raise flowers.
   Let me be with you.
   Hold onto the precious time,
   Embracing these valuable moments.
   Let me be with you.
   Savoring the morning's excitement
   And the warmth of the dream,
   Let me be with you.
   You make me love you.
   Let me be with you.

   Let me be with you.
   Whenever we find out more about each other,
   I find myself helpless in front of you.
   Let me be with you.
   Savoring the morning's excitement
   And the warmth of the dream,
   Let me be with you.
   You make me love you.
   Let me be with you.


Suddenly, Arturia remembered what she forgot to do and stood up.  "I'll be right back."

Rin watched her leave and wondered why she left as she waited.  Finally, Arturia came back.  She knelt to her left and held out her left hand.  Rin recognized the gesture and put her left hand on Arturia's.  Arturia kissed the top of her hand gently, causing her skin to break out in goosebumps at the contact. 

Arturia locked eyes with her.  Her own grew wide when she noticed a flash of silver between the fingertips of Arturia's right hand.  Her heart pumped faster as the feel of cool metal slid over her ring finger.  When Arturia took her hand away, she found a silver ring adorned with a moderately sized diamond.  A Celtic pattern was etched on the mount that supported the diamond.

"It's beautiful..."  breathed Rin.

"I'm glad you like it."  smiled Arturia widely.

Rin raised her right hand.  "Kinensis..."

Her luggage unpacked itself and a small black box floated from the luggage.  It landed on her upturned palm. 

"Show off..."  chided Arturia with a teasing tone.

Rin smiled sweetly and extracted a ring from the box.  She slipped it on Arturia's ring finger.  This time, Arturia's eyes grew wide.

"Why, it's the same!"

Rin laughed loudly and then smiled winsomely.  "Amazed by my magecraft?  Yes?"

Arturia sat there openmouthed at first, but when her eyes wandered to the open luggage, she deduced that Rin did not conjure the ring at will.

"Did they tell you?"

"More or less..."  Rin snickered.  "I had to prod them a little.  You know how excitable those two are."

Arturia sighed.  She should not have asked Marlen's mothers to help her pick out a ring.  Then a thought occurred to her.

"But you acted like you've never seen it before."

Rin blushed.  "When they brought it to me, I didn't open the box.  I... I was waiting for you."

Arturia's heart leapt at her words.  She embraced her and kissed her lips which were lightly flavored by the meal that they just shared.  She glanced at the kotatsu, noting that they were almost finished with their meal.  She grinned widely.  It was time for dessert.

Rin yelped as she scooped her up.  With quick long strides, she carried her to the bed and laid her there.  Her hand caressed her face.

"I love you, Rin.  And I want all of you."  Her palm cupped her left eye.  "So, I must have you whole."

Mana surged from her palm.  Rin could feel it probing the seal in her eye.  Then one by one, the links of the seal began to break and she could feel her eye tingle with each one.  When Arturia lifted her hand, light flooded into her eye, causing it to tear up as receptors tickled into life.

"Can you see me?" she asked softly.

Rin blinked to bring her into focus and a tear slid down the side of her face.   The outlines of her face were blurry, but she could definitely see her.  "Yes..."

"Thank God, it worked!"

"You didn't know that it would?"

Arturia shook her head.  "No.  Marlen wasn't sure, but she told me to try anyway."

Rin ran her fingers through Arturia's damp hair, relishing its coolness as the strands slipped between her fingers.  "I'm glad that it did... thank you..."  She paused for a moment.  "Did Marlen tell you?"

"When we were traveling, I noticed that you had a tendency to turn your head to the left.  I asked her to confirm my suspicions and she admitted that your left eye was sealed." 

Her voice cracked.  "Th--- that's because... I..."

Arturia silenced her with the tip of her finger and kissed the top of her left eye.  When she drew back, her own eyes gleamed with hunger.  "Like I said before, if I'm getting too close, just push me away."

Rin's cheeks flushed as she remembered the morning when she spoke those words.   "I did once before..."  she paused, surprised at her trembling voice.  She put some backbone behind it and spoke more clearly.  "...at another house.  But... this time, I am master of this house."  She glanced at the door and the locks obediently clicked into place.  Then she raised her hand and traced a wide circle with her fingertip.  "Silentium."

Arturia grinned ferally, and the gleam in her eyes intensified so much that Rin shivered at the sight.  Arturia reached out and interlocked her fingers with both of her hands.  She expected mana to flow between them, but the glyphs merely tickled as they aligned with each other.

She did not have a chance to think about it, since Arturia was already devouring her lips.  But when Arturia deepened the kiss, she tensed in panic.   Internally, she prayed that she would last.  Soon, she felt that dreaded pressure in her sinuses, rising with each heartbeat.  "No!"  she wailed internally.  "Too soon..."

Then Arturia's hands tightened into hers and mana flowed between them.  Arturia took her left hand away and maintained the mana flow with her right.  The mana surged into her and the pressure in her sinuses faded, only to be replaced by an intense floating sensation as Arturia kissed her passionately.   Her mouth tingled with each caress of Arturia's tongue and she began to return her kisses more actively. 

She felt Arturia's weight shift.  Fingers fiddled with the sash of her bathrobe and pulled her robe open when it became untied.  She shifted her body to allow the robe to be removed.  Then her hand wandered to Arturia's waist and undid her sash.  Arturia's robe slithered off easily, leaving only the sleeve of her right hand which still held her left.  Arturia released her hand for a moment and the robes were unceremoniously kicked off the bed.

With the robes off, they slipped under the covers and pressed their naked bodies together.  Rin's skin broke out into goosebumps on contact, and the pressure built up again, only to be quelled by another surge of mana.

Arturia whispered, "Looks like... I found a cure for your 'malady'..."

Meanwhile, Arturia's left hand wandered slowly over her body, tracing its contours like an artist.  Her skin warmed against her touch and left prickling sensations in its wake.  After her hand reached her thigh, it traveled upward and settled on her breast. 

Rin gasped into Arturia's mouth as her fingertips teased her nipple.  On her second gasp, Arturia's mouth left hers and slid to her ear.

"I remember what you did to me back then..."  whispered Arturia.  Then she nibbled her ear in the same way.

Rin squirmed at the sensation.  Arturia nibbled down her ear and formed a trail of kisses as she moved toward the nape of her neck.  She gasped and moaned as Arturia sucked the nape of her neck and stimulated her nipple.  Then her hand slowly traveled lower, raking its fingertips lightly over her skin and then burying its fingers in the frizzled hair over her loins.

Her fingers threaded over that hair, and the sensation seemed so soothing that it calmed Rin's irregular breathing for a brief moment.  However, it was difficult to remain calm when Arturia was constantly kissing her, tasting her and sucking at places that were oh--- so sensitive.  She should have passed out by now, but Arturia's mana kept her awake, and she was so glad that it did.

Arturia's legs parted hers and her fingers slipped down to caress the soft flesh of her loins.  A soft cry left her lips as those nimble fingers slid over her moist flesh.   She cried out once more when her mouth captured her nipple and tortured it with pleasure. 

Mana was flowing freely now.  Her entire body squirmed and arched against Arturia.  The satin sheets of the bed helped cool the rising temperature of her body.  Her hands wove around Arturia's neck, keeping her in place over that source of bliss.

Rin moaned softly as Arturia's fingers probed between the folds of her loins.  Her heart beat in nervous anticipation at what she thought Arturia would do.  She had read about sex in the books at the Academy's library, but so far, none of them had described any of the sensations that she had experienced.

Arturia stopped and came up to Rin's face to lock eyes with her.  She held her gaze as she probed deeper.  Rin quivered as her finger slid across her flesh.  She slid her finger deeper until she encountered resistance. 

"This may hurt a bit." warned Arturia.  She kept her eyes on Rin to witness the moment in which she became hers.  Her finger slowly pushed against the flesh that barred her way and felt it give in.

Rin inhaled sharply at that moment and grimaced as muscles tensed up around her finger.  She bent down to soothe her with gentle kisses.  "It's all right... relax... relax..."

Beneath her, Rin's bosom rose and fell against her with every deep breath she took.  While waiting for her to relax, she resumed kissing and teasing Rin.  When the muscles around her finger relaxed, she slowly slid her finger deeper until all of it went in. 

The feeling of Arturia within her felt so... so intimate.  Her muscles contracted around her finger to feel her more keenly and Rin quivered at the tingling sensation.  Just then, Arturia began to slide her finger against those muscles, and she gasped loudly as the tingling intensified. 

As her insides were probed, caressed and teased, she moaned and cried softly with each one.  She felt hot all over and more so between her legs.  Then she felt Arturia's thumb against the upper portion of her loins, rubbing against something stiff.  She had a fleeting notion about what it was, but her mind shut down from the trauma of all the intense stimulation within her and wherever Arturia decided to kiss, lick or suckle. 

Rin's only indication of how much time had passed was the hoarseness of her voice.  And yet, she could not help but react to Arturia's touch.  She found all her sensitive spots and mercilessly aroused them.  Her flesh slowly absorbed each sensation and she felt like a dam ready to burst.  Just a little more, and the dam would surely break, bringing with it welcome release.   Her hips shifted forward in hopes of bringing a sensitive spot within Arturia's reach. 

But her finger slid further away, and Rin whimpered at the loss.  Her hips tried again, rising a little higher, but her finger eluded it.  Rin's hand moved to Arturia's waist and embraced her closer.

"Arturia... please... please..."  she pleaded. 

"Rin, what am I to you?"  Arturia asked softly.

Through the haze of her bliss, Rin tried to process her question.  "My lover..."  she managed to say.

Arturia did not say anything, but her finger began to slide out slowly.  Rin began to panic and her muscles clenched to keep her in.  "No... please..."

"Rin, what am I to you?"  she asked again, watching her intently with those emerald green eyes.

If not her lover, what else?  What more could she be?  And then the answer hit her with alarming clarity and she replied with a half-shout, "My wife!"

Arturia's finger plunged in, filling her depths and pressing against that spot she craved for touch.  She slid against it, and elicited a wave of pleasure from that spot.

Her flesh reacted violently as the wave spilled into the dam and broke it.  Rin screamed in bliss as her flesh released what it had absorbed and provoked her muscles to contract forcefully against Arturia.  Her body arched against her as an intense pulse originated from her loins and traveled over her spine and her nerves, filling her with unimaginable pleasure. 

Nothing in her research prepared her for this, for words failed to describe the bliss flowing through her.  She squirmed and writhed with it, crying out and moaning shamelessly.

"Oh... ah... my god... oh, Arturia... aaahhh... aaahhh..."

When the pulses began to ebb, she took a moment to take a few deep breaths.  Through half-lidded eyes, she could see Arturia grinning at her with a mask of triumph and mischief.  She felt her slide her finger out and examine it.  Her fingers glistened in the dim light, and her face burned at the sight.

As Arturia looked at her fingers, a strong scent tickled her nostrils.  She was surprised that she could smell it from this distance.  She brought it to her face to inhale its heady perfume deeply.  Still, the scent beckoned her and her tongue slowly extended to touch the base of her middle finger.  It swept upward, cleaning it.  Her tongue retracted into her mouth to deliver its precious cargo.  She swirled it around, savoring the taste of Rin's desire for her.  A hand rose to caress her face.

"T--that... was amazing..."  Rin managed to say between breaths.

A wicked glint shone in Arturia's eyes.  "It's not over yet..."

Arturia entered her and her fingers played with her again.  This time, Rin's flesh was too willing to be excited.  She was filled again so soon, so quick and once again, she screamed for release.

This time, Arturia kindly gave her what she wanted, what she needed and she cried out her name in a voice all too hoarse from the effects of her passion.   She lay there, drowning in it. 

But when Arturia tried to begin the cycle once more, she gathered what little strength she could muster and grabbed her left hand to stop her.  She gripped her right hand and extracted enough mana to keep her alert.

In her mind, she chanted, "Strength of a thousand."  Then, using the wrestling move that Bedivere taught her, she flipped Arturia over on her back.  The motion caused a small pulse to emerge from her aroused loins and she gasped at the sensation.  She gathered her wits for a moment.  When she managed to speak, her voice was barely a whisper.

"My turn..."

She captured Arturia's lips and caressed her lips to show her the depth of her desire.  Her hands wandered all over her, luxuriating in the smoothness and warmth of her skin.

Arturia was surprised at Rin's sudden move.  But when Rin began to touch her, she surrendered to it with eyes closed to further enjoy her caresses.  Then Rin sought her breasts and suckled and played with them.  But sometimes, Rin was a little too hard and she winced slightly when she did so.  Still, her touch was so soothing and alluring.  Soon, she felt her loins warming up as desire built up.  She spread her legs out slightly to let Rin know. 

Thankfully, Rin seemed to sense her need and her hand traveled lower, tickling her skin in the process.  She played with the hair above it first, like she did during the mana transfer ritual.  Then she moved lower. 

Arturia sighed with relief and moaned with Rin's caresses.  Her loins were slick with anticipation.  When she could bear it no longer, her hips tilted upward in an effort to catch Rin's fingers.  Rin must have noticed it and probed around to find her entrance.  When she found it, she plunged in. 

Arturia stifled a cry with clenched teeth as something within her snapped.  So this is what Bedivere meant by slowly going in when one's lady is a maid. 

"I--- I'm sorry!"  said Rin in a panicked voice.  She must have seen her reaction. 

She cupped her face and kissed her.  "I'm fine... it will pass.  But please, a bit more gentle."  She kissed her some more to reassure her.

This time, Rin was, and she gasped as each stroke of her finger stimulated her insides.  For what seemed like eternity, she tried to lie still and let Rin do all the work, but the spots where Rin did not touch enough screamed for more and she caved in to her desire.

With a deft move, she flipped Rin onto her back and straddled her hand against her leg.  And then she rocked back and forth to allow Rin's finger to slide within her.  She gasped and moaned with the rhythm of her rocking as her flesh luxuriated with the pleasure of being touched.

Rin watched her with wonder.  Soon, she began to see a pattern and smirked evilly at her discovery.  "So... this is what you want..." she thought.  As she slid against her, she could feel well-toned muscles tensing up and relaxing just underneath that smooth creamy skin.  Her Arturia was both soft and firm;  an elegant British beauty and a powerful knight.  Her sense of wonder grew even more when she realized how she was thinking about her:  her Arturia.  She liked the sound of that.  It was time to truly claim her.

She pressed her leg upward and Arturia yelped at the sensation.  She lost her balance for an instant and Rin took the opportunity to flip her on her back.  She grabbed one of her hands and pinned it over her head.  Then she used her body to pin her to the bed to prevent her from flipping her over.  Once secured, she resumed control.

Arturia struggled against Rin and was surprised at her strength.  She was getting close to fulfilling her need, so she struggled to gain leverage.  However, she could not ignore the new sensations within her and she stopped struggling against her.

"Yes... there... oh... oh..."  she heard herself say.

But Rin did not mimic her rocking to her satisfaction.  Sometimes she was right there, and sometimes she missed it by a sliver.  Nevertheless, a tightness gathered within her like a spring being compressed, and she yearned to release it.  She tilted her hips and raised her legs to wrap them around Rin's waist. 

She shuddered as Rin went deeper and her innermost flesh tingled at her touch.  Blood rushed down and her body temperature rose with her desire.  Thankfully, the satin sheets cooled her down a little, but not nearly enough to quench her burning skin. 

She struggled again in an attempt to quench that desire, but Rin held her fast.  All she could do was move with her to try to catch her in places were her need was great.  This continued for a while before she realized that Rin was deliberately teasing her, darting away when she was close.

"Rin!"  she complained bitterly.

Rin merely smiled smugly and kissed her lips.  "Sorry... I just liked the look on your face."

"Why, you..."  Her irritation faded when Rin stroked a sensitive spot.  She did not want to admit it, but she was helpless under her mercy.  And yet, there was no other place she wanted to be.  It was time to switch tactics.  She caught Rin's eyes and pleaded in a way that Rin had done once before.

"Please..."

Rin blinked several times when she beheld Arturia's face.  Her eyes glistened brightly with the most adorable puppy dog eyes that she had ever seen.  Her heart melted at the sight and she felt bad for teasing her for so long.  In reply, she kissed her gently and slid her finger in the rhythm that she wanted.

Arturia arched against her as the sensations flooded within her.  Her frustration gave way to a twinge of anger when she realized that Rin knew what she wanted all along.  But just as before, her anger melted away as the rhythm grew to a crescendo.  She moved with her and the tightness intensified, almost causing her to stop her breath.  And yet, like a puppet on a string, her body moved to the pull of her desire, seeking the moment of its climax.  She moved a little faster now, and thankfully, Rin moved with her, bringing her to the edge. 

"Oh... Rin!"  she cried, and Rin complied, thrusting deeply into that aching tightness.

She screamed long and loud as a spring unwound, and her insides exploded with excruciating pleasure.  Her breath moved with the rhythm within her, expanding and contracting.

Rin watched her face and felt her squirm under her.  Her eyes rolled back and her breath was fast and shallow.  Her muscles clenched her finger so tightly that her joints ached from the pressure.  But even so, she would not take it out for she could feel the throbbing of Arturia's flesh, announcing her orgasm.  She grinned proudly over what she had done.

She watched in silence, to let Arturia enjoy this sacred moment of their joining.  When she could no longer feel her orgasm, she tried to start it again, just like Arturia had done for her.  This time, she would listen more closely, now that she learned that the way to arouse Arturia was not the same as the way she became aroused. 

Arturia struggled again.  After all that teasing, she wanted revenge.  However, Rin's grip was strong, far stronger than she ever sensed before.  Then she realized why and she cursed the fact that she was a mage.  But she struggled less and less as her loins flared with renewed pleasure.  Her body betrayed her and moved at Rin's command.  Soon, she was lost in the rhythm of their dance and was once again swept away as she reached its climax.  At its apex, her hoarse voice cried out in acclamation.

"Oh... ohhhh... Riiiiinnn!!!"

This time, her release was long and hard.  Her body convulsed with it and her mind could not sense anything except the sensations flowing from within her.  When her contractions within her finally ceased, she opened her eyes drowsily. 

As if sensing that she would struggle no more, Rin released her grip and flopped down beside her.  She pulled her into an embrace and kissed her. 

"I love you."  said Rin.

Feebly, she kissed her back.  "I love you, too..." she whispered.  Then she snuggled into her arms and surrendered to the temptation of sleep.



Chapter 16 Omake

Rin:  Annoying cuckoo bird...
Arturia:  Destroyed!
Rin:  Nosebleed malady...
Arturia:  Cure found!
Rin:  Master's amulet...
Arturia:  Sealed!  So... can we...
Rin:  Ummm.... I hate to tell you this, but it's that time of the month....
Arturia:  What do you mean?
Rin:  You know... *whisper whisper*
Arturia:  Oh that... is that a problem?
Rin:  I guess not...


Chapter 16
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