The King and Her Queen

Chapter 17:  The Gift


They arrived in London safely.  Eileen met them at the airport.  She drove at her unusual nerve wracking speed and they got to the valley in record time. 

"We'll make a stop at Sakura's first."  said Eileen.

"Sakura's?"

"Yes.  Because she was with the Matou for so long, Marlen did not want her anywhere near the Aerie.  She wants to examine her before she is allowed in the Aerie.  We've rented a house for her to live in."

"Oh."  Rin was perplexed.  If that was the case, then why did Merlyn let them in?  She was a stranger then.  "But... what about me and Shiro?"

"During your journey to the Aerie, Merlyn examined both of you."

"She did?"  Rin tried to remember.  Merlyn read some of her memories in the inn, but after that, she just asked a lot of questions.

"I doubt that you'd know, dearie.  She'd do it while you were asleep."  Her voice suddenly dripped with mischief.  "And then, she'd ask questions to see how truthful you are."

Rin's eyes grew wide.  "Really?  Whoa... I didn't sense it at all." 

"But you passed."  Her simple statement hinted of praise.  "She let you in."

For several moments, Rin was silent as pride welled within her.  "Thank you.  That's nice to hear."  Still, she could not help but wonder.  "I apologize for my curiosity, but couldn't you examine Sakura on the plane?"

"I could, but Marlen and Nell would do a better job."

"Really?  Why?"

"Oh, she'll let you know when you need to know.  She's your master after all."

Eileen did not turn around, but Rin could hear the sly smile in her voice.  She made a note to ask Marlen later.

They parked in front of a small cottage near the foot of the mountain.  Rin and Arturia got out of the car and followed Eileen up the brick path.  She rang the doorbell and the door opened a few moments later.

"Nee-san!  Eileen!  Arturia!"  Sakura hugged each of them, but she hugged Rin a little longer.  "Come in."

They sat down on the couch and chairs in the small living room while Sakura went to the kitchen to get some tea and snacks.  She returned a few minutes later and laid out the tea and snacks on the coffee table.

Rin looked about.  "Did you do all this when you got back?"

"Heavens no, dearie.  Marlen arranged all of this.  The day after you found Sakura, we told her that she would be coming to England."  She swept her hand across the room.  "All of this is her doing."

Rin gulped.  "Wow... I have to pay her back."

"Oh, I'm sure you will." 

Rin blanched at Eileen's tone.  She hoped that the debt would be payable with cash and not by other means.  After they finished the tea and snacks, Sakura showed them around the house.  In addition to the living room, it had a small kitchen, two bedrooms and a bath.  It was sparsely furnished, but Rin noted the extra bed in the second bedroom.  There was a small garden behind the house.

After they went back in the house, Rin asked, "Eileen, will she be safe here by herself?"

"Oh... did you see a hole in the defenses?"

Rin blinked.  Then she caught on to her question.  She opened her magesight and looked around.  She spotted a perimeter spell, reinforcement spells on the walls of the house and security spells on the doors and windows.  Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment.  She should have looked first before asking the question. 

"Ummm... I meant was... can she work these spells on her own?"

"Yes.  I showed her how to use the crystals that control them."

Rin sighed with relief.  "Thank you.  I feel better now."

Eileen patted her shoulder.  "Don't worry.  We put it on your tab."

Rin's shoulders drooped in response.  She dreaded to know what is on her tab, and how she would end up paying for it. 

She wanted to stay longer, but Eileen insisted in bringing them back to see Marlen.

"You can visit her later, dearie."  assured Eileen.


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They deposited their luggage in their rooms before seeing Marlen in the rose garden.  As usual, Marlen sat on Nell's lap. 

"Welcome back."  greeted Marlen.  "Arturia, I would like to speak to Rin privately.  Please see my mothers.  I believe they have something to tell you."

"All right."  Arturia was puzzled, but she complied.

"Have a seat, Rin."  Marlen gestured to a chair which slid behind her.  "From what my mothers tell me, you've accumulated quite a bit of trouble.  Please tell me about it.  As your master, I'm concerned about your well being."  With a wave of her hand, a cart laden with tea and pastries wheeled over to her side.  "Have a spot of tea while you're at it."

Rin blinked.  This was a first.  Merlyn treated her kindly, but she never said anything so nice.  She sat down and poured herself a cup before she began her story.

While she told her story, she could not help but notice the cute dress that Marlen wore.  It was a large contrast to the black outfit that she wore whenever they practiced spells in the north wing. 

She also had a chance to study Nell in more detail.  She was a large woman and was easily over six feet tall.  Slightly plump, her arms were twice as large as Marlen's, thus making Marlen look like a doll.  Her shoulder length blond hair was swept back by a headband.  Her hazel brown eyes caught her gaze and Rin had a strange feeling that she knew that she was being studied.  Rin broke away and stared into the teacup in her hand.

She suddenly felt compelled to tell as much as she could, and she did.  After she was done, she was scared for revealing so much.

Marlen clucked her tongue.  "In deep, aren't you?  First off, consider telling Arturia about the suitors.  You dropped a clanger on her already, and it'll only get worse if you keep hiding it.  Next, I suggest telling your godfather about your engagement.  No sense making him shower you with men.  And finally, we'll ante up your training on mental and psychological defense.  We'll have you swotting in no time."

"...We?"

"Nell and I will train you.  But not today.  Go and get some rest.  We'll start tomorrow."

Rin stood up.  "Master, thank you for taking care of Sakura."

"You're welcome.  By the way, she has adopted a new identity here.  Please refer to her as Cheryl Vellason."

"What?!"

Marlen spread her hands out.  "It's too risky to use her real name.  You might as well put a searchlight on her, if she uses it.  Shiro only managed to hide her because she was shunted not only through space, but also time."

"Really?"

"Yes.  That's what Mum discovered when she was helping Sakura pack.  The overall effect was that any magical search will fail to find her because they're looking for her in the current time, not the past time.  The difference is only a second, but that's enough."

Stunned was the closest description that Rin could attach to how she felt.  The blood drained from her face.  Perhaps it was wrong to bring her here.  Her expression must have made her thoughts obvious.

"Don't worry.  If we have to, we can probably recreate Shiro's spell.  Mum thinks it's a variation of that ritual.  Anyway, run along.  Arturia will be coming to speak to me."

Rin bowed deeply.  "Thank you, Master."  She turned and made her way back to her room.  "So that's it.  Clever jerk."  thought Rin.  Shiro probably used his talent in creating pocket dimensions and the ritual to create that spell.

 
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Arturia yawned.  Although two days had passed since their return, she still seemed jet-lagged.  However, she was curious about the people that Eileen wanted her to meet.  They arrived at a classy hotel and went inside.  Eileen ushered her into a meeting room.  Two men and a woman stood up on her entry.  Eileen closed the door and cast silentium.  She cleared her throat.

"Lady and gentlemen, I have the honor of introducing her Highness, Arturia Pendragon ab Uther, former High King of Britain."

The men knelt before her and the woman curtsied.  The younger man spoke first.  "Your Highness, I am Kyle Hecter.  I'm a descendant of Sir Ector and Sir Kay."

"Your Highness, I'm Peter Armstrong.  Sir Bedivere was my ancestor."

"Your Highness, I'm Jenna Lakeridge.  I'm descended from Sir Mellant."

"I am pleased... very pleased to meet you all.  My heart soars in knowing that friends long gone have left their legacy with you.  Please stand tall.  I am no longer king."  She reached out and pulled Kyle and Peter to their feet.

She glanced up at Kyle.  "You have Sir Kay's height and sturdy frame.  We gave him the nickname, Kay the Tall.  It would fit you well, too."

Kyle grinned broadly.  "Really?  Thank you, your Highness."

Her eyes alighted on Peter and noted his flaxen yellow hair on his balding head and his steel gray eyes.  "I see that Bedivere's blood flows strongly in you."  She extended her hand.  "I wonder if you live up to her nickname?"

Peter grinned widely and gripped her hand with all his strength.  Arturia laughed.  "And so you do!"

Then she turned to Jenna.  "Your face looks like hers, but your hair and eyes are his."

Jenna merely nodded.  There was no need to elaborate.

Peter cleared his throat.  "Your Highness, speaking of legacy, allow me to show you Armstrong's greatest treasure."  He gestured to a long chest on a cart.  He opened the three locks on the chest and pulled the lid up.  Arturia let out a small gasp.

Peter smiled.  "You recognize it?"

"Of course.  Stone Cleaver was Bedivere's constant companion as she was for me."  She paused as nostalgia brought both a smile and a small pang in her heart. 

"The Stone Cleaver... so sharp that it can cut stone...  Forged using the same metal as Caliburn..."  recited Peter as he lifted the sword in its scabbard out of the chest.  He unsheathed it and took out a fist-sized piece of marble from his pocket.  He began to pare the stone as if he were cutting away the skin of a potato.  The pieces bounced off the hardwood floor when they hit it.

Peter resheathed the sword and held it out to Arturia.  "Your Highness is without a sword.  Please accept this as a replacement."

"No, Peter.  In this time of peace, there's no need to wield a sword.  However, I have yet to greet Stone Cleaver.  May I?"  She held out both hands.

"By all means."  Peter lowered the scabbard into her hands, and paused for a moment before he let her hands bear its weight.

To herself, Arturia's smiled smugly as her suspicions were confirmed.  By offering Stone Cleaver, Peter was trying to verify her identity.  She unsheathed the blade and let her eyes examine its polished surface.  With quick glances, she noted the expressions on Kyle and Jenna.  They, too, wanted proof.  She resheathed the sword.  Keeping a calm facade, she tried not to show that she discovered Peter's intentions. 

"You've done well to preserve it."  She offered the sword to Kyle with both hands.  "Don't you think so, Kyle?"  

Kyle accepted it, but as soon as she let go, his wrists bent awkwardly.  He clutched at it and was relieved to keep the rest of it from falling when the tip of its scabbard hit the floor.

Peter quickly took it from him.  "Sorry, Kyle.  Stone Cleaver can't be wielded by anyone other than its master, and its master's master."  He returned it to the chest and locked it.  Meanwhile, Kyle was rubbing his wrists.

Jenna's eyebrows rose and her mouth fell slightly open.  Arturia could guess that she received the proof that she was hoping for.

Arturia glanced at Eileen.  There was a reason why she was brought here.  She decided to wait for their move.  Peter cleared his throat.  He must be their appointed leader.

"Please sit everyone, and help yourselves to the tea and snacks on the table."

Arturia sat down on the nearest chair.  With wry amusement, she noticed that the table was round.  Was this shape purposely chosen?

After everyone had a chance to sit down and get some tea, Peter spoke again.  "For centuries, we, the descendants of the Knights of the Round Table, have waited for King Arthur's return.  And now, at last, our wait is over.  Your Highness, I speak for all the descendants.  We have all agreed to serve you once more upon your return.  Please accept our service and loyalty."

Arturia was silent for several seconds.  She did not expect this.  Her eyes met each of theirs in an effort to gauge their sincerity and she was surprised at the eagerness in their eyes.

"I am... deeply moved by your offer of service.  But how can you serve two masters?"

Jenna spoke.  "Yours is the true bloodline.  The current royalty is only in power because of your absence."

"We will still act as normal citizens just for show.  But your Highness will be our true king." added Kyle.

"Based on my study of current affairs, the Royal family has little influence in the government of Britain.  I don't see how I can be any different."

"There are many of us who can sway the course in business and politics.  Knowing that you would return someday, we worked hard to earn positions of influence in Britain.  You don't have to be the official king.  You only have to be our king."  explained Peter.

"No.  You shouldn't be loyal to me.  You should be loyal to Britain."  She studied the puzzled looks on their faces and continued.  "After I came to this time, I traveled across the world and had a chance to see how people lived.  Although there is a bit of unrest here and there, overall, the world is in peace.  And when I finally returned to Britain, it was even more apparent.  I can only guess that it was no easy task to reach this point.  If that's the case, then the British people have achieved this peace with their own hands.  You, and those before you, have achieved the dream that I longed to see:  a united Britain where everyone lives in peace and prosperity.  You don't need a king to bring you peace.  Peace no longer lies on the shoulders of one, but the shoulders of all.  So instead of ruling over you, I wish to learn about this time and work with you for the further glory of Britain."

"Then... if you're not going take power, why did you return to this time?"  asked Jenna.

"Jenna!  Don't talk to her Highness like that!" admonished Peter.

Arturia raised a hand.  "It's all right."  She faced Jenna and told her honestly.  "I did it for love."

"Oh."  Jenna covered her mouth partially with a hand.

"I don't expect you to understand."

Jenna nodded slightly.  "I do understand.  The House of Mellant was founded on it."  Her eyes glanced down and noted the ring on her finger.  "Is your Highness getting married soon?"

Arturia was a bit startled, but not as surprised as Peter and Kyle.  "Eventually, once my fiancée is ready."

"Who is she?"  asked Jenna.

Peter's eyebrows went up.  "She?"

Jenna threw a sly look at the men.  "Do you really expect King Arthur to yield to a man?"  Then she drew herself up with pride.  "Besides, King Arthur had a queen.  Your Highness, may I be so bold as to offer my assistance for your wedding?  I'd like the lessen the burden of planning on your fiancée."

"And me as well!"  added Peter quickly.  "I have several properties which would be suitable for a reception."

"And me too!  My family owns several restaurants.  We can provide catering."

Arturia laughed.  "I am grateful for your offers of assistance.  But I have to consult with Rin first, since I am not acquainted with modern wedding customs."

"Just leave it to me, your Highness!  I can plan everything for you."

"Now, wait just a second..." protested Peter.

Arturia watched with wry amusement as the conversation escalated into an argument between the three.  After a few minutes, Arturia clapped her hands loudly and spoke with authority in her voice.  "Be silent and sit down!"

They immediately stopped and took their seats with embarrassed looks on their faces.  She cleared her throat.

"In Camelot, the knights settled their differences by jousting.  Perhaps, you can decide your duties in a similar fashion."

Kyle announced his challenge.  "18 Holes!"

"You're on."  accepted Peter.  Then he paused.  "But what about Jenna?"

"I can play."  When Peter's jaw dropped, she added cheekily, "What, don't think a woman can play?"

Peter chuckled a little.  "Sorry.  Didn't mean to offend you.  You don't look like the type."

Jenna just shook her head in exasperation.  Then she composed herself and gave Arturia a card.  "Your Highness, if there's anything you need, please don't hesitate to call me."

Peter and Kyle offered their cards as well.  Arturia smiled at their enthusiasm as she accepted the cards.  "Thank you, all."  Then a thought occurred to her, and she decided to ask them since she had their attention.  "Actually, since I am not familiar with modern customs, may I ask for some suggestions on what to give Rin for Christmas?"

In an instant, Arturia was inundated with suggestions.  Each suggestion was countered with a reason why it was not acceptable.  And once again, the conversation escalated into another argument.  But this time, Arturia let them argue.  To be among friends like these was just too amusing.


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After they left the hotel, Arturia thought that Eileen was driving back to the Aerie.  Instead, she drove through a heavily forested park and even left the paved road to drive through a dusty path.  They parked at a small clearing and went on foot until they reached another clearing where a circle of stones was arranged.  Three men and a woman were seated on small boulders within the circle of stones.  They stood up on their approach.  When they were close enough, Eileen stepped aside and the four spoke in unison.

"Hail Arturia Pendragon ab Uther, former High King of Britain."

Eileen gestured to a tall young man with very blond hair.  "Your Highness, allow me to introduce Lord Alvin, descendant of Taliesin and current Lord of the Pentacle."

Alvin bowed.  "Please have a seat, your Highness."

When Arturia was seated, Eileen introduced the rest.  Each one bowed as Eileen made the introduction.

First was a middle-aged woman with graying black hair.  "Your Highness, this is Amelia, descendant of Merlin Ambrosius." 

She gestured to a plump middle-aged man with balding brown hair.  "This is Vincent, descendant of Vivian of the Lake." 

Then she gestured to an elderly man with a white beard and thick glasses.  "This is Luke, descendant of Lailoken of the Woods."

"I am pleased to meet all of you.  But if I remember correctly, the Pentacle has five mages."

"Yes.  Marlen is the fifth.  I am here on her behalf." explained Eileen as she sat down on a leveled boulder.

"Oh."  Her eyes wandered from face to face.  The last time she met with the Pentacle was before her coronation.  She wondered why they had gathered here.  Her eyes rested on Alvin.  As Lord of the Pentacle, he would lead the conversation.  She did not have to wait too long before Alvin spoke.

"Your Highness, we have listened to your meeting with the descendants of the knights.  Despite all of that, we implore you to be our king as well as theirs.  But our reasons are different.  We want a king who could not be influenced by magic.  We want a king who is unfettered by modern politics...  a king who would rule by just and humane morality.  As our king, you would preside over not just the British mages, but the entire European mage population."

Arturia was stunned.  "Why me?"

"Because you were chosen by Caliburn."  answered Amelia.  "It's fate."

"For generations, my family kept Excalibur and Avalon for the one who would wield it.  They turned away so many kings until they accepted you.  You are the chosen one." added Vincent.  "With Excalibur and Avalon, you are immune to most magic.  That makes it difficult to threaten you.  It also makes it easy to enforce justice on errant mages."

"The stars foretold your birth and your rise to the throne.  There were signs in the heavens on your return to this time as well." said Luke with an air of mystery.

"You were once king over both normal and magical people.  As far as people are concerned, then and now aren't that much different."  said Amelia.

"The current royalty is not aware of the presence of magical people nor would they understand us.  Our issues are too different from normal people.  But you have experienced both worlds.  We understand that you are new to the modern world.  We are prepared to wait until you are ready to assume the throne.  All we ask is that you please keep us in mind."  said Alvin.

Arturia sighed and gave a speech similar to the one that she gave Peter, Kyle and Jenna.  After she was done, she saw that she was not able to convince any of them to give up the request to be the king.  In the end, she gave up and just said, "Let me think about it."


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She heard a careful step behind her and a soft rustle of clothing.  Arturia smiled and returned her attention to the historical video before her.  She did not have to wait long until Rin's hands cupped her eyes.

"Guess who?"

"The man of my dreams?"

"What?!"  exclaimed Rin in a sharp tone.

Arturia stood up and wrapped Rin in her arms.  "My greatest treasure?"

Rin smiled winsomely.  "Better."  She awarded her prize.

After several sweet kisses, Rin drew away and asked, "How's it going?"

Arturia eyed the stack of DVDs.  "I'm watching the Industrial age now.  There's a lot to learn."  She laughed.  "It's hard to believe that dinosaurs existed."

"If you think that's unbelievable, wait till you watch the Americans land on the Moon."

"What?!  Really?"

"Yeah.  You'll see.  Anyway, I came to ask if you'd like to come with me to the Academy."

Arturia's eyes brightened.  The videos were interesting, but she had not gone outside for a week.  "Of course!  I'd love to see it.  When?"

"Tomorrow.  I have to register for classes and deliver a package for Master."

"Okay.  Just fetch me.  You know where to find me."

Rin kissed her.  "Break's over.  Gotta go back."

Arturia kissed her back.  "See you at dinner."


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They entered a grand hall with two corridors extending to the right and to the left.  Rin led her aside to one of the benches along the wall.

"In the Academy, mages have to wear robes."  She touched a bracelet on her wrist and her clothes changed to a red robe with a silver cross embroidered in front.  A triangular piece of cloth with embroidered symbols was draped over her right shoulder.  On the sleeves of the robe was the emblem of the Tohsaka.

Arturia gasped slightly.  She recognized the robe from her dreams.

Rin looked at her.  "What's wrong?"

"I've seen this robe in my dreams, especially the one during the mana transfer."  Her eyes shone with wonder and she cupped Rin's hand between hers.  "It was you all along.  I should've realized it sooner."

Rin blushed and glanced around for people who might be watching them.  Then she took Arturia's hand in hers.  "Let's go.  I want to show you the Academy."

They visited the classrooms, the large lecture halls, the training halls and the library.  Then they went to the dorms.  Rin led her to the hilly slope behind the dorms.  She swept her hand across the landscape below.

"This was my view from my dorm room."

"It's beautiful..." breathed Arturia.

For several minutes, they stood there and watched.  As Arturia's eyes wandered over the thriving fields and the bustling town, joy filled her heart.  To see people living peacefully in the land that she loved so much overwhelmed her restraint and a tear sprang from her eye.  Then she remembered Bedivere's question before she lost consciousness after the battle of Camlann. 

   "Do you behold it, King Arthur?  The continuation of your dream..."

A gentle warmth flowed through her as she watched the valley below.  She could answer it now.  "I see it, Bedivere... the continuation of my dream..."  Then she glanced at Rin.  "...and a new future."

They watched the valley in silence for a while.  So many things had happened to bring them to this moment.  Once again, Arturia thanked God for His kindness.  Then she turned to Rin and asked, "Where's your room?"

Rin pointed to a window on the fifth floor.  "Third window from the right.  I can't show it to you since someone else is living there."  Then a thought occurred to her and she took Arturia's hand.  "But I know someone who lives in that building."

They went up to the fourth floor and made their way to a room.  Rin knocked on the door.  The door opened after a few moments.

"Hey, Rin.  Long time no see."  greeted a brunette who was about five and half feet tall and wore thick glasses.  Freckles adorned her pert face.  "I was beginning to think you weren't coming back.  Come on in.  I'll get your mail in a sec."

"Sorry.  I couldn't send any letters from where I was.  By the way, this is Arturia.  Arturia, this is Gail.  We studied together in school."  Rin closed the door behind her and tried not to bump the piles of books and scrolls all over the room.

Gail extracted a box from a pile and put it on the desk.  She extended a hand to Arturia.  "Nice to meetcha."

Arturia shook her hand.  "I'm pleased to meet you."

Gail looked her up and down and smirked at Rin.  "So... when's the wedding?"

Rin and Arturia twitched.  "How... how did you know?"  asked Rin.

"Matching rings was a tip-off.  And her face looks like the sketches you'd do in class.  Especially the hairstyle."

Rin blushed.  Was she that obvious?  To change the subject, she went to the desk and looked in the box.  "Umm... is this my mail?"

"Yup.  That's all of it."  Then she added, "Blimey, Rin...  You don't have to be embarrassed in front of me.  I'm a modern woman.  It's not like I haven't heard of same-sex relationships before.  There are lots of couples like that in school."

"Really?"

"Yup."  Gail counted with her fingers.  "Helen and Ivy.  Olga and Zelra.  Tina and Yeshwe.  Jasper and Nelson.  Plus, Master Jill and Master Falia."

"What?"  Rin could not believe that the professors of astrology and predictive arts were seeing each other.

"Yup.  Betcha no one saw that coming but them."

Rin laughed heartily and Gail laughed with her.  Good old Gail.  Quiet, attentive and reliable, Gail was her partner for the projects that required teamwork.  Rin gathered the mail out of the box and stuffed them in her bag under her robe.

"Hey, do you mind if I show Arturia the view?"

"Sure."  Gail waved her hand and parted the curtains.  Rin and Arturia looked outside for a minute.

"Are you graduating soon?"

"Staying for another semester.  Are you taking grad?"

"Yeah.  I'm here to register."

"Well, you better get going before the office closes.  I'm going to the library in a bit, so I'll probably run into you later."

"Okay, see you later."

They left the dorms and went to the professor's hall.  Rin wanted to deliver Marlen's package first.  She knocked on Master Skalyon's door.  Meanwhile, Arturia leaned on the wall to wait for her.

"Come in."

Rin opened the door.  An elderly man with a single spectacle over his right eye peered at her behind a desk piled high with scrolls and books.  The walls of the office were lined with strange artifacts and mutated modern gadgets.

"Master Skalyon, I have a package for you."  She handed him the package.

Skalyon tore the package open and gently lifted what appeared to be a GPS with an old-fashioned compass attached to its top rim. 

"Ah, splendid..."  he muttered.  After playing with it for a while, he put it back in the box and took a letter out of the box.  He opened the letter and read it.

"Rin Tohsaka?"

"Yes?"

"Please thank Renierre for the gift.  Are you studying here?"

"Umm.... I'll be taking graduate classes next semester."

"Do you have an advisor yet?"

"No... I was thinking of asking Master Arase."

"Arase already has a dozen students working for him.  Do you really want your thesis to be the same as a dozen other people?"

Rin blinked.  She had not thought about it that way.  "Well... I guess not."

"Renierre studied under me.  She found my work very interesting.  I'm sure you will too.  And, I have no students at the moment."

Rin was not sure why Skalyon referred to Marlen as Renierre instead of Emrys.  She would have to ask Marlen later.  However, one fact remained.  If Marlen studied under him, then he must be very old.  The man must be at least an Emeritus. 

"Forgive my ignorance, but what is your field of study?"

"Pre-Roman lore and amalgam magic."

"Oh.  I have to say that I haven't done amalgam magic before."

"All the more reason to study under me.  Anyway, I won't force you if you really want Arase.  But I'd pleased to have you."

"Thank you.  But first, I have to register before the office closes.  Bye, Master Skalyon."

"Bye."  Skalyon made a small wave.  Rin stepped out and closed the door.

They left the hall and went to the registrar's office.  She selected two classes.  After a moment of thought, she wrote down Skalyon's name under advisor.  It would be interesting to see how Marlen was taught.

They were walking by the library when Gail caught up with them. 

"Done with registration?"

"Yeah.  Are you taking Advanced Alchemy?"

"Yup.  Need a partner?"

"Sure do."

Suddenly, Gail grabbed her arm.  "Let's go this way.  He's coming."

They did not get very far when a haughty male voice called to her.  "Hey, Tohsaka!"  A rustle of feet sounded behind them.

Rin bristled.  She turned around to face Perecroft and his friends while hiding her left hand under her robe.  "Hello, Perecroft."

"Let's go to the Christmas ball."

Rin's eyebrows arched.  "Ball?"

"You should've gotten your invite.  You got yours, right Trollworth?"

"It's Traleworth you ass.  And yes, I got mine."

"Top five students from each class get invites.  Since Troll's number five, you should've gotten yours.  You can meet me at the manor at 5 PM sharp."

"I haven't agreed to go with you, Perecroft."

"Why not?  I'm the top guy, you're the top girl."

"'Cause I don't want to.  Let's go, Gail."

They turned around to leave, but Perecroft spoke with a leer.  "Sorry, Troll.  I won't ask you.  And don't ever call me ass again."

Gail let out a surprised scream as her robe and skirt flicked up to reveal everything below her waist.

There was blur and a crack.  When Rin turned around, Perecroft was lying unconscious on the grass about five feet away.  A bruise was beginning to form on his jaw.

"For shame!  Don't ever treat a lady so rudely!"  scolded Arturia even though her intended target was knocked out.

Rin just grabbed her arm and ran.  Gail ran with them.

Meanwhile, Perecroft's friends shook themselves out of their stunned disbelief.  The taller one took out his wand.

"Bitches..."

He was about to run after them when his friend stopped him.

"Don't go, mate."

"Why not?"

"'Cause that girl broke through his barrier."

His mouth fell open.  "Shiiit..."

Meanwhile, the three of them ran until Rin felt like they were far enough away.  Rin and Gail panted to catch their breath while Arturia looked back as if she was checking for pursuers.

Gail sat down on a bench.  "Wow, Arturia...  what did you do?"

"I punched him."

"I know that, but how did you get past his barrier?"

"What barrier?"

Rin intervened.  "He probably forgot to put it up.  Arturia got lucky.  Anyway, we have to get going.  Take care."

"You too.  Bye."  Gail waved.

"Bye."

Gail stared at them as they left.  "What are you hiding, Rin?"  she asked silently.  She decided to go to the ball after all.  Perecroft would be there.  If Rin went with Arturia, things would certainly get very interesting.  And that was something she did not want to miss.


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


After they returned to the Aerie, Rin told Marlen what happened in Skalyon's office.  Marlen nodded approvingly.

"I guarantee that you won't be bored at all."

"Master, may I ask a question that might be personal?"

"What is it?"

"Skalyon called you Renierre."

"Oh, that.  Maman's maiden name.  After the incident with Vortigern, the Emrys didn't want people to pry into our private lives.  So when we deal with the outside world, we use the last name of our other mother."

"Oh.  Makes sense."

After she finished with Marlen, Rin went back to her room.  As if on cue, Arturia exited her room and followed her in.  Rin dumped her mail on her desk.  Sure enough, the invitation was there.  She tore it open and read it.  The ball was on December 20th. 

"Let's go Rin." said Arturia who was looking over her shoulder.

Rin glanced up.  Arturia's eyes glinted with eagerness.

"You don't mind being with me in front of strangers?"

"No.  Do you?"

"Well... I... no.  I don't mind."  Why did she feel so uncertain?  What was she afraid of?

Arturia clasped her hand.  "Rin... if it bothers you, then let's not go."

Rin swallowed.  She must face it.  "It doesn't.  We'll go."

"But if you change your mind, just let me know.  All right?"

"Okay."

"It's getting late.  Shall we go to bed?"

Rin's face brightened up.  "Sure."


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


The moment of truth had come.  Rin walked nervously behind her godfather within the Einzbern manor.  They went to a large room and discussed the spells that were in place.  Then they descended to the lower levels by a hidden elevator.  As they examined the traps and barriers, Rin tried to make elementary suggestions that would be appropriate for someone who just graduated and purposely held back advanced techniques that she learned from the Emrys. 

Finally, after four days of consulting, they finished revising all the traps and barriers.  When they left the manor, her godfather praised her for all her suggestions.

"Well done, Rin!  By the way, the paperwork should be done by the beginning of next year."

"Thank you, godfather.  You give me too much credit though.  They took a lot of your suggestions."

"Hahahaha... they certainly did.  Anyway, Suzumi and I will be touring Germany for the rest of the week.  Do you want to come with us?"

"Ummm... no, thank you, godfather.  I have to meet with my advisor over my graduate work."

"Oh?  Who's your advisor?"

"Skalyon."

"Hmmm... he's an eccentric one.  When I was there, I heard he only takes one student.  But I also heard he's really good.  But if you want another advisor, try Welltinton."

"I'm sorry, godfather.  Welltinton passed away on my third year."

"Oh, a shame.  Well, good luck with Skalyon then."

They returned to their hotel and her godfather went back to his room while Rin went to hers.  As soon as she got to her room, she called to book her flight.   She missed Arturia so much.


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


Marlen grinned widely after Rin made her report.  "You did well, Rin.  I don't think they noticed anything."

"Thank you, Master."  She beamed happily with her praise.

Marlen put an arm around Nell's neck and Nell stood up with her in her arms.  "This calls for a celebration.  Be prepared for a full French course for dinner.  We'll get you bleeding drunk tonight."


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


Rin woke up with a dreadful hangover the next day.  But she smiled happily.  As an added bonus, Marlen allowed her to stay at Sakura's place until the ball.  Eileen even gave her permission to use one of the BMWs.

The door opened and Arturia came in with a tray of food.  Rin glanced at her watch.  1:54 PM. 

"How are you feeling?"

"I want my head chopped off."

"That's unacceptable.  It'll be so hard heal you.  Can't you do something about it?"

"Maybe... I'll have to look up a potion for it."

"Michelle made some soup for you."

Rin sat up and let Arturia setup the bed tray for her.  She cheerfully played the part of the helpless patient and let Arturia feed her.  After eating, her head was still aching, but she felt a little better.

"Eileen said that she'll drive us over tonight."

"But how will she get back?"

Arturia laughed.  "Silly.  She can fly."

"Oh yeah." 

They laughed together.  It was good to be home.


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


To celebrate their visit, Sakura made a delicious japanese meal.  Rin's mouth watered at the sight.  After the harsh German cuisine, the sight of japanese food was very appealing. 

They ate with much appetite and finished almost all of the entrees.  Then they helped Sakura clear the table and wash the dishes.  After that, they watched a movie before going to bed.

The bed in the second bedroom was smaller than the beds in the Aerie, but comfortable enough for two.  Arturia began to kiss her gently.  Soon, their exchange of kisses ignited flames of desire, so Rin locked the door and cast silentium.  After their raging passion consumed itself, they snuggled against each other and dreamt the night away.

The morning greeted them with the sound of Sakura cooking in the kitchen.  Rin looked at her watch drowsily and decided to stay in bed a little longer.  Suddenly, there was a knock on their door.

"Nee-san?"

Before she could react, the door opened.  The best that Rin could manage was to pull the blankets over her shoulders and Arturia's.

Sakura's wide eyes met her panicked ones.  Her hand covered her mouth.  "S--- sorry..."  She hastily exited and closed the door behind her.

Rin cursed internally.  It did not help that their nightgowns and underwear were on the floor.  But wait.  She was certain that she locked the door.  How was Sakura able to open it? 

Later that day, she left the house and used the crystal to call Marlen.  Marlen's image floated within the crystal.  She told her what happened.  Marlen looked thoughtful.

"It's rare, but there have been accounts of spontaneous sorcery.  I wouldn't be surprised if your sister is such a case."

"What should I do, Master?"

"Continue to teach her, of course.  The more she understands how to control her power, the less the chances of 'accidents' happening.  I hate to say this, but unless she shows a greater degree of control, I can't let her in the Aerie.  There are too many magical things around that may react to her."

Rin perked up.  "Does that mean that I should stay with her longer?"

Marlen's face darkened for a moment and then she sighed.  "Yes, I suppose so.   We can arrange for you to do your studies over there and only come here when I need you."

Rin jumped with joy internally.  "Thank you, Master.  Is there anything you need at the moment?"

"No.  Just carry on and let me know if anything strange happens."

"Of course."

"Cheerio."  The crystal went dark.  Rin smiled widely and pocketed it before returning to the house.

The days passed peacefully.  One afternoon, Rin was brushing Sakura's hair when she noticed that her roots were black.  She glanced at the mirror and also noted that her purple eyes were tinted with a shade of blue.

"Sakura... your eyes..."

"Hmmm?"  Sakura stared at the mirror.  "You mean this?  Shiro said that the Matou cast a spell on me.  Before he left, he broke the spell."  She looked up at Rin.  "I can feel it, Nee-san.  Soon, I'll be my real self."

Rin's eyes brimmed with tears.  "I look forward to it."  She brushed her hair and braided it.

"There.  All done."

Sakura shifted left and right to look at the braids.  "It's pretty!  Thank you."

"You're welcome."

A shuffle near the doorway caught her attention.  Arturia stood there with her hair down.

"Er... my ribbon came off."

Rin laughed.  "Come here."

Sakura stood up to let Arturia sit in front of the mirror.  She walked out of the room quietly, but turned around to watch Rin brush Arturia's hair.  Arturia breathed a contented sigh as Rin ran the brush through in gentle strokes.  Then she gathered up a lock of hair and let it cascade through her fingers in a falling shower of gold.

Sakura felt like she was intruding, so she padded away silently to let them have some privacy.


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


They arrived at the ball in Marlen's BMW sedan.  Before they exited, they put on their masks.  The masks covered the upper half of their face, but exposed their mouths and lower cheeks. 

They followed Eileen and Michelle into the reception room where they were asked to sign in using pseudonyms.  Arturia wrote down "Bedivere and Airianne".  They were given an armband with 'Bedivere' on it and a wide ribbon with 'Airianne'. 

"Why those names?"  whispered Rin as she pinned the ribbon on her dress.

Arturia slipped the armband on.  "No reason."

Then they went into the grand ballroom.  Eileen and Michelle immediately engaged in conversation with other people.  Rin looked about with her magesight and tried to unmask the attendees.  The object of the masquerade was to hide one's identity and to let the other person guess who you are.  If the guess was correct, the mask will dissolve.  So far, Eileen was leaving a trail of unmasked attendees in her wake. 

She got excited when she recognized a few professors.  And then she frowned.  Their masking spell was too simple.  Did they want to be recognized? 

Then Rin noticed that Arturia was staring at the fruit table, particularly, the tray of strawberries.  She chuckled to herself.  She led her to the table and they selected some fruit.  They went to an empty table and ate. 

While they ate, they watched the attendees who wore a variety of outfits from the medieval era to the modern time.  Rin laughed at the sight of a matching couple of Elvis impersonators.  There was a daring couple wearing revealing Greek tunics.  She ran a hand on the gown she wore to the first ball she ever went to.  Wearing it felt like reliving that night again.  She glanced at Arturia who was wearing her outfit from that ball.  She wore the blue double tailed waistcoat and white breeches.  Instead of a bun, her hair was tied back with a ponytail and thin ribbon.  She looked so dashing.

About ten minutes later, the emcee got their attention with a fanfare of trumpets.  They listened to the welcome speech.  But what caught Rin's attention was the contest.  Several types of dances would be held.  The Pentacle would judge the dances and award the title Lord and Lady of the Dance to the couple who won the most points.  The winning couple would also be allowed to extract a magical artifact from the Chest of Wonders. 

Dinner would be served first, followed by a resting period and then the dance contest.  About fifteen minutes after the emcee was finished, Eileen and Michelle joined them at their table for dinner.  Both of them were already unmasked.  Rin wondered who could have guessed their identities.

Dinner was a choice of a succulent steak or grilled salmon with braised vegetables.  An open bar provided a variety of drinks which Eileen and Michelle took advantage of.  When they were finished with dinner, Rin and Arturia wandered off to explore the ballroom.

She was not expecting to find it, and was elated to discover it.  Rin selected one that was in an area with less people around.

"Are you familiar with this custom?"  Rin pointed at the mistletoe. 

Arturia's eyes brightened.  "Yes."  She reached up and plucked a berry off the mistletoe.  Then she took Rin in her arms and did her best to kiss her even with their masks in the way.  After their first kiss, she reached up again.

"We should leave some for other people."

She plucked another berry.  "Let them find their own mistletoe."

Rin laughed heartily and savored another kiss.

When the berries were gone, they went back to their table.  Eileen and Michelle had resumed their unmasking frenzy. 

To pass the time, Rin pointed out all the people she recognized and what they did at the Academy.  However, she was surprised to see Gail and Wilbur.  She was tempted to call them over, but that might reveal their identity.  Instead, she pointed them out to Arturia.

"There's Gail in the green dress.  The short fat boy next to her is Wilbur.  He ranked third in the Academy.  He may look harmless, but he's very smart."

To her great chagrin, she also recognized Perecroft among the crowd.  Thankfully, he was too busy bothering some professors.

Around ten minutes later, the emcee announced the first dance of the contest to be the Jive.  Rin peered over the heads of the dancers to see five masked mages sitting at a table on a raised platform. 

They were surprised to see Michelle return alone. 

"Where's Eileen?"  asked Arturia.

"Marlen isn't here, so she took her place."

"Oh."  Rin craned her neck and tried to identify Eileen.  Unfortunately, her magesight could not penetrate any of the masks.

They watched the dancers and voted for the ones they liked.  They repeated this for each dance.  Finally, the emcee announced the final dance:  the Waltz.

Arturia grinned widely and touched Rin's hand.  Rin paled under her mask while Michelle laughed.

"Go, ma cherie.  Don't worry about winning.  Just enjoy yourselves."

Arturia stood up and went to Rin's side.  "Milady, may I have this dance?"

Rin hesitated for a moment and then put her hand on Arturia's upturned palm.  Arturia escorted her to the dance floor as if she were presenting a beautiful blossom to the world.  They faced each other and bowed before assuming the proper position. 

When the music started, they flowed through its rhythms.  Eye to eye, they felt each other's movements and responded with elegant grace.  Arturia led Rin in time with the music, tracing intricate patterns across the floor.  Rin answered in kind, and their swaying bodies moved as one.

When the music ended, they reluctantly parted and bowed to signal the end of the dance.  Suddenly, they heard clapping all around them.  When they looked around, they saw the other dancers and the audience clapping.  They blushed under their masks and bowed to receive the applause.  Then they made their way back to their table.  Michelle beamed at them proudly.

"Magnifique!  Both of you were so beautiful!"  exclaimed Michelle as she hugged them.

"Thank you."

"Thanks."

The emcee announced that while the votes were being tallied, the floor was open to free dance.  Rock music began to play and people milled onto the dance floor. 

Michelle grabbed both of their hands.  "Come, mon amies.  Let's dance."

"But I don't know how to dance to this." protested Arturia.

"It doesn't matter.  Just follow along."

They walked back onto the dance floor.  Rin could feel the weight of stares in their direction.  She hoped that her masking spell would keep her identity secret.

About twenty minutes later, Eileen came back.  Michelle whirled her and dipped her. 

"Dahling, what took you so long?"

Eileen giggled.  "We had to make sure that each ballot was valid."

Michelle gave a mocking laugh.  "I can just imagine their faces when they get an artifact from the Chest."

Eileen winked.  "All in good fun."

Then the emcee caught everyone's attention.  He announced each dance and invited the winners to come to the stage.  It became evident who would be the Lord and Lady of the Dance when a couple won thrice.  Then the emcee announced the winners of the waltz.

"Bedivere and Airianne!  Please come to the stage."

They walked to the stage amidst the applause and whistles of the attendees.  Then they stood there with the three other couples.

"And now, ladies and gentlemen... let me present the Lord and Lady of the Dance!  Aladdin and Leah!"

The crowd clapped loudly and cheered as the couple waved and blew kisses to the crowd.  A cart with the Chest stopped before them and each of them pulled out a colorfully wrapped box.

"And now, for the moment you've all been waiting for!  Winners, please remove your masks and accept your glory."

The Lord and Lady flung off their masks and the crowd cheered.  The other winners took off their masks as well.  Meanwhile, Rin was petrified.  Her hands trembled slightly as her eyes took in the large crowd before her.  She glanced at Arturia who stood just as still.  She was waiting for her.

Rin drew a shuddering breath.  She could do this.  She did not mind.  Not at all.  Her hands slowly rose to her face and removed the mask.  It disappeared in a shower of sparks.  In the audience, she could see the surprised looks of Gail, Wilbur, Perecroft and the professors from the Academy.  That's right.  She should not care about what they would think.

A shower of sparks beside her indicated that Arturia took hers off.  The surprised expressions turned to incredulous ones.  Wilbur's mouth moved and Gail slapped her hand over it.  A sinking feeling sank in Rin's stomach.  They might have seen them by the mistletoe.

Meanwhile, Perecroft glared with obvious malice at Arturia.

After accepting a bouquet of flowers, the winners left the stage.  The floor was open for free dance once again. 

They went back to their table.  People came by and complimented them.  A few minutes later, Gail and Wilbur visited them.  Their masks were already gone. 

"That was absolutely brill!"  said Gail.

"Y--yeah... Y--you were g--great."  said Wilbur.

Poor Wilbur.  If he did not have a stutter, he would be a great mage.  But he was able to work around it by practicing silent incantation.  Rin smiled sincerely at both of them.  "Thanks.  By the way, Wilbur, this is Arturia."

Wilbur extended his hand.  "N--nice t-- meet y--you."

Arturia shook his hand.  "I'm pleased to meet you."

"Hey, Rin, did you see them?"

"See who?"

"The Pentacle.  I tried, even with my Lens of Misillusion, but I couldn't see them."

"No.  I didn't."

"But yours was good too!  I didn't recognize you."  Then her face twisted with annoyance.  "That ass Perecroft unmasked us.  By the way, that snotty git is probably planning something.  Be careful, okay?"

"Always.  Thanks for the warning though."

They talked about school for a few minutes before Eileen and Michelle danced by and hustled them all onto the dance floor.  Soon, they were laughing at each other over their awkward attempts to dance.  However, when the music switched to a waltz, some dancers, including Eileen and Michelle, stopped to watch Rin and Arturia.

"They dance so well."  remarked Eileen.

"Dahling, they're not just dancing."  corrected Michelle with a twinkle in her eye.

Just then, Arturia dipped Rin and gazed at her longingly.  For several moments, they seemed frozen in that position as Rin answered in kind.  Then Arturia drew her up and resumed their slow waltz.

Eileen released her bated breath.  After the dip, she expected Arturia to kiss Rin.  She glanced over to her wife who followed them with her eyes fondly.  Deliberately, she stepped before her to block her view.  Michelle arched her eyebrow.

She extended her hand.  "Shall we try it their way, my lady?"

Michelle smiled, crinkling the soft wrinkles around her mouth.  She took Eileen's hand.  "Lead the way, my Emrys."

Around eleven, the guests began to leave.  Thankfully, Eileen and Michelle wore themselves out and wanted to go home.  They made their way out.  Rin was not surprised to see Perecroft waiting outside.

"I've a score to settle with you, bitch.  I challenge you to a duel."

"Where?"  said Arturia, indicating her acceptance.

"Over here."

They followed Perecroft to an open area on the snow-covered parking lot.  Rin glanced back and was surprised to see Gail and Wilbur following them along with other attendees. 

"Rin, what are the rules of the duel?" asked Arturia.

"You pretty much beat each other up with spells and weapons until one of you yields or falls unconscious, or in some cases... dies."  Rin's face hardened.  "But killing your opponent counts as murder even in a duel."

"I see.  Can you give me a sword?"

Rin conjured a steel sword and handed it to her.  Then Arturia strode toward Perecroft.

Perecroft stood about twenty-five feet away from Arturia and took out his wand which elongated into a staff.  His clothes melted away into a black battle outfit with reinforced armor over vulnerable areas.

"Hey Kincade!  We need a referee."

Wilbur waddled over and stood off to the side equidistant from Perecroft and Arturia.  He took out his wand.  Crisscrossing beams of light flowed from him and formed walls twenty feet high to his left and right until the walls formed a fence around the duelers' battle area.  The fence defined a battle area of fifty feet wide and seventy feet long.  Meanwhile, everyone else stood about thirty feet away from the fence.

"D--duel ends w--when..."

"Skip that.  I'm going to win anyway." boasted Perecroft. 

"R--ready... s--set... g-"

Perecroft leveled his staff.  "Fireball!"

A ball of flame sped towards Arturia.  She crouched very low and sprinted to the side, slashing left and right.  The flame angled upwards and flew harmlessly into the sky.

Perecroft fired again, but somehow the flame veered when she slashed with her sword.   She was getting closer.  He concentrated and manipulated the fireball for speed instead of power. 

"Let's see you dodge this..."  He released it.

To his great chagrin, she dove to the ground and rolled.  The fireball missed her by mere inches and punched a hole through the fence. 

Still on the ground, she slashed across, and the snow before her flew up in a flurry of white.  Snow hit his barrier and he cursed as it covered his view.  He cast a low power heat spell to melt the snow and looked at where Arturia was before.  She was not there and he could not tell where she went because there was no snow to show her footprints.

Suddenly, he heard a loud crack behind him.  He whirled around and blacked out as strong blow hit his jaw.

"W--win g--goes to A--Arturia."  declared Wilbur proudly.  With a wave of his wand, the fence disappeared.  The audience nearby clapped.

Arturia dusted the snow off her clothes and walked to where Rin was.  "Shall we go?"

"Yes."  She turned to Gail who was still wearing her Lens of Misillusion.  "I hope you enjoyed the fight.  Anyway, Happy Holidays and I'll see you next year."

Gail took off her Lens.  "Happy Holidays, Rin... and Arturia.  Take care, both of you." 

Wilbur waited until Rin and Arturia left in their car.  Then he turned to Gail.  "W--what d--did y--you s--see?"

"Oh my God... I think she's a class A Paladin."

Wilbur's jaw dropped.  "No w--way..."

Gail rubbed her hands to warm them up.  "I'll tell you in the car."  Before they walked back to the car, she went over to the unconscious Perecroft and kicked dirt into his face.  She was so glad she came to the ball.


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


They celebrated a quiet Christmas dinner with Sakura.  When the clock announced midnight, they opened their presents.  Sakura gave them matching hand knit scarves.  They gave her a cute winter outfit and a down-filled  winter coat.

Arturia handed Rin an envelope.  She opened it and found two tickets to a spa inside the Christmas card. 

Arturia smiled sheepishly.  "My massages aren't really that good.  I was told that this place is the best."

Rin smiled back.  "Don't say that.  I love your massages.  Anyway, here's your present." 

Arturia removed the wrapping and opened the box.  Inside were several shirts and skirts of different colors.

"You always seemed to be wearing that."  said Rin, indicating the white shirt and blue skirt.  "I hope you like these."

Arturia tugged on her shirt.  "This?  Why shouldn't I wear it?  It's your first gift to me."

Rin blushed and hugged her.  Suddenly, she felt self-conscious.  Sakura was nearby.  She pulled away. 

At Rin's rare display of affection, Sakura giggled at the sight.  Then she yawned.  "I think I'll go to bed now.  Good night."

"Good night."  Rin and Arturia responded in chorus. 

Rin took Arturia's hand and whispered.  "I have another present for you in our room."

Arturia's eyebrows arched in curiosity and she let Rin lead her to their room.  Rin handed her another present.  She tore the giftwrap off.

"Edible underwear.  Strawberry flavored."  she read.  She gazed mischievously at Rin.  "You're going to wear this for me?"

"It's for you.  You're supposed to wear it." protested Rin with an increasing blush on her cheeks.

"But a gift is meant to be enjoyed by the receiver."  Arturia pinned the box under her arm and began to unbutton Rin's blouse.  Her eyes leered at her.  "And only the receiver knows the best way to enjoy it." 

As her blouse fell to the floor, Rin almost regretted giving that kind of gift.


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


After the New Year, they returned to Japan in order to make an attempt at summoning Archer on the fifth.  Sakura wanted to go, but Marlen forbade it.  Eileen felt sorry for her and told her that she would devise a way for her to see Shiro.  Rin asked her how, but she merely smiled and said that it was a secret.

On the day of the summoning, Eileen revealed how.  Rin stared at the life-sized inflatable doll wearing a purple wig and a dress. 

"So you say that Sakura is somehow controlling this... doll?"

"Yes.  Say hello, Sakura."

The doll waved a puffed up arm.  "Hi..."

"I knew she was weird... I just didn't understand how much."  thought Rin.  She began to pity poor Marlen who had no choice in being raised by two weird mothers.  "Well... as long as she's not detected, it's fine."

Rin etched out the summoning circle with the butt of her staff.  This time, they moved the furniture to the adjoining room since Archer caused so much damage in it when he was summoned.

After she was done she began the ritual, she formed the image of Archer in her mind and concentrated.  The magic circle glowed red.  She could feel an energy similar to the one she experienced during the first summoning.  Her heart began to beat excitedly and she tried to focus on finishing the incantation.  The energy around her rose with each word, and with the final word, caused the magic circle to burst into streams of red light.

Rin held her breath for a moment before opening her eyes.  She looked around but only saw Arturia and Eileen's hopeful faces.  Her shoulders slumped in defeat.  It was too much to expect to succeed the first time.  With a deep breath, she lifted her hands to make another attempt.

Suddenly, there was a loud crash in the adjoining room.  They rushed to the doorway.  There, seated amongst the rubble and broken furniture, was Archer, or rather, Shiro.

"So... which of you ladies is my master?" asked Shiro in a cocky tone.

Rin recovered from her shock and conjured a harisen.  "Sakura..."

The inflatable doll grabbed the harisen and bounced over the rubble.  It began to whack Shiro repeatedly. 

"How dare you!  Don't you recognize me?  This will teach you to leave me alone!"

Arturia whispered in Rin's ear.  "You trained her well."

"What training?"

"Oh... it's in her blood then."

"Are you implying something?"

"No.  Not at all."

Finally, the doll stopped, threw its arms around Shiro and cried.  "You big dummy!"

Shiro hugged the doll on reflex.  A few moments later, he asked, "What am I doing?"

Rin rubbed her forehead at the weirdness of the situation.  She was glad that she decided to send the servants on vacation.  "You're hugging Sakura.  Well... not Sakura... she's controlling that doll since she can't be here."

"Oooookaaaay....."  Shiro carried the doll and walked out of the rubble.  He put the doll down.

"You're looking good, Rin."  Then he turned to Arturia.  "Nice to see you again, Saber."

Without warning, he grabbed her shoulders and kissed her.

Arturia's eyes bulged out in surprise.  She pulled away and slapped him.  Hard.  As she wiped her mouth on her sleeve, she glared at him angrily.  "Don't ever do that again."  she growled.  Then she put her arm around Rin and pulled her close.  "You should take care of your wife, and I'll take care of mine."

Shiro stared at them with disbelief.  Then he ran his hand over his white hair.  "Damn... I guess I'm too late.  Oh well..."

He went to the doll which appeared to be crying its eyes out, and looped an arm around its shoulders.  "On second thought, I think I got the better bargain."

The ensuing silence was only broken by pieces of rubble dropping from the hole in the ceiling.  Then Rin bristled with indignation and conjured another harisen. 

"You jerk!"  Rin wound up for a strike.

But the doll held up its arm.  "Stop it, Nee-san.  This is my job."

"Oh... okay..."  She handed the harisen to the doll which proceeded to beat Shiro again.

After things settled down, Rin introduced Shiro to Eileen.  Then she ordered some take-out and made Shiro clean up the room.

"So... when are we going to the Throne?"  asked Shiro as he swept the floor.

"Excuse me?"  said Rin.

"It's the root of all this mess.  If the Throne is destroyed, there'll be no more wars."

Rin simmered with anger.  At least, Sakura did not hear him since Eileen dispelled the doll.  "You've just gotten back!  Can't you let up?"

"No.  I can't.  Not when I have a chance to destroy it.  Besides... a part of me is still in the Throne."

"What?!  Didn't I summon you?"

Shiro nodded.  "Yup.  But as insurance, a part of the hero is left in the Throne to make sure he'll go back.  Your summon was very good.  I'll probably hang around for a month or two.  But after that, I'll get pulled back."

"Damn.  We have to talk to Marlen about this."

"Who's Marlen?"

"My master.  And her daughter."

"Don't worry.  We'll figure something out."  assured Eileen.

"I sure hope so..."  said Shiro glumly.


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


The take-out food was barely edible compared to Sakura's cooking.  They cleaned up the dining table after eating.  Rin yawned.  The ritual consumed a lot of mana, and she felt sleepy.  She and Arturia were halfway up the stairs when she heard the doorbell ring.  She went back down the stairs and activated the gate monitor.

Her heart leapt when she saw the shadowy face of her godfather in the dim light.  With a press of a button, she released the gate and ran out to meet him.  He stopped when he saw her halfway down the path.

"Good evening, godfather."  Rin bowed.

"Good evening, Rin." responded Kurogami curtly.  He paused for a moment and then asked, "Rin, is it true that you're seeing a girl?"

Rin paled.  "What...?  Where did you hear that?"

Kurogami's mouth drew to a tight line.  "Yoshida-san heard a rumor at the Academy.  It's not true, right?"

Yoshida was one of her suitors.  During their 'date', he told her that he was a third year at the Academy.  "I never bother with rumors, godfather.  It's beneath me.  Anyway, please come in.  It's cold."

"Then explain this to me."  He pulled a picture out from his pocket.  It was a picture of her and Arturia dancing at the ball.  "That's her, isn't it?  The girl who was here last November."

Trapped like a mouse, Rin was forced to agree.  "Yes."  She could not say anything more.  Words caught in her throat.

Kurogami's warm breath billowed like smoke in the cold air.  "Rin, you're the only heir of the Tohsaka.  It's your duty to continue the Tohsaka line."  His voice dropped like the temperature around them.  "I hate to do this to you, but I have no choice.  You have six months in which to find a husband and get married.  He doesn't have to be a mage.  Just someone you like."

Rin's eyes blazed in defiance, but she did her best to remain calm.  "What if I don't?"

"Then the estate will go to your next of kin.  One of your cousins."

"I see.  Is there anything else you want to talk about, godfather?"  she asked icily.

"No."  He paused and stared at her with a melancholic look in his eye.  "I love you like a daughter, Rin.  But I have to do my duty.  I hope you'll do yours.  Good night."  He turned on his heel and walked back to the gate.

Rin watched him leave before heading back into the house.  As soon as she closed the door, Arturia and Shiro came over. 

"Rin... I'm so sorry that being with me is difficult for you."  said Arturia with a breaking voice as she reached for Rin's hands.  Rin's eyes widened. 

Shiro shrugged.  "Sorry, Rin.  I saw you talking, so I read his lips and told Arturia what he said."

Rin embraced Arturia closely.  "It doesn't matter what he thinks.  You're the one I want."  That's right.  Even though she worked hard for her original goal of becoming a worthy heir, that was not the goal she wanted anymore.  She held her tighter.  She would damn anyone who would prevent her from enjoying the fruit of her labors. 

"But what about the estate?"

"The money would be nice to have, but it also comes with duties to the allies of the Tohsaka, which includes the Matou and the Einzbern.  After being in Germany, I don't want to be around them again."  Sakura's face flashed in her mind.  "I don't need the estate.  I already have what I need."

She tenderly touched her left arm.  "Rin... I... I can't give you any children."

Her heart stopped.  The reality hit her and her muscles went rigid as understanding crept into her mind.  The Tohsaka were not defined by wealth or influence.  They were defined by the strength of their magic.  It was their pride, their true power.  For generations, this power was transferred to the child who was born with the magic seal.  Goosebumps erupted on her left arm as her seal stirred with mana.  Even if her next of kin took over the estate, even if his last name was Tohsaka, he would not be a true Tohsaka without the seal.  Was she selfish enough to abandon their pride, the magic that defined who they were?

But there was one more Tohsaka who had a strong magic circuit even without the seal.  She hoped and prayed silently for forgiveness.  "I'm so sorry for this burden, Sakura..."

She took Arturia's hands, steeled her voice and spoke carefully to mask her loss.  "I know.  But even so, please stay with me."

"Oh, Rin..."  Arturia buried her face in her shoulder and let a tear seep from her eye.  "I love you."

"I love you too."  Rin moved to kiss her.

"Aherrrmmm..."  Shiro cleared his throat noisily.  "I'm still here, y'know."

Her eyes narrowed into slits.  "Perv.  You don't have to stay and watch, y'know."

He threw up his hands.  "Suit y'self...  I'm going to bed.  I do get a bed, right?"

"Yeah.  Turn right after the stairs, three doors to the left."

After Shiro disappeared up the stairs, Rin asked, "Shall we go to bed?"

Arturia looked into her eyes.  "As long as you want me in it, sure."

Rin laughed and kissed her lightly.  "Always."


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


"Well... that certainly throws a wrench into the whole thing."  remarked Marlen after she heard their story.  "If it wasn't for that, I'd say you'd be barmy to try.  Getting Shiro back is just a matter of careful planning, since Rin knows the layout.  But give me a day to plan."

"We need to destroy the Throne."  said Shiro firmly.

"You and what army?"

"I still have most of my servant powers, and so does Arturia.  You can help too."

"Leave me out of it!" said Marlen angrily.  "As a member of the Pentacle, I have to stay neutral.  Knowledge of my involvement will start a feud."

Her face darkened.  "And if you insist on destroying the Throne, then I won't help you at all.  Nor will I allow Rin to help you.  The Emrys have worked too hard to help her and Arturia.  I won't let them risk their lives for you."

Shiro glared at her and then stalked out of the rose garden like a spoiled child.

Marlen sighed and rubbed her temples.  "We have to watch out for him.  He'll change his agenda at the last minute.  I'll have to figure out a way to restrain him if he decides to destroy the Throne when you go there."

"Why is it difficult to destroy the Throne?"

"Because it can draw upon the spirits within it to defend itself.  Even if you manage to destroy it, your mana will be depleted, and you can't defend yourself against the Einzbern."  Marlen paused, and when she spoke, there was an edge of anger in her voice.  "But that boy... doesn't care if he comes back or not.  He gave up everything to be a hero of justice, and it looks like he's still at it."

"How do you know that?"

"I just know."  Marlen put her arm around Nell's neck.  Then Nell stood up and carried her.  "I need some time to think.  I'll let you know when I have a plan.  Meanwhile, watch him.  If he starts acting strange, call me."

"Yes, Master."  Rin held the door for them and followed them out of the rose garden.


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


It was almost too easy.  Rin hated to admit it, but foreknowledge of the traps and barriers came in handy.  After she opened the portal, she cast Levitiam on Shiro and Arturia so that they could fly to the throne.

About halfway to the Throne, the bracelets on Shiro's wrists crackled with energy. 

"I am the bone of my sword..."

Arturia's eyes flashed with alarm.  She dove toward Shiro to restrain him before he could complete the spell.

Rin could only watch helplessly as they wrestled each other in midair.

"My, what a surprise... I didn't expect to see you here, Tohsaka Rin."

Her head whirled toward the sound of that gruff German voice.  A tall man with graying hair and a cropped beard gazed at her.  He wore a black outfit with white gloves.  Even though he was standing next to her, Rin did not sense his approach.  Her hands trembled as she gripped her staff.

He leaned on his cane and turned his gaze into the portal.  "Kiritsugu's servant?  No... not a servant anymore."  His German was thick and Rin had to listen carefully to understand.  For a few moments, he watched Shiro and Arturia wrestle before speaking again.  "That's quite a feat.  Your father would be proud.  I can easily say that you've surpassed him."

"You knew my father?"

"Yes.  He was my student.  He would have been my disciple, but he died in the war.  Worst of all, the man who killed him refused to be my disciple.  He just wanted to be a hero of justice."  He sighed deeply.  "What a waste.  He killed his rivals to wish for something that he already had the power to be."

"You mean Kiritsugu?"

He nodded.  "I assumed that he wanted to be my disciple when he participated in the war.  But in the end, he wasted his chance.  I had given up finding a worthy disciple after that.  But now, here you are.  Multilayered counterspells... Advanced magesight... Mana masking... Amalgam magic... Temporal mechanics... You've learned so much in your short time at the academy."  He paused for a moment before adding, "Last I checked, the academy did not teach such subjects to undergraduates.  Did a professor take you as an apprentice?"

He paused for an answer but only received Rin's defiant stare.  Finally, he broke the silence with a chuckle.  "That look in your eyes!  You are truly your father's child.  The chance that I would have given to your father, I now give to you.  Will you take his place as my disciple?"

Rin trembled partly in fear and partly in anger.  "Let me get this straight.  The war was a test to see who'd be your disciple?"

"For me it was.  But the masters had different reasons for fighting."

"Well, forget it.  I'm not going to be a disciple for someone who selects the winner of a cruel war as his student."

"A pity.  Your father would be disappointed."

"Don't talk like you know him!"  Rin remembered that awful vision before her father lost his soul.  "He respected you!  But in the end, this is what became of him!"  Rin reached into her pack and pulled out the dagger which she brought along as a good luck charm.

The man stared at the dagger.  "Tokiomi...?  I see... so that's what happened."  He closed his eyes and bowed his head.  When he opened his eyes, they glowed with a strange flickering light.  A strong aura began to grow around him.

By now, Arturia and Shiro noticed the strange man standing next to Rin.  They stopped and cautiously approached them.

"In exchange for your freedom, I request a drop of your blood on the dagger."

"Why should I?"

"In case you haven't noticed, your friends are in the portal.  You know that I can easily overpower you and close it in their faces.  Furthermore, I've trapped the Einzbern in a static field which is why I'm able to chat with you.   But I can release that field and gate them in here in a blink of an eye."

Rin swallowed.  She had to stall long enough to get Shiro and Arturia out.  "So if I give you a drop of blood, you'll let us go?"

"Yes."

Rin extended the index finger from the hand that held her staff and pricked its tip on the sharp edge of the scythe blade.  Then she squeezed a drop onto the dagger.  "There."

"Release!"  yelled the man.

Rin let go of the dagger as its sealed contents burst out.  Shiro and Arturia exited the portal and rushed towards her.

"Disturb me, and you lose your father's soul forever!"

"Shiro!  Arturia!  Stop!"  yelled Rin frantically as she threw herself in their path.

The dagger broke into tiny particles which surrounded the drop of blood.  The blood expanded and spread out like a spider's web.  Rin took several steps back and held her staff in front of her.  The concentration of mana was immense.

Then the particles and tiny rivulets of blood began to form an outline.  Soon, she could make out a head, a body, arms and legs.  Her chest constricted when her mind formed a guess that seemed so improbable.

The man continued to chant.  His hand wove in intricate gestures as he manipulated the mana like a potter shaping a clay pot.  His eyes slit with concentration and sweat dropped from his brow.

And when he finished, Rin felt like she just witnessed a miracle.  A small baby floated where the dagger was once before.  With a wave of the man's hand, the baby moved in front of her.  Rin caught him in her arms. 

The man leaned heavily on his cane.  "Take what you need and go."  he said hoarsely.  "His chances are better if you anchor him.  I will keep the portal open."  When she made no response, he stared at her sternly.  "Do you still insist on defying me, even with an innocent in your arms?"

Rin stared at him incredulously.  Then she nodded and gave the baby to Arturia.  "Let's go, Shiro.  And don't you dare try anything funny." 

Shiro's mouth drooped.  "Fine."

She and Shiro flew to the Throne.  When they got there, she grabbed Shiro's hand before he entered the Throne.  About ten minutes later, Shiro emerged from the Throne.  They exited the portal which closed behind them with a tap of the man's cane.

The man extended his forefinger and drew a portal before them.  "Go.  And don't come here again."  Rin moved toward the portal but Shiro held his ground.  Then the man spoke in Japanese.  "I promise you, that until the boy's thirteenth year, no one will be able to access the Throne or be able to summon a hero from it.  Until then, grow strong, and challenge me when I return for the boy.  Now, go.  I will erase all trace of your presence here."

"Why are you doing this?"  asked Rin suspiciously.

The hard lines of his face softened as he smiled gently.  His eyes alighted on Shiro and Arturia as he spoke.  "It seems to me, that this is a time for second chances.  So consider it a gift for all your efforts.  Good-bye, Tohsaka Rin." 

"Good-bye."  Rin ushered Shiro into the portal and followed Arturia in.

At the other side of the portal, they found themselves on a field in the country.  Rin checked her GPS and noted that they were over a hundred miles away from the manor.  Then she turned her attention to the baby wrapped in Arturia's spare dress.  He stared at her with intense blue eyes and clutched her finger with his little hand.

"Welcome back, Father."




Chapter 18 Omake

Cyberano: 
I am the bone of my pen.
Imagination is my body, and inspiration is my blood.
I have typed over thousands of words.
Unaware of sleep.
Nor aware of gain.
Withstood pain to create many chapters.
Waiting for one's muse.
For five long months, this was my only path.
Thus I shall end, "The King and Her Queen, Royal Fanfic Works."

Rin:  That is soooooo cheesy.
Cyberano:  Ungrateful wenches!  You're just upset that it's ending!
Arturia:  Write us more sex scenes!


Chapter 18
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