There was no concept of color in this immense world.
None except for the vivid crimson that decorated her outfit, dyed her long horns and monstrous claws, and filled her irises with vibrant magenta.
Black Gold Saw stood immobile on the edge of the cliff as she watched over her chaotic terrain. Mountains of monochromic shapes seemed to join the rocky landscape like undying trees with branches of motionless and broken limbs. The corpses never decomposed after all. They just ceased moving as if they were dolls, as if they never lived to begin with.
She wondered if she would become like that one day too.
Vaguely, she could recall another individual bearing uncanny resemblance living in a different world full of colors. She understood that their connection was what allowed her to keep the red and pink hues, and that she had once helped her alter self in overcoming certain obstacles.
But what was left now that the short-haired woman named Irino Saya had attained her goals? Black Gold Saw still did not know, and thus she continued to roam this endless realm in search for an answer and a way to escape this place. Her weapon, a gigantic serrated sword, was able to split spaces yet she could not enter the resulting portals. All she could do was watch whatever images that appeared in them.
After many attempts, she merely accepted that she was to remain a spectator. While the inability to interfere frustrated her, she was able to learn so many things by watching the events from various worlds. She understood that a Holy Grail War was nearing its commencement due to the selection of potential participants from different realities.
She was one of the chosen competitors, a Servant of the Saber class.
The Holy Grail was an object that can grant any wish, hence many sought after it regardless of the prices they must pay. Black Gold Saw wanted to leave this Otherworld, but she didn’t know if her desire was enough to warrant her devotion to this troublesome competition. After the countless battles she had already fought here, she was bored of them.
Nothing motivated her, really. There was nothing worth risking her pseudo-life for. The only strong emotion she had left in her was the need to protect a girl named Koutari Yuu who meant a lot to her counter part. However, the matter was resolved in Saya’s world, and Black Gold Saw was left with nothing once again.
So why was she selected by this omniscient Grail?
Based on what she’s learned so far, a Servant was a Heroic Spirit who had accomplished something incredible or contributed a significant deed to humanity when he or she was still a mortal human.
Well, Black Gold Saw never considered herself a human, and protecting Yuu was the only thing she was proud of. Was that enough to warrant her status as a Heroic Spirit?
“Three Servants were summoned…”
It seemed that this time, she was able to observe something noteworthy in one of the rips in space. Three Masters were able to summon entities similar to herself in this world where the War was to take place.
The positions for Caster, Rider and Archer classes were filled.
She was familiar with the identities of these Heroic Spirits, yet they didn’t look exactly as she remembered. Due to her ability to cut through space, she knew there were parallel universes so it was possible they were summoned from those worlds.
The next incident she saw almost made her dizzy with emotions she thought she didn’t have. Was this anger? No, it churned even more powerfully than that. It must be rage, for she wanted to utterly annihilate the humans torturing the little girl who bore so much resemblance to Yuu.
As she continued to watch the distortions in space, the positions for Berserker and Lancer were taken as well. These two Servants were called Mahou Shoujos, and they came from a completely different universe where they must fight creatures called Witches. By protecting humanity or the principle they held dear, the magical girls became Heroic Spirits and were thus summoned.
One of them didn’t even look human though.
Either way, the consecutive summons caused unease in Black Gold Saw. Now that she had a reason to participate in this Holy Grail War, she must eradicate the other teams or at least, keep them away from the little girl she wanted to protect.
To do so, she would need her Master. She must have one, or else she wouldn’t have been designated as Saber at all.
“My resolve should be strong enough,” she stared at the distorted space and leaped towards her possible escape from this grey realm.
She was denied once again.
However, unlike the other times, a pink sphere fell from the rip just as she regained her balance on the cliff. Enthralled by the new arrival and its brilliant color, she dove for the stranger and managed to catch the limp form before she fell down the cliff.
The pinkette’s upturned palm revealed bow-like Command Seals.
Black Gold Saw noted that the young girl was unconscious and feverish, possibly the side effects of being transported to another world and forced to become a Master in this War. The magenta-eyed woman looked up at the gap and vaguely learned the origin of her little Master through flashes of images.
Perhaps it was the residual protective instincts over Yuu, but Saber decided that she would help this pinkette obtain the Grail if needed, as long as she got to protect the Yuu-look-alike.
Feral ambers eyes were locked on the two massive silhouettes hovering in the spacious warehouse. Harlequin green flickered inside the empty sockets of the black skulls as their shadows danced eerily upon the filthy walls and leaky ceiling.
Tainaka Ritsu gritted her teeth and dug the heels of her shoes into the gritty floor. She just happened to wander into this hideout and beat shit out of this hobo who pissed her off with his obscene gestures. The broken body was now lying on a weird circle drawn in chalk, his blood pouring onto the intricate design and dying it in vermillion.
Then the next thing she knew, the two pathetic excuses of Halloween décor popped out from the noxious fumes overflowing from the center of that ring.
“What the fuck is going on? Heh, don’t tell me it’s Magic?” She sneered dismissively and cracked her knuckles, recalling how the now dead man had mumbled something about magic before she snapped his neck.
She whirled around in search for the giggling speaker but only found a wicked scythe floating in mid-air. Before she could wrap her mind around what she was seeing, she sensed something moving behind her. Instinctively, she leaped aside to avoid the skulls ramming into the spot she was standing a moment ago.
Debris and pebbles flew everywhere, a testament of the charge’s sheer power. Her clenched fists began to shake as she stared at the fissures and the creatures that illuminated the warehouse in toxic green.
“Afraid, little human?”
Ritsu’s lips stretched into a hungry grin. “Fuck no… my blood’s boiling in excitement! Finally, a worthy opponent to destroy!”
Cackling, she dove at the glowing craniums, punching and kicking like a wild beast. Driven by experience and instinct, she struck again and again, careless of the bruises and heavy hits from the massive creatures. What did pain matter, when there were so many thrills in fighting this unknown entity? It sure knew how to have fun controlling those skulls!
Dust soon filled the enclosed space as rubbles littered around each crater from the fighters’ frenzied attacks. The creepy circle was long broken, and the corpse was reduced to a mere smear across the jagged floor.
The two skulls now bore cracks from the ferocity of Ritsu’s assaults, while the she wiped at her bleeding forehead and brushed back her long bangs with a gruff chuckle. She glanced at her bloodied knuckles and laughed loudly, jostling the torn remains of her shirt that almost fell off her lithe form.
“Yes… that’s it. Entertain me more!”
“Oh, I’d love to~” Cold claws languidly walked up her exposed spine and stopped between her shoulder blades, tapping and tracing something. “But in a different way…”
“Finally showed yourself, huh?” Ritsu scoffed at the charming yet threatening gesture, chuckling disinterestedly even as a black arm snaked around her exposed shoulders.
“You’re not so bad for a human,” the husky voice oozed with delight as icy lips ghosted over her skin, “this will be fun…”
Frowning irritably at the ticklish warmth, Ritsu turned around and glared coldly at the stranger leaning against the scythe. Ragged horns, pointed wings and a devilish smile, this curly-haired girl sure looked like a grim reaper.
The type who would eat you alive, literally or figuratively.
“Who the fuck are you?”
Harlequin eyes glinted in mirth. “You may call me Caster, oh cute lil’ Master~”
“W-what was that?”
Blue-grey eyes blinked apprehensively at her hand, which was still trembling from the shock that surged through her limb a moment ago. She had just returned to her mansion, smiling in childish joy due to the cute music box she had purchased.
But now, the item lay broken on the rosewood floor after the strange sensation caused her to drop it.
“Oh no…” Akiyama Mio shook away her unease and kneeled in front of the music box as a hoarse tune began to play. Disheartened, she began to hum along with the pretty melody, hoping to imitate and memorize it before the player completely broke.
A particular spot on her left upper arm tingled as she went on, but she persevered until the song finally croaked to an end. Sighing sadly, she wondered if she could get someone to repair this antique article. But when she reached out to recover some of the shattered pieces, she pricked her finger on a sharp edge. Recoiling, she immediately pressed the cut against her lips to dampen the sting.
She disliked pain after all.
Whimpering, she watched the blood staining the fragment trickle down the side, polishing the rusty black to give it a metallic sheen. It was only then the silence of the vacant house began to unsettle her. She felt goosebumps on her skin when light began to envelop the music box, pieces and all. While she shielded her eyes from the blinding rays, uncomfortable warmth sparked around that area on her upper arm.
A torrent of information flooded her mind soon after, flowing so hectically that she barely managed to make sense of the concept ‘Master’ and ‘Servant’. What was happening? All she wanted to do was to jot down the lyrics from when she was inspired by the beautiful weather earlier.
Mio swallowed her fear and carefully peeked through her fingers. Though startled by the appearance of a young doll-like girl, the concern in those amber eyes calmed her immensely. The stranger had wild golden tresses cascading down her back, and she was wearing an adorable gothic Lolita dress.
Most importantly, she looked so innocent and lost as she glanced around the living room before returning her blank gaze onto the raven-haired teenager. Mio felt her protective instinct churning as she bravely inched closer. Servant or not, it seemed that this little girl was in her care now.
“…Rider?” She spoke gently, testing the name she learned from the swirl of information earlier.
The child tilted her head and replied in a tone akin to a malfunctioning music box. “Cha-ri-ot.”
“Won’t you have some dinner, Azusa-chan?”
Seeing no response from the black-haired girl who was deeply absorbed in her reading, Hirasawa Ui approached the desk and gently repeated the question.
“Hmm… huh? Oh, um, maybe later, Ui. I should finish this book first… thanks though,” Nakano Azusa glanced at the brunette before returning those serious garnet eyes on the wizened pages of the thick volume.
Ui sighed inaudibly, concerned for her friend’s health. The black-haired girl hasn’t eaten for 24 hours and barely slept since they received a particular package a week ago. She glanced at the open parcel beside the stacks of books and tightened her hold on her scepter.
Enclosed in the anonymous delivery were a black keychain with a white star attached to it and a vague letter. It mentioned this Holy Grail War and a simple instruction to the ritual in summoning a Servant. By becoming the victor, a participant’s utmost wish could be granted. There weren’t many details regarding this holy object or the competition, only that there were the six other teams and they had different classes of summons.
Understandably, Azusa was dubious of the information given from an unknown source, even though everything seemed feasible. The search for miracle-granting article was a sore object for the two girls. Azusa’s extensive family was wiped out in a botched up ritual when she was a young child, while Ui’s older sister, Yui, disappeared without a trace after an attempt to mix alchemy with different magic principles.
Finding Yui was the reason neither could fully dismiss the idea of this obscure War. Azusa wanted to see her beloved mentor again and Ui wished to reunite with her dearest sibling. The two friends have been exhausting all their resources, looking over every ancient book there was in the Hirasawa mansion but to no avail.
The brunette smiled softly at Azusa’s pensive expression. Her friend could be just as stubborn as Yui, with their tendency to forget everything else once their minds were set on something. So focused she was in her research that the apprentice alchemist forgot to eat her meals and left her usually impeccably neat hair in this tangled state,
Carefully and without disturbing her, Ui brushed her friend’s unbound tresses and tied them up into her trademark pigtails. Out of a burst of affection, she caressed Azusa’s head, which caused the latter to lean back against the pleasant gesture.
“There just aren’t any information about the Holy Grail,” she murmured wearily, “sure there are records that elude its presence, but we just can’t be sure of their validity.”
“I know,” the brunette swallowed sadly as their gazes went to the photo frame on the desk. Her sister’s bright smile looked so lively under the glow of the lamp that she was overcome by a swirl of emotions.
“Onee-chan…” As she brushed her fingers against Yui’s cheek on the image, she knew what she had to do. This was their only chance at ever finding the older Hirasawa again. All she had to do was try and hope for the best.
Her determined visage must have alerted her friend, because Azusa frowned and placed her hand over Ui’s. “It’s too risky. There’s so much we don’t know…”
“Yes, but I still want to do everything I can, Azusa-chan,” the brunette smiled with certainty and clasped the star keychain against her heart. “I can do it.”
Though still unconvinced, the pigtailed girl nodded and watched in trepidation as her friend walked to the middle of the room. After whispering the instructed incantation, Ui tapped the ground five times with the end of her scepter. The jewel on its tip began to glimmer as she poured her mana on top of the amount that was already stored inside the gem. A ring of light appeared beneath her feet, startling her but she managed to hold onto her composure and continued to trace the shape of a star.
The keychain in her grasp began to burn, an indication that the ritual was at its last stage. Gulping nervously, she released the article into the spell circle, where the light swallowed it.
She did not expect the burst of energy that washed over her.
Gasping, she hugged herself and dropped the scepter, overwhelmed by how cold she felt. Warmth was draining from her body as her knees gave away. She could vaguely hear Azusa’s frantic calls but it was as if her senses were muffled. Her vision fleetingly turned grey and suddenly, something blazed in her chest, spreading down her limbs and restoring heat.
The fire felt protective, not at all hostile in spite of the tremendous way it seemed to flare.
“Ui! Are you okay?” Azusa gingerly helped the brunette back onto her feet again as they both stared at the incantation circle. A faint silhouette began to form while the light faded in equivalent speed.
Once the ring was completely gone, the tall stranger opened her cerulean eyes and observed them calmly. Her uneven black tresses were tied in two pigtails that flowed down her long indigo trench coat. Her arms were folded in indifference as she took a steady step towards them. The quiet click of her boots made Azusa tense warily, but Ui felt no fear as her gaze met the newcomer’s.
“Are you my Master?”
Instead of replying right away, the brunette held out her hand and smiled. “I am Hirasawa Ui. What is your name?”
“My name…” The taller girl appeared hesitant, but her aloof expression didn’t change as her gloved hand grasped Ui’s.
“…Black Rock Shooter.”
“You little shit, why won’t you cry?”
The russet-haired girl bit down on her lips hard enough to draw blood, but she refused to uncurl from the fetal position. She had long learned to bear the violence with her back. Besides, having her limbs stretched out only gave her tormentors more areas to hit.
The coppery tang of her own blood tasted oddly appetizing. It had a flavor after all, and it slightly satiated her empty stomach.
“Fuck, this place is a dump. Clean it up will you!”
She didn’t make a sound, not even a whimper, when heavy boots stomped on her meager body once more. A strong hand clasped her short hair and yanked her up to face the ugly snarl of her mother’s latest boyfriend. She almost choked on his excessive cologne but could not summon enough strength to do even that.
“Answer me when I talk to you, twerp! Are you deaf?”
Koutari Yuu’s impassive eyes flickered to the blaring TV, the appalling piles of garbage cluttered around it, and finally the almost-nude woman lying on the couch. Her guffawing mother didn’t even spare her a glance, so absorbed in the program and the beer can in her manicured hand.
Of course not. Yuu was just an unwanted, worthless burden.
A brutal slap snapped her attention back to the sneering man. “Y’know, I’m feeling creative after fucking your mother all night. Let’s see what will make you scream like her eh?”
He started to unbuckle his belt but paused when his sadistic gaze landed on the ashtray on the filthy coffee table and the cigarette butt that was still sizzling. “Ah, creativity…”
Yuu blinked at the burning tip slowly descending towards her blank face. The little ember looked pretty, but that was just a lie. Her mother was beautiful and this man was handsome, yet they were both so unimaginably hideous inside that it was amazing how the masks stayed on at all.
If only she could break them and expose the truth. Extinguish the flame and choke the life out of it until it was nothing but mere smoke. Both the beautiful and ugly shall perish, like everything else in this godforsaken world.
Indeed, there was no god. Why else would she know nothing but suffering? Divinity and miracles did not exist. It was just her and her alone. She had the strength to mentally endure her endless torments yet she was powerless to physically stop them.
Her bruises healed over time but this would-be burn mark would never fade, would it?
Dull anger churned in her chest as she sluggishly raised an arm and pushed as hard as she could. To her shock, the man flew back like he was thrown by a beast. He hit the wall with a loud thud and slid down, groaning in pain. His leg was twisted in a gruesome angle, probably from the awkward way it smashed against the doorframe.
Dazed that she was able to cause such damage, she stared at a dark blue tattoo glowing on the back of her hand. The last of the three hollow circles had fish fin encasing it.
It was both pretty and grotesque.
“What the hell did you do?” Her mother screeched in horror at the man’s injury and lunged at her while holding the ashtray. The little girl stared detachedly at the porcelain object and barely flinched when it shattered against her temple. However, the pain was inconsequential now that the woman was within reach of her short arms.
After a violent shove right in the chest, her mother collapsed like a puppet without its strings, coughing and wheezing as if she couldn’t breathe. Yuu took a step forward and tilted her head when the air turned denser. The burning cigarette, forgotten on the floor, was smothered a moment later, its dying hiss resounding wonderfully in her ears.
Suddenly, the two adults became nothing but scarlet pulps on the floor, flattened by something immensely heavy. A massive shape materialized in front of her, filling up the cramped living room until an iridescent fish tail could be seen under the dim light. The crushed TV cackled brokenly as a grisly helmet and a half-exposed face came within view.
There was only anguish and vengeance in the entity’s blue iris.
She vaguely understood that this stranger was here to help her, to become the strength she needed to wreck everything that stood in her way.
“It’s like my favorite fairytale come true…” The little girl murmured in awe, her blank eyes dilating with feverish craze. An armored finger lightly prodded at her temple, smearing the gleaming steel with blood. The metal felt so pleasantly cool against her wound, which began to heal as the hand retracted.
“Hehe, thanks!” Yuu burst into delighted giggles. “Let’s destroy everything together! It’s only fair if the world also suffers as we do…”
The blue-haired monstrous mermaid’s exposed eye flashed.
“…Isn’t that right, Berserker?”
“O light, why are you so pretty?”
An auburn-haired girl kneeled at the altar with her hands clasped in front of her, like a sincere believer praying for salvation or simply seeking comfort under the gentle glow of the chandelier. The church only housed her lonesome figure, yet her mind wasn’t focused on the pang of longing that would visit from time to time.
Her innocent brown eyes were fixated not on the cross but the plateful of offering. The big, juicy fruits looked so enticing after all, especially under the wondrous bask of the light from above.
This must be a sign from divinity that she must take the food, right?
“They would just go bad if no one eats them…” Yui puffed up her cheeks and determinedly reached for the apple. “Food shouldn’t be wasted!”
The moment she touched the shiny fruit, however, a spark of heat spread up her arm until the invisible flame rested in the middle of the appendage. Though surprised and confused, Yui giggled at the ticklish sensation. It almost felt like a little fairy was dancing on her skin!
A faint mark began to surface on her forearm, as if written in burning ink with the way stray embers flickered upon the completion of each stroke. A burst of light from above broke her transfixed gaze and made her clench her eyes shut because it was too blinding.
Once she felt the light has died down, she looked back to the altar and saw a crimson silhouette slowly descending from the chandelier. The stranger’s long, fiery hair floated around her like wings along with her maroon, flowing skirt.
Wait, some of red was blood!
Yui stood up hastily just in time to catch the injured girl, who collapsed and showed no signs of regaining consciousness even at the brunette’s calls.
“What’s happening? Where…Why are you hurt?” She whispered worriedly at the unmoving figure in her lap. At least the stranger was breathing, but the various wounds on her body were still leaking blood.
Helpless, Yui could only dab at the cut on the red-haired girl’s cheek. Why couldn’t she do anything? She barely knew her first name but other than that, she had no memories of herself or how she came to this church. Whenever she tried to leave the premises, she’d feel faint and nauseous as if something magical was keeping her at place.
When the door opened with a quiet click, she almost cried in relief. “Mugi-chan!”
The curly-haired blonde hurried towards the brunette. “Yui-chan, I felt someth-“
Sniffing, Yui clung to Kotobuki Tsumugi’s jacket and tried to explain what just happened. Her one and only friend visited the church frequently to check up on her. The kind blonde could surely help out this hurt stranger, right? After all, she’s been trying to help the brunette regain her memories.
“The summon was incomplete, resulting in her injured state from whichever dimension she came from,” Mugi murmured with unusual solemnity and tipped her hat.
Yui blinked as a pretty blonde materialized beside them. Her golden hair was tied in drill-like pigtails and she was carrying a pink mouse plushie. The toy hopped off her arms though, and seemed to watch patiently as the newcomer immediately kneeled down and placed her hand above the unconscious girl. A captivating glow began to form in her palm and the gash on the red-haired girl’s cheek slowly but surely began to heal.
“Sakura-san… how did you get here?”
“You know her, Mami-chan?”
“Yes, she is also a mahou shoujo like me, Ojou-sama.”
“Ne ne, what’s going on, Mugi-chan?” Yui looked between them with her eyebrows furrowed.
“There’s much to tell you, Yui-chan,” the blonde stood up and slightly pulled down her hat so her eyes were hidden in its shade. “Perhaps your memories will return sooner than expected…”
“Really? That’s great!”
Mugi smiled at her enthusiasm, though it looked sad for some reason. “We will merely observe for now, at least until Lancer here has recovered. So far, all the Servants have been summoned except for Assassin, but I suspect that will not take long.”
“You mean…” Mami’s golden eyes dimmed. “All the pieces are in place?”
Yui tilted her head incomprehensively when her friend nodded curtly and turned away.
“Let the Holy Grail War begin.”