Story: The Sword and the Staff (chapter 24)

Authors: bleeding.blade

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Chapter 24

Title: Chapter 23

She was in her cell, castigating herself in her thoughts, when a familiar voice interrupted her reveries.

"Is your ambition so great that being removed from the Council disturbs you so much?"

She sat up then and faced the Council Master. The expression on the old man's face was unreadable. She looked away.

"I hold nothing against my punishment. In fact, the Council has been far more forgiving than I would have been."

"What is it that dismays you then?"

"How can you ask that?" Rin asked incredulously. "I've just betrayed the Council! I've just betrayed you!"

The Council Master sighed and seated himself across her. "What exactly is it that you've betrayed?"

Rin looked away. "My duty. I acted against the collective wisdom of the Council to honor a personal impulse. I may have jeopardized the entire world by my actions."

"And, pray tell, what was the...personal impulse that caused you to betray the collective wisdom?"

Rin hesitated. When she spoke, her voice was soft. "The thought that perhaps the Council was wrong...The thought that if we sacrifice the happiness of one to protect the world, we have lost the world already."

The Council Master smiled gently. "There is wisdom in what you say, Novice Rin. After all, if we cannot care so deeply for one member of humanity, what makes us think we can care for all?"

" is not our privilege to place one above the rest. And there are times when sacrifices have to be made, especially when duty demands it."

"Ah yes, the necessity of sacrifice and the requirements of duty..." the Council Master chuckled, but there was a note of sadness in the sound. "You and Arturia are so much alike..." he mused with a faraway look in his eyes. "Always, always, it's about duty. Yet I wonder if both of you simply use your responsibilities as a means of shielding yourselves."

For the first time since she had known him, Rin felt anger towards the old man. "How can a duty such as mine possibly be a shield? And what on earth would I be protecting myself from???"

"From the risk and inconvenience of love, Novice Rin."

The quiet matter-of-factness of the statement drew Rin short. She looked at the Council Master's face and knew in that moment that he understood everything.

"I cannot love her..." she said softly, looking away. "She belongs to another, in the same way that I belong to the Council." She looked at the Council Master then, the pain evident in eyes the same shade of blue as his.

The Council Master shook his head. "There is a line where duty ends and love begins. You need to find out for yourself where that line is, Novice Rin. There is only so much I can teach you—and only so much I can protect you from."

"I know." Rin hesitated, then reached out and held the Council Master's hands in both of hers. "And I am grateful, for everything."

He smiled and squeezed her hands in return. "There's something else I came to tell you."

She looked at him expectantly.

"The mastermind behind the efforts to collect the Grail War Weapons including Excalibur was the Novice Master."

She was about to interrupt him with her shocked questions when he raised a hand to silence her.

"I've suspected him for some time but never had any proof. In any case, his intention was to use the Council's resources to obtain Excalibur, and once it was brought back from the past, to smuggle it to another location while supposedly ‘Banishing' it to another Dimension. He actually created a fake portal within the Gate, and Excalibur was supposed to have gone through that portal. I could have sprung my trap then, only," and here the Council Master chuckled, "someone had the audacity to Bind the Sword. In any case," he continued, "after I told the Novice Master that I'd annulled the spell, he tried to steal the Sword again knowing that his fake portal wouldn't stay open much longer. If anyone had confronted him about it, he would have simply justified it by saying that the Sword needed to be eliminated as quickly as possible. Of course, I was waiting for him by then so he didn't get to take Excalibur."

"So what will the Council do with him now?"

The Council Master sighed. "Well, at this moment, nothing. The crafty bastard managed to get away from me—and the worst part is he stole the Key to the Gate and escaped to another Dimension."

Rin paled. "He has the Key???"

The Council Master nodded gravely. "The additional bad news is that with that Key, he can theoretically open other Gates in other Dimensions. The good news, on the other hand, is that a Gate stays open for at least three days—which gives us enough time to send someone to pursue him."

Rin frowned. "Who are we sending?"

The Council Master sighed again. "We're sending you, Novice Rin. As punishment for insubordination, you have been sentenced to pursue the Novice Master across the Dimensions. If you fail to follow him as he passes from world to world, not only will the existence of this world be at stake, but you will be trapped in that particular world as well. The only way to ensure the safety of the world—and the only way for you to return—will be to defeat the Novice Master and take the Key back from him."

She was silent for a long moment. When she finally spoke, it was in a quiet voice.

"As far as duty is concerned, I know I don't have a choice." She looked at the Council Master then. "But this mission is one from which I may never return. And given...what's at stake, I just want to ask you if you think I have a chance."

The Council Master smiled and put his hand on her cheek then. "As the first mage in centuries who has managed to cast a spell of True Magic, I think you know the answer to that, Novice Rin." Then looking her sternly in the eye, he added. "You come from a long and distinguished line of magicians—much longer and much more distinguished than you even suspect. You are the strongest of your blood to emerge so far, and if the Council's motivation in sending you was punishment, my motivation in sending you was trust. You are the only one I can rely on to succeed in this. No one else has the ability to do it."

After a long moment, Rin smiled—though there was a tinge of sadness in her smile.

"It makes me happy to hear that you've placed so much trust in me. And perhaps it's all for the best really...all for the best that I go somewhere far away for a possibly long time..." When she looked at the Council Master again, there were tears in her eyes. "Forgive me, my Lord, but would you allow me a few moments of solitude?"

It was only after she couldn't hear his footsteps anymore that Rin allowed the tears to fall.

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