Medea crawled in the café, her head down looking at her toes. The door behind her stayed ajar. A weak jingle creaked out of the bell and altered the waitress. Even her Saber's fairy voice, gentle like a summer breeze, passed by Medea. Her limp hand held a phone, the text on it aching her in the heart.
‘Dear Medea, I apologize that I cannot arrive on our date. Regrettably, Fujimara is on a sudden sick leave and I have to conduct her class for the day. We will have to postpone our date by an hour.'
Medea had sent an up-pointing thumb - modern people used images instead of text, right? How could she tell her dearest Souichirou that she had already entered the cafe? He would worry about her too much to teach properly and she could never burden him.
"Welcome," Saber said. She walked from behind the bar and smiled, then saw her customer's face. "We are sorry," her voice dropped and she looked lower than Medea, "but there are no free tables at the moment." Fighting the disgust at the depths of her stomach, Saber forced a broad, crooked smile. "But if it is not a problem, you can share with another client."
Saber dartеd to a table next to a window. Medea followed her like a familiar followed a mage, not paying attention to her words. Oh, how would she pass the time?
"I will be waiting for your…" Saber shut her eyes and, gulping down, she finished her sentence. "Your orders." She hid behind the bar and left Medea alone.
With a deep sigh, Medea slumped in an empty booth. An hour? Lying on the table, she looked at the clock on a TV screen above the bar through purple hair strands. Leave? No, guests could leave only when someone replaced them. One of the peculiar rules Medea had agreed to for her Saber Maid. "How long?" she whispered, clenching fists. Nervous fingers played with her hair, tangling it.
Medea was considering summoning Rule Breaker and stabbing all the furniture until the spell broke and the cafe fell apart when someone spoke. "Good afternoon, madam. How do you do?" A young man was sitting in the opposite booth, a full cup steaming coffee in front of him.
Another customer? No! The words of Saber - barely registered - came to haunt her. Had he seen her? When she so pathetic? Should Medea threaten him not to speak? Did they live in the same world? With a bit of luck, their roads would stay apart for the rest of eternity. And yet, if her dear Souichirou somehow learned? Or even worse, her disobedient Assassin. Or - the worst - that aggressive kid at the temple, who had made his mission to expose each disgusting face of Medea?
"Dare not speak about this, mortal! Or you shall face the rage of Medea, the Witch of Betrayal!" She should have taken the staff with her - glowing balls of energy threatened people more - but the bus driver gave disapproving scowls. Would one purple beam work? But if the ran on the street and screamed how she tried to annihilate him…
"Should magic not stay hidden?" Coldly calm, the man looked at Medea. "The angels reject such show-offs."
"What should I hide if you already know?" The purple sparks in Medea's palm dulled their colors.
The man took the cup and set it to his lips. When the coffee touched them, he put it back on the table. "Why did you think I knew before you revealed yourself?"
Medea smirked. "This place serves everybody. No matter where the customer comes from. Even if their worlds must stay apart for eternity. For you to enter - no, to even find the shop, you require a magical talent." A striking lie, but few people knew more than her about the café's precise nature. She simply had not planned to leave a witness.
"Are you a regular? Tell me, please, do they always serve their coffee so hot?" The man looked at the brown liquid as if it burned hotter than dragon blood.
She had revealed the secret about multiple words, and he asked of coffee? Medea's hood fell lower over her face, hiding how she bit her lip. The dull purple magic disappeared.
"Hello? Mrs. Medea?" Whatever answer he expected, Medea surprised him.
"What are you?" She looked at him from head to toe, even bending under the table. Plain clothes, normal shoes, a human body. Yet who would brave on after her words?
"Deep apologies. I should have introduced myself earlier. My name is Lucien Dire, although you might know me as Faust."
Faust? Medea's mind ran through all the Heroic spirits she knew. She pulled away from him, deeper in the booth. "The creator of Mephistopheles?"
He raised his voice. "If I had created him, he would help people instead of causing them suffering! Ah," he caught himself, "apologies again. It seems my version in your world differs from me."
"I ask again," Medea repeated, "what are you? Faust does not exist in the Throne of Heroes. How have you lived so far?"
"The Throne of Heroes?" Faust looked down at the table. "What is that?"
"Impossible." The Throne untied all versions of Earth, formed by her desire to live on - and the humans' desire to live on. "Do you know nothing about the Throne?"
"Nowhere in Heaven or Earth, I have uncovered it, not on a single page in the billions of books."
"Heaven?" Medea frowned. "The afterlife, you mean?"
Faust nodded. "Your world has one, does it not? If His providence has created it…"
"It does not." Medea closed her eyes. Modern magecraft had become a pale copy of its ancient roots, yet it had some pluses. In so many years, the mages had found answers to its secrets, including the most extensive one: the world after death. "The souls enter the Root. They are torn apart and patched into new data. No afterlife, no memory, no mark of you."
"No judgment?" Faust sparkled with curiosity. "How are you alive, then?"
"You might consider it a judgment. It matters not whether you have led a righteous or sinful life. If you have left a mark on humanity - if they retain you as a famous hero - the world will select you. You will have to haunt their memories as a sign of their future."
"Apologies for the question -" Faust still did not look up at Medea "-but Med… Mephistopheles is not a hero. Yet if you have known him, he must…"
"You would have named me," Medea answered. Her glare stabbed Faust like a poisoned needle. "And with a right. How could a witch, who murdered her husband and children for her vengeance live eternally?" With her bitter laugh, her face soured. "Is it my punishment, I wonder? To define the virtuous deeds of heroes by playing their villain forever?"
"It might be your chance of redemption…"
"Redemption!" Medea roared. "What would I not exchange for it? Yet every time my body dies, all memories disappear when my soul returns to the Throne. I could have achieved the redemption unlimited times, yet it will never remain."
"What if the Throne itself disappears?"
Had Medea not pondered the constant question many nights, while her Souichirou was sleeping? "It would only happen when Mystery or the Earth dies. I do not have the power or desire to cause either." She spoke slowly, her words barely registering by her ears. Lair; how many times had she pondered the power needed to kill Gaia?
"I am sorry," Faust said. "There exists a way to release you… If only I knew more about your world!"
Medea laughed gently. They had met in a café and he would risk the world for her! "You resemble him," she whispered. "Thank you."
"Every curiosity has a limit, does it not?" Medea sat up straight and opened the menu. "But I might say if you answer one question."
"It is only fair after all you have described to me."
"Why do you care so much?" Too blunt? Yet Medea had already spoken, and words could not come back. "Few would try to save a person they have just met."
"Gretchen," he whispered like a prayer. "She chose death to atone for my sins, she has always believed in me. If I do not fight for all people; if I do not protect everybody as she supported me, will I have the right to meet her again?" Faust sighed. "She allowed this sinner to enter Heaven the easy way; I have no choice but to repay her with all I have."
Medea hushed. ‘People like you deserve no redemption,' she would have said. Yet was she not looking for similar? An opportunity to become better for the person she loved. Even if she would never earn it, at least one other person deserved a happy ending, did he not?
"I wish you all the best luck. May at least one of us redeem himself." Medea closed her eyes. Few minutes passed in silence.
"Excuse me," Saber's pretty voice snapped Medea to reality, "but one guest is looking for you." She looked at a table in the other corner of the café, where Souichirou had sat at some point.
"I have to go now," Medea said and sat up. Before walking to the table, she turned to Faust. "It was a pleasure, Mr. Dire. I hope we get to speak again."
"I hope, too." Faust smiled. "You have not answered my question, after all."