Chapter 1: Heal
Karna knows that it’s not the ties they share with their lore-steeped country that draws him to Ganesha. He had always respected the god, but if he must be honest (and he must, he knows no other way to yank his own words out), what he feels when he gazes at her isn’t such a heavy sense of reverence so much as it is… nostalgia. Fondness. Concern. A powerful urge to interfere and guide and protect and learn from and remain close to and…
Frustration, that he can’t grasp the truth in his hands when normally he looks upon an individual and understands the verity of their very being within seconds. With Ganesha, however, it’s his own feelings that make no sense. Karna can still tell that she’s hiding something from him, but for once, he can’t tell exactly what it is-- no, he corrects himself, he knows that what she hides is the reason for her familiarity with him and the nature of a relationship that has casually candid words tumbling out of him without him realizing it.
He wants to know. A strange desire and one that doesn’t appear to fit in with his drive to help others or the gratitude he gets when a good fight appears before him, but Karna chooses not to reflect on the unusualness of it beyond quiet acknowledgement. He wants to know what Chaldea’s Ganesha, the girl harboring an Indian god, means to him.
But that is to be set aside for now, because what he would like to know currently is why Ganesha is hobbling down the hall, her outfit dingy and scuffed and the god herself bearing a square bandage on one cheek and a darkening bruise on the other; several other bandages (smaller) litter her skin and the look on her face all but wails that she would like to close herself in her room for the next twelve hours or so and be done with it. Such a thing is a feat that most combat-ready Servants would balk at, but Ganesha possesses a powerful ability to remain unmoving without her muscles protesting. Truly remarkable.
However, her current company is none other than Ozymandias, and the pharaoh is in good spirits and as loud as ever. Certain members of royalty, Karna has come to discover, are quite skilled in their ability to project their thoughts at great volume. Perhaps to ensure that they are heard by their people and to evince confidence.
He doesn’t need to go closer in order to hear those loudly reverberating words, but he moves in that direction anyway. Again, the urge to protect feels a bit like coals in his throat-- which is foolish, because Karna would be the first one to solemnly declare that Ganesha is a capable Servant (when she tries, when she believes his words). She doesn’t need his help.
But he wants to be over there.
“I had believed your bulk to be an indicator of your slovenly nature,” Ozymandias is saying jovially as Karna approaches, “but to use it to shield me-- hahahaha, most excellent! I see your time spent with the other pharaoh has bestowed upon you a proper appreciation of the sun!”
Ganesha receives a hearty slap to the back and lets out a cry akin to a startled piglet, making a grab for her forcefully dislodged glasses.
“A-ah, well,” she mumbles, “this Ganesha-san is a god of removing obstacles… by, y’know, becoming an obstacle sometimes, and you were like twenty minutes into that otoge-worthy monologue about your wife--”
“Nefertari!” Ozymandias booms rapturously. “Her perfect countenance, calling to mind the flawlessness of the lotus flower, the glimmering dark promises within her eyes, made dewy should she discover a mark upon me-- but though I should never give her cause to shed tears, precious jewels that they are, to feel her lips brushing over my skin like adventurous butterflies would heal any wound in a mere instant, nay-- mere breadths of an instant! Why--”
Ganesha’s eyes squint and finally focus on Karna (he can’t fault her, she’s yet to replace her glasses for righteous fear that Ozymandias may yet still knock them off once more); she brightens and the coals in his throat slide down to his chest, warming it almost uncomfortable.
“Karna-san, there you are! Look--” She turns eagerly to Ozymandias, gesturing rather dramatically to Karna. “I promised to meet with him, important Indian business, so I gotta--”
Karna blinks. “I don’t recall any such promise. If I have forgotten, I apologize. You had need of me, Lord Ganesha?”
For some reason he can’t place, Ganesha looks more like she’s glaring now. Ah, he’s offended her. Again, he must not have used enough words… he really must continue to work on that. She had taken great pains to ensure he knew of his greatest weakness, after all.
Ozymandias merely laughs (loudly) and departs with a wave of his hand, striding further down the hall and calling for Nitocris. In the silence that follows, made all the more obvious by the pharaoh’s absence, Karna takes the opportunity to look his shorter companion over.
As he’d first noted, she’s clearly been fighting, which might be more than half the reason why she looks so grumpy now. He harbors no hope that he has nothing to do with her scowl, but there’s hardly a point to asking about it now. Instead, Karna frowns and gently grazes his fingers over that bruise on her cheek; Ganesha flinches with a minute hiss, and he contritely draws his hand back.
“You had need of me?” He asks once more. “I am here now. But you should tend to your wounds first. You were never fond of pain, even if that isn’t your biggest fear.”
Ganesha fiddles with her glasses as Karna is once again assailed by perplexity from his own statement. It’s accurate to say that Ganesha isn’t ever thrilled to be dragged along into training simulations or other missions, but he says it - all of it - so matter-of-factly that he thinks once more that he must know this almost intrinsically. The human Ganesha has chosen as a vessel prefers flight over fight and dreads being alone. And he had somehow known that before she had ever opened her mouth and spoken to him after her summoning.
It’s troubling, but she’s speaking now, something about an “Alter Ego” and “who’re you calling a masochist” and Karna listens; he cannot help if he cannot listen, even if he doesn’t quite understand.
“Anyway, I don’t know what that Master expected, dragging me off to help that hottie… pretty sure he could’ve handled it by himself. I’m a lazy Servant, you know? Better suited to the kind of fights you have a controller for. Stuff like this was just a major pain for the great Ganesha-san!”
“But you found a sense of accomplishment in being forced to interact and assist your fellow Servant,” Karna counters mildly, and keeps his lips a thin line when Ganesha stomps a foot in weary aggravation. He shouldn’t smile; he knows she’s displeased whenever he points out the true nature of her complaints.
But it’s difficult to resist.
“You’re no longer as incompetent or lazy as you would have us all believe, ◼◼◼. Though I also believe you could stand to continue improving.”
Something emerges naturally, but his ears don’t register it and he doesn’t know what shapes his lips form… but Ganesha looks at him and her lip trembles and Karna feels his chest heat up once again-- this time in dismay because he must have said something upsetting. Or, if not, then perhaps--
“Is it your bruise?” He starts to reach out again and Ginesha rapidly shakes her head.
“No. No! Ugh, Karna-san, you’re doing that fussing thing again! I’m fine, this sort of thing just needs, like, a home remedy like what that pharaoh said, only not as… poetic or whatever. Actually, scratch that. It’ll be gone in no time and don’t you dare tell that snake doctor or the psycho nurse, got it?”
“I understand,” he replies, and he does. She’s right that she likely doesn’t need actual medical attention from two Servants very devoted to their craft, and if she says a home remedy will suffice…
Karna moves just enough to catch the hand holding her glasses, guaranteeing she won’t drop them when he leans forward and lightly brushes his lips over the bruise on her cheek. Sure enough, he feels her hand jerk in shock and her wordless exhalation is even more surprised.
“I am not Ozymandias’ wife,” he announces, moving back and releasing Ganesha’s hand as she gapes up at him. “Nor am I particularly well-versed in Egyptian healing techniques, but if you believe such a gesture will help ease the pain, I will offer my services.”
Ganesha continues to stare, then slips her glasses on, coughs loudly into her palm after several attempts to speak… and groans.
“You seriously... you don’t change at all, Karna-san. You still take everything far too seriously and you say things that of course everyone around you is going to misunderstand and then where will you be?! Your answer!!”
She… doesn’t appear to be angry, but she also doesn’t appear to be pleased, so Karna answers rather automatically.
“I will continue to learn from my mistakes, as you are kind enough to continue to educate me when I err. Would you prefer roll cake or…”
“... If you continue that sentence and include a bath or trail off suggestively, I’m revoking your Ganesha-san blessing rights.”
“... I’m sorry?”
Ganesha snorts, but she starts walking again, and she doesn’t glower or tell him to go away when he falls into step alongside her.
Karna doesn’t understand his connection to Chaldea’s Ganesha, but that it’s there at all is something he thinks ought to be cherished. So he does.
Chapter 2: Merman
Jinako nearly drowns, but is rescued by an unlikely source.
Here we are again, me getting in what writing I can before Life eats me alive. Today's piece is inspired by this art, and while I have never written a Mermaid AU, there's no time like the present, right?
I worked in a murder plot due to a follow-up picture the artist did recently, I'm here for it.
Thank you to everyone who's still reading! I promise one day I will write a more serious piece for this collection but this ain't it.
Comments are my lifeblood, kudos also warm my heart.
The one great thing (of many) about staying indoors is that, short of a drunken whim to sleep in an overflowing bathtub, there is a 0.000000000009% chance of drowning.
Jinako, however, isn’t in her cherished room right now. Instead, the frigid darkness of the ocean pushes at her from all sides and no matter how desperately she struggles, the water refuses to give way and let her surface.
The how, she knows, is simple, because it’s not like she threw herself off the cliff overlooking the ocean. She’d joked about that in the last raid she’d participated in when they’d fought the Leviathan, something about how she’d never stand a chance in the real ocean but in a fight like this, the great Jinako was unbeatable.
Definitely not so much here; she can’t swim.
The why is foggier, and not just because the lack of air is affecting her panicked brain even more. She had felt a push before she’d plummeted into the sea, too startled to scream and just fortunate enough not to hit any rocks upon contact.
Come to think of it, although now is a terrible time to have thoughtful epiphanies, lately… it’s felt like someone was watching her. A prickling feeling at the back of her neck at the convenience store, that same discomfort when she’d opened the door to get her newest game…
It doesn’t really matter now. In the end, Jinako is going to die, and if she’s very lucky and God doesn’t immediately shun her for her worthlessness and her lack of contributions to a productive society, maybe she’ll be seeing her parents again very soon.
Maybe it’s one last desperate and creative spurt from her imagination, but the pressure in the water feels like it’s changing. There’s a new weight around her waist and a soft clicking sound.
Deciding right then and there that she doesn’t want to watch herself be devoured by dolphins, Jinako goes limp and lets the darkness wrap her up as swiftly as it pleases.
The angel that greets her when she opens her eyes is very… damp and incredibly pale. It - he? - has long bangs that are currently dripping down onto her forehead because the angel is looming over her and looking very pensive and solemn while gazing upon her with admittedly very pretty eyes and if this was a CG, it would be followed by a kiss--
Then a sharp blow to her stomach acts as the second greeting and Jinako instantly folds in half, rolling to the side to heave and cough up water. The texture that greets her hands is rough, but when she blearily looks further up, she can see the ocean looking deceptively peaceful all around her.
“It would seem I used the proper amount of force. Good. You will continue to live beyond these waters.”
The not-angel speaks quietly and Jinako gives her glasses a mostly ineffective once-over with one wet sleeve. She’s not dead, and he seems to have been the one who saved her, but what a weirdo he’s turned out to be. Blurred lenses weren’t the reason for the unusual color of his eyes and he’s shirtless, but then again… the majority of guys who went to the beach were.
Then again, the majority of guys didn’t have some kind of red gem that looked to be embedded in their chests and they didn’t really wear bright gold bracelets on their arms and they also didn’t have an elegant looking fish tail casually hanging out of the water.
“Are,” Jinako croaks, wondering if she should actually be working up a scream instead, “are you, maybe, filming out here? I mean, you can just leave me here on the rock and get back to work on whatever movie or sentai show you’re doing and--”
The half-naked man offers up only a blank stare, obstinately refusing to pick up on her silent pleas for a sensible answer as the tail lifts itself further out of the water. The scales catch the light of the sun, shimmering in varying shades from pale blue to periwinkle to silver. “My only task at the moment is removing that which does not belong in this sea. Once you have recovered, I will return you to shore. Perhaps returning to your natural habitat will restore your ability to move about with grace and dignity.”
“Your spasmodic flailing about of your limbs and the subsequent contortions did not convey any manner of confidence,” the stranger continues helpfully.
“I get it, I get it, you don’t have to go into a play-by-play reenactment!” For as cold as the water had been, Jinako’s face burns hotly to contest it. “Look, I don’t know who or what you are, but--”
“Ah, forgive me.” Surprisingly, he looks vaguely subdued. “I have never spoken with a human before. You may call me Karna and I am what your kind would call a merman. I know what you are, but I have yet to know who you are.”
Nobody that great or mythical, Jinako thinks, keeping that thought to herself because even she can recognize it would sound more hysterical than she’d prefer. She can’t think about it too much-- she can’t, acknowledging she just got rescued by a mermaid… merman while in the process of drowning because someone had shoved her into the ocean--
One nearly translucent hand rests on her knee, bringing her back to the moment. The guy - Karna - doesn’t look all that concerned, but there’s a patient steadiness to his gaze. He flips his hand over, revealing her trademark red bow on his palm, and Jinako takes it automatically.
“Jinako,” she says, finally. “Thanks, I guess… for saving me.”
A soft hum is released. “Jinako,” Karna murmurs, and there’s a strange weight to her name when he says it. Like to him, this is the most important part of all of this. “I will remember that. “
He pushes himself up a little further onto the rock, examining her and her dripping clothes with placid curiosity. His hands follow closely behind, tapping against her leggings, rubbing the sleeve of her jacket.
“I had mistakenly thought that your garments were weighing you down and making you more difficult to carry.” Karna curls his thin fingers into the soggy scarf still wrapped around Jinako’s neck. “But they appear to be lighter than expected. I suppose it’s merely that your density more closely resembles that of a leopard seal within its first few months.”
Savior or not, the only thing keeping Jinako from shoving that head under the waves is the fact that Karna can breathe down there just fine.
“Are all mermaids this rude?” She grumbles, and Karna’s eyes flick up to her. His lips part slightly.
“It wasn’t my intention to insult you. I held no prior expectations, after all. Are humans not as different as all life in the sea? I am not displeased with you or your appearance.” His shoulders slump. “Again, I apologize. Arjuna says I am terrible at speaking cordially.”
Whoever this Arjuna is, Jinako’s inclined to agree with them. Karna does look like he’s regretting his words, though, and again, there’s the fact that he had saved her life. The great Jinako can be all-forgiving and benevolent, probably. “I’d definitely say work on it. Make it a life goal or something.”
“I will improve myself,” Karna promises earnestly. “We will speak again. For now… can you swim, Jinako?”
To that, she shudders. “No. Never learned, kind of don’t feel the urge to change my class and level that skill right now either.”
“I understand some of that. Then, as stated, I will return you to land.”
This, as it turns out, means that Karna wraps one arm around her waist and hauls her back into the water without bothering to ask for permission. Even though Jinako releases a strangled shriek and finds about five new insults to call him in the span of thirty seconds, he makes sure her head stays above the waves; it’s only a matter of minutes before her boots scuff against sand and he’s released her to push her into a stagger towards the beach.
“Try to refrain from falling into the sea again,” Karna advises, pushing his hair back behind his ears. A second later, his bangs slip free again and obscure his eyes, prompting an unamused grunt. “I will…” He nudges the hair away once more. “... FInd an opportunity to speak with you in less threatening circumstances.”
Jinako seriously doubts that, because she really doesn’t think she’ll be leaving her home again for at least another month. But Karna’s hair appears to be causing him some level of annoyance-- which makes sense, because he’s likely underwater all the time and hair tends to float away from the face.
On some whim she doesn’t really get, maybe the plaintive cry of unanswered loneliness…
Jinako turns around, splashing back to the merman. The hand still grasping her bow slides into his hair, pinning the looser strands to the side.
“There,” she says triumphantly, as Karna reaches out to feel the bow with widened eyes. The worst thing is that, although she’d anticipated it would look ridiculous, it does nothing to make him look less attractive. Of course. “This is a key item and if you lose it or break it, you can’t progress any further. Take good care of it, I’ll want it back.”
In response, Karna places one hand over that weird gem in his chest and inclines his head.
“Your generosity will be answered with my solemn pledge to protect it. Until we meet again, Jinako.”
His tail flicks up and he’s gone, leaving Jinako to her own arduous task of wading out of the water, making her dripping way back home, and googling “weird pale mermen” in the hopes of understanding what the hell had happened and if she was about to be cursed for making some kind of pact with a skinny fish person. There’s this feeling that no matter what she does, she’s definitely going to see Karna again; it’s better to be safe than sorry.
(It gives her a lot of porn hits and she gives up and returns to her games.)
Chapter 3: Nightmare
You can't run from dreams. Jinako is forced to acknowledge that. Spoilers for Lostbelt 4.
Well, I gave it a shot at writing something a little more raw, even though I'm sure it will be back to shenanigans by the next chapter. This chapter was inspired by this piece! I feel like I took a lot of artistic liberties here, oops...
Once again, please support the artist and all kudos and/or comments are much-loved and appreciated!
“Wait,” she begged. And, again, “wait” and once more, frantically, “don’t do it, wait--”
Devastation and nothingness greedily lunged forward to engulf that brilliant light, unable to truly appreciate the sacrifice he so easily - always - made of himself. To Karna, placing others before himself was an act as natural as popping open a bag of chips: no real thought to it, mere instinct, acceptance of what awaited at the end.
He smiled when she sobbed out his name, his attention inexplicably on her rather than the death an uncaring yet all-judging god swiftly flung his way.
“You and I will surely meet again somewhere.”
Please don’t leave, I only just saw you again, you can’t--
“Don’t make that face. I leave Master in your care.”
Karna’s smile was barely visible before her tears and the roar of the Shadow Border transitioning elsewhere (leaving him behind) blotted it out.
It wasn’t Ganesha who woke up with a hoarse wail and a nose that burned from tears, but Jinako. The god within her was silent as she choked on a miserable noise, but there was this irritating sense of knowing that emanated from deep within. Of course he knew very well that she remembered and that she had chosen to breezily laugh it off like all she wanted was to laze around and play games, because that was how Jinako Carigiri was.
She hid. She hid and she ran.
So it made sense that she would face what she shuddered to recall when her guard was lowest.
“Using a cheat like that is unfair to the highest degree,” Jinako rasped; her voice continued to splinter in the silence of her room, but somehow her rodent companion slept on. “The only one getting dreams about that guy now... should be the Master, right? I’ve done my time, there is no New Game Plus!”
Another thing she had never talked about with her Servant, when he had been her Servant-- not until the end when, trembling, she’d told him that she knew what he’d wanted, how he had been treated so poorly due to his caste, how his mother had approached him far too late to prevent the inevitable. She’d watched him die a dishonorable death.
He had deserved more than that. Just as he had deserved more than to sacrifice himself for the sake of a nobody who had never accomplished anything and held no value to anyone. And he had once again smiled as he had when he’d told her to live, another promise stated that felt irrefutable in its simplicity.
Jinako slumped off her mattress, pressing her bracelet-laden wrists to her eyes; cold metal combated the damp heat of her face.
The feeling flooding her now had been her constant companion in the days following her parents’ deaths. The panic of waking up from a dream of blood-tipped fingers that had reached out far too late, lengthening shadows of those with their backs turned to her, and the momentary relief upon accepting that it was only a dream-- but also having to come to terms with the reality, that she was still so alone.
Just like back then, her thoughts sought to anchor her with reassurances (for once not falsehoods), even as she cringed further onto the floor. The sound of her own harsh breaths made her ears hurt.
I’m fine. I’m fine. Karna-san is here. He’s not dead. You’re not alone. You’re not that same girl anymore. He’s still here. He’s here.
He was no longer her Servant, their lives linked-- and yet he knelt in front of her as though it was only natural that he’d be there, a slight downward curve of his lips when he plucked her off the floor by her hips and hefted her up with a (completely unnecessary) grunt of effort to plunk her on the bed’s edge. Then he was back on those bony knees of his, contemplating her but not offering a single word of explanation.
Of course not.
“... Why are you here?” Jinako finally broke the silence and Karna’s sigh was soft.
“You called me.” He hesitated, a troubled shadow entering his eyes, then turned so that his back rested against the side of the bed. “No… that isn’t quite correct. You did not utter my name, but I still… why did I…?”
Jinako let herself slip back into Ganesha, even as her fingers shook. “It’s pretty rude, Karna-san, to bust into a lady’s room without knocking. Not very charitable, you’ll definitely have to take an L for that one.”
“I wouldn’t know what to do with a single letter, but I am still far beyond your peerless wisdom, Lord Ganesha.” Karna bowed his head, but then added, “I did knock, but you appeared to be too distressed to hear me. Even now… you don’t seem well.”
He wrapped his longer fingers around hers, murmuring something to himself as he brought her hand down to his arm and held it in place. When Jinako peered at him, he stared back, unfazed.
“You were trembling. I don’t know how to ease your tears, but the sun is capable of warming anything.”
“That’s such a protag line it hurts,” Jinako informed him, but Karna was right; the warmth of his hand and the rest of him felt like it was radiating, sinking into her-- and that was proof enough that he was here. The tears pushed themselves free again and she lowered her head, dropping her cheek onto his unfairly soft hair. When she dragged in a breath, she could feel it fragment into little emotional shards, and Karna leaned into her almost instantly.
“This must not be enough. I--”
“N-no,” she cut him off, giving up on the pretense that she was fine-- if just because he’d already seen her at her messiest at this point. She was nowhere near ready to explain, and probably never would be, but… he wasn’t asking her to explain. He just wanted to help.
“This is-- it’s enough. Trust me. Just… keep this between us. Okay?”
Karna hummed, but didn’t move. “Understood.”
Jinako didn’t know how long they sat there like that, but Karna held her hand for the entirety of it and didn’t say a single word until she recovered her sense of embarrassment again and pushed him out of her room with a shrill insistence that she needed her beauty sleep.
There were no dreams awaiting her this time, just that same warmth from before, wrapped around her like a blanket.
Chapter 4: Orders
Karna wants but chooses not to act on the want. Ritsuka takes matters into her own hands.
Today's chapter was inspired by this piece! It was such a cute comic that I didn't want to just do its written alternative, so I wrote the lead-up to it instead. In my Chaldea, Ritsuka is a wingman (wingwoman?) through and through.
Kudos and comments are loved, but thank you for reading regardless!
Ritsuka is no stranger to pining (though, thankfully, not her own). She sees it in the wistful smiles Irisviel gives to the back of the hooded Assassin, hears it in Tamamo’s singsong tone when she announces that her heart will never be given to another, feels it when she promises Rama she’ll do her best to reunite him with Sita and he squeezes her hand heartbreakingly carefully.
Astolfo, bounding after Sieg to catch him by the hand and drag him down the hallway. Ozymandias, cradling a flower in his hand. Gilgamesh, brooding over his third golden cup of shimmering wine. Hijikata-- no, she amends, watching him sidle over to Carmilla to talk of torture methods, that’s just a Hijikata thing.
But never once had she expected to add Karna to the list of piners. Worse, unlike the others, he has yet to seem to realize it. He has no clue that his eyes track Ganesha across the room as Parvati cheerfully steers her to a table for what she calls “vital socializing”. He is always the first to inquire about how the Moon Cancer had fared when Ritsuka returns, adding in his own flat but entirely sincere opinions that he thought more fighting opportunities were good for her but that she needed to be watched vigilantly.
Most damningly, Ritsuka has spotted him wandering closer to Ganesha more than once-- only to catch himself, make some soft troubled noise that for anyone else would be a distressed whine, and move on. It’s usually over to her, to ask her if she has any need of him or to see if anything is currently causing her problems. He fusses over her health, reminds her to exercise regularly and eat proper meals, and when he looks past her and Ganesha has made her surprisingly stealthy escape…
Ritsuka would never have thought to compare the Hero of Charity to a dog grabbing a ball out of the air, only to turn around and see that its owner had gone inside-- but that is exactly what Karna looks like. A dejected saluki with stupidly beautiful eyelashes.
Mentally apologizing to the people of India for thinking such a thing about a warrior of the Mahabharata, Ritsuka decides something has to be done. But she has to be subtle about it; falsehoods don’t work on Karna. He’ll see right through any excuse, so whatever she says, it has to be somewhere in the realm of subtlety and “oh my god please just go hang out with Ganesha already, you’re dangerously close to writing tormented poetry about your confused feelings and I’m nowhere near ready to deal with that from anyone other than Shakespeare.”
Preferably closer to the first point, because the last thing she needs is Shakespeare catching wind of this and penning an entire play on Karna’s inability to socialize.
Luckily, Karna isn’t difficult to locate. Rather, as soon as she sets about with renewed purpose to find him (after a day of rehearsing what not to say), he approaches her first.
“Karna,” Ritsuka says blankly-- then catches herself, snapping her heels together and straightening her back. “Karna!! Perfect timing, you’re just who I wanted to see!”
As impassive as ever, without so much as a twitch of a facial muscle, the Lancer nods. “I am aware. Nursery Rhyme sought to inform me that you were looking troubled and mumbling my name and something pertaining to dogs and cursed plays.”
“That’s-- okay, duly noted, I need to keep my running commentary in my head where it belongs.” Ritsuka pinches the bridge of her nose, flapping her free hand like a, eagerly gossiping swan. “Anyway, that part’s not important. I have an order for you.”
A large part of her feels bad for wording this like a demand… but she knows from experience that telling Karna to do what he likes just results in him pointing out that what he wishes to do is serve his Master and they end up going around in charitable circles until she gives up.
“What is it you wish of me, my Master?” Loyal to a fault, Karna doesn’t even hesitate. “It shall be done.”
For one tempting moment, Ritsuka considers asking him to do something outlandish… like holding a sleepover with Arjuna in matching pajamas. Or learning the choreography of a J-pop song.
But no, she is a just and sensible Master, and she doesn’t feel like particularly dying by Arjuna’s hand. So she shrugs off the temptation. “I need you to watch over Ganesha. Not forever, just for today. I’m a little worried about her and since you know how things run around here…”
She trails off hopefully, but Karna no longer looks like perfectly carved marble. Instead, his thin eyebrows are beginning to resemble a Celtic knot for how intricately they’re twisting together. His lips don’t tremble, nor do his fingers curl towards his palms, but Ritsuka knows too many stoic people to think that this means he’s fine.
“If she has disappointed you in some regard…”
“What? No!” Ritsuka seeks to shut down that course of thought immediately. “She keeps to herself, that’s all! And I think she might be lonely but just not that great at saying it! So I thought maybe some other Indian Servant might be best at getting her to open up and feel more comfortable!”
Karna’s eyebrows slowly ease back into position. “Then… perhaps another one of the Servants, as I may only end up upsetting her unintentionally. Arjuna is skilled with knowing how to approach others. Or--”
“Nope,” Ritsuka blurts out, now more exasperated than desperate. She did not come all this way (even though he’d been the one to come to her) just for Karna to ruin her plans because he thought he was too blunt to be good company. “Sorry, Karna, it’s gotta be you. Your answer?”
“If… that is what you wish. I won’t ask for your reasons, then.” Karna bows his head respectfully. “I shall see your order through, Master. Excuse me.”
He walks briskly away and Ritsuka glows in the warm feeling of accomplishment that she has shoved two of her Servants together for the greater good.
Seven minutes later, it occurs to her that telling Karna to “watch over” Ganesha could very well be construed by him as an order to drag her into a training simulation until she met the bare minimum of his strict requirements.
Two minutes after that, Ritsuka takes a corner at a run, nearly slams into a wall, and staggers over to Ganesha’s room-- only to stop as she hears voices barely audible through the door.
“No.” Karna, unyielding. “It’s Master’s order.”
Ritsuka feels her stomach clench. But then, he continues, a little softer.
“Besides… for some reason, I’ve been wanting to spend some time with you as well. Will that be fine with you?”
Silence; Ritsuka presses her fingers to her mouth.
Ganesha sighs, loudly. “S-stop looking at me like that, Karna-san! If you want to bask in the glory of this great and magnanimous god, I won’t stop you. Be grateful!”
“Truly, as a god’s vessel, you strike me as someone who has a long path ahead of her… I will watch over you while you traverse it, should your girth and impressive laziness slow your progress. I thank you for allowing me to bear witness.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re insulting me with the kindest of intentions…”
Ritsuka draws back from the door as Karna states an apology and Ganesha continues to scold him, smiling to herself. Whatever the relationship the two of them share, she thinks that the least she could do as their Master is to encourage it wholeheartedly. If Ganesha is lonely and Karna wants to be closer to her, there are ways to make it happen.
Besides, there aren’t too many people who can get Karna to react quite like Ganesha can, and Ritsuka is all for what the future holds.
Chapter 5: Solitude
There are some things only a shut-in can do.
It just comes with some... severe drawbacks.
EXTREME SPOILERS FOR LOSTBELT 4!! So if you want to go into that blindly, avoid this chapter.
Shorter and darker than my usual but kind of a different style that I wanted to tackle when I saw the translations. Tentatively based off of this picture, as always please show the artist some love!!
As for me, I accept comments and kudos and good thoughts if you are so inclined. Thank you for reading, I promise the next chapter will be a lot more lighthearted!
Being alone is no big deal. She’s used to being alone-- prefers it, she’d be the first to tell anyone who asked (if anyone inquired, but no one ever has and Karna had simply stood watchfully over her and never asked for the excuses she gustily gave).
No one else can pull this off but her, anyway. What a funny thought, leaving this one big and important bit to the shut-in. She can get through this precisely because she is a shut-in and the prospect of no longer having to run around and fight monsters while trying to survive all-powerful Gods and not thinking about how he is gone… honestly, it sounds pretty damned ideal. She can hole herself up with her games and her solitude and peacefully wait for thousands upon thousands of years to pass and that should do the trick.
Even if she feels a little uneasy-- no, Jinako tells herself, rolling her eyes. She’s just bored. But that’s fine, she’ll play a different game and see how long it takes to beat it. It’s only been… what, thirteen days?
She’ll be fine.
But maybe she’ll track her own progress, just for the hell of it. Her own save files, to look back on.
Your name is Jinako Carigiri, known as Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles, and you are twenty-nine years old. This is easy. You can do this.
Being a god is kind of amazing. So what if she has to stay conscious for (hours, days, months, years, ever) a while? Maintaining two Noble Phantasms is important work but it’s nothing that would make her break into a sweat. In fact, she doesn’t have to move if she doesn’t have to. She can make her own games to pass the time, something she never could have done when she’d been just a human avoiding fighting on the moon.
The current one, she’s imposed restrictions to make it more interesting. Her character can’t level up past 1. She can’t use more than one healing item per dungeon. She won’t recruit any party members, which has nothing to do with the last game, where seeing a group of seven characters running around, having banter, fighting together, talking to each other had made her quit.
It just hadn’t been interesting, Jinako tells herself. She’s not lonely. It’s better like this, a one-player game. With the distant support of a sleeping… what’s-her-face. Right. Lakshmibai.
She frowns; certain faces are a little blurry. She’ll have to make more save files.
Ritsuka. Mash. Asha-chan. Rama. Angry, Angry Ash-chan-san, that’s his name now. Pepper… oni? Heh. Lakshmi. The chubby old guy… eh, he’s not important.
… I guess he’s important.
Jinako sighs, guiding her character through what looks like a never-ending maze.
But the maze will end. It has to. The game can’t progress if the maze never ends.
And this, too, will end one day.
Your name is Jinako Carigiri, also Ganesha, and you are twenty-nine years old plus sixty years and two hundred and eighty-one days. You can do this.
There’s no one here. No one but her. And she can’t keep talking to herself, because the more she hears her own voice, the more she feels like fragmenting. She’s sick of this. Sick of pretending like this is fine when it’s not. Sick of herself. Sick of being here. Sick sick sick sick sick.
But she has to… she has to. What she has to do is a goal growing dimmer in her mind, but she knows she has to do it, and the way to do it is to keep doing what she’s been doing.
Your name is Jinako… seven hundred years and three hundred and twelve days. You have to do this.
Your name is Jinako… ninety-six thousand years… you have to…
Your name is… right, Jinako… don’t forget your own name. Papa gave it to you. It’s been years and years and years and years and WHY ISN’T ANYONE COMING WHY JUST ME WHY AM I DOING THIS WHY WHY WHY but I… have to. Do this.
Your name is…
… What is my name? You… you… are...
She doesn’t want to move, so she doesn’t.
The scream is all around her, inside of her, squeezing her tightly in a sound that no one will ever hear. Unending. Just like this darkness-- all of this.
She wants to die. She wants to be saved. But she can’t do either of those things on her own, and there’s no one here to do it for her, no one who had answered her pleading and begging until there were no longer any words. There’s something else she has to do, something that isn’t calling out in the hopes that someone will respond, when they never have.
There’s… a promise, she has to keep. To… “meet again”.
Someone wants to meet her. Again. She can’t die before then. She can’t sleep, she has to keep doing “this”. Whatever “this” is, it means she’ll meet that someone at the end of eternity.
It means… eternity has to have an end.
She will do “this”. They promised.
And they would never lie.
They don’t have time for much (ironic, she still has to stop herself from counting every second), but Karna cups her tear-streaked face in his hands and gently brushes his thumbs under her swollen eyes and quietly (proudly) repeats that she, Jinako Carigiri, did a splendid job.
And Jinako Carigiri sobs unapologetically while beaming because she did.
She kept their promise and so did he.