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Glass Coffin

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            I think it’s the air turbulence that wakes me up.
            There’s no helping that.
            It was already all we could do to afford such a long-distance flight, so it’s not like this is a first-class ride or anything.
            But I’m stiff from the abrupt awakening and from sitting in the hard seat for so long without being able to move.

            Over my head, the seatbelt sign is on.
            Looking through the window, I can see that we’re through the veil of clouds, and I can make out individual buildings if I squint, so it seems like I’m almost here.
            …Finally.
            It’s going to be a bit of a hassle getting through the airport, I’m sure, but after that it’ll just be a bus ride or so to the hotel and I can relax for a while.
            I can’t stop rubbing my fingers over the red mark on my hand.
            Even once I make it to the hotel that’s already been booked, I’ll still have to scope out a place where I can complete the summoning without too much of a hassle.
            And on top of that, I won’t be able to do so today because I’ll be dealing with jet lag and my magic will have to acclimate to the air of the new country.
            But I’m going to run out of notebook pages if all this dealing with people doesn’t come to a stop soon.
            Unfortunately, sign language is different from country to country, and it’s not like I can actually bring my familiar out to speak for me in front of ordinary people who don’t know anything about magic. So all I can do is write to communicate with others.
            I watch the ground get closer through the airplane window and sigh.
            The sound of air rushing through my throat and nose is one of the loudest sounds I can make.
            There’s no helping that.
            But everyone in the village was used to it and whenever there was someone who didn’t know enough sign language to understand me, I could always use my familiar to get things across.
            So going through a bunch of non-magical strangers with a pad of paper is pretty tiring.
            The airport I left from wasn’t so bad because Vilgo-sama was with me to help talk to the people who worked there, but from now until I get back home I’m on my own.
            …I brought more than one notebook, but I really hope this will be enough.

 

            “—”
            I’ve heard that in Japan there’s a saying about happiness escaping you whenever you sigh.
            But since unhappiness is often the cause of sighing and there are only so many different ways to express your dissatisfaction, I wonder what you’re actually supposed to do about that?
            …Well, anyhow.
            After being jostled around by lots of tall people in a rush, I’ve at least managed to successfully pick up my stuff and check in with my passport.
            There’s thankfully a note on my ID and such that I’m not able to speak, so people I’m trying to get information out of haven’t been too nonplussed when I try to talk to them over my notebook.
            It’s just kind of draining going through the routine of taking out my passport for officials, having to re-write down that I can’t do JSL, yes, really, but I can hear just fine, and then writing back and forth on paper.
            This would be so much easier if I could just use sign language or have my familiar be a go-between. And my familiar isn’t necessarily the best message purveyor, because he’s not very intelligent—sometimes he’ll decide to echo my random thoughts, and sometimes he’ll just reply out loud to my thoughts instead.
            But writing is slow and after a while it makes my hands hurt.

            Thankfully, I don’t need to talk to anybody on the bus.
            Maybe at this specific time traffic on buses is low, because I’m able to get a window seat with no problems.
            So I can spend the trip looking outside.

            …I meant to just confirm the way as I go, but—
            Somehow I wind up getting caught up staring at the scenery.
            Well, not “somehow”, I guess.
            …It’s just that the buildings sure are tall in Japan.
            I’ve been to cities before plenty of times in my own country.
            We’re not that impoverished as a whole, even though my people’s own village has much older and smaller buildings and fewer resources.
            But our tall buildings are maybe ten floors high at most.
            This is the first time I’ve seen a skyscraper up close.

            …And the people are all really lively.
            We pass by marketplaces on the bus, and there are people standing and talking to the vendors, and no one looks aggressive or frustrated.
            It’s not that I’m in the city all the time.
            But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crowded street look this calm before.
            Back home—people would be more wary of others passing them, and haggling over goods would often turn into an argument.
            The only thing is that here, everyone looks the same.
            …In the city—in the city around the old, old castle, the people and their clothes and wares are a lot more colored and varied.
            But then, I guess Japan doesn’t have the same big ethnic mix as where I live.
            It explains the lack of tension, but it also feels a little bit listless somehow.

            Finally.
            After a twenty-minute ride on the bus, I get my suitcases and arrive at the hotel.
            It’s a little difficult to get into the building having to pick everything up, but I manage.
            Someone else who’s leaving holds the door open for me, and I’m able to pull all of my belongings into the wide lower floor of the hotel.
            …I’m not sure what you would call this kind of room.
            The carpets are all red, and the lighting is soft and golden.
            The people behind the desk are smartly uniformed.
            I pull my things to the check-in area.
            I press the silver bell and get out my notebook.
            …I have to stand on my toes to get my head and shoulders above the tall counter, even though I’m wearing big buffalo sneakers with thick soles.

            One of the clerks at the desk comes over.
            It’s a bit annoying as my side of the conversation has to be conducted over paper, but I show my identification and receive the keys to my room.
            I’m offered assistance in getting everything up, as my room is on the seventh floor.
            It’s kind to say so, but it will be inconvenient for me if someone does decide to try to help me, so I just shake my head.

            I’m given directions to the elevator, so I cart my luggage all the way there.
            …All the reservations were made long ahead of time, and a lot of them by Vilgo-sama and the Magic Association people, but even so.
            That’s a lot of professionalism, to not look askance at a fifteen-year-old girl who’s rented an expensive suite all by herself for over two weeks’ time.
            Especially because I know I look younger than I actually am.
            They say that fifteen is the age when mandatory schooling ends in Japan, and that it’s even possible to be emancipated and get married at that age, but it seems as though you aren’t considered a legal adult and allowed to do a lot of things until you turn eighteen or twenty, like in a lot of other countries.
            I wonder what led to the discrepancy in those ages as I ride the elevator upstairs.

            “—”
            And, finally, I reach my room.
            …It’s a big suite that’s about the size of a small apartment.
            There are two bedrooms, a small living area with a kitchen, and a bathroom and a smaller room with a toilet right next to it.
            …It feels a little bit too big.
            This is about half the space in Vilgo-sama’s house, and his house is the biggest one in the whole village.
            It makes me nervous, as if the grandeur of the room is a blatant reminder of how important my job here is.

            “—”
            Anyway, I slowly open up my suitcases and line them up against the wall.
            One has clothes and personal things, and my bag has all of my identification things and money inside.
            Inside the other suitcase is a collection of materials that I will use to make my magecraft,
            as well as a small cage like one would use to contain a small cat or dog.

            I lift the cage out of the suitcase and set it on the floor.
            This hotel suite has large windows that can be opened, and a small terrace.
            It’s cold right now, so I don’t think any other people staying at this hotel will be using theirs, but it’s convenient for me to be able to open the window.

            Anyhow, I open the wire door to the cage.
            A big black bird with messy feathers hops out like a well-trained parrot.

            …I’m glad this managed to work.
            He’s a familiar, after all, so it’s not like he’d definitely die after being camouflaged and hidden away for several hours, but most upscale hotels don’t allow pets and so he had to be smuggled in.
            I can let him out through the window for surveillance and also so that he won’t cause trouble inside the room, which is good.

            Moja, my familiar, hops up on top of the cage.
            He coos and twitters at me.
            …Probably looking like this it’s hard to tell, but he’s a relatively sophisticated familiar and not only am I able to use him for magical support, I can have him interpret for me because I can speak to him mind to mind.
            Well, at the same time he’s only a bird, so the downside is that anything I have to say might get a little garbled and abbreviated on his end.
            But against a magus who can’t read sign language in a place where we can’t actually write to each other, he’s my best option.
            He has an innate guard against single-action and two-verse magecraft, as well, a blessing that Vilgo-sama gave to us from the first time that I began to display signs of the holy mark.

            …It’s something to be worried about.
            Well, I have a lot of things to be worried about in this war, but at the very least it seems as though I can perform the aria to summon a Servant in my head.
            No matter how much I practice with Moja, there’s always the possibility that filtering the incantation through him would lead to it being spoken inaccurately.

            I sigh.
            For me, that’s really noisy.
            As a magus, this is only a pain when I have to use rituals determined by others.
            While most other people have to activate their magic through incantations, I’ve developed “internal incantation” abilities with help on theory from Vilgo-sama.
            Words, pictures, and concentration of prana through the body… as long as I have those things, then my disability doesn’t hinder my life as a magus.
            It’s my body, my Magic Circuits, and my Magic Crest.
            They can communicate with the prana I process just as easily as I can communicate with people who understand me when I use sign language.

            When I was still small, there were worries that I wouldn’t be able to succeed my mother’s Magic Crest and study as a magus because of my disability.
            Vilgo-sama said that was nonsense.
            There should be no reason I couldn’t as long as I had the proper mind for learning and the power to do so.
            And besides, there is plenty of precedent for a magus losing some of their ability level and still being able to cast magic just fine.
            I’ve heard that words were originally brought into thaumaturgy as a shortcut, to make spells easier to cast.
            There are even great magi who have exploited the system of sounds and language within magic to be able to achieve greater control over the prana they use.
            So, it’s not that much of a leap to take “sounds” back out and make the “language” aspect all internal, and aside from that aspect my magecraft isn’t that different from other people’s.

            Of course, when I was still young and Vilgo-sama had only just adopted me, the adults around me attempted to cure my muteness.
            But there’s actually nothing wrong with my vocal cords and throat.
            …When I was very young, and my parents were murdered—
            Something about seeing that, and being left with the bodies for so long, seems to have sealed off my ability to speak.
            It’s been a little over ten years since that time, but either the trauma was that strong or my body has simply forgotten how to produce sound over the course of that time.
            I honestly can’t remember consciously how to speak even if I felt like trying.
            There are definitely inconveniences to being like this.
            But barring some kind of miracle, it’s how I’m going to spend the rest of my life, so I’ve already accepted it.
            I think I’ve accepted it with a lot more grace than the people around me.

            …Well, then.
            Now that all my things are ready, my last tasks for today are securing dinner and picking a place to do the summoning tomorrow, but…

            I’ve been handed a lot of money for my stay in this city.
            Since it’s money after all, I’d like to conserve as much as possible for emergencies.
            And so that whatever I don’t use, I can take back with me.
            There’s room service here at this hotel, and everything seems to be high-quality from the menu that’s been left here, but at the same time it all seems to be really expensive…
            There’s a kitchen too, so if I were to buy raw ingredients then I could probably cook them.
            But most of the food that I can make is very, very simple, and I’m sure I could get a more nutritious meal by simply buying something that’s already been made.

            So.
            I take out my notebook and flip to a page that already has writing on it, and in the margins I start to write out calculations.
            My stay in this hotel has been booked for three weeks.
            I also have enough food money for slightly longer.
            The war itself should only be two weeks long, but I’ve arrived before the starting bell, and it won’t be certain that I can return to my country immediately after the final day.
            My tickets home aren’t bought yet, and so there’s a certain amount of money that absolutely cannot be touched, which will allow me to purchase plane tickets for the ride back.
            Within the rest of the money available to me, I need to divide it up between the days and decide on a bottom of the line sum for each day.
            If I have ten thousand yen for one day, then I have to try to spend less than ten thousand yen on that day so that I will have more left over whenever something happens.
            The basic rule of life is not to tempt fate, because if there’s a hypothetical that something bad might happen, it’s in fact very likely that that thing will happen.
            And we remember when we breeze past hypotheticals thinking “no way” and things do happen, to encourage ourselves to plan ahead.
            …I’d originally meant to decide on this on the plane, but I wound up falling asleep instead.

            Anyhow.
            After a lot of writing, it appears that I’ll have an upper limit of fifteen thousand yen per day.
            …That’s a lot.
            I can probably make it within ten thousand yen per day as a lot of this was calculated and given to me based on the price of food at this hotel.

            So I put my things away.
            It’s time to go get something to eat, so we’ll be leaving the hotel for a little while.
            I put on my coat, conceal Moja in the inner pocket for now, and take my bag with me as I return to the elevator and then go outside.

            “—”
            It’s half-heartedly cold outside.
            Fuyuki is an area apparently named for its long winters, and here in the city of Shinto I can believe that.
            It’s not snowing, but this is the kind of temperature that I’m pretty sure will last for quite a while.

            I pick up a map and get walking.

            On the other side of the bridge, in the mostly residential district of Miyama, it looks like there is a marketplace with fresh food.
            It’s too late to go there tonight, and so I’ll investigate that during the day some other time.
            Right now, the sun is going down.
            As just another person in a big crowd of people, I look around to locate different restaurants and gauge how much they will cost.

            There’s a lot of variety, as might be expected from a big city.
            Anyway, the upscale restaurants will definitely cost more.
            There are vending machines and such, but their contents are only suitable for snack food.
            They’ll also go on the list of “things to try out later”.

            So, in the end—

            I sit down at a booth in an outdoor ramen stand.
            The awnings are colorful, and the place is set up to offer shelter from the cold wind.
            It seems as though I’m just in time, as this place won’t be open past eight o’clock.
            Even though the food is warm, it will be too cold to stand around outside and make food once the sun has been down for that long.

            I’m able to buy a large bowl with a lot of pointing and some resorting to my notebook to assure the shop owner that yes, I understand Japanese perfectly well.
            I break the cheap wooden chopsticks apart carefully and sit down to eat.

            There are only a few other patrons at the store.
            I guess it’s just unseasonably cold, because everyone is wearing coats and eating quickly.
            …As they talk about things beside me.
            There’s mention of a foreigner who’s taken up residence at the church.

            According to the other people here, it seems that Fuyuki originally had a number of foreigners, but that in the present day there are no longer many.
            They laugh and say things like “maybe the soil of Japan didn’t suit them”.
            But it seems as though the church is different, and usually has someone foreign or of only partial Japanese descent living there.
            The church is past the residential section of Shinto, and is some distance from where I’m going to be staying, but it seems like that’s where the supervisor must live.
            I don’t know how many Japanese magi participate in this ritual, and there’s only very little that I can discover from listening to the conversations of people like these patrons at the ramen stall, who clearly don’t know anything about the hidden goings-on in this city.

            But—the food is at least very good.
            I leave a few extra coins for the vendor as a tip, smile, and am on my way.

            My breath is white in the cold city.
            The skyline looks artificial and generic, and a presence of mystery falls over the land of Fuyuki.
            From what I’ve been told, this city has been ravaged by past wars over and over again.
            Maybe that’s why the nightscape feels so much more lifeless than in my own village.

            —I’m here in this city to take part in a ritual called the Holy Grail War, where seven magi obtain Heroic Spirits as familiars and fight to the death for the right to obtain the Holy Grail.
            No one is sure what the Holy Grail actually is, but it seems that it’s something like a direct connection to Akasha which will give the winner access to great amounts of prana, enough to fulfill any wish.
            The Holy Grail selects and calls seven participants forward to become Masters and fight.
            And on the back of my hand is a mark like an amorphous red bruise.
            When I complete the summoning and obtain my Servant—
            This mark will resolve itself into a holy sign called a Command Spell, which will allow me to give three absolute orders to my Servant when necessary.

            The Holy Grail War is not a well-known ritual, but it’s received just enough attention for us to know what the holy sign was.
            After that, preparations were arranged for me to come to Japan.
            It’s said that the Holy Grail has a will, and only chooses Masters with a reason to fight for it.
            If that’s the case, I’ve probably been chosen in this war in order to obtain the power to lift our curse.

            …It’s—like an old fairy tale.
            Except that real life’s not like a picture book.
            Happiness can only be bought by stealing happiness away from others, and there isn’t a way for everyone to become happy without a “miracle”.
            In order to destroy our hereditary curse, I’ll trample over six other wishes.
            But all the same.
            The way things are in my homeland has gone on for long enough.
            So—

 

            It’s late by the time I make it back.
            At the foot of the building, I stare up at the sky.
            The roof is high.
            If I go up there late at night, I’ll be able to use that area where no one will disturb me to summon my Servant.

            I’m sure I can get up there very early or very late and set up the beginnings of a boundary field, so that only I can enter by tomorrow night.

            I reenter the hotel and go back to my room.
            I have one last major task before I go to bed.

            From inside my suitcase, I remove the “case”.
            …In order to summon a specific Servant, one must use some sort of catalyst connected to the Heroic Spirit.
            Otherwise, you’ll just summon a Heroic Spirit suited to yourself, but there will be no guarantee that the hero you get will be strong.
            In my case.
            The land where I live was once home to a great cataclysm that spawned the birth of a hundred Heroic Spirits all at once.
            So it at least wasn’t too much of a bother to obtain this.
            It’s true that the Servant I summon might not be the strongest.
            But, even more important than that is the fact that we need to be able to communicate and work together.
            I don’t know if I can communicate mind-to-mind with a Servant like I do with Moja, as a Servant is not an ordinary familiar.

            The relic that was granted to me is a fossil of a special kind of fragrant grass.
            This is a plant that’s extinct now.
            But if I use this, then the Heroic Spirit that was connected with this item should respond.

            Tomorrow.
            I’ll announce my intent to join this battle and obtain the proof of being a Master then—