Chapter 1122: Trying Times

A stark contrast to the warm and comfortable atmosphere that permeated the almost empty Ivory Castle, a cold and stuffy atmosphere was present within a large forum filled to the brim with various affluent and reputable Magi. Only those of a certain amount of status were able to occupy the long rows of seats that surrounded a set of low chairs and podiums at the center of the chamber. They would stand as witness to the trials held by a Tribunal of Magi selected from the various Department Heads through what was supposed to be a random selection. However, fairness was the last thing on the mind of the woman sitting at the very center of an elevated platform that was raised even higher than the viewing stands. She had sleek brown hair, styled in a neat ponytail, and cold brown eyes that showed absolute contempt for the people gathered below…

Fortunately, even for someone as influential and haughty as Barthomeloi Lorelei, the woman presiding over the trial of Lord El-Melloi and Rin, she wasn’t able to strongarm the system to get the other two Judges on her side. Though she had been able to pressure the Director to get her own name confirmed as a Judge, her two counterparts had been selected from the Democratic and Neutral Factions respectively. She had originally tried to get Lord Sophia-Ri on her side, as he held a deep resentment towards Lord El-Melloi II after the latter married his arranged fiancée, Reines El-Melloi Archisorte. The original purpose of their engagement was only meant to further cripple the young Heiress but, after seeing the young girl slowly transform into a beautiful woman, Lord Sophia-Ri had developed a possessive mentality toward her. As he was also considered one of the most coveted and handsome men within the Clock Tower, the fact she had slighted him to marry her own adoptive brother was a smear on his honor he would not soon forget.

Instead of her desired ally, Barthomeloi Lorelei now had to put up with the troublesome Rocco Belfaban, a member of the Neutral Faction and the Head of the Department of Summoning. He was an eccentric and carefree man who had been the Department Head for over sixty years at this point, leading many to refer to him as the ‘remnant of the old guard’. From all accounts, he had been an old man even before his tenure at the Clock Tower but, as he had collected several hundred Mystic Codexes and Summoning Catalysts over the decades, many simply assumed he had one that allowed him to persevere despite rumors claiming he was well over one-hundred years old. To make matters even worse, he was a known associate of Lord El-Melloi II, even though there were few who would claim them to be more than simple acquaintances…

Adding to her headaches, and the primary reason things had been drawn out for nearly two weeks at this point, was the identity of the third Judge. He was a handsome man with soft-blond hair that bordered on being white, possessing clear and gentle eyes of similar color and quality. There was always a smile plastered on his face, even though the Department he Headed, Astronomy, was considered one of the ‘dying’ Thaumaturlogical principles. This didn’t stop him from enjoying a powerful status, however, as he was both the Lord of the Animusphere family and the leader of the Democratic Faction. As a result, he was the man Barthomeloi Lorelei hated more than anyone else, to the point she would often curse his name, Marisbury Animusphere, when she was frustrated. Since he just took this in stride, maintaining his smile through any kind of trouble, Barthomeloi Lorelei hated him even more…

When the trial had first begun, Barthomeloi Lorelei had wanted to have Lord El-Melloi II stripped from his title, as she believed a ‘commoner’ should have never been granted such an honor, while Rin was to be placed in confinement and given a Sealing Designation. Though there were rumors that Sakura Matou had survived the destruction of the Makiri, these were mostly unsubstantiated claims that were hard to verify. As a result, Rin was considered the last surviving Tohsaka and, as both she and Sakura had been candidates for a Sealing Designation in the past, her recent high-profile actions could be used as a justification to keep her from drawing even more attention to the existence of Magecraft…

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Unfortunately, all of the crimes she attempted to lay at Rin’s feet had been counter-argued by Lord Animusphere each and every time. When asked to provide credible evidence that could be used to justify any punishments against Rin, everything had been proven circumstantial at best. Since Rin had actually remained relatively low-key during the Holy Grail War, with Vahn doing most of the actual fighting, there wasn’t really anything they could pin on her besides being ‘associated’ with a high-interest target who, in much the same way, had no actual crimes pinned on him just yet. As a result, Barthomeloi Lorelei had been trying to sway the audience in her favor by making a few promises behind the scenes but, as Lord Animusphere cited their own laws, followed by asking if the Barthomeloi family no longer regarded such things as sacred, she could only grit her teeth while trying to draw things out.

Ultimately, the only person that could truly be held accountable for what had happened during the Holy Grail War was Lord El-Melloi II himself. However, as there was an extreme amount of evidence showing that the Holy Church had intervened, combined with the fact several unexpected variables had appeared during the ritual, there were unable to punish him too severely. This was largely due to the fact that he had reported the incidents as they occurred and documented all of the attempts made by his group to maintain order. He had carried out his duties diligently and even brought back several large fragments of the destroyed Greater Grail, something that earned him considerable favor with Rocco Belfaban as the Head of the Summoning Department. He hadn’t been all that vocal during the proceedings but, whenever Barthomeloi Lorelei thought she had gained an advantage, he would say a few words that made it apparent he agreed with Lord Animusphere…

Understanding she wasn’t going to be able to get her way without ‘forcing’ the issue, something that would potentially harm the prestige of her family, Barthomeloi Lorelei’s gaze could make a demon shudder as she looked down at Lore El-Melloi II and stated, “Though it cannot be denied that you attempted to perform your duties, this incident has made it apparent you are simply unqualified to have such authority in the future. Were it up to me, you would have already been stripped of your title and sentenced to acting as an experimental subject. At least then you may be of some use to ‘real’ Magi…” As Lord El-Melloi II, despite his best efforts, was only considered a Second-Rate Magus who would never rise beyond the rank of Fes, there were more than a few within the viewing stands who agreed with her sentiment.

In response to Barthomeloi Lorelei’s harsh words, Lord Animusphere, the smile never leaving his face, politely stated, “Madam Barthomeloi, I do not believe such words are appropriate given the achievements Lord El-Melloi II has accrued over the years. Though his talent may be lacking when compared to the prestigious lineage of the Barthomeloi, there is none present who would be able to refute that Lord El-Melloi II had accomplished many things that even Magi of higher rank have struggled with. If we cannot appreciate the phenomenon of a person performing above their given rank, would that not make us appear petty in the eyes of our peers…?”

Hearing Lord Animusphere’s words, Bathomeloi Lorelei felt like she was going to have an aneurysm, especially when Rocco Belfeban stroked his chin and added, “Well said, Lord Animusphere. As the purpose of the Clock Tower has always been to preserve and advance Magecraft, it would be counterintuitive for us to suppress our those making an effort to do the ‘impossible’. The moment we purport the idea that those of lesser talent are unable to rise above their standing in life, the decline of Magecraft will become irreversible. I’m certain most of the fine Gentlemen and Ladies present have benefitted from making promises to aspiring Magi, regardless of their low status. I find it difficult to believe they will come forward and argue that Lord El-Melloi II is in the wrong for no other reason than his status and talent are beneath that of a family with thousands of years of history. Many would even argue that such comparisons alone would harm the prestige of such families, wouldn’t you agree, Madam…?”

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While swearing she would personally witness the final moments of these two men, Barthomeloi Lorelei begrudgingly nodded her head before answering, “I cannot argue that there is simply no grounds to compare a talentless commoner who borrows the status of others to an established Magus family. However, regardless of how you try to twist the facts, the truth remains that someone must be held accountable for the failures in Fuyuki City. The destruction of the Greater Grail, the annihilation of the Makiri family, the devastation of the Einzbern Forest, and the powerful quake that had shaken the city after the disappearance of the anomaly, Vahn Mason; these aren’t things that can simply be overlooked…!” To punctuate her words, Barthomeloi Lorelei slammed her fist on the table, causing most of the people in the room to flinch due to the loud noise and the pulse of magical energy that had spread through the surroundings.

Without shying away from the pressure emitted by Barthomeloi Lorelei, even though she glared at him with venomous eyes, Lord Animusphere politely explained, “Though the Greater Grail had been destroyed, it was never the property of the Mage’s Association. The fact that Lady Tohsaka was even willing to turn over the fragments she had been able to recover more than makes up for the fact something that didn’t even belong to us was destroyed. As for the annihilation of the Makiri family, though it is an irrefutable tragedy, our investigations have shown this to be an event unrelated to the Holy Grail War. We cannot expect Lord El-Melloi II to somehow predict conflict between Magus families that are entirely unrelated to his own duties. If he had such a power, I’m certain his status within the Mage’s Association would be much higher…”

When he said the last remark, Lord Animusphere smiled in a good-natured manner toward Lord El-Melloi II before turning his attention back to Barthomeloi Lorelei and adding, “Regarding the fire and devastation of the Einzbern Forest, this event has already been confirmed to have been the result of a battle between the Einzbern’s representative Master and the Hero King, Gilgamesh. The latter was also tied to the destruction of the Matou Residence, making the accountable party not Lord El-Melloi II, but Gilgamesh’s Master. Lastly, unless you hold Lord El-Melloi II in much higher regard than I was aware, do you mean to fault him for a natural disaster that occurred after he had already left Fuyuki City? Though I will not deny that the event was relatively close to Lord El-Melloi II’s departure time, Japan is host to an average of 1,500 earthquakes every year. This year alone, there have been five earthquakes of similar size to hit the Japanese Archipelago. Are we going to try Lord El-Melloi II for these as well…?”

By the time Lord Animusphere was done speaking, Barthomeloi Lorelei had decided that she would never sleep peacefully again before she found the means to seek revenge against the Animusphere family. This wasn’t the first time she had held such conviction but, now that Marisbury, the true name of Lord Animusphere, was continuously rebutting everything she said, Barthomeloi Lorelei wouldn’t be satisfied just ignoring him any longer. The Aristocratic and Democratic Factions had been at odds with each other for decades, for a multitude of reasons, but now things felt more personal than they had been before. What made matters worse was, as if he wasn’t troubled by her ire and indignation, Lord Animusphere just returned a polite smile in response to her glare…

After several more hours of deliberation, punctuated by a recess until the following day, Rin, Lord El-Melloi II, Flat, and Gray all exited the Tribunal chamber with tired expressions. The least affected was Flat, as he had avoided any real accusations against him, so he had a somewhat easy-going smile on his face as he lingered near Gray and asked, “Gray, how about grabbing a bite to eat now that we’re free from that freezer~? I could use some fresh air, delicious food, and good company!” In response to this, Gray shrunk away from Flat before shaking her head and answering, “Sorry, but I will follow Rin back to the Edelfelt Mansion…” Though she and Flat were still good friends, Gray felt awkward around him ever since separating from Vahn. Since they had ‘history’, she was a little insecure about being alone with other men after deciding to pursue her happiness at Vahn’s side…

With an amiable yet sad smile on his face, Flat rubbed the back of his head while saying, “Aww, Gray has been so distant lately. I wonder if I did something to lower my Affection Points~?” As he treated life almost like an actual game, Flat would sometimes say senseless things that caused the people closely associated with him an endless number of headaches. This time, however, Gray furrowed her brows since she felt like Flat was implying there was actual affection between them. Since he had been engaged for the last three years, it felt especially awkward to hear him make such thoughtless remarks in the current situation. He actually seemed to realize this after seeing Gray’s reaction as, after placing both palms together and bowing almost comically low, Flat shouted, “I’m sorry, Gray! I was only trying to crack a joke to lighten the mood!”

Upon completing his apology, Flat had the distinct impression that he wasn’t as welcome as before so, after a few parting words, he walked away with a quickened pace to go grab a bite to eat. At the same time, however, he was somewhat happy that Gray had refused his invitation as there was a slightly troublesome individual who had been pestering him to meet her, their shared acquaintance, Svin Glascheit. He was steadily reaching the point of becoming a Brand, the second-highest rank a Magus could have within the Mage’s Association.

Though they had all been students together, Svin had quickly surpassed Lord El-Melloi II’s and Rin’s rank of Fes, rising to the rank of Pride at the impressively young age of nineteen. In the past, he had a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Gray and, though she had given him a chance, things had reached an almost dangerous point that required outside intervention. Since then, Svin had apologized for his behavior several times and had kept a respectable distance from Gray. However, as he began looking towards the future and laying his own roots, Svin had been making a few attempts to rekindle things between him and Gray.

Even without having met Vahn, Gray had no intention of ever getting back together with Svin, largely due his possessive nature and the way in which he tried to control every aspect of her life. Towards the end of their relationship, he even refused to let her leave the house for nearly a month, the same act that had drawn the attention of their friends. Since he used Beast Magecraft, combined with Reinforcement, Svin’s senses and instincts were far more developed than most humans. As a result, his passion and obsession quickly reached dangerous levels, to the point he would yell at her when she had talked to other men. He had even confiscated her cell phone and locked Add away in a magical vault during her confinement, something Gray was not willing to go through a second time…

While thinking about how his friend had strayed onto a path that could only lead to a ‘Bad End’, Flat released a tired sigh while running his fingers through his hair. He had actually been Gray’s ‘rebound’ at the time and, though he tried to treat her well, they simply weren’t suited for each other. Svin had also been less than enthused about the development so, after only a few weeks together, Flat had ended things on rather amicable terms. Now, he was essentially the only link between Svin and Gray as the latter simply refused to answer Svin’s calls, going as far as changing her number periodically and never setting up a voice mail. It was a troublesome situation since, even though he knew Svin was in the wrong, Flat wished things could go back to the way they were between the three of them. Unfortunately, unlike the games he habitually played, there were no save points in real life and, as people were so ‘fond’ of telling him, Flat knew he could only grow up and move on…

After reaching a small burger joint a few blocks away from the Clock Tower, Flat slapped himself on the cheeks before adopting his usual smile. Then, even though there was a bit of cold sweat on his back, he opened the door to find a pair of predatory blue eyes focused on him. Though it was only there for a brief moment, Flat had felt a small amount of killing intent coming from his ‘friend’, something that had been there ever since his short relationship with Gray. It had faded away in an instant, revealing a handsome man with an amicable smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. This was something he and Svin had in common as, regardless of his efforts to patch things up, Flat knew the tall and muscular man, dressed in expensive and stylish garments, would never forgive him…

Though it took more than an hour by car, Rin and Gray managed to reach the Edelfelt Mansion without encountering any difficulties. The ride had been rather awkward, as Gray had fallen silent due to her guilt of refusing something as simple as a light lunch with a friend. Her intention to join Vahn’s side had even caused her to gradually isolate herself from Lord El-Melloi II. Though she was never his ‘official’ personal attendant, Gray had been following as his shadow for nearly half her life so she felt a little insecure being away from his side for a long period of time. However, as Lord El-Melloi II himself had told her there was nothing wrong with seeking her own happiness, Gray had continued to protect Rin and Sakura as promised…

Shortly after entering the Mansion, guided by four Maids, Rin and Gray ended up in a small room that was decorated from top to bottom with cute things. There, curled up on the stomach of a giant teddy bear, a small girl with short brown hair was holding a golfball-sized rainbow-hued sphere in her hands, seemingly asleep. Rin released an exasperated sigh when she saw this, even though there was a smile on her face as she muttered, “This girl is going to develop a father complex at this rate…” Then, turning to Gray, Rin asked, “Do you want to go inside this time? I have a few things to talk with Luvia about so I don’t mind.” Since she could tell Gray was in need of some ‘attention’, even though she didn’t actually have anything to discuss with Luvia, she was more than willing to occupy Vahn later in the evening.

Hearing Rin’s words, Gray’s somewhat pale complexion gained a light blush as, if not for the fact she had been allowed to use the Space-Time Orb on occasion, she might have already broken down. The trial had been troubling her more than she imagined, especially since it felt awkward to be around others at the moment, so she had been seeking refuge in the Orb periodically to spend time with Vahn’s Memory Fragment. Though she knew it wasn’t the ‘real’ him, the experiences they had shared were precious treasures that also served as an emotional anchor during these trying times. Thus, even though she felt a little apologetic to Sakura, Gray nodded her head and muttered, “Thanks…”

Following this, Rin placed her index finger on the Space-Time Orb, activating its safety measure that ejected whoever was using it whenever it was removed from someone’s hands. As a result, Sakura’s eyes widened in an instant as her face immediately formed into a sad pout. Before she could cry, Rin lightly pinched Sakura’s nose and said, “It is time for lunch. You know your Otou-sama would tell you to come eat like a good girl…” This was enough to prevent Sakura from crying but it did nothing to stop her from sniffling a few times as she answered, “Okay, Okaa-chan…” Then, after being picked up in Rin’s arms, the latter handed the Space-Time Orb over to Gray before carrying Sakura to go eat lunch and kill a few hours of time. As for Gray, she had a red face as she alighted from the room, moving next door where her own room was located. Since Rin had a key, Gray locked it behind her before diving into her own bed and, perhaps a little too eager to make her bad thoughts go away, she sunk her consciousness into the Space-Time Orb to experience Vahn’s care and concern for a few hours…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Lorelei’s a c***’,’Marisbury used ‘Logic and Reasoning’…Critical Hit! It’s not very effective…opposing Lorelei has flinched!’,’Dependency is a dangerous thing o_o…’)

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