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alfheimwanderer
March 16th, 2011, 02:19 AM
destiny//Inertia Dawn

A FSN Megacrossover, jointly written with InsertRandomUsernameHere (http://www.fanfiction.net/u/2317271/) of Fanfiction.net

The Holy Grail War: A sacred ritual where magi battle for supremacy using Servants, the embodiment of legendary figures from Gaia's past. But what if the Third--and the Fourth Wars had been more distorted than anyone thought possible. What if the Servants summoned weren't even quite those of ancient legend? And what if this mystery was one that haunted the minds of those who fought for the right to a miracle?

Comments and feedback would be appreciated, either here or on its home on Fanfiction.net (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/6281893/)

Enjoy the work!

Prologue
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/111-FF-Fate-Inertia-Dawn?p=3802&viewfull=1#post3802)Chapter 1, part 1 (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/111-FF-Fate-Inertia-Dawn?p=3805&viewfull=1#post3805)
Chapter 1, part 2
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/111-FF-Fate-Inertia-Dawn?p=3812&viewfull=1#post3812)Intermission I
(http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/111-FF-Fate-Inertia-Dawn?p=3816&viewfull=1#post3816)Chapter 2 (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/111-FF-Fate-Inertia-Dawn?p=3822&viewfull=1#post3822)
Intermission II (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/6281893/5/Fate-Inertia-Dawn)


] | [



~Prologue: Declaration of War~

(Rin Side)

100%

First/night

100%

Thud!

With a crash, I kicked open the jammed door of my estate's second guest room, stance low, Magic Circuits primed and ready to launch a gandr spell at need—only to freeze at what I saw, understanding what had happened instantly.

"…I did it again," I muttered, fighting the urge to cradle my head in my hands. Once again, it seems that I may have overestimated my capabilities as a magus—or at least, of avoiding mistakes at the most critical times.

What had once been my estate's guest room had been utterly destroyed, with a gaping hole where the western wall and part of the ceiling should be, the guest bed, or what used to be the guest bed, thoroughly splintered, and a figure sitting nonchalantly on the pile of rubble that was all that remained.

Ah.

So maybe I wasn't an utter failure after all, since I'd managed to properly summon something …though "properly" probably wouldn't be the word that most magi would use to refer what just took place. Probably not even the second or the third, for that matter, with "imperfect", "flawed" or "botched" being much candidates.

"…Well, what's done is done. I should reflect on my actions," I groused, mad at my own stupidity, though I suppressed the urge to berate myself further, instead turning my eyes upon the boy just sitting there with utter indifference.

Was this the Servant?

Since a Servant is said to be a familiar, I thought it would have been something without form – a spirit, but this seemed like a normal human…

'…No, that's wrong. Don't be fooled by its appearance.'

Even from the doorway, I could sense outrageous amounts of magical energy from what I had summoned, that this was an existence far beyond any modern human, a "ghost" that had nearly reached the level of the Divine Spirits.

Taking in the physical appearance of the figure before me, the first thing that struck me was his eyes, the eyes of one who has seen too much in his time. Looking into them I was almost forced to take a step back, as those blue orbs bespoke who had endured all the pain and suffering that the world had to offer, youthful ideals burned away as he was plunged into hell over and over again. Cynical and weary, but resigned, they accepted all of the evils that humans wrought upon one another with dispassionate indifference, as if to say that nothing could be changed, that there was no use trying.

Feeling an odd shiver run down my spine at the fatalistic thoughts passing through my mind, I pulled back my gaze, only to find that the Servant was studying me as well, those cold, indifferent eyes boring into me as if I was nothing he hadn't seen before, categorizing me as someone else he would have to deal with. What he thought, God only knows, though it probably involved that indifference that I saw lingering in his eyes…the quiet certainty that this, too, would pass.

Still, despite his unnerving gaze, the figure before me appeared quite young – younger than me, even. He was handsome in a boyish way, with still-childish features offset by short, black hair, and a lean frame that didn't seem suitable for a swordsman…adding to my growing suspicion that this wasn't a Saber-class Servant.

For now, though I'd had enough of this silent sizing up of the other party, since the delay between entrance and introduction might not have given my Servant—if that were what he was—a favorable impression of me. It was time to get down to business, to at least adopt the air of a magus who was always in control of the situation, one able to make the destruction of her guest bedroom seem like it fit into some greater scenario like one Matryoshka doll into the next.

"You. Are you the Servant that I have summoned?" I asked, channeling my frustration into my voice to turn it into unbending steel, very in-command and decisive.

"…Yes," the figure replied after a moment, not stirring from his apparent state of repose. "…you have summoned me." Unlike what I would have guessed, his voice wasn't a monotone. Rather it simply lacked…enthusiasm, almost as if to ask, 'what's the point?'

Wait…wasn't a Servant supposed to ask that question first? Wasn't that the rule? Was he broken or—yeah, he probably was, actually, considering the results of my summoning…

"And will your body be under my command, my fate entrusted to your blade in this war for the Holy Grail? Will you serve as my sword and shield against all those who might bring forth a challenge?" This was indeed the question. If this unknown Servant complied, then my gloriously botched-up summon wouldn't be quite the complete disaster I had thought it to be. If he didn't, well…then this Grail War would have one less Master to participate in it—a prospect I didn't really want to think about.

"Yeah, I will," the Servant replied, his tone as noncommittal as before.

Well, it would be better if he had been happier about serving, but I suppose it could be worse, given how laughable everything leading up to his acquiescence had been—and that had he been even less enthusiastic, I might have been cut down by my Servant before the war even began – truly an embarrassing fate. Just to be safe, though, I scanned myself for the obligatory Command Seals that come with every Master/Servant partnership, finding the holy marks on the traditional place on my left forearm.

Fair enough. As long as I wore long sleeves, as I was in the habit of doing, no one would ever see them. Still, I noted that the shape of the Seals was rather peculiar, nothing like the circles of balance or harmony. They say that the shape of a Master's Command Seals either reflects the magus' magic characteristic or an aspect of the Servant, but this? What could it possibly mean? It was something that I'd have to investigate in due time, but…

I'd have time to ponder this question later. I still had to get past the introductions with my new Servant…whatever kind he is. Probably better to just ask him.

"So, which Servant class are you?" This was quite possibly the second most important question that a Master needs the answer to, as without the knowledge of what class your Servant is, one would be unable to formulate any strategies based on that class. I still entertained faint hopes of this being Saber, the strongest Servant, but…

"…Class…" the boy spoke slowly, blinking as he looked at me as if from far away. "…I'm a Lancer."

…as I suspected. I'd failed to call forth Saber, the class I was originally going for. I'm not really surprised, since I mistook the time, the summoning circle didn't work, and I even summoned the Servant to the wrong place. I shouldn't be disappointed—I should be amazed that the summons actually was able to call into being a Servant at all, much less one that has more or less sworn loyalty to me like any properly summoned Servant would.

Still…a Lancer. Definitely not a Saber-class, even if it was one of the three Knight classes. A Lancer would make things harder, since I couldn't just breeze through the war as I would if my Servant were a Saber…but as the heiress of the proud and distinguished Tohsaka family, I must adapt and thrive and win this Grail War, no matter what hand Fate has dealt me.

"Are you disappointed?" He calmly and quietly asks, almost as if he expects me to be dissatisfied.

"I'm not disappointed," I temporized, trying not to make my deception obvious. While I most certainly was, after having used that many jewels, there was no sense in wasting energy fussing about it—or to meaninglessly trample on my Servant's pride, as unenthusiastic as he already seemed to be. "I am merely reassessing and modifying my previous strategy, so that it is fit for utilizing a Lancer-class."

"Oh. I see," Lancer replied calmly, slowly turning his head away from my general direction, first surveying the wreckage of the room before focusing on nothing in particular, his mind seemingly elsewhere.

…either he just didn't care, or he didn't believe me. Going by his past behavior though, I think the first is more likely.

Still, there was one more piece of business to take care of: discerning the identity of my Servant, a piece of information far more important than even a Servant's class on the list of a Master's concerns. Why? To put it simply, each soul that has ascended to the Throne of Heroes has a certain legend associated with him or her, mentioning things like the weapons they bore in life, notable feats, or weaknesses…and if an opposing master were to find out a Servant's identity, then that enemy could counter the Servant and discover any weaknesses from their past lives. To use an example, let's say I am going up against a Servant (It doesn't matter what class it is), and I find out that his true identity is Achilles, the hero of the Trojan War itself. As anyone with a healthy understanding of Greek mythology can tell you, Achilles had one, and only one spot on his body where he was utterly vulnerable; his heel. Therefore, if I were to have my Servant perform an expertly aimed strike at that weak spot of his, it is without a doubt that the Heroic Spirit that takes the name Achilles would fall.

Thus, it was time to get this morsel of knowledge and finish up introductions. With this out of the way, the business of the War itself could finally begin.

"Alright then…Lancer," I speak softly but firmly, allowing my take-charge persona to come out again. "Tell me, what is the name that you possessed in life?"



] | [



I've always liked walking at night, when the sun has gone down and the air is chill and brisk—especially during the iconic winters in Fuyuki City. Even the cold wind that stings my cheeks and makes them rosy doesn't dissuade me, as I find such things refreshing, reminding me that I exist—making me feel alive. Does that make me a masochist? I don't think so. To be a magus is to walk with death as a constant companion, with the Reaper waiting to take you away should your downfall be brought upon by enemies or your own conceitedness, so to be reminded that I still lived, in some fashion, gave me comfort and was what I desired then and now.

This late at night, Lancer and I had taken to the public-access rooftop of the Kinoko Building, a modest skyscraper that offered an excellent vantage point of Fuyuki City's Shinto area, what would be called its downtown by any other name. Despite being public access, it is rarely used by others, though I can't imagine why, since there are plenty of elevators allowing for easy access to the observation deck where a nice view of the city's bay can be had—and the Kinoko Building isn't exactly an obscure, what with being the tallest building in Fuyuki. Maybe there aren't enough tourists to consistently make use of the deck. Maybe the locals take the place for granted and just never show up even though it's practically in their own backyard. Maybe people felt uncomfortable around an overlooking view, not believing that the world beneath them was real because it is simply too big to grasp—

—or maybe I should stop hopelessly romanticizing about heights and the views that accompany them so I can focus on the big picture and my reasons for bringing my Servant here in the first place.

The impressive enough view, coupled with the aforementioned chill breeze is enough to inspire in me feelings of power and certainty. The accessibility of the observation deck, coupled with its remoteness (an oddly contradictory combination, yet just what we needed) was perfect for allowing Lancer to get a feel for the lay of the land, the future battlefield that Fuyuki would soon be turned into.

"Okay Lancer, take in the view. I know that extraordinary eyesight and photographic memory aren't defining traits of your class, but combined with all the walking around we've done, this should help you get your bearings and help you devise short-cuts and escape routes if the situation calls for it."

Needless to say, I was rather surprised when he turned to me (rather reluctantly, I thought), and spoke up.

"It's alright, Master, you didn't need to do this. I've been in Fuyuki before…"

On our way around the city, I had kept him in spirit form so as not to startle any of the mundanes we came across, but here on the roof I deemed it secure enough for him to materialize so that we might…wait.

What did he just say? 'I've been in Fuyuki before?'

"…what?" I managed, looking sharply at my Servant. "What does that mean, Lancer?"

"Well…" Lancer was quiet for a moment, hesitating before speaking as was beginning to become a pattern in our interactions. He seemed to be mulling over his response as if searching for a more delicate way of explaining, yet apparently comes up with nothing and has to state things rather bluntly, if nervously, the first bit of emotion he'd shown. "This actually isn't the first Grail War that I've been in. This is actually, um, my second time participating."

My eyes widened dramatically when those words issued from his lips. Participated before? Not his first Grail War? Well, I imagine he didn't win if he was being summoned once again, though…

"Lancer," I said softly, my voice just slightly on edge, recalling my frustration from before. "I told you what we would be doing when we left the estate." My eyes narrowed gravely as my tone became serious, giving vent to a little of my displeasure. Even if he was a force beyond human, I was still his Master, and he should respect that. "I said that we would be walking around the city so you could acclimate to your surroundings. For a Master to go out in public and risk putting themselves in the line of fire while the Grail War is going on is one of the most dangerous and foolhardy things that they can do."

I grudgingly admitted to myself that I was the only one responsible for my 'endangerment' because of my other reason for going out: I subconsciously got a kick from having a dangerous familiar as an invisible bodyguard, and so wanted to go outside, brazenly risking myself for the thrill of it. And, well, given Lancer's lack of input thus far, he can't be blamed for following my orders, since I hadn't asked about prior experience before—even if that was supposed to be so unlikely as to be absurd. Still, he didn't volunteer this information, making me waste my valuable time, so…I'd be damned if he didn't own up to a little of the responsibility.

"Didn't you swear fealty to me, as was decreed to you by the Grail Ritual and your successful summoning?" I asked pointedly, glaring at my Servant as I gave him the ninth degree. "Didn't you take an oath that you would protect me at all costs with no regards to your own existence as long as I remained your Master and you my Servant? Were you trying to get me killed by not saying anything? Do you want us to lose the Grail?"

"I'm sorry." He replied instantly, almost by reflex, as if words had grievously stung him, or at least, his principles. "I'm sorry…it's just…I'm terrible at getting out what needs to be said sometimes. You were just so…adamant about going around the city and seeing the skyscraper, as if you'd been planning to go see it from the start…"

Great. My Servant didn't have enough of a spine to take the initiative. This could be troubling…wait a second, he was still going on.

"And, to let the truth be told…," he said, much more hesitantly. "I actually wanted to come see the view."

My eyes widened with surprise at his words, and I did nothing to hide the perplexed look that came across my face. I don't know if that was because his reasons were so … casual, or if it was because he seemed so…

The lights of the city stretched out off into the distance beneath the tower, as if to mirror the night sky above us. The moon was nice and full, illuminating Lancer's semi-corporeal form in a picturesque way as he gazed out at the city, his lips curled slightly upwards in a nostalgic, thoughtful smile. For the moment, he seemed as if his mind was a thousand miles away, in another time, perhaps. As if he had once gazed upon a sight not so dissimilar to the one before him.

…happy.



] | [



Cutting through a desolate playground for a shortcut, Lancer and I made to return to my Manor, as I began going over what I knew about my Servant in my head. There wasn't much, unfortunately.

Like any good Servant, Lancer told me his name when I asked him about it, but there was a problem I had not foreseen: His true name meant nothing to me. I had never heard of Lancer's true identity before, and subsequent research that I performed that night and the following morning had turned up nothing…or at least nothing of relevance.

And while I was on the topic of mornings, the morning after the summoning ritual, (which only came in a few hours because the ritual took place at eleven o'clock) I was surprised to find out that Lancer had not only cleaned up the house, but had also taken it upon himself to make the morning tea and breakfast, as well as cleaning up all the rubble and debris from the destruction his summoning had caused. Granted, the guest bedroom still had a gaping hole where the western wall and part of the ceiling should be, but putting that aside, it looked presentable enough. I wasn't not sure whether he was under the influence of a geis (a curse that forces its host to perform certain actions when certain conditions are met), or if that's his way of saying sorry, but the gesture was…appreciated.

But, back to Lancer.

To me, Lancer was a riddle, a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. There were no records of anyone bearing his name throughout history, nor was there anything recorded of his deeds (which I know nothing of, if there even are any, and he is not a wraith taking the form of a Heroic Spirit). The question was, how did someone without a legend, without an ounce of fame to his name, become a Heroic Spirit? By definition, a Heroic Spirit is the manifestation of an individual whose deeds (or misdeeds) were so famous or infamous that they were elevated to a higher existence, one nearly matching the level of the Divine Spirits. At the risk of oversimplifying, one becomes a Heroic Spirit by becoming famous enough to have legends and tales told about them.

And yet, Lancer had neither fame nor legends in this world. He was not a historical nor legendary figure of any sort. So how? How could this nobody have become a Heroic Spirit, one who was summoned to serve as my right hand in the Grail War? Was it just a result of my improper summoning? Had I really botched things up that badly? Shaking my head, I set that aside for now. There had to be a reason that he was summoned after all, and not just my incompetence, as the Grail selects worthy Masters for the trial.

But even without speculating as to the extent of my failures, I was still in a disadvantageous situation, since being unfamiliar with Lancer's past life, means that I would be therefore unfamiliar with his capabilities, unable to properly strategize unless I see them firsthand—or asked him about them, and I had the feeling that getting information from him would be harder than pulling teeth.

Of course, not knowing anything about my Servant did have an advantage, since if I knew nothing about his strengths and weaknesses, then it would be impossible for an opponent to force me into revealing them.

Cold comfort, really, but I'd take what I could.

Yet, though I'd come to accept being in the dark concerning Lancer, I still could not help but wonder just what kind of Servant I had called forth. For one thing, his catalyst, which I used to summon him, was definitely strange…not seeming at all like an artifact associated with a legendary hero. Instead of a sword, a scabbard, a coil of snakeskin, or the foundation block of a temple, it was an old cello, stained beyond repair by a mysterious substance smelling faintly of blood. Judging from my first impressions of that catalyst alone, I probably should have known that I wasn't going to be summoning an ordinary Servant, yet what kind of a Servant should I have been expecting to summon with a catalyst like that?

My thoughts turned once again to the Command Seals grafted onto my left forearm, the mark of a Master in the Holy Grail War. With an air of discontent, I pulled up my sleeve, and once again contemplated the meaning behind their shapes: a bident skewering a fig leaf and a skull with avian characteristics on its shaft. It was said that the shapes that the holy mark of the Command Seals held significance to their Master's abilities and the summoned Servant's past life…but what do these symbols have to do with me? Original sin, perhaps? My family, as secret Christians, was known for its ties with the Church, but what of the rest?

Ba-dump.

A white-hot flash tore through me as my Command Seals reacted to the presence of an enemy, forcing me to look up.

"You should do a better job of concealing those Command Seals of yours, Rin Tohsaka," an all-too-familiar and all too unwelcome voice broke in – the last voice that I wanted to hear. "Otherwise a more suitable magus might come along and take advantage of your incompetence."

'…Oh my God.'

I froze in place, a reaction to the sense of sudden recognition I was experiencing - and the terrible sinking feeling that came with it.

No. It couldn't be, could it? Was it really her? Oh god, don't…it had to be.

I quickly and involuntarily slid my sweater's sleeve back down my arm, warily turning my gaze towards the direction of the hated voice on the other side of the playground. To my utter lack of surprise (and to my displeasure), it was who I had thought it to be.

She was garbed in a sleeveless blue dress, her long skirts flowing gracefully over the pavement as they blew in the chill night breeze. Her orange-blonde hair hung in long curly drills that fluttered like her skirt, as she peered at me, carrying herself with an air of regality, haughtiness…and complete and utter arrogance.

Without a doubt it was her.

"Luviagelita Edelfelt," I ground out between my teeth, as if even speaking the name was distasteful to me…which it was.

"Surprised to see me, Rin?" Luviagelita asked in a manner that she knew I found particularly grating, as she self-assuredly flicks her drills.

"No, actually," I replied flatly, my fingers inching towards the jewels I kept concealed on my person as a trump card, each made by pouring a year's worth of prana into them. "What are you doing here, Luvia?"

Of course I knew, so I was really only asking to buy time. Luvia was clearly a Master, and one who had apparently discovered that I was one as well—a most dangerous situation, which could only end in one way. Ever since the Third Grail War, the Tohsaka and the Edelfelt families had been bitterly opposed to one another, with allegations of Magic Crest theft and such flying back and forth as we struggled to prove our superiority to one another. And in this war, it seemed as if that conflict between the two families was about to flare up once again…only I'd make sure that the Tohsaka came out on top. I'd have to, if I intended to win this Grail War.

"Oh, I was just talking a pleasant stroll and enjoying Fuyuki City's nightlife with a friend of mine until I came across you," the bitch said in a not-very-believable tone of voice, her lips curving upwards evilly as she spoke her next words. "Would you like me to introduce the two of you?"

"Lancer!"

My Servant materialized by my side in response to my call, dropping into a protective stance as he took a step forward. Gone was the quiet apathy and subtly cynical expression he had worn beforehand, and all I saw in his bearing was a grim determination that those had seemingly hidden.

"Master?" Lancer asked of me, knowing what was about to transpire…the fight to the death that was the purpose of Servants in this war.

"You know what to do."

"Yes, ma'am," my Servant replied in a voice devoid of emotion, plunging his hand past his lightly-armored skintight suit, deep within his abdomen, as if it were made of sand and not solid flesh. "Guh…!" As his hand quickly sank into the depths without spilling a drop of blood, a look of intense pain flashed across Lancer's face.

With a determined grimace on his face, he pushed his arm deeper, all the way up to his elbow, muscles tensing as he seized ahold of something with a grunt. I watched as, using slow, jerking motions, Lancer extracted from within himself his weapon of choice: a spear of considerable length, longer than he was tall. The helical shaft twisted and split into bident points, and was as red and divine as the blood it had spilled.

Spear at the ready, my youthful looking Servant took up his battle stance, angling it threateningly at my rival.

"Oh, so you had your Servant with you after all?" Luvia noted, feigning disappointment that I had brought out my familiar. "Huh, I guess you're only half as incompetent as I originally gave you credit for. Still, I guess that's not out of character for you, Rin. You always were one to half-ass it." Her dissatisfied pout morphed into an arrogant smirk as she says this undignified remark. "Well, if you wanted me to play with you, Rin, all you had to do was ask. In that case…"

Crack!

Luvia snapped her fingers in a very clichéd manner (which if the situation weren't as serious as it is now, I'd call her out on to piss her off), which then prompts a figure to materialize in front of her, facing down Lancer.

This new Servant, for it could only be one such, appeared to be a young man no older than any of us with a mop of shaggy gray-white hair atop his head, garbed in intimidating looking black-and-red armor with numerous spiked protrusions jutting off of it. A pair of serious, red irises glared at Lancer, enhanced by facial tattoos that shared the same blood-red hue, looking at my Servant almost…ferally.

Another Servant, this, but which one? Berserker, or…?

"Get them, Lancer."

Upon my rival's order, her Servant summoned forth a wicked looking scythe, a demonic weapon that sent a chill down my spine, as my Lancer lunged, and battle was joined. Weapons in hand, they attacked with full force, the murderous intent in the air enough to freeze any normal human in place, each determined to kill the other in order to prove their existence.

This was it. This was their purpose. This was their calling. To battle it out to the death. To win. The advent of my participation in the Holy Grail War was about to be christened by battle, and I would…wait. What?!

"W-wait a minute," I sputtered, one of my hands now grasping the desired gemstone—a ruby, to summon forth fire. "You can't have Lancer! I have Lancer."

"What was that, Rin?" Luvia questioned, raising an eyebrow—as I noted with alarm that one of her hands was reaching into her skirts.

"In case you're hard of hearing, I said, you can't have a Lancer," I insisted, glaring murderously at my haughty foe—one who obviously didn't have any respect for my intelligence. "I have a Lancer."

"And I'm trying to watch my Servant win against your so-called Lancer, so stop distracting me from my fun," the blonde retorted, glancing disdainfully in my direction. "A commoner's words can be so dull sometimes."

"T-that's my point!" I growled at her, really thinking that she'd look much better with a hole in her face…or maybe somewhere else in her body. "We both can't have Lancer-class Servants!"

"Well," Luvia said, mockingly feigning thoughtfulness. The bitch was playing with me, I know it. Her flippant manner made that quite obvious. "Maybe he is. Maybe he isn't. Maybe we both have Lancer. Ohohoho…"

"That's…impossible," I bit back, barely managing to suppress my urge to attack as the sounds of metal on metal rang in the distance, the chaos of battle acting as mere white noise to my current confrontation.

Anyone with an inkling of knowledge of the Grail War Ritual knew that—

"Oh? But there were multiple representatives of the Seven Classes in the last War, weren't there?" the Edelfelt heir asked with saccharine sweetness, though her expression belied that impression of innocence. "Perhaps the situation is similar with this one."

Dear God, how I hated that self-assured smirk.

"Oh please," I all but snarled. Luvia had a way of bringing out the very worst in me, and my desire to force her to acknowledge my point was all that kept me from killing her. After all, how could she beg me for forgiveness if she was dead, hm? "Any self-respecting Magus with a rudimentary knowledge of the Grail War knows that the Fourth Grail War was beyond salvageable, and as such is completely and utterly hopeless."

Coup de grâce. Let's see if her pride can handle it.

"Really now?" She sneered derisively. "Is that why your loser of a father couldn't even live through it, or is that a trait that all Tohsakas share, failure?"

Instead of verbally responding to this horrible, pride-piercing insult, I let my actions do the talking.

Drawing my hand from behind my back, I pulled forth a prana-infused gemstones and hurled it at my eternal rival, using a word of command to release the magical energy within in an explosion of power, like a shaped charge of sorts.

"Anfang!"

It blazed forth into thorns of light streaking forth to vaporize my enemy and everything around her, impacting the area around her with a thunderous BOOM! Smoke and concrete flew in all directions as a surge raw prana blew Luvia away where she stood, reducing all in her vicinity a gaping, ruinous hole into the playground. I smiled darkly at this satisfying explosion, though a small part of me wished that she were still alive so I could glo—

"You bitch!" my rival roared from within the smoke, apparently uninjured, though slightly disheveled, "You tried to kill me!"

'Damnit, did she use a—'

"YAAAAAAA…" But my thoughts on how she must have used one of her own gems to counter mine were oh-so-rudely interrupted as the blonde harpy, now sufficiently pissed off, lunged towards me using a technique I recognized as a form of hand-to-hand combat called England-original Lancashire-style…a style not entirely dissimilar to professional wresting. A style that suits he, as what it clearly lacks in finesse, it more than makes it up with sheer force.

I tried to bring my arm up to use my Gandr spell, knowing I wouldn't have enough time for a gemstone, but Luvia closed the distance quickly…too quickly. Instead, I sidestepped to the left, swung out my reinforced arm, and took her down with a technique called the 'clothesline.' Unfortunately, on her way to become forcefully acquainted with the ground, she grabbed me and brought me down as well. With the both of us on the ground, calling it a free-for-all wouldn't exactly be inaccurate, as there is much biting, scratching, ankle-biting, grappling, and pulling of hair.

Oddly enough though, despite all the chaos happening between Luvia and I, it seemed as if the sounds of battles not our own have ceased. Confused by this development, I turned my head toward over to the area where our two Servants were fighting before, a task made rather difficult to accomplish due to Luvia enthusiastically trying to grind my face into the dirt. Once I managed though, my mouth fell open from shock to see them not fighting each other, but instead standing around fixated on the spectacle of two Masters having a catfight. Seeing me just freeze, Luvia took note of the what had so startled me…and froze, herself at the sight of our Servants. While Lancer and Luvia's Servant of unknown class both had their weapons held in a fighting stance and aimed towards one another like they did before, ready in case his opponent attempted a preemptive strike, it seemed that we had the lion's share of their attention, with both of them watching our squabble with a sort of fascination.

"What the hell are you two doing?" Luvia and I shouted at the same time, dumbfounded at the behavior of our admittedly young, male Servants, seeming to share a look of mingled exasperation as we made our own personal truce. It seemed neither of us would be able to kill each other, so we'd decide this by way of Servants. "This isn't a damn peepshow! Get back to killing each other!"

Sometimes, I thought that we were much more alike than we'd both care to admit…

"Yes ma'am!"

"Understood!"

Our Servants responded as one, their expressions turning serious as they turned to make was upon another once again—their superhuman battle resumed in deadly earnest.

Twirling gusts of wind.

Two figures wove a deadly dance as they strove mightily to kill one another, Lancer like a raging wind, the mystery servant a howling gust. The scythe is swung to deflect the lance's thrust, yet the demon scythe cannot slide down the length of the holy lance, as it is caught between its twin barbs—before the other Servant flips backwards, disengaging his weapon to keep it from being pulled from his hand.

Clash! Clang! Slash!

As spear crashed against scythe, Lancer maintained an aggressive stance and seems to be keeping Luvia's Servant on the defense, attacking to close the distance, pressing him to keep the other from advancing, each thrust of his intended as a fatal blow!

While one usually could not close in on an enemy with a long weapon, the desired tactice instead being the use of long range…that didn't apply here, since both combatants were using weapons with great reach: one a scythe that screamed as it sliced through air, the other a lance that rushed like lightning for throat, shoulders, forehead, and heart!

Thrusts so fast even the afterimages were blurred. Slashes even faster, repelling each strike, rebuffing and pushing back each one—the cacophony of clashing steel echoed through the night, and the sparks from their colliding weapons intensely lit up the darkness for the briefest of moments, illuminating the killing space between them.

Sweep. Thrust. Guard. Counter.

Dodge. Riposte. Block.

Weapons swung like whirlwinds to smash at the other, wielders mirroring one another in movement and form, neither seeming to have an advantage.

Clang!

In spite of the innate speed attributed to Lancer-class Servants such as mine, the mystery Servant was able to not only able to keep him from decisively landing a killing strike, but had also managed to get in a few good strikes when the opportunity presented itself, so both were ever so slightly bleeding, watching for the chance to deliver a fatal blow—

—a chance like right now!

Having leapt backwards away from Lancer's six-foot bident, the unknown Servant's feet touched the ground briefly as he sprang back into the air, reversing his trajectory as he burst forward, the demonic weapon shrieking of its lust for blood as it was swung, taking Lancer's neck…

Whoosh!

Or so it would have, had Lancer not recognized the danger in the technique and dove into a combat roll a split-second prior to the arrival of the scythe's blade, the reaper's tool missing him by mere centimeters, enough to feel the wind of its passing before it slammed into the ground, carving deep furrows through the concrete as a spiderweb of cracks race through the ground from the point of impact. Lancer, having recovered to his feet and seeing the opportunity to attack while the mystery Servant's weapon was temporarily neutralized, whirled in place, his holy lance thrusting out to take his enemy's heart!

Clang!

But it, like every fatal blow before it, was blocked, as in a single fluid movement, Luvia's Servant ripped his weapon from the ground, and parried, the collision of partizans banishing the rock powder from his scythe and restoring it to its deadly brilliance.

A lance only needed a forward motion—a thrust—to be wielded, and as such required less effort to inflict a lethal wound than something as unwieldy as a large scythe, which requires wide sweeping blows to lay low an opponent, more than twice the effort required of a spear-user. From a logical standpoint, the lancer should have a distinct advantage over his enemy, just as a lance-wielding Knight should have an advantage over a scythe wielding peasant in rebellion. But such rules of combat and logic only apply when the warriors that the argument concerns are human, and their weapons merely mundane works of metal and wood. These Servants, on the other hand, these hounds of war, whose inhuman savagery in combat could only be likened to the fury of the elements themselves howling in defiance against the cities of man—these combatants were anything but human, so there were no rules by which to abide.

Servants.

Familiars of different classes that obey the seven masters.

Heroic Spirits from the throne of Heroes, whose souls ascended beyond mortality due to worship and the glory of their deeds – these are the warriors summoned by the Holy Grail, perhaps human in form, but in reality the ultimate ideal created by the dreams of man, unmistakable for anything other than what they are.

Especially while they're fighting like this.

Luvia's Servant might not be as fast as Lancer, but he seemed to possess a very keen battle intuition, and amazingly is more than capable of reading and countering Lancer's would-be-fatal attacks, parrying and blocking with ease.

Twin tips are thrust forward and back multiple times, as Lancer keeps trying to score a hit, but each and every time his lance is thrust, the enemy either turns it aside using the scythe's edge or reads Lancer's moves and steps out of the way with contemptuous ease.

A crash.

Lancer disrupted his intentional attack pattern and turns a thrust into a sweep, changing the flow of his movements to trip up the opponent and gain the upper hand. It was a simple yet rather commendable move, but it might also be because he's running out of options.

"Damn it! What the hell kind of a Servant are you?" Lancer growled, one of his eyes twitching with visible annoyance. "And if you say you're a 'Lancer', I swear I'll take your head!"

The Servant of the Lance was growing impatient, as the battle had been going on for too long without either side gaining a notable advantage.

"Sorry. I'm not at liberty to reveal that information at this time." So the white haired boy answered coolly as he slashed his demonic scythe up in a swing between Lancer's legs, to cleave him in twain from crotch to shoulder, with only the vaguest hint of a smirk on his face.

With the inherent speed of his class, Lancer dramatically leapt away from the scything blade up into the night sky, with the light of the moon silhouetting his lithe, airborne form as he sailed through the air. With a feral, catlike grace he landed a healthy distance away from his enemy, and held his blood-red lance in what can only be described as a javelin-thrower's position.

'Lancer has something planned,' I realized, as I sensed a sudden chill, as the mana in the air was drawn into the twin-pronged spear, whose crimson glow brightened, a pulsating sound reminiscent of a heartbeat audible to all.

I was nearly quivering with excitement when my mind registered what was about to happen. A truly amazing event, the likes of which very few have the fortune of seeing in their lifetimes…and even fewer when not on the receiving end—a Noble Phantasm. A real, honest-to-goodness, Noble Phantasm. A weapon, technique, or ability utilized in life by a Servant, raised to nigh-divine status along with them—a weapon intimately connected with a Heroic Spirit's former identity as their proof of heroism.

An absolute trump card that when called upon, could turn the tide of any battle.

'That's my Servant!' I thought smugly, watching the events unfold—and noting with satisfaction that Luvia seemed to be fascinated by this as well. In that moment, I unleashed a second gem, this time releasing enough wind to level a house and rip her to shreds…but once more, she apparently produced a gem of her own, nullifying my spell with raw magical energy, watching me warily. 'When conventional combat isn't enough to bring down the opposing Servant, use a Noble Phantasm to end it decisively; which is exactly what Lancer is doing right now.'

The Servant of the Lance gritted his teeth as he aimed his mana-charged weapon at his enemy and wound up for a big release, his expression was a stirring amalgam of wrath, sorrow, and determination, as if the very usage of this technique was dredging up painful memories, yet he knew he must make use of it if he desired victory.

From my vantage point, in between trading Gandr potshots with Luvia – and the occasional larger spell, I could now clearly see the mana swirling about Lancer's spear, a crimson spiral that appeared for all the world like hissing blood. Lancer's mouth opened and closed with his words, as he recited the name of his Noble Phantasm, the keywords to activating the latent power of the Holy Lance itself…

"Lancea…" The helical lance's tips twisted and fused into a singular shaft, and his volume rose sharply as the weapon's true name devolved into a pseudo-war cry:

"…LONGINI!"

Hurled with a power surpassing even that of an Olympian god, the crimson missile streaked through the air as it is thrown, breaking the sound barrier as it tore through space unerringly towards the heart of its victim far faster than a spear had any right to fly, intending to utterly destroy the scythe-wielding Servant under Luvia's command.

It must have been a truly frightening sight. It had to be. To see certain doom come to claim oneself head-on, unable to—

"Dodge it!"

A sudden shout tore from Luvia's throat just as the spear was launched, my own Seals pulsing as they felt another Master invoking a Command Spell – an absolute order that can both restrain or reinforce the action of a Servant, to the point of making him perform an impossible action. If it was within the scope of the prana of the Master and the Servant, then it could be realized through the power of an order of the Command Spell - even if it is something the Servant isn't normally able to do, such as warping space and time to come to a Master's aid, increasing the might of a Noble Phantasm—or avoiding a normally unavoidable attack.

It was with the aid of that spell that the mysterious Servant bent space itself to avoid the hypersonic projectile, the weapon missing by scant millimeters, but coming enough to carve a long notch in his armor's side. A millisecond longer and the unknown would have been skewered, taking the holy lance through the chest and dying instantly, removing Edelfelt from the competition.

But as it was, the prana-charged lance did miss, instead kicking up a dust cloud of plater and tile as it buried itself halfway into the playground's boundary wall, discharging its excess prana violently in the form of a burst of super-heated steam that melted the stone and surroundings in a radius of at least five meters. Traveling at such speed and velocity, I was convinced that the only thing keeping that volatile spear from sailing through the wall like hot butter and cutting a swath through the entire neighborhood was that Lancer imposed his will upon his Noble Phantasm, keeping it from traveling further and harming those uninvolved.

With a hiss and a look of horror at nearly having died, the black-armored Servant staggered momentarily before flashing forward to counterattack, his scythe ripping through air and distance as it sang for my unguarded Servant.

"GrrrRRWRAAAHHHHhHHh!"

But before it could reach its prey, a blood-curdling howl tore through the night, as Lancer evaded with inhuman speed that even outclassed what he was capable of before, propelling himself forward, straight towards his scythe-wielding enemy, wearing an expression of inhuman rage. His eyes flashing with undisguised bloodlust, he took a running leap, sliding under the scythe and grabbing the unknown Servant's leg with his bare hands, tossing him aside like a rag doll.

"Kuh!"

Apparently Luvia's Servant had catlike reflexes of his own though, as he managed to land on his feet, bringing his scythe up into a suitable defensive position to guard against the physical onslaught of his recklessly charging foe who, at the very last second, altered his attack vector, performing an extravagant overhead somersault to launch a frenzied double-kick to crush the mysterious Servant's head.

Twang!

At the last possible moment, Luvia's Servant managed to interpose his weapon between the deadly blow and his head, but though he stopped it from being instantly fatal, it wasn't enough to stop the motion and inertia carried by Lancer's attack, as the unknown was sent skidding across the ground, into the playground wall behind him – the structure collapsing with the force of impact.

'Wait…unless I'm hallucinating, did I just see Lancer perform a reckless bum rush?' And against a completely armed, albeit slightly shaken opponent, at that? I thought I had summoned a Lancer, not a Berserker. I could only assume that this reckless charge was a technique that made Lancer famous in life, though my confusion was at least somewhat replaced with smug satisfaction when I hazarded a glance at Luvia, who seemed somewhat unnerved by this turn of events.

"No way," I heard her mutter with a mix of incredulity and reverence, swallowing. "Such terrible fury. Is that, really, St…Longinus? "

Heh. If only you knew, Luvia. Well, if only I really knew, too.

"NuRRAhhWWWW!"

Another inhuman bellow sounded, as Lancer's slim but powerful legs propelled him across the ground, his fist flying for the scythe-wielder's head to finish him off with monstrous strength—only to miss, slamming through the wall instead. In spite of his injury and possible concussion, the black-armored Servant had managed to evade Lancer's attack and to get back on his feet. Once more the wall splintered, and Lancer erupted in a burst of speed…but not towards the mysterious Servant. No, this time Lancer proceeded to reclaim his spear now that it was once more within reach, the rictus of fury subsiding, to be replaced with an equally intimidating thousand-yard stare. This was the look of a warrior that wouldn't be stopped by anyone, who would do anything necessary in order for him to complete his objective.

"Servant! Come!" Luviagelita ordered, as her Servant performed an incredible jump, leaping over to his Master, answering her call in the blink of an eye, none of his mobility or power lost due to his minor injuries.

"Yeah, what is it, Master?" the odd one inquired of his summoner somewhat reproachfully, though he didn't take his eyes off of the greater threat…the Servant of the Lance. "This battle is still going on, it's far from over."

"I know that. It's just that we're pulling out for now." Luvia explained, all the while twisting her finger around her blonde curls. "No need to show them everything in one sitting, right? We still have a few tricks up our sleeves, so we can come back later to finish the job. Besides, tonight was just supposed to be reconnaissance."

She looked over to my direction as our gazes met once again. Teehee, this was fun, Rin. Let's do it again sometime really, really soon."

"Now, let's go, Ryou." She ordered, her attention focusing back to her Servant as he dispelled his scythe and took her in his arms, leaping over the tops of the grove of trees that surrounded the playground where our skirmish had taken place. In mere instants, we had lost sight of them, in mere seconds more, they would be gone entirely. That wasn't good. I couldn't allow an enemy Master or Servant to escape, not after having seen Lancer's Noble Phantasm in action.

"Master!" Lancer's voice betrayed a slight sense of uncertainty, a stark contrast to the capable, fearsome warrior I had witnessed in battle only moments before. "They're getting away. Should I pursue?"

"Permission granted, Lancer. Finish the job. I don't want to have to deal with them again, especially not her," I ordered, my voice filled with venomous contempt. There could be no loose ends left over from this fight. I wouldn't allow it.

"Yes, Master."

With a brusque acknowledgement, Lancer leapt away to pursue our enemies, his form disappearing into the moonlit night. As he vanished from my sight, I took a seat on the swingset, the only section of the playground that has avoided some sort of damage from the battle that had taken place. I spared a glance at my Command Seals, once again greeted by the sight of a fig leaf and birdlike skull, skewered on the holy lance wielded by my own Servant.



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As the minutes ticked by, my anxiety steadily grew. It had been a long five minutes since Lancer departed to finish off Luvia and her pet reaper, and he still had not returned. Had he failed? Had the two laid an ambush for him and defeated him? I knew that Luvia, like myself, possessed prana-infused gemstones, and a hit from several of those might well be fatal for a Servant – or at least, detrimental enough that another could easily prevail.

With each passing moment, my level of tension mounted, and I hoped that Lancer would soon return, as it would be a shame to lose a Servant so early on in the war, and besides that…I was genuinely concerned for Lancer's safety. After all, the relationship between Servant and Master was a symbiotic one, with the Master needs the Servant to battle and gain access to the Grail, while the Servant needs the Master to supply the prana needed to stay materialized in the world in order to fight for the prize. In that sense, at least, we needed each other.

Once again, I caught myself lifting up my sleeve to look at my Command Seals. I guess it was my way of reaffirming my status as a Master, and it did put me at ease to see that the Seals were still present on my forearm. They haven't faded yet, so that means Lancer still existed in this world, and they didn't burn, meaning Lancer had not yet engaged the enemy. The only thing I could do for now…was wait. And wait. And wait.

Despite some misgivings and not being entirely sure I wanted Luvia dead, I knew that this was for the best, as she had to be disposed of as soon as possible. When it came to battle (and the Holy Grail War was one such), knowledge really was power, and an enemy with experience of how one fought was one that could become an especially dangerous threat, as he or she could plan for and counter the strategies one was used to using. Adding the fact that Luviagelita Edelfelt and Rin Tohsaka were bitter rivals…this gave me an excuse to settle said rivalry once and for all. Although I just might miss having an arch nemesis to use as motivation to push myself.

Oh well. I could always make new enemies, I suppose.

Lancer's sudden arrival proved to be a surprisingly welcome interruption to my somewhat sanguine thoughts, and in response to his appearance in the clearing, I sprang to my feet. I quickly took note that I seemed a little TOO enthusiastic doing this, and again adopted the noble air that the dignified successor of a magus lineage should be exuding in times like this…even if it might not help, considering that Lancer had also seen me screw up quite a few times in the space of a day.

Raising an eyebrow, I noticed that my Servant's spear had been returned to its "sheath" inside his body, since he was currently unarmed.

"What happened, Lancer? Did you get them?" I inquired. He had been gone long enough for a second round to have taken place, and here he was in front of me, still alive. And yet, there had been no feeling of danger from the command seals, so I couldn't be sure.

"I…I'm sorry, Master," the spearman said unexpectedly, looking down at his feet. "I…lost them."

"What?" I said sharply, my eyes growing cold as I fixed him with a baleful stare. "Lost them? How could you lose track of them? Aren't all Servants supposed to be able to detect and track other Servants on at least a basic level?"

"I'm sorry." He apologetically intoned once more, about the last thing I wanted to hear.

"Don't apologize!" I snapped back, venting some of my displeasure on him…though I reined myself in as I notice him wincing. I was unsure as to whether it was because of my tone or what I said, but…I really couldn't be too angry, so I took a moment to school my features back to stern neutrality, putting on a mask like I did at school. "I'm not upset about your performance. Just at the results. You followed my orders perfectly, but something else happened, right?"

"Yes. That's right." Lancer answered professionally, now over the stinging bite that my words had on him. "I went to engage the enemy Maser and Servant pair, just like you had instructed me to do, trailing them by the magical presence of the other Servant." Lancer's brow furrowed and lines creased his forehead as he recalled what happened next, something that nonplussed him rather thoroughly. "The problem was that all of a sudden I lost his signal – his presence disappeared entirely. The trail went cold, and without a way to track them, I pursue no further." His youthful face clouded with dissatisfaction as he contemplated the implications behind the events he described to me.

"I see. So it wasn't your fault that you lost them," I reflected, musing on what must have transpired. "The enemy must have had another something else hidden up their sleeves, and they used it to make a safe getaway. I shouldn't have expected anything less from the heiress to the Edelfelt name."

'…from my arch-nemesis, rather…'

But still, this was rather troubling, if only for the reason that it provided no further evidence as to what the true class of her Servant truly was. The lengthy scythe it had used in the fight with my Lancer might qualify it enough to be a Lancer-class as well, but the ability to shut out one's magical presence from the world was more befitting of an Assassin-class Servant, one of the mysterious and deadly ones who skulked through the shadows of the night and normally targeted enemy Masters. With no idea as to whom Luvia's Servant might be, let alone his class, I could not formulate a proper strategy to deal with him for the next time we meet.

"Well then, Lancer," I began, noting that today's reconnaissance was most likely at an end. "If there's nothing else we can do, then let's head back to my—"

"I'm sorry to interrupt you, Master." Lancer suddenly cut me off, an urgent note in his tone. "But I'm detecting Servant activity, four kilometers directly to the west. There's a chance that it might be our targets getting into some trouble, and it may be a good chance to finish what we started. So, what should we do? Go after it, or head back?"

Hmm. If it really was them, this would present a wonderful opportunity to deal with them while they were otherwise engaged—or possibly two targets at once. Calculating the position from here, about four kilometers would be—

I froze.

"Wait," I said slowly, coming to a terrible realization as to who lived exactly four kilometers away, an idiot magus who might try to be a hero and get himself killed. "Did you just say 'four kilometers'?"

"Yes. Four kilometers, due west," he confirmed, not pressuring me with the choice, just merely wanting to know my response. "What do you want to do, Master?"

Four kilometers. Due west. There was no mistake then. Whatever was happening, it was happening at the Emiya house, where…where that idiot lived!

"Lancer! This is serious!" I barked out, knowing there wasn't a moment to lose. "We have to get there right away!"

"Whatever you want. Let's go."

Noting the urgency in my tone, Lancer nodded, wrapping an arm around my waist and taking a running leap towards our destination. As he did so, I noticed that his body, despite having a rather small frame, was actually quite fit and firm, like that of a dancer's, and that his hands seemed almost delicate, unused to the burden of swords. But I couldn't distract myself with thoughts like this, not when something else might be happening near my neighborhood.

With the rushing wind blowing in my hair, I silently prayed that we would get there before it was too late.

alfheimwanderer
March 16th, 2011, 02:23 AM
~destiny // Inertia Dawn~
Chapter I
– Fate - (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/6281893/2/Fate_Inertia_Dawn)


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100%
*unknown time and place*
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I am the soul of the void…

When I come to, all I can see is darkness.

I am drifting through an infinite expanse, sheer nothingness stretched out all around me, as far as I can see.

Aside from me, there is naught else in this place – no light, no air, no color—not even the passage of time.

Just darkness, starkly defining reality by the absence of all that was familiar.

Then, in that primordial「 」, something appears, breaking the uniformity of the void: a shimmer of light glinting from a jewel spinning in the distance, an exotic-looking sword frozen within its matrix. As it spins, the perturbations to its motion bring it slowly closer I was, nearer, nearer…nearer still, close enough that I could nearly reach out and brush the cool hardness of the crystal with my fingertips, nearly grasp the image of the sword encased within.

Nearly, but never quite closing the distance before its arc takes it away once more - just as it always is, night after night of dreaming.

Admittedly, it’s an unusual image, but one with which I am intimately familiar, the very sight putting me at ease. For the last ten years of my life, ever since that life-changing day, I’ve seen this scene nearly every time I’ve fallen asleep. Almost every night it’s been that very same strange, yet comfortably recognizable blade that I see in my dreams.

Having the same recurring dream for over ten years? I wonder what Freud would have to say about that. Or any of those other medical specialists that know more about the workings of the human mind than I.

Better it than those…other dreams of that…that one time.

Dreams…

That catastrophic day…

Geez, now why did I have to think those kinds of thoughts? Especially about…that. Now all those memories will come rushing back and ruin this otherwise pleasant dream that I’m hav—

A burning field – a scene from ten years ago.

—too late.

Eyes flutter open to the other scene seared into my mind – a familiar town turned to ash…the day that the boy who would become Shirou Emiya died. In the dream, I catch myself as I nearly take a nasty stumble on debris, running as I grope futilely for safety. The cool darkness of the void has been banished by a grotesque red-orange, flickering glow that reminds me of viscera spilled out in the streets, a crimson flower of thanatos oozing forth the sickly stench of death.

But I ignore it.

‘Just a little further, a little more and I’ll be safe.’ That is the foremost thought in my mind as I run, scrabbling with hands and feet, pushing debris aside with half-dead limbs as I struggle to escape what seemed my personal hell on earth. ‘A little more, another block or two…and I can be free of this nightmare…’

Behind me, the city blazes, with sheets of flame greedily licking at plastic, wood, and paint to the accompaniment of grotesque sizzling, punctuated now and then by cries of indescribable agony from those who cannot escape. Garbled screams of little value, tugging at my heartstrings—but I cannot pay attention to them if I want to live.

“Help! Somebody, please…!”

A scream issues from somewhere past the flames, begging for someone—for anyone—to help, even knowing that it was useless, that no one would come.

“Somebody…any…body…”

It comes again. Another victim pleading for salvation, salvation that will not come, because there is none to give…

I wince, feeling like I’ve been stabbed in the chest. Every time I hear their voices, I am assaulted by a wave of mingled guilt and nausea—but I keep moving. There is no way I can atone to them, to those voices, to those people who are suffering, who are calling for my aid. No matter how much they beg for help and no matter how much I want to help them, I can’t save them. I’d just end up dying, and then no one would live on.

I won’t ask them to stop calling to me; all I can do is listen while running away. I have no way to save them. I have no miracle to grant.

I can barely even—

Thump!

…what happened? When did the ground rise up to meet my unresisting flesh? This is no time to rest…I have to keep going…I have to…

“Ha…guh…ha”

—it takes several minutes before I realize that all I can hear is my own breathing. The voices are gone, and even the background hiss-crackle-pop of the flames has fallen silent. Had a miracle happened after all? Even though I am still in pain, I can feel something wet on my—

‘Wait. I can’t just give up, not now. Not after I already ignored all those pleas for help…if I can’t even save myself, it will all be meaningless.’

“Hold on. I’m not done yet,” I mutter, steeling myself with what’s left of my will, putting power into my arms to try and raise my half-burned body. But I can’t summon the strength. The adrenaline that had forced my body to move in spite of its injuries has given out, and all that remains are my beating heart and my organs screaming in pain.

It seems that something wet is trickling down my arms as well, but that’s ridiculous. It can’t be sweat, since I was dehydrated from my exertions. It can’t be water or mud, since the fire would have long dried up any left around. Which left one rather morbid possibility…it’s my blood.

‘I won’t look down to confirm it, because if I do, I know I’ll lose consciousness, and if I do, I really will die. Here, alone, with my flesh bubbling up, my skin being seared away until I end up as a big human shish kabo—‘

A horrified shriek cuts through my morbid thoughts, a raw sound of terror which forces my mind back to the situation at hand. I am hurt pretty badly, and the things I needed to live are slowly leaking out. But I am still here, still awake…still screaming.

That makes me realize: there’s a part of me that hasn’t given up yet. And even if it is only a small part of me that rejects death, if there is any part at all, then I refuse to shame myself and take the easy way out.

“Ha…guh…ha”

Bracing myself for the inevitable explosion of pain, I focus everything that is left of my tattered resolve, putting power into my right arm, then the left. Slowly, protesting all the while, my body reacts to my wishes, until I was up on all fours. My arms are trembling now, and every move feel like I’m running myself through with a sword, but at least I can move again.

“Ha…guh…ha”

I can still move if my heart is beating. In these moments, my will is my life. As long as my heart continues beating, I won’t give up trying to find a way to survive. With a heave, I get up on one knee, gritting my teeth in an attempt to keep unconsciousness at bay.

“Kuh—damn, do as I tell you—”

I feed power into my body, wincing as the blood I needed to live flows out in crimson rivulets gleaming in the firelight. It’s probably useless to continue, I know that…but I also know that I have to keep moving as long as there is any hope left at all, so that in my last moments, on the verge of my death, I can at least be proud of my life. There is so much I am ashamed of, so much I regret…but I will at least die on my feet if at all…even if I know that no one can escape this red world of pain.

The sickly-sweet stench of death wafts all around me, a tableau of ruin and human selfishness. There are people living in this city, families, children trapped by flames they cannot escape, smothered by toxic fumes, crushed by rubble. People desperately clinging to the hope that someone will save them…

But no one came…and everybody died.

I am the only one wandering through the fire. Even though houses and office buildings burn all around me, condemning others to the dust of death, even though sounds of crying come from all around, I walk alone.

Mechanically, not even trusting in someone to save me, so I keep walking, not slowing, not looking to the side. I keep walking, ignoring the voices sobbing in pain, ignoring the voices going mad trying to escape. I keep walking, ignoring the screams of those not wanting to die, ignoring the pleas of mothers wanting me to take their children. Ignoring even the eyes of the dying who cannot ask for help, I keep walking, seeking salvation for myself.

I’m tired of looking at corpses. I’m tired of listening to people die in pain. I’m tired of the fact that I can’t save them no matter what I do…that’s why I never stopped. And I think to myself: if there were people who died unable to do anything, then as long as I can still do something I have to live, holding back my tears, walking on in search of an escape.

That’s why I cannot stop now.

“Euuuhhh…”

With a last gasp of effort, I force myself to my feet, causing the wound in my back to open up. The pain makes my vision go white, as I laugh scornfully at myself.

It is somehow bright now, much brighter than I ever thought the city could be, with all the grime and soot of decades burning away in a scene cribbed from the pages of Dante’s Inferno. Is Hell really other people? Perhaps and perhaps not, but this hell is assuredly one wrought by human hands.

Taking a painful breath, my vision clears, and I steady myself, placing one foot forward, then the other, staggering one step at a time towards the outskirts of the city, seeking a respite from the heat, seeking the caress of the cool night air. No matter how much it hurts, no matter how much my body just wants to collapse, I won’t stop. I can stay conscious. It is my pain, after all, so I only have to endure it.

Step. Step. Step.

Keeping time with the syncopated staccato metronome of my ragged breathing, I keep moving forward, through the smoke, the dust, the lapping flames, a lone silhouette dragging itself through a molten haze.

Step. Step. Step.

I collapse as dawn breaks, staring up at the clouded sky, my legs giving out beneath me. Is it because there is no air? Is it because no function is left in my tattered body? I don’t know. Glancing down through my scorched, barely functioning right eye, I can see at last that I am dying. My skin is peeling away in strips and flakes, my body is stained with mingled blood and sweat—my arms are twisted at unnatural angles, and a broken bone protrudes from my torso. I can’t move as I bleed onto the ashen ground, disturbing the soot that has settled around me, watching as tongues of flame come nearer, nearer, nearer once again. Everything around me has burned up, and the putrid smoke floats up towards the heavens above, with dark clouds looming overhead as if gathering up their grudges to wash everything away.

A bright darkness, a wall of flames like the remains of a battlefield from a movie. There is no one else here, no sign of human presence, not even signs of any animals – at least none that are alive. The wind does not blow, the rain does not fall…if I really think about it, my life until now was so happy that looking back, it seems like it was just an illusion. Here I am, lying on the ground, bleeding to death, wondering just how much longer my heart will go on beating before it slows and inevitably stops. The days I lived through, so seemingly trivial…perhaps each and every one of them was an irreplaceable moment I can never return to.

I know then this is the place where the boy named Shirou _____…will die.

I try to resist, but try as I might to stay conscious, my eyelids grow heavy, and what little strength remains to me begins to slip away.

In the end, I sigh deeply and just look up at the sky, saying to myself that it hurts, saying so on behalf of all the people who can’t.

…that’s when he appears, a stranger with a wrinkled coat and uncombed hair, whose tired face lights up as he sees me with a look of relief and utter joy, as if to say “this is what I have been searching for.”

With his black duster and dark hair shifting ever so slightly in the stagnant air, he looks down at me as if that sight saves him from the fires of hell – even though the scene he bears witness to is akin to a portrait of hell itself. At the time, I hadn’t thought about the irony of it, just that I couldn’t really muster up any thought at all as he knelt down and regarded me – couldn’t even gather the energy to speak to him. I could only blink slowly at him, in a quizzical way, I suppose.

He frowns then, reaching for his stomach and grunting, making something appear before him as if by magic: an orb of sorts, shining softly like a pseudo-moon, brighter than the flames, the size and color of a large grapefruit and its flesh, fitting snugly into the man’s palm. I can clearly see the pink constitution of the glittering gem, like the light of a crimson moon filtered through human tears.

To my aching eyes, it looks so…wonderfully, irreplaceably beautiful.

“Don’t worry. This might sting a bit, but it’s better than what would have happened to you any minute now,” the man said as he holds the crystal over my heart—seeming to push it into my body, with the pulsing light of the stone shifting to a brilliant white, then vanishing as he does this. The moment it disappears, engulfed by my flesh, I feel my nerves flaring, as if white hot wires have been ripped through my skin, cutting into my very core. I thought that my ability to feel pain had been burned out by the fire, but it seems my body was determined to prove me wrong as I feel the urge to cry out in sheer anguish, to curl my broken self into a fetal position as breath explodes in a violent hiss from between my teeth. I feel the urge to do all these things and more, and I surely would have…had my body not betrayed me, my eyelids growing impossibly heavy as the last of my energy drains away.

“Go to sleep, little one. And when you wake up, you won’t have to see anymore of this nightmare.”

I don’t have a choice in the matter, so I oblige him. The man who would one day become the father of Shirou Emiya.

My father…

My dad.



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100%
First/day
100%

And so, I wake up, rubbing the sleepiness out of my eyes as I sit up from where I had fallen asleep the night before, while I was working. My body groans in protest at the unnatural position I’d collapsed in after my nightly ritual, muscles and bones creaking as I move after a long night of rest, but I ignore it, instead rising to my feet and taking in my surroundings. The space around is still somewhat dark, what with it being early in the morning, but there is still enough light for me to make out the shapes of everything in here clearly – the oddly soothing sight of what others would call junk. Parts and gadgets, odds and ends and blueprints – shelves crammed full of things needing repair and things broken beyond any hope of repair; these are the only decorations this place needs.

A shed built on the edge of our yard, it seems to the world but a warehouse we put all our junk in, but to me it is a place of treasures. I’ve always thought this way, ever since I was a kid, when Kiritsugu tried to keep me from going into the shed, but I snuck in anyway – making it my base, or my “workshop” you could say…although not even a half-assed magus like me would even think of calling it that. Yeah, this is where I do all my repairs and conduct my “training”. You could call this place my real room, even holding changes of clothes along with other things I need, as the big Emiya household doesn't suit me, and I can only relax in this space full of junk.

Though I do have to wonder: did I bring all the junk here because I liked the place, or did I come to it because I liked the junk? Anyway, since I always snuck in, I made it my hobby to fix the broken things.

Why? Well, it isn’t that I get too attached to things—it just annoys me that people throw away things that can still be used, hence why I stay up late fixing things.

With a sigh, I look down at myself, frowning at the knowledge that I had fallen asleep while wearing my overalls, which being my work clothes, were pretty dirty. I fell asleep while I was working, so it couldn’t be helped, but I think I had better change before going to breakfast, as I can’t imagine what “Fuji-nee” would say to me if I went into the house like this.

…Actually, I can, and the thought frankly terrifies me worse than the results of calling her by her hated “nickname.”

Last time, she broke both the stove I was fixing, and an old VCR, which was next on the list of things that need repairs. That really made my day…

"Well, let's get today started…I guess I’ll finish the repairs to the stove tomorrow,” I say to myself, shaking off my disappointment and putting the scattered parts away on their place on the shelf of things to be fixed, before going to the corner of the shed where my changes of clothes were kept, picking out a shirt and jeans, my usual attire. “I don’t have the time to try before school.”

Clapping my hands in prayer to the shed, I head for the main house – a Japanese-style mansion on the outskirts of town. I don’t know exactly how my father was able to own this huge house, given that he wasn’t exactly a respected person in town, but at least he didn’t have any relatives in Japan, meaning that the house became mine when he died. To be honest, though, I don’t have the ability to deal with the complications owning property entails – like inheritance and property taxes, which is why I’m glad that Old Man Fujimura, the big landlord—and yakuza boss—of the neighborhood, is in charge of such things.

Well…the fact that the one handling my legal affairs is a yakuza boss is a sort of problem in of itself, but I prefer to ignore it. While it’s certainly true that he’s energetic and scary, Old Man Fujimura actually isn’t that bad a person—he certainly pays me generously when I tune up his motorcycle.

…then again, I’m an honorary part of the “family”, so I guess I’m a little biased.
Still, it also means I’ve been living alone for close to five years, ever since Kiritsugu died. Each day since, I’ve trained to be like him – a magus who saved people, but though I’ve grown physically, my magical growth hasn’t kept up. I guess it’s natural since I had no talent to begin with, but with no improvement at all in five years, my goal is so far away that I can’t say I’m even at the starting line yet.

For now though, it won’t do any good to rush, and so comes a more immediate issue: what to do this morning?

Let’s see: Sakura Matou, my junior at school and sister of a friend of mine, is probably here already, and since she always insists on cooking, no doubt she would have already started. We got into this cooperative kind of relationship after I was injured a year and a half ago and she came to cook for me. Originally, we had intended on the arrangement lasting until my injury healed, but some trivial thing came up to make her stay with it well after that. My teacher…well, Fuji-nee, will be here shortly as well, but that still gives me plenty of time to warm up before breakfast. What I do isn’t really martial arts per se, but since Kiritsugu told me that I have to train my body as well as my mind, it has become my daily routine to work out, with pushups, sit-ups and stretching to help keep me limber—letting me move as I wish when I have to, especially in the case of sudden…accidents.

Fortunately, the Emiya house has a big dojo, built when the house was, so I have a convenient place for my daily exercise.

Even a magus cannot neglect to train his body, as one of the requirements for being a magus is to remain in excellent physical condition. When Kiritsugu was still alive, we had matches here…or what I would have liked to call matches, since they were really more like him beating on me than anything else. Needless to say, I didn't learn anything about how to win in a fight, though I learned the difference between a fight and a battle—in other words, between killing an opponent and beating an opponent.

It’s simple – as long as one learns magic, there is the potential of destroying oneself, and times will surely come when one has to fight.

For a magus, such fights mean killing one another, so what Kiritsugu Emiya taught me was how to prepare my mind for the prospect of death.

But it has been years since my teacher passed away, and on my own, all I can do are the simple exercises that anyone can do.

…still, I will at least do them properly, as even a simple push-up can be training for the Magic Circuit if I put on mental shackles instead of metal weights…







"…Ninety-nine, one hundred…"

Before I know it, my routine is over – but then again, I slept in this morning, so I don’t have any choice but to cut my workout short. It’s already 6:20 am, after all, and in the Emiya home, even that is a late time for breakfast, so I quickly change out of my gi into my school’s light brown uniform, and head over to the bathroom to wash up and make myself presentable. As I wash my face and brush my teeth, I rub my hand through my close-cropped red hair as a pair of golden brown eyes stared back at me from the mirror. Good, my eyes haven’t changed color yet, nor have I begun to go prematurely grey, so my fears have not come to pass for the moment. If they had, I don’t think even I’d be able to recognize myself even if I were standing in front of me.

Spitting out the last of the toothpaste and toweling myself dry, I think I can allow myself to join Sakura and Taiga for breakfast, now that I’m presentable enough that Fuji-nee wouldn’t attack me with the wrath of an angry “Tiger”. For some reason, I’m silently hoping for something out of the ordinary for today’s breakfast, like Belgian Waffles. But…I don’t even have a waffle-maker, and I’m pretty sure Sakura doesn’t know how to make them, even if I did own one.

Oh well.




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As it turns out, I was right: I was just lying to myself about the possibility of waffles. Although I can’t complain when breakfast is placed on the table, since Sakura has outdone herself, even more so than usual. The spread is an ideal example of a Japanese-style breakfast, featuring sesame-oiled spinach, shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, a potato-salad with an ample dollop of mayonnaise, a salad of shredded cabbage and mixed greens with a delicate miso-carrot dressing as the vegetable elements. Complementing this is a generous portion of rice and lightly seasoned miso soup with a refreshing, mildly salty flavor, a hale mix of tofu, carrot, seaweed, mushrooms and Japanese pumpkin floating within to add to the subtle flavor tones. And as the piece de resistance of the meal, crisp-skinned salmon, grilled to perfection with a hint of soya, with toasted nori and pickles on the side.

Sakura only began learning how to make Japanese food a year and a half ago, after coming over to help when I was injured. She prefers to cook Western dishes, but when she found out that Fuji-Nee and I prefer Japanese, she learned to make it for our breakfast. Now the student has nearly surpassed the teacher, as painful as it is for me to admit it—and she’s still improving, much to my mingled pride and chagrin.

Still, at least thinking of how much Sakura has improved from when she first started cooking keeps my mind from wandering into more…troubling thoughts – such as how Sakura’s silky hair and smooth skin catches my eye, or how she's been growing in certain, places recently and how some of her casual gestures draw attention to her ample figure.

…That's what I mean by troubling.

I guess I’m feeling guilty about being attracted to my friend's sister, especially when the odd notion crosses my mind that she’ll make someone very happy in the future.

Anyway, even though Sakura and Taiga Fujimura don’t live here, I know them both well. Fuji-nee was originally an acquaintance of my father‘s, and ever since I was adopted, she came to house quite often—and even more so than previously after Kiritsugu died, allegedly to watch over me and make sure I grew up properly – though personally I sometimes wondered who was more of a child. Still, maybe it was her visits that kept me from being completely alone and helped me to make it on my own after my father died. Either way, by now, she’s almost a dependent, eating breakfast and dinner here, and having her lunch made as well – a bad habit for a teacher to be getting into. Sakura and I became close in the year and a half she’s been coming by. To me, they’re practically family, and even if others would define them as “freeloaders,” I think of them as rightful residents of the Emiya household.

Usually, mealtimes are quiet since Sakura isn’t really the talkative type, and I’m not versatile enough to talk while eating, but sometimes a certain loud one chooses to interject and disrupt our blissfully mundane peace…

“Hey, Shirou.”

…like today.

Setting aside the chopsticks she’d been using to swirl her dried seaweed in the miso soup to soften it, Fuji-nee speaks with a glimmer in her eyes that makes me incredibly suspicious of whatever it is that she has planned.

“I have a little surprise for you that I picked up from somewhere,” she quips, a mischievous quirk to her lips that reminds me of a cat smiling.

“Oh really? What is it?” I ask, raising an eyebrow. With Fuji-nee acting like this, I have good reason to be worried, since she has a terrible habit of leaving random things at my place. “I'll throw it away if it's junk, you know."

“Well Shirou, if I told you then it wouldn’t be a secret, now would it?” She mouths back, staying true to her character. Ever since I can remember, she’s always been like this, and while she means well (I hope), I can’t help but feel a little dread as to what she has planned for me this time. Not that I’m one to wear these fears of mine on my face—I can’t let her win like that. “Here,” she commands, handing me a cardboard tube. “Just take a look.”

I do as she requests, not really having a choice in the matter. If I disobey, she’ll just keep pestering me and pestering me until I give in, so I take the tube and crack it open. Inside I find a poster, which I pull out, unroll, and look at, blinking.

“Let’s see…”

On the poster is a man dressed in military fatigues, face painted with fierce camouflage makeup, both his thumbs up, standing in front of a cheap looking blue sky background. And in letters like blood, it reads…

“ ‘Join the Defense Force today and experience all the pride, joy and honor of…’ – hold on, this is an army recruitment poster!” I protest, wondering in the back of my mind if she thinks I should join the army or something.

“Very perceptive of you, Shirou,” she answers wryly, waggling her eyebrows.

“Why are you giving me this?” I inquire with a note of suspicious exasperation, although deep down I know all too well.

“Well, I don’t want it, since it was left at my place—you can have it, Shirou,” Fuji-nee insists, clasping her hands together in an effort to appear mature and knowing, though her desired appearance is much at odds with her pouty tone.

“Whoa, I don’t want it either!”

Typical Taiga. Even though she’s once again trying to force something onto me, she’s only doing so because she thinks that it’s for the best. I can accept that, but with me being a nearly grown man who is perfectly capable of making his own choices, I sometimes think that she needs to accept the fact that Shirou Emiya, the boy who has been like a little brother to her for the past half-decade doesn’t quite need “Fuji-nee” to bring over useless things to clutter up the house.

I like “junk”, but only “junk” that has a use.

“Oh come on Shirou, you should be happy when an attractive young woman gives you a gift!” My guardian retorts as she narrows her eyes at me. “You need to act like a normal able-bodied young man…after all, you can’t keep having Sakura and I come over to take of you for the rest of your life, you know.”

I twitch at the absurdity of the statement. Sakura coming to take care of me is true enough, but—

“Excuse me? Aren’t you the one that keeps coming over here so that I can feed you for free?” I shoot back, looking at her blankly.

THWACK!

“Guh—?!”

A sharp pain. My vision blurs, and my head feels light. The shock reverberates through my head all the way down my spine.

For a moment, I’m sure I just saw some stars. Maybe even a little blue bird as well…

What the hell, Taiga?!

And how can a poster do such a thing to someone’s head?

Wait…could, could this be the legendary skill of a master?

“Why you-! You’ve got some nerve talking to me like that, Shirou!” Taiga chides me, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at me with a mock-affronted look. It’s at times like these when she loses it and embraces that deadly fighting spirit of hers that I’m forcefully reminded why she has earned the nickname “Tiger” – although that’s a name that you should also never, ever call her unless you really want to incur the wrath of an angry beast.

With my head still ringing, I risk a glance towards my irate guardian, and wince as I see what she’s hit me with. It’s another poster but…no way. Is that a steel-plated version of the poster, as a commemorative anniversary edition?! That could kill someone! Just like in that one manga I read where some guy’s angry housewife beats him to death with his plaque-shaped bowling trophy! Have you gone crazy, Taiga!?

“Sorry about the rudeness. I didn’t mean it,” I sigh, shaking my head. “But Fuji-nee, your personality is going to kill someone one day…”

With a pout, she sets the steel poster down beside the table, and takes her seat. “Apology accepted, Shirou. Just don’t let it happen again, okay now? But really, I’m not too worried…you’d just marry me if that happened, right?” She asks sweetly.

Wait, what?

The atmosphere freezes for a moment, and I have the faintest impression that if I answer in the affirmative, a terrible end awaits me.

“Huh, I’ll pass,” I reply, as the tension lifts and the odd sense of danger dissipates. “I have no intention of marrying such a thoughtless killer."

“That’s…hey!” Taiga shoots back, stung by my words. “I don't think I'm that dangerous of a person."

"I knew it,” I noted, looking at Sakura and gesturing to Fuji-nee. “See, it’s true. People never know themselves."

…and now I’m probably going to have to watch out or be killed in my sleep.

"Huh, just keep saying mean things like that and Sakura won’t marry you either, Shirou,” Fujimura-sensei warns, a wicked smile forming on her face as she looks between Sakura and I, taking note that we’re blushing slightly and are pointedly looking away from each other. With that, her mood swings from wrathful anger worthy of an ancient demon of vengeance to pleasantly content, and she then proceeds to help herself to fifths of Sakura’s cooking. When it seems safe enough, I glance over to Sakura, who is enjoying her breakfast and acting as if what has just transpired is nothing that she hasn’t seen before.

Actually, it isn’t. Taiga and I sometimes have these little spats, but they’re never ill-natured - even though sometimes I come out of them worse for wear.

Now that I think about it, I somewhat regret saying what I did to Fuji-nee. Not because of the pain – even though that’s a major factor – but because it almost sounds as if I’m ungrateful for everything that she has done for me. After all that she and Sakura have done for me over these last few years, how could I ever be ungrateful? They kept me sane and well as I could reasonably be, after all.

And with all that said and done, I rejoin the both of them in eating the breakfast that Sakura prepared.



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Taiga leaves as soon as breakfast ends, just like she always does, leaving before Sakura and me, not out of any desire to avoid the awkward situations she caused—or avoid cleaning up after herself (though I won’t deny that that might have been a factor), but because she’s a teacher and thus needs to get to the school before any of us. After she’s gone, Sakura and I do the dishes, then lock up and head out on our daily commute to school. The sky is slightly overcast – but the weather reports say that it’s going to be a clear night - and the chill air is somewhat nippy. It’s not enough to make the average person uncomfortable, with just enough briskness to keep away any feelings of lethargy from the night before – it’s the kind of morning I enjoy.

Side by side, we walk down to the town together, past the long wall and going downhill, through the residential district to the crossroads at the center of town, and from there to the school without making any stops. Walking next to me, Sakura doesn’t say much. In fact, few words are usually exchanged between us as we make our way to school. It’s not as if we aren’t good friends, it’s just that we’re people of few words, and words aren’t needed on these walks to and from the school, so we just end up enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company.

But since the walk is done more or less in silence, I find it a good time to let my mind wander and think about things.

So once again, I find my thoughts turning to the past and what they entailed for me back then, and what entail for me, the Shirou Emiya of today…

It is ten years ago.

In my mind’s eye, I see myself lying in bed, staring at an all-too-familiar ceiling in an all-too familiar room. My body is wrapped in bandages as it slowly heals from the grievous wounds I’d received from the fire, the burned patches of my skin having nearly sloughed off by now, peeled away by time and the careful effort of my attending physicians. I had been saved from the fire in which so many others had perished, but my parents were gone. At the time, I didn’t completely understand what had happened, but I knew I was alone. I like to think that understood quickly, but really, what could I do? I am far from the only one who had been placed in such a situation, so I couldn’t complain…all I could do was absorb the fact and bear it.

…flames licking at the flesh, the maw of a conflagration devouring bodies whole, white-hot metal blazing lines like circuits under the skin, an inferno one could not escape…

…a living hell…

Corpses, corpses, there were corpses…the smell of charred flesh overwhelming the smell of death…

I told myself it wasn’t happening, that such a thing could not happen.

But I couldn’t deceive myself.

…Fire,

Burn,

Conflagration,

Inferno.

Death.

Death…

Death dealt to all who were unfortunate enough to have lived in that town for their entire lives.

That could have been me. It should have been me. I should have died with the rest, burnt alive in a mass funeral pyre. But I was saved, saved from what should have been my end.

By that man.

By that hero of justice.

At least, that’s what I saw him as ever since we met that day…what I’ve taken to thinking of him as. That’s what I call him, too, whenever he comes to visit. Whenever I call him that, he always asks me why, with a shadow in his eyes as if the title brought him pain. But I didn’t notice then, always replying “Because that’s what you are!” as if it were the answer to the simplest question in the world...after all, only a hero would look that happy to have saved someone, right? In response, the man would smile gently at me as he says “I suppose I am a hero, huh?”

“Of course you are!” I answer, smiling brightly. “You saved me, didn’t you? That’s why you came, right?”

With that odd smile on his face, he replies. “You’re right. I saw that fire, and went to save everyone.” There’s a gentle reassurance in his tone, perfectly suited for someone of his disposition. It reminds me of the comforting words that a father would say to a young, anxious child like me – telling them that it was going to be okay, that life would be fine, and that his mere presence would keep them safe from the harsh unmerciful cruelty that the world had to offer.

His voice is somehow suspicious, but it’s kind, all the same.

“You’re quite the lucky boy to have been rescued from such…” his voice trails off, his lips pressing into a thin little line. “- from such a…”

“From what…?” I innocently ask.

“You’ve been healing up nicely, haven’t you?” he asks, changing from the still-raw subject of the fire that day to one that was more pleasant. Even at such a young age I can understand that he doesn’t wish for me to experience any more emotional trauma than I need to, so I oblige him.

“Mmm-hmm,” I nod, “Mr. Doctor told me that I’ve been doing fine.”

That’s the truth of it. When I first arrived at this hospital, I had so many ghastly wounds and I was in such critical condition that the medical staff were all thinking that I would either expire within a few days, or that my injuries would be permanent. That I would be reminded of that disaster every day for the rest of my life, each time I looked in a mirror and tried to get on with my daily routine. But after a month and a half, I was so thoroughly healed that my recovery couldn’t have been thought of as anything short of miraculous.

The burns have subsided, my sight returning to my left eye, and my body’s muscle ratio is at a consistently healthy level in-spite of being bedridden for such a long period of time. The doctors are all bewildered by this. Naturally, they are happy with how I managed to recover from such grievous injuries, yet at the same time they were perplexed as to what was allowing me to overcome said wounds. Medical science simply couldn’t answer that. They just didn’t know.

But I knew.

It was because of him. Him and that, that magic of his. That’s what it had to be. Magic.

Every day for the past month and a half he’d visit me, but it wasn’t until many visits in that that man revealed his secret to me. Naturally, I believed him instantly. For what he had done for me, there was simply no other explanation. It seemed like magic…because it was magic.

“Not exactly,” he corrects me, slightly reproachful at my presumption. “I said that I’m a magus – not a magician. What I did was magecraft, True Magic is beyond me.”

“Well what’s the difference?” I reply enthusiastically, believing him immediately, but curious. “You can do things normal people can’t that you used to save me! But…”

I have to wonder…

“…why are you telling me this?” This is a pretty important secret, after all. He has to have a reason why he was divulging this non-trivial tidbit of his life.

“I’m telling you because…well, I'll ask you directly. Which would you prefer?” he asked softly, utter seriousness written on his face “To go to an orphanage, or to be adopted by me?”

My eyes widen in a way that must have be rather adorable, because the smile gracing his rugged face widens even further than how it was.

He’s saying that he can adopt me.

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Why?”

I ask him if he’s a relative of mine, but he says that he’s just a stranger…an unreliable guy with no future at all.

“The doctors are ready to discharge you, and you no longer have any surviving family, so I’d rather not see you get sent off to an orphanage somewhere.”

Still, he saved me, so I decided to go with him.

“No! No!” I quickly reply, thinking that I might have hurt his feelings. I don’t want him to think I’m ungrateful. And besides…“That’s, that’s great. I’d really, really like that a lot.”

His lips once again curve upwards, probably due to a mix of my final answer and the flustered expression I must have had when I figured out that I seemed ungrateful.

"I see, that's good. Get ready quickly then, kiddo. You should get used to your new place as fast as you can."

The guy quickly starts packing my stuff—pretty poor packing, really, even in the eyes of a child. But still…

“I can’t wait….”

Shirou ________ died on the day of the fire, consumed by the flames that devoured the town. That day I lost everything of who I used to be, my name, my relatives, even my memory. I cannot remember who I was before I was plunged into the inferno, only that I left it a perfect tabula rasa – a clean slate, an empty shell…and that that day in the hospital was the first day of the rest of my life as Shirou Emiya, son of the magus Kiritsugu Emiya, as—


“S-s-SENPAI!”

A panicked sounding plea interrupts my nostalgic wanderings down memory lane, and I snap back to reality with a sudden jolt. Noting the terror in Sakura’s voice, I instantly scan my surroundings for danger.

A street. I’m in the middle of a street. But that’s not why she’s upset.

A siren. I hear a siren. A siren coupled with the blaring of a car horn, getting louder and more high-pitched—

Knowing something about frequency and volume and how those were affected by relative position to the source, I whip my head in the direction that the sound is coming from, and my eyes widen in horror as I see an ambulance bearing down on me without stopping—without time to stop.

Instinct takes over. I’m lucky enough that I have been keeping up with my training and have the necessary leg strength for what I’m about to do— and that I wasn’t too far out in the middle of the street when the ambulance came. Just as the emergency vehicle draws within a few feet in front of me, I take action. Using all my might, I leap backwards out of the road and the path of the ambulance –

— where I end up falling right on my butt when I made it safely back to the sidewalk, the horn screeching at me as the vehicle rushed on by.

Definitely not the most dignified thing that I’ve done in front of Sakura, but it’s preferable to being reduced to a smear on the sidewalk. That would have made her cry for sure, and last thing I want is for anyone in my sight to shed tears – especially over me.

As the ambulance raced down the street and out of sight, I sighed in relief. “Getting run over by an ambulance. Now that would have been ironic.” I quip, more out of nervous relief than a conscious effort to try and sound like a smart-ass.

“S-senpai?” Sakura timidly asks, coming up to me and looking over me for wounds, detectable worry in her voice. “Are, are you all right?”

“I’m okay, Sakura,” I reply while getting up from off the ground and brushing myself off. “That was pretty dangerous, though. I’ll have to be more careful from now on.”

“Right. Please be more careful, sen…” Suddenly, the alarm in her voice returns, “S-senpai! Your—you hurt your hand!”

Hmm? My hand?

Looking down, I immediately see what Sakura is getting so upset about. Blood is profusely leaking from the back of my left hand—enough of it for the crimson fluid to begin dribbling onto the sidewalk below and stain the grey one red.

“Huh,” I note to myself, scratching my head with my other hand and while thinking that I’ll need to wrap it as soon as possible to keep it from getting infected. “I guess I must have hurt myself when I fell, scraped some skin or something. Wow, it’s really bleeding.”

“Senpai?” She whispers, concern evident in her voice. “Are you going to be okay? Does it hurt? It looks – bad.”

Looking down at my wound again, I assess the situation more carefully. A good deal of blood, but no pain at all – it looks rather mangled, but unless my nerves have been pulled out of my arm or something, I don’t think it’s going to be all that bad.

“There’s a lot of blood, but I really don’t feel a thing, Sakura,” I tell her, using her name to reinforce the power of my assurance. “I think I’ll be okay, but thanks for your concern.”

Casting my gaze down the road in the direction that the ambulance went, I can clearly see where it stopped. There is a house not too far down the lane, and it appears as if the ambulance isn’t the only one down there. There are more tell-tale lights of other emergency vehicles where the ambulances and police cars are as well, and black-clad police officers swarm like flies frantically buzzing about the area. Something serious has happened…

“Hey, Sakura…go on ahead to school without me,” I tell her, my attention drawn by the cluster of activity.

“Senpai? Why?” she asks with confusion and uncertainty in her voice. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to go see what the commotion’s about,” I answer, gesturing over to where all of the police cars and ambulances are gathered.

“But why, Senpai? It’s none of our business.”

“I know Sakura,” I reply, shaking my head. This is just a part of me I can’t deny, after all – the part that needs to live up to my late father’s wishes. “It’s just…I have to know what happened. I just have to.”

“Senpai…” Sakura says once again, eyes imploring me not to do something dangerous after my close call today. “You really shouldn’t do that. Let’s just…let’s just go to school and put this out of our minds.”

“…Sakura.”

“Besides,” she continues with surprisingly logical reasoning, further strengthening her case against my rash course of action. “You don’t want to interrupt the police while they’re investigating, do you? Otherwise they can’t do their jobs.”

She’s right.

I sigh dejectedly. I can fully understand her logic. “All right then, you win. Let’s just get to school.”

Looking relieved, Sakura smiles gently and waits for me to resume walking before going after me, as if to make sure I wouldn’t change my mind at the last moment. As much as I want to check out the scene of the incident and see if there was anything I could do, I realize that I’d only get in the way of the trained professionals who were trying to do their jobs. Besides, the incident occurred on the route my friend Issei Ryuudou took to school, so I can just ask him about it when I find the time.

So with that, Sakura and I continue on our way – but I just can’t help but glance over my shoulder and look at the scene behind me. I feel obligated to at least do something, even though I have no ties to those who have suffered and I know nothing of what had happened at all.

Why am I this way? What compels me to do things – or at least attempt to do things – for others when there is nothing in it for me?

No chance of reward, no desire for reward.

Well…I guess that’s just the way I think a hero of justice should be.



.

] | [

.



Sakura and I part at the school gate when we arrive at school, as usual. Sakura’s in the Archery Club, so she heads off to morning practice at the dojo, while I usually make my way to the Student Council Room to see if I can help my friend with any repairs, which are after all, a specialty of mine. Due to being separated by a year of class, the only time Sakura and I ever see each other at school is if we were to pass by one another in the halls, or if we sought each other out – which would be unusual, to say the least, ever since her brother and I had a falling out. You see, we were once friends of a sort, until I noticed that Sakura would sometimes show up in the mornings injured. When I asked Shinji about it, he boasted that he’d hit her – and that more, he had done it because he felt like it. Hearing that, I got pissed and did to Shinji what he did to Sakura. Ever since then, we’ve been estranged – but I don’t regret punching him.

It was a fairly typical day—two heaters needed to be repaired, and I spent my about an hour working on them until the bell rang for class, almost running late as it was. Oddly enough, when I arrived in my classroom and sat down, Taiga wasn’t yet there, once again inexplicably late, even though she had left for school before any of us. There was an odd warning about an early curfew, which caused some grumbling, but that wasn’t really something that affected me, since I wasn’t part of a club as it was. After that, class proceeded as on every other day, until lunch time, when the students broke off into their usual groups –those who ate in the cafeteria or those who brought lunch, with the latter group divided into those who ate in the classrooms, and those who ate elsewhere.

Being one of those students who bring lunch, I’m made fun of by the girls and asked for food by the guys if I stayed in my classroom, so I tend to eat in the Student Council Room, together with one of the other more old-fashioned students: Issei Ryuudou, my friend and Student Council President.

"Emiya, could you give me some of that omurice?” he asks of me, glancing enviously over at my bento box. “My lunch is desperately lacking in meat."

It isn’t the first time he has asked for something of mine, even though he brings his own food every day – surprisingly plain fare, really.

"Sure,” I acquiesce, cutting a portion from the omurice with my chopsticks, piercing the thin omelet coating to reveal the moist chicken-fried rice within, with green onions, peas and cubed carrots for color, allowing the fragrant odors of beef-stock, rosemary and a hint of basil to waft out into the enclosed room. “But why is your lunch so plain? You live in a temple, but there aren't any teachings prohibiting meat or alcohol, right?”

I offer the portion to him, and he lifts his bento box to receive it gratefully. He all but inhales the food once it’s in his possession—in his own meticulous way, of course.

“Tch, such an anachronism,” Issei complains, once the food had been downed and properly savored. “It's just my father's way. He says there's no luxurious foods for a young priest, and that I should have to work for what I want. I'm thinking of running away and joining the circus."

Issei's father is the priest of the Ryuudou Temple, and a bold guy who is old friends with the old man at Fuji-nee's place. You really can’t expect a normal personality when he's friends with a guy like that.

“That does sound like him,” I admit, though a moment later, a thought that had been nagging me since morning surfaces. “Hey, Issei?”

“Hmm? Yeah, Emiya?” my friend asks, finishing the last bits of the omurice as if it was his last taste of paradise. You almost have to feel sorry for him.

Almost.

“You walked to school today, right?” I question, thinking back to this morning, when I had seen the incident near the intersection, one that bothered me for some inexplicable reason.

“I did,” confirms the Student Body President, looking up and raising an eyebrow. “Why do you ask?”

“On my way here this morning, I passed by the way that you normally take to school,” I note, face clouding over as I recalled what I had seen, “There were a bunch of police cars and ambulances around a house, with the area sealed with the yellow caution tape the police used to block off crime scenes with. Did you see them, and if you did, do you know what happened there?”

“Trying to be an amateur private eye, are we, Emiya?” he quips, sizing me up, one eye regarding me lazily from behind his glasses. “Actually, I found out that the police had been there since five in the morning, so they’d been there for some time. I didn’t stay for too long – since I didn’t want to bother them and I had to get to school – but I did find out why the police were there in the first place…” His eyes narrowed and he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose dramatically. “There was a murder. I don’t know the details, but the entire family was killed. Husband, wife, children. All of them were killed. By a long sword-like weapon, judging from what I heard. Strange, right?”

"…"

A long weapon? Something like a sword then?

I picture it in my head.

Someone barging into the house in the middle of the night. Screams of terror rousing no one. Unjust violence, an orgy of death and blood. Parents slashed in two. A girl stabbed through the heart, a boy splattered in their blood, a glittering sword driven through his stomach and jerked up violently upwards and to the side, as a spray of fresh juices fills the crimson air. Paralyzed by the fear. Poisoned by the fear. Scared to death by the fear…

“To be a magus is to walk alongside death. To live a life full of danger and deceit and death. Do you really want to go down that path?”I was once asked by someone who had walked that same bloody road as death’s companion.

“I want to learn,” I had insisted at the time. “If it helps me learn magic so that I can become a hero of justice like you, then I’ll do it!”

A beloved memory of the past flashes through my mind in counterpoint to the realization of what Issei had told me. My mind burns as my eyes narrow angrily, and I quiver with suppressed rage over the injustice of it all, fists clenching so hard that my nails dug into the skin of my palms.

“Emiya? You alright, Emiya?” he inquires, a vague hint of concern lacing his voice.

“Oh. Yeah. I’m fine, Issei,” I quickly reassure my friend. “I just kind of blanked out there for a second.”

“You blanked out? Looked more like you were seething with rage or had eaten something unpleasant,” Issei remarks and takes note of my condition. “Why? Did you know the family that was murdered?”

“No. Not at all,” I respond, which is the strange part about it. You normally wouldn’t expect someone to be upset over the deaths of someone that they didn’t know. “It’s just…it’s just so, wrong. That’s all.”

It’s just that simple, and at the same time it’s just that complicated—life can be quite the bundle of contradictions sometimes.

“Yes. Life’s pretty unfair sometimes, isn’t it?” Issei observes quietly, trying to soften the atmosphere from how sharp it had become. “But I have to wonder what they did in order for that to happen to them.”

Probably nothing. Nothing at all, just living their lives, minding their own business when disaster struck.

With a heavy heart burning with disgust at the actions that the people of the world went through with, disgust at the cruelty man could commit against others, I find that I can’t eat another bite of my lunch.

ItsaRandomUsername
March 16th, 2011, 02:24 AM
Right, I was gonna talk too you about re-starting this thread, but I guess you're already on it. Although I do wish you contacted me about this prior to the reformation... -__-

Guess DarkPulse was able to put the old one out to pasture because he owns the vbulletin license or something.

alfheimwanderer
March 16th, 2011, 02:27 AM
100%
First/night
100%

“…k—uh…”

As my vision slowly recovers from being blinded by sudden brilliance, my splitting headache and ringing ears painfully remind me that I’m still alive as I roll about frantically trying to extinguish the flames on my uniform that were even now searing me down to the bone. A few tense seconds later, I put out the fledgling inferno and scramble to my feet, my body screaming in protest as I force myself upright. By sheer force of will I clamp down on the urge to scream, to fall over again after being thrown from an ear-splitting explosion. Rubbing away the weariness, I look to where I had been standing a split-second earlier, only to be greeted with the sight of a good-sized crater still smoldering from the mysterious force that had ruptured and melted solid concrete.

This just hasn’t been my day.

I worked late that night—voluntarily, of course, as I tend to, since I’m the sort of person who just can’t bear to leave any unfinished work untouched—not and be able to forgive myself, at any rate. I don’t really mind getting home late either, especially since Sakura and Taiga aren’t going to be here tonight, both having other things to take care of—which is good. That way, I don’t feel as if I’m disappointing anyone with my absence, and can give myself some peace of mind as I go about the tasks of my part-time employment to earn enough money to pay for groceries. It isn’t exactly cheap to keep three people fed for every meal…especially when at least two of those people can eat far more than their bodies would suggest.

Using the Fuyuki Bridge, the structure that connects the downtown Shinto district and the Miyamachou residential district, I cross over into the part of town where home is, with everything just as it always is: I would return from work, go home, make dinner, engage in a laughable attempt to train my magic circuits (which rather felt like having a burning rod of iron shoved into my spine), and then likely collapse on the spot, drifting off to sleep and dreaming dreams I’d dreamt countless times before.

Needless to say, I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like this to happen to me.

Last night, a mysterious young girl with pretty white hair appeared in front of my house and delivered a cryptic message about summoning something or dying, and tonight—I’m attacked? Maybe I should have tried to find out what I was supposed to summon…

My alertness grows sharp in response to the danger, and adrenaline floods my bloodstream with each rapid beat of my heart as I swiftly cast my gaze up to catch a glimpse of what – or who, rather – had caused this.

There he is.

Atop a lamppost a figure stands silhouetted against the grayish backdrop of the overcast night, a sense of blasé indifference radiating from his form. His black outfit seems to melt into the dark of the sky, but that’s the least of my problems. My sense of danger is screaming that this guy is a foe on a completely different level, that to confront him would be death…but instead of running, I freeze as my eyes were drawn to the weapon my assailant bore.

A curved blade hangs nonchalantly – almost lazily – at his side, held in a nonthreatening position that belies the nature of his previous actions.

I flinch backwards as my foe turns to regard me, eyes meeting mine in the way a cat would size up his prey. With the vaguest hint of a smile twisting its way onto his face, his piercing gaze is almost paralyzing in its intensity, as if it were capable of pinning me in place with his overwhelming presence alone.

This guy…is really something else. His combat presence is astounding. Like a drawn sword that has tasted the blood of countless victims, he offers to those who face him only the cold unfeeling mercy of death, release from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, without anger, without rage…possessing a frightening calm like the eye of a horrifyingly powerful tempest—a perfect storm.

This man…this is a man who has killed, kills, and will kill with unmatched ease…and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m going to be his next victim. That with the softest word, the slightest motion, he will end my life.

I’m so overtaken with the sheer intimidation that this man in black exudes that I barely notice him raising his arm, am almost unaware of the magical energy surging and charging to his clenched fist, and nearly don’t hear his smug baritone voice intone a word that rings with a cool and collected killing intent, yet seems to lack any true power behind it, almost as if the word and the action are unrelated:

“Burn.”

Fortunately, my unconscious acts where my conscious mind could not, and by the time I realize he had spoken, I’m already in motion, raw instinct and terror compelling me to run as fast as I could…even as I know that I cannot possibly get away, that my chances of escaping this man are far slimmer than those of surviving the fire 10 years ago without injury.

That is to say…none. Without a miracle, I’m well and truly doomed.

Whump!

Another explosion erupts into existence, this time to the left of me. The intense, dry heat cuts through the air and singes my skin, forcing me to shut my eyes reflexively. But closing my eyes doesn’t help, as the raw power of the fuel-air detonation sends debris blasting into my back, and the pressure wave of the resultant blast lifts me off the ground and hurls me down the street, my body bouncing and skid along the pavement like a rag doll tossed inelegantly by a pouty child throwing a temper tantrum.

It hurts. A lot.

Even so, I have no choice but to force myself to my feet again and keep on running, keep on putting one foot in front of the other out of the oldest instinct of all living beings—to run away in the face of death. That I’m sensing a massive buildup of magical energy behind me only sharpens my resolve, as I unwittingly shoot magical energy through body – trying to run faster, faster, faster…

“Bolt.”

An incandescent bolt of superheated plasma streaks overhead and slams into some poor guy’s car, instantly setting every combustible surface on fire, with tongues of flame creeping closer, closer, closer to touching off the gas tank. Knowing what I do about engines from repairing motorcycles, and how violently gasoline could burn, I swerve down a different path of the 4-way intersection, since I really don’t want to run headlong into an impending explosion, as being caught on the fringes of two was more than I bargained for.

I’m already bleeding from cuts and scrapes and jagged pieces of metal lodged in my back—I don’t need to add being nearly burned to ash to my list of injures.

Again. Once in a lifetime is more than enough, thank you.

A concussive blast nearly knocks me off my feet as flames finally reach the gas-tank, the car going up in a pillar of fire not too far behind me. Still, I remain in motion, managing to recover my balance enough to continue pounding the ground with my shoes.

Movement catches my eye, and involuntarily I glance over my shoulder to see him. My attacker, leaping from one lamppost to another with feral elegance, his blade glimmering threateningly as it reflects the ambient firelight. A blade that he hasn’t used once. A blade that…

“All of them were killed. By a long sword-like weapon, judging from what I heard.”

A wave of nausea and sudden realization assaults my mind. That…that was him. He must have been the one that killed that family. It has to have been him. It makes too much sense to be anything otherwise.

“Geologica.”

Below me, the ground shakes as if the land itself is having a seizure. It isn’t quite enough to rend the streets and raze the houses around it, but it’s more than sufficient enough to send me sprawling to the ground, where the burned tatters of my school uniform tear and become even more ragged than before.

Thud!

A lamppost falls, missing me by a hair.

But why? Why did this man kill that family? And more importantly, why is he trying to kill me now? What have I done? I haven’t seen anything that I shouldn’t have. I haven’t done anything that I –

Wait.

This…this wouldn’t have anything to do with my magus training, would it?

Every day, I train my body. Morning and evening…but, at night, that is when I train my soul, when I try my hardest to open my magic circuits and channel energy through them, through a method I cobbled together on my own because Father’s training only went so far as basic knowledge of magecraft theory. He never actually taught me how to channel my body’s od—that was something I had to learn myself.

Granted, I’m not particularly competent at magecraft, given that my ability to figure out structures and reproducing them is something fairly useless. For a real magus, there was no need to understand every corner of a structure – merely to read the core of things and change it before anyone else could, which was why reading structures was a waste of effort, as all one could do was determine where magical energy could be more easily transmitted.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a failure as a magus, since (to put it lightly) I’m not very good at traditional magecraft. I can only do projection and reinforcement, and by “do” I really mean “laughably attempt to do”. Still, I’m technically a magus, and Dad never told anyone we were magi, or registered us with the Mage’s Association’s list of active magi living in Fuyuki City, either.

In short, I’m an unregistered magus living in a city controlled by two very powerful, influential families of magi—not exactly an enviable situation, considering my lack of ability to defend myself against more competent magi.

Now, if word got out that Shirou Emiya was an unregistered magus living in secret, what would that mean? Would one of the mage families hire a hit-man to deal with riff-raff such as myself? Or would the Association even go so far as to send one of their very own enforcers to deal with me, a lawbreaker in their eyes?

I don’t know, but either way, my pursuer has “magus killer” written all over him. Yet something feels…off. He’s obviously toying with me, since he could have killed me with any of his spells or simply come down and eliminated me with his sword. As of yet, he hasn’t…but why?

Am I serving as unwitting bait for some other magus? Is he one of those hunters who gets a thrill out of seeing his prey squirm and try to escape the clutches of death…and would track down everyone the quarry turned to for help? Am I being used as part of a twisted magus’ experiment? Or is it something else entirely?

None of those options seem particularly appealing, and so out of a desire to spite him (as well as to live), I resolve to shake this enforcer, to drive him back, no matter how tough he is. Since no matter what, he’s only human, right?

I’ll have to prove my worth, to show that I’m not just some worthless magus that needs exterminating just because I don’t conform to some antiquated creed. Kiritsugu taught me that in a fight between magi, one had to be prepared to die—to kill. So I take a deep breath, knowing the stakes, feeling it in my bones with every pounding step I take, rattling my abused flesh and bone.

With renewed purpose and drive brought on by desperation, I make for home as quickly as possible, hoping that I’ll be able to find a weapon or something with which to even the playing field, so that tonight will not be my last on earth.

“Burn.”

Kafwoosh!

Once more, I stumble. I’m sent into a nasty spill by the barest fringes of an explosion that finalized the process of burning away my outer layer of uniform clothes into strips of charred cloth and crumbling charcoal, as well as removing my eyebrows – quite an annoyance, though not as much as the soot in my eyes which flash-blinded me, making the entire world seem to fade into a haze.

Dammit, casting such powerful Nature Interference magic with just a single word…who the hell is this guy?!

I revise my estimate of the probability of my survival lower, seeing as his capabilities were likely much more advanced than I’d seen thus far.

…obviously, defeating him is going to be a lot harder than I had thought.


.

] | [


.

Clip-clop-clip-clop!

As I skid around the corner, I breathe a sigh of relief. With home finally in sight, my heart is pounding as if it wishes to burst right out of my chest. I feel the dampness of blood beginning to mat my hair from a nasty scalp wound, and my lungs protesting vehemently due to the exhaustingly hellish experience they had just been put through—complete with fire and brimstone…and I’m not quite dead yet, as I realize thankfully as I fumble with my key, open the door and lock it behind me.

Worse, the night isn’t over. Not by a long shot.

Home. What’s for me normally a pleasant sanctuary from the rest of the world will soon become a battlefield, the place where I will be forced to make my last stand any second now. Despite my reassurances that I could win, that is but bravado, something there simply so that I don’t paralyze myself with fear and anxiety. Dashing into the kitchen, I grab a pair of knives and feel the reassuring weight of them in my hands.

While not much compared to my enemy’s sword, these will have to do until I can make my way to the dojo and pick up an actual weapon, since I do have some katanas in there and not just shinai and bokken.

Even so, it’s best to arm myself properly as soon as possible, since even if my opponent doesn’t seem to be here yet, there’s no point in taking unnecessary chances. I hurtle through the house and slide open the doors to my spacious backyard. Knives in hand, I scramble to the detached building that housed the dojo as—

KWAAAHOOOM!

An impossibly loud sound washes over the house and everything in it and I’m thrown to the ground by an unseen force that forces me to cover my ears in a pitiful attempt to block out the shrieking decibels that tear into my eardrums. It lasts only a second, but I’m already suffering from temporary deafness. At least, I hope it’s only temporary.

Was this caused by that enforcer? Was that sound-based attack his?

When I recover enough to glance around warily, I can’t see my pursuer anywhere, meaning that I still have a few moments to make preparations—hopefully, if he isn’t already here and hiding from me, watching me tremble. Tentatively, I guessed that the sonic pulse hadn’t been his doing, but if not him…where had that sound come from? There’s no real way for me to tell since the experience was so thoroughly disconcerting and I’m not exactly in the best condition to figuring out these kinds of things. At any rate, that sound hadn’t been his doing, and even if it had, inexplicable sonic boom or not, I need to get to that dojo.

Crash!

Something large shatters near me and flakes my side with dusty white powder. Adrenaline, already filled to bursting in my veins, kicks in, and I bolt upright in response, springing to my feet. Another hunk of plaster and tile crashes near me and forces me to cover my eyes, but not for long. Prolonged blindness only leads to death in a fight, after all…

Moving aside quickly, I scan the area and follow the path of the projectiles back to their source—and I immediately stiffen in terror when I look up at the roof.

There he is.

There’s the assassin – up on my roof – hand outstretched, with several large hunks of rock and road floating idly. Could this be…telekinesis?

A psychic and a magus? What kind of monsters were enforcers?!

With a swift and casual flick of his wrist, another rock sails towards me, dodged only by fight-or-flight enhanced instinct. I barely manage to avoid being hit by it and kick forward towards the dojo as the rock smashes into the wall behind me with a disconcertingly audible crunch.

Ten meters.

Seven.

Four

Th—

Fast as my legs can manage, I close the gap between me and the door, and I’m almost there, almost close enough to touch it – only to find myself forced to backpedal furiously, as my advance was cut off by my attacker interposing himself between me and the doorway, the telekinetically manipulated hunks of asphalt and roof shingles orbiting him like miniature satellites around a celestial body.

Damn it, now is not the time to get poetic, Shirou Emiya! Now is the time to use the lessons drilled in by Father’s flight-or-fight response training and apply it to this situation!

—Trace, on.

Running will do no good, so here, I choose to fight!

…Basic quality, analyze.

I need to strengthen these knives if I want a ghost of a chance against this man, so as foolish as it might seem I steady my concentration and pour forth my prana into my dual pieces of kitchen cutlery, as if soaking blood into my knives through my skin. I feel the flow stream into the knives, but can I cut it off at the perfect moment? Do I even have the time to do so?

C’mon, for once, don’t screw up now. C’mon. Come, on!

…Trace, off.

An arm swings out flamboyantly. An especially sharp-looking pointed rock makes a beeline for my chest, shooting directly at my sternum with incredible force. I have no choice – I swing!

Clang!

With a powerful ringing that reverberates through my bones, concrete connects with the tempered steel held in my right hand, and sparks fly. To my surprise, the knife…is still intact. And the rock that had crashed against it—shattered like a dried clod of mud that had smacked into a very solid wall.

I…

I did it!

But I can’t let myself feel too empowered. Not when my enemy is right in front of me, with all the advantages. I perhaps managed to arm myself, but this is still far from over.

What to do now?

The dark-garbed man’s devilish half-smile greets me as our eyes meet. He clearly finds a measure of entertainment in my antics. His eyes narrowing with amusement, he flicks his wrists twice more. More slabs sail towards me, each promising to cause terrible pain and injury should they hit.

Swing! Swing!

Blades meet stone once again. The projectile that meets with the knife in my left hand is smashed harmlessly away, but the knife in my right bends when it collides with the thrown hunk of concrete…

Damn. Another failed Reinforcement.

No, not quite.

At least the knives hadn’t dissolved into dust due to an overinfusion of prana like what happens with most of my Reinforcements. But, success-to-an-extent or not, this is still bad. Very bad. Now I only have one weapon left to use as defense against the enforcer, and even with two my odds had been slim at best. Now they were virtually non-existent.

So as I grip the knife determinedly, I decide to make a last, desperate attack, gambling everything on one strike.

“Unngh!”

With chef’s knife in hand, I lunge forward towards my enigmatic assailant and thrust my knife at his exposed throat, aiming for a fatal attack to end the threat before me.

As it turns out, that was a bad idea.

A very bad idea.

An idea so bad, I wondered why it had emerged from the recesses of my mind…but then, I was never that good at planning.

Whump!

I am stopped in my tracks, as a slab of tile races for me, whistling as it slices through the air towards my face. I counter with the reinforced knife, the force of impact buckling my weapon, though not quite enough for it to become totally useless. And in my moment of distraction in blocking his attack, my attacker slams me in the chest with a palm thrust backed by a surge of telekinetic energy, the knife falls from my grip in shock as I am flung headlong into the air.

One second airborne.

Two seconds.

At three, he appears as a blur, moving with impossible speed to where my reunion with the ground is supposed to take place, and preventing it by means of a powerful roundhouse kick in my gut that sends me flying through the door of my shed.

My so-called “workshop.”

Pained grunts and moans creak from my throat, and ignoring my body’s vehement protests, I grab a large pipe from a pile of junk I used for making repairs, stumbling back over to the broken door, where I stagger, grasping the doorframe for support. A moment later, I straighten, stepping out into the night once again to deal with the man.

Why? Why do I continue this futility? Why do I keep defying him like this to the end, armed only with a pipe? Deep down, I know there is only one way that this can realistically end. Just as there was only one way my attempted escape from the fire could have realistically ended. Knowing the likelihood of survival is infinitesimal, knowing that at my current level of ability, I cannot hope to even scratch my enemy, why do I persist?

Because I choose to. I keep fighting, keep moving even when the end is all but certain…because Shirou Emiya is as stubborn as hell.

“Why?” I force out, gripping the pipe tightly, ready to Reinforce on a whim. If I had done it moments before, I should be able to do it again. “Why are you doing this? Why me?”

I don’t expect a real answer, of course. But I have to get this off my chest, to try and find out, even if the knowledge was beyond me.

A chuckle. The man laughs derisively, amusedly, a horrible sound that sends shivers down my spine, a sound wrought of pure nightmare and malice.

“Seeing someone like you struggle against me for the sake of their one and only meager life is like watching a deformed and deluded fledgling try to take flight from the safety of its nest, only to watch as its neck breaks when it suddenly collides with the ground and the very life it desperately clung to is extinguished from that pathetically weak body as a result of it trying to achieve the impossible; it’s entertaining,” my assailant intones, his voice alone terrifying in its soft arrogance.

Entertaining?

“As to business, however…”, he continues, stretching out his arm, as if offering to take my hand so he might pull me deeper into this web of confusion he has woven as expertly as any spider. “You are one of the few who been chosen to control this land’s destiny. By the will of contingency and the proof of the stigma you will clearly bear, you will shape the flow of providence…and impose your will upon the world. As to me? I am merely pushing you in the right direction, offering the incentive and drive needed for the final prerequisites to be accomplished.”

—Trace on.

With few words, this man has effortlessly put me into a cold sweat. But, despite the unnerving nature of his explanation, the impossible revelation that I who am barely a magus have somehow been chosen to alter this land’s destiny, I temper myself, once again pumping magical energy into my weapon, the pipe I that I am holding. Following the flow, keeping track of it…and, stop! Cutting off the power, I feel ecstatic: to my amazement I have completed another Reinforcement. I just wish I could take more pride in what I just accomplished…

…but I have no time for such luxuries.

I let out a cry of desperation and fear in an attempt to empower myself. An attempt to pressure myself into doing what I was about to do. Something foolish and dire, but then what choice do I have?

Blindly rushing towards my opponent should distract him enough for me to get in one good blow. If I can score one more strike at some crucial area, I just might be able to turn this around.

I hope.

“So, call it forth!” he smugly orders, as fists shoot forward, wreaking havoc with my admittedly skewed decision.

I don’t even get close enough to initiate my strike, the knowledge of failure seizing me with the force of an invisible hand as a psychic limb takes hold of me and callously hurls me back into the shed, this time directly through the window with enough force to shatter glass and send shards slicing deep into my flesh, carving cuts all over, digging into veins, arteries, and nerves.

Crunch!

I strike the wall opposite of the window with force that no one should have to live through, rattling the building itself as my bones break, ligaments pop, tendons tear, my body slides bonelessly to the ground below, one collection of useless parts onto another. The broken body of Shirou Emiya on broken appliances even he cannot fix – an interesting picture, but not one I really want to contemplate or appreciate the artful merit of at the moment.

For that is when I really start feeling the pain. Deep moans of agony creep from my throat, threatening to make me go hoarse…or they would, if I could make sounds at all. Not that that is the worst of my problems, since I suppose that dying pathetically and helplessly, without being able to save a single person, counts for more. Warm, sticky wetness oozes from punctures, lacerations, tears from all over my body, gently pouring from some of my numerous wounds, spurting violently out from others, a crimson film beginning to creep across the cold cement floor. My forehead feels as if it had been split open as well, and the lifeblood from there stings my flashburned eyes.

Pain. So much pain all over. My entire body is but a collection of wounds whimpering in anguish, with some parts crying out for mercy, begging for it to stop, begging for anything to end this torture. My left hand, especially. It feel so hot, so white hot, that I can’t stand it. It had started off as slight warmth but quickly escalated to a searing agony that shouldn’t even be possible. Burned, burns, burning, make – make it stop!

Another flare up of pain jolts me to my knees when my own willpower could not. But I can’t think about that, since I’m too busy staring at the back of my hand, glowing with the intensity of a protostar, with an overwhelming amount of prana being channeled through it.

Crashes, whirrs, distant roars...

Strange flashing runes begin encircling me and another area in the room, and the air seems to pulsate with a strange aura.

…a howl…

The energy grows thicker exponentially with every millisecond and seems to choke everything from the air.

Suddenly, a massive burst of mana explodes out from the runic circles and bathes the room in warm, prismatic light. It clearly heralds the arrival of something that will surely change my life forevermore, but how?

Have I somehow unwittingly opened up a gate to an alternate plane of reality and subject to the whims of its unspeakably horrifying tenants, who have not tasted mortal flesh for millennia? Will I slowly wither away to nothing due to exposure to this strange power? Will I simply be incinerated in an instant by the magical energy that had been released? Or…

“Summoned, huh? I take it you’re my Master, right?”

Oh….

At any rate, my life certainly will never be the same ever, ever again.



.

] | [

.


The wind is strong tonight. The clouds drift, and for a brief moment the moon appears, its watery light shining into the shed and lighting up the one that had been called forth from the ether.

In the moonlight, the figure’s form is revealed - an almost ethereal, other-worldly appearance, stepping gracefully from the swirl of magical energy where the circle had been. From a shimmer in reality, a wrinkle in time, the last thing in the world I would have expected emerges: a woman.

I'm speechless, not because of the sudden turn of events, but because I'm at a loss for words because of her overwhelming beauty.

Judging by her appearance, she can’t be much older than I am, but she holds herself with an air of deadly elegance, like that of a drawn blade. Still, she’s not exuding murderous intentions of any sort, as she looks upon me with a gaze cold as the night itself.

Her clothing is simple, functional, designed to allow a full range of motion, making it ideal for combat. A light brown turtleneck, a sleeveless white jacket of sorts, a long red cape attached to her back on the left side, and a brown belt below her bust. Yet it has some flair to it as well: a long black sleeve over her left arm beginning from her bicep, knee-high leather boots and a brown mini-skirt, with some object sheathed in a loose case behind her waist.

The light pink hair draped over her shoulder glistens in the ethereal glow of the moon, framing her soft, heart-shaped face and complementing eyes as clear as the afternoon sky. It’s because of this presence that I can allow myself to feel at ease, in spite of my many wounds.

The fear of death disappears and only the girl fills my vision—it feels like time has stopped. For an instant I forget the situation, that the man outside could come and attack at any second, that some ridiculous outflow of power just took place…even that I’m sitting in a pool of my own blood because my life is in mortal danger.

I don’t know how long we simply looked at one another, but it can’t have been more than a second or two before she abruptly breaks eye contact with me and quickly casts her gaze to the broken window I had been flung through prior to her materialization.

“An enemy,” she utters, her figure straightening once again, her gaze shifting to the spot where my enemy waited behind a solid stone wall, as if she can feel the dangerous presence outside without even seeing it via some sort of sixth sense. “But, seeing as you’re hurt, you take higher priority for the moment, Master.”

Reaching into a satchel clipped to her side, the pink-haired woman pulls out a bottle of some mystery fluid, cracks it open, and then proceeds to pour its glittering contents over my head.

“Huh? W-whuh?” I dumbly sputter out, not quite expecting to have liquid dumped on me while I was bleeding to death. I mean, given that she wasn’t trying to kill me, I exactly complain about having an unknown substance poured all over me, but how could this help? Rubbing something into the wounds, or feeding me a potion, I could understand, but—

…and then whatever I was going to say dies in my throat, as the eerie fluid ebbs and flows over my skin, sealing cuts and dispelling bruises…and with an odd sensation like something is wriggling under my skin, I can feel one of my bones realigning itself. This…I know this feeling, of magecraft working upon me, strange energies humming in my nerves. I can tell that I’m not completely healed, but somehow, I feel a lot better than I did before. The pain is receding at least, and it’s certainly preferable to dying of blood loss on the floor of my “workshop”.

The figure stands there for a moment, as if making sure that her…potion, was working, and upon seeing that it was, turns and leaps wordlessly through the shattered windowpane of my shed with a vulpine grace like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Why is she in such a hurry? What’s she going to do? She said something about an enemy, so…

Wait! Is she going to go throw herself at that Magus Association’s Enforcer!? That monster?! No way! That’s too dangerous!

“Hey! Wait! What are you – ”

Now that I don’t have to worry about the worst of my injuries, I easily dash through the broken doorframe after her and enter the courtyard, only to freeze at the sight before me.

There she is, facing down that fearsome man, a white figure standing against a being seemingly wreathed in shadows. Tension oozes thickly into the air as the two warriors regard one another, and I can only watch helplessly, unable to move or say anything of any sort. The man’s smirk, merely disconcerting before, now extends into an equally disturbing toothy grin—or what would pass for a grin if merely baring one's teeth made it so, reminding me that humans were the only species to bare their teeth as anything other than a threat. To be fair, his current expression doesn’t outwardly appear demented, and might even look pleasant on a normal person, but there’s just something about this guy that doesn’t sit well with me at all.

Not one bit.

And this girl is going to take him head-on in combat!? Is she serious?!

“Good. Very good indeed, boy. You have done well,” he intones, chuckling menacingly as a wave of murderous intent more potent than before washed through the clearing, keeping me from moving—even from breathing, as I felt as if all the warmth had been leeched from the world. “Exactly as I have foreseen.”

With a blur of movement, the pink-haired girl swiftly sends an arm down to her waist where rests a loose hanging scabbard. In a smooth, fluid motion too rapid for the eye to properly perceive, she draws her weapon, ready to dash headlong into combat against the mysterious man –

Crakow! Crakowkowkow! Crakow!

– or apparently to just shoot him, not taking the risk of closing with such an intimidating enemy, with tracers of light blazing forth in darkness as silver bullets tear through the air, flechette rounds screaming for the man in black—

“Hasten.”

—only to streak past him, with the dark-garbed assassin simply dodging the high caliber rounds, a blood-red aura surrounding his body as his form blurred into scattered afterimages flashing away from the flying ammunition.

Crakowkakow! Crakowkow!

One after another, shots ring out in a rhythmic symphony from the girl’s oddly-shaped rifle, racing for their elusive quarry each time, streaks of fire speeding out to shatter bones, sunder flesh, puncture organs—but time after time, the crimson figure slips out of the path of the bullets, the burning tracers missing him by mere centimeters each time.

Gunshots continue, faster, faster, faster still, beating out an arrhythmic toccata in the crimson air, each round aimed precisely at where the enemy would be, fired in time with his movements like keys pressed to the ticking of a demented metronome, but the foe evades each time, no matter how fast the bullets are fired, no matter how she tries to predict his position and path. Tens, no, dozens of rounds have been fired, and I can tell from the mysterious woman’s expression that she was slightly annoyed, apparently deciding that this mode of attack wasn’t working. Slender fingers press a hidden switch on her firearm, and she expertly flips the weapon in her hand, the gun that she was wielding opening up in some places and folding back upon itself in others, revealing – the gleaming edge of a sword.

The edge of a sword that looks for the world like flames that have by some miracle been frozen in time, the sharp, searing heat of an inferno transmuted into razor-edged steel.

My heart freezes for a brief moment, my breath taken away.

‘W-what is-what is this, this strange familiar feeling?’

Ba-dump!

That…sword.

Ba-dump!

That folding blade-in-gun……is the one that I’ve been seeing in my dreams for as long as I can remember. The structure, the feel, the essence of the weapon is something I can instantly recognize. No, wait, as more details meet my eyes, I correct myself: it’s not the exact sword from my dreams, but it is the same type of weapon – one very close in feel to it, if much more refined, more potent. The one in my mind is much simpler, a basic tool with a cutting edge. This one…this blade is on a completely different level.

Now armed for melee, the gunslinger dashes towards my erstwhile assailant with the speed of lightning itself, closing in on the man-in-black, sword like frozen flame swinging for his collarbone – aiming to separate his head from his shoulders.

But the shrill clang of metal on metal resonates through the backyard, instead of the quick, efficient swish-squelch of a blade tearing through flesh and bone. The supposed enforcer, who had been unarmed the entire time he was attacking me earlier, needing no weapon, had been forced to draw his own blade to prevent his untimely decapitation, parrying the oncoming weapon and using his longer reach to stab at his assailant’s heart, but—

Clang!

—this, too, is blocked, the sword-gun hybrid flashing as its wielder ducked the blow, sliding inside the swordsman’s circle of control to slash down at…nothing, apparently, save the trailing edge of her opponent’s blade, sparks flying for a moment as they tested each other’s skills.

“Well well,” he murmurs dangerously, looking at the swordswoman appraisingly. “It seems you’ve forced me to use my sword. Perhaps you will prove to be a worthy opponent after all.”

Blades uncross. The young woman and the black-wearing mercenary leap back from one another, only to lunge towards the other once more, blades crashing together as they thrust, parry, riposte, remise!

Cross.

Crash!

Retaliatory strike.

Clang!

Counter.

Ka-klang! Bam!

As they come together again and again, moving with unreal speed, the woman and her mortal foe appear for the entire world like a whirling dervish of death, swirling clothes and sharpened edges blurring into one another. Without letting up for a single millisecond, the continued sounds of crashing metal echo into the night, seeming not so much a duel between two humans, and more a confrontation between two forces of nature, each attempting to destroy the other utterly with attacks unbelievably swift, precise, dangerous, each one akin to a stroke of lightning as moonlight flashed from the dual weapons’ silvered edges.

Things are balanced between the two combatants as they dance their dance of swords - or so it seems for the moment, though the more I watch, the more something nags at me, something unsettling about…

‘Ah. That’s it.’

…her opponent doesn’t seem to be exerting much effort at all. After the first exploratory probe, he hasn’t tried to land a single blow, restraining himself to merely blocking the pink-haired woman’s. I just can’t read what this guy is trying to do. Is he trying to wear her down, allowing her to exhaust herself through an admittedly considerable effort? Or worse – and this was not something I wanted to think about—might he be holding back?

I shudder involuntarily at that thought. This enemy is scary enough as is. The last thing I need is some “big reveal” that he’s simply been testing her.

The woman withdraws from the immediate fight with the assassin once more, and the man follows suit. Standing opposite each other once more, she lifts up her left forearm which has now begun to glow with an internal power. Her thumb and index finger meet, and a thrumming violet aura encircles the woman with light, her cape trailing behind as she leaps nimbly around the property with redoubled velocity, firing off blasts of magic while performing feats of acrobatics that would put a seasoned circus performer to shame.

Nature Interference spells, much like the man had used against me, cast in an instant, without even the need for words. Blazing into existence from her hands, the magic missiles screech towards the man, lancing towards him and utterly destroying the immediate area in a tangling tempest of flame, ice and lighting that seemed to writhe of its own accord, tearing apart the man where he stood.

– No, that’s wrong.

It would have reduced the man to ash, but he had not been caught unprepared, having already moved to evade the attack, dashing through the estate’s courtyard as he returns fire, hurling blasts of electricity and spears of crystalline ice towards the woman.

Eyes narrowing in response to this, she merely kicks into a run, with bolts of lightning arcing past her head and icicles bursting around her lithe body. As she moves, her blade begins to pulsate with energy, and a visibly swirling sheath of wind envelops it with a razor’s edge of cutting air. Her fist clenches, and the purple aura billows around her lithe form once more. With a flipping, sliding leap propelling her lunge, she swiftly brings the gale-infused sword down upon her foe. The augmented blade – now seemingly even faster than before – carves a dangerous swath forward, with slices of air that shred the landscaping to mulch with each and every time it misses the opportunity to cleave through her opponent—an occurrence happening much too often for my liking or hers.

Slash!

She attacks time and time again, driving the enemy back, or so it seems as—

“Lancer! Get them!”

Without warning and as sudden as the events leading up to this fight, a distinctively feminine commanding voice sounds throughout the night – alerting all to its presence.

‘Wait a second! Is that…?’

“Hyyyyyyy! – ” Another cry rips through the night and interrupts my thoughts instantly, evidence of battle-high and bloodlust evident in his voice.

A figure effortlessly leaps over the boundary wall of my backyard and sails through the night. At the vertex of his jump’s height I notice with a sense of wonder and horror that he’s wielding a lengthy, double-pronged spear – and it’s emanating a periodically pulsating red light, like an eerie heartbeat.

Crap. This can’t be good.

“ – aaaaaaahh!”

He sails through the air, his spear pointed towards the earth, as if he intends to pierce it with that violently pulsing lance of his, sailing like a living missile straight to his target – the killing ground where the swordswoman and the man in black are fighting!

“Hey!” I shout out to the pink-haired girl, the first thing that I’ve said since this fight between the two began. “Get out of there!”

The two combatants had ceased their swordplay the moment this newcomer showed up, their sight fixated on the appearance of this interloper. But the woman’s head immediately flicks over to look at me after the very briefest of glances at the spear-wielder before she rushes to me at high speed, her form blurring into motion with her free arm outstretched as if she’s going to…clothesline me?

“Get down!” she yells before she swings her arm, painfully knocking the wind from me and sending me to the ground—right before throwing herself on top of me.

Despite the urgent situation, I can’t help but notice that she smells like the essence of roses.

I think there must be something wrong with me, since for some reason, in spite of the impending threat to my life, the awe-inspiring battle of earlier, and the violence done to me, some part of my mind is still able to focus enough on the fact that there’s a rather attractive woman on top of me to make such observations. I don’t know why, though. I think we learned this in class once, though not one taught by Taiga, obviously—she must have been out sick that day. I can only assume it’s some sort of defense mechanism, a way the mind deals with the detrimental psychological effects that dangerous situations have on oneself.

Ah, but the roses…

Damn it! Now’s not the time to be getting an erec-

KABOOOOOOM!

An incredibly loud sound—almost impossibly so. Intense light more blinding than the sun. Shockwaves in the air rustling our clothing and hair. The clattering sound of rubble being tossed violently against walls and trees and hurtling through air.

…I think I might be deaf again.

Still, when the worst of it clears, I lift my head up to hazard a look over her shoulder.

A pillar of smoke wafts from the crater, and the form of the new arrival can be seen within. His back is hunched over slightly, giving him a nearly feral appearance as he methodically walks from the impact point, clutching his blood red twin-pronged spear in his hands. He stabs downwards with his weapon and uses it to straighten himself up, lines of his body taut with anticipation as he does so.

Now that he’s no longer obscured by the smoke or his posture, I can clearly make out his features.

He is clad in a form fitting suit of grey-white light armor with blue highlights on the arms and legs, and the number “01” is emblazoned on the part covering his collarbone. But that isn’t what draws my attention. The first thing I notice, and what I’m taken aback by, is his youth. His slight frame and face denotes him as being a young boy, no more than fourteen of fifteen. Younger than me, though his steel-blue eyes betray a weariness and a knowledge of things unbefitting of someone as young as he is…at least if he is as young as he appears, which I’m beginning to believe otherwise.

I don’t know just who he is, of what he is, but I do know what he’s not: human. There’s no way he could possibly be human...no way any of these people can be. Not when they can cause this much collateral damage from just having a magecraft-enhanced sword fight. Not when a young teenage boy is capable of blowing a meters-deep crater in my backyard just by stabbing the ground with a spear.

Just…just what the hell have I gotten into?

The initial shock of having a human missile blast a hole in the ground passes, and that monster of a man leaps from the spot to which he had retreated to avoid impact to the roof of my home once more. As he alights upon it he holds out his hand as if he’s making an offer to some unseen benefactor, and a sickly black and purple miasma swirls around and gathers in his palm – forming into a seething ball of darkness and hatred, like all the evils of the world coalesced in one shapeless form.

“How impolite of you to interrupt a pleasant spar, cur.” the inhuman assailant whispers with all too apparent cruelty, voice pitched just high enough to carry through the night. “Now then, child, be a good boy and die…”

“Feel this fear...”

He mercilessly utters these words – this phrase backed with a terrifying power that his previous castings lacked, a malevolent force of will that reeked of the intent to crush all beneath his fist. Everything from before paled in comparison: the spells he had cast, the psychic attacks he had launched, the blows he had delivered. He had truly been toying with us after all, not seriously attempting to kill until now, using us for his entertainment.

“…Dark Flare.”

With the invocation complete, the creeping ball of evil and absolute darkness bursts violently into a plethora of smaller balls of energy, melon-sized orbs which streak away from the origin, darting around like a swarm of furious hornets whose rage is directed at the youthful spearman that had so rudely interrupted his night’s diversion. The spheres space themselves apart evenly as they come to a jarring halt around the boy and leave no chance for possible escape, the pitch-black orbs elongating into deadly looking needlelike shafts, angling towards him threateningly, simultaneously, hanging in the air...

And then all hell breaks loose.

The horde of dark javelins plunges forward all at once and blitz their target at impossible speeds, with clear intentions of evisceration, impalement…and worse. To skewer him like a pincushion. To consume his flesh with their black miasma. To mutilate his body and –

“AT FIELD!”

– halt in place, struggle and whine in protest as the shafts futilely press against the protective boundary of red-orange hexagons that suddenly materialized around the lancer, finding their passage blocked. No matter how much they writhed, how much they distorted the air around them, how much will compelled them onward, they cannot penetrate the defensive barrier.

And they never would, for even I could tell that that shield could never be pierced by such a thing – as it shone with the power of the soul itself, meaning that anything with the capacity to rip through such a capable defense is truly, truly dangerous.

To their credit, the spears continue their fierce assault, expanding and swelling so much with vast amounts of prana that each shaft loses its individuality, and the swarm of lances now looks like a seething thunderhead teeming with shadowy specters that has engulfed its prey. The nightmarish cloud billows, pulsates, and glows ominously with internal power…and physics would like to remind us that all of that potential energy needs to go somewhere…

Without warning, the swirl of pitch-blackness erupts violently, expelling its shadow into the void of the night with a rushing wind and a loud burst. The sudden rush of miasma briefly but violently assaults my senses and I reflexively retch. It’s only because I forcibly suppress my gag reflex that I don’t end up spewing everything out over myself and the woman on top of me, though she rolls off me and recovers to her feet with ease, taking a guard position in case the enemy would turn his attention to her next.

Noting her actions, I quickly calm myself and wipe away the tears brought upon by my near-vomiting, grunting as I rise to my feet and begin reassessing the situation. I glance about, expecting to see the mangled corpse of the lancer – or worse, nothing at all, save a sphere of non-existence where he had been. But to my astonishment, he’s still there. Still standing. Still living. Which means…the enemy’s attack was a failure. That dangerous boy with the crimson spear is a little more worn than he was before, but is undoubtedly unharmed, undoubtedly…angry.

Even with his slightly disheveled appearance, the youth is still quite capable of giving a very murderous glare to his, no, to our attacker. Aiming that lance of his at him in a very threatening way, it is a look that does not threaten, does not promise, but guarantees certain death at any cost – and it is directed right at that man in black.

In the face of this, the mysterious attacker just laughs ominously in response.

“Hmm. Well now, it looks like tonight has been even more productive than I had originally anticipated,” he notes calmly, as if all this has played out according to his plan. “I have done my part. With the summoning of the final player, these games can now truly begin. Perhaps I’ll see you all again. Perhaps I’ll instead find your broken bodies bled out in a ditch somewhere. Or perhaps I’ll be the one that burns your flesh to a crisp and flays the skin from your bones.”

The boy only growls defiantly in response, every muscle in his body tensing to throw…

. …but the enemy ignores them, looking at me with incredibly cold eyes, the raw darkness in that gaze almost enough to make me shrink back in intimidation.

“Be warned, new Master. This day will mark the end of this care-free, boring lifestyle that you have been living, and signify the beginning of this story of yours,” he intoned as if passing judgment over me, before nodding to the lance-wielding boy and the swordswoman. “I bid you all farewell. Third Child. Dog of war.”

With that, the mysterious man leaps away from the scene of the battle with impossible speed and leaves the ruined pseudo-warzone that was once the Emiya household’s backyard.


.

- ] | [ -

.

I can only watch in stunned silence at this turn of events as our attacker disappears into the moonlit night, as quickly and unannounced as he had appeared. Shaking my head, I try to make sense of the situation.

My eyes scan the yard. To say that it looks very worse for wear is a severe understatement. The once lush yard is pockmarked with craters, covered in burns and deep scars-like gnashes, with what little surviving intact carpeted with a hodgepodge of debris.

Tense movements out of the corner of my eye draw my attention. That boy with the lance hasn’t moved from his spot, but he has changed position and is now pointing his spear towards the woman by my side. Still, he doesn’t seem outwardly malevolent, nor has he shown any intentions of killing her (aside from the human missile incident); he’s just defensively aiming his lance towards her, as if to prepare himself for anything that the young woman might try.

I look to my left at the rosy-haired woman that I had somehow…summoned, apparently, to find that her blade is likewise drawn and prepared for any actions that the boy with the red spear might try, but she is also not moving to strike him down either. It is an unspoken truce, a stalemate that has been reached without any prior fighting. As if the both of them are waiting for some order to engage the other.

I rub away at the phantom pains wracking my body, echoing reminders from all of the wounds that I had received only a short while ago. Wounds once very painful and quite possibly fatal if left unchecked. Wounds that were once there, but now gone. Gone because of her and that healing potion of hers…

Entire families murdered in their own homes. Cryptic, threatening messages given to me by strange young visitors. A dangerous man with a sword that he barely uses, and a capacity for high-level magic beyond anything I know of attacked me for still-unknown reasons. The strange summoning of a young woman who healed me from certain death and defended me at all costs with her impressive fighting strength—matching the level of my assailant. The sudden arrival of the boy with the blood-red lance, prompting the retreat of that frightening man in black. All of this…it’s all just too much to take in.

“Take it easy, Lancer. That’s enough.” That female, strangely familiar voice that I heard before calls out.

“Alright then, Master.” The one called “Lancer” answers as he relaxed his stance. Seeing that the spear-wielder poses no threat at the moment, the woman next to me lowers her blade to her side but does not yet put it away. In her eyes, the threat has only diminished and still exists, with the fragile peace depending on the whims of the “Master” of this “Lancer”.

A lithe figure with a distinctively feminine form leaps to the ground from atop the yard’s boundary wall and walks towards the boy in a very controlled manner, as if holding back a trace of dissatisfaction.

“I’m sorry Master, he got away,” the spear-wielder politely and preemptively apologizes. “I did as you ordered, though.”

The “master” only sighs, shaking her head.

“Lancer, what have I said about needless apologies? Besides, you did follow through, and that’s what really matters. I certainly can’t fault you for following orders.” She slightly criticizes the boy, but then calmly accepts what he had just done. That boy who had enough power to blow a part of my yard into oblivion and successfully defend against that hellishly powerful spell, and here she is effortlessly going from finding fault with his actions to coolly praising him for doing what she told him to do.

She’s familiar. Very familiar. Why is she so – ?

– oh.

…and now I know that things are going to get even complicated than they already are.

Now that I can see her clearly, I can tell exactly why I thought the voice sounded so familiar.

“T-T-Tohsaka?! Is that you?” I sputter in disbelief, unable to believe my eyes.

Without a doubt it’s her. There’s no way it could be anyone else. That same dark hair, those same ribbons, those same aquamarine eyes…this is definitely Rin Tohsaka. She’s quite a popular girl at school, and for good reason, too. She’s intelligent, has a good disposition, and is very…um…pretty, to say the least. All in all, she’s the ideal student, an idol to be worshipped by her classmates, someone to be admired…so why does she seem so different?

“Oh! Hi Emiya,” Tohsaka replies, acknowledging me at last, raising a cool eyebrow. “I’m glad to see that you’re still alive. I almost thought that we didn’t make it in time.” Her expression is that of mingled relief…and something I don’t recognize.

“Umm…” I have so many questions that I just need to ask, but I honestly don’t have an idea of where to begin or what needs to be said...

“I had a feeling you were a magus, but I never thought that you’d be able to summon forth a Servant of your own.” She seems to be making small talk with me, not that I quite understand what’s going on at the moment.

…I guess that’s why all my concerns come pouring out at once like a torrent of water from crack in a dam’s holding wall.

“What are you doing here, Tohsaka? Who is this kid? Who was that guy? Why did he try to kill me? Why – ”

“Uh, Emiya?” Tohsaka cuts me off, her lips twisting in displeasure at my deluge of questions, raising a hand with pointer finger extended. “One at a time.”

Thank God for Tohsaka stopping me from going off on a tangent, otherwise I just might lose myself.

“Oh, Okay then…” I take a moment to breathe and contemplate what I should say next. After all, I don’t want to act like a moron in front of Tohsaka, it’d be the worst. But for some reason, I have a nagging feeling that the way I act around her isn’t really going to matter too much in what is to come, if I’m as deep in this as she seems to be – because she clearly knows something about what the hell is going on here, and I intend to find out more.

“Tell me, Tohsaka…” I gather my thoughts once more. “Why, why are you here?”

“Servants. Lancer and I picked up on a very large disturbance in this area, which denotes a battle between Servants, so we went to investigate. It…it just happened to be at your place.” This is all very confidently said, but that last part is oddly…nervous sounding? But what’s all this about “Servants”? Is this “Lancer” kid one of them?

“So, umm, who’s this guy that’s with you then, Tohsaka?” I ask, gesturing towards the boy gripping the lance who is apparently working with Tohsaka in all this.

“Oh? Him? He’s my Servant.” There’s that term again… “He’s Lancer.”

“Lancer?” That isn’t a name. A title or a callsign, maybe? “Is that because of that spear of his – wait, where’d his spear go?”

“He shoved it back into his body.” She answers as if what I had just asked was a simple question with a really obvious answer. “Most Servants can call their weapons at will. At least, mine can.”

Wait. What?

“Uh, another thing, Tohsaka?” That “name” thing is driving me crazy. “Why do you keep calling him ‘Lancer’? Doesn’t he have a real name?”

Tohsaka seems to be getting as confused as I am about this whole situation, which doesn’t sit well with me. After mulling it over for a little and looking somewhat flustered, she decides to answer me. “Because that’s what he is. He wields a lance, so he’s ‘Lancer’. He does have a real name, but I’m not supposed to call him by it. Not that anyone would know who he is. Of course, if he keeps on using his Noble Phantasms willy-nilly like that, then every Servant and their mother will know who he is.” Tohsaka grumbles this last bit.

“I’m sorry, Master, but if I didn’t use my Absolute Terror Field, then I would’ve died!” Lancer protests, a little fire rising into an up to now mechanical seeming boy, “Then I – I’d be useless to you if that happened…”

“Good. At least you know how to defend yourself.” Tohsaka’s expression goes from pouty grouchiness to mere disgruntlement. “But would it kill you to, you know, kill your opponents when you use your Noble Phantasms? I mean, I don’t know anything about Shinji Ikari, your identity, so it doesn’t matter to me, but the other Servants just might be able to figure out who you are if you go about it this way. That man called you by what I can only assume is a title you had, probably because he discerned your identity from that shield of yours. So it is also highly likely that Luvia’s Servant figured out who you are as well – and that is not the kind of advantage we want any of our foes to have.”

“Master…” he meekly replies with his head down.

“All I’m saying is, Lancer, is that you need to fight smarter and not just rush right into things. That way you can use your Noble Phantasms when you know you’ll win. Okay?” Calm words of wisdom, certainly. But I still wouldn’t want to get lectured by her.

“…you kind of called me by name. Right in her presence.” Lancer gestures to the woman besides me.

“Oh! Damn it…” Embarrassment changes to self-disgust. “Geez, how many more times will I mess up tonight?...” Tohsaka groans to herself as she palms her face.

“Tohsaka? Can I ask you something else?” I break in before another conversation could start up that I have no clue about.

“What is it, Emiya?” her grouchy and exasperated response is muffled by her hand.

Boy, she is really acting different from the Tohsaka that I know. Or rather, the Tohsaka thought I knew. Is this how the real Rin Tohsaka acts when she’s not under the watchful scrutiny of everyone at school? Is the “idol” just a front?

“You keep on going on about them, so tell me…what are Servants?” I manage to get out. Admittedly, it’s probably a stupid question to someone who seems to expect me to know all this already but…

“Arrgh…he really doesn’t have a clue what’s going on?” Tohsaka groans under her breath, hand moving up to rub her temples as if a bad headache was coming on. “Oh wow, I should have seen this coming…so why am I so…guhhh…”

She quickly composes herself, shakes away the exasperation, and confronts me. “Are you really telling me that you have no idea what is going on? You really don’t have a clue?”

“I’m…afraid not?” I answer in a bewildered manner, unsure of what she wants to hear.

“I can’t just let you into the war like this, without even knowing what you’re even doing…okay then. That’s it. Emiya, please invite us inside. We have a lot of to talk about, and I just don’t feel right about you not being up to speed, okay?”

“Uhhh…well, what choice do I have? I guess I’ll let you in.”

“Thank you Emiya. Lancer will make the tea; it’s something he’s actually rather good at.”

Wait, this guy can make tea too? Is a “Servant” really just a general servant who happened to be exceptional at magecraft then?

“But I think I really have to ask, Emiya.” Tohsaka starts once again. “Are you really a Master?”

“Uh, how would I know?”

“You summoned her, didn’t you? That’s the only reason why she would be here. That means she’s your Servant.”

Did I summon her? I think I must have. After all, it’s the only explanation that makes sense. But what is a Servant, really? Some sort of familiar, maybe?

“Is there a way of knowing for sure?” Wow, that must sound like a stupid question. But I really do need to know.

“Look for the Command Seals.” Tohsaka tells me. “If you are a Master, they’re these marks that appear on your body if you really are one and managed to summon a Servant. The hands and forearms are the best places to start looking.”

Glancing down at my hand like she tells me, I immediately find what I assume to be the “Command Seals” she was talking about. Right on the back of my left-hand, right where it was profusely bleeding after my near-accident this morning with the ambulance I’m greeted with the sight of some very strange markings. The blood-red marks resemble an overlapping mass of geometric lines ending in arrow-points. Despite their mazelike structure, I can clearly make out where the stigmata separates into three different sections.

“Yeah, there are markings here all right. I guess I really am a ‘Master’ then, huh?”

“Right. I thought as much. By the way, do you know what class your Servant is?” There it is again, that name. I suppose I’ll be finding out its meaning soon enough, so I shouldn’t be worried.

“No.” Tohsaka cringes at my answer, so I guess I’m already off to a bad start. “How do I find out?”

“Guhh…” She huffs. “You could try asking her. That’d be a start.”

That simple, eh? Well, that won’t be a problem.

“Oh. Okay then.” I turn to the pink-haired woman at my side, and I take note that she has now put her weapon away. Either she went about that quickly or it’s just been too long since it happened that I just didn’t notice her do so. “Excuse me, miss?”

“Yes Master?” she asks, probing me with those sky-blue eyes of hers.

“What, uh, what class are you?” Not exactly a normal question one would ask an attractive young woman, but then again, this isn’t exactly a normal situation.

“I’m a Saber-class Servant, Master.” She answers. Did Tohsaka just cringe again? Is this going to be a problem? “We’ll be working together as long as possible, so we should go inside now so that way we can bring you up to speed.”

“Oh right, yeah. Tohsaka was going to tell me everything, right.” I remember. “Let’s go inside now. I have a feeling this’ll take a while.”

So we all leave the ruined yard and walk into my house. Such a strange group we must be. Me, Tohsaka the “school idol” by day and somehow completely different when not around others, a dangerous spearman younger than any of us, and a professional-seeming woman who wields a very exotic sword-like weapon. I don’t know what’s going on, or even why any of this is happening to me. But what I can say is this: if I was meant to be a part of this, then this has to be fate.

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Winter descends upon the hallowed land, riding along the winds of war.

The country is strange and unfamiliar to her, but she is not worried.

She knows why she is here.

She was told she had to fight. That to attain glory and claim what rightfully belongs to her family is the only way. That it all rests on her shoulders.

She knows what she was sent here for, but only she knows what SHE is here for.

And she has the right tool to go through with what needs to be done.

HE is strong. One of the strongest there. No, he is the strongest, and she will make sure of it.

Maintaining something like him would be an incredible, nearly fatal burden for any normal magus, but not her. Because she is the ideal Master, and he her ideal Servant, even if he isn’t quite what the family was expecting to call to arms from the catalyst they used.

As long as she keeps his sanity beyond his reach, they will be unstoppable.

He will maim and destroy, mangle and crush, rip and slice anyone she tells him to. He will stain the cold frost-encrusted streets of the foreign city red, he will break the sky, he will spill blood and sunder skulls from fragile necks, he will even eclipse the night and eat the very world and throw it into chaos as a grisly offering to all false gods of the Earth…all because she tells him to.

And he will NEVER betray her. Never allow anyone to hurt her. Never abandon or replace her.

The daughter of winter cannot care less about the other chosen ones and their champions that they have called forth to answer War’s call. As long as she finds her target and treats him in kind the way he had unintentionally treated her, she will be satisfied.

…that’s what she tells herself, anyway.

She walks down the eerily empty street with her silent guardian close at hand, humming a cheery little song to herself. The clouds have cleared nicely and are allowing a glistening moon to bathe its nocturnal light upon the sleeping city, the host-site of the holy land and its prize that this war is being fought for.

What a perfect night for killing.



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Keyword: ["Man in black"]

A mysterious assailant who attacked Shirou Emiya prior to his participation in the Holy Grail War. The purpose of the unprompted attack seems to be that it was meant to force his involvement in the War in order to take on the role of Master so that the ritual may commence in full.

Needless to say he is clearly a dangerous existence. Until a plan can be formulated to deal with him caution must be exerted around his presence at all time until the full extent of his abilities and motivations are known.


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- [ Lancer ] -

Original Name: Shinji Ikari

Designation: Heroic Spirit

Master: Rin Tohsaka

((Neon Genesis Evangelion - Anime, 1995))


=Parameters=


Strength: C

Agility: A

Endurance: A+

Prana: A

Luck: D

Noble Phantasm: A

Alignment: Neutral


=Skills=


Mad Enhancement, Rank C (B):

An optional ability to trade consciousness and intelligence for an attribute increase linked to the Servant's anger and compounded by his distorted legend. If activated under Shinji's own power, his Mad Enhancement is ranked B and supported by his link to the rest of humanity. Due to possessing a distorted mentality and a warped perception that comes with bearing this skill, it is highly possible for Lancer to shut out any mental interference Thaumaturgy or techniques.

Librarian of Stored Knowledge, Rank C:

Memory processing distributed among many different personalities. At this rank, with a successful Luck check, it is possible for Shinji to clearly recall knowledge from the memory of one of the souls that resided within him, even if the information perceived in the past was not consciously acknowledged at the time.

Rebellious Fate, Rank B:

As one who had repeated trouble with the authority figures in his life, this passive ability negates the effect charisma and leadership abilities have on Lancer.

Divinity (False), Rank D:

This skill denotes a measure of divinity that one has obtained. Lancer does not possess a true divine ancestry, but had obtained something comparable by becoming the "Father" of humanity due to instigating a cataclysmic event in his own timeline that altered the state of humanity. Lancer's rank as a pseudo Divine Spirit has been decreased because of his decision to reject the world he had brought forth.

Disengage, Rank E:

A knack for "running away," this is the ability to easily break away from combat to fight another day. At this rank chances for immediate escape are positively skewed. Lancer seems to hold a particular dislike for this skill.


=Noble Phantasms=


Light of the Soul, (anti-unit) Rank B:
Range: 2-10
Target(s): 1, 1-50

The AT field is a supreme defense, and an outward manifestation of the spiritual wall that separates one's identity from others and external reality. Can be shaped into a multipurpose offensive weapon at need, and capable of being used at a distance. If the field gets penetrated, it becomes unusable until Lancer is able to restore it back to a controllable state, and Lancer suffers a rank down in all parameters until then.

Angel-Slaying Spear of Destiny, (anti-unit) Rank A+:
Range: 1-4, 1-99 (thrown)
Target(s): 1-1000

The Lance of Longinus, an "anti-ego" divine weapon that originated from the heavens that possesses an affinity against organisms derived from godlike beings. It seals the movements of those with conscious, thinking minds it has successfully pierced, and glancing blows from it temporarily disrupts actively functioning systems both magical and biological of living targets. When thrown like a javelin no barrier can stop the Lance unless the wielder wills it, making it a weapon that can only be defended against by martial or physical prowess. Its true strength is realized when used with another of Lancer's Noble Phantasms...



{ ABNORMALITY }
???

alfheimwanderer
March 16th, 2011, 02:31 AM
~destiny // Inertia Dawn~
/ Intermission I - Creed \ (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/6281893/3/Fate_Inertia_Dawn)

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*unspecified time later*
100%

'Another cold night...'

The moon glistened in the night sky and the air was brisk. Just like the night before. And the night before that. And the night before that. Every night that he had been in the city so far had been this way.

Predictability. Consistency. Just the way humans liked it. Humans, after all, are creatures of habit, and as such found solace in tepid, structured things like schedules, lists, and other forms of organization. A clockwork mentality, where they believed that as long as everything stayed the same, as long as they repeated each day the actions of the day before, nothing could possibly go wrong—for if something worked, why introduce uncertainty into a proven system?

Provided that nothing else intruded in their lives, this belief had some merit, but when the unexpected happened…

To Assassin’s mode of thought, it was the human desire to maintain the status quo, ignoring the possibility of abrupt and (very) permanent change that allowed most assassinations to be carried off with ease. The targets, complacent in the belief that nothing would possibly go wrong if they stuck to their plans, relaxed, lowering their guard to an extent only absolute certainty would allow—thus providing him the perfect opportunity to strike.

Just the way he liked it. After all, it made his job so much easier.

A cloak as deep as shadow blew in the night breeze, melding with the darkness, as concealed eyes narrowed in thought and anticipation behind a bone-white mask that resembled nothing so much as a human skull.

As a Servant, he was contractually bound to follow his Master’s orders, and so he did, obeying the instructions he was given so as long as he did not find them distasteful on a deeply moral level. Of course, even if he were, his Master could simply use a Command Seal to force him to complete a given task, his body moving like a puppet against his whims, as his consciousness screamed and writhed in silent protest. Thankfully, such was not the case with his current mission.

Much to the contrary, in fact, as this was one that sat quite well with the man in black. He had been charged with conducting reconnaissance, and since what was involved in this had been only vaguely defined, with none of his possible options proscribed or prohibited, Assassin essentially had free rein in how he chose to…investigate the situation.

It was at times like this that he felt most comfortable, as this was his element. It had always been so for as long as he could remember. Wandering the streets with a greater purpose apparent only to himself, with others unaware or unknowing of his intentions until it was too late — memories of such things came easily to him. And though he had been granted great latitude in what he might do, from the beginning the shadowy figure had had only one goal he had set in mind.

The only goal he had sworn he’d ever have.

Using the information imparted to him from the Throne of Heroes concerning the current time period he was as a basis, the dark Servant cross-referenced what he knew with the nearly-limitless knowledge that his Noble Phantasm contained.

When it was revealed to him the results of his query, he grimaced, his features steeling with determination behind his skeletal mask.

What he did next…

He didn’t have to do what he did next. It had not been covered in his orders, and the elimination of non-combatants in the War was not included in his mission parameters, though to be fair, it had not been forbidden either.

So why did he take the actions he did, moving to hunt an enemy who had nothing to do with the War? Why did he slip so easily into the role he played in life, as if nothing had changed from the time of his death?

Nostalgia.

After all, a man who could harbor a grudge for over eight hundred years could probably be described as “nostalgic”, though some might say instead “obsessed” or “monomaniacal”.

Not that he cared — he was beyond such things.

Furthering his bout of self-indulgence, the man made his way to a shadowy roof to better take in the sight his new vantage point offered of his quarry, seeking and finding the perfect opportunity to strike, when his prey would be at their most vulnerable.

It was with such cunning and precision that he had ascended the ranks of his organization, seizing control and guiding it to a new level of influence. It was with this that he had honed his abilities, becoming a master at the exalted art of ending lives — particularly the lives of those who used their power to despoil the land and oppress its peoples. Harbinger of chaos, herald of anarchy he might have been, but none could deny his capability at instilling change.

Some saw him as a hero. Others as the blackest of villains, but to him, it didn’t matter, so long as his actions were of ultimate benefit in the long run.

For that was and always will be the way of the Hashshashin.

And so, the man who had been known in life and death as Assassin set off towards his objective, with the cover of darkness hiding his approach.



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Assassin’s quest eventually led him to a skyscraper, the sheer exterior of which he was currently scaling with as much ease as most walked on a paved and level road. So it had been in life, as where a normal person saw only an unconquerable expanse of glass and steel, a slick surface one could not even dream of climbing without special equipment, the dark Servant saw even the tiniest of footholds and irregularities - outcroppings that he gripped with ease to aid in his ascent.

To most, the imposing tower would be quite an obstacle, a monolith that rose from the ground and jutted defiantly towards the heavens, giving despair to any who would try to breach its security. To Assassin, however, the outer surface was but a ladder, a tool that he could exploit to deliver himself into the lair of the Beast, the place where all of his prey had oh-so-conveniently gathered.

But then, such was only to be expected, as time had distorted the unrivaled climbing ability that this particular Hashshashin possessed, spawning legends of the one who could scale any wall, render useless any defense, scoff at any precautions taken to ensure that theft—or worse—would not be an issue.

Not that theft was ever truly an issue, as Assassin had never cared for money. Not back then, and certainly not now. To him, all that mattered was silencing his enemies and damaging the agenda that they wished to advance.

No more, no less.

As he ascended the lofty edifice, gusts of icy wind buffeted Assassin’s midnight black cloak, a testimony to the height had reached. In mere minutes, the skull-faced man had scaled thirty stories by the mere expedient of hoisting himself up on the subtle irregularities of the tower, though he appeared to any onlooker observant or lucky enough to notice him on the side of a random skyscraper as naught but a flowing shadow. Soon, his effort would be rewarded, and if his recollections of the design of this building (information also gleaned from usage of his Noble Phantasm) were correct, he would eventually reach his desired entrance point.

So it proved scarcely a minute later, with Assassin reaching the area immediately outside of his quarry’s location at the forty-second floor. All that remained now was to enter and finish what he started.

Clinging to the tinted glass paneling, Assassin scanned the vicinity, searching for the path of least resistance to the inside. His keen eyes noticed the ideal spot, an air conditioning vent that jutted somewhat outwards above the city streets.

An air vent…

As if he was really going to sneak into the tower by using an air vent.

Rather, Assassin was much more interested in the area surrounding the air vent due to its structurally weaker nature and how the vent was situated at almost the exact place that he needed to get at for this mission of his.

Assassin nimbly made his way over and inspected the thinly sealed seams that encircled the vent, placing a gloved hand over the spot as he briefly composed himself. With scarce but a thought, his form, already obscured by its own blackness the inky darkness of the night, vanished utterly to the human eye, becoming intangible on this plane of existence – taking spirit form.

The incorporeal figure passed through the thin grating easily, slipping into the corporation’s tower as quietly as the ghost of memory that he was.

With his presence Concealed, and without an ounce of fanfare heralding his arrival, Assassin silently strode past the priceless art that lined the dimly lit hallways, heading with icy resolve towards his intended killing ground.



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In a great conference room, many men sat around a solid oak table, arranged in order by rank and seniority, each and every one of them exuding the aura of cunning and vulture-minded businessmen—the very same feeling that oozed from the building in which these captains of industry held court.

Long hours after the sun had set, a meeting was still in session, looking to continue (as they so often did) past the witching hour, as one could not rule a corporate empire without tending to all of the necessary details, most of which took quite a bit of time to hash out and resolve.

Not that it mattered in the end what point on the agenda these cool-headed and ever-confident businessmen had managed to progress to, as they would all be dead before this night was over.
Assassin had chosen them as his targets after all, and so their doom was already upon them, unknowing as they were.

Despite a bounded field about the building–the discovery of which producing only mild surprise in the black-cloaked intruder – Assassin had managed to sneak inside without detection or delay, exploiting the singular flaw that that field had possessed. So far everything had gone off without a hitch, just the way it was supposed to.

Perfect.

The features of the man at the head of the table were distinctively European in origin, his ashen grey-black hair and white mustache quite befitting of a man of important stature, which he certainly appeared to be. Yet this was irrelevant to the bringer of death, whose senses were more concerned with the look of utter disbelief on the man’s face as a gloved hand covered his mouth and cold steel tore through the man’s throat, sawing through muscles, arteries, bone.

A savage twist of the wrist separated neck vertebrae from neck vertebrae, sending a veritable torrent of blood spurting from the stump of his neck like a fountain, rendering his origins, or for that matter, what position he had held within the company rather inconsequential. The sudden jerking motion ripped the blade from the throat it had pierced and prefaced the body’s unceremonious crumpling to the floor, followed moments later by the hollow thud of a severed head joining the corpse from which it had apparently filed for divorce.

Shouts of surprise tore through the room in response, looks of horror adorning the faces of the rest of the committee as they witnessed the jarringly sudden murder of their leader. But their shock was short-lived, as their attention was drawn immediately away from the bleeding carcass in front of them to…to that…that thing standing before them.

There was no need for unnecessary purple prose to describe what it was that stood before them, for they knew it for what it truly was.

Their deaths.

The assassination had compromised Assassin’s Presence Concealment and exposed him to the sight of all of the other board members, but such would not stop him. At this point, nothing would prevent him from doing what needed to be done for the greater good.

And as the businessmen looked upon the masked visage of the murderer in their midst, the skeletal mask itself seemed to smile grimly at the notion of impending death, baring its teeth in the way one would expect from a shark or a wolf.

And hell broke loose in the conference room that night.

The figure’s arm blurred incoherently with an impossibly fast swing, the man directly across from him falling violently to the floor a fraction of a second later, face frozen in a rictus of fear and horror, clutching futilely at his chest. The large dagger of twenty centimeters embedded in his chest had severed his aorta, stealing his life away on impact.

With a flurry of sharp whirrs, more daggers went sailing across the room in rapid succession, each knife invariably striking its target, blackened steel meeting flesh with a chorus of squelches, thuds, and death-rattles as one after another, men expired.

Faster than his would-be victims could comprehend, the assassin was once more in motion, surging across the conference table with knives drawn. But by the time this sight registered in addled minds and eyes, the ebon blades had been plunged into chests, throats and foreheads, cutting short any possible cries of terror.

Blood splattered. Bowels and bladders were loosed.

The putrid, sickly sweet essence of death permeated the room.

Punctured necks spewing fluid from the ruptured flesh.

Chest cavities ripped open to the bone, the pulsing of still-beating hearts exposed as they beat faster, faster, faster to try and restore blood pressure—but only succeeded in forcing the body to hemorrhage out its lifeblood.

Crumpled foreheads where bone had been pulverized, necks broken by force of impact of an inhumanly savage blow.

Pooling blood stained the carpeting a deep permanent red.

All merely the inevitable consequence of what happened when daggers of such size were thrown with the force and precision akin to the firing of a gun.

Less than half a minute. It could not have been more than that—yet, all of those who had attended this meeting were no longer a part of the world of the living.

All, that was, except one.

The sole survivor grunted and whimpered in pain, tugging at the hilt of the jet-black daggers embedded in his kneecaps, to no avail than to elicited cries of anguish from his throat, reminding him that he was alive. Focusing on anything except the pain, he had already managed to tear one of those wicked looking knives out from his gut – an act he immediately began regretting as blood began to spurt and dribble out, no longer held in by the mass of the blade. These were deeper, but despite being intimately familiar with the consequences that would result whenever he tried to remove the deeply embedded weapons from his legs, fear and adrenaline pushed him to desperately try anything to get away from the grisly reminders of his impending end, so that maybe, just maybe, he might get away, as impossible as he knew it to be.

It would not be the first time the human mind did something irrational under the influence of pain and stress, nor would it be the last — except in his case.

As he struggled with the hilt of the dagger, something occurred to the man, a rather chilling thought that froze him in place for a fraction of a second. With the uncanny accuracy that killer had displayed, the only reason he was still alive was…

‘…because the assassin has something else in store for me.’

Immediately, he resumed tugging at the knife lodged in his right knee with full force, hoping desperately to arm himself, to be able to fight back, as futile as it might be.

But his actions were cut off by the very gloved palm that had taken the life of his superior, a hand that gripped his lightly bearded chin and forced him to meet the dark figure’s eerie gaze. Viewing the murder of his superior from across the table was one thing, but being at the mercy of the murderer was a wholly different experience.

The sensation of overwhelming helplessness filled him as strong fingers strengthened through years of activity and experience forced him to stare at the man who would be his death.

No.

He was forced to stare. To look without respite into piercing sockets of empty blackness, a vast and endless void in which he was insignificant, inconsequential, unworthy—yet condemned for all of his transgressions against humanity, as if prepared to carry out the only sentence that it had ever dealt - death.

No.

As the skull-faced, black-cloaked specter of death loomed over him as if to render judgment, the businessman found his sight drawn to the nightmarish being’s free hand. The phantom flicked its wrist slightly. A thin long blade extended from wherever it had been concealed in a manner similar to that of a switchblade. Its hand twitched idly.

The once-mighty captain of industry twitched in fear, but that was to be short lived, replaced with abject terror when realization dawned on him.

‘That blade…’

The concealed blade jutting from the … spot where the right-hand ring finger should … be …

“W-what? What?! No. No!” the man stammered fearfully, mind fully aware of the sort of situation he was in as he babbled incoherently. “That, this can’t be happening! You can’t be real!”

From within the black hood the skull mask tilted ever so slightly, almost as if to mock the man in his final moments, with quiet laughter echoing forth.

It did not sound at all like what the man thought it would. The unnervingly casual chuckling was neither hollow nor grating nor cold or even eldritch sounding—and yet was all the more disturbing for it. The laughter was simply unbefitting of a specter that had terrified generations of his predecessors, a figure linked inextricably to death as the sun was to heat or the ocean to moisture. It was certainly not the type of voice that would haunt memories for years to come if it were to be heard in casual conversation, although he knew for a fact that it would indeed be the last thing he ever heard.

“That’s right,” the assassin replied with a somewhat nostalgic tone, for it indeed was a man – albeit a fairly youthful-sounding one who moved with such unreal skill and ability. “I’m a lie.”

His blade arm tensed up, as if it was…as if it was going to…

“After all: Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

The businessman had no time to allow his confirmed fears to sink in, for his vision blurred with murky crimson when his own lifeblood splattered his face.

With that, the room was empty save for one.

Hashshashin.



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Just like old times.

Assassin stood on the blood-soaked carpeting of the conference room, surveying the results of his actions with clinical detachment. He was used to scenes like these, as they were quite common in his line of work. In the years he had been alive, it had not been unheard of or even unusual for Assassin to end up slaying crowds filled with enemies. Such was life when one swore allegiance to a society of death-dealers who lived by the rule of the cloak and dagger.

Just like old times.

But Assassin had neither the time nor the desire to admire his handiwork for long, as during the brief explosion of violence, several of the executives had made cries of alarm and panic before his blades had silenced them. He had taken note of this, eliminating with prejudice the handful that had had the alacrity to notify security as soon as possible, removing the more proactive ones to nip their attempts in the bud, before proceeding to the ones that were less…prepared.

Still, he would be compromised any moment now, as security at this firm was quite exceptional. Soon, the entire floor would be swamped with guards out for blood.

Sure enough, his keen hearing instantly picked up on the sound of movement outside, as boots clomped down the hallway and could be heard approaching the conference room. The sound of their steps sounded heavy, an indication that they were indeed armed, but with what Assassin was uncertain.

Against a Heroic Spirit such as himself, normal weapons would be rendered useless and the inevitable result of the enemy engaging him en masse would be an outcome identical to that of what transpired only moments before. However, due to the presence of the rather potent bounded field surrounding the entire building, Assassin was inclined to believe that the company was more magically savvy than they outwardly let on. He wouldn’t even be surprised if their enforcers wielded an assortment of Conceptual Weapons, just in case a situation like this one occurred and they found themselves needing to slice through an ethereal body such as his.

'Mission over and done with. Armed guards quickly swarming to my position upon completion. A quick getaway is needed, yet the chance of escape is virtually nil.' Assassin mused to himself, almost as if reading off an imaginary list inside his head. 'I think I’m getting back into the old lifestyle rather nicely.'

As the saying went, dulce periculum – “danger is sweet”.

With a loud bang, the doors flew open as the armed men poured into the conference room, executing a flanking maneuver in order to pin down Assassin, a tactic that had proven successful against all intruders to date.

Only proving that they had never dealt with an intruder as proactive as he, nor one that could not be overpowered via typical methods.

If all routes of escape were cut off, then Assassin would simply forge his own.

And so he did, giving his foes no time to react, his cloaked form blurring towards the squad with the speed of a god, tearing into the unprepared sentinels with the savage tenacity of a wolf ripping out the throat of a deer. The security detail had pressed in too close in an attempt to surround the Heroic Spirit, and thus had no chance to escape the killer’s deadly blades. Had they been more slack in their duties, or more wary of the enemy, perhaps one or two might have survived, but as efficient and well trained as they were…

Assassin…did not give them any time to react.

They died in droves, an ebon blur slicing through their numbers like a scythe to wheat, bright red trails of crimson added to the already present pooling blood as Assassin sought to break through and make good his escape.

Crowd-busting.

Just like old times.

Slash! A swing of his blade-bearing fist drew a thin red line that bisected a man’s collarbone with clean efficiency. It was followed by a backhand that effortlessly cleaves another man’s arm in two, and a thrust slamming through eyes into the brain-cavity, causing instant death. The sound of shattering bone as an arm is forcibly twisted into a position it was not meant to be in and breaks with an almost explosive force.

Yelps of fear and pain echoed through the room.

Five seconds.

Only five seconds had passed since Assassin waded into the crowd seemingly without care regard for his own well being, though against all appearances, his actions were the wisest he could make in such a situation. The armed guards were just that: armed, and Assassin had no intention of finding out whether or not these new foes had any means of dealing harm to him - even though much of his body was already protected by a potent defense against supernatural assault. At a close range like this, there would not be an opportunity to use their guns and fire away at him.

Or so he thought, for Assassin had not given not give his enemies’ fanaticism and desire to destroy him enough credit, as several guards opened fire, their semi-automatic rifles ripping into their comrades and sending splays of meaty chunks flying whenever the 4.5 mm bullets tore through a part of their bodies that wasn’t protected by body armor, sacrificing themselves just to strike at him.

One after another, hundreds of rounds of ammunition flew towards the cloaked form of Assassin, battering at the killer with overwhelming amounts of kinetic force. At such a close range, even taking into account the likelihood of failure of shots fired from a short distance like this at an erratically moving target, it was inevitable that some would hit.

Of course, while the projectiles found their mark, striking the Heroic Spirit, whether they hurt him or not was a different matter entirely.

The clanging sound of shells colliding with an unyielding surface mocked the surviving guardsmen as the black-cloaked skeleton figure dashed from the room, leaving his assailants shocked and incredulous. They had hit the assassin square on with high caliber armor piercing rounds and yet he had not even taken any damage. How was he able to dash away with that unnatural elegance of his, let alone even still be standing? How?

But there was no time to contemplate such things. Not here, not now. For they were trained well, and the intruder was getting away. How could they not give pursuit? After all, the training simulations dictated that that would be the next course of action.

Even against an enemy like this, they would not falter in their mission: to kill the one who had killed their masters.

Assassin practically glided over the countless flights of stairs with the nimbleness and speed associated with his class. Granted, he wasn’t on the same level as someone who might have been a Lancer-class Servant, but the speed that he did possess was more than enough to keep him safely ahead of his pursuers. The rhythmic clomping of boots echoed below him – not close enough for the guards to be within firing range, but not yet far enough for them to lose him completely. It was going to be a close call – and close calls demanded quick getaways.

Pursuit? The need for a disappearing act?

‘To the roof, then,’ Assassin thought as he subconsciously touched the parts of his body that the guns’ ammo had made contact with. He could still faintly feel the shock from where the bullets had met their mark, only to be denied fatal shots by Assassin’s defenses, along with a suspicious slight dampness that was beginning to lightly coat his arm.

The floor on which Assassin’s killing had taken place was only a handful of levels from the building’s rooftop, so it did not take much time for him to ascend to the top using the stairs. But by that same grace, it would not take his pursuers very long to catch up, as there was nowhere to go.

From the controlled environment of the tower to the cold outside, Assassin made his way onto the roof in no more than half a minute. He frowned, finding that the space was wide and flat with the exception of several satellites dishes, radio towers and ventilation shafts clustered together in one spot the way a cloister of mushrooms would grow in the same group. A helicopter pad laid claim to most of the area, large enough to contain several of the rotorcraft quite comfortably without fear of any accidents occurring during landing and take-off. This concerned Assassin, as the space was…open. Too open. Here, the killer would have very little to no cover at all if the enemy decided they wanted to use him as target practice.

Assassin would not give them that chance.

The door to the stairwell burst open once more, as guards poured forth readying their arms once more to engage their slippery prey, who was by now already halfway across the landing pad, dogged by streams of tracer fire and their less-visible, if no less deadly, companion rounds of ammunition.

An open space like this allowed Assassin full access to his agility, but this did not change the fact that here, he was still in essence a moving target – a glorified clay pigeon in this parody of a firing range. Here, nothing impeded their aim, nothing would stay their hand.

‘Further proof positive that it is time to get out of here once and for all.’

The roof’s edge drew closer and closer as Assassin crossed the quickly shrinking distance.

Twenty meters.

The crack of gunfire preceded more of those unnatural bullets whizzing past Assassin’s cloaked head, trailing burning strontium that lit up the night all the way.

Fifteen meters.

The nearly silent pattering of Assassin’s feet as they met with the ground and propelled him forward proved a stark contrast to the clumsy clomping of combat boots on the roof’s concrete.

Ten meters.

Assassin felt the residual heat from the exploding fuel tank on his lower right only slightly. He could not concern himself with it for even a moment since he did not exactly have the luxury of appreciating the brilliant reds and oranges of the explosions at this point in time.

Five meters.

He heard their desperate and angry shouts. They knew what was going to happen. They knew what he was going to do, and yet they could not believe it. How could any normal person believe it?

Zero.

With that, Assassin went airborne.

One moment he was standing on the solid support of the concrete, glass and steel that the tower was constructed of, and the next he was in the air above the city. With his pitch-black cloak flapping around him like dark wings, he resembled nothing so much as a hawk of blackest night. No…he was a hawk of blackest night, for he had taken flight from his enemies, from danger, from a job completed.

The way he fell into the city below…it could only be described as a leap of faith. A leap of faith into the all encompassing darkness surrounding Fuyuki City, a darkness kept at bay only by the fluorescent and neon lights glittering below that so pointedly marked modern society.

As he concealed himself from the prying eyes of the outside world, and as the wind whipped past the skull mask of the Hashshashin who participate in the Holy Grail War, the man smirked a sly grin that was meant for his awareness alone.

Just like old times, indeed.



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The wind blew, rustling the denuded branches of the trees in the empty park. As usual, the place was deserted, devoid of human presence. The fact that it was late at night only partially explained the lack, for even during the day, few trod upon its soil, almost as if fearing to step upon holy ground—or perhaps cursed ground would be more accurate. That there was a taint upon the land, a certain discomfort radiating from the place, none could deny, almost as if the terrible accident that happened a decade ago had left behind a stigma of some sort—a miasma of lingering despair, guilt, and loneliness that warded away the masses.

Which made it ideal for a wayward soul that cared not about the location’s dark past, who thought only of how it’s out of the way location made it the perfect place to stage an ambush, the perfect place for a rendezvous, or the perfect place to snatch a moment’s respite away from prying eyes.

So it was that in this fell garden of sinners that Assassin took form once again, willing his insubstantial soul to become a being of flesh and blood once more in the shadow of a long dead tree. Taking a deep breath, the shadow leaned up against the rough bark and assessed his condition, noting that he had been injured far more than he cared during an operation.

While carrying out his self-appointed mission, Assassin had made sure to maintain the image of an invulnerable specter of death, an untouchable grim reaper that stole life away with contemptuous ease. Any sign of weakness, any hint of vulnerability would have simply compelled the guards chasing after him to be even more ruthless, like sharks scenting blood.

Still, that image of invulnerability had been merely that – an image, for Assassin had not escaped the fray unscathed.

His shadowy cloak was so riddled with bullet holes that it could barely hold itself together, and the defense that aided him so well in the raid could be seen peeking through the spaces that had been torn into the dark fabric. Assassin scowled behind his mask – the reason he wore this extraneous cloak over his normal gear was to conceal this particular Noble Phantasm of his from the enemy. If an enemy Servant saw it, then history would have repeated itself by having his reputation once again precede him. That’s the price that comes with infamy, he supposed.

But while the possibility of having his identity revealed was currently his most pressing concern, making his wounds seem rather inconsequential in comparison, Assassin was not a careless Servant. He knew well of the disadvantages that fighting while hurt, and so was not inclined to continue his reconnoitering the city tonight, particularly if the possibility existed that he would run into foes more dangerous than humans…even those armed with Conceptual Weapons.

One did not inherit the position of Hassan-i Sabbah by ignoring the tactical situation, after all, and there were times when his position would be best served by withdrawing from the field for a time.

Thus, after a brief evaluation as to the severity of his injuries, the Servant planned to re-enter spirit form and return to his summoning circle, where he could restore and stabilize the prana that gave form to his body.

Blood dripped and dribbled from numerous gashes and punctures in his arm, delicate crimson beads falling from his body and soaking into the brown grass at his feet. At this rate of blood loss, Assassin knew that he would not be dying from his injuries anytime soon, but until he healed, he would be disadvantaged in any combat situations that cropped up.

‘So they really were armed with Conceptual Weapons. Or something similar,’ the Heroic Spirit mused as he finished inspecting his wounds. ‘Possibly even consecrated bullets, seeing how they were able to damage my spiritual body – and considering the links that they have had historically with the Church, obtaining those rounds would be easy enough.’

The bullets used against him had scattered flesh and scraped bone – a rather disturbing notion, as physical attacks had little effect on Servants. Under normal conditions, a lead bullet would be unable to deal damage to them. However, were the ammunition consecrated rounds, bullets filled with holy relics, then...

‘…the notion of a consecrated weapon is absurd to begin with, because be it holy or demonic, such weapons simply possess a curse. A treasure that can wound a spirit, not by physical force, but by conceptual attack – capable of affecting a spirit just by existing.’

Fortunately, Assassin had been able to will his defense into materializing right after the injuries to his extremities, for had he been even a fraction of a second slower, he might have not made it out alive. After all, for all his skill and martial prowess, he was still but an Assassin – a member of a class far from renowned for the ability to survive deathblow after deathblow via sheer willpower.

He twitched in pain as gloved fingers probed the wounded arm, checking the extent of the damage in more detail than a cursory inspection would allow. The worst of his injuries was a hole in his left forearm that had gone clean through to the other side. Naturally enough, this was also the primary source for the bleeding.

‘Hmm. This one could be a problem,’ the Servant thought to himself as he eyed the injury, pulling his cloak away from his arm to get a better look. ‘Thankfully, it didn’t shatter bone, but it grazed it enough to make combat difficult. Well then, I guess that’s the reason –’

“BOING!”

A voice rang out in the silence, as flashing steel sliced through air and interrupted Assassin’s thoughts. Instinct kicked into high gear and forced the cloaked figure to react faster than thought itself, as he tucked himself into a defensive roll that carried him away from the immediate strike zone and, on recovering to his feet, armed himself with a dagger drawn from within his tattered garments. It wasn’t the first time someone had tried to take him by surprise, and as a result, his reflexes had become so honed over the years that reactions such as this came naturally to him.

“Ahhh, you dodged it,” the voice said disappointedly. “So much for that. I’ll never get that award badge for stealth-kills at this rate.”

From his crouch, Assassin cocked his head, seeking the direction that the voice had come from. It was an odd voice, nasal and filled with the flush of youth, but brimming with confidence nonetheless. From that, coupled with the practiced ease of the attack that had nearly decapitated him, the Servant knew that whoever he was facing was a veteran of sorts—even if his assailant had given away his intentions to strike….

‘…as if testing me. No, this one is definitely not one to be taken lightly,’ Assassin thought to himself, his eyes found the foe that had emerged from concealment with startling speed and attempted to end his life—the smirking foe, whose eyes were narrowed in amusement that he had apparently survived.

In the time it took to blink, Assassin quickly took in as much information on his opponent as he could.

Bodysuit.

A shade of navy blue so dark that it blended into the night nearly as well as Assassin’s ragged cloak.

Purple stripes and belts—obviously there for aesthetic purposes only.

A purple headband. Again, aesthetic preferences, no doubt.

Green hair, cut short in the back but hanging long in the front.

Leather vambraces, coupled with guards worn on the stomach/torso area and as kneepads. Simple, light defenses, geared more for mobility rather than to withstand any sustained assault.

Weapons…

Blades that extended from metal gauntlets worn on both of his arms, wielded like katars, with a spring-loaded mechanism for quick retraction or deployment.

‘Much like my own blade, if not very similar.’

“Let’s see here…skull mask, cloak blacker than the blackest of abysses…With that sort of getup, that must mean you’re an Assassin, right?” the enemy quizzically inquired with a look of mock-curiosity.

Assassin’s body tensed momentarily, all the confirmation that the newcomer needed.

“Ha! I knew it!” the interloper gloated, laughing almost childishly. “Now where’s my prize?”

But the reason Assassin had tensed up was not due to shock that his true class had been discovered. Judging by his appearance alone, anyone would have been able to discern his class in moments if he was seen. Instead, his body was tightening in the way a snake coiled, ready to strike or disengage at a moment’s notice.

This…this almost man-child…was an interesting one.

“And the way that you were able to sneak up on me without my awareness, does that make you an Assassin as well?” Assassin inquired mildly. As an assassin, and even more as a Servant, the bringer of death was keenly aware of any and all presences within his range of awareness. To be able to catch him unawares (or attempt to, as was such in this case) would require the capability to shut off one’s presence completely from the outside world. In other words –

“Presence Concealment. You have it, don’t you? Or something similar.”

“Bravo. Bravo!” the other clapped mockingly, acknowledging Assassin’s own shrewdness. “Bing and ‘O’. I’m just like you, mister.”

“You had the perfect opportunity to silence me,” Assassin conceded, eyeing his opponent with not a little curiosity. “Yet you completely ruined your chances when you alerted me to your presence. Why?”

A cold chuckle.

“What can I say? Old habits die hard,” the other replied, placing particular emphasis on the verb that described that tended to happen to both their victims, shrugging his shoulders as if it were inconsequential. “Wanna make a deal, mister? You’re hurt, right? It’s hard to fight like that, you know.”

‘Not good, not good at all.’

The enemy was clearly aware of his wounded state, and ready to use it to his advantage. That the foe was proposing a deal—he would at least hear the other out.

“Tell you what…” the green-haired one continued, relishing the tension brought on by this situation as a whole. “I was just doing a little bit of recon when I decided on a whim to jump you. I’ll let you go scott-free, and I mean it, if you’ll…” He trailed off dramatically.

‘What a ham,’ Assassin thought, his jaw tightening fractionally. ‘What does he want?’

“…give me your Member’s Address!” With an enthusiastic finish, the mysterious Servant offered Assassin a…rather strange proposal.

The tense, uneasy mood was killed, banished as effectively as if it were a demon exorcised by one of the legendary demon hunters who specialized in such work. Assassin silently gawked when he heard this – and probably would have done a spit-take if his mouth were full of water– but only he would ever know of his reaction to the offer, as he was still wearing his mask, fortunately.

‘What…what in the name of Hassan i–Sabbah is a “Member’s Address?’

Assassin answered in the only way appropriate, voice utterly flat. “What?”

“You know…your Member’s Address,” the other repeated, his smirk becoming something cruel, something wicked, the green-haired one’s eyes glinting with malevolence. “Your identity. Gimme…please?”

“I, umm…I don’t have one of those,” Assassin said at last, hoping that his foe would be dissuaded from further battle. "I'm just an Assassin."

“Ahhh…” the green-haired assassin said, genuinely disappointed. “That’s too bad.” Then the enemy’s expression hardened, the twisted smile compressing into a thin line like an icy razor. “Oh well, guess it’s time for you to die, then!”

The unknown Servant surged towards Assassin with blinding speed, a katar blade thrust forward as if to skewer the confused figure in black. But Assassin had been ready, and as soon as the enemy acted—indeed, as soon as the foe exhibited any hostile intent at all, he moved.

Sharpened steel met only air as the head of the order of the Hashshashin ducked under the deadly blade and sidestepped it with ease. Incredulous, the other “Assassin” responded by swinging the opposite arm in a parabolic motion, intending to cut off the true Assassin’s line of retreat—but once more, Assassin dodged, jumping back out of range to deny the green-haired one the satisfaction of a killing blow.

The other growled, but did not relent, pressing his assault with greater intensity than before, blades flying at the black-cloaked one with the fury and speed almost worthy of a berserker.

The other assassin growled. His continued the assault in earnest, and while he may not have been a in a berserker-rage his swings grew much more furious in their intensity and frequency. Swing. Dodge. Swing, swing! Dodge. Every single one of the attacks he had launched was avoided, and it was starting to grate on his patience. The unknown Servant kept bringing his blades down upon Assassin’s location, but the closest he ever came to actually wounding his foe was when the cloaked one moved a fraction of a second too slow, allowing a katar to catch the trailing edge of the dark fabric.

For Assassin moved with an unearthly grace – not a single action wasteful or extraneous, each and every movement flowing into the next with seemingly inhuman perfection.

It most certainly did not help the green-haired one’s mood when Assassin effortlessly flowed around his latest strike with mechanical ease and sent a black-gloved fist into the man-child’s nose with the crunch of cartilage shattering was easily heard. The sound of the cartilage shattering was easily heard. His stumbled backwards and his head jerked violently to the side, accentuated by the stream of blood that gushed from the strike, his trail of motion marked by the stream of blood that gushed from the location of the strike.

“You – you bastard!” he snarled more out of anger than pain, a sudden surge of killing intent flaring out into the environs. His voice had a stuffed-up sound to it, the telltale sign that his nose had indeed been broken and was clogged with blood. But as one far from unused to pain, the green-haired just brought his hand to his face and twisted the broken nose back into place. “T – that hurt, dammit! You’ll pay!”

‘Just who is this guy, anyway?!’ the interloper raged, fingers twitching. ‘He has a hole in his arm, for God’s sake! So how could he not only survive for this long and but actually draw first blood?!’

…the fact that Assassin was bleeding before the fight even began notwithstanding, of course.

“Are you, are you toying with me!?” the unknown voiced gutturally, using his forearm to sop up the blood that was trickling down his upper lip and chin. “You haven’t even used that knife of yours on me yet? What are you trying to prove?!”

Assassin twirled the knife in an almost defiant manner. The recent outburst of activity brought on by battle had shredded even more threads and destabilized the black cape to the point that it was ready to fall off at any moment now. When that happened, Assassin knew he would be compromised, and like it or not, though if that really happened, then he’d have an excellent reason for killing his opponent.

After all, in the Heaven’s Feel the most valuable asset a Servant possessed was his identity, which in turn was linked to whatever Noble Phantasm(s) he had at his disposal.

Assassin, of course, being one of the usual exceptions to this, was a most interesting class of Servant. Unlike most Heroic Spirits, which were summoned to battle using catalysts or had a personality which complemented that of the summoner, the Assassin class had always been inextricably linked to one of the nineteen leaders of the Hashshashin, which invariably took up the identity of Hassan-i Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain, the infamous leader and founder of the clan. Thus, knowing the identity of an Assassin was meaningless, as a foe who discovered that would see simply “Hassan”, and thus know nothing of the Assassin’s Noble Phantasm.

The very class of Assassin serves as the catalyst that calls forth a variant of Hassan into being as representative of the Assassin-class. That was the way it had always been.

Until now.

Sort of…

Except in this case, as the usual rules did not apply to this particular representative of the class of Assassin.

By some miracle, or through some freak accident, this leader of the Hashshashin had remained independent of the collective identities known as Hassan, becoming infamous in his own right. Therefore, Asssassin had as much reason as the next Servant to conceal his true nature for as long as possible until it could not be helped.

A yell of rage bellowed as the enemy charged once again, attacking with an even greater sense determination and fury, as if something were different, as if all playfulness had disappeared, replaced by the simple intent to cut down an inconvenient obstacle that had stubbornly opposed him for the last time.

Both katars swung at him once more, but with a speed and intensity that the previous strikes had lacked, lethal blades gleaming silver as they traced arcs in the air. They were much faster than before – too fast for Assassin to casually avoid.

With a sense of desperation not present in his prior evasions, Assassin attempted to twist out the way, but he could not. His opponent closed the distance far more quickly than he had anticipated, and before he could even think to interpose his weapon, the fast-moving blades tore into Assassin’s chest…

There was no sudden spurting of blood. There was no cracking sound as the blade sliced through the collarbone, and continued through the sternum. The only thing that had occurred was a clanging tone, as the cloak tore free at last.

The cloak had torn away completely, leaving the armor completely exposed for all to see. Looking more like a jet-black loose fitting robe than an actual set of armor, with silver-hued vambraces and a crimson sash– just by looking at it he could tell that it was ideal for movement and prolonged combat, yet it was certainly far more durable than its outward appearance let on.

The unknown Servant could not help but gawk, his face frozen into a curious amalgam of bitterness and amusement as he leapt backwards to avoid the inevitable counterattack. True, he was upset because his weapon had not simply ended his opponent’s life, but there was a flicker of dark delight in his eyes when it dawned on him just what had deflected his blades.

“So! This was what you were hiding under there the whole time, huh?!” the false one exclaimed, cackling in way that was simultaneously intimidating and immature. "So that’s how you did it! No freakin’ way! I’m squealing like a little girl right now, this is priceless! This is amazing!”

Assassin took advantage of this moment to build on his rival’s movement and increase the distance between them, since the enemy had proven to be quite dangerous, and the difference of a few meters might well be all that kept him alive.

“Of course, now that I know that my opponent is someone like you, I realize that that I’m going to have to…” Something was wrong. The opponent’s tone completely changed, all traces of whimsical lethality fleeing his voice, replaced with something much more battle-hardened and murderous. The voice of a dark knight who had been the sole survivor of a thousand battlefields. “…get serious about this.”

The man’s sudden change in attitude astounded even Assassin. Such a difference in demeanor – could this really still be the same foe he had been fighting this whole time? He knew, of course, of the Hundred Faced Hassan, and how that assassin had intentionally fragmented his psyche in life to compartmentalize the various skill sets and knowledge he had accumulated during his lifetime…could it be that this enemy had something similar?

“Adept Rouge: Flick Reaper.”

Four words were spoken, words that were backed with the power of tales and legends in a distant world, as the mysterious Servant’s form changed.

Out of the aether, armor materialized, encasing the unknown Servant in plates of enchanted metal black as oil and red as boiled blood, jagged spikes protruding from it to serve as defense and means of attack—protection far more effective than the mere cloth and leather the other had previously worn.

But the appearance of the armor was not the only thing about “Assassin” that had changed. Gone, too, was the odd-looking green hairstyle and the purple headband tied around the man’s forehead, replaced with a wild-looking mass of gray-white. But perhaps most different were his eyes, crimson-hued things that radiated a feral hatred that they had before lacked, with the bestial nature of the enemy accentuated by vermilion facial tattoos that looked as if they had been painted with the fresh blood his victims.

Assassin could not help but blink at the new menace that presented itself, for a new menace it surely was. The very identity of his enemy had been replaced with that of another individual – that of a disillusioned blood knight whose only goal was to survive to the next battle by felling any adversaries that got in his way.

As if to complete the ensemble, a vicious looking scythe appeared in the foe’s hands—a wicked-looking, serrated weapon that the unknown Servant’s gauntleted hands gripped with bloodlust, ready to take the fight to the next level of intensity and seriousness.

“Well, I guess it really is time for you to die, then,” Assassin dryly quipped as he readied himself for more combat, grimness in his voice. If the foe felt his elimination important enough to use one of his trump cards, then the bringer of death had no choice but to respond in kind, injured as he was. The enemy knew his identity—and so must be killed, lest this knowledge fall into the hands of the other’s Master.

Kill or be killed.

Live and let die.

Those were the rules in play, with any thoughts of mercy by now long fled.

The merest sound of metal on grass was all that betrayed the unknown Servant as he lunged forward with bestial ferocity, the scythe had had been holding disappearing as quickly as it had come, replaced by a pair of vicious looking short-swords with jagged edges that seemed to practically hunger for flesh held in a backwards grip, style that favoring wide, sweeping attacks.

Blows flurried down at Assassin, each one swung directly for the dark-garbed figure, each one backed with the certainty that the one so targeted was already doomed.

Assassin, for his turn, found himself hard-pressed to evade, only barely managing to avoid the slashes of the enemy.

‘As expected, his attacks are much more vicious than before,’ he internalized as he tried to work out the rhythm of combat that his opponent favored so that he could disrupt it. ‘I’ll need to be cautious if I intend to live through this.’

One of the vicious blades was deflected away as Assassin met it with one of his blades – a scimitar in his possession. A thin, simple weapon, but incredibly useful in combat nonetheless—even if his blood flecked away in little sprays from his wounds as the swords made contact, a wince of pain flaring through him as his arm ached.

“An Assassin with a sword?” the knight-assassin asked, with a hint of a smirk on his fierce features, “That’s certainly a first for this war.”

“Why so surprised?” the Hashshashin responded with a curving swipe of his blade, one deflected by his foe with practiced ease. “After all, the Assassin class is infamous for having many tricks up their sleeves.”

With a sense of irony that any dark humorist would find amusing, Assassin drove the point home with a dagger that he had suddenly obtained from the aether itself, striking at his adversary while one of his swords was out of play. But the knife was deflected when the gray-haired hunter turned his other blade aside to deny Assassin’s strike, in a show of dexterity that surprised him, as heavy armor was not known for allowing a wide range of movement.

They clashed, blade to blade, two masters of death confronting one another in a grim duel that would leave at least one of them broken, whirling and spinning as the sought to end one another’s lives. The empty park filled with the sounds of crashing metal and rent winds, surely a spectacle unrivalled by any—had anyone been around to see it, the duel between these two veterans of many conflicts would have no doubt inspired silence and awe, as the only sounds echoing about the ringing chords and refrain of swordsong as steel grated and clanged against steel in the dance of blades.

Swords thirsting for an opponent’s blood versus the emotionally silent tools of assassination.

An assassin versus one who had become infamous for striking down those who brought death to others.

Two who had only been sent to scout now locked in a battle to the death.

A performance such as this that should not be missed by any with a taste for battle unfolded in the silence of night, in an island of desolation isolated from the bustling society it was ensconced within by lingering memories of the past. In the middle of a city of the present, two ghosts of the past did battle, with none knowing who they were or why they were here—save others of their ilk, none of which would arrive in time to intervene.

Black robe-armor fluttered as Assassin performed a backwards flying leap into the grove of dead trees to avoid a particularly brutal set of attacks—and take advantage of the high ground to better attack his enemy. Unfortunately, it seemed as if the dark knight was had been prepared for this, as in an instant, he switched weapons, just as before.

The vorpal shortswords that the hunter had previously wielded were dismissed to the void from which they had been called, and what appeared in their place was a weapon that gave even the cunning Assassin pause –

– a massive claymore with spinning blades that could make the destruction of a medium-sized house seem trivially simple.

A chainsaw sword, of all things…something that should be an unwieldy weapon in the hand of even a massive warrior, be he an expert or no.

But there was no time to think, as the sword switched on, the blade roaring into the night like a ravenous beast, a prelude to the carnage it promised, as the black armored Servant made a beeline for the grove that Assassin had retreated into, swinging the buzzing sword with all his might.

Biting teeth howled as metal tore into wood and sawdust was spat into the nighttime air, each sweeping blow clear-cutting a row of trees. Time and time again the knight slashed outwards, and whatever his blade struck was shredded with such ease and fluidity that it was no more difficult than slicing the air itself. No matter how much wood, metal, or other substance the chainsword carved its way through, it was not impeded.

It could not be impeded, for it was a weapon that possessed a power that did not yet exist in any tool or weapon made by human hands.

A man possessed by the urge to destroy, the “knight” relentlessly reduced all in his way to rubble and dust. He might have started this fight on a whim, but it had escalated too far for him to decide to pull back on one. There was no choice left: he would find his enemy, and he would kill him…and if Assassin was going to hide himself amongst the trees, then he would just have to flush him out!

A dark shape silently flittered by to his left with the speed of a banshee.

‘There!’ He thought, with his battle rage, the intense desire to rend his foe limb from limb, nearly overtaking him as he readied his chainsword, bringing it across and down. ‘Time to finish this!’

“Zabaniya – Apple of Eden.”

In an instant, waves of sensations and feelings overcame the black-armored Servant, an assault not on a physical level, but a mental one. The air congealed, growing thick and heavy, as if he had been submerged underwater. His vision blurred and the world seemed to rock back and forth, unsteady, unstable, as if it would collapse around him at a moment’s notice.

The Servant’s grip on the chainsword grew loose, though he kept himself from dropping it with sheer force of will, even as sound would sporadically heighten and muffle with no rhyme or reason, buffeting him from all sides, all angles.

A headache was rapidly building inside his skull. Everything throbbed. Everything. What…what was happening to him? What was going on? What?

The shadows in the darkness seemed to gain a life of their own as they ebbed and flowed like cursed waves, surging forward one moment, back the next in a rhythm like some kind of delusional heartbeat, each billowing and contracting indistinctly. No – the shadows were in the shape of his opponent and were rushing at him. Wait…they were not shadows – they actually were his enemy, each figure an identical copy of the hooded, mask-wearing black robed man. A dozen Assassins all converging on his location, all intending to encircle and flank him, overwhelm him with numbers alone.

‘Like hell I’ll let them!’

Amidst all these things, he welcomed their assault, as the immediate danger helped him to shrug off the unease and sickness that threatened to drown him. A rising tide of anger, white hot in his core surged forth, for he would not allow himself to be overcome like this.

With a hardened resolve, the Servant tightened his grip on his chainsaw claymore, and revved it to maximum speed and power, as he waded right into the crowd of Assassins, intending to use his weapon to simply cut them all down at once, since he was no stranger to engaging multiple enemies at once.

With a grunt, he used his entire body to swing the chainsword in a wide, sweeping arc, as if to cleave all those within reach. The Assassins that were close enough to be threatened by such an attack ducked and dodged as appropriate, but in turn sacrificed the advantage given to them with their group charge.

Yet, the rest were not deterred. Rather, this provided an opening that the other Assassins took advantage of like a unit used to coordinating their movements – by sending a rain of ebon knives hurtling at the assassin-knight.

But the mysterious Servant reacted accordingly, as he too was a veteran of many battles, including ones far tougher than this, against foes more terrible than the mind could imagine. There was no way he would let himself die this easily, not so soon into the War against an enemy that in life had only been human.

With reflexes honed by experience, he turned the broad weapon and interposed it between his body and the daggers hurtling towards him, spinning it around as an impromptu shield against the hail of metal missiles, blocking the majority, with a mere handful brushing past to graze his body and draw thin red lines into his armor and flesh.

The sound of metal ringing against metal –a cacophony of violence that guaranteed death to one party or another. Soon enough, the assault ended, and baring his teeth, the crimson-eyed Servant decided to attack once again.

This time, however, he decided that using a large, unwieldy weapon against such nimble foes as these – even if they were all in a closely-packed group together and susceptible to ”crowd control” styles of combat—would most likely be unwise, given that his enemies were not prone to panic and had excellent reflexes of their own. If that was the case, then he had no choice but to match – or even surpass – them at their own style of battle.

With that the Servant dismissed the large chainsword from his hands in order to once again claim the two short-swords he had wielded previously, weapons still just as eager to taste flesh and drink the blood of their master’s foes as they had been when they were initially called forth.

Loyalty, in a trial where Servants were generally alone with the exception of their own Master, was appreciated greatly – even if such loyalty came from nearly-demonic short swords that existed to end an enemy’s life and thirsted for life force.

Especially if they are those forementioned nearly-demonic short swords.

Steel flashed as the sable knight guarded against one of the many Assassins’ attacks, a swing of his blades parrying the scimitar, and retaliating with an especially vicious one-two counter that took the Assassin that was facing him off guard.

The first blow literally shattered the opposing sword and the second one ripped the Assassin’s head from its shoulders. A stream of gore traced the path of the severed skull as it was almost casually tossed aside by the momentum imparted to it with the knight’s deadly stroke. Seconds later the prana sustaining the body dispersed and lost form.

Yet the others remained, no less ready to engage and kill the enemy before them.

Illusions. Like lies, deceit, treachery and poison, such was one of the many techniques and tools utilized by assassins throughout the history of the world.

An illusion – that was what all of these black assailants were. But if he could get to the real one –

“I’ll just have to cut all of you down!” he roared as he threw himself back into the fray without skipping a beat, something inside him awakening like a beast as the Servant tore at those who had dared to attack him.

Another one of the illusionary Assassins was unlucky enough to be the next focus of his unfettered rage, as the force of the twin blades converging knocked the dagger out of its hands and followed up with a slash that tore out the throat and crushed the black figure’s collarbone. The dead illusion was dispelled, prana scattering before its lifeblood watered the dead sod below.

Two down. On to the next.

There always was a ‘next one’ – or at least so it was when he was alive, one more target to eliminate, one more enemy to cut down on the path of vengeance. But here – where all ties to his past were gone and he did not have to worry about holding back – he could allow himself to once again slip into an old role he had once played.

The question was…which role would he choose? Would he be the hero, the avenger, the terror of death, or…something else entirely?

He would find his opponent and finish this once and for all, for had he not been one of the lucky few who had been selected, been chosen by the Throne as a Player in the miracle for a second-chance? He damn well wasn’t going to bail out of the War this soon. Not in this fight. Not ever! He would win this. If not for himself, then for her – for his Master. For the proud and haughty noble girl who deep down was just as alone as he had been in life.

He laughed then, a low and dissonant chuckle that would have sent shivers down the spine of any observer. Even with the world distorted around him, his perceptions had not been warped enough for the Assassins to simply initiate death blows. Dangerous the illusions might be, coordinated by one overriding will, but they were not infallible or all-seeing.

Such was proven when one of his blades was thrown right into an enemy’s skull, tearing through bone with a sickening crunch, followed by its subsequent and abrupt removal as the Terror of Death simply ripped the weapon from his victim’s body. The hooded Servant had not been not expecting an action like that at all, and as such was the next to join its comrades in the place where all dead illusions and mirages find themselves in after they have been dispelled by the real world.

Except the blood remained – the blood was always what would remain of his actions, no matter what form he took.

Twisting around to avoid the jet-black knives thrown down at him, the unknown Servant leapt into the few standing trees, running along the sturdy branches and cutting down the illusions from their perches. Blood fell like rain and dismembered appendages plummeted towards a dead layer of undergrowth that they would never have the chance to touch.

But he did not emerge unscathed, a sharp pain blossoming, as a pair of daggers sliced into his arm.

‘Tch. Missed one.’

He whirled about, intending to remedy this concern in a rather permanent form, as he dropped down to the final illusion’s location and struck with the power of a raging wolf—only for this Assassin to nimbly evade. Grasped tightly in the enemy’s hand was an artifact of some sort roughly the same size as…an apple. That…apple.

No –

It was not “this Assassin”, it was “the Assassin” – the one with whom he had instigated this conflict.

‘At last, I’ve found you!’

At the recognition of his true foe, the dark-armored Servant’s mental state began to stabilize once more, the effects of Assassin’s Noble Phantasm was finally starting to wear off, much to his relief. He had hidden it well, but throughout the protracted engagement with the clones of the shadowed one, he had felt as if he were going to either throw up, black out, or throw up and black out at the same time, possibly drowning in his own vomit – and that would have to be a most embarrassing death, probably the most pathetic end a Servant could ask for.

‘Yeah. What a way for an Epic Hero to go.’

Yet he had made it through. He had persevered through that numbing, disorienting mental assault. He had withstood the illusionary Assassins’ ambush and responded to the mirages in kind – and was moments away from finishing the job.

Seeking the end of the adversary before him, he sprung forward with his swords at the ready. He moved as a blur – a blur colored like pitch and blood, a shadow stained with ichor, his blade gleaming as they reflected the distant lights of the city when they spun, whistling through the air for his enemy’s neck.

The whistle in the air.

The glint of steel.

The clanging thunk of blades making contact.

The splash of blood.

And it ended abruptly as it had started.

– Except not in the avenger’s favor.

He had been stopped cold in his tracks. Ankle. Shin. Kneecap. His eye was drawn immediately to these locations as soon as the pain began. They stung…and he knew why.

A meter-long rapier-like sword had pierced his armor and stuck right into his kneecap—and it was not alone. Two more had pierced below it, and were embedded in his shin and ankle, rending flesh and piercing bone, with the wounds smoking and burning slightly where the thin blades had stabbed into his flesh. Their cross-shaped pommels pointed towards the sky as if to say that they were weapons sent by Him in order to punish those who hurt His allies.

Conceptual Weapons.

Black Keys.

He was pinned – the swords had gone clean through armor, muscle, flesh and bone, and had sunk themselves deep enough into the ground to keep him temporarily immobilized.

He shot his gaze upwards in the direction whence the Black Keys had come. He had caught sight of the one who had wounded him immediately.

She stood on the jutting branch of a dead tree, a figure like a statue of a saint in a church – stoic and dutiful as the granite or marble that that sculpture would have been carved from, beautiful yet unearthly. It was as if she were a silent sentinel, yet one that was not above interfering with the events it bore witness to.

Quiet. Duteous. Dangerous.

The Servant grimaced, partly due to the pain and partly due to the untimely, unexpected appearance of another foe – one that seemed to be an ally of the one he was currently fighting as well, when he took into account the implied camaraderie between the two. Was it possible that this woman was – no. That was not the way that the War worked. Or at least not how it normally worked. Had Assassin’s Master somehow cut a deal with the Church? Were they to do a favor in exchange for assistance?

Playing around outside of the system…was something that irked the black knight to no end.

For some reason, the presence of the new arrival seemed to have changed the very atmosphere of the park. Gone was the feeling of death and emptiness, of ends and beginnings, of change, of the inheritance of one man’s ideals. The atmosphere of the park now more closely resembled that of a church—a hidden, forbidden, holy ground upon which none might intrude.

‘Well, this isn’t good…’

Without a word his attacker had six more of those swords appear suddenly in her hands – each blade held in between her knuckles. Her arms moved faster than the human eye could follow, and sanctified steel rained down to further skewer the knight.

The sudden appearance of this woman…changed things considerably.

Against someone normal or merely slightly superhuman such an attack would have been impossible to avoid. The Black Keys were travelling too fast – impalement was inevitable, and even an “average” Servant would be hard-pressed to come out of it unscathed.

He followed the flight of the whooshing blades. Took note of their speed. Of their location. Where they had been and where they would be.

Dual-welded short swords slashed at the night. Each stroke was precise, controlled, and inhumanly fast. The clang of clashing metal echoed as each Black Key was deflected away by the knight of vengeance’s swings. Swings that made up for their lack of speed with the combat experience of the one who had held the blades that carried out those responses.

Swords littered the landscape like graveyard of blades, some lying on the ground where they had fallen, others piercing the objects that they were deflected into, with the area about him resembled nothing so much as an oversize banquet table, packed to bursting with massive hor d'oeuvres speared with toothpicks of appropriate size.

How appropriate, as given the timeframe, this fight was merely an appetizer to the main course…a prelude to many more to come in this fifth occurrence of the Holy Gail War.

Growling ever so slightly, the besieged Servant glared up at the churchwoman standing on her perch, as if she had the gall to try and “judge” him. He glared at the Assassin standing across from him, the Hashshashin who stood coolly (almost idly) holding his scimitar and the artifact, that Noble Phantasm – that … apple.

This battle was not yet over. He could turn this around if they pushed him to the brink, forced him to call forth his trump cards. His confidence, backed by long experience, was unflagging, and his morale did not fail him. Still, logic indicated that it would not be easy, as he was at a numerical disadvantage– Assassin had shown himself capable of summoning illusions that could inflict psychological damage that felt as if it were real, and the woman was clearly capable of fighting Servants on at least an even level.

Annoyingly, he did not know the full extent of their true abilities, and for all he knew had barely scratched the surface of their capabilities. He had failed to end this quickly, thanks to a persona’s old habits, and now…

…but before he could continue on that line of thought, a voice in his head implored him to come home, telling him that now was not the time for this, that he had done enough.

‘Fine,’ the mysterious Servant responded, sighing in his mind. ‘But only because you told me to.’

The assassin-knight growled in pain as he forcibly yanked out the Black Keys, the weapons that had singed and stung his flesh, pinning his leg down like an animal in a trap. With the pressure of the blades removed, blood trickled freely from his body, though thankfully not in large quantities, as they had apparently cauterized what flesh they had struck.

“Huh. I’ll be seeing you later then, Grand Master of the Hashshashin,” he half sneered, half-commended with a mocking bow, taking great care to emphasize that title – for it indeed was a title Assassin had held all those years ago.

With that, his body dissolved into an incorporeal mist that blew away with the breeze as he went into astral form, living to fight another day.

“Perhaps so … Skeith,” Assassin replied calmly to the night.



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What a productive night it had been.

First he relived his old life by assassinating the entire “ruling caste” of a certain business empire’s Japanese branch, getting shot at by the security of said company and actually getting shot in the arm. He had then had an…interesting fight with an enemy Servant in this long-dead park, only to have it all finish up with the timely arrival of the Church woman.

At the least, he certainly could not say that it had been dull.

In the aftermath, Assassin remained in place, still gazing at the area that the other Servant had been mere moments before. By now he was no doubt far gone from this place, gone to wherever it was that he had been called to. Probably his Master’s redoubt. For some illogical, irrational reason, he hoped that it was a welcoming place with a nice healing circle waiting for him when he got back – it was a cold night after all, and he did have respect for his foes—especially the more talented ones. Speaking of talented individuals…

He saw out of the corner of his eye that the woman had stepped off of the tree branch, making her way over to where he stood. Her stride was confident and professional – just the way it always was. For this woman was in fact his –

“Master.” Assassin brusquely acknowledged, nodding to the blue-haired woman. He was not usually one to come out with the first word in a conversation, and he concluded that it must have something to do with that woman. After all, for all her seriousness and business-like demeanor, she had… how would one put it delicately… a bit of an eccentric streak.

“Assassin,” the Churchwoman replied as she stepped to his side. “Before I start, I have to say that I did tell you to call me by my name.”

“Apologies, Master – but it just sounds so…informal when I do that.”

“If it bothers you that much then feel free to attach my name to my ‘title’ then,” she counters. “After all, you were not averse to addressing others by name in life, were you?”

“Very well then Master…Ciel.”

“Much better, Assassin.” She was smiling, wasn’t she? Even were it not for his excellent dark-vision, he could tell, though her smile was an odd thing that some found cold and oddly disturbing. “Now then, would you care to explain what is was that you were doing tonight? After all, I’m sure you have an excellent reason for your … actions.”

Actions that had certainly gone beyond the scope of simple reconnaissance, as it had involved the killing of those uninvolved with the war, something which would no doubt be difficult to clean up.

“Would you believe me if I said that I needed the prana?” Assassin asked innocently. Explaining to her his rationale for conducting the activities he did in the tower would be somewhat problematic. Especially when he took into account who and what his Master was.

“Hmm…” Ciel said with a false thoughtfulness that could have been seen through by an eight-year-old. “No. The War has only just begun. And besides…” Here she smirked at him, “I have more than enough prana to keep you sustained for this entire War, as you well know.”

“Well, I didn’t think you would,” the killer noted diffidently, shrugging slightly as he put away his weapons, noting that combat had only worsened his condition.

“So why then? Why did you do it?” the combat nun inquired in a neutral manner. Her eyes showed no sadness, nor did she show any outward signs that she was distressed by this matter. All that was evident was a desire to know the truth. “Why did they have to die? And why Abstergo Industries?”

“It’s a very long story, Master Ciel,” Assassin sighed, his expression betraying nothing at all. “All I can say is that what needed to be done needed to be done. I could not allow them – my old enemies – to continue on and plot at their leisure so. The world is not their plaything. We deserve better than to be in their thrall – better than to be controlled by them.”

Ciel said nothing.

Abstergo Industries. It would be inaccurate to say that they were just a front for Assassin’s eternal enemies – the Knights Templar themselves. Rather, the Knights Templar were Abstergo.

“The Hashshashin and Abstergo, or rather the Templars, exist within a perpetual cycle of violence,” the Servant explained tonelessly, laying things out in a manner of fact way. “We kill off all the known members of each others’ groups, wait for the group to rise until they are capable of becoming a threat once more, and the cycle then starts over in earnest. I swore a silent oath as the Grand Master of my Order that I would stand against the Knights Templar and what they stand for until the end of time. That decision has not changed.”

“I never asked it of you,” Ciel responded simply, her voice perfectly neutral as she acknowledged her Servant’s point, taking in this revelation rather well. Most would be quick to assume that she would be more opposed to Assassin’s actions, but then, most also did not know that there was no love lost between her and…those who employed her as the Seventh of the Burial Agency…the same ones who had tortured her to see if “the unnatural whore spawn of Roa” as she had been called, would die. Secretly, she supported anything that “stuck it to the man” and gave the Church a hard time. And since the Church did indeed have Templars serving as spies within her walls in Rome and elsewhere, this coincided nicely with Assassin’s desire.

“So you see where I am going with this, then?” Assassin asked. After all, Master Ciel always had demonstrated sharp insight in these talks, even if only replying to fragments of the truth.

“So that’s your wish, then? You desire something that will completely shatter this little reality of theirs and end the cycle once and for all?”

“Yes, that is correct, Master….Ciel.” Once more he had almost forgotten to say her name, but managed to tack it on before it grew too late.

Silence loomed between the two figures, as it grew quiet in the park. The peace was good while it lasted, but Assassin did not mind it when his Master decided to start up conversation once more.

“So then Assassin...,” Ciel spoke, but trailed off suspiciously. There was a slight grin on her face that disturbed the former Grand Master of the Hashshashin – as he knew well what it meant. All too well, in fact. “You do realize that since I’m the one who saved you that you…owe me.”

He knew from the start that his Master was an oddball. He had a strong feeling that they’d have an interesting partnership together –

“What flavor do you want?”

“Chicken tikka masala.”

– but he never expected that she’d do something as irresponsible as use one of her Command Seals to order him to go on a curry run for her whenever she felt the need.

“You know, Master Ciel,” he sighed, shaking his head and fighting the urge to cradle his brow with his hands. “I would have gotten you your curry anytime you asked.”

“I know.” She responded in a rather bubbly manner (‘Isn’t it amazing how curry can make this woman act?’) “But this way you’ll never be able to refuse me, right?”

“And now I never will be able to, right.”

Oh well, he supposed it could be worse. He could think of far worse things that she could have forced him to do with her Command Seals.

“Do I still have to eat with you and call you ‘senpai’ when I do so?”

“Yes,” Ciel replied with a very cute pout on her face.

“But I don’t understand,” Assassin retorted as they went off into the night together, towards the promise of curry and adventure. “Neither of us are Japanese, nor are we have both enrolled in any form of schooling or profession that would require the need for such distinctions. I’m not exactly a Church employee, remember?”

“Altaïr…” Ciel intoned slowly, not needing to say more. He did not like it whenever she said his name like that. Since he was shrewd enough to pick up on whatever it was that displeased her, he never knew what that foretold and he never intended to find out. He knew better than to cross dangerous women – even though himself had found his fate inextricably bound to them throughout his old life.

“Nevermind.”



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Shadows flickered along the walls and danced across the extravagant furnishings, as the ornately decorated fireplace burned with a roaring blaze. It had been going on for hours now, which was more than enough time to allow the warm heat from the flames to permeate every corner of the room and banish from it the cold of a winter night in Fuyuki City.

The chair in which the young woman was seated was large and regal-seeming - a thing of near perfection in comfort and elegance. If any normal member of the working class were lucky enough to lay eyes on such a thing they would honestly testify that it was indeed, the perfect chair.

But she was unable to enjoy the soft, cushiony comfort that the nearly throne-like seat had to offer.

Because in the penthouse suite that had been rented for the entirety of the War, Luviagelita Edelfelt found herself pondering the vagaries of the past few days, as she always did whenever she was worried, staring out the large glass window.

It was in vogue to design lavish hotel rooms with obscenely large windows that offered all encompassing views of the city lights that it towered above – as if the ones ensconced within were lords and all that could be seen was their dominion. This room made the tenant feel as if they were royalty and any guest like they were in the presence of someone truly influential. This was a room designed to empower the powerful and belittle the little.

And this concerned Luvia not one bit, for her thoughts were directed towards the well-being of her Servant.

The young woman’s fingers idly picked and pulled at the loose piece of string that stuck out from her lush chair’s armrest. Ever since she was a young girl she was told to never pull at frayed bits of fabric – it was a bad habit of hers that she picked up one day, and one that she had been scolded for many a time before.

But here, there was no one to chastise her. No one to slap her hand and tell her to stop. No one to tell her what she could or could not do.

It was empowering – and simultaneously incredibly lonely.

“Did she summon St. Longinus himself as her Servant?” the Finnish magus voiced herself to ponder out loud. Anything to get her mind off of the eventual (she hoped) return of her Servant. “No, that can’t be it. Longinus wasn’t Japanese, and that boy was clearly of oriental descent…”

She tried to distract herself by turning her thoughts to the War, future plans and the upcoming battles that Fuyuki would soon be host to. Just as any good magus would prepare themselves when they knew they would soon come face to face with an enemy.

But with thoughts of the Holy Grail War inevitably came thoughts of Servants – thoughts of her Servant…

At least she was no longer dwelling on that horrific nightmare she had suffered those two nights before. The one involving that thing…

“But that was a Lancea Longini, the holy spear associated with Longinus himself, and by extension Christ’s divine power,” she muttered aloud, not liking the implications of an opposing Servant – and one under the control of her archrival, to boot – having control of a divine weapon as a Noble Phantasm. Still, the pieces didn't add up. “But the rage, that battle rage he had just...doesn't fit with what I know about him. He just can't be Longinus, at any rate...”

“You’re right. That wasn’t Longinus.” The very-familiar voice behind her said.

“Ah – you’re, you’re back!” Luvia nearly exclaimed, but then quickly caught herself before it could be taken any further. She had seemed a little too enthusiastic for her own liking, or for formality's sake. She was Master in the Holy Grail War, not a mere girl waiting for someone to return. “I mean…you’ve returned, Servant.”

She took note of the knight’s condition. He did look rather worse for wear. Streaks of dried blood had dribbled from the holes in his armor...from several deep puncture wounds. It was a good thing that she had called him back when she did, otherwise the boy might have pushed himself beyond his limits and died for all his troubles. She could not let that happen.

Not this early in the War, anyway.

“Hmm…I see you’re ‘Haseo’ this time. That sits well with me – I do not like ‘Sora’ very much.” Luvia commented on her Servant’s appearance.

“That’s the idea.” Her knight sneered endearingly when he heard her opinion of that particular persona. “It’s good to be back, Master.” He curtly replied and purposefully ignored her enthused response to his sudden arrival. Such matters could lead to her embarrassment, after all – not that he did not like seeing Luvia get a little flustered every now and then. Deep down it reaffirmed her that she was indeed still a human being - not simply a cold magus.

“That’s good, I was beginning to – wait. What do you mean ‘That wasn’t Longinus’?” Luvia herself had had a strong feeling that the boy summoned by her archrival had in fact not been St. Longinus, but this confirmation that she had received from her Servant had by no means put her mind at ease. “Who was it then?”

“No one you’d know about, I guarantee that much.” The Servant dryly responded.

“I see. He certainly did not seem like a saint.” Luvia continued, coming to terms with that rationale. “But the spear, that lance…”

“Similar, yes. But that Noble Phantasm is proof that he is definitely not Longinus.” Her Servant went on. “With that holy spear of his that spearman fights like a man possessed – like he is an evangel of the dark descended from what could never be a heaven to anyone –ready to brutalize and maim those who would oppose him or the ones he has become bound to protect with spear, fist, tooth or nail.”

“Poetic prose? That seems to be rather unbefitting of you, ‘Ryou’,” Luvia commented.

“It’s the truth.” The knight of blood and darkness confirmed, “He’s a worthy foe, not one to be taken lightly at all – and if he really is who I think it is, then we’d better be prepared for anything.”

After all, his name really did befit the Lancer – “Ikari”... “rage”.

Luvia stood up from her warm seat. “Then we know what we must do now. This battle is a sign that this War has truly begun. We can no longer be as complacent as we one were back when this started…there will be no more ‘reconnaissance’ missions in the way we have conducted it in the past.”

“The gloves are off. From now on, there’s no need to hold back.” The Edelfelt heiress told her Servant. “The next time that you see Lancer, kill him.”

“Good. I have to pay back the brat for that concussion he gave me.” The Terror of Death replied with almost feral bloodlust. “What about his Master? Should I deal with her as well?”

“Oh no, I have … plans for Rin. Lancer will be enough.” Luvia explained to her avenger of a Servant. “But for now, you should rest. You deserve it, after all that’s happened tonight.”

“Thank you, Master.” “Haseo” smiled slightly at his Master before trotting away out of the foyer to spend a good long while in the magic circle Luvia had set up in the nearby room for just such an occasion. It was one of the few genuine smiles that he had given anyone in recent memory – a feeling that he could get used to, were it not for his need to bury away his emotions so that he might become a real terror on the battlefield. But still, an honest smile could mean the world sometimes, no matter how large or scant. “Good night.”

Seeing as there was nothing left to be had in way of conversation, and that the night had gone on for far later than it was originally planned – one could always count on the Holy Grail War to make a mockery of the things called “schedules” and the routines associate with said schedules – Luvia decided to walk herself over to her bedroom.

There were so many things that needed thinking of and mulling over in sleep. Of divine lances and demonic blades. Of enigmatic shadowy figures and the “Master” that seemed to control them. Of Grail Wars and the Edelfelt. Of deaths and cover-ups. Of the unknown, promising to write an interesting chapter in the book of her life if she would only just take it up on its offer.

Ad yet … there was only one thought that remained in the young and supple female magus’ mind as she lay herself to sleep.

‘…good night, Ryou Misaki – my Servant.’


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Keyword: ["Player"]

A term that was frequently used in the days of theater to refer to actors on-stage. The context that "Sora" appears to have used it in, however, is more contemporary in meaning and seems to instead refer to participants in a game.

This word-choice offers a telling but brief insight into the personality and history of Luviagelita Edelfelt's Servant.


Keyword: ["Templars"]

A military religious order commonly thought to have been formed during the Middle Ages, it seems as if the Templars – or rather, their current existence as the enigmatic Abstergo organization – and their secrets run far deeper than the general public realizes.


Keyword: ["Zabaniya"]

A specific variety of Middle Eastern spirit who served as wards of hell. The title was appropriated sometime at an unspecified date by the higher-ups of the Hashshashin, specifically the currently ruling Hassan I-Sabbah, as a catch-all name for a "signature" technique unique to the leader.

The distorted 5th War's Assassin is just maintaining a long-standing tradition for no sake other than flavor in the keeping of this name for his sure-kill ability.

alfheimwanderer
March 16th, 2011, 02:38 AM
~destiny // Inertia Dawn~
Chapter II
/ Krieg \
(Shirou Side) (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/6281893/4/)



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100%
First/night
100%

For half a decade, the life of Shirou Emiya has been a simple one.

Wake up. Do morning training. Eat breakfast with Sakura and Taiga (while putting up with Taiga’s antics). Go to school. Take care of repairs as Homurabara Academy’s unofficial handyman. Go to work. Eat dinner with Sakura and Taiga. Do my magus “training”. Take care of more repairs. Go to sleep. Wake up.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

That was the daily routine I’d become accustomed to, which an outsider might find mundane, safe…predictable, with each day a seeming repetition of the one before. But if one looked closely, one could see that no two were quite the same, for no matter how trivial slight differences may seem, they build upon one another, making each day an irreplaceable moment one can never go back to once it was gone.

So I find myself thinking (while musing on the aptness of “May you live in interesting times” as a curse) after everything changed in the course of an evening, when I was unceremoniously dragged kicking and screaming into the moonlit world.

It’s an elegant, poetic name, evoking a land of mysteries and shadow pictures, where the watery light of the snow moon hides the flaws laid bare by day. Another world where miracles are everyday occurrences and reality is the stuff of dreams—or better say nightmares, as the name belies its ugly nature. For those who were fully part of that world, everyday brushes with the profane and the forbidden were common, with the heartless grim reaper the only true companion such a being might have in an otherwise solitary existence.

Kiritsugu had warned me of such a thing – that to be a magus was to walk alongside death, to live a life of danger, deceit, and disappointment – and I had accepted it the moment I first constructed a Magic Circuit, where any misstep could be my end. Intellectually, I had known that one day, when I was ready, I would enter that ruthless world of mysteries and unpleasant truths so I better learn how to save people—but I had never expected that people already part of that world would take an interest in a magus of low caliber as I was now.

Ready or not, a trial was upon me, and somehow I knew that if I failed—or refused to face it, that would be my end, as surely as my spilled lifeblood stained the night a crimson hue.

Mysterious figures, alongside those familiar, but unexpected.

The “enforcer of the Association” who could have killed me at any time, wielding with ease a great sword that would have seemed unwieldy in anyone else’s hands, and terrible magics the like of which I had never seen—a being on a completely different level from anything I had ever thought possible.

The rose-haired gun-blade wielder who calls me “Master”, a beautiful but deadly warrior whose soft features hide inhuman abilities--though not quite up to par with the "enforcer's."

The lance-bearing knight, referred to as "Servant Lancer”, whose youthful appearance does not extend to aged and weary eyes.

And of course, there is Rin Tohsaka, the school idol that most of the track team seems to worship Mitsuzuri-san seems to have issues with, and I...um... I kind of admire. Apparently, she's a rather powerful magus--and her real self is utterly different from the front she puts up at school.

At this rate, the ethics teacher will turn out to be an undercover assassin. Or maybe the mysterious Sajyou Ayaka, who runs the occult club, will actually be a witch hiding in plain sight.

...stranger things have happened.

With all of the recent upheavals, I have resigned myself to taking comfort in the few truths that I am fairly certain of.

One of which being that Tohsaka is right: Lancer can make tea.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, given that he seems Japanese and tea ceremonies were once a symbol of the samurai class, but it is still a little unsettling how he can go from mad warrior to brooding wallflower in the blink of an eye.

Some time has passed since Tohsaka forced me to invite her into my home so she could fill me in on what the hell is going on. Currently, we are seated across from each other at the dining table, sipping tea as she tries to figure out where to begin explaining, and I'm running through the few scraps of information I have so that I won't seem completely uninformed.

...no one wants to look foolish in front of someone they admire, after all.

The atmosphere in the room is, well, hard to pin down, and tension and uncertainty swirl about in a devil's brew, mingling with confusion, disappointment, weariness, and a host of other things--and that's just the faint impressions from the two of us.

The presence our "Servants" does not help matters, with "Lancer" and "Saber" standing behind Tohsaka and myself respectively like silent sentinels, watching for any attempt on the part of the other to violate the uneasy peace. No truce has been declared, no alliance made, and so our Servants remain vigilant in case this is a trap. At first glance, this doesn't seem to be the case, with the pink-haired swordswoman coolly glancing about the room and over at the spearman every once in a while, while the spearman in turn is withdrawn, utterly apathetic about the goings on around him.

But to accept those surface impressions as truth would be foolish, as a more discerning eye reveals that that both are closely watching the other, assessing the threat each poses, the abilities that each has revealed, and everything else they know of the other. Hard, cold, gazes, but not out of animosity, simply out of professional concern, as neither have any reason to trust the other.

For some reason, that really bugs me.

True, when Lancer appeared and blew up my backyard with a cast of his spear, I was nearly caught in the blast, but he and Tohsaka showed up to stop the monster in human shape trying to kill me, so they should be allies...right? After all, conventional wisdom would have it that the enemy of my enemy is my friend...though from Saber and Lancer's mutual attitude, they see the enemy of an enemy as merely the enemy of an enemy, nothing more and nothing less.

I get the sinking feeling that Tohsaka shares that viewpoint as her eyes flick from me to my Servant, and then to the mark on the back of my hand, her lips tightening ever so slightly as if forcing down something she found distasteful.

...she was a lot more transparent than when she was at school, but maybe she simply figured that if both of us knew the other was a magus, neither of us had anything to hide. Which isn't quite true, since I don't quite want her to know of my weakness - not my weakness in using magecraft, mind you, but that I found her...quite attractive.

Still, even if she doesn't like the situation, at least Tohsaka is willing to put that aside to get me up to speed, instead of leaving me in the dark like she could have done. It's certainly nice of her, though it does detract from the aloof image of the ice queen she likes to present. B-but I'm sure she didn't save my life and decide to fill me in about these odd happenings because she likes me or anything. I wouldn't want to get the wrong idea.

“The first rule about the Holy Grail War is this,” Tohsaka begins at last, stirring from her reverie, setting down her teacup, and assuming a lecturer's pose, sitting upright with the elbow resting on a palm, as her free hand gestured and gesticulated to emphasize important points. “ ‘You do not talk about the Holy Grail War.’ ”

…I can't help but think I'd heard something like that before, though exactly where escaped me. I just knew it had something to do with explosions, mayhem, and...fat -- I think Makidera-san mentioned something about it? Regardless of what it reminded me of though, it gives me the distinct impression that the following explanation would be more convoluted than I anticipated--or desired.

And I'm right. Tohsaka's explanation is long, detailed, and confusing enough that I regret not taking notes on it. Geez, you'd think that she thought of all this as the basics of the basics, which even an amateur like myself (I admit it) should already know. Right now, asking her to stop so I could take notes would probably just end up making her mad at me - and I mean really mad - so I figure I might as well try to absorb as much of what she is saying as I can.

After the altercation with the man in black, I already have enough repairs to make to my shed and the yard - I don't need to give Tohsaka's Servant an excuse to blow up my dining room too. Saber could probably stop him from killing me, but not before he inflicts major property damage...and Old Man Fujimura wouldn't be too happy if I asked him for a loan.

Still, I can barely understand half of what Tohsaka is saying. Heck, even Lancer looks bored out of his mind, except he clearly knows better than to say anything.

From her explanation, I piece together the following: The woman that I somehow summoned (and yes, the swirl of light and power was apparently a summoning - something which should have been far beyond my level of ability) is something like a familiar. I say "like" because normally a familiar is weaker than the magus, but not in this case, with Saber being as far beyond me as...well...that man in black. But it makes sense, given that she is apparently a "heroine" out of legend, summoned forth to do battle in a free-for-all between magi with the prize being the Holy Grail."

...wait, that Holy Grail? And if these "Servants" are supposed to be heroes of legend, then why don't I recognize Rin's Servant, whose name she blurted out by mistake? I don't know of any hero named Shinji Ikari, much less a spear-wielder, of which there aren't too many in Japanese legend.

But I push these thoughts aside as Tohsaka sums up her long explanation with nine simple words: A fight to the death, to put it simply.

I don't really react to this dramatic summation.

As someone who wants to be a hero of justice, my blood should be boiling at the realization that a sick "game" like this is taking place, that in a quest for unlimited power, seven magi...well, six if you don't include me, intent on killing one another will be blasting through Fuyuki without care for who else might get hurt.

It should be, but at the moment, I’m actually feeling more confused than anything else.

Tohsaka sighs dejectedly, as if she can read my thoughts. “You’re still feeling a little lost, aren’t you?”

I blink. I don't think I was that obvious about it.

“Does it show on my face or something?” I ask, curious at how she could see through me so easily. This is bad. If she can read what I'm feeling just by looking at me, then I don't stand a chance of--

“No," Tohsaka says, hiding a smirk behind her hand. "You said it out loud.”

...well, shit.

Did that really happen?

“If that's a problem, Emiya-kun, you might want to get that checked out…” the school idol ribs coyly, rather more amused than I am comfortable with.

“What? Oh. Nope, no, not a problem," I ramble. "Uh...heh...it just kind of slipped out, I guess.” So I admit to Tohsaka as I scratch my head out of a nervous reflex. “This is kind of a lot to swallow.”

“Well then,” my fellow magus responds, looking away in the direction of the other part of town. “If that is the case, would you like more details about the Grail War?”

How should I put this tactfully? I do appreciate her going out of her way to help me, but...I don't think she's exactly used to explaining things simply.

"If you don't mind," I say after some moments of thought, trying to avert the headache that I know is coming from being flooded with too much data and too little useful information. "There are a few things that I'd like to hear about in detail."

She purses her lips, as if weighing my response, and lets out a small 'hmph', getting up from her seat, with Lancer moving to guard her.

“Well, if that is your answer, then I’ll have to ask you to come with me - and bring your Servant with you. It would be bad if an enemy just so happened to attack when you were completely defenseless..."

...um, Tohsaka, what was that smirk for? Was that a threat?

But I'm probably just reading into things too much - I'm a little on edge after nearly being killed quite a few times, and losing so much blood. About the only reason I'm alive is Saber's odd potion, and somehow, I get the feeling that if I don't agree, I'll probably end up dead.

For if I'm right, the swordsman in black, the being of absolute malice and despair that attacked me earlier tonight is probably related to the Holy Grail War as well. He seemed to know that I would be a Master, was aware of how he could force me to summon a Servant, and could more than match a Servant in combat in his own right. If he is planning to attack me again...well, any help would be useful.

I'm a little allergic to death, you see.

“Wait Tohsaka,” I follow suit and likewise get up from where I was seated. “Where are we going?”

As I do so, Saber moves slightly, just enough that she could cover me from an enemy attack at a moment's notice, her cool, precise movements still as professional as her first impression showed. Looking over at her, I feel reassured by her quiet competence, as she moves with the lithe grace of someone who has spent her life learning and practicing the art of war, until every movement is refined into part of a dream-like whole. Considering she is on my side, as my partner in this War, I feel some hope that I might be able to survive, despite the fact that the life I knew was swept away what seem like days ago, even though it has been less than an hour.

It's like the fire all over again.

From the hallway with Lancer at her side, she answers with an indecipherable expression before walking out into the cold night: “We’re going to pay a visit to the mediator of this game.”

Damn it Issei, you were right...life really isn't fair.




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“Stille nacht, heilige nacht…”
“…Alles schläft; einsam wacht…”

A stifling, oppressive silence hangs over Miyamachou as Tohsaka and I wander through the empty streets, accompanied by our now-invisible Servants. In and of itself, quietness isn't too out of the ordinary, given that this is a residential neighborhood not prone to wild carousing or raucous goings-on, but this isn't the simple lack of sound that marks the witching hour. Rather, it is an anti-noise which blanks out sound in its entirety, leaving in its wake a world as desolate as the surface of the moon.

If someone was killed right here, struck down in the middle of the street say...by a sword, no one would notice or care--no one would even find out until morning, when the formerly unaware residents catch sight of dried bloodstains tagging the concrete like cheap graffiti.

It is a fey stillness that I am hesitant to break, and certainly not simply to wonder if I'm following Tohsaka, or she's following me. At first, she had been leading the way towards the neighboring town, but after I showed her a shortcut or two, she let me guide her without objection.

To the unsuspecting world, Tohsaka and I seem just a girl and a boy walking together side-by-side in the dead of the night, no doubt having just returned from a romantic outing of some sort. But this isn't so, as things are still tense between us, and two spectral forms trail us silently, ever vigilant, ever watchful. I can feel them hovering closely, though not in the “literal” sense, as I can't pinpoint them.

I just know that Lancer and Saber are there, as their presences are distinctive, like the scents of blood, steel--and roses, blending together in a strangely redolent mix.

In strange company, my footsteps lead me to the bridge over the river that divides Miyamachou from Shinto. A Shirou Emiya had already crossed it once this night, yet the Shirou that used it then and the Shirou walking on it now are two different people.

It is sometimes said that at a certain point in a person’s life, one comes to a bridge that spans an otherwise impassable river or crevice that one needs to cross. But the bridge is only good for one crossing, and as soon as you step from it onto the other shore, it collapses, leaving you no way to return, no choice but to keep going. And yet, a version of you remains behind in memory, wondering what would have happened had you not crossed, and the you of memory and the you of now grow ever distant.

Once, I was certain of how things would be, but things have changed, and now I cross this bridge towards uncertainty, accompanied by Tohsaka and the ethereal bodyguards that have sworn themselves to us.


“…Nur das traute hochheilige Paar...”
“…Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar…”

After some time, we finally arrive at our destination: the Kotomine Church, a place that I’m far more aware of than I’d care to admit.

Is…is this really the place Tohsaka wanted to take me?

The Church that was once an orphanage, the place where the children orphaned by the fire ten years ago were sent?

I shiver, and not from the cold.

Maybe I'm not as well-adjusted as I think I am, if these things still trouble me.

As soon as we reach the top of the hill, Saber abandons her state of intangibility, her form becoming corporeal as she comes to an abrupt halt. Her eyes are sharp in the darkness, catching what little light is scattered about as she regards the church with wariness and hostility, her jaw tightening ever-so-slightly as her hands move towards her gunblade...then stop.

It is the most she has yet shown by way of outward expression.

“Is something wrong, Saber?” I ask my Servant, noticing how she seems suddenly on guard, almost as if expecting an attack. “Is something bothering you?”

The rose-haired swordswoman's eyes narrow and she seems to relax slightly.

"This is as far as I go,” she explains, meeting my gaze unflinchingly. “That is not a place for one such as I.”

“I’m…just going to wait out here, too," Lancer likewise breaks in, willing himself out of spiritual form and rubbing the back of his head in an almost thoughtful manner. It is the first bit of independent action I have seen of him. "Take care of what you must, Master."

At these ominous words, my eyes dart to Tohsaka's face, trying to see how she would react to the scene before us. Oddly, she seems calm, which assuages some of my apprehension, though certainly not all. Saber seems tense, a change from the norm - and in a situation like this, I'm fairly certain change is bad.

“Very well then," Tohsaka says after a moment. "We’ll be back soon, so don’t do anything reckless or cause any property damage while Emiya and I are gone, understand?”

Do I need to be worried about that, too? This Holy Grail War sounds like it will be expensive, and I don't exactly have much money to pay for such things. Taiga alone nearly eats me out of house and home!

“As you wish, Master. Take your time.” Lancer sighs, before turning his gaze to something in the distance. Tohsaka seems satisfied enough with his answer, as she nods and turns to head to the church's door.

Similarly, I turn to give Saber my answer, but she preempts me.

“Be on your guard, Master. A storm is coming”

More ominous words, but before I can reply, or process them in detail, Tohsaka interrupts.

“Emiya-kun – come on. We can’t keep that false priest waiting.”

She stands in front of the large doors, arms crossed, tapping her feet with a slight air of impatience.

“I'm coming, Tohsaka,” I tell her, nodding at Saber. No sense keeping the honor student waiting any longer, right?

Together, we step through the gateway.


“…Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh…”
“…Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh…”

The doors to the house of worship creak loudly as we open them, stepping into the chapel of the church. It is a fair-sized chapel, not quite magnificent in size, though atmosphere is grand enough to impart the sense of awe that churches are supposed to inspire. Rows of wooden pews line the aisle that leads to the altar, and the space, though spartan, is well maintained.

It is empty, not that I expected anyone to be worshipping at this ridiculous time, as the only ones would be at a church this late at night are those who have pressing business to conduct business within its walls, business far removed from the singing hymns or murmuring prayers.

…those like Tohsaka and I, though why we have set foot upon the territory of the Holy Church, I don't know.

Such a thought disturbs me, for by their nature, a magus and the church cannot be in harmony. The Holy Church hates the impurity of magic, seeing those who wield miracles other than the divine as heretics and targets of elimination. Even the Association has trouble with them, with members of each organization trying to kill the other at every opportunity despite a non-aggression pact between them.

Still, she obviously brought us here for a reason, so perhaps there is someone here that she needs to meet--the false priest she mentioned? But this place is just quiet as the silent city outside – is there really someone here?

“I know you’re here, you fake priest. Stop lurking in the shadows and come out already,” Tohsaka says bluntly, tacking on four very worrisome words as an afterthought. "We need to talk."

“And to what do I owe the pleasure of your presence at this late hour?”

A footstep echoes loudly, as a man steps from behind the altar and calmly turns towards us, utterly unfazed by Tohsaka’s barb.

“Can it Kotomine, you should know why I’m here.”

Kotomine. That name. Without a doubt, this strange priest must be the man entrusted with this church...and apparently the supervisor of the Holy Grail War.

"Indeed so, and I see that you have brought a guest. He is the seventh one, Rin?”

Tohsaka nods stiffly, and the priest turns to me, regarding me with eyes that betray nothing.

"I am Kirei Kotomine, the mediator of this Holy Grail War," he says as he approaches us, every footfall deliberate. "What is your name, seventh Master?"

I hold my breath somewhat as I meet his gaze, willing myself to stand my ground before what Tohsaka called a false priest, but as it is, I step back almost without realizing. It's not that he's scary, or that I feel hostility from him, but his presence seems to make the shadows darker, the air cold and heavy, making me feel like Atlas, bearing the weight of the world.

There's something off about him, but I can't quite identify what. In fact, he is completely unreadable to me, which only sets me ill at ease...and it seems as if he’s noticed.

“Emiya,” I answer the priest, glaring back at him in an attempt to hide how unsettled I am. "My name is Shirou Emiya, and I haven't agreed to become a Master yet."

That I will agree is not in question, given how I was thrust into the role, but for some reason, I don't want him to know that it's already a foregone conclusion.

The slight upward curl of his lips only makes his smirk all the more apparent, as the atmosphere turns cold. “Emiya…Shirou. Shirou...Emiya.” Kotomine lets the sound of my name roll off his tongue, as if he’s rediscovered a favorite wine that he has not tasted in years.

By now, I was more than just a little on-edge.

“I thank you then, Shirou Emiya, as you have brought my errant apprentice,” Kotomine intones, diverting his attention to Tohsaka now. “So you have finally showed up, Rin. Then I presume you have summon forth your Servant and now seek make your status of Master official?”

“Yes, and Shirou as well."

“Hang on a second Tohsaka,” I protested, frowning at both Tohsaka and the fake priest. “I didn't come here because of that.”

If looks could kill, Tohsaka’s glare would no doubt be serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in a maximum security facility right now.

But I can handle her ire more easily than the uncertainty that hung between us since our meeting earlier in the night, and so steadied myself, as dealing with the priest is a more pressing issue. I'd rather be far away from here, but according to Tohsaka, he's the man who knows the answers to my questions, so I will have to grit my teeth and endure it.

“Um, sorry,” I somewhat sputter as I correct myself, “What I mean is, I still have some things that I need to know about this whole thing.”

“Ah, so you seek clarification? Very well then, if it is within my knowledge I will answer any inquiries that you have concerning the upcoming miracle.”


“…Stille Nacht, heilige Nach…”
“…Hirten erst kundgemacht…”

Just as he said he would, “Father” Kotomine further expanded my knowledge of Grail War protocol and procedure with each of my questions asked. As it turns out, once a person has been chosen to be a Master by the Holy Grail, there is no real way for them to get out of it – or at least, not without the equivalent of magical neurosurgery, which sounds…unpleasant. Maybe not as unpleasant as the training I do each night, but I don't have any intention of letting this priest muck about with my head...or my Magic Circuits, with which the holy sigil of the Command Seals are linked.

Further, as it turns out, though it is said to be a free-for-all, the Masters don’t have to kill one another, but it is a traditional strategy used for several reasons: thinning out the competition, preventing wayward Servants from being re-contracted (or a less than loyal Servant from stabbing his or her Master in the back and finding another to serve), and because even without a Servant, magi could be quite dangerous. Still, I was relieved to hear that killing wasn't mandatory, as there might be some Masters out there that I’d rather not see dead anytime soon.

Masters like Toh–

Anyway, speaking of the Holy Grail, the great prize of this war…where to begin? Was it the “true” Holy Grail, the cup that Christ drank from and into which his blood was spilt? The very cup that many have pined for and devoted themselves to, the thing of legends and mystery itself?

No…and yes.

While it wasn't the original or "True" Grail, that didn't matter as long as it could replicate the original's effects. It might be the 726th item to be recorded as a Holy Grail, not the first, but as long as it could realize miracles...such as summoning allowing magi to summon the souls of Heroic Spirits to fight by their sides, then it made no difference. Absolute power, after all, was absolute power, no matter the source, so Masters competed for ownership of the Grail, regardless of authenticity of the artifact’s pedigree.

Not that that was my reason for participating - I couldn't care less about power, and in that sense, I was unsuitable to be a Master at all, being simply a boy caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time through a series of unfortunate coincidences. Yet I couldn't turn back, as whether or not I decided to fight, I knew at least one person in Fuyuki sought to kill me, and without a Servant I stood no chance of survival.

“All of them were killed. By a long sword-like weapon, judging from what I heard.”

What's more, that man hunting me - who must be a participant in the War, is a murderer who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. People have died because of him, are dying because of him...will die, and if I do nothing when I had chance to stop him, I will be just as guilty of their deaths as if I had killed them myself.

And worse...if such a man were to win the Holy Grail, the result would be nothing short of disaster.

"Indeed," Kotomine intones, driving the last nails into the coffin of the notion that the half-magus named Shirou Emiya would drop out of this War. "Such was the case ten years ago, when an unsuitable Master tried to claim the Grail as his own. I do not know what that Master wished for, only the results of the disaster that came afterwards."

Ba-dump!

For an instant, the image of hell is imprinted on my brain, before I manage to banish it from my conscious mind.

"Hold on," I repeat, my body trembling--though whether in fear, anger, or revulsion, I did not know. "That can't be…"

"But it is," the mediator affirms, his empty eyes watching me as he frowns. "It is an event that everybody in this town knows about, Shirou Emiya. Five hundred killed or wounded. A hundred and thirty four buildings burned down. That inferno, still unexplained, is the remains of the Holy Grail War."

Hearing this makes me feel as if the world had been pulled out from under me, or if some leaden giant of legend had sucker punched me, tearing me in half.

My vision blurs.

I lose concentration and I can't focus my eyes.

My body stumbles, and I nearly collapse.

But I hold myself firm.

I hold onto consciousness by clenching my teeth.

I hold back my nausea with the anger boiling up in me, the tightly-coiled rage that festers in the heart of those who have ever been helpless.

"Emiya-kun? What's wrong?" A voice asks, seeming far away. Ah, that's right, Tohsaka doesn't know my past, does she. "You're pale white. …I know it's not a comfortable story, but… if you want, we can take a rest for a while."

I must have looked terrible, as I've never seen Tohsaka worried about anyone like that.

Slowly, I focus on the sound of her voice, turning to look into two concerned aquamarine eyes, as a firm hand rests on my shoulder. With her help, I steady myself, smiling weakly.

"Don't worry about me, Tohsaka. I feel better after seeing your face," I manage to mumble, earning me a half-glare from the girl in question.

"...hey, just what is that supposed to mean?" she demands suspiciously, trying to look through me as she had earlier.

"Oh, nothing really. Just that you really are a good person," I say without thinking, thankful that she couldn't get a good read on me. "I like people like you..."

"W-w-wha...?"

...though her not being able to read me apparently doesn't help if I say what I'm thinking out loud. Hmm, this is a problem, but I blame the blood loss.

She looks shocked, her eyes wide and mouth nearly hanging open, hand pulling away from me as if burned, and in the back of my mind, I think to myself that she looks cute even when she is at a loss for words.

"Is there anything more you wish to ask of me, Shirou Emiya?" the smooth but vaguely sinister baritone of the priest echoes, bringing my attention to the smirking clergyman. "Or have you come to a decision?"

I swallow under his scrutiny, but meet his gaze regardless.

“I’ll do it. I’ll accept my role as Master and fight in this War. I’ll do anything I can…to prevent that from happening ever again. This is my chance, my one chance to set things right.”

Upon hearing this, Kotomine’s smirk widens with satisfaction. “Excellent. I trust that this is a decision that you will not come to regret?”

What else can I say? As one of the "Grail Orphans" I know, better than anyone else, what is at stake, and this, this is what I have always wanted: the power to save, to help - to protect, where others seek to destroy. I’m not one to believe in fate, but deep down I’m sure that everything else up until now was just preparation for this day, I know it must have been.

“E-Emiya?” Tohsaka’s voice sounds odd, even a little timid in the aftermath of my declaration. Why? Was she expecting me to decide otherwise? Or...?

“I told you what I think already,” I say, repeating my decision to Kotomine, almost daring him to say otherwise. “Ready or not, this is something I cannot back down from."

“Hm, it was foolish of me to think that I needed to ask again. After all, your resolve is firm and your decision has been made.”

No matter what it takes, I’ll be sure to keep that prize out of the wrong hands and ensure that it will not be used to bring about another catastrophe.

“Then it is settled. Henceforth, in this Fifth Holy Grail War, let it be known that the ones named Rin Tohsaka and Shirou Emiya are hereby Masters. In this instant, the Seven have been chosen, in this instant, the Holy Grail War begins. So I attest, so I bear witness, and I approve the battle in this town, from now until only one Master remains.” Raising his voice by nary a decibel, Kotomine announces this to no one in particular. Without an ounce of fanfare, and with none to bear witness to its true commencement, the Holy Grail War starts.

There’s no turning back now. Not that there ever was going to be any in the first place, that is.

All has been said and done that needed to be said and done. I have no further business here at this church, not unless I lose Saber and am forced to seek shelter here until the game ends. However –

“Y-you can go on home, Emiya," Tohsaka interjects suddenly, her voice still a little subdued as she brushed her hair...nervously? "I still have business of my own to discuss with Kirei.”

– it seems as if the same cannot exactly be said about Tohsaka.

“Huh? You mean we’re not walking home together Tohsaka?” I had been under the impression that we would leave as we came here – in each other’s company.

For a moment I think I see her eyes widen slightly, but it must have been a trick of the light.

“No, we’re not," she says quickly, almost too quickly. "I just said that I’d take you to the church so that we could straighten you out. Otherwise I’d have flab on my mind about leaving you hanging.”

“Then…does that mean we’re going to be enemies, Tohsak – ”

Wait. Did she just say her brain is fat? Well, I suppose the fat content of the brain is about 60% if you take all the myelin insulation and long cell membranes into account, but somehow, I don't think that's what she means.

“Yes, we'll part here, Emiya-kun," she answers, looking at me strangely. "I've done more than my share in bringing you up to speed, but since you've chosen to fight, it would be troublesome if we stayed together any longer. From here, we'll be enemies, since you’re not the only one who wants the Grail.”

I guess she wanted to end the ambiguous position we were in now. She went out of her way to save me and even helped explain things when she found I was clueless about the War. Honestly, if she thought it was troublesome, she could have just left Saber and I alone against the man in black. I really don't like my thoughts on how that would have turned out.

I suppose it could be worse, since even if we'll be enemies, she's a good person. I can at least trust her to be fair, even if she is flippant and aloof and a complete one-eighty from how she normally is at school.

“Alright then, Tohsaka. If that’s how you feel, then I’ll respect your decision." I say, though something else crosses my mind. "But before I go, I just wanted to say one thing to you.” Our eyes meet squarely as I say this, and I note with some slight unease and minor amusement that this has the priest’s full attention. “Thank you.” She gasps quietly, her eyes widening, and I can tell she’s flushing gently. I smile genuinely at her.

"H-huh? What are you saying all of a sudden? D-don't get the wrong idea. As the Second Owner of Fuyuki, it would be remiss of me to let an uninformed magus blunder into a sacred ritual," she states, crossing her arms. "I-it's not like I wanted to help you or anything. I won't go easy on you even if you say kind things."

I almost smile at her display.

"Still, thank you everything you've done for me tonight. I really do appreciate it.”

As I turn to leave the church, the priest directs a few final words towards me. They are not coming from Tohsaka’s mouth.

“You are an interesting one, Shirou Emiya. Rejoice, boy, for your wish...shall be granted.”

The doors creak loudly as they shut, leaving me alone in the winter night.


“…Durch der Engel Halleluja…”
“…Tönt es laut von fern und nah…”




.

] | [

.



Wait…

What?...

What did he say?

I would pound my fist on the door in protest seeking an answer, but there’s no point to it. I know perfectly well what Kotomine meant when he said that to me, the last and most virulent of the triumvirate great curses that begin with "interesting times."

Your wish...shall be granted.

And in the process, shown that what you wanted was not quite what you thought it was. For instance, I wish to be hero, to protect others; yet this means that those who I wish to protect must come under threat. For every Bellerophon, there must be a Chimera, after all; for every hero, there must be something that that hero must fight, as they are part of one whole.

A hero can only exist when safety and peace is violated, when people encounter hardship, else there can be no such thing. When enemies of the peace reveal themselves, a hero will rise to stop them, but in the same way, when a hero rises, others will test him or her, and so invariably ruin comes.

None can escape that cycle. None can escape that truth.

...not even me.

I don’t like it, but I need to accept it, as that is why I have entered the Holy Grail War: to stop those who would wish disaster on the world.

“Are you done, Master?” Saber asks when I make my way over to where she has been waiting for me. "Have you decided?"

“Yeah, I'm done," I confirmed, nodding at the rose-haired warrior. "As for my decision, I'll fight. What other choice do I possibly have after everything that has already happened? I’m too deep in this to pull out now. ”

“Understood, Master,” Saber acknowledges, seemingly pleased by my decision, though there was no one obvious sign of that. “What are your orders?”

She cuts straight to the point, doesn’t she?

“Huh. Well, let’s go home. It's been a long night for the both of us, and there are things I need to do when I get back."

First and foremost, cleaning up the warzone that was formerly the backyard of the Emiya residence. I have enough problems already without having to explain what happened to Taiga, or worse, try to come up with an excuse. Or to Sakura, come to think of it, as she'll be quite worried and dismayed by its state of mangled disrepair.

Either way, I am not looking forward to trying to explain things, so cleaning up--or trying to--is about my only recourse.

“Reasonable enough.” My Servant concludes succinctly, taking spirit form once more as her voice speaks into my mind. “Let’s go.”

As we start down the hill, Saber and I pass right by Lancer. As I end up making eye contact with Tohsaka’s Servant I notice a somewhat inquisitive look on his normally apathetic face. “You’re going to have to wait a little longer, Lancer. Tohsaka’s still in there, and I don’t know when she’s coming out.”

“Oh.” Lancer replies in a simple, matter-of-fact manner. “Okay then…thanks…Master of Saber.”

“She’ll be out eventually, so don’t worry too much about it.” I nod to the boy before setting off continuing on my way once more.

It’s still deathly quiet and eerie as I walk through Shinto’s empty streets, seemingly alone to the eyes of any normal human, with the clopping of my shoes echoing like screams in the uneasy silence. I think to myself that I can't even hear Saber breath or move when she's invisible, and such a thing unsettles me, though I find it awkward that I'm even listening for it. I can sense her presence by the vague scent of attar of roses, but other than that, it is as if she isn't even there, which I find less than reassuring.

For some reason unbeknownst to me, I’m finding this silence to be very unpleasant, but I can’t really explain why. But I just can’t leave it like this – I have to break some actual ground with the woman I’m partnered with in this Holy Grail War, or how will we ever learn to work together?

“Saber?” I stop my walking and call to the empty street.

“What is it, Master?” The voice of a woman responds, seeming to speak directly into my mind once again, which I find more than a little disconcerting.

“Do you have to stay invisible like that?” This is slightly perturbing, in my opinion.

“It’s best this way, as we can maintain a lower profile, with potential enemies unable to tell that you’re a Master until it’s too late.” She reasons while still remaining in spirit form.

I’ll concede that me being seen in the presence of a visibly armed (and very attractive) pink-haired foreigner isn’t exactly low key, since this isn't Akihabara, where throngs cosplayers can be found at all hours, but that's not the point. Shaking my head, I calmly voice my displeasure. “That’s not what I meant. I mean, I want us to talk right now, and I’d like it if I could see you in front of me.”

"Couldn't that wait till we return to your home, where the situation is less likely to turn dangerous?"

Also a valid point, but when one is tired and nearly overwhelmed, one doesn't tend to be in a state where reason trumps emotion.

"It would only be for a minute."

Saber does not reply, obviously thinking that a minute would be all an enemy needed to launch an ambush, particularly if that enemy were say...Archer or Caster.

“Please don’t make me ask again, Saber.”

The air shimmers as the Heroic Spirit I summoned takes on a solid form, a trace of irritation in her pale-blue eyes. “Very well, Master. What did you want to say?”

As I turn to face Saber, my eyes can't help but trace the contours of her body for the briefest of moments. I know that I can’t allow myself to get distracted at this time, but it’s kind of hard when you’re being looked at directly by an admittedly attractive young woman who wears clothing that draws attention to her long, athletic legs and slim, powerful arms. So after a second, I force my eyes to hers.

“I’d like to talk about our partnership, Saber.”

She lightly cocks her head quizzically at me. “I thought you already settled your doubts at the Church,” she notes simply, raising an eyebrow. “Why are you bringing this up again?”

“I did make my decision. It’s just that there’s more that I have to say – more that I need to say.”

“Like what?”

“About the contract. We’re a completely accidental team, and because of this there are probably flaws with the connection," I say all at once, my words coming out in a rush. "Look, I'm not a great magus and certainly shouldn't have been able to summon someone like you - yet somehow, we’ve been paired together to fight in this twisted game – a Master / Servant contract that shouldn’t even exist in the first place.”

The gunblade user is silent, looking at me expectantly as if wanting me to say something meaningful in my rambling. From the way I’m going on, it probably sound like I'm having second thoughts and want to break my ties with her – but she waits patiently, as if she has dealt with people like me before.

“Don’t misunderstand me. Nothing has changed, and I still plan on seeing this through. It’s just that…” I offer my hand to Saber, thinking that the gesture might better sum up what I can't quite say with words. “…Partners?”

A flicker of surprise creeps across Saber’s face momentarily, though it is quickly dispelled as she eyed my outstretched hand with an eloquent “Hmm?”

“It’s just that I’d like to start this relationship off on the right foot, I guess. Without all of drama of assassination attempts and getting talked at and miles-long treks through the city at night and more lectures. With all of that going on, I’ve realized that we haven’t had the time to properly formalize our bond.”

“Master, this is hardly necessary," she states bluntly, voice hard. "Our contract has been established and the proof of it is on your left hand. Anything else would be a gratuitous waste of sentiment.”

My face falls and I shake my head slightly.

“It's just the way I am, Saber – I’m just a straight-up guy who wants to do the right thing – and this feels right," I admit. It comes easily enough, as confessions do after life and death situations. "Look, I can’t do this without you, Saber. I can’t help anyone in this War without your help – we both know that much. I can’t fight Servants. I can’t even do basic magecraft that well - all I can do is reinforce things. I need you, but it doesn't feel right to just have you bound to me because of something beyond our control. I mean, I'll swear myself to you on everything that I believe, but what about you? Will you fight by my side, as I entrust my fate...my dreams to your blade?"

Unknowingly, my words echo the traditional words of the servant summoning ritual, causing Saber's brow to furrow thoughtfully. At first, she seems as if she doesn’t know what to think, as she considers what I said, but she takes my hand in her gloved palm and shakes it in agreement.

“I will.” The soldier answers me - a woman of few words, it seems.

“That’s great,” I honestly reply, relieved--at least until she released my hand and took astral form once again. “Um...can you stop disappearing like that? I’d rather walk alongside you.”

“...if you are going to work with me as a partner, Master, please trust my decisions."

I had the distinct feeling she was rolling her eyes at me.

"...then can you at least stop calling me 'Master'?" I asked, shaking my head as I began to walk once more. “I like ‘Shirou’ better. We’re partners, after all, and--.”

"You talk too much."

Her reproach was succinct, but I got the impression she was slightly amused. At least I hope it was amusement and not irritation, or things might not go so well.


“…Christ, der Retter ist da…”
“…Christ, der Retter ist da…”

Huh?

What?

What is that?

In the distance, a quiet melody echoes, carried along quietly on the wind, as if it were a lullaby.

I can't discern where it's coming from, only that it is echoing through the sleeping town, drawing ever nearer--and this unsettles me greatly. Why I am uncertain. Perhaps anxiety due to recent events, perhaps unresolved tension, perhaps simple trepidation.


“…Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht…”
“…Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht…”

...or perhaps it is because the cadence of the words evoke the feeling of a requiem mass, reminding me that Thanatos was brother to Hypnos--and to the malevolent Keres, the female spirits of darkness and nightmare made real.

The words sound peaceful, the song familiar, but for some reason my spine feels frozen, as if the gentle lyrics are the whispered promise of delivery from pain...through death.

It is haunting, in the way of wolves howling at the moon, an eagle crying out as it spots prey, or the wails of a whale as it is torn apart by sharks in a feeding frenzy.

Why?

I don't know, simply that it struck me to the core, uneasiness amplified by ethereal mystery and intangibility, as fear of the unknown is the oldest and most powerful of the terrors of man.


“…Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund…”
“…Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund…”

Yes.

It's that simple.

The reason it is haunting is because of deep-seated FEAR.


“…Christ, in deiner Geburt…”
“…Christ, in deiner Geburt.”

The song reaches its conclusion, and in its wake, an eerie silence lingers.

It’s over…and I'm still alive.

But I had no time to enjoy my reprieve, as burning pain races through my nerves, as if my hand had been plunged into a vat of molten metal, making me grab it reflexively.

‘No, not my hand...my Command Seals.’

A dreadful certainty fills me and I turn, finding my vision drawn to the one who must have been singing earlier, only to stop dead at the sight.

The clouds have parted, and a bright moon illuminates the fey-like figure on the top of the hill like a spotlight.

A small, but striking figure.

Standing before me is a young girl, garbed a warm winter coat and dress, both dyed a royal violet. Her flowing hair glistens like freshly fallen snow and puts the glittering moonlight to shame. A pair of eyes the color of blood focuses intently on me, as if judging me and finding me wanting. I know then that the legends of the mad fey must be true, for what else could seem so unreal, intangible, fairylike – yet induce a certainty that she was real, and entirely at her mercy.

The white-haired girl seems so unreal, intangible, fairylike – it is as if she is just an illusion brought on by the haunting atmosphere.

A being of the moonlit world, passing strange...and yet familiar.

"You'll die if you don't summon it soon, Onii-chan."

“It’s you…” I whisper before I can think, the words escaping my lips without conscious thought.

Summon?

She was the one I met the other day, the one who warned me of my plight in a most cryptic form, telling me to summon...my...Servant.

Oh crap.

She knew...somehow, she knew what would happen to me, just like my assailant. But that means...

“Good evening, Onii-chan. How nice that you remembered me," the girl giggles lightly with a voice like tingling bells. "Did you enjoy my singing?" She smiles darkly, the cold smile of certain death, starkly at odds with her childlike appearance, as she lifts her skirt and curtsies unsuitably for this situation. "Allow me to properly introduce myself. My name is Illya...though perhaps you would better understand if I said Illyasviel von Einzbern.”

I didn't recognize the name, and I suppose it must have shown on my face, as the girl seemed surprised and...disappointed?...for a fleeting instant. But that uncertainty fades as quickly as it came, and she simply smiles again, as my spine freezes.

No, not just my spine, nor my body, but my mind as well.

For she – Illyasviel – is not alone.

A long shadow stands behind her, a strange shape that shouldn't be here in this pale town of shadow pictures.

Without a doubt, it isn't human. It can't be human - there's no way it could be.

It can be nothing but a Servant, and a particularly dangerous one at that.

"Berserker."

A muttered word resonates in my mind from across my link with Saber, naming the foe before us, looming over the girl that must be his Master like an ebon statue, silent and imposing.

Two meters tall at the very least, muscles so massive and corded that they border on the grotesque, bronze skin protected in armor of congealed darkness like a living curse that seems to drink in the very night, eyes glaring menacingly from slits in an evil-looking lupine helmet...all of these things alone are discomforting enough.

And then there is its sword: a gargantuan blade, slung over its shoulder, looking as tense as a drawn bowstring. The sheer size of the sword is ridiculous – it’s so big it practically can’t be called a “sword” anymore, but rather a massive slab of sharpened metal wielded like one. And from a glance, I know that that weapon goes beyond anything physical, for it is a blade forged to slay even the most powerful of phantasmal beasts - one that can slice spirit as easily as flesh.

Yet more than any of this, this Servant is horrifying because of the aura it exuded of sheer, mindless, impossible power, like nothing I have ever known or dreamed of in my blackest nightmares. It paralyzes me and strikes me dumb: unimaginable destructive potential coupled with the prospect of certain death.

A Servant?

No.

This is a destroyer. A being wholly specialized for the obliteration of life, with no purpose but to choose a target and attack, attack, attack with relentless fury and unstoppable force until that target was nothing but ground up meat and bloodstains, at which point it would move onto another target, and then another, and then another, until there was nothing around it but death...until it was the only thing alive.

This fear is different from gamut of other terrors that I have faced down tonight.

It is not the raw terror and certainty of death that my first assailant inspired, a crushing sense of malice and despair that made all my struggles and rage seem futile and insignificant. It is not the sudden shock I felt when I witnessed Lancer blowing a hole in my backyard with his weapon, nor is it the apprehension I felt in the Kotomine Church, a feeling compounded from its association with the fire.

No, what I am feeling is more primal than that, a response hard-wired into every animal that has ever had the misfortune of being on the wrong end of the food chain.

Every instinct, every nerve, every iot of reason remaining in my body screams at me to run, to get the hell out of there and not to look back. And even then, I would likely be annihilated, with any thaumaturgical or biological distinctiveness irrelevant against such demonic strength.

Resistance would be futile.

The snow fairy takes note of my silent terror and chuckles coyly, her gem-like eyes narrowing wickedly with the promise of unending pain.

"Oh, I see you've met Berserker, Onii-chan. His name is Guts, and he wants to splatter yours all over the sidewalk.”

The monstrous Servant, Berserker, lets out a low and feral growl as he regards me, leering with his gaunt and glowing eye.

This is it, I’m going to die. I know it…I’m…going to die.

“Go ahead, Berserker. Kill them.”

…She orders the strange shape behind her, as if she's singing.

“HRRRRYYAAWWWRRR!-!-!”

The giant man is in motion before the little girl even finishes her command, the ground cracking under the immense pressure as he kicks off the ground, leaping forward with an ear splitting roar, racing for me like a bolt of darkness.

I can't move a muscle.

It would be pointless even if I could.

Any second now I'll be torn in two by the murder machine at Illyasviel's beck and call without even a chance of escape or survival. I’d have a better chance of outrunning a freight train, and the end result--the bloody remains of body splattered across the asphalt--would be the same.

Whump!

A sudden violent jerking motion, so fast I don’t even register the pain.

I’m knocked off the ground. The wind rushes by. I feel as if I’m floating…although I know that the feeling will end abruptly and messily in a split-second as...

…Odd. I’m not a bloody smear on the pavement, my lower body remains firmly attached to my upper body, and my limbs are all pretty much intact. At any rate, I don’t seem to be dead. But how come I –

– Saber.

In less than a blink of an eye, Saber has materialized and jerked me out of harm’s way, setting me down on the other side of the street. She gives me a quick one-over to ensure that I have not been harmed by the rush of g-force to the head. “Stay. I’ll take care of this, Master.” Those blue eyes of hers reassure me that I am safe. "Haste."

“Hey! Wait – ”

My protests are answered only with the distinctive sound of crackling gunfire as tracers of light and fire blaze forth in the darkness. Faster than humanly possible, Saber has already drawn her gunblade and is loosing a hail of lead at her enemy.

Just how fast is she?

It's obvious to me by now that the physical capabilities of Servants are far beyond that of any being of flesh and blood (with the possible exception of some elite magi or the Dead Apostles that my adopted father mentioned on occasion), but how much beyond?

Fiery discharges illuminate the scene of battle, as molten rounds tear through the air, screaming as they crash into the armor of the demon.

Berserker screams, a half-formed inchoate keening of pain and fury as golden sparks and bursts of red appear on his torso where Saber’s bullets wounded him. But cosmetic damage is the only indication that he has been hurt, as the foe is not slowed or impeded at all, as if mere damage is meaningless against him.

"NUAGGGAHHHH!-!"

His movements grow faster, harsher, stronger, as he puts more pressure on his foe, the mindless killing intent spilling off of him tinged with uncontrolled rage.

The black swordsman swings his massive blade once-twice-again, releasing shockwaves and animalistic howl as he bears down on my Servant. It's almost like watching an avalanche in motion, with every attack bearing so much raw power as to be ridiculous, as he tries to destroy his enemy with strength alone.

In contrast, the gunblade wielder strikes like lightning, flash-stepping through her opponent's defenses nimbly, avoiding his strikes, slashing at any vulnerabilities with quick, efficient violence.

There is no thought of defense - only attack, with both combatants obviously masters at their method of dealing death. Berserker is reckless with his motions, sometimes overextending, sometimes going wide - but it does not matter, for in this form, wounds do not trouble him, and every blow he makes, if allowed to connect, would be fatal.

If there is overwhelming power and speed, there is no room for technique.

Techniques are something humans invented to compensate for their weaknesses.

Weaknesses are things that the giant doesn't have.

Similarly, Saber makes no attempts to block, simply avoiding where her enemy would strike in a blur of scattered afterimages, her body wreathed in the same blood-red aura that had marked the enforcer as she ducks and weaves, sliding into the monster's blind spots, her blade striking home!

A grating thrumming, as the gunblade slices right into the monster’s side, blood spurting through the air in a parabolic arc mimicking her action, a sure sign of a severed artery at the very least.

But Berserker doesn't so much as flinch, and the fight continues.

A wide slash.

Saber avoids it without breaking stride, countering with a concise slash in retaliation, carving through armor into unresisting flesh, though Berserker doesn’t spare the resultant wound more than a cursory bark of anger before continuing his relentless onslaught.

That is the way the entire fight has gone so far: Saber has managed to strike her opponent time and time again, bringing superior skill and agility to bear against her monstrous foe, but for all that she has savaged the enemy, its meaningless. None of her attacks have been fatal, and if this Berserker is anything like the ones who gave “berserker” its meaning, then he will not stop unless he is killed – or has killed everyone else on the battlefield in the way the nightmare soldiers of the Norsemen for which the term berserker was named charged into battle wearing only bear hides.

Already, the evil-shaped one is healing, his body twisting and warping slightly in time with a sickening sound like grating, grinding metal playing in the background, a jarring white noise that resonates in the bones and flesh. Is his armor somehow repairing him, preventing any wounds from truly lasting?

"AWOOOUGHHHAAHH!"

Another blow lashes out with more ferocity and power than Berserker has yet shown, too fast for Saber to avoid this time, as she was closing in to strike once more. With no way to evade, no way to dodge, she has no choice but to meet the blow with her own weapon.

But at such a speed, with that much force behind it, will her weapon even stand a chance in a head-on collision?

CLLLANNNNGG!

The oversized thing of sharpened metal that’s supposed to be a sword slams down with the intention of cleaving apart everything in its path—air, sword, wielder, and ground—but it is stopped by the gunblade.

There was no time to redirect the force from the attack, so her weapon took the brunt of that slash. Yet…her sword is undamaged. Shaking violently from the pressures both combatants are exerting against one another, yes, but still in one piece, still as flawless as on the day of its forging.

That weapon – its amazing. Certainly, it is sturdier than its outward appearance would suggest.

But I’m not surprised.

Just by looking at it I can tell that that is no ordinary implement of war, just as Saber is not a simple warrior. Obviously, if she is a heroine, then her gunblade must be a heroine’s weapon, worthy of the role and name. I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash if I found out it were made of some unbelievable, legendary material—the fabled adamant, for instance.

A sudden skittering breaks the tense contest of wills as Saber leaps back away, Berserker’s sword slamming into the ground where she had been but moments earlier with a resounding boom, tearing through pavement with no effort at all. In the precious fractions of a second it takes for the mad warrior to free his sword, Saber has increased the distance between them, though Berserker chases after like a hound of hell, his black cape billowing behind him as he seeks to crush the one who offered resistance.

Illyasviel hasn’t moved from her starting position, save to turn and regard me with a cruel smirk, in a manner that makes me think of poisoned honey – sweet but deadly.

“Aren’t you going to go after her, Onii-chan? She is your Servant, after all.” The young girl coolly asks of me, her merciless eyes judging once more. “Or maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, she’s only a tool to be thrown away, right?”

‘Tch!’

I have no time for the white-haired girl. There’s something much more urgent to deal with.

Saber.

I have to go after Saber.

I can’t just leave her to go off like that, after she fought to protect me. What kind of partner would that make me if I did so? Even if, even if I can’t do anything useful for her, I –

I’m her partner. We’re partners. It’s something we decided upon: not to be Master and Servant simply because it was ordained by contract, but because we agreed to it.

Saber…

Before I know it, I am in motion once more, my legs propelling me deep into the night towards the bellows of sound and fury in the distance.



.

] | [

.

I pant furiously, my feet slapping against the concrete as I race down the deserted streets of the city, desperately trying to find any sign of the Servants.

They are nowhere nearby – nor is there any reason they would be, given the speed at which they were moving. Still, I know the general direction in which they headed, so as long as they haven’t vectored off down another course, I should be able to track them.

Hopefully.

Yeah, I know, I’m probably deluding myself, since the chances I’ll encounter them if they’re fighting a running battle are slim to none. Compared to them, I’m running blind, with only scraps of information to go on and nothing else to compensate for it. I dare not ask Saber where she is over our link either, in case I distract her at a critical moment. I’ve seen how powerful Berserker’s attacks are – she doesn’t need me throwing her off her game.

Eventually, I don’t know whether because of heretofore-unknown intuition or gut instinct or dumb luck or whatever, but my tired feet lead me to a construction site – the place where a new community center is being built. I shake my head, almost prepared to dismiss it out of hand, but my doubts are banished by the sounds of clashing swords and battle-rage induced screams.

‘This must be the place. Saber’s in there!’

Without another thought I dash into the site. The fact that this is a “hardhat zone” flashes through my mind as I run past the heavy equipment used to build this place, along with the snarky thought that a hardhat was unlikely to offer much protection in a fight between Heroic Spirits. Hey, people react strangely to anxiety and I’m certainly no exception.

My footsteps echo hollowly in the half-completed hallways, dank and dark and cold as I move through the gloom. What meager moonlight shines through empty windows casts long shadows, washing out detail in a silver haze as orchestral shrieks of metal scraping and smashing against metal ring throughout the site.

The sounds are loud but muffled, and each of the cacophonous crashes cause the building I’m in to quake, knocking dusty flecks of plaster loose with each reverberation. It feels as if this whole place is about to come down with all of this shaking – which shouldn’t surprise me, given some of the abilities I’ve seen Servants display thus far, but it does.

Probably because I’m in said building, and I really don't like the idea of being smashed by concrete, falling steel girders, or other--

CRASH!

I swallow, jumping back as a fairly large chunk of concrete and copper comes loose from the ceiling and smashes itself to pieces less than half a meter in front of me with a cloud of dust and an incredibly jarring din.

That must mean that Saber and Berserker trading blows on the floor above me!

Spying a flight of stairs, I make a beeline for it, dashing up the wrought-iron steps to emerge onto a war zone.

I’m greeted with the sight of the two warring figures continuing the clash that started in the streets of Fuyuki, with sparks from the crashing of gunblade and gargantuan sword lighting up the empty room. Such flashes of light illuminate a devastated battlefield, terrain pockmarked with deep gashes and littered with mounds of rubble. Broken steel, slabs of concrete and shards of glass are strewn all over, crunching beneath their feet with every step they take.

A metallic shriek as a back-handed swing of Berserker’s blade smashes through a nearby I-beam, shattering into shards of oversized shrapnel that tear through space, with miniature sonic booms trailing in their wake. Just at a glance, I can see that this isn't the first support beam that has been cleaved through as a result of their fight, and the other pillars are beginning to creak in a very worryingly fashion, even as a symphony of smashing steel resonates continuously as Saber weaves around the pillars, evading the oncoming storm that is Berserker.

“RAAARRGUHHH!-!”

Berserker’s ferocious speed makes him a force to be reckoned with, but his very size, coupled with the size of his blade and his less than nimble movements slow him down as he crashes into obstructions, leaving him vulnerable to attack.

It’s actually a rather pragmatic strategy on Saber’s part: by using her surroundings, Saber can manipulate a situation that is favorable to into happening. In this case, it’s slowing down Berserker enough for her to get in a decisive strike on him.

Taking advantages of opportunities and openings – Kiritsugu taught me to do this, mentioning that it would help me win most fights that I get into.

But it seems that any advantage will be fleeting: whatever Saber’s plan, she had better find an opening, fast. There are fewer standing I-beams, solid walls and construction equipment than there were before – meaning that Berserker will soon be able to take full advantage of the open space, for whatever time that open space remains.

“Saber!” I call out to the woman as she narrowly avoids a harrowing strike from the black swordsman's great blade.

“Master, what are you...?!” she gawks, momentarily surprised at my appearance, before her words take on a harsh quality. “Get back now! This is no place for you!”

“HRRRGRAWWH!-!-!-!”

Looking back, that really wasn't one of my smarter decisions, and I've made some pretty dumb mistakes in the past.

As if interpreting my presence as a threat, or instinctively realizing that offing me would end the threat Saber posed to his existence, Berserker focuses on me, gripping his sword tightly as he barrels for me. His tattered cape flaps wildly and his helmet’s eyespots glower menacingly, closing the distance between his great blade and Shirou Emiya, with nothing more than insignificant piles of rubble to impede his bloodthirsty charge.

Saber’s a fast Servant, no doubt about it, even without her haste spell, but she cannot compare with Berserker when he draws from the fullness of his rage. The only reason I made it out alive before was because Saber was next to me when the black-armored beast charged us the first time.

Here, she’s too far away to do anything, and Berserker far too close to stop.

She moves to stop him, but it is too late.

The black sword is swung.

Cold iron smashes into my left side.

Several of my ribs are broken instantly from the force, my liver and spleen are ruptured, and my breath is literally knocked out of me as I am effortlessly tossed through the air like a cockroach flicked from a windowsill by the finger of god.

The feeling of déjà vu from an hour or so earlier returns full force and is overwhelmingly sickening – because I know there is no way out of this one for me. But this time, I don't have to worry about emotions of impending doom because my world goes dark as my body plows through when my body plows through drywall.

The pain……stops.











…When my eyes wearily blink open sometime later, I think to myself that I really shouldn't be alive, given all the damage I took earlier.

Honestly? How many times can one guy cheat death in one night? Surely there must be some limit.

The sounds of battle continue in the distance, and I'm still in the structure, staring at an unfamiliar ceiling, so I'm pretty sure I'm not dead. The scent of blood and...um...incontinence wafts from my torso and lower body, and under my upper back is a soft warmth.

That’s…weird.

My head feels…feels…heavy, almost as if everything was underwater and moving in slow motion, sounds muffled, my perception of time off.

A lingering, distant pain.

My vision blurs and swims and distorts, as flecks of red and black and white dance about before me, slowly - painfully slowly - resolving into a large dark blur and a smaller white one which seem to be fighting one another.

Oh. I see. Saber and Berserker.

My shellshocked brain can barely register their forms before me, and it is not because they are moving too fast for the eye to follow. It’s because there’s something genuinely wrong with me right now. No surprise there, huh? After all, right now I must be half dead or something…

…something like that.

It takes me a while to figure out when my senses finally begin to function with a semblance of normality, since two spots of pinkish-red stubbornly refused to fade like the rest. Only natural, I suppose, since those spots turned out to be a pair of upside-down pink-red eyes set in the pretty face of a fey-like girl, staring into me as if reading the history engraved on my soul. And who knows, maybe she was, since the greatest of magi can see things like origins, life force, or one's intentions with their mystic eyes.

The owner of said eyes - Berserker's Master - is close, too close, but I can't move away. Her snow-white hair gently tickles my semi-numb face as she holds me prisoner, forcing me to feel her warm breath on my abused flesh and breathe in her exotic scent. It’s…subtly sweet, almost enticing in a way, like the smell of rain on dry earth. And there, there it is: the triumphant smirk of hers that goes “We’re going to play, but I’m the one calling the shots.”

Illyasviel von Einzbern.

Oh. I see. That’s what it is – my head is in her lap. That explains the unexplained warm softness I took notice of a moment before.

“Oh, so you're awake now, Onii-chan? Hmm, that’s good. I had to use a whole Command Seal just to make sure you wouldn't die on me, so I do hope you appreciate it,” she informs me in a saccharine-sweet voice, though her expression betrays her true intentions and desires. Her soft hand strokes my cheek gently, possessively even.

A shiver runs down my spine, but I cannot for the life of me tell what emotion caused it to happen. There’s too much conflict going on, too much to register, too much everything!

“There’s no need to be nervous," the snow fairy remarks devilishly, taking notice of my involuntary reaction. “After all, I won’t do anything more to you – not while we have front row seats to watching your Servant get killed by mine.” Illyasviel cradles my head if her soft palms and directs my immobile gaze to our battling Servants. "Besides, I'll make sure you don't die until I'm finished with you, since it would be too boring just to kill you here, right?"

Am I stiff? Am I limp? I can’t tell – all I know is that my body isn’t listening to me and that I can’t move at all, like the commands from my brain have been shut out. It’s just…doing nothing. Not responding one bit. I, I can’t move. I can’t even talk. I can only look on helplessly as this girl does whatever she wants to me.

I'm pathetic...

“Don’t worry, it won’t be too long now," Berserker's Master says, a smile on her face that would make a succubus proud as she holds my head close to her body like a stuffed animal. "It’s only a matter of time before Berserker kills your Servant, you know. There's no way you can win, so just accept it. No one will save you, and soon there won't be any nuisances left."

How long have I been out? How long have I been lying like this? When did this girl get here? I was certain that I had left her far behind when I ran off, and I ran rather far, too. Minutes? Hours? Seconds?

It seems the damp puddles I was feeling before were my own blood, pouring from wounds I obviously must have obtained from Berserker’s attack. The dampness is in my clothes, but not my actual wounds, almost as if my wounds were sealed up, healed by some outside force.

…those warm fingertips.

She must have poured her magical energy into me, paralyzing me and keeping me from bleeding out.

This isn’t the way Masters are supposed to fight a Grail War, right? The focus is supposed to be on Servant-versus-Servant matches, so why? What does she want me for? Does she have some fixation on me? But I don't even know her. Or is she just naturally this playfully sadistic? No matter how I slice it this does not bode well for me…or Saber.

The smashing blows make the entire floor tremble as the merciless onslaught continues. The whole room has essentially been clear cut by Berserker’s reckless, deadly swings. There is nothing to hold back his strength, nothing to prevent him from using the entirety of his force and momentum to waste Saber--except the threat of imminent structural collapse, which no one seems to be thinking about.

Left, right, overhead, backhand – follow-up after follow-up relentlessly rips through the air as the mad one attempts to strike Saber down.
Saber…looks terrible. She’s covered in abrasions, cuts and bruises that are steadily trickling blood – wounds remaining from prolonged exposure to the elements and Berserker’s unrelenting anger. Even her ineffably stoic and cool expression is tinged with pain and desperation as she forces herself to hold against Berserker’s anger.

An especially furious “HRRRGGHHHAW!-!-!” issues from within the wolf-shaped helmet.

A hopeless situation. I feel like a condemned prisoner. I feel so helpless, Saber is trapped fighting for her life and I’m at the mercies of this cruel, merciless girl, unable to do anything at all. This is the very definition of “hopeless situation.”

And it’s entirely my fault.

Illya urges her Servant to follow through. “Come on Berserker! You almost have her! Finish her off...and then you can do anything you want to her!”

WAAAARRRAGHHHHH!

An earsplitting mechanical roar rivaling one of Berserker’s own warcries interrupts the one-sided fight’s impending conclusion. Streaks of burning light come blazing forth from a higher floor above us in a storm of molten metal rain, as spent casings clatter on the ground – what seem like 50mm shells.

Non-nonsensical and absurd as it may sound, someone is actually shooting at a Heroic Spirit with a gun--no, an autocannon, and a heavy-duty one at that.

Saber may be exhausted to the point of collapse and Berserker may be a wild beast with no restraint, but their instincts are both sound enough mind to break up their duel in order to avoid getting shredded to pulpy messes. Dust clouds of eviscerated linoleum kicked up by countless projectiles draw a line to the Servant of Rage. Snarling furiously all the way, Berserker kicks the ground and leaps away from the stream of bullets repeatedly.

‘No way – is he actually dodging the gunfire?’ Not literally, but still, that’s scarily impressive. Instead of having honed reflexes that allow for evading the blazing tracers, he is using pure strength to force himself out of the way – it’s a wonder that he wasn’t able to put Saber on the ropes earlier in his fight, though Saber's skill helps to counter his brutal power.

“Berserker is really quite amazing, isn’t he?” Even though I’m paralyzed, Illya can see how awestricken I am. “This is why as long as I have him, I can’t lose. No one else is as strong as he is – he isn’t one to let a minor distraction ruin his debut spar.” She states this with smug confidence, like it is supposed to be a blatantly obvious fact that even a moron would know.

Aside from the initial shock of the loud noise, was she even fazed at all by this? In light of recent events, she didn’t even flinch! Is this girl really that confident in her Servant’s ability?

'But why would he need to dodge? A mundane weapon wouldn't be able to hurt him, and I can't think of any magus who uses guns as part of their combat style. Most don't exactly care for modern technology, after all.'

Having taken the initiative, as his battle style dictated, Berserker actually leapt into the rafters to go after his prey, leaving a man-sized hole in his wake. A hair-raising yowl was followed immediately by a definitely-human cry of distress, as a massive sword is swung...and makes contact with the gun.

Metal cleaves metal easily.

The two large halves of a cleaved gatling gun crash uselessly to the ground before exploding into smashed steel and – dispersed prana? But before the oversized gun’s existence ended, it left a small of puddle of something behind, as if the gun had been soaked with it beforehand. A clear, water-like fluid, but it somehow smells of blood.

A slim, athletic figure leaps down from the rafters above and deftly lands on all fours to escape Berserker’s charge, though the black Servant immediately follows, driven by blood rage. Strangely, his quarry plunges an arm deeply into his stomach, but not a drop of blood gets spilled. The new arrival jerks hard, as if to rip out something from deep within – but Berserker is too fast: the black swordsman has already closed the distance.

Whatever his plan is, it won’t come to fruition. Berserker won't allow it. But it doesn't matter, as the newcomer abandons his original plan and instead literally rips a nasty-looking combat knife dripping with that same unknown substance from his shoulder, seeming to vibrate at a shrill, piercing frequency.

This is just plain surreal, is this guy some sort of living sheath for his weapons or something, a storehouse? Wait…does this mean that the gun he had came from inside of him as well since it was also covered in that fluid?

That's so surreal it’s mind boggling.

He nimbly ducks under Berserker’s swing and dashes away from the deadly foe, since against a terrifying weapon with an even more frightening wielder the dagger can only provide marginal defense at the most. The monstrous Servant is not about to let this prey get away to bring out whatever new weapons it might be hiding, however, and so lunges to smash open the newcomer’s head.

What I hear next is not the sickening squelch of steel ripping through bony flesh, but the clang of metal on metal, a sweet melody to my ears.

Saber has recovered, holding Berserker back with the flat of her blade, the worst of her injuries seemingly healed. Her knees are buckling under the pressure, which can only be enormous. Yet, even with her injuries, she is able to bring herself to continue fighting like this because the new guy bought enough time for her to recover enough to go against Berserker for a second round. The third party that has intervened with this fight, against a mutual enemy, the new Servant...

…is without a doubt, Lancer.

“That’s enough, Illyasviel von Einzbern. Put him down.” If that Servant is Lancer, then that voice can only belong to one person.

Her voice, Tohsaka’s voice sounds alien and muffled to my distorted hearing. Out of the corner of my eye the bright crimson of her sweater contrasts with the moonlit darkness around her. Her arm is outstretched, her hand pointing squarely at us like a gun. I don’t know her capabilities, but Tohsaka is certainly ready for a confrontation. She and Illya are having a staredown – Tohsaka’s expression is deadly serious, while Illya maintains her whimsical lidded smirk.

Such a tense situation, it’s like one of those “Mexican Standoffs” you’d see in a Western. Both girls are in positions of demand and power, and both are unwilling to back down from the other.

“If it isn’t the scion of the Tohsakas. How are you this fine evening, Second Owner?” Illya politely addresses her while still cradling my head in the direction of the fight in her lap.

“Cut the crap, Illyasviel," Tohsaka snaps, her Thaumaturgical Crest glowing in the darkness. "Let go of Emiya now.”

“Oh? And do tell me why I ought to do what you want me to?”

“I’m an enemy Master making demands of you and threatening your life. You try anything funny and Berserker won’t have a Master anymore."

“Trying to be a hero, Rin?" the snow fairy inquires sardonically. "That’s rather cute of you.”

“No, I just owe him, and the daughter of the Tohsakas repays her debts. Emiya-kun is not yours to keep, Illyasviel.”

A wicked smile, as the white-haired girl brings a finger to her lips, as if tasting something delicious.

“Oh, so he's yours?”

“T – that’s not – ” Tohsaka stammers, caught off guard by the girl’s bluntness. “D-don’t skew things, you brat. Let Emiya go and I’ll let you walk for free.”

“Why do you want him so much, Rin? After all, if I recall, it was you who abandoned him after you walked him all the way to that Church, wasn't it?”

Tohsaka grunts as if acknowledging the hit. There isn't much she can say about that, as Illya’s claim hits close to home. Actively trying to rescue me like this, she must be feeling some kind of guilt about this, otherwise why would she be here in the first place at all?

“He was just a lost puppy wandering around without an owner, all alone like that. I decided I liked him after a little bit of testing, so I took him for my own. How do they say it? ‘Dibs?’ ”

“Don’t screw with me, Einzbern.”

Tohsaka was all but snarling now, and the increase in magical energy was quite palpable, even to an amateur like me. Unfortunately, the snowy girl was using me as a shield, so if Tohsaka opened fire, my abused body would no doubt suffer even further.

“How uncouth. Are you sure you’d want to go with her, Onii-chan? She seems like a real iron maiden, greedy, oppressive, and uncivilized. You’d rather play with someone better, wouldn’t you?”

Barbs traded back and forth, all for an attempt to reach a deal made at metaphorical gunpoint involving me – Wait, hold up…are these two girls…actually fighting over me? I ought to be flattered that I’m in such an enviable situation, but now is really an inappropriate situation for this.

“It’s two against one, Illyasviel. Our Servants have yours pinned down, and I have a curse primed and ready to be fired right at your pretty little face if you don’t surrender him immediately. The odds are not in your favor.” Tohsaka sternly dictates her demands to the other girl, not letting down her guard at all.

From what I've been able to tell of my magus classmate, when Tohsaka makes demands, you have to take them or leave them, and choosing the wrong option will not benefit your future health. The sounds of continued battle, which had up until now only been redundant background noise to the drama occurring in front of me, are still ringing clearly as Tohsaka says all of this.

“Silly, silly, silly.” Illya seems downright incredulous. “It doesn't matter how many Servants you have – Berserker is not one to lose against them. That’s a simple fact. He just won’t, and nothing you try to do will change any of that.

Loathe as I am to admit it, she does have a point. I’ve seen what Berserker is capable of first-hand; I know what’s in store for our Servants if this keeps up. Saber was losing to him, even though she had the territorial advantage and faster speed.

Here, both she and Lancer cannot fight at their maximum potentials for whatever reason – Saber because of her previous wounds (and because in this confined space, she can't use some of her more powerful abilities without accidentally hurting me or accelerating the collapse of this already-unstable edifice) and Lancer because the pressure Berserker has on him is keeping the spearman from drawing his true weapon and using his strength to the fullest, forcing him to resort to defensive-acrobatics with what very well might be just a fruit knife against this adversary.

Looking closer at the two-on-one battle, I can see that the fight is clearly not in our favor. It’s the same story as before – Berserker is too fast, too strong, too resilient, relentless, mighty. The most Saber and Lancer can hope to achieve working together in their conditions is a stalemate. They’ll be worn done with enough time, and that is when it’s all over for them.

Tohsaka says otherwise, but she can’t take the risk of killing Berserker’s Master while he’s still contracted to her – just the mere act of attacking his Master will set Berserker off irreversibly, this much I know by instinct. But like the guarantee that the sun will set at night, the longer this standoff lasts takes, the sooner Illya’s eventual victory will happen. We want to think otherwise, but in actuality this is entire situation has been in Illya’s favor.

Or so it seems until a snarl of "Ruinaga!" sunders the air, and an explosion of concussive force tears through the immediate area, sending Berserker flying, forcing him to defend for the first time as Saber attacks with renewed vigor, her gunblade shining with inner light, blasting the enemy from point-blank range as he...retreats.

With this, Lancer finally has enough time to sheathe his knife, trading it for the crimson bident he had used earlier, a demonic weapon that sought blood.

For a moment, all was still, as Saber and Lancer faced off against the Black Swordsman, weapons at the ready.

“Boy, this is getting really annoying and dull, Rin.” Illya sighs…pouts, even? It’s subtle and cloaked behind her usual expression, but she hides it well. “If you really are going to be this bothersome,” Illya rises from her kneeling position and sets me on my back on the ground, “Then I’ll just have to continue this later.”

Tohsaka tenses up like never before, but I can tell that that’s because of the incredible nervousness plaguing her. After this “diplomacy” and aggressive negotiating, she finally gets her demands, yet something just feels plain…off.

I can’t shake that feeling either. Something is definitely up, and it’s nerve-wracking.

“Berserker.” The young girl calls to her Servant. The mad warrior pulls back immediately, and in an instant, is at her side with a pounding leap that can smash concrete under the right circumstances. The sudden retreat causes the two other Heroic Spirits to stop immediately as well, but that could also be because they know that this fight is over – inconclusively yes, but over nonetheless. Illya nods to her Servant, which responds by reaching down and lifting her up to his shoulders in a manner not unlike the way a father would give his child a “piggyback ride.”

"Don’t misunderstand me, Rin.” Illya continues from atop Berserker. “I’m not doing this because I have no choice, I’m doing this because I have choices. With my Servant, I can finish this anytime I want. When that happens, your little prize is forfeit.”

She looks right at me with her piercing eyes. “Bye-bye, Onii-chan! See you later. I hope you get better soon.” After saying this bubbly, dramatically contrasting farewell, Berserker walks unhurriedly with Illya to the open edge where a window used to be before it was smashed. One bound fueled by bestial strength later and they’re gone.

Illya and Berserker…are truly gone.

“K – uh. Wuh…”

“Emiya-kun, are you ok?! What did she do to you?”

Feeling returns to my entire body. I, I can actually move again. I shakily stand up from the rubble lying around me for the first time in minutes. It’s over. It seems surreal, but it is finally over. Tohsaka walks over to where I’m standing.

“How are you feeling Emiya? Are you all right?” She asks me with a genuinely concerned look. That's twice now she's saved me.

“Tohsaka?” Now that the fight has indecisively concluded, Saber and Lancer bring themselves over to Tohsaka and I, looking even more weary than I am, but satisfied to be alive after what they’ve been through. “I’m a little shaky, but other than that I – Gyuh! U-Uuhh..!.?...”

That’s when everything goes wrong.

It is as if some seal just came undone. Shoulders, ribs, thighs, abdomen, chest, calves – wounds open up all over my body and blood begins pouring freely from them. The red stains on my clothes grow bigger with the new influx of spilled blood. Wetness pours down my arms and legs, all places. The pain, oh god the pain.

I hurt everywhere. I bend over in pain, grip at the pain, try to rip the pain away, but it's no use. Nothing makes it better, like I was being ripped apart from inside out.

The shock is just too much – the intense pain makes me black out for real this time.

I’m sure I collapsed unceremoniously to the ground after that.

“Emiya? Emiya?! Emiya! Hey, Emiya! EMIYA?!...”




.

] | [

.


"…"

"…"

"…"

"…"

"…"

"What the hell? Where is everyone!"

"It would seem we were too late and missed the chance to participate in this battle."

"Tch. What a waste."

"Well, perhaps if you were more focused and not going off on a tangent as usual, we might have gotten here on time. Our failure to arrive on time is your fault, after all."

"Gee, well excuse me for raining on your parade, little miss heiress."

"I did not ask you for your half-hearted apology."

"Damn, what a sullen tightass."

"…"

"Alright! Alright! Sorry, okay?"

"As I said, do not apologize – just do not let it happen again in the future, otherwise we will not make any progress."

"I can't promise anything."

A sigh.

"That is the best I can get out of you."

"Heh. Better than nothing."

"Now let's see here: It has been some time since the conflict occurred, but there is still enough magical residue left over to potentially track the combatants. If you were any other Servant besides…well, you, I could send you off to trail one of them while I go after another. But since you're so reckless, our best option – regrettably so – would be to wait until tomorrow night and try our luck once more."

"Hey. Why can't we just kick some ass right now?"

"Because it is nearly dawn, idiot. Rules are rules, I'll have you know."

"Bah, whatever. You win this round, 'Master.' But we're definitely doing stuff tomorrow!"

"…of course. Now then, let's return back to the safehouse. The sun will rise soon, and our time is up."

"Yeah, sure - to the rathole we go!"



.

] | [

.


Keyword: ["Kotomine"]

Ever since the disastrous 3rd Holy Grail War, events which Kirei's father Risei bore witness to, the Holy Church has sent a representative to serve as an impartial mediator in order to maintain a sense of order within the city of Fuyuki during the period that the War is going on. The Kotomines have since served this role since the 4th War ten years prior to the events of destiny/Inertia Dawn.


Keyword: ["Einzbern"]

One of the three Founding Families responsible for the creation of the Holy Grail War. Provided the magic necessary for the summoning of Heroic Spirits as Servants, as well as the vessel needed to contain the essence of each defeated Servant as the War progresses.

Notable for their signature use of artificial humans known as homunculi, each one created with their own specialties for an express, well-defined purpose. The current Einzbern Master is, in fact, one of these very beings. Something seems to be very much amiss with this one, though...




WELCOME TO…THE TIGER DOJO


Taiga: Hiya everyone! And welcome to destiny // Inertia Dawn's very first Tiger Dojo! The hint corner for all of those who encounter such tragically unfortunate bad ends and need some good ol' fashioned help to set things right.

Illya: But sensei, did Onii-chan even die this time? I don't recall that he ever did in this chapter. Sure, I did…things to him, but he survived until the end…so why are we even here?

Taiga: Excellent question, student. We're here to deal with all hypothetical Bad/Dead Ends should they arise.

Illya: So we've become the astrophysicist's equivalent of a hint corner? By discussing how to handle theoretical meta-situations? I guess that means I could be Heisenberg and you could be Dirac.

Taiga: Wait, now you're confusing me.

Illya: Score one for the loli.

*THWACK*

Taiga: It's not going to happen again!

Illya: The pain...

Taiga: Back to the matter at hand…OKAY! So why are we here today?

Illya: We're here because Onii-chan "did" something really stupid and ran right at the scary man with the big sword!

Taiga: Exactly! Even though Saber-san told you to run away to safety, you did so anyway! Remember: Discretion is the better part of valor. People die when they're killed. Even if you have a body of swords, you're not exempt from this truth [red text, red text, red text!].

Illya: What's this talk about "body of swords," sensei? Spoilers are bad.

Taiga: He has a body of swords, but if you think that's something then wait until you see the rest of him!

Illya: Oh, I'm looking forward to that, Onii-chan…

Taiga: Hey student! What's with that lecherous look in your eyes?

Illya: Ohhh…nothing, sensei. Just thinking about all the fun I'll be having with him…

Taiga: You naughty little minx! Don't be thinking such improper things!

Illya: Oh? And why not?

Taiga: He's! Your! BROTHER! IT'S IMPROPER!

Illya: Spoilers again, Taiga.

Taiga: It's fanfiction! Anyone reading this is more likely than not knows all about the source material! It doesn't matter! I, however, am more concerned with your shamelessly amoral behavior!

Illya: I'm not shamelessly amoral, I'm just a girl who knows what she wants. Besides, we're not even related by blood, so what's the problem?

Taiga: Look, Shirou. I'm going to go explain to my student what is and what is not acceptable by society at large, and you can go back to your last save and make the right choice.

Illya: But there's no game to save.

Taiga: Then go read Gut's character sheet; It's just below us. See you soon at the next Tiger Dojo then! But not too soon, you hear?



] | [


- [ Berserker ] -

Original Name: Guts

Designation: Heroic Spirit

Master: Illyasviel von Einzbern

(( Berserk - Manga, 1990))


Strength: A+*
Agility: A*
Endurance: A*
Prana: B+*
Luck: B-*
Noble Phantasm: A+*

Alignment: Chaotic Insane

*Denotes rankup via Mad Enhancement parameter boosts*



=Skills=


Mad Enhancement, Rank B*:

Raises basic parameters in exchange for hindering mental capacities. At this rank, all parameters are boosted by one rank, but most sanity is lost.

Battle Continuation, Rank A*:

Capacity to remain fighting even severely wounded. Guts may continue to fight even after taking fatal damage.

Self-Modification, Rank E*:

Berserker possesses a prosthetic left mechanical arm that has a magnetic grip and also conceals a cannon & repeater crossbow. Due to Mad Enhancement's debilitation, Guts is only able to make use of this device and the techniques allotted with it with slightly less efficiency his usual self.

Brand of Sacrifice, Rank E:

The Brand marks those sacrificed during a sacrificial ceremony in which an Apostle or God Hand is created. In response to hostile intent or evil, the brand will bleed. This detection ability can penetrate even the highest levels of Presence Concealment, at the cost of acting as a beacon for malevolent vibes.


=Noble Phantasms=


Phantasm-Killing Sword, (anti-unit) Rank B(+)(+)(+):
Range: 1-5
Target(s): 1

The signature weapon of the Black Swordsman, possessing anti-spirit, anti-evil, and anti-dragon attributes. Against beings with one of these attributes, damage is doubled, with the damage bonus stacking if a foe has more than one.


Shell of Madness, (anti-unit) Rank B:
Range: 1
Target(s): 1

Intrinsically linked with suffering and vengeance, the Berserker Armor is a cursed suit of armor which dominates the wearer and gives them incredible strength and endurance at the cost of one's sanity. For an already berserk Servant, it removes the wearer even further from their innate humanity, and quickly elevates them to a demonic existence the further it is used, a Servant that is the Berserker Armor itself rather than a Servant that dons the Berserker Armor. The armor forcibly binds wounds received by the wearer, working in conjunction with Battle Continuation and the Servant's own regenerative properties, making all wounds but the most fatal lasting. Grants progressively stacking ranks in to the skills of Mad Enhancement (one with no bearing on Luck), Battle Continuation, and Self-Modification already present in Illyasviel's Berserker's.



{ ABNORMALITY: }
???

Grant
March 16th, 2011, 02:46 AM
Have you decided on a Caster yet?

alfheimwanderer
March 16th, 2011, 02:47 AM
We have indeed. As for who...well, that's a secret. :)

ItsaRandomUsername
March 16th, 2011, 02:51 AM
This first page is a monster!

I guess that was a plus side of having smaller post-limits.

Are YOU man enough to read through the front page in one go?!

alfheimwanderer
March 16th, 2011, 03:09 AM
...yes.

Grant
March 16th, 2011, 04:25 AM
We have indeed. As for who...well, that's a secret. :)

Darn, I was going to suggest Bayonetta or Flonne. Though Bayonetta might be a bit overpowered.

alfheimwanderer
March 16th, 2011, 04:29 AM
Darn, I was going to suggest Bayonetta or Flonne. Though Bayonetta might be a bit overpowered.

A possibility, I admit. Although I think you'll be happy enough with our devil of a Caster.

ItsaRandomUsername
March 16th, 2011, 04:32 AM
*coughcoughDisgaeacoughcough*

What? I'm just psyched for the new sequel coming out for PS3.
*whistles innocently*

Zeranion
March 16th, 2011, 11:41 AM
...yes.

*raises hand* I did it too. Then again I'm also the idiot who reread the entirety of .Hack//Eva Catharsis for fun in a single day. ^^;


*coughcoughDisgaeacoughcough*

What? I'm just psyched for the new sequel coming out for PS3.
*whistles innocently*

Ditto. Disgaea is one of my favorite series, even if I don't play it religiously enough to ever get my characters to the truly insane levels.

alfheimwanderer
March 16th, 2011, 05:13 PM
*raises hand* I did it too. Then again I'm also the idiot who reread the entirety of .Hack//Eva Catharsis for fun in a single day. ^^;

And I applaud you for that, without any...um...ulterior motives in why I am pleased. :cool:

mangafreak7793
March 16th, 2011, 08:37 PM
Ah, classic alfheim a greeting front and a sinister ax at the back

alfheimwanderer
March 16th, 2011, 11:42 PM
Me, a sinister ax? Hardly...

mangafreak7793
March 17th, 2011, 12:35 AM
Sorry hold a sinister ax at the back, typo :)

Theocrass
March 17th, 2011, 01:39 AM
I like this story a lot. :D

Numina
March 17th, 2011, 01:44 AM
Gah! finally back!

SeiKeo
March 29th, 2011, 11:21 PM
As legit as Altaïr is, I'm a little sad that you didn't use Ezio as Assassin.

ItsaRandomUsername
March 30th, 2011, 02:06 AM
I thought about that really. But, I just happen to be more familiar with Altair than I am Ezio. Plus, Altair is just much more of an enigmatic kind of guy - as opposed to how players of Assassin's Creed 2 grow up with Ezio. Experiences with Ezio's are decidedly more personal, and I have nothing against the guy, but Altair has that true mysteriousness that I really wanted for Assassin. Plus, he is Ezio's ancestor and predecessor, so Altair just kind of fit the mood better.

Cirex101
April 18th, 2011, 11:14 PM
That and you don't know much about Ezio bub. You could always come to me you know little brother.

ItsaRandomUsername
April 18th, 2011, 11:21 PM
Screw you for making me think this updated! D:

Oh wait, I'm the dude writing this.... :p

Elyrin
April 18th, 2011, 11:23 PM
Silly IRUn. Ah well, now I get to say "screw you guys" instead.

mangafreak7793
December 12th, 2011, 12:51 AM
Necro but necessary.

Seeing that the Assassin Creed revelation came out not too long ago will Altair's servant data will be changed?

Spinach
December 12th, 2011, 12:56 AM
I was excited for a few seconds there. I really, really was.

Bloble
December 12th, 2011, 12:58 AM
I knew it. For a minute there I actually thought a miracle had happened.

Elyrin
December 12th, 2011, 01:12 AM
Even the Holy Grail could not grant that wish =(

Guy
December 12th, 2011, 01:22 AM
Wow! I just read an amazing fic, thanks necro.

mangafreak7793
December 12th, 2011, 01:36 AM
Wow! I just read an amazing fic, thanks necro.

Your welcome.

Ergast
December 12th, 2011, 05:32 PM
IRUn, DAMMIT!!!

Sit your damned lazy ass in that damned chair in front of the damned computer and type some more awesomness!!

Fafnir
December 12th, 2011, 06:49 PM
IRUn, DAMMIT!!!

Sit your damned lazy ass in that damned chair in front of the damned computer and type some more awesomness!!But this isn't IRUn's fic...

Ergast
December 12th, 2011, 07:01 PM
He is. Both Alfh and him were writing this fic.

Fafnir
December 12th, 2011, 07:03 PM
He is. Both Alfh and him were writing this fic.Oh right, I forgot about that. That explains everything...

mangafreak7793
December 14th, 2011, 10:19 PM
IRUn, DAMMIT!!!

Sit your damned lazy ass in that damned chair in front of the damned computer and type some more awesomness!!

What this guy says.

ItsaRandomUsername
September 29th, 2012, 02:31 AM
Soon.

Leftovers
September 29th, 2012, 02:46 AM
No fucking way. This is literally the only thing that could possibly force me to post.

Spinach
September 29th, 2012, 02:51 AM
Hahahaha

mrkingdomheartsboy
September 29th, 2012, 02:51 AM
Hahahaha
MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!:neco_arc:

Spinach
September 29th, 2012, 02:56 AM
It wasn't an evil laugh. It was a genuine laugh at IRUn getting an old lurker to post.

ItsaRandomUsername
September 29th, 2012, 03:04 AM
~destiny//Inertia Dawn-
/ Intermission II: Phantom-Errant \ (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/6281893/5/Fate-Inertia-Dawn)
.

- ] | [ -

.


100%
*ten years ago*
100%


Less than a month following the abrupt and destructive conclusion to the fourth instance of the Heaven’s Feel, Fuyuki was still reeling from the wounds of war. The fire at the climax of the conflict left in its wake an ugly, yawning hole in the middle of the city – a striking gap in a once magnificent skyline, about which a strangely sickening atmosphere lingered, a subtle malevolence that rooted itself into one's thoughts and would not let go. Everyone could feel it, the malaise and unease slowly festering in the city, but the rescue workers and those who were a part of the restoration program were worst affected of all.


“This place just creeps me out,” one of the workers said, breaking the unnatural silence that marked every meal break.


“You too, Tatsuya?” his friend responded, secretly glad that someone had spoken, as the quiet had weighed heavy on him.


“So I’m not the only one weirded out by this? Good. I thought I might have been going a little crazy."


“Hardly," his friend replied, shaking his head as he looked over the unsettling backdrop for what was to become a park - not that he could imagine anyone willing going there, not even a homeless person. "Everyone here’s been feeling out of it for a while – and not for the right reasons, you know?”


“Yeah, I get that," the first worker said, taking a gulp of water from his canteen, as he felt unnaturally thirsty. "I’m not saying that people don't have the right to feel bad about a disaster area where a lot of people died, hell no, but I’m serious when I say this place gives me vibes. Nasty ones.”


The workers - to a one - were anxious and on edge.


If they were not obligated by duty or financial need to perform the solemn, necessary duty of cleaning up after this disaster, none of them would have even come out to the site - much less have put in so many hours. There was something wrong about this place - and it wasn't just that it was a place where hundreds had died. It felt unnatural, as if every step they took on the land was one they trod over their own graves, as if every breeze was a whisper of something older and more malignant than time itself, as if every piece of rock and rubble seemed to scream at them for intruding, scream at them to turn around and get out.


Were it up to them, they would have rather stayed far, far away. But they didn't have a choice, and so returned to work daily, to this cursed land where they were unwelcome, where they felt the only a curse awaited them as reward for their labors.


If it was but the mild discomfort of dealing with human remains, that would have been one thing - and they were no stranger to such gruesome sights - but this went far deeper than that, triggering some primitive prey instinct to flee...


"So...you think we’ll ever find out what really happened here?” Tatsuya’s friend asked, futilely trying to change the topic to something slightly less uncomfortable to talk about. "Somehow, I really don't think it was just a busted gas line, or whatever excuse they're giving this time."


“I doubt it," the other commented gloomily. “You know how these things go. It always takes months or years to figure out what might have happened, and by that time, it's old news. Everyone's either forgotten about it, or if they remember, don't feel like bringing it up."


“You’d think the people would want to at least honor those who were lost - something like this doesn't happen every day, man.”


But the other only shrugged his shoulders and tossed aside the cigarette he was technically not supposed to be smoking while on the job. “Why bother remembering when it’s so much easier to forget?”


The worker’s words rang truer than he, his friend, or every mundane resident of Fuyuki City would ever know.


Only a select few individuals had had any knowledge of the true events behind the devastation of Fuyuki, or the motives that had underlain the actions in those times - and most of them were dead, inevitable casualties of the Holy Grail War. As for those who were alive, they wouldn't divulge their secrets, and thus the truth would never be known.


Not to the public at least.


Like it or not, those two who seemed like unassuming, perfectly normal construction workers were just that: inconsequential, mundane, background characters in a chapter in the on-going story of Fuyuki’s secret history of death and murder.


For in that stretch of desolation, that giant scar of wasteland carved into the concrete jungle of the blighted town, their presence had no bearing on the tale to come.

.

- ] | [ -

.
“......”


It silently glided over the crumbled rubble, weaving through burnt-out skeletons of once-grand skyscrapers, invisible to sight, intangible to the senses. Which was fortunate for the worthless characters from before, as had they been gifted enough to sense its presence they’d have surely lost their minds to fear.


Though the shade aimed to reach the heart of the ruins, mere sightseeing was by no means its ultimate goal.


Fuyuki, a backwater city in an unimportant little country, was but a brief stop on a side trip - nothing worth an excursion in and of itself. Any passing interest it had in the ritual of this place it made possible had disappeared long before even the third iteration of the game. Even the quality of the spiritual land - exceptional in a modern age – was hardly a matter of note to an ancient being whose existence had long transcended mortality.


“……” it thought empty non-thoughts as it continued to soundlessly traverse the landscape.


Though magi fought and died for its power, the relic here was just another one of the slew of “holy grails” that existed in the world, nothing he hadn't seen hundreds of times before. True, the summoning and binding of Heroic Spirits was an interesting twist, rendering this particular attempt to claim the Grail's power unusual - but hardly unique. There was, after all, a variation being prepared in the New World, and many others in Europe. But even in this eastern land, already, this ritual had been attempted four times, promising untold power to any victor - but never delivering, always ending in failure.


So it had written it off the Fuyuki ritual was a mere bagatelle, as it could only spare curiosity for truly once-in-a-lifetime events.


Anything less was an utter waste of effort.


Yet in spite of this mentality as it arrived in this part of the world, it noted the aberrant conditions surrounding the region, the unfamiliar atmosphere hanging over the city’s territory like a toxic cloud, suffused with some odd energy. On closer investigation, it found that the aura of this power, faint as it was, was mingled intimately with the land, as if it had always been a part of it, always flowing through the leylines in the ground Fuyuki stood on.


That energy was not something it had been aware of previously, though the past iterations had never resulted in this level of devastation or contamination of the physical by the spiritual. Perhaps once, it might have sensed something of the sort, but never on this scale, and never for long enough that it might become aware of its...unusual properties.


Had it known of this twist...perhaps it would have investigated earlier...


The presence stood at the center of the ruins, at the place where the gates of hell had opened, and the all-consuming filth of man had spilled out and purged countless souls of life and turned a city district into a sea of shadow and flame. It was easy to infer that it was originally been a key location for the ritual, although there was no way of telling if the cataclysmic release of the odd energies had damaged it beyond hope of repair. The land had a way of fixing itself, given enough time, but with this corruption - who knew?


More importantly, however, here the faint flow of power could still be felt.


“……” it looked around, taking in the silent essence of a fresh war zone.


Here there was “quiet,” but not merely the absence of sound - but something which seemed to null sound.


A whisper of a sensation, barely noticeable unless one attuned with the energies of life and death were to “look” for it.


(ERROR. REBOOTING AND RECALIBRATING.)


It broke the connection as quickly as possible when it sensed something gazing back across the abyss, but wasn’t fast enough to avoid the consequences.


The whisper of a feeling echoed, was amplified a thousandfold into dissonant bullhorn wails screeching for it to DIEDIEDIEGETBENT(ERROR. REBOOTING AND RECALIBRATING)DIEDIE, a thousand nails irritatingly scraping chunks from chalkboards, a thousand souls that cried out to a foul unhearing god, the twinkling of a thousand bells, and then - silence. Silence born of white noise and destructive interference, anti-sound drowning out all that it touched.


It heard, saw, felt, and tasted this all at once - (ERROR. REBOOTING AND RECALIBRATING).


A torrid ocean of information washed over it. It overflowed from and drowned its mental faculties, as if it were a teacup trying to contain the vastness of that ocean. It seemed like every nerve in its spiritual body was being remade into flesh for the sole purpose of ripping them out once again. Every single hair on its body was remade, only to be torn out all at once. It knew what it was like to be healed, to be wounded, healed and wounded, over and over again in an endless cycle of agony.


For an instant, it remembered what it was to be vulnerable (ERROR. REBOOTING AND RECALIBRATING), to fear, to know death and pain, as if it were a physical being whose flesh was being pulled from holes bored into the body, carved into long corded strings and broiled into jerky while it was still alive.


In an attempt to better understand the flow of energy wafting around the site, it had gazed into the darkness, and the darkness had gazed back. And in that instant, it had experienced utter despair at the hands of pure, intense hostility.


(ERROR. REBOOTING AND RECALIBRATING.)


Had it been human, or even truly living, perhaps it might have given in to the calls for destruction, if only to quell the incredible wrongness that had it in its clutches - the indescribable, seeping madness that ate away at sanity and hope, rousing everything and nothing, and anything within psyche, senses, and memory all at once.


The sensation of being utterly taken aback by the unknown was decidedly unfamiliar to it, it who was already abnormal. It was a humbling and waylaying experience, humiliating and debilitating.


‘Now this is certainly something...’


True as that was, the way it recovered so quickly from such a compromising violation of its existence was a little short of a miracle.


‘I foster no delusions that I should try that little stunt of mine again by either going in deeper or for a longer period, as the shock was profound enough to destabilize my existential matrix. Any more direct interaction would likely lead to permanent, irreparable damage by foolishly interacting with the raw residual power of a foreign ritual,’ the being admitted to itself, still shaken by the mental wounding it had received in that brief instant, ‘It’s very much a good thing that I picked up on what I wanted to from that alone. White noise from hell that might have been, but it was still telling enough for what I wanted to discern.’


By cross-referencing what it knew with what it just now experienced in that infinity of torment compressed into an instant, the shade could discern a fundamental truth about the ritual that had just occurred. The Grail War’s current incarnation, the one so different from the feeling and concepts and finesse of those prior was similar to a virus-infected piece of hardware –– usable to various extents, and capable of functioning to carry out a primary objective, but was blatantly flawed when compared with the original set up. The energies were not as pure as they once were and were colored a warped color by the presence of something.


Yet that was still far from the whole story.


That dark presence might or might not have been present in the first incarnations, but now it had more or less fully and perfectly integrated itself into the system, twisting the system's core purpose. Yet that particular distortion was not the only one present. There was one other, one far more recent, far more...aberrant.


For this one not only twisted purpose, but the theory and foundation of the magics involved, for some unknowable reason.


‘There is a key difference here between distortions,’ it noted, relishing this knowledge, ‘The system already appears to be synchronizing itself to levels of acceptable consistency now that the War has ended. While it won’t be as anomalous in the future as this one was, the new distortion is very much still present in the ritual. And if that is indeed the case…’


If anyone had been around to see it then– if it could be seen, period – then those theoretical onlookers would have likely died from the exposure to the sheer volume of malevolence and hunger its smile would have given off.


"…then consider me curious."

.

- ] | [ -

.

Keyword: ["Twice-Distorted"]
Something is wrong with the Holy Grail. No one knows what exactly it is, or why it happened in the first place, though. All that we can figure out is that it had something to do with the Fourth War. To assume there won’t be any sort of ramifications derived from this accident is incredibly foolish and naively optimistic.


100%

Firstly, apologies for this pretty short update, for the truth is that it probably is nothing more than a means to get d//ID back into its groove. A warm-up, if you will. Mostly because what little there is can be described as vague/abstract/"da fuq did i reed gaiz". Regardless of reader satisfaction with this, we can promise that its certainly important enough in its own right, and will be a harbinger of greater ramifications that will serve to deviate the fic from presumed canon.

Either way, please enjoy what there is, and let it be known that feedback is appreciated.

Leftovers
September 29th, 2012, 03:04 AM
I still remember waiting for an update in the old forum.
And waiting.
And waiting.


;_;

EDIT:PRAISE THE LORD

ItsaRandomUsername
September 29th, 2012, 03:09 AM
As an aside, all previously uploaded chapters are in the process of being updated with new, expanded information.

Suncofold
September 29th, 2012, 03:29 AM
IT LIVES

ItsaRandomUsername
September 29th, 2012, 04:22 AM
You may return to your regularly scheduled - albeit clusterfragged - Grail War after these messages.

mangafreak7793
September 29th, 2012, 05:19 AM
I want to cry, I really want to cry. It's a miracle, I surely thought this fic was dead but it's alive and I want to cry.

lethum
September 29th, 2012, 09:26 AM
Update!

...

Yaaaaay!

Bloble
September 29th, 2012, 09:50 AM
Pinching myself isn't working, so I have to assume that this isn't some sort of happy dream.

A miracle has happened. God exists. Hallelujah.

Servant Shiki
September 29th, 2012, 10:56 AM
Yessss! I just re-read the entire thing and its still brilliant. I love this fic and I cant't wait for the next update.

One thing that popped into my mind as I re-read this...

Shinji (Lancer) is going to get really screwed, isn't he?

Lycodrake
September 29th, 2012, 11:18 AM
Oh hey, this updated. :'3

ItsaRandomUsername
September 29th, 2012, 11:51 AM
Yessss! I just re-read the entire thing and its still brilliant. I love this fic and I cant't wait for the next update.

One thing that popped into my mind as I re-read this...

Shinji (Lancer) is going to get really screwed, isn't he?


>implying any of the Servants aren't going to get eff'd one way or the other

Lycodrake
September 29th, 2012, 11:54 AM
>implying any of the Servants aren't going to get eff'd one way or the other
I'm still waiting to see who Caster is.
...I want to make a guess that it will be Lina Inverse, but eh- *shrugs*

Wolfman
September 29th, 2012, 12:04 PM
IT LIVES!

Servant Shiki
September 29th, 2012, 12:21 PM
>implying any of the Servants aren't going to get eff'd one way or the other

Well, it is a Fate fic, so I guess it should be expected.

EnigmaticFellow
September 29th, 2012, 03:47 PM
So what I heard from IRC last night was true. It looks like the impossible happened when one of IRUn's fics updated.

VelspertheCat
September 30th, 2012, 01:43 AM
I'm glad you updated. Now, let's start working on our Prisma fic. :V

ItsaRandomUsername
September 30th, 2012, 02:42 AM
wait wut

Olive
September 30th, 2012, 08:08 AM
I just found this, and holy shit, it's awesome!

SVNB Backup
September 30th, 2012, 12:34 PM
I'm glad you updated. Now, let's start working on our Prisma fic. :V

Oh, I'm looking forward to that one.

crystalwatcher
September 30th, 2012, 04:16 PM
Prisma fic?

Kyte
September 30th, 2012, 04:24 PM
IIRC, it's in Velsper's snippet thread. Look at the index, I think I tagged it as Prisma remix or such.

crystalwatcher
September 30th, 2012, 04:52 PM
Can I get the link to the thread please?

Kyte
September 30th, 2012, 05:14 PM
So Last Dimension: Part One (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php?p=886237#post886237) Prisma Ilya: Remix
More Velspery goodness (http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/2174-I-think-therefore-I-meeeeo-am-%28Drabbles%29?p=765418&viewfull=1#post765418)

crystalwatcher
September 30th, 2012, 05:27 PM
Oh lord.

Santo
October 1st, 2012, 09:36 AM
>,>

<,<

( °Д°)<(IT LIVES! PRAISE THE GODS!)

*Runs away*