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Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 05:03 PM
Disclaimer: This is a fanfiction. If I owned Fate/Stay Night, it would just be a fiction. Therefore, I must not own Fate/Stay Night. My logic is strong and un-sueable!

Author's Note: Not much to say; following Radiantbeam's nagging example, I'll be posting Chaos Theory here on BL from now on. As always, feel free to share any comments you like, and of course if you think I made a mistake, call me on it; I'm always open to constructive criticism, and I screw up just like anyone else. If it's not a mistake I'll explain my reasoning, if it is genuinely a screw-up I'll pat you on the head and offer you an internet cookie.

Prologue:

Oh, granted, there's always going to be the odd one out. Well… actually, there are an infinite number of odd ones out. You see, the nature of the multiverse is that it's not actually 'multi' so much as 'omni'. Everything that could have possibly happened has happened, and more than that, it has happened an infinite number of times across an infinite number of universes. Therefore it is impossible for any universe to truly be odd, because any given universe is nothing more or less than the sum total of an infinite number of things happening or not happening in combination, and there will be another universe where the exact opposite things happened, and between them will be universes with all of those (again, infinite) things happening in wildly different or nearly identical combinations. And each of those will have an opposite too. And then there are the ones where nothing happened, ever, and the worlds where things have stopped happening. And there are an infinite number of those as well, many of them with subtly different definitions of 'nothing' happening, and sometime the nothing from one leaks into another and becomes something there because that universe has different rules of nothing, so what doesn't exist in one universe not only exists in another, it always has existed and always will exist, while in yet another universe it will never haven't not existed.

And just think: if you were one of my apprentices, I'd be quizzing you on this later. And people wonder why they traditionally don't last long.

In any event, my point was, there are many, many alternate worlds. And many of them are strange indeed. I've seen worlds where life on Earth took vastly different paths; a landscape made up of monumental crystalline mountains constantly wreathed in emerald lightning, populated by formless energy creatures that fed on magnetic charges. I've seen worlds where humanity evolved more quickly; a race of psychics and superhumans who make our greatest achievements look as transient and meaningless as children's sandcastles... and who tear their world apart in wars the scale of which we cannot even imagine. Worlds where man never evolved at all, leaving Gaia wild, cruel, and untamed… but far more beautiful and vibrant, in her own harsh way.

I once saw a world of nothing but shrimp. I tired of that one quickly.

But a surprising number of worlds are nothing like that at all. They're just… exactly what you know. One little difference, maybe two. One person's life is changed, and that's a whole different world. Even though only a select few people are affected, it's still a world all its own.

And sometimes, that rarest of rarities… sometimes, that one little change is just the first few rocks that signal an avalanche, and by the end, the world that used to be so much like your own isn't even recognizable. They say that a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world, if it hits the air currents just right. They're not wrong. Sometimes, it doesn't even take that much.

And sometimes not.

And sometimes both. Or neither. Or all of the above, repeating infinitely in a cascade of possible and impossible actions and reactions across all of time and space.

Isn't magic fun?

-An Excerpt From the Memoirs of Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg. If you found parts of it confusing, that's probably for the best.

***

Events were unfolding. Just as they always had, just as they would on a thousand, thousand other worlds exactly like this one.

The false priest wiped the last flecks of dried blood from his knife in satisfaction. He had derived, he admitted, a not-inconsiderable amount of amusement from what he'd done to the Irishwoman; befriended her, earned her trust, led her in her career and built her to her greatest moment of personal triumph… and taken it all from her with a single thrust of a blade. Along with her arm, shortly afterward and with the aid of a decent bone saw. The shock and despair in her eyes had been nothing short of intoxicating.

He'd left her just barely alive. Intentionally. It was more amusing to think of her slowly wasting away in the abandoned building he'd deposited her in, far from help, agonizing over everything he'd taken from her as she died. Her life had been passionate and driven, her death should be no less intense. It was the greatest gift she could be given, and the greatest curse. He appreciated the duality of it all.

And of course, the personal amusement afforded by this action was only the tip of the iceberg. One person really wasn't enough to be more than an appetizer, but an interesting game was about to begin, and to truly exercise his interests and enjoy it to the fullest possible extent, he needed pieces on the chessboard. Now, with the harvesting of Bazett Fraga McRemitz's arm and by extension her contract and Command Seals, Kirei Kotomine had acquired a very excellent game piece indeed. The Masters were gathering, and he had unprecedented freedom to observe and manipulate to ensure the war went to his liking. Honestly, the situation was just about perfect.

In the shadows of the Church, Servant Lancer waited impatiently. He wasn't terribly happy with his new Master… the last had been a cute, spirited girl with much more likable personality, and he would have enjoyed this War quite a bit with her by his side. Just his bad luck that she was a crappy judge of character to balance out her good qualities. But he was willing, for the moment, to tolerate the annoying fake priest if it led to getting a chance to actually taste some of this legendary combat he kept hearing about.

Oh, man, that priest had better hook him up with some decent fights, or he would be so pissed.

***

Far beneath them both, the Golden King stretched and yawned. As so often happened these days, he was rather bored.

He wasn't terribly interested in the War, frankly… there was some value to be had from the prize, he supposed, but it wasn't as though it would be difficult to take it any time he wanted. Most likely he would simply let it all play out unless he saw something interesting to do in the meantime. Some of the other Servants might be fun, if he got too bored… not enough to actually be a threat, of course, but potentially one might emerge that would force him to exert some effort. The Lancer that Kotomine had stolen was nothing worth noticing, but maybe the others would be higher quality… another scion of the gods, perhaps, like that insane Conqueror King from the last war. Now he had been interesting! Not many men were worth fighting, but that one had been something else. But beyond the slim hope that another like him would emerge, there wasn't much else to look forward to.

He supposed that one girl, the one with the strange body and the broken eyes, could be a diversion. She was a nasty, hungry abomination, and one he'd marked as a most likely requiring extermination at some point in the future. In a rare moment of kindness, he'd told her to commit suicide; it was a practical solution, and if she really was what he thought she was, she'd probably be happier just skipping onto reincarnation early instead of completing her impending transformation. He considered hunting her down right now, just to see if she'd listened or not, and killing her with his own two hands if she'd had the temerity to assume that she had any right to ignore even his most vague of whims. But to be honest, he didn't really think it was worth the energy. And giving her power some time to mature and twist itself further would likely make it vaguely more interesting if he had to destroy her later.

… … … oh, who was he fooling? All of this was nothing but killing time until she appeared.

The silver knight who'd caught his eye like few other women could. She would appear again, he could feel it in his blood. She sought the Grail with a passion he found utterly irresistible, and if the Grail appeared, that woman would defy every law of reality, time, and space in her attempts to seize it. She would come to the Holy Grail, she would come to him, and he would be waiting for her, to complete what he'd started all those years ago. To finally break that indomitable will, to burn that passion out of her and make her his own, like she was always destined to be.

Yes, yes, that was something to hope for. That woman would be his greatest treasure yet, the crown jewel of his unmatched collection.

The last ten years of tedium would be entirely worth it for that single, perfect moment when the defiance finally left those beautiful eyes.

***

The Witch resisted the urge to throw her head back and laugh out loud. The raw power flooding through her was delicious, a rush like no other, and the sensations were definitely going to her head. More came in with each second, drawn from the hapless sacrifices who dwelt in the shadow of her mountain temple. More energy than a dozen Servants could ever need, enough to power her spells for a lifetime. She'd need all of it and more to deal with the foes she had to face, of course, but the fact that the power she had already amassed was not sufficient did not make it any less exhilarating to possess.

This land, at the heart of the sacred mountain, was perfect for her purposes. Only one way in or out, easily defended by the talented guard dog she had conjured. A spiritually rich land that could easily hold her territory as a Magus. The focal point of a leyline that allowed her to touch the entire city without ever leaving her room, an effectively limitless source of power. The war had not yet even begun, and with a single stroke she had claimed a great advantage by positioning her Temple in this holy land that could essentially be called the ideal base of operations.

Yes, Servant Caster thought, this Holy Grail War wasn't such a big problem, if you just took the time to think it through. And when the Holy Grail was hers…

She cast a glance at Kuzuki Souichirou, her latest Master and lover, sitting cross-legged in the corner of her chambers, his expression unreadable. She would take her time seizing the Grail, and savor her time with him. And when it was finally hers, well… she knew better than to make childish wishes. But if it was possible that this prize could truly grant her a second life… if there was even a chance, to finally have that happiness she had been so thoroughly denied during her life...

For a thing of infinite power that could grant any wish at all, surely a second lifetime to spend with this man was simple enough to give?

***

The magus smiled at the fruits of her labor. The chosen hour was rapidly approaching, when she would draw her card and follow in her father's esteemed footsteps. All the rituals were prepared to textbook precision, her power was at its peak, and she was deservedly confident in her abilities. Really, it could be said to be that most elusive of creatures, a Perfect Situation.

This would be her time to shine, she knew. When the final spells were cast, the ultimate swordsman would be in front of her, her shining key to victory. In one fell swoop, she would not only follow her father's path, but travel further along it than he ever had. The Tohsaka family would be the ones to finally claim the Holy Grail, and it would all begin with her flawless summoning of Servant Saber.

Poor thing. It really was a shame about that pendant, wasn't it?

***

You could hardly call it a person anymore.

A person didn't wither in the sunlight. A person didn't hide from the world in basement crypts like some kind of phantom haunting his own home. A person didn't decay as he walked, his body made up of stolen flesh held together around a decrepit soul by the action of worms that smelled of old blood and rotten meat.

But mostly, a 'person' was capable of holding some, meaningful connection to another. And it had been many years since Zouken Matou had done anything of the sort.

He had eyes, literal and figurative, throughout the city of Fuyuki. A poor match for his magic it might be, but he had dwelt in this land for many years and his power was not to be trifled with here, in the heart of his territory. He saw everything.

The Witch at Ryudou Temple was already at work gathering souls, and she had summoned a Servant of her own.

The false priest acting as Overseer had two Servants of his own to work with, and to make matters worse, he had nothing but contempt for Zouken, personally.

The Grail prepared by the Einzbern family was even more chaotic than usual this time around, and the Servant they had assigned to protect it was one of the top contenders in the War. Getting to it would be difficult.

In all honesty, he seriously considered just waiting for the next War. This one had come much more quickly than expected, and perhaps the next would follow suit. Each passing year made it harder to focus, but if he passed into hibernation for most of it, lasting out the years should be quite possible. Really, the situation was about as horrible as it could be for his plans.

But…

That thing was just about perfect. The personality had some flaws to work out, but in terms of function he couldn't have asked for better.

He'd had it call up a Servant and gave control over to Shinji; he didn't expect much from the boy, but risking the material in direct combat as a Master would be a waste and Zouken hadn't yet conceived of a way to properly utilize it. But things were changing, weren't they? Subtle changes over the last few years, more pronounced over the last few days... something had changed in its existence outside the manor.

Something was giving it just a tiny hint of hope.

Zouken smiled, something black and chitinous crawling out from between his teeth before burrowing back into the wrinkled flesh of his neck. Hope was weakness he could exploit. He would begin paying more attention to the thing, observe its interactions outside his home, and determine what had happened to bring about this unforeseen change in the previously unchangeable core of the thing. A few days of observation and then, once a weakness had been determined, perhaps it could finally be made pliable and be put to real use. And if that happened, well... it might be time to get more directly involved in this Holy Grail War.

Elsewhere in the darkened manor, the 'material' sat in her room. Well, 'room' was not the best word for it. 'Cell' would have been more accurate. 'Pit' would have been even closer. This was not where she slept, after all, but where she came for training.

'Training', what a joke. 'Training' was an even worse word for what went on in this place than 'room' was to describe this dank, light-less Hell...

Worms and insects swarmed over, around, and through her prone body as she lay on the cold stone floor, staring at the ceiling in silence.

And why shouldn't she be silent? This was hardly a new experience for her. It had been years since something like this was enough to provoke a real reaction.

It had been years since anything was enough to make her cry.

***

Think of the people above, if you will. Consider the power gathered among them, the skill and intelligence. Enough to do some real good in this world, don't you think? A real shame it was all focused inexorably on killing one another, but that's how such things often turn out.

But more than that, think of the plans. Such big plans, every one of them. And so confident! The word 'perfect' seemed to come up a lot.

The thing about perfection, real perfection, is that it sort of speaks for itself. A truly immaculate situation would not need to be pointed out; it would be obviously perfect to anyone looking at it. The architect of a truly perfect plan would not need to reassure themselves as to its perfection, because it would be clear immediately that it could not possibly go wrong.

The main point of this lecture, really, is that one would think a group of such powerful, intelligent people would really know how to avoid making themselves look so stupid. Because every single one of those utterly perfect plans was going to fail. Some miserably, some slightly, but not one of them would be moving completely according to the planner's designs.

Because of some 'Perfect Materials' that had a little more free will than Zouken Matou expected.

Because of a ten-going-on-twenty chaotic little white-haired girl who decided she really didn't care all that much about the glory of the Einzbern family.

Why, it wouldn't be a terrible stretch to say that a few of the above would be royally screwing over each other, as well.

But mostly? The assorted plans at play here would be going very, very wrong due to the actions of a no-name, no-count, utterly talentless Magus by the name of Shirou Emiya. He had no magic worth mentioning, no combat experience of note, and no plan for or knowledge of the War he was about to enter. He did, however, have one trait that had derailed a countless number of such grand, far-reaching schemes throughout history.

You see, he really, really wanted to be a hero.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 05:04 PM
Chapter One: Moonlight


Illyasviel von Einzbern walked through the unfamiliar streets without a hint of fear.

She had no reason to fear anything or anyone, for the Black Giant walked beside her. Unseen, perhaps, but there nonetheless, an implacable power waiting only to be unleashed upon the target of her choice. So long as he was by her side, she could not be harmed. And that meant she could not be harmed ever, because he would never leave her side, never refuse her anything within his power to give. Her Berserker would always be there for her, and only for her.

Unlike so many others, he would never disappoint her.

The Princess had a mission here. She was to claim the Holy Grail. It was hers, grandpapa had said. It was all of theirs, their great family's treasure by right. Illyasviel would take the destroyer they had summoned to the Holy Land, and she would claim the prize their family had sought for so long. For the glory of Einzbern, she would triumph.

Silly. As if she cared about the glory of Einzbern when she finally had so much freedom! Finally, she was out of the castle, finally she was out in the world; and not the frozen forests in the German countryside, full of wolves and worse, a shining, vibrant city unlike anywhere she'd ever seen. There were so many things to see and do, and despite Sella and Leysritt's whining that she should stay in the Castle when not hunting the other Masters, she planned to see and do as many of them as she could over the course of this War. And one boy to kill, of course, but in all honesty that was going to be so simple that there wasn't much reason to be worried about it. She was looking forward to it, of course… to meeting the boy that Kiritsugu had abandoned her for. Finding out what he was like. And then killing him, horribly. Not right away, no... she had ten years of frustration, confusion, and bitterness to take out on him first. She couldn't pay Kiritsugu back for throwing her away like trash, not anymore, but she could take it out on the boy he'd used to replace her. Repeatedly, for several weeks. With power tools.

Hmm, speaking of the Boy... you know, she'd never even seen him in person? Just pictures one of grandpapa's agents had acquired as part of his efforts to motivate Ilya for the coming war. She actually knew almost nothing about him.

He hadn't summoned a Servant yet, she was certain of that. She had no doubt he would be the seventh Master; the world simply wouldn't be fun if he wasn't. But the last card had not yet been drawn, and so she didn't want to kill him. It would be far, far more entertaining to kill him when it became part of the War-game. Then she could take her revenge and play at the same time! And of course, she was a noble girl. It was only proper of her to let the boy arm himself before she destroyed him, wasn't it? She must take care to look after the peasants, after all. Yes, there was definitely something to be said for letting him have a fighting chance.

She considered Berserker.

Well, all right, he wouldn't have a real fighting chance, but at least the appearance of one. He'd be able to struggle a bit before the end, and that was really the best he could hope for.

Still, just because she wasn't going to kill him yet didn't mean she couldn't play a bit. Put a touch of fear into him, let him know she was on the hunt. He lived around here, didn't he? She had just been wandering aimlessly, taking in the sights for the first time, but perhaps her subconscious had led her to the neighborhood she'd tracked Kiritsugu's former home to. The boy lived around here; she could at least go take a look, see Kiritsugu's son with her own two eyes. Yes, see him but not hurt him... just hold back, and let her hunger for the moment of his punishment build and build to a crescendo. The anticipation would make it taste sweeter when the time finally came.

Skipping cheerfully along, the little princess went off to find her prey.


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Shirou Emiya had a lot on his mind, as he walked home from work that night.

Okay, actually, not a lot. Mostly Sakura, honestly, the underclassman who had inserted herself so seamlessly into his life over the last few years that he didn't even have to try anymore to think of her as family. But despite being only one thing, she was a big enough thing to take up most of his mind.

It started with a simple thought… there had been some serious crimes in Miyama City, lately. Was it safe to let her walk home by herself at night anymore?

But that led to thoughts of walking her home, which led to thoughts of her in general, which led to the reminder that he just… honestly wasn't sure about anything concerning that girl anymore. For starters, even he had started to notice that something was wrong. She just seemed… a little bit off in everything she did recently. Not much; so little he probably wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't known her for so long. But it was still enough that he was beginning to worry about her. Well, more than he usually worried about everyone, anyway.

And in more general terms, she was really starting to get pretty, which made him kind of nervous...

He shook his head to dislodge that thought. Sakura was Sakura. It wouldn't do to let his hormones ruin one of the handful of genuine friendships he actually had. She was family, and you don't do that to…

… Family.

The moonlight reflected of the odd white hair of the girl as she walked past him, creating a soft, otherworldly glow around her.

The world froze.

He wasn't sure why. He knew he'd never seen her before. There was no real reason to notice her, other than her albino features, and that really didn't explain why he was staring so much. There was just a strange pressure about the girl that drew his attention, like he was looking at a fairy or some other creature that wasn't really part of his world...

She didn't look at him, but he could still see the smile on her tiny face in the moonlight. "You'll die if you don't summon it soon, onii-chan," she said with a giggle, her tone not making it clear if she was talking to him or just speaking to the night air.

Shirou stopped, and watched the girl stroll past. She… something about her just said 'do not follow me' to his mind. Like he was risking his life by approaching her. But…

Sometimes, it's the tiniest little things that can change the world.

Shirou sprinted after the departing girl, shouting, "Wait, wait up a second!"

The girl, her eyes wide with more shock than should probably have been in them, turned to face him. "Um... huh?" She said, eloquently.

Shirou knelt down so that he could look her in the eyes, and put on his warmest smile. Her clothes looked very well made, so best to assume she had money and behave with proper respect; though really, he would have anyway. Even if she wasn't actually upper-class, it was the rare little girl who wouldn't get a small thrill out of being talked to like she was a Lady. "Hello, ojou-chan. Are you all alone?"

Ilya blinked a few times in surprised confusion. "Er… hello?" This is all wrong. What was he doing? She hadn't been planning to talk to him now. And he certainly wasn't supposed to be smiling. She hadn't even bothered to hide her intent to kill! This had been a warning, a declaration of war, so why was he acting like he was happy to meet her? Had… wait, had Kiritsugu never told him about her? He didn't… he didn't think she was a threat because he didn't recognize her? He didn't even have the good grace to know what he'd taken from her? Her anger rising, she considered ordering Berserker to materialize and smash the boy to paste, right here and now.

Anger which dissolved rapidly as her train of thought stopped dead with just one single motion from the boy. He reached his hand out and patted her on the head. The simple display of affection left Ilya openly stunned. He was not supposed to be nice to her. Most people in her (very limited) experience were not, and she'd had every reason to believe he would be far worse than the others.

This really, really wasn't going how she'd planned.

Shirou, oblivious, just kept smiling. "Wow, what pretty hair! And those clothes are so nice... you really look like a princess, you know that?"

He thinks I'm pretty... he likes the hair I got from mama... Ilya thought, the little girl in her rising to the top in irrational glee at the praise to overpower the cynical teen woman trying her hardest to distrust him. She liked people who were nice to her. She wasn't supposed to like him, but he was being nice and... ugh, this was all wrong! She tried to find her anger again, contemplated ordering Berserker to kill just to make herself less confused...

"But you know, there's been a lot of dangerous people and accidents around at night, lately. It's not safe for a cute little girl to be walking alone at this hour. Would you like me to walk you home?" the boy asked.

Wait, what? Ilya thought, her anger totally derailed once again. Why was he being so consistently nice? He wasn't supposed to be nice to her. He was supposed to be cold, and uncaring, and ruthless. But… well… even disregarding the fact that she was not, in fact, alone, and was probably the safest person in this city, he was still showing concern. He was being nicer to her than most of her own family, and they'd only just met! This wasn't fair!

Time to get things back on track. Don't forget who he really is. "I…" she began, preparing to challenge this, punch the holes needed to see through the deception.

"Oh… hehehe…" The boy said, laughing in a somewhat embarrassed manner. "I guess that I'm a stranger to you, aren't I? I got so caught up in the moment I forgot that for all you know, I'm the dangerous one. Still, I'd feel bad about leaving you all alone here, so how's this?" He reached into his pockets, and fished out some coins and a few slips of paper. "Here's a little money… there's a gas station straight down the block, this way. There's enough here to use the payphone to call someone to pick you up and buy yourself a little snack while you wait. Would you like me to walk you at least that far? I'd prefer to make sure you're safe, but I'll leave if you want me to."

Dammit.

What is he… how should I... Why does he keep smiling? Ilya thought in desperation and annoyance, her mind overturned for the tenth time in half that many minutes. Stop it! Stop being nice! I… I'm going to kill you, so if you don't stop it will be…!

Shirou Emiya stood up, and offered his hand to Ilyasviel von Einzbern. "Well…?" He said

And, with a slight blush and against her own better judgment, Ilya placed her small hand in his and said, "Y-you can escort me to this place you mentioned. I'll trust you... just this once."

Shirou's smile widened, making that 'slight blush' grow a little bit deeper. "I would be honored," He said warmly.

And though neither of them knew it at the time, they had just ensured that the plans of basically every single person in the conflict to come were going to go completely wrong. Except Rin. Her plans went wrong just fine without any outside help.


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Events unfold, just as they always have...

The magus stood atop the school, and worried.

She hadn't gotten Saber, so things were not as perfect as she'd planned. But still, she had a lot to be proud of; there were only seven cards, and she'd drawn one. Rin Tohsaka was a true Master.

Granted, the card she'd drawn was apparently the jerk card, because the urge to beat the smug out of her new Servant had arisen more than once. Still, Archer was her Servant, and that's what counted.

But now this had happened to ruin her already pretty fragile good mood. It had to be one of the other Masters; only a Servant could have started something like this without her noticing. And it had to be someone who knew her, else they wouldn't have chosen her school, out of every public location in Fuyuki, as a target for one of the most vile magics she'd ever seen. It was a boundary field, and a thoroughly nasty one; a twisted, consuming spell field that would digest everyone caught inside it, melt them down into blood and spirit to be consumed like they were food instead of people, instead of her friends and classmates. Someone… some pestilential little insect had dared to place a disgusting thing like this at her school, her territory.

She was not amused, and she would make sure that the perpetrator knew this. She'd make sure he knew it slowly and horribly. It was possible that a variety of bladed instruments would come into play for this instruction.

She prepared to draw the power from the sigil she'd found; it was ultimately futile, but it should by some time in preventing the boundary field from activating. Not much, but every second helped if It gave her a shot at finding her Mystery Master and driving a knife into his spine before the field could activate. She laid her palm on the place where the magic felt thickest…

"What, you're going to erase it? What a waste," Said a voice even more cheerfully insolent than Archer's.

The blue knight standing on the water tower spoke to her for a short while, like they were old friends.

And then he tried to kill her, and things got a bit hectic. Still, it was probably for the best; she'd been hoping to get a picture of Archer's combat utility. And her new Servant did not disappoint. She didn't understand how... she couldn't properly comprehend melee combat between two such superhuman creatures, but Archer was able to match Lancer blow-for-blow, despite his class. Surely an Archer should have fought from a distance, with missile weapons, but her Servant had drawn twin swords, unlike those in any legend she had ever heard of. And he had faced the spearman alone, and he had not been defeated.

Perhaps her card draw had been better than she'd thought.

The red knight and the blue knight clashed, again and again. Lancer was clearly the stronger and faster, yet no matter how furiously he attacked, Archer batted aside the lightning-fast thrusts. His weapons, the white sword that reflected the moon and the black sword that devoured it, were shattered many times and yet always intact...

Rin Tohsaka stood transfixed by this, her first battle in the Holy Grail War. Magus or no, she had not seen so many amazing things that she could be anything other than stunned by the prospect of two Epic Spirits, genuine heroes, dueling before her very eyes.

And so she didn't notice the boy watching from the shadows until long after she should have...



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The boy was hurled into the shed with bruising force.

He had already died once this night, pierced through the heart by that blood-red lance. He did not wish to die again, especially not in the exact same way. But it was beginning to seriously look like the choice was going to be taken out of his hands.

He didn't want to die.

He didn't want to die.

He hadn't saved anyone, not one single person, and he didn't want to die yet…!

The blue spearman made the fatal thrust.

Light and wind filled the small shed, and the lance was repelled in a crashing of metal against metal. With a curse, the spearman leapt backwards out of the shed.

The boy looked up at her. The impossibly beautiful silver knight, who stood framed in the light of the moon shining in through the open door…

"I ask of you," Servant Saber said, "Are you my Master?"

Sometimes, a tiny little event can change the world.

But some destinies are just meant to be, no matter what changes around them.

The Seven cards have been dealt, and the Masters are gathered. Let's draw the blade of fate, and swing it down one more time.

Welcome to the Holy Grail War.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 05:07 PM
Chapter Two: Ripples

Shirou Emiya was a confused, confused boy.

A day and a lifetime ago, he'd been wondering if he should be letting Sakura walk home alone (he had decided 'no', by the way, and he was glad of it. When he'd actually walked her home, he'd found that strange foreigners were hanging around her house lately, and then when he'd stopped by later to check in her grandfather had decided it was fun to creep him the hell out. Forget not walking home alone, he was considering not letting Sakura walk home at all. She could live in the guest house and stay far away from her stalkers and bizarre grandparents). Now?

He'd been stabbed through the heart by a large scary blue man with a spear. He had, somehow, survived this. How he had not died, he had no idea; all he knew for certain was that the scary man had decided to follow him home and kill him again to see if it stuck this time. He had argued the point… poorly, judging by the ease with which the superhuman individual had tossed him around his home like a ragdoll. He'd ended up kicked through the door of his workshop (or what would have been his workshop if he'd been a Magus worth mentioning), and had basically given up hope. He'd desperately prayed from something, anything… some way to survive, some way to insure his dream was not snuffed out before he even got the chance to start on it. And then, when he was at the lowest of low points with no way out and no shot at survival… that's when she'd made her appearance.

Impossibly beautiful. Shining in the moonlight, she'd called herself 'Saber'. She'd called him 'Master'. And she had saved his life, there was no denying that. She had faced the spearman and driven him off, when Shirou himself had been helpless to do anything but be batted around like a mouse in the paws of a lion. She was, like the knight in blue, a being of power; clearly more than human. More than that, though, while she was easily just as amazing as the superhuman spearman, unlike him she had a gentle beauty and dignity to match her obvious power. As annoyed as the young would-be-hero would have normally been by needing someone else to save him, Shirou was frankly too awed by her to care overmuch... even as she insisted on saying things he didn't understand and taking actions without listening to a word he said. She was simply amazing.

So he wished he'd had something other than an old raincoat to throw over her head so she wouldn't stand out.

It was Rin Tohsaka's fault, really. She and her own… Servant? They kept calling them 'Servants'… had been near his house, and Saber had, in another moment of 'not listening or explaining', attacked them.

Shirou had stopped her. Somehow, he wasn't quite sure… all he knew is that he desperately wanted her to stop, and when he'd shouted the command one of the strange new markings on his hand had vanished. He couldn't say why that happened (other than 'because it's magic'), he was just glad that it had. He couldn't be a very good hero if he let someone who called him Master walk around killing passerby without even explaining what the Hell was going on. Particularly when the passerby turned out to be the most popular girl at his school as well as... well, he didn't want to call her his crush, but...

In any case, Tohsaka had expressed gratitude at him preventing her from being skewered, and had entered his home. She fixed some windows, and expressed shock that he was too talentless to do the same. Nor was that the only thing he was mocked for during the course of their conversation.

He was beginning to get the impression that the fact she was a great Magus who wandered around at night in the presence of a superhuman killing machine was not the only thing about Tohsaka that she didn't share with the people at school. The sheer wickedness was also new.

Still, she was helpful. Besides repairing his window, she had outlined the most basic of basics of the ritual called the 'Holy Grail War', and given him a brief overview of exactly how much trouble he was in, which was 'a lot'. And then, as her very last favor, she promised to take him to someone who could explain the rest and let him decide just what he would do next.

However, she also said it would be safest to bring Saber with him. And unfortunately, Saber's otherworldly presence wasn't much help at blending in. His ineptitude as a Master apparently meant she couldn't turn into a spirit, like Tohsaka's Servant, so she'd need to walk, and tromping around downtown in plate steel would not be inconspicuous. Since she refused outright to remove her armor, draping a rain coat over her was the best he could do. It wasn't even a nice rain coat, unfortunately; he'd been using it as a bike cover. It was just that it was the only thing he'd had that would fit over the armor, and so they'd had to make do. Saber was hard to read, but even Shirou could tell she was not amused.

Still, at least it was marginally better than letting her out in full armor. Granted, he wasn't exactly sure how much better, because there was nobody on the streets to watch them, but still...

----------------------------------------

Somebody stood on the streets, watching them.

Ilya watched as the Tohsaka Heir… Rin was her name? Yes, it was Rin… and the boy walked in the direction of the overseer's church, the newly summoned Servant in tow. Ilya vaguely wondered why they didn't just have the Servant go into its Astral form, like Rin's Archer or her Berserker. Could the boy really be that talentless? He was supposed to be Kiritsugu's heir, surely he must be special in some way?

He was nice, though. She hadn't been expecting that. Ilya had not experienced a great deal of warmth in her life, and she, well… she liked him. He was kind, and gentle, and he'd told her she was pretty.

I should kill him. She thought.

It had all probably been an act. He was trying to confuse her, or… it wasn't like she had any proof he was actually like he said he was! Yes, now that she'd had some time to ponder things, it was most likely that he was just trying to throw her off her guard before the War. Kiritsugu had been like that too; he'd acted nice when he was around her, and then he'd left and never come back. The boy was probably just doing that.

But he smiled at me… nobody at home does that unless they want something, but he never asked for a thing...

As if sensing her discomfort, she felt Berserker's questioning in her mind. Not a thought, he wasn't really able to do that; what came through their connection was more like an impulse. But at the least it was an impulse that was simple to put into words.

Kill?

Never let it be said that Berserker needed speech or even sanity to get his point across. She supposed it helped that he only ever had one point to make.

Although she couldn't see him in his astral form, she could picture the black giant tensing to pounce in her mind, the impossible muscles corded in preparation. With one word from her, he would return to the physical world and slaughter anyone, destroy anything she commanded him to. It was all he could do, and he did it well.

"No." Ilya said. "Not yet. We should… we should wait until he's confirmed by the overseer. When he's a real Master, that's when we move. We'll kill them both, all right? We will."

Truthfully, there was no need to justify herself. Berserker continued to follow her in silence, just like always, no matter what she said.

But then, she hadn't really been trying to convince him anyway.

----------------------------------------

Shirou did not like the priest.

This wasn't exactly a leap of logic; even from the few minutes Shirou had spent in his presence, it had become obvious to him that Kirei Kotomine seemed to take some kind of deep, personal joy in irritating everyone around him. But Shirou found him worse than most. Even more than Rin, who had spent years learning how to be annoyed at Kirei. Shirou was annoyed at Kirei on an honor student level.

It wasn't just the aura of smugness that seemed to permeate him, the air of 'I know all sorts of things you don't know, ha ha, maybe I will tell you some but not all of them because if you knew them all I couldn't look down on you'.

It was that some of those things he knew but wouldn't quite say hit far, far too close to home.

You can even heal those invisible burns... How had he known about Shirou's connection to that disaster?

I do not think a Magus exists that would waste a Command Spell that allows them to use such powerful magic... if there were such a magus, he would not just be an amateur, but a coward... Was it that obvious he didn't want to fight? It wasn't like not wanting to kill people made him a coward, in his own opinion, but he really hated the thought that the priest could read him so easily.

Rejoice, boy. Your wish will finally come true... No... no that was just wrong. Of course he wanted to save people, but he'd never wish for them to be in danger first! It wasn't the same thing. It wasn't.

It was really like he had been reading Shirou's mind, throughout much of the conversation. He repeatedly said things that struck more than they should, things that should not have been obvious to a casual observer. Shirou had been half-glad to accept his role as a Master just as a way to get out of that church, away from Kotomine's far-too-knowing smirk and simple yet piercing remarks.

Still, if he had been trying to provoke Shirou into fighting, he'd succeeded. Shirou Emiya left the Kotomine Church the Seventh Master in intent as well as form.Saber took the news well, in a quiet sort of way. Rin's Archer was less entertained by the notion that they weren't going to be killing the rookie immediately, but Rin loudly put that idea down. Apparently she couldn't fight someone she felt she owed a debt to, much to her Servant's chagrin. Oh, and she blushed and freaked out briefly over Archer suggesting she had a 'special' reason for being kind to Shirou.

Shirou was beginning to get the impression that Tohsaka might actually be kinda weird.

Still, she was awfully friendly for someone who claimed she was only being nice so she wouldn't feel bad when she murdered him later, so when she offered to walk part-way home with Saber and him, he fell in behind her almost automatically.

----------------------------------------

When he's a real Master, that's when we move. That's what she'd said to Berserker, and she never lied. Ilya had said that she would kill the boy, now that he was a Master. She could eliminate him and Rin, all in a single swift strike. They were no match for Berserker, even together.

They were Masters, standing between her and the Holy Grail. She needed no other reason to kill them.

And as luck would have it, she had one anyway: he was Kiritsugu's heir, the one and only remaining path to the revenge she'd sought for half of her life! She had pictured his broken body as her plaything a million times in her mind. All she had to do was give the order, and it could be a reality. She could spend the rest of her life making him suffer for… for…

It's not safe for a cute little girl to be walking alone at this hour. Would you like me to walk you home?

This wasn't fair. It wasn't supposed to go like this. He was supposed to be cold, and cruel, and turn her away, and then he was supposed to die while she watched and laughed, and… and… and…

She should be the cruel one. She should kill him, right now. She would. He and Rin, the both of them had to die, deserved to die for what they'd done and what they might yet do! She could do it, right now. All she had to do was give the order.

Just say it. 'Kill them all, Berserker'! Four words and everything I've ever wanted is mine for the taking…

"Berserker…" she said, watching as the boy and Rin began the long walk back to his home, Saber following obediently behind. "… let's…"

He'd walked her to 'safety'. He'd given her money for the phone, and bought her a little snack. He'd smiled at her, and called her hair pretty.

Just tiny, unremarkable little kindnesses, really. But, well, sometimes a little was enough.

"Let's just go home, Berserker." Ilya snapped. She knew she was hiding her discomfort with petulance, but she really didn't care. "I'm bored."

Without a word, Berserker materialized and lifted her in his arms to begin the journey home.

He never questioned her orders. Ilya liked that about him. When all her preconceived notions were turning out wrong, and her own mind and feelings were betraying her like this, Berserker's unwavering loyalty was all the more precious.

----------------------------------------

Rin Tohsaka and Shirou Emiya walked in silence, Saber a few steps behind. Archer was nowhere to be seen, but his presence seemed to hang in the air.

The two students ignored them. Neither one of them, if they were being honest, wanted to think too hard about what happened next.

It had been discussed before, in a roundabout way. Tohsaka's actions in taking him to the Church had been repaying her debt. She had no other reason to associate with him. She was expressing open eagerness for hunting the other masters down.

Tohsaka Rin was a Magus, wasn't she? The real thing. And for a Magus, even 'repaying a debt' was unusually kind-natured. There was some part of her that couldn't be called a Magus, a genuinely kind girl who'd reached out to help him. But that other part...

"We'll part here." Rin said, interrupting his reverie. She gestured to the crossroads, one path leading back the way they'd come to reach the church, the other leading further into Shinto. "I've repaid my debt, and it would be troublesome if we stay together any longer. We should part here and become enemies from tomorrow on."

It would be troublesome if we stay together. A polite way to say 'I don't want to feel any empathy for you, because I'm probably going to kill you'.

Still... could he just let it stay like that? The truth was that he'd had sort of a crush on this girl from his school for a long time now. And though he'd found out tonight that she was nothing like he'd expected her to be, well... he still honestly couldn't dislike her personality, as caustic and snarky and occasionally goofy as it was. In fact, he kind of preferred her this way, nattering with her Servant and trying in vain to reconcile her Master attitude with the softer side of her personality that had led her to do a favor for a classmate in way over his head. He didn't want to fight her.

But then, he'd signed up to do just that, hadn't he?

Still, she was, very clearly, a good person, if colder than he'd expected. Fighting her... possibly killing her? It was the last thing in the world he wanted to do. "Well... even if you say that, I don't want to consider you an enemy, Tohsaka. To put it frankly, I think you're a good person, even if you try to say you're not. I really do like your personality."

It was kind of odd to watch. First Rin's eyes widened. Then her face turned red. Then she kinda looked like she'd choked on something.

Then, finally and to his dismay, she just looked angry, sighed in irritation, and began walking away from him.

"Emiya-kun." She said, without turning around. "I... appreciate that you think of me that way. I do. But to be frank, I brought you here to drill into your thick skull just how serious your situation is. This is war, and if you want to survive, you're going to have to abandon that softness and go for the throat. Even with me.

"Don't let me see you again, unless you're willing to do whatever you have to in order to survive. Because if you don't start taking this seriously, the next time we meet will be when Archer is putting an arrow between your eyes... assuming one of the other Masters doesn't end you first."

Shirou felt his stomach fall as he watched her walk away without another word. He wanted to counter her claims, talk her down... but what could he say? He had offered her an olive branch, and she had more-or-less responded by setting it on fire. As quirky as she might be, was quickly getting at least one impression about her: she got what she wanted, pursued it with drive and passion. And she wanted to win this Holy Grail War. Her kinder half had led him here, to give him a fighting chance... but that colder half to her wouldn't allow her to give him any more than that. Now he was another obstacle in the way of her own goals, and if she had to go through him...

She might. She really might.

He mused that in a perfect world, something would have happened then to drive the two of them closer together. Some sign that even though they were in a war, they didn't have to be on opposite sides. Something, anything, to show her that there was no need for the kind of coldness she was showing him. He couldn't convince her on his own, but if something could happen to show her that even an amateur like him could be of some aid to her...

The silence at the crossroads was broken only by the sound of Rin's footsteps as she walked away from him without so much as a glance back. No sign came, no great threat emerged for them to stand together against.

Rin Tohsaka walked away an enemy, and Shirou Emiya watched her go in silence.

Saber watched as well, and nodded in approval when her Master fought down his obvious urge to speak. His actions earlier, saving Rin at the cost of a Command Mantra, had left her wondering if she would need to drag him through the battles to come if she wanted to keep the two of them alive. This silence, however, spoke well of his ability to come to terms with reality to at least some degree. The War had begun, and Rin and her Archer were their enemies. There was really nothing he could do to change that fact, and he recognized this.

Perhaps there was hope for him yet.

Neir
May 21st, 2011, 05:07 PM
Huge fan of this fic, and have reviewed it on ff.net under the same name. Keep up the good work.

Spooky
May 21st, 2011, 05:07 PM
Hello, what have we here? Why, it's only one of my favorite stories! Nice to see it make it's way here.

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 05:08 PM
I came.

IT'S FINALLY HERE!

*subscribes to thread in a heartbeat*

Theocrass
May 21st, 2011, 05:12 PM
Glad to see it's finally here.

Love the fic.

Grammar, spelling, sentence flow, and narrative drive are all uniformly excellent.

The dialogue is enthralling, characterizations are awesome, and the plot itself is exceptionally compelling.

Also, I claim the honor of being Moczo's first friend here on BL.

Alulim
May 21st, 2011, 05:13 PM
It is here~ Fun times for all~

Spooky
May 21st, 2011, 05:14 PM
Also, I claim the honor of being Mozco's first friend here on BL.
How can you claim to be his friend if you can't even get his name right? :p

Theocrass
May 21st, 2011, 05:15 PM
I don't know what you're talking about. :p

Alulim
May 21st, 2011, 05:16 PM
Bear in denial.

Spooky
May 21st, 2011, 05:16 PM
I don't know what you're talking about. :p

Mmm, of course not, of course not. ;)

Theocrass
May 21st, 2011, 05:18 PM
Yeah, okay I slipped.

>_>

Shouldn't have taken my glasses off.

Alulim
May 21st, 2011, 05:20 PM
Megane bear?

Theocrass
May 21st, 2011, 05:21 PM
I'm just full o' moe.

Grant
May 21st, 2011, 05:38 PM
Only thing better would be a cat.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 05:58 PM
How can you claim to be his friend if you can't even get his name right? :p

Eh, I don't hold it against him. He reacted to my arrival on the forum as though I was the Second Coming, and that misspelling happens so often I don't even notice anymore. ^^;;;;;

Also, continuing the Marathon Posting.

Chapter 3: First Day, First Night


It was nearly morning by the time Shirou returned to his familiar home, Saber following closely behind him. Already the sky was beginning to brighten and the stars fade as the sun just barely began to hint at peeking over the horizon.

"Um..." Shirou said softly, looking at the girl in the armor and ugly raincoat. He'd been so pumped with adrenaline for most of the night that it hadn't really hit home until now that he wasn't really sure what to do with her. I mean, 'save the people endangered by the War' is all well and good to say, but I know only the basics here. I don't know anything about Saber at all, or what a Servant needs to survive. I know from Tohsaka that she needs mana, but what about food, water, sleep? Oh, man, where is she going to sleep? And what will she wear? That armor's not going to cut it. And I certainly need to find someplace to hide her during the times that Fuji-nee is here... Oh, god, he didn't even want to think about what Taiga would say. His unofficial guardian/big sister might not have been the best adult, but she could be a surprisingly serious teacher and she would not be happy to find a girl she'd never met staying over at his house unsupervised. He didn't think Sakura would be a problem, at least, but one bright spot among a sea of blackness was not a huge comfort to-

"Master?" The quiet girl asked, interrupting his reverie upon noticing that her summoner had begun to speak and then trailed off into oblivion without saying anything. "Are you, perhaps, ill? You went the night without sleep, and the weather is quite cool."

"Er, no. I was just thinking about what to do next." Shirou said in a slightly embarrassed tone. "Sorry, I wasn't trying to make you worry."

"That is perfectly all right. Strategy is important; my only complaint is that you should consult me as well, Master. We can spend a few hours now outlining a basic strategy for the early phases of the War and outlining what routes we'll patrol through the city tonight, rest through most of the day, and begin hunting the other Masters at nightfall. If you have a map of the city and nearby locations of interest, we can try to determine where other Masters have been active and..."

"Er... actually, I was more thinking things along the lines of 'would you like something to eat'?"

"Yes." Saber said, so quickly the word seemed to snap in and out of the air in an instant.

"... oh. I wasn't sure that Heroic Spirits," She's a Heroic Spirit? Really? "Actually ate food or not..."

"We do." Saber said, once again far too quickly. "In fact, with you unable to transfer mana to me, food will be a good way to maintain my strength, Master. Please provide meals often."

"Heh..." Shirou said. It was harder to really tell when she was being somber and serious, but when she was like this, clearly chomping at the bit for a simple breakfast and trying to disguise it, well... she was kind of adorable. "Well then, I guess I'll get cooking. We can have that strategy meeting you mentioned over an early breakfast, how does that sound?"

"Perfectly acceptable, Master." Saber said, clearly happier than she'd been since her summoning.

"Oh, and you don't have to call me 'Master'. I mean... I saw you against Lancer, last night. I would have died, and you saved me. There's no way I could win this War without you, so look at me as your partner, all right? Call me Shirou."

Saber blinked, briefly taken aback, before smiling softly. "Very well... I like the sound of that better, yes. Shirou."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"We should have killed them." Archer said calmly.

"He saved my life, I saved his." Rin said stubbornly, brushing out her hair in front of the mirror in her bedroom. "We're even, now."

"So? Why exactly do we need to be even with him?" Archer asked.

"Because maybe you can just go around being in debt to people, but I can't tolerate that sort of thing." Rin said flatly. "If I'd killed him yesterday, I would have been in debt to him for the rest of my life with no way to pay it back. It would drive me crazy. Today, I owe him nothing and I can face him as a Master."

Archer sighed. Well, it wasn't like he hadn't been expecting this. He knew better than anyone how difficult Rin could be to reason with if she got weird ideas into her head. The same passion that made her excel in all aspects of her life also made her stick relentlessly with the ideas she latched onto, even when they made no sense. "I suppose you are the Master, so I'll obey you. But you'll need to be more ruthless than this if you want to win, you know."

"... I know. And if we face him again, I won't show any mercy." Rin said softly. She honestly had nothing against Emiya, really. But if he'd wanted a long, healthy life, he should have bowed out of the War when he'd had the chance. That said... "But I won't be actively hunting him down, either. I have more important concerns."

"The boundary field at the school." Archer said, anticipating her next statement.

"And the gas leaks." Rin agreed. "They're both Servants, though I don't think the same one. The 'gas leaks' haven't killed anyone yet, while that abomination at school will eat anyone inside it when it becomes active. They just seem too different to be the work of the same person."

"If I had to guess, I'd say the fake gas leaks are Caster's work. Drawing power from so many large groups of people in rapid succession would require a great magic, and a Servant qualified to be Caster could manage something along those lines." Archer said. "Though I'm not sure how. According to the news there was another last night, but I couldn't detect anything. She might be casting her spells from a distance, but in that case she shouldn't be making back enough energy to make it worthwhile. It's a puzzle." It wasn't a puzzle. Caster had constructed her Temple around the Leyline at Ryudou Temple to get around the energy cost. But he couldn't exactly let Rin know that he knew that without giving her far too many hints as to who he was; he would have to subtly direct her to that conclusion in such a manner that she believed she'd reached it on her own.

"I'm more worried about the school, anyway. People are at greater risk there. As long as Caster's Master holds their Servant back from actually killing anyone, they can be content to be Target #2."

Archer shrugged. "Whatever you decide, Master. Now, since it's Sunday, maybe you should get a little sleep? You were up all night."

"That was the idea." Rin agreed. "I'll catch a few hours of rest, and we can head out tonight to check out the situation around town, then head into school and drain however many sigils we can find for that boundary field. Tomorrow we start our hunt for the ones behind it in earnest."

"Very well. In that case, I'll go into spirit form so you can get some rest." Archer said, preparing to dematerialize.

"Archer?" Rin said, still looking into the mirror as she brushed out her long black locks in preparation for sleep.

"Yes, Rin?"

"How did you know Caster is a woman?"

Halfway through his dematerialization, Archer froze. "Excuse me?"

"You called Caster a 'she'. 'She might be casting her spells from a great distance'. What makes you think Caster is a woman? We've never encountered Caster or... her... Master." She sounded curious, but he had little doubt she was readying one of her remaining Command Seals. Just in case she didn't like his answer.

Dammit. Perceptive little thing, isn't she? Archer thought, a cold feeling in his gut. He hadn't meant to do that, and he couldn't exactly explain himself with, 'because I saw her the last time I went through this War. Talented Magus, very attractive woman, but unfortunately also kind of nuts'. If she knew he was someone involved in the current War, a hero from the future rather than the past, well, there were only so many people he could be. Fortunately, years of constant struggle had left him with the ability to stay cool under pressure. And perhaps more importantly, the ability to lie like a dog.

"It just slipped out that way, really. Hmmm... well, we don't know who I really am. Maybe Caster is someone I knew in my first life, and her magic sparked some subconscious reaction?" He said. There... enough truth to it that it sounded genuine without really telling Rin anything at all; Kotomine would be proud. He had known Caster in his first life, it just hadn't been Caster's first life. And her activities had sparked a memory, it was just that memory had been freely available beforehand and just happened to be 'Oh, I guess Caster's already gotten started on her soul-stealing. I guess she was summoned pretty early compared to most of the others, so that makes sense'.

"... oh. Okay, then." Rin said, apparently satisfied with this. "Well, if that's the case then maybe actually seeing her will jog your memory even more. I would like to know what Hero I'm partnered with eventually."

Archer smiled. He really, really couldn't resist this sometimes... "All right, then, but we shouldn't be too confident. I mean, it could just as easily be that I saw how sadistic and vindictive this soul-stealing is and just subconsciously assumed that the one responsible must be a cold and bitter woman like my own Mast-"

The pain of her hairbrush smacking him between the eyes was completely worth it just to see Rin turn as red as her favorite shirt.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He hadn't been sure what to make for Saber, so he'd gone simple. Western food, not his speciality but it was an easy dish: toast and sunny-side up eggs, two slices and two eggs for each of them.

She had inhaled it.

So, realizing he'd underestimated how hungry she was, he'd given her half of his own breakfast while he went to make more.

It was gone before he reached the kitchen.

Taking this as a challenge, he'd gotten into the fridge and broken out the big guns. Taking out the rice, some leftover tofu, cheese, spices, and his remaining eggs, he had constructed what could technically be called an 'omelet with fried rice' and could more realistically be called a 'breakfast monster'. Forget Saber; this would feed his entire family with enough left over to make lunches for himself and two friends of his choice. Fuji-nee could not finish this. He served himself a small portion, and gave Saber the rest of his ultimate weapon.

She demolished it. There was... maybe enough left for a small meal later, but she devoured the vast majority. Shirou wondered, vaguely, if his income was in any way enough to pay for having this walking black hole in his kitchen during mealtimes. Fuji-nee could put away enough for three people, and even Sakura ate more than her appearance would suggest, but he was pretty sure Saber had them both beat by a solid margin.

"Ah..." The petite (Petite? Try tiny!Where the Hell does all the food go?) blond sighed, smiling in satisfaction. "Wonderful. I was hoping for a passable meal at best considering the early hour, but you are an amazing chef, Shirou. I believe these living arrangements will be quite sufficient if the food continues to be of this quality."

The Holy Grail War is going to be murder on my bank account if she expects this much at every meal... Shirou thought dryly. Still, no cook would be completely unhappy to have such an appreciative audience, so he merely said, "I'm glad you liked it. I'll do my best to keep living up to your standards, though I'm sure I'm no match for whatever chefs an Epic Hero must have had..."

Saber shuddered and very pointedly did not look him in the eyes. "No, no... you are better. So, so much better..." She said in a haunted tone.

After a few moments of silence, Shirou decided to break the awkward chill that had fallen over the room, as if all the life had been sucked from the air. "So... we didn't actually get any strategy work done, did we?"

Saber's eyes widened, and she... god, she blushed. Not much, but a little, and she even smiled in a slightly goofy manner. "Er... yes, well... it is difficult to think when hungry, and the food was excellent so... I may have lost track of what we were doing..."

Adorable. She's totally adorable. This is completely unfair. Shirou thought, feeling his own cheeks redden slightly.

"That's all right. I'm used to not sleeping much, so we can plan for little bit before I turn in. Though really... when I say 'planning' I guess I really mean that I could use a crash course on all the little details. I mean, I don't know what hero you are, what capabilities you have, why you're after the Holy Grail, who that Lancer guy really was, how to spot other Masters..."

"Senpai! Are you awake? I know it's a little early but there's a new recipe I wanted to try!" Called a familiar, cheerful voice from the entrance.

"... where we're going to put you so that Sakura doesn't freak out on seeing a girl in armor sitting in my kitchen!" Shirou said, though no longer quite so calmly.

"Intruder?" Saber questioned. Wind seemed to pick up inside the kitchen as she prepared that invisible sword she'd used against Lancer.

"No! No, not intruder, don't kill!" Shirou said in just a tiny panic. "Er... look, we can't let her see you like this. Out the window, loop west around the building, climb into the guest room. Fuji-nee sometimes leaves a spare set of clothes for when she mooches off my charity, it will be too big for you but..."

In a soft rain of silver light, Saber armor and gauntlets dissolved to leave her in only the blue dress beneath them.

"... or you could do that." The dress still did not look exactly like 'normal' clothes, it was much too elaborate, but it would be easier to explain away than full armor. Of course... "But you should still leave, since I can't really explain a girl without armor much better than one with it and she'll be here-"

Now. Crap.

"Oh, you are up early!" Sakura said warmly, poking her head into the kitchen. The room seemed to get sunnier with her smile; Sakura Matou just had that sort of effect on the world. The younger sister of his middle-school friend, Shinji, Sakura was his kohai at school and a sort of surrogate little sister at everything else. And while he and Shinji had drifted apart, he and Sakura had only gotten closer over the years as she stopped by to help around the house on a near-daily basis. He'd never really been sure exactly what had prompted the visits to start; he'd injured himself, and she'd just started showing up, all attempts to dissuade her meeting with total failure. What mattered now was that she'd become such a staple at the Emiya house that Shirou really couldn't imagine life without her stopping by every day anymore; she was as much family as Fuji-nee at this point. "Aw, and you made breakfast already? I was looking forward... to..."

Sakura's voice trailed off as her eyes locked onto the girl in the fancy blue dress sitting at the table in front of the empty plates. Her smile disappeared. The sunniness went away. "S-senpai...?"

"Yes, Sakura?" He asked, as though nothing were odd about the situation at all. Maybe... maybe if he didn't say anything about Saber, Sakura wouldn't ask. Hey, it could happen!

"Senpai... there is a girl in the kitchen." Sakura said, softly. Her tone did not sound approving.

Oh, Hell. Shirou thought. "... er. Yes. That's true." Smooth, Emiya. Smooth.

"Why is she there, Senpai?"

"Well, she..."

"And why wasn't she here yesterday? I left with Fujimura-sensei fairly late in the evening. When, exactly, did she arrive, the middle of the night? Or were you out with her all night, without telling m- us?"

"Er... actually, y-"

"And does Fujimura-sensei know about this? As much as I cannot approve of this, she will disapprove even more." Sakura said firmly.

God, she's pissed, isn't she? Shirou thought painfully. She was far too polite and quiet to be anything but furious.

"Look, Sakura, it's not like that." He said, trying his hardest to salvage this somehow.

"Not like what, Senpai?"

"Not like whatever you're thinking!" Shirou said. "She's just a friend of Kiritsugu, that's all. She showed up last night to see him, and, well... you know. And I couldn't just leave her on her own after that!" Come on, Saber, play along... He thought. He'd made sure to call his dad by name, so that she could pretend to actually know him, but he couldn't be sure she'd pick up that she was supposed to in time...

Sakura did not look convinced. "She came to see him in the middle of the night?"

"I am from out of the country, as you could probably tell." Saber said calmly. "I am unused to travelling, and did not calculate my arrival time correctly. Shirou was quite helpful... I was shocked to hear of Kiritsugu's passing, and not sure where I would have stayed had he not offered me a room."

Good job, Saber! Shirou thought firmly.

"I... see." Sakura said. Her expression was still dark, but she seemed to have, if not agreed to Saber's presence, at least noted that she had no grounds to refuse it. "Well, I guess that... I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."

"Saber." Shirou said automatically, and immediately began kicking himself mentally. Just Saber? Really? Who would believe that was a person's name?

"... Saber?" Sakura said.

"It is a family name." Saber said in a perfect deadpan.

We're doomed. Shirou thought.

"... ah. Well... I... suppose I have no real cause to ask that you leave... Saber-san." Sakura said slowly.

... really? Shirou thought. That's... good! That's a good thing!

"So I'll wait here and see what Fujimura-sensei has to say. If she says that you can stay here, I guess that I can't really say anything." Sakura said.

Crap. Fuji-nee. Shirou thought blankly. He stood up.

"Shirou?" Saber asked. "What is wrong?"

"I need to make more breakfast." Shirou said. "Maybe if I distract her with food she won't think too hard."

It turned out, shortly, that food was not in fact enough to completely distract Taiga from a girl in the room, though it took her nearly seventeen minutes to notice. Luckily, however, Fuji-nee wasn't as good at arguing as Sakura, so if Sakura hadn't been able to find a real reason to deny Saber a room...

"ABSOLUTELY NOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!" Taiga roared.

... Fuji-nee would just deny her without a reason.

It was possible that this would be a long day.


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Oh, God.

Oh, God.

Why? Why? Why? Why?

The girl. The beautiful one he'd called his 'father's friend'.

Fujimura-sensei, in the end, had not turned the girl away. Sakura had never really expected her to do so, though a small part of her had hoped she would; leave it to Fujimura-sensei to base her room-and-board decisions on a shinai duel... of course, the same thing that made Taiga accept Saber into the household was merely one more sign to Sakura how dangerous the girl truly was.

She was lucky that Senpai had merely thought her dislike of the girl to be jealousy. The truth was, after all, worse... even if her display of swordsmanship against Taiga had not been far too skilled to be truly human, Sakura could still taste the true nature of the girl. She certainly felt closer to human than the other Servant Sakura had met in person, but the aura of power would have been unmistakable even if Senpai hadn't been so foolish as to introduce her as 'Saber'.

In spite of herself, Sakura smiled fondly through her worry. Oh, Senpai, you really do have no talent for these things at all, do you? Sakura herself would have taken care, if she couldn't astalize the Servant as he apparently could not, to only feed her in a side-room, place some kind of visual obstacles in the path to make it appear the wing she was staying in was under renovations, and on the off-chance someone did encounter her, give her a convincing pseudonym to go by. And to be frank, that was still pretty pathetic by Magus standards; it didn't even do anything about the girl's unusual dress (She decided then to loan Saber some clothing, in an effort to keep the girl and Senpai even slightly more off-the-radar. It wasn't much, but it was the most she could do on short notice). Yet Senpai had never even thought to take such simple precautions.

She liked that. Senpai's honesty was... cute. His sincerity shone like the sun. Particularly when he was trying not to be sincere and doing so very, very badly.

Unfortunately, her brief good mood faded as she recalled what Senpai was badly lying to her about. A Servant. The girl with him was a Servant and that made Senpai a Master. He was involved in that awful war and he could... he...

She couldn't even bring her mind to form the grim thought, and settled for 'he was in serious danger'. He was no Magus, not like the other competitors. At the least grandfather had told her that he wouldn't be getting involved in the current war; Senpai would have no chance against Zouken Matou. And her own brother was... he did not have Senpai's presence, to put it mildly. Her first impressions of Saber were limited, but she did not think Rider could beat her with Shinji in possession of her contract.

But the other Masters were monsters, enough to make even Grandfather, the most powerful and horrifying person she knew, decide to avoid getting involved.

And he'd said, almost as an afterthought, that the favorite to win this time was the Heir of Tohsaka. At the time it had only made Sakura feel slightly... off. She wasn't sure what to call the emotion, honestly. Now? It just made her feel terrified.

Of course... why wouldn't she be the top ranked Master? She's more talented than anyone. Sakura thought. Of course she's going to win. And if she fights Senpai to do it...

Sakura's training had not been traditional by any means, but she knew that Masters in the Holy Grail War were not known for showing mercy to one another.

For just the briefest of moments, something dark flashed behind the young girl's violet eyes as a tiny burst... less than a second... of something cold and vicious ran through her mind at the thought of the shining, perfect girl who she'd always watched from a distance, and who might very well be killing the man she loved. And of the polite, angelic blond Servant who had put him in a position to be hurt so in the first place...


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In his crypt, Zouken smiled. The worms throughout the chamber increased their repulsive writhing in sensitivity to his emotions, continuing to slither towards him and burrow into his ankles and legs.

He had made the decision to become involved in the War the previous day, and immediately told Sakura the exact opposite. For all her talk of the Emiya boy's lack of skill at deception, it never occurred to her that perhaps she was also being deceived. And why would it? For starters, Zouken did not commonly lie to her: he didn't need to. Zouken forced her to do what he wanted her to do, and therefore had no reason to resort to deception. If he'd wanted her to enter the War as a Master, he could simply make her, and the fact that he had not done so was sufficient proof to her that he was honest about not getting personally involved.

Silly girl. He wondered how long it would be before she realized that she had a far, far greater destiny than to act as a mere Master. And he wondered even more how long it would be before she realized that it had been the second half of their brief conversation that had actually been important. The few statements carefully calculated to drive her thoughts... and animosity... just slightly in the direction of the Tohsaka girl.

The thing about the girl was that as broken as she might seem to anyone who saw her in the midst of 'training', she really wasn't. Not deep down, not on the most fundamental level, not broken how he needed her to break. As ragged and shattered as her surface personality was, there still existed some core essence that simply would not falter and would brook no intrusion into the territory of her mind and soul. While impressive, and what allowed her to withstand the training and alterations needed for her ultimate purpose, it also made her basically useless to him unless he could circumvent it in time. And unfortunately, a decade of the most heinous methods he could imagine had not pierced this final bastion of inner strength, and he could devise some truly, deeply heinous methods.

So he had tried another venue. If it would not break to external attack, make her break it herself from within.

Hope was one weakness, which the Emiya boy had so kindly instilled. Jealousy was another, which Rin Tohsaka had inspired and Zouken himself had inflamed. And now the source of the jealousy was leading her to fear for the source of the hope, that terror becoming a third weakness all of her own creation.

Not much of a reaction, really. The tiniest, most imperceptible of cracks in the armor. But he could work with that.

Now, perhaps it was time he looked up that Summoning ritual again and became directly involved in events for the first time in centuries. All Seven cards had already been pulled, of course, but there were always loopholes. He'd be sure to thank Caster later for creating such a huge one for him to exploit.

She'd be dead, so he doubted she'd appreciate the thanks, but it never hurt to be polite.


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Shirou and Saber walked through the night, mostly in silence.

It had been a long day, but they had eventually managed to come to a reasonable term for their living arrangements. Saber would be staying in the guest room, much to her annoyance, but Sakura and especially Fuji-nee had been painfully insistent. And so Shirou found himself hosting a slumber party.

Still, at least Taiga and Sakura were apparently both deep sleepers, because according to Saber they had not reacted in the slightest when she had gotten up and left the room to find Shirou. (She was half-right... Taiga had indeed just kept on snoring. Sakura had winced and bitten her lip so hard she nearly drew blood at the implications of the Servant leaving in the middle of the night).

Shirou cast his new Servant a sideways glance. Rather than wear her armor, which she claimed she could materialize as easily as she dematerialized it, she had elected to wear the simple clothing Sakura had provided her after stating that her normal dress was too nice for everyday wear; a white sweater and a deep purple skirt that reached slightly past her knees. It was a plain, elegant outfit that suited her well, though for some reason Shirou couldn't help but think she looked better in blue.

And he also noticed that it was slightly too big for her and disguised her body almost completely. He'd noticed that Sakura didn't really seem to like Saber and wondered if perhaps this was done on purpose, but couldn't see why. If if had inconvenienced her in some way, that would be one thing. But all it did was hide her figure fr...

Oh. Oh.

Taking his realization of one possible reason that Sakura wouldn't want him looking at another girl's body and repressing the Hell out of it, Shirou picked up his pace slightly so Saber could not see him blush. Girls were complicated.

The duo had decided to be proactive in this Holy Grail War... Saber had informed him that nearly all of the odd incidents on the news, the gas leaks and murders alike, had most likely been the doing of other Masters. Shirou had decided that their strategy for at least the early parts of the War should be to let the other Masters deal with each other however they liked, while he and Saber focused on hunting down and defeating the ones who were hurting innocent people. He'd been expecting her to take the pragmatic approach, and encourage him to go after any Master who made themselves an easy target... but she had smiled warmly and said she approved of this tactic, and appreciated his confidence in her. He wasn't sure how she could think he wouldn't have confidence in her, having seen her both drive off an enemy who had effortlessly defeated Shirou himself and shrug off a spear through the chest in literally seconds, but Shirou found her approval reassuring. Particularly in the face of the things Kotomine had said to him the previous night about his wish...

It's nothing like that. It's not a wish for people to be in danger. It's a wish for nobody to ever be in danger. To be the kind of hero who can create a world that doesn't need heroes. Impossible in the end, but I can keep pursuing it because I know it to be a pure wish...

... because if it wasn't, this holy girl with a presence like wind over clear water would not have smiled at me.

"Shirou?" Saber asked curiously. "Is something wrong? Your pace has slowed considerably."

"Eh? No, just thinking."

"Focus on the task at hand, Shirou." Saber chided him. "An enemy could be around any corner. Planning ahead is good, but not if you lose sight of your surroundings in the process."

Shirou chuckled, wondering vaguely how she'd react if he told her that he had actually not been thinking about their patrol at all. Would she "Well, at this point I almost hope so. We've been walking for a long time and so far..."

A blood-curdling sound pierced the still of the night; a woman's scream, a shriek of pure terror. And then, just as suddenly as it had emerged, it stopped, cut off mid-cry.

Shirou knew it was impossible considering how far away the scream had been, but he felt he could smell blood on the air, and something else sickeningly sweet, like rotting honey...

This was... this was it. This was the moment. The moment where he either finally lived up to his ideals, or not. A real danger, a real life at stake. Someone needed his protection.

God, he was scared, but the thought that someone else might die if he did nothing was so, so much worse than the thought that he might be killed himself...!

In a flash of silver, Saber stood armed and armored. "That was very near, Shirou! Follow m-"

She blinked in confusion at the realization that Shirou had already begun sprinting in the direction of the scream, leaving her behind in a mad rush. Luckily, she was much faster than him, so it didn't matter much, but she would have to talk to him later. His tendency to run out in front of her was simply not good tactics.
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Shinji Matou, blood heir of the most noble line of Matou magi, smiled in satisfaction and closed the book.

His Servant was a pretty thing, but he hadn't been certain she was really all they were supposed to be. Certainly, she was stronger than a normal person, but not to the degree he'd been expecting. But now, seeing her like this... dark against the darkness, her violet hair thrashing almost of its own accord as she clamped onto the dying, futilely struggling figure in her arms? She was exactly the sort of monster he'd wanted.

The girl was nothing, a nobody, a random person too stupid to stay inside at night while a murderer was roaming the streets. Young, a student most likely, though not one Shinji recognized. It made sense... kids always thought they were immortal until someone proved otherwise. Rider had stalked her for some time until she'd made the mistake of cutting through this secluded area. When the Servant had made her move, it had been both simultaneously thrilling and somehow almost too easy. The kid had time for one scream before Rider's fangs sank into her throat and began to extract blood... and with it, something far more precious.

Shinji watched in delight as the girl's struggles ceased. No, more than ceased... her eyes rolled back in her head, her arms wrapped around Rider's waist and she began to gasp softly in time to Rider's drawing on her lifeblood. He almost laughed out loud... Rider was eating her soul, and she was enjoying it! How entertaining. If having this much power over the life and death of one insignificant little insect was so empowering, he could only imagine what it would be like when the surprise he had planned at his school was finally ready...

Rider dropped the woman to the ground like so much garbage and leaped backwards to stand directly in front of him. "Company, Master."

He was briefly annoyed at the interruption... he had been enjoying the show, thank you very much!... but his good mood was quickly restored by the sight of who it was coming to see him. A girl in silver armor, veeeerrrrrry pretty, and...

"Emiya! Hey, man, nice to see you. Nice night for a walk, am I right?" Shinji said jovially, as if they'd run into each other while out on a jog rather than meeting over a soon-to-be corpse.

"Sh... Shinji?" Emiya gasped, his eyes wide in shock. Shinji tried and failed to suppress a chuckle. The big doof was clueless as always. "That woman is..."

"Oh, you mean Rider?" Shinji said, still with the same air of casual cheerfulness. "Yeah, she's mine. And I guess that's yours, huh? Man, who'd have thought that you of all people would be in the War with me? This must be fate, us meeting like this."

Emiya's eyes narrowed. "Shinji... this girl, her soul... almost all of it has been drained out. She's dying, and your Servant did it?"

"Eh? Oh, yeah, Rider needed food, and souls are the best energy source for a Servant. It's no big deal, all the Masters do it. If you think this is bad, you should see what the Witch up on the mountain has been pulling! But knowing you, I guess even this little thing is going to make you go all crazy?" Shinji said, sighing in annoyance. "It's a shame you saw this... I might have been willing to work with you for a little bit, but I don't think that will be happening now."

"Saber." Emiya said. "Deal with the Servant. If I get that girl out of here she might still survive, so..."

"Understood, Master." Saber said without the slightest hesitation. "I will cover your retreat... and cut down your enemy."

Rider, who had been standing silently as a statue throughout the entire exchange, wiped the last drops of blood from her lips and crouched like a snake about to strike. "Master?"

"Well, this is good in a way, I guess. I wanted to see what you could really do." Shinji said, his easy smile going cold and ugly. "Kill them both, Rider."


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Shirou made a flying leap to the prone girl, wrapping her in his arms and dragging her from the battlefield as quickly as he possibly could. He was running on adrenaline, righteous anger at Shinji, and pure shrieking terror for his life, and it let him basically just pick the girl up bodily and simply sprint her out of the line of fire.

It turned out he didn't really have to bother, when he deposited her in the nearest cover he could find (thank god they were in a park, trees were better than nothing); neither Servant had been paying him the slightest bit of attention.

Rider was fast, impossibly so; she was darting through the park like a black shooting star, so quickly his eyes could barely follow her. She would attack, retreat, and attack again from a different angle all in the space of a heartbeat. To make matters worse, her weapon was truly insane, a bizarre whip of some... no, two nails attached by a length of chain that whirled around her madly with only slight motions of her arms to attack from unpredictable angles and then be drawn almost instantly back to her hands.

But that only made Saber all the more impressive. Unable to match her opponent in agility, she had planted her feet and was repelling each and every one of those wild strikes as if she could see the future and simple knew where they would fall. Rider darted around her, mixing strikes from distance melee, yet Saber met each and every attack and pushed it back, her sword repelling the chain with seemingly no more effort than it took Rider to make the flicks of her wrist needed to send it whirling.

Shirou and Shinji both watched spellbound when they really should have been doing something productive. It was hard to blame them, really. Neither had that much experience with anything so dangerously beautiful as the almost dancelike grace of the two women as they fought. Which, of course, just made the end a greater shock.

Saber, with a single smooth motion, used her sword to tap the whirling chain so that the nail aimed for her throat instead impaled itself in the ground. Before Rider could pull it free, she stomped onto it with her armored boot and used the impact to lunge. Rider, temporarily halted in mid-dash by the sudden pressure on her weapon, was caught flat-footed.

It became obvious to Shirou, then, what had actually happened. The effortless grace with which Saber had executed her counterattack told him that this had never even been a fight: Saber had been taking Rider's measure and found it wanting. The black-clad Servant had failed to kill her in these many attacks, and now the first counter would also be Saber's last offensive of the duel.

Or rather, it should have been...


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It all came back to yesterday night.

Just a few differences, really. Archer had escaped his confrontation with Saber unharmed thanks to Shirou's own heroic instincts working against him; expending a Command Seal to save Rin.

And thanks to Shirou's own kindness working against him, Ilya had withdrawn without any sort of attack against either him or Rin.

Had Archer been wounded, Rin could not have gone on patrol this night. And had Rin bonded with Shirou against a common enemy, it was more likely that even if they hadn't joined forces, she would have chosen to ignore him completely rather than simply not actively hunting him. But she had gone on patrol, and from their vantage point on one of the taller buildings in town, Archer's impressive vision had detected Rider attacking a woman nearly five miles away. They had gone to intervene, and taking up position on a smaller but more convenient building less than a mile from the park, they had arrived in time to see that Shirou Emiya and Saber had beaten them to the punch.

Rin had elected not to make Emiya her priority, but she could hardly ignore him when he went around openly challenging other Masters in the middle of town, nor could she simply walk away from such a tempting target. Two of her enemies, distracted and unaware of her presence, and her with both the ultimate sniping position and the ultimate sniper...

"Can you get them both from here?" Rin asked.

Archer smiled softly and drew back his bowstring, the silver arrow shining in his grip. "I think I can manage."

"Just the Servants, remember. Emiya's a moron and Shinji's a weasel, but I'm supposed to be the one keeping people from dying in magical catastrophes in this town." Rin said.

"I'll try, but you remember that any attack able to kill two Servants from this distance will cause immense collateral damage. I promise nothing. Particularly with you distracting me and throwing off my aim." Archer said teasingly.

"Some great marksman you are." Rin grumbled. "Fine, fine. If you kill someone human, I'll accept it was an accident and only punish you with medium harshness."

"Why does that make my blood cold? Your medium harshness sounds like it could kill a normal person." Archer said with a small grin.

"Just take the shot, smartass."

His smile widening at the blush he knew she was wearing even without looking, he turned his body so that Rin could not see his weapon through his back. Almost immediately, the arrow in his grip changed. The silver tip extended, a hilt appeared, the shaft twisted around itself into a spiral...

His smile got even wider, and took on a distinctly predatory aspect as he viewed the ongoing battle below and almost a mile away from him down the length of his newly projected sword.

You're too soft, Rin. You said this morning you said you were willing to kill him, but when the opportunity comes up it's suddenly 'just the Servants'. Well, be thankful you have me here to pick up the slack and be ruthless enough for both of us. He thought, holding the sword-arrow at the ready. The two Servants needed to die for Rin to win this War, which despite everything else he did genuinely want. Shinji... he remembered Shinji well enough to know that only Sakura would miss him, and that his death would be doing her a favor despite this misplaced affection. No reason to spare that one. As for Emiya, well, that was personal.

With them that close together, a properly aimed shot could likely kill all four in one go, a perfect opportunity. Yes, things had turned out much better than he'd been hoping, he could say that much. Of course, Rin most likely wouldn't be amused when he killed the Masters along with the Servants. Despite her... dubious reassurance, she would probably make his life a living Hell. Assuming he still had a life after Shirou Emiya's death.

Ah, well. If he was still alive after that, then all of this was pointless and he was doomed to much worse than anything Rin could dish out, so it didn't really matter.

Holding the newly projected sword, complete with the modifications to design that would make it an effective arrow, Archer took aim again. He leveled the Noble Phantasm called Caladbolg, or at least his recreation of it, at the assembled figures in the distance. Then with another effort of will, he plunged his mind into the magnificent harmony of steel and fire inherent in the masterwork weapon... and Broke it. Barely restrained power began to hum in the readied arrow-sword as it became dangerously unstable, awaiting only a target to die against. Good-bye, Ladies and Gentlemen. Well... ladies, gentleman, and Shinji.

I am the bone of my sword...

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 05:59 PM
Chapter Four: Opening Salvo

Shirou didn't know how he knew.

One moment Saber was on the verge of an easy win and they were one step closer to saving that woman, the next his blood ran cold in his veins and the world seemed to fall into slow motion. He could see it.

The sword, glittering in the moonlight. The red knight, smiling coldly as he prepared to fire. He knew there was no way he could be able to see this, see Archer taking aim from so far away, but he could as plain as day. He heard something, yet didn't hear it at the same time, and knew that whatever it was he'd... heard? Not heard? He didn't even know his own thoughts anymore... he knew that whatever it was, it was dangerous. Very, very dangerous.

I... ... ... my sword...

It sounded like gibberish, and yet for some reason...

"Saber!" he shouted. "Get back!"

Saber didn't know what had Shirou so worried, but her Master sounded openly terrified and he had been rather good at maintaining his cool until now, so she decided ignoring him was not wise. Shifting the angle of what had been meant to be her killing stroke, she forced mana into her legs, and instead smashed her sword into the portion of Rider's weapon that the other Servant was still holding, using her entire body to push herself backwards as hard as she could. If there was something dangerous approaching her current, position, then she needed to not only move but get Shirou out of the way quickly. The violet-haired Servant, recognizing that something was wrong, followed suit, retreating towards Shinji and grabbing him at a greater speed than Saber herself could manage. Still, they both managed to scoop up their respective Masters and begin dragging them away from the central battlefield, and...

They very nearly made all the way out of the blast radius before Archer's attack detonated.

-------------------------------

Ilya breathed a sigh of relief. As she looked at the blast through the eyes of a nearby tree. He was alive, his Servant having gotten him mostly to safety and absorbing what damage she couldn't avoid.

Er... not that she cared, really. She'd probably kill him herself! It was just that... well... she didn't want to do it yet. She was curious, that was all. He hadn't been anything like what she expected, and so she didn't want to kill him until she found out why that was.

Ilya was, to put it mildly, a naive girl. She believed people when they spoke to her; all people, really. She simply took it as fact that nobody would say anything that wasn't the truth, because it was just common sense to only say things that were true. If it wasn't true, why say it? That was why Kiritsugu had hurt her so deeply... when he'd told her that he would come back to her, she had believed, totally and without the slightest reservation. And then he hadn't come back. Grandpapa had told her why; he had found another child, one he cared for more than her. He had abandoned her because he was coldhearted and evil, and he had realized that the Einzbern family would not allow him to corrupt Ilya after his betrayal in the Fourth Grail War, so he had simply left her behind like trash so he could mold some other child into his twisted image. And she had believed that too, because Kiritsugu... papa... wasn't there. If he were a good person, if he loved her, wouldn't he have been there?

Now, though, she was starting to wonder. She knew that someone involved in the Kiritsugu situation had deceived her, but she was starting to wonder who, exactly, it was. The boy had smiled at her even when she wasn't doing anything at all, and his eyes were warm and gentle. Papa's eyes had been like that sometimes; mostly they looked empty, or sad, but sometimes they'd been gentle when he played with her, or when he looked at mama. It made her feel warm inside, and did not really match what her family had told her about him... about either of them.

Grandpapa only smiled when he spoke of the Holy Grail, and his eyes were like the pictures she'd seen of sharks. When he spoke to her, it was to instruct her in her training or to preach the philosophy of the Einzbern family. He was cold, as cold as the forests around the old castle. Even in the summer the chill hung in the air...

She hadn't known the boy long, but the more she learned of the outside world, the more she was getting the impression that even if he was evil, he was probably still less evil than Grandpapa.

It required further observation. So she wouldn't kill him, and she wouldn't let him die. Not until she knew for sure what he was truly like. The truth was very, very important to Ilyasviel; she always told it, and she expected everyone else to do the same. If she found out that Kiritsugu had been the one telling the truth, and that Grandpapa had been lying to her, she would be very cross indeed.

But now this. She had wanted to follow him, observe him, maybe even talk to him if she could work up the courage. And when he'd gone into battle, she had held back despite the overwhelming urge to involve herself because she didn't want him to know she was a Master, not yet. Masters fought Masters, always. To really know what he was like, she needed to see how he reacted to her, not the Master of Berserker. She would never get to know him if he was on guard against her (And no, that wasn't lying to him! She wasn't going to tell him she wasn't a Master! She just... wouldn't bring the subject up! That might have been cheating a little, but it was still okay, she was pretty sure!). Fortunately, even an idiot could tell that Saber would defeat Rider; Rider's Master was possibly the lowliest, most pathetic human being she had ever seen, a perfect example of how thoroughly the Makiri had rotted over the years.

Kiritsugu's boy was, from what she had seen, adorably helpless. A kitten without his Servant. The mischievous part of her had been fighting the urge for some time to sneak up and halt his motor functions with her magic, just to tease him a bit and giggle at how cute and hopeless he was. But even someone as weak as he was could deal with that slime so long as Saber was by his side.

Then Rin Tohsaka had to stick her big nose into Ilya's business, and her Archer was very, very strange, and Ilya was starting to get worried that someone might kill her boy before she decided if she wanted to kill him herself or not...

-------------------------------

His ears ringing, Shirou blinked a few times to clear his vision. Even with her armor, she didn't weigh all that much, but he was feeling awfully sore and Saber on top of him wasn't helping. He still felt a jab of relief when she opened her eyes to gaze into his, however.

"Are you all right?" The Master and Servant asked in unison.

"... you were between me and the blast." Shirou said.

"... I'm harder to hurt than you, and my armor took most of the shrapnel. What happened?" She asked, Rider largely forgotten.

"I... Archer. Tohsaka's Archer just tried to... he attacked us. I think he was firing from that building, over..." he said, scanning the skyline, "There. The office building... the only one in that row of buildings that doesn't have any lights on in any of the windows. Must have chosen it because it was vacant..."

Saber stood and helped her Master to his feet. "How did you know which building they are-" Before she finished the sentence, she suddenly spun in place, the wind howling as her sword snapped through the air to smash aside an incoming silver flash, then another, then another...

Shirou watched in awe. The arrows... and they were arrows, he could see when they hit the ground after she intercepted them... were moving like bullets, visible only because of their size and the way they reflected the streetlights. And yet Saber was deflecting them like they were nothing. And he could see... yes, amid the silver flashes on the other side of the park, a shadow was weaving as Rider dodged among the arrows, her speed not visibly affected by the fact that she had slung a clearly uncomfortable Shinji over her shoulder. And the arrows themselves were reason to be impressed, descending like a silver monsoon, far too fast and far too numerous to be the work of anything but a machine gun, yet they were arrows...

He wondered if he would ever stop being awed by Servants, he really did.

"I believe you were correct when you stated we were under attack by Archer, Master." Saber said conversationally as she batted aside another arrow. "At least, I don't believe any of the other Servants could manage a projectile attack of this caliber. Fortunately, projectile weaponry is largely useless against me if I can see the path of the missile. Still, another shot on the level of that first attack would be best avoided, so I should hunt him down."

"Er... yeah." Shirou said, trying to get his amazement back under control. "He's on the building I pointed out to you... I don't know, I just sort of saw him there. Don't ask me how."

And that smile... like he was looking me right in the eye from a mile away and laughing at the thought of my death. Shirou thought. Tohsaka... what kind of Servant did you call?

And are you there with him, looking over his shoulder while he tries to kill me?

"As you command." Saber said, spinning her sword in a wide arc to repel more of the incoming projectiles. "I shall not ask, although I am curious."

"Er, no, you can ask, it's just that I don't know."

"Ah, very well." Saber said, nodding. "Master, it would perhaps be prudent for you to take cover while I deal with the enemy? Archer will not be able to kill you if he is trying to slow my advance. I believe that large tree near the bench in the northwest corner of the park should provide an acceptable shield. I will cover your retreat."

"What about Rider?" Shirou asked.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAH-" Shinji said as he went flying through the air into a tangle of bushes, Rider 'depositing' him into cover before vanishing into the darkened streets to pursue Archer.

"I believe that, for the moment, she is closer to an ally than an enemy." Saber said. "Now take cover!"

As Saber disappeared in a burst of wind, charging down the enemy and striking aside projectiles as if she were swatting flies, Shirou hid behind a tree.

This... this is not acceptable. He thought in supreme humiliation. I should be out there with her, but I can't even stand in the open without getting killed! This is just... what kind of a useless Master am I?

I need to get stronger. I can't be like this, I can't be like...

Gasping for air and brushing thorns off his clothes, Shinji Matou dove behind the tree next to him.

... like him, basically.

"Gah... that bitch! I'm her Master, and she throws me around like a piece of trash? She'd better kill whoever is out to get me, or I swear I'll..." He snapped to the night air in general, only to have his voice trail off when he recognized who was sitting next to him. He snarled a curse, reaching inside his shirt for something...

Shirou, then, taught him the problems with trying to reach for a weapon in a point-blank fight by simply grabbing Shinji's head and slamming it into the tree.

"Ow..." Shinji said, his eyes going distinctly unfocused. It was a good thing he had already been sitting down, because his knees went very weak.

"I would tell you to give up your Command Seals and bow out of the war, now that I know you're having your Servant eat people." Shirou said, glad to have encountered a problem he could deal with. "But Rider is helping Saber, so I don't want her to disappear right now. But Shinji... I can't forgive your actions here easily. You're going to sit here, and you're not going to talk, and since we're in a war zone I won't take whatever weapon you have in there but if you try to pull it on me again I will hit you until you stop moving. And once we're safe, you are out of this war and you will pay for your crimes."

Shinji gave him a somewhat fuzzy look of pure loathing. It seemed deeply wrong on the face of someone he had until moments ago still considered at least a friend, if not a close one. "H-how... how dare..."

"I was completely serious about beating you unconscious, Shinji."

Shinji stopped talking.

-------------------------------

Archer sighed in annoyance, continuing his bombardment out of pure spite. The kid had seen it coming. Presumably he had sensed the projection somehow... this close together, he supposed their magic might be interacting in unexpected ways. Well, he'd remember that and compensate in the future. In the meantime, Rider was flitting in and out of his vision and Saber was charging straight down his throat and deflecting everything he threw at her; just nameless blades remade as arrows, certainly no match for her holy sword, but the fact that she could discern and deflect all of them was something special. She really was as amazing as he remembered.

"They're on their way, Rin." He said, sending off another volley. "I can only slow them down like this. We will have company very soon."

"H... how do you fire so many?" Rin asked in a hushed tone, honestly confused. It was like he was not only moving more quickly than humanly possible, but also that many of the arrows were not even being fired from his bow, they were just appearing in the air in front of him...

"That's not what matters right now, Rin. What matters is that two Servants are converging on our position and I can't defeat them both if I have to protect you."

"Oh, of c... if you have to protect me?!" Rin snapped. "You can't defeat them both at all! Saber would have killed you if Emiya hadn't stopped her the first time we..."

"Rin! Focus, please!" Archer said sharply. "If I fight defensively, I can at least hold them both for some time. And they won't be fighting as a team, not really, which will make things easier. But if you're there, they'll force me to protect you and we'll both end up dead."

Rin nodded. "Right. I see. So you don't want me to... oh. Oh-ho. Archer, I think I have a plan. Make sure that Saber and Rider both come after you, okay? I need you to keep them off my back for a bit!" She said, running for the stairs.

Archer considered the situation and what she was most likely planning... and smiled wickedly. "Clever girl."

Well then, it was time to be a distraction then. Casting aside his rain of weak arrows, he centered his will into a greater projection. A jagged, black blade appeared in his hands, and he drew back the bowstring.

"Hrunting." He said under his breath.

The blade was solid black, a twisted, serrated, jagged piece of work. But while it might be ugly, it served Archer's purpose as a missile better than nearly any sword imaginable. Lacking the raw destructive power of Caladbolg as artillery, Hrunting, one of the Noble Phantasms of the hero Beowulf, instead possessed a certain quality that made it an ideal tool for sniping. As Saber would soon be learning...

He took aim at the silver knight, Broke the Phantasm, and fired. As the arrow flew, it took on red highlights, swiftly becoming a brilliant red bullet that lit up the sky as it streaked towards Saber. With contemptuous ease, she simply leapt over the blast and continued her charge... only to have her eyes widen in shock at the realization that the arrow had shifted its course to follow her jump. Archer couldn't help but admire her grace as she twisted in midair, slamming her invisible sword into the streak of red that ignored all rules of inertia to change its direction in flight. The red streak shattered upon connecting with Saber's peerless sword, finally halting its flight permanently, but the immense energy released still sent her flying to slam painfully into the side of nearby apartment building. Those tenants would be having an amusing morning...

Archer smiled, and projected another copy of the black sword. Hrunting's value as a weapon was that once it chose a target, it would not stop until it hit or it was destroyed, so long as the swordsman kept his aim on that chosen target. For a swordsman in melee, this had some value; Beowulf had found it quite nice for killing slippery, water-dwelling monsters. For an archer using the sword as a projectile, an arrow that would ceaselessly pursue the target of his choice, changing directions in midair and drilling through obstacles... the applications were far, far more interesting.

Saber blocked that one a bit too easily; let's try refining the projection a bit more. Trace, on. Analyzing basic composition, reconfiguring elements to enhance aerodynamics and piercing capabilities. Increasing mana infusion by 20%. He thought, the blade taking on a violent red aura with the strengthening magic. He adjusted his aim to take in the brief flash of violet that marked Rider's passing through a spot of light and released the arrow. If she thought she could evade his eyes by sticking to the shadows, she was about to be unpleasantly surprised.

Rider tried a different tactic than the one she'd seen Saber fail at, accelerating past the arrow and dodging to the side more quickly than it could adjust. She was not amused to discover it turning to follow her, nor happy to find that it was extremely fast. It would catch her rather quickly, unless...

Rider did not smile as the idea struck her, but only because she was by nature a rather stoic woman.

She veered sharply, weaving in and out of multiple alleys with the arrow on her tail until she found what she was looking for: Saber, only just having climbed out of the impact crater she'd made. Rider charged her as she oriented herself, and Saber instantly dropped into a defensive stance. She was caught slightly off-guard, then, when Rider did not attack her but jumped over her, so closely Saber could feel the other woman's body graze her hair.

Her attention was then caught more strongly by the red bullet following in Rider's footsteps and preparing to go through her in order to get there. She brought her sword into the path of the arrow, Invisible Air screaming as the red bolt collided with the raging wind, the conflicting energies kicking up a small hurricane. This arrow was stronger than the last... she could feel the asphalt beneath her boots cracking from the pressure.

But she was not in the air, this time. And with her feet planted and her blade held firmly, she was a different foe altogether. Pouring mana into her arms and her sword, with a cry of exertion she swung her blade with all her might. For just a second, her wind scabbard parted to reveal the golden blade beneath, and the greatest of holy swords sliced the offending projectile in half. The pieces of the shattered black sword struck the street on either side of the knight with enough force to pierce into it until they totally disappeared from view. The force of the blast did little more than ruffle her hair and dress, her blade and mana absorbed the blast so thoroughly.

She turned to rebuke Rider for using her as a human shield, only to find that the black Servant was already long gone.

Archer stepped back from the edge of the building, his bow disappearing to be replaced by the twin swords Kanshou and Bakuya. The extra charge he'd given to that second arrow meant it would take him at least twenty seconds to bring up another of that caliber, and he didn't have that much-

Rider leapt up over the edge of the building, having crossed the remaining distance and scaled the structure before those twenty seconds were up. Apparently she was even quicker when she could just sprint in a straight line without dodging, and she'd correctly deduced that the increased power of the second shot had come at a price. Still, her Master was Shinji, which had to hold her back a good margin. If it had been one-on-one, he was absolutely certain he could defeat her despite her talents as a Servant.

The problem was, Saber was also on her way, and two Servants was a tall order if he wanted to actually have some prayer of winning. In particular, going into melee with Saber was just asking for death unless she was the only thing he had to worry about; she'd cut him to pieces if he also had to deal with keeping Rider's spikes out of his neck. So he needed to at least immobilize Rider before Saber arrived, and that was difficult since he probably had less than a minute.

Leaping backwards to avoid the chain spike that impaled itself in the roof where he had been standing, Archer landed in a crouch, dug his blades into the roof, and spun in a quick circle. His cape whirling around him, he fell through onto the top floor of the empty office building, throwing Kanshou up through the newly created hole before he even landed. Rider dove for the opening, only to pull back abruptly as the black blade came whirling out of it.

A transparent ploy to buy a few seconds, she thought. He didn't want to engage her in melee, apparently; appropriate for an Archer. She dove down through the hole, to see something strange... the other sword, the white one, was planted in the floor at the bottom of the hole she'd dropped into.

She heard something cutting the air behind her. The black sword was coming back, far more quickly than gravity should have allowed, being pulled toward the white...!

She snapped her chain into a nearby wall, using it to pull herself out of her descent and away from the area between the two blades before she was sliced in half. She caught a glimpse of Archer, smiling, with an arrow knocked, but he wouldn't hit her by aiming where he was, she was too quick for...

Oh no. He knew he wasn't going to hit her, didn't he?

Archer hurled another pair of Kanshou and Bakuya, this set Broken, to collide with the flying black sword in midair... and explode very, very close to Rider.

He decided with not-inconsiderable satisfaction that blasting her out the window of a thirty-story building was a decent way to immobilize her for a few minutes. It probably wouldn't kill her, since the final impact at the bottom was mundane, of little value against a Servant, but she would not be going anywhere for a bit.

His satisfaction was dampened as Saber leapt in through the window shattered by Rider's fall, the wind howling as she crossed the space to him in less than a second and took a nasty chunk out of his chest as his dodge was not quite fast enough. Fighting to maintain his footing and composure, he brought new copies of his favored swords into existence and parried her second blow, feeling the shock up his arms from her power and the strength of her sword. Amazing as ever... these weapons really are no match...

Oddly enough, when he jumped back and over an overturned desk to get some space, she did not follow, merely kept him within dashing distance so he could not begin using projectiles again. She looked... cautious?

"Where..." She asked in a worried tone, "... is Rin?"

Archer smiled. "You missed her? She was headed right past you, I believe."

Saber's eyes widened. "Shirou...!"

"Good plan, no? I was actually somewhat proud when Rin came up with it. Why bother with you when your Master is such an easy target, right? She'll probably do something fluffy like try to make him give up his Command Seals before she turns to violence, but at least she spotted a sensible path to victory and took it. She's growing, don't you think? And when she has to kill those two because they won't give in, she'll grow even more." Archer said calmly. "She's not ruthless enough, not willing to make all the necessary sacrifices. Even if you have to kill one, dozen, a hundred people to win this war, isn't that better than letting people like Shinji Matou and his blood-drinker get their hands on a power like the Holy Grail? Maybe seeing real combat and bloodying her hands a bit will drive that point home."

"Archer, you...!" Saber said, bristling both at the threat to her Master and at his frank admission of his satisfaction at the thought of the honestly likable girl she'd met the previous night turning into a coldhearted killer. She fully intended to defeat Rin for the Holy Grail, but she had wanted it to be a fair and genuine contest in deference to the girl's pleasant personality. Now...

"Don't waste your venom on me. Whatever my thoughts on her development, it's still a solid tactic to focus on the Master first. Shirou Emiya and Shinji Matou are no match for a genuine Magus like Rin. And if you try to go stop her, you can know for a fact that I'll shoot you in the back at the first opportunity." Archer said calmly. "So now that you finally understand what's going on, tell me, Saber... you can probably defeat me, but do you think you can do it before Rin finishes your worthless Master off?"

-------------------------------

Shirou and Shinji sat in awkward silence.

"So... you're a Master?" Shirou asked.

"... don't talk to me." Shinji said. His head still hurt. A lot.

Shirou fell silent. Honestly, he'd just found out his friend, who he would have called 'an okay guy with some rough spots' yesterday at this time, was going around feeding people to his summoned monster.

... What do I do if she dies? Or if there have been other victims? He wondered. If she was the first, and she survives, I could maybe still redeem Shinji. Let him off with just being removed from this War. But if she dies, or if she wasn't the first, if he's... if he's a murderer...

What should he do? Shinji couldn't be prosecuted by human law for crimes committed by a Servant. Should he... should he just kill Shinji? Just... just grab a rock or something and bash his head in? Order Saber to cut him down where he stood? Eye for an eye justice?

A hero stops the villain, doesn't he? He was standing over that woman and watching her die like it was funny, does he deserve mercy? Shirou asked silently. God, he's Shinji, I've known him for years, he's Sakura's brother! I can't just kill him, but I can't just let him go either...!


And then something slammed into the ground next to the tree, invisible but with a pressure he could still feel somehow. He silently thanked whatever it was for giving him a problem he could understand more easily.

"I know where you are, boys. Come out, surrender peacefully, and you can both leave with nothing but the Command Seals ripped out of your nerves. Losing use of an arm is pretty merciful compared to what some Masters would do to you." Rin Tohsaka's voice commanded. "Don't play nice, and the next shot punches that tree in half."

Shinji's eyes widened in panic. "Wh-where did she... damn! I'm calling Rider, we need to..."

"No! I don't think either of our Servants should fight Archer alone!" Shirou said.

"Who cares about them? They're supposed to die anyway, I just want to get out of here alive!" Shinji countered.

Shirou stared at him for several seconds. "All right, I have a plan. That spell was called 'Gandr'. I learned about it from my father... it causes a virus in the target for a few days. It won't kill you."

"... it won't kill me?"

"Yeah. Because I'm using you as a shield until I can find some kind of weapon." Shirou said.

"What?"

"I can only do reinforcement magic. So unless I can find a... a stick, or something to use as a weapon, I can't beat her. So I need a shield to block at least her first shot until I can find one."

"So? You can't use me!" Rider! Rider get your ass back here right n-

"You have a weapon in your chest pocket, right? You can maybe hold her off for a few seconds." Shirou said reassuringly. "I'll help as soon as I can, and she won't kill you, I know her."

"She's a Master! Of course she'll kill m-" Shinji began. He didn't finish because Shirou picked that moment to grab him by the shirt-front, spin him around the tree, and physically chuck him at Rin.

He then, you know, went off to find a stick or something to use as a weapon.

-------------------------------

Saber was becoming frustrated.

No matter how her invisible blade moved, Archer seemed to know precisely what weak point she was aiming at and just barely manage a defense. And he didn't allow her to retreat, either, despite the fact that his Archer class should be trying to get to higher ground for sniping purposes. Whatever else could be said about him, two things were obvious. First, he was a highly skilled and intelligent opponent to keep up with her blade, even as weakened as she was by Shirou's inability to supply her with power.

Second... he knew.

He knew who she was! There was simply no other explanation. He knew the precise size and shape of her sword, or he couldn't have defended so perfectly. And while that could be explained away by saying that he could see through illusions or had analyzed Invisible Air in her fight with Rider, he was also staying close to her. He knew that with them so near the rooftops, he shouldn't get too far away from her or she would be able to use her Noble Phantasm without fear of hitting innocent bystanders. Somehow, he knew who she was.

Saber stopped her attack, her sword held cautiously at her side. "You... I don't know you, so how...?"

Archer smirked, holding Kanshou slightly behind and below Bakuya in a defensive posture that should allow him to get at least one sword into the path of any attack. "Maybe I was in your army, your majesty. Do you remember every knight under your command?"

"Of course not, no king can know every soldier in their army. But a warrior of your caliber would have had an honored seat at my table, and since you did not, I can say that I did not know you in my life." She said frankly.

"HA! Well, I guess it's a shame I wasn't born in your kingdom, then... some recognition would have been nice." Archer said, his smirk remaining firmly in place. "On the other hand, considering how your kingdom ended up..."

Her next attack slashed completely through Kanshou and halfway through Bakuya before his guard managed to stop it. He saw the promise of death in her pretty eyes. He pulled back, inviting her to continue her lunge, and she obliged, once again with a vicious two-handed chop that ruined another pair of newly-projected swords.

Razor-sharp... lightning fast... he thought, fighting to keep his expression worried so that she wouldn't comprehend what he was really trying to do. ... and blessedly predictable.

A part of him felt bad, honestly. He knew how sensitive she was about the subject of her kingdom, and knew that anger would dull her reactions, make her strokes more obvious. And stronger, granted, but he could get new swords easily enough. Better to project a new weapon with each exchange than deal with Saber at her best. She was stronger than him, had a better weapon, and was a more talented natural swordswoman; his hope for victory lie in making her fight with emotion and cloud her instincts so she was easy to read and he knew exactly where those powerful blows would land.

The sword dance continued like that, shards of metal from shattered sword after shattered sword being hurled through the building only to vanish as old projections ended and new began. Saber's anger made her attacks lack the finesse they should have had, and her wild swings would eventually leave...

There. An opening. Her next step forward would take her onto uneven ground, a piece of rubble that would throw off her footing and make her already in-progress swing lose its killing edge. He would hook her unbalanced sword on Kanshou, letting him hold her just enough to give him the second he needed to flick Bakuya into her throat. It wouldn't take her head off, so she wouldn't die, but not even Saber could just keep fighting with her neck slashed open. He could finish her off at will.

She lunged, exactly as planned. Tripped, exactly as planned. He caught the sword, prepared to make the tiny flick of his wrist needed to end the fight...

She snapped one hand off her sword and in front of her face. She winced in pain as his blade slashed through armor and into flesh, but not so much pain that she wasn't able to disengage her sword and leap backward, eyes wide.

"Damn... I thought I had you for a moment there." Archer said. "Should have known you weren't as angry as I thought you were. Still, I came close, and one of your arms isn't such a bad consolation prize."

"Archer..." Saber said, her eyes still wide with shock and fear as she looked around the shadows, searching for something. "Where is Rider?"

Archer considered this for a moment. He was certain he hadn't killed her, just wounded. And he'd been so caught up in the duel that he hadn't even considered that Rider hadn't made any sort of a reappearance, despite the fact that she would have had a considerable advantage in this darkness...

"Damn!" He said, breaking into a sprint and preparing to leap out the window to get to the park more quickly, Saber following on his heels.

Dammit, Rin, this is what Command Seals are for! He screamed mentally. Call me, call me, call me!

-------------------------------

Rin's eyes widened in surprise as something warm and soft slammed into her midsection. The wind knocked out of her, she, elegantly and with the dignity appropriate the Tohsaka heir, fell on her ass.

She looked down in confusion to see what, exactly, had come whipping around the tree at that unusual speed, and saw Shinji Matou's familiar blue mop. He had his face buried in her stomach, and he had reflexively grabbed onto her legs.

So she, elegantly and with the dignity appropriate the Tohsaka heir, said, "Who the Hell do you think you're touching?!" And punched him in the side of the head as hard as she could.

That was a mistake. Bone on bone hurt her hand as much as his head.

"Ow... ow... ow..." Shinji said, raising his head. Rin's eyes widened slightly at the look on his face. He didn't seem 'angry' so much as... inhuman. "I... am so sick... of you people treating me like your punching bag!"

She leveled her palm in his direction, the Tohsaka Magic Crest gleaming upon her forearm. "Then you shouldn't be so good at getting hit. Surrender, or..."

He threw his hand inside his shirt, extended his other, and something dark, cold, and sharp roared towards her.

Fortunately, Rin Tohsaka was actually pretty good at this. Her physical training was flawless, and her instincts were sound. She might not have been very experienced, but experience was the only thing she was lacking, and dodging such a simplistic magic as this blade of darkness was no problem. Still, she could admit to a certain amount of surprise that Shinji was capable of even that much.

"Not bad, Matou." She said. "A Servant, some low-grade battle spells... considering you're not even a Magus, you've put together a passable defensive package. I wouldn't say I'm impressed, but at least I'm... amused."

Shinji stood facing her, a small book clenched in his hands. "See if you're still amused in a second, bitch." He spat, his face contorted in frankly unsettling fury. She'd known Matou was a weasel, but she was suspecting now that he was legitimately unstable. And the book...

Rin was an excellent Magus. She knew a magic like that by sight. Ah. Ah-ha. So that's how a no-count like this managed to take control of Rider. She put on her best smirk. "Shinji, Shinji, Shinji. I know your family tree is a bit withered, but depending on charity? Did grandpa decide he couldn't be bothered to get up this week, but wanted into the War anyway?"

"Shut up, shut up, shut up!" Shinji growled, more of the same blades of darkness slicing through the night air towards her. She did not even bother to dodge, merely held her Magic Crest in front of her and willed a counter blast. The blades were shredded by her own spell, hurling Shinji to his knees once again. She hoped he enjoyed the pain to go on top of his new virus, she'd put in the extra effort for a physical blow. "Do you really think your bargain-bin sorcery and stolen mana can handle a real magus, Shinji?"

He smiled horribly and wiped blood from his nose, his skin already looking pale. "Not really. Bet she can, though." He hissed.

Rin never even saw Rider hit her. One moment she was in control of the situation, the next she was pinned to the ground with her Crest arm twisted painfully behind her... and a soft hand pushing her hair away from her neck.

"What have we here?" Rider purred. "Lunch?"

Eyes wide in horror, Rin tried to pour mana into her crest, simply make a burst to blast the Servant away... and cried out as Rider twisted the arm harder. She heard tendons pop.

"There, there. It will only hurt for a second, and then it feels rather good." Rider chided her, leaning towards her bared neck.

She made it about halfway there before something heavy and blunt smashed into the back of her skull. It didn't really hurt, but it was enough to be a nuisance, so she slammed the captive Mage's head into the dirt once to dizzy her and leapt into a defensive stance. The Servant nearly laughed out loud at the sight of the red-haired boy, brandishing a stick with a frankly pitiful aura of magic about it as though it were a sword.

"E... Emiya...?" The dazed Magus said. Her head was heavy and her arm hurt like Hell, but she thought she could focus enough to see...

"Emiya, whose side are you on?! She was going to kill us both! I'm just returning the favor!" Shinji protested.

"She wasn't. And even if she were, I wouldn't let you just feed her to that thing! She's a person, not food!" Shirou said firmly.

Rider sighed in annoyance. "Master, I had a head start, but their Servants will be here shortly..."

Shinji smiled in triumph. "Well... it seems like I'm saying this more and more often these days. Kill them both, Rider."

-------------------------------

Ilya was no longer divided.

Rin had not been intending to kill onii-chan, so she had not intervened. The girl might talk big, but unlike Ilya, who had no problem with death unless it happened to someone she actually liked, Rin was squeamish. She didn't truly want to kill even the slimy Makiri thing, though the world would certainly be a lot less sleazy without him. She had just meant to take the boy's Servant, and Ilya could not care less about Saber.

But now, because Rin had not simply blown the Makiri Master's head off when she had the chance, his Servant was back. The two Masters might be able to hold Rider off for a time, as weakened as she was by her worthless Master, but the Servant would win in the end. Saber and Archer would not be there in time.

But she was closer, and she had someone faster...

She didn't know much about the boy, but she had come to one decision, after all of her thinking. Whatever else he was, he was hers. She had come to Japan solely for him, that much had not changed just because she was no longer certain what she wanted to do once she had him.

If he died, it would be when she wished him to die.

If she decided she did not wish for such a thing, then he would not die.

And until she made up her mind, nobody was allowed to harm a single hair on his head, because he. Belonged. To her! Not to Makiri, not to Tohsaka, and not even to Einzbern; he was Ilya's. Her own. And nobody took something that belonged to her.

"Go, Berserker."

And the black giant roared, free to enter the battle at last.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 06:15 PM
Chapter 5: Hurricane

To call it a mismatch would have been a laughable understatement.

On one side, a Magus and a sorta-Magus. Of these two, Rin Tohsaka could barely even see straight and Shirou Emiya was armed with weaponry consisting of a harder-than-average stick.

On the other side, Rider. The scent of blood filled the air just from her presence. She seemed part of the darkness; like liquid night poured into a human skin. Her every motion held a graceful, deadly beauty like a hawk in flight. Anyone with eyes could tell that she was something that was simply beyond humanity. Perhaps not as deadly a combatant as Saber, but certainly far, far more than any mortal could face.

So yes, it might have seemed to the casual observer that perhaps one side held a slight advantage in this confrontation.

When Rider moved, Shirou could barely see her. As before, she seemed to blend with every single shadow she touched, almost becoming part of the background she so seamlessly vanished into them. And her speed was, of course, impossible. Unimaginable. Even with raw adrenaline gushing through his veins and his reaction time amped up to far greater than normal, Shirou very nearly died to her first strike.

She didn't come at him from the front; he had no idea how, but she looped around him in the space of a second and struck at the side of his neck, her hand held flat as if to spear him through the jugular. He snapped his improvised weapon into the path of her hand, and it snapped despite his reinforcement, but it held her back for just enough time for him to...

One of her twin nails, swung behind her charge and just now catching up, speared him in the side, lodging between two ribs. The shock and pain disoriented him, and he could taste blood in his mouth and realized that was a very bad sign. He had little time to ponder it, however, as Rider then proceeded to swing him directly into a tree with bone-crushing force. Literally. Shirou could hear the bone break inside him, and hoped it wasn't anything he needed to live...

Ha. Live? What am I worrying about that for? He wondered deliriously, watching Rider begin to walk . She was coming for him, and he could already see it, in his mind's eye, those teeth sinking into his throat. Shinji had no mana, after all, so she wouldn't waste even a talentless Magus when she needed energy so badly. I need to get out of here... He thought, still trying to focus his mind enough to actually accomplish this. His limbs felt like jelly, there was no way he could possibly stand up on his own power. He tried anyway, the edges of his broken bones and torn muscles sending fresh shocks of agony through him at the futile effort, and the Servant was only getting closer...

Rin Tohsaka watched this, and she wasn't thinking anything so silly as that. Her own mind was beginning to clear somewhat, and she saw Emiya clearly on his was to becoming the Servant's latest meal. He saved my life. Again. And... more to the point, I need his help to get out of this mess. She slid something small and brilliant from her sleeve, a tiny, magnificently cut gemstone that glowed with an inner fire. There was an A-rank spell held in there, and she doubted Rider had the kind of magic resistance that had allowed Saber to shrug off her gems. If she could land a direct hit on the head or heart, she might even be able to kill Rider here and now. Tensing her arm, she prepared to throw...

"Rider, behind you." Shinji said calmly.

Without looking, Rider threw the other end of her weapon at the downed Magus. Rin had enough presence of mind to roll, letting the weapon impale itself in the ground instead of in her face, but her shot was ruined and now Rider was focused directly on her. Dammit... Shinji really does ruin everything!

"Ah... unlike the other, this one actually has some magic worth being cautious of. But the other is a better target... I wonder which I should destroy first?" The violet-haired Servant asked.

"Either. Both. As long as they bleed." Shinji said with dark satisfaction, sweat running down his brow freely. She knew it was petty, but Rin felt a dark burst of glee. Well, at least the Gandr curse is taking hold. Enjoy spending tomorrow in bed throwing up blood, jackass...

Rider stood, one 'nail' in each hand. "As you command, Master." she said calmly.

Damn... Rin said. Rider was going to send one spike for each of their throats, and there was not much Rin could do about it. She wasn't sure she had the speed in her at the moment to dodge, and Emiya couldn't move, and a counterattack while Rider was prepared would do little but make the Servant focus only on her...!

Rider snapped her wrists, one blade flying toward each of the two humans at near-bullet speed...

And the world froze.

An aura descended upon the park, an all-consuming feeling of rage and blood-lust backed by a power as implacable and unyielding as a mountain. It was not only a matter of magical strength... beyond that. A sensation, primal and terrible, that flooded the consciousness of everyone in the area, even Rider; the feeling of a rabbit that has been cornered by a wolf and is about to be ripped apart, helpless and terrified.

Rider drew back in her chain blade before the attack had gone more than a foot from her hands and leapt for safety out of some primitive survival instinct. Something huge, dark, and horrible leapt into the space between her and Shirou Emiya, striking at her with enough force to leave the ground where she had been standing gouged five feet straight down.

Landing nimbly on her feet, her weapon coiled around her like a python, Rider stared at the scene in open fear. That attack would have split her in half had it connected... and judging by the power of the being she saw before her, it had been little more than an offhanded gesture.

Shirou looked up at his savior. And up.

And up.

It was a Servant, there was no doubt about that much. But to call this thing merely a 'Servant' seemed the equivalent of calling a wolf just a 'dog' or a tiger just a 'cat'. There was no beauty, there; not Saber's holy purity, or Rider's deadly grace, or even the somber dignity of Archer. Two meters tall, at the very least... muscles so massive and corded they bordered on the grotesque... bronze skin and inhuman red eyes... all of these things were discomforting enough. But more than anything physical, this creature was horrifying because of the aura it exuded of sheer, mindless, impossible power. Like nothing Shirou had ever seen or even dreamed of in his blackest nightmares, like watching an earthquake or staring into an oncoming hurricane, frozen in fear and awe by the unimaginable destructive potential and the prospect of certain death.

Rider, seeming so deadly mere moments ago, was rooted to the spot in fear. She understood better than anyone else present the nature of the sensations she felt, the type of creature that stood before her: if she attacked, she would be crushed in a single stroke. Even if she took no offensive action and acted solely to preserve her own life, she would most likely not be leaving this park alive if that giant decided it wanted her dead. Rin, jewel still in hand, was shaking so hard she could not even consider actually using the muscle control needed to throw it. Even Shinji, who had all the magical instincts of a stump, seemed to be instinctively aware that his life was most likely about to end; his eyes were wide, his mouth frozen in a rictus grin of sheer horror.

A Servant? No. This was a destroyer. A being wholly specialized for the obliteration of life. It had no purpose but to choose a target and attack, attack, attack with relentless fury and unstoppable force until that target was nothing but wet meat on the ground, and then to choose another target, and another, and another, until there was nothing around it but death.

So why the Hell had something like that saved him, exactly?

He would not be learning the answer to this that night, however, as the black giant threw back its head and roared, a sound that shook the earth. Shirou could feel his broken bones vibrate painfully and winced. And with that roar, Berserker charged.
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Berserker was not a protector. He was a killer, and had no other purpose. He could protect, in a sense, as he protected Ilya; by destroying everything in the area with the slightest hostile intent towards her, until she gave him the order to stop. And so he would do such with the boy she had ordered him to defend. And as there was not one thing in this park that had not showed hostility towards the boy during the time Ilya and Berserker had been observing the battle, Berserker would kill, and kill, and kill, until there was not even one living thing standing to harm his protectorate. Ilya had not given him orders to the contrary; she cared only for the boy's safety, nothing else. There were three moving things within the field of his senses that had presented a threat to the boy. All three of those things would die here.

The greatest threat, the thing that stood out the most against the violent red mist that was Berserker's mind, was the Servant. So he attacked her first. She was quick, and agile, but Berserker's speed was a match for her. She leapt into the trees, but they shattered like toothpicks to the swings of Berserker's monstrous weapon. The only problem was his size... he needed to break those trees to move, but Rider did not. She could pass more quickly, gain distance. But she could not stop dodging, could not counter at all. Her attacks were less than fleabites, her defenses no more use than wet cloth. All Berserker needed to do was keep her in range long enough to land even a single blow. A single blow would be enough to end this 'battle', and it was only a matter of time until that blow landed. Berserker just needed to keep swinging. They would, eventually, run out of trees to get in the way...

There.

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Rin was not entirely sure what she should be doing.

The battle between the two Servants sounded like a lunatic woodchipper. The space among the trees was as black as pitch; the only way to tell where they were was by following the sounds of shattering wood and the occasional roar of the giant.

So what should she do about it? Archer was on his way, but... she was not confident in his ability to halt that monster. Perhaps she should just flee? But... Emiya had saved her life. She couldn't leave him here with that thing, right? She owed him. But using anything but her entire stockpile of gems against that thing would be pointless; her normal magic would be no more use than trying to browbeat it into submission with a severe scolding. Could she really afford to give up her best weapons just to help Emiya? Yes, he had saved her, but didn't she have her own life to consider too? There was a War going on, and...

Something limp and black was hurled out of the woods like a rag-doll, taking the choice out of her hands.

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The space between the trees had been too large.

This was a park, the trees were not all close together. It was simply Rider's poor luck that she chose a path that lead to a clearing large enough for Berserker's body to fit without smashing any. She took the wrong path, that was all. And when she did, Berserker closed the gap. It was really all over once that happened. Rider was still a Servant, of course, and knew she was about to be struck; she twisted her body out of the way in midair, and defended with her own weapon.

This kept her from being sliced completely in half at the waist, but not by much.

Sent flying, limp and broken, the Servant slammed into the ground with bruising force and skidded to a halt. She was still technically in one piece, still alive, but she would not stand again. It was not a question of power or mana, but of structure; her abdominal muscles had been completely shredded, the only thing holding her body together was her spine. Attempting to stand would cause her to break in half, Servant or no. Her legs flopped uselessly, and she coughed up blood.

She was still alive, and so Berserker's blood screamed at him to kill her even as her own Master screamed uselessly for her to stand and defend him. It would be simple to finish her. A single blow; just one more blow would finish her off.

But no. There were more important matters for him; his Master's command, the only thing that could overcome the Servant's natural blood-lust even temporarily.

'Protect the Boy'.

He had protected the boy from the Servant well enough, she was no longer a threat and would not heal any time soon. The priority, the closest thing to a thought he could have, was the impulse to deal with potential dangers, and the greatest danger now present was the girl with the shining magic jewel in her hand...

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Rin saw Rider fall to earth like so much useless meat.

She heard Shinji panic, screaming at the woman to rise even though anyone with eyes could tell the wounds would not allow it.

And most of all, she saw the black giant turn its eyes towards her, and all other thought was torn away by the knowledge that she was about to die. Rider was a Servant, and even she had been helpless against that thing; how could Rin possibly have the slightest hope of success? Escape was impossible, victory was impossible...

Shinji continued to wail at his fallen Servant, berating her for her uselessness. The Command Seal caused her visible pain as she tried to obey despite the limitations of her broken body.

Well, that decides that, then. Rin thought. She planted her feet and flipped another pair of jewels to her hand, leaving her holding three. Maybe she could at least do some real damage before that thing took her apart. If she was going to die, she would go out with some dignity, not whimpering like a beaten dog. She was a Magus of Tohsaka, and if nothing else she could die well.

The giant charged; fast, impossibly fast, she probably wouldn't even have time to fire but maybe she could detonate the gems while it was on top of her and ripping her apart and...

Something red pushed leapt between her and the giant. It couldn't have been fast enough to react. It had to have simply been moving in that direction before the giant had even started its rush, assuming that she would be next. Archer...? She thought in dazed hope. But no, the wrong shade of red, and...

Shirou Emiya stood before her, his arms raised as if to use his own body as a shield.

Rin would have found it rather sweet if it weren't the single stupidest thing she'd ever seen in her life. For starters, that thing was just going to stomp over him, he was no shield at all. Also, how was even moving? Hadn't he been too hurt to stand? The incongruity of the situation nearly made her laugh out loud, if she weren't painfully aware that it had been almost half a second since the monster had charged and the axe-sword was already descending...

And stopping?

What the Hell?

The giant stopped in its tracks, its weapon halted roughly an inch away from Emiya's face.

Shirou's eyes widened in confusion. He had... well, sorta been expecting to be dead at this point.

"Um... huh?" Rin said. She couldn't help it.

Berserker, with the air of a gorilla lifting a kitten, placed its hand delicately around Shirou's waist, lifted him bodily as if he weighed no more than a feather, and softly deposited him several feet away. The scene was surreal beyond imagination; Shirou was so shocked he didn't even think to struggle. Even Shinji fell silent.

Then the giant turned back to Rin, and she was reminded that she really, really should have run away. The creature raised its arm...

And something long, silver, and sharp slammed home, impaling it through the chest.

"Get back, Rin!" Archer commanded, firing his next projection. The first had not hit the heart, it wouldn't have taken a life, but it at had at least pierced the skin and gotten the monster's attention. The next shot might... be batted aside uselessly. Ah, well, he'd known this wouldn't be easy. Saber rushed past him, to place herself between Berserker and her own Master, holding her sword at the ready and staring on the Destroyer with no fear.

Archer was confused by that. His eyes had seen things very well before he'd found a good position to attack, and he'd seen the way Berserker had been behaving around Shirou. Despite several opportunities, the giant Servant had not killed the boy. Why not? It was not as though he couldn't imagine Ilya sparing him... she had done so in his own life, after all. But it had been after they'd bonded somewhat. She'd seen him dive in front of Saber on that first night, and been so shaken by his selflessness that she had become interested and...

Wait.

First night. Shirou's... his... first night of the War, Berserker had not attacked!

He had not been entirely lying to Rin when he said his memories were clouded, though more by time and trauma than by anything she had done. He forgot the subtle things, the nuances... he remembered the War, the events, he just forgot how those things had made him feel. He could recall Saber's smile, just not the way he'd felt when he saw it. He remembered Rin blushing because he'd said something foolishly noble, just not how flustered that had made him in turn. All of the events were still there, but for all the emotional impact they had on him, he might as well have been watching a movie of someone else's life. All it did was make him feel even more bitter, like even the tiniest little joys were lost to him now.

But he remembered the events just fine. He remembered leaving the Church, though he couldn't recall why he'd been so rattled by Kotomine's pretentious yammering. He recalled the black giant and the white princess on the hill, though he could not remember the taste of the fear he'd felt at the sight. He could see the silver knight bleeding in the streetlights in his mind's eye and knew he had dived to save her, even though he couldn't recall why he'd felt the need to do so. And then so much blood...

How could he have not noticed when such a major event didn't occur? How could he have been so preoccupied with thoughts of the War and his real objective that he hadn't even considered the simple fact that Berserker had not attacked! So early, and yet this timeline had already shifted from what he remembered... had something happened between the boy and Ilya, without him noticing? This could be a problem, if it meant that girl was now between him and...

"RRRRRRRAAARRGH!"

Okay, now probably wasn't the time to worry about it.

He let the arrow fly, watched it dig into the giant's arm as Berserker charged, and projected a new weapon, a two-handed broadsword that gleamed with a sickly red light and projected an almost palpable aura of malice. Kanshou and Bakuya would be basically useless against this thing, so he'd have to dig deeper into his arsenal, pick out the worst of the worst; hitting Berserker was simple. Piercing that skin was the hard part. Okay... let's get the timing down perfectly, split second...

Luckily, what Berserker possessed in raw power and speed was made up for by it being generally as dumb as mud. The slash could not have been easier to anticipate, it just came so fast he almost mistimed his dodge anyway and felt a few particularly tall hairs get sliced off. Of course, since he brought his newly projected blade through and slashed out the tendons on the backs of both the giant's legs, he considered that a fair trade. He tossed aside his sword, now useless having pierced the thing's skin even once, and projected a new weapon, a shining golden blade as beautiful as the last weapon had been ominous, and brought it around in a ruthless stab through the thing's spine. Is that enough for one life? Can't be sure, but even if it is it won't slow him for...

The monster, his spine severed, somehow managed to twist his body, bringing that horrific axe around so fast Archer could barely even perceive it in time to abandon his stuck blade and project a new weapon for defense. He had no time for anything but Kanshou and Bakuya, and they were...

... useless. The weapons shattered, and Archer was sent flying by the impact, rolling uncontrollably several times before managing to find his feet. Berserker was standing too, Godhand having already repaired the damage to his spine. Archer, on the other hand, was painfully aware from the shooting agony up his left arm that his own wounds were not so well off. All I did was block, and the arm is broken... your Servant is just as much of a monster as I remember, Ilya. He thought grimly. "Rin!" He snapped. "I told you to get back!"

"E-eh?" Rin said. "R-right! Hold it here, Archer, and get away as soon as I'm clear!" Rin said, turning to clear the scene. Berserker, his attention thoroughly diverted at this point, did not follow.

Archer raised his remaining arm and projected the heaviest one-handed sword in his arsenal. He had one working arm, his vision was a little blurry, he was fighting Hercules, and the one person he actually wanted to kill was safely under his Servant's watchful eye where Archer couldn't get him without fighting Saber and Berserker two-on-one, suicide by anyone's standards.

Archer smiled. And yet, still not the worst situation I've ever been in.
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Shinji's world was falling apart.

He had been so certain. So secure in his superiority, and in the space of not even twenty minutes, he had been firmly disillusioned. His Servant, that worthless, useless thing, was lying on the ground dying. The monster that had bested her so effortlessly was being faced and even matched by Tohsaka's Servant, just Tohsaka herself had defeated him... he could feel the curse burning in his blood, making his skin pale and his muscles weak. Even Emiya... Emiya! That nothing that animal that meaningless insect!... was giving a better accounting than the heir of Makiri!

"Dammit, Rider!" He screamed, his throat beginning to burn from the constant shouts. "Get up! You're a dog, so obey your Master!"

Shocks ran through the near-lifeless thing as she tried to respond despite her inability to do so. She could not stand, but she was compelled to, and the contradiction was tearing her remaining life to tattered threads...

Observing through the eyes of another, the old Magus sighed. Useless. Zouken thought. Ah, well... if he cannot appreciate my gifts, I suppose he does not deserve them. Take it.


Responding to the old man's command, the insect familiar perched on the nearby tree took flight. Shinji watched in confusion as the thing landed on his book; he knew instantly that it was no natural creature, and for a moment was filled with hope that his Grandfather had actually come to his aid.

Then the shiny black beetle began to glow a pale blue, and burst into bluebottle flames that roared across the surface of Shinji's Tome. Screaming in shock and pain, Shinji dropped the book as insect and paper were consumed alike with shocking speed. Rider faded from sight with the disappearance of the Tome, returning to her spirit form to heal... with her other Master.

And Shinji understood that without ever saying a word, his grandfather had just sent him a very, very clear message.

Worthless failure.

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Ilya watched the scene with satisfaction. Rider was down, and she had been the major concern. The boy was, safe, but... well, she should probably hunt Rin down too. Her Archer was confusing, and had openly tried to take onii-chan's life. Since he was strong and could wound Berserker, it was best to get rid of him right now, and then make sure his impressive summoner had no chance to make another contract. And the Makiri thing was still worth destroying, even without his ridiculous fake Command Seal. And... maybe onii-chan would be safer if she knocked him out of the war completely? Then maybe after she dealt with everyone else, she could send Berserker to remove Saber as well. Then Ilya could handle the boy's protection full-time, which would also give her plenty of time to study him. Yes, that made sense, she would...

Hearing something scuttling near her ankles, Ilya looked down to see, just for a second, something black and multi-limbed, a spider or some kind of insect. Casting her gaze around the small clearing she stood in, she saw many tiny shapes climbing along trees and buzzing through the air. Ah... so, another spectator.

"You know," She said to the night air in a tone far more mature than her appearance suggested, "I have not used a single Command Spell in this War. Berserker can be by my side with a thought. Attacking me would be unwise."

"You misunderstand my intentions, dear child." Said a voice that oozed poison. Zouken Makiri seemed to simply appear from the shadows, as if the night itself... or perhaps the rapidly growing swarm of insects within it... had simply brought him into existence on the spot. "I merely wished to gain your attention."

"What do you want here, worm?" She asked coldly. She knew, instinctively, that this thing was her enemy. Every memory she possessed from her illustrious forebears told her this; that she was not to trust it. That she should not touch it. That if the chance to kill it presented itself, that chance should be taken without hesitation because it was no longer a thing that belonged in this world. But that chance is not now. Ilya thought to the memories flooding through her unbidden. He would not have appeared before me if he did not have some escape route.

She prepared a Command Seal anyway, just in case. If he made any hostile move, Berserker would be by her side before the first worm opened its vile, sucking mouth. She imagined it would look a bit like stuffing maggots into a blender, when Hercules was through with him...

Zouken chuckled. "Such an imperious princess! Befitting the child of Einzbern."

"Answer the question."

Zouken chuckled again, seemingly amused by the ice in her tone. "Patience, doll, patience. Can not an old man care for his grandson? His Servant has been bested, and I do not wish to see him die."

"You are the one who destroyed his weapon."

"Just because he did not deserve the gifts I gave him does not mean I wish him dead. Just safely back at home where he can no longer embarrass me," Zouken said, almost warmly.

"Then you should not have given him a Servant in the first place. Anyone can tell he does not have the makings of a Master. You had to know his death was the most likely outcome of allowing him entry into the Holy Grail War." Ilya retorted.

"True. I had hoped the conflict would bring out some value in the boy, but all it did was definitively confirm what I'd already thought: he is altogether worthless, even more worthless than his father. Our family tree is rotten within, and each new generation is less than the one before." Zouken agreed. "Coming to this land was a mistake, at least for the clan."

"And for yourself? You know as well as I that Makiri has always been of less concern to you than your own ambitions. Even when you were a man..." Ilya said.

Zouken's smile only grew. "HA! My, my... your appearance had me a bit fooled. There's more of her in you than I thought, little puppet. Very well, then... let us say perhaps that Shinji is of some value to my ambitions, despite his utter lack of value to anything else. Would that make you more willing to believe that I wish him spared?"

"... That does sound a bit more like you." Ilya said. "I simply fail to see why that means I should spare his life."

"Why, because you have no choice." Zouken said amicably. "As you noted, I cannot defeat your Servant, but I can force you to call him to your side for protection. In that case, Shinji will have ample time to escape. So would it not be simpler for everyone if you just returned to your castle, content with the night's achievements? Shinji is no longer any threat, and Tohsaka herself is in retreat from your display of power! Let us call this battle of the Holy Grail War your victory, and let it end here."

Ilya considered this. For starters, it couldn't really be called a victory. Rider was dying, but not dead; the Servant had disappeared, but Ilya had not felt the Servant's spirit enter her. Archer was wounded, and Rin Tohsaka was in retreat, but neither was out of the fight. Still, onii-chan had survived, and that had been her primary goal. "Very well. I will order Berserker to stop his attack." She agreed, and even as she spoke the words, the black giant abandoned his assault in the field below, leaving the wounded Archer and disappearing from sight to begin his astral journey to her side. Archer halted for a moment, staring at the boy and Saber, as if considering his options... and then vanished as well, seemingly deciding that he was not confident in his chances.

The Makiri was, as always, meaningless. He slithered off into the darkness, most likely to some very interesting nightmares.

"My thanks, lady of Einzbern." Zouken said.

"Don't thank me for a thing you left me no choice but to do." Ilya snapped.

"Ah... you have more bite to you than the last few models. Well, that's an interesting design choice, but not a bad one." Zouken chuckled. "Farewell, child."

As the old Magus began to disappear back into the cloud of fluttering and crawling things that blanketed the darkness outside Ilya's field of vision, he paused one final time. "Oh... and was it merely my imagination, or were you defending the heir of Emiya? Quite passionately, in fact? An odd choice for the Einzbern Master."

"I don't see how that is your business." Ilya said coldly.

"Of course, of course." Zouken said, once again with that infuriating dry chuckle. "Still... I suppose that could work out well, in the end. We shall meet again, daughter of Einzbern, I have little doubt of that..."

He walked into the darkness, and was gone.

Ilya shuddered. Berserker, take me home.

She hoped Sella or Leysritt had thought to draw her a hot bath. After speaking with that walking plague she felt the overwhelming urge to jump into scalding hot water and scrub the top layer of her skin off...

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Rin was deeply, deeply confused.

Emiya had saved her life. Again. So now she owed him. Again.

Owe him? HA! What on Earth could I give him that he doesn't already have? Rin thought bitterly, her fear and anger overwhelming her sense of fair exchange, for the moment. Because for once, the thought of having her life saved was by far her secondary concern compared to the implications of what else had happened.

He had saved her from Berserker. Not by actually helping, but because Berserker had refused to attack him. And the only reason Berserker would refuse to kill anyone would be because his Master had ordered him not to. Hell, given the track record for Masters of Berserker, usually not even then! This Berserker was incredibly powerful, and yet shockingly obedient, meaning his unknown Master had to be... Rin hated to admit it, but whoever had drawn the Berserker card for this War certainly outranked her in raw power, at the very least. And Emiya had... somehow... managed to forge a partnership with this person.

How? How did he do it? How could he have made an alliance like that so quickly? She thought desperately. He didn't even know what this War was two days ago, and now he's already made a move that almost guarantees him one of the final two spots?! He wouldn't win the Grail, of course, not with that thing as his final opponent, but... God, of course, he didn't even want the Holy Grail, he'd said so himself! Had he just gone to the most powerful Master he could locate and said, 'I'll help you win if you help me protect innocent people'? Or perhaps he did want the Grail after all, and he felt Saber's Noble Phantasm would be enough to overcome Berserker if needed?

It didn't really matter. What mattered was that Saber, the most skilled close combat Servant, and Berserker, the Servant with the highest raw power, were somehow on the same side. A virtually invincible team.

"Rin." Archer asked, appearing beside her, and easily matching her pace despite the arm still hanging limply at his side. "Are you all right?"

"No." She said, anger and humiliation at the thought of being outdone so quickly and so thoroughly by such an amateur making her voice tight. "No, I'm really, really not."

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Saber was deeply, deeply confused.

"Shirou... what happened here?"

Shirou considered it. First that monster had saved him for no reason. Then he had felt his body improve enough to allow movement and had no idea why. Then he had leapt in to save Tohsaka... and the monster had spared him again, still for no reason he could see. And finally, when it was clear the thing had an overwhelming advantage, it had simply retreated.

Shirou blinked a few times, and said, "I have no idea."

SeiKeo
May 21st, 2011, 06:41 PM
Oh sweet, it's up here. I've been following this on FF.net for a while and Moczo, you have an awesome story here.

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 06:50 PM
^This. It does my heart good to see it posted up here, since Illya-centric fanfiction is few and far between and all-too-rare.

CT is definitely a treat. Seriously.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 06:52 PM
Chapter Six: Chance Encounters

Kirei Kotomine sat in the darkness, looking over his sermon for yesterday to see if he should have changed anything, and beginning an appropriate one for next week's mass. It was late, but he generally slept only an hour or two a day, so he'd decided to get a bit of work done while waiting for his scout to return.

He was, despite what Rin might have said to the contrary, a genuine and ordained priest. Not the sort of priest one would typically expect to deliver a Sunday mass, admittedly; yet deliver them he did, each week. The congregation for this church was small, but it did exist and he had to keep up appearances for his flock. Granted, he did not actually believe any of the love and forgiveness talk he preached to them, but this was, after all, organized religion. People came in expecting to be lied to, demanding they be told falsehoods. And truthfully, the ritual of it all was mildly comforting, in a way. Even he was not totally immune to the lure of routine.

The blue knight entered the small in a manner that brought to mind a chained wolf. Deadly, furious, every muscle filled with lethal power and murderous intent, and yet still utterly harmless as long as it was handled with care. Kotomine resisted the urge to laugh.

"Four Servants," Lancer growled. "Four. Saber, Rider, Archer, Berserker. Rider went down, might be dead, can't be sure. Berserker and Archer took some wounds, but they're both still in the fight, no doubt about it."

"I am aware of this, as you well know. I see all that you see when you are on these scouting missions, you might recall?" Kotomine said mildly. "And it is fortunate I do, because that report was startlingly detail-sparse."

"Can't talk well. Too hard resisting the urge to tear your spine out, 'my Master'." Lancer said, still sounding for all the world like a snarling hound that had learned to speak.

"Ah. Then you bring up this battle not because you wished to tell me of it, but because you are unhappy I did not allow you to participate, I take it?"

"Four Servants. I might never have a chance at a battle like that ever again." Lancer said. "And you wouldn't let me join in!"

"There is no point. The War can be won just as easily by staying to the shadows and letting the other Masters wipe themselves out. I prefer to observe." All of which was technically true; it was a valid strategy, and he'd never said he was using it to win, had he? "And you... don't you want to win this war, Lancer?"

"No!" The knight roared. "I want to fight this war! I don't give a damn about the prize, I just want to actually compete for it!"

"Well, then, you should conserve your energy for that possibility rather than venting it on me." Kotomine said mildly. He neglected to mention the minor detail that if things went precisely according to plan, Lancer would most likely never get the chance he craved. The spearman might legitimately make an attempt on his life, then, Command Seal or no. For a moment, looking at the sheer rage and frustration in Cu Chulainn's red eyes, Kotomine wondered if Lancer might be making that attempt regardless.

Finally, after several tense seconds, Lancer said, "Fine. I'll bide my time, for now. But this isn't the last you'll hear of this," And disappeared.

Kotomine, fully aware that the Servant was still in the room, suppressed a chuckle. "Very well, then. Stay here until tonight, I'll see if I can find another assignment for you." There would be nothing, of course. Lancer did need to learn his place to some degree, even if he was in reality only the 'back-up' Servant.

He turned and left the main chapel, walking through a back door and descending the steps into the crypts below the church. Ignoring the soft moans of the half-alive things entombed within, he said to the darkness, "Well? What do you think?"

"Four at once, huh? Sounds a bit like our War. Still, I haven't noticed anything particularly interesting about most of the Servants, or the Masters," Gilgamesh, the King of Heroes, Kotomine's true Servant and only real ally replied in that familiar, insolent tone. The Epic Hero's aura of pride and power did not suit the crypts at all, but Kirei doubted he cared.

"I wasn't aware you'd been in a position to do so."

"I've been looking around. Scouting." Gilgamesh said. A polite way of saying 'doing whatever the Hell I feel like', which was, when you got down to it, what he always did. "I found something unusual, but I didn't really feel like killing it, yet. If it starts endangering my subjects, perhaps. Beyond that...

"Well, I have some news that might interest you." Kotomine said. "It appears that the Saber summoned into this war is the same Epic Spirit that filled the role in the previous one. You were fond of her, as I recall?"

"I know, I could already tell that she was back. My blood was screaming it from the moment of her summoning." Gilgamesh said, a mad glint in his eyes. "It's her. Not some copy, the same woman. She's come back to me."

"... you realize, of course, that this is impossible? She must be a copy from the Throne of Heroes, like all Servants."

"I know. But I also know what I feel. It's not some copy. It. Is. Her." Gilgamesh insisted.

Kotomine resisted the urge to laugh once again. Gilgamesh was possibly the closest thing he had to a friend, but he had no illusions that he was completely safe from the King of Heroes' mercurial temper. Saying the wrong thing or showing amusement at the wrong comment would be a good way to end up with an ancient sword shoved down his throat. "And because you know it, it must be true?"

"HA! Yes, yes, you do understand me!" Gilgamesh said with an almost childlike grin. "If I say something is true, then it becomes true. Truth is what I make of it and the rest of the world can try to keep up."

Kotomine shook his head in amusement. "Well, whatever you choose to believe, I suppose. I would, however, prefer you not move on her for the moment. There are some... oddities in the flow of the current conflict. I believe the old Makiri might have been involved."

"Hmmm... Makiri, Makiri. Oh, that's right! The worm mage you told me about, the one who was behind Berserker's Master in our war!" Gilgamesh said. "I can see that being irritating. That Berserker was certainly an annoyance, can't imagine his sponsor being less so."

"Well, all I know for certain is that if he desires something, I desire he not have it." Kotomine said frankly. "I know I can't stop you from getting involved if you really want to, but I would prefer you do not, for the moment."

Gilgamesh shrugged. "I don't mind holding back a little, for now. Though I might change my mind."

"How magnanimous of you."

Gilgamesh smiled. "I'm not really doing it for you, Kirei. I'm doing it for her. If I move on her now, then I'll have to go to a lot of effort to keep her alive until the Grail is formed. Better to wait and handle that part later, when I can make her mine quickly.

"Besides, the wait will make it all sweeter when the moment comes."

---------------------------------------

"Saber, I can walk. Really."

"Nonsense. Supporting you is simply my duty, Master." Saber said firmly, having inserted herself under Shirou's arm in such a manner that he had basically no choice but to lean on her. "I have already failed by allowing you to be wounded, please allow me to do this much."

"You saved my life. Again." Shirou said. "You have nothing to apologize for. And don't call me 'Master'."

"Of course, Master." Saber said.

Shirou sighed in not-quite annoyance. She hadn't done anything wrong, but she seemed to be under the impression she had. She wouldn't even call him 'Shirou'. He wasn't even hurt that badly! Sore, certainly, and it was hard to walk, he admitted. But he could walk. Maybe he'd broken a few ribs, but clearly nothing more than...

... he tried to move futilely, his limbs jelly, his broken bones and torn muscles sending fresh shocks of agony as they rubbed raw against each other...

... no, that was wrong. He'd been hurt. Badly.

And he was still hurt, but not nearly as badly. As he was now, he felt as though he'd need first aid and a considerable amount of rest before he felt truly 'good'. Back in the park, after Rider had first wounded him? He'd felt as though he'd never move again.

It's not like I'm unhappy, but it's kind of creepy. Like I don't know my own body anymore. He thought. And of course, there's plenty of other things I don't know.

Shinji had tried to kill him. He might even be a murderer already.

Tohsaka had... well, he wasn't sure about her, but at the very least, her Servant had made an attempt on his life. She seemed to be going through on her promise to treat him as an enemy.

And then, of course, there was the biggest mystery of the night.

"Saber. What are your thoughts about that giant?" Shirou said.

"Ah, yes." Saber said, seemingly pleased to be providing some help that he wasn't trying to escape from. "I cannot be certain, but I believe that to have been Berserker. At the least, that seems most likely... although I have certain doubts."

Berserker, huh? Shirou considered this. Tohsaka had explained the classes to him, and Saber had elaborated, but something about it didn't sit quite right.

"I thought you said Berserker was a class that traded sanity for power, so it was usually a weak hero who took on that class. But that creature felt..."

"Yes," Saber agreed. "I do not know what Heroic Spirit that was, but his power was obviously immense. A Heroic Spirit of such natural strength has no need of the Berserker Class's ability boosts and would likely benefit far more from its sanity and Noble Phantasms, so that was my first point of confusion; why call such a great Hero into a position that offers so little advantage? Still, that could be as simple as a summoning error. I am more confused by..."

"Why he let me live?" Shirou finished for her.

"Indeed. Not merely spared you, but actively tried to protect you," Saber said. "Berserker is difficult to control, regardless of Master. To order it to do anything but kill all in its path is an arduous task. And yet, only its Master's command could have held it back in such a manner. So Berserker is under the control of an extremely powerful Magus who also seeks to preserve your life. Shirou, is it possible that Berserker's Master is someone you know? Someone who would wish to protect you?"

"I... suppose it's not impossible." Shirou admitted. "I don't think I know anyone who could control that creature, but then, if you'd asked me a few days ago, I would have told you that there was no way Tohsaka could be a great Magus. And if she was hiding it from me, who's to say someone else wasn't?"

But who, really? He didn't actually have that many close friends, to be frank. Who would be trying to save his life?

Issei? Potentially. Shinji had said something about 'that witch on the mountain', and the only location of interest on a mountain in these parts was Ryudou Temple. Even if he wasn't the Master, he might know something.

Sakura? If Shinji was involved, he couldn't discount the possibility she was too. He hoped not, though... she didn't really have the personality for something like this. There had to be some way to find out without worrying her. Perhaps he could find Shinji and force admission out of him?

Fuji-nee? He tried, for a moment, to picture Taiga Fujimura hiding the fact that she was a Magus from the whole world. Or really, keeping any secret at all from anyone.

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Shirou laughed suddenly, stopping only to hold his aching ribs.

"S-Shirou?" Saber inquired. "Did... did you hit your head, or...?"

"N-no... I just thought of something so impossible that it made me laugh, is all." Shirou said, wiping tears of mirth (and pain) from his eyes. "Th-though I guess Berserker would fit her personality! HAHAHAHAHA! Ow! Oh, ouch thaHAHAHAHAt hurts!"

Saber sighed. "Perhaps you need rest more than I thought..."

---------------------------------------

It was close to three A.M. before the pair finally reached the Emiya household. Shirou directed Saber to the guest room and said, "Well, you remember the way to the guest room. Sorry about the 'crowd' in there. Try to get some rest, I have something I need to ask you in the morning." He then began to limp towards his own quarters, intent on wringing what sleep he could from the night.

Saber followed him.

"Um... Saber?"

"Yes, Shirou?" Saber asked as though nothing at all were out of the ordinary.

"Why aren't you staying in your room?"

"Oh. You wished me to sleep in that bedroom with Sakura and Taiga? I wondered why you brought it up." Saber said calmly.

Shirou blinked a few times. Where did she think she was sleeping? "Well, anyway, that's the guest room, so it makes sense for you to sleep..."

"No."

"... eh?"

"Before this evening, I might have considered it," Saber said calmly. "But after seeing Archer's skill with projectiles, it will not be acceptable. The boundary field around this house is effective as a warning system, but with an enemy who can target the house from such a distance acting against us, I'm afraid that I must be by your side to intercept attacks at all times."

"I'm sorry, but it sounds like you're asking to sleep..."

"In your room, yes. Preferably in your bed." Saber said matter-of-factly.

Shirou considered this for a moment. Well, to say 'considered' is a bit of a lie, because at that moment the very idea of that being a possibility tore into his mind like a power drill and briefly made thought totally impossible.

Once his brain started working again, Shirou began considering the situation for real this time.

No... no, of course that isn't acceptable. If I'm hurt, I need to rest, of course. And if Saber is in the room, I certainly won't get a wink of sleep, that's obvious. She might say things like 'she's my sword' and 'she has to protect me', but when you get down to it Saber is an attractive girl and I can't relax if she's too close by. Maybe it sounds stupid, but it's the simple truth and I'll just have to calmly explain that to her. Shirou thought.

"N-no! No, that's not... it's dangerous to have you in there!" Shirou said.

It bears mentioning at this point that Shirou's brain and Shirou's mouth were not always in perfect sync.

"No... just the opposite. It will be dangerous if I am not by your side to intercept incoming arrows." Saber said in confusion. "Shirou, I am aware you said the majority of the impact was to your abdomen, but are you certain Rider did not strike you in the head...?"

"It's... you're! Girl! Room!" Shirou said.

"... what?" Saber said, blinking in rapidly growing befuddlement. "Shirou, you are making no sense. It is becoming apparent we both need rest. You, perhaps, more than myself. So, let us go to bed."

"Yes! But not to the same bed!"

"... why not?"

"Because you're a girl! I won't get any sleep if you're in the room, believe me!"

"What? Shirou, I am a Servant before I am a woman! Sleeping with me in your bed is no different than sleeping with your sword in easy reach, mere common sense during times of danger!"

A sword isn't all... warm and soft and nice-smelling! Shirou thought. Out loud he said, "Do I have to use a Command Seal? I will if you make me!"

"You cannot possibly be serious."

"Look, there's a room right next to mine. You can stay there. That should be close enough, right?"

"Not even remotely! If you are under sniper fire, even a fraction of a second could be vital!"

"Well... I'm willing to take that risk." Shirou said, stepping into his room and slamming the door in her face.

"You are deranged!" Saber snapped through the closed door.

Shirou recognized that he had, perhaps, really pissed Saber off. But as he collapsed into his futon and darkness overtook him almost instantly, he found he was far too tired to care.

He slept, dreamless, until morning.

---------------------------------------

Rin Tohsaka lay in her bed, staring up with sleep nowhere in sight.

The night's event had turned the world against her in a big, brutal way, and she wasn't remotely sure how to deal with it. Saber and Berserker, Berserker and Saber... no matter how she wrapped her mind around it, her only option for overcoming that was to seek help. Archer, as surprisingly multi-talented as he had proven to be (Projection? It had to be projection, no one Servant could have that many Noble Phantasms. But Projection magic couldn't... argh, she'd think more on it when she could think of something other than how screwed she was), was simply no match for the two of them at once. She would need a partner.

But that was where things fell apart, wasn't it? Rider might be dead, and in any event she would not ally herself with Shinji after he'd had the temerity to steal souls in her city. She didn't know Lancer's Master and had no idea how to find him. Archer seemed to have an idea concerning Caster's identity, but both of the above applied to Caster.

So where exactly was she supposed to get this ally she needed so desperately?

What. Was. She. Supposed. To. Do?

Outside her room, Archer was equally confused. Something had definitely changed... Ilya should not have been making an effort to defend Shirou Emiya, not this soon. This threw his entire plan into unknown territory. He understood as well as Rin that he was no match for those two Servants at once; even one at a time would be a serious threat.

And more than that, he wouldn't harm Ilya. He would not. There were few things even he simply wouldn't do, and that was one. So if it came to a situation where he had to harm her to get to Shirou...

He wasn't supposed to be this confused. He'd thought he had grown past these feelings a long, long time ago.

There was not much sleep at the Tohsaka Manor that night.

---------------------------------------

Shirou rolled over in his futon, moaning softly. Ummm... three hours might not have been enough. Maybe I should skip school...?

"You said there was something you wished to speak to me about? It is morning." A calm feminine voice said by his head.

There are good ways and bad ways to wake up in the morning. For most men, finding Saber in their room would be a very good way. Shirou just happened to be the sort to panic because of it.

After a fairly mild heart attack, Shirou and Saber went to the kitchen. Shirou was getting the impression that, perhaps, he should have been a bit more considerate of Saber's feelings. For one thing, he was firmly under the impression that she had awoken him in the manner she had simply because she was angry at him. And that now, she was quite firmly sticking as uncomfortably close to him as she could because he had asked her to keep some distance.

In short, he was discovering that despite her typically calm, elegant demeanor, Saber could hold a grudge surprisingly well.

The prospect of breakfast seemed to cheer her up, though. And to make matters even better, Sakura woke up right on time to ensure that breakfast was up to her exacting standards. And best of all, Fuji-nee never showed up at all, and left the house without a word for some reason! He didn't know why (who knew why Fuji-nee did anything that Fuji-nee did?) but it made things easier.

"So... Sakura." Shirou said as the two of them cleaned the last bowls of German potato salad (He had absolutely not prepared a Western dish with breakfast to appease Saber. He definitely hadn't done that. Not at all. He was not intimidated by her or feeling guilty in any way.) "I need you to... um... do something for me."

"Hmmm?" The younger girl asked, turning from the dishes she was cleaning to stare curiously in his direction.

"... ... I'm not going to school today. Could you please let Fuji-nee know?"

"Eh? Senpai, what do you mean?" Sakura asked. Her eyes narrowed slightly. "... I've noticed that you seem a bit stiff this morning. Did... did something happen last night? Are you hurt?"

"Eh? No, I just came down with something," Shirou said soothingly. He hated to lie to her, but it wasn't as though he could tell her what had actually...

Oh. Oh, that's right. What actually happened. He thought. "Sakura... speaking of hurt... there's something I need to ask you. Come back to the house after school today. Don't go to your home." Shirou said firmly. "I'd prefer you not go anywhere near Shinji for awhile, okay? You can move into the guest wing here like you did last night."

"Wh-what...?! S-senpai, I... well, I don't... um..." Sakura said, blushing very, very obviously. Poor thing, she must be embarassed at the thought of intruding on his life even more, but he had to be firm with her.

"Sakura." It wasn't just Shinji, that he might have been willing to let her stay with. He knew well that Shinji could be... rough with her. It was the major reason he and Shinji weren't really friends anymore; they'd clashed more than once over strange bruises Shirou had found on Sakura's arms or neck. He did not like the thought of her spending time with Shinji, but they were family; Shirou didn't think that Shinji would do anything too bad, normally. But now this War was getting in the way; Shinji was clearly unhinged, and to make matters worse Tohsaka knew he was a Master and would be hunting him down. Shirou knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he couldn't let Sakura get into the line of fire between those two. She'd be in danger with him as well, but if she was going to be in danger no matter where she went, he could at least make sure she was in danger where he (and by extension, Saber) was watching her. "Look, there's some things going on, Shinji's been acting... strangely. I'd feel better if I could keep an eye on you, all right? At least until he calms down. So if you can, come back to the house after school. And let Fuji-nee know I'm calling in sick when you see her."

Sakura was torn. On the one hand... nii-san would be furious if she did this. And she didn't like the thought of going to school leaving senpai alone with Saber for a whole day, particularly after it was becoming more and more clear to her that Saber had gotten him hurt somehow, last night. It couldn't be too bad, he was moving around easily enough, but there was a stiffness to his movements that she could pick out.

She... oh, it had something to do with nii-san, it had to, that's why he was acting so strangely. She had felt Rider return to her control, felt how pained the Servant was. She could feel her own mana draining away far too rapidly as her Servant involuntarily drew in more and more to attempt to heal herself; it was getting harder and harder to pretend nothing was wrong, but she could last a bit longer. Senpai was hurt... Rider was nearly dead... she could add two and two together. Nii-san and senpai had fought, and neither had come out unscathed, one of the very few situations she had wanted to avoid more than anything else. Rider would survive, though... and nii-san would take her back, and they'd fight again, and this time one of them might... might...

She couldn't even think of it. Not for the first time, she cursed this entire pointless War.

But through all of this panic, one thing shone through. Senpai wants me to stay with him. He asked me himself to stay at his house! Not Fujimura-sensei, he asked me personally! We'll... we'll be together all the time...

The little surge of glee made her feel a bit guilty, yes... to think of herself at a time like this! But she couldn't crush it no matter how she tried.

Sakura smiled softly. "... all right, senpai. That... sounds nice."

---------------------------------------

After seeing Sakura off, Shirou turned to Saber. "All right. Now... about what I needed to say to you."

"If this concerns our sleeping arrangements..." Saber said, that stubborn light leaping to her eyes.

"Nothing like that." Shirou said, taking a deep breath. "All right, it's like this. I was useless last night. Rider manhandled me, and when that giant showed up all I could do was... nothing. I was helpless. Totally helpless."

Saber's expression softened. "I have told you before, that was my fault. You are only human, Shirou, you have no hope against a Servant as you are now. Dealing with that aspect of the War is for me alone."

"No. Not as I am. So I want you to make me better. Please... teach me how to fight, Saber!" He pleaded, bowing to her as he said it. " I know I'll never be able to beat a Servant by myself, but maybe with your help, I can at least survive without you for a little bit!"

Saber blinked a few times, taken briefly off-guard by the sincerity in his tone. Finally, she smiled very slightly. "... very well. We won't have much time, but if nothing else, perhaps we can get your body used to fighting a Servant. Any strength we can give you will be helpful, I suppose."

Shirou smiled. "Thank you! I swear, I'll be the best pupil you've ever had!"

Saber nodded. "I have no doubt of that, Shirou. None at all."

"Thank you, again." Shirou said warmly. "I promise, I won't disappoint you."

"I will hold you to that." Saber said, almost playfully. "Now, we have eaten, so it would be best to start immediately. Since it is your first lesson, I will go somewhat easy on you, but understand that for this to be of value I must be vicious in my strikes. You must be prepared to train as if your life is on the line."

Shirou smiled even more widely. "Bring it on, sensei. I can take whatever you can dish out!"

Four Hours Later...

Shirou gasped for breath, a mass of bruises and sweat. His every move was pain. He could barely breathe.

"Would you like to continue?" Saber asked mildly, still clutching the shinai she had been using to beat the crap out of him.

"... maybe... we... should... stop... for... lunch."

"That would be acceptable, yes."

---------------------------------------

Shirou sighed as he made the long, somewhat painful walk to the store to pick up lunch ingredients. Now that he didn't have shinai repeatedly slamming into his skull, he could think a bit about his situation, and it wasn't good. Shinji, Sakura, Tohsaka... the Holy Grail War was a huge pain in general.

Had he made the right decision asking Sakura to stay at his house? He wasn't sure, really. The problem was that the only person he could think of to really talk to about both Sakura and magic was Tohsaka, and she... well, he had to believe she wouldn't be talking to him freely at this point.

Ugh, what should I do? This whole mess is just ridiculously complicated, and it's only going to get worse. It seems like every time I turn around, some new problem is running right at m-

"Onii-chaaaan!" Said a delighted musical tone from behind him, and rapidly getting closer. He turned to see a tiny white-and-purple rocket speeding toward him, skidding to a stop just in front of him. After the brief surprise had faded, he found himself smiling warmly at a semi-familiar face, seen in good light for the first time.

"Oh, hi! You're the ojou-chan from the other night, right? Nice to see you again! How weird that we ran into each other twice like this..." He said.

"Er... yeah!" the girl said. She chose not to mention, at this point, that they hadn't actually 'run into each other', she had been following him since he'd left his house, working up the courage to try talking to him. He was so adorably unable to sense anything at all...

"Did you find your family okay? They came to get you?"

"Erm... yes! My guardians came to pick me up, so thank you for helping me!" The little girl said, smiling cheerfully.

"I'm glad to hear it," Shirou said, feeling an answering smile come to his own face almost instinctively. "And I'm sorry if I was annoying to you or anything like that. I just didn't think I should leave you alone. I'm glad you're okay."

"Oh, um..." The girl said, blushing slightly. "No. I didn't mind... it made me happy, actually. You were much nicer than I thought you'd be."

Shirou blinked in confusion. Nicer than she thought I'd... ooooooh. Heh, I get it... He glared in mock-anger. "I don't look that scary, do I?"

"Hee, hee... I don't think you look scary at all!" the girl said. "A bit simple, maybe, but that suits you."

"... ... ..." Was... was that a compliment or...

"Um... my name is Ilyasviel! We didn't talk a lot the other night, so I never told you that..." The girl... Ilyasviel... said. "I'm not from this country, I'm visiting with some... relatives."

"Ah... then it's even worse for you to be wandering alone." Shirou chastised her. "It's dangerous these days, even if you know the town. You shouldn't be out by yourself... even during the daytime, to be honest. And yet, here you are again, all alone."

"I'm not alone." Ilyasviel said, frowning. "You're here. You'll keep me safe... won't you?"

Shirou felt the attack like a punch in the gut. Really, he barely knew the girl, yet she was showing such trust in him it was a bit embarrassing. "Oh. Um... thank you. I mean... yes, of course, if you're near me I'll protect you, yes. But... I thought you said you were only going to trust me one time."

"I did, and you were nice. So I decided to trust you again." Ilya said, her tone indicating she was educating a particularly stupid child. "And what exactly are you waiting for?"

"Eh?" Shirou asked. Honestly, following this girl's train of thought was a bit like working his way through a maze blindfolded.

"Your name. I told you mine, so it's rude not to tell me yours, Onii-chan."

"OH! Sorry, um... Shirou. Shirou Emiya."

"Shiroushirouemiya?" The girl asked. "Hmmmm... that sounds a bit weird."

"... Just Shirou will do."

"Um... okay! I like that much better!" The girl said, seeming inordinately pleased with this response. "I didn't mind the thought of you having a long name like me, but a simple, pretty name suits you. 'Shirou'... yeah, I like that a lot! So you be Shirou, and you can call me Ilya if you want!"

Shirou couldn't help but shake his head in bemusement at the girl's quicksilver personality. It seemed next-to-no stimulus was required to catapult her from irritable to happy to embarrassed to any other emotion he could name. Frankly it was... well, just cute. "Sure. Ilya it is, then."

"Hee, hee..." The girl giggled, blushing slightly again. "Well, come on, onii-chan! Let's go, let's go!"

"Er... where?"

"What do you mean 'where'?" Ilya asked in confusion. "I don't really care where we go. I just want to spend the day with you."

... huh? Shirou thought.

"... huh?" Shirou said.

Sometimes, his brain and mouth were in sync.

Ilya narrowed her eyes in irritation. "What, did you think I went to all this trouble to meet you again just to say hello?"

Shirou blinked in confusion. "Wait, all this trouble to meet me aga-"

"I was interested in you after you helped me, so I wanted to spend time with you, onii-chan." Ilya interrupted before he could finish the thought. "And I'm a visitor to this country, so I thought you could show me around this town."

"Um... look, Ilya, I'm happy to see you again, but I need to get..."

"U-unless... you don't want to spend the day with me..." Ilya said. Suddenly, she looked very, very small. "I... well, I guess if you really don't like me, I understand if you just leave..."

Oh. Oh, that's just not fair. Shirou thought numbly. All that exuberance just drained out of her in a heartbeat to be replaced with what a sort of nervous resignation that just did not suit the girl. He wasn't sure why, but she seemed really, genuinely afraid that he was going to leave her here. They barely knew each other, but she seemed to be pinning a ridiculous amount of hope on the thought that he would accept her.

This is ridiculous. Saber is waiting at home, I'm already skipping school... I'm supposed to be training. I'm supposed to be getting stronger. This is a war, and I have to win it, don't I?

But...

But looking at that girl, standing alone in a strange town, mingled fear, disappointment and just a hint of hope that refused to quite fade in her eyes... he didn't know why his acceptance meant so much to her, but it clearly did. It meant the world to this girl that he not turn her away. He wasn't sure how he knew this, but he knew, deep in his heart...

... if I leave her like this, I'll be breaking something irreplaceable.

Saber could wait a bit... it wasn't like one late lunch would kill her, right? For the moment, he smiled and held his hand out to Ilya, just as he'd done on the night they first met. "You know what? Sure. I have about an hour free. There isn't much to see, but I can give you a little tour of my neighborhood if you want."

The brief moment of shock at his acceptance, followed by the practical flood of joy into the girl's eyes as she latched onto his arm like a vice clamp, convinced Shirou that he had made the correct decision.

---------------------------------------

Rin wasn't surprised to find Emiya not attending school. Not like he had any reason to, and he couldn't bring Saber with him. Best for him to stay where his ally and his Servant could watch over him at all times.

She likewise was not surprised to find Shinji wasn't at school. She'd put some decent effort into that curse. She hoped he was feeling really, really miserable.

Frankly, Rin wasn't sure why she was at school. To check out that stubborn boundary field, she supposed. It had not grown any stronger since her last check-in; one more sign that Rider had been responsible. The violet haired Servant from last night would certainly be in no position to strengthen her boundary field at the moment, that was obvious. Still, the fact that it still existed told Rin that the Servant was probably still alive, so it was still a threat. And she doubted Shinji would be coming to school any time soon, not without his Servant for protection. Not with her there.

It made her a bit happy to think of him afraid of her, she could admit that. Really, someone ought to be afraid of her.

She wasn't sure what had brought her to the first-year's hall, really. Looking for mana points on the boundary field? She couldn't really detect them through the thick aura of the field's magic. More likely she was just wandering to clear her thoughts after all the upsets to her world that had hit the last few days. But whatever the case, she was there, when she had no real reason to be.

It was a small change. But enough.

She turned the corner, to see a plum-haired girl, sweating, pale, all alone and clearly struggling to stand, propped against a locker.

Sakura Matou gasped for breath, her chest burning, her vision blurring. She had overestimated herself, underestimated how much mana Rider would need... whatever the case, something had gone wrong. The dizziness had come on so suddenly, she could barely even...

"Sakura? Um... are you okay?" Rin asked softly. She knew she wasn't supposed to care, but...

"O-oh!" Sakura said, shooting upright. "T-Tohsaka-senpai! I'm... I'm sorry, I didn't hear you! I was just... just a bit tired, and..."

"You look like Hell." Rin said frankly, concerned in spite of herself. "You should head to the nurse's office if you're sick. Do you want me to walk you there?"

"No! No, it's nothing like that, really!" Sakura said quickly. And it wasn't, really; this had been a momentary problem. The dizziness was already mostly gone, and she didn't want to worry anyone and... and...

... and if the nurse says I'm sick, Fujimura-sensei might make me go to my own house for the night.

"It was... I'm fine, really. Th-thank you for worrying, though. I do appreciate it." Sakura said with a fragile smile, turning and walking away from the older girl as fast as her unsteady legs could carry her.

Rin watched her go with a confused expression. Something was up there, she knew it. Maybe she should keep a closer eye on Sakura for a few days? She... her training said 'no'. She had enough to worry about as it was. But... well... she could always justify it by saying that any Matou was worth watching if Shinji was a Master, couldn't she?

Yes. Yes, that was acceptable.

And although she didn't know it at the time, this decision... made in the heat of the moment, when she wasn't quite in her right mind anyway... would have a tremendous impact on the Holy Grail War for Rin and Sakura alike.

Sometimes, small changes will do that.

---------------------------------------

Shirou walked down the streets, the girl on his arm expressing borderline-amazement at just about everything.

They progressed like that for awhile... Ilya was shockingly attached to him, with no prodding at all. It seemed no matter what he showed her in their little 'sightseeing tour', she was enraptured... even simple things, like the little store he bought most of his groceries at, or the park near his house. She just happily latched onto his arm and followed it all. And she wanted to see everything, so he obliged. Forget 'new to Japan'... he was beginning to wonder if she'd ever been outside her house, considering how she reacted to every little thing. Still...

... you know, maybe it's silly, but I feel a lot less worried about this whole situation. Just being around someone so cheerful is making me feel better. He thought, smiling fondly at the exuberant girl. She had a small red stain on her lips from some taiyaki he'd bought her... she had gulped down the snack so enthusiastically he was surprised her whole face wasn't covered.

He heard some harsh whispering behind him, and turned to see two women standing close together, glancing at him occasionally and exchanging words. He wondered, vaguely, what they were...

"Maybe they're talking because we look like we're on a date." Ilya giggled, nuzzling closer to him from her perpetual grip on his arm.

Heh, she's more observant than I gave her credit for. Still, what a ridiculous thing to say. Just like a kid. He smiled fondly down at the girl hanging off him and began to voice as much, getting out, "Oh, come on, Ilya, that's..." before something very, very unpleasant occurred to him.

Oh Hell, she's not wrong!

When he thought about it logically, Ilya was a foreigner, so they didn't look like relatives. Between their age difference and her general clinginess, they didn't really look like friends. Considering it from the perspective of someone looking on from the outside... crap, he totally did look like he was on a date with a little girl!

And that's just ridiculous! I wouldn't do that, that's a crime, and further I wouldn't be...

...

...

Showing her around town. Taking her to various places and enjoying her enjoyment of them. Buying her little gifts just to see her smile.

Shit, I am on a date with a little girl! How the Hell did that happen?

"Er... Ilya, I don't mind walking around with you, but I think maybe you should let go of my arm..."

"No." Ilya said with a cheerful smile.

"Um... look, it's not that I have a problem with you being affectionate, but I do have a problem with going to prison, and..."

Ilya looked up at him with narrowed eyes. "So you're saying you want me to leave?" She asked, her tone icy cold.

"No! Not at all, I'm having a lot of fun, really! Just... er... don't stand quite so close, is all, before all of my neighbors start to think I'm doing something illegal..." Shirou said, feeling his face rapidly reddening. Between Ilya's obvious disapproval and the increasingly obvious stares of everyone around them in the street, he was starting to feel a growing pressure in the atmosphere, like all of his potential options ended in death...

The girl sighed in annoyance. "Well... you're warm, so I don't really want to, but I guess I can do you this favor. But you owe me!" She said, finally breaking her grip.

Shirou felt a tingling in his hand, and realized it had fallen asleep. She hadn't been clasped on too tightly, so how long exactly had she been clamped on his arm...?

The sun was in the wrong place in the sky.

He checked his watch, and his face went deathly pale.

"O-onii-chan?" Ilya asked in sudden confusion. He looked really sick. "Shirou, are you okay?"

"I've been walking you around town for six hours?" He said in disbelief. Oh... oh God, school is over... Fuji-nee and Sakura might already be at the house! After I told them I was going to spend the day at home... if they get to the house and I'm not there...!

... ... ... ... I didn't bring Saber lunch.

"Ilya, I need to go, I'm sorry! I need to get home right now, before..." Shirou babbled in supreme panic. He was dead, he was so dead if...

A small hand gripped his shirt firmly. "You... you're leaving me all alone? I was having so much fun with you, onii-chan..." Ilya said, that familiar sadness coming back to her eyes.

... ... oh, come on. He thought in exasperation as her sadness struck him right in the soul. "... I had a lot of fun too, really. But I need to go home. And I'm sure your relatives are worried about you, aren't they?"

Ilya considered this. She had snuck out past Sella and Leysritt, so... "Yes, they probably are." She admitted glumly.

"... how's this? Remember that little park we saw before?" He asked. "How about tomorrow I meet you there? Around lunch time, like today. Not for as long as today, but we can talk a little more."

The girl fairly well glowed at that. "You mean it? Really?"

"Of course."

Ilya smiled brilliantly. "Okay! I know you won't lie, so... even though I shouldn't, I'll definitely sneak out to see you again!"

"Um... well, you shouldn't sneak out, if..." Shirou began, wondering just exactly what he'd just encouraged Ilya to do.

"I'll see you tomorrow, onii-chan! Byeeeeee!" The girl screamed happily as she took off into the distance, waving over her shoulder.

Shirou, as firmly aware as he was that when he got home he was so dead... couldn't help but smile one more time.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 06:55 PM
^This. It does my heart good to see it posted up here, since Illya-centric fanfiction is few and far between and all-too-rare.

CT is definitely a treat. Seriously.

Damn straight. :D To be honest, when I started writing I wasn't sure how central Ilya was even going to be, but... she gets screwed all over the place in the game, and fanfiction where she features prominently is so painfully rare. Why so little Homunculus Love, I asked? And reviewers kept asking for an Ilya route, and I'd always kinda liked the idea, so...

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 07:00 PM
Seconding your "Damn Straight". I've always wondered what an Illya route would have been like, so I follow just about anything that resembles her route with intense interest to see what the author's interpretation would be like.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 07:14 PM
Which always struck me as 'odd'. I mean, HF was already halfway to an 'Ilya Route'; you'd think it would be fairly easy to redirect his affections from Sakura to Ilya, considering she was very clearly second-place for Shirou in that route. It provides a good framework, if nothing else.

Keyne
May 21st, 2011, 07:16 PM
Mike would like to have a word with you about that.

Theocrass
May 21st, 2011, 07:18 PM
Come now, he's saying Illya was second place. I don't think Mike would have any problems with that.

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 07:20 PM
Talk about playing sloppy seconds. ;~;
That's what happens when you mix your routes, the other girl gets stiffed.

Oh well, no real sense in complaining about what can't be changed with anything short of a remake. At least CT helps to make up for it. And, dare I say it, also gets my own creativeness flowing.

You inspire us, man. YOU MAKE US BELIEVE.

Keyne
May 21st, 2011, 07:21 PM
Come now, he's saying Illya was second place. I don't think Mike would have any problems with that.
But making it an Ilya route automatically sets Ilya on the prime spot, which starts to be a problem from that point.

And, dare I say it, also gets my own creativeness flowing.
WHERE IS THE FREAKING UPDATE TO OUR JOINT FIC, IRUN!??!?!?!?!?!

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 07:24 PM
What if Heaven's Feel = The "Choose Your Heroine Route" (between the two lesser grails)

Everyone who plays the game wins because they get to make their own choice?

Now THAT would have been a decent twist. And probably wouldn't be a bad idea for a possible remake, so that way it could serve as a parallel to Fate/UBW where the storylines split off from one key decision.

Keyne
May 21st, 2011, 07:26 PM
What if Heaven's Feel = The "Choose Your Heroine Route" (between the two lesser grails)

Everyone who plays the game wins because they get to make their own choice?

Now THAT would have been a decent twist. And probably wouldn't be a bad idea for a possible remake, so that way it could serve as a parallel to Fate/UBW where the storylines split off from one key decision.
Irun, Realta Nua was the remake. :U

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 07:28 PM
I'm talking about another remake, silly. One with the missing storylines, but that's neither here nor there.

10th Anniversary edition might be possible, but look at how well that worked out for Tsukihime. :p

I can still hopez! And read Chaos Theory!

Keyne
May 21st, 2011, 07:29 PM
I'm talking about another remake, silly. One with the missing storylines, but that's neither here nor there.
What another remake? :3

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 07:40 PM
Mike would like to have a word with you about that.

Actually, he's been following the story since the beginning over on AnimeSuki, and while he's made it very clear he doesn't approve of Ilya/Shirou (shocking, I know), overall he's been quite reasonable about it. :)

Keyne
May 21st, 2011, 07:42 PM
Actually, he's been following the story since the beginning over on AnimeSuki, and while he's made it very clear he doesn't approve of Ilya/Shirou (shocking, I know), overall he's been quite reasonable about it. :)
He can be if he wants to, but he generally disapproves of any fic that does not involve Sakura in it (saving her, that is). Actually, I disapprove of Shirou x Ilya, too. I just may have different reasons.

Alulim
May 21st, 2011, 07:45 PM
I've always (ever since I saw the VN that is) liked Shirou x Ilya...meh, oh well.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 07:45 PM
Mike approves of the fic, because Sakura features prominently as it progresses. He just doesn't approve of the main pairing.

Personally, I think Shirou x Ilya makes a lot of sense. At least, I think she has as much chance as any of the other girls. (... well, obviously I think that, or I wouldn't be writing the story. ^^;;;;;)

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 07:46 PM
I've always (ever since I saw the VN that is) liked Shirou x Ilya...meh, oh well.

*Brofist*

Lolis can be heroines, too... ;-;
DAT WHITE HAIR/RED EYES/PERSONALITY~

Keyne
May 21st, 2011, 07:49 PM
*Brofist*

Lolis can be heroines, too... ;-;
DAT WHITE HAIR/RED EYES/PERSONALITY~
Mehehehehe~~

@Moczo: I do not.

Alulim
May 21st, 2011, 07:50 PM
Twas the hair that snatched me up at first. The rest came soon after.

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 07:53 PM
Who, hold up there. This was also posted on AnimeSuki? May I have a link, please? I'd like to see.

@Al: INOERITE?!
@Moczo: Seconded. Shirou's powers as a VN-Lead make nearly all women equally likely to fall for him. Exceptions are few.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 07:54 PM
For me, it was the personality all the way. Lolis are not usually my thing, but she was just so much fun. :) And then the more you got to know her, the more likable she was.

@ItsaRandomUsername: Well, the AS version isn't well-archived, but the first chapter is here. (http://forums.animesuki.com/showthread.php?p=3277457#post3277457)

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 07:55 PM
Yeah, it was her personality for me as well.

And regarding the pairing, I'm glad that you're sticking to your guns. Keep at it Moczo, and I will followe with vested interest.

Keyne
May 21st, 2011, 07:57 PM
The very same personality that pissed me off so much. She gets a bit better later, but the aftertaste still remains.

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 08:03 PM
Redemption is as redemption does. The fact that she can change her ways in spite of her inital goals of DIE,ONII-CHAN,BWAHAHAHAA is an underlying major reason why she is such a good character in my eyes. Some folks never get out of that phase, and it completely ruins them.

Although I do like her Yandere moments. It's kind of a kink of mine.

But, to each their own, then.


@Moczo: Thanks for the linkage, boss man.

Ace
May 21st, 2011, 08:09 PM
RadiantBeam needs to be thanked. Also if you can convince DezoPenguin to start writing Fate/Stay Night fanfiction.....

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 08:12 PM
Yeah, it was her personality for me as well.

And regarding the pairing, I'm glad that you're sticking to your guns. Keep at it Moczo, and I will followe with vested interest.

Thanks. :D It's my story; I don't demand anyone like the pairing or the plot, but I do ask they accept that I'm the one writing it and therefore the pairing and plot are mine to decide.


And speaking of...


Chapter Seven: Nightmare

Shirou sprinted towards the house. "I'm not late!" He said.

There was nobody to hear him, but perhaps if he said it often and loud enough, it would come true. Magic happened, right?

"I'm not late!"

This was pointless. There was no reason to run; it didn't matter how quickly he arrived now. Saber would be furious. He had promised her he would be back shortly, and then gone on to spend the entire day out of the house. Not only out of the house, but walking around with a girl he didn't even know. And what excuse did he have? 'I'm sorry, I just couldn't say 'no' to her when she looked at me with those sad eyes'? 'I had a lot of things on my mind and she was comforting to be with'? Yes, because that would certainly fly with his overprotective new bodyguard. Saber definitely seemed the type to accept excuses that boiled down to 'I had to comfort a stranger' and 'I flaked out'. She, a girl who could eat enough for three people, would be totally accepting of the fact that he'd ditched her at mealtime.

God, he was so dead. He didn't regret spending time with Ilya; the fact that he'd gotten along with her so naturally he'd spent five more hours doing so than he'd planned to was proof of that. But he had a feeling that his next training session with Saber was going to hurt much more than the first one had.

"I'm not late!"

-------------------------------------------------

Ilya danced through the forest, humming an aimless little tune and smiling more widely than she thought she ever had in her whole life. Appropriate, given that she could not remember having ever had as much fun as she had this day.

Oh, Grandpapa had been wrong about the Emiya boy, completely and utterly. Shirou hadn't turned her away at all. He had talked to her, smiled at her, spent time just being with her and doing all he could to make her happy in their brief hours together. More than Grandpapa had ever done, more than anyone had done for her since mama and papa had left. He'd even asked to see her again! He wanted to spend time with her, he'd asked for it himself!

He was wonderful.

Well... most likely. She was naive, but not so childish as she looked or acted, and she admitted to herself the possibility that he might still be pretending, trying to deceive her. She didn't think so; she wasn't the best at picking up on lies, but she doubted Shirou could fool her. He was so adorably guileless that even as sheltered as she was, she found him a bit of an open book. That was okay, though, it was incredibly cute.

Another thought, far more worrisome, was the possibility that he would turn on her once he found out who she really was, what their connection was and why she'd really come to 'visit' Japan. But honestly, she didn't think that was true either. She'd looked into his eyes, talked to him, held him. He was warm, in every sense of the word. Just to be safe, she would wait before telling him. She would keep her real self a secret until she was absolutely sure he loved her, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and then she would tell him the whole truth, and he would accept her, and they would always be together.

It wasn't like lying, as long she told him eventually. Right?

And she would, because she had to tell him when he became hers. Kiritsugu had left her, for whatever reason. She'd had enough doubt thrown into her worldview lately to admit that she didn't know for certain why he had abandoned her, but she knew he had. But Shirou...

Shirou was hers. He was warm, and gentle, and soft-hearted, and a little bit of a dummy but in a cute way, and he was hers. He wanted to be with her, he cared about her. And she, in turn, wanted him to stay by her side for the rest of her life. It was just that simple.

Ilya was not a girl who did things in half-measures; once she chose a path, she ran down it full-throttle wearing her heart on her sleeve. When she hated, she was merciless.

And when she loved, she loved without reservations.

Shirou was in for a very significant complication in his personal life.

The white princess twirled a bit, her coat flaring around her legs, giggling softly as she continued her dance through the forest toward her castle. She would have some explaining to do to her attendants, but she didn't care in the slightest. She just continued to smile brilliantly as she half-walked half-danced her way home, humming a gentle tune and happier than she'd been in years.

--------------------------------------------

"T-Tohsaka-senpai, this really isn't necessary..." Sakura said. It was amazing how she could manage to look pale and yet blush at the same time.

"I don't mind. It's not too far, and I could use the fresh air." Rin said, walking beside her.

"Well, I mean... um..." Sakura said.

'Um' was as far she got. Further words simply didn't want to come, and really she'd already said all the ones she could think of before now anyway.

To be frank, Sakura wasn't sure what to make of this. Rin had basically hunted her down to walk her home after school, even waiting the extra hours for both Archery Club practice and Sakura staying another hour-and-a-half after the rest of the club had left to clean up. She had tried to refuse, of course, but Rin would have none of that, claiming that if she was sick, she shouldn't be walking home alone. So she'd tried reason; she had claimed to not be really sick, more of a little bug, she felt fine, really.

Rin had smiled widely and proclaimed that with the weather so cold, sudden illness was always a danger and even a tiny ailment could grow out of control if one wasn't careful.

She'd then attempted a more extreme avenue of attack; Sakura was not going to her own house, she was going to the Emiya household, which was much further out of Rin's way.

Rin had claimed a sudden interest in exercise and welcomed the chance for a nice long walk.

Sakura didn't, of course, say the real reason they should not be walking together. Rin knew that just as well or better than she did. The occasional chat in the halls to keep up appearances was no problem, but both of them knew they weren't supposed to actually interact. It was against any number of family rules, it was probably stupid during a Grail War, and more than anything else...


It's just wrong. It's wrong for someone amazing like her to associate with something like me. Sakura thought.

Yet she couldn't bring herself to offer more than half-hearted protests that Rin shot down easily, precisely because Rin was associating with her even though she shouldn't. Because Rin was with her.

Because nee-san was by her side.

Sakura didn't know, precisely, why nee-san had suddenly taken an interest in her. She knew that there was a significant part of herself that truly did not care, though. The part that hoped, despite having no reason to. She wanted Rin to want to spend time with her, craved that sense of concern, as much as she didn't like to admit it.

Nee-san is worried about me! And I'll be living with senpai, at his own invitation!

It was, frankly, so much like a dream that she half-believed she would soon wake up. Such simple little things, but combined they added up to so much happiness that she felt it couldn't possibly be real, not for her. Sakura Matou didn't get to be happy, her life had made this abundantly clear. Yet here she was, walking home with Rin almost like they were real sisters, to go see the man she loved. Even her body was being cooperative; the ever-present burning in her blood, the bone-deep fatigue she'd been trying so hard to disguise, she could barely even feel them anymore. It almost had to be a dream.

Had her mind been in a better place, she might have recognized that she could no longer feel either pain nor tiredness because the world was blurring around her so much she could barely feel or perceive anything at all. But to her muddled thought processes that she was unable to realize were muddled, the fact that suddenly this feeling of generally fuzziness crystallized into a total loss of control of her body made perfect sense and seemed nothing to worry about; just proof that she, as she'd suspected, had been dreaming. And look! The ground was moving closer to her, it must be one of those 'falling' dreams where you wake up when you hit the-

She was just barely able to perceive impacting on something soft that wrapped around her, halting her fall forward. "Wh-what the-? Sakura, are you..." Said a voice she just barely recognized as Rin. Something cool and soft touched her forehead. "Dammit, you're burning up! Sakura, can you hear me? Sakura!"

Oh, nee-san thinks something is wrong. Sakura thought happily as blackness began to creep in around the edges of her mind. She must not know this is a dream. Silly. Still, it's nice that she's worried...

"Damn, damn, damn!" Rin said. "Okay, we're closer to Emiya's than to a hospital, and if I have to carry you, I will! Up we go, a-one and a-two and a-thrulf! Okay, wow, heavier than you look. No problem, I can deal with that. Come on, one step at a time Rin, one step at a time..."

Hee... nee-san. Sakura thought deliriously, enjoying the concern and not even minding the comment on her weight. Her last thought before passing out completely was that if this was a dream, she hoped she didn't wake up for a long time.

-------------------------------------
Shirou stood before the Judges of Hell, and knew that he was amongst the damned.

"Six hours. You informed me that you would be home shortly, yet you left for six hours." Saber said.

"You weren't here when I got home!" Fuji-nee said.

"I did not know where you were, where to look for you, why you had not checked back in. You left me completely in the dark."

"You call in sick and then just go out and have fun, eh? You think I'm just going to forgive that? You think betraying my trust like that is funny? Huh? Huh?"

"You could have been killed. You could have been kidnapped. Threats are everywhere, Shirou, and can appear at any time. Daylight does not necessarily equal safety."

"You could have gotten me fired, making me look like I'm giving you special treatment because I'm your big si... because I was your father's friend!"

"You did not bring home lunch."

"You were late making me dinner!"

"Explain." The two irritated women finished in perfect unison.

"... ... there... there was this girl..." Shirou said. Even to his own ears, he already sounded pretty pathetic.

"WHAT?!" Taiga roared.

"Shirou, really, this is no time for you to allow your base, lustful perversions to control your reasoning." Saber said, her expression suggesting she was looking at a slug, or a cockroach. Something she would hesitate to step on only because it would be disgusting to wipe off her shoe.

"N-no! Not like that, really, she was just a kid, and..."

"Pervert!" Taiga shrieked.

"Honestly, Shirou." Saber said. Shirou felt it would take hours of work just for the honor of being regarded as on the level of a slug again.

"Both of you, don't jump to weird conclusions!" Shirou begged. "I swear, I was just... she looked sad, and she was all alone. So I decided to walk her around town, and I guess she took my mind off my troubles so I ended up spending more time with her than I planned, and..."

"... Ugh." Taiga said. Instantly, and to Saber's great surprise, the hostility drained out of her to be replaced by irritated resignation. "I have to admit, that does sound stupid like you. You're the sort who would jump at the chance to help someone like that."

"Excuse me?" Saber asked, seemingly displeased at the loss of her wingman in this bombardment.

"Oh, Saber-chan, you really need to understand exactly what kind of guy we're dealing with here." Taiga said. "Shirou has always been like this. The 'defender of justice', 'protector of the innocent'. You know, when they asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said a 'superhero'? Now, lots of little kids say things like that, but he was serious."

Shirou felt his face redden. "Look, I know how it sounds. But what's wrong with helping people?"

Taiga sighed. "Nothing, really... in moderation. But you know, if you really want to help people, you could start by helping me, huh? I was so worried about you that I challenged Saber-chan to a sparring duel and she beat me up!"

"Oh, well, I'm sorry b- wait, what?" Shirou asked.

"Ah. Well. We were both worried about you, and I was waiting in the dojo when she arrived home, so... she was very insistent. And I was tense and frustrated, so I thought it might be a good way to pass the time..." Saber said, having at least the good graces to realize that she had done something stupid. She was smiling, but in a nervous, mildly humiliated sort of way, embarrassed and very obviously trying to pretend she wasn't. Saber, Shirou was discovering, was not very skilled in the art of bluffing.

"You... didn't fight seriously, did you?" Shirou asked. Why am I even asking? Of course you did.

"She is quite strong, so I'm afraid going easy was not a possibility." Saber said, still with that ludicrously goofy expression. It didn't really suit her aura of dignity, and yet it was so unexpectedly cute that Shirou really couldn't complain. Much.

"Shirou. Don't sneak into Saber-chan's room at night, seriously. She'll kill you." Taiga said. Her eyes were the eyes of a shell-shocked war veteran.

Ha! I'm the one who has to worry about people sneaking into my room around here! Shirou thought. Out loud, because he was not suicidal, he said, "Well, I'd hope that by this point, you'd know that you don't have to worry about that sort of behavior from m-"

A crunching noise from the front door cut him off, sounding for all the world as if someone had 'knocked' on it by attempting to kick it down. The boundary field didn't react, so there weren't hostile intentions... but who exactly would be trying to break down the door without wanting to hurt anyone inside?

Shirou turned to move to the source of the intrusion, only to find that Saber had quite efficiently beat him to it. Passing him at speeds that she kept just barely in human limits, for Taiga's benefit, she made for the door, fully intending to greet any guests politely and kill any intruders horribly.

"See?" Taiga asked, watching the nigh-impossible display of speed and fluid movement. "Scary girl."

Without a word, Shirou bolted after her.

"Huh. What's up with them? It's just a knock on the door." Taiga said. "... I wonder what's for dinner?"

Saber reached the door first, of course; even if she hadn't had a head start, she probably would have. Shirou had expected that. What he didn't expect was to see the girl frozen in shock, unsure of what action she should be taking. Nor did he expect to join her in this state, but he instantly did so upon seeing exactly who was framed in the door.

Rin Tohsaka, the cool, perfect school idol turned perhaps the biggest threat to his life in the city, stood in his doorway. She looked more frightened than he'd ever seen her, even the previous night when Berserker had been attacking her.

And hanging limply from her arms, shivering, pale and dripping with sweat was the all too familiar form of Sakura.

"Help?" Rin asked softly.

-----------------------------------------

Taiga put Sakura to bed; Rin was a guest, Saber barely knew her, and Shirou could clearly not be trusted to undress an unconscious girl after proving himself so unreliable this afternoon! So Taiga, as the responsible adult, took charge.

She was concerned, of course, but not really worried; she'd seen her share of sick kids in her time as a teacher, and it wasn't hard to hit on the real problem. Sakura wasn't really sick... oh, she might indeed have a bug of some sort, but the main problem was that she was simply exhausted, physically and mentally. Not exactly a shocker when you considered she somehow balanced school, club activities, and keeping both the Emiya and Matou houses running smoothly, right? So Taiga took the girl to the nicest guest room in the house, got her into some more comfortable clothes, and put her to bed. A good night's sleep and taking a day off tomorrow would be just what the doctor ordered; Shirou would just have to miss some more school in order to be Sakura's personal slave for a little bit. Relaxing and ordering Shirou around always made Taiga feel healthier when she was under the weather or even just kind of felt like ordering Shirou around, so it would probably make Sakura feel better too.

Taiga tousled the sleeping girl's hair affectionately, smiling softly as she arranged the blankets to best keep her warm. "Dummy. You're just as bad as he is, you know? You two need to learn how to take it easy from time to time. Get better, okay?"

"Nee... san...?" The girl muttered softly in her sleep.

"Aaaaaaaaawwwww!" Taiga squealed. "Yeah, Fuji-nee is here! What a nice girl."

Sakura briefly frowned in her sleep, as though annoyed by something. Taiga did not notice.

In the kitchen, Shirou and Rin sat on opposite ends of the table, making a concerted effort to look at anything except each other. Shirou probably felt somewhat neglected as a result, but Rin was still getting all of the attention she could handle because Saber refused to take her eyes off the girl for a second.

"So. Archer is here, isn't he?" Shirou asked, deciding that something needed to be done to break the silence.

"Yes." Rin said calmly, without looking at him. "I'm not bringing him out, don't worry."

"You would be dead before the first arrow left the bow." Saber said.

"Yes, that's the big reason why I'm not bringing him out." Rin said.

Silence fell once again.

"... why did you bring Sakura back here?" Shirou asked after another few painful minutes.

"She wanted to go here, and it was close by." Rin said. "Besides, you heard sensei. It's probably just exhaustion, maybe a bit of a flu, right? She'll be fine in a day or two."

I hope, She did not say.

"Well... thank you." Shirou said softly.

"I didn't do it for you." Rin replied. "I was just helping out a classmate."

"Then thank you for her." Shirou said.

Rin did not reply, merely blushed slightly and looked away. Silence fell again.

Argh, this is awkward! Shirou thought. Just... say something.

"Ryudou Temple." He blurted out.

"... what about it?" Rin asked, blinking a few times in confusion at the sheer randomness.

"I think one of the Masters is up there." Shirou said. "Shinji said something about the 'witch on the mountain' stealing souls. Ryudou is the only mountain I can think of that makes sense."

"I... no, that doesn't make sense at all." Rin said, frowning. "How could someone be stealing souls from the temple? To take life-energy from the people at that distance would take a great magic, even for a Servant. Whoever was doing it would have to spend so much energy they'd be lucky to break even."

Shirou shrugged. "I don't know about that, I just know what Shinji said. I thought you might want to know."

"Well, it makes no sense... unless... ugh, I don't know. Maybe I should check it out, or..." Rin said. Halfway through the sentence, her expression hardened; not overtly hostile, but she certainly didn't look as open as she had mere seconds ago. "But that brings up my other problem: Why do you think I can trust anything you say? For all I know you're trying to lead me into a trap."

"... yeah. I guess looking at it that way, you can't really believe me." Shirou admitted. Stupid... I should have known she'd react like that. "I just... I don't really have anything else I can give you in thanks for what you did for Sakura."

Rin looked away from him once again. He wasn't sure why that bothered him so much. "Well... I told you not to thank me for that." She stood, smoothing her skirt. "I did what I came here to do, and I don't want anything in return, so there's no reason to impose on your hospitality. Good-bye, Emiya."

"Tohsaka, wait..." Shirou said, holding one hand out as she strode purposefully back towards the front door.

"I hope you're not trying to ask me to stay. Someone with your connections hardly needs me around," She said, without turning around, "And isn't it only natural for me to leave a place where my life is so obviously in danger?"

Shirou fell silent. The hostility radiating off Saber in waves made it hard to disagree with that. Saber wanted to protect him. Tohsaka, or at least her Servant, had tried to kill him. He didn't think they'd be reconciling any time soon.

"Tell Sakura I hope she feels better." Rin said, exiting the room. The renewed silence was deafening.

A few days ago she was just the cute girl from school. Now we could end up killing each other.

"Saber..." Shirou said when he heard the front door close.

"Yes, Shirou?" The blonde asked, the tense air draining from her posture with Rin's exit.

"The Holy Grail War?" Shirou asked. "I don't care what the prize is. It's not worth this. The blood, and the death, and... and Tohsaka and I don't even know each other and we're at each other's throats. There's a sick girl in the other room, and I might end up having to kill her brother, one of my oldest friends. There's four other people I've never even met, and I might have to kill some of them too. No wish is worth all of this. None."

"Shirou, I-"

"I'm going to go check on Sakura." He said, standing to leave the room himself.

Saber, unsure of what else to do, sat in silence.


---------------------------------------------
Rin walked down the street towards her home, Archer invisibly by her side. "You placed it, right?" He asked.

"Of course. Before we ever walked in the door." Rin replied. "The gem is slipped into the lining of her coat. Unless she routinely stops to feel up every inch of her jacket she'll never notice it, and it should let me keep at least a bit of an eye on her even if she's inside another Magus's area of influence. I can't use it to check in too often or it will be noticed, but at least I'll know if anything major happens."

"How sweet."

"H-hey! It's just because she's close to Shinji and Emiya, that's all! I need every advantage I can get!" Rin said, blushing furiously. "If I'm going to have a shot at beating Emiya, I need to know as much as I can about him and his partner both! Sakura is just my... my spy, that's all! My pawn is what she is."

"Of course." Archer said, glad that she couldn't see his smirk while he was in astral form. "You're obviously not worried about her at all."

"... It's good that you recognize that." Rin said. Yes, she had heard the blatant sarcasm in his tone. She was choosing to ignore it, because...

Well, maybe she was a little bit worried. Not much!

At least Archer realized that teasing her had its limits, because he switched back to business talk. "And Ryudou Temple?"

"... Emiya isn't much of a liar, so as much as I hate to admit it he was probably telling the truth, or at least the truth as he knows it. Maybe there really is a Master up there."

"So we're planning to investigate? Tonight? My wounds are healed for the most part. I'm certainly up to fighting strength, and we can assume that if the Master on the mountain were Berserker's, he wouldn't have said anything and endangered his partner. We could attack."

"... Not tonight. Whoever it is, this Servant is using some kind of trick to steal souls all the way from the Temple, and I haven't figured out how. I don't like going into a situation with this many unknowns." Rin said. "Besides, whoever it is... oh, that's right, you suspected Caster, didn't you? Well, Caster hasn't killed anyone yet at all. It's not like one night to plan will make a huge difference, right?"


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Night had fallen. The Material was dormant.

It was time to begin.

Zouken Matou examined the ritual chamber in satisfaction. The summoning circle was perfect; human blood, as was typical and appropriate. The worms that bred in the recesses of the dank crypt were already hard at work devouring the sacrifice that had provided this blood; Zouken briefly inclined his head toward the rapidly vanishing corpse. In truth, he couldn't even remember if the meat had been male or female, much less what it had looked like before he'd slit its throat, drained what he'd needed, and thrown the remainders to his pets. Still, he felt that offering it a tiny show of acknowledgment was only fair; in its own small way, it had contributed to his designs, after all. With some effort (whatever the body, those old bones ached unbelievably), Zouken sat in the center of the circle and began the incantation.

"Ye first, O silver, O iron
O stone of the foundation, O Archduke of the Contract.
Let the descending winds be as a wall
Let the gates in all directions be shut, rising above the crown, and let the three-forked roads to the Kingdom revolve.
Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut.
Five perfections for each repetition.
And now, let the filled sigils be annihilated in my stead."

The half-dried circle surrounding the old Magus changed with his words; first becoming the brilliant crimson it had been when still freshly painted, then going further, igniting in brilliant scarlet light as his ancient Magic Circuits channeled the dark powers he invoked. An ordinary summoning on the Holy Grail was typically not terribly difficult; the Great Grail did most of the work. But Zouken was cheating, and the power required for what he attempted was beyond human means. Luckily, Zouken was willing to engage in any number of inhuman acts. Drawing the circle in blood was simply standard, but there had been a reason that Zouken had gone the extra length for a full human sacrifice, captured a soul to burn for power...

"Let thy body rest under my dominion, let my fate rest in thy black hand.
If thou submittest to the call of the Holy Grail and if thou wilt obey this mind, this reason, then thou shalt respond.
I make my oath here.
I am that person who is to become the virtue of all Heavens.
I am that person who is covered with the evil of all Hades.
Thou seven heavens, clad in a trinity of words,
come past thy restraining rings, and be thou the hands that grant eternity."

The circle of blood around the ancient creature, already glowing, exploded in a burst of scarlet light that filled the hideous chamber and sent the worms scrambling for their holes, gibbering in terror. The corpse of the sacrifice was now little more than discarded clothing and hair they'd not found appetizing.

Judging by what was left of the outfit, it had apparently been a male, Zouken noted.

The first spell was complete; the invitation had been given. But the rules had been broken by more than just Zouken. His Assassin had been invited, yes, but the path it had to walk down was obstructed by Caster's work. The next step was to deal with this.

Reaching out with his mind, he touched the center of his essence, his greatest familiar, implanted deep in the heart of his ultimate weapon. He thought a single word.

Awaken.

And the shadows began to move.


----------------------------------------------
The tiniest little change can rock the world.

For instance, had Shirou Emiya spent less time with the charming white-haired girl who clung to him like Velcro anytime he tried to leave, he might have gotten dinner finished on time.

And he and Saber might have been able to make sure Sakura was resting comfortably early enough to get some actual planning done, and gone on patrol that night.

And since they were not as cautious as Rin Tohsaka, they might have arrived at Ryudou Temple in time to see at least the ending of the events that took place there. And if that had happened, well... things might have been very different.

But those little changes had happened. Shirou and Saber spent the night in. Rin and Archer did not investigate the Temple that day. And the nightmare on the sacred mountain went unseen and unknown, for the moment.

It began with Assassin.

The gatekeeper stood silent, exercising his only duty, when the attack struck. It was over almost before it began; Assassin never truly understood what happened. Something... he could think of no other description beyond 'thing'... had approached the temple gates, and before he could even defend himself he was being torn apart from the inside out. His sword clattered uselessly down the steps as shadows from outside his body tore their way in, and shadows within his body ripped their way out…

All that the man who was not truly Sasaki Koujiro could do was smile his contempt to his killer as he died, and with his death the gate was finally opened for Zouken's summoning. Assassin died, and the true Assassin was born, the flesh and blood of his unwilling 'father' becoming the abomination's first meal.

The pale moonlight that shone down beautifully on the temple did not suit the grisly scene. A new moon would have been better, or a cloudy night with not even a star in the sky. But nature is rarely so accommodating.

Caster was next. The Assassin slid unseen through the halls of the temple, death following quite literally on his heels as something twisted and horrible and hungry slithered in his wake. He made no sound, he left no trace; not even the dust was disturbed. The trade of the Assassin was stealth, and in that trade no man was his equal... though to his discomfort, he was matched or perhaps even exceeded by the creature that followed his path; even knowing exactly where it was, he could barely feel its presence. When it went on the attack, the aura of sheer wrongness it exuded was almost tangible, but when it sought to hide, even he would be hard pressed to find it... more proof, as if such was neeed that this thing he had been paired with was a monster even by the standards of a being as inhuman as he? He knew better than anyone what sort of creature he was; twisted, cannibalistic, one who had abandoned Allah and been abandoned in turn. And yet the mindless, devouring thing made even him slightly uneasy, although he knew instinctively that it would not harm him so long as he showed no hostility and did not touch it. They were alike, both sins against the world. It would not see him as food unless he gave it reason to.

Still, he found it off-putting, and that was saying something.

Ah, well, there were more important matters to attend to. He could sense the witch, smell her on the air. She crouched in the center of her Temple, like a spider in its web. By now, she would have sensed that something was wrong, her guard dog's command seals having faded. Would she go to the gate to determine why, or retreat deeper into her sanctum? It mattered little, beyond determining the best position to strike from. The spider's web had caught something far too lethal for it to consume, this time...


-------------------------------------------
Caster opened her eyes. "We are under attack."

Souichiro Kuzuki nodded once, rising to his feet. He had not noticed anything amiss, but Caster had senses that even someone with his training could not match.

"Assassin is gone, so we can assume the Temple has been breached." She continued. "I can't detect them for some reason, but they have to... ah. Of course. Someone's closed the loophole I exploited." That was not good, not good at all. Someone must have used the false Assassin she'd called as a Summoning catalyst, and that meant a Servant Assassin was in her Temple, acting with unknown powers and serving under an unknown Master. She wasn't sure how this was possible; she couldn't picture a modern Magus having a better understanding of the Servant system than she, but such would be required to weave a spell of that nature. It was a cause for concern, certainly.

Still, she was in the heart of her territory, the height of her power. So long as she did not panic, Assassin was no real threat to her. Waving her hand in her Master's direction, she invoked the body enhancements that would allow him to battle beside her. "Master, stay close to me. I'll prepare a defe-"

Like lightning, Kuzuki's hand snapped past her head, missing her cheek by scant millimeters. She heard the impact, a bizarre soft thud unlike anything in nature as sharpened metal struck flesh and bounced off harmlessly, Kuzuki's fist deflecting the throwing knife before it could strike the back of Caster's neck.

She was impressed, honestly. Assassin's stealth skills were greater than she had expected; he'd managed to approach so closely, and she'd not sensed a thing until the instant he'd launched his attack.

Still that had been his one and only chance. She turned her eyes upward to the rafters over the great hall, seeing now the white skull outlined against the ceiling. She raised her hand, violet flame bursting into existence in her palm as magic gathered.

The black figure fell from the ceiling like a spider descending on a thread, smooth and inhuman. Caster's magical bolt missed, crushing the rafter the creature had been perched on but missing the Servant itself. A ragged cloak obscured the true features of the body, but the thing was thoroughly deformed; joints that bent in the wrong way. Limbs that were too long. Jet-black skin, and a face obscured by a grinning skull mask.

Assassin landed on all fours, catlike, but the movement as it attacked was far from feline grace; more the twisted skitterings of a scorpion. It leapt backwards, more of those night-black throwing daggers leaping from its fingers aimed for her heart, neck, femoral artery, liver. Lethal targets all... if even one knife had been allowed to hit. With a wave of her arm, an invisible wall materialized between Caster and the incoming projectiles, deflecting them more effectively than steel plate armor. A second gesture brought forth another killing blast of magic, which the shockingly quick Assassin managed once more to dodge, leaping over the burning light...

... and landing in the clutches of one of the most deadly hand-to-hand combatants in the War, Servants included. While Assassin was in the air, unable to alter its course, Kuzuki dashed forward to intercept its landing point, acting in his usual capacity as the Master/Servant team's frontline defense. His fists strengthened by her magic, the 'teacher' stepped into Assassin, bringing his right hand in held flat to impale the thing through the throat.

The blow struck, but the Servant seemed largely unaffected and swung its clublike arm at an impossible angle. Kuzuki snapped his head back, letting the limb breeze past mere millimeters from his nose, and brought both his hands in at curving, hooked blows that slipped past the black Servant's guard and struck its chest. He felt bone break beneath his fingertips, but once again Assassin seemed to not notice the pain; was he drugged? It would not be the first time Kuzuki had fought someone using that trick.

A throwing dagger clenched between its fingers, Assassin swung its more humanlike arm upward in an arc. Kuzuki saw the blow coming, but midjudged it nontheless; unused to the opponent's strange movements and oddly-proportioned body, he mistimed his dodge and felt the edge of the blade trace a hot line along the side of his face, knocking off his glasses.

This was a problem... his fighting style depended on surprising his opponent with unorthodox movements, yet he himself was having trouble predicting how this creature would do anything. Further, it ignored his blows, seeming to feel no pain at all.

Well. He wasn't used to fighting with a partner, yet, but he was pragmatic enough to know this was a situation when it would be useful.

Kuzuki feinted right, making as if to knock his opponent's limb out of the way and bring his elbow in at the thing's face, but instead pivoted on his heel and propelled himself backwards low to the ground, sliding back. Caught flat-footed, Assassin guarded for a physical blow that never came... and was thus unable to dodge the blast of magical force that Caster sent flying through the space Kuzuki had been less than a second previous.

Drugs or no, it was safe to say that Assassin felt that one as the violet energy ripped through his body, throwing him across the entry hall to slam into a support pillar with bone-crushing force. The inhuman thing spasmed like a hooked fish as Caster approached, drawing Rule Breaker, her Noble Phantasm. Able to nullify any and all magical contracts, it was an ideal weapon for dealing with Servants... rather than destroy them, she could force her own contract on them, make them her own. Best not to waste valuable combat resources, after all.

She smirked at the broken Assassin, still smoking on the ground and barely even appearing to breathe. "Not as good as my last dog, but you'll do. Did you think it would be that easy to end my life, ragged thing?"

From beneath the skull mask, a strange, sibilant hissing emerged. It took Caster a moment to realize what it was, it sounded so inhuman.

Laughter.

"You were NEver the REal targET. And I was neVER the kILLer." The black creature said, it's voice as bizarre and inhuman as its appearance, lending strange emphasis to the words, syllables they should not have had.

Caster's eyes widened. "Souichiro-sa-" she began, turning to her Master...

... just in time to see the end.

It came from nowhere; even Kuzuki didn't sense it. The bubbling pool of inky blackness simply materialized around his feet, leaving him no time nor ability to dodge. Rather than consume, the vile tar appeared to flow into him, seeping through his clothes and skin.

Corroding his soul...! Whatever that black, shapeless thing was, it was eating her lover from the inside out!

Caster leapt forward, Rule Breaker in hand. It was a slim chance, but possibly she could dispel whatever connection that... gods, what is it? Just looking at it makes my mind hurt... that thing had made to her Master's soul. She didn't know if it would work or not, but it was the only meager chance she had left.

And it was exactly what Zouken had been hoping for. The old Magus prodded his weapon with a simple, psychic command. And Kuzuki's body was hurled forward.

Caster was not a warrior, not terribly skilled in the use of knives. She did not compensate in time. The magical dagger, intended only to prick the surface of his skin just enough to invoke the anti-magic effect, struck his chest and plunged into his heart up to the hilt.

Caster saw the light leave his eyes, personally. He had already been closer to dead than alive when she'd struck, but there was still something left of him. And as he looked into his shocked face, his own blood flowing freely over her knife hand, she saw no anger or sadness in his eyes. Rather, he did something he had never done: he smiled at her. With his last breath, he smiled, showing her that her efforts had been successful. He had died as himself.

It was the worst possible thing he could have done, Caster thought, her mind overwhelmed at the realization of what she had just done. Saved him and lost him, all in the space of a second.

Caster held him close, bearing him down to the floor. The weight of the... the body... was nothing to her, it was just that her knees were too weak to stand. Souichiro...sama...

He was... I... no.

No, no, no. Please, every god there ever was, please no... She thought, holding the still-warm body close, unconcerned with the blood drenching her robes. Please, please no. I'm sorry, Souichiro, I'm sorry, please, no, don't leave me...

How had this happened? How had she been outmaneuvered so thoroughly when everything had been going so perfectly? In a single moment of black terror, the entire situation had been turned around on her.

Her Master was gone. Assassin had vanished as well, faded from view to hide in some dark corner; at the moment, Caster couldn't have cared less about him anyway. All that remained was...

The thing. The horrid thing that had been truly responsible for this, it was still there. She couldn't see it, but it was no longer hiding from her, not anymore. It was all around her, freely and openly projecting its twisted, black aura.

She couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't think. All she could do was helplessly clutch her Noble Phantasm like a lifeline and pray for survival. She could feel the encroaching darkness. From within as the loss of her contract already began to fatigue her, from without as something hungry and horrible circled her like a shark that had scented blood.

Something. Anything. Anything at all to distract that painful and utterly wrong aura of chilling malevolence that shocked even her. Please, let anything at all come now, she would welcome even death at this point... just to get away from that sense of formless doom that filled the air of the desecrated temple.

Nothing came.

Painful, impossibly tense minutes passed as Caster shuddered in grief and terror, unable to do anything but pray. And finally, that pervading hunger simply could no longer be controlled.

The darkness came from all around her, when the attack finally occurred. Flowing in through the windows, bubbling up through the floor, a twisted miasma that came from everywhere at once and clung to her robes like tar, melting into the skin beneath them like acid, burning through her magical defenses as though they did not exist. But more than the assault on her body, the moment the Shadow touched her skin... her mind...

hungry

so hungry

it's not enough, it's not enough

cold

lonely

please don't let me be alone

please

it hurt it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts

it's not enough

please

stay with me

feed me

please make it stop

It was incomprehensible, the worst possible assault for a Magus, normally so in-control of her own mind. A flood of madness and horror and pain and raw, shrieking loneliness so intense it chilled her to her soul, all running rampant through her brain without her consent or any response to her attempts to fight it off. This thing was not merely assaulting her physical form, it was laying waste to the territory of her soul, the most hideous indignity imaginable.

And as Caster was invaded and defiled by this obscene, twisted insanity... she had something of an epiphany.

Such pain. Such fear. Such hunger.

And so much power, power like nothing she had ever felt.

Dark powers were nothing new to Medea. And even this chill in her soul was not the most vile emotion she had felt in her bitter life. Even as the tide of darkness battered against her mind, she studied it, analyzed the composition, learned and adapted, saw the creature seeping into her and began to understand it.

Yes, this was a creature of darkness, but so was Caster, moreso now than ever before. Souichiro-sama was dead. Her chance at happiness was gone. Not a hint of anything remotely positive remained in her heart; all she had left was pain, and bitterness, and, of course revenge.

Yes. Medea was very familiar with revenge. It was comforting, like an old friend's hand on her shoulder. She couldn't be happy, but vengeance would bring satisfaction, at the very least.

Shhhhhhh... Caster replied to the chaos, projecting soothing emotions as best she could while trying to fight back her aching need to go mad at the feeling of the foreign material seeping into her body and soul. It's all right. You don't want to harm me...

it hurts

I will comfort you.

hunger

I will feed you as much as you need.

it's not enough

We'll find more.

so

so

so

so lonely.

It's all right... I will never leave your side. We will be together, and you won't have to be lonely anymore. Caster thought as the Shadow enveloped her. It was a force of corruption that would drive the greatest of heroes to despair, a thing of hunger and pain and sorrow.

Caster was not a hero. And Medea understood something of sorrow.

Such a tormented creature. Don't worry, I'm with you now. I will stay by your side for as long as you want... and once we know each other a bit better, perhaps you can do me a favor.

... ... ... stay with me...

Of course. Isn't that what friends are for?

The thick black substance covered the last inch of her body, leaving her a blackened silhouette. When the Shadow finally dispersed, Caster was simply gone.

And anyone who had seen the small, triumphant smile on her face as she was consumed would never have slept soundly again.

---------------------------------------
In the Ryudou Temple, Zouken Matou looked at the space where Caster and his weapon had been only moments before.

Not in person, of course. Misdirection was key; should the Masters realize the danger he represented, or the Overseer realize his involvement, they might unite against him. That would be inconvenient, until his plans had progressed a bit further. No, he observed through one of his familiars, a literal fly on the wall that had slipped through Caster's guard to observe the situation as it progressed.

That was not supposed to happen. Caster's Master was to die, leaving her without a contract. One of the other Masters would take advantage of her weakness before the night's end and cut her down, as was their wont. In the end, he would be left with his own Servant, one new addition to his Holy Grail, Caster's corpse to use how he wished, and whatever fool who did the final deed leaving under the impression that she had killed her own Master.

And yet, things had not gone at all according to plan. Caster was hardly trying to hide her presence at Ryudou, and he'd of course overheard the discussion between the Emiya boy and the Tohsaka girl through his connection to Sakura. They both knew of the Servant on the mountain, and he'd been certain that at least one of them would make the attempt. Saber, ideally, but either would do. He had even chosen to launch his attack to coincide with the patrol schedule that both had shown the previous night. Yet no Master had assaulted the mountain stronghold, and in their absence something very, very troublesome had happened.

His weapon, overcome by hunger and with nothing to distract it from Caster, had attacked without his orders.

Why? How? It shouldn't be capable of thought or independent action, at least not yet. Why had it reacted so strongly to Caster? Was its hunger greater than he'd anticipated, or was there some other reason for this strange behavior? Perhaps something about the Servant had resonated with it, or perhaps it was simply hungered more than he had suspected. But either way, this situation was not good. Not good at all.

"What HAS happENed? Why dID it take HER aLIve?" Assassin inquired, observing the scene with detached interest.

"...hide yourself. Remain in the Temple for now, I will begin construction of a boundary field to replace Caster's Temple. Stay within and await further orders." Zouken ordered before pulling his mind away from the familiar he'd been inhabiting.

He needed to think.

Back in the Temple, Assassin prepared to go into hiding. His contract was not formally recognized by a personal conversation, but Zouken was his Master and he would obey, for the mom-

Hmmm.

The Shadow had left the corpse of Souichiro Kuzuki behind when it had been dismissed. The man had, at the very least, moved like someone deadly from what little Assassin had seen. A Servant would be better, of course, but every little bit of nourishment helped.

Assassin leaned over the cooling body, saliva beginning to drip from beneath his mask.

RadiantBeam
May 21st, 2011, 08:16 PM
Not much to say; following Radiantbeam's nagging example

You love me for it. :p

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 08:28 PM
You love me for it. :p

... you're lucky I find your personality endearing, that's all I have to say. :p

RadiantBeam
May 21st, 2011, 08:29 PM
... you're lucky I find your personality endearing, that's all I have to say. :p

I love you too, honey. :p

Froggie
May 21st, 2011, 08:32 PM
I am a big fan of your story, Moczo. I'm glad to see it being posted here! Seeing as Infinity updated recently is this next on your schedule?

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 08:39 PM
I am a big fan of your story, Moczo. I'm glad to see it being posted here! Seeing as Infinity updated recently is this next on your schedule?

Indeed; I'm working on the next chapter now, although progress is on the slow side. ^^;;;;


I love you too, honey. :p

Not in public, dear. What will the neighbors think? :p

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 08:42 PM
Indeed; I'm working on the next chapter now, although progress is on the slow side. ^^;;;;

Same goes for me.... ;__;

STUPID WORK!

Froggie
May 21st, 2011, 08:44 PM
That's wonderful to hear! I'm looking forward to the next chapter of it! I don't much mind waiting. Let it be ready, when it's ready!

That being said, if you wouldn't mind my asking, what about Ready, Sette, Go? I must admit that I find that story hilarious.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 08:45 PM
That being said, if you wouldn't mind my asking, what about Ready, Sette, Go? I must admit that I find that story hilarious.

On hiatus, until:

A) Something else is finished and cleared off my plate.

or

B) I'm struck by a sudden wave of inspiration.

RadiantBeam
May 21st, 2011, 08:46 PM
Not in public, dear. What will the neighbors think? :p

Well, you are Rain's daddy, after all. :p

Froggie
May 21st, 2011, 08:47 PM
Damn! Oh well. Such things happen. If you ever find the time or inspiration to continue it, I'll be looking forward to it as well. I n the meantime, the currently published chapters are still able to get a grin out of me and Chaos Theory and Infinity are fantabulous so I'm quite content.

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 08:50 PM
Yeah, Infinity updated, didn't it?

*Goes to read*

Aww yeah.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 08:51 PM
Well, you are Rain's daddy, after all. :p

And you're Chaos Theory's mama, so I guess some displays of affection are appropriate here around the kids. :p

RadiantBeam
May 21st, 2011, 08:53 PM
And you're Chaos Theory's mama, so I guess some displays of affection are appropriate here around the kids. :p

So there. :p

ItsaRandomUsername
May 21st, 2011, 08:56 PM
This thread is now even more lovely than it was before.


D'AAAAWWWW.

Ace
May 21st, 2011, 09:09 PM
Moczo x Radiant Beam confirmed?

Alulim
May 21st, 2011, 09:10 PM
FUND IT~




Maybe.

Mike1984
May 21st, 2011, 09:15 PM
Mike would like to have a word with you about that.

I'm pretty sure I've discussed it with him a long time ago, actually....


Come now, he's saying Illya was second place. I don't think Mike would have any problems with that.

Yeah. What he said is essentially true, because HF basically is the Ilya route, as well as being Sakura's route, of course. All that happened is that she got bumped from being his love interest to being a dearly loved family member.

She's essential to the story of HF (she persuades Shirou not to follow MoS, for one thing, because he realises that to do so would be abandoning her as well as Sakura), and even when he decides to protect Sakura at all costs, "save Ilya" is still at the forefront of his mind.


What if Heaven's Feel = The "Choose Your Heroine Route" (between the two lesser grails)

Everyone who plays the game wins because they get to make their own choice?

Now THAT would have been a decent twist. And probably wouldn't be a bad idea for a possible remake, so that way it could serve as a parallel to Fate/UBW where the storylines split off from one key decision.

Well, if they did that it wouldn't be a single route any more, but rather two different routes, because his feelings for Sakura affect the path of HF too much for it to be possible to simply switch the heroine around without any changes to the nature of the story.


He can be if he wants to, but he generally disapproves of any fic that does not involve Sakura in it (saving her, that is). Actually, I disapprove of Shirou x Ilya, too. I just may have different reasons.

Well, I'm pretty sure I recall seeing Sakura in this one (although whether she gets saved is another matter...), so....


Personally, I think Shirou x Ilya makes a lot of sense. At least, I think she has as much chance as any of the other girls. (... well, obviously I think that, or I wouldn't be writing the story. ^^;;;;;)

Well, honestly you're probably right, because apparently he did admit to finding her attractive in HA. I still don't think it's a good pairing, for several different reasons, but I will admit that it's a plausible one.


FUND IT~




Maybe.

I think they might actually be a couple, so....

DreamsRequiem
May 21st, 2011, 09:16 PM
Moczo x Radiant Beam confirmed?

My new OTP.

Theocrass x Keyne is old news.

Moczo
May 21st, 2011, 09:26 PM
We're not what you'd traditionally call a couple, though we do share an owner. :D

RadiantBeam
May 21st, 2011, 09:27 PM
She makes us wear matching collars. :p

SeiKeo
May 21st, 2011, 09:32 PM
wut

Elyrin
May 21st, 2011, 09:34 PM
So it's an OT3 instead of an OTP? Hm...

Ace
May 21st, 2011, 09:42 PM
We're not what you'd traditionally call a couple, though we do share an owner. :D

An owner....?

amado
May 22nd, 2011, 12:14 AM
yay! its now here!

now if only endless dream was here and being continued, I would feel complete.

Theocrass
May 22nd, 2011, 12:17 AM
We're not what you'd traditionally call a couple, though we do share an owner. :D

Kind of like Keyne, IRUn, and me.

'Cept it's just bromance with us. ^_^

Also, you two are adorable.

Bearcrates
May 22nd, 2011, 12:52 AM
Man, I loved this story on FF.net. You do a good Hassan.

lethum
May 22nd, 2011, 12:54 AM
I like the fic! I have nothing else to say, so I'm writing this sentence to say that.

Moczo
May 22nd, 2011, 02:33 PM
Chapter Eight: Dreamscapes

Shirou placed a palm on the sleeping Sakura's brow. No good; her fever still hasn't broken. He'd given her some cold medicine and made a little light soup for her to eat, but it looked like whatever bug she'd come down with was being persistent. Well, the best thing to do, then, was let her get some sleep.

As quietly as he could, he left the resting girl and slid the door shut behind him. As he'd been expecting, Saber was waiting in the hall silently. No surprise there. After what I said...

"Saber, I..." He began.

"Perhaps you have a point." Saber said softly.

"Eh?"

"Perhaps to you, what I seek is not worth this conflict." Saber said softly. "I have come into your life unbidden, seeking a prize you place no value on and giving you nothing in return but pain. To you, I can see how this War seems a waste, and I am sorry. But... I simply cannot stop. Not now. I've come too far to... suffice to say, surrender is simply not an option."

Shirou sighed. "Saber... I shouldn't have said that to you in the first place. I promised to help you win this War, and more than that... I know you well enough to know that whatever your wish is, it must be important."

Saber did not look him in the eyes. "I... I wonder sometimes if it is. Perhaps I'm simply being selfish. But... to simply give up without even trying seems far worse to me."

Shirou sighed once again. He laid a hand on Saber's shoulder, prompting a small shocked expression and a slight blush.

"Well, I won't lie. This Holy Grail War... I really don't think it's worth the pain it causes. But stopping it is a worthwhile goal, and the best way I can see to do that is to stop the other Masters from causing damage and make sure a good person wins. I can't think of a better choice than you." he said. Then, with a soft smile, he continued, "And anyway, I gave my word, didn't I? I keep my promises, Saber. As long as you need my help, I'll help you. It's as simple as that.

"Good night, Saber." Shirou said. He walked past her, towards the room he'd slept in the previous night.

For the second time that day, she watched him go in silence. This time, however, she had a slight blush on her face.

---------------

It wasn't enough.

Sakura had provided a steady flow of mana for the first time since Rider's summoning, but it wasn't enough. The wounds she had taken from Berserker were simply too great, the power she'd stored from her time slaving under Shinji too small. The fact was that Sakura as she was now simply could not provide Rider with a mana supply sufficient to fully restore her, at least not safely. Under normal circumstances they could probably last out the war, but Rider's injuries had dramatically increased her energy consumption, and Sakura's diminished mana pool simply could not keep up. At this rate, Sakura would die trying to preserve Rider, and that could not be allowed. Alternate energy sources would have to be considered.

But to be blunt, there were not many options. Blood, souls, were the easiest option. Activating Bloodfort Andromeda when it was still mostly incomplete was a desperation move doomed to failure, but even in her weakened state, Rider could most likely waylay a passerby or two and devour them for power. Just a few, just enough to get by...

No, Sakura would never approve. Rider was willing to brook this disapproval to save the girl's life, but she was not willing to accept the very real possibility that Sakura would break their contract if she felt that maintaining it would make her a threat to innocent people. The girl was impossibly selfless, dangerously so. It was vexing, but also one of the many reasons Rider so fervently wished to protect her. To save her. So devouring souls was not an option... unless she had no other choice.

And at the moment, she did have one other choice. Invisibly, intangibly, she observed Shirou Emiya's discussion with his Servant. He'd be going to sleep now, and Rider had a certain way with dreams. Yes, she had one other choice...

Sakura would not approve, not at all. She loved the boy, and would not appreciate Rider violating him in such a manner, not even if it were a dream. But she would accept it, because she would understand that Rider was simply out of options. The only other choices all lead to death.

And besides. The boy would simply have a very good dream. What harm was there in that?

When Shirou closed the door to his room and fell into the futon, Rider followed. She waited, briefly, until she was certain that sleep had claimed him, and invisibly knelt by his bedside...

---------------

Nothing seemed real.

He had entered his room, crawled into bed, and fallen asleep. He was quite sure he had fallen asleep.

So why was he so aware? He could feel every hair on his body standing on end. He could count the dust particles in the air, he could smell food that was sitting the refrigerator waiting to be tomorrow's breakfast. Every single sense was hyper-activated. The blood pumping at double-speed through his veins felt like magma. Everything felt so impossibly vibrant that none of it could possibly be real. It was too real to be reality.

"Shirou..." whispered that soft, elegant voice.

He wasn't sure when Saber had entered his room, or when she had knelt by the side of his futon, but he certainly felt it when she began kissing him. Her lips were cool, soothing at first. Gentle touches, the mere brush of her lips against his own, tracing his jawline, running down his neck. "Shirou..." she whispered.

Shirou could say nothing in return. It was as if the lava that replaced his blood took with it his ability to think, to reason. All he could do was freeze, his muscles locking in place as Saber's hands ran down his body. She did not bother with gentleness; his clothing was an obstacle, she ripped it aside. The cool night air felt painfully inadequate, considering the heat beneath his exposed skin. And Saber only made it worse, then, when she pressed her mouth to his bare chest.

If her lips were cool, her tongue was impossibly warm. Whatever heat, whatever hunger filled his own body, it manifested far more powerfully in Saber. She was burning, molten, and insatiable inferno. If he stayed here, if he did not resist, he would be devoured.

"Yes." She said, as if in agreement. She traced her tongue back up his body, following the trail she had kissed down it, overwriting the line of soothing cool with an unbearable heat. "Yes, fighting is pointless, just accept it..."

Her tongue slid into his mouth, and it was at that moment that any semblance of control or resistance vanished. His hands wrapped around her slender body, feeling the tight muscles and slight curves beneath the restricting clothing. This annoyed him, so he worked his way beneath the sweater, feeling the warm flesh shiver beneath his fingertips. Saber's own hands had been pressing their mouths together, but this was clearly no longer needed, so she took the opportunity to reach back and undo the fastenings of her skirt.

The kiss was broken, briefly, when she stood to dispense finally with that annoying sweater. There was nothing between them but air, now. She pushed him back onto the futon, and straddled him.

And then there was nothing between them at all.

Shirou tried to express something. Some feeling. He tried to say her name, or to beg for more, or even to simply moan, but found that no sound emerged. He was trapped, his will utterly destroyed. He was nothing at this moment but an instrument for her pleasure, that was all. She moved atop him easily, a queen reigning over her conquest. Commanding. Hungry. "Shirou..." She said. Speaking his name one last time. "Move, but not too much."

He couldn't even nod. Could do nothing but move his hips in time with her as she commanded, as the pleasure grew in time with a heat so intense he thought it would turn him to ash on the spot.

"Yes..." Saber gasped, opening her eyes in his clear view for the first time. They were inhuman... red, square-pupiled, and filled with the cold, animal hunger of a snake that has sunk its fangs into a mouse. She looked down at him not with the eyes of a woman staring at her lover, but those of a predator that has sighted prey.

As she moved her hips more fervently, he found he couldn't care in the slightest.

"Don't move too hard... just lie back.

"Just lie back and be devoured."

---------------

"GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" Shirou said, sitting bolt upright in his futon.

Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Dream! Dream! Dream! He thought frantically.

Yes, for starters, it had to be a dream! There was no way that could possibly be anything but a dream! Look at me, for one thing. I'm still dressed! He thought slightly less frantically. If I were... doing... things... with Saber, I wouldn't be. So it had to have been a dream! And even more so, Saber would be here! In my bed! And she's not! He thought. In triumph, he pulled aside the covers next to himself.

A small blond head made his blood turn to ice in his veins.

"Hello." Saber said mildly.

"GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" Shirou said for the second time in as many minutes.

"Are you always this loud when you sleep? It will make these arrangements difficult." Saber said.

"Why are you in my bed?" Shirou shrieked.

"For your own protection." Saber said as though this were painfully obvious. "Whatever arguments we may have had or agreements we reached today, the simple fact is that my first duty is to protect you. This is the best way to accomplish that. I told you that I would not be giving in on this matter, and since you yourself stated that you wished to preserve our partnership and claim victory in this war, I believed it would not be a problem."

"How did you get in?!"

"Through the door. It is not very secure, by the way. We might try doing something about that."

"Out! Out!" He snapped. Logic was not really his first priority at the moment, particularly since Saber was so close he could feel her body heat and smell her hair and it was starting to make him painfully aware that parts of his body still under the covers were even more alert than the rest of him and...

"No." Saber said calmly. "And it might be in your best interests to stop shouting. The walls are quite thin and Sakura is trying to sleep."

Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Shirou thought. Sakura! If Sakura found him like this, sweaty and... and 'alert', with Saber in his bed? That was the end. That was all she wrote. There was no more. The life of Shirou Emiya ceased in that moment. She would never forgive him, Fuji-nee would bite his face off, he'd be a pariah at school, he'd... well, it just couldn't happen. "Yes! Yes, this is non-negotiable. You can sleep in the room next door!"

"I told you that is not good en-"

"It will have to be, because you can't! Sleep! Here!" Shirou said, rising to his feet and pulling Saber into the next room.

Or at least, that was the idea.

What actually happened is that he rose to his feet, was struck by a wave of intense nausea and weakness, and fell to his knees before he could take a single step.

"Shirou?" Saber said, concern replacing annoyance in her voice. "Are you feeling well?"

"I... I don't..." Shirou said. And he began to realize to his dismay, that he wasn't. The heat in his body that he had attributed to his dream (And it was a dream! Indisputable!) and embarrassment at finding Saber in his room was not fading; in fact, it felt worse. His throat hurt, his muscles felt heavy, he could barely move...

Saber pressed her hand to his forehead. "You have a fever." She said.

Okay, he could move a little. He discovered this as Saber's cool flesh pressed to his skin brought back memories of discarded skirts and soft lips, and he instinctively leaped backwards to get away from said memories.

He then, through a combination of muscle weakness and tangling his legs in his own bedding, tripped backwards, rolled, and slammed into his dresser headfirst.

The silence was deafening.

"I... will go get you a glass of water." Saber said. Her tone suggested she was trying her hardest to pretend the last ten minutes or so had never happened.

"That would be nice." Shirou agreed with all the dignity he could muster. It wasn't much.

---------------

Rider hovered over Sakura's bedside, fairly pleased with the results of her actions this night.

She had taken as much mana as she safely could from the Emiya boy, and it had been sufficient. No physical contact had been needed, merely entry into his dreams to connect their souls and draw the power directly from his Magic Circuits. She had been worried that Saber would sense the act, but the Servant had seemed blissfully unaware, even after she'd entered the room herself. In the end, things had been a complete success. Rider now had sufficient energy to heal herself without draining Sakura dry. Nobody had taken any permanent harm; even Shirou would suffer only a day or so of weakness, and it wasn't as though Rider had not, er... compensated him for the inconvenience.

It had been a very good dream.

Still, Rider felt worried for just that reason. She hoped Sakura wouldn't be too upset when she found out; she clearly cared for the boy, and would not be amused with what Rider had done here.

Rider risked just a moment of physical solidity to brush a lock of hair out of the sleeping girl's face. Well, if having Sakura upset with her was the cost of keeping the girl alive, then she could live with that.

---------------

Shirou sat with the thermometer in his mouth and tried not to grumble. Complaint just encouraged her.

Taiga's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Well... you do have a fever." She admitted. Her tone suggested that she suspected Shirou of somehow willing his own body temperature to rise so he could get out of another day of school. True, she had been planning to make him take another day off so he could take care of Sakura, but that was different. That was work. Now it was morning, Sakura was feeling up and cheerful, and Shirou was the one bedridden.

Taiga didn't like that. Making Shirou stay home to tend the sick was one thing, but at this rate it looked more like she was going to be 'ordering' him to stay home in bed while Saber took care of him... and to be honest, anyone with eyes could tell that Sakura wouldn't be coming in to school today either. She hadn't come right out and said it, but Taiga wasn't stupid (mostly).

This was bad... she'd wanted Shirou to stay home and do hard labor all day, not be waited on hand-and-foot by cute girls. He hadn't really earned it. It might give him a big head. Still, she couldn't exactly deny the evidence of her eyes. He had a fever, there was no helping it.

"Well, this is a surprise. I've never known you to catch a cold, but I guess there's no denying it." Taiga said reluctantly. "Well, you have to stay home again. Saber-chan, you make sure he stays in bed as much as possible, okay? Don't let him exert himself."

"I am to keep Shirou restricted to this bedroom and restrain him if he attempts to leave." Saber said. "Understood."

"Er... that's a bit of a strange way to put it, but basically, yes." Taiga said. This girl was scary. "Shirou, Sakura made you some rice porridge if you feel you can eat. I'll stop and buy something for dinner on my way here after work, so don't worry about cooking. And, er..." She leaned close and dropped her voice to a whisper. "... I think Saber-chan really will beat you up and tie you to the bed if she catches you straining yourself, so take it easy? She's a weirdo."

Shirou chuckled just a little bit nervously "Y-yeah, I think you might have a point. I'll just relax today."

"U-um... I'll go get you your breakfast, if you want?" Sakura asked. "And maybe some water if you're still feeling hot?"

Shirou smiled at her. "That sounds nice, Sakura. Thanks."

"N-no! That's fine, I mean... I-I must have given you my cold, so I feel responsible, that's all..." The girl said, blushing furiously.

That made Taiga's ears perk up. "Oh-ho... so you two were doing something that gave Sakura's cold to Shirou...?" She purred.

"Unlikely." Saber said. "I observed Shirou closely throughout the night."

All eyes turned to her. The room was so silent that tombs would have been envious.

"What? Did I say something inappropriate?" Saber asked.

"N-no! Nothing happened!" Shirou said, blushing furiously. "Nothing happened with anyone and I slept the whole night and did nothing to anybody at all!"

Taiga blinked. "Shirou... maybe the cold has gone to your brain?"
---------------

Shirou felt, really, that he could have simply stayed there, warm and comfortable, all day.

Sakura was in rare form; in and out of his room like a tornado, catering to every need. Things had briefly gone a bit... awkward... when she had gotten too close to him and dreams had started coming back unbidden, but she seemed to get over it quickly and back to her usual cheery self, taking care of the house all by her lonesome. Even Saber felt comfortable enough to actually go get some sleep and leave Sakura in charge, which Shirou honestly preferred; she needed to conserve her energy, and, er... after that particular dream, he really didn't... she should be out of the room as much as possible. He had the feeling his fever would not break so long as she was nearby.

He was feeling a lot better; his body was still a bit heavy and he still had a mild fever, but it probably wasn't bad enough to keep him in bed. It was just that, well, having Sakura take care of him was, he had to admit, pretty nice in a lot of ways. Taking a day off from time-to-time wasn't bad, right?

But... well, something was nagging at him still. He really couldn't just stay here all day, could he? He had an appointment.

Granted, it had been made on the assumption he'd be healthy, but... well... sick or no, he'd promised. He'd told Ilya that he would meet her in the park today around lunchtime, and it was after eleven. If he wanted to make it by noon, he should leave now. But if he disappeared from his room...

Nurse Sakura would be angry.

Fuji-nee would throw a tantrum.

Saber would kill him. That wasn't even a joke, she might very well literally murder him right then and there.

There were, in short, a million reasons not to go, many of them very good. There was only one reason, a pretty lousy one even, to head to the park right this moment.

You told her you would be there, and she believed you. Do you want to lie to her? His conscience said. Stubborn, annoying thing it was, making him do stupid things.

He really should just stay home.

If I'm only gone for an hour or so, it won't be a problem, right? I'll just go to the park for an hour.

---------------

Sakura walked confidently through the halls, a fresh futon and a change of pajamas in her hands. Senpai had been sweating a lot, so getting him some fresh linens would be a good idea. And he'd eaten the porridge she'd made for breakfast, so something more substantial for lunch might be good. And...

She stepped into his bedroom to find it empty.

"S-senpai...?" She asked softly, setting down the pile of cloth in her hands. She peeked her head into the hallway, wondering if she might possibly have passed him without noticing, or...

The kitchen. Of course, it was almost lunch-time, and wouldn't it be just like him to go and make food when he knew she was supposed to be taking care of him! She'd have to be stern with him, as much as she didn't want to. He couldn't be making lunch when he wasn't feeling well!

This thought process provided her with very little comfort, really. She knew that, in all honesty, she was lying to herself. That was a rare thing, lying to make herself feel better. She almost never did it. Almost never, really...

Almost...

The kitchen was as empty as she'd known it would be, deep down. Searching the house from top to bottom in increasing panic brought no better results; Saber was still resting in her room, and other than her, the house was terribly empty.

Why? Why would he leave now, of all times? He was... he'd asked her to stay here. He clearly wanted her to stay here, so why had he left when she was supposed to be taking care of him? Didn't he want to be with her? He'd acted so much like he did, but...

But of course he doesn't. He was worried I would get hurt, that's all. She thought blankly. He doesn't care about me any more than that. He was just trying to protect me like he would any other girl he thought was in trouble. He has no feelings for me other than that, and I was... I was an idiot to think he did.

How could I have been so stupid as to think he would love me? Why would he? I... I... I'm filthy. I'm nothing. Anyone could look at me and tell in an instant that Senpai would never be interested in me.

After all, I clearly deserve far, far better than him. How could anyone think he would want to be with me? That would be like an insect falling in love with a goddess. He knows his station better than to do something like that.

Sakura fell to her knees in shock and not a small amount of shame the moment the thought crossed her mind unbidden. It was... it hadn't been...

She hadn't thought that. She wouldn't! Such a thing would never cross her mind, not even for a heartbeat! And with it had come a sensation of such terrible pride, and a cold fury that made her sick to her stomach. It didn't... it was in her head, it was her thoughts, but it didn't feel like her. She didn't feel like herself while she was thinking that. It was just so wrong, it wasn't her at all, it was filthy and horrible and nothing she would ever consider but...

Don't I have every right to feel that way? Don't I deserve a bit of entitlement after all these years? I'm special. I deserve to be treated as such. I deserve better than a man who abandons me like this after all I've sacrificed for him.

Her worry for Shirou momentarily sidelined by mortification and fear at the horribly twisted impulses running uncontrollably through her thoughts, Sakura rose shakily to her feet. This was... she must just be tired. She was tired, and still a little sick, and desperately worried about Senpai, and all of those together were making control harder. Things were bubbling up that shouldn't have been, that was all. She just... she just needed to get some sleep, and get her mind back in order. It wasn't a problem, she didn't really believe any of those things. it was nothing but mindless lashing out, nothing more, nothing serious...

She just needed to rest, that was all.

---------------

Somewhere very dark and very cold, a pair of lovely feminine lips curved into a small smile at Sakura's obvious discomfort.

"Sleep well, child. Sleep well."

A mere touch of mind to mind, a thought springing unbidden from the darkest, most tightly locked portions of the subconscious, that was all she could manage in the waking hours. But when the girl slept, when her defenses were down...

Dreams were funny things, weren't they?

---------------

Something began to dawn upon Shirou as the fire in his head grew constantly worse and his limbs felt like lead weights.

Perhaps, just perhaps, he'd been feeling so much better because he hadn't actually done anything all day. Possibly all that relaxation and pampering had been making him feel better than he actually was.

And perhaps taking a long walk in the freezing cold was having a negative effect on his restored health.

Just maybe.

He could barely see straight. Each step made the fire in his blood seem a little bit hotter; already he could barely even feel the chill in the air. Each movement made his muscles feel heavier, more lifeless.

This is stupid. If I turn around now, I'll make it back home just fine. Maybe Sakura and Saber won't hurt me too bad if I just say I wanted to get some fresh air. He thought. I should just turn around.

"You... you're leaving me all alone?" Said the little white-haired girl in his memory.

...Dammit. Shirou thought, each new step making his blood burn further.

---------------

Sakura was cold.

This was nothing new; 'cold' was typically the least of her worries. But she wasn't at home, now. She was at the Emiya house, the one place she honestly felt safe. Protected.

Warm.

Or at least, she had fallen asleep in the Emiya house, her mind reeling and confused by senpai's absence. So how, then, had she woken in her own home? The basement, the breeding chambers? That cold, rotten Hell that made up the majority of her life?

And why was she looking at herself?

She looked down at the swarming worms, and rather than leaping at her, they gathered around a body in the central chamber that she recognized instantly as herself. 'She' lay in the horde as she always did, motionless and silent as they crawled over and into her. This was normal; to be violated by those things was no longer anything worth screaming about, to her.

But actually seeing it happen from the outside? She had to wonder why she didn't scream.

Why do you accept this?

The voice came from everywhere and nowhere, filling the dream... and it had to be a dream, Sakura was lucid enough to recognize this... with the echoing words. The 'Sakura' in the worm chamber did not hear them, or at least she did not react. The worms themselves continued to thrash mindlessly.

"Who...?" Sakura murmured.

Why do you accept this treatment? There is no need.

Sakura, despite herself, was curious. She could sense something odd at work here; something strangely familiar, yet alien. She realized she should probably be more worried about strange voices in it, but then, dreams often made little sense. And really, she knew as well as anyone that her mind was not... not standard. "I accept it because I have no choice. This is just how it's always been. There's..."

...No way out? That's a defeatist attitude, don't you think?

Sakura laughed bitterly. "And I have some reason to have more confidence? This..." She gestured around the chamber. "... is my life. It always has been, for almost as long as I can remember."

And you simply accept this.

"Do I have a choice?"

Always. But then, it's understandable that you don't see it. What else is there to expect from you? Just look at you.

Trapped.

Violated.

Broken.

Each word jabbed into Sakura's mind like a dagger made of ice, but that hardly mattered. She was hardly unused to pain and degradation, after all. "I know all of that... I've known since I was a child. I'm just... I'm just a thing, and..."

And why do you accept that? Why do you not resist?

"Because I couldn't succeed! Because grandfather is the one who did this to me, and he's a monster! Because I... because even if my life isn't worth living, I don't want to die! I... I just..."

And if there were a way to change that, would you accept it?

"... what?"

You call him a monster, but that's because you don't fully understand the situation. Either the true nature of your captor... or your own true nature.

"I don't..."

This... pitiful display is merely what exists. You know this already. I'm here to show you what COULD be.

The world changed, then. The chill and rot of the worm chamber melted away, her vision blurred, there was the sensation of rapid movement although she did not take a single step. The dreamscape warped and shifted until she found herself standing outside, in Fuyuki. Atop her own high school, even.

After a fashion.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Fuyuki City, her home, was in flames. Blood ran through the streets, and not so much as a bird in the sky or an insect in the grass could be seen alive. Dead, yes. The corpses lined the streets, many of them lazily floating in the blood the formed a grisly river through the necropolis. But nothing living.

"This... this is..." Sakura said, her eyes wide. "What happened?"

You, of course. You killed every single one. Impressive, but I knew you could manage.

"W... wh..." She gasped, unable to get the words out. "I... I... I..."

You took what you DESERVE. These people? The ones who lived their happy lives while you suffered? It is within your power to make them pay for it, now. Don't you want that?


Sakura did not reply. Her silence was merely because, at the moment, the horror was too much for words, but the voice seemed to take it as encouragement.

You call your grandfather a monster? The monster is what he has forged of you, and you can USE that. You are a thing of murder, Sakura, a being wholly specialized for the destruction of life. You accept your torment because you think you cannot best him? Sakura, you can DESTROY him. Don't you want to?

"No! No, none of this is..."

The power is within you. All you have to do is take it, and the revenge you've been denied your whole life can be yours. The power to rise above the world of flesh, and destroy them all. As they DESERVE.

Those who have hurt you. Those who have repressed you. Those who have taken the life you should have had. Those who have turned their backs on you when you needed them the most.

And then it really became a nightmare.

With each new sentence, a statue rose in a circle around her. Four total, appearing fluidly, as if simply flowing upwards from the concrete of the school itself. Zouken. Shinji. Rin.

Shirou.

And the voice continued. You still fear. That is unneeded, Sakura. You have lived your whole life in oppression, so you fear freedom. But claim your birthright, and all that can change. All the fear, all the doubt, all the pain, revenge will simply wash away.

Look at them. These... ANIMALS that are less than you are. You fear them for the power they have over you, but when the world of flesh is beneath you, that fear will just vanish, I promise. After all, what need is there for you to fear anything at all? Within you is the power to destroy all who oppose you as easily as: One.

From somewhere just outside of Sakura's field of vision, a razor tendril of inky blackness snapped out. The statue of Zouken crumbled.

Two.

Again. Shinji's likeness fell, cut into a dozen pieces.

Three.

Rin joined the two Makiri, a pile of dust on the floor.

Sakura, horror freezing her blood, turned toward the last image, though after what she'd seen so far, she wanted to look away. More than anything, she wanted to look away.

Fo-

"NO!" Sakura screamed, shooting upright.

She looked around herself to confirm she was indeed in her room in the Emiya manor, where she had fallen asleep. Her skin was soaked in sweat, her heart beating madly.

She was... the school? She'd been at school, and... something about statues? Senpai had been in danger somehow, but from what? From...

Why couldn't she think straight? She should be able to remember this.

I just need to calm down. To think. I... I just need to consider what I saw, and figure out what it meant. I... it's possible that it was just a dream. Not worth worrying myself over.

Yes, that was right. It was nothing but a dream, after all; the thought came to her clearly, calmly, reassuringly. There was no need to worry about it, to obsess over a simple nightmare she couldn't even recall clearly.

Wait.

That's not... I don't think this one was normal. But it was I can't even recall why it was so strange, but I know that... there was SOMETHING about it... something about nee-san and Senpai? Or...

Ah, of course.

It's just the consequences of trying to sleep when I was so upset over Senpai leaving. Of course I'd dream about him, I'm worried! Silly.

Sakura smiled slightly and shook her head in embarrassment. Really, she should have known better than to get so worked up over a silly, meaningless little dream.

---------------

Ilya sat on the bench, in a very foul mood.

He had promised. He'd said he would meet her here. At this time.

And he wasn't here. He had lied. Shirou had deceived her.

She should have seen this coming, really. How could she have been so stupid? She'd known who he was, she'd known who had raised him. Grandpapa had told her time and time again what to expect from anyone bearing the name of Emiya, and she had allowed herself to be fooled regardless. She had allowed his... his smiles and his false kindness to pierce her armor, and been hurt in response, as it always was when Einzbern and Emiya interacted. Most likely he had known who she truly was from their first meeting, allowed her to make a fool of herself so he could take her heart in his hands and shatter it mercilessly.

Well, this would not happen again, that was clear. She would never again allow Shirou to harm her. It was past time that she did what she came here to do.

"Hi, Ilya."

"Oh, hello, Shirou." She said offhandedly. Yes, when night fell, she and Berserker would go on the hunt. Her vengeance, not her family's but her's, would be in that moment. Hercules would carve a vicious, bloody revenge out of Shirou's treacherous...

Wait a second.

Ilya's head snapped around to see the boy standing there; pale, sweating, but definitely present. He came! She squealed internally, the lion's share of her rage forgotten in a heartbeat. He's here! He came he showed up he wants to be with... with...

...

He's late.

In truth, she wasn't angry; in a way, it was cute. He was silly and unreliable and the fact that he'd come in the end meant he really tried his best even though he was a dummy. But still, punctuality was important. It was rude to make a lady wait! Yes, she'd have to be a little bit harsh with him, just so he understood he couldn't do things like that to her. She could be late, but he couldn't. It was a rule.

Fighting back the smile that threatened to overwhelm her, she narrowed her eyes and frowned. "You're late, Shirou. You said you'd be here at the same time we met yesterday. I've been here for almost an hour. What do you have to say for yourself?"

Shirou smiled unsteadily. "Sorry. I... well, it took me longer to walk here than I thought."

"Um... Shirou?" Ilya asked softly, her feigned anger already beginning to dissolve at the sight of how generally wobbly he appeared. "Are you okay?"

"S-sure. Though I think maybe it might be... might be..." He trailed off, seemingly uncertain of what he'd even been planning to say. His face was flushed as red as his hair, but his hands and neck were visibly pale and clammy. More, his legs were shaking... he was trembling?

Ilya's face now showed nothing but concern. "Shirou, I'm really worried about you. Are you sure you're all riEEK!" She squealed, as Shirou began to fall forward without warning. Instinctively, she leaped forward to catch him.

This was a mistake.

With a squawk of protest that was highly unbecoming of nobility, Ilya was pushed backwards as the much larger, heavier boy fell forward on top of her. "GAH! S-Shirou! This is... um... this isn't good! You shouldn't... I mean, this is too much, so...!"

"I-Ily..." Shirou muttered, blinking a few times in confusion. Then his eyes widened in something that was somewhere between surprise and sheer horror. "OH! I'm sorry! I'm really... I just kind of blacked ou- lost my balance for a minute, and I didn't mean to..."

What followed was one of those rare, precious silences that is almost never heard in real life. As if the world had gone completely, utterly still. A single, perfect, crystalline moment when Shirou and Ilya were not even breathing. Not even blinking. One could have made a convincing argument that their hearts were not even beating.

Considering that, in bringing his hands beneath himself to try to push himself up and to his feet, Shirou had managed to place one of his palms far-too-firmly on Ilya's chest, he probably would have noticed if her heart was beating.

Tears of humiliation filling her eyes, Ilya looked up at Shirou. He had not yet moved his hand. Perhaps he thought that she would forget it was there if he didn't move it.

She wouldn't, of course. Oh, how she wouldn't. But Shirou was a young man, and it is important for a young man to be optimistic and dream big.

"Shirouuuuuu..." Ilya growled.

"I'm sorry?" Shirou said. Or asked. It wasn't clear from his tone, and honestly he might not have known himself. If he'd been thinking clearly, after all, he probably would have had the sense to take his hand off of Ilya's chest.

A loud, sharp sound briefly rang through the park.

Shortly after, Shirou and Ilya sat silently next to each other on a bench. Anyone looking on would notice that Shirou had a very strange marking on his left cheek. Almost like a hand-print, but more vaguely shaped; as if someone wearing a mitten had slapped him across the face.

With surprising force, considering how small she was.

It had really stung.

"... Sorry about that." Shirou said again.

"Dummy." Ilya muttered.

"It was an accident." He said miserably.

"W-well... I guess I can forgive you this once. But that's moving too fast. It's only our second date!" Ilya said, blushing furiously.

"Yeah, I... wait, what?"

"Nothing." Ilya said. Then slowly, almost reluctantly, the irritation began to leak out of her tone to be replaced once more with concern. "Um... Shirou... are you all right? You seem sick."

"Nah. It's nothing, really, just..." Shirou trailed off briefly, shaking his head as if to clear it. "... just a cold. Or something like that; I'm fine."

"No you're not." Ilya said softly. A cold? Mana deprivation. She could sense the flow of energy through his magic circuits and it was vastly diminished from the already low capacity she'd felt yesterday. It was no wonder he was falling over, his whole life-force seemed pale and pathetic.

Someone had done this to him deliberately, fed on his mana. Whoever had hurt her Shirou had better hope she never found them. She would have to keep a closer eye on him, that was clear. Saber was simply not up to the task of keeping him safe.

"Excuse me?" Shirou asked.

"You're not fine at all." She said flatly. "You should be resting... I would have understood if you told me you couldn't come because you were sick." (This was, it should be noted, probably not true. But Ilya was a fickle girl, and not often given to common sense).

Shirou smiled at her brilliantly, if a bit shakily. "I know. But I promised you I would be here, didn't I? I couldn't break my word to a lady."

Ilya had to look away from his eyes again, though this time to hide a blush so intense it looked like her face would catch fire. "I... um... I... um... uh... you... ... ... thanks."

Shirou smiled slightly at how shy she'd suddenly become. Her emotional state really was halfway-impossible to predict. And, well... maybe it was just the fact that his mind was still kind of fuzzy, but she seemed impossibly cute right this moment; even more fragile and fairy-like than she'd been in the moonlight the night they'd met.

Whoa, careful there. People will start thinking we're on a date again. He chided himself.

We kind of are, aren't we?

... ... oh well. He thought. He probably would have been more worried about it if he hadn't been struggling to keep his eyes open. It seemed that with the adrenaline from his little... accident... wearing off, he was starting to revert back to the natural state of things, which was 'asleep'. "Sorry..." He said softly, his eyes drifting closed. "I said I'd meet you, but it... it looks like we won't get much talking... ..."

Ilya let out a small squeak as something warm and soft leaned onto her when she wasn't looking, but this was not so much a 'fall' as a gentle slump. She was able to direct Shirou's descent somewhat, so that rather than crushing her again, he simply fell gently onto her, his head ending up...

Er.

Well.

In her lap.

This was less embarrassing than being crushed, but not by as much as you'd think.

"U-um... Shirou? Shirou, this is... you shouldn't be..." She said weakly. If her blushing face had looked like it was going to catch fire before, it now looked like it would ignite the entire park. Her skin was as red as her eyes.

Shirou made a soft sound in his throat, snuggling instinctively against something warm and soft. Ilya looked down at his sleeping face, her voice catching in her throat.

Slowly, gently, her expression of embarrassment melted into a gentle smile. She pressed one hand to his cheek.

"Shirou." She said, softly running her hand down his face and neck, drinking in the details of his sleeping form, smiling as his expression grew less troubled with the simple physical contact.

Sella and Leysritt would be worried. She had truly planned to spend only an hour or so here, and knew she had already done this. She really shouldn't have stayed any longer.

But there was no force on Earth that could have made her wake him up at that moment.

Moczo
May 22nd, 2011, 02:34 PM
Chapter Nine: Nightfall on the Mountain

Kotomine Kirei considered the situation, and was not amused.

Ryudou Temple was not an easy place to peer into, even for him. He wished, slightly, that he had not felt the need to keep Lancer penned the previous night; looking back, he most likely should have sent the Servant to study the situation personally. He doubted that even his orders would have kept the man from entering to personally battle anything he found, but at least Lancer's death would have provided Kirei with some much-needed intelligence on exactly what had occurred at the mountain temple.

Someone or something was still draining life from the inhabitants of the town, but it no longer felt like Caster's work. In addition, the mystical territory erected inside the mountain's natural boundary field had changed substantially; a far less elegant work than that which the Magus Servant had maintained. And, irritatingly, a work that Kirei recognized, to some degree.

Zouken Makiri.

Ugh.

Kirei was not the most 'normal' of individuals, he knew this. Indeed, he couldn't help but know it; he had spent many, many years dealing with his thoroughly empty personality, a hollow shell of a man that could only be filled with the pain of others. Nobody was more aware than he of what a monster he truly was, how unnatural an existence he possessed. He had been tormented by his true nature and its conflict with his upbringing since he was a child.

But at the very least, even on those rare occasions that his conscience (yes, despite what anyone else might say, he did have one) flared up, he could always say 'At least I'm not Zouken'. The elderly Magus disgusted him, repelled him in every way and on every level. Kirei was, after all, completely selfless in his own way. His means of doing so was bizarre, perhaps, but he cared only for other people.

'Selfless' was not a term that could be applied to Zouken Makiri in any way, shape, or form.

If the old worm was planning something, moving actively... Makiri understood the Grail better than anyone. It was very possible that Zouken's plans for it would interfere with Kirei's game, and that had to prevented, obviously.

But more than that, Kirei simply hated the man. If there was something Zouken wanted, then Kirei wanted him not to have it. It was, in the end, as simple as that. But to accomplish this, he needed information. Lancer was not the best scout, but he was the only option Kirei had... the 'shared vision' magic he used to see through his Servant's eyes was not something that Gilgamesh would allow from anyone. Something about 'commoners seeing through the king's eyes being a sin' or somesuch.

And so tonight, Lancer would get his wish. He would go to Ryudou, free to kill anything he met. And while he indulged his bloodlust, Kirei would see all that he saw, and with luck discern the truth of the situation. The possibility of even Cu Chulainn not returning from the obvious trap that Makiri had made of the mountain was significant, but...

Well, Lancer wasn't a bad dog to own, but pets didn't last forever.

***

Shirou was cold, but it didn't feel bad.

Far from unpleasant, the chill in the air was soothing, gentle. He lay in the middle of a snowy field, his arms spread out, letting the snow gently fall onto him and swirl around him, quite content and relieved. His body was burning hot, after all, and it the million individual snowflakes falling on it one-by-one brought an impossible sense of comfort, extinguishing the flames wherever they touched. After a day of pain and blazing heat, everything was finally soft and cool and occasionally, every once in a awhile a flake would land on his parched lips and just cool down everything and he...

... he simply felt...

... oddly warm, actually. At least in the area around his right ear. And most of the softness was there too, though there were a certain sensation on the other side of his head, as if something soft were gently brushing against his cheek. Ha ha... he thought, actually awake enough at this point to realize that he wasn't actually reclining in a snowfield, it had been another dream. Silly. He thought, groggily but happily Though I feel awfully weird... what's wrong with my face? Soft and warm on one side, brushing on the other... hee, it's like I have my head in someone's lap and they're stroking my face.

He thought about that for a second.

Really thought about it. Thought about where he'd been when everything had gone black, and what he had been doing, and most of all who he had been with.

And for the second time in two days, Shirou's thought processes could best defined as, Oh, shit.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he was having another dream. Maybe he would open his eyes and see his own bedroom, and wouldn't see the one thing he was most terrified of seeing.

He tilted his head upwards slightly and opened his eyes.

Oh, shit.

Ilya smiled down on him, a warm, gentle expression of pure contentment. "Hello," She said, her hand continuing to gently stroke the side of his face. She looked deeply happy, and peaceful, and Shirou had to admit that her fairy-like otherworldly beauty had never been more clear. And so he reacted to this lovely sight in the only way he knew how.

"GAH!" Shirou snapped, rolling off her as quickly as he possibly could and, rather than taking the time to get to his feet, scuttled rapidly away from her like a terrified hermit crab.

"Um... Shirou...?" Ilya asked nervously. "Is something wrong?"

"Y-y-yes!" Shirou said. "Yes, something is wrong! I... we... you... lap!"

"... huh?" Ilya asked. An eloquent princess, she was.

"This is... ... ..." Shirou trailed off, moving his arms vaguely. Finally he pointed at her and said, "Too young!"

"... ... ..." Ilya said.

"This is... God, did anyone see us? This is really bad, I could get arrested, all the neighbors will think I'm a pervert, I..." He stopped mid-sentence, blinking a few times in confusion. Slowly, but steadily, he rose to his feet. "... I feel really good."

"Y-you're refreshed from your nap! You must have been really tired!" Ilya said quickly, a furious blush rising to her cheeks. Really, she probably shouldn't have taken the time to rejuvenate his magic circuits, but he was so sickly and helpless and she had plenty to spare, and she only gave him a bit, just to get him back on his feet, and...

And...

And she'd only kissed him once or twice. It wasn't like she'd wanted to! It was just... well... a certain amount of contact was needed, just a little bit, and... and it was needed, really, the absolute minimum contact possible! Seriously! She wouldn't have done it if she'd had any other choice, even if it had been kind of nice and...

Her blush deepened. Yes, it might be best simply not to share that little detail.

"I... I guess I was." Shirou said, raising one hand and flexing it experimentally. The bone-deep fatigue, the pain, the fever; they were all gone, as if they'd never existed. He felt as good as he had any day of his life. "I'm surprised that a few minutes of sleep helped that much..."

"A few minutes?" Ilya asked in confusion.

Shirou's eyes widened.

For the second time in his association with Ilya, the sun was not in the right place in the sky.

"Ilya..." Shirou asked. "How long was I asleep?"

"Um... a few hours?" Ilya said. "I'm not sure."

"... ... ... ... ..." Shirou said. He tried to say something more, but oddly no sound came out.

"It was nice. You're cute when you sleep."

"Ilya." Shirou said. His voice sounded cold and dead.

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry I couldn't talk to you much today. But I really was tired. And I really, really have to leave."

"Oh..." Ilya said, blushing furiously for some reason Shirou didn't want to think too hard about. "That's okay. I had a... I had a really nice time anyway. So... so can I see you again tomorrow?"

"Sure, of course, I..." He trailed off, wondering exactly why he had agreed so quickly, or indeed why he kept humoring her at all. It wasn't like he had any real reason to. Sure, she took his mind off his troubles very well; hell, with Shinji and Tohsaka after his throat, Saber pushing him to more and more conflict despite herself, and Sakura's health in an odd state of flux, Ilya had become one of a rapidly diminishing handful of bright spots in his life. She was bizarre, and confusing, and just in general a massive complication (particularly in how she kept tearing the hearts out of his afternoons), but well...

She was nice. It was nice to spend time with her. And she liked it too, and if it made them both happy, then...

Shirou smiled at her. "I'm not sure... there's some people who aren't very happy that I'm leaving all the time to see you. But I'll try my best."

Ilya's smile lit up the park and confirmed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he had made the correct choice.

Then he considered what awaited him at home, and thought that maybe, just maybe, doubt should have gone to the effort of casting bigger shadows.

"Um... Ilya?"

"Yes, Shirou?"

"I really would like to see you again, but... it can't be for this long. These long meetings really aren't good for my health, in a lot of ways..."

***

"I am going to break his legs and tie him up in his bedroom." Saber said.

See? Shirou is a pretty smart guy.

"Saber-san." Sakura chided her. Honestly, she shouldn't be so hostile even if she's not wrong.

"He is ill. He is alone. He could be in danger from any number of enemies." Saber said. "And once again, I have no idea where to look for him unless he calls for me. If that fool dies..."

Sakura giggled, though the sound was obviously forced. "I'm... sure it won't come to that."

"It shall not." Saber agreed. "Because when he gets home, he shall be under my watch for as long as the W- as long as I am in this country. This shall not happen again."

"Saber-san... please, don't be angry at senpai. I'm sure he had a good reason for-" Abandoning me. "-Leaving. It was my fault, I was supposed to be watching him..."

"No." Saber said. "I was supposed to be watching him. But I was not vigilant, and shirked my duty because I believed he could be trusted. Clearly I was wrong."

I could have told you he wasn't trustworthy. And you, worming your way into my life and acting like you belong here, you interfering THING... You two DESERVE each other. Sakura... thought. No, that doesn't seem right. I wouldn't be... it must have been that nightmare. I'm in a foul mood.

Yes, that made sense. It had been such a discomforting dream, and it had interfered with her nap, it was only natural to be a bit upset. She was just... worried, that was all. She had been so happy, and now Senpai was just gone, and she...

As soon as he came home, it would be all right again. It would be.

The sound of the front door sliding open echoed down the hall, and it would have taken a camera to determine which of the girls leapt from their seat more quickly. Saber was, obviously, faster, but Sakura very much wanted it more. She wanted to be the first one to that door, the first to show her displeasure that he had left, the first to forgive him, the first to welcome him home with a smile. She very much wanted to be the first to see...

"Fujimura-sensei!" She said, screeching to a halt in her charge for the door. Of course. There was, after all, one other person besides Senpai and herself who had a key to the house. Taiga would not have to knock or ring the bell, she could simply walk in... and had, in fact. Carrying something that smelled very, very cheap and very, very fried.

Honestly, Fujimura-sensei, that is your idea of bringing home something nutritious for dinner? Sakura thought in some combination of exasperation and amusement. Still, she was a bit worried... she couldn't quite keep the disappointment from either her face or her tone, and Taiga could be shockingly observant at times.

"Hiiiiiii, girls! I got something yummy to eat, so nobody has to cook tonight! Shirouuuuuuuuu! I'm hoooooooooooome!" Taiga said.

And, well, other times Taiga wasn't all that observant.

Sakura chuckled nervously. "Er... well, thank you, but I'm afraid that... well, Senpai seems to have..."

"Shirou has left without permission. I take responsibility for this lapse in security." Saber said.

Taiga considered this for a moment.

"WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?"

Sakura winced. Saber-san, there's such a thing as 'breaking the news gently'...

"Oh, that little...! Make a fool out of me twice, will he? Well that's it! I'll break his legs and lock him in his room!"

"Yes, this is acceptable." Saber said.

"That's right!" Taiga said, throwing her arms around Saber's shoulders. "It's for his own protection, isn't it? That dummy wanders around town at all hours; he could pass out in a ditch and die of illness! He could be murdered! He could get me fired. We need to keep him under closer watch, for his own protection!"

Sakura blinked. "S-sensei... how is securing your career protecting senpai?"

Taiga's eyes bore the chill of the arctic tundra. "It's protecting him from me. I'm going to go eat. Saber-chan?"

"Hunger is the enemy." Saber said, following Taiga towards the kitchen to devour whatever horrible thing she had determined to be 'healthy dinner'.

Sakura tried to laugh this off, but it was rather difficult. They were joking about breaking his legs... right?

The girl sighed softly, following them after a brief pause. Senpai... why did you have to leave? Everything would be so much simpler if you had just stayed...

Behind her, the door slid open once again. Unable to keep the smile off her face, she whirled, a greeting on her lips...

She stopped dead, her face going pale, the greeting dying unspoken.

"What's the matter?" Shinji Matou asked, leaning on the doorway. "It's only polite to greet your brother."

"N... nii-san..." Sakura breathed.

Shinji did not look well. His skin was two shades too pale, his hair was matted with sweat, and his eyes were sunken with dark bags beneath them. Rin would have been very amused to see how well her curse had taken hold; up to this point, he had been mostly trapped in bed.

Sakura wasn't in a position to appreciate it, unfortunately. In fact, to her the poor condition of his body only seemed to highlight the fact that there was nothing even remotely sane in his eyes...

"What..." He said. "Are you doing here, Sakura? Who told you that you could stay here...?"

"S-senpai s..."

"What makes you think," Shinji growled. "That you have the right to humiliate me like this? Abandoning your family for this nobody? Neglecting your duties? Come with me. We're going home, now."

No! No! Sakura thought, paralyzed, tears already forming in her eyes. Things were... things were finally good. She was... this was where she was supposed to be safe. But now nii-san had come for her, and with him a taste of painful reality: there was no safe place. He was going to drag her back to Hell with him, where she belon-

I don't have to go with him, though. She thought.

But... but if I don't, he'll...

... ... ... What will he do? He's nothing. Less than nothing. I could kill him where he stands, right now, with less effort than it would take to swat a fly.

"Now come on." Shinji growled, though Sakura could barely hear him over the blood pounding in her ears. Her vision had gone red, and all she could see was the motion beneath the skin of his neck; blood pumping through his carotid artery. So close to the surface. It would be so easy to just cut it, wouldn't it?

Do it. He deserves it. Don't worry, your body knows how, even if your mind doesn't. Just let go. I promise you it will be easy and it will feel better than anything you could possibly imagine...

Shinji lunged forward and clamped a hand onto her arm. He was not gentle, but it didn't hurt. He pulled, but she felt no pressure. "Come on. What are you waiting for, bitch? I said we're going home, so obey!"

Do it.

"What is wrong with you?" Shinji snarled, nervousness beginning to enter his mind for the first time. She was supposed to just listen, blankly. His doll was not supposed to disagree with him in any way, but...

Do it.

Slowly, almost lazily, Sakura raised her free hand. Her eyes were dull and lifeless, but focused on Shinji's throat with unnerving intensity, and just for a second, so quickly that it was almost imperceptible, it seemed that something dark danced between her outstretched fingers...

An arm sheathed in a white sweater clamped down on Shinji's wrist, twisting if off of Sakura with enough force to make the boy openly gasp in pain.

"The Master of this house," Saber said coldly, "Is not home. Entering uninvited is the height of rudeness. Assaulting a guest is beyond the pale. Now, will you agree to leave peacefully, or shall I eject you?"

Sakura lowered her hand, the red haze fading from her eyes with the sudden shock. "S-saber-san...?"

"L-let go of me you-" Shinji began, cutting off with a yelp of agony as Saber twisted his arm with enough force to bring it to just shy of the breaking point.

"You are an intruder and you were harming an invited guest. You should be happy your arm is still attached." Saber said calmly. Leaning forward, she whispered softly into his ear, "And do not think I have forgotten our first meeting, murderer. If Sakura were not present, you would no longer be breathing."

"S-Saber-san! Really, it was my fault! Don't... don't hurt him..." That's my job. "I'll just... I'll... go with him, and..."

"Do you want to?" Saber asked coolly. "Because you are Shirou's guest, and welcome in this home until he says you are not. No-one but he has the right to make you leave against your will."

"N-no, Saber-san, if I stay here I'll only be... I'll only be causing trouble, so..." Sakura said.

"I'm her brother!" Shinji snapped. "And she hasn't got any rights that I don't..."

Saber twisted his arm. Just a bit. Something made a cracking noise.

"Gah!" Shinji said.

"Very well, Sakura. If you truly wish, I will not stop you from leaving with this... individual..." Saber said. "Though I would advise against it. Family or no, he is unsavory."

"I... I'll go get my things..." Sakura muttered. She didn't have much to get, but... well. What little she had, she should try to hold on to.

"Don't bother." Shinji growled, finally pulling free of Saber and staring at the Servant with undisguised venom in his eyes. "We're going. Now."

"B-but nii-san..."

"Don't talk back to me!"

The sound of his open palm striking Sakura's cheek was painfully loud in the enclosed hallway.

Saber's eye twitched.

***

I'm not late! I'm not late! I'm not late! Shirou thought.

Hey, chanting it hadn't worked last time. Maybe wishing really hard would help. He knew he couldn't possibly be on time, but maybe something would have happened to take the heat off him, or...

Someone sort of run-limped past him as he sprinted home, and though Shirou didn't get a good look at him in his own mad dash, for just a moment he thought it was Shinji.

But why would Shinji be so close to his house with the War in full swing? And more importantly, why would he be limping?

And holding his nose?

And his ribs?

Shirou decided that he was really in too much trouble on his own to actually deal with that at the moment. He rounded the corner, sprinted the remaining distance to the door... and stopped dead.

The door was already open. Saber stood in it, an incensed expression on her face and blood on her clenched fist. It was not her own blood. Sakura stood behind her, jaw agape.

"S-S-S-S-S-Saber-san...!" Sakura gasped.

"You," Saber said, "May stay here as long as you wish, secure in the knowledge that I will protect you. That... thing... has no right to be called your brother. If he attempts to harm you again, his life is forfeit."

She then turned to Shirou, and said, simply, "You are in a great deal of trouble."

Then, without another word, she walked back into the house in search of dinner.

Sakura and Shirou watched her go in stunned silence.

Finally, Sakura said, very softly, "Welcome home, Senpai."

***

It should go without saying that Shirou would be staying home, this night. He and Saber had no plans, no time to make a plan, Sakura to watch over, and he legitimately believed that after the tongue-lashing Fuji-nee gave him, she would probably sense if he left the house at any time that day. But just because one Master and Servant were homebound, that didn't mean the Holy Grail war would not continue.

Night fell, starless and cold, and Lancer strode through the gates of Ryudou Temple without fear.

Or so he'd have told anyone who asked, and indeed he did not look afraid. But there were hints, for those who knew what to look for. The biggest was the spear, of course... Gae Bolg, his great lance, the symbol of his identity as a Heroic Spirit. The weapon could be summoned instantaneously, with less than a thought. There was no reason to carry it in his hands... unless he felt that the millisecond it took to materialize was still too much time to go unarmed.

The second hint as to his nervousness was that he wouldn't shut up.

"Hmmmmmmm... the boundary field here has changed. Caster's work was much smoother." He said idly. "And all these things... ugh, I hate bugs."

The area around the temple buzzed. This boundary field was weird indeed if it did something like that; beetles, slugs, leeches, spiders, nasty crawling things of all types seemed to be drawn to it. Or maybe they were producing it?

"Well, either way it's nasty." Lancer said, idly stomping a centipede that skittered too close. "And the smell doesn't improve things. This whole place reeks of mildew and bloody water and..."

... sand?

The knives came from nowhere, each one aimed at a lethal point; the eyes, the neck, the heart, the lungs, the kidneys. The blades were blacker than the night behind them, moving with the speed of bullets and curving in at impossible angles. Any normal target would be struck a dozen times before they even realized they were under attack, killed in seconds.

Which served only to make it all the more impressive when Lancer weathered the storm unscathed. Gae Bolg struck, spinning in its wielder's nimble hands to bat each blade out of the air like a cat chasing after a fly on the wall. The knives themselves remained unseen, but the sparks that leapt up as the crimson spear slashed aside each one lit up the blackened temple.

Lancer grinned, the white skull now openly visible against the darkness. "Well, well... I guess with all these bugs around, I shouldn't be surprised to find a sand worm lurking in the shadows. Assassin, right? Not bad, but not good enough!"

The only reply was another flurry of daggers, covering the white skull's retreat as it leapt further backward into the abandoned Temple. Lancer briefly considered the possibility of a trap but quickly enough decided to go in anyway; all of the monks had cleared out long ago, so there was no need to worry about tripping over anyone.

More importantly, however, Lancer was finally off the leash and had permission to deal with this Servant in any way he chose.

He chose stabbing.

A wolfish grin on his face and Gae Bolg effortlessly striking aside the daggers as though the invisible projectiles were pieces of cotton fluff lightly floating in his path, Lancer charged.

***

The sound of metal on metal rang out loudly, even so far as the temple steps. At this time of night, of course, there was almost never anyone near the sacred mountain, and nobody would hear a thing...

Usually.

"What do you know?" Rin said in mild bemusement. "Emiya's information was dead-on. First the monks have to abandon the Temple, and now someone's holding a running fight up there? Looks like something really is rotten on the mountaintop..."

"Shall we act as before? Take up sniping position and try to deal with both at once?" Archer asked.

"That will be hard in this terrain... how about the tried and true method?" Rin asked. "Let them fight until one dies, then take down the winner while he's exhausted."

"You're finally starting to think like a winner." Archer said, nodding his agreement. "Though perhaps part of it is that Shirou Emiya isn't in the crosshairs this ti-"

"If you finish that sentence I will hurt you."

"Tell me, how many times have you used that scrying gem to check on Sakura...?"

Rin muttered something unintelligible.

"I can't hear you."

"Only twice!" She snapped. "Now let's... let's go fight a war, dammit!"

"You're a marshmallow, Master."

"Shut up!"

***

The white skull was fast. Very fast. Lancer was the most agile of the Servants, but this creature's bizarre scuttling down hallways and up walls was as quick on the retreat as he was. And the entire time, those knives continued to rain down, dark against the darkness, imperceptible and fast as bullets.

And they continued to be batted aside by Lancer as though each and every one were glowing in the dark and moving at a snail's pace, even as he closed the gap. Assassin might have been able to match his retreating speed, leaping back like some kind of bizarre antelope-sized scorpion, but Lancer's charge was unequaled and this thing could not escape him forever.

It was the main prayer chamber that brought things to a head, the wide open space allowing Lancer to finally clear that final distance. Even as Assassin skittered across the floor, Lancer made one final leap, his blade leading the way at the white skull in the darkness. Even if I can't take your head on the first stroke, let's see if we can't get that mask off, Mr. Killer...!

He hit empty air, and nobody was more shocked than him. The spot of darkness against the blackened temple flowed, twisting at an impossible angle to let the spear pass by harmlessly, and striking at Lancer by sliding alongside the shaft of Gae Bolg, the arm holding another knife curving in, a bizarre hooked blow...

And not one that Lancer intended to let land.

The fun thing about spears is that the point is not the part you really have to watch for. Lancer's speed and strength were such that he could afford to fight mostly in lightning-fast thrusts, but in reality the most dangerous way to strike with a lance would always be a wide-angle swipe, taking advantage of the weapon's vast range. Lancer did this now, driving Gae Bolg sideways with all of his considerable strength and slamming the shaft of the weapon into the side of Assassin's head, sending the black figure sprawling... but not in a the way Lancer would have hoped.

The skull mask went flying, but the Assassin fluidly caught hold of the wooden floor and dug in, steadying his fall and quickly coming to his feet. Lancer leapt back, weapon at the ready, eyes narrowed.

"Damn, you move like an insect from a distance but up close you're like a serpent. They don't teach that in the desert!" Lancer admitted, slightly impressed in spite of himself. He'd been expecting to slash the black figure's throat open, at least, and instead he'd managed nothing more than a bump on the head. This might be fun after all!

Assassin, the face beneath the white skull unreadable in the darkness, spoke for the first time. "And you... those daggers were thrown so they could not be seen, yet you deflected each one..." His voice had a slight hiss to it, but was beyond that surprisingly dull for such a bizarre creature; flat, hollow, almost totally devoid of emotion. As he spoke, he knelt to reclaim his lost skull mask, fixing it back atop his face.

Lancer smirked. "Sorry. If I can see the origin point, projectiles can't really hurt me unless they're a great Noble Phantasm. Those little daggers are easy to stop even if I can't see them, your bloodlust gives them away."

"Ah... Protection from Arrows?" Assassin rumbled. "Fitting. A great skill for a true Hero with a noble name. As for myself... well, a rotten killer doesn't have any exceptional powers like that. I must make do."

Lancer's smirk became a feral snarl. "Not for much longer."

And once again, he charged. Assassin did not wait for him, of course; leaping up to the rafters and using them as a springboard to launch himself out the overlooking window. Lancer, never one to disappoint someone who clearly wanted to die (if he wanted to live, why pick a fight with Lancer?), made the same jump in a single straight leap and followed in hot pursuit.

***

Archer stood atop Ryudou Temple, watching as the two Servants burst from the window and made their mad dash across the courtyard. The black blur of Assassin barely rustled the grass; the azure hurricane of Lancer flattened it. The silent shadow and the roaring wind tore through the rear grounds of the temple, and Lancer was clearly in command; Assassin made no moves to attack, retreating across the lake behind the Temple without any resistance, the spearman closing quickly.

Assassin reached the opposite shore, Lancer sprinting across the top of the water...

And Hell came to Ryudou Temple.

"What... what...?" Rin gasped from her place behind Archer, trying and failing to comprehend what she saw.

In an instant, Lancer went from clearly in control to on the brink of death. Bubbling up madly from all over the lake, like some primordial sea monster, massive inky black tendrils began to rip free from the depths, snarling around Lancer, seeking to pull the Servant beneath the water. The hunger was almost palpable... this thing wanted to devour Lancer, every hair, every cell. A monstrous curse that saw even a Heroic Spirit as nothing but food...

"Archer... what am I looking at?" Rin snapped, wide-eyed, sounding on the verge of hysterics. Archer could not blame her; even just the presence of the thing made the world seem infinitely darker.

"I don't know." He said. And he didn't, but some part of him...

The deepest, darkest part, that answered to a higher authority than Rin Tohsaka.

So, this is what I was summoned here to stop.

***

Assassin chuckled dryly. "Overconfident, Lancer. It lead to this, and there is no escape for you. But don't worry, it won't eat your heart." He said, moving aside the wrappings on his twisted stump of an arm. "That's mine..."

Cu Chulainn was no fool, and more than a mere spearman. He was a master of the runic magics of the Celtic highlands, and all the runes in his possession were now inscribed on the lake bottom, a barrier that should have prevented nearly any assault.

They were worthless. Enough power to halt an army, and they barely slowed the encroaching tendrils of this bizarre, mindlessly lashing thing that had turned the lake into a nightmare. All that was clear was that he needed to get away from it. He could not touch it, could not fight it, above all else could not be swallowed by it. He needed to think, just a moment… some way to break free, counter attack, to do anything…

"Do you think I cannot reach you? Overconfident again..." Assassin said, the arm beneath the bandages unfolding, joints in the wrong places...

Lancer paid it no heed. The first thing he needed to do was escape the greater danger, and that meant getting off the water. Gathering what power he could, he leapt, nearly thirty meters, out of the reach of the creature and far from Assassin...

The attack came from nowhere. An impossible distance, a formless attack to gore him through the heart from across the lake.

Zabaniya. The power of Assassin, the hand of the demon Shaitan. Once the seal on his arm was released, the curse of Zabaniya could create an illusionary duplicate of the target's heart, and upon impaling it… the real thing would meet the same fate. An impossible, unstoppable curse that should have slain the distracted Lancer in a single blow.

There were only two ways to defeat the attack. First, damage the arm used to create it before Assassin could impale the illusory heart. Second... to dispel the curse itself with a superior magical energy.

A flare of magic blew Zabaniya away, the curse met, matched, and overwhelmed in a matter of seconds. Lancer went through his leap uninterrupted and landed on the banks of the lake, wondering what the Hell had just happened. He'd been caught totally off-guard, Assassin had him cold. So how was he alive, now...?

Amid the tentacles, where before there had been nothing but darkness and thrashing water, a woman stood. Beautiful, in a cold way; her skin and hair were both pale, marble white, making her appear almost a statue. The tips of her ears were delicately pointed, her eyes were solid, discomforting black as if they contained nothing but a pupil. The robes she wore looked like nothing so much as the Shadow itself woven into cloth, wreathing her body in darkness with only the occasional streak of red, like fresh blood. Black flame danced between her fingers, the remnants of the curse she had just effortlessly dispelled.

"Boys, boys," She purred, her voice rich and luscious, filled with obvious amusement. "Fighting over me?"

"What..." Lancer said.

"The..." Assassin said.

...Hell? Archer thought.

Caster smiled a dark, satisfied smile. "Well, then, time to get to work, I think." She brought her hands together sharply, and a wave of power flooded the mountain.

Almost instantly, spiders, leeches, and slugs began to die as the boundary field which sustained them was destroyed and overwritten. A deeper chill filled the already cool night; the air felt thick, heavy. Rin began breathing more deeply, as if she couldn't get enough oxygen in each breath, and even the Servants felt their limbs grow heavier as the oppressive boundary field bore down on them.

The Temple of Medea, reborn in blood and chaos.

And the night grew darker.

lethum
May 22nd, 2011, 03:09 PM
Go go Caster!

Moczo
May 22nd, 2011, 03:38 PM
Chapter Ten: Season of the Witch

It was a catastrophe of epic proportions. The single worst disaster that had ever befallen this world. A thing of corruption and destruction that despoiled all it touched.

"Ojou-sama has been out of the house all day. More than once…" Sella, the elder and less cheerful of Ilya's maids (not that this was immediately obvious, since for both of them the largest visible reaction they commonly showed was a sort of mild stare) murmured.

Out of the house. All day. More than once.

Horrible.

"If Ojou-sama desires it, we have no right to question her tactics in this War." Leysritt reminded her 'sister'. The two maids conspired outside the door to Ilya's bedroom, the Clan Einzbern's pride and joy having skipped in, danced up the stairs whistling, and practically leapt into bed to cuddle her teddy bear and giggle. "She is the pride of the Einzbern. We are mere failures, to be used and cast aside. Should she wish to pursue an unorthodox strategy…"

"She is not pursuing any strategy!" The elder twin snapped. "She goes out every day, and returns every night when the fighting begins! Not a single Master has fallen or even been encountered."

(It should be noted that this last was not exactly true, as Ilya had in fact encountered one of the other Masters and let him take a nap using her lap as a pillow. But Ilya had not shared the details of her daily outings with her attendants, so Sella had no real way of knowing this.)

"Ojou-sama has assured us that her outings each day, and return each night, are crucial to her overall plans," (This was exactly true, but Ilya had deliberately left out the fact that her overall plans had less to do with winning the Holy Grail War and more to do with going on dates.) "She deliberately pursues a plan she believes the other Masters will not predict, and rightly understands that our own, inferior, minds will not be able to properly comprehend it."

"Still, the Lord requested that we guide and foster Lady Ilyasviel, push her onto the right path, and facilitate her victory in the War. At the moment, we have only her word for it that she is even participating in the Holy Grail War, and… forgive me for saying as much… Ojou-sama is… rather flighty."

"Sella."

"I know! It pains me to say it as well." Sella said, with a slight (very slight, almost invisible) wince. "But our duty from the Lord Einzbern is very clear. We must speak with Ojou-sama regarding her plans, and see if her daily activities are, indeed, in the best interests of the Clan. And if they are not, we must set her back on the course to bring glory to the family, as is her destiny. If needed, we shall… we shall… … chastise her."

There was silence for several minutes.

"Perhaps in the morning."

"If Ojou-sama is in a good mood."

"A very good mood."

"And if Berserker is asleep."

"Very asleep."

Their course of very, very careful action decided, the two maids left to continue their duties. The castle was huge and would not clean itself, after all. (Honestly, you would have thought that after 1,000 years, someone would have devised a spell for that).

Though she gave no outward sign of her dissatisfaction, Sella could not help but think, Honestly… Ojou-sama and her fickle moods… truly, I have the worst of all possible lives.

***

Zouken Matou fell to his knees, gasping in anguish. Black blood flowed freely from his ears, nose, and from beneath his fingernails. His very existence could be defined as 'living pain'.

So, the point here would be that perhaps Sella was overestimating the severity of her own situation.

Still, if there was one thing that Zouken was familiar with, it was pain. Agony was his constant companion, no matter what body he took, and he knew how to focus his mind through it well enough. And so, even as his body fell to pieces, his mind worked in overdrive to discern why.

The backlash from the loss of so many familiars at once had been considerable, but nothing he could not have handled under normal circumstances. However, this particular loss had been laced with something else… a cold, aching hunger that had actually traced his connection to his familiars back to him, striking directly at his essence and attempting to devour him from the inside out. Had his core not been safely elsewhere, he most likely would have been killed instantly. As it was, his current body was most certainly cut down to a fraction of its expected lifespan; he would need to replace it, and soon.

One of his eyes fell out, trailing more of that foul-smelling black blood and small, weakly writhing worms.

Apparently, he would need to replace it very soon.

How had this happened? It made less than no sense. Assassin had played his part perfectly at the Temple. Lancer had been lured into an inescapable situation, the second sacrifice to the Grail. The weapon had attacked, as planned, eager to devour its second meal.

And then, from within the heart of Zouken's own secret weapon, she had emerged.

Caster.

She had survived. He didn't know how she had survived, but she had. More than that, she had opposed him, entered the darkness and emerged with at least some vestige of her mind intact! Even if she had returned, she should have been altered beyond recognition, warped into nothing more than a tool of the Shadow, a method by which it could expand its power and influence. And yet… she had not.

How had this happened? A Servant had entered the Holy Grail, and returned. Not merely alive but free and thriving. Under other circumstances, it might have been intriguing indeed; a new facet of the Grail's functions to explore and possibly exploit.

Under the current ones, with all his plans for the future poised on the edge of a knife, the success and failure of his life's ambitions a single error apart… it simply worried him a great, great deal.

***

Lancer tried his hardest to keep from staring in open amazement. He couldn't afford the lapse in judgment.

As hard as it was for him to admit, the Shadow… frightened him. It was simply something he couldn't comprehend, a thing that screamed into the core of his being that he could not defeat it, could not fight it, could not even touch it; to do so would mean his end, or worse.

And yet there she was; the dark woman, standing right in the middle of the worst of it, the tentacles whipping harmlessly around her. Every instinct in his body told him she should have been dead or worse. And yet she stood in the darkness, vibrantly happy and very much alive.

For the first time in his life, Cu Chulainn seriously considered just running away. There was nothing wrong with fighting an opponent you couldn't beat, but one you couldn't understand, that was another matter. And then there was that black static that played in the back of his mind as he looked at the Shadow… the whispers that what awaited him was far, far worse than death…

"Caster…" Assassin murmured. "But you were consumed."

"That's…" Lancer muttered. No way. As part of his Master's orders, Lancer had engaged all of the other Servants, and Caster was no exception… though he'd really been fighting her bizarre Master. And this was… well, not her. It kind of looked like her, now that he actually saw it, but the presence, the essence of the Servant he had tested was entirely different. She had never exactly been fluffy and happy, but now… "What the Hell is going on?"

The smile on her perfect lips was warm and calming, in contrast to the aura of wrongness she exuded. Her black eyes seemed to glitter with amusement. "Hmmmmm? Oh, yes, I believe I was consumed. It seems I've gotten better." She said. Her tone was musical, and beautiful, and wrong. "And just in time, it seems. For starters, Assassin, have you absolutely no common sense? To just throw away such a valuable pet as this fine hound is unforgivable.

"Lancer… Assassin will be nothing but food, the first part of my revenge. But you, I intend to keep all to myself. My new puppy." She purred.

Lancer fell back into a combat stance, leveling his spear at the writhing mass of darkness. "Nah. Don't get me wrong, you're cute and all, but if there's one thing I learned in my life it's that women with too much power don't make the best companions."

Caster chuckled, and it choked like glass dust in the air. "It's simply adorable that you think you have a choice."

She raised her hands, and Lancer got the impression that it might be a good idea to move.

The writhing mass of darkness surrounding her split, and split again, breaking from monstrous tentacles into tinier, razor-thin whips; thousands of them, dividing up evenly to target both Lancer and Assassin.

"Just like I taught you, my pet. You know how to do it, even if you don't know you know…" Caster purred.

"Oh, f-" Lancer said, just before the storm began.

The spears snapped out in a hail that blocked out even the waning starlight, a seemingly endless stream of black blades. Lancer's ability to defend against projectiles was extreme, but he had his limits; his spear simply could not be fast enough to defend against a simultaneous attack against every point on his body.

But he wasn't on the middle of a lake, anymore. He was on dry land and he had options.

Gathering power in his legs, he leapt straight backwards, then again, then again. His speed was vastly beyond human, and even with a forest in the way he was able to get quite a bit of distance before…

The spears came crashing down, tearing the mountain trees to kindling. No... it wasn't that they cut the trees, or tore into them. It was as if the living wood simply ceased to exist where the razor-thin blades touched it. Trees fell, cuts smooth as glass along the length of them. The rain of black blades filled the forest… but not as much as it would have if he hadn't retreated to the outer edges of the attack before it landed. He slashed aside the spears of black, but a few dozen, not a thousand. And he had to admit, he was relieved to see Gae Bolg could actually cut the damn things. He'd been worried about that.

A blade slipped through his guard, grazing his thigh. With a wince, he took another flying leap, slashing wildly at it. The cut was shallow, and thin, but the fact that such a light blow had cut at all was enough to confirm his suspicions… whatever that black thing was, it was very, very bad news. He couldn't even imagine what would have happened if he'd been caught by it on the open water; Caster might be trying to eat him right now, but he kinda owed her one.

Well… as much as he hated leaving debts unpaid, he might have to skip that one.

Back on the lake, Caster considered her options. "Well done, my pet. Hunt him down and consume him… alive, if possible, but we need to keep you well-fed."

The tendrils of darkness coiled around Caster's body like a lover's arms, and the Servant chuckled warmly. "Of course. You'll have Assassin as well. That one, I shall bring to you personally and in pieces. Now go, Lancer isn't going to just feed himself to you. Scoot!"

If a thing could be said to move 'like a plague', the Shadow did so; oozing out of the lake and into the forest in pursuit of Lancer and sustenance.

Now alone, Caster turned toward the opposite bank of the lake, where Assassin had stood. The masked Servant had vanished in the storm of her initial attack, but Caster seriously doubted he had been killed; most likely he hid among the trees even now, watching and waiting, invisible and undetectable.

Undetectable. Not un-findable.

Caster raised her arms, palms up, and said, "Ξίφος Νύχτα του Θεού." Above her outstretched hands, discs of black flame appeared, dark against the darkness.

She threw them into the forest behind Ryudou Temple, and the sound was a bit like a thousand chainsaws going violently insane in perfect unison as trees began to fall…

***

"Archer…" Rin asked again. "What am I looking at?"

The panic was clear in her voice, as much as she might try to hide it. Panic and something else… ever since the Black Servant's boundary field had overtaken the area, she had felt ill. Her head hurt, her blood burned in her veins, her muscles felt like lead. The boundary field was…

"I don't know, and it doesn't matter: we need to get you out of here so I can deal with it." Archer said, as if reading her mind. "This boundary field is sucking your life dry."

"Like Hell." Rin growled. "I'm a Master, I'm not just going to run away like som-"

"Yes, you, are." Archer said. "Right now, you're next to useless, particularly with Assassin and Caster…"

"Caster?" Rin snapped. "That thing is… no way! It's just not possible for that to be a hero of any kind! Not even an anti-hero could be so vile. You can't possibly think that..."

"Rin," Archer said, in a low, soft voice. "I need you to listen to me. Something I don't fully understand is going on here, but I have a chance to stop it. Please… can you trust me?"

Rin thought of this. She heard the urgency in Archer's voice, saw the thinly veiled fear in his eyes. And she gave the only answer that she could.

"No."

"… what?"

"I said 'no'. You clearly know more about this… about everything… than you're telling me. And I'm starting to think that's been the case since I first summoned you," Rin said. "So no, I don't trust you. How could I? I'm staying right here."

Archer considered her response. "All right, that's fair." He admitted. "I wouldn't trust me either. So we're going to do this the hard way."

"The…"

"I'm going to pick you up bodily, drag you to the steps, and throw you outside the mountain's boundary field." Archer said.

"… what?" Rin asked, not quite sure she'd heard right.

"Throw you. Kind of like a javelin, only it's you."

"… … …" Rin said.

"Don't worry. I'm good with projectile weapons. You won't die. I'll make sure you land in a bush or something." Archer said.

"… … …"

"You'll just get hurt. Between the draining effect of this sorcery and the wounds I'll be inflicting, you won't be able to get back to the fight, most likely. You'll be stuck safely outside the boundary field, while I deal with all of this madness." Archer said. "Magi heal fast, you'll be fine."

"Archer…" Rin said slowly. "Don't you dare."

Thirty-five seconds later, as Rin screamed, tears in her eyes, flying awfully fast towards a bush that didn't look at all soft enough for her tastes, she wondered why she'd ever thought this stupid war was something to look forward to.

***

Archer turned back towards the Temple, a screaming in his blood that he could not ignore. His true Master calling him to action.

But... the normal haze over his actions when performing his duties as a Guardian was not there. If that meant the situation was not yet dire enough, or the Servant summoning interfered with the process, he couldn't tell, but it meant he could face this crisis as himself. If he could deal with this problem now, while he still had his sanity, then...

Maybe, this time, my actions don't have to end in a massacre.

That was a rare thing for him, and something worth fighting for indeed.

Time to save the world, then.

***

Lancer went sprawling as the blades of darkness nicked him again.

Agile as he was, maintaining a perfect dodge rate against an enemy that could attack from any direction and seemed to be part of every shadow under every tree was a tall order. And since even the tiniest contact with the dark, twisted substance made him feel exhausted, he couldn't afford less than perfect.

At the least, his spear seemed able to do some damage. It hadn't really hurt the thing in any visible way, but it was able to slash aside the tendrils, cut the shadowy 'flesh'. He wasn't defenseless... completely.

But he couldn't win. He knew that much. Nothing seemed to do any lasting damage, the tendrils coiled around his legs, snapped from the dark spaces between every tree, surrounding, consuming...

He didn't bother to get to his feet, more 'throwing' himself from a prone position with his one free arm; not graceful, but it was movement and that was what he needed right this moment. Black spears slammed into the ground where he had just been as he flipped through the air, slamming his spear into the ground to steady himself and get back to his feet in time to slash aside the next attack. But he was being worn down, and the Shadow was between him and the only exit from the mountain; the main gate. The boundary field around the mountain would heavily resist a Servant on entry or exit, except for the main gates, the only hole in it. No way he could power through the boundary field with that thing on his tail, and no way he could kill it, at least not that he could see.

The tendrils were moving to surround him again, attempting to strike from all angles. And to make matters worse, the darkness was starting to ooze along the forest floor, a pool of infinite black that would soon leave him without even a perch to stand on.

Brilliant silver arrows struck down, igniting brilliant lights throughout the clearing and making the encroaching darkness pull back with a pained shriek.

Lancer looked up... and groaned. "If it's going to be you saving me, I'd rather take my chances with that thing."

Archer fought the urge to roll his eyes. "I'd rather have your help, but if you'd prefer to be devoured, I guess we can work with that too."

Lancer chose not to dignify that with a response. "Your arrows... not sure how, but they seemed to hurt that thing more than my spear. How..."

"Fighting a curse with a demonic lance isn't good tactics. I stuck to Holy blades." Archer said, watching as the Shadow reformed; the extended cloud of darkness coalescing into a vaguely humanoid, or at least human-sized, shape. "And even then I'd say it's not too upset."

"I don't think anything upsets it." Lancer said. "... Look, I'm not suggesting we work together or anything, but how about I wait to kill you until after we get out of this alive?"

"You heroes and your pride." Archer murmured in amusement. "Very well, if it keeps you off my back, call it a cease-fire." he said more loudly, as a half-dozen brilliant silver blades materialized around him.

"You can have a sneak preview of what I'm going to do to you when that fight you want finally comes." Archer said, and charged.

***

Caster looked at the devastation she had wrought and smiled. It really was amazing what one could do with the proper power source, wasn't it?

The forest by the lakeside had been devastated, and not one single throwing blade or curse had come from it in return. Not that it would have mattered particularly if Assassin had managed a counterattack, given Caster's raw power and defenses, but the fact that he hadn't even made the attempt told Caster that he most likely couldn't. She would have preferred to witness his death more closely, and preferably insure the pain involved in it was intense as possible, but she would accept this. There was, after all a certain glee to be found in the knowledge that she had crushed him like an insect. His death had been as anticlimactic and sudden as Soichirou-sama's.

There was a small measure of justice in that.

And now...

A silver flash tore through her mind. Not exactly painful, but shocking.

A man in a red coat, silver swords dancing around him, illuminating the darkness, tearing through the shadows the filled the sacred mountain.

No... no, her pet was...

The blue knight drove his spear forward, and something hissed as it pierced semi-solid black 'flesh'.

Caster was a part of the Shadow, and the Shadow was a part of Caster. Now, it was in distress, and the pain tore through her link as it called her to its side, seeking protection. Lancer had found an ally, and as much as she had taught her pet it was not yet strong enough to face this new threat with the blazing silver blades.

Caster took to the skies, not remotely happy with the state her new toy was in and not at all shy about sharing this fact with its tormentors.

And in the decimated forest she had left behind, a white skull briefly appeared among the fallen trees before once again fading from sight...

***

It wasn't exactly beautiful.

The swordsmanship displayed by the red knight was not the graceful beauty of Saber's otherworldly skill, nor the fierce beauty of Lancer's inhuman speed and strength. The silver swords appeared from nowhere and were ruthlessly discarded; each one piercing the Shadow's form, being devoured, and vanishing only to be replaced just as quickly. The knight had no grace, no beyond-human skill, just ruthless practicality and efficiency.

Lancer didn't honestly care; it was damn effective, and that's what mattered. He still didn't get the impression that they were really harming the bizarre thing, but the holy swords were shredding the black mass and pushing the monster back, and that was good enough.

Or, rather, it had been good enough.

"Μαύρη Φλόγα Βροχή ."

Pillars of ebon flame smashed down around the Shadow from above, tearing craters in the ground and driving back the two knights slashing away at its mass.

Above the treetops, Caster hovered, her cape spread like the wings of a bat and runes of power glowing with black light in the sky around her.

"Bad dogs." She purred. "If you can't play nicely with my new pet, I shall have to put some effort into taming you."

"Damn..." Archer muttered. Two-on-two, he was not sure of his chances, not this time. He was already cheating, tapping into powers that a Servant shouldn't have had, and he hadn't been doing a whole lot of damage. Now he had artillery to deal with too.

"You think we can take her?" Lancer asked.

"Do you?" Archer asked.

"Doesn't really matter, I'm trying anyway."

"... fair enough." It wasn't as though they had a lot of other options.

Caster descended, landing inside the Shadow, which dissolved around her into a pool of darkness that began to spread. "Now, my pet, we strike as..."

Something as black as the Shadow around her feet slammed into her back, jerking her body. She looked down at her chest in disbelief, two holes in her chest from projectiles that had gone into her back and pierced completely through. She fell to her hands and knees, blood flowing freely from her mouth and chest, her eyes wide with shock and agony.

A white skull hovered silently among the trees. "You missed," Assassin said.

Archer smirked. Three-on-two was a little bit better.

"You... you... you... you..." Caster murmured. Rather than fading away, she seemed to make everything else around her fading away... power gathering to her, drowning out what tiny bits of light remained on the mountain. Caster rose to her feet shakily, a globe of dark power encircling her, the hole through her chest already halfway closed.

"Damn..." Archer said. "You missed too."

"I see that." Assassin said, his tone somehow managing to be emotionless and yet mocking. "That cloak is partially alive, and it disrupted the course of my knives."

"Seems like she's got a major mana supply. She's healing fast." Lancer said, shifting his focus from Assassin back to Caster. "Also, she looks pissed."

Caster's black eyes were mad. There was no other word for it; she was simply and utterly insane as she turned to cast her gaze on Assassin.

"You... do you think that I would fall to your parlor tricks... you won't take me like you took Soichirou-sama... not me... never me...!" She snarled, a thin line of reddened drool running from the corner of her mouth. The Shadow snarled around her in sympathy to her madness, flowing into her wounds and accelerating her healing.

Seeking vengeance.

"I'm going to tear you all limb from bloody limb!" Caster roared, the darkness erupting from her in an explosion of power that shook the mountain.

"This is going to suck." Lancer said.

Moczo
May 22nd, 2011, 03:38 PM
And there we go! All caught up. :)

... now I just need to write new chapters. *sob*

Milbunk
May 22nd, 2011, 03:40 PM
This fic is really good, I certainly like it. And a 3 person team up with Archer, Lancer, and True Assassin, awesome.

Froggie
May 22nd, 2011, 03:52 PM
A white skull hovered silently among the trees. "You missed," Assassin said.

I got a silly grin on my face the first time I read that. Said silly grin returned this time as well.

That being said, I was kind of hoping we would get some super-awesome exclusive teaser once you got caught up but alas! It seems that I was wrong! Oh well, such is life.

ItsaRandomUsername
May 22nd, 2011, 04:00 PM
Lancer, Archer, Assassin:

Together they are....THE LAA!

SeiKeo
May 22nd, 2011, 04:01 PM
Heck yes. The only fic which has TA as a cool dude has finally brought him out in full force.

ItsaRandomUsername
May 22nd, 2011, 04:03 PM
I'm SO tempted to do some shoddy fanart of the three of them posing Super Sentai style.

......must....give.....in...

Ace
May 22nd, 2011, 04:06 PM
DOOOOOOOOOOOOOO EEEEEEEEEET DDDDDDDOOOOOOOOO EEEEET!

Do it.

lethum
May 22nd, 2011, 04:08 PM
LAA? I honestly though ALA Niger (Black) first, Negima style.

Alulim
May 22nd, 2011, 04:17 PM
Sentai FTW!!!

ItsaRandomUsername
May 22nd, 2011, 04:18 PM
LAA is a funner as a homonym, though.

"You can't stop the long arm of the LAA!"
[/inside joke about one of the members/Takeuchi's art]

Ergast
May 22nd, 2011, 04:36 PM
Long arm army?

Moczo
May 22nd, 2011, 06:53 PM
I'm SO tempted to do some shoddy fanart of the three of them posing Super Sentai style.

......must....give.....in...

... ... ... Hell yes. :D

Deathtenks
May 22nd, 2011, 07:17 PM
Archers greatest weapon! The JavelRin. :D

Froggie
May 22nd, 2011, 07:21 PM
Archers greatest weapon! The JavelRin. :D

The first time I read that I was at the office. Everyone gave me a weird look when I started laughing over my phone. Mercifully, my boss wasn't around or she would've given me an earful!

Alulim
May 22nd, 2011, 07:22 PM
Archers greatest weapon! The JavelRin. :D

You win one internet.

Erlkonig
May 22nd, 2011, 09:09 PM
Archers greatest weapon! The JavelRin. :D

MY INTERNETS, TAKE THEM ALL

RanmaBushiko
May 22nd, 2011, 10:07 PM
Nice to see this on here! I enjoyed it quite a bit on Fanfiction.net, and I'm glad it's being posted here.

RadiantBeam
May 22nd, 2011, 10:14 PM
... ... ... Hell yes. :D

You're inflating his ego. Now he'll be impossible to live with. XD

Moczo
May 22nd, 2011, 10:34 PM
You're inflating his ego. Now he'll be impossible to live with. XD

You love it. :p

RadiantBeam
May 22nd, 2011, 10:39 PM
You love it. :p

I certainly get a kick out of it. :p

Cirex101
May 22nd, 2011, 10:40 PM
You're inflating his ego. Now he'll be impossible to live with. XD

I know how to bring it back down real fast...

ItsaRandomUsername
May 22nd, 2011, 10:43 PM
?

Moczo
May 22nd, 2011, 10:45 PM
I certainly get a kick out of it. :p

There, see? You complain about my rampant egomania, but deep down you find it charming. :p

RadiantBeam
May 22nd, 2011, 10:48 PM
There, see? You complain about my rampant egomania, but deep down you find it charming. :p

We compliment each other so well. :p

Moczo
May 22nd, 2011, 10:50 PM
We compliment each other so well. :p

I complain about your tendency to browbeat me into seeing your point of view, but honestly it's rather adorable. And it lead me here to BL where the people inflate my ego! :p

Ace
May 22nd, 2011, 10:52 PM
This shiptease is too strong....

Theocrass
May 22nd, 2011, 11:12 PM
^^ Speaking of that, did you happen to see my particularly ego inflating review in the first few posts?

RadiantBeam
May 22nd, 2011, 11:58 PM
This shiptease is too strong....

Technically, the real shiptease is between Moczo and my wife. It's quite fun to watch.

Theocrass
May 23rd, 2011, 12:00 AM
I-What?

Wow, wasn't expecting that.

lethum
May 23rd, 2011, 12:04 AM
I think I saw that coming, before I closed my eyes so the timing would be a surprise.

Ace
May 23rd, 2011, 12:10 AM
RadiantBeam is married?!

SeiKeo
May 23rd, 2011, 12:11 AM
RadiantBeam is married?!

To a woman, apparently.

Theocrass
May 23rd, 2011, 12:12 AM
And Moczo is their poor plaything. Or something like that.

Ace
May 23rd, 2011, 12:14 AM
To a woman, apparently.

Now all that yuri makes so much sense.

RadiantBeam
May 23rd, 2011, 12:14 AM
RadiantBeam is married?!

Complex explanation is complex. ^^;;;

Let's just say there's a girl I've known now for well over two years, who I consider my soul mate, and we call each other our wives even though we aren't romantically inclined towards each other, for a variety of reasons. Moczo happens to be dating her at the moment, so technically I'm sharing my "wife" with him.

Alulim
May 23rd, 2011, 12:15 AM
Since she is the source of yuri, it makes sense.


^Ooooooooh~

Edit: Sniped~

Ace
May 23rd, 2011, 12:16 AM
Complex explanation is complex. ^^;;;

Let's just say there's a girl I've known now for well over two years, who I consider my soul mate, and we call each other our wives even though we aren't romantically inclined towards each other, for a variety of reasons. Moczo happens to be dating her at the moment, so technically I'm sharing my "wife" with him.

You guys know each other in RL?!

RadiantBeam
May 23rd, 2011, 12:18 AM
You guys know each other in RL?!

Well, I've known her over AIM/Skype video chat now for over two years, and I've known Moczo over AIM/Skype video chat for over a year now (I think? Help me out here with a timeline, Moczo!). We haven't met, but we'd like to eventually.

Theocrass
May 23rd, 2011, 12:21 AM
That's so cuuuuuute~!

Moczo
May 23rd, 2011, 12:28 AM
Well, I've known her over AIM/Skype video chat now for over two years, and I've known Moczo over AIM/Skype video chat for over a year now (I think? Help me out here with a timeline, Moczo!). We haven't met, but we'd like to eventually.

I believe it's been about a year for us, yeah. ^^;;;;;

Just to make things more confusing, I actually did have a thing for Beams for quite some time. We clicked as friends very quickly but the romantic interest was always one-sided on my part sadly. ^^;;;;; Then after moping for awhile, I just kinda kept right on talking to her, eventually met her 'wife', and, well... we're long-distance, but we're very happy together so far. :D

So that's the real story. Beams and I are great friends, I love her to death, and you're not the only people who have ever assumed we were a couple, trust me. But we are not dating. We're in sort of a weird pseudo-threesome where only one of the connections is actually romantic. Simple, right? XD

RadiantBeam
May 23rd, 2011, 12:29 AM
So that's the real story. Beams and I are great friends, I love her to death, and you're not the only people who have ever assumed we were a couple, trust me. But we are not dating. We're in sort of a weird pseudo-threesome where only one of the connections is actually romantic. Simple, right? XD

So simple. XD

Ace
May 23rd, 2011, 12:29 AM
So kind of like Shirou/Saber/Rin just without all the awesome threesomes?

Bearcrates
May 23rd, 2011, 12:31 AM
So kind of like Shirou/Saber/Rin just without all the awesome threesomes?

But which one would be which?

Ace
May 23rd, 2011, 12:32 AM
Beams would be Rin, Moczo would be Shirou and the other girl would be Saber.

Simple right?

Bearcrates
May 23rd, 2011, 12:37 AM
Beams would be Rin, Moczo would be Shirou and the other girl would be Saber.

Simple right?

Fair enough.

...So if Moczo is Shirou, then who is his Sakura?

Altima of the Gates
May 23rd, 2011, 12:38 AM
Lol. Nice to see you guys over here and I'm glad I caught up finally.
So I formally welcome you two. I wonder who else we'll get over here now...

As for the latest chapter...I totally don't know who to root for, but the fight is awesome.
Let's hope Caster never finds the Shadow's shadowgiants.dll now that she has hacked it.

Alulim
May 23rd, 2011, 12:42 AM
Does the .dll stand for: Destoy Life Lickity-Split?

Moczo
May 23rd, 2011, 12:45 AM
I don't really have a Sakura. I'm not as good at attracting girls as Shirou. ^^;;;;;



Lol. Nice to see you guys over here and I'm glad I caught up finally.
So I formally welcome you two. I wonder who else we'll get over here now...

As for the latest chapter...I totally don't know who to root for, but the fight is awesome.
Let's hope Caster never finds the Shadow's shadowgiants.dll now that she has hacked it.

Holy crap, someone discussing the story! XD

Hey, Altima. I forgot you were a mod over here. Nice to have you back in the readership, I always enjoy hearing your thoughts. :D

Altima of the Gates
May 23rd, 2011, 12:53 AM
Does the .dll stand for: Destoy Life Lickity-Split?

That too. Though I would think castle size giants would attract attention.



Holy crap, someone discussing the story! XD

Hey, Altima. I forgot you were a mod over here. Nice to have you back in the readership, I always enjoy hearing your thoughts. :D

Off-topic conversation. Get used to it, it'll preserve your sanity.

And yeah, I missed the last couple so I caught up.

Theocrass
May 23rd, 2011, 12:55 AM
Usually, it's Team TIK, Team MEL, or Mike that's responsible for the derails.

Alulim
May 23rd, 2011, 01:01 AM
Derails are a part of life, like heart-attacks.

Ace
May 23rd, 2011, 01:08 AM
You could argue that derails is BL's life.

SeiKeo
May 23rd, 2011, 01:10 AM
You could argue that derails is BL's life.

BL's Origin is derail?

Alulim
May 23rd, 2011, 01:11 AM
What did Araya do this time...

lethum
May 23rd, 2011, 01:20 AM
So Araya used Proboards as a puppet to "awaken" BL's origin? That can't be right...

ItsaRandomUsername
May 23rd, 2011, 02:02 AM
Behold, Fanart as PROMISED!

"Trouble doesn't stand a chance against...
http://img204.imageshack.us/img204/5947/laafightinposego.png
...TheLAA!"

Alulim
May 23rd, 2011, 02:06 AM
You are win.

Theocrass
May 23rd, 2011, 02:06 AM
My God.

Ace
May 23rd, 2011, 02:06 AM
...I don't even.

lethum
May 23rd, 2011, 02:09 AM
Yay! Good one, IRUN!

Altima of the Gates
May 23rd, 2011, 02:11 AM
Lol.
Although Caster Alter's hair is white now iirc.

ItsaRandomUsername
May 23rd, 2011, 02:14 AM
I did say it was gonna be shoddy, didn't I?

Besides, I don't recollect reading anything about her hair being white; if that was Word Of God, then I'd have no way of knowing. :/

Still...


EDIT: Problem solved.

Ace
May 23rd, 2011, 02:15 AM
Too bad Moczo went to sleep like a normal, non nocturnal animal.

Altima of the Gates
May 23rd, 2011, 02:19 AM
Doesn't really matter, I'm just a detail oriented guy.

lethum
May 23rd, 2011, 02:36 AM
Chapter Nine: Nightfall on the Mountain

(...)

Amid the tentacles, where before there had been nothing but darkness and thrashing water, a woman stood. Beautiful, in a cold way; her skin and hair were both pale, marble white, making her appear almost a statue. The tips of her ears were delicately pointed, her eyes were solid, discomforting black as if they contained nothing but a pupil. The robes she wore looked like nothing so much as the Shadow itself woven into cloth, wreathing her body in darkness with only the occasional streak of red, like fresh blood. Black flame danced between her fingers, the remnants of the curse she had just effortlessly dispelled.

"Boys, boys," She purred, her voice rich and luscious, filled with obvious amusement. "Fighting over me?"

"What..." Lancer said.

"The..." Assassin said.

...Hell? Archer thought.

Caster smiled a dark, satisfied smile. "Well, then, time to get to work, I think." She brought her hands together sharply, and a wave of power flooded the mountain.

Almost instantly, spiders, leeches, and slugs began to die as the boundary field which sustained them was destroyed and overwritten. A deeper chill filled the already cool night; the air felt thick, heavy. Rin began breathing more deeply, as if she couldn't get enough oxygen in each breath, and even the Servants felt their limbs grow heavier as the oppressive boundary field bore down on them.

The Temple of Medea, reborn in blood and chaos.

And the night grew darker.

Ta-daa!


I did say it was gonna be shoddy, didn't I?

Besides, I don't recollect reading anything about her hair being white; if that was Word Of God, then I'd have no way of knowing. :/

Still...

Techlet
May 23rd, 2011, 02:37 AM
Brain = sufficient full of billions and billions of fuck.

ItsaRandomUsername
May 23rd, 2011, 02:43 AM
Ta-daa!

Okay then, pic has been changed accordingly. It's now a non-issue.

Have a nice day.


@Tech:
I aim to please.

Alulim
May 23rd, 2011, 02:53 AM
Oh, I mistook the old pic's Caster for Shinji in a wakame suit. My brain = fail.

lethum
May 23rd, 2011, 02:58 AM
Okay then, pic has been changed accordingly. It's now a non-issue.

Have a nice day.


@Tech:
I aim to please.

Yay, someone payed me attention!

RadiantBeam
May 23rd, 2011, 10:49 AM
I figured it was only a matter of time until this story inspired fanart. :D

Moczo
May 23rd, 2011, 01:18 PM
Behold, Fanart as PROMISED!

"Trouble doesn't stand a chance against...
*Image Removed for Super Awesomeness Overload*
...TheLAA!"

... ... ... my life suddenly has meaning.

DreamsRequiem
May 23rd, 2011, 07:58 PM
Has inspiration struck you once more?

Moczo
June 19th, 2011, 12:47 AM
I promised in another thread it would be up by this weekend. I keep my word. :D

Chapter Twelve: Blackest Night


Night had fallen.


***


Shirou Emiya dreamt of flames.


He walked through the inferno, his nostrils filled with the stench of ash and boiling human fat, his ears filled with the crackling of blazing flame and the screams of the dying.


He walked helplessly, unable to help anyone, unable to help himself, unable to do anything but walk through the pain.


It hurt.


It hurt.


It hurt.


The heat hurt his skin, the smoke hurt his eyes and his nose, the screams hurt his ears, and the need to leave behind these, his family, bonded in suffering, struck deep into the soul of Shirou Emiya with a pain that no flame could match.


Everything burned. Everything.


He continued his meaningless crawl through the flames, alone. And behind them, something he had never seen before, a darkness so deep that even the blaze that ended his world could not illuminate it...


***


The sky over the sacred mountain was starless.


***


Saber sat, sleepless. Her senses were weak, but even she could feel a tinge of unease in the air, the vague sense of something wrong with the world.


She should have been out there, she knew. She should have been in the night, fighting her War. Something was inexplicably but undoubtedly wrong, and the King of Knights should have been on the front lines, her sword in hand, charging headlong into battle without restraint.


Sakura and Shirou needed her protection, and she would not abandon them. But her hands gripped the hilt of her sword so tightly her hands went bone white.


***


A bottomless void from which not even light could escape.


***
In her room, Sakura Matou clutched her chest, gasping for air. Sweat poured down her body, her skin had gone ghostly pale, and her nails had drawn blood on her chest from where she tried in vain to alleviate the tightness in her heart. And yet, despite the obvious agony she was in, she did not stir from her slumber.


Any who saw her might notice something dark twisting between her fingers, even as they desperately clawed at her heart...


***


But to those who held true power…


***


Kirei Kotomine looked at Caster through Lancer's eyes, and wasn't sure if he should frown or smile. On the one hand, he feared she represented some trick of Makiri that he didn't yet understand. And for all that Kirei loved general suffering, he hated Zouken very, very much. On the other hand…


She was beautiful, there was no denying that. The bringer of the end times, a black gem in the night, the personification of the suffering that he was so enamored of.


So, so beautiful.


"How many?" Kotomine asked softly, "How many people will find their meaning in you, I wonder?"


So beautiful.


***


… for those who had eyes to see the truth…


***


Ilyasviel von Einzbern sat in her bed, staring at the ceiling, her good mood dissolved.


She would have to deal with this, she knew. It wasn't anything she really wanted to do with her time, it wasn't exactly her idea of fun, but she would have to.


The Holy Grail… if it was that, it was her responsibility. It was nothing that grandpapa had told her, she wouldn't have to listen to that; this was an instinct burned into her blood, the fate of those who held the Grail.


She simply had no choice but to care, this time.


I'm sorry, Shirou. She thought.


***


… the formless black illuminated far more than the pale light of a waning moon.


***


The Golden King inclined his head in the direction of RyudouTemple, as if listening to a sound only he could hear.


"Tch." He said, his expression one of disgusted annoyance. He might have to deal with this at some point, no matter what Kirei thought.


Well, for the moment, it still wasn't really an issue. He uncorked another sample from Kirei's wine cellar and poured a glass.


Still, it didn't taste as good as it should have.


***


And the darkness was only growing deeper.


***


"We're screwed, huh?" Lancer said, almost conversationally.


"That attitude is not helping." Archer said, pulling a blade from the air. It should have been glowing like the sun, but the pall over the mountain drowned out even the holy light from the weapon.


"She is still a Servant. Aim for the heart and the head." Assassin said. "I doubt I need to say this, but do not touch the darkness. It will devour your mana with even brief contact."


"Why are you even helping us?" Lancer asked.


"I have already assassinated this woman once. Consider this professional pride." Assassin said.


"Also, she seems to want to kill you more than she wants to kill us." Archer said dryly.


Assassin chose not to dignify this with a response. In his defense, at this point Caster seemed to want to kill everyone equally.


But then, that might have been because the thing before them wasn't exactly Caster anymore. It wasn't exactly the Shadow, either. It was as if Caster wore the Shadow as a suit of armor… no. More like the Shadow had become a second skin to her, a merger between the two into a single entity. Darkness flowed from her rapidly closing wounds instead of blood, traces of a black mist whirled around her eyes and the corners of her lips. The thing before them was, despite what Assassin might have said, not exactly a Servant any longer. A Servant at its core, but the merger with the Shadow had clearly left Caster as… something else. It was clear, however, which of the two portions of the composite being had more control over the monster they had become.


"You. Will. Suffer." Caster growled.


And then she attacked.


Tendrils of darkness gathered in her palm, compressing in on themselves until they ceased to have any physical presence, igniting into a flame that seemed to burn without light, doing nothing to illuminate the gathering darkness. The blue-black flame lashed out in arcs that tore furrows along the ground, not digging up trenches in the ground but killing every blade of grass or plant they passed near, carving chunks out of entire trees so smoothly the wood ended up looking almost like polished glass…


"Break!" Archer snapped, leaping backwards as the life-stealing flames continued their hunt, splitting off like a three-headed serpent to track each of the three Servants. On a hunch, Archer hurled the blade in his hands as he moved.


The golden blade struck the black flames, and vanished harmlessly with a hiss.


Very, very not good. Archer thought. Whatever Caster had done here, the holy blades he'd been projecting until now were losing their edge. If he lost his ability to cut the enemy, there wasn't much he could do.


This is not the time, I think. Strategic retreat might be in order. Archer thought. He had thought he understood the nature of his adversary, but it was becoming more and more obvious that this wasn't the case. He had his suspicions as to the nature of the Shadow entity, but the actual creature had proven borderline-invincible, more like a curse than a real being. He had been hoping to destroy it here, but a few minutes into the battle, wasn't sure he could have managed even with Lancer's aid.


Now, he was more-or-less certain he could not. Whatever this thing was, Caster understood it far better than he did, and her knowledge of its strengths vastly outweighed the few minor weaknesses he'd been able to confirm. He'd made some analysis and had a better of idea of what he was up against; now was the time to get out of here, move Rin far away, and begin plans to deal with the situation in a more sensible fashion.


The operative term being 'get out.' He suspected Caster wasn't just going to let them leave…


The woman shifted her arm, and the serpentine flames all turned to direct themselves right at him. The first, that had been coming directly at him, continued its implacable path, while the other two snapped like whips, leaving Archer wholly surrounded by black flame that began to constrict inwards.


Charming. He'd been hurting her pet the most, and she was taking him out first. He'd been hoping she would aim at Assassin, he was the one who backstabbed her.


He also can't hurt her. Assassin was the Servant who specialized in targeting Masters… one-on-one, he wasn't much for combat with other Servants. But then, Caster wasn't supposed to be much good at that either, and she was currently about to kill him so…


A bolt of scarlet lightning ripped through the black flames, scattering them.


Archer blinked as the cage vanished into the ether.


"You should dodge faster." Lancer said, flicking his spear to clear a few black sparks from it.


"Your spear…" Archer said. "How did you…?"


"It cut the darkness." Lancer said with a shrug. "Didn't really hurt it, but cut it. Figured it would do the same for that... she's just playing around with the same shadow-stuff."


That doesn't make any…


Of course it does. Archer thought. I just didn't see how for a moment. All right, perhaps we do have some options. And that's good, because... if I can destroy her here, and now, before this can get too far out of hand...


I have to, if it's at all possible.


Caster extended a hand. Several of the black tendrils gathered together, merging together, lengthening, extending from the palm of her hand as a blade of solid black that continued to draw in darkness and grow further out. And out. And out.


And out.


Archer gazed at the ebon lance, which was now nearly five times larger than the woman whose arm it was growing from, and still getting larger as it drew in more and more of the darkness.


He turned to Lancer and said, "Hers is bigger than yours."


"I hate you." Lancer said.


Caster whipped her arm around at approximately neck-height, and the forest began to fall.


***


Assassin really did have to thank them. All of them, to be honest, every last fool among them.


Archer and Lancer, he had to thank for wearing brilliant primary colors in a dark forest in the dead of night. They really couldn't have been better targets if they tried.


Caster, he had to thank for being a bit of a dolt. She had been so focused on his death, back at the lake; had she continued with that single-minded pursuit she most probably could have destroyed him with relative ease. Instead, she had gotten angry, and then she had gotten sloppy. She had let Assassin slip once more into the darkness.


He was not a Servant for face-to-face combat. He did his best work when he wasn't noticed, and it seemed that nobody at all noticed him right now.


The skull mask faded into the night. Or at least, it faded from sight, for the moment...


***


"Milady, this is highly unusual. Your own plans were…" Sella began, following a few steps behind her Mistress as the young princess gathered her winter clothes.


"My plans were what they were, and they are what they are. They've changed. I intended to only go out during the day, but I can't do that anymore." Ilya said, adjusting her coat. "There's some things I need to look at."


"Milady, if you could tell us even a bit more…" Leysritt implored.


"You don't need to know." Ilya said, placing her hat firmly into place and walking for the door.


"Milady, stop." Sella said sharply (Or rather, as sharply as she was capable of speaking to Ilya).


The daughter of Einzbern did indeed stop in her tracks, but not for the reason Sella had most likely been hoping. She did not turn to face her attendants, but merely said, very, very softly. "Did a broken doll… just tell me what to do…?"


Sella's face, if it was possible, paled even further. But she remained resolute, even going so far as to step forward between her mistress and the door. "I… I am sorry, milady. But your behavior has been… erratic, of late. Your grandfather…"


"Is not here. I will conduct this war as I choose, and I don't need your approval. Move, Sella." Ilya said.


"Your grandfather…" Sella continued. "Has asked that we foster and guide you, for the glory of the Family, and you have not permitted us to act in our role. Please, milady, you must…"


"I must do nothing." Ilya said, her eyes going very, very cold. "You, on the other hand, must move."


With the command, a sudden ominous aura filled the room, and something giant and bronze and black filled the air behind Ilya.


Ilya did not command Sella to move again. She did not really have to.


"… … yes, Milady." Sella said, lowering her eyes and stepping aside.


"I will forgive your disobedience," Ilya said, a bit smugly, as Berserker picked her up and placed her on his shoulder. "This time. Let's go, Berserker. There's something I need to have a look at."


The black giant and the white princess surged off into the night.


"... ... ... I thought we were not going to chastise her until morning." Leysritt said, after they were gone.


Had Sella been a less dignified existence, she most likely would have told her sister to shut up.


***


Servants, it must be noted, are physically far more powerful than humans. Lancer proved this effectively by leaping nearly forty meters straight up with a single swift motion, clearing the horizontally swung blade of darkness by a huge distance. It was a display of truly phenomenal agility and power; one moment, the blue knight was on the ground. The next, he soared.


Archer, ever the efficient soul, chose instead to just duck, letting it go over his head by about an inch.


Show-off. The two Servants thought of each other at the exact same instant.


Caster raised her other hand, and the Shadow warped itself again. The blade she had swung dissolved, turning liquid and seeping across the ground, a pool of darkness that began to spread across the ground like water... with the exception that water did not draw in any living thing it touched, and this darkness most certainly did.


Archer leapt into one of the trees that had no yet been felled, but the growing pool of darkness was already dissolving it from the bottom up, and he couldn't exactly keep jumping from tree to tree like a chimp. Just staying alive was pointless. Victory was what mattered.


Lancer landed next to him. "What are you doing? You could cut the damn thing before, so get to it!"


"Those blades were just imitations. Forgeries. They worked... passably well against an incomplete thing like that darkness, but Caster's magic is a power from the Age of Gods, a genuine Divine Mystery. Merged, they can easily devour such frauds. A true Noble Phantasm like your spear would be required to cut it, by piercing it with a greater Mystery, but the cursed nature of the lance impedes its effects."


"Feh. So you're saying we're both useless, then? Doesn't surprise m-"


"No, I'm saying I need to try harder." Archer said.


"Eh?" Lancer said. "What the Hell does that m-"


But Archer's mind was already gone.


Searching.


Reality Marble accessed.


Recreating basic form. Recreating exterior structure. Examine, every detail, and perfectly recreate form, ability...


Recreate history.


Every detail, down to the most minute irregularity in the sheen of the metal, must be perfectly copied. As exact a recreation as is possible.


I am the bone of my sword. Steel is my body and fire is my blood.


"Holy-!" Lancer said.


He was absolutely correct.


The blade that now shone in Archer's hands was as different from those he'd conjured before as the sun was from a flashlight. This broadsword was not a mere image, but a true Noble Phantasm.


No... the swords before were one thing, but that's not the weapon of an Archer, it simply can't be! Lancer thought. This was a holy blade, a weapon of power and history that belonged in the hands of a great swordsman. Anyone who mastered a sword like that would simply not be...


"Lancer." Archer said, the weapon in his hands burning back the gloom that pervaded the mountain. "Watch my back."


And he leapt down into the pool of darkness, his blade leading the way. Lancer half-expected him to simply vanish into the shadows, but the holy sword sliced aside the extended darkness as easily as the morning sun burning through fog. A landing space cleared, he dropped to his knees, built power in his legs, and charged...


The Sword of Victory sang as it cleaved through the shadows. His charge had caught her off her guard, and if his initial rush could cut her down with a single stroke...


"Caliburn!"


The blade ignited with the call of its true name, and Archer couldn't help but smirk at the irony. Here he was, battling evil with her sword, a shining knight... it was almost like he was a real Hero. Of course, the image of heroism wouldn't hold up well if Caster burned him down before his blade could reach her, and her hands were raised.


She opened her mouth to chant the words that would quite likely reduce him to ash. The runes appeared behind her, ready to release the dark fire. Archer prepared his blade to cut her down, hoping that the Holy light would afford some protection... it was too late to dodge, and this plan hadn't gone as planned, to say the least.


Time seemed to slow down.


Archer's blade sliced the night air...


Caster's lips formed the words to her next spell, seeking to protect herself and her 'pet'...


A black dart slipped through the scene, just below her chin.


The words died on Caster's lips, her spell forgotten, as her hand clamped down on her throat, the slit jugular pumping blood.


The white skull mask looked on from atop a fallen tree, grinning horribly.


Archer's blade began to swing down.


Caster slammed her palm into the ground, let out a wordless, blood-choked cry, and everything went straight to Hell.


The leyline that ran through the mountain pulsed, a wild, raw surge of uncontrolled power. Archer thought he heard screams... men, women, and children alike.


She harvested the souls of the town for power...! Archer thought, just before the Shadow exploded. The sudden influx of pure mana was drawn into the Shadow through the leyline, as Caster's Temple reached out across Fuyuki and ripped the power from the citizenry.


Archer was hurled back, his blade falling from his hands. He sought it, but the sudden storm of power blinded him, tossing him through a hailstorm of leaves, entire trees being hurled around like they were twigs.


A hand clamped down on his wrist, and he projected and swung the sword in a single, smooth motion.


It collided with a scarlet lance. "Idiot, it's me!" Lancer screamed. "We need to get out of here!"


"No... I can't leave her to..." Archer said. He had to stop it. Had to. This was his chance to end it, he couldn't...


He turned to see the Shadow. He didn't have to turn far.


Caster was no longer visible. The darkness that had once been surrounding her now completely blocked her from view, a towering wall of black and writhing tentacles. It began to grow further... no, to inflate, in preparation to...


Explode?


"We can damn well leave." Lancer said.


The Shadow burst, and the tides of darkness tore through the forest behind the two, quite suddenly fleeing Servants.


***


Assassin was the first to escape, as it should be. There was absolutely no reason for him to remain on the mountain; he had begun his retreat as soon as Archer had been repelled. At this point, victory was not possible. Escape was the only option.


He slid through the gate, instantly feeling lighter on his feet outside the oppressive boundary field. He descended the steps seven at a time, preparing to leap to the street and vanish from this place once and for...


Ah.


A soft moaning emerged from the underbrush. Something stirred in the bushes, once again thoughtfully wearing a brilliant primary color. Bright red in a forest in the dead of night was not ideal for camoflauge in any sense of the term. (Admittedly, black was not either, being generally too dark to truly blend in with nightime shadows. Gray or dark green would have been better, from a visual perspective, but Assassin had other means of remaining hidden and could get away with it). She was laying there, stirring from unconsciousness, totally defenseless...


She was a Master. He could sense that much. The Master of Archer or Lancer, he couldn't be certain, but it hardly mattered. At this point, the battle with Caster was over, one way or the other, and so they no longer mattered. She was a Master, alone in the Holy Grail War, without her Servant to shield her. She was prey.


He slid a knife into his fingers. Such an opportunity was not to be missed. He drew back his arm, fairly certain that this one's head wouldn't have a shield of darkness to push aside bladed weapons...


No. Said the voice in his mind.


Master? Assassin thought. You have been out of contact for some time.


I was indisposed. Leave the girl and attend me, immediately.


But...


I have a use for this one. Zouken thought, observing the heir of Tohsaka through Assassin's eyes. Yes. Yes, I do...


This is foolish, Master. Whatever plan you may have, the chance to eliminate her so early and without risk is...


The air ahead of him took on a sudden similarity with the air behind him: not the same clawing emptiness, but disturbingly similar vicious, murderous intent and the oppressive aura of rippling, barely-controlled power. Outside the darkness, with streetlights and the moon no longer obscured, he could just barely make out the outline two figures; one childlike, but the other very clearly something much, much larger than a person.


Perhaps revealing his location was unwise after all.


On the other hand. He said, discarding the knife and slipping back into the darkness, You are the Master, here.


***


Ilya sighed. "It's not here."


Berserker did not reply, of course, but talking to him helped her organize her thoughts. "I mean, it's here, it's strongest here, but this isn't the source. Even if we deal with what's here, we won't solve the issue. Follow my eyes, Berserker. We'll trace this back to its heart and end it right now, while it's still early. I won't let something this vile run around and-" Put Shirou in danger. "-endanger the completion of the Grail."


She could sense it. The main 'mass' of the darkness was here. But it was like a pool fed by an underground spring. The visible water was what you drowned in, but the source was somewhere else entirely. Most, she supposed, would have missed that, but then most didn't have Ilya's rather unique senses. Even a great Magus wouldn't be able to feel this phenomenon with the clarity she could; she might be the only person in the world who could truly understand a bit of what had happened, see some small measure of the truth.


Caster, one of the Seven, had been drawn into the Holy Grail. And then she'd come out, but that hardly mattered. The important thing was that the Grail she had been drawn into wasn't Ilya.


A second Grail. Someone was breaking the rules severely, and Ilya strongly suspected who it might be. "To the old Makiri's nest, Berserker."


If one had to travel, in Berserker's arms was not a bad way to do so. The Servant's muscled frame wasn't exactly comfortable, but at a full run he was faster than a speeding car and got to his destination far more quickly by virtue of not having to follow the roads. Buildings were hurdles, not obstacles, and Berserker was very, very good at jumping hurdles.


They were well on the way to the Matou manor within two minutes, but Ilya frowned regardless. Something was wrong.


The trail didn't lead to Zouken?


She hadn't been expecting that, but she could hardly deny the evidence of her own senses. There was indeed a silvery line of magic linking towards the House of Makiri, this much was true. Zouken was, indeed, somehow connected to the incident that had caught her eye. But the darker of the two 'source lines', the one connected most strongly to the Second Grail...


No. Ilya thought.


Berserker followed her mind, turning towards the blackness and pursuing it. But that direction...


It can't be. It isn't. There's no way it could be something to do with him... he doesn't know anything, he can't do anything, he's weak, barely a Magus at all... a Magecraft of this level would be as far beyond him as trying to grasp the sun in his hands... She thought desperately.


Berserker stormed down the empty streets, each step bringing them closer and closer to something that Ilya feared more than anything else she could have imagined...


No... no, no, no, it's not possible, there's simply no way he could...


The thin, black line of magic didn't lie. It remained... hollow and insubstantial and deathly cold, but it clearly existed, and it traced back fully from the Shadow devouring the temple to this place. The house of Emiya...


The wellspring of the Dark Grail was in Shirou's own home.


Oh, Shirou. Ilya thought, her heart falling. What have you done?


And what will I have to do to deal with this...?


***


"We're not going to make it to the Gate..." Lancer said.


"We are." Archer replied.


The Servants had managed to stay ahead of the black flood, but not by nearly so much as either would have preferred. Archer was not remotely sure what to do. Even Lancer could only retreat so quickly in a forest at night. Added to the fact that they could only escape through the main gate...


And the darkness was, indeed, gaining on them.


"Your girl's down there, right? The cute one. Pigtails, dresses in red." Lancer said, oddly conversationally considering they were running for their lives.


"Yes! You tried to kill her once! Move faster!"


"Girl that pretty is a bad thing to waste. And... I hate to admit it, but I owe you one for keeping me alive this long." Lancer said. "This mountain's a lost cause. Get your girl and get out, I have this."


"But…" Archer began.


"Go." Lancer repeated, sounding almost bored. "I have this."


The wave of darkness was descending, Assassin had abandoned them, and Rin was at the foot of the mountain…


"Fine," Archer said. Then, before he descended the temple steps, out of some sense of bizarre sentimentality that he'd thought himself long rid of, he added, "Try to die well."


Lancer screeched to a halt, drawing his arm back. Die? Not if I can help it.


The spear had cut the darkness. The Divine Mystery behind the lance cutting the magic. The damage had been limited by Gae Bolg's dark nature, but the Mystery…


His blade could cut this darkness. All he needed to do was compensate for the handicap with just a little extra effort.


"Gae…" He intoned, drawing his weapon back further. Gae Bolg, the cursed lance that would always pierce the target's heart… even if by virtue of the fact that it could, if pressed, destroy their entire body.


He doubted Caster was familiar enough with his life as a hero to know it was supposed to be used as a javelin.


He charged the tidal wave of nightmare, a grim smile on his face.


"…Bolg!"


Lancer leapt, calling out the weapon's true name even as he took to the sky. And with a single smooth motion, he hurled the unstoppable spear.


Gae Bolg was a cursed, bloodthirsty lance, an instrument of darkness. Despite this, it lit up the night as even the holy blade could not, the weapon's true name calling forth its ultimate power as a Noble Phantasm.


The light that shone down was not a holy strength, but the light of raw destruction.


The blast of light and energy tore through the wave of darkness, the Shadow releasing a keening wail of agony as it was torn apart by the javelin of Cu Chulainn; The Spear of Striking Death Flight.


When the blast finally cleared, all that remained of the darkness was a pool of a weakly flailing tendrils on the ground where the abomination had been struck.


Lancer sighed in admitted relief. He hadn't been at all sure that would work, but it had been his only remaining tactic. At least it seemed to have wounded the thing, and Caster was nowhere to be seen. If she had been inside the mass, she was destroyed. And good riddance. He thought.


Something sharp pricked his neck. A flash of light blinded him suddenly.


He had a hero's instincts and reflexes; had he not detected the attack, the wound to his neck would have been a slashed jugular, not a minor pinprick. He was a bit nervous about the strange light, but managed to roll to the side, calling his spear back to his hand and leveling it at…


"Caster…" her murmured. "You left the Shadow while it was hunting us and snuck around? Bitch."


"Soooooo clever." She purred.


"Guess it was too much to hope you were dead, at that."


The witch stood where Lancer had made his final stand against her pet, an oddly jagged black dagger in her hand. The blade was purely ebon, making the single brilliant scarlet drop of Lancer's blood on the tip stand out all the more. "Hope, my dear? You have no hope." She said. "This battle has reached its conclusion. Not as seamless as I'd hoped, but victory is mine."


"Yeah. It is." His mana situation wasn't exactly perfect, but, he had enough left for this much. "Gae…"


"Don't move." She said, and against all odds, against his own will, Lancer's muscles locked, his lips clamped shut. He tried to complete the incantation, to take her heart, but he couldn't budge a millimeter no matter how hard he tried. It was as if…


With a beautiful, mocking smile, Caster shifted the hand holding her strange dagger to reveal Lancer's Command Seals on her hand, one of the three marks now faded.


That dagger…!


Caster smiled more widely. "Your Noble Phantasm is brilliant, Lancer. One of the most destructive weapons I've seen in some time. Mine, I'm afraid, is not nearly so magnificent, though it does have its uses, as you're learning now. My dagger is called Rule Breaker, and there is no finer tool for piercing magical oaths and sigils. Your contract with your Master is broken, Lancer. Your command seals are mine. You, my dear, are mine.


"And you are food."


The tiny tendrils of darkness looked, suddenly, like the snapping teeth of a gigantic predator as they slowly but inexorably began to grow again around Lancer's legs...


"Be devoured."


***


Rin finally managed to extricate herself from the thorn bush (Yes, thorns. Archer had thrown her into a thorn bush. Bastard), falling to her hands and knees, breathing heavily. Getting out of tangled thorns was not fun on the best of days, and she had to admit that her time in the boundary field around the Temple had not been good for her health. Shakily, she stood…


And had the wind knocked out of her as a red blur slammed into her. She felt an arm clamp around her waist and suddenly she was moving and not at all sure what was going on…


"Archer…!" She said when she could breathe again.


"Yes, I'm here." Archer said as he carried his Master to safety, his voice more bitter than she had ever heard it. "For all the good that does."


"What happened? Why are we...?"


"The Temple is lost. Lancer is dead. We can't come back here again." Archer snapped. "Challenging her here won't work, it never would..."


Rin was briefly silent. "What... what do we do now?"


"I don't know, Rin. I honestly don't know." Archer said.


And Rin Tohsaka thought that might have been the most genuinely frightening thing she'd ever heard.


***


Night had fallen.


The sky over the sacred mountain was starless, a void from which not even light could escape.


Something stirred in the darkness. A jet-black spear pierced the night air. Something jagged and so black it stood out even against the night took shape, then. A malevolence that smelled of blood. The presence took its first steps onto a doomed world, and smiled.


The little remaining light over Ryudou Temple died.


And the darkness was only growing deeper...

Alulim
June 19th, 2011, 12:48 AM
I...hooray~

SeiKeo
June 19th, 2011, 12:51 AM
Kotomine has a crush on Caster.

...Excuse me, I need to go lie down.

amado
June 19th, 2011, 01:12 AM
yay new update!

too bad for lancer. at least he manages to actually make his gae bolg work.

Lurklurk
June 19th, 2011, 01:26 AM
Aw man, I don't know what to say. Lancer. ;~;

Awesome job like always. I did enjoy the Lancer, Assassin, and Archer bickering.

Grant
June 19th, 2011, 02:17 AM
Sorry but shouldn't Ilya know that Shirou isn't physically capable of this?

Soldat der Trauer
June 19th, 2011, 02:24 AM
@Grant: Illyasviel never said the 2nd Lesser Grail was Shirou, just that it was at his house, ergo it had to be associated w/ him somehow.

Ho damn, Moczo's asking me to be befriended...

Neir
June 19th, 2011, 02:52 AM
Absolutely awesome. Will Lancer show up corrupted? That would be incredibly badass.

Soldat der Trauer
June 19th, 2011, 02:55 AM
Absolutely awesome. Will Lancer show up corrupted? That would be incredibly badass.


Something stirred in the darkness. A jet-black spear pierced the night air. Something jagged and so black it stood out even against the night took shape, then. A malevolence that smelled of blood. The presence took its first steps onto a doomed world, and smiled.

{Checks glasses for effect.} Already has happened, if I'm not mistaken. {Obviously sarcastic, if non-confrontational, tone.}

Grant
June 19th, 2011, 02:59 AM
@Grant: Illyasviel never said the 2nd Lesser Grail was Shirou, just that it was at his house, ergo it had to be associated w/ him somehow.

Ho damn, Moczo's asking me to be befriended...

That's what I meant, that even if Shirou had the knowledge he physically doesn't have the power to pull off magecraft like that and that corrupting spells sound a lot closer to Zouken's work.

Fireburst7
June 19th, 2011, 03:18 AM
At this point, it seems as though Caster is going to try to corrupt all the Servants possible... well except for Assassin.

giodan
June 19th, 2011, 03:57 AM
crap! i was hopeing for archer the one who was corrupt and then rin making a new contract whit lancer!!!

but this is not bad!!!

biigoh
June 19th, 2011, 04:27 AM
Oh... this is beautiful. ?_?

Techlet
June 19th, 2011, 04:37 AM
Oooooo, update.

*reads*

Lancer ;_;

Theocrass
June 19th, 2011, 04:58 AM
;~;

Lancer ...

And I thought RB-chan was heartless.
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ringlhach
June 19th, 2011, 07:54 AM
Comments... lots, below. I'll forgo the comma-versus-period-at-the-end-of-a-quoted-sentence thing, since you're at least consistent about it.


Very, very not good. Archer said. Missing quotes. It should be, "'Very, very not good,' Archer said."


The operative term being 'get out'. Period here should probably be on the inside of the quotes. Also- and I want to stress that I'm not sure about this one- those should be full "quotation marks," not 'these.'

Poor Lancer, hers is bigger than yours is. :p

How long is Assassin's blade? I know you called it a knife, but knives are really anything with a blade that isn't a full dagger, and I'm not sure what people expect those to be. Hell, for that matter, I'm not sure what I'm expecting it to be.


"Caliburn!"At least for how my display's set up, it's difficult to see the exclamation point here. You may want to match it to the rest of the formatting. And if Caster calls Archer "Arthur" later, I want Saber to be there to freak out.


it's true nameHere, you say "it is true name." That's what "it's" means. The word you're looking for is "its." You get it correct later, so it's probably just a typo. Sorry, but this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.


"To house Makiri, Berserker." I'd suggest calling it either "House Makiri," as a proper noun, or "the Makiri house," a discriptor.


to Matou ManorAs above, either "the Matou manor" or "Maikiri Manor," depending on what its name really is. I don't remember it having one, but my memory is... strange. Let's just leave it at that, shall we?
Did the Shadow give Caster Battle Continuation? Because she's still in a fight and she's been fatally wounded. Sure, lots of prana, but still.

theTemplehadWords mashed together here.

I've been looking forward to this, honestly. It's well-written, overall, and I have a feeling that Ilya's going to trigger a massive misunderstanding and probably snap go nuts freak when she finds out that the other Grail is a girl sleeping in her Shirou's house. Alone with him. Words will be said, and Sakura, Ilya, or both will flee.

Mike1984
June 19th, 2011, 08:35 AM
That's what I meant, that even if Shirou had the knowledge he physically doesn't have the power to pull off magecraft like that and that corrupting spells sound a lot closer to Zouken's work.

Well, that doesn't change the fact that the corrupted Grail is at his house. Whether Ilya knows why that is the case I'm not too sure as of yet.


I've been looking forward to this, honestly. It's well-written, overall, and I have a feeling that Ilya's going to trigger a massive misunderstanding and probably snap go nuts freak when she finds out that the other Grail is a girl sleeping in her Shirou's house. Alone with him. Words will be said, and Sakura, Ilya, or both will flee.

Well, recall what she does in HF if you lack enough Ilya points. Here, I presume, the situation is so much worse that Ilya feels she has no choice despite not wanting to harm Shirou. How Ilya will handle this isn't certain, though. She might try to give Sakura (and, by extension, Shirou) a chance, she might try to explain everything to them or she might just attack like she did in the HF Bad End.

ringlhach
June 19th, 2011, 09:33 AM
Well, recall what she does in HF if you lack enough Ilya points. Here, I presume, the situation is so much worse that Ilya feels she has no choice despite not wanting to harm Shirou. How Ilya will handle this isn't certain, though. She might try to give Sakura (and, by extension, Shirou) a chance, she might try to explain everything to them or she might just attack like she did in the HF Bad End.Yeah, one of the last two is how I see it going, honestly.

Even more if he introduces Sakura as the sister of one of his childhood friends, Shinji, possibly with their last names added in. I can't see a reason for him not to add them, honestly. At that point, she's likely to jump to a conclusion- either she assumes they're manipulating Shirou, or Shirou was working for them and manipulating her. It's not like she hasn't been told about something similar happening before; the Einzbern hired her oh-so-beloved daddy to fight for them in the last war, after all.

meevanhelot
June 19th, 2011, 09:37 AM
Did the Shadow give Caster Battle Continuation? Because she's still in a fight and she's been fatally wounded. Sure, lots of prana, but still.


I don't remember her getting a fatal wound. Presumably Assassin actually missed her core when he backstabbed her (lolirony) and a slashed throat is not a fatal wound for a Servant.

Also, if I were a woman I would have your babies Moczo. Looking forward to more Illya next chapter as well.

Neir
June 19th, 2011, 11:04 AM
{Checks glasses for effect.} Already has happened, if I'm not mistaken. {Obviously sarcastic, if non-confrontational, tone.}

When I saw this, the last line I read was Rin being scared. I guess I missed it. Don't care, still awesome.

Moczo
June 19th, 2011, 11:14 AM
Did the Shadow give Caster Battle Continuation? Because she's still in a fight and she's been fatally wounded. Sure, lots of prana, but still.
Words mashed together here.

I've been looking forward to this, honestly. It's well-written, overall, and I have a feeling that Ilya's going to trigger a massive misunderstanding and probably snap go nuts freak when she finds out that the other Grail is a girl sleeping in her Shirou's house. Alone with him. Words will be said, and Sakura, Ilya, or both will flee.

Thank you for all the comments! I post these chapters to forums before they go on FF.net specifically so I can run into people like you. :)

I made the majority of the corrections you gave; in some cases a slightly different one than you suggested, but all of them were very valid points. ^^;;;;; As for the Battle Continuation issue, it's simply that she didn't take a fatal wound. The only things fatal for a Servant are destruction of their core or their head; everything else will regenerate if they have sufficient mana. And the more mana they have, the faster the regeneration goes; see the Bad End of HF where Saber Alter gets cut in half by Shirou and the text states she'll not only survive but be fully healed within literally minutes because Dark Sakura is giving her so much Mana. Caster's wound was far less severe, and thus probably sealed within a minute of her getting it considering the kind of power she's tapped into.

Hope that helps, and thanks for reading! :D

RJL333
June 19th, 2011, 11:14 AM
Still liking the story. Also this line from the start:
He walked through the inferno, her nostrils filled with the stench of ash and boiling human fat,
Think that should be his

Moczo
June 19th, 2011, 11:15 AM
Still liking the story. Also this line from the start:
He walked through the inferno, her nostrils filled with the stench of ash and boiling human fat,
Think that should be his

... GAH, yes, Shirou is still a dude. XD

This is why I shouldn't write that late at night.


EDIT: Also, and less genderbending to Shirou, the new chapter is up on fanfiction.net right here: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/6372400/12/

DreamsRequiem
June 19th, 2011, 12:09 PM
Oh wow, new format?

Imperial
June 19th, 2011, 12:17 PM
I just left a review on Fanfiction.net, but I might as well parrot myself here.

I think you dwelt too long on some of the passages. You write very beautifully (and in a way that conjures Nasu's style from time to time), but I think a lot of the 'what everyone else is doing' paragraphs tend to drag. There's a tension on the mountaintop that peters out when time is taken to dwell on Sakura, Gilgamesh, Kirei, etc.

Admittedly, it's a bit of a catch-22. They're well-written passages that give a sense of scope and foreboding to the goings-on, as everyone reacts to a monumental event in such a way that displays their character. (Kirei getting goosebumps at the Shadow being particularly telling) On the flip side, like I said, you kill a lot of your momentum to take us from Archer and Lancer's 'OHGODRUN' moment to 'and let's see what everyone else is up to...'

But that's all I can really say against it. You're quite a mood maker and a wordsmith, and that shines through in brilliant colors in this chapter and every other you've written so far in "Chaos Theory."

Altima of the Gates
June 19th, 2011, 12:38 PM
I've been looking forward to this, honestly. It's well-written, overall, and I have a feeling that Ilya's going to trigger a massive misunderstanding and probably snap go nuts freak when she finds out that the other Grail is a girl sleeping in her Shirou's house. Alone with him. Words will be said, and Sakura, Ilya, or both will flee.

As canon illustrates, Ilya always knew about Sakura when Caster didn't return to her, she seems to know, even without interaction with her, that Sakura cares for Shirou, which as Mike pointed out, she exploited in one bad end. And she also knows everything about Avenger. It'd be a tense standoff, that is for sure.

Moczo
June 19th, 2011, 03:55 PM
Oh wow, new format?

New format, but not intentionally new format. Somehow the document got screwed up. x_x

I believe it is fixed, now.

RadiantBeam
June 19th, 2011, 09:48 PM
Speaking of screwed up, Moczo, you might want to go back through the FF.net version with a fine tooth comb. Some of your italicized words are running into the normal text words, for some reason. It seems to be a new issue with the system.

Moczo
June 19th, 2011, 10:18 PM
Speaking of screwed up, Moczo, you might want to go back through the FF.net version with a fine tooth comb. Some of your italicized words are running into the normal text words, for some reason. It seems to be a new issue with the system.

I'm noticing more and more, the more I look. Hopefully I got the last of them, but I doubt it. ^^;;;;;;

Thanks again for the head's-up, Beams. I'm not sure what's up with this chapter, but it simply refuses to behave. XD

RadiantBeam
June 19th, 2011, 10:21 PM
I'm noticing more and more, the more I look. Hopefully I got the last of them, but I doubt it. ^^;;;;;;

Thanks again for the head's-up, Beams. I'm not sure what's up with this chapter, but it simply refuses to behave. XD

What is up with the new FF.net format, anyway? XD It's not the kind of style I prefer.

Satehi
June 19th, 2011, 10:26 PM
Looking at it in ff.net makes it seem really awkward, with all the spaces.

RadiantBeam
June 19th, 2011, 10:29 PM
In the world of FF.net, every new problem is simply a new challenge for the writers to figure out.

Alulim
June 19th, 2011, 10:31 PM
^ Yes, I am new to the FF.net problems though.

RadiantBeam
June 19th, 2011, 10:34 PM
The old format was better.

Alulim
June 19th, 2011, 10:36 PM
Ah, the only problems that I had were that it doesn't allow multiple punctuation marks one after another !!!

And it didn't let me put IIIIIIYYYAAAAAAAA! as a scream.

RadiantBeam
June 19th, 2011, 10:37 PM
Yeah. For some reason the system is really picky about screams.

Alulim
June 19th, 2011, 10:39 PM
I had to go rewrite part of the story because of that. And make sure that I didn't have multiple ! marks anywhere.

Makes me worry that I may have messed up my fic somehow.

ringlhach
June 20th, 2011, 01:03 PM
Thank you for all the comments! I post these chapters to forums before they go on FF.net specifically so I can run into people like you. :)

I made the majority of the corrections you gave; in some cases a slightly different one than you suggested, but all of them were very valid points. ^^;;;;; As for the Battle Continuation issue, it's simply that she didn't take a fatal wound. The only things fatal for a Servant are destruction of their core or their head; everything else will regenerate if they have sufficient mana. And the more mana they have, the faster the regeneration goes; see the Bad End of HF where Saber Alter gets cut in half by Shirou and the text states she'll not only survive but be fully healed within literally minutes because Dark Sakura is giving her so much Mana. Caster's wound was far less severe, and thus probably sealed within a minute of her getting it considering the kind of power she's tapped into.

Hope that helps, and thanks for reading! :DI enjoy proofing. I'd like to think I'm decent at it, if only because bad grammar pisses me off to no end. On the other hand, my tendency to set aside things that are done or handwaved for the sake of the story makes me a shitty beta. [/massivelylatereply] I did see this yesterday; I'm just now getting around to replying. To tell the truth, I'd almost forgotten about it. As much as I can forget, anyway.

Moczo
June 20th, 2011, 08:25 PM
Yeah. For some reason the system is really picky about screams.

Looking back through another of my stories, it seems to have allowed 'Gaaaaaaaaaah' but not allowed 'Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah'. XD



I enjoy proofing. I'd like to think I'm decent at it, if only because bad grammar pisses me off to no end. On the other hand, my tendency to set aside things that are done or handwaved for the sake of the story makes me a shitty beta. [/massivelylatereply] I did see this yesterday; I'm just now getting around to replying. To tell the truth, I'd almost forgotten about it. As much as I can forget, anyway.

Hey, I like picky proofreaders. They mean I don't have to put as much effort into proofreading myself.

deviatesfish
June 21st, 2011, 06:16 AM
I liked this so much. This made my day!

Eveonder
June 21st, 2011, 03:29 PM
Another excellent chapter. Poor Lancer.

Alulim
June 21st, 2011, 03:42 PM
I wonder if his spear looks cooler in black...

Moczo
June 22nd, 2011, 08:38 PM
Of course it does.

Alulim
June 22nd, 2011, 08:38 PM
Ah, everything looks cooler in black I guess.

Ace
June 22nd, 2011, 08:40 PM
That's not true!!

..................... Maybe.

Bloble
June 22nd, 2011, 08:45 PM
I don't think Sponge Bob looks cooler in black.
Neither do the Teletubbies.
And Superman would just look evil or emo in black.

So no, no everything looks cooler in black. ​Lancer would looke pretty awesome in black though.

Alulim
June 22nd, 2011, 08:50 PM
^Text looks better in black~

Moczo
June 22nd, 2011, 08:58 PM
I don't think Sponge Bob looks cooler in black.
Neither do the Teletubbies.
And Superman would just look evil or emo in black.

So no, no everything looks cooler in black. ​Lancer would looke pretty awesome in black though.

... I dunno, I think Dark Spongebob the Destroyer, Bane of Life would look pretty neat.

Alulim
June 22nd, 2011, 09:15 PM
Agreed.

RadiantBeam
June 22nd, 2011, 10:33 PM
Lancer in black would be the most badass thing ever.

lethum
June 22nd, 2011, 10:54 PM
^ Who's that blond, Rad?

RadiantBeam
June 22nd, 2011, 10:57 PM
Saber-chan. Theo made it for me. :D

Alulim
June 22nd, 2011, 10:58 PM
Ah, more Seiba goodness.

RadiantBeam
June 22nd, 2011, 10:59 PM
Always the best kind of goodness!

Moczo
June 23rd, 2011, 12:25 AM
Lancer in black will be the most badass thing ever.

Fixed that for ya. :D

RadiantBeam
June 23rd, 2011, 09:38 PM
Fixed that for ya. :D

Thank you kindly. :D

Moczo
November 2nd, 2011, 11:50 PM
A friend of mine has started doing some work in in Graphic Design and the like, and he made me this... ludicrously cool thing. He said he pictured it as the 'cover' if Chaos Theory ever got printed as a book, and I thought it looked neat. I love the ominous look of it, and the sigil in the back is apparently the authentic Summoning Circle from the series. ^_^ (It's a big image, so click to enlarge and such. You could have figured that out. You're smart. XD)

3286


And on the subject of Chaos Theory, I have finally started working on the next chapter in earnest after a long, long spell of writer's block. Hopefully not too much longer. :)

RadiantBeam
November 2nd, 2011, 11:51 PM
I'm personally still impressed he even noticed it was Rin's summoning circle in the first place, to be honest. XD;;;

Hymn of Ragnarok
November 2nd, 2011, 11:52 PM
Update?!

...Damnation.

Well, I must admit that it is a nice picture.

ItsaRandomUsername
November 3rd, 2011, 12:02 AM
*waiting with sort-of bated breath*

Alulim
November 3rd, 2011, 12:10 AM
Darn tease.

RadiantBeam
November 3rd, 2011, 12:11 AM
You know you love it, Al~

Elf
November 3rd, 2011, 12:12 AM
I want Black Lancer damn it!

Hide your women and your warriors, Black Lancer's come to town, and he's all about the fucking and fighting.

ItsaRandomUsername
November 3rd, 2011, 12:31 AM
I believe you forgot the angst and anger.

Delicious, scrumdiddlyumptous angst and anger.

RadiantBeam
November 3rd, 2011, 12:33 AM
I have seen the Black Lancer.

I can confirm it is fucking awesome, and that is all I will say.

ItsaRandomUsername
November 3rd, 2011, 12:35 AM
You're a horrible, horrible tease Beamy.

RadiantBeam
November 3rd, 2011, 12:36 AM
You love me for it.

ItsaRandomUsername
November 3rd, 2011, 12:38 AM
...true.

Theocrass
November 3rd, 2011, 12:38 AM
*Glomps Moczo-nii!*

Moczo-nii!

Theo-chin hasn't seen you around in a while!

Welcome back!

*Tickles tease Beam-chan.*

nitewind
November 3rd, 2011, 01:39 AM
Update?! No... but cool picture and knowledge that more is on the way is good. (and I was so looking forward to Punishment Time too.:neco_arc:)

Moczo
November 3rd, 2011, 12:47 PM
I have seen the Black Lancer.

I can confirm it is fucking awesome, and that is all I will say.

She was scared. Take that for what you will. (It's exactly the reaction I wanted, but... you're easy to frighten, sweetie). =3


*Glomps Moczo-nii!*

Moczo-nii!

Theo-chin hasn't seen you around in a while!

Welcome back!

*Tickles tease Beam-chan.*

I missed you too, goofy bear. ^_^


Update?! No... but cool picture and knowledge that more is on the way is good. (and I was so looking forward to Punishment Time too.:neco_arc:)

First writing I've gotten on CT in too long. Now let's hope it lasts! ^^;;;;

meevanhelot
November 3rd, 2011, 12:49 PM
This is off hiatus? Holy shit to the fuck yes!

Theocrass
November 3rd, 2011, 12:50 PM
Moczo~ <3

I use my new mod powers to declare today Moczo day!

/notsrs

SeiKeo
November 3rd, 2011, 01:56 PM
Yep, we need a coup.

Moczo
November 3rd, 2011, 02:02 PM
Moczo~ <3

I use my new mod powers to declare today Moczo day!

/notsrs

... I have a day?

Theocrass
November 3rd, 2011, 02:02 PM
In my dreams, you do.

In my dreams ...

Bloble
November 3rd, 2011, 06:05 PM
Black Lancer?

Angst?

Angsty Black Lancer?

I'm not believing it 'till I see it with my own eyes! (And I can sense that it will be awesome.)

RadiantBeam
November 3rd, 2011, 06:26 PM
She was scared. Take that for what you will. (It's exactly the reaction I wanted, but... you're easy to frighten, sweetie). =3

THIS LIAR.... yeah, no, I scare so easily it isn't even funny, I admit it. XD

Theocrass
November 3rd, 2011, 06:36 PM
Beam-chan scares easily?

Sounds moe~

2ndsly
November 3rd, 2011, 08:00 PM
Doesn't everyone?

In any case, this is excellent work Mocko, can't hardly wait for next chapter.

GlanGR
November 4th, 2011, 12:24 AM
Mocko sounds like one of those weird Pocky clones.

2ndsly
November 4th, 2011, 12:25 AM
To be honest, right up until I needed to spell his name, I thought it was mozco.

Moczo
November 4th, 2011, 08:32 AM
THIS LIAR.... yeah, no, I scare so easily it isn't even funny, I admit it. XD

No, actually it is pretty funny. XD


To be honest, right up until I needed to spell his name, I thought it was mozco.

It is, but 'Mocko' makes me sound like I work for the Joker or something, so as far as misspellings go I'll live with it.

DreamsRequiem
November 4th, 2011, 09:12 AM
*still awaiting new chapter*

SeiKeo
November 7th, 2011, 12:15 AM
I think something went wrong in your pasting from Word: you have weird formatting everywhere.

pureauthor
November 7th, 2011, 12:15 AM
First things first - um, the spacing is completely fucked up, and it's making anyone who talks sound like they just downed a gallon of espresso.

Secondly - ooh, looks like Lancer (or what's left of Lancer's mind) can control the Shadow too. Interesting.

ItsaRandomUsername
November 7th, 2011, 12:27 AM
Illya-centric D'AAAAWWWW and Black Lancer badassery.

This is a good day for IRUn~!



But seriously, the spacing is pretty messed up. You oughta fix that.

RadiantBeam
November 7th, 2011, 12:31 AM
Chapter Thirteen: Echoing and Awakening


Kirei Kotomine considered what he had just seen, and for the first time in many, many years, was not certain what to make of it.

Lancer's loss was neither unexpected nor mourned. He had hoped the Servant would continue to be of value to him, obviously, but had clearly never expected him to live out the entire war. He was, as with any Servant, cannon fodder.

But the means of his destruction were... if not troublesome, than at least off-putting. The powers involved had been nothing of the sort that the Caster summoned for this War should have been capable of. They were... very intriguing. Twisted, chaotic, bizarre, familiar...

Yes, he had to admit that he rather liked this new incarnation of Servant Caster. He would have taken a great deal of joy in watching her run wild and turn the Holy Grail War on its head...

If he could be absolutely certain she was not acting as some tool of Zouken Makiri.

That was the issue, wasn't it? Her powers.... the strange shadow-creature she commanded... they called to him. Like seeking like. He could feel their nature thrumming through his blood. The same perfect sin he had felt that last night, in the flames, and remembered each day, with each beat of his heart. Caster's new power was of the Grail, and as much Kirei loathed to admit it? None knew more of the Holy Grail than Zouken. He was, more than likely, involved.

“What are you doing about this?” Spoke a familiar voice from behind him. It was astonishing how Gilgamesh could somehow make a question sound like a command.

“Ah... you were looking in?”

“I didn't bother to seek the details. I just sensed something that spoiled my wine. It felt familiar, and ugly. What are you doing about it?” Gilgamesh said. He wasn't smirking. That was a bad sign, Kirei noted, and resolved to show very, very little emotion and absolutely no 'insolence'. There were a lot of reactions Gilgamesh viewed as 'insolence', up to and including looking him in the eyes. Kirei focused his vision firmly on the King of Heroes' nose.

“At the moment? I fear that I can do little.” Kirei said mildly. “Lancer has been killed.”


“...So?”

“Your concern is touching.” Kirei said, fighting the urge to roll his eyes, recognizing that had a 50-50 chance of being insolent. “But I was attempting to get across the minor detail that I no longer have a Servant, and directly opposing Caster is not within my power.”

Gilgamesh considered this. “Get it done indirectly, then. You're clever, and you have suitable pawns.”

“I plan to investigate, of course. I will intervene if I feel the situation requires my hand.”

“I feel it requires a hand. I dislike the feel of this thing, Kirei. It disturbs my demeanor. Caster was a vile little thing, but she had a certain amount of subtlety. Whatever I felt last night was neither subtle, nor pleasant to look upon. I want it gone.” Gilgamesh said firmly, turning to leave the room. “I'll trust you to deal with this for now, Kirei. But if you can't handle it to my liking, I will eventually step in, and when that happens? Stay out of the way.”

Kirei watched him go, and vaguely wondered if he and Gilgamesh had somehow become genuine friends at some point.

Most people wouldn't have gotten a warning.


**

The sun beginning to peek over the horizon left her feeling somewhat uneasy.

Rider was not a hero. She was not especially selfless, bore no particular love for mankind, and in fact had experienced enough of their cruelty to consider them something to, in general, either be devoured or avoided. And so, she had become something of a creature of the night; the sun no ally of hers in either seeking sustenance nor escaping notice. Granted, in her current form it wasn't as great an issue as it might have been... the astral state afforded to Servants was sufficient to keep her presence hidden even from Saber, so long as she took no overt actions. It was more that... the light just made her mildly uncomfortable.

Particularly after the events of the previous night.

Rider, too, had felt the strange surge of disquieting power from the Temple, but she had also had a front-row seat to something she found far more disturbing. As others turned their eyes to the mountaintop, Rider had cast her gaze on Sakura, and she had not liked what she saw. The girl had clearly been in intense pain, nearly the entire night, at one point even bleeding from her mouth as the anguish caused her to bite the inside of her cheek. And yet, throughout, she had never once stirred from her sleep.

Rider had known the girl's body was abnormal, her spirit in some way tainted. But until now, she had never seen the extent of the problem. Sakura was lucky to have lived this long, and if the degradation continued at this rate, she would not last out the War.

And the girl was not about to let anyone know about it, either. Even now she was up and about, working diligently, disguising her pain with admirable skill. Both the physical pain she was clearly in (clearly to Rider, at the very least) but the emotional... even as she went about her daily schedule with feigned cheer, the boy she was obviously enamored with left her to her own devices, to waste his time with swordplay. He'd even announced that he planned to go out for lunch, leaving her alone! She was ill, and...

Honestly, Rider wondered what she saw in him. He was attractive enough, but really, he was as dense as a rock.

But she supposed, really, that she was mostly annoyed with herself. Sakura was suffering, Rider was the only one who knew, and she could do nothing to help. At least nothing that Sakura herself would not be utterly repelled by. Worse, the more Rider saw of this illness, the more she worried that even beyond her own helplessness, there was little that anyone could do to save the girl...

It was very likely that the best she would be able to manage was to stay by Sakura's side until the end. And in this War, perhaps not even that.

And even for the monster that had become Servant Rider, that thought was painful indeed.

**
Ilya wasn't sure if she had done the right thing, coming to the park today.

For that matter, she wasn't entirely sure the 'right thing' wouldn't have been to send Berserker raging into Shirou's home to tear apart the source of the... whatever it was. The 'Black Grail', for lack of a better term.

She didn't think Shirou had anything to do with it, personally. First of all, it was a tool of Makiri and she would know if he was touched by the vile thing. But beyond that, he simply wasn't the sort who could create something that grotesque. Not in terms of his lack of magical talent (though that was horrible), but in terms of the kind of person he was. He was far, far too kind to have made anything of the sort. And if it... it was a thing like Ilya? That looked like a person? He probably didn't even realize it was in his house.

Which meant that Ilya was not at all sure how to deal with it. Could she send Berserker in to tear the place apart? Saber would intervene, but Berserker could destroy her with little difficulty, and the 'body' of the Black Grail didn't have a terribly amazing feeling of magic in it. The question became 'what would Shirou do?'. He certainly wouldn't stand still at a giant creature destroying his home and killing houseguests. He would step in. And she could tell Berserker not to hurt him, and Berserker would do his best to comply, but he wasn't exactly a precision instrument and in such close quarters...

“Ilya!” Said a familiar voice, making her heartbeat race. “Hey! I can't stay long... but at least I'm not late or sick this time.” Shirou said, chuckling slightly.

“I-it's okay. I just like that you keep taking the time to meet with me.” Ilya said. “You didn't have to. It was... nice.”

“Heh.” Shirou took a seat next to her on the bench. “Well, I'm glad I'm making your stay in Japan a little better, then. So, what did you want to do today? Just sit and talk? I'm afraid I, er... don't have much interesting going on...”

Wow. He is actually the worst liar in the entire world. He must be. Ilya thought, honestly suppressing the urge to giggle despite her sense of foreboding. “Are you sure? I bet that your life must be exciting. My grandpapa told me that the Japanese are a tribe of barefooted savages who slice their bellies open. I bet it's exciting to live with people like that!”

“....................... your grandpapa exaggerates.”

… More and more, I'm starting to wonder if he just lies. But it's cute that you're still being polite. Ilya thought. Out loud she said, “Oh? Then who do you live with?”

“Well, nobody who slices their bellies open!” Shirou chuckled. “... a few who go out of control filling their bellies, maybe. We just got a new guest in the house who's a really big eater, and Fuji-nee could pack five people's worth of food in on her own already, so it's good that Sakura is around to cook too...”

“Who are Fujine and Sakura?” Ilya asked.

“Oh... heh, that's right, not a native. Well, Fuji-nee is just what I call Taiga Fujimura. She's my teacher, but she's also an old friend of my dad's from when he was still alive. She's been there for me and helped me out ever since... though she isn't really 'mom' material. I guess you could say she's like my big sister.” He stopped to think. “... though she acts more like my little sister, sometimes. But she's always been there for me, no matter how bad things got. She's family.”

“Family...” Ilya thought softly. A friend of Kiritsugu. I wonder what she's like. Did he love her? Did he care about her and Shirou more than me, and that's why he stayed away?

Or did grandpapa lie about that, too?

“She sounds nice.” Ilya said softly. Without another word, she wrapped her arms around him.

“H-hey! Wh-what did I tell you about being too touchy-feel-”

“I don't have a papa, either. I know it hurts.” Ilya whispered.

Shirou could have been knocked down by a light breeze.

“I... Ilya, I'm sorry, I had no idea...”

“No, you don't have to be sorry.” The girl said, nuzzling her small head against his chest. She was, if anything, even lighter than she looked, almost like she really was an insubstantial fairy. “It's sad, but... it's something we have in common. It helps that we have the same feelings, right?”

Shirou wasn't sure, honestly, what he should say. He settled for patting the girl's hair softly.

“Sakura.” Ilya said.

“... … wait, what?”

Ilya's expression, as she turned up to look at him, was a combination of the melancholy she had been showing before, and a look of pity over Shirou's obvious and intense stupidity. “You told me who Fujine...”

“Fuji-nee.”

“Whatever! You told me who she was, but who is Sakura! … She better not be your girlfriend. I won't tolerate you toying with a maiden's heart!” Ilya said, all traces of sadness gone to be replaced by impatient annoyance. Shirou fought the urge to laugh at her overly serious expression. Honestly, keeping track of her emotions required a checklist and several days of planning.

“N-not exactly.” Shirou said. “She's just... an old friend, that's all. Almost like family herself, at this point.”

“Hmph. Well, I'll believe you. This time.” Ilya said, her tone indicating that it was an act of great generosity. “... …. she's nice, then?”

“She basically... showed up one day when I was sick, and never left.” Shirou said, chuckling slightly. “I mean, I'd seen her before, but mostly because she was my friend's sister. She showed up to help me, and has kept right on supporting me ever since, even once her brother and I grew apart. I don't even honestly know why, not for certain. I guess Sakura Matou is just that kind of person.”
Ilya's blood froze.

Matou...

Makiri... Makiri... Makiri...

“Ilya?” Shirou said softly, disturbed as the girl pulled away from him.

“I... I have to go. I'm sorry, Shirou... I... I'm sorry...” She stammered, turning to run.

“Ilya, wait! At least tell me what's wr-” Shirou began, setting a hand on her shoulder.

“I said I have to go!” Ilya shrieked, slapping the hand away.

She fled, unwilling to look at his face and see the worry and shock she knew would be there. But what else could she do? A tool of Makiri was in his home, and his closest friend was one of that same family? It took little effort to discern what this meant. She didn't even try to stop the tears; just ran, and ran, and ran, hoping against hope for some plan she had not yet seen to become evident, and knowing deep down that none would.

She had to deal with this issue. But the only method she could see to do it...

Shirou would never forgive her. She had to, but she couldn't...

What was she going to do?


**
Senpai had been sad, at dinner.

He had tried to hide it, but Sakura could tell that something was bothering him. She assumed it to have something to do with the War, but there was no way to be certain... Senpai had always been the sort to not burden others with his troubles, just like Sakura herself. It was part of what had drawn her to him in the first place, that distinct similarity between them, the sense of... of nothingness.

He felt he didn't matter, and so he mattered to her. She doubted he had noticed, but that was merely because she was a better actor than he was. It was for the best.

He should have noticed, though. Should have seen something, should have detected some oddity. I hid it from him, but there were hints if he had bothered to look...

Sakura shook her head, hoping to clear it. She supposed this issue with the War, and Senpai, and all of it had made her more tired than she thought. Lately, her thoughts just didn't seem to stop wandering. When she was awake, she felt less and less like herself, and when she slept, her dreams were...

Just dreams. Just worries. Nothing is wrong... Sakura thought. With a bitter chuckle, she followed it with Well, not any more wrong than usual...

Perhaps she really was just tired. She had reason to be; the worries on her mind were significant, and lately the drain on her personal Prana had been even worse than usual. She was certain she could handle it... mostly... but it was probably normal to spend more time in bed. And it wasn't as though anyone here needed her awake; Senpai was probably waiting for her to fall asleep so he and Saber could leave to participate in the War, in fact. And at the moment, she was sorely tempted to oblige him.

So tired...

**
It was dark.

Sakura couldn't see the ground in front of her, and suspected that there wasn't any. She felt solid ground, but it wasn't really solid, and... everything just seemed off. Somehow...

Ah.

Ah-ha.

“I've been here before, haven't I?” Sakura asked.

“I'm surprised you remember. You shouldn't...”

“I didn't... at first. While I was awake. It just seemed to fade into the back of my mind...” Sakura admitted. She then sat down, cross-legged, on the nothingness.

“You are taking this rather well.”

“I'm dreaming, aren't I? There's nothing to be worried about.” Sakura said. “I assume it's not a normal dream, but... nothing about me has ever been very normal. And I already know that whoever you are, I shouldn't listen to what you have to say. You proved that last time.”

“It was a valid offer. You deserve revenge, Sakura.”

“I don't want it.” Sakura said. “And I don't want anything else a booming voice from the darkness has to offer, either. Especially not one that... you tried to talk me into killing my only family! The man I...”

“Shhhh. I understand, and I apologize. Clearly, your interests do not intersect with my own, but this can be remedied. And if 'a booming voice from the darkness' does not inspire trust...” The darkness that seemed to make up the entire visible area folded in on itself, warped and shifted, taking on the form of a woman. “... will this do?”

Sakura looked at her in some confusion. She was beautiful, certainly, if a bit unusual in appearance; long, lustrous azure hair, shining eyes, gently pointed ears, modest but noticeable curves sheathed in a simple white shift. Her age was difficult to pin down, as well... she didn't appear noticeably older than Sakura herself, but something about her had an air of maturity to it. And of course, Sakura could hardly fail to notice the meaning in this...

“Ah. You're a Servant.” Sakura said softly. “I really can't trust you, then.”

“Oh?” The woman asked, with a slight smile.

“This is the Holy Grail War, and I'm the Master of Rider. You expect me to believe your Master doesn't put you up to this, knowing that?”

The woman laughed, and it sounded like bells. “My Master would be you, dear. But then, I can certainly believe you have some hidden urges.”

Sakura's eyes widened. “What? That makes no...”

“Is it quite necessary to question it? As you noticed, I don't think you'll be recalling this when you awaken anyway.” The woman said. “Besides, I do have something to show you.”

A snap of delicate fingers, and the scene shifted from nothingness to...

Sakura's eyes widened once again. The room she found herself in was impossibly lovely... far more lavish than the Matou manor had ever been, more stunning than even her nostalgia-enhanced memories of her childhood home. But now, she found herself seated in a grand hall... no, a throne room, a palace. White marble floors inlaid with gold, pillars carved with floral patterns and adorned with gemstones... Sakura could scarcely imagine the cost, but it must have been more than half of Fuyuki combined.

And the figure occupying the throne outshone it all.

It was Sakura... after a fashion. Sakura with every imperfection smoothed out, every tiny flaw in her appearance corrected. She wore a dark gown that seemed like something alive, yet rather than being disturbing the effect simply made her seem majestic. A crown set with a black diamond sat atop her perfectly coiffed hair.

“So revenge is not something you desire? That's fine.” The woman said. “The power is yours, Sakura, and if you accept it, then you can do whatever you wish. Rulership of all the nations of the earth is not something beyond you. You could be revered as a queen, as a Goddess. Never again would you be forced to live in squalor or torment... all living things would kneel before your power. And I do mean all.”

The scene blurred, and shifted, and 'Empress Sakura' was no longer the only figure in the room. More specifically, some of that promised kneeling was certainly taking place...

“The sister you stand in awe of would be your humble servant.

“The man whose love you pine over would be throw himself at your feet begging for your attention.

“The brother who so abuses you would live in terror of you, ever at your mercy.

“And your grandfather... would make whatever penance you commanded of him, for his unforgivable sins.

“Tell me, Sakura: is this more to your liking?”

“It's... it's a bit lavish.” Sakura said.

“............... I don't understand. Are you questioning the possibility of it all? Sakura, your power is beyond anything even you can comprehend. All of this and more can be...”


“No, I'm... well. I don't really...” Sakura said softly. “I don't want this.”

“... … I still do not understand.”

“Well, I... I understand why some people would. But I don't want to rule my sister... Senpai... even nii-san. I... I just want to live. I've never wanted anyone to worship me. I... I'm sorry. This is... well, I think that you really are trying. Maybe you do mean well, since this is... well, better. Than the last time, I mean.” Sakura said. “It's just... not me.”

“I... do not understand you.” The woman said. “But I'm not here to force you into anything, dear. All I seek is to outline the potential you have within, nothing more, nothing less. If you disapprove... we shall have to try again, another night. Maintaining this connection is a strain, and my resources are needed elsewhere, so...”

“Wait!” Sakura said.

“... yes, my dear?”

“Since... since I don't seem to have any say in seeing you, I should at least know what to call you. If... if you're a Servant, you might die soon. And... I guess that despite everything, for whatever reason, you don't mean me any harm, at least. So I'd like to know what I should call you.” Sakura said softly, smiling.

The woman's eyes widened. “Me? Well, that's not much to ask, I suppose. I wouldn't want Rider to know, but you won't think to tell her once you're conscious. I am Cast-- no. No, I think you should call me Medea.”

Sakura smiled warmly, even as the world faded into more mundane sleep. “Medea, then.”

**
Caster gazed upon the Shadow, and smiled.

Her... entreaties... to Sakura were going better than she'd expected. Not perfect, but progress was being made. She could admit that her first, clumsy effort had been a mistake; her understanding of what the girl truly desired limited, to say the least. Sakura was a confusing young woman... how could anyone in her position, who had suffered the indignities that she had, not crave vengeance? Medea, in her position, would have welcomed, reveled in the offer to slaughter every last one of the animals who had harmed or neglected her, and yet Sakura had been nothing less than horrified.

But Caster was not a fool. She had observed, learned, and tailored the next offer to be less blatantly hostile, and in turn gotten a far less staunch resistance. She would wait a bit, and the next offer would be more effective still. The girl would come to trust her, eventually, and when she did, she would welcome her destiny with open arms. What Sakura's family had failed to achieve by force, Caster would achieve with gentle persuasion and temptation. It was only a matter of finding the proper bait. It was easier and... well, the girl was not an unpleasant person. It was better to do it gently, Caster had no grudge against the child.

And then, Sakura would become the perfect weapon. The ones responsible for Souichiro-sama's death would be destroyed by the very instrument of their own designs, and the irony alone would be enough to bring a small warmth back to Caster's heart. The ultimate revenge.

In the meantime, she had reclaimed her Temple, and now that Sakura was asleep she was able to once again bring her favorite pet back into a physical manifestation. It had been damaged badly in the battle the previous night, but the mana she was draining from the town had proven an excellent medicine. The dark creature's thrashing was not as weak as it had been, the tendrils growing and unfurling rapidly. It was not yet ready to hunt again, but...

Hunger...

“Shhhh... that's all right, my dear. Tonight, you will have to settle for something less filling. Soon, though. You still have many Servants to devour, and...”

“Nah, I think we're ready now. You hungry, ugly? Me too. Let's find you something to sink your teeth into.”

It was an open verbal declaration, far different from the Shadow's wordless emotional transferance, and it rang through the temple with an open pride that was impossible to miss. The words seemed to have a significant impact on the Shadow... the thrashing redoubled, the wordless declarations of hunger grew both more frequent and far more insistent. Caster, an ancient, all-powerful sorceress, said the only thing that came to her nigh-boundless mind in this situation.

“... … … … huh?” Caster said.

“Be careful what you feed your pets, right? Indigestion is almost as much of a bitch as you are!” The voice chuckled, as her newly summoned pet began to dissolve into the ground without so much as a by-your-leave, drawn out into the night to satiate its hunger...

“... … … what?!” Caster said, staring at the empty space that had just recently held her greatest weapon.

**

Sakura had fallen asleep earlier than they'd expected. Shirou was more than a little worried that this was a sign her illness persisted, despite her claims otherwise, but at least she seemed to be sleeping comfortably and he truly could not think of anything else he could do to help her. If she was in fact still sick, then the best he could do would be to let her rest.

“Heh...” Shirou said. “You know, this is the first time we've gone to participate in the war in days.”

“I do not think that is funny.” Saber said.

“... … … and neither do I.” Shirou said.

“I wonder about that.” The Servant said as they walked. “I understand the desire to protect Sakura. Her own family will not, so Chivalry demands nothing less of any honorable knight. But you have been abandoning me for long periods of time each day, with no explanation. This is an unneeded risk, Shirou. You must understand... Shirou, most Masters will not be active in the daylight hours, for fear of the Magus' Association intervening. But this is not a guarantee. If you are not with me, Servant Assassin could drag you into an alley and snap your neck in a heartbeat, in broad daylight without ever being seen! And that is merely the most obvious threat!”

“Well... I know it's a risk, but...”

“But what?! Shirou, I cannot protect you without your trust. What is so important that you feel the need to not merely leave my side, but lie to me about it?”

Shirou was in a jam, at this point. 'I have to go on my daily dates with a small girl because she's one of the few things lately that can make me feel at peace' was out of the question, but Saber wasn't going to let him off easily. And Hell, maybe it didn't matter... after today, Ilya might not even want to talk to him again, and he didn't even know what he'd done.

First Ilya, now Saber... why were girls so complicated.?

Still, he suspected that Saber wasn't going to let this go without an answer, and he didn't have one. He was worried about Ilya, and he was worried about Sakura, and nothing made any sense and all the women in his life were crazy.

So he chose to undertake a tried-and-true method for dealing with inquisitiveness: make vague sounds until something else happened to distract the situation.

Just make vague sounds. “Hmmmmmm...” He said.

Yes, that was vague enough. Something would come along to distract her anytime now...

“Hmmmmmmm...”

Any time.

Something did come along, but when it did, Shirou admittedly found it to be pretty distracting to himself, too.

Shirou stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of one of the last people he had expected to see this evening.. “You... you're...”

Zouken Matou smiled warmly at the approaching duo, seemingly unfazed by the young lady in armor who followed Shirou. “Ah, yes... the young Emiya, correct? You have been taking care of my granddaughter, I hope.” The old man said cheerfully. The scene around him was oddly wrong. Just an old man taking a walk in the park under the moon, what was so strange about th-

“Shirou!” Saber hissed. “Back away! This man is not human!”

What? Not human, he's Sakura's grandf-

And midway through the thought, Shirou realized what it was that struck him as so very wrong about the scene. The grass at the old man's feet was... writhing. Even in the darkness, Shirou could see that something was moving through the foliage. No... a lot of somethings...

“Yeah...” Shirou said. “Yeah, I see what you mean.”

“Oh, these?” Zouken chuckled. Something hissed in the grass at his feet. “Some pets of mine. I'm afraid that following my grandson's rather shameful display against Berserker's young Master, I've had to step in and reclaim a bit of the family pride. I have no Servant of my own at the moment, but I felt that playing a small game with the War might offer some intriguing possibilities. I doubt I shall be claiming the Grail for Makiri, but... well, one never knows.”

“Makiri...?” Shirou asked, blinking.

Zouken laughed out loud at this. “My, my... you know nothing of Makiri, yet let Sakura live under your roof? You participate in the Holy Grail War without even basic knowledge of the Three Families! Truly, even this old heart finds some small humor in how horribly prepared Kiritsugu Emiya left his heir...”

“What? What are you talking ab-” Shirou asked, moving forward to, if needed, force the information out of the old man... until a gauntleted hand grasped his shoulder, halting him.

“Shirou...” Saber said. “Stay behind me.”

The strange, rustling hissing grew louder. And beneath it, Shirou could hear the skittering of something chitinous in the street behind them. “Actually, Saber, I don't know how much use that will be...”

Zouken chuckled. “I'm not certain why the Lady Einzbern chose to spare you, young man, but know that I am less generous. You may yet be of some use, but you are hardly a necessity. Yes... yes, I believe there is no particular reason for you to leave here alive.”

“Shirou. Remember your training, and try to stay alive.” Saber said, as the sounds of the swarm grew louder. “I will protect you as best I can...”

“Won't help.”

And with that insolent, casual boast, the stars went out.

“Impossible...” Zouken murmured.

“Saber...” Shirou said. “What...”

A black space in the night, just barely in sight. The scent of rot and blood thick in the air, and growing thicker.

The thing didn't exactly walk, or crawl, or ooze... it didn't really appear to move at all, it just 'got closer', the lights on the side of the street dying as it passed them, tendrils of black trailing behind it. Shirou felt his head begin to ache just looking at it, as though he were at the bottom of the ocean, staring at some primordial creature of the depths with millions of tons of pressure crushing down on his mind. “What.... what am I looking at...”

“No...” Zouken said, an edge of hysteria entering his tone. “No, no, no! How could it be here?!”

“Shirou...” Saber said. “We should retreat. Now!”

“Aw, but you're gonna miss the party...” Said that strange, and strangely familiar, voice. The dark creature halted, and seemed to... unfold, for lack of a better term. The waving tendrils parted, and from out of the space in the night (Right out of it. How could anything touch that... that thing? It makes no sense...) stepped a silhouette just as dark as the amorphous presence itself, but far more recognizable.

The man was tall, taller even than Shirou. He was coated from the neck down in jagged black war steel, gloves and boots in particular tipped with vicious hooks and spikes. His hair was jet black, and a half-mask covered his eyes, leaving the impression he was a piece of the night come alive, save for one very noticeable spot of white... his teeth, bared in a grin that bore a strong resemblance to one a deep-sea swimmer might see rushing toward them when blood was in the water.

The black knight extended one arm, and a vicious black and red lance appeared in his hand, seeming to further darken the area by it's mere presence.

“That old guy had the right general idea,” Lancer said. “He just didn't think it through all the way.

“Nobody gets out of here alive tonight.”

---------------------------------------

... Huh, didn't expect that to work.

Posting this in Moczo's steed, since the forum just isn't being kind to him tonight. Enjoy!

2ndsly
November 7th, 2011, 12:32 AM
Spacing.

But the update was good.
I especially like Lancers new take on life.

RadiantBeam
November 7th, 2011, 12:33 AM
Problem should be fixed now, hopefully.

pureauthor
November 7th, 2011, 12:35 AM
Dork!Shirou is best Shirou.

Moczo
November 7th, 2011, 12:35 AM
Thanks, Beams. I guess my word processor and the forum don't mix well. You saved me an hour of reformatting.

RadiantBeam
November 7th, 2011, 12:37 AM
Yeah, no problem!

Hymn of Ragnarok
November 7th, 2011, 12:47 AM
...Oh wow. The Shadow is everyone's bitch isn't it?

I'm really liking where this is going. It ought to be fun.

ItsaRandomUsername
November 7th, 2011, 12:49 AM
...Oh wow. The Shadow is everyone's bitch isn't it?

I'm really liking where this is going. It ought to be fun.

I'll do the mature thing and NOT make a crack at Sakura's expense.

Hymn of Ragnarok
November 7th, 2011, 12:52 AM
I'll do the mature thing and NOT make a crack at Sakura's expense.

Believe it or not, I did not write that to take a cheap shot at Sakura. I was calling it as I saw it. Control of the Shadow is shifting. That Caster wrested control from Zouken is one thing, Lancer taking control from Caster is playing Musical Chairs.

At this rate everyone is gonna get a turn!

2ndsly
November 7th, 2011, 12:53 AM
When you put it like that, Sakura having a turn actually makes sense.

Hymn of Ragnarok
November 7th, 2011, 12:54 AM
When you put it like that, Sakura having a turn actually makes sense.

Hey, if this ends with Sakura taking total control of the Shadow...

Well, I'll cheer if it's awesome, but this is Ilya route. I'd rather Ilya be awesome.

2ndsly
November 7th, 2011, 12:57 AM
Any reason they can't Both be awesome?

And it's not the Ilya route, it's the harem route!

Hymn of Ragnarok
November 7th, 2011, 01:00 AM
Any reason they can't Both be awesome?

Certainly not, but having two awesome people leaves less opportunity for each individual to be awesome. I favor Ilya. I won't turn down something fun to read just because I dislike the character, but I see this is Ilya's route. In the end the spotlight should be on her.


And it's not the Ilya route, it's the harem route!

Boo. Harems are overrated.